'...another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.' Molly in Joyce's Ulysses
Now where was I? Hmmm... Let's see... Now I remember! (More or less...) I was thinking about how much good music there is out there, and how much we've reviewed, as we just reviewed our 2,000th CD this week. (It's Suzanne Vega's Songs in Red and Gray that Lars Nilsson reviews.) In all, we've reviewed over 4,000 'products' including live performances, ranging from a reading by Charles de Lint, to multiple Oysterband concerts, books which have been both rare and common, and a number of interesting videos. And Green Man will continue to have the most interesting product reviewed for you in the future including a review by Lars of all 28 CDs of the 'Folk Music in Sweden' series that Caprice sent us this week.
Not surprisingly, we're doing just music reviews this week, so let's start off with Lars' review of the aforementioned Songs in Red and Gray. Lars had a personal encounter with Vega when he heard this CD: 'Suzanne Vega came home to me the other day. She said: 'Do you remember me?' And yes I did remember the girl whose two first albums, Suzanne Vega and Solitude Standing, gave me such comfort and joy in the mid-80s. But then somehow we lost contact, and I missed out on her music for a decade and a half.' Read his Excellence in Writing Award winning review for the rest of the conversation.
Judith Gennett was lucky enough to find a CD titled Sacred Harp Singing In Western Massachusetts 2000-2001. What is Sacred Harp Singing, you ask? Judith says 'Sacred Harp, or shape note hymn singing, is a non-performance music. Singers sing in four (actually six, considering gender related pitch) parts arranged in a square, from one of several books of old and sometimes new hymns, though many know their parts by heart. Notes in the books are not only represented conventionally but as four shapes, representing fa-so-la-fa-so-mi-la. It is always sung a capella perhaps with foot stomping, often by untrained singers, so the sound is rough but beautiful.'
Judith also listened to Jim Watson's Willie's Redemption. She says this 'is the second solo Old Time album from R&L Williams' mandolineer and Red Clay Rambler Jim Watson. What a peach! Watson sings in a smooth, honeyed, twangy tenor and plays bass, guitar, and autoharp as well as mandolin. Willie's Redemption twangs like heck, but there's sort of a roundabout tongue-in-cheekiness to it that's difficult to explain, sort of an elite quality without damaging its backwoods earthiness. The musicians are really good, too. Notable is Alan Jabbour's fiddle, red necked but always skillful and finely played. Mike Craver really puts a wink into his often archaic-style piano playing. The instrumental backing should be heard on its own merits, in partnership and not merely subordinates to Watson's vocals.'
Tim Hoke really, really liked High Road's Round The Bend. Indeed he says ' This release from The High Road sounds like a blend of the New England, Appalachian, and Scottish traditions, plus one very nice set of Breton tunes. Round The Bend balances good singing with fine instrumental work, and mixes traditional pieces with newer compositions. The trio is made up of Howard Wooden on bass, guitar, concertina, and bodhran, Iain MacHarg on bagpipes, flute, whistle, and bodhran, and Tom MacKenzie on hammered dulcimer, banjo, guitar, and keyboard. Everyone sings, and quite well, too.'
Gary White was fortunate enough to receive three Nancy Griffith re-releases: Once in a Very Blue Moon, Poet in My Window, and There's a Light Beyond These Woods, and an Excellence in Writing Award for this review. Gary comments 'Nanci Griffith is one of the most successful female singer-songwriters to emerge from Texas in the past 20 years. She has had a handful of mainstream country hits and has had her songs covered by country stars, but mostly she straddles the line between country and folk in the manner of fellow Texans Lyle Lovett and Guy Clark. Philo has re-released Griffith's first three albums, in which we can hear her progression from a neophyte folkie to a recognizable Texas troubadour with her own unique voice.'
Kim Bates is feeling rather zany after listening to 3 Mustaphas 3's CD, Play Musty for Me. This Balkan group, according to her, is thusly: 'What can you say about songs that relate the hypnotic appeal of nylon dresses, and the sage advice to buy them for girlfriends? The energetic dismissal of a taxi driver's lover? The banter poking fun at the audience, except that we're all allowed to be in on the joke? These are some odd situations, set against a furious backdrop of accordions, percussion made by rampant exhibitionists, and general fun.'
