= January 2020 =  
Dead Sea Apes
Nick Haeffner
Lake Mary and the Ranch Family Band
Billy Strings
Zone 6
Fern Knight
Taras Bulba


DEAD SEA APES – NIGHT LANDS (LP/CD on Cardinal Fuzz Records)

ADAM STONE & DEAD SEA APES – LIVE IN BELPER (LP/CD on Perfect Prescriptions Records)

Entering 2020 with a brace of new and very different Dead Sea Apes releases is a fine way to start the year and indeed the decade.

Last year saw a great addition to the Dead Sea Apes treasure chest with the magnificent ‘The Free Territory’ release. ‘Night Lands’ takes and further develops those exploratory and improvised ideas  over three long tracks with guest Nik Rayne of The Myrrors joining in to create what could be called a Cardinal Fuzz super session I guess? Opening track ‘No Friends But The Mountains’ is over 21 minutes long but not a minute is wasted and it’s a wonderful expansive soundworld where swirling psychedelia and deserted nightscapes come together in an atmospheric track to fuel the imagination. Hypnotic post rock infused grooves and melodies with the ebb and flow of subtle keyboard colours underpin a wonderful guitar led adventure that takes in peaks of soaring space rock with diversions into more subtle and sparse improvisations that generate melodic touches not unlike the Grateful Dead and Velvet Underground but also soulful touches that chime with some of the more exploratory Americana bands such as Lambchop or Giant Sand. The title track ‘Night Lands’ is harsher, more elemental, hard hitting and dense with a focus on a killer central riff that rocks hard but with interesting psychedelic colours that compel you need to listen closely whilst nodding your head vigorously. The final track ‘A Slow Heart Beats Hard’ is a mere nine minutes long. It’s the owner of another killer riff – slow burning, drenched in a lonely, twilight atmosphere and providing the heartbeat for some inventive soloing and melodies that blend kosmische, progressive and heavy psych elements to great effect. This is a wonderful record which once more takes the Dead Sea Apes sound a little further into new and interesting territories, continuing a journey that I for one am very happy to hear the results from each step forward.

‘Live in Belper’ features a very different Dead Sea Apes sound with writer and singer Adam Stone. It’s a limited run on a new offshoot label of Cardinal Fuzz and is a 40 minutes long treat focusing in large part on songs released on the excellent ‘Warheads’ record released back in 2018 by Cardinal Fuzz. From the word go the energy and intensity of the performance is clear with opener ‘Inside of Me’ roaring along in all its urgent twangsome garage psych glory and here and indeed throughout the record Adam Stone roars and drawls out dystopian, satirical and generally bleak waves of  lyrics in a vocal style that blends Jello Biafra, John Cooper Clarke and John Lydon to great effect. After this opening salvo we get into more experimental and textural territories where dub, post punk and psych elements come together and fill the room with an edgy and compelling sound not unlike Public Image Limited or The Pop Group in their prime such as on the wonderful ‘Retreat To Your Bunker’ and ‘Tentacles’. ‘Power To The People’ builds up a whirlwind of raw howling noise over which Adam Stone’s voice strains to be heard as a rasping shout and finally ‘Yes No’ takes a heavy stoner riff with what is left of Adam Stone’s voice once more taking the song to the edge of abandon. For one thrilling Sunday night in an otherwise sleepy Belper, Derbyshire,  a small café venue (which I think sadly may be no longer be there) became the Belper Budokan and thank goodness we have this audio document to savour the result again and again.

(Francis Comyn)


NICK HAEFFNER - THE GREAT INDOORS. 2xCD  gatefold card sleeve.


This album was originally released in 1987 on the Bam Caruso label and now sees a reissue with an additional CD of rarities and demos from the time.

Nick Picked up a guitar aged 16, developing an interest in music from a very early age, indeed the album’s title refers to a period in his preteens, when illness kept him indoors. Having an older brother with an excellent record collection opened his ears to such strange exotic sounds as The Incredible String Band, Roy Harper, Fairport, John Cage, Cathy Berberian, along with the more mainstream music of Cohen, Stones, Beatles etc.

