'Miss Yanaka? Kumiko Yanaka?' The Englishman towered above her, his gaijin bulk draped in elephantine folds of dark wool. Small dark eyes regarded her blandly through steel-rimmed glasses. His nose seemed to have been crushed nearly flat and never reset. His hair, what there was of it, had been shaved back to a gray stubble, and his black knit gloves were frayed and fingerless.
'My name, you see,' he said, as though this would immediately reassure her, 'is Petal.'
William Gibson's Mona Lisa Overdrive
The weather here has been rather wet and chilly, similar to the London weather described by Gibson in Mona Lisa Overdrive. So, after some planning for a Mad Hatter's Tea Party and a Seussian Festival, I settled in snugly with some warm books. In addition to Mona Lisa Overdrive, I've been reading A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones, Ringworld by Larry Niven, and Chimera by Will Shetterly. Listening pleasure, while putting together this edition, was provided by a number of artists, including Boiled in Lead, Duo Bertrand, Brian MacNeill, Anders Norudde, Peatbog Faeries, Seven Thieves, Shooglenifty, Vasen, and XiM. Oh, and I kept alive a hobbit tradition; on my birthday, I gave away presents -- most conspicuously, dozens of CDs and books!
The Video and Live Performances ("Gigs") sections have been newly organized by their respective editors to be easier to use and accomodate the many recent reviews. Thanks go to Grey Walker and Asher Black. Have a good look at these growing and eclectic resources.
Kim Bates reviews Bringing It All Back Home: The Influence of Irish Music at Home and Abroad, by Nuala O'Connor. Originally published as a companion book to an RTE/BBC documentary about Irish music, Kim says this book stands alone nicely and will be a valuable resource for those just discovering traditional Irish music.'
Donna Bird confesses that she does indeed judge a book by its cover, which is why she bought City of Dreams, by Beverly Swerling: 'It is illustrated with an exquisite view of early Manhattan taken from a copper engraving. The cover type is an antique font, glossy white and lightly embossed.' How could Donna resist? She found this historical novel about practicing medicine in colonial America to be well-researched and an entertaining read, despite a couple of flaws.
Asher Black has a completely different writing style, layered and intricate, as you will see in his review of Melvin Burgess's Bloodtide. Asher found some beautiful strands in this tale of a futuristic London peopled with halfmen. But he also found some disappointment. He observes, 'The book is as egregiously flawed with inconveniences as it is absorbing and rewarding. One is almost ready to say, in the author's words, that "somehow the squalor only added to its glory.'
Eric Eller slipped on a banana peel in the GMR break room last week, and, while he was sitting on his butt cursing, he happened to notice Bananas: An American History, by Virginia Scott Jenkins, on one of our bookshelves. You may be surprised to discover how vital a role bananas played in the political history of the Americas. Find out, too, when to go bananas for National Banana Bread Day!
Stephen Hunt reviews Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British Folk and Blues Revival, by Colin Harper. Stephen liked the extensive research that went into the book, and the details that are included. If you don't remember the '60s, here's your chance to catch up. Boxing the Compass - Sea Songs & Shanties is next up for him, and Stephen says that this collection is worth getting because, 'whereas the Hugill book remains the classic specific source for the shanty singer, Palmers work offers a much wider range of material, with songs sourced from "street ballads, broadsides, manuscripts and the oral tradition.'
Michael Jones looks at Mindy Klasky's Season of Sacrifice, a novel about culture clash and kidnapped twins. He likes it -- except for the names.
Sarah Meador turns in two reviews for us this issue. In the first, her review of E.T.A. Hoffman's The Nutcracker, translated by Aliana Brodmann, Sarah makes a shocking confession: 'I must have had a deprived childhood. For all my voracious reading, the most I knew of E.T.A. Hoffman's The Nutcracker was that it involved a Rat King, and inspired some Tchaikovsky music. I grew up without Uncle Drosselmeier watching my clocks or the Rat King haunting my nightmares, and the loss, I now know, was mine.' Sarah now knows all about the Nutcracker, and recommends this beautifully illustrated book for anyone else who was deprived. Sarah also reviews Charles de Lint's Seven Wild Sisters, a tale about girls who, through an act of kindness, find themselves mixed up in a fairy war. Isn't that always the way! Sarah murmurs dreamily, 'It sings with the true voice of fairy tale: capricious, wild, and not entirely safe, but rich and enchanting.' Add to this that Charles Vess does the illustrations, and you must have this book!
No'am Newman has mixed feelings about Simon Hawke's The Slaying Of The Shrew, a murder mystery with Shakespeare as one of the sleuths. He is looking forward to reading the third book in the series, but he has several complaints about this one.
Guy Soffer reviews Anne Bishop's Pillars of the World. He tells, in his usual spare, direct style, how 'Anne Bishop writes a very interesting book that combines the magic of the witches, the fairies, and the small folk.' Ari is a young witch who is forced to do something she doesn't want to do, with startling consequences. Guy loved it.
Grey Walker listened to the audio version of Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf. She admits, 'I expect a lightning bolt at any moment to sear me where I sit...' 'Why?!?' we cry in amazement. What could Grey possibly say in her review that would bring down the wrath of the gods? Read and find out! (It's not what you think.) We here at GMR are frightened, but we're standing by her (but not too close).
Kim Bates found an interesting CD in the form of Garmarna's Hildegard von Bingen. Hildegard von Bingen?!? Errr, yes. Kim avows, 'This is no mamby pamby attempt to cash in on the unexpected appeal of Gregorian chants with new age backgrounds. Nor is it a faithful reproduction of what Hildegard's music might have sounded like back in her monastery on the Rhine. This is a powerful interpretation of medieval music brought forward through astonishing vocals and accompaniment, that for the most part, really work. Garmarna know how to tap into the essence hidden within these medieval Latin chants to extract the magic. Next they surround it with percussive accompaniment that is more appealing than the moniker "21st century sounds" would suggest. This is simply powerful backing using available technologies. After all, this disc was recorded in commemoration of Hildegard's 900th birthday, and I suspect that if she were still around, she might have made a few changes herself.' Kim receives an Excellence in Writing Award for this well-written commentary!
