27th of May 2001

Yes, I went book hunting as promised last week in What's New. And I found some very interesting stuff! Two copies of Terri Windling's Faces of Fantasy (for a buck apiece!) were the best acquisitions. Nonfiction purchases included Masks of Bali: Spirits of Ancient Drama, The Beatles: The Ultimate Recording Guide, Mellencamp: Paintings and Reflections, and Green English: Ireland's Influence on the English Language. Fiction finds were Lewis Carroll's The Wasp in the Wig (a lost tale from Through the Looking Glass), Caroline Graham's The Killings at Badger's Draft (an English pastoral mystery), William Kotzwinkle's Fata Morgana (fantasy), Grant Morrison & Dane McKean's Arkham Asylum (a Batman graphic novel), Anne Perry's Bethlehem Road (a Victorian mystery), and Joan Vinge's The Snow Queen (sf). Before you think that our household is awash with books, I should note the entire third floor is the library, so everything is neatly tucked away on shelves. Well, most everything... With two humans and eight felines living here, nothing is ever completely orderly!

First, an annoucement from Chuck Lipsig, our LOC Editor: "As mentioned several weeks ago, Green Man is staring a Letters of Comment (LoC) section. Our policy is that all letters to Green Man will be considered for publication unless otherwise requested. We will attempt to contact writers of letters that do not indicate if they are for publication. However, if we are unable to so or there is no response in a reasonable amount of time, we will assume the letter may be published. Since all of the reviews in Green Man remain on-line, letters in response to older reviews, as well as more recent material will be considered." Send your LOCs to him at this address.

We begin the book reviews with three pieces written by Jack B. Merry, who is in a reviewing frenzy these days. He reviewed Greg Bear's Songs of Earth and Power, a revised combo of his two earlier novels The Infinity Concerto and The Serpent Mage. He says these books, featuring the dangerous, unlikable fairies we are now familiar with, were an interesting read. These books were ahead of their time and influenced later fantasy writing. Read the review to find out how. Jack also reviewed Ancient Echoes, another Robert Holdstock book. Jack summarizes the plot this way: "Jack Chatwin, the main character, enters his own unconscious mind, where he experiences the archetypes of the collective unconscious in a border land between fantasy and reality. Where it gets interesting is when part of his unconscious manifests as a physical reality in the real world as a dangerous threat to his daughter." Sounds exciting! Lastly, he reviewed the venerable Fritz Leiber's two short novels, The Conjure Wife and Our Lady of Darkness, which Orb combined into the omnibus called Dark Ladies. Jack says, "The core element of a good dark fantasy is a sense of wonder and awe that is wrapped around a not quite normal situation. ... And a well-done horror tale adds in a feeling that something dreadful is going to happen -- something that the reader finds quite chilling. Fritz does both quite nicely in these tales."

John J. Hall reviewed Kara Dalkey's Japanese historical/fantasy novel Gempei, which held his interest and led him to do a little research on his own on the Internet. His review describes the book and gives some Web sites for those who are interested in twelfth-century Japanese history.

Finally, David Kidney reviews two nonfiction biographies of Bob Dylan, Robert Shelton's No Direction Home, and Howard Sounes' Down the Highway. He gives interesting insights into the different approaches these books take to Dylan's extraordinary life and career.

Everything in this section is of a musical nature, so I'm mixing them together in a somewhat chaotic manner, as music should never be too neat. First up is Big Earl Seller's look at the first volume of Ensemble Karot's Traditional Songs of Armenia. He says that "this is a fine disc of vocal music from the middle European East. With great singing and great presentation, Ensemble Karot present their Armenian musical heritage in a wonderful light." Traditional Songs of Armenia was recorded to be listened to, but what about Kinlochard Ceilidh Band's three CDs (Slainte! The Ceilidh Connection, Spirit of Freedom, and Strip the Willow) which reflect their status as an all-purpose ceilidh band? The problem, Chuck says, is "the Kinlochard Ceilidh Band is a traditional-style instrumental group, featuring a variety of musicians, centering on fiddle and accordion as the lead instruments. Their recordings are interesting, featuring some very good tracks, but they lack focus as to what type of band they want to be." Read his review to see why this is so. (Chuck takes us over the 500 mark in Celtic CDs reviewed by Green Man!) Not lacking focus is Fairport Convention, as Michael Hunter, editor of Fiddlestix, the best Fairport Convention zine in existence, discovered in The Other Boot/The Third Leg, a 3-CD set from them. He notes that there "are only 1000 copies of The Other Boot/The Third Leg being produced, and there is no doubt it is worthy of a place in a Fairport's fan collection, even those fortunate enough to have the cassettes."

