Hello, Mia Nutick here. I'm just in the Green Man offices picking up a few personal items that I've left scattered about. I'd like to get everything safely tucked away in my office before next week's spring cleaning; when Grey gets started she's a veritable whirlwind, and I'd just as soon my things don't end up on the yard sale pile with the empty Applejack casks and Tim Hoke's ratty old red velvet smoking jacket. Eh? What?
Well, never mind that, then, Tim's found out we were going to pitch it out and he's reclaimed the thing and stomped off down the hall to his office. We really shouldn't have tried to dispose of it; it's one of his Best Beloveds. You know...Ellen Steiber wrote about them in The Essential Bordertown. Our Best Beloveds: those things we love the most, those things which contain a little piece of our souls. We have a lot of Best Beloveds here at Green Man, and I don't just mean Stephen's guitar, Jack's fiddle, or Asher's elegant handcarved tobacco pipe. For most of us here -- and if you're reading this I'd imagine it's true for you too --these beloved things are, as poet Alastair Reid says, books 'which read like a well-known dream' or music 'which declares your mood'. The things we lovingly write about each week. The things which you come here searching for.
In our archives you'll find reviews of all things Tolkien, Yolen, de Lint, and Gaiman; The Waterboys, The Chieftains, Dylan and Jethro Tull; The Princess Bride, The Wizard of Oz, Excalibur, and The Dark Crystal; surely each and every one is someone's Best Beloved. And every issue we bring you reviews of new material that someday just might walk in and claim a corner of your soul. Now, why don't you get started on this week's offerings while I try to track down my amethyst necklace, which I thought I'd left here on the coffee table...
David Kidney has achieved the incredible feat of providing a concise but comprehensive review of the entire recorded output of The Band! 'Musicians who would forever change the way some of us heard rock music -- the way some people played rock music.... Influential, inventive, outside of time and styles.' Music From Big Pink , The Band , Stage Fright , Cahoots , Rock of Ages , Northern Lights - Southern Cross, Moondog Matinee, Islands , The Last Waltz , Jericho , Across The Great Divide , High On The Hog and Jubilation. Just to clinch the deal, David's also included a look at two books about The Band. So, were Mr Kidney's efforts deemed worthy of an Excellence in Writing Award? Hell, what do you think?
Speaking of amethyst necklaces, we've got a few choice gems of book reviews for you...
Rachel Manija Brown has taken Grinchy-ness to an all-new level this week (imagine the Grinch in elegant, understated Armani, with a really good manicure), with her exquisitely negative review of Lian Hearn's Japanese fantasy novel, Across the Nightingale Floor. She opens her review with a haiku which sums up her impression of the book: 'The Nightingale Floor / Persimmon gleams temptingly / Bitter-bland within.' The rest of the review is just as elegantly expressive. Go read it. And congratulate Rachel with us on her Grinch Award.
Faith J. Cormier is on a mission to fill our Eddings gap in the book indices. And she means business! This week, it's David Eddings' The Elenium, a trilogy which includes the titles The Diamond Throne, The Ruby Knight and The Sapphire Rose. Faith uses Eddings' own 'ten essential elements of a good fantasy' to evaluate this series. Does Eddings measure up to his own standards? Read the review to find out.
April Gutierrez wins an Excellence in Writing Award for her review of a book by the real Hearn -- Lafcadio Hearn. Thankfully, Lian Hearn (above) wasn't the first to write under that distinguished name. We couldn't pull a single quotation from this informed devotee's review of A Japanese Miscellany: Strange Stories, Folklore Gleanings, Studies Here & There. We'd have had to quote the whole thing!
For those of you who've been waiting with bated breath for the final installment of Cecilia Dart-Thornton's acclaimed fantasy series, Michael M. Jones brings good news. The Battle of Evernight is as wonderful as you've hoped. 'Dart-Thornton is someone who has managed to capture the spirit and magic of fantasies gone past without repeating or echoing them,' Michael says. 'Exquisite and dazzling, the words charm their way off the page to create something with a uniquely beautiful style and flavor.'
And Kestrell Rath takes an Excellence in Writing Award-winning look at a classic in our field, Come Hither: A Collection of Rhymes and Poems for the Young of All Ages, by none other than the great Walter de la Mare. If this book isn't one of your 'best beloveds', it's waiting to become one.
And lastly, Grey Walker offers us a review of one her 'best beloveds', Yarrow: An Autumn Tale by Charles de Lint.