Jennifer Byrne, Irish-born and bred, found a tasty CD in the form of the Josephine Marsh Band's CD, I Can Hear You Smiling. Jennifer avers, 'Josephine Marsh is a young accordion player steeped in the Co. Clare tradition. This is her second album, and has been met with huge interest, coupled with the admiration with which she is held, particularly at home. If you haven't heard of her before now, brace yourself. Unpredictable and eclectic, dynamic and versatile, Marsh is likely to be a musical force to be reckoned with in the future. If you've been looking for something new in Irish music in recent years, look no further...'
Judith Gennett was thrilled by Robin & Linda Williams' Visions Of Love! She comments, 'Visions Of Love is, to my count, the sixteenth album by American music harmonists Robin and Linda Williams. It is produced by Garrison Keillor and, unlike most of their other releases, it contains no originals but rather covers of old songs they've "known for a while." The songs are indeed about "love," but not always the Romance we think of.' Judith also admired Rodney Brown's Into the Woods, a Cd from an artist who lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario. She says, 'Into the Woods is a contemporary folk album with contemporary arrangements, mostly electric, including "folk rock", "country folk", and a little reggae. In the twenty years since my last foray into Thunder Bay, he's been doing children's albums, so this is his first "adult album" since that time. Many of the songs on Into the Woods are about the land north of Superior's shore.' Judith discovered a good CD from England in the form of Roam's Count the Stars, of which she says 'Rather than invoking tradition and history, the emphasis is on magic and beauty. Though an album from a regional English band, it is surprisingly effective and professional, a surprisingly good album.'
Stephen Hunt was very pleased by Steve Dawson's new CD. He enthuses, Bug Parade is 'cause for rejoicing... [This CD is] by Steve Dawson, a musician from Vancouver who plays acoustic guitar, slide guitar, National tri-cone guitar, ukulele and Weissenborn Hawaiian guitar. He's joined on this recording by Andre Lauchance on acoustic bass, drummers Jean Martin & Elliot Polsky and fiddler Jesse Zubot. The CD contains four songs and seven instrumentals, which is, on balance, just fine. Dawson's by no means a poor singer, but he's a breathtaking guitarist, so he's playing to his strengths.' Stephen also reviews Holly Near's Early Warnings, an album he says is superb, as she has 'the voice [and] the songs and the musicians to create some fine music.'
Michael Jones was very, very pleased by the CDs we received from Heather Alexander: Life's Flame, Midsummer, and Wanderlust. Heather's a very important part of his history: 'This isn't an easy set of reviews to write. You see, though Ms. Alexander doesn't know it, her music and I have something of a history. It all dates back to high school, I'd say. I was young, foolish, and going mad with boredom. I was still discovering just what sorts of literature truly appealed to me, and as an indirect result, what kinds of music. Through sheer random chance, I stumbled across Mercedes Lackey's first book, Arrows of the Queen. That in turn lead me to discover the musical paradise that is Firebird Arts and Music, who at the time distributed a lot of Mercedes-related books, music, art, and god-knows-what-else. Somehow, I forget exactly how, I found myself with this driving thirst for all things Celtic, especially music. And for the next few years, Christmas and birthdays were easy: just circle desired items in the Firebird Arts catalogue, give to mother, sit back and wait.' Oh, Sweet Queen Mab! Just go read his review for the rest of his tale of this artist and himself!
No'am Newman was less than impressed by Suzzy and Maggie Roche's Zero Church. Indeed, he explains, 'Zero Church is the sort of disc which is better to hear in a live setting; the songs are attractive the first time round, mainly because of their non-conformist arrangements, but I found that I was enjoying the songs less and less the more I played the disc.'
Pat Simmonds, a new staffer who's a friend of esteemed Music Editor Kim Bates, looks at two Irish Trad CDs: Joe Heaney's The Road From Connemara and John Williams' Steam. Pat raves over Heaney's CD, saying, 'Joe Heaney was, without doubt, one of the finest folk and traditional singers the world has ever known. Hailing from Carna, a barren rocky coastal area in the Connemara Gaeltacht; he was steeped in music and song from an early age in an area that has long been acknowledged as the most culturally important area in Europe, if not the world.' Williams' CD was no less appreciated: 'Steam finds Williams in top form. Comprised of 13 selections, the album is supported by a who's who of side musicians: Liz Carroll, Martin Hayes, Seamus Egan and John Doyle to name a few. While all the tracks are traditional in essence the arrangements are innovative and adventurous without taking away from the nature of the music. Williams is well known for his accordion skills and he doesn't disappoint here, also featured are his abilities on concertina, flute and whistle.'
Rebecca Swain, fresh off her month long vacation from editing, looked at three Singer-Songwriters and their magnificent CDs: Hamilton Camp's Mardi's Bard, Robert Greig's Platypus Dreaming, and John Harbison's Under the Sun. She maintains that 'One of the primary reasons for making music is to express passion, whether that passion is for another person, humankind in general, the environment, God, or what have you. I respect those musicians who express heartfelt emotion, even if I don't always like their music. In this omnibus I look at music that is made with a definite purpose in mind.'
