In one form or another, Folk Tales, the zine formerly known as Mostly Folk, has been around for nigh close to thirty years. I've published it for nearly a decade, and I'm still pleasantly surprised at how much truly excellent folk music comes out year after year! Right now, I'm listening to the promo copy we -- and I say we because Green Man is a collective undertaking -- received of Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell's brilliant new CD Debateable Lands. And that CD is just one of many great discs we get on a regular basis.
Leading off this edition is Michael Hunter's review of two Steve Ashley CDs: Stroll On Revisited and The Test Of Time. Ashley has been compared favorably to Richard Thompson and Bert Jansch -- read Michael's reviews to get a feel for the music of this brilliant artist! This review is our first Excellence in Writing Award this edition.
Not as well-known as Ashley, but brilliant in her own fashion, is harpist Jo Morrison. Her new CD, A Waulking Tour of Scotland, has reviewer Chuck Lipsig commenting, "I've made a mistake. I was looking back at the review I did of Jo Morrison's The Three Musics and noted I gave it an excellent review. Now, I'm wishing I merely gave it a very good review, so that I'd have more room to say how much of a jump in quality A Waulking Tour of Scotland is." Poor Man's Labour, from New Zealand-based Jacky Tar, gets Debbie Skolnik's endorsement. She says, "...Are you one of those people who likes their Celtic music heavy on the bass and drums? I do, and if you do too, I recommend that you have a listen to Jacky Tar, who are (by their own description), a 'funky Celtic' band...." The Cantychiels' self-titled debut album is, according to Brendan Foreman, a "...beautiful and thoroughly satisfying spectrum of both modern and traditional Scottish music." Kim Bates wraps up our Celtic coverage by looking at the Skels -- a group that describes itself as "Irish Punk Rockers from Jersey." Read her review of their Stoney Road CD to see why she didn't go screaming out of the room!
Swamp Pop? What the bloody hell is that? If you don't know, go read Gary Whitehouse's review of Shane K. Bernard's book Swamp Pop to see what it is. (Hint: Swamp pop is the third major type of popular music invented by the Cajuns and black Creoles of southwestern Louisiana.) And then check out his review of three great Swamp Pop CDs: Keith Frank and the Soileau Zydeco Band's Ready or Not; Li'l Band o' Gold's self-titled album; and Wayne Toups and Zydecajun's Little Wooden Box Gary comments: "....[t]hese three rockin', accordion-driven releases from Shanachie draw on all three of the popular musical styles born in Southwestern Louisiana: Zydeco, Cajun and swamp pop. Together, they give a lively snapshot of the state of this artistically fecund region's music." This review wins a well-earned Excellence in Writing Award!
Three very different CDs are the subject of our final music reviews. Michael M. Jones looks at Terry Radigan's Radigan. He says it "...is thoughtful, fun, sensual, and multi-genred, speaking of country, pop, blues, and more. I highly recommend it." Brendan returns with a less than completely positive review of Hong Kong Dragon Club's Take Out, which he says "...would have been a much more interesting project if the Western end of the experiment had not been so pervasive." And Kim thinks Ao's Grow Wild is an album that "...will appeal to children and alternative spirituality types with a need for percussion and a higher standard of musicality than offered on most New Age recordings."
There's some damn fine fiction being published these days -- and we get quite a bit of it for review! Leading off this section is Naomi de Bruyn's look at another of Shirley Rousseau Murphy's talking feline detective novels: Cat Raise the Dead. And Michael, our very fine Managing Editor, looks at a rather grim urban fantasy: Madeleine E. Robins' The Stone War , a book he says proves "...that Madeleine E. Robins is a talent to watch for." Kim has an Excellence in Writing Award winning review of two Alan Garner novels: The Moon of Gomrath and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen . She says "...the reader [is] drawn from the world of Garner's fiction, to the world of folklore and myth, following Garner's trail of bread crumbs into the labyrinth." Rebecca Swain, our superb Book Editor, gives us a critique of Stephen Lawhead's The Iron Lance, the first novel in his series The Celtic Crusades. She notes, "...Lawhead misses a marvelous opportunity to write a stunning historical novel -- with elements of fantasy, if he wants to include them. I couldn't help imagining this story in the hands of Mary Renault or Sharon Kay Penman. As Lawhead has written it, it just isn't vivid enough."
One of our readers asked me how many CDs we get in an average month for review. The simple answer is a lot. The more complicated answer is at least fifty, but usually closer to a hundred. It's not unusual for a single music company to send us a dozen CDs a month! For example, Jo Morrison, one of our finest reviewers, will be receiving nine CDs by Linn Barnes and Allison Hampton, a duo that plays Celtic harp, lute, and guitar, that I mailed her this morning. It should be a great review! Another review I'm looking forward to is David Kidney's look at Big Mama Thorton's The Complete Vanguard Recordings, a 3 CD set from Vanguard Records. And Brendan Foreman's omnibus bluegrass review of Sugar Hill releases should prove quite interesting!
