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Album Review: They Were Here
Byron Metcalf and Jennifer Grais
Cover image of the album They Were Here by Byron Metcalf and Jennifer Grais
They Were Here
Byron Metcalf and Jennifer Grais
2017 / Dr. Bam's Music
62 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
They Were Here is a collaborative project by Byron Metcalf and Jennifer Grais that explores the archetypical horse-human bond. It is also a tribute to America’s vanishing wild horses and an elegy for their loss. The blending of Grais’ haunting and heartfelt vocalizations with Metcalf’s tribal-trance drumming and distinctive production style results in an hour-long celebration of the grace, beauty and intense tribal power of the wild horses that inspired the project. Both artists are shamanic practitioners in addition to their musical projects and first worked together when they appeared as guest performers on Steve Roach’s 2004 album Fever Dreams II.

The instrumentation on They Were Here is as original as the music itself. Metcalf performs on frame drums, rattles, udu, ceremonial drums and synthesizer. Additional instrumentation is provided by guest artists Ron Oates (keyboard, synthesizers and orchestral arrangements) and Dashmesh Khalsa (didgeridoo and Hybrid Electro Groove). The seven tracks range from about 6 1/2 minutes to a little more than 14 minutes, but each piece segues into the next without a pause so that the album plays continuously as one very hypnotic track. Flowing seamlessly from one track to the next, the transitions are organic - never sudden or jarring. The drumming can be very intense and in the foreground, gradually fading back to a quieter vibe. Grais’ vocalizations range from energetic chanting to soul-stirring poignance. The closing track, “Song For Solo” is a touching remembrance of Grais’ longtime horse companion who recently passed away. She says that this piece “reminds me that despite loss, there is still magic in the world, and allows me to connect with the good things in the Universe.”

Overall, much of this album is very ambient. The background orchestrations are more of a drone with strings and/or atmospheric keyboard sounds. There is a very strong Native American influence, of course, bridging the time spans from the past to the present and reminding us of the need to preserve and treasure the natural world before even more of it disappears. Grais’ vocals are mostly wordless vocalizations that become an incredibly expressive and emotional musical instrument. They Were Here is a unique and truly exceptional musical project! It is available from Amazon and iTunes.
February 12, 2018
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