Gary Whitehouse got two CDs, Instruments and Controls and Wasted. He intimates that 'James Jewell read my reviews of Adams Hotel Road and Idiots by his fellow Pennsylvanians Frog Holler, and wrote to ask me if he could send me his CDs. I said yes, and he did, and I'm glad.' Read his review to understand why these CDs are as superb as the Frog Holler CDs he previously reviewed! Jon Dee Graham's roots rocking CD, Hooray for the Moon, was just as tasty: 'Jon Dee Graham has been making music since he was a teenager in Texas in the 1970s, but he's best known as guitarist for Austin's proto-country-punk band, the True Believers, in the mid-80s. Hooray for the Moon, his third recording under his own name, by all rights should change that, because he deserves to be known and appreciated in his own right.' Gary was certainly pleased by Caitlin Cary's While You Weren't Looking: 'This is Caitlin Cary's first full length CD since she struck out on her own after the apparent demise of the highly regarded alt country band Whiskeytown. Cary sings and plays fiddle on all 13 tracks on his CD and its companion single, all of which she wrote or co-wrote. It's an impressive debut.'
Stephen Hunt saw Fairport Convention and Vikki Clayton at The Hall for Cornwall, where he now lives: 'Don't miss Lars Nilsson's excellent accounts of this year's Fairport winter tour, but first, here's my part of the story. Lars is something of a "main face" in Fairport circles, following the band across thousands of miles. I've deliberately adopted his "travelogue" style for this review. Compare and contrast if you so desire.' Live Performances Editor Grey Walker says she recommended Stephen for "the Odysseus Award" for his efforts to secure that review!
Lars Nilsson has a busy social life, a very busy social life. Indeed he saw three concerts: Fairport Convention, Vikki Clayton and Waterson Carthy, at Royal Festival Hall in London, the same line-up in Birmingham at the UK Symphony Hall, and Tony Hall at the Court Sessions Folk Club, Tooting in London. Read his wonderful commentary to get all the details!
Asher Black, our new Video Editor, loves writing movie reviews. He offers a searching look at The 13th Warrior. He observes, 'One quality of a superb film adaption is that it makes one want to read the book. That's happened to me twice recently: Hearts in Atlantis made me want to read one bestselling author I'd ignored -- Stephen King. The 13th Warrior interests me for the first time in Michael Crichton. And of course, taking on an adaption of Beowulf is a weighty matter. This film is truer to the spirit of the epic and far more exciting than the Beowulf from the same year which starred Christopher Lambert.' Asher also payed close attention to Unbreakable, which he calls "a film about archetypes": 'Much was made in the previews about a man who is the only survivor of a train disaster, emerging without a scratch, a man who never gets sick. One gets the impression that it's a film about a phyla of immortals, or about some rare or odd occurrence, or simply about people who can't get hurt... On the contrary, this is a film about mythology and its meaning.'
Kate Brown surveys Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. She exclaims, 'Finally! A movie that takes the legend of Tarzan seriously! As a child, I watched the Lord of the Apes in b/w television, read Tarzan comic books, and even sneaked an action figure from a neighbour's collection. Yes, I loved Tarzan. Christopher Lambert, in his North American debut, brings a new and realistic Tarzan to the screen. The movie is set for the most part in the wilds of the African jungle, making for a dramatic and plausible story. The realism is at times unnerving as the camera rolls over the scenery. The animals are real tigers, snakes, and of course,gorillas, and the cannibalistic natives are as realistic as one wants them to be.'
Michael Jones receives an Excellence in Writing Award for this amazing review ñ the first review anywhere of Sacred Fire, a Charles de Lint short story that was adapted for television. Michael declares, '...it certainly wasn't what I'd expected. I'd grown so used to thinking of de Lint in terms of his beautiful and magical urban faerie tales and otherworldly excursions, that I'd forgotten just how dark and grim some of his stories can be, even the ones set in Newford. Sacred Fire is certainly no exception. It's bleak, unforgiving, and downbeat, portraying the futile struggle of a man grasping at his last shreds of sanity, and the slow destruction of a woman's blissful ignorance. It's a story about the predators of the world, and the fact that once you've been exposed to them, you'll never feel entirely safe again. It's the flip side for every story in which someone finds magic and turns out the better. Sacred Fire is an evocation of the dark side of the world.'
Maria Nutick looks at, not one, but three Japanese anime: My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Princess Mononoke. Why Japanese anime? Because, she explains, 'Many Americans perceive Japanese animated films, or anime, as either graphically violent, sexually explicit material aimed at teenage boys, or as loud garish cartoons designed to sell collectibles to small children (think Pokemon or Digimon). In Japan, however, where animated films often account for at least 1/4 of annual box office proceeds, anime is appreciated as both entertainment and an art form. Perhaps the best known of the anime filmmakers is Hayao Miyazaki.' Read Maria's review for all the details on Miyazaki's work and these outstanding films! Maria wins an Excellence in Writing Award for her thorough and insightful omnibus.
Lars Nilsson has something special this week: And now for... The Rutles! The Rutles! Yes, Lars reviews two CDs and one film by, about, and possibly concerning the most famous music group of all time. Read his review to see just how silly, errr, great they were! Lars wins an Excellence in Writing Award for his jovial romp through Rutlesmania.
That's it for this outing. Come back next week for another bonnie
bunch of reviews, including a look at Robert Holdstock's Ryhope Wood
series! ! Now I'm off in search of an oversized tea cup for the Mad
Hatter's Tea Party. Anyone seen one? Or should I just ask the rabbit
with the watch where it is?
17th of February 2002
Fairies aren't real. They're just--
Fairy tales? Did you think the stories sprang from nothing?
of the Timeless Kingdom watched mortal Man learn to walk upright.
Excerpt from the unpublished The War for The Oaks script (Emma Bull & Will Shetterly)
Now there's a film I'm sure many of us would like to see! But since it doesn't exist yet despite a rather nicely done trailer by Emma, Will, and lots of friends,, we'll need to be content with all the great material that already exists for our viewing pleasure. So this edition is devoted exclusively to videos -- our first-time ever! Get your notepad, grab a pen, and get ready to jot down those video releases that you'll want to seek out after reading these reviews.