Film Review Editor, Asher Black, has two announcements this week:
First, we've been running a February film review contest that ended this week. Thanks go to our fine staff for the many worthy submissions we received. After carefully pondering the matter, here are my picks: Ryan Nutick wins Most Thorough Film Review for School House Rock. David Kidney wins Most Interesting Film Review for Alice's Restaurant. Actually, I had a hard time deciding which of these awards should go to which of these two reviews. Both are quite thorough, and both are certainly interesting. Perhaps the one thing has something to do with the other. David gets first pick and Ryan second pick of these prizes:
Second, it's been a year since I first bore the mantle of Film Review Editor. It's been a privilege. We've increased the number of film reviews from 26 to 246 in just that year's time. We've created an archive of diverse reviews in nine categories, exploring new directions and subject matter for GMR. We've attracted and worked with a cadre of reviewers who write regular, interesting, thorough reviews. And, over the course of these twelve months, we've essentially built this section of our magazine as you see it today. I say, "we" because of all of you who have contributed and because, since September, Maria Nutick has been Assistant Film Editor. She's served cheerfully, worked hard, and knows the job thoroughly. That's why, in order that I may focus more completely on the duties of the Managing Editorship, I've asked Maria to take over as Film Editor. I know she will continue to do a superb job.
Though I'm leaving it in capable hands, I'm going to miss it. But there's only so much Asher, and we've lots yet to accomplish as a publication. So thank you, all of you who have worked with me in film. You remain deeply and sincerely appreciated, and please join with me in toasting Mia's well-deserved promotion.
Now on to the film reviews:
'When was the last time you and all those around you cheered out loud at a motion picture?' That's what David Kidney wants to know. His Excellence in Writing Award winning review of Standing in the Shadows of Motown. If you're like me, you really dig Motown. David is so good at pointing out some of the roots and the attitude that makes the music so hot, that it's easiest to just quote from his review: 'The reenactments . . . show the pre-teen Jamerson building a 'bass' from a bowed twig and an elastic band, making the ants dance. We see a young Robert White nailing a string to the side of his clapboard house, turning the wall into a 'guitar.' We're on the road with the band when Jamerson is thrown out on the wintry highway guilty of eating pigs feet, smoking cigars and just being a pest in the stuffy station wagon they toured in. And as Detroit burned in the riots following the death of Martin Luther King...we see the black band members protecting their white Funk Brothers from the angry crowds outside Hitsville USA!' And that's not all. Read David's fascinating review and then go out and get the film.
David sparkles with his scintillating review of Los Zafiros too. I always thought Cubana was Ricky Ricardo singing Babalú. And I liked that big band style. But David's given us something else to look back on, and perhaps try out again. It's a kick-ass review and I'm not going to quote it, because I think you should savor it from start to spicy finish for yourself. Also, from our archives, be sure and check out David's review of the CD The Rough Guide to Cuban Music.
Craig Clarke bites into The Addiction this week. It's black and white. It's got a vampiric female philosophy student (That's got to be better than figure skating!), and... well... did I mention the philosophy student? Read Craig's suggestive review and then decide whether you too might hook up with this lesser-known treatment of the undead.
Lisa Moscatiello is a singer-songwriter who says, 'I was born a folkie! But when I was a little kid, in my kindergarten, there was this song that we would walk around the room and clap to, and I would be transfixed by this song. I found out later it was the old Joe Clark song.' How do we know this? Because Michelle Erica Green interviewed Moscatiello this past September, and she's brought us the transcribed interview this week. It's a lovely interview, in which Michelle has managed to pull out of Moscatiello all sorts of interesting things. Michelle gets an Excellence in Writing Award for this one!
Christopher White says, 'If everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day, shouldn't we all be Scots on Robbie Burns' Birthday?' He and a group of friends have been having annual Burns Suppers for years. Read his review to see what happens at a Burns Supper. Who knows, you may want to attend one yourself next year or host one!
Gary Whitehouse brings us another two installments of his serial review of the Celtic Colours Festival he attended in October last year. This week, he lovingly details Fiddle Heaven (earning an Excellence in Writing Award). 'It would make anyone a fan of fiddle music, to hear this auditory ambrosia and to hear it in this setting a candle-lit converted church, atop a hill overlooking the fjord-like Bras d'or Lakes of Cape Breton Island is to hear it as the gods intended. The pews were packed with true believers, as was the standing-room-only vestibule behind the sanctuary, for three (make that four) out-of-this-world class fiddlers.' And then there was Kelly's Dream, 'as in 'Now Kelly was an Irishman....,' featuring the playing of American Liz Carroll, who plays Irish-style fiddle, and Ireland's own accordion virtuoso, Sharon Shannon.' Gary includes pictures in this review!
