Children’s books like Rabbit’s Song often have reviews that are much longer than the text within them. And this review shall be so. We haven’t reviewed a lot of books of this nature here, but ofhg the ones we have reviewed A Circle of Cats written by Charles de Lint and abundantly illustrated by Charles Vess, The Sea King by Jane Yolen and Shulamith Oppenheim with illustration by Stefan Czernecki, and the more adult fare of The Book of Ballads written by Charles all demonstrated nicely how good text is made even better with the proper illustration.
That Tucker is a good writer is beyond doubt if you’ve heard any of her songs, either live [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HF-CbDNG2I] or in recorded form [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dd8oETyZKgQ]. She even provided a soundtrack of sorts to the first volume of Catherynne Valente’s Orphan’s Tale. After all, the best songs are stories with music! And it won’t surprise you that she has turned Rabbit’s Song into, errr, a song.
So what’s it about? If you’ve read books like Terri Windling’s The Wood Wife or Charles de Lint’s Medicine Road, you’ll recognize the use of First Folk animal archetypes here. The story is of course told more simply here than it is in those books but suits the intended audience.
The story here is that Trickster comes seeking a being who can teach Man. Trickster searches among all the animals for a teacher of man. One by one, he finds Bear, Cat, Dog, Tiger and Wolf each of whom he finds unsatisfactory for one reason or another. Trickster at long last settles on the unassuming Rabbit, along with his companions, Coyote, Raven and Crow, as the selected beasts to teach Man.
Tucker has updated the tale for the present time by including such cultural artifacts as baseball. It’s a quick read but then the age group it’s aimed will, if he or she likes it, undoubtedly wants to here it read to them over and over again.
The soft pastels in bold primary colors by illustrator W. Lyon Martin do a nice of complementing Tucker’s text. All in all it’s one of the nicer done illustrated children’s books that I’ve read.
(Magical Child Books, 2009)
We remember the summer afternoon that SJ Tucker played for us on the Greensward. It was a perfect summer day — warm but not too warm, sunny with a gentle breeze. And SJ with just a guitar providing some of the best music we’d ever heard.
In honour of that amazing music experience which you can read ’bout in a back issue ofLe hérisson de sommeil’ (The Sleeping Hedgehog), the in-house newsletter for our staff, I decided to skip the all too common questions about her music as that’s covered by Cat elsewhere and focus on the really good stuff —food and drink.
First, what would you put in your ideal picnic basket? And what libation would be at hand?
I’d be sure to include olive tapenade, pomegranate seeds, sea salt and almond chocolate, hard salami, garden veggie crackers, smoked gouda cheese, a durable picnic blanket, a good pocket knife, plenty of drinking water, cloth napkins, satsuma oranges, and a travel bottle of port for my consort. This pretty much sums up the list of goodies my partner and I carry on our day hikes.
What is, for you, a great summer meal?
Cubed avocado covered in garlic salt, lime juice, and hot sauce, served with tortilla chips, and again, plenty of water. Generally this is prepared by a handsome wizard of my acquaintance.
What’s your favorite summer fruit?
Just recently, during a visit to Montana, I had my first chance to gather ripe apricots. There’s nothing like the scent and the taste of them, warmed by the sun.
Mrs. Ware, the Head Cook here, always asks our honoured guests what they want to eat and drink. She tries to comply even if it means getting The Fey members of our staff to lend a hand. It’s been a very long day of copy edits and Mrs. Ware, the Head Cook here, a generally understanding person about writers (though musicians drive her nuts), says she’s happy to make you your favourite dessert. What shall she and her staff prepare? No treat is beyond her doing!
Bless her sweet soul! If she has it in her to conjure my mother’s sour cherry pie, I will bow down at her feet.
Is there a perfect brownie in your estimation? Consensus here at Green Man is a dark chocolate brownie that is moist but not too moist — no nuts or other junk, just overwhelmingly chocolaty
I never met a brownie I didn’t like, though I tend to steer clear of brownies with coconut, or any hint of banana. It’s a texture thing.
