30th of December 2001
I value kindness to human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don't respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper, and old men and women warmer in the winter, and happier in the summer. -- Brendan Behan
Jack here. The entire staff is off enjoying the many new books and albums that they got as Christmas gifts, so there's no new edition this week. We'll see you here in a week, Twelfth Night to be precise, with another edition. In the meantime, may your New Year be filled with wonderful music, great conversation, interesting reading, and enough dancing to keep you happy! Now Brigid and me are off to our annual concert to benefit the Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow Fund for the Less Fortunate. City Review gave us a good write-up so we're expecting a packed house at the Merrymeeting Concert Hall, which means a filling meal and a warm place to stay for some of the less fortunate of this city. May you remember those less fortunate than yourselves!
25th of December 2001
Charles de Lint and MaryAnn Harris have decided to put up a short story on his site as a way of, as Charles notes, 'letting you see how the crow girls celebrate Christmas. Or at least candy.' You can read here. And MaryAnn has included 'some illustrations from cards I've made for Charles over the past couple of years. You'll get to see how the crow girls look in my mind's eye.' Merry Christmas from all of us here at Green Man!
Once in Royal David's City stood a lonely cattle shed, where a mother held her baby. You'd do well to remember the things He later said. When you're stuffing yourselves at the Christmas parties, you'll just laugh when I tell you to take a running jump. You're missing the point I'm sure does not need making that Christmas spirit is not what you drink. So how can you laugh when your own mother's hungry, and how can you smile when the reasons for smiling are wrong? And if I just messed up your thoughtless pleasures, remember, if you wish, this is just a Christmas song. (Hey! Santa! Pass us that bottle, will you?) -- Jethro Tull's 'Christmas Song'
Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ur! (Scots Gaelic for seasons greetings!) I've been playing Old Nick these past weeks by giving away lots of goodies to local folks -- rare kinds of chocolate, high-octane coffee beans, books, CDs, even pricey tickets to holiday concerts have been distributed with cheer to many, many folks. The best part is that everything was given to me, so it cost me nothing but my time. I'll be doing this right until Twelfth Night as that's my usual custom. Now where is that dark chocolate that I was giving away?
We start off with Grey Walker's review of the new Lord of The Rings film. Grey, our resident Tolkien expert, says, 'When a reviewer makes specific comments about plot elements in a book or a movie, it is a common internet convention to say, 'Spoilers ahead!' I cannot think of a single movie made in recent years for which that warning has been less necessary. J.R.R. Tolkien's epic The Lord of the Rings is the cornerstone of modern fantasy, the trilogy that most readers of fantasy under sixty either cut their teeth on or discovered as an already well-established and well-weathered feature on the landscape of fantasy fiction.' It goes without saying that she loved this film, but read her review to get the full story. Grey gets a very well-deserved Excellence in Writing Award for this superb review!
Gary Whitehouse was equally thrilled by his first encounter with John Hiatt in concert. He notes, 'It was my first John Hiatt show, but with any luck it won't be my last.'
Our LoC department has been updated now that its editor has finished writing his novel, so go take a look at some of the letters we've been receiving lately. It makes for lively reading.
If you're in the market for some last-minute holiday gifts, maybe one of these books will fill the bill. If you know a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, check out Michael Jones's review of seven Buffy-related books, in which he makes the timeless observation, 'I've always wondered who in their right mind would entrust the fate of the world to a teenage anything.' This Buffstravaganza includes Christopher Golden's Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike and Dru: Pretty Maids All in a Row, a novel set in WWII London; and The Watcher's Guide Volumes 1 and 2, which give you lots of information about the show. And Michael says this is just the tip of the Buffy book iceberg!
A novel you might want to check out is Tim Powers' Declare, a spy thriller/fantasy which involves Mount Ararat. The weak-willed Rowan Inish warns, 'There are certain rules one should always follow when writing on a tight deadline. The first, and most important, is simple: Never, ever buy a Tim Powers novel. If you break this rule, the second one is don't put the novel where you can see it (or it can see you). And if all else fails, and you insist on putting your spanking new piece of Powers' particularly weird and wonderful magic out where you can keep an eye on it, by all that is holy you must refrain from opening it and saying to yourself, 'I'll just read one chapter.'' Rowan also reviews Richard Ellis's look at sea monsters, Monsters of the Sea, a book that deals with both the legendary and scientific aspects of sea monsters, including sharks.
Maria Nutick gives us a batch of informative and entertaining Christmas books this week, declaring excitedly, 'Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus... and a Father Christmas... and a Pelz-Nickel... and a tomten... and you can find out all about them in some wonderful books that I was lucky enough to read just prior to planning this year's holiday at my house.' The books include J. M. Golby and A. W. Purdue's The Making of a Modern Christmas; Maria Hubert's Christmas Around the World; An English Christmas, by Celia McInnes; and The Twelve Days of Christmas, charmingly illustrated by Jan Brett. These books include craft ideas, recipes, and history, as well as many other interesting Christmas tidbits. And David Kidney reviews All of This Music Belongs to the Nation, a history of the Federal Music Project, part of Roosevelt's WPA in the 1930s. The project was a mixed success, and the book explains why.