The album is delightful and has been likened to Sgt Pepper. The opener ‘You Know I Hate Nature’ is a pastoral gem, birdsong and orchestral touches. ‘The Sneaky Mothers’ sounds a lot like he was also aware of Forever Changes. ‘The Master’ has a cool insistent nagging beat, it tells of an otherworldly alien encounter. How good a riff is the one that opens the next song The ‘Earth Movers’, an instrumental decorated with keyboards by co-producer Brian Marshall. ‘Don’t Be Late’ is a beautiful wistful half spoken song, a sad lament enriched by a lovely string quartet, very much influenced by Robert Kirby’s string arrangements for Nick Drake.

‘Furious Table’ sounds a lot more eighties with arcing fretless bass and a rhythm, akin to Talking Heads, a whole heap more electronic in nature. ‘Breaths’ is a cover version of a song by Sweet Honey in the Rock which sounds like Robyn Hitchcock on safari, a nice ecological song. ‘Back in Time For Tea’, rocks a little harder, crunchy guitars and a tuba solo. ‘Steel Grey’ a song inspired by Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth is a very good song, like a cross between a John Cage and Nick Drake, sung from the point of view of an abandoned alien. The Great Indoors, a bossa nova style instrumental, closes this out of time album, in fine style. 

The bonus disc sees songs recorded in demo form, a couple of 12” singles, songs projected for the follow up Dali Parton, as well as a few previously unreleased new recordings. I’m not sure as to why I’ve not been aware of this album until recently, but I’m glad that we are now firm friends.

(Andrew Young)


(LP/Digital on Full Spectrum Records)

As readers well know, the past couple of years have seen, if not the Big Bang explosion, then the runaway expansion that follows, of instrumental acoustic guitar music.  Once primarily the province of American Primitive followers, the genre has diversified into many other welcome streams.  A recent part of that evolution has been the layering of acoustic instrumentals with electric guitars, slide guitars, effects, and the like.

Enter Lake Mary, the project of guitarist Chaz Prymek, who records in Missouri, Colorado and other places where he’s linked up with like-minded collaborators.  The prolific Lake Mary has released many recordings this past decade, often on cassette.  But in recent times, he’s teamed with the full band experience, the loose collective The Ranch Family Band.  Latest release Sun Dogs is a sublime, pastoral album that will leave you wondering “now what was I so worried about today?”  Fans of Elkhorn, Prana Crafter and William Tyler will find much to love.

The album traverses many styles within, perhaps no better encapsulated than the nearly ten-minute title track “Sun Dogs,” which takes most of them in.  Starting with Prymek’s acoustic/electric flanged introductory riff, overlayed by ethereal slide guitar, The Ranch Family Band eventually joins in with bass and drums, and they make a very joyful noise indeed.  This transitions to a wafting middle section that seems suspended in air.  Another segue leads to a multiple electric guitar jam with slide and effects weaving all around for the remainder of the track.  Delightful, absolutely delightful.  Follow-up track “Watermelon” continues to feed your head and ears more of this magnificent rolling serenity, finishing with an unexpected, wonderful flute solo.

Most of Prymek’s compositions are more riff and melody-based than the ethereal, amorphous, meandering pieces of some other artists, and of course, there’s plenty of room under the sun and in your collections for all of them.  Prymek also includes contemplative solo acoustic pieces such as the expansive “Murmurations/The End of the Western Spirit” and closer “Blue Spruce (For Quinn).”  But there’s nothing quite like “Wonder Valley Ramble” to leave a contented smile on your face, almost as involuntary muscle movement.  What starts as a jaunty stroll for acoustic guitar and slide takes an unexpected detour as the song dissolves into a well of effects and atmospherics.

On Sun Dogs, Lake Mary & The Ranch Band continue and expand upon the excellent new renaissance of acoustic guitar music, using the guitar as foundation and launching point, colored by other guitars and sounds, not just albums by the unaccompanied soloist.  It’s music that hits all the pleasure centers of the mind, with fertile paths aplenty for wandering.

