= February 2023 =  
 Neal Heppleston
Misha Panfilov
Joost Dijkema
Onségen Ensemble
Marlene Ribeiro
Burd Ellen



(LP/CD bandcamp.com )

Known, to me at least, as the rather excellent Bass player in Sharron Kraus's band, Neal Hepplestone also works with Jim Ghedi as well as making and repairing the Double Bass. His first solo album, released in 2019 saw him re-arranging traditional folk tunes with the double bass to the fore, the music fleshed out with an array of other players and instruments, rather excellent it is too and can be found on his Bandcamp page under the, does what it says on the tin title, ‘Folk Songs For Double Bass’, check it out.

    Those expecting more of the same will be surprised and hopefully delighted with his latest release, a collection of soaring, and emotional drones and ambient pieces, the music attempting to reflect the title of the piece, the whole album tied together with an oceanic theme, the music easily conveying, the ebb and flow o the sea, it's tranquillity and darkness, the beauty tempered by a sense of danger and power.

     Opening track ‘Siphonophore’ (creatures that use jet propulsion) sets the scene beautifully, a gently undulating drone/bass line floats us out to sea whilst  a flute seemingly tells us ancient tales of the ocean adding plenty of emotion to the piece and setting the listener adrift. Following on, the 12 minute title track takes us into the ocean itself, diving into the depths and exploring its mysteries, a deep rolling drone softened by twinkling harp notes whilst rumbling percussion adds texture and a sense of undercurrent to the music, something I would love to hear live.

    Changing tack again, ‘Ghost Ship’ has a pulsing Bass line and razor sharp drums driving the track, a guitar picking melodies whilst Synth and Mellotron add depth, a Saxophone weaving around it, the whole reminding me of Can in its precise delivery. Slowing things down, the beautiful piano led ‘In Fathoms’ has strings that ache beautifully around the falling piano notes, the sound enriched by Harmonium, lap steel and a groaning Double Bass, definitely a personal favourite on the album.

     With a woozy charm all its own, ‘Salt Dog’ finds you lost in a small boat looking for land, a hallucinatory moment when nothing is quite real, whilst ‘The Descent of the Diving Bell’ takes us from surface to ocean floor, Double Bass and droning strings, documenting the tension, curiosity and apprehension of the dive, the darkness closing in around the divers.

    To end, ‘Ebisu’, Japanese God of the Whale Shark, is a lighter more ambient piece, a bamboo flute guiding us back to shore, glimpses of land beckoning us home refreshed and happily tired from our days at sea, reminding me of mid-seventies Eno and a fine way to complete an album that I enjoyed so much I bought the vinyl. (Simon Lewis)


(LP on Funk Night Records)


Misha Panfilov, the affable, prolific composer/musician/producer from Tallinn, Estonia, brings us his latest interesting creation.  Panfilov’s tastes run from garage rock to funky library music, and this definitely falls into that latter category.


It’s a somewhat unusual record in that it’s music made for a stage play, and not a musical.  From the play’s description on the album’s back cover:  “Plan X is a story of three bandits who are on a mission that turns out to be a real neck-breaker.  Their backgrounds are iffy, and they are cooped up in a house together.  The clock is ticking.  Little to no time is left to make it out of there in once piece.  So many futile attempts in the past, it’s not the best of omens, that it’s time to put Plan X in motion!”


I’m not sure how good the play is, but I do know one thing:  no matter what, Misha Panfilov’s music makes it better.  For that you need look no further than the seven and a half minute “Paradox.”  Part funky blaxploitation soundtrack music, part library music, either way it’s classic Panfilov and it’ll have you shuckin’ and jivin’ along.  Likewise, “Shapes” is a heady slice of psychedelic funk with some gnarly guitar and spacy flute.


He’s got a little help along the way, in the form of drums by Madis Katkosilt, and flute by Ilja Gussarov and electric piano by Volodja Brodsky on a couple of tracks.  But the rest is all Misha:  electric guitar, bass, synthesizers, Mellotron, electric piano, percussion, and backing vocals.


Plan X caps off a fine year for Panfilov.  His Penza Penza band released the excellent Neanderthal Rock LP, he put out a smattering of high-quality singles as Misha always does, and he’s held successful fundraisers for the people of Ukraine.  He’s a good soul.


(Mark Feingold)




You will recall in that not-too-distant plague year of AD 2020, how a lot of shut-in artists tried to make a go of doing home studio split-screen live performances via streaming media.  In some cases, it was in a pay-per-view format to try to make up for some of the lost income without touring, while in other instances it was probably just to keep their musical muscles from atrophying and to remind you they were still there, still mattered and cared very much about you, their audience.  One of the more remarkable of these endeavors was by a most remarkable band, our old friends Vespero.