Finally, Kate Brown looks at The Book of Merlyn, the final installment of T. H. White's marvelous Once and Future King cycle. Kate explains, 'Many years after the publication of The Once And Future King by T. H. White, the University of Texas acquired a manuscript for a fifth part to White's famous Arthurian writings. With the help of the first four parts ... which had been published in 1958 as one volume, the manuscript for The Book of Merlyn was edited and finally published.'
Green Man has reviewed in excess of eight hundred Celtic CDs -- quite likely, more than anyone else on the net. This week, we have a bonnie bunch of fresh Celtic CDs for you. Let's start with Solas' new CD, The Edge of Silence, about which Jennifer Byrne says, 'Rocky, atmospheric, dark, enlightening, and, periodically, intensely beautiful, are all adjectives that could be applied in equal quantities to The Edge of Silence. I was, initially, disappointed that there is hardly an instance of truly energetic, all-out traditional playing. However, that is not the purpose of this album.' She also reviewed the Public House Ceili Band's Go Figure, which is apparently the first Irish step dance CD recorded in the States, but Jennifer notes, 'This is not listening music, as, indeed, the title suggests. But it is also not as tight and vigorous as some of the better ceili bands playing at the moment. Too much text book, not enough innovation, a definite pity where there is a group of people of this talent playing together.' She finishes out her reviews of Celtic CDs by looking at the self-titled album from Shepherd's Folly. Alas, it was not at all good: 'If Shepherd's Folly wanted to be taken seriously in the first place, then they should have considered going for a slightly less stereotypical and patronising album cover. So, having overcome my initial disbelief at the image of three charming little Irish people, including a whirling dervish, playing their quaint diddly-aye music to a number of rather disturbed looking sheep on the side of a cliff, I came to the music itself. It continues to go down hill, and rapidly, from there.'
Carrantuohil's Between fared better in the hands of Patrick O'Donnell, who comments, 'With nine albums and a career spanning 14 years to their credit, Carrantuohill is hardly a newcomer on the Celtic music scene. They've toured extensively -- including concerts in America, Germany, Russia and Ireland -- and they've played alongside the likes of The Battlefield Band. Still, don't be too surprised if you've never heard of them -- Poland isn't exactly the first place you look for superb Celtic music. Not that there isn't a thriving Celtic music scene in Eastern Europe. Scores of bands take up the fiddle, bow and bodhran, but I think Carrantuohill is leading the pack.'
Slide's 'The flying pig' was a disappointment to No'am Newman, whose tastes run to the likes of Dervish and the Old Blind Dogs. This CD, according to him, was rather spotty at best: 'I think that the future portends good things for Slide, and they'd definitely be worth watching in concert... But for the time being, I'm going to pass on them, as my enjoyment of this disc is only patchy.'
Chuck Lipsig is slowly recovering from his self-induced insanity of writing a novel in one month, so he's writing Celtic music reviews as therapy. He looks at four of the little darlings this outing -- At the Racket's Mirth-Making Heroes, Croft No Five's Attention All Personnel, Claire Roche's Lilt of the Banshee, and Urban Celtic 's self-titled debut CD. Touchingly, he notes, 'My anniversary isn't until the 27th, but my wife and I have already exchanged presents. She gave me, appropriately enough, a candleholder with a green man design. So let's light a candle, sit back, and listen to some Celtic music.' Read his review to see if any of these CDs were to his liking!
Some CDs really should never have been made -- or at least that's what Rebecca Swain thinks of two Tom Chapin CDs, Common Ground and In the City of Mercy. She screams in pain that 'God, I hated these CDs! I know Tom Chapin is very popular in the folk community for his children's albums. I know his brother was the practically deified Harry Chapin. I'm sure Tom is a wonderful man, kind to children, respectful to old people, contributor to good causes. But I hated these CDs.'
Mellstock Band's Hey For Christmas was not quite to Chris Woods's liking (welcome back, Chris!) but this collection of traditional English Christmas carols might be to your liking: 'If you are looking for a well-presented and well researched authentic collection of period Christmas songs and don't mind it being a bit theatrical in it's approach then it might well work for you.'
Neither quite bluegrass or country, Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen's Running Wild is, according to David Kidney, an album that will take you back to those days of old: 'Remember the good old days, when supergroups were all the rage? The drummer from one moderately well-known group would join the bass player from another, the singer-guitarist of a third, and an unknown keyboard player would all get together to play unlistenable cover versions of old blues songs, or Buddy Holly's repertoire? Well...things have changed. Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen are most definitely a super group (it even says so on the back cover) but they come from a background of bluegrass and folk with a touch of rock for good measure. And they can play!'
Roots Music: an American Journey is a 4-CD release from Rounder Records, the source of more great music than bears thinking about. David says of Roots Music that 'It is an unassuming box. Mostly green, with gold leaf lettering, it says Roots Music; the first 'o' has a leaf growing out of it in a shape which approximates a quarter-note. Underneath that title is the subtitle, an American Journey simple and concise. There is nothing on the back, except the Rounder logo, green and gold. It is an unassuming box. And then you open it. Two miniature cardboard sleeves each holding two CDs, and a 52 page book are housed therein. Each disc contains between 16 and 18 songs; songs which are listed by title and performer on the inside of the folding sleeves. The booklet is where the bulk of the information is found, but the treasure in this subtle package, is on those four mirrored discs. And what treasures there are!'