First, check out our new section devoted to upcoming noteworthy concerts. The Dick Gaughan & Brian McNeill gig being promoted by Music for Robin in Arlington, Massachusetts, is our first featured concert. And Michele Delfino of Northside Records sent us the tour schedule for Hoven Droven when they visit North America next month. See our previously published review of their Groove album for a look at this amazing act!
Please take a look at our new front page as I am very pleased with the new look! My thanks to Lahri Bond for this latest greenman graphic.
William P. Simmons joins us this week with an Excellence in Writing Award winning review of Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree. He notes that this is "... a classic novel of dark fantasy." And Naomi de Bruyn continues her exploration of the novels of Charles de Lint by looking at three more of his novels: Moonheart, Svaha, and Yarrow: An Autumn Tale. Kim Bates gives us an insightful review of The Owl Service, another of Alan Garner's young adult books. (She wins an Excellence in Writing Award for this well-crafted review.) Gary Whitehouse is less than enthused by Manuel Pena's The Mexican American Orquesta. As he notes, "I'd like to see a good popular history written of [Mexican American] music and its pioneers. This isn't that book. This is a worthy, and weighty, book. Just don't expect to be entertained by it."
As usual, we have lots of music reviews for you. For a change, I'll start with those reviews not of a Celtic nature. David Kidney really is enthusiastic about Reverend Gary Davis' O, Glory: The Apostolic Studio Sessions which he thinks is blues at its very best. And American traditionalists Red Clay Ramblers get high marks from Brendan Foreman for three of their albums: Far North, Lie of the Mind, and Rambler. Brendan also got high marks from our Editors: this reviews was picked for an an Excellence in Writing Award. David returns with a look at Valdy & Gary Fjellgaard's Contenders CD -- an album he considers mighty fine listening indeed! Big Earl Sellar, a man whose neighbors consider him their expert on world music, and who wins an Excellence in Writing Award for this review, says Sahrauis is a worthy peek at the music of the Sahraoui people, a mix of Berber/Arabic/Black African stock currently fighting for a recognized homeland in the area south of Morocco. And Kim finishes out this section with a detailed examination of Common Ground's folk rock albums: Hard Choices, Live at Emu Farm, and Wings of Silver. She says these albums "... will appeal to listeners with a fondness for North American folk rock, and who appreciate a great voice such as Cheryl Cloud's. I suspect country fans would also like this album -- there's no put on twang, but the themes are similar." Kim picks up her second Excellence in Writing Award for this review!
Now for your weekly dose of Celtic music reviews. Jayme Lynn Blaschke, who has reviewed the other two SixMileBridge CDs, says it was "... with some uncertainty that I first listened to SixMileBridge's third effort, No Reason. This was, after all, their first release since relocating from Texas to New England, and also their first sans percussionist Wolf Loescher." Read his review to see if he was pleased or disappointed! Lars Nilsson was not disappointed with two albums by Scottish group Tartan Amoebas: Giant and Tartan Amoebas. Likewise, Patrick O'Donnell says of the Come Dance With Me In Ireland collection, "So what are you waiting for? Get to a music store, and, for saynte charite, kick up your heels!" But No'am confesses that another collection, The Captain's Collection, was far too dry an exercise for his liking. Lastly, Debbie Skolnik continues her exploration of the music of Brian McNeill with an Excellence in Writing Award review of The Back o' the North Wind. She says that there "....is not a weak track on this album -- absolutely no filler -- and I highly recommend it"
Oh, don't forget to read Gary's review of the Lunasa concert in Corvallis, Oregon. Gary, who was the guest of Green Linnet, had a bloody good time!
The newest Peregrine's Prerogative column which finishes out this edition has Michael M. Jones confessing to.... Oh, just go read it. I promise it has nothing to do with penguins, small or large.
We lead off this edition with Naomi de Bruyn's review of Charles de Lint's Forests of the Heart She says "[i]t contains the music, magic and strong characters that readers familiar with de Lint's work have come to expect." She has also penned a review of de Lint's earlier Greenmantle, which like Forests of the Heart, has a greenman motif as part of its storyline. Rowan Inish says that Terry Pratchett's The Fifth Elephant is a Discworld novel that is packaged to "... be Pratchett's breakout novel in the United States." Read his review to see why this is so!
