Over the course of self and state-ordered quarantine during the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, multi-instrumentalist Juan R Leõn found time to write a short parable inspired by an article on faith and the “new normal”. Not being confident in his own singing abilities, Juan reached out to friend and poet Corey Stano to provide the vocal performance on “The Rhino And The Oxpecker”, which is the opening track on this release. I noticed this album was indicated as being a deluxe edition, so wondered what else was available and I note that SATL independently released an album of the same name in 2020, but that is all I know about it, so cannot state if this contains the same recordings/songs or if it has been dramatically altered. What I do know is that I am incredibly pleased that Nick Katona has seen fit to sign the band to MRR as this is an intriguing release from beginning to end.

I have long been a fan of Hibernal and the way that Mark seamlessly blends his music with wonderful science fiction worlds, and in some ways what we have here is a sister project to that as Corey tells stories while Juan provides a soundscape using his skills as a bassist/stickest (he also plays American Flute). We also get some additional dialogue where it makes sense, with Winston Churchill’s words being instantly recognisable, all of which builds layers on layers of gossamer threads so that while none of it feels oppressive the result is a very strong structure indeed. As a poet, Corey is obviously used to giving performances of her own work and her presence is wonderful, so much so that one does not even notice she is not singing, as it fits so well with the musical scaffold being built. Juan can play delicately at times, allowing the ambience to build, but there are others where he shows just how adept he is at different styles, providing complex note density.

This is a wonderfully fresh and exciting piece of work as it is so out of the norm and quite different to what we normally expect to hear. It is definitely a partnership in that there is just the right balance between vocal and musical leads, while the music enhances the words and vice versa. There are messages within the music so that when it finishes one can be found contemplating what has been played, with the result being something which is difficult to truly describe but very easy indeed to get lost inside and enjoy. 8/10 Kev Rowland