Green Man has been blessed by staffers who love attending live performances. Our archives have over a hundred reviews of concerts and other events, more than anyone else, and this week sees three more added. Rebecca Swain, who's off to Scotland on holiday shortly, saw two superb concerts. The first was by Eric Taylor at the Creole Gallery, East Lansing, Michigan. She comments that this "concert was an intense experience. Taylor gave the impression of hard living, in the stories he told, in the jokes he made, and in the songs he wrote himself and those he chose to cover." And she also saw Bryan Bowers -- a harpist! As she notes in her review, "My husband and I will listen to just about anything if it's outside. From huge outdoor stadium shows to tiny concerts in the park, we're there. So Sunday afternoon, when we saw the stage in the leafy little park at the edge of the art fair, we happily sat down, even though we weren't familiar with the artist's name, and even though it was an autoharp concert. We're not big fans of the repetitive sound we've heard from autoharps in the past. But we were in for a pleasant surprise." Our final review is by Naomi de Bruyn, who attended the Celtic Folk Festival in her hometown of Victoria, British Columbia. Naomi notes, "This year Victoria's rather famous old town Market Square hosted its fourth annual Celtic Fest, and what a party it was! Sponsored by Big Rock Brewery, and produced by Tom Landa, who is front man for the Paperboys, it couldn't miss. Tom had a fantastic lineup for both nights, and a lot of work and effort went into this year's production."

Michael Hunter returns with an interview with guitarist Jerry Donahue, who has "worked with artists of the caliber of Joan Armatrading, Robert Plant, George Harrison and Bonnie Raitt on either recordings or live projects. In the folk rock world, he is best known for his work with Fairport Convention from 1972-1976." Read Michael's interview and you'll learn much about this amazing performer!

Big Earl's back with an examination of Eri Sugai's Mai, a New Age CD he liked. Big Earl liking New Age? Eeeeek! You better read his review to see if he's really flipped out, or if he was enlightened by this CD. Not as well-liked was Maltese-based Etnika's nafra. Tim Hoke comments, "This one falls firmly in the category of Not What I Expected. It's so far from What I Expected that I would have to take a bus to get there." Read his commentary on this CD to see why this was so. Tim was more pleased with two Turkish music releases, Omar Faruk Tekbilek's One Truth and Fantazia's The Lost Place. Will you be as interested as he is in these CDs? Read his review and find out.

Kim Bates does the fourth review that Green Man has done of a Hedningarna release, but this is a special one; this is a re-release of their very first CD. She comments "[t]his is the album that got the Hedningarna phenomenon going, a richly textured, darkly fascinating instrumental album by the 'core' trio of Björn Tollin (frame drum, string drum, hurdy-gurdy, moraharpa), Anders Norudde (fiddle, hardanger fiddle, moraharpa, swedish bagpipe, bowed harp, jews harp, wooden and pvc bass flutes) and Hållbus Totte Mattsson (lute, baroque guitar, hurdy gurdy)."

Naomi returns with a look at Linda Dunn's first CD. She says, "This debut disc contains everything from sultry blues to some serious soul, with a taste of country, rock, and some ardent folk tracks. Linda proves here that she can hold her own in any of these music styles. Linda is another one of those rarities who can travel the spectrum of styles and breathe life into everything she does."

Gary Whitehouse, still vacationing in a place far warmer than his normal stomping grounds of Portland, Oregon, turned in a review of Songcatcher before he left. This is the CD for a film about collecting roots music in the Appalachian Mountains early in this century, and Gary says that this CD is "a wonderful thing, full of authentic roots music. At its best it is excellent, and its missteps are still better than most country music being created today."

