So sorry, but we're on vacation this week. Come back on the 1st of April and we'll have a new edition for you! Now I'm off to read a splendid book called Chronicles of Celtic Folk Customs: A Day-to-Day Guide to Folk Traditions, and listen to Brian McNeill and Tom McDonagh's splendid CD, Horses for Courses.
We're taking next week off in honour, as Jack would say 'of our Queen's Birthday' (no, not that Queen -- I'm referring to our very own Snowqueen, Rebecca Swain), so we've got a nice, fat edition for you this week.
Before we get to the review, I want to mention a new webzine well worth your time to check out. Here's what Frank Goodman, Editor of Puremusic, says about his zine: "Puremusic is a new online source for great music intended for a mature audience. We focus on singer songwriters, pop music for adults, and instrumental music. We always have a feature interview (this issue it's John Gorka) and at least four reviews, as well as sound clips of the profiled artists. This is our fourth issue, and our readership is picking up fast. We welcome the friends and fans of The Green Man to come and check us out here. Some upcoming interviews: Susan McKeown, Dan Hicks, and Gillian Welch. Archived interviews: NRBQ, Swan Dive, and Ron Sexsmith. Please join our mailing list on the 'talk to us' page!" I'll add that it's one of the most attractive Web sites I've seen in a long while!
We lead off this edition with Chuck Lipsig's look at Steven Brust's Gypsy cycle which consists of his novels The Gypsy and The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, and Boiled in Lead's CD Song from the Gypsy, for which Brust wrote the lyrics. Read Chuck's insightful commentary to see how he puzzled out the mystery of how all of this interconnects to form a more or less coherent tale. Meanwhile our Snowqueen is continuing her fascination with the work of Mary Renault. She says, "This trilogy is an outstanding work of historical fiction, chronicling the life of Alexander the Great." Over on the darker side of fiction, Patrick O'Donnell has a spine-tingling look at Brian Lumley's The Whisperer and Other Voices. Patrick comments, "Brian Lumley, despite being told by an English teacher that he should follow his father into the mining trade, has unearthed a fortune by putting ink to paper and digging instead into his subconscious for tales of the macabre. Horror fiction is a genre that sees more failures than successes, more stories that are truly horrible than works of fiction that are truly good. Lumley surpassed all my expectations, and The Whisperer falls into the latter category."
Michael Jones has a nifty review of two urban fantasies, Bedlam Bards and Beyond World's End. He says, "Elves. Bards. Renn Faires. Music. Magic. Love. Loss. Betrayal. Fast cars and motorcycles. Beautiful, treacherous half-breed women. Spells and curses. Dreams and nightmares. Hope. These are the elements which make up the Bedlam's Bard series of books, created by Mercedes Lackey and Ellen Guon, and continued with the aid of Rosemary Edghill." Based on his keen commentary, I can't wait to read them!
Finishing off our fiction reviews this outing is Naomi de Bruyn's look at Martha Wells' The Wheel of the Infinite. She says of this fantasy, "I was unable to put this novel down. I devoured it in record time. So much was happening and it was so intense, I had to know. Martha is an incredibly gifted crafter of tales, and this one is particularly unforgettable!" Read her to see if you'll be as enthralled as Naomi was!
I once heard Eric Burdon say of "The House of the Rising Sun" that "I hate this fucking song." Unfortunately, Debbie Skolnik says that George Pearson's biography of the Animals, Sex, Brown Ale and Rhythm & Blues, won't give you the dirt or much of anything else about the Animals as "[t]he book pushes the Animals into the background, and although their story ties the whole thing together, it is far more George Pearson's memoir than anything else." Look for a review on Green Man of a new book published by Helter Skelter Books in the UK called Animal Tracks -- we'll see if that biography is better than this one!
Many of our reviewers have a certain fanatical fondness for Him. No, not that deity, but rather a Guitar God by the name of Richard Thompson. Gary Whitehouse was able to use his GMR connections to get hold of his new album, Action Packed. He says, "Action Packed has some of the strengths and weaknesses shared by most 'best-of' packages. It does raise the argument for a remastering of Thompson's entire back catalogue, complete with some of those elusive, rare and alternate tracks. For the optimist, this CD is a good introduction to the more accessible works of this often enigmatic artist; for the cynic, it's nothing more than a repackaging job, a last-ditch attempt by Capitol to wring a few more dollars out of a musician the label perhaps failed to promote to his full potential while he was still with them."
