22nd of November, 2000
Just a quick note to say that Green Man is holding steady at around 65,000 unique readers every month. This is very impressive given that many ezines never catch the fancy of more than a handful of readers. I won't personally take credit for our good fortune, but I rather think that the hard work of everyone at GMR is what makes us successful. And one of our Editors wants me to note that one of the reasons why we have so much better reviews than other ezines is that we give our staff a break now and then. All work and no breaks make for rather lousy reviews!
Oysterband's 'One Green Hill' has the lyrics, 'My people are the poor ones, their country made of stones / Their wealth is in persistence, in stories and in bones.... ' Though John Jones neglected to mention it in these lyrics, the wealth of the folk is in their music too. No one knows this better than the musicians of the Celtic nations, which may explain the appeal of this music. And Green Man to this day gets more Celtic music than anything else! This week certainly is a good example of this, as we have lots of Celtic music reviews.
Chuck Lipsig leads off with Yes's Jon Anderson's fling at Celtic music, The Promise Ring. Chuck says, 'Yes, this is definitely a Celtic album, inspired by Anderson's hanging out at a Celtic pub in California and a dream he had of a united 'Eireland' in 2002. Yes, it's quite an odd little CD. And, yes, I'm going to stop starting every sentence with 'Yes.' Right Now.' Chuck follows that up with a review of the self-titled debut CD from Avalon Rising, which, he notes, 'belongs to that Celtic/New Age-Pagan/Medieval-Renaissance nexus. Featuring fine vocals -- four different members take their shot at lead vocals and all of them nail their songs -- this self-titled debut is a fine CD. ' Naomi de Bruyn is next up with her look at Celtic Knotwork's A Tune on the Mist. This is, she says, '...an intriguing group, to say the least. Celtic Knotwork was begun by Mary Baxley as a casual partnership with harpist Christie Saunders, who has since left the band but appears here as a guest musician. It would seem that Celtic Knotwork is not such a casual endeavour anymore, which is a lucky thing for those of us who enjoy Celtic music.' She follows that review up with her appreciative gaze at Chulrua's Barefoot on the Altar. This CD ' ... gives us a sampling of all aspects of Irish music, from jigs to airs. All are played with a skill and passion which make the music itself seem as if it were a living entity.' And Nai thought the Indulgers' In Like Flynn was folk rock, but they say it's Celtic, so that's where it's indexed! She says, 'If you like Oysterband, you'll like The Indulgers; there are some very strong similarities between the two.'
Chuck's back with a review of George & Anwyn Leverett's Skye Boat. 'This release features George on Celtic Harp and the distaff half on near about everything else in these arrangements of mostly traditional songs. Generally they are pleasant to listen to, but their arrangements sometimes sound too careful and hesitant,' says our Celtic Editor. Alistair McCulloch's Highly Strung made Nai so happy she said that this CD is '[f]or anyone who loves the fiddle, [Highly Strung] is a must-have for your collection.' She also liked Finlay MacDonald's self-titled debut CD. She chirps, 'Finlay is of the new generation of young pipers. He is a member of the group The Loop, and has also toured with Battlefield Band, as well as The Neilson & District Pipe Band. This is his first solo CD and contains thirteen enjoyable tracks. A great many musicians participated in its making, and it is most definitely a 'must have' for piping fans!'
No'am Newman tackles MacAlias' Highwired. He says, 'One could describe their style to be 'Scottish and Western'; there are several songs which wouldn't be out of place on a country album' Patrick O'Donnell says of Susan McKeown's Lowlands that 'If there is magic in music, Susan McKeown surely is a mage, for how else can her enchanting vocals and entangling arrangements be explained? Her amber tones weave a spell when first they are heard, and you are not yourself again until the music comes to an end. Lowlands, her sixth album, is one of the most fascinating works I have listened to in what seems ages.' Chuck has yet another review in his look at Steve Schuh & The Night Heron Consort's The Shores of Lillisand. He says this music has '...a stately feel to it with lush arrangements. It feels like music for a medieval court -- but only if the court musicians' instruments included wind chimes, penny whistles, electric bass, and a Fender Stratocaster.' Chuck's very last review is of Garry Shannon's Loozin' Air. He comments, 'Nothing on this Loozin' Air is less than good. But, for the most part, the album seems somehow uninspired or unconnected. Not until the last four tracks does Shannon hit his stride -- but when he does, it's well worth listening to.' Jo Morrison wraps up our Celtic reviews with Harps, Pipes, and Fiddles, 'a compilation album, consisting of cuts from various Temple recordings over the years. The three major instruments of Scotland are represented: harps, pipes, and fiddles, each with six or seven representative tracks. The collection is arranged by instrument, beginning with the Celtic harp.' She goes on to note that 'The pipers and fiddlers have a wider range of ancient to modern styles of performance, while the harpers are pretty strictly traditional in nature. Despite this shortcoming, however, the recording does give a strong overview of the music by these three traditional Celtic instruments, showing the past, present, and future of traditional Celtic music.'
