I bust people out of prison, hunt down vampires, fight alien gods -- all the fun jobs people are too squeamish or too polite to do themselves. Call me a mercenary. Call me an assassin. Call me a villain. I am all that and more. -- Grimjack, a character created by John Ostrander
It's amazing what one can find for reading material if one hunts hard enough. I remembered fondly the Grimjack series that was done some years ago, and I found Demon Knight: A Grimjack Graphic Novel on ABE. It even has an introduction written by Roger Zelazny, who used Grimjack as a (very) minor character in his second Amber series as a courier! Look for Rebecca Swain's detailed look at the entire Amber series in a forthcoming edition of Green Man !
We don't usually mention other Web sites, but this one really deserves to be visited. The Canterbury Green Man site features many pictures of Green Men found in the English cathedral city of Canterbury, and in churches in the surrounding countryside. In just this one place, it is possible to trace the development of the Green Man image -- from 11th century churches, 12th century manuscripts, a 14th century chapel in the Cathedral, 16th century domestic architecture, 18th century graves and 19th and early 20th century banks. This is what the site sets out to show. In addition, there is some exploration here of why the Green Man is so often actually a Green Cat! And there's a linked page on the Green Man in Devon, the top English county for Green Men, and also Green Men in Somerset and London.
Now on to our reviews. I don't know what the Celtic music scene is like in Cynosure, home city of Grimjack, but here it's alive and kickin' ass! We have a goodly number of Celtic CDs that get reviewed this edition, so let's start with Gary Whitehouse's look at four CDs from Rounder that he says are required listening for any fan of Irish music: Traditional Irish Music in America -- The East Coast; Traditional Irish Music in America -- Chicago; The Music of Ed Reavy; and The Light Through the Leaves. He says, "This entire anthology of Irish Traditional Music in America is a treasure. These are, to be sure, 'important' recordings, but they're also good records, worthy of a place in the collection of anyone who loves Celtic music." Not surprisingly, Gary receives An Excellence in Writing Award for this review.
Kim Bates, who's filling in this week as Music Editor, can't bring herself to rave about Angus MacLeod's The Silent Ones. As she notes in her review, "I kept wanting to really like this album, but I was frustrated by it -- I wanted these hardy people to find happiness, or at least some evidence of joy in their new land, but MacLeod's vision is one of their loss, not their gain. Perhaps I am being unfair -- after all, it's not my story, and the mix of folks who were my nineteenth-century North American ancestors may not have found that joy either -- I don't know, really. But the evidence from the music and the stories of my family suggests that there is an end to despair, even in a harsh land, and I wanted to see some of the effort pay off in a happy song or two." Naomi de Bruyn was pleased with Loreena McKennitt's Live in Paris and Toronto. She says, "Loreena is an extremely gifted and talented performer, and if you only purchase one of her releases, this one ought to be it. Not only because the proceeds are going to a very good one, but this gem of music is treasurable and will provide a lengthy listening experience that you will want to repeat a number of times." She also looks at Natalie MacMaster's Fit As A Fiddle, which she thinks is indeed true to its title. Read her review to see why!
Neil Anderson, formerly of the Celtic rock group Seven Nations, is wonderful live, but how is he as a recorded act? No'am Newman reviews albums Dante's Local and Full Circle. Let's just say that his reaction is mixed -- read his review to get all the details. Chuck Lipsig was also ambivalent about Ashley MacIsaac's Helter's Celtic: "No one can accuse Ashley MacIsaac of always doing the same thing. On hi - how are you today? he rocked up a bunch of traditional tunes. On fine - thank you very much, he stuck to traditional arrangements. So what does he do on Helter's Celtic -- A bit of everything. While there are some really good tracks in the mix, the overall result feels a bit scattershot." Helen Bell's Audierne does win the seal of approval from Gary Whitehouse; he thinks it is "a charming record of traditional and contemporary instrumental music with a Celtic flair." And Patrick O'Donnell has only great things to say as regards Jim Malcolm's Rohallion: "Rohallion, named for a verse from Scottish poet Violet Jacob, is poetry in its own right. Malcolm captures the spirit and condition of a nation, and manages to make us cry - and laugh - in the telling." Veering away from the traditional, Lars Nilsson looks at Celtic pop in reviewing West of Eden's Rollercoaster, about which he says, "If you are interested in Celtic pop, and if you are looking for less commercial alternatives to the Corrs and B*Witched, you could do a lot worse than checking out West of Eden. They provide you with easy-to-listen-to-tunes, great instrumental work and a lovely singer, and it is all well produced and the cover work shows that they are looking for a larger audience."
Green Man , not surprisingly given its name, gets a fair number of English traditional albums for review. We've reviewed over two hundred CDs in this genre so far. David Kidney looks at two releases by Martin Carthy, one of the grand old men of English traditional music. The Carthy Chronicles is, according to him, "a massive set. Sure there are lots of 4 disc box sets on the market, but this one includes more rare and unreleased tracks than almost any one I've ever seen. It leaves the listener hungry for more! I can't wait til the instrumental disc is released later this year! Free Read have truly chronicled the life and career of one of Britain's most important talents and are to be commended for doing so with such grace and panache!" And "If 4 discs is too much for you. If you would like to try some Martin Carthy by dipping your toe, rather than diving in. A new release from Gadfly Records may be just what you need. Both Ears and The Tail is a recording of Carthy with Dave Swarbrick live at the Folkus Folk Club in 1966. It provides the whole show, minus some tuning, with Carthy on guitar and vocals, and Dave Swarbrick playing fiddle and mandolin. They play reels and Morris tunes, rags and Child ballads, for an enthusiastic college crowd. Dave and Martin are consummate performers, humorous raconteurs, and virtuosic musicians. The recording is extraordinary for being 35 years old and it is a great introduction to the music of Martin Carthy." David picks up An Excellence in Writing Award for this twofer!