Vespero launched an ambitious project – even for them – where each week, for eight weeks straight, they would write, rehearse, videotape and publish a new seven to eight-minute song from scratch.  And if you know Vespero, a “song” is a complicated web of themes, time signatures, melodies, and always outstanding musicianship.


I can recall watching each one of them, my jaw dropping in astonishment at how they could turn out these amazing fully-formed complex sonic worlds every week.  I’d eagerly anticipate the next installment the way my Dad must’ve felt watching Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s.  I wondered how long they could keep it up, their creativity and work ethic seemingly never-ending.  And I wondered, to what end?  I think I even asked them at one point if this music would ever see a proper release, to which I think they ambiguously responded perhaps someday.


Well, someday has finally come, with Vespero releasing the tracks in this digital collection, appropriately labeled Isosessions.  And to be fair, not all the tracks have been languishing till now; the band reworked four of them for release on their 2021 studio album Songo.  Many of the songs, such as “Al Dafirah” and “Myth of Uqbar” have an air of the exotic East, like a high-octane trip on a rocket-powered camel through the winding back alleys of a Silk Road bazaar.  What can I say, lockdown put us all in a mood.


Two of my favorites are the back-to-back “Lebedivo” and “Samaväya,” both of which are among the tracks that would eventually make it onto Songo.  “Lebedivo” has everything great about Vespero – an uptempo joyride with spacy synths by Alexey Klabukov, lots of stringed instruments by Alexander Kuzovlev and guest Alexey Esin, a soaring violin solo by Vitaly Borodin, topped off by breathtaking wordless vocals by guest Sonya Vlasova.  “Samaväya” is a mid-tempo track which starts out as a vehicle for Kuzovlev’s steady, unflashy guitar playing, but transitions abruptly midway through into a wondrous, wide open cinematic Mellotron excursion, its complex rhythm held steady by Ark Fedotov’s bass and brother Ivan’s solid drumming.


Sonya Vlasova returns for the majestic “Cloudarias,” which combines Eastern exoticism with a touch of Ennio Morricone.  Stunning closer “Zinnia” is another piece of typical Vespero brilliance.  It starts out full of mystery with Ark Fedotov’s synth effects and Alexey Klabukov’s Mellotron, before morphing into Borodin playing a wild violin freakout with massive effects (almost like a violin with a wah-wah), with a strobe light flashing in his face the whole time on the video, the poor guy, ending with a Mellotron coda.


It's Vespero, so Isosessions is full of imagination, stunning inventiveness and virtuosity.  The original videos are well worth watching to see them all plugging away on split-screen from their homes, the images constantly changing with the mercurial songs.  You can view all the videos here.  One minor detail - the running order on Isosessions is different than the original release sequence, but was probably reshuffled for a better album flow.  A physical release would be primo, but beggars can’t be choosers, so we’ll take whatever we can get from this unique, astounding project.


(Mark Feingold)


(Twin Dimension Records available on ltd edition (300) Vinyl, CD and DL from www.joostdijkema.bandcamp.com )

This is Joost’s third album following on from Time Thief from 2019 which we favourably reviewed upon its release. This new album also has cover art by Steven Krakow and Sarah Gossett.

The album was recorded during the pandemic years at home with Joost playing every instrument himself and whilst albums of this nature can sound a little sterile this is far from it and unless you were told you would believe that he has a band playing with him. The album is dedicated to Robert Koenen, Michael Chapman Dog Moses and Jan Kool.

It starts with ‘When A Dog Knows You’re Home’, an intricate acoustic guitar figure is played before the track opens up with some cool pedal steel guitar, this is the first surprise on the record as it is a difficult instrument to play, but Joost already sounds like a seasoned pro on it. The track motors along accompanied by bass, drums and electric guitar and is a fine, instrumental opening song. ‘Beautiful Ride’ follows this; it’s a classic car song, which name checks Pontiac’s, Mustang’s and Cadillac’s, a beautiful ride, Joost’s warm voice somewhere between Mark Knopfler and JJ Cale.

The next track wouldn’t be out of place on a mid period Michael Chapman album, a lovely song with some very nice electric guitar playing, filling in all the spaces around an intricate acoustic guitar pattern, it also reminds me of the kind of sound achieved by The Eighteenth Day Of May. As the song progresses, a dirty fuzzy guitar threatens to overtake the proceedings but never quite interrupts the ringing, acoustic guitar figure which is always to the fore.

 A delicate sound of thunder rumbles out of the speaker’s announcing the title track ‘After Thunder Sun’, an Appalachian sounding banjo picks out the melody, this is joined by a full band sound and some very nice electric guitar licks. This side is almost all instrumental and Joost ends it with ‘Vic’s Raga’ an intricate, twelve string reverie, which holds the attention, expertly played.