Halleluiah! Judith Gennett leads off our music review section with a CD of gospel songs. It's On the Wings Of A Dove by The Wilders, a 'little quasi -alternative bluegrass string band from Kansas City, Missouri.' Judith's verdict? 'Recommended for Bible thumpers, bluegrass fans, sentimental Southerners, and anyone else, except maybe intolerant urban atheist stick-in-the-muds.' Vaylan Virrassa is a 'truly a nice album!' from Scandinavian group Jord. 'Vaylan Virassa means in the flow of the river.' The river here is the Torne, at the border between Finland and Sweden.' A couple of Klezmer CDs get Ms. Gennett's approval this week. Yiddish For Travelers from Metropolitan Klezmer is memorably described as 'an ethnic party head banger!' The women in MK do double time in an all-girl band called Isle Of Klezbos whose Pre-Release Teaser features music from both outfits. Stickers On Fruit is the newest release from humorous Canadian singer Nancy White. Judith declares this one 'a cute album with surprisingly incisive words, mostly recommended for Boomers.'
Scott Gianelli was utterly captivated by Quick Look from Pina: 'I could [just] rattle off a string of superlatives -- best album of 2002, best album of the decade so far, possibly even the greatest debut album ever...' What he actually did was write a wonderfully considered review that earns him an Excellence in Writing Award!
Tim Hoke certainly enjoyed listening to'top-notch Western Swing combo' Lost Weekend on the album Harbor Lights And Cowboy Blues. 'Every track goes straight to the feet... this is stating the obvious, but Lost Weekend swings. What else needs to be said?' Bush bands are a distinctively Australian phenomenon with a fondness for good-time folk songs and the deployment of the lagerphone! The Rocky River Bush Band's Sea Boots And Swags sounds like a cracking example of the genre. Tim notes: 'Shanty fans are sure to like this album, and it also makes good driving music. Just be aware that you may look strange belting out the chorus of 'Whip Jamboree' as you're motoring down the road.'
Peter Hund reviews Country Swingin' Slide Guitar Pickin' , and declares: 'The late Clarence "Hound Dog" Jackson was one of the best dobro players ever... Fans of slide will find themselves in seventh heaven when they hear these tracks.'
Stephen Hunt admits to 'throwing air-guitar hero shapes' while listening to the eponymous CD from Cape Breton's Greyloch . He's now obviously itching to see the band perform live, and reckons:'on this evidence they can flex the foot and mouth muscles of any audience, anytime, and strip the paint off the walls into the bargain.'
'Imagine if you can' says Peter Massey, 'Mick Jagger singing Alt Country, and you get the picture of how Australian Andy Gorwell's Uprooted sounds.' That sounds pretty good to me actually! Particularly as Peter goes on to note that 'the songs are good and the album is well recorded and Andy does a fine job on the vocals.' An Excellence in Writing Award goes to Peter for this insightful review! Dave Wood, reviewed in Peter's second offering this week, is a singer-songwriter-guitarist from Exeter, Devon, which almost qualifies him as a 'local boy' to my neck of the woods! Peter is mightily impressed with Wood's acoustic guitar tone and technique and the'peaceful mellow atmosphere' of his self-released CD Into the Light which he reckons 'might well turn out to be a collector's item in the future.'
Fiddler Jack Merry reviews three CDs of hardanger fiddle music this week. Hardanger fiddle music? Jack's review will tell you everything that you need to know in his inimitably entertaining and informative style! The albums in question are: Majorstuen, Slâtter fra Tovdal, and Devil's Tune . The Merry one's final verdict is 'Buy all three of these CDs -- you'll never be sorry that you did!'
Lars Nilsson reviewed a couple of albums that caused him to ponder the tremendous diversity of the current Celtic music scene around the globe. Waiting for The Wickerman comes from Clan Terra, a band 'formed in Calgary, Alberta in 1998... With one accordion, three fiddlers, two guitars and a double bass they are capable of turning out powerful sets of jigs and reels.' Flute and whistle player Jules Bitter's Druid Dance A Bardic Experience of Music, Poetry and Dance is, says Lars, 'a very ambitious project, with Bitter using sounds from tapes recorded in forests and in the streets of Dublin as intros to some tracks.'
Patrick O'Donnell declares The King Has Landed to be 'one of the finest examples of traditional Scottish music I have heard in a long time... It's oral tradition at its best, living history at its most vivid.' This concept album, a look at the Jacobite rebellion, features contributions from such Caledonian luminaries as Jim Malcolm, Ian Bruce and The Corries.