In honour of your status as Summer Queen, you drink free in the Green Man Pub. Name your poison. We have everything known to man and elf.
There’s this stuff called Frobscottle* I read about once…its high effervescence is said to cause unfortunate and, ahem, musical side effects, but if everyone drinks a round, we’ll have a whole symphony going!
What makes for the perfect chocolate experience?
Great ceremony, and a lack of the need to rush. A night at home, with spiced cocoa. A beastly hot day and a chilly frozen pudding, frozen custard, frozen drink, or frozen yogurt. Even home-made avocado chocolate pudding, served late at night by the lady of the house, whose Hobbit powers are unparalleled in the kitchen! One should never limit one’s chocolate options, if chocolate is to be an option at all.
Have you tried any of the dark chocolates with bacon in them?
We once tried one here during a chocolate sampling. Most felt it was not terribly good as neither the chocolate or the bacon worked. Not bad, just blah.
I have visited places in this world where bacon chocolate is used as currency. Everything tastes better in the desert.
Which is more perfect food? Chocolate or peanut butter?
Depends on the day, the preference, and the allergies, my friend! If you’re safe with both items, why choose one over the other? What’s queendom for, after all?
Coffee or tea? And what makes for a perfect cuppa?
Tea. My favorite is a pu ‘ertea blend by Dryad Tea, based upon one of my songs: “La Sirene.” I take it hot or cold, with local honey and coconut milk creamer.
Once out of bed, what is breakfast? And when you do something special for breakfast, what is it?
I love a hard boiled egg, especially when that egg comes from chickens who belong to someone I know. When I am at home, I love to cook skillet hash browns from scratch, with herbs, potatoes, bacon, and cheese. I also love to cook my mother’s pancake recipe, with added vanilla extract and cinnamon. I have been known to devour a cinnamon roll with glee. Likewise all types of bacon, even the vegan kind.
Speaking of breakfast matters, we here at Green Man are very fond of cheese, particularly well-aged Cheddars. Which cheeses make you lustful?
Wensleydale with berries in. The aforementioned smoked gouda. Queso fresca, and all forms of restaurant queso dip. Most anything but Swiss and bleu.
So any last thoughts on food and drink? Anything our readers should really know?
Eating well is less complicated than you think. Take good care of yourselves, and pay attention to what your body asks for. Moderation is useful, but constant self denial is not. Finally, if you have food-savvy people in your life who want to feed you, you’re doing it right. Always give thanks to and for the kitchen witches and foodies in your world!
*Frobscottle comes from Roald Dahl’s The BFG, which I highly recommend.
The first folks here that noted there were leylines here, at least according to Journals in the Estate Library, were the hedgewitches who mapped them out. They noticed that certain forest paths followed straight lines even though it wasn’t the easiest way to get from one point to another. Even the Estate corvids tended to fly along these lines when hunting.
It’s a fascinating tale that might even be true, so go here for its telling.
I grew up in the Mississippi River Delta in southeast Arkansas, where the state lines blur near the tops of Louisiana and Mississippi, and life still moves at a very calm pace for most folks.
I spent half my summers as a child outside playing softball, swimming, or riding my bicycle through my small hometown. I spent the other half indoors, hiding in the freezing embrace of central air conditioning, as far away as four walls could get me from ravenous mosquitoes and the thick air of Southern Summer Humidity.
Where I come from, Summer is not a nice girl.
She is not gentle. She is fierce.
She is not there to entertain you. Rather, she’ll eat you alive.
She turns the air to soup and the water to paradise, but you can’t enjoy the latter for long at the wrong time of day, lest the insects carry you off.
She scorches the fields, drains the rivers, and chars the skin.
She is the divine feminine in her Destroyer aspect, unapologetic and terrible.
But you can bet your ass I was glad to see her when school let out for the year.
And to tell the truth, she could be generous to those of us who learned how to work with her, to celebrate as one until our buckets of sweat ceased to matter, to appreciate the play of her brutally colorful sunsets through the dry dust of a field at harvest.
Case in point: the yearly summer festival that still goes on in my hometown — Dumas, Arkansas — every July.