This week's Excellence in Writing Awards go to David for his Dylan book review, Kim for her Hedningarna review, and Our Snowqueen for her Eric Taylor gig review.

I'm off for a walk downtown with my wife before we do our weekly grocery shopping, and this afternoon we're headed off to O'Donal's, a local nursery, in search of interesting plants for our gardens. May you have an interesting weekend!

 

21st of May 2001

Finalists have been announced for the 2001 Mythopoeic Award, honoring outstanding works of fantasy and fantasy related non-fiction that were published in the preceding year.

In the category of adult literature, finalists are Win Blevins' ravenShadow, Charles de Lint's Forests of the Heart, Rita Murphy's The Sarantine Mosaic, Donna Jo Napoli's Beast, Laurel Winter's Growing Wings, and Jane Yolen's Boots and the Seven Leaguers. Mythopoeic Scholarship Award for Myth and Fantasy Studies finalists were Alan Lupack and Barbara Tepa Lupack's King Arthur in America, C.N. Manlove's The Fantasy Literature of England, Christine Poulson's The Quest for the Grail: Arthurian Legend in British Art 1840-1920, and Jack Zipes' The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tale.

Winners will be announced at Mythcon XXXII, Aug. 3-6 in Berkeley, Calif. For more information and a complete list of finalists in all categories, visit the Mythopoeic Society website.

20th of May 2001
Crop handle carved in bone; sat high upon a throne of finest English leather. The queen of all the pack, this joker raised his hat and talked about the weather. All should be warned about this high born Hunting Girl. She took this simple man's downfall in hand; I raised the flag that she unfurled. Boot leather flashing and spurnecks the size of my thumb. This highborn hunter had tastes as strange as they come. Unbridled passion: I took the bit in my teeth. Her standing over me on my knees underneath. Jethro Tull's 'The Hunting Girl' song off the Songs from the Wood album

It finally looks like spring here in this city as everything turned a lusher shade of green after a soaking rain a few days back. The locale here is quintessentially Celtic, and the season is undoubtedly spring, as one can note by the fact that the bagpipers, fiddlers, and even a folk violinist or two have returned to busking the cobblestone streets of the Old Port!

We have a number of Celtic music reviews to tickle your fancy, with an omni by Patrick O'Donnell leading us off. He looks at three interesting CDs: Robin Huw Bowen's Hunting the Hedgehog: The Gypsy Harp of Wales, Patrick Street's Compendium: The Best of Patrick Street; and The Killdares' A Place to Stand. He says of these CDs, "Celtic music is always evolving, much like the Celtic people, in an effort to survive and grow. It has spread roots to different nations and branches to new territories. The Killdares, for instance, call Dallas, Texas, home, but their music belongs just as much in the Highlands of Scotland."

We follow that omnibus with Naomi de Bruyn's look at the Bill Hilly Bands' self-titled debut album. She says, "These talented guys have put together a great listening experience, and one I would definitely recommend. There is everything from polkas and tangos to waltzes and choros... I couldn't listen to it and sit still, I was squirming in my chair with my feet moving about the whole time I was writing this review!" She also raved about Ponticello's Dark Skies, a powerhouse trio from Seattle, Washington. Read her review to see why!

Kim Bates found much to revel in while listening to ex-Solas member Karan Casey's solo CD, Songlines. Kim notes, "I've been a long time fan of Solas, who won me over almost immediately in a live performance in a small club in New York in the mid-1990s. I was really struck by both Casey's unique vocals and the band's restrained, sophisticated arrangements, so I was very eager to review this album. By and large it lived up to my high expectations." Ed Dale, who's planning on catching the Oysterband on their western Canada tour this summer, looked at Belfast-based Celtic musicians Horslips' Greatest Hits. He says that "...this is a well-mastered CD with what are certainly among the Horslips' most popular songs." But he doesn't think this is your best bet to get acquainted with this group -- read his review to see why.