Jack Merry was very happy with Sinfoyne's red iris and Trois Sceurs / Three Sisters. An avid fan of the Medieval Baebes, Jack thinks these two Medieval music alums are 'dance music doubling as concert music, but not, as I will stress again, something that well dressed farts would play in a stuffy recital hall! Well, they'd possibly play it, but it would be the antithesis of the way Sinfonye plays as this is lively, intelligent music making. This is folk music that will appeal to both the lover of classical music and all aficionados of Anglo-French dance music.'
David Kidney, who will shortly be reviewing the newly re-released recordings of Country Joe McDonald, looks at true roots music in the guise of New Lost City Ramblers' 40 Years of Concert Recordings. He comments 'Don't come here looking for slick citified music, but if you've grown tired of what the radio has to offer, if you don't ever want to hear another Britney song. If you are looking for real, authentic, string band picking, you're sure to find something you like on 40 Years of Concert Recordings.'
No'am Newman listened to Celtic artists Fiddlers' Bid's album, Da Farder Ben Da Welcomer. He says of this album that 'All in all, this is a pleasing disc which sounds better every time I play it. I admit that I would have preferred a few more memorable tunes, as opposed to those that sound like the violinists are practicing their scales, but I'll let that pass. Fiddlers' Bid are scheduled to play in my part of the world soon, so it should be interesting to see how they come over in a concert setting as opposed to a studio recording.'
Chuck Lipsig looked at a trio of older Celtic CDs Green Man has had kicking around here for a few years: Battlefield Band's Opening Moves, Moving Hearts' Dark End of the Street, and Runrig's Recovery. He opines 'More and more, older material is being re-released -- or remains available -- on CD. Especially in a genre where much of the music is or is inspired by traditional music, older material will have its demand. So here are a few recordings from around 20 years ago, received by Green Man Review'.' Read his review for all the details on these oldies and possibly interesting albums.
I'm off now to work on some interesting projects including a local Bloomsday celebration that features a pub crawl of the local Irish pubs, so I'll wrap this edition up. I'll see you here next week for another all-music edition!
20th of January 2002
We can dance if we want to, we can leave your friends behind
Cause your friends don't dance and if they don't dance
Well they're no friends of mine
Men Without Hats' 'Safety Dance'
I never know what's going to come in the mail in the way of books, videos, and CDs. Oh yes, I expect certain things to show up, like the latest releases from Green Linnet, or a new reference work from Oxford University Press, but I never know about everything we get, as much of it comes unbidden. Often welcome, but still surprising. A case in point is the Oxford University Press advance, uncorrected reading copy of Medieval Folklore -- A Comprehensive Guide to the Rich Folkloric Tradition of the Middle Ages, which came today. It's a truly lovely reference work that no doubt will get a good review from Kim Bates, who's reviewing it. I'll have to order a copy for our library!
Some staff notes before we get to the reviews. Debbie Skolnik, our much more than just capable Editor-at-Large, will be our Book Editor for the next four weeks in order that Rebecca Swain may take a well-deserved break. (OK, I bribed Debbie -- she'll be getting lots of dark chocolate and other goodies.) And Jack B. Nimble, who's still feeling chipper but less nimble as he less than gracefully ages, has decided that he'd liked to be called Jack B. Merry. He says, 'I've been in more bands that I can 'member, so a new name for meself is only proper.' So be it!
We don't do very many video reviews as there are ezines that specialize in this area. But we do review films that catch our fancy. Sarah Meador's superb reviews of three Tolkien-related videos are our focus this edition -- The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings (Bakshi version), and The Return of the King. Sarah says of The Hobbit, if 'you really want to enjoy The Hobbit, turn it on, hit the Mute button, and play some nice atmospheric instrumental music over it. As a movie, it makes a good set of illustrations.' Bakshi's version of The Lord of the Rings is startling because '[w]hile most animated features seem to take it on faith that their audience will be musical loving children, Lord of the Rings is geared towards the adult fantasy fan and thus is free to emphasize the darker, more threatening nature of Middle Earth,' and The Return of the King 'works only as a torture device.' Don't say she didn't warn you! (And please read Asher Black's review of the BBC audio version of The Lord of the Rings in the book section!)