It's snowing gently but steadily here, so we may indeed have a white Christmas this year, a rarity in this coastal city where rain, not snow, is common this time of year. We'll see you in two weeks -- on Twelfth Night to be exact! Now I'm off to continue being Old Nick....
Mad Paddy's gone back on the road
A wire string fiddle is his only load,
He's kicking up turf everywhere he goes
And he's on his own.
From the houses all the people they stare
At his Horslips and his emerald green hair
You know he keeps on moving
he just doesn't care
When he's on his own.
Horslips' 'Mad Pat'
We're but a few days away from the Winter Solstice, so may I suggest a reading of Jennifer Stevenson's 'Solstice' story? (Read Grey Walker's wonderful review of it here.) It's set at the Winter Solstice, but it's really about the duality of the two seasons as represented in the story by the Winter King and Summer Queen. A reading of Jane Yolen's The Wild Hunt, which is reviewed for Green Man by Jo Morrison, would also be appropriate.
You're all invited to our <Green Man Midwinter's Eve party! The fires will be blazing, the whole lamb turning on its spit, and the spiced cider mulling. Do bring warm clothes for between dances as we'll be gathering ivy and holly from the forest to decorate the Great Hall. Needless to say, Danse Macabre and various other bands will be playing for an all-night dance!
We have lots of seasonal material this time, including my review of A Christmas Carol production. As I say in the review, 'I just saw what is without doubt the finest staging of A Christmas Carol that I have ever been privileged to see in a theater space perfectly suited to this play. From the casting of Daniel Noel in multiple roles including Marley's Ghost, to the exquisite sound where I could even hear Scrooge's soon-to-be ex-fiancee putting her engagement ring on his counting table, everything was perfect.' Read my review for all the details! Remember the song 'You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch'? Well, Slaid Cleaves does a cover of it on his Holiday Sampler CD. Rebecca Swain, someone who is definitely not a grinch, says, 'I highly recommend this EP. The funny songs are funny and the serious songs are sincere and thought-provoking. You can play this all year round, too, so it's real value for money.'
Kim Bates says of A Christmas Celtic Sojourn, 'Suffice to say that there isn't a single number on this album that is not representative of the finest in traditional Celtic music -- it is a truly superlative collection. ArtistsÄô labels, but not albums, are credited on the thoughtful liner notes, if one of these selections creates a need for more of the same. I suspect our Christmas guests will head straight out after cider and cookies to get it. Run to the store before these are all gone!' Now Tommy Sands' To Shorten The Winter did not fare as well, according to No'am Newman, who comments, '[t]here are also several family pictures, most of which are uncaptioned (the credits list them as coming from Sands' private collection) and which add to the Christmas atmosphere that the album is trying to create. Unfortunately, the songs don't strain themselves in adding to this illusion, and so the result is simply a collection of nice songs which are pleasant to hear and which are easy on the ear.' However, Kim loved Kirkmount's Mittens for Christmas, which is 'a lovely instrumental album, with some good choices from the array of familiar Christmas material, as well as some lesser-known material. Kirkmount display an impressive sense for presenting traditional material in ensemble. Keep your eyes on these lads if you enjoy traditional Celtic material with classical sensibilities; I know I'll be on the lookout for more.' And this recommendation for new Christmas music comes from Grey: 'If you (like me) like to buy new Christmas music every year, but have also (like me) been buying it for so long that you pretty much have to really look for anything that doesn't sound just like something you already have -- well...have I got an album for you! From the opening notes of the first track, The Crossing's The Court of a King promises to be surprising. A didgeridoo and a flute join in a haunting duet of 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel.' Different, yes, but also perfectly suited to the mournful, longing nature of the song. The rest of the album delivers on the promise: surprising, yet deeply satisfying.'
The Irish Trad fanatics may throw their rosined-up bows at me, but I believe that almost all Celtic music makes good listening at this time of the year. Just look at what Judith Gennett has to say about Coila's Full On: 'Coila is a progressive traditional instrumental band from Ayrshire. The lineup is fairly conventional and as is common this excellent band is semi-professional. Most of what we hear in Full On is fiddle, accordion, and whistle, sometimes subtle keyboards, but on certain tracks Coila adds, among others, the pipes of Dougie Pincock and the harp of Karen Connor.' She also reviews Drinkers Drouth, with Davy Steele's A Tribute, which 'isn't the multi-artist tribute to the late Davy Steele that one might expect, but rather is a re-release of two albums from a band that Davy played with in the 1980s. These are When the Kye Comes Home (1982) and Bound To Go (1984). Composed mostly of vocal tracks and performed in a style that speaks of the '80s, the band is really good and it's unfortunate that it took a tragedy for the recordings to be released on CD.' And, not content to do just two reviews of great Celtic music, she looked at Margaret Stewart and Allan MacDonald's Colla Mo Rùn, an album that, being called in English Piper's Warning To His Master, 'is the second album by Lewis Gaelic singer Margaret Stewart and Moidart [a semi-island located on the coast due west of Fort William] piper Allan MacDonald, brother to piper Iain MacDonald who plays back-up on the album. Though mostly traditional, Colla Mo Rùn is more dedicatedly a studio production than the other two items reviewed, more of a clean sound than energy album. It is successful at this and pretty as well.'