Week in, week out, GMR provides you with more music reviews than any similar review zine. This week certainly has lots for you to consider! We lead off with two blues albums: Robert Cray's Take Your Shoes Off, and Odetta's Livin' With The Blues. Divid Kidney says Cray will convince you "to Take Your Shoes Off and get your feet a-moving!" But Big Earl Sellar was less exited about Odetta's output on this CD. He says "... Livin' With The Blues comes off cheap in all respects, from the cheesy blurb on the back ("... this singular singer's personal portrait of the blues ..."; sounds like a K-Tel special) to the oddly compressed sound recordings themselves. This review wins David an Excellence in Writing Award!
Jo Morrison leads off our Celtic coverage with an Excellence in Writing Award winning review of Derek Bell's Carolan's receipt, The music of Carolan, Volume 1. She opines this album "... is a classic harp recording ..." and "... it was also an outstanding showcase of the differences between the gut and wire strung versions of the harp itself." Big Sky is a spin-off project of the well-regarded group Capercaillie. Regarding Volume 1, The Source, Ed Dale comments that this is certainly true, indeed "... [w]e are talking here about the kind of spin you take when you hit an unexpected patch of black ice on a curve -- off the road and into deservedly uncharted territory." Much more entertaining according to Kim Bates is the recording of Willie's Last Session by the Cullivoe Band with Willie Hunter. She invites, "Imagine old friends getting together to play one last session nine days before one of their members passes on from cancer, folks who have an ease of playing together that can only come with the years. This is that album."
Rare Air was the band formed by Grier Coppins (later of Taxi Chain fame) and Pat O'Gorman (who went on to be a member of Morgaine La Fey and the Windbags, a new pipe-centered group that will be big someday) after Na Caberfeidh ceased to be. Chuck Lipsig says that Hard to Beat and Space Piper take different approaches to Celtic music. He notes "... Prior to 1990, the group, Rare Air, was experimental -- particularly in their use of bagpipes and related instruments -- but nevertheless strongly based in Celtic music. After 1990, with several personnel changes, the band moved in a more jazz-based, less traditional format, although the bagpipes remained a prominent part of their music. The result is two strong albums that are different enough to appeal to varied tastes." Kim is back with our final review for this genre as she looks at the Revels' Celtic Roads CD, which is a fine introduction to the wide range of Celtic traditions.
Ancient Future's approach to worldbeat fusion did not suit Big Earl. He says both Asian Fusion and Dreamchaser are albums from a band that "... reinforce[s] the stereotype of boring New Age music." However, Brendan Foreman thought Good Old Boys by John Hartford and the Hartford Stringband was quite good. He notes, "Hartford has pulled together a group of excellent musicians in order to play some tight, mellow old-timey songs, all penned by Hartford." Chuck Lipsig thinks he's figured out why there are so many fine bands in the St.Paul/Minneapolis area: "I think I finally figured it out: Minnesotans openly brag of their 10,000 lakes, but what they don't openly brag about is that the water in one of them is enchanted and creates great musicians. Which one is it? They're not telling." The EP by Funks Grove's, which is fronted by Lojo Russo, formerly of Cats Laughing, is simply wonderful according to Chuck. Now about that water....
Gary Whitehouse finishes off our music reviews with a look at Slaid Cleaves' Broke Down album. He notes, "Slaid Cleaves is one of the best new singer-songwriters around. In a country overrun with earnest young men and women making the rounds of the coffeehouse and college auditorium circuit, Cleaves has 'it,' whatever it is that sets apart the real thing from the wanna-be's."
Another area in which GMR is unrivaled is our live performance reviews. And we have two for you this week: Gary Whitehouse was Rounder Records' guest for the Jimmie Dale Gilmore concert. Gary says, "Texas troubadour Jimmie Dale Gilmore and an ace backing band turned in a top-notch acoustic performance on this Sunday evening, a day after Gilmore marked his 55th birthday in Seattle." And Kim attended the concert by Celtic supergroup Skyedance in Toronto. She notes "Skyedance are a collaborative effort of accomplished musician-composers who play together only part of the year. So you will only get to see them if you are very lucky, or if you can travel -- but if you can, by all means: Go see them!" Both of these gig reports garner Excellence in Writing Awards!
Lastly, Michael Jones confesses his guilty secret in his latest Peregrine's Prerogative: "I'll admit it. I love books. I love books with a passion. I am, as they say, a bibliophile." Michael, say it isn't so!