Two country albums get reviewed this edition. No'am looks at Peter Bruntnell's Normal For Bridgwater, of which he says, '[t]he music is quite pleasant at first listening, being composed of simple guitar-based songs, but after a while it begins to pall, and I think that I haven't managed once to listen all the way through the disk without stopping' and Gary Whitehouse thought the No Electric Guitars anthology was 'a mostly successful sampler of works by a loose-knit community of musicians in the Philadelphia area. Despite the title, it ranges from acoustic singer-songwriter fare to flat-out rockers, with a generous helping of alternative-folk and funky roots rock thrown into the mix.'
Not one, but two Hindi CDs get reviewed this week. The Rough Guide To Bhangra was not to Big Earl Sellar's taste. (Bhangra, for the few of you who don't know, is a British musical genre, created by East Indian musicians mixing traditional Punjabi music with, well, whatever happens to be hip.) He says, 'The problem with Bhangra is either you dig it or you don't. And I definitely don't. I spent most of my twenties coming up with any excuse to avoid going to dance clubs (in favour of 'real' music). And to endure all those styles, no matter the context, is simply not a priority in my current musical life. Like most British pop music, Bhangra is guided by fashion, a very fleeting thing in the scene. Most, if not all, of these songs sound horribly outdated. I mean, acid-jazz has been passé for, what, almost 6 years now: there's three tracks in that vein.'
But he liked -- really! -- Deepak Ram's Searching For Satyam: 'After years of pointless jazz flutes meanderings, it's wonderful to have found an artist who remembers the critical point of the song. Searching For Satyam is one of the best discs I've heard yet this year, and a wonderful must have for any world or jazz fan.'
Richard Dansky was impressed with Akire Bubar's self-titled debut CD, Arms of the Sun. He says, 'Arms of the Sun is undeniably uneven, but it just as undeniably gives evidence of a considerable talent.'
GMR prides itself on providing the very best in live performance reviews, and this week we have three for you. Debbie Skolnik leads off with a review of a Fairport Convention concert at the Ram's Head Tavern in Annapolis, Maryland. Debbie notes, 'Their musicianship is rock-solid, and although an evening in their company produces no surprises at this point in time, that comfortable feeling one gets after a visit with good friends of long standing prevails.'
Also from England is Kate Rusby. Rebecca Swain says of her encounter with Ms. Rusby at the Ten Pound Fiddle in East Lansing, Michigan, that, 'Kate has a likable and entertaining stage presence. Between songs, she gives long, amusing explanations of the origins and lyrics of her songs. Since she includes her own often entertaining opinions and reactions to the songs, as well as information about where she learned the pieces, these introductions are far from being boring. Her delivery is so funny that I didn't feel impatient for her to be quiet as I have at the concerts of other long-winded performers.' Gary finishes off this trio of gig reviews with a review of the Northern Harmony concert in Corvallis, Oregon, by noting, 'One of the best things about music is the way it can create connections between people of different backgrounds. Northern Harmony, a group of mostly young musicians and singers from Vermont, is taking that a step further, by showing its audience unexpected connections between vocal music of different eras and locales.'