We have a bumper crop of book reviews this week. We'll start with books relating to Middle Earth. Everyone is cashing in on the popularity of Tolkien these days, and GMR will not be outdone. Jack B. Merry looks at yet another book published to coincide with the release of The Lord of The Ring -- The Fellowship of the Ring movie, editor Karen Haber's Meditations on Middle-Earth, featuring many of today's best fantasy writers. What does he think? Here's a clue: 'And do we really need essays telling us how great Tolkien was and how he influenced their writing careers? In a word, no. This won't be the worst book that the publishing industry will inflict on the Tolkien-crazed crowds out there, but it's certainly not one that needed publishing.' Asher Black listened to the thirteen-hour BBC radio production of Lord of the Rings, and loved everything about it. Asher wins an Excellence in Writing Award for his enthusiastic review, and for his idea of something fun to do to gas station attendants.
Michael Jones reviews two books by one of his favorite authors, Lawrence Watt-Evans: Dragon Weather and Dragon Society. He loves them. But what could Watt-Evans have to say about dragons that hasn't already been said? You'd be surprised.
Tracy Willans gives us another review of fiction, A Constellation of Cats, edited by Denise Little. Tracy says, 'A mixture of fantasy and light science fiction, it was an enjoyable and mostly light read, though the last story does pack a punch.' (Are you aware that no one who dislikes cats is allowed to read Green Man?) Sarah Meador liked Point of Dreams, by Melissa Scott and Lisa Barnett. It's a murder mystery involving a theater, set in the imaginary city of Astreiant. Sarah advises, 'If you want your mysteries short and simple, a quick jaunt from deed to whodunit, Sherlock Holmes awaits on the shelf of your local library. If you want a trip to a foreign country thrown in, pick up Point of Dreams.' Maria Nutick looks at Fire Bringer by David Clement-Davies, a novel about red deer set in medieval Scotland. Maria wins an Excellence in Writing Award for her analysis of this messianic story.
Jayme Lynn Blaschke looks at the Southwest flute-player Kokopelli in Ekkehart Malotki's less-than-enjoyable book Kokopelli: The Making of an Icon. And Jack B. Merry dived into the Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, by James McKillop, kindly provided by our friends at Oxford University Press. Jack has read some unsatisfactory references on Celtic mythology in the past, but he sighs with relief over this one: 'Ah, but the Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology is far better than anything else done to date.'
We feature several music and dance books for your inspection this week. Judith Gennett reviews May It Fill Your Soul: Experiencing Bulgarian Music, by Timothy Rice. She assures us this book 'provides a different and much more detailed view than can be read in short articles, for example in The Rough Guide To World Music.' Jack B. Merry enjoyed two books about Scottish dance and music by George Emmerson: A Social History of Scottish Dance, and Rantin' Pipe and Tremblin' String. Stephen Hunt has no intention of loaning out his copy of Tony Doyle's The Plain Brown Tune Book. He says, 'Subtitled A Collection of Music from Saddleworth, it's the result of the labours of Dr Tony Doyle and his cohorts in The Plain Brown Wrapper Band from the North of England.' And David Kidney is changing his career after reading the Rough Guide 100 Essential CDs for Latin, and the Rough Guide Essential 100 CDs for Jazz. He says, 'What a fantastic job! Sit around the house, listen to music and choose the 100 CDs that define a style, and then write about it. Your choice becomes etched in stone, or at least on paper, and readers all the world 'round consult your list when they go out to the record shop. Sounds just about perfect.' Lest you think we are biased against classical music, Asher Black explores Karl Barth's biography of Mozart, called simply Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. This book is stuffed full of wonderful quotes and insights, says Asher.
Now let's slide over to the music reviews... Do note that I've broken out our contra and other North American dance music into a separate index. Patrick McCullough, the contradancer who operates Contracopia: The contra dance music store, suggested this to me, and I thought it was a great idea. In the next few weeks, every CD that we've reviewed that he sells will have a link back to his site where you can purchase the CD reviewed. Green Man takes not a penny in revenues from this linkage, so you know that our reviews are free of commercial taint. We've associated ourselves with them solely as a matter of convenience for our readers. We ourselves receive no monetary compensations from our work, and don't rely upon online partnerships to defray our costs. How does this affect you? Not at all. We do this for love, not money, and most of our staff are with us to help support those nasty book/music/video/concert habits of theirs. However, it does mean that we can offer you an environment completely free of advertising with no pressure to buy anything in order to keep us afloat.
Celtic music has spread to nearly every place on this world where folks make music. Bad Haggis is the Los Angeles-based band which has released three CDs to date -- Ark, Bad Haggis, and Trip. No'am Newman says, despite some reservations, of this group that 'I have to say that the band do know how to play, and that they have a very definite sound in mind, which they know how to produce effectively.'
