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Binkelman's Corner by Bill Binkelman
Bill Binkelman is a long-time icon in the industry.
Other reviews from Binkelman's Corner by Bill Binkelman:
  They Were Here by Byron Metcalf, reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 5/9/2018
  Healing Music Volume 2 by Valerie Romanoff, reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 5/7/2018
  Every Moment by Joseph L Young, reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 5/7/2018
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They Were Here
By Byron Metcalf & Jennifer Grais
Label: Dr. Bam's Music
Released 2/16/2018
They Were Here tracks
1. They Were Here
2. Opening to Freedom
3. Soul of Mestengo
4. Near and Far Away
5. Womb of the Serpent
6. Run
7. Song for Solo
 
Byron Metcalf and Jennifer Grais - They Were Here
From master drummer/percussionist Byron Metcalf and dynamic vocalist Jennifer Grais comes a mesmerizing and powerful concept album about our (as human beings) connection to one of nature's most beautiful and noble creatures, the wild horse, They Were Here. Some of you may wonder what in the world will this sound like? Well, first, it sounds awesome (yes, not much detail in that, I realize), but on a more concrete level, the album is a trance/shamanist voyage into primal power and, surprisingly, intimate earthiness. Joined by Ron Oates (keyboards, synths, orchestral arrangements) and Dashmesh Khalsa (didgeridoo and "hybrid elect groove," the latter on one track, "Run"), the two lead artists meld their talents in a perfectly symbiotic joining of their musical souls. Not many albums will deliver a gut punch of power and passion as They Were Here does, so be sure to buckle up, because casual listening this ain't, although at low volume levels, some of this dynamism will go unnoticed. Play this loud and watch out.

The opening title track joins subtle frame drum and Grais subdued wordless vocals with buzzing, swirling didge and synth string ambience, and while some of the album is uptempo and dynamic, there are moments of quiet beauty as well, such as this song. "Opening to Freedom," turns up the rheostat, albeit gradually, with Grais' vocals taking on a more sensual aspect and Metcalf's drumming and rattle building in intensity, again with an undercurrent of synth textures and ambience. The mood of the ambient textures and synths throughout the album consistently add a pronounced haunting quality – beautiful but also mysterious. As "Opening to Freedom" continues to generate more energy, I find myself hearing Grais' vocals as having more than a passing resemblance to Native American chanting, although no reference is made to that aspect in the liner notes. When she reaches for those high wailing notes (and her voice becomes multi-tracked), it's hard not to make that connection (understand that I have reviewed quite a few Native albums in my career, most released on the Canyon label). Track 3, "Soul of Mestengo," escalates the tempo of the rhythms even more, but still not anything thunderous, per se. I don’t know who wielded the synths on this track (because Metcalf is also credited with synths, along with Oates), but whoever it was, he knew what he was doing. Wonderful layering in of the ambient textures and perfectly placed in the mix. Grais' vocals on this track include what sounds like a repeated refrain of sorts, along with soars and dips of vocal acrobatics. From the first time I played this album, I was struck at what a great fit Metcalf's drums/percussion were with the vocals. Not sure who to credit the engineering and mixing/mastering to, other than, as the liner notes list, the album was recorded, mixed and mastered at "The Lair," Prescott Valley, AZ." Perhaps this is Metcalf's home studio?

Sprinkled throughout the album, discretely I might add, are some sound effects of horses galloping, neighing, or similar sounds. I am not sure they add anything to the emotional impact of the music, but they don't detract anything either. With only seven songs on They Were Here, you would be correct in assuming these are longer than normal musical pieces, running from the six-and-a-half minute "Opening to Freedom," and hitting the longest duration on the fourteen minute "Run." "Near and Far Away" eschews passion and power for a softer approach, almost romantic if you will. The frame drum beats are slower and subdued and Grais' vocals float on the air with a gentle beauty. Compare that with the deep sensuality of "Womb of the Serpent," which, unless I am mistaken, features some English lyrics. This track has some serious mojo working for it, reminding me a bit of the earth tribalism of the Steve Roach/Robert Rich masterpiece, Soma. I really dug when Grais' vocals were multi-tracked, although it's hard to explain why, specifically. It just sounds cool. She really reaches for it on this song and her octave range is impressive. "Run" is one of those tracks featuring the sounds of horses - galloping hooves and horses snorting with the exertion of their effort. This is heard over a bed of sythns. Grais' vocals enter the song and once more the way she is singing reminds me of Native chanting, both what she is literally vocalizing and also the breathy execution of her vocals. At fourteen minutes long, this piece takes its time developing, as Metcalf's rhythms gradually are folded in over the galloping sounds. If you haven't guessed from the title, this is the dynamic center of the album, although it takes time for the energy to reach its peak intensity.

They Were Here should be essential listening for those who enjoy ethno-tribal ambient music but I would also highly recommend it to fans of Native American chant, with the caveat that I don't know how authentic this is, but it would be hard to believe that Grais was not at least influenced by that genre. All the musicians are to be praised, not just Metcalf and Grais, as Oates and Khalsa contribute a lot. They Were Here is a unique achievement in the genre of rhythmic tribal music.
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 5/9/2018
 
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