Ah, the pipes, errr, the harps are calling. Harpist Phamie Gow's Winged Spirit is a mixed bag, according to Lars Nilsson, who says, 'if you like the harp you could do worse than buying this. Though not likely to win the big crowds over to the harping side of musical life, it has a lot of nice music on it.' Not Celtic, but definitely seasonal, is an offering from Nordic group Triakel called Wintersongs. April Gutierrez wisely notes, 'This beautiful follow-up to 1998's eponymous Triakel celebrates not just Yuletide, but Advent, St. Stephen's Day, New Years and Epiphany with a glorious blend of tunes and words old and new, both joyous and somber.' Judith returns with Richard Greene and Beryl Marriott's Hands Across the Pond, an English trad affair: 'It is Beryl's album in terms of material, she's the straight woman who plays disciplined yet forceful and inspired folk tunes with a classical edge, though she doesn't always 'play English.' Conversely it's Richard who broadens the tunes, taking subtle turns into Appalachian and blues, with the listener barely catching on. It's likely no one has the upper hand, the two play around each other, but my bet is that Beryl constructs the framework.' Mike Stiles has another great CD for your consideration: 'Yes folks, we have yet another British performer doing a collection of traditional ballads. At least half a dozen other singers immediately pop into my mind ready for comparison when I contemplate it. But Jon Harvison's Knight's Gambit pulls it off for a variety of reasons. He's got a great voice and delivery, knows his material, doesn't try to do anything too fancy, and is the kind of working man's bard I'd enjoy down at the pub on a Thursday night. If you can live with that sort of artist, this CD is for you.'
Laura Nyro's Angel in the Dark is reviewed by Rebecca, who notes, 'Laura Nyro was a reclusive, seemingly diffident woman, yet she was one of the most important influences in the pop music of the late 1960s. This collection of songs was recorded in 1994-1995, but wasn't released until four years after her death from ovarian cancer. Apparently, her friends had a hard time finding a record label which was interested. I find this hard to credit.' Another sorely missed artist is the late Cajun Boozoo Chavis, whose last CD, Down Home on Dog Hill, was just released by Rounder. Gary Whitehouse notes, 'Chavis plays an infectious mix of all the elements of zydeco on Dog Hill. This disc is brimming with life and spicy as a pot of gumbo.' We have a category of music called Eclectic, and Seth Austen's Metamorphosis fits there very nicely, thank you! Kim notes that the album 'represents a 15 year saga of writing instrumental compositions, using an open tuning, and exploring the various ways that guitars can be cajoled into producing music. I find this disc to be a great backdrop for writing -- it has many lovely compositions that seem to energize me without being too intrusive. It draws my attention just often enough to keep my creative juices flowing, with several familiar traditional tunes sandwiched into Austen's originals.'
Before we go to books, we have one more gig review for you, our 125th! Chris Woods attended the Oysterband gig at Congleton Town Hall, December 8th, 2001. He comments, 'December 2001 saw Oysterband's return to Congleton Town Hall during their winter tour for the third year running. I had no intention of writing a review this year either, and turned up without even a pencil, but it soon became obvious that this wasn't a repeat of the previous years. Having gone there totally unprepared, and having been unable to stay behind and get details from the band, I have to apologise in advance that this will be one of the vaguest live reviews ever. I hope I can at least give a flavour.' He does much better than that -- Read his excellent review for all the details!
Chuck Lipsig is completely and hopelessly insane. Read his How To Write a 50,000 Word Novel in One Month to see why I say this.
We don't review Chuck's novel in this edition, but we have a handful of other interesting book reviews for you. Kate Brown looks at Sheri S. Tepper's novel The Family Tree. Kate says, 'The Family Tree is a disturbing glimpse into an impossible result of mankind's thoughtless disregard for Mother Earth and its inhabitants. Tepper's story takes a startling turn as it crosses the lines between fantasy and science fiction. It gives an unexpected moral to an enjoyable tale.'
We have a review of a Christmas book this week, Christmas Forever, edited by David Hartwell. It's a collection of short stories by such notables as Charles de Lint, Patricia McKillip, Roger Zelazny, and Gene Wolfe. Rebecca Swain says, 'These are not all stories with happy endings, where Tiny Tim doesn't die and Rudolph gets to guide the sleigh. Rudolph's just as likely to be shot, and Santa will probably drink all your liquor before he heads back up the chimney.' Nonetheless, she liked it. Read the review to see if you dare buy this book.