Duncan Cameron's The Whistling Thief is an album that Judith Gennett notes 'is a Celtic, or more accurately, Irish fusion album.' Is this a good thing? Read her review to find out!
Heaven or hell, harp or accordion -- it's your choice. (Though Jack notes that the Devil often favors a fiddle!) Stephen Hunt looks at two accordion-centered recordings -- Mark Bazeley & Jason Rice's Moor Music and John Spiers & Jon Boden's Through & Through. He notes, 'There's a famous Gary Larson cartoon concerning the 'afterlife.' In the top half of the drawing a soul ascends to glory, and is embraced by a host of angels with the words 'welcome to heaven, here's your harp.' In the bottom half, an unfortunate is met by the grinning legions of Beelzebub with the greeting 'welcome to hell, here's your accordion.' Time then, to 'use the force, and face the dark side,' as these two CDs represent the best of the new generation of English squeezers.' Stephen wins an Excellence in Writing Award for this review!
More lovely English traditional music comes from Jake Walton with Eric Liorzou on their CD, Emain: The Unknown Land. Judith Gennett comments, 'British Isles residents are at an advantage: Though Euro-American history abruptly terminates at 1620, British history goes back much farther, into overwhelmingly oral civilization, legend, and myth. Hence, at least here in America, Brits are allowed to reach back and reference myth without so many complaints that they are not singing about macho stuff like steamboats or dustbowls or bad relationships.... Emain is one such reach-back by singer/gurdier Jake Walton.'
Gary Whitehouse says of Voices on the Verge's Live in Philadelphia, 'Voices on the Verge are four young American women who, individually, might not rise too far above today's crop of standard singer-songwriters. Together, though, their synergy creates a delicious musical experience.' Read his review to who they are, and why you should be interested in this CD! Gary garners an Excellence in Writing Award for his enthusiastic review of this CD!
Alt-country sounds like something created by marketing sleazoids in La-La Land, but it really is a true musical genre. Travis Linville & The Burtschi Brothers' Uncertain Texas is a prime example of this, according to Asher Black, who comments that the 'Burtschis are on the edge of Americana/alternative country, and the creative instrumentals and vocal arrangements on their premier album offer us a fine cut.'
Kim Bates gets the last word with her biting review of Back to Base's Heading for the Door. She says this disc might fare 'better under different conditions - nights of dancing with strangers in crowded rooms with flashing lights and plenty of better living through chemistry. I suspect my hesitation has more to do with this type of thing resonating quite clearly when I was in my twenties, and somehow I've gotten out of the loop, or something Kim-related.' Read her review to see if you agree with better living through chemistry!
Wrapping us up this edition is an essay from Lars Nillson, Folk Clubs in London. Lars, a great fan of English folk music, says 'One of my favourite places, and I am not talking a geographical place but more a mental one, is the British folk club. I have visited quite a few during my travels in the United Kingdom and usually they are warm places, with a superb respect for the performers and a nice community feeling amongst the audience.' Read his essay on these clubs to see which were his favorite clubs! Lars wins an Excellence in Writing Award for his entertaining look at these clubs!
Now I'm off in search of a large mug of cocoa as the temperature outside is cold enough to feel chilly even inside our warm domicile. Then I'm off to more reading of Sharyn McCrumb's The Songcatcher, the latest of her Ballad novels.
You want to dress in black
And lose your heart beyond recall,
Hunt a dream through rain and thunder,
On your honor,
For it all...
We finally got snow here in this coastal city of Portland, Maine -- a full two inches! Friends who live elsewhere have trouble grasping that our winters are only a bit harsher than those of Seattle, as the Gulf Stream keeps us warmer than cities farther south. We will get snow, but spring here is in but six weeks; the snowdrops in the back yard will flower in early March! In the meantime, there are good books, lively music, and good companions to while the winter months away. Not to mention strong coffee and hot chocolate!
But before we get started, a few words about the editorial staff at Green Man. They work very hard to present GMR readers with an interesting, informative edition each week. They take their work seriously, even spending evening and weekend hours on GMR business. Their editorial efforts aren't as obvious as those of the writers, but we wouldn't have a quality magazine without them.
Now sit back and get comfortable as we've got a lot of books and CDs to look at....