Slipping over to the literary end of GMR, we find Michael 'Penguin' Jones giving us everything we need to know about the Terri Windling-created Bordertown ('B-Town' to those who know it well) shared universe of stories, novels, and other material. Penguin promises that Bordertown is 'The bastard child of Haight-Ashbury and SoHo and Hollywood, the black sheep cousin of Underhill and Arcadia and Tir Na'Nog, the seductive and disreputable and scandalous older cousin your parents always told you to stay away from.' More dark than the B-Town setting is David Barbour and Richard Raleigh's Shadows Bend. April Gutierrez says of this novel that, 'we're given Shadows Bend, a 'what if?' tale of terror, written by David Barbour and Richard Raleigh. These two are not content to merely hinge their novel on a singular conceit: what if Howard Phillips Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, creators of Cthulhu and Conan, respectively, actually met face to face? They up the ante by then asking, what if Cthulhu, Nylarthotep and the other Elder Gods were not simply figments of Lovecraft's 'Stygian imagination, but truthfully part of a very dark reality which Lovecraft was fortunate (!) enough to glimpse.' Eeeeek! James P. Blaylock's The Rainy Season is another dark fantasy that Marian McHugh found to be 'a tale of murder and intrigue, child sacrifice and time travel, a very odd, thought-provoking combination. Right from the first page I was totally captivated by Blaylock's evocative prose. Throughout my reading I found myself fully drawn into the story and living the experiences of the protagonists. The Rainy Season is one of those novels that I refer to as a 'movie story' -- I can visualise in my mind the whole story as I read.'
Excellence in Writing Awards go this time to Patrick for his Susan McKeown review, and to Michael for his Bordertown omnibus.
That's all for this week. We will not be publishing next week as we'll be taking a much needed break! Our next issue will be published on Sunday, the 3rd of December.
Green Man is now a banner-free website! This will allow everyone to load our already fast loading pages at an even speedier rate! And look for an even better search engine in the near future. You'll need it as GMR has reviewed over 2,300 CDs, books, videos, and live performances! (Sadly enough, we still haven't any Vogon poetry reviews.) It's worth noting that a link to GMR now exists on over 500 websites!
Nearly everything this week is from the older nations that border on or are near the North Atlantic rim. Iain Nicholas Mackenzie leads off with a look at The Kilmartin Sessions, a look at the sounds of ancient Scotland. He says, '...anyone interested in how Celtic music as we know it now came to be, should purchase The Kilmartin Sessions.' And beware the carnyx! Lars looks at a much more modern player in examining John McCusker's Yella Hoose. 'McCusker is one of the brightest shining stars of the new folk music generation. He joined the Battlefield Band in 1990 at only 17 years of age, filling the gap after Brian McNeill, a task that would seem impossible to many. Maybe McCusker was too young to realize this, but he is still there. Not only has he filled a space, he has also been a considerable influence to the band's style...' says Lars, and I agree with him wholeheartedly on this matter! Both Jack and Lars win Excellence in Writing Awards!
Nordic music proved to be a major interest of our reviewers this week. Jack looks at two of the better known bands from that region. He says, 'Methinks that no one can keep up with all the great Nordic music that's being released. Reynard, a band mate of mine, noted that A Fine Kettle of Fish, his favourite source of Nordic music, has tripled the space they devote to that genre of CDs! This review will be a roundup of the releases from Swedish bands Frifot and Garmarna. I've put on some proper music, One by the new Northumbrian band 422 to play as I do this commentary, and a pot of mulled cider brewing to keep me warm as a North Atlantic storm rages outside our garret flat. So sit back, and we'll talk of these bands as the wind howls outside!'
Naomi de Bruyn looks at four different Nordic CDs this time. She says of Swedish band Harv's Must, 'According to the notes I found at the web site, 'harv' means 'harrow,' a farm instrument used to level land. And in Swedish, 'harv' also has the connotation of a really intense experience, which is the definition that aptly describes 'Harv's' approach.' I would have to agree with this, in fact both definitions are rather apt. The first because Harv is something 'new,' the land is being levelled so something new can be sown. And secondly, the experience of listening to this duo is nothing short of intense. In person, they must be rather explosive!' Kaka is from Lamla Mammas Manna, a brilliant quartet out of Sweden that, according to Nai, 'are full of hi jinx and hilarity in between tracks -- and sometimes during. Not only that, but they are very talented musicians and would be great to see live.' Our fourth Swedish group, Nyckelharpa Orchestra, is represented here by their album, Byss-Calle. Nai notes, 'The Nyckelharpa orchestra is comprised of six top musicians from the younger generation of nyckelharpa players. They are all working at preserving the nyckelharpa [keyed fiddle] tradition, as well as developing it, both as an ensemble, and as solo artists. Their playing is exquisite, all six are adding in passion and talent to a ensemble which has much potential. And after listening I would have to agree that this is a tradition which should be preserved.' She ventures over to Finland for her review of folk singer Wimme's Cugu. She says, 'This has got to be one of the strangest and most addictive CD's I have ever heard in my life! It is eerie and extremely unearthly, even hair raising in some tracks. Wimme Saari is a modern 'yoik' singer. He began learning this method in 1986. 'Yoik,' an archaic method of unaccompanied solo singing is a form of traditional Sami music. It is oddly similar to some Native American music.'