Read Sarah Meador's fine omnibus review of seven books about fairy tales/. They discuss Grimms' fairy tales, European folk tales in general, the feminine in fairy tales, and other interesting topics, and are authored by such notable writers as Jack Zipes, John Goldthwaite, and James M. McGlathery. Sarah wins an Excellence in Writing Award for her work. Lahri Bond gives us a look at another James Taylor biography, Ian Halperin's Fire and Rain: The James Taylor Story. Lahri has some reservations about this book and suggests one he prefers. Check out his review to find out more.
We have three reviews from Michael Jones this week: The Last Hot Time, by John M. Ford; Of Darkness, Light, and Fire, by Tanya Huff; and Simon R. Green's Drinking Midnight Wine. Huff's book contains two of her earlier stories repackaged together, Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light; and The Fire's Stone. Michael says, 'Compared to Tanya Huff's later works, these might lack experience and polish, but they still hold up as wonderful stories in their own right.' Apparently Simon R. Green based his latest novel on the minutes from the last GMR staff meeting, because Michael says that in Drinking Midnight Wine, 'The dead will walk, god and fallen angels will do battle, the King of Cats will choose sides, and an ancient creature will rise from his earthen prison ...' And The Last Hot Time is set in a desperate world where men and elves coexist. However, Michael assures us, 'For all its familiarity, The Last Hot Time by John M. Ford is -not- Bordertown. It's Bordertown with the serial numbers scraped off and placed in the Witness Protection Program. But it's also its own creature, and it's on those merits that we'll judge it.'
We are taking the week of Christmas off, so next week will be our last issue before January 6th. Be sure to check in for last-minute gift ideas from Green Man Review.
9th of December 2001
'Do you ever get the feeling that the story's too damn real and in the present tense?' --Jethro Tull's 'Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of a New Day)'
I couldn't resist that quote; it reminds me that sometimes the universe does the oddest things. I was in the office listening to Celtarabia's tasteful mix of hurdy gurdy and hammered dulcimer music while planning for some upcoming events, when the phone rang. The voice on the other end said, 'Cat, this is Dave. How are you doing?' It was Dave Tamulevich of Fleming/Tamulevich and Associates, the foremost folk agents in North America. He had noticed in the acknowledgments in Charles de Lint's The Onion Girl that we were both singled out as sending CDs to Charles. In the course of our conversation, he noted that he's playing in Maine this summer with Michael Hough in their group, Mustard's Retreat. So naturally I'm booking them for a date in Portland. (I've booked many of his acts over the years, including June Tabor and Dougie MacLean.) I'm looking forward to seeing him perform!
And now to our reviews this week ...
Book reviews first. We've reviewed several Rough Guides to music in the past. This week we critique a fistful of Rough Guide travel books, and the general consensus is that they're marvelously informative and entertaining. Irene Henry looks at the Rough Guides to Ireland, Dublin, and Wales. She knows Ireland well, so her opinion is especially valuable. Richard Condon reviews Rough Guides to Europe, Britain, England, London, France, and Italy. As with Irene, he is intimately familiar with these places, so you can take his word for the accuracy or lack thereof of these books. (And don't miss his salacious comment at the end of his omnibus. We here at GMR were shocked -- shocked, I tell you!) Richard and Irene both receive Excellence in Writing Awards for their work. Finally, Rebecca Swain studied the Rough Guide to Scotland. (She won't shut up about her trip to Scotland in June.) Rebecca also receives an Excellence in Writing Award for her review -- It's a perfect description of why a travel book, no matter how good, cannot substitute for the real thing.
Tim Hoke leads off our music reviews this edition with a look at three CDs from the Sottosuono label, which is devoted to producing music by the musicians in southern Italy. These CDs are Nura's Arabo Flamenco, Opa Cupa's Live In Contrada Tangano, and Rosapaeda's Facce. He notes that the music on these discs is 'based on tradition, often several traditions combined in new ways.' Read his review to see if this approach works for him.
Mattie Lennon was very pleased with a CD, Kingdom of Song, from a fellow Irish citizen, Peg Sweeney from Co. Kerry, and he exclaims, 'you can enjoy the best recording of 15 Kerry songs that you are likely to hear.' Mattie also has an essay on the Irish Rambling House, a unique muisc/storytelling experience based on 'a Rambling House, usually the home of a small farmer where the locals would gather on a winter's night. Under the watchful eye of the man of the house each visitor exercised his talent, by singing, dancing, storytelling, lilting or playing an instrument.' Judith Gennett thought that Ellery Klein, an Irish fiddler from Vermont, and her CD, Salt & Pepper, were quite splendid: the 'recording and production on the CD is clear and sharp as an e-string. As for categorization: as with many younger players there is little sense of depression and misery on the album, perhaps reflection, but not the depths of sorrow Celtic fiddle can express, hence less contrast than on albums by some more mature fiddlers.'