A well-deserved Excellence in Writing Award goes to Mike Stiles for his review of two Blyth Power releases, Paradise Razed and The Bricklayer's Arms. As he notes in his review, 'Reviewer's Assembly Instructions: Reincarnate Queen's Freddy Mercury as a dementedly literate Limey punker. Front him before a solid rock group that plays almost every kind of music under the sun. Stockpile the lot with original trad-based piss-your-pants-funny songs. Result: The beginnings of an appreciation for the band Blyth Power.' Mike will be taking a short break from reviewing as he will be on 'a mind-roasting odyssey that involves promoting Irish bands here in the States, cutting two new CDs of original material, and (Fates willing!) becoming obscenely wealthy while revolutionizing the solar energy industry.' Hurry back, Mike!
Gary Whitehouse, an avid contradancer, has a review of Wild Asparagus's Wherever You Go. He says of this contradance band that 'This sextet, based in Massachusetts and Vermont, plays a uniquely exciting and engaging type of music that combines jazz, blues, and Afro-Caribbean influences with Anglo-Celtic folk tunes, all with a driving rhythm necessary for dancing. To the usual ensemble of fiddle, flute/whistle, concertina and mandolin or guitar, Wild Asparagus adds colorful touches of oboe and saxophone, with rhythm supplied by piano, bass and bodhran. So it was with a keen sense of anticipation that I listened to Wherever You Go, which the band was selling during its fall tour of the West Coast of America. I regret to say I was a bit disappointed.' Read his review to see why this was so!
OK, we get a really wide range of music, including quite a lot of Turkish music. Big Earl Sellar, who's reviewed a lot of CDs of this musical persuasion, got four more to listen to -- Ahenk's Turkish Classical Music, Ìhsan Özgen's Masterworks of Itri and Meragi and Remembrances of Ottoman Composers And Improvisations, and a collection called Ashiklar: For Those Who Are In Love. Big Earl comments, 'Although I'm familiar with Turkish popular and traditional music, the first three of these discs mark my introduction to Turkish Classical Music. This is a relatively recent musical invention, dating back 1000 years: composers, inspired by the Tradition and the court music, creating a new vocabulary of written, organized works, and defined frameworks for instrumental improvisations. It's interesting, if not particularly gripping music.'
And then there's Fred Koller's No Song Left To Sell CD, which Rebecca Swain thinks violates the Geneva Convention prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. How bad is it? Well, she says, with considerable pain in her quavering voice, 'I would rather hear bluegrass played on a blackboard by an orchestra of giant fingernails while I'm being devoured by a talking spider then have to listen to Fred Koller sing! Oh my God! He sounds a bit like Louis Armstrong, although Louis, God rest his soul, can't hold a candle to Koller's squeaks, cracks, and growls.' She was definitely more pleased with three other CDs she listened to -- Patrick McGinley & Family Style's Family & Friends, Bob Neuwirth and Jose Maria Vitier's Havana Midnight, and especially Graham Parker's Deepcut to Nowhere. She comments, 'McGinley's in Italy with the blues guys, Neuwirth's in Cuba with the classical musicians, and Parker is, apparently, just in a tizzy. Here's the scoop.' Read her tasty review for all the succinct details.
I had the pleasure of reviewing Brian McNeill & Iain MacKintosh's Live and Kicking, a 2-CD set. I said in my review, 'First of all, I must thank the McNeills for sending this release as it took not once, but two mailings to get this to Green Man as the first copy got lost somewhere in the post. This means that this review's a few months later than it should have been, but that doesn't really matter as every Brian McNeill release is something to be treasured! And it's a release that's sure to crack a wide smile on your face too as these cuts are taken from a series of German and Danish concerts that Brian and Iain did in '98 and '99. Suffice it to say that anything that includes a take-off on 'Hamlet' that's even better than the version done by Richard Thompson has got to be heard!'
Chuck Lipsig has a review of a British group doing roots music -- American roots music, to be precise. The group's called Kitchen Girls, and the CD is In Your Dreams. Our intrepid reviewer notes, 'With all the folk groups in America doing traditional Celtic and English music, it's only fair that the British Isles have an American-style traditional group -- or a string band, as the case is. Well...traditional, give or take.'
Stephen Hunt, now resident in Cornwall, finishes off our music reviews with a look at Dalla's A Richer Vein. Our reviewer says, 'On the back of this CD there's the following instruction: File under World/Celtic/Cornwall. Whether many CD stores actually have a section of that title remains doubtful, but plenty should if this is any indication of the music currently being produced in what Charles de Lint dubbed 'The Little Country.' There's something of a small Celtic music revolution going on in the Wild West. The old tunes, songs and dances are being researched and revived, new ones are emerging and an extraordinary band called Dalla are right at the forefront of all of this.'