Lars Nilsson had only good things to say about Chris Wood & Andy Cutting's Knock John album: "If you expect the usual jigs and reels or something to get up and dance to, forget this album, but if you want something that holds out to repeated listening, giving you opportunities to discover new things in the songs and tunes every time you put it on, please check it out. And I must say I find it very un-stressing to put on when I come home from a hard day at the office."
Next up is a mixed assortment of music, all reviewed by Big Earl Sellar. Leading off is his look at Archedora, by the Italian duo of Rachele Colombo & Corrado Corradi. He says this "is simply a wonderful disc of striking songs. I'm not entirely sure why I enjoy this disc so much, but I quite like it. A soft, quiet disc for those mellow days around the home." He did not at all like two CDs from chanter guru Krishna Das: Live On Earth and Pilgrim Heart. He says, "Another artist in the Chant category (see Wah!), Krishna Das typifies everything I dislike about this genre. Krishna (um, Das? K.D.? Why can't these people have street names...) has given me new insight into the terms 'dull' and 'repetitive,' whilst simultaneously leaving me scratching my head." Read his review to get the gory details! However, Moorish influenced artist Luis Delgado's El hechizo de Babilonia "is a fascinating disc that I can only recommend with a few caveats."
And he certainly had no problems with yet another great Alan Lomax anthology, Deeper River of Song: Georgia - I'm Gonna Make You Happy. He notes in this Excellence in Writing Award review that "Rounder's Deep River Of Song series gets more interesting with each successive disc. While earlier discs contained gems the Lomax family recorded during their various Library of Congress sessions, the more recent discs contain more extended sets by both known and unknown commodities. As with the recent Virginia and The Piedmont disc, Georgia, I'm Gonna Make You Happy ups the stakes considerably, transforming the series away from archival to musical."
Country rock in the form of Rick Shea's Sawbones was well received by Gary Whitehouse: "A talented guitarist, Shea makes his solo recording debut with Sawbones. It's a tasty album of country, folk and rock songs, with some blues and Tejano influence thrown in for good measure. Throughout, Shea plays electric and acoustic guitar and mandolin with equal amounts of skill and taste, never overplaying or showing off, and always making the playing serve the song." And Jayme Lynn Blaschke was pleased with Jen Hamel, member of Texas-based Celtic group Clandestine, and her debut CD titled Fine Small Storm: "Anyone who's ever listened to a Clandestine recording will already know that Jennifer Hamel is a deft songwriter a knack for clever, even poignant arrangements. Her voice is strong and smoky, oozing as much or as little emotion as any particular song demands at any given moment. In short, while not the sole reason for Clandestine's ongoing popularity, Hamel contributes her fair share. All of these talents are on display on Fine Small Storm." And Jayme displays his superb writing abilities in garnering an Excellence in Writing Award for this review!
For book reviews this time we have Rebecca Swain's look at Robert Silverberg's Majipoor series, a group of books that are marketed as science fiction but read more like fantasy. She says, "I highly recommend the Majipoor books. If you don't like science fiction, don't let that deter you. These stories really do have a fantasy sensibility, in my opinion. They deal with thought-provoking political subjects, and they are immensely entertaining." An Excellence in Writing Award goes to Rebecca for this well-written commentary!! And Gary Whitehouse reviews yet another Terry Pratchett Discworld novel, The Thief of Time. His description: "Vivid, fish-out-of-water humans caught in a conundrum they must solve by their wits and dogged determination; the bizarre culture- and genre-crossing mix of characters ranging from faux Tibetan monks and mad scientists to querulous dwarves and stolid trolls; English-style humor rife with puns and pop-culture references; and of course Discworld itself, the odd world shaped not like a globe but like a platter." If it's Pratchett, you know it's good!
Green Man has done more live performance reviews of bands in the folk genre than any other digital zine, period. We have two more this time, the first being a look at a Jim Brannigan concert by Naomi de Bruyn. Visiting the Tin Whistle yet again, she notes, "Jim Brannigan was joined on the small stage by Victoria fiddler Brenda Callan, and the music was on. Jim is a treasure this Island should never have let go of, but alas we did. We let him move from Sooke to Nova Scotia, and his music seemingly has flourished from the transition to Atlantic sea air! Jim is not a giant of a man, he is of average height and build, but once he opens his mouth, there is a change, and he has full control of the entire room and all within it. His voice is rich and filled with emotions, captivating and drawing the audience in under his spell."
Colleen Campbell describes her experience at an Ani DiFranco show in Lowell, Massachusetts at the end of March. She started writing the review while she was stuck in the parking garage ... but read her fantastic review for yourself to catch the atmosphere of Ani's show. And Richard Condon had a marvelous time at his Show of Hands concert in London. He assures us, "This evening really lived up to expectations: the music was outstanding, the atmosphere was vibrant with every kind of positive energy and an almost tribal sense of kinship was celebrated."