Naomi de Bruyn gives a superb look at a concert by The Town Pants, one of the best Canadian Celtic groups in existence. She says, "If you ever get the chance to see them, you'd be cheating yourself if you didn't go. The one thing you can bank on is having a few laughs and listening to some great music. I'm glad I had the chance, and I'm looking forward to hopefully seeing them again should they come this way again."
We take considerable pride in our second-to-none Celtic music coverage. Big Earl Sellar leads off this edition's coverage with a review of Altramar's Crossroads of the Celts. He notes that this group is "an early music ensemble based in Indiana. Using only period instruments, the group attempts to evoke long-lost and largely forgotten music of several cultures. This is a noble enterprise indeed: imagine trying to put together a jig-saw puzzle with only 4 pieces and a vague memory of the picture on the box. Early music groups must be part musician, part scholar, and part detective in order to create the music that they perform." Kim Bates follows that review with her look at the Celtic Connections '94 collection. She notes, "The Celtic Connections festival has become legendary, held each January in Glasgow. This compilation showcases artists from the 1994 festival. Rather than live recordings, this album provides a flavour of the work of several artists and labels. Overall, the songs on this disc stand the test of time: a testimony not only to the talent at the festival, but also to the vitality of these particular musicians." We previously reviewed Emerald Rose's debut CD, so it was Tim Hoke's pleasure to review their second release, Bending Tradition. He says that "Despite the rough spots, this second recording by Emerald Rose contains some good music. The future looks promising for this group." And Lars Nilsson wraps up this quartet of reviews by listening to Graham O´Callaghan's In This Heart. Lars comments that "This CD oozes self-confidence. Who but a self confident singer would include household songs like 'Banks of the Bann,' 'Lovely Joan' and 'Flandyke Shore' on an album without trying to remake the songs? Just the prospect of doing "Flandyke Shore" and the inevitable comparisons with Nic Jones that will spring from such a venture, would scare off many less brave men."
Big Earl is back with a look at Algerian Rai player Abdelkader Saadoun's Saadia album. He says, "The sound of Rai exploded on the world stage back in the early 1990s, an immensely powerful dance music out of Algeria. Featuring large bands, complex bass lines, and vocal gymnastics, the groove instantly hit home right at a point when World Music began to expand in mass popularity. Abdelkader Saadoun is a Rai artist who has made his home in England for the past seven years, dubbing himself 'Rai's Ambassador to Britain.' Saadia is his first full length disc, and it is a relentless winner on all counts."
Folk rock in the form of Elliott Murphy & Iain Matthews' La Terre Commune is reviewed by Lars. He says, "La Terre Commune has the super-group feeling of the early Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young records."
Snowqueen, who rumor has it is attending a Dar Williams concert as I write these notes, has a look at Woody Guthrie compatriot Cisco Houston and his album, The Best of the Vanguard Years. Our Queen says, "I would have liked a concise rundown of who wrote each song, but otherwise I have no complaints about this CD. The insert gives a generous description of Houston's interesting life, and Houston himself is a pleasure to hear once you get used to the old-fashioned, stripped-down sound. I recommend this CD as a pleasant way to discover, or revisit, the folk music that had a profound impact on later musicians." More roots music is (re)visited by Debbie Skolnik in her look at the expanded Trad Arr Jones, the John Wesley Harding Nic Jones tribute CD. She notes, "I first reviewed John Wesley Harding's Trad Arr Jones in 1999, when it was released. If you read my original review you will remember that I thought it a pretty good album. What ... you didn't read the original review? Well, you get a second chance now, my friends. Here it is." And Lars finishes this edition off with Still Waters by Bill Malkin and Friends. His sage comment is that if he " ... were to sum up this CD in one word, it would be 'pleasant.' But unfortunately pleasant does not take you very far these days. It needs more than pleasant to make a mark in the music world, be it folk or rock."