John O'Regan is another reviewer proudly clutching an Excellence in Writing Award for his tremendous omnibus of Celtic fiddle music releases . Here's just a few 'Reganisms' to whet your appetites! 'This (Scottish Fiddle Orchestra, At The Royal Albert Hall) is hellfire pure and simple - massed fiddles, thumping drums, some vaudevillian twists and buckets of attitude.' 'She (Elke Baker) doesn't just know the tunes dots and all, she KNOWS the music's inner self, its moves, twists, turns, and nuances -- in fact the very nature of it.' 'Richard Wood is a musician who paints pictures but knows the roots of his music.' Go on, treat yourself! Read the whole thing!
Lenora Rose provides incisive criticism in her review of Elaine Morgan's Shine On. Lenora's view is: 'Elaine Morgan has a lovely voice; a true lush instrument. She is also capable of very sweet Celtic style melodies. It's a pity she drowns out these merits behind bad keyboard sounds and sloganeering.' Lenora earns an Excellence in Writing Award for her magnificent omnibus review of four singer songwriters. Arrica Rose's The Tone Bank 'rises above its flaws to a level well above merely listenable, and I expect she may yet rise to greatness.' Lynny's Drive reveals that 'Lynny is a chameleon. Sweet, screaming, seductive jazzy, slightly shaky poetry reader - superb vocalist, occasional pianist, guitarist - I can't think of anyone else who struck me as sounding like so many different other people in so little time.' Garrett Sawyer's Anthem caused Lenora to speculate that Garrett the artist 'discovered a style that nobody else was using, and decided to try it out...' Finally, Erika Luckett's My Little Crime is declared the work of an artist with 'a sure touch for mixing styles. Best of all, Erika plays to her own strengths.'
Big Earl Sellar makes a welcome return to our pages and is as delightfully acerbic as ever! His first review this week is of Treasures of Light by Anna Mailian: 'Armenian Sacred Singing - now there's a Saturday night party, huh?' Have an Excellence in Writing Award, Earl, it may help to raise your spirits! Salif Keita's The Early Years 'presents recordings dating back to the late 1960's through the early 1980's from an African legend. Big Earl declares that: 'just because it's old doesn't mean it doesn't make you want to dance!' Ah, good -- he's cheered up already.
Chris White reviewed Gioia2, a double CD with a difference by Lives of a Cell. What's so different about it, Chris? 'One disc contains fourteen songs with vocals while the second disc repeats the material in a different order sans vocals. I definitely prefer the instrumental disc.' 'Delightful' is Chris' verdict of At Home and Abroad by the Peninsula Scottish Fiddlers and Friends, from the San Francisco Bay area. This is music 'in the tradition of the 'strathspey and reel societies'.... (and) demonstrates The Fiddlers' emphasis on ensemble unity.' WAH! is, in this case, the name of a female singer and 'New Age /Yoga musician,' not Pete Wylie's UK band of the same name. Opium 'is certainly a well produced effort with professional rock players providing a solid bed for her breathy, intimate vocals.'
Gary Whitehouse says: 'I have no idea if Zappa Picks by Jon Fishman of Phish will appeal to Phish fans, but it seems like a pretty good Zappa sampler to me. Inspired lunacy, controlled chaos, social commentary, puerile humor, sex and rock 'n' roll without the drugs, and that mean guitar. Yup, I believe that covers it.' The Long Goodbye is an album from Portland, Oregon-based Susannah Weaver, who performs as Little Sue. Gary says that Little Sue has 'a style all her own -- strong song writing, a unique voice and a vision that marries country themes to pop smarts... Little Sue deserves a place among the alt-country elite.' Finally, rounding off this weeks massive haul of CD reviews, Gary tells us that Kelly Willis' Easy 'is easily one of the most beautiful country records made in the past year.'
Finished already? Intriguing, wasn't it? There might even be a Best Beloved in here somewhere...I just have to get out and see that film about Motown! Now, if you'll excuse me, I've just got to get my things moved into my office. Wait a second...is that my necklace up there dangling from the chandelier? Maggie Pye! Drat that bird...
Hello there. I'm just going into the Green Man offices here. You too? Let me get the door for you. My name's Grey Walker, by the way. I'm the book review editor for GMR. No, after you. The stairs are a bit steep, aren't they? We've talked about having an elevator installed, but most of our more, errr, 'conservative' clients wouldn't use it. They're a bit suspicious of newfangled gadgets.