That's all for this time. A happy May Day/Beltaine to all of you who celebrate that holiday! I'll be celebrating it by working in our garden, pulling weeds and mulching plants. The rest of you can celebrate it with bonfires, lively music, dancing and merrymaking!
22nd of April, 2001
The latest numbers show that we're now averaging eighty thousand individual readers per month, give or take a few thousand, over the past three months. My thanks to the hard work of all our staffers that helps make this one of the best review zines in existence, hard copy or web-based! Green Man will continue to bring you reviews of the very best CDs, books, and videos. And it may interest you to know that almost everything we review is provided either by the creator or some organization acting on behalf of that creator. (Occasionally a staffer will review a purchase he or she made and especially liked.) We get so much review material it is hard for our staff to keep up, so if you're interested in reviewing for us, e-mail either Rebecca Swain, our Book Editor, or Brendan Foreman, our Music Editor. If you are a good writer with enthusiasm for books and/or music, we'll definitely welcome you as a reviewer!
We lead off this edition with looks at two very different events. An Excellence in Writing Award goes to Kim Bates, our Celtic aficionado in Toronto, for her look at the St. Patrick Day celebration there this year. She says "It can be difficult to listen to Irish traditional music on St. Patrick's Day, when the press of fevered crowds detracts from the music, so I often stay home to avoid the noise, the lines at my local and the hoards of amateur drinkers. But this year I found few occasions for wincing or doting because I had the good fortune to hear a stellar collection of musicians from the Toronto area play in one of the city's better Irish restaurants, P.J. O'Brien's. P.J.'s has a great table as well as great atmosphere, and the capacity crowd seemed to be mostly well-heeled professional types, with a fair contingent of expatriates out for a night of congenial relaxation, and a few pints of stout." And Gary Whitehouse reviews Woodstock, The 25th Anniversary "director's cut" edition, about which he notes, "... this film also captures ... the beginning of the end of rock as roots music, before it descended into the mass-produced corporate arena rock that this festival spawned. Woodstock showed that the music could unite a generation, seemingly only moments before that music splintered into the multitude of genres of today, from pop to rap to punk to metal, that reinforce our differences rather than bringing us together."
Celtic music is sometimes a hard thing to define. Is Moebius' August: New Music for Three Bagpipes, the creation of Blowzabella founder Jon Swayne, English bagpipe music or Celtic bagpipe music? Brendan Foreman decided it was Celtic, so read his Excellence in Writing Award winning review to see why. There's no dispute that the Old Blind Dogs are Scottish, but there's less certainty in the mind of Jack B. Merry as to how good FIT?, their new album, is. He says, "Bleedin' Hell, go buy it as you'll no doubt like it. I just expected a bit more from the lads." Gary Whitehouse liked The Long Grey Line: "Debra Cowan, a Massachusetts-based folk-singer, sings a baker's dozen Irish-influenced songs on this self-distributed CD. It's tastefully played, well-produced music, as good as most that you'll find in the coffee-house and pub folk circuit, and better than some." Naomi de Bruyn was equally excited about Kirkmount's The Robin, which is "comprised of the traditional music and music styles of Nova Scotia and Cape Breton." She also reviews two CDs from Jerry Holland, well-known Cape Breton musician: Crystal Clear and Fiddler's Choice. She notes, "If you like the fiddle, then you really ought to give Jerry Holland a listen. His style is impeccable, and his passion is bottomless, providing the listener with something exceptional -- music with a great deal of heart and meaning."
Sid King & The Five Strings' re-release, according to Big Earl Sellar, is a great CD: "Rockin' On The Radio is one of those rare discs, combining documentary and musical attributes in a rollicking package. Why Sid King and His Five Strings never get the credit they're due is beyond me; here's hoping this release helps even the score, albeit 45 years late." Meanwhile, Lars Nilsson got to review yet another Whiskey Priests release, Life´s Tapestry, and he says it's "another fine Whisky Priests album, an album to establish Gary Miller´s reputation as a major songwriter."
Folk rock is what we find in two releases from the English group the Joyce Gang. In their two CDs, Deadheads Don't Dance and In Yer Face, Live, David Kidney found something to smile about. Read his review to see if you too will smile while listening to the Joyce Gang! Buzzy Linhart Loves You is the name of the Razor & Tie release by him. David says, "Buzzy Linhart Loves You, and he wants you to know it! That's why he kicks off this retrospective disc with a burst of crystalline electric guitar from Doug Rodriguez -- you know this guy can play from note one. Buzzy is the rhythm player, and singer. His voice is endearing, a bit like Todd Rundgren, often harmonized or double tracked, as he scats and slips around the melody. Buzzy loves you and he wants you to love him in return." Rebecca Swain takes a look at Robert Crenshaw's Victory Songs. Yes, he's the younger brother of the more famous Marshall Crenshaw, but he stands well on his own. Rebecca notes, "This is a very entertaining CD; you can play it over and over, and you'll find yourself singing it even when you turn it off."