We have a large selection of book reviews this week. Rebecca Swain had too much time on her hands over the weekend, so she wrote three book reviews for this edition. She looked at J. Robert King's second Arthurian novel, Lancelot du Lethe, in which an amazing secret is revealed about Lancelot. Read her review to see if she liked the book. She also listened to two dramatized audio productions from the ZBS Foundation: Dishpan Fantasy, a musical drama about a woman carried away by a soap bubble, and Ol' Cactus Kapoor, a collection of episodes about a rat's amazing adventures. And she hated Anne Bishop's Daughter of the Blood, giving definite reasons why. Read her review to see if this book is worth buying.
We have three music-related books for you this week. Lars Nilsson, our resident songbook expert, was very pleased with The Kate Rusby Songbook. Read his review to see what makes an effective songbook. Kate Brown reviews Jethro Tull: A History of the Band, 1968-2001. Is this book informative? Does it contain juicy gossip? Read her review and find out. And Jack B. Merry takes a look at The Countess of Stanlein, about the restoring of a Stradivari violincello. Jack assures us, 'Ah, some books are well worth waiting for. This book was finally published this fall. And now I can say that it was definitely worth the wait! The Countess of Stanlein, subtitled 'A History of The Countess of Stanlein Ex Paganini Stradivarius Cello of 1707' is a slim volume that fit within me fiddle case for a week when I was gigging with Danse Macabre in the Nordic region for a few months. It's a quick read, but oh so interesting.'
Mike Stiles turned in a wonderful omnibus review of seven books of fairy tales, by Richard Adams, Kevin Crossley-Holland, Marie Heaney, and others. These books cover Norse myths, classic folk tales from western Ireland, the ancient myth cycles of Ireland, and other topics. Mike explains, 'Once upon a time the Green Man favored me with the delivery to my doorstep of seven magical tomes of tales and myths. Here is my paltry payment of an omnibus describing these morsels to the world.'
Asher Black loved J. R. R. Tolkien's Smith of Wootton Major, opining, 'This is a fairy tale in two respects: it is written largely in traditional fairy tale form, and it is a tale of faery. Oh, it is a sad and beautiful tale, too!' A boy is given the ability to walk between our world and the world of faery. New staffer Pinky Vincent, who resides in India, looks at Rainbow and Other Stories, a collection of short children's stories by Indian author Maneka Gandhi. Pinky enjoyed the book overall, but has several criticisms to make.
Maria Nutick reviews Secrets of the Tsil Cafe, a coming-of-age novel about food. Maria assures us, 'Here, Averill's characters manage to contemplate their navels succinctly and successfully without degenerating into whining, armchair pop psychology, or sensationalism. This book is delicious.' But she has a warning for readers, as well.
Come back next week, when we'll review a Mozart biography written by Karl Barth; David Clement-Davies' novel Fire Bringer, about deer; an investigation of 'Kokopelli, the hump-backed, enormous-phallused iconic flute player of the American Southwest', and books about Celtic mythology, dragons, English tunes, and who knows what else?
Now I'm off to see if there's any of that high-octane spiced Apple Jack left over from the Green Man solstice party. What the hell is that noise? Damn, the band's still playing in the Great Hall ... Oh, Jack, why is Danse Macabre playing INXS' 'Devil Inside'?
6th of January 2002
The interruption of this motley crew with beat of drum, according to ancient custom, was the consummation of uproar and merriment. Master Simon covered himself with glory by the stateliness with which, as Ancient Christmas, he walked a minuet with the peerless though giggling Dame Mince Pie. It was followed by a dance of all the characters, which from its medley of costumes seemed as though the old family portraits had skipped down from their frames to join in the sport. Different centuries were figuring at cross hands and right and left; the Dark Ages were cutting pirouettes and rigadoons; and the days of Queen Bess jigging merrily down the middle through a line of succeeding generations. 'Christmas Day' in Washington Irving's The Sketch Book
Welcome to the first edition of Green Man for the year 2002, which is being published on Twelfth Night. As some of you asked what we in this household got for gifts, I shall tell you. We bought ourselves two gifts, both of a musical nature: The Columbia Studio Recordings of Simon & Garfunkel, 1964 -1970, a 5-CD boxed set, and The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Oh, and I got a wonderful chapbook from Charles de Lint with Jilly Coppercorn as a character in it! Life is very, very good!