Excellence in Writing Awards were given out for these reviews: Mercedes Lackey's Bedlam Cycle, Celtic Connections, Trad Arr Jones, and Steven Brust's Gypsy cycle.
We'll see you in two weeks. Be good, and be on the lookout for signs of spring!
It's been a good few weeks for me in terms of seeing live music; I saw Andy Cutting and Chris Wood, contemporary trad musicians extraordinaire, and Patrick Street, one of the best Irish bands playing today. And we have lots of reviews of great recorded music to whet your appetite! So let's get to it! First up is Kim Bates' omnibus review of six CDs she received: Eamonn Dillon's Storm the Kettle, Fiddlers 5's Fiddle Music From Scotland, Alasdair Fraser and Paul Machlis' Legacy of the Scottish Fiddle, Vol. 1, Colin Nea's The Pure Box, Thee na Shee's To Wake the Stone, and Thee na Shee's Strange Horse. She notes, "There's so much instrumental Celtic music out there, and so much of it seems to have found its way to my mailbox for reviewing, that it seemed like a good idea to pull some of these loose strands together for a review. A lot of instrumental music seems to fall into two categories: the adamantly traditional and the fusion of traditional melodies with au courant percussion and impressionistic impulses. We've got both here for this mostly instrumental review. Sadly, both types can suffer when confronting the marketing categories of record companies. As for the music buying public, it may be difficult to distinguish within or between these categories, or to pick the artists from the lesser efforts that I'll call "tourist" albums."
Omnium/Northside has expanded its coverage to include Italian, which is how April Gutierrez came to review Nordic (Sorten Muld's III) and Italian (Fiamma Fumana's 1.0). April says that, "Sorten Muld have created another exquisite fusion of ancient Nordic folk tales and modern electronica ..." and Fiamma Fumana is "...[f]rom the opening techno, vox and bagpipe salvo of '1.0' to the final lingering notes of 'Via del ritorno/Way Home,' an absolute treasure."
Dance music is roots music at its very finest -- just a band of talented musicians, a caller, and energetic dancers. But does it work as something to listen to in recorded form? Damn right it does! Green Man has been getting a great deal of contradance, barn dance, and English ceilidh music as of late. (Webfeet, a Web site subtitled Dancing on the Web, uses our English ceilidh reviews.) This week we find Gary Whitehouse looking at three albums of contradance, all with Bob Pasquarello: A Band Named Bob, Apples and Oranges, and When Midnight Comes. As Gary notes, "Pianist Bob Pasquarello is the common figure in these three releases out of Pennsylvania's contra dance scene: a trio, a duo and a solo disc of 'after waltzes.' All three are enjoyable records of dance music." And Naomi de Bruyn, a mean dancer in her own right, looks at Popcorn Behavior, a very young but talented group, who have three recordings out: Journeywork, Popcorn Behavior - Hot Contra Dance Tunes, and Strangest Dream. As she notes, "It is rather disconcerting at first to listen to this group. The music is impeccable and surpasses much of what I have heard in my life. This in itself is not all that remarkable. However, when you realize that the musicians are only 10, 13, and 14 years of age, it kind of makes you suck back and reload, if you know what I mean. These Vermont youngsters are all musical marvels who have been playing together for years! Actually, they are not so young now; that was their age at the time of the first recording six years ago. However, listening to it, I would never guess that it was a bunch of kids playing these great contradance tunes! There is a maturity to their playing that really is unbelievable, and totally enjoyable!"
Gary reviews one more Roots album: Mason Brown and Chipper Thompson's Am I Born to Die. He says, " An album of old-time American music performed by a couple of New Mexicans, on an artsy independent label based in upstate New York may seem an unlikely thing. But Am I Born to Die is a beautiful and moving piece of work."
Much of the material Green Man covers is from the English, Celtic, and American traditions. But we review music from all over and are constantly expanding our coverage. This week has been particularly good in that direction, as the staff has been delving into traditions ranging from Estonia to Turkey to the Sephardic Jewish community.