Get ready for it.
Ding Dong Days.
What on earth, you may ask.
Ding Dong Days, founded the year I was born, was and is a weekend festival consisting of community theater performances (my first time on stage: age six, with all of my family around me), a Saturday morning parade (because if you try to have it in the afternoon, the high school marching band and the various pageant girls will melt clean away), a fish fry, a BBQ, concerts in the park, contests of all sorts, snowcones, church dinners, and yes, the crowning of a Ding Dong Daddy and a Ding Dong Mama each year.
Ding Dong Days was named for the 1920’s Phil Baxter song, “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas,” which was a very raunchy tune for its day. The time-honored logo for the event is a cute drawing of a flapper gal, with bell-shaped hat and beads flying, and her dapper dan counterpart in his striped suit. More from the source.
Natives of Dumas, Texas argue to this day that the song was written for them.
It could be even wackier. I did not, after all, grow up near Toad Suck.
Here’s an article about some of the other odd town names in my home state: For some reason, it fails to mention either Pickles Gap or Possum Grape.
The Ding Dong Days festival, above almost all other things (even trips to the municipal swimming pool for a break from the heat), was what showed me the kinder face of Summer. When we are children, we are more easily distracted from the kind of discomfort that 80% humidity plus temperatures upwards of 100 degrees Fahrenheit can offer. Balloons, ballgames, parades and music (not to mention time out of school) show us the kinder magic of what, in many flavors of folklore and tradition, is the earth’s true dying time.
I remember sweltering Independence Day evenings, running in and out of the street in front of our house with my father, to light small spinny things and Roman candles, and to hell with the mosquitoes. I remember huddling under a blanket with my mother (the blanket was for bug protection, not comfort) in our back yard, watching my first meteor shower, late into the night. I remember afternoons of nothing much, staying inside to play, or riding my bike alone through sun and shade.
These days, I work hardest of all in summer, following the festival circuit with my guitar in hand, and I spend a significant amount of time in the Pacific Northwest. They have found a way to extend springtime there, I tell you, but even there, at times, the fierce specter of Southern Summer finds me. Last year, I spent Summer Solstice in Alaska, where the sun literally did not set at all. It thinks about it for a few minutes around 2am, but decides against it. Glorious. Incredible. Exhausting! I loved it there, but at times my host’s blackout window shades were the only things that allowed me to sleep. Summer ran me hard there, and what for many people is a season of rest is for me a season of much work, much activity. Any Delta farmer will likely tell you the same: Summer is not a gentle mistress. She will put you through your paces, and she will work you until you’re bone dry.
Soybeans. Corn. Rice. Cotton. Wheat. Maize. I’ve known the different fields of these crops by sight since I was small. There are places where they seem to stretch on forever, with only the tree-lined serpent of Bayou Bartholomew coiling among them to break the spell. The sound of my homeland summer is a merciful breeze amid the tall cotton; cicada song on all sides at Golden Hour, just before sunset; little frogs calling to each other across a lake under the vivid stars.
All of this, together with the anxiety of drought, the dust of archaeological digs, and the promise of Autumn to come if we can just stick it out, fills the cauldron of my Summer goddess. It’s a bitter brew she serves, not for the faint of heart, and it most definitely gets into your blood.
Wherever you may be, and wherever your travels may take you this year, I give you the lesson and the blessing of my own childhood summers and many of the summers I see abroad as climate change sweeps us all into its claws: be fierce. Be generous. Be colorful. Be who and what you are, no matter how hotly and how brightly you may burn.
In the name of bright Amaterasu; generous Selu; unstoppable Sekhmet: so mote it be.
Any self-respecting lover of fairy tale, myth, and folklore winds up listening to music that can’t be found on the Top Forty charts (except, perhaps, the unofficial ones at science fiction conventions). There are, perennially, an astonishing number of efforts to merge music and myth that, while sincere, dedicated, and hopeful, are … well … less than stellar.
Never mind those well-intentioned folks. They’re having fun. Nothing wrong with that.