Now to our reviews this week.
We begin with a varied and interesting selection of book reviews. New staffer Asher Black starts us out with his detailed and insightful look at J. R. R. Tolkien's Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book. If you were disappointed not to see Tom in the current Lord of the Rings movie, maybe this book of verse will soothe your feelings. Asher wins an Excellence in Writing Award his first time out. Welcome to the staff, Asher! Michael Jones says of Jennifer Schwamm Willis's collection Wizards, 'I'm of two minds regarding this interesting anthology. The first thought is that it really is quite lovely, and the editor does a splendid job of collecting the old and unusual for the lineup of 'stories of mischief, magic, and mayhem.' The second thought is that it's like eating an entire meal, but only half of each course.' What could this possibly mean? Read his review and find out. Michael also reviews Dragon of the Cuyahoga, by S. Andrew Swann. (That's a cool title for a book.) In this novel a dragon plunges to its death in Cleveland's Cuyahoga River. So what? you ask. That happens every day. Yes, but what if the dragon was murdered? Now you're interested, aren't you?
Eric Eller enjoyed Oakley Hall's two historical novels, Ambrose Bierce and the Death of Kings, and Ambrose Bierce and the Queen of Spades. They are mysteries set in San Francisco in the late nineteenth century, and feature Bitter Bierce himself and his friend, journalist Tom Redmond. Eric confidently tells us what makes good historical fiction. Cat Eldridge had a good time reading S. M. Stirling's The Peshawar Lancers, an alternate history about the British Empire in India (because it can't be in England any more; something about an asteroid strike ....). Someone is trying to kill a couple of characters in this book, too. Sarah Meador was woman enough to tackle the quirky, peculiar, altogether wonderful writing of Avram Davidson in The Other Nineteenth Century, a collection of Davidson's short stories. Sarah wins an Excellence in Writing Award for this entertaining review.
Patrick O'Donnell was worried that The Glasswrights' Progress would be just another derivative fantasy. But he sighs with relief and says, 'Enter Mindy L. Klasky, to turn the genre on its ear. Or, at the very least, to shake it up a bit. Her Glasswrights' series hinges on the actions of mere mortals -- no elves, dragons or monsters need apply. It's set in a world that mirrors, in many ways, our own medieval times.' Rani Trader tries to rebuild the Glasswright Guild while battling an evil king and his army of child soldiers. Patrick praises Klasky for writing an interesting and emotionally compelling book. Grey Walker is the lone voice of complaint in this enthusiastic collection of fiction reviews. She is not happy with Nancy Springer's I Am Mordred. She hates the book so much, in fact, that she spends most of her review telling us which books are better! Read this interesting approach to reviewing for yourself.
New reviewer Donna C. Bird didn't like the book she reviewed, either. She read Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's The Age of Homespun, but Donna says doubtfully, ' ... The Age of Homespun is not aimed at -- nor likely to appeal to -- the casual reader. Alas, I am not convinced that even an avid 'textilian' -- i.e., a textile historian -- would find it terribly interesting or useful.' How can a book be this useless? Donna will tell you, clearly and concisely. Welcome to Green Man, Donna.
We also examine some nonfiction, food-related books for those of you who can't get enough reality, or enough food. Gary Whitehouse nibbles on A Goose in Toulouse, Mort Rosenblum's look at how globalization is changing the French traditions of growing and cooking food. Jack B. Merry scarfs down five food books, including two on chocolate, one on Paris markets, Werle and Cox's Ingredients, and editor John Green's collection of food quotes, Consuming Passions. Most of these books do not contain recipes, but are, rather, histories or observations of food and culture. Jack wins an Excellence in Writing Award because this review is so ... hospitable. Read it and see what I mean.
We have a bonnie bunch of interesting Celtic music reviews this outing. Green Man gets more Celtic CDs for review than anyone else, period. Many are very good, some are plain awful, and most are just ... Oh, never mind.