Big Earl must be one extremely lucky dog and a damn fine writer to boot. How else to explain the amazing number of CDs he gets to review? Five of the seventeen world music CDs he was sent recently were of a Turkish nature: Maras Sinemilli Deyisleri/Ulas Ozdemir's Ummanda, Erkan Ogur/Ismail H. Demircioglu's Gulun Kokusu Vardi, Kardes Turkuler's Dogu, Turk Ritm Grubu's Ten/Skin, and Selim Sesler ve Grup Trakya'nin Sesi's Kesan'a Giden Yollar. He notes, "Turkey is perhaps the oldest continuously inhabited region on this planet. With the Karain cave giving us evidence of Anatolian civilization beginning at least 10,000 years ago, the people of this corner of our planet have had a long time to develop a musical culture with the same complexity as India's, a tradition to rival Celtic, and a beauty that is truly universal. The Kalan label concentrates on the wonderful music of this area, with a particular interest in presenting the traditional forms. This set of discs present but a few facets of Turkish music, giving us a hint at the musical diamond that exists." Not so pleasing to his ear were two CDs by Wah!: CD Krishna and Transformation. He suggests that "[w]ith a serious look at where her strengths lie musically, Wah! could be capable of creating some really great music. However, these discs prove that capability is somewhat out of her hands. I'd probably just say Whoa! to these discs."
Nai returns with a look at two albums from Libana, a female chanting and drumming group: A Circle is Cast and Night Passage. She says, "Libana is a rather odd group, and one I can welcome into my life at this point in time. Founded in 1979 by its artistic director, Susan Robbins, this group came together with the intention of exploring and performing pieces which reflect women's musical heritage. Unfortunately, much of this heritage is undocumented, and it becomes lost. Libana takes the songs, dances, and instrumental music of the world's many different cultures, and performs them flawlessly. The name of the group was taken from a 10th-century Moorish poet and musician, as a symbol of women's creativity throughout the ages"
Nai also looked at Estonian music in the form of two albums, Lullabies for Husbands and Saatus Fate, from Kirile Loo. She notes that "Listening to Kirile Loo is like being transported to a different time, a time when life was harder, but also more worthwhile. After learning the basics from her folk singing grandmother, she went to study at the Tallinn School of Music. However, she still credits most of her singing skills to her grandmother's teachings. Kirile Loo is firmly rooted in the Estonian folk tradition, and is a phenomenal composer and singer."
Green Man often gets everything a group has done, as was, for example, the case with Popcorn Behavior and House Band, so that's how Chuck Lipsig ended up doing a Voice of the Turtle omnibus. He say of this stellar group that "Derek Burrows, Lisle Kulbach, Jay Rosenberg, and Judith Wachs, have been performing Sephardic music as Voice of the Turtle, since 1977. All four sing as well as play a wide variety of instruments, ranging from those familiar to Western ears to those of more Middle Eastern and/or medieval origin. Indeed, the range of instruments that each play make it impossible to even classify any as specialists in any one type of instrument."
I've said that Rebecca Swain, our Snowqueen, is one damn fine editor, but have I mentioned lately that she's a great writer? Just savor for a moment this opening paragraph of her Excellence in Writing Award review of Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles: "I love this series. Unreservedly, madly, throw-my-head-back-in-ecstasy love it. So if you've come here hoping for a balanced, reasoned review, click away quick; you won't find it here!" Read her review to see why she loved this series! She also loves Mary Renault's The Last of the Wine, a historical novel set in ancient Greece. Is she crazy, or will you love it too? There's only one way to find out ... Kim Bates reviewed the print and audio versions of The Chieftains: An Authorized Biography, by John Glatt. She says, "It's difficult to underestimate the Chieftains' impact on Irish traditional music as an international phenomenon. They have an artistry that weaves individual and collective creativity together to reveal this traditional form of music as both sophisticated and compelling." Kim wins Excellence in Writing Award for this superb review.
That's all for this edition. I'm off now to listen to the CDs that Andy Irvine of Patrick Street left for me at the Center after their concert there! And I'm watching the post for the CD that Jon Swayne of Blowzabella fame is sending GMR. Life is very, very good these days!