Meanwhile, Kim Bates offers a piping omnibus that covers the following CDs: Jiggerypipery's self-titled album, Paddy Keenan and Tommy O'Sullivan's The Long Grazing Acre, Jimi MacRae's Jimi The Piper, Jimi MacRae and Earthdance's n, Robert B. Nicol & Robert U. Brown's Masters of Piobaireachd, Volume 3, and Gary West's The Islay Ball. She comments, her ears ringing from the sound of squealing pipes, that 'There's something haunting about the sound of the pipes -- a call to something wild and beautiful, yet occasionally stern and commanding of respect -- for the eerie tone, for the skill of the player, for the nature of the tune, for the fact that something in this sound made you pause and listen. For the many funerals, and fewer weddings where its wail presides, the pipes are a comforting fixture that evokes both emotion and reserve. Perhaps because of the obligatory duty of piping at such events -- at least in the North American mind -- this lovely instrument is often mired in clichés of the few tunes that everyone knows, of the obvious flourishes or the rude collapse of the bag at the end of the song. So it is with great pleasure that I present this collection of piping albums -- for each of these players brings a different facet of the pipes to light, from the sweaty dance floor inhabited by Jimi MacRae and Earth Dance, to Gary West's more traditional Islay Ball, to the lessons in Piobaireachd, each takes the listener far beyond the clichés.'
Phil Coulter's Lake of Shadows is a Celtic album that, unfortunately, Mike Stiles found to be too New Age-ish, to wit: 'This CD should be subtitled 'Phil Coulter Attempts to Pull an Enya.' I can imagine a pre production meeting for this project in which some marketing nazi at Windham Hill pressed Phil hard to delve into the sounds of newage (rhymes with 'sewage'). This is the sort of tragedy one would expect after BMG absorbed Windham Hill to make damn sure it caters to the urine-swilling, pyramid hat-sporting, crystal-groping crowd that has more money than musical sense.' Ouch! Not surprisingly, Mike garners an Excellence in Writing Award for this review.
We have only one English trad -- or almost trad -- CD this week: June Tabor's Rosa Mundi, which Eric Eller found to be damn fine, commenting, 'with her cool, resonant voice, Tabor creates an ideal setting for the exploration of various themes surrounding the rose and its allegorical use.'
Colin Rudd's Songs of JRR Tolkien wasn't what Rebecca Swain expected. She says, 'When I say I'm disappointed with this CD, don't misunderstand me. I'm not disappointed with the singing, or the instrumentation. I mean I am, but not because it isn't good. It's lovely. But somehow, in my head, I just assumed I would be hearing the deep, bell-like voices of elves and gravelly-voiced dwarves and other citizens of Middle Earth singing.' You should read her review to see just what Songs of JRR Tolkien was instead! An Excellence in Writing Award goes to Rebecca for, as Kim puts it, Kim being 'stuck imagining what dwarves sound like.'
Gary Whitehouse tackles the matter of the Americana Motel compilation, which is a look at alt-country in Washington, D.C. He notes that this CD 'has some of the weaknesses as nearly all compilations and tribute discs, including a sense that they may be trying to cover too much territory. And not all of the performers are of the same caliber, which tends to drag down the overall impact a little. But within its own narrowly defined goals of showcasing the work of one city's alternative country musicians, it succeeds quite well.'
Jack B. Merry notes in his latest omnibus that 'It's snowing heavily in our city right now as it has for more than a day now, so most everything's closed down -- even Jack Spratt Ltd. where me wife Brigid bakes her wonderful pies and tarts, is closed. And that means a day at home with her and our many cats drinking interesting beverages, reading good fiction, eating fine nibblies, snuggling with me wife, and -- naturally -- listening to lots of truly fine music. ' And a lot of music it was, to wit: Beausoleil's The Best of The Crawfish Years, 1985 -- 1991, The Moving Violations' Faster than a Walk, Mary Cay Brass and friends' Green Mountain, Hoover the Dog's distempo and Scratch 'n' Sniff, Vasen's Live, Ziganamama's Ziganamama, Chava Alberstein and The Klezmatics' The Well, Barbaros Erköse Ensemble's Lingo Lingo, and Trip to Harrogate's Tunes & Songs from Joshua Jackson's Book of 1798. Cajun, English, Klezmer, Turkish, contradance -- there's a bit of a lot of dance traditions here. Read his review to see what he thought of these CDs!
That's all for this outing. I'm off to read Jethro Tull -- A History of the Band, 1968-2001, which just arrived from the publisher. A quick glance suggests that it's well-crafted, but it will take a week or so for me to get it read. I'll see you here next week!
2nd of December 2001
Richard stood there, alone in the throng, drinking it in. It was pure madness -- of that there was no doubt at all. It was loud and brash, and insane, and it was, in many ways, quite wonderful. Music was playing -- a dozen kinds of music, being played a dozen different ways on a score of music instruments, most improvised, improved, improbable. Richard could smell food -- the smell of curries and spices seem to predominate, with, beneath them, the smells of grilling meats and mushrooms.