Brendan Foreman finishes out our Celtic reviews with a look at Dervish's decade. As he notes, "Since forming in 1989, Dervish has been building a reputation as one of the premiere neo-traditionalist Irish bands. Emphasizing competence and musicianship over pyrotechnics and novelty, the music of Dervish is really as good as the Irish traditions can get. Based in County Mayo, this septet consists of Cathy Jordan on vocals and bodhran; Michael Holmes on bouzouki, Liam Kelly on flute and low whistle; Brian McDonagh on mandolin and mandola; Shane Mitchell on accordion; Tom Morrow on fiddle and viola; and Seamous O'Dowd on guitar, fiddle, and others." Read his review to see why every fan of Irish music should buy this CD!

Gary Whitehouse, now vacationing far from his hometown of rainy, chilly Portland, Oregon, looked at Open, the latest from alt-country folk rockers Comboy Junkies. He says the band seems "to have followed their muse into a dark alley where only the most determined or terminally depressed fans have much reason to follow. Open has a few things worth hearing, but the band makes you work way too hard to find them." Not so depressing for him was the Concerts for a Landmine Free World anthology. He loudly exclaims that this is a "disc of solid country and folk in the service of a good cause."

Ani DiFranco's revelling/reckoning and the artist herself get raves from Naomi: "Ani has a clarity of sight and an honesty within her lyrics that is deeply refreshing in this day and age. She is a real soul seeker who shares her findings with those willing to listen to her messages of life, pain, love, happiness. She is a powerful artist and one who deserves to be heard more." Newport Folk Festival, Best of Bluegrass 1959-66 is also reviewed by Naomi, who notes, "For anyone who likes bluegrass, this set is definitely a must-have for your collection."

Now it's time for the pithy book commentary. Kim Bates submitted three excellent book reviews this week. Two are of music books: Peter Coats Zimmerman's guide, Tennessee Music It's People and Places, and Steven Harvey's book of essays, Bound for Shady Grove. About Harvey's book Kim says, "This series of essays, organized by season and the modes of the tradition, forms one of the more lucid and genuine discussions of how music can affect a person's life path, a truth known to many writers and musicians, but rarely addressed with such depth or directness."

Kim also reviewed Sister Emily's Lightship, a collection of twenty-eight short stories by the mighty Jane Yolen, culled from two decades of writing. Jack B. Merry tells us the real deal about two Robert A. Heinlein collections, The Number of the Beast and The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein. Some of these stories aren't really fantasy; some aren't really short stories; and apparently there is some misleading packaging. Read Jack's review to find out if you should bother buying these books. April Gutierrez looked at Book Two of The Elves' Prophecy: The Book of Being, a sequel to The Rhymer and the Raven. She assures us, "The Book of Being is a terrific second novel, and promises more riches to come in the tale's conclusion."

Finally, Cat Eldridge looked at Robert Holdstock's Celtika: Book One of the Merlin Codex, in which Merlin meets Jason, of Golden Fleece fame. He reasons, "This series has the potential to reach a wider reading audience than the Ryhope Wood series as it's much easier to follow. It has good, well-drawn characters, and an interesting plot with enough twists to make it interesting." And this review contains the always-relevant question, "Well, do you really want to wake a sleeping dragon?"

This week's Excellence in Writing Award go to Kim Bates for her marvelous Bound for Shady Grove review. Congratulations, Kim!

Since I obviously don't have enough books to read, I'm off to haunt the used bookshops of Portland in search of yet more additions to our third-floor library. I'll tell you next week if I find anything really interesting.

13th of May, 2001
"I'm not as trusting as people think I am. Sure, I see the best in people, but that doesn't mean it's really there." Jilly Coppercorn in Charles de Lint's forthcoming novel, The Onion Girl. (This novel will be published by Tor Books in October of this year. You can read an excerpt here.)

I'm continuing my reading of Roger Zelazny's The Amber Chronicles, which is proving quite enjoyable, and I ordered two biographies of Zelazny from ABE this week. After I complete The Amber Chronicles, I plan on reading Noble Smith's Stolen from Gypsies -- see book notes below -- since the publisher was kind enough to send a second copy along for me to read. Coolest music experience of the week for me was relistening to the Boiled in Lead limited edition Alloy releases that Michelle Delfino at Northside sent me for my listening pleasure. Boiled in Lead remains one of the most interesting bands of all time!

