This CD begins on the outside, for sleeve design (and execution thereof) like this is something we seldomly see on local releases. It costs plenty of money to print like this ? in design biz they call it a digi-pack, which is basically just the cardboard CD cover and holder, instead of the plastic thing. Whatever, it looks stunning. All sepia-toned black and white imagery shot in Namibia, it resembles a string of postcards written from the desert, with the lyrics printed on the back.
It?s a worthy jacket for a brilliant album, old stalwart Jack Hammer?s first studio album since 1996.
?G8? kicks it into being, simultaneously a powerful musical and political statement:
?There?s a leader on the run
He?s got your soul to pay
And he just jumped on a plane
And he doesn?t care about your pain
Oh no ? ?
While the tempo is varied throughout ? with the chin-up reggae of ?Rock Steady? and slow numbers such as ?Morrison Hotel? ? the intensity never wavers. Another thing that continues to astonish is Piet Botha?s skill with lyrics. What initially seems sparse and conversational gradually reveals textured layers, much like the many thousands of kilometres of road this band tramples every year in pursuit of gigs.
This landscape ? which starts explicitly on the cover, with a lonely road stretching towards the horizon ? is cultivated throughout as the new Africa we know, the one we can reach in our 4x4s, Mozambique, Namibia, Zanzibar (on ?Bury Me When? the place where Botha wants to be buried, ?and the tide can do the rest?) ? and where we can continuously escape to in our dreams.
Jack Hammer deserves credit for taking their style of music ? unapologetic rock ? and moulding it seamlessly, and to the benefit of both, with the continent they live in. It?s a matter of the medium soaking up the messages in its immediate vicinity, instead of a dreamscape-America, a faroff place that this kind of rock is often bothered with.
?We?ve travelled so far with the sun behind us/ but our journey has just begun?, Piet sings on the title track, and you know he means it. During, before and after the recording of this album, the band also went through some trauma, which ended in long-time guitarist (and co-author of several classic ?Hammer numbers) Johnathan Martin leaving the band. Knowing this makes a certain resilience become evident in the music displayed here.
Jack Hammer has been with us since the 1980s and while they might fear to ?come home in the headlines? (?Headlines?), one feels they might return even from that.
Oeg, if you?re looking for a tough-love lovesong, look no further than ?Lady Amber? (I suppose by implication, the possibility exists that she might trap you):
?Your love is just like poison / ? /
It goes into my veins in my blood
In my heart in my soul?
And it ends with a harsh backhand: ?But that is all I recall and the rest is just best left unsaid.? Taai, manne.
?Russian and Chips? is one of two Freedom?s Children numbers on the album, featuring a blinding intro of guitars firing at full throttle. To be more precise, ?Russian and Chips? is an interpretation of Freedom?s Children?s tune ?The Kid He Came From Hazareth?, with some random Russian folk tune thrown into the mix ? first performed in this fashion by Botha?s early 80s group, Wildebeest.
Lanie van der Walt?s production is exemplary throughout, one even suspects he had a hand in the prog-like intro to ?The Pilgrim?, where guitar, piano and Paul van de Waal?s drums follow an unusual rhythm before the vocals, backing vocals included, suddenly crashes into being.
?Tribal Fence? is the other Freedom?s Children (both are available on the FC album Astra, released in 1970, but now available on CD from Fresh Music) cover and brings this album to a rousing close.
It again features interesting production work ? you?ll either love or hate the vocoder voice effects and that milling sound of looped/FXed organ (I think ? either way, it annoyed my ear a bit) which builds and builds until the song spirals to a halt.
My favourite track is ?Mozambique?, a beautiful praise-song to our neighbour, clearly a place which, like Namibia, Jack Hammer feels at home in: ?Far from the black city/ where the dragon wants your soul?. It?s boosted by soulful backing vocals and the mention of ?Gito?, which one can only assume refers to legendary Mozambican bassist Gito Baloi, who was killed in Joburg last year.
This is big, open-book music for fans of finely distilled rock music which stands as Jack Hammer?s best work to date, or damn near close to it. If they take another decade to make the next album and it?s as good as this, then we should thank them for being such perfectionists.
Hats off to the Hammer.