Richard encountering The Floating Market for the first time in Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere
The turkey and fixings were fantastic, with even the cats getting more than their fair share, but now it's back to business as usual at Green Man, where you'll find more books and CDs reviewed than in any comparable zine! A three- month average shows that Green Man has an average of 135,000 readers every month, give or take 'bout 5,000 depending on the month. Nearly 90+% read What's New, over 90% read one or more of the music reviews every week, 60+% read one or more of the book reviews every week, and 15% read one or more of the gig reviews every week. Celtic music reviews get more hits than any other area, but everything gets read -- even material years old. Same holds true in the book section, with fiction being the most-read area, while musiclore runs a close second. Interestingly enough, omnibuses, particularly in the music reviews, appear to be more popular than stand- alone reviews. It appears that we retain 7 out of 10 readers after their first encounter! I give our outstanding reviewers and extremely hardworking editors the credit for these outstanding stats.
We lead off the music reviews with Michael Hunter's review of the latest from Fairport Convention, XXXV. Yes, their 35th anniversary album! He says that '[i]t's a fine representation of Fairport Convention as it is today, a valid band that doesn't ignore its vast history but doesn't cling to it for life either.' Not as prolific, but almost as long lasting as Fairport, is blues artist Ellen McIlwaine, whose latest album, Spontaneous Combustion, is reviewed by David Kidney, who lets his enthusiasm show: '[s]he is an amazing guitarist, and a powerful singer, with her own vision. If you haven't heard her before, you can start here. It's hot! It's on fire! It's Spontaneous Combustion!' Daddy-O Daddy!: Rare Family Songs of Woody Guthrie was also well-liked by David Kidney who thinks that '[w]hether you have a 'little newlycome' in the house, or a houseful of teenagers, or you are currently remodelling the kid's room into a study or a sewing room there's an hour of real fine listening here.'
Cathie Ryan's Somewhere Along the Road was also well received by Eric Eller, who notes, '[f]or some reason, I haven't kept up with Cathie Ryan's solo work since she left Cherish the Ladies in the mid 90s. Listening to Somewhere Along the Road makes my decision seem all the more perplexing. Simply put, this is an outstanding album with no weak points to pick at.' Likewise, No'am Newman was very pleased by Dervish in concert at the Henry Crown Auditorium in Jerusalem. Read his review to see why he was satisfied by their performance. But Lars wasn't as pleased with Seelyhoo's Leetera; he comments that 'Seelyhoo´s main ambition seems to be to create some kind of modern Celtic music, not quite rock but nearly. They move in the same territory as Capercaillie, which is not really an advantage for Seelyhoo.'
Jennifer Byrne was similarly displeased with David Lyndon Hull and Jack Jezzro's Worldbeat Brazil. According to her discriminating ear, '...this definitely is background music, and fails to hold one's attention for long. Ideal supermarket music.' And sometimes a reviewer simply can't bear to say awful things about a CD, so we pass it on to another reviewer. Such is the case with Taggart & Wright's Now We Are Met album, which didn't fare any better in the hands of the second reviewer, Lars Nilsson, who says this English trad release 'would have benefited from more production work, the odd punch-in, re-takes and cuts, and maybe even some more instruments to back them up. It takes a June Tabor or Dick Gaughan to get in there and do it all in one take. For the rest of us the patching up is an opportunity not to be missed. There are occasional stumblings on the guitar and the odd slightly out of tune-sounding harmony left on the CD and that is both unnecessary and unprofessional.'
Now, Celtic Fiddle Festival's Rendezvous was more mellow than Stephen Hunt expected, given that the group consists of, as Stephen notes, 'Kevin Burke, formerly of Irish greats The Bothy Band, Johnny Cunningham, the demon fiddler of Scotland's Silly Wizard and Christian LeMaitre from Breton pioneers Kornog.' He adds '[t]his all-string line up combines to create a sound which is more chamber ensemble than ceili band.' Was he pleased by this CD? Read his review and judge for yourself! I will say that Show of Hands' new CD, Cold Frontier, was to his liking. How good are they and this album? Quite good indeed, he says. 'If you haven't yet discovered Show of Hands, then do so with haste. I'll go so far as to say that they're the most significant development in a definably English 'Underground,' music since early Fairport. The difference is that where Richard Thompson took a stratocaster to see if it was rock 'n' roll, Show of Hands take a mandocello to a Radiohead track to see if they can find a folk song. Too intelligent, lyrical and acoustic to be described as pop and too populist to remain entirely in the folk camp, Show of Hands might just have invented an English equivalent of Country music. The mind boggles at the possibilities of that thought.'
Judith Gennett found J. P. Jones' Salvation Street an outstanding album: it is 'an album of contemporary folk. Backed by an excellent touring band and carrying ice-sharp lyrics, this is a fine CD, as much for the arrangements and skill of the band as for J. P. and his songs. This is music similar to that of Richard Thompson and Bruce Cockburn -- electric contemporary folk, maybe as J. P. says 'folk-rock,' or maybe just rock with solid lyrics.' Jimmy Sturr's Gone Polka -- oh, go ahead and guess the instrument of choice -- was nice, but 'The musicianship here is excellent and smooth as the Baltic on a summers day. Maybe, though, it would be just as well to hit the next dance at the Sons of Hermann Hall, or pick up one of the Sturr Orchestra's earlier albums.' Read Judith's review to see why she was less than fully excited by this album.
