GRAEME SWALLOW – Portrait Of A Zebra (2013)
GRAEME SWALLOW is a multi-instrumentalist, progressive rocker akin to Jordan Rudess. He started learning and playing music with private piano lessons at age five, and since his teens performing with different bands and as sessionist.
“Portrait Of A Zebra” is his second album as main artist where he handles almost everything, and after the listening experience I wonder why this guy isn’t playing with some of the best in Prog.
“The Savanna” opens quietly with the sounds of nature and slow bass line, then a soft, clean guitar creates atmosphere for an enchanting flute, drawing a picture recalling early Genesis. Take advantage of this moment of calm, because a storm of music is about to hit you.
The action begins with “Zebra Song” through lightning bolt electric guitars, big drums and amazing keyboards. I love how the variety of keyboards arrangements are used on this recording. One of the four guest singers, Jimmy Rokka, provides solid vocals on this track.
One of the best lyrical songs on the album is “Father And Son”. 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’. Tenor Thomas Irwin performs some operatic vocals giving it that otherworldly power.
If you are a fan of the keyboards (like me), “Racing Towards Destiny”, will stay with you long after the song ends. This is a keyboard fans’ heaven. 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.
Swallow did his research well in locating excellent vocalists to guest on this album. Next to appear is Marissa Garrison on “Love No More”. She does an expert job of putting feeling and emotion into this sad tune, drenching it with heart-felt kindness. The piano work, supporting keys and effects surround Garrison’s vocals perfectly for great effect.
It’s back to excellent guitar and keys on “Garmonbozia (Pain and Sorrow)”. With the title you can tell it will be dark and sad, but the lifting lead electric guitar and Shadow Gallery-like keys help take the edge off the tough lyrics. Stuart Pendergast’s guest lead electric solo is definitely amazing, and Chad Wagner performs the melodic vocals on this one.
Wagner also leads “(You Don’t) Know Me”, a greatly balanced, midtempo melodious prog composition. The keyboards are classic Dream Theater, whilst 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’. This will delight melodic hard rock fans as well.
If you enjoyed “Racing Towards Destiny”, be prepared for another keyboards galore with “Theories of the Dawn”. It starts majestically and slow, but the pace picks up, along with excellent hammer drums.
“Unseen Power” opens like a classic Genesis song with perfect guitar and soft vocals. Jimmy Rokka is back to the mic with a deep, soulful delivery as the song develops, with the rounded bass and groovy guitar creating a quite dark but moving environment.
The short instrumental “Lament for the Innocent” is full of cool keyboard effects, before that grand piano takes over and the guitars, keys and bass join in to create an almost theatrical or orchestral setting.
“Thanksgiving” is the closer, where the rhythm section 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, this time in more dramatic vocal delivery, while musically, the composition goes for a fast ride.
On “Portrait Of A Zebra” Graeme Swallow has created a solid, strong progressive piece of work, moving from modern sympho, prog metal and classic prog, but with very catchy and inventive passages very close to melodic Neo Prog.
Swallow’s songwriting abilities denotes an expertise craft with each song sounding unique, while still sounding like they all belong together. His musicianship is excellent on all instruments, but the guy truly excels on the keyboards, lots of keys to enjoy here. The personnel is really effective, and production excellent for an indie.
I suspect Graeme Swallow will be hired very soon by a major Prog act, meanwhile, enjoy his terrific “Portrait Of A Zebra”, much more than ‘another’ progressive recording.
01. The Savanna
02. Zebra Song
03. Father and Son
04. Racing Towards Destiny
05. Love No More
06. Garmonbozia (Pain and Sorrow)
07. (You Don’t) Know Me
08. Theories of the Dawn
09. Unseen Power
10. Lament for the Innocent
Graeme Swallow – Guitars, Keyboards, Drums, Vocals
Marissa Garrison – Vocals
Jimmy Rokka – Vocals
Thomas Irwin – Vocals
Chad Wagner – Vocals
Kyle King – Bass
Stuart Pendergast – Guitar solo
BUY IT !