Green Man will be starting an LOC next month. LOC means Letters of Comment, a term borrowed by me from the sf fan community. I first encountered it in FOSFAX, a zine where I met our Celtic Editor, Chuck Lipsig. It simply means a letter to the editor that discusses material in the previous edition. LOCs can be sent to the Editor. We won't guarantee that every letter will be printed, but we will respond to all of them! The most interesting letter each month as determined by the editors will receive a CD or book from our pile of extra copies, so include your postal address with your letter! The prize for the best letter we receive in the next month will be a copy of Takashi Hirayasu & Bob Brozman's Nankuru Naisa CD. (Gary Whitehouse will be reviewing the CD here for us.) We reserve the right to edit letters for brevity, spelling and grammar.

Ah, the joys of opening the daily mail here. Green Man gets so much product for review that I many times forget what our staff is working on. A case in point is the four African CDs that Big Earl Sellar reviews: Badenya's les freres Coulibaly, Macire Sylla's Maya Iradama, Rasha's Let Me Be, and the Live from Oba Idemili & Nri! collection. He notes, "When one invokes the term 'World Music,' instantly the sounds of Africa come to mind. Really the only 'outside' music to register on Western ears, Africa is a fertile bed of music: some fantastic, some less-than-stellar. I recently received four discs in this genre, all worthy of some words (either good or bad)." Read his review to get full details!

I saw English squeeze boxer Andy Cutting perform with violinist Chris Wood at the Center a few months back -- a most delightful experience. Now Richard Condon reviews a CD produced by Andy Cutting: Tim van Eyken's New Boots. Richard notes: "Tim van Eyken came to the attention of American lovers of English traditional music a few months ago when he toured the USA as part of Waterson-Carthy. Occupying the melodeonist's seat in such distinguished company is proof, if any were needed, that this young English musician (despite his Dutch name) has made a sufficient mark to play with the best."

More traditional music, in the form of contradance tunes from the States, gets looked at by Tim Hoke: Atlantic Crossing's Full And Away and Wind Against The Tide; and Rodney Miller's Airdance and Pure Quill. Tim says, "For a number of years I've enjoyed contradancing and the music that drives it. Based on my experiences as dancer, listener, dance musician, and purchaser of tapes, I have reached the conclusions that the very qualities that make for a good dance band are repetitious to a sit-down audience, and that the recordings are dull, monotonous things. Thankfully, there are exceptions" Red Mountain White Trash's Chickens Don't Roost Too High wins the award for the longest album title I've seen! Gary Whitehouse says this "is a traditional band with a decidedly untraditional name. But don't let the moniker put you off. This outfit plays old-time fiddle-based dance music with roots deep in the rich Southern soil." Gary also looks at the third CD from rootsters Continental Drifters, Better Day. He opines, "With their third album, Better Day, the Continental Drifters uphold their reputation as one of the most powerful and versatile bands of the past decade. Following on the heels of a year of emotional upheaval, this sextet has crafted a powerful statement of hope and faith that swings, sways and rocks."

Singer-songwriter Bill Morrissey's Something I Saw Or Thought I Saw gets the once-over from Big Earl, who says, "I really can't say enough about this guy. In an era where anyone with an acoustic guitar and a rhyme can find an outlet, it's so refreshing to find a true songsmith as Morrissey. Something I Saw or Thought I Saw is a fantastic disc, music for a rainy afternoon, a snowy night, a sombre hour alone. Pick this up, and hear a master at work."

Lars Nilsson says one of his "favourite places in the world is the Gower, a small peninsula southwest of Swansea in Wales. There is nothing more soothing than standing on the hills overlooking Rhossili Bay and Worm´s Head." Calennig's A Gower Garland is, according to him, likely to be not "everyone´s cup of tea, but it should be interesting to anyone with the slightest interest in Welsh music or Welsh culture, even though everything here is sung in English." Slipping over to Ireland, Kim Bates looks at Solas' The Hour before Dawn, a CD she says is "a delight, with great traditional material, promising originals plus more duets and backing vocals than previous releases."