Kim Bates offers a fond look at a documentary she says genuinely 'takes us into the world of the artist' Woody Guthrie -- Man in the Sand. She observes, 'Woody Guthrie was truly one of the finest Americans of the 20th century -- a man of passion and genius, who insisted on the inextricable link between the personal and the political in his music and his life. He was also deeply flawed, and shared these with his friends and audience in ways both comic and tragic.'
Asher Black was a very, very prolific reviewer this edition! He leads with Brotherhood of the Wolf / Le Pacte Des Loups, which is 'a story located at the intersection of folk tale and fact. More than a hundred people dead in France some thirty years before the Revolution, all apparently victims of a monstrous creature stalking the countryside in the region of Gevaudan (Gevaudin), confronts history with what to many remains an unsolved mystery, one to which the questions have been less than tidy and the answers perhaps too much so.' Asher wins an Excellence in Writing Award for that descriptive review. Next up is The Count of Monte Cristo, the latest version of this classic story. He notes 'This version of the Dumas classic opens with putting to shore on Elba -- an action-filled round of chase, sword-fighting, and the appearance of an imprisoned emperor Napoleon (Alex Norton) who seems, delightfully, to be more in charge than the British dragoons who hold him captive. Sadly for the filmmakers, it is Napoleon who is the most interesting character, and on second look one wishes the film was about him.' And he slips over to Korea, winning another EIWA for his exploratory review of Chunhyang which is a retelling of 'a centuries old Korean romantic folktale originally told by travelling minstrels according to the traditional pansori form of opera. Don't think of Italian opera; this type involves a chanting, wailing Chuck Berry-esque narrative singer (Soriggun) paired with a drummer (Gosu) and an enthusiastically involved audience. This form of narrative storytelling has preserved the older legends and archetypes, forms of knowledge, wisdom and values, transmitting at least an awareness of them to successive generations.' Mists of Avalon is up next for him: 'Given that Mists of Avalon, based on Marian Zimmer Bradley's book by that title, aired originally as a cable television miniseries on TNT this past July, its recent release on video may be the first viewing many of us will have had. In fact, it is perhaps better viewed in one sitting than over the course of two separate evenings of television. Watching the whole thing through in one piece yields a climactic sense of depth to heroine Morgaine's pain when late in the story she floats into Glastonbury, finds her mother's embrace, and cries out "I've had such sadness!" This character knows what pain means. I know, and I heard it.' Another Authurian fantasy, Excalibur, gets a searching review by Asher for a third EIWA: 'Here is a tale of human folly -- "Whatever the cost, do it". Of a noble dream - "One land, one king!" Of magic - "Can't you see all around you the Dragon's breath?" Of its passing - "There are other worlds. This one is done with me." And of memory - "For it is the doom of men that they forget." Excalibur is arguably the most exciting film version of the myth of Arthur to date.' Asher rounds out his reviewing with a look at The Mothman Prophecies which 'is based on a book by the same name from John Keel which tells of 200+ claimed sightings of a mysterious creature, attended by prophetic utterances, in Point Pleasant, Virginia. The sightings occured from November 1966 through December 1967. The prophesies never seem to mean what the listener thinks they mean.'
Kate Brown bleeds reviews on three films about the undead -- Dracula, Dracula's Daughter, and Son of Dracula. Bite into her reviews to get all the details on these truly classic films! Of the first she says, 'Bela Lugosi introduces North America to the vampire lord in a way that words on a page never could. From the first glimpse of those cold glassy eyes and the sound of the maniacal voice, Bela Lugosi holds his entire audience in his power. No other actor has ever come close to his portrayal of the great Count Dracula.' Of the male offspring she says, 'Lon Chaney is a Count Dracula with a more developed personality, soft spoken, less frightening, and yet no less deadly than Lugosi in the original film.' Of the daughter's film, Kate says it adds "a touch of comic relief in the form of the two "beat cops" ... reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy.'
Michael 'Penguin' Jones looks at two Henson fantasies -- The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. He comments that 'Some of the greatest fantasy movies in recent memory have come from the incomparable, unbeatable, and sadly never to be repeated collaborations of Jim Henson and Brian Froud. Take the magical madness of Henson's muppets and the bizarre mythic imagery of Froud's faeries, throw in some special effects and superb actors, and you get two of the best-loved fantasy movies of the 1980s, Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal.' This informative doublet wins Michael a well-deserved Excellence in Writing Award.
Stephen Hunt win an Excellence in Writing Award for his detailed review of Another Musical Interlude -- Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham in Concert. Stephen is in awe that at one point, "the roof of the theatre blows off, the heavens are rent open and Aly and Phil are taken up on a tartan cloud by a thousand topless angels in mini-kilts. Well, that sentence may contain some traces of exaggeration..." Still, the reviewer's high marks for this video cannot be exaggerated.
David Kidney reviews two films -- Down From The Mountain and Grateful Dawg. He says of the latter, 'Grateful Dawg is a home movie which tracks the 30-year partnership of the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia and "newgrass" pioneer David Grisman, inventor of "Dawg music". From their earliest days as would-be bluegrass pickers, through the mid-70s "Old & In The Way" attempts at fusion, to the Garcia/Grisman Band of Jerry's final years, Grateful Dawg captures the essence of what was a brilliant partnership.' And 'Down From the Mountain is a film celebrating the music from the movie O Brother Where Art Thou. Just as the Coens' film introduced old time country music to the population, this new documentary seeks to continue to champion a truly American art form.'