Let's start off with Stephen Hunt's look at two by the Huckleberries, who are Brit Celtic/bluegrassers -- and buskers beyond compare. They sent Green Man two albums, Jigweed and Reelgrass. Stephen says that 'If, by any chance, yoou're wandering through your local town centre on a Saturday afternoon and spot a group of musicians setting up, pause long enough to see if they're wearing stripy jumpers, bowler hats, and a variety of beards and spectacles. If they are, and they appear to have a manic gurning fiddle player, a virtuoso banjo player and a drummer who looks like a Viking, then please do the following small favour for me. Run as fast as you can into the nearest record store, look someone in the eye (a complete stranger is fine) and shout 'Darling The Huckleberries are Playing!'' Brolum's 7:11 is more of a traditional Celtic CD, and Stephen notes, 'There's no doubt that we'll hear a lot more from these fine musicians, or that at least some of them will achieve the acclaim of the distinctive stylists that they so obviously admire. Whether they do it altogether, as Brolum, remains to be seen. Either way, they can all pull this one out, in later years as an achievement to be proud of.'
Next up is Lars Nilsson's look at Silverhand's self-titled debut release.. Lars comments, 'I have played this album every now and then for more than a month, but still it does not catch on. The tunes and songs float by without leaving any real mark, or making me reach for the guitar to learn some of them. Sorry, but this does not quite match the standards other groups in the same field have set for this kind of music. If I were to give advice I would say, let the backing instruments loose to give the music more force ...' But Mike Stiles found much to like in three CDs he listened to: Molly's Revenge's The Siege of Delhi and Revenge Is Sweet, and Benny O'Carroll and Friends' Sessions from the Hearth. He says 'The session is a mainstay of the living Gaelic musical tradition. Here's an omnibus review of two different groups whose fine recordings are the product of the session scene.' Read his review to see if this was truly great craic.
Eric Eller's review of Andy M. Stewart's Donegal Rain was the result of a Patrick Street concert last year. Andy was eager for Green Man to review his CDs, so he left a number of his CDs after the show for us. (Reviews of the others will follow shortly.) Eric comments 'Andy M. Stewart demonstrates his considerable abilities as a storyteller on the album Donegal Rain. He draws the listener into a self-contained microcosm with each tune. Doing this allows him to wring the maximum amount of emotion out of each tune, making the CD worth the experience of riding through the highs and lows of the characters in its songs.'
Across the Irish Sea in Cornwall is where you'll find Stephen Hunt, ex-Manx resident. So it's appropriate that he reviewed for us Ashley Hutchings' Street Cries. What is Street Cries, you ask? The liner notes say it's 'A collection of dark traditional songs re-set in the present day by Ashley Hutchings, sung by Coope, Boyes & Simpson, Steve Knightley, Cara Dillon, Dick Gaughan, Helen Watson, Vin Garbutt, Judy Dunlop, Dave Burland, Kathryn Roberts (with Equation), John Tams, June Tabor, Pete Morton and Nesreen Shah.' And Stephen says, 'it's a very fine collection of recordings from some of our very best talents. I'll be playing this one a lot.'
Sliding over to Spain, Big Earl Sellar looked at three CDs from Resistencia, a Spanish label which has previously sent Green Man Pancho Amat y el cabildo del son's De San Antonio a Maisi and Mercedes Peon's Isue. These CDs (Alboka's Lorius, Manuel Luna y la Cuadrilla Maquilera's Romper El Baile, and Gerado Núñez & Percio Sambeat's Cruce De Caminos) were a mixed bag, but Big Earl comments, 'I would really recommend Manuel Luna's and Alboka's discs. Both are fantastic, with Alboka's getting a heavier nod for it's use of some very unfamiliar instruments. As for Cruce De Caminos, don't blame me if you buy it.'
Two interesting singer-songwriter CDs are reviewed next. Tom May's Vested is reviewed by Judith Gennett, who thought that 'Tom has a wonderful voice that might remind one of Stan Rogers. I like it best on the quick songs, when it is less stylized. On the slower tunes I wish he'd keep it steadier, because I think it's a dynamite voice, but at this point I think Tom must like it the way it is.' And Annie Wenz's Poet's Dance gets a favorable review also from Judith, who opines, 'Poet's Dance is the third contemporary album from Massachusetts-Maine-Costa Rica resident Annie Wenz. Her albums, adventurous and colorful, blend a jazzy ambience with international themes, instruments and rhythms.'
This week's EIWAs for music reviewing go to Mike Stiles for his sessions omni, and Stephen Hunt for his Huckleberries review.
I'll wrap this up now as we're off to see (once again) the Dahlov Ipcar exhibition at the local art museum. Dahlov, a well-known author, is also an amazing painter and maker of soft sculptures such as St. George and the Dragon. It's an exhibition worth seeing over and over!