Kim returns with a Welsh music omnibus. She looks at Crasdant's Crasdant, Gwerinos' Lleuadllawn, Ogam's O Gam I Gam, and the Welsh Choirs Sing Folk collection. She notes "Welsh music is often known for its harps, male choirs, and its pibgorn or hornpipe; the Welsh people themselves often given the reputation for a certain dark, dour nature, and deep religious bent. Although Wales is right in the center of the British Isles, its music is relatively neglected among the Celtic traditions and has an ancient sensibility, made up of elements of the baroque and renaissance with a distinctive Celtic flair. It tends to be more somber and stately than the wildness of Irish or Scottish traditional music, with a quality that the Rough Guide folks call "innocent." I'd call it heart; there is something direct and unhurried."

Chuck Lipsig finishes out our music reviews with a look at Jock Tamson's Bairns' May You Never Lack a Scone. He exclaims: "They're back. Almost twenty years since their last recording, Jock Tamson's Bairns have reformed and recorded May You Never Lack a Scone. With Norman Chalmers (concertina and whistle), Ian Hardie (fiddle with a few vocals), Rod Paterson (guitar and vocals), Derek Hoy (fiddle), and John Croall (vocals and bodhran), but missing Jack Evans, this is the almost same line-up as on The Lasses Fashion, back in 1982. And Jock Tamson's Bairns haven't missed a beat."

Now to the books. Michael Jones loves Diane Duane's Young Wizard series and was delighted with the opportunity to review the fifth and latest installment, The Wizard's Dilemma. His opinion? "Truly, The Lone Power, Nita, Kit, Dairine, and Diane Duane herself are in fine form, making this quite possibly the best book of the series to date. It just goes to remind us that long before Harry Potter made his debut, the Young Wizards series was exploring some of the same ground, and a lot of new territory. I highly recommend The Wizard's Dilemma as one of the best books I've read in a long time." Richard Dansky, who doesn't review for us nearly as often as we'd like, takes a slightly disappointed look at Robert Holdstock's Unknown Regions, not part of his Ryhope series. Still, he says, "Even when Holdstock does stumble, as he does with Unknown Regions, he gives you something interesting. ... And if it ultimately fails to satisfy, that's in part because this reader, at least, expects such great things from each and every Holdstock novel that something that's merely good is below the bar."

Cat Eldridge loves Demon Knight: A Grimjack Graphic Novel. If you're not familiar with this series about a grimjack of all trades living many lives in a hellish city, read Cat's review for the details, and for his reasons why this graphic novel is a good addition to the series. Noble Smith's Stolen From Gypsies, which Cat mentioned above, tickles Naomi de Bruyn's fancy. She chortles, "Take a couple of cups of Monty Python, a solid dash of Black Adder, and a sprinkling of Red Dwarf, and throw in a pinch of the Red Green Show, and you have Noble's Stolen from Gypsies!" She also likes Darrell Schweitzer's Mask of the Sorcerer, a coming-of-age tale about a reluctant sorcerer.

David Kidney looks at two music-related books this week: Rhino's Cruise Through the Blues, a good introduction to the blues, but not an in-depth study; and Been Here and Gone, David Dalton's rather improbable novel which Kidney believes tries to cover too much ground for one man's fictional life.

I can't close this column without mentioning our hard-working editors, Michael, Brendan, Kim, April, Chuck, and Rebecca. They are knowledgeable in their subject areas, and serious about their responsibilities. They work together well, and help turn out a wonderful magazine, despite the fact that they all have day jobs. It's a major undertaking to get a new edition of GMR up every Sunday, but somehow the editors pull it together. And God bless the proofreaders, Naomi de Bruyn and Liz Stewart, for doing the most thankless task on the zine!

That's all for this time. Join us next time to see what our merry band of reviewers found interesting!