Green Man gets an incredibly wide range of music (though not, according to Lahri Bond, as wide as Dirty Linen, which even gets rap music), which explains how we got three CDs of pagan singer-songwriter material: Elaine Silver's Faerie Goddess and The Lady in the Lake, plus the Fire & Stone collection. Tim Hoke says of Elaine's material: "My initial reaction to Elaine Silver's music was 'nice voice, bland material'. Then I caught myself humming some of the melodies I had earlier dismissed as bland. Those songs really are quite polished and relaxed." About the Fire & Stone collection he notes, "All of the selections here are pagan-themed rock and a variety of styles are presented. All of the tracks are good, but I must admit that one (Point Of Ares' industrial grunge) is not to my personal taste. Many of the groups show a strong influence of late '70s rock, which was more to my liking."
We have some entertaining book reviews this week. Michael Jones gives us five reviews, including a piece about two J. K. Rowling books connected to the Harry Potter series: Quidditch Through the Ages, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Michael, never one to pull punches, opines, "There's little excuse not to check these books out, as they transcend labels like 'fantasy' or 'children's literature,' and have something to appeal to just about anyone. Well, anyone except for fundamentalists, people without imagination, people who don't read ... but you get the point." Tanya Huff's Summon the Keeper and The Second Summoning introduce us to the Keepers who protect our world from Hell. Michael is looking forward to more books in the Keeper's Chronicles series. Michael loves anthologies, and he reviews two new ones for us this week. Villians Victorious features stories in which the bad guys win, while Historical Hauntings is a collection of ghost stories focusing on famous people, places, or events. Michael says, "Chilling, touching, fascinating, these stories will make you think and shiver, and leave the lights on for a while." His final review is of License Invoked, a comic fantasy by Robert Aspirin and Jody Lynn Nye, about a wacky pair of mismatched paranormal investigators. Michael likes it. Will you? And, just to prove that the Penguin is not the only person who reads here at GMR, Irene Henry reviews Intrigues, by Sharon Green. Irene chose this book because of its cover: "one of those lovely Tom Canty book covers done with a quadruple-ought ink pen, all spidery and fine, with textured details and dusty colors and significant symbols in the corners of the frame." However, she was bitterly disappointed in the novel, complaining, "if only the writing had the color, life and detail of the cover art."
Now I'm off to work in our backyard garden as it's warm and rather nice out there. Have a pleasant week and I'll see you here next Sunday!
I found a hardcover edition of Bone Dance with the Jean Pierre Targete artwork on the American Book Exchange which is why I selected the above quote. If you haven't read this novel, go read Laurie Thayer's excellent review of it. It's long since gone out of print, but copies can be found on ABE. It's worth your effort to acquire a copy!
We lead off this edition with a look at two very different Celtic groups. Naomi de Bruyn looks at Tan & Black, the second release from the Indulgers, a Celtic-rock quintet from Colorado. She notes, "I reviewed another disc by the Indulgers not so long ago, In Like Flynn and stated at the end of it, that 'this was a group worth the listening.' And happily, this new disc changes nothing about that statement, except perhaps my uttering might be a bit more emphatic!" Meanwhile, Chuck Lipsig looks at a band that uses not one, but two, names: Ring O'Bells Country Dance Band, aka the Ring O'Bells Barn Dance Band. In their guise as the Ring O'Bells Country Dance Band, they released Ceilidh Saturday Night, of which he notes "Originally, 'ceilidh' referred to a get-together, featuring song, dance, and storytelling. But more and more the term is coming to mean a get-together specifically for dance. Ring O'Bells has been around for nearly 20 years now doing exactly that -- playing ceilidh or barn dance music, as they also call it. If you want good folk music for a group to dance to, Ceilidh Saturday Night is definitely a good choice." And under the name of the Ring O'Bells Barn Dance Band, there's a nifty tune book called -- surprise! -- Ceilidh Saturday Night: Dance Notations and Music.
Up next is something that Green Man does better than anyone else: comprehensive examinations of the entire recorded output of a group. In this case, it's Nai's look at the nine CDs that Kiva has released. She notes of this group that they are "a rather unusual ensemble, being one of the foremost openly Pagan groups actually recording. They have been performing live for over ten years now, and although there have been some member changes over the years, they still delight their audiences. Kiva is a group which celebrates the magic and essence of nature, as well as ancient bardic traditions, which inspire healing of the spirit. And their music is a reflection of healing spirituality, quite calming and soothing, and in some cases quite primal."
Meanwhile, Lars Nilsson was delighted with Bleeding Sketches, the latest from the Whisky Priests, a lively English group. He says, "If you know the Whisky Priests from before, you know what to expect. If you like them and have not bought this one yet, it is high time to do it now. It stands up very well to their other albums available. If you are not familiar with them yet, this is as good a place to start an acquaintance as any."
Mongolian traditional music? Yes, that's what Big Earl Seller looks at in reviewing Duo Temuzhin's Altai-Khangain-Ayalguu, Ensemble Ardiin Ayalguu's Solongo, and Ensemble Temuzhin's Altai-Khangain-Ayalguu 2. Big Earl proclaims, "This is sort of a full circle review for yours truly. My first review (my "audition," if you will) for Green Man was Tsagaan Sar's White Moon, a disc of music from Mongolia. And now I have some more glorious Mongolian discs to share with you, courtesy of the fine folks at Face Music. I recommend you hunt these discs out, even if your listening tastes aren't especially esoteric, as you will find some of the most incredible music produced on this planet." He follows that hat trick with another, looking at Russian traditional music: Ensemble Mzetamze's Traditional Songs of Georgian Women, Ensemble Pesnokhorki's Traditional Songs of Cossacks, and Ensemble Pesnokhorki's Traditional Russian and Cossacks Songs of Siberia. Big Earl says these CDs are not as good as the Mongolian albums; he hopes "that Face Music can make it back to the area to record some more of these styles of music, but perhaps with less 'professional' groups."