(Mark Feingold)



(LP/CD/Digital on Rounder Records)


Two words.  Psychedelic bluegrass?  Never thought I’d see those two words or genres in the same sentence or musical conversation, but that’s at least part of what awaits you on Billy Strings’ eagerly anticipated second album Home.  But more on that in a minute.


Flat-picking acoustic guitar virtuoso Billy Strings is the hottest thing bluegrass has seen in years, some say the future of bluegrass itself.  And the folk, country and jam band communities are sitting up and taking notice of the young star, too.  The 27-year-old grew up in rural Michigan and now calls Nashville home.  Well, as much home as you can have when you play 200 dates a year.  He possesses lightning quick fingers I could swear have sparks coming out of them when he plays.  He’s already won several major awards and guested on stage with the best of the best.  And he’s branched out his onstage playing style to befit whatever artists he’s playing with, to include electric blues and rock.


Music like Strings’ is best appreciated live, and I encourage you to go see him if you have the chance.  He and his band are amazing and telepathic in their interplay, and they usually have some surprises in store.  That band deserves a great deal of credit – Jarrod Walker (mandolin), Billy Failing (banjo) and Royal Masat (bass) earn kudos just for keeping up with him, but they’re all great players in their own right.  And I like the fact that his touring band is his studio band as well.  Trying to capture the lightning in a bottle of his live performances for a studio recording is always a tricky endeavor for artists like Strings, but Home is an accomplished album.


Recently I saw a YouTube video of Strings onstage during a sound check at the Grand Ole Opry, demonstrating for the reporter a bewildering array of effects pedals and boxes.  I thought, what in the world is going on?  What’s he need these for, he plays acoustic guitar in a bluegrass band, right?  But apparently, he’s expanded his reach in the past couple of years.  One listen to Home will explain what he does with all those pedals.


Strings doesn’t slouch with lyric writing either.  Much of the album contains fatalistic reflections of our times and the world around him; decaying buildings and towns, poverty, the opioid epidemic, betrayal and fat cat greed permeate these songs – definitely not what you would expect on a bluegrass album.


The first few songs are mostly traditional bluegrass, albeit with those interesting lyrical subjects and Strings’ unbelievable playing.  “Must Be Seven” features guest harmony vocals from the great Molly Tuttle.  And try picking up a guitar and playing Strings’ part on “Running.”


But things get really interesting with extended fourth track “Away from the Mire.”  A deeply personal song about him being angry at a family member, here’s where those effects pedals come in.  After starting out normal bluegrass, the song veers off full-tilt into psychedelic territory for a lengthy sojourn, and it WORKS.  Follow-on track, title song “Home” continues the phantasmagorics.  Adding cello, viola and violin, Strings explores some eastern tonalities, producer and engineer Glenn Brown (Greensky Bluegrass) adds Buchla (on a bluegrass album?) and Strings rips it up with an out-of-this-world lysergic solo.  The guitar he used for the solo, he says, is one his grandfather made in prison in the early ‘60s and Billy recently had restored.  Umm, he restored it pretty well.


Back on Earth, the next track “Watch It Fall” attacks destructive Wall Street tycoons - “well the old men said the great big apple is rotten to the core / With Wall Street skimming from the till while no one minds the store.”  And next verse he’s onto climate change-denying politicians “while chunks the size of Delaware are falling off the poles / Our heads are buried in the sand, our leaders dug the hole / Like junkies hooked on fossil fuel headin’ for withdrawal / how long until there’s nothing left at all?”  Pretty progressive for bluegrass, eh?


The song “Highway Hypnosis,” co-written with legend Ronnie McCoury and his son, is about those long drives between gigs.  The middle goes psychedelic again while Strings and band zone out, mesmerized by the road, with many of the driving sounds cleverly emulated by the band’s instruments.  “Love Like Me” is just Billy with guest, the great Jerry Douglas, on dobro.  “Guitar Peace” is Billy’s “Black Mountain Side/White Summer” type moment, with weird effects galore.