 

6th of May, 2001

As I've said before in What's New: "Ah, music... A typical week here at the GMR office -- think oak desks and comfortable chairs, iBooks, and enough book shelves to hold all the product that comes in, with fresh espresso and Belgian chocolate for all our workers -- sees upwards of thirty CDs arrive for review..." Years later, this remains true, but it isn't the sheer quantity of CDs we get that always amazes me, but rather the breadth of the material we get for review. Just take the matter of the four CDs that were sent by Felmay and CNI, two Italian music companies, that are reviewed by Brendan Foreman this week, to wit: Antonello Paliotti Trio's Tarantella Storta, Banditaliana's Thapsos, Novalia's 10, and the Vincenzo Zitello Trio's Concerto. He notes, "Showing that it is still no stranger to creative innovation, Italy continues to generate its own blend of tradition and modernity in music." Read his review to get all the details on these exceptional albums.

Chuck Lipsig was very pleased with Happy Daze, the latest from the Battlefield Band, which is, he says, "a lovely CD and a strong addition to Battlefield Band's oeuvre." And No'am Newman was equally happy with 25 Years Of Celtic Music, a 2-CD retrospective from Green Linnet. He says, "This is the way that compilations should be packaged." No'am receives an Excellence in Writing Award for this review.

Gary Whitehouse, no mean slouch at recognizing truly great CDs, found Eric Taylor's Scuffletown to be "the kind of record that at first impresses with the spare cleanness of its music, only to sink its poetic hooks deep into your consciousness with repeated listenings", but Big Earl Sellar found Steve Kilpatrick's Westside Crop Circles to be much less than great: "that's the one downfall of the whole D.I.Y. wave going on right now; it's too easy, and some dreams are better left until they can be more fully realized."

In books this week, Naomi de Bruyn completes her look at J. R. R. Tolkien's masterpiece, the Lord of the Rings series, which consists of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Naomi writes, "Twenty years after The Hobbit was published came the extremely popular and desired trilogy The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien put a lot of effort and research into his work, building both viable languages and very detailed histories for the races involved in the tale. The world which he built still stands strong as a monument to him after all these years, and as the increase in popularity once again brings his work to the foreground, Tolkien is one of the world's most well-known writers."

We also have reviews of some more recent books. Michael Jones reviewed William Goldman's delightful The Silent Gondoliers, a lyrical story with the same strengths as The Princess Bride, although it is a different story altogether. Michael also liked When the King Comes Home, by Caroline Stevermer, about what happens when a king disappears for two hundred years and the kingdom has to go on without him. He advises, "Pick this book up to see why Emma Bull says it 'delivers you to the deepest of mysteries' and Ellen Kushner says it's 'the best fantasy I've read in ages!' I wholly agree." Summers at Castle Auburn, reviewed by Rebecca Swain, is about a young girl who is in love with her prince and altogether content with life, until she turns fourteen and begins to notice how life really is. Michael picks up an Excellence in Writing Award for his review.

On to music books. Jack B. Merry reviewed (and hated!) A Drink With Shane MacGowan, a book written by Victoria Mary Clarke, MacGowan's longtime girlfriend, which includes conversations with the Pogues' ex-lead singer. You'll enjoy Jack's vitriolic review even if you don't agree with it. He also reviewed Declan Coyne's " ... the lilting sons of country folk." (There is a lot more to this title that I'm not including here.) Jack says this book " ... records the lives, and as Coyne notes, more importantly the very existence, of the traditional musicians and singers of the mid- and south Roscommon region, from the mid-1800s to the present day." Jack likes this one. (An Excellence in Writing Award goes to him for this review.) Finally, he looks at Blooming Meadows, by Fintan Vallely and Charlie Piggot, which looks at Irish musicians including Vincent Campbell and Sharon Shannon.

You'll want to find out what Richie Unterberger's Music USA is about, because Gary Whitehouse assures us, "Whether you're the type to plan a holiday around music, or would like to be able to check out a club or record store the next time you're on the road, Music USA is an indispensable guidebook. It's also an excellent overview for the general student of American music, particularly for anyone who wants to dig just a little beneath the surface of what's most common commercially." Finally, Kim Bates took her own intelligent look at the controversial book Songs of Elizabeth Cronin, Irish Traditional Singer, written by Cronin's grandson Diabhi o Cronin. The book comes with two CDs of Bess Cronin singing, and the entire package is a must for lovers of traditional Irish music.

Come back next week for more great reviews, Blue Mountain coffee, and true New York bagels with lox and cream cheese!