But once in a while, a voice soars out above the rest, braiding raw talent, dedicated practice, and boundless passion into a remarkable blend. S.J. Tucker is such a voice. Her music is an instant addiction; her voice is described by one of our reviewers as “powerful, hypnotic, untamed and yet utterly controlled.” Her musical compositions are original, often witty; layered with meaning, and always dynamic.
(Can you tell we’re happy that she’s our Summer Queen this year? Yeah, well, you should hear the ravens. We can barely hear ourselves think some days, when they fall to speculative gossip about what she’ll say in her speech and interview.)
To whet your appetite for those formal meetings, we’ve gathered together a collection of our S.J. Tucker-related reviews. First up is the aforementioned review praising our Summer Queen as “powerful, hypnotic”, etc etc; that one deals with a live concert at the Red and Black Café. Next we offer a look at For the Girl in the Garden and Solace and Sorrow, two collaborative projects involving Cathrynne Valente’s Orphan’s Tales duology. “Tucker’s voice practically sizzles”, says the reviewer. Step right this way to read more about that!
Then there’s Haphazard, an album described, in part, as “bluesy, whiskey music….there isn’t a weak track here.” If that captured your attention, click here to read more about this album.
We’ll close this post with a look at a book, Ravens in the Library, a magical creation in and of itself; a spontaneous expression of love by S.J. Tucker’s fans during a time of dire need. Read more about how this book helped her over thisaway.
Those reviews don’t cover all of Tucker’s catalog, not by a long shot; she has several more albums already released and more in the works; but it’s enough to give you a good notion of just why she’s impressed us all do deeply. For the full list of Tucker’s musical history, and a chance to listen to her music for free, please visit her Web site.
And do keep an eye on this space, as High Summer approaches….the time when our Summer Queen takes her throne at last!
The Continental Drifters were one of those bands whose popularity rested somewhere between cult status and household name — unfortunately, it was closer to the former. As far as I can tell, none of their recordings ever charted, but they have a loyal fan base on both sides of the Atlantic. Several of their members, however, were household names of sorts: Vicki Peterson (The Bangles), Susan Cowsill (The Cowsills), and Peter Holsapple (The dB’s and REM) were associated with Continental Drifters almost from the beginning.
The group actually began at jam sessions in a Hollywood dive club in the early 1990s before relocating to New Orleans. That early group featured three talented singer-songwriters in drummer Carlo Nuccio and guitarists Gary Eaton and Ray Ganucheau, plus bassist Mark Walton, who also played with Giant Sand and The Dream Syndicate and who was the one founding member who remained when the band broke up around 2001.
The recorded output that was released while the band was active consisted of a few singles and three albums, Continental Drifters (1994), Vermillion (1998) and Better Day (2001), all on indie labels. But before that self-titled ’94 album, the band comprising Nuccio, Eaton, Ganucheau, Walton, Holsapple, Peterson and Cowsill laid down enough tracks for an album that got shelved. It was released in 1993 by the German label Blue Rose under the title Nineteen-Ninety-Three.
The 13 tracks on Nineteen-Ninety-Three plus two previously unissued early versions of songs that ended up on Vermillion make up the first disc (The Beginning) of this exciting two-disc set released by Omnivore Recordings nearly a quarter-century after the band first jammed in L.A. The first disc actually opens with one of those two songs from Vermillion. “Who We Are, Where We Live” is a great choice for the opener even though it’s out of chronological sequence, because it’s pretty much a history of the band and a statement of its ethos. The other is “The Rain Song,” a superb and very accessible Susan Cowsill number that tries to put a smiley face on lingering feelings about a lover who’s gone. Both are very good versions of these songs, perhaps a bit more energetic and less polished (in a good way) than the previously released tracks.
The remaining songs on Disc One include four different versions than those on the Nineteen-Ninety-Three release. “Dallas” and “Mr. Everything” are alternate mixes and “Green” and “New York” are stripped-down demos. The tracks that really stand out for me this time (I reviewed the album for GMR in 2003) are Nuccio’s bluesy New Orleans rocker “Side Steppin’ The Fire” and Ganucheau’s soulful “I Didn’t Want To Lie.” What a sweet and powerful tenor singing voice Ganucheau has! But there are plenty of delights on this disc, including Eaton’s country-rocker “Match Made In Heaven” on which just about everybody sings; the swampy ode to “The Mississippi”; the deep R&B groove of “Dallas”; and Holsapple’s “Invisible Boyfriend,” with lots of his powerful Hammond B-3 playing.