While there’s plenty of straightforward bluegrass on the album for the purists, and it’s all quality music, I’ve highlighted the tracks where this young guitar master who’s on fire goes off into the stratosphere, blasting away the norms of his genre.  Even the cover art by Sean Williams looks like something you would more expect from Kikagaku Moyo than a bluegrass artist.  Go see Billy Strings in concert if you can at all.  He leaves it all out there onstage.  But in the meantime, take in Home, this curious, fascinating blend of creative sounds and technical mastery.


 (Mark Feingold)







From the swampy Louisiana bayous comes the fifth LP by Bipolariod, consisting of Ben Glover - vocals and guitar; DC Harboid - bass and vocals; Ben Sumner - Keys, guitar and vocals and Nick Ray - drums.

‘In My Cave’, the first track has a classic garage style but with added mellotron. ‘Cosmos to Cosmos’ is a short Barrett inflected trippy song which is swiftly followed by ‘Roky Mt Hi’ (I see what they did there), a psych slacker with throbbing bass and crashing tumbling drums, nice organ and a weird pendulum beat. ‘Back in the Old Black’, a cynically humorous, catchy tune, about, well, the new black really. ‘Superb Owl’ lasts for ten seconds! Before ‘Sacred Geometry’ arrives, suggesting a kaleidoscopic oompah fairground band, a few minutes in and the track abrubtly departs for more weirdness with backwards guitar and hanging organ.

Side two starts in earnest with ‘5D Printing’ an organ rich, sixties style rocker, with a playful rhythm, closing out with mellotron and walking bass. ‘(I’m Not) Your Puppet’ is a fairly straightforward song but with some mad keyboards and throbbing bass. Perhaps the strangest song on the album is ‘Triple Rainbow’ more backwards guitar and eerie keyboard flourishes to a calliope rhythm; it’s also the longest track on the album. ‘Fake Pretend’ keeps things real and is a fairly convincing mid paced, psych rock song which leads us to the final tune on the record ‘Hummingbird’ a sixties inflected song that’s lightly orchestrated, crepuscular and drowsy but also heavily indebted to our Syd, taking us nicely back to where we started.

(Andrew Young)


ZONE SIX - KOSMIK KOON  Sulatron Records LP/CD.
(www.sulatron.com )

A few albums into their career Zone Six remind us of what a great band they are. Consisting of Rainer Neeff: guitar, fx, Komet Lulu: Bass, fx, voice, Sula Bassana: Drums, synths, organ, mellotron, electric piano and acoustic guitar. Recorded from 2016 through 2018 the album is dedicated to Kosmik Ken the father of UK festival Kosfest, hence the rather awkward title.

Things start off all spacey with “Maschinenseele”, a slow swirl of notes, guitars sending out tracers to a distant galaxy, bleeps, probes and metallic klangs, when the rhythm section joins in it adopts a slow sly foreboding presence, building until about the six minute mark when we suddenly experience some turbulence, the guitar becomes a lot more insistent, dreamy synths also add texture before descending into barely controlled fury, gales of squalling guitar are unleashed which seems to do the trick as things ever so slowly return to earth.

“Kosmik Koon” the title track fairly flys out of the traps with a hawkwind like bent, chugging in to space, swirling synths and some blistering guitar, spraying bruised splintered notes from Rainer’s guitar all over the shop, this is a beast of a space rock track, a swirling maelstrom of driving bass, propelled by drums and sent heavenwards with synth and guitar.

“Raum”, is a good deal shorter at barely three minutes and provides a little respite, it’s a trippy little interlude, hanging organ, synth and guitar, space prog. “Still” has a pretty intro, electric piano, ‘tron and synth, more space prog. “Song For Ritchie” the final and longest song at almost fourteen minutes is epic, a motorik beat is overlaid by metallic slide guitar, synths billow and sustained sharp fractured guitar notes peel off from Rainer’s fret board, the way that the rhythm section drive the songs forward on the album is to be commended and they do a sterling job here, upping the pace when required. This is one of the best space rock albums I’ve heard for a while, try to find a copy.