English group Coope, Boyes & Simpson just performed in the New England states as part of a tour coordinated by the Center for Cultural Exchange which is based in my home city of Portland, Maine. Lars looks at What We Sing Is What We Are, their latest album. He says, 'I must say I was a bit suspicious when I put the CD in my player for the first time. A whole CD without any instruments: can it work? The answer is 'Yes, it can work, and very well at that.' At their best, Coope, Boyes & Simpson are as heavy as any metal group. They have got very powerful voices, and they chose their songs with care. They seem to go for the ones that combine a good tune with meaningful lyrics.'
Gargoyles, like Green Men, can be found in many of the older cities of Europe. I looked at two very different books about these creatures: Janetta Rebold Benton's Holy Terrors: Gargoyles on Medieval Buildings, and Stephen King's Nightmares in the Sky. I note in the review, 'In writing my review of In The Shadow of the Gargoyle anthology, I should have made reference to Nightmares in the Sky and Holy Terrors: Gargoyles on Medieval Buildings.' These books are well-worth searching out!
Our next three reviews come from Canadian talent. First up is Nai's review of a Sarah Harmer concert. Nai notes, 'It is really rare these days to go to a concert and hear a performance that sounds just as great as the CD; magic is worked in recording studios, and sometimes it is too much for a group to live up to in a live performance. This is not the case with Sarah Harmer. In fact, this dynamic performer sounds just as good, if not better, live than on the CD.' Nai also looked at Bourque, Bernard, & Lepage's Matapat. This is, she says, '...music meant for a Quebec kitchen party, which like the kitchen parties of the East Coasters will leave you warm and energized, and wanting more!' And David Kidney reviews singer-songwriter Ken Whitely's listening. David comments, 'Ken Whitely is a good old Canadian folk-singer. He's the guy we all wanted to be'
Gary Whitehouse gets the final word with two roots music reviews. Red Star Belgrade's telescope '..., is pushing country rock into some unexpected places.' And the Rolling Hayseed's No Place Like Home is '[e]vidence that the alternative country scene in Philadelphia is alive and well.'
That's all for this time. Please note we'll be publishing next week, but will not be publishing the following week as we'll be breaking for the Thanksgiving holiday.
One of the grand masters of of the literary arts, L. Sprague de Camp passed away November 6, 2000. He was 92 years old. Catherine Crook de Camp, his wife of 60 years, passed on in April of this year. The author of over 120 science fiction and fantasy books and several hundred short stories, L. Sprague de Camp also wrote many non-fiction books in history, science, and biography. Sprague received many awards, among them the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, The First Fandom Pilgrim Award, the Grand Master Award for Lifetime Achievement in Fantasy, and Science Fiction Writers of America Grand Master Nebula Award. He will be missed by all who knew him and his work.
Endicott Studio, the cool site created by Terri Windling, and maintained by Richard and Mardelle Kunz, has some neat articles up this edition. Into the Labyrinth: the Art of Toby Froud looks at the art of yet another Froud, and Terri Windling looks at the original fairy tales in her essay, Les Contes de Fées: The Literary Fairy Tales of France. And don't forget to read her letter to see what she's been up to lately!
Watch for a redesign of Green Man over the next few weeks, as April Gutierrez, our ace Graphic Designer, has been working on a new look for the main index pages. It should enhance the already simple navigation of this site! And a reminder is in order for those of you trying to get hard-to-find Nordic and Celtic music CDs: Musikfolk can always do a special order for you! Just email Stephanie with your orders. Many of the Nordic CDs in particular are released well ahead of their release in the U.S. on labels like Northside. For example, the Frifot CD released by Northside is actually only part of two earlier Frifot CDs!