Two more hat tricks get done by Kim Bates and Rebecca Swain. Kim looks at three CDs (Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer with Brave Combo's All Wound Up, Larry Kirwan's Keltic Kids, and a collection called Bright Spaces). Read her review of these three singer-songwriter-oriented albums to see what she liked. And Rebecca looks at another three CDs (Mundy-Turner's Naked, Jennie Stearns' Mourning Dove Songs, and Under the Tree's Your Perfect Life). She states that "When my friend Omar comes to visit, I am usually playing CDs I have to review for GMR. He always asks, 'Who is it this time?' and listens critically to the music. He likes the following three CDs very much, as do I. I think he appreciates the fact that they sound like nothing he would hear on Top Forty radio. This music is not pop; it's country or folk, with elements of blues, classical, and other types of music. It sounds sincere, important without being self-important. It means something to the musicians."
Now to our book reviews. Naomi de Bruyn had the courage to review J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. She wails, "What do you say about a classic, innovative, before-its-time, groundbreaking piece of fantastic literature? Something which has not already been said, something to encompass the entirety of a genre-making novel, read and loved by millions? It is not easy, I can tell you." No, it isn't easy, but read the review and see what she decided to say. Then read her review of the second book in Storm Constantine's Magravandias Chronicles, The Crown of Silence. April Gutierrez reviews Dark Sleepers, by Jeffrey E. Barlough, and begins her review with these delightful sentences: "At 484 pages, Jeffrey Barlough's Dark Sleepers is a dark fantasy of epic proportions. And epic it is, in a good-natured, eccentric, trundling sort of way." Trundling! I love it already! Grey Walker reviews Katherine Kurtz's St. Patrick's Gargoyle, about a crime-solving cathedral ornament. And Gary Whitehouse reviews Greg Ward's Blues -- 100 Essential CDs -- The Rough Guide. Gary says this is the kind of book you'll want to take CD-shopping with you.
The following reviews won Excellence in Writing Awards: Ceilidh Saturday Night (Chuck), St. Patrick's Gargoyle (Grey), S-S Omnibus (Rebecca), and S-S Omnibus (Kim).
I'm off to see Swåp, a Celtic/Nordic group at the Center, so that's all for this time. I'll see you next week with a fresh batch of reviews!
Frankly, GMR gets more music to review than bears thinking about. Some of it is very good, some just so-so, and some awful. And even the best musicians do not always gracefully age, which is what David Kidney discovered in looking at two CDs from the present-day Eric Burdon, founder of The Animals, famed for such songs as "The House of the Rising Sun." He says, "the main problem is that Eric Burdon's voice is but a shadow of its former self. He is reduced to screaming in a gravely howl and jiving and scatting with the lyrics taking far too many liberties. This stuff might work on stage, but a CD is a document that receives too much scrutiny for off the cuff antics like this."
Much better were two albums from English artist Robb Johnson: Margaret Thatcher, My Part in her Downfall, and The Big Wheel. Lars Nilsson notes that Robb is "a highly political songwriter, guitar player and singer from England. Like most political songwriters he leans to the left. But it would be unfair to write him off as only another guardian of the barricades. Johnson´s political songs have a softer touch to them, often more intellectual observations of things happening than rebel rousing choruses." One might hope that Celtic artist Paul Joses, on his albums Calling The Boatman and Landmarks, was as good, but No'am Newman says that "I hesitate to recommend these disks to anyone - unless you live in an oasis of Scottish music, and wish to know what it's like to work in the boatyards of the Clyde." But Michael Jones was thrilled by the last two albums from Celtic rockers Seven Nations. He raves, "Seven Nations is as good as ever, if not better, and if you like Celtic of any sort, you owe it to yourself to pick up The Pictou Sessions and/or Seven Nations." Raving will not be heard from Patrick O'Donnell, who reviews Glass in Hand from St. James Gate, a Chicago-based Celtic group. Read his review to get the gory details.
Lars returns with a look at English trad music group Cross o' th Hands. Their two CDs, Handmade and Maidens Prayer, are, according to him, worth a listen. Read his review to see why! And another fine English group, the Oysterband, is reviewed by Lars, who considers Holy Bandits, their 1993 album. He says, " I would say Holy Bandits is a rather good disc, a must for all fans."
More Celtic music is reviewed by Tim Hoke: two albums from Broceliande: Broceliande and The Starlit Jewel. This group, he says, is what you get when you " ... mix Early music with Celtic tunes, throw in some skilled playing, add outstanding singing, and blend well..." Just as good were Capercaillie's Dusk Till Dawn: The Best of Capercaillie, and Karen Matheson's (lead vocalist of Capercaillie) solo album, The Dreaming Sea. April Gutierrez says these CDs "are the perfect introduction to the band's sound and history."
Gary Whitehouse found not one but two albums to wax enthusiastic about. The first is the second album, Idiots, from Frog Holler, a group he has previously reviewed. This album is proof that "Frog Holler continues to develop into a presence on the alt-country scene." And he says that with Ain't Love Strange, Paul Thorn "has crafted a set that's as strong as just about anything by his more experienced Texas singer-songwriter compatriots."