Jack Merry just got a DVD player and decided that Big Trouble in Little China would one of the first films he purchased! He says it is 'definitely an urban fantasy fitting very well within the Green Man motif! Directed by John Carpenter, the man between the legendary Robin of Sherwood series, this San Francisco based film may well be one of the best urban fantasies ever created, fitting nicely with the reality created by the likes of Charles de Lint and Terri Windling. And it's a bleedin' fine action film to boot.' For this amusing review, Jack wins an Excellence in Writing Award to go with that new DVD.
Liz Milner wins an Excellence in Writing Award for her marvellously thorough and insightful review of Songcatcher. Liz writes, 'Ever since I read Alan Lomax's 'Folksongs of North America' at age 10, I dreamed of being a folksong collector, of finding a pocket of pure English minstrelsy somewhere scenic and unspoiled. Later, when my friends set out to save the universe or at least get a partnership, I dreamed of discovering a traditional singer with the vocal chops of Flora McNeil and the sensuality of Harry Cox... So, seeing the first twenty minutes of 'Songcatcher' is like seeing my dearest fantasy come to life. The film is beautifully acted and, the first section, at least, gives a wonderful demonstration of what a folklorist's work would have been like at the turn of the last century.' If you're interested in Appalachian music and musicology, this informative review definitely puts the film in context.
Maria Nutick looks at The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns, a television miniseries now on DVD, in an EIWA-winning critique. Unfortunately, she says that there's 'No dramatic tension here, folks, it's a made-for-TV movie. Of course everything will work out in the end. And that's not the real problem with The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns. After all, fairy stories are supposed to have happy endings. The real problem is that this movie is neither magical, nor does it resemble any known Irish legends. This is a Robert Halmi, Sr. film that never comes close to other Halmi works such as Arabian Nights and The 10th Kingdom. The dialog is trite, plot devices are contrived, and the movie never decides whether to be serious or humorous. The special effects and costuming are lovely, but the soundtrack is purely fluffy pink pseudo-Celtic mood music.' Speaking of The Tenth Kingdom, she says in her review of it that 'To address the most common complaints that I've heard about The 10th Kingdom, yes, it is long, and I agree that the trolls look far too much like Ferenghi. But those are trivial concerns compared to the fun and magic that this movie offers. When first broadcast as a miniseries in 1999, The 10th Kingdom played for 5 nights on network television and did fairly poorly in the ratings. But the opportunity to watch it at leisure on DVD or video gives it a much better chance to grab the viewer's attention. It certainly did mine.' Maria wraps up her reviewing with a look at Practical Magic: 'When first released in theaters, Practical Magic received an amazing amount of bad press and in my opinion quite undeservedly so. A common complaint was critics' inability to pin down which genre the movie belongs to. Is it a black comedy? A romantic melodrama? A chick-flick? A supernatural thriller? I say, who cares? It encompasses all of these and more. Let's just call it fantasy and leave it alone.'
Well-deserved thanks to Brendan Foreman for his long service as (first) Music Editor and as Editor for Videos and Live Performances, and kudos on a fine edition this week. He'd like to focus now on writing more reviews for us, so we will anticipate those with relish. Asher Black, with his cart full of recent EIWA's will be the new Video Editor, and Grey Walker, who's written scores of particularly outstanding reviews, is the new Live Performances Editor. Congratulations Grey and Asher!
Now I'm off to watch lots of Seuss videos in preperation for a
Seussian Festival that I'm coordinating in late summer. As Dr. Seuss
said, 'I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a
necessary ingredient in living, it's a way of looking at life through
the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables
you to laugh at life's realities.' We'll be doing reading of Seuss
material and other authors who are appropriate such as Lewis Carroll
and Shel Silverstein. It should be a lot of fun! Anyone for green
eggs and ham?
'I like libraries. It makes me feel comfortable and secure to have walls of words, beautiful and wise, all around me. I always feel better when I can see that there is something to hold back the shadows.' -- Roger Zelazny
This issue to dedicated to Roger Zelazny, who provided me with some of the finest reading one could ever have the pleasure to encounter!
Books about books... Dance... Irish food... J.R.R. Tolkien... Magical cooking... Medieval folklore... Oz... Tomatoes...It's fair to say that Green Man gets an incredible number of books for review! So this week is going to be devoted entirely to reviews of books covering those subjects and much, much more. And all the reviews are of even better than great quality this edition! We've reviewed over 1,300 books ranging from fiction, such as Emma Bull's The War for The Oaks and Tim Powers' Declare, to the very best in non-fiction, such as Bela Bartok's Folk Songs of Yugoslavia and Kath Filmer-Davies' Fantasy Fiction and Welsh Myth: Tales of Belonging. Along the way, our crack reviewers have found books they've loved, books that left them cold, and a few that just left them annoyed. Our omnibuses, such as Grey Walker's review of Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series, have been incorporated into the official curricula of schools in the States and elsewhere. And our more than 150,000 monthly readers buy lots of books, if letters from publishers and authors demanding we review their books now are an accurate measure! Our readers also compliment us on not having links to Amazon as they feel the reviews are more likely to be more honest without the need to buy, buy, buy!
You will notice that I've included notes about some of what our reviewers are currently reading...
Kim Bates looks at two dance-related books and an Oxford University Press guide to Medieval Folklore. In her dance review, she looks at Hugh Rippon's Discovering English Folk Dance and Georgina Boyes's Step Change. Kim comments, 'It is always difficult to set the tone for writing about something people are passionate about, and writing about folk dancing would strike fear and trepidation in my soul, I'm sure. People who dance already are passionate about it, even if the non-dancer doesn't understand its appeal or mocks the get up, the formality, the accordions, and so forth. And those outside this seemingly arcane world -- how does one write for them? Seeking converts, merely to inform? One can't write for tourists and attract those who care about the subject. And more serious treatments will lead to passionate debates, possible excommunication from some circles, and all the other baggage that goes with passion.' Carl Lindahl, John McNamara, and John Lindow are the editors of Medieval Folklore, a reference work of which Kim writes in her Excellence in Writing Award winning review, 'What should you want in a folklore encyclopedia? What is possible? And what have we got here? For the most part what we've got is a well-researched volume that covers a great many topics; providing the lay of the land and pointing the reader towards more comprehensive coverage of topics by mentioning major writers in each field.'