Before Blue Rose released Nineteen-Ninety-Three the label put out a Europe-only release that was an homage to Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, and Richard & Linda Thompson, called Listen Listen after Denny’s song. That collection makes up the second half of Beyond, the second disc in this set. The first half is a grab-bag of cover songs — some live and some studio, some previously unreleased, and some from various tributes and compilations. So where Disc 1 highlighted the strength of the group’s songwriters, this disc shows what a great cover band the Continental Drifters were. Whether on country-rockers like Gram Parsons’ version of “You Don’t Miss Your Water” or his own “A Song For You” and Michael Nesmith’s “Some Of Shelley’s Blues,” or folk-rockers like Lucinda Williams’s “Crescent City” and Neil Young’s “When You Dance I Can Really Love,” or oldies like Tommy James’s “Tighter, Tighter,” the Mamas and the Papas’ “Dedicated To The One I Love” or The Hollies’ “I Can’t Let Go,” this band nails it. The harmonies are gorgeous, and they can rock out on distorted guitars or zydeco to Holsapple’s accordion as the occasion calls for.
The songs of the Listen, Listen tribute weren’t new to me, because Mark Walton graciously sent GMR a review copy back in 2003. (I reviewed it together with Nineteen-Ninety-Three that year.) It’s a really fun little tribute to the folk-rocking Fairport family. In addition to the title track, there’s a rollicking “I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight” with lead vocals by Cowsill (I think — she and Peterson can be hard to tell apart); the early Thompson rocker “You’re Gonna Need Somebody” with I think guitarist Maché singing lead; Thompson’s obscure “The Poor Ditching Boy” and a wild-eyed “Matty Groves” both by Holsapple; “I’m A Dreamer” by Peterson; and everybody’s favorite Fairport sing-along “Meet On The Ledge” with walls of harmony. “Ditching Boy” from Thompson’s solo debut Henry the Human Fly is one of my favorite RT songs, and I love this band’s cover, a blend of reverence (lots of mandolin and accordion), and gleeful appropriation (some lyric changes and a sense of irony that’s more American than Thompson’s droll British version. Ditto for “Bright Lights,” a great song that’s hard to cover, but they do all of these songs justice.
This package includes a 20-page booklet that has a bunch of publicity shots of the band in its various iterations, an oral history with contributions from everybody, and full notes on the songs and their provenance.
How to classify Drifted: In The Beginning & Beyond? Part reissue, part compilation, it’s a loving tribute to a musical troupe that was a great big family, steeped in the great folk and rock songbooks of the second half of the 20th century. We’ll not see the like of the Continental Drifters again. A reunion show to promote this disc has just been announced for September 12 at Tipitina’s Uptown in New Orleans — The Continental Drivers are promoting it on their Facebook page, and if you can make it to New Orleans in September, you should! In the meantime, grab this set. Take a look at this promo video if you need more convincing.
A library catalogue is an index of all bibliographic items found in a library such as the one here at Kinrowan Estate. Our catalogue covers all thirty thousand or so books, chapbooks, maps and even art. The Catalogue includes data about the physical location of items, for instance, the extensive collection of culinary related material that the Kitchen staff has in their library space (which is also their break room), the Estate Gardener’s collection is kept in his library (which includes centuries of Estate Gardener journals and gardening and animal husbandry material going back a very long time). Here’s how we catalog our books at the Estate.
Although it may seem that we only do upbeat reviews because we’re excited about this book or that music, we have done reviews that point out the problems with a work. Because of that, we’ve been threatened with lawsuits over assumed slights. I could tell you the story about the husband of a Nashville singer-songwriter whose debut recording wasn’t to the liking of our reviewer. The husband threatened to punch me in the nose in response to our review. We’ve even had a really well-known British violinist blacklist us for copies of his future recordings after a reviewer questioned his playing style.