Kim Bates found a great album in Klezmer Jewish traditions: Shtetl Roots and New World Revival, another CD from the Rough Guide folks. Kim says this CD "introduces klezmer as it has been played at the turn of the 21st century, although it's clear that one disc is not enough to do justice to the vibrancy of the klezmer revival. It also provides a few heritage recordings from the early 20th century that tantalize the listener with glimpses of the heyday of North American immigrant klezmer. I was a bit surprised that there weren't more of these early recordings on the disc, as several key mentors of the revivalists were missing. Nevertheless, this is quite an enjoyable disc, with a good flow across the various tracks."
Alas, Jack B. Merry, being a working musician, did not have time to finish his English dance music omnibus. Perhaps next week he will get it done! He did note in an email that Green Man has sent him CDs by Ian Carr & Karen Tweed, Citizen Camembert, hekety, the Geckoes, jabadaw, and the Widdershins, so it should be a corker of an omnibus!
Big Earl Seller is still awash in CDs, so it's not surprising that we have reviews from him this time. First up for Big Earl are three Turkish fusion jazz CDs: Asiaminor's Along The Street, Sharkiat's Camel Dance, and Sharkiat's Camel Road. Turkisk fusion jazz?!? Did it work? Here's his comment: "I love the concept of musical genres blending. No, seriously I do, contrary to what some of my reviews might seem to say. There is something magical when two divergent musical traditions meet and meld. But often, it's more of a train wreck, where disastrous mis-meetings of styles create sonic debris, as opposed to music. One of the most common musical blunders, in my opinion, are the myriad attempts to blend jazz with World. Ultimately, one ends up with either bad, often pretentious jazz, or CDs of such pointlessness that one wonders why any artist would flog this musical 'crossover' again." These albums were from Face Music, a Swiss record label, specializing in world and world fusion styles. Ten Years of Face Music is, surprise! a look at their first ten years. Big Earl says this was a disappointment as with "...a broad range of talent in its stable, Face Music could have made a gripping various artists sampler. But Ten Years a rather stoic, rather bland, and rather a disappointment. Here's hoping that their next compilation fares better." He finishes with Latin-tinged music by looking at Bonga's Mulemba Xangola. He says, dancing around the room, that it "is a decent Sunday morning disc. Nothing ground breaking, nothing too unpleasant (except for some clipping), and a voice that will move you. With some serious technical work, and some more English, this disc is bound to find a spot in the hearts of North American World Music fans."
My thanks to Kim Bates for lending a hand with the editing of the music reviews as Brendan Foreman was rather busy this week!
We have a handful of music books in this edition. Jack looks at The Rough Guide to World Music, pointing out that the music guide you buy depends on what type of information you're looking for. See what he thinks this Rough Guide has to offer. Lars Nilsson looks at the songbook Darley & McCall's Collection of Traditional Irish Music, and says, "With this book Ossian Publications have rescued a bit of Irish musical history and made it accessible to people of today." And David Kidney reviews The Unbroken Circle: Tradition and Innovation in the Music of Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal. David admires these musicians greatly, and praises this book: "The careers of American musicians Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal have reflected and resonated with similar vibrations for over thirty years. Finally, someone has tried to trace the ongoing journeys of these two masters and provide a context in which to study them. Fred Metting's new book, The Unbroken Circle, is a brave attempt to begin this work." Rebecca Swain reviews the only novel this time, The Still by David Feintuch. She was very disappointed in it. Read her review to find out why.
Green Man will be back next Sunday with more reviews to tempt you to spend money you probably shouldn't spend! In the meantime, be well!
1st of April, 2001
A joyous Gowking Day to you and all your friends! Welcome to the first issue of Green Man published in spring of '01; this edition is definitely an interesting one.
Our staff must really like Celtic music, as the amount we have reviewed is just phenomenal, nearly 450 discs to date. You'd hardly think that there are that many groups putting out good Celtic music, but there are, and then some. We get all kinds, from the traditional tunes to full-bore Celtic rock, and oddly enough, it never seems to become a boring genre to review. There are songs which would have you dreaming of Ireland or Brittany and their magic, others which would have you wishing for a cold mug of Guiness and some pleasant company. Celtic songs can make you laugh, make you cry, make you wish for things that you normally wouldn't think of. No matter what, Celtic songs will always make you feel something. These songs contain life and heart within them, and perhaps this is the secret of Celtic magic, the music. And our Celtic coverage doesn't end with music. We were lucky enough to have one of the first reviews of Forests of the Heart, which is a Celtic music-tinged novel by Charles de Lint. Thankfully, it is not the only novel you can find in our "vaults," there are more than a few with Celtic music involved in their plot. This only serves to give them more substance, I find. And of course, our coverage of the Celtic-flavored material doesn't end here, far from it. There are wonderful Celtic music lore books, as well as Celtic folk tales, and Celtic-flavored tales. With the addition of our video category, there are now movies dealing with Celtic influences and topics, and of course we have the ever-present gig reviews of Celtic groups. I have noticed that all of the Celtic musicians I've seen live have had much more energy and fun playing and performing than any other genre I've seen. It's like the music is such a part of them that they do it for the love of the music itself.
