Zebra (Atlantic í83) Rating: A
I've never understood why these guys never got more respect or had more commercial success. Although they had a couple of minor radio hits with "Tell Me What You Want" and "Who's Behind The Door?," these guys soon all but disappeared from the national scene. In fact, I saw them live in 1990 and they put on a great show, albeit in front of only about 50 people! Although most professional critics would probably say that Zebra were a typical Led Zeppelin rip-off outfit, for one album at least they were much more, at least in my eyes. Sure, lead singer Randy Jackson (also the lead guitarist and primary songwriter) bears a resemblance to Robert Plant, but this album is full of great tunes that a latter day Zep might have attempted, since majestic keyboards are a major part of their sound. Like Zep (and Rush, who they also remind me of), the band often strives for an epic sound, which they nail on several outstanding songs. For example, the band comfortably stretches out on "Take Your Fingers From My Hair," which starts slowly but surges to several exciting climaxes before a spectacular jam finish that's highlighted by Jackson's Alex Lifeson-like guitar solo. Even better is "Who's Behind The Door?," one of the great lost songs of the '80s; its evocative beauty reminds me of "The Rain Song" - until its explosive futuristic finish, that is. The aptly titled "The La La Song" is another highly successful showcase for the band's ambitious (file under: progressive hard rock) talents, while more concise highlights come in the form of "Tell Me What You Want," the bandís signature song which is an atmospheric and explosive showcase for Jackson's impassioned high-pitched vocals, "One More Chance," another catchy (and regret-filled) rock song, this one with impressive symphonic elements, and "When You Get There," an energetic and catchy straight ahead riff rocker ("As I Said Before" and "Don't Walk Away" are also enjoyable if less obviously great). Granted, I can certainly live without their fast paced and rather annoying cover of The Beatles (via Larry Williams) "Slow Down," and Zebra never matched this Jack Douglas produced debut album in terms of consistent overall quality, but I've long felt that this overlooked gem was one of the very best hard rock albums of the early 1980s.