Asher Black finds himself currently reading The White Goddess by Robert Graves and Bloodtide, an urban fantasy by Melvin Burgess. Asher picks up an Excellence in Writing Award for his insightful review of Gus Smith's Feather and Bone, a dark fantasy of Northumbria. He notes that 'I asked to review Feather and Bone after reading a sample chapter. In it a violent, belligerent mother is abusing her young son. I was startled and deeply affected by the authenticity of this aspect of the story. When I got my copy and continued reading, I realized that I've read and written at best 'descriptions' of such things, but this author actually showed it to me. It was like looking in the clearest mirror, because I was once that little boy. Passage after passage throughout the story sent my heart through the roof. Someone else not only knows but can describe it. I've never been able to, and I've laughed grimly at the suggestion that it could be captured in words. Somehow Gus Smith has done it with crystalline clarity. Even were there nothing else to commend Feather and Bone, this authenticity alone makes Feather and Bone one of those unforgettable books that simply can't go unnoticed.'
Kate Brown reviews Joan Baez's autobiography,And A Voice To Sing With, which she says is '[a] relatively rare, but rich gem in the biography genre.' Kate rounds out her reviewing this edition with a look at Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple's Mirror, Mirror folktale anthology.She notes, 'Mirror, Mirror is a unique experience which I would highly recommend to any woman. No matter which role she plays in her life she is bound to be touched by this revisit to childhood tales. This work is a "must have" for mothers and daughters everywhere.'
Jennifer Byrne reviews Joe Merrick's London Irish Punk Life and Music: Shane MacGowan. Jennifer says of this latest MacGowan bio that 'All in all, this book provides a fairly good overview of MacGowan's place within the music scene over a particular time, his involvement with the Pogues and, to some extent, his career as a solo artist. However, do not expect the book to bring you any closer to MacGowan the person.'
Eric Eller, who is obviously great at multitasking, is reading three works -- Inventing the Middle Ages by Norman Cantor, The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia by Bernard Suits, and Bananas: An American History by Virginia Scott Jenkins. His first review is of Verlyn Flieger's Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien's World. This work 'focuses on The Silmarillion because of its primary significance to Tolkien's fictional world. ' Eric also reviewed another Tolkien work by the same author -- A Question of Time: J.R.R. Tolkien's Road to Faerie. A Question of Time 'studies Tolkien's concepts of time and time travel and their relationship to the world of Faerie. The connection between Tolkien's experiences growing up, and as a soldier in World War I, as well as the influence that popular and scientific culture of his time had on his writing, are also explored. Flieger deeply analyzes the development and intent of Tolkien's two incomplete time travel stories, and relates Tolkien's theory of time in them to his use of time in The Lord of the Rings.' Both of these reviews garner Eric Excellence in Writing Awards!
Judith Gennett is reading Fiddling for Norway and a tunebook called Summer Dusk on Country Lanes. (Look for reviews on both soon!). She reviews Hugh Cheape's The Book of the Bagpipe, which is 'a little gift book about bagpipes.' Judith loved the illustrations but thought the text was less than perfect. Read her review to see why!
Stephen Hunt just started Jingo by Terry Pratchett, and he's been dipping into Holy Places of Celtic Britain by Mick Sharp. Stephen had the pleasure of reviewing Cait Johnson's Witch in the Kitchen: Magical Cooking for All Seasons. He comments, 'Witch in the Kitchen turns out to be quite a recipe in itself. Plenty of healthy debate, fresh ideas, and easily -digestible information, heated over a warm sense of humour and seasoned with a pinch of magical herbs which add a very pleasant hint of 'nuttiness... Blessed be to you too, Ms. Johnson, I suspect that you're writing for more of us than I thought.' Stephen picks up a well-deserved Excellence in Writing Award!
Irene Jackson Henry was too busy to do recreational reading this week but she's thinking of rereading an Andrew Greeley fantasy, Angelfire. It's a favorite of hers. Her review this edition is of three books by Holbrook Jackson -- The Anatomy of Bibliomania, The Fear of Books, and The Reading of Books. She whines mildly, 'I normally think of myself as a book-lover. I read a lot, admittedly a lot of escapist mind-candy, but what is that but the acknowledgement of a book's power to take one out of oneself to relieve the stresses of the day? I was brought brutally to the realization that I'm a paltry pretender to book love as I read three works by the early 20th Century scholar and bibliomaniac, Holbrook Jackson. In fact, I was left convinced that I'm a barely educated simpleton who needs a remedial literature course as soon as possible.' She wins an Excellence in Writing Award for this review!
Chuck Lipsig is presently reading Jack Zipes's Breaking the Magic Spell and John Irving's A Widow for One Year. What he reviewed this week is all of the Oz books! Yes, all fourteen novels! We've previously established that Chuck is quite mad, so it shouldn't surprise you that he tackled this massive undertaking. Chuck notes that 'L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz is an American icon. Almost immediately on its publication in 1901, it was produced for the stage, and at least four film versions (including several by Baum himself) were made before the famous 1939 Judy Garland production, including one with Oliver Hardy as the Tin Woodsman. Many editions are out, including two that have been previously reviewed in Green Man Review -- The Annotated Wizard of Oz and The Kansas Centennial Edition.' Read his Excellence in Writing Award review for all the details of the Oz series!