Which brings me to the audiobook review of Robert Heinlein’s The Number of The Beast. This is a book I was excited about as, unlike many reviewers, I really do like his later novels, as you can in my review of his Friday. Now I could prattle on for a while but really, just go read my review here to see why this was so.
On the other hand, Richard found much to appreciate in The Great Bazaar and Brayan’s Gold, a book in Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle series. Richard says The Great Bazaar and Brayan’s Gold will be a welcome treat ‘in the same way fans of a particular band will swarm all over a collection of b-sides and rarities.’ Now read his review to see if it’s worth chasing down earlier works in this series.
Reynard really liked Neil Hegarty’s Waking Up in Dublin, a guide to the musical side of Dublin, Ireland, covering every sort of music you be interested in hearing while visiting.
The self-titled album from The Alt had Lars noting that ‘Irish music comes in many forms, from the loud and boisterous to the soft and soothing, from the long slow ballads to the fast furious instrumentals.’ This trio of songsters definitely pleased Lars and you can find out why by reading his review.
We’ve covered a lot of superb Central European music, so I wasn’t surprised Taraf de Haïdouks’ Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts was praised by Donna in her review.
Reynard explains our process for the twice-yearly whisky tastings here at the Estate, a seasonal exercise we plan a year in advance.
Gary loved the debut release from the Banditos: ‘Banditos are definitely all rock and all country — country of what they used to call the “outlaw” variety, which is maybe where they came up with their name; and rock of the Southern variety.’ Not convinced they’re worth hearing? Read his review of the Banditos self-titled album and you will be!
We’ve told you about the Estate foxes, let’s go out this time with Nick Burbridge’s band, McDermott’s 2 Hours which tells the story of ‘Fox on the Run’. Hmmm . . . I should tell you sometime the tale of how Nick came to be Oak King one fine Fall.
With a name like Banditos, you might expect this band to be from, say, Texas. But all six members are from Birmingham, Alabama, though now firmly ensconsed in Nashville. The alternative Nashville, that is, where you can still twang and rock and not be too country for rock or too rock for country. Banditos are definitely all rock and all country — country of what they used to call the “outlaw” variety, which is maybe where they came up with their name; and rock of the Southern variety.
Not to pigeonhole the music, but “it is what it is,” as the kids say. Take for instance the song “Long Gone, Anyway,” which starts the second half of this 12-song collection. It’s clearly an homage to guitar hero Merle Travis, being built around the signature melody and lick of one of his best known tunes “Cannonball Rag.” Now, Mr. Travis might have looked askance at the Banditoes’ liberal use of kazoo on this song built around his own, but drawing askance glances obviously is one of the Banditos’ raisons d’etre. That and celebrating the sheer joy of making rock ‘n roll. Witness the gleeful transgressiveness of the previous track, “Still Sober (After All These Beers)” a scorching rockabilly nod to a lifestyle built on excess. It begins, of course, by skewering the title of one the best-known songs by one of the best-known icons of Boomer folk, Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy (After All These Years).” These young pups (all six are reputedly still in their 20s) are probably not “crapped out and yawning” at 4 in the morning.
What they’re probably doing is hanging in some club or bar playing something like this one, the swampy, bluesy slow-burner called “Ain’t It Hard,” complete with surfy guitar.
I realize I skipped the introductions. That’s Corey Parsons on lead guitar and vocals, Stephen Pierce on banjo and vocals (who also plays pedal steel and other things) Mary Beth Richardson on vocals, Jeffrey Salter on the third set of guitar strings, Danny Vines on bass and Randy Wade on drums. This self-titled release is their first after three years of touring and woodshedding, and I’d say they have their sound and attitude down pat. The album opens with “The Breeze,” an homage to and reimagining of J. J. Cale’s best-known number “Call Me The Breeze,” a choogling Southern-fried boogie featuring a two-guitars-and-banjo attack while Corey and Mary Beth wail out the bluesy lyrics. On “Waitin’ ” and “No Good,” Mary Beth shows her strong churchified influences, with lots of vibrato in her soulful wail as she somehow channels both Dolly Parton and Janis Joplin. “Cry Baby Cry” is a flat-out rockabilly boogie that includes some killer piano licks. And when they want to soften it up just a bit there’s “Blue Mosey #2,” a lightly swinging country shuffle that tips the hat to Jimmie Rodgers, and anybody else who has sung the lonesome blues in an alley behind a bar in a small southern town.