Chuck Lipsig leads off with a very complimentary look at Jack Evans's Once Upon a Time in The North. He says, 'Some CDs defy plans. My plan was to get together a bunch of CDs that were waiting to be reviewed, have a nice listening session, and write an omnibus review. Then I put on Jack Evans's Once Upon a Time in The North, and the plan went up in smoke. This CD demanded its own review. (The omnibus will come next.)' Jo Morrison was not as happy with Scotland's Tartan Top Twenty, The Pipes and Drums, as piobaireachd isn't included, but she says, '...This recording will give those wishing an overview of the instrument a good retrospective of piping. Piping traditionalists will find some tracks to their liking, and others downright repulsive. Your reaction to this recording will definitely depend on your tastes in pipe music.' Keeping in the Celtic vein, we have a concert review by Naomi de Bruyn of The Chieftains with Ashley MacIsaac and other guests at The Royal Theatre in Victoria, BC. She notes, 'I was content in knowing that during the course of the show, my escort had actually clapped, toe tapped, and even hollered out a couple of times. Celtic music is not high on his list of likes, but this night, the Chieftains gained another convert. My hat's off to them for that bit of magic!'
Our other concert review this week is from Gary Whitehouse, who was fortunate enough to attend a performance by Bob Brozman and Takashi Hirayasu. He notes, 'American guitarist Bob Brozman and Okinawan folk singer Takashi Hirayasu share a bond like many twins are said to share. Though they speak only snippets of each other's native tongue, they communicate as closely as any two musicians can, with gestures, eye contact and their own private blend of Japanese and English. Their shared sense of playfulness and equal love of their music came across loud and clear on this stop in their short West Coast tour.'
Gary also reviewed S. Frederick Starr's Louis Moreau Gottschalk, a biography of a unique composer. Gary comments, 'Starr is an unapologetic champion of Gottschalk. But he is unafraid to examine all the negatives in the man's art and his character, and still finds his subject worthy. Now that we're in an era when an artist's works can be appreciated apart from his private life, Starr successfully argues for Gottschalk's place among the pantheon of American composers and artists. An understanding of Gottschalk is important to any student of American serious and popular music, and Starr's book is a definitive statement on the subject.'
We get lots of books for review from various publishers -- so many that our beloved Snowqueen refuses to send out more for review 'til the current crop out there in reviewers' hands is reviewed. Leading off this time is David Kidney's examination of James Lee Burke's Purple Cane Road. Our reviewer notes, 'Dave Robicheaux is a middle-aged guy, trying to get along. Still haunted by his experiences in Viet Nam, troubled by his relationship with his long-dead parents, he is now a homicide detective in New Iberia Parish in Louisiana. His second wife, Boots, his adopted daughter, Alafair, and his old New Orleans Police Department partner, Clete Purcell provide support as Dave deals with murder, mystery and the slimy side of the world. Purple Cane Road is the latest in a long series of novels which detail Dave's life and adventures. It is the eleventh tale, and it delves deep into Robicheaux's murky past, as he attempts to shine a light on what the truth is involving his mother and her death.' David will be doing an omnibus review of the other Dave Robicheaux novels!
Naomi returns with a look at Peter S. Beagle's novella A Dance For Emilia. She says, 'Peter has written a tale of reality. True reality, the one which is filled with both joy and anguish. But, in order to make it so that the human psyche can deal with it and perhaps even to aid in the healing of such grievous wounds as only reality can make, there is a surge of fantasy spilling into our real world.' She also looked at a book that tickled my fancy so I sent her it to review: George and Helen Papashvily's Yes and No Stories. Naomi says, 'Yes and No Stories -- A Book of Georgian Folk Tales is the same calibre as Grimm or Andersen's collections, and if you can find it, it is well worth losing yourself within its pages for a time. And definitely worth sharing with the little ones in your life, as well.' Naomi's third book review this week is Glass Harmonica, by Louise Marley. Naomi describes the book this way: 'Being Hallowe'en, it is the perfect time of year for a ghost story, and in a sense, that is what this is. A deeply moving and impossible-to-put-down ghost story, in truth. However, it also involves the not-so-distant future.' If you love music, you'll want to read this novel.