Jack Merry, who is pondering the popularity among Celtic musicians of Simon Jeffe's 'Music for A Found Harmonium', is currently reading an exhibition catalog entitled Carl and Karin Larsson: Creators of the Swedish Style. He is also reading two alternative history novels -- L.E. Modesitt Jr.'s Of Tangible Ghosts and Gwyneth Jones' Bold as Love. This outing, he reviews a Lonely Planet guide called World Food: Ireland. He comments that 'Any musician who has traveled and basked in strange cities has made use of the Lonely Planet travel guides if they are at all smart, as they are, along with the Rough Guides series, the best travel guides one could hope for. For some 30 years now, Lonely Planet has put out some of the best travel guides for traveling cheap -- really cheap! -- one could want, and now they've expanded their offerings to include a tasty series of travel guides that focus on food.'
Guy Soffer reviewed Kids' Letters to Harry Potter from Around the World. He says, 'The 195-page book contains exact copies of kids' (aged 7-15) letters obtained through various sources: the Scouts, schools, various publishers, and many more. Bill Adler did quite a nice job in sorting the letters, and presenting them along with interviews with some of the contributors.'
Gary Whitehouse is reading Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's Vine of Desire, and he reviews Andrew F. Smith's The Tomato in America. Yes, tomatoes! As Gary notes, 'Andrew F. Smith sets the record straight in this 200-page volume on the "Early History, Culture and Cookery" of The Tomato in America. Smith is a teacher of culinary history at New York's New School University and author of several other food-related books.'
Tracy Willans reviews Franny Billingsley's The Folk Keeper, a novel for young adults that our reviewer says is 'a wonderful story, rich in folklore, with a strong kinship to stories from the British Isles, particularly Scotland.'
I'm off now to find a tenor for the Bloomsday celebration we're
doing here, as I've got two fiddlers already. And I'm starting a
project to endow a local school with a music library, so I'll be
working on that this week too! Do join us back here for an all-videos
edition of Green Man, as I think you'll be interested in the
selection of reviews -- including a look at an Aly Bain & Phil
Cunningham concert video!
"We have jobs," Maida told Jilly when she and Zia dropped by
the professor's house for a visit at the end of November.
Zia nodded happily. "Yes, we've become veryvery respectable."
Jilly had to laugh. "I can't imagine either of you ever being completely respectable."
That comment drew an exaggerated pout from each of the crow girls, the one more pronounced than the other.
Charles de Lint & MaryAnn Harris' A Crow Girls Christmas
A joyous 'Gouel ar goulou' to you! (That's Candlemas in Breton.) We decided to treat you to another all-music edition this week as we had enough material to do so. We certainly get more than our fair share of excellent CDs for review, so this is a nice way to play catch-up! If you are not interested in music reviews, come back next week as we'll be doing just book reviews. And the week after that will be devoted entirely to video reviews!
Kim Bates got an interesting CD in the form of Breton Corse's Polyphonies Corses et chants, an album she says is ' Vocal music from Brittany. Powerful harmonies, what chanting should be, not cluttered with new age affectations.'
Asher Black treats us to an Excellence in Writing Award review of the new album from the burtschi brothers -- ain't being treated right. He says 'This is a 16-track omnibus CD of Burtschi experience and development. Many of these songs are field-tested live performance hits like "you hold the whiskey, i'll hold the money","just out of reach", and "casting my shadow" that wowed audiences at multi-band outdoor concerts, openings for blockbuster acts, and venues frequented by cutting-edge college-music devotees. The Rockabillyish penultimate track "pontotoc county line" is a typically Travis Linville performance with "Willy Nelson-ish" vocals and hard picking that is likely to catch one, in the words of the song, "pants on wrong side out, rootin in the underbrush, strewin all my man-ness about...' He also liked the self-titled release from the Pistol Arrows. He says that this alt-country/roots CD is full of 'harmonica, banjo, edgy smoky vocals, tight coordination...This is one helluva good CD.' And his review of the Tori Amos' CD, Strange Little Girls, wins him a second Excellence in Writing Award. He comments that this CD is about '[t]he themes of violence, sexuality, and tensions between the sexes are, of course, hallmarks of Tori Amos' musicology. In that sense, this CD is no different. But it is different. This is an album specifically about men, about "how men say things, and how women hear them." Twelve songs written by men are retold by female characters created and sung by Tori.'
Jayme Lynn Blaschke found Celtic piper Richard Kean's Shrine CD to be well-worth hearing! He says 'I first encountered Richard Kean's piping on Jiggernaut's first two releases, the band's self-titled demo EP and In Search of More. I was impressed by Kean's lightning-quick, complex piping, and was eager to hear how his work held up on his solo effort, Shrine. Happily, Kean doesn't disappoint.'
Kate Brown looks at four early Jethro Tull albums: This Was, Aqualung,Living In The Past, and Thick As A Brick. Read her insightful commentary to see if they were more than a youthful indiscretion for her!
Jennifer Bryne found North Cregg's Mi.da:za to be quite good as she notes in her review: ' North Cregg have been causing quite a stir during the past couple of years. With a highly acclaimed debut album "...And They Danced All Night", a prestigious Best Traditional Newcomer award from Irish Music Magazine, and an extensive summer 2001 touring schedule to their credit, things seem to be constantly getting bigger and better. 'She was also rather fond of Eleanor McEvoy's new Celtic CD, Yola: ' McEvoy really comes into her own with a set of beautifully crafted and delivered songs.'
