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  • Jonathan Widran


In what has evolved as a divinely timed collaboration of transcendent musical energies, shamanic practitioners and multi-talented artists Byron Metcalf and Jennifer Grais have joined forces to create They Were Here, an epic, sacred and emotionally evocative masterwork celebrating the grace, tenderness, and intense tribal power of America’s wild horses.

While paying homage to the eternal spirit and mystical healing abilities of these treasured (but quickly disappearing) icons, the two also use what poet and friend Frank Saizan Owen calls their “unbridled sonic journey” to illuminate and discover the deeper forces behind the fascinating bond horses have with humans.

From the opening bars of the title track incorporating the sound of actual hooves on the ground amidst an hypnotic ambient soundscape through the glorious, healing elegy “Song for Solo” (reflecting on Jennifer’s recently departed white horse), They Were Here weaves a deeply grounded yet blissfully ethereral world infused with polyrhythmic drumming, didgeridoo and orchestral synth-scapes (co-composed and arranged by 45-yearr Nashville studio veteran Ron Oates).

Driven by a deep sense of respect for “Horse” as healer and rhythm maker, tempered by sociological and political concerns about the ongoing extinction of mustangs from the American West, the seven track, hour long recording is, to quote the eloquent words of Saizan, is “a unique shamanic adventure – a freedom ride of soaring potential and along the way they are held gently and safely in the arms of Mother Earth. . .(with) riveting, heart-rending vocal pieces that seem, all at once, part of the ancient past of our deep ancestors and our present day challenges on earth.”

They Were Here marks a creative reunion that Byron had been longing for since he and Jennifer first recorded and performed with Steve Roach in 2004. The award winning ambient electronic artist and producer invited the two to be guest performers on his album Fever Dreams II. Roach later asked them to perform with him at that year’s International Transpersonal Conference in Palm Springs. Knocked out by the singer’s achingly beautiful vocalizations, Byron – a world renowned tribal/trance drummer - often used the track “Opening the Space” in his work as a transpersonal healer.

Both agree on their favorite track on the album – “Song for Solo,” the breathy, ambient and soulfully poignant elegy to Jennifer’s longtime horse companion that continues to help her “connect me to what’s important and my heart. It reminds me that despite loss, there is still magic in the world, and allows me to connect with the good things in the Universe.” The two balance the gentle grace of that piece with the hypnotic tribal intensity and soaring vocalizations of others like “Opening To Freedom” and “Run,” the expansive 14-minute journey at the core of They Were Here. This track begins with the real life sounds of galloping horses that Byron ultimately fuses with his explosive drumming and Jennifer’s joyful, heaven sent/heaven bound vocalizations. Another track that captures the ambitious intent of the project is “Soul of Mestengo,” which is Spanish for “Mustang.” Jennifer’s vocal channeling of the ancients, combined with Byron’s deeply meditative drumming, lets our imagination run wild on the plains with these majestic creatures.

“Working closely with Byron on They Were Here was like finding a soul brother who I connect with on very deep levels and who understands my spiritual connection to horses,” Jennifer says. Byron adds, “When Jennifer steps in a studio, she owns it. It was an honor to work on this album with her. It defies categorization, it’s fresh and different and I light up every time I listen to it.”

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