Celtic music comes in a variety of flavors that are appealing to different folks! Gary Whitehouse found Scottish quintet Bag o' Cats' Out of the Bag to be "a mixed bag of loosely Celtic-based instrumental World Music," but Tim Hoke found New Zealand-based Caravel's A Sailor's Story an affair that was "dark and sombre, though not depressing." Patrick O'Donnell looked favorably upon Mark Fitzsimons' Creatures of the Undergrowth, an album he thought "launches Fitzsimons' solo career with a bang. Keep your ears open to hear more from this talented tune smith. His offbeat and resourceful approach to Celtic music is as refreshing as it is surprising." (Mark is a member of Caravel.) Chuck, a man who hears more Celtic music than is probably a good idea, looks at four CDs this time out. Empty Hats' The Hat Came Back is first up -- he says they are "an excellent collection of Celtic and English traditional and tradition-inspired music." The Bees Knees, a collaboration between Hamish Moore & Dick Lee, is "an impressive blend of Celtic and jazz." Then Chuck looked at Tim Readman & Fear of Drinking's In Black & White. He proclaims that he "can't think of another live CD, where the performers sound like they're having as good of a time as Tim Readman & Fear of Drinking are." He finished off with Urban Trad's One O Four, an album he says "has a strong Celtic base, mixing in other traditions, New Age, urban, jazz, computer-generated music, and a lot of imagination." Naomi de Bruyn was thrilled by the Ecclestons' FIR N MNA ("...definitely a must for those who like Celtic music...) and Flogging Molly's Swagger which she said reminded her favorably of the Pogues.
In any given week, Green Man gets dozens of CDs for review, so our ever-so-choosy reviewers get to pick from a wide variety of genres. We've been blessed lately with lots of Central European/Russian/Jewish CDs, which is what this section of reviews consists of. Gary looked at three of the four CDs under review, with Lalezar's Music of the Sultans, Sufis & Seraglio, and Music of the Dancing Boys completing his look at this 4-CD series from Traditional Crossroads. He notes, "both volumes are fascinating and gorgeously produced. The musicians and singers are top-notch, the music is performed and recorded brilliantly, and the recordings are presented in exemplary packaging. The 40-page booklet accompanying each CD is a mini-course in Turkish music, with excellent artwork, design and writing." He also reviewed The Sacred Music of the Moroccan Jews, about which he notes: "In 1959, the American author and composer Paul Bowles recorded several hours of religious singing by Jews in two Moroccan cities. These Jewish communities were in transition; having survived World War II, their population had started trickling away to the decade-old nation of Israel. The exodus was to be nearly total within a few more years. This two-CD set presents nearly two hours of that music from four different sessions. It's an important historical document, but probably of little musical interest to any but scholars." Big Earl Sellar, recovering from all the Turkish CDs he's received from Green Man to review, looks at Hulu Project's TranceSiberia. Huh? What's that, you ask? He explains, "'Trance' is an offshoot of electronic dance music, the kind of stuff you hear at raves. I was a little concerned when I received this disc, dreading a 72-minute soon-to-be coaster of echoed beeps and stunted drum machine farts. Instead, I am stunned. TranceSiberia is one of the most fascinating collisions between tradition and the present I have heard, an aural tapestry of ancient cave paintings digitized." Big Earl receives an Excellence in Writing Award for this review!
Cape Verdean ... Cuban ... Fado ... Indeed, we get it all! Tim Hoke was lucky enough to receive a Cape Verdean-based CD by the name of One World. He says that "[t]his one ought to get you out of your chair. This lively compilation from Lusafrica is mostly Latin and/or Afro-pop, and nearly all dance music." He also liked Cristina Branco's Post-Scriptum, a Portuguese fado album about which he says, "if you like to hear an exceptional singer and heart-wrenching music, this recording should be mandatory listening." Gary is back with a look at Cuban music from Candido Fabre y su Banda's La Habana Quiere Guarachar Contigo and Jovenes Clasicos del Son's Fruta Bomba. He comments, "It's not just veterans and pensioners like the Buena Vista Social Club and Los Jubilados who are making excellent Cuban music these days, as these two recordings attest."
No'am Newman looks at two CDs by Alex de Grassi, a San Francisco-based guitarist who spans many styles. Unfortunately, he says, "On both of these discs, de Grassi steps outside of the Western tradition and produces music which - to my ears - is unconventional and unconvincing. More adventurous souls than I would say that de Grassi is a true pioneer whose playing mixes styles which at first sight seem to be unrelated, and produces a music which can truly be called his own." On the other hand, David Kidney loved Norma Waterson's self-titled album. Read his review to see why! Kim Bates thought the Alan Lomax CD she reviewed, Southern Journey: Harp of a Thousand Strings, was good enough that she " ... heartily recommend[s] it to those with a serious interest in vocal traditions, particularly choral traditions, and those with an appreciation for the power of the human voice." Two discs from singer-songwriters finish out our CD reviews. Rebecca Swain, our very own Snowqueen, is done celebrating her birthday, and therefore gives a look at Skott Freedman's Anything Worth Mentioning. Read her review to see if she thought it sucked or not. Rounding out reviews is Michael "Penguin" Jones's glowing commentary on Sylvia Tosun's Too Close To The Sun. He has a confession to make: "Forgive me, for I have sinned. Like Smaug in The Hobbit, I am guilty of sitting upon a true treasure, neglecting to share it with anyone else. However, I intend to rectify that, by sharing with you the debut solo album by acclaimed New York vocalist, Sylvia Tosun, Too Close To The Sun."
