No Tellin’ Lies/3.V Label: American Beat
Zebra is a three-piece rock band that enjoyed so much local success (in both New Orleans and Long Island) in the '80s that it prompted Atlantic Records to sign them as a can’t-miss prospect. But somehow, Zebra managed to fade into obscurity. Maybe it was the fact that there were so many other movements going on at the time – MTV and New Wave to name a few, with arena stars like the Police and Journey hogging entertainment dollars. But Zebra (still together, in fact, after all these years) would go on to release three albums on Atlantic. The band’s debut was mildly successful, and while the follow-ups, No Tellin’ Lies and 3.V, didn’t fare as well, you can now buy both of them as a re-issue two-fer from new label American Beat Recordings.
Though the two albums on this set had little commercial success, hard-core Zebra fans know better, because these guys consistently delivered great music. No Tellin’ Lies was almost a continuation of the band’s self-titled debut, and in fact a few of the songs the band played in their set before getting signed were held back for the next two albums. One of those songs was “Wait Until the Summer’s Gone,” which was so influenced by Led Zeppelin that it could have easily landed on any Zeppelin album. “Bears” is another of those tracks – a four-and-a-half-minute pop song that builds into a chorus featuring lead vocalist Randy Jackson and some of his trademark emotive screams. Also on No Tellin’ Lies is the dreamy “Lullaby,” as close to a ballad as you can get from a band that rocks this hard. Other tracks on No Tellin’ Lies that just positively screamed were the metal-tinged title track and the rump-shaker “Drive Me Crazy.”
3.V featured another track from the band’s early days, “Hard Living Without You,” which was a cross of two Zebra influences, Led Zeppelin and the Moody Blues. The rest of this particular album is not up to the lofty standards Zebra set for itself with the first two efforts, but there are some solid offerings. “He’s Making the Fool” has a catchy chorus, and “Time” is a pretty 12-string ballad that sounds like a cross between Zep’s “Rain Song” and “Kashmir.” And rocking tracks “Better Not Call” and “About to Make the Time” are two of the more underrated songs in the band’s catalog.
If you remember seeing Zebra on the club circuit in the early days, this collection is going to bring back fond memories. And if you are just being introduced to them, imagine Led Zeppelin, the Moody Blues, Triumph and Rush all being melded together. It’s kind of a shame that Zebra’s unprecedented local success (they would sell out venues with regularity and had major rock radio stations pimping them before they were signed) didn’t translate into a long and prosperous career. But it’s all good, especially because labels like American Beat exist to bring their music back, and because you can still see Zebra perform these songs today.