Postscript -- It never ceases to astound me that there are 50,000 plus of you reading our reviews each and every month; numbers like that are incredible. And you know, Green Man wouldn't be what it is without each and every one of you. Sure, we have a great staff of dedicated writers and a lot of outstanding material to review, but without all of you reading it, what would be the point? I just wanted to say thank you, for making our work worthwhile. And the real bonuses, well, they come in the form of a number of thank-you notes from musicians, authors, and you, the reader. We like it when you let us know how we're doing, it helps to keep the morale high and keep us working hard for you. Thanks, to each and every one who stops to browse through our pages.
Welcome to another edition of the finest review zine on the net! You'll notice that we've added a few new staffers as of late, such as John J. Hall and Irene J. Henry. As we require our staff to have more than a passing familiarity with the English language, it takes us a wee bit of time to recruit and train new GMR reviewers. But if you watch this publication closely over the new few months, you'll see a number of talented writers join us.
We get a lot of fiction to review from publishers big and small. Much of it is very good, some of it isn't. Naomi de Bruyn found one of the better books in Peter S. Beagle's The InnKeeper's Song, which she says "is a classic fantasy work" revolving loss, redemption, and magic. Nai reviewed a total of four novels this week. Stardust - Being a Romance Within the Realms of Faery is a collaboration between Neil Gaiman (words) and Charles Vess (images). As she says in her review, "It is not very often I will spare a glance for a romance novel, but this one is a wee bit different, and worth more than just a second glance. The cover alone is captivating, dark blue with shiny light blue stars, and red binding. There is even a dark blue ribbon for a bookmark. This is something that isn't seen too often anymore, and holds about it a certain magic of its own. Only really important books have a built-in book mark, after all. Stardust drew me in from the first line, and the magic of Neil's prose drew me in further when accompanied by Charles' delightfully enrapturing illustrations." Deborah Chester's The Chalice was her next read. She notes, "It was a trifle hard to get into this rousing fantasy, for there were allusions to previous happenings which were not fully explained. However, once it did settle down, I kept reading. And since recovering from surgery gives me all the time in the world to read, this novel was devoured in short order." And finally, there's the matter of Christopher Rowley's The Shasht War, which did not tickle her fancy: "Well, I've never liked coming into things after they have already begun, but in truth I think if I'd read the first one, I wouldn't have looked at the second book. This is like a remake of Planet of the Apes with a bit more imagination thrown in to sweeten the whole ordeal."
One of our new reviewers is John J. Hall, who this week reviews two of Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Saga novels: Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master. These are splendid works of fantasy, but as John notes, "Readers should take note that these books cover battles and a great war with detail that many may find disturbing, yet these descriptions are not gratuitous. Let us, as readers, not hide behind the thin veil of illusion as to what a book about battles, love, and honor is all about." Another new reviewer, Irene J. Henry, looks at Mary Norton's Bedknobs and Broomsticks. She says, "This reprint of two short children's novels (The Magic Bed-Knob and Bonfires and Broomsticks) was a favorite of my grade-school contemporaries, but for some reason I never read it then. I recall my friends reading the book and creating a fad for magic, spell-casting, witches and so on, eventually graduating to The Witch of Blackbird Pond and other kid-friendly magic/fantasy novels. When I had the opportunity to review the book, I realized that I'd been given a second chance at childhood."
A reviewer who needs no introduction is Jack B. Merry, who was delighted to review Diana Wynne Jones' Fire and Hemlock. He notes, "Me editor mentioned in What's New that Emma Bull's quintessential urban fantasy novel, War for The Oaks, was finally getting the hardcover edition it so richly deserves. Another novel that has deserved the same treatment is Diana Wynne Jones' Fire & Hemlock, a novel so highly regarded that copies of the original 1975 Greenwillow hardcover fetch as much as US$ 300.00 from booksellers on the American Booksellers Exchange Web site. ... It's a good solid book with memorable characters and an engrossing plot which got read in one rather long sitting on a cold, rainy afternoon late in October. ... It certainly was as good as the aforementioned War for The Oaks."