We have a live performance review by Richard Condon of June Tabor's gig at the Minnemeers Theater in Ghent, Belgium. Was it good for him? You'll have to read his review to get that answer! (Richard picks up a well-deserved Excellence in Writing Award for this review!) And Rebecca Swain reports on her experience at a Dar Williams show in East Lansing, Michigan. This review is our 100th gig review here at GMR!
Naomi de Bruyn, who will be lending Cliff Furnald a hand with his Rootster project, was fortunate enough to get an interview with the Town Pants, one of Canada's best Celtic groups. She says, "I recently had the luck to not only attend a performance but to actually sit down and talk with the guys from The Town Pants. It was a grand evening, filled with a great deal of laughter and revelry, and not only are these three entertaining on stage, but they are intelligent, insightful, and extremely personable and very human. It was a lot of fun to talk to them, and take a closer look into their world." And speaking of Cliff Furnald, do check out his new online CD shop. Here's his description of this service:
CDRoots is not the biggest store on the web. Perhaps we are even the smallest. But like the music we carry, we are hoping to offer a window on the world, a small earful of the incredible music being made far away from the mainstream of even the "world music" and "folk music" scenes. The CDs you will find here are personal favorites, unusual music that often defies a simple naming of genre. Some is very traditional, from places you hear little about, and ought to hear more. Some is extremely avant garde, making its own rules as it goes. Our favorites combine deep traditional roots with wild and innovative energy. What they all share is a human touch, a personality that goes beyond the mere making of music and into the very heart of art. That's a mighty high plateau to rise to, but we think the music you will find here is well above the norm.
This week we locked Naomi de Bruyn in her library and refused to let her come out until she had written nine fiction reviews for you. Here is what she came up with. She reviewed Terry Brooks's new trilogy of books, and says, "In his latest trilogy, Terry has found a new angle to this eons-old battle [good v. evil], one which provides for intelligent thought and yet still has room for magic." She tells us that Storm Constantine's Sea Dragon Heir is as special as she hoped it would be, and adds, "If you like the exotic, the erotic, passion and intrigue, all flavoured with Storm's own brand of magic, then this is a book you won't want to miss reading." Naomi loves the work of Mercedes Lackey, and this week she reviewed Children of the Night, an instalment in Lackey's Diana Tregarde series. Naomi assures us, "Putting together a good mystery is sometimes difficult enough on its own; however, when you add into the mix the realm of fantasy, it must get even more difficult. Yet this is what Misty does, and does very well." Naomi also reviewed two books that have to do with ancient mythology. God of the Golden Fleece is Fred Saberhagen's take on the story of Jason and the Argonauts, and is Book IV of his Book of the Gods series. The other myth-based novel she reviews is Gilgamesh, by Stephan Grundy, a retelling of the legend of -- you guessed it! -- Gilgamesh. Naomi loved Holly Lisle's Fire in the Mist: "This is a wonderful and enchanting tale which I couldn't put down. Holly Lisle is a skilled weaver of good fantasy. Strong plots and intricate subplots combine with very personable characters to keep the mind and imagination busy and loving it!"
Naomi reviews three wolf books this week. The first is Wolf Moon, by one of our favorite authors at GMR, Charles de Lint. Naomi says, "You know, life as a werewolf is very difficult. No matter where you go, people are afraid of you, and always suspect the worst. Finding somewhere you can call home and build a real life is almost impossible." I wonder, does she speak from experience? The second of Naomi's wolf book reviews is Blood Trail, by Tanya Huff, about a vampire trying to catch the killer of a family of werewolves. Naomi liked it -- but then she would, wouldn't she? Her third wolf review is Wolfking, by Bridget Wood, about a couple who try to escape the desolation of an apocalypse and find themselves in a glorious Irish world beyond the Time Curtain.
We also have some reviews of music books. Jack B. Merry, a fellow ever in search of good music and a well-poured pint, was a lucky sod this week. He got three music guides to review: Kenny Mathiesen's Celtic Music, June Skinner Sawyers' Celtic Music, and Geoff Wallis & Sue Wilson's The Rough Guide to Irish Music. He says of the two Celtic music guides, "If Celtic Music: Third Ear is fish 'n' chips served with vinegar and salt, this guide's more like lobster pie with lots of clotted cream -- tasty but a little too fancy for its own good!" And The Rough Guide to Irish Music is proof that "traditional music's very much alive and well in Ireland, with no harm caused by the Riverdance idiocy and its brethren, and The Rough Guide to Irish Music, with its detailed biographical entries on more than 350 performers and bands, is as good as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in the wealth of information it gives you."
Lars Nilsson liked Cream -- The Legendary Sixties Supergroup. He says he will keep it as a reference book. Read his review to find out why. And Kim Bates found three klezmer books very interesting and informative: The Essential Klezmer, by Seth Rogovoy; Fiddler on the Move, by Mark Slobin; and Voice of a People, by Ruth Rubin. She garners an Excellence in Writing Award for this review!
That's all for this outing. Come back next week as there's a rumor floating around the oak-walled editorial offices for GMR that Jack will have handed in his latest omnibus of English dance music CDs, and Michael "Penguin" Jones will have a review of not one, but two, Seven Nations' discs!