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Swallow, Graeme : Portrait of a Zebra

I bought Graeme's last album 'Revelation Project' and enjoyed it immensely. Graeme Swallow is a multi-instrumentalist, progressive metal rocker, akin to Jordan Rudess; who started learning and playing music with private piano lessons at age 5. Besides 'Portrait of a Zebra' and 'Revelation Project', Graeme has released two other albums with his garage band, and has appeared on CPR (Christian Progressive Rock) Volumes 1 and 2.

But after you hear the music on 'Portrait of a Zebra', or 'Revelation Project', you will wonder why this guy isn't playing with some of the best in prog. This is an amazing album, as was 'Revelation Project'. So without further ado, let's go:

'The Savanna' opens quietly with the sounds of nature and slow bass from Kyle King. You can hear the Savanna open before you with sound effects, as a slow lament gives you a final chance to get settled and relax before the action begins. This one will take you high and low and never leave you wanting. So take advantage of the final moments of calm, before the storm of music about to hit you. That flute takes me back to King Crimson or early Genesis. Just amazing. A female narrates the poem "The Savanna", from poet Rokket Girl on, "Striped illusions. Black and white fusions. Seizing the day. Scared away. Back they come. Watch them run. Count the days. Wondrous in so many ways". And away we go.

Then the action begins with 'Zebra Song'. Lightning bolt electric guitars, drums, and keys surround you as the lyrics unfold, "Somewhere on the dry savanna's endless plains we wander 'round". The keyboards are simply amazing. This whole album is full of the best keyboards I have heard all year. Jimmy Rokka provides excellent vocals on this track, 'We ran together in power. Cut off, we're now prone to fall. Numbers once served to protect us. No more can we hear their call". Yes, a cry to protect what has been created.

One of the best lyrical songs on the album is 'Father and Son'. Thomas Irwin performs operatic vocals throughout the track, giving it that otherworldly power. It opens with forceful electric guitars, drums, and majestic keys. This sounds so much like the Star Wars story, but it echoes through the ages. "Aren't we all a little like the father? Aren't we a little like the son? Fighting the battle that rages within us. Never sure if we've lost or won".

If you are a fan of the keyboards, 'Racing Towards Destiny', will stay with you long after the song ends. This is a keyboard fans' candy or champagne...pick your poison. I won't even try to describe it. Words cannot explain this track. It must be experienced. Remember I mentioned Jordan Rudess earlier…well; he might be impressed by this show of force. After reading the credits, I remembered Graeme had sent me a copy of the original version, "Keytar Solo 2010", but I think he amped it up even more on this version…if that was even possible.

Swallow did his research well in locating excellent vocalist to guest on this album. The second to appear is Marissa Garrison, on 'Love No More'. She does an expert job of putting feeling and emotion into this sad track, drenching it with heart – felt kindness. "Don't tell me what I need. Every day love's flow bleeds from me. I won't stop pouring out 'til I can love no more. I'll love no more". Yes, powerful. The piano work, supporting keys and effects surround Garrison's vocals perfectly.

It's back to excellent guitar and keys on 'Garmonbozia (Pain and Sorrow)'. Chad Wagner performs the vocals on this track. With the title you can tell it will be dark and sad, but the lifting lead electric guitar and Dream Theater-like keys help take the edge off the tough lyrics. Stuart Pendergast's lead electric solo is definitely amazing.

'(You Don't) Know Me' is an excellent prog masterpiece. Wagner returns on vocals giving us, "Ring the bell, come on in. Light the candles and let's begin. Donning face, a masquerade. We play our parts – a grand charade. The keys are classic Dream Theater. Wagner's vocals, the pace and rhythm of the song, takes me back to classic Arena, circa some of their best albums, like 'The Visitor' or maybe 'Pepper's Ghost'. Excellent.

If you enjoyed 'Racing Towards Destiny', then you will enjoy another keytar ride on 'Theories of the Dawn'. It opens majestically and slow, but the pace picks up, along with excellent hammer drums. Almost like a Star Wars/Star Trek theme.

'Unseen Power' opens like a classic Genesis song with perfect guitar and soft vocals. Jimmy Rokka is back on vocals with deep, questioning lyrics. "Unseen power driving all of us. Guiding paths or leaving be? Is there more waiting all of us? Have we seen all to see?" His epic delivery of all of the questioning lyrics is perfect. Again, the bass, guitar and keyboards create the perfect environment to support these universal concerns.

'Lament for the Innocent' is full of cool keyboard effects, before that grand piano takes over. Like hearing Queen or some of your favorite piano pieces again. The guitars, keys, and bass join in to create an almost theatrical or orchestral setting.

'Thanksgiving' is the closer and it opens on the keys from the last track. The drums, bass, and the building tension of the electric lead guitars help create the perfect backdrop for the epic music that will follow. Jimmy Rokka is back on vocals and man does this sound as good as something that would have fit well on either Arena's 'The Visitor' or 'Pepper's Ghost'. However, the lyrics separate this from those works. The lyrics are deep and concerned with the state of the world today. "For the one who always stands by my side. For the one who will carry on my name when I die. For the bread on my table and roof overhead. I 'm thankful anyway". Very powerful.

This is an excellent work of heavy prog. It must be experienced. Especially the keyboard work. The guest artists are well chosen. You absolutely cannot go wrong if you are a fan of the heavier side of prog. Hopefully this album will launch Graeme Swallow into a powerful prog band.

Track Listing:

1. The Savanna
2. Zebra Song
3. Father and Son
4. Racing Towards Destiny
5. Love No More
6. Garmonbozia (Pain and Sorrow)
7. (You Don't) Know Me
8. Theories of the Dawn
9. Unseen Power
10. Lament for the Innocent
11. Thanksgiving

Added: May 24th 2013
Reviewer: Mark Johnson
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Language: english

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