The Jack Hammer that I've occasionally seen live over the last couple of decades, has tended towards the bluesy edge of rock. Can this be where the blues has ended up? Big-bellied protest songs, ubiquitous power ballads, and ersatz reggae? Apparently so. But if they're done well, as on The Pilgrim, they have the ability to move the souls and feet of rock lovers. That's a very specific audience, and this album is tailored for them, perfectly.
Piet Botha's vocals are as gutsy and grizzly as ever, and the female vocalist adds a beautiful edge. There's no questioning the honesty of the songs, with Botha hooking questions of existence, culpability and penance on to some heavy riffs.
The opening track, the emotional - some would say overblown - "G8", evokes many resonances. "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." Who is that? FW de Klerk, swanning around the world while his (ex-) people struggle to survive in a society gradually becoming more inimical to them? Or is it Thabo Mbeki, jumping on his jet and leaving behind local problems?
It's neither, of course, because that would just be pathetic - it's a morality tale about the untrustworthiness of leaders in general, but the beauty of Jack Hammer's international rock sound is that they always bring it on back home.
At its best, The Pilgrim will remind you of a host of great guitar-driven rock bands, including, oddly enough, South Africa's own glam rockers, Circus. There are two Freedom's Children covers, for those of you who can remember that far back. And in the year of the iPod and mp3s, Jack Hammer fights back with absolutely gorgeous cd packaging, featuring postcard sized pictures of heart-achingly familiar South African landscapes
- Chris Roper
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