Side two starts with possibly my favourite song on the album, ‘Train Of Doomsday’, a future folk-rock classic, not too dissimilar to early period Fairport Convention, imbued with a labyrinthine, electric guitar solo, worthy of Richard Thompson. It’s also the lengthiest track on the album, a simply wonderful song and quite frankly worth the price of admission on its own. ‘Buddy’ is so pretty but also very sad, again it is a stunning piece of acoustic folk-rock, in which warm, world-weary vocals, tell the tale of loss and bereavement. It also features vocals by Flora Karsemeijer.

‘Let It Rain (Like It Used To Rain) is a mysterious sounding instrumental song, an intricate acoustic guitar pattern is played over a bed of whooshing synth, it has a lovely loping rhythm, which seems to slow down and speed up at will, it is full of portent and foreboding, another favourite.

Joost ends the album on a high with ‘The Chap From Wrytree’, taken at a slow pace, with shakers for percussion and warm expansive bass guitar filling in the spaces left by the fabulous, lightly echoing, guitar melody, it flows magnificently and provides a suitably fine ending to a brilliant album. I highly recommend this album and just hope it gets the exposure that it so deserves, it’s a wonderful record. 

(Andrew Young)




If you like music with tons of sound, instrumentation, voices, and a big production with loads going on underneath the hood, then give Onségen Ensemble a rumble.  The Finnish band’s latest record Realms is difficult to describe.  There are elements of prog, indigenous themes, widescreen cinematic soundtracks, world music, and post-rock.  You can pick up traces of Rick Wakeman’s ambitious solo projects, vocal behemoths like The Polyphonic Spree, and other Scandinavian bands with big sounds like Motorpsycho and The Soundtrack of Our Lives.  The band has had a lot of personnel changeover in the course of its four records, and is currently sitting as an eight-piece, having standard rock instrumentation, but also throwing in steel drums, ocarina, digideroo, a small brass and woodwind section, and plenty of Mellotron.


Opener “The Sleeping Lion” starts lightly with some steel drums.  But this is no calypso record.  The band and the vocals soon come thundering in.  The words are sung, more like chanted, like much of the album, in a well-arranged male-female chorus.  But unfortunately, the rub with a lot of the album’s vocals is that, even though sung passionately by the choir in English, this writer had trouble making out much of the words.  They’re sung with great ardor, and it seems they have something important to say, but comprehension is just out of reach, to me at least.  But with an album title like Realms, and song titles such as “Naked Sky,” “Abysmal Sun” and “Collapsing Star,” it does seem like a thematic album about the cosmos.


“The Sleeping Lion” segues straight into “Naked Sky,” the ten and a half-minute centerpiece of the album, which features a churning rhythm and a HUGE, muscular arrangement.  The chorus sounds just massive (mostly oohs and aahs this time).  And there are so many instruments!  The elegiac middle section conjures epic journeys across land and sea in the mind’s eye.  The song’s enormous rock finale projects conquest over whatever little beasties your imagination whips up, with the return of the mighty chorus for good measure.


“Abysmal Sun” has fabulous, expansive Mellotron, with the chorus this time humming together at first, singing later.  Again, the instrumentation and production are cavernous and sprawling, with horns, synths, guitar and drums, and the big choir.  The steel drums return to tell us it’s time to transition to the next song!  “Collapsing Star” reminds me a little of King Crimson’s “Epitaph,” and there’s nothing wrong with that.


“The Ground of Being” sounds like what the score of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly might be like if you heaped the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on top of it.  Closer “I’m Here No Matter What” is mostly instrumental, bristling with verve and pizzazz, and that choir again.


Onségen Ensemble self-released Realms on Bandcamp, and held a successful crowdfunding effort for a physical release in blue vinyl, so we should hopefully see some of those copies become available soon.  This is an album full of grandeur and spectacle.  As difficult as it can be to categorize, their sound is magnetic, drawing you in and not letting go, and sounds better with each listen.


(Mark Feingold)

(LP/DL from
Rocket Recordings)

“Who knows where the time goes?” asked the song. Search me, but it doesn’t seem like five years since Rocket Recordings held their 20th birthday bash and which due to the Fates I was unable to attend. I’m equally unlikely to make it to Roadburn Festival in the abroad this year where Rocket dons the robe of guest curator for what promises to be a more restrained but no less mouth-watering celebration of the label’s quarter-century achievements.