(Andrew Young)





“Fern Knight” the opening song on Solstice the fifth album by the band (an album almost ten years in the making) is an electric madrigal which features harpsichord, cello and some excellent nasty electric guitar. The band consists of Margaret Ayre: Vocals, Harpsichord, Acoustic Guitar, Cello, Viola da Gamba. Jesse Sparhawk: Harp, Electric Bass, Electric Guitar. James Wolf: Violin, 12-string Electric Guitar. Jim Ayre: Electric Guitar, Percussion and Peterson Goodwyn: Drums.

Harpsichord is to feature throughout the album quite prominently and its presence plays a big part in how the band’s new record Solstice came about. Margaret had this to say about it “We babysat a harpsichord for a bit in 2009 for a friend who taught me viola da gamba (early instrument, came betwixt the lute and the violin/string family). I found it a useful songwriting tool and pretty soon had a bunch of new Fern Knight songs that became Solstice”.

“Goodbye July” is a touch more courtly in feel, beautiful harp by Jesse, a wistful rumination on summers passing and the ushering in of August, the band stretching out towards its climax, all the familiar elements I’ve come to know and love from them, cello, harp, guitar and violin. “Morning Fox” is next and features some lovely expressive violin from Jamie. “The Furthest Point > Sweet August” is a two-part rumination on the passing seasons, it’s exquisite and soufflé light. Margaret fills in a few details “Heavy influences at the time included Horslips, especially Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part and Drive the Cold Winter Away and the album by Andwella's Dream called Love and Poetry. Also The Well Below the Valley by Planxty and Alba S/T. I had just read as many Game of Thrones books as there were written, and at the time there wasn't a TV series, and I always make sure to read the book(s) first so I don't have images of the screen in my mind whilst reading”.

“Summerrise” is a terrific call and response instrumental, with tympani’s and barely controlled dirty fuzz guitar lines smeared all over it. “Pall of Wolves” shows Margaret has lost none of her love for melody, and like the previous song has a lot more guitar on it. “Snowbound” is a dreamy, beautiful song, ringing harp, a stately cello line, so great, all the things I associate with them are present, cello, harp, violin, guitar, bass, light drums/percussion and bells, It really is a wintery Song. It definitely feels like some of the songs on Solstice are quite summery whilst others are distinctly wintery in theme. Asked about this she replied “There seemed to be a running dichotomy throughout the album's lyrical content: winter/summer, darkness/light, life/death. We liked the symmetry as the songs came together; instead of sides A and B, the A will be Summer and the B will be Winter for the vinyl release, fingers crossed that that can happen one day”. “Imbolc” features the interesting tones of the viola de gamba, it’s another winner, it shimmers and floats about, the melodies are spot on, some wonderfully cloaked lead guitar enters as it progresses and bleeds all over it.

Asked about her new found love of the harpsichord she says “I haven't left the guitar behind; there are way more guitar songs on the next one than on Solstice. Someday I hope we can own a harpsichord, I do miss it! Clearly I was under its spell when Solstice came to be”.

(Andrew Young)




(LP/CD on The Weird Beard Records)

Lastryko are an instrumental quartet from the north of Poland and ‘Tetno Pulsu’ is a six track record collecting improvised pieces from a studio session back in 2018. Not being as well up on Polish music as I perhaps should be I was intrigued to hear what the sound of psychedelic northern Poland was all about and consider me impressed.