April Gutierrez was unable to say good things about S. P. Somtow's Temple of Night, a novel set in the Crow universe. She praises the setting ("Bangkok, city of forbidden fruit, secret sins, and ripe flesh for the taking. Bangkok, city of strict social hierarchies, centuries-old traditions, and strong ties to the spirit world. This duality -- ancient temples a stone's throw from Blockbuster video stores, abject poverty alongside immense wealth, tourists mingling unknowingly with shaman -- is the dramatic backdrop"), but says "if this were my introduction to the Crow universe, it would be my last visit, unfortunately. Go read the J. O'Barr graphic novel, or watch the first movie. Much better than Temple of Night."
GMR has a very good reputation among musicians, which is how we come to review so many tune books. John Loesberg's Music from Ireland is reviewed by Lars Nilsson. Read his review to see why he was less than thrilled with this particular tune book.
Turning to CD reviews, our lead-off review's from David Kidney, who found Climax Chicago Blues Band's Rock & Pop Legends. He says "check out this collection of their best tunes. All in all it's a pleasurable listening experience... " Equally pleasurable was Gary Whitehouse's encounter with Accordeon. Gary comments that "[a]s New Orleans has its jazz and Chicago its blues, Paris has its musette, a musical form indelibly associated with the city on the Seine. This outstanding two-CD collection traces the history of the musette, a music that came out of the dance halls of the working class." Dance music, at its very best, roots music. I looked at five superb CDs ranging from Turkish bagpipe-centered music to Southern-style barn dance music -- all are good enough that they stay in heavy rotation on our CD player!
Continuing his exploration of music from climes much warmer than his native Canada, Big Earl Sellar reviews yet another of the many Alan Lomax CDs he's gotten from us: Tombstone Feast - Funerary Music of Carriacou. Take a look at his review to see if it warmed him up! And two nicely chilled Nordic CDs were reviewed by him this time: Anon Egeland's Ånon and Karelian Folk Music Ensemble's From The Land of Kalevala. He says "Ånon is a good disc of traditional Nordic music" and From the Land of Kalevala is a "wonderful disc." Well, he raves on at considerable length, so go read his reviews!
Tim Hoke loved the two Brother CDs he received for review: Crazy (Just Like Everyone) (single) and This Way Up. He notes, "Don't be fooled by the bagpipes, the didgeridoo, or the pictures of guys in kilts: this a rock band. I know there are other groups out there playing 'bagpipe rock,' but this is the first such group I've actually listened to. I could develop a liking for the genre, if all the groups are this good." However, No'am Newman won't be developing a taste for the Celtic Nots if he judges them by their Deep Midwinter CD, nor was he ecstatic about Raglan Road's Live CD.
Brendan Foreman wraps up our music reviews with a look at Unblocked: Music of Eastern Europe, a 3-CD set. He notes, "An excellent place to start is this 3-CD set, which presents a fairly coherent cross-section of the various Eastern European musical styles, beginning with Poland and the Baltic States and ending south in Macedonia and Bulgaria. Just giving the listener a good set of music to represent such a broad set of cultures would have been good enough (which they did), but the good folks at Ellipsis Arts also provide great liner notes, that describe the music, culture and history of many of the Eastern European people. Although the Jewish population of this area gets scant notice, I found it remarkable that there is an emphasis on the contributions that the Romany people have made to Eastern European culture -- as well as the great injustice that they have received." Brendan picks up our only Excellence in Writing Award for this superb review.
Nai gets the last word with a review of a Terri Clark & Jason McCoy concert. Her review is worth reading if only for the first paragraph, which I will quote in its entirety: "It was a night of incredible sights. This city is purported to be very British in its mannerisms, but on this night, it was a seaside paradise awash in ten gallon Stetsons and other assorted cowboy hats. The steady staccato of cowboy boots meeting with the pavement played accompaniment to the stop and go of the downtown traffic. It was an evening of very un-British appearance, and there was some loud whoopin' and hollerin', too! But I knew better than to be looking for the livestock, this was all to show Terri Clark and Jason McCoy that they are loved and welcomed in our fair city. And this homage that fans paid was not in vain."
And a resounding round of applause for our very own Snowqueen and her most excellent proofing skills. Without her, our work would not be nearly so polished and wonderful as it is. Long may she reign and may her eyesight never dim!
That's it for this time out. If you haven't found enough here to keep you in good listening and enjoyable reading, do come back next week!