As always, we have lots of Celtic-related material for you. Rebecca Swain leads off with in an Excellence in Writing Award winning look at Mary Stewart's Merlin-centered Arthurian trilogy. She says this trilogy has been her standard for judging Arthurian retellings. Debbie Skolnik follows that review with her insightful review of Charles Vess' Book Of Ballads And Sagas. Both Celtic and Norse tales are retold here with great skill. Three Celtic CDs are reviewed this edition: Brendan Foreman looks at fiddlers in Cape Breton with his review of David Greenberg & Doug MacPhee's Tunes Until Dawn; Lars Nilsson tackles Irish music in reviewing Seán Ó Riada's Ó Riada´s Farewell; and Jo Morrison in an Excellence in Writing Award winning review details the Scottish-centered music of Laura Risk's The Merry Making. Jack B. Merry has an opinionated piece called Celtic Music -- An Insiders' Viewpoint which will either have you shaking your head in agreement or saying that he must be full of shite. An interview with legendary Celtic music artist Loreena McKennitt is conducted by Michael Hunter as the coda piece for our Celtic coverage.
Our musiclore section is by far one of our best areas of coverage. Gary Whitehouse looks at Jean A. Boyd's The Jazz of the Southwest Patrick O'Donnell continues his exploration of the literary side of Mickey Hart in reviews of Planet Drum and Spirit Into Sound: The Magic of Music. Jack B. Merry rounds out our musiclore reviews with a double review of David Rees' Minstrels in the Gallery: a history of Jethro Tull and Greg Russo's Flying Colours: The Jethro Tull Reference Manual. Jack gleans an Excellence in Writing Award for this article.
Have I mentioned lately that our folk tale reviews are second to none? In this edition, Michael M. Jones has an omnibus review of ghost story collections. Four of the books are Nancy Roberts: Ghosts of the Carolinas, The Haunted South, North Carolina Ghosts and Legends, and Ghosts of the Southern Mountains and Appalachia. One is by Margaret Rhett Martin: Charleston Ghosts. Just don't read these late at night!
Michael returns with the first of four fiction novels reviewed this edition: Jim Butcher's Storm Front. He says: "I haven't been this excited about a first novel in a while. It's reminiscent of Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series, with that same dark atmosphere, but it's also got a little of Emma Bull in it, with the ray of hope shining through." Rebecca opines that Tom Holt's Who's Afraid of Beowulf? is "...an amusing story, an afternoon's light reading, and is in refreshing contrast to the dark, self-important fantasies that are so prevalent today." Naomi de Bruyn looks at a feline detective -- yes, really! -- in Shirley Rousseau Murphy's Cat to the Dogs and Cat Under Fire.
Country legend Jimmie Dale Gilmore's One Endless Night is reviewed by Gary, who thinks this CD "....is a sterling collection of well-crafted songs that amply represent the man's artistry." And Lars was really impressed by John Tams' Unity. This English-traditions-based CD was so good that Lars says "....[c]ome 31 December, when it is time to nominate the record of the year, this will be a very strong contender, bound to be up there among the top five." Another fine English trad album is reviewed by Debbie Skolnik: Roy Clinging's Cheshire Born: Songs And Tunes Of Old Cheshire. She says this album's "...spare but honest arrangements continue the long-standing tradition of acoustic folk music-making, but unlike many recordings of similar songs, they benefit from the use of modern recording technology."
Peter Gabriel's Realworld label was so impressed by Folk Tales that they sent us lots of CDs to review. Two of them are reviewed this edition. First, Big Earl Sellar looks at Paban Das Baul and Sam Mills' Real Sugar. Big Earl was less than impressed with this CD: indeed he says, "Real Sugar tends to lean towards the dull." He was not impressed with Tama's Nostalgie, either, and he says: "...we have another, somewhat 'generic' world disc, which at times ("Dambe" as an example) veers dangerously towards 'noodling.'" Brendan looks at Sarband's Llibre Vermell. He says it "...is truly a necessary part of anyone's library of medieval music."
Gary wraps up our music reviews with a thumbs-up for Takashi Hirayasu and Bob Brozman's Jin Jin/Firefly, an album he notes is "a magical record."
Sliding over to the gigs review section, we find Colleen Campbell's review of a Peter Mulvey and David "Goody" Goodrich concert. She says "...Two men, one voice, one acoustic guitar, one electric guitar, and one electric mandolin. I sometimes find myself incredulous that these few things can contain such power." And then there's the John Renbourn concert that David Kidney went to. He says after seeing Renbourn : ".... i[f] John Renbourn comes anywhere close to where you live...don't miss him!" The latter review wins an Excellence in Writing Award!
Michael M. Jones gets the last words with Peregrine's Prerogative #17 which is titled: Just Imagine -- In which our hero endures crowds, floods, the Rocky Horror Picture Show, fame, fortune, Klingons, Dark Lords of the Sith, vampires, editors, and other things that go bump in the night.