Not ready to call it a night? Drop the needle back on this one, pour another round, and let Banditos get you moving. It’s one of the feel-good records of this summer for sure.
[Editor’s note: The Banditos have a website and are active on Twitter. You can hear more of their music at Bloodshot Records.]
Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts is the sixth CD released by Taraf de Haïdouks, a Romanian Gypsy band. Since the band formed in 1990, this CD also celebrates their 25th anniversary. Taraf de Haïdouks began as a group of individual musicians who came together to play for various village events, such as weddings and funerals. They all hail from Clejani, about 40 km south of Bucharest and not far from the border with Bulgaria. The area has long been recognized as a hotbed of traditional music; in fact, a number of the musicians in the band appeared on recordings from the area taken by ethnomusicologists who visited in the late 1980s.
The band has evolved over time into a strong and very popular performing ensemble, touring worldwide and appearing in films. These include Latcho Drom (Safe Journey), which documents the travels of the Romani people from India to the far western edges of Europe and The Man Who Cried, starring Johnny Depp and Cate Blanchett. Four of the original band members have passed away, but, like many traditional bands, new members have joined to replace them. Featured on this CD are nine band members, playing violin, flute, accordion, clarinet, and cimbalom (a large hammered dulcimer), along with five guest artists, including three vocalists.
At 72 minutes long, the CD contains 14 separate tracks, featuring a very listenable and entertaining mix of slow ballads and fast dance tunes. Selections reflect the band’s intention of revisiting some of the traditional melodies and styles that inspired them in the first place. Track 1, “Balalau from Bucharest,” is a song about a musician well-known for gambling and starting fights in bars. The vocalist is guest artist Viorica Rudareasa, one of the few Rom women working as a professional singer (all the regular members of Taraf de Haïdouks are men). Her voice and vocal style remind me of Marta Sebestyen, who often performs with the Hungarian traditional band Muzsikas. In fact, the pulsing rhythm on this track reminds me a lot of the music of this band! Rudareasa reappears on Track 13, “I’ve Got a Parachute Skirt,” a rather raunchy song about a woman whose husband leaves her alone a lot and her interest in finding other men.
Track 3, “Cold Snowball” is a ballad about someone whose lover left him. The song starts with a plaintive flute that slides into accordions and a very sad-sounding male vocal, in this case the band member Constantin Lautaru, who learned the song from another musician.
I always find myself preferring the instrumental tracks on CDs like this. One of my favorites was Manele Pomak, a fast one featuring Filip Simeonov, the band’s Bulgarian clarinet player. This one has a Middle Eastern feel, not surprising given the influence of the Ottoman Turks on this region. Another was Track 11, “Dance Suite a la Clejani,” a medley of dance tunes. But then I also enjoyed Track 9, “No Snow, Nor Rain,” an old ballad performed by Gheorghe Manole, a guest artist who usually performs as a street singer. He plays his violin with a horse hair in lieu of a bow, giving it an interesting raspy sound. The track, which also features the cimbalom playing of Ion Tanase, sounds like Gypsy blues.
Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts comes in a trifold paperboard package with two pockets. The CD is in one pocket. The other pocket contains a very nice little 28-page booklet in lieu of liner notes. Written in French and English, the notes include a brief description of the origins of each track and translated lyrics for the ones with vocals. Several pages in the booklet feature photographs of the band taken at various times over the last 25 years. They look like they are having fun!
(Crammed Discs, 2015)
[Editor’s note: Taraf de Haïdouks have a website. Crammed’s page for Taraf de Haïdouks’ Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts has a few tracks available for streaming.