Michael 'Penguin' Jones has two reviews for us this time. Elizabeth D. Schafer's Exploring Harry Potter is unauthorized by Rowling, but 'Coming on the heels of the immense, almost unprecedented popularity of the Harry Potter books comes this gem. The full title is Beacham's Sourcebooks For Teaching Young Adult Fiction: Exploring Harry Potter, and it's the first in a series that will hopefully live long and prosper well enough to tackle more classic literature. The second volume in the series is planned to cover C.S. Lewis' Narnia books. After that, who knows? Susan Cooper? Madeleine L'Engle? We can only wait and see, but if the next books are anywhere near as thorough or intelligent as this one, we're in for a treat.' He also looks at Simon R. Green's Beyond The Blue Moon. Penguin says, 'Beyond the Blue Moon is epic in scope, with space opera-style characters possessed of evocative names and impeccable fighting abilities, the mad, over-the-top concepts that only the British (including certain mad Irishmen and scary Scotsmen) seem to be able to pull off correctly (if you don't believe me, I dare you to put him in a room with noted comic book writers Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, and Warren Ellis, and see who or what comes out of the mix...), and enough bloody battle scenes to make Robert E. Howard rethink this whole Conan thing. In short, it's epic fantasy with a grunge twist and a pulp flavor. My kind of meal.'
April did have enough time this week to read Mike Baker and Martin H. Greenberg's anthology, My Favorite Horror Story. She notes, 'Ever wondered what inspires your favourite authors? Or what they read in their spare time? Just in time for Halloween, Baker and Greenberg have given us an authoritative answer in the horror genre: the fifteen tales of suspense and terror in My Favorite Horror Story. The answer we're given is a taut, tense collection, full of subtle, chill frissons of fear and, at times outright terror.'
Frog Hollers? Cowtowns? We must be in the roots music genre! According to Gary, in his review of Frog Holler's Adams Hotel Road, 'Of all the groups that have gone on record since Uncle Tupelo got the alternative country movement rolling in the early 1990s, this septet from Pennsylvania may come the closest to picking up where Tupelo left off when it split up in mid-decade.' Kim, who interviewed Hot Club of Cowtown at the Winnipeg Folk Festival this year, says about their album Dev'lish Mary, 'There's something wonderful about western swing jazz. This fusion of the rural western aesthetic with the hip urban mid-century jazz has always worked for me. This was never 'white folks playing jazz and wishing they had soul'; rather it's a smooth fusion of traditions that celebrates its roots while being totally itself.' Kim stays in Texas for a review of the biography of Texas fiddler and cowboy Frankie McWhortert. Kim obviously has a love for Texas music!
Going over the seas to the Nordic region, we have two reviews by Brendan Foreman. Ale Moller's The Horse and the Crane is 'is a thoroughly entertaining, thoroughly entrancing set of music made for a theatre-concert based upon a set of novels by Sara Lidman about the extension of the railway into Northern Sweden. Filled with the stark instrumentation and ethereal sounds that seem to pervade the best Swedish music, this suite really does feel like the perfect soundtrack to a railway tour through glaciers.' And about Mylliart's In the Light of the White Night he says: '[i]nstead of the introspection and gloom of The Horse and the Crane, this Finnish seven-person ensembles offers danceability and joy on In the Light of the White Night, a fine selection of Finnish and Karelian folk tunes. These folk are as Old World in charm and sound as they come, giving us a smooth, elegant, and very evocative style of playing. In fact, like their compatriots Varttina, they even manage to make polkas entertaining to non-dancers.'
Excellence in Writing Awards go to April for her My Favorite Horror Story review, Michael for his Beyond The Blue Moon review, and Jo for her Scotland's Tartan Top Twenty, The Pipes and Drums review.
I leave you with a note about Charles de Lint's Triskell Tales which was reviewed here last edition. I got my copy of this collection today and was delighted to see a quote from GMR by Jayme Lynn Blaschke from his review of The Newford Stories on the back cover. Here's the quote: 'de Lint weaves magic and wonder and occasionally terror into the everyday lives of his characters. It's as fascinating as it is addictive, and it's no wonder de Lint's short fiction collections, a form usually anathema to publishers, are in such high demand. He's one of the few writers whose short work is as eagerly anticipated by his fans as his novels.'