Lez Miles – Like Being Hit With A Hammer (2012)

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Australian singer-songwriter Lez Miles, best known as a founding member and lead guitarist with the 1980s hitmakers Adelaide, has crafted a cinematic project that follows the story of a soldier named Franklin.

Incorporating a range of rock and pop influences, and a writing style that is as direct as it is powerful, Miles turns Like Being Hit With A Hammer into a gripping, edge of your seat tale of overcoming terrible obstacles to find a lasting sense of peace on the other side.

Hammer begins appropriately enough with “Dogs of War,” a scene-setting folk-rock tune from which the album gets its title. Here, Miles main character finds himself sent off to war, whether he initially believed in the cause or not: “No choice but to do this thing,” Franklin says, stealing himself, then repeats the line again. As with much of the project, Miles plays all of the instruments save for bass, adding a sweeping solo guitar that moves with a panoramic Haight Street-era psychedelia.

The blues-rocking “Four Days,” which includes harmony vocals from Mel Whitford (in the first of three appearances on Like Being Hit With A Hammer), then follows the soldier as he heads out for some needed rest and relaxation on a four-day furlough. Miles explores a soaring, Beatle-esque upper vocal range, something that conveys the quick burst of hopefulness surrounding these brief respites from battle. “You Make Me High,” which again finds Whitford singing backup, is even more emotionally fragile, as Miles traces Franklin’s reverie-filled emotions at meeting a new love interest while away from the front lines.

That sets up the coiled “Baby, Baby You Drive Me Crazy,” one of just two songs – along with “I Can’t Live Without You Anymore” – not to feature bassist Gareth Saunders, who doubles as engineer and mixer on Hammer. Miles’ one-band approach doesn’t take anything away from this rumbling, Jimi Hendrix-inspired rocker, however, which finds the soldier’s latent passions heating up. By the time Miles settles into the roiling darkness of “Tonight’s the Night,” his guitar has taken on a Carlos Santana-style vibe – conveying in a way that lyrics never could the Latin mysteries of his new lover.

Inevitably, of course, Franklin must return to the killing fields, and “Right Now” explores the disconnect he feels as he realizes everything that happened during this furlough must be left behind – perhaps forever. “God Take My Hand (A Soldier’s Prayer),” which abandons the muscular rock of the previous few songs for an insistent acoustic-guitar signature, goes deeper still into the fears that surround anyone rush toward war’s embrace. The stark setting, not to mention Miles’ sharp-edged questions about God, recall the best of John Lennon’s confessional work.

Even as the soldier returns to battle, however, his mind continues to wander back to his new found relationship – and the album finally gives that love interest a name. “Te Amo Isabella,” is a wordless exploration on guitar, with Miles moving with stirring ease between twilight melancholy, an assertive passion and this ringing sense of destiny.

Whitford returns, this time as lead vocalist, for the grease-popping blues of “I Can’t Live Without You Anymore.” Whereas Miles had so far only explored the terrible emotions surrounding war from the soldier’s point of view, this tune takes a hard look at the other side: Isabella remembers their time together with a writer’s specificity: “Everything was so right,” Whitford sings with a steadying resolve, “but my soul was empty the next day. One sunny day, I pray, you’re going to come knocking at my door.”

Just then, though, the sounds of battle come tearing across the landscape. Franklin has now entered the chaotic scene that he’d been trying to picture all along. Miles does a commendable job of replicating the strange emotional disconnect that must be a part of this bloody assignment. “So much fuss over a piece of land; it’s importance I don’t understand,” Franklin thinks as “The Battle” rages all around him, but then dismisses these deeper questions out of hand — because he must: “It’s either them or me.”

Franklin survives the terrible scene, and resolves to head straight back to the waiting arms of Isabella on “I’m Coming Home Soon,” a propulsive country-rocker. The album-closing “In the Afterglow,” another sun-filled acoustic number, fast forwards toward the couple’s happily-ever-after future days, as Franklin and Isabella look back both on the troubled beginnings of their love – and how nothing, not even the scourge of war, could tear them apart.

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