Opening track ‘Jeden’ has an insistent throbbing, post punk infused rhythm over which a delicate and sparse guitar melody floats augmented by occasional sound treatments, very much in the musical territory inhabited by Calexico and Giant Sand with a dusty borderlands air of mystery albeit with a touch of the spacious Americana styled jazz guitar of Bill Frisell. Towards the end the sound gets slightly more meaty but retains the thread of the lovely guitar melody. ‘Dwa’ is propelled by a strong motorik rhythm whilst retaining the melodic guitar themes and references of the opening track before the fuzz factor is ramped up and the guitars soar putting me pleasantly in mind of Chris Forsyth’s recent ‘Dreaming In The Non-Dream’ that travelled similar roads. ‘Trzy’ takes a more textural approach where an improvised soundscape of sparse echoing guitar, rolling drums and atmospheric effects is a dreamy come down from the drive and energy of ‘Dwa’. ‘Cztery’ has a touch of the cinematic drama of Goblin in its use of synthesisers and spacious guitar melody which would equally not be out of place soundtracking something like a supernatural mystery to these ears. ‘Piec’ has a driving snare drum beat with another beautiful and spacious guitar melody and subtle synth colours weaving in and out of the beat. To finish ‘Szesc’ enters more progressive territory albeit in a gentle and understated way. Complex guitar and rhythmic interplay with shades of Discipline era King Crimson are tinged with desert blues suggestions to create a hypnotic and rather beautiful piece of music that could be double its eight minutes length and still keep the listeners attention.

A very fine record then which covers a lot of musical territory whilst maintaining a clear focus on melodic and inventive guitar playing that never grandstands and paints a series of subtle and gorgeous musical pictures. I look forward to hearing more from Lastryko and until then I heartily recommend that you listen to this.

(Francis Comyn)




(Cassette on Misophonia Records/CD on Reverb Worship Records)

Following on from the superb debut album ‘One’ on Riot Season Records, the new year brings us more listening pleasure from the former Earthling Society duo of Fred Laird and Jon Blacow in their new guise as Taras Bulba. It’s a generous LP length release on limited run cassette and CD only for now (although it is in my humble opinion a prime candidate for a slab of best quality 12” vinyl should the opportunity arise) consisting of three tracks that are reconstructions or perhaps better described as re-imaginings of two tracks from ‘One’.

The first thing to say about this release is that reassuringly, Taras Bulba treat dub with care and intelligence rather than fall into the trap of pasting bland basslines and random echoes onto existing songs. As has been the case with ‘One’ and the preceding final release from Earthling Society there’s a lot of interesting things going on and they have managed to weave new textures and ideas into the mix wonderfully well without making the recording too busy and cluttered.

‘The Yo-Yo Dub’ is nearly 14 minutes long, brimming with ideas and creates what could be described as a ‘post punk minimal funk’ sound collage where propelling and precise drums, textural guitar colours, middle and far eastern undertones, industrial synthscapes and sampled vocal snippets come together to create a kind of On-U Sound, Cabaret Voltaire, Czukay/Liebezeit/Wobble infused spacey psych dub mix. ‘No Deal Dub’ is shorter and more overtly dub reggae influenced with a bouncy bassline, choppier guitars and a touch of Mad Professor in its feel. At times a spaghetti western vibe wafts in the sounds however fleetingly and once again it all works splendidly.

Finally ‘Goin’ West – A Joyful Dub Odyssey’ which stretches to over 19 minutes in its magnificence. Where to start with this? It has a sweeping widescreen kosmische majesty from its very beginning where a blissful ambient landscape is evoked. Serene, pastoral, elegant and indeed sometimes trance like waves of layered synth are established and the sound is slowly expanded to incorporate gentle electronic rhythms and gorgeous, elegiac guitar soloing where Michael Rother and Bill Nelson come to mind. Acoustic drums later replace the synthetic beats and up the tempo slightly with inventive fills accompanied by short glitches, distortions, chimes and bells punctuating but never disturbing the flow. The finale is epic in all the very best ways with huge organ drone effects and choral harmonies ascending in a hazy swirl of intense sound that swells and almost explodes before fading to a minimal repeating keyboard chord sequence.

This is a fantastic release where imaginations have run wild and delivered the goods. Each repeat listen reveals a new touch or nuance and this is an object lesson in how to reinvent a record in a substantial, thoughtful and non gimmicky way. I’ll be giving this a lot of airtime and you should too – catch it while you can.

(Francis Comyn)