Richard Condon was the appropriate reviewer for Lais' Dorothea as he speaks fluent Flemish, the language of the singers on this CD. And he comments that 'Lais is a unique group that has no equivalent, to my knowledge, anywhere in the world of music. This seven-piece band from the Flemish region of Belgium is fronted by three alluring young women, Jorunn Bauweraerts, Annelies Brosens and Nathalie Delcroix, who sing, move and gesture in a highly dramatic manner while singing beautiful harmonies, occasionally a cappella, but more often to an eclectic accompaniment that ranges from the downright folky to something closer to electropop. Lurking behind them are four men: Fritz Sundermann, who picks a variety of electric and acoustic stringed instruments and also plays harmonium on this recording, Hans Quaghebeur on squeezeboxes, hurdy-gurdy and whistle, the percussionist Ronny Reuman and Bart Denolf on electric and acoustic basses. They consider themselves to be part of the folk scene, and most of the songs that they perform are either traditional or sound as though they could have been.' This superb review receives an Excellence in Writing Award!
Eric Eller had the pleasure of reviewing Grey Larsen and Paddy League's The Green House. How good was it? So good that Eric says 'A strong, clear melody is a necessary component to a successful jig or reel. Playing one successfully requires skill and precision, regardless of the instrument.When an artist can do this well on more than one instrument, the results are something special. When the artists' skill combines with good production to enhance the performance, the album is really something to look forward to.'
Judith Gennett says 'From the opening guitar twang, Soul Faces, recorded by Austin songwriter Alton Rex, is Texas country, or at least mostly country. I guess that's what the term "Texas Music" is for!' Read her review for all the juicy details!
Tim Hoke had a rather interesting Celtic CD to review: Stark Raven's Committed. As he notes: '"Oh, there's a band!" says Reginald. Reginald's tale is interspersed with the musical selections on Committed. A patient at a psychiatric facility, Reginald seizes an opportunity to escape. Where does he flee but to the local pub, ordering a Guinness and listening to the band, who is presumably Stark Raven. From the sound of things, Reginald picked a good night.' Tim picks up a well-deserved Excellence in Writing Award for this review.
David Kidney looked at two CDs -- Down the Dirt Road: the songs of Charley Patton (Blues) and Labour of Love: the music of Nick Lowe (more Blues).He comments 'For awhile there it seemed like the tribute album had done all it could do. When people started releasing country versions of Beatles' songs, or punk renditions of the Beach Boys, it was time to re-evaluate the genre! A few wise heads prevailed and came up with new and fascinating definitions of the tribute album. Telarc Blues, a great label based in Cleveland, has been producing some amazing collections of music linked thematically and featuring a stable of performers that take the original material and turn it into something new and exciting.'
Jack Merry who found both tattiescones and Belgian hot chocolate was also fortunate enough to discover the joys of five great CDs: Aly Bain and Ale Moller's Shetland and Nordic-styled Fully Rigged , fiddlin' around's Who's Calling, the Eel Grinders' English piping CD Voyage, Ena O'Brien and Pat O'Gorman's Irish CD The Galway Rambler, and Skyedance's Moving Hearts-ish Live in Spain. He notes 'dance music is most pleasurable when it has had proper time to age gracefully! Now Brigid, do please pass me 'nother tattiescone... And pass me over that pot of St. Helena coffee...Ah, the pleasures of winter! Oh, that reminds me of a few CDs that came in this past fortnight which are also among the pleasures of this season...'
No'am Newman went on a serious nostalgia trip when listening to Dave Evans' The Words In Between. As he notes, '1971 found me as a dewy-eyed teenager sitting agog at the Bristol Troubadour. I had just discovered that my adopted home city had a strong "folk scene," and that good music was always to be found in that musky room in the Clifton district. Of the many musicians that I saw there, the strongest impression was made by a guitarist and singer called Dave Evans. It always seemed that he had several hands playing the guitar at the same time, and his performances used to hold me spellbound. One Sunday evening at a concert (at the appropriately named Newman Hall, actually not far from my house), Dave introduced an instrumental as "a number which I recorded this afternoon for a forthcoming album". I waited a few weeks, then went round to the local record company's headquarters and purchased my copy of The Words In Between.'
Lars Nilsson reviews yet another of the seemingly endless Lomax CDs we've reviewed -- Scottish singer Jimmy MacBeath's Tramps & Hawkers. He rightfully proclaims 'Some records should not be reviewed in the customary fashion-- that is with a description of the music and then a verdict on its quality. This is one such record.' He liked this CD, so read his review to see how he he reviewed it! He also reviews Christy Moore's This Is The Day of which he says 'If you are looking for rock and roll or speedy jigs and reels youÇre better off avoiding this. But if you want something genuinely moving, a collection of lovely songs executed by three real experts, you must not do without it. In my book it's one of Moore's best ever, up there with Ride On and the other classics.'
Big Earl Sellar receives an Excellence in Writing Award for getting down and dirty with Mexican folk rock -- Quetzal's Sing The Real, to be precise. He comments 'I've heard a lot of different types of music during my tenure here at Green Man, from ancient traditions to modern compositional styles. But I can quite honestly state that I've never reviewed a pop disc: something in such a current, rather conventional mode. Yet Quetzal reminds me of many styles of Latin-based pop and American R&B that get played repeatedly on dull radio stations throughout the world. Only Quetzal is much, much better. And Big Earl reviewed Sviraj's two-fer One To Remember: 'There seems to be a renewed interest in music from Eastern Europe, judging by the sheer volume of releases in the last six months. One To Remember is from an American trio playing in the Balkan tradition. Sviraj, built around fiddle, upright bass and bugarija (similar to a guitar), perform a fairly traditional take on this music, with some pleasant results.' Read his review to hear why he thought two CDs were a bad idea!
That wraps it up for this edition. I'm off now to continue my annual rereading of Charles de Lint's Someplace To Be Flyingwhich features the crow girls and other amazing characters. And I'm watching our first real winter storm of this season fall outside! So I'll grab a mug of coffee and settle in for a few hours reading on our couch with some of our eight cats snuggled up beside me. See you next week!