One Rocket emissary to this iconic Tilburg event is Marlene Ribeiro.  Not an obvious choice, perhaps, at least at first glance, for an event known for its crushing heaviness and dark ambience. Notwithstanding that the regular (irregular for that matter) reader may recognise Marlene as erstwhile long-time bass-plunker with experimental noise-rockers Gnod, her other work sure is a different bag of chips. However, while her collaboration with Valentina Magaletti from 2020 sounds, in retrospect, like a fitting soundtrack to mysterious and slightly unsettling fever dream from the early days of the pandemic, Toquei no Sol (in Portuguese ‘I Played in the Sun’) gives vent to what are obviously Ribeiro’s natural melodic proclivities, while at the same time remaining true to her experimental and rhythmic leanings.

Variously recorded in Wales (where she is now based) Ireland, Madeira and back home in Portugal, this debut solo effort is packed with a sultry, tropical dreampop that is light and feminine without in any way falling into the cutsie trap.  Cooing birdsong and drones yield to organic swoons on ‘Quatro Palvras’ (‘Four Words’), on which Ribeiro accompanies herself on guitar and oboe, and features the voice of her grandmother. It’s a family affair alright. ‘Sangue de Lua de Lobo’ (‘Blood of the Wolf Moon’ - my Portuguese is coming on a treat), meanwhile, is an esoteric instrumental; a beguiling blend of reed instruments and percussion, while the title track evokes field recordings of some Polynesian tribal ritual enacted while drinking deeply of whatever passes as the local kool-aid, an impression that the quiet-loud chanting does nothing to dispel. Its’ more tuneful yet still rhythmic half-sister, ‘You Do It’ makes bountiful and indeed beautiful use of woodwind and by the time you reach ‘Forever’ you’re well and truly down with the lotus eaters. Even here, though Ribeiro can’t entirely rein in her compulsive percussive instincts. To paraphrase the old Jesse Stone classic, she gets into that kitchen and rattles those pots and pans - literally. Not to be out done, curtain dropper ‘What It Is’ is...what it is; a catchy rhythm, a gently infectious melody carried on a breeze of brass and at a slightly busier tempo while still luxuriating in those calm tropical pools.

Rocket Recordings continue to defy categorisation while still managing to rock - and in all likelihood roll - their enigmatic brand. This release is a case in point. To those of you familiar only with her work with Gnod, Marlene Ribeiro is likely to confound your pre-conceptions, as she flies free from any lazily allotted pigeon hole. Roadburn, with its reputation for hairy-arsed loudness, may well find its experimental horizons tested and expanded. And it’s the prospect of that, just like this most commendable “Sun Ritual”, that makes me want to smile.  

Ian Fraser


CD/Digital available from www.burdellen.bandcamp.com

We are a bit late in reviewing this quite frankly essential album. It was released at the end of October last year and has already had some rave reviews. This is the third full length from the duo following on from ‘Says The Never Beyond’, released in 2020. This time around the record deals specifically with the world of tarot and of interpreting the meaning of tarot cards.

The band consists of recent mother Debbie Armour and Gayle Brogan. The two of them hunkered down during a recent residency at Sage Gateshead. It was recorded, engineered and mixed by Jim McEwan, who acts almost like a third member of the band and does a fine job. Most of the vocals are handled by Debbie with most of the instrumentation rendered by Gayle. Lankum’s Ian Lynch adds pipes.

The songs often start out as fairly straightforward folk songs, but somewhere along the way get engulfed in vast swathes of electronics which always threaten to overtake them and sometimes do. It is an excellent album and one to get lost in, a perfect marriage of haunting electronica and fairly traditional folk music; in fact all the songs bar one are traditional songs except ‘Under No Enchantment (The Star & The Moon)’, which was written by Scottish singer songwriter Alasdair Roberts, who Debbie sometimes accompanies.

The album opens with a droning ‘The Fool’, where we are taken over the hills and far away. This is followed by a fairly straightforward ‘The High Priestess & The Hierophant’. Things start to get strange with an almost accapella ‘The Lovers’, where mischief happens under the greenwood tree, it ends with a peel of distant thunder. ‘The Chariot’, which follows, is terrific, both light and dense at the same time, a hard thing to achieve. An expansive ‘The Hermit’ appears next and is similar in nature, lending the album a cohesive nature; it is again dense with foggy mellotron and soufflé light vocals, one of the most progressive folk things I have heard.

Into the final stretch now, with a short ‘Death’, this song has added vocals by Mark Wardlaw. This is followed by the previously mentioned ‘Under No Enchantment (The Star and the Moon)’, which at almost fourteen minutes long is far from a standard traditional reading. It is again full of atmosphere, managing to both sound traditional and modern at the same time, it is an expansive piece and a fine way to finish an excellent album.

(Andrew Young)