Now O Sister!, a collection of songs by women bluegrass artists, was to the liking of Gary Whitehouse, who says it 'is a good sampler of Rounder's catalog of women in bluegrass, and it wouldn't be out of place in any bluegrass fan's collection.'
We can't say that Big Earl Sellar cared for Mikveh's debut CD; he comments, 'You know that point, between dislike and annoy? That's my impression of Mikveh. This supergroup of some of the most talented women in the American and International Klezmer music scene are superb interpreters of the tradition. Amazing vocals, great players, insightful lyrics, it's all there. I just don't like it.' Nor were the latest two Lomax recordings, The Spanish Recordings -- Galcia and Aargón & València -- to his liking either. He says, 'these are more library discs than anything else. I suppose that's the problem with the Lomax' vaults: they are often academic, and these discs illustrate that bent very tacitly. Interesting, but hardly crucial.'
Nordic Roots 3, which Northside says is 'cheaper than food', really, really pleased Mike Stiles. He exclaims, 'Just when I (an American) think I've got a basic handle on European music, something like this falls into my lap. Why, I've never had such a good time aboard an iceberg before except with a polar bear, a bit of vodka, and this CD!' Polar bears?!? Vodka?!?
Stephen Hunt looks at Scottish artist Dick Gaughan's Outlaws and Dreamers, which he says 'is the 11th solo album from Dick Gaughan and to my mind it's his best in years. I should, perhaps qualify that statement by pointing out that there's absolutely no such thing as a poor Dick Gaughan album. I'm just one of many who think that he sounds best 'in the raw,' just voice and acoustic guitar, which in the main, is exactly what's on offer here.'
We've done more piping albums, both of a Celtic nature and not, than any other online zine, period. Judith Gennett had the distinct pleasure of reviewing Drones & Bellows' third CD, The Dancing Dog. She says, 'The Dancing Dog is a thoroughly enjoyable album, partially just because of the special, solid, less introspective spirit and musical patterns that a continental band can superimpose on Celtic music, but also because of the turns and diversity, and of course the enthusiasm and fine musicianship.'
Kim Bates wraps up our music reviews with a look at five country albums: Clarks' Live, John Train's Looks Like Up, the Punters' Will You Wait, and two Utah Carol albums, Wonder Wheel and Comfort for the Traveler. Kim comments that 'what we have here is a mix of independent music -- a few good songs, some callow lyrics, some solid musicianship, the sort of thing you can hear in the bars with medium sized rooms and just enough room on the stage for a 5 piece outfit. The kind of bands that have promise, a loyal following, and -- we can only hope -- a future.'
David's Spontaneous Combustion, Judith's Dancing Dog, Stephen's Rendezvous, and Gary's O Sister! reviews were judged worthy of Excellence in Writing Award!
Apparently, last week's turkey inspired our book reviewers, because we have a large selection of reviews this week. (I don't know how to account for the reviewers who don't live in America.) Rebecca Swain reviews Robert Silverberg's The King of Dreams, the seventh and last book of the Majipoor cycle (or so Silverberg says). We added it to the Majipoor omnibus so you can get an idea of what the whole cycle is about.
Guy Soffer liked Conan the Rebel, Poul Anderson's addition to the Conan tradition, and recommends it to fans of the Barbarian. Eric Eller found Caitlin R. Kiernan's Threshold thought-provoking and compelling, even though her theme of hidden evil in the unconscious is not new. Naomi de Bruyn enjoyed The Golden Sword, by Fiona Patterson, a book about young people who must seek their true identities as Avatars of the elements.
Kate Brown reviews Sara Douglass's books Battleaxe and The Enchanter, Books One and Two of The Wayfarer Redemption. She says, 'An Australian author, Sara Douglass, has made a grand entry into American publishing with her enormously intriguing novel Battleaxe, the tale of a once-great country split by religious superstition and intolerance.' She enjoyed the sequel as well. She also reviews an anthology of Dracula stories, Dracula in London, edited by P.N. Elrod.
Cat Eldridge loved Paul Brandon's novel swim the moon, about a grieving man who returns to his homeland of Scotland only to find himself in the midst of peculiar happenings. Cat says, 'Minor quibbles aside, this is a truly great novel, and one of the best debuts I've read in a long, long time. It's safe to say that the author, like his fellow Celtic musician Charles de Lint, is well-versed in every aspect of being a musician.'
And newcomer Sarah Meador loved Castle Waiting, a graphic novel that includes many familiar characters from folklore and fantasy. Sarah begins her review with this intriguing quote from the comic: 'A noblewoman is fleeing her abusive husband. A guard aiding in her escape gives her his protective amulet. The lady protests, fearing for his safety, but the guard insists, 'Lady, I'm a big, strong bear. You ain't.'' Sarah wins an Excellence in Writing Award for this delightful review.
Next week we'll have a fistful of Rough Guide travel books for you that'll make you want to rush off on a journey to an unknown place -- Scotland, Wales, France, Italy -- start saving your money now!
I finished Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, which was quite splendid, so now I'm off in search of my next reading adventure. And a really good mug of cocoa complete with dark chocolate, chilies, and a bit of fresh-ground black pepper. Really, truly.