I'm just back from one of the used book stores down the street. It's wonderful to have so many within walking distance. I can't decide which is my favorite, although I do make the rounds of three of them just about every week on my lunch breaks. A group of us were talking in the staff break room last week about our favorite venues. Of course, the more musically-inclined among us thought of pubs, coffee houses, beloved-if-shabby little auditoriums and such. I said that I'd probably pick a used book store. When I open the door to a used book store, I'm entering a place where several thousand performances of all sorts, ancient and modern, funny and sad, complex and simple, are quietly waiting for me to launch them on the stage of my spread hands. It's that sense of barely restrained, mad expectancy that gets me every time.
Here at GMR, we love books new and old. When you read our reviews, you'll find us teasing you with a taste of a novel that won't be released for a month yet, and then in the next moment reminding you of classics you've forgotten -- or perhaps never got a chance to read when they first stepped in front of the lights. So grab a scrap of paper and scribble a list for yourself as you read through the reviews that follow. There're some performances here that you won't want to miss.
And be sure to check out the interview with William Gibson that reviewer Wes Unruh conducted this week, as well as the films and books our staff found worth writing about...
When a musician and a writer collaborate, the results are always intriguing and often powerful. It's safe to say that Maria Nutick thinks the collaboration between Steven Barnes and Heather Alexander is on the powerful side. Steven Barnes has written two novels, Lion's Blood and Zulu Heart, which are set in an alternate history from our own, a world in which Muslim nations dominate the earth and an Irish boy is taken to the 'New World' nation of Bilalistan as a slave. Inspired by the African, Muslim and Celtic themes that run through these books, Heather Alexander has written a sort of 'soundtrack' for them, Insh'allah: The Music of Lion's Blood. Now, the books themselves were enough to bowl Maria over. As she puts it, 'This is one of those books that held my interest no matter what was going on around me, and I have Steven Barnes to thank for a missed bus stop and a long trudge home in the rain.' However, the music adds a depth that makes Barnes' world even more fully realized. 'Music is important in a slave culture,' Maria points out. 'Illiteracy is a tool used by masters to keep slaves dependent, and as a result continuity of culture often depends on oral history through song.' Alexander's songs provide that sort of continuity for an imaginary Celtic slave people. But you've got to read the rest of Maria's Excellence in Writing Award-winning review to see how it's done!
Lloyd Alexander has been winning readers' hearts for years with his likeable, oh-so-human heroes and heroines. He's back this year with The Rope Trick, in which the heroine is Lidi, a young traveling magician who makes her living with sleight-of-hand tricks. Kim Bates says Alexander has done it again, with 'an engaging story, and one that captures the difficulties of growing up in a world filled with both the magical and the mundane.'
If you've heard of Paul Di Filippo, but can't quite pin down in your memory just what sort of things he writes, Jayme Lynn Blaschke says there's a good reason. 'As near as can be figured... the best way to identify a Di Filippo story is this: If the piece in question bears little or no resemblance to anything else Di Filippo has ever written, then he probably wrote it. Few, if any, writers can boast the chameleon-like writing prowess of Di Filippo, and the full width and breadth of his skill is on display in Little Doors. The seventeen selections included here... run the gamut from Vonnegut-style absurdity to stark horror to quiet melancholy to surreal parody.' Read the rest of Jayme's Excellence in Writing Award-winning review of Little Doors, and you'll be convinced to give Di Filippo a try -- or another try!
Craig Clarke is back for our weekly review of an oldie-but-goodie by Stephen King. This time, it's King's first recognized novel. 'Puberty fully releases a teenage girl's telekinetic abilities, and an unknown author begins a career that will make him one of the best-selling authors of all time. The girl is Carrie White and the author is Stephen King.' In his review, Craig talks about classic 'King' elements, first seen in Carrie, which King would go on to develop into his famous, ever-in-demand writing style.
Few, if any, imaginary worlds besides J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth merit a thirteen volume history. However, there are imaginary worlds out there that are complex and interesting enough to deserve at least one volume. David and Leigh Eddings have created such a world in The Belgariad and The Mallorean. And The Rivan Codex is that world's history. New reviewer Faith J. Cormier provides an indepth review of The Rivan Codex -- including David Eddings' list of the ten central elements of good fantasy: 'a theology, the quest, the magic thingamajig, the hero, the wizard, the heroine, the diabolical villain, the (male) companions on the quest, the ladies in attendance on these companions and the rulers and government officials.' Of course, it's all more complicated than that, as Faith assures us in her review. Welcome, Faith, and thank you for a review that nicely plugs the 'Eddings' hole in GMR's indices.
Christine Doiron offers us a thoughtful look at Myth: A Biography of Belief by David Leeming. Christine says, 'Leeming seeks to prove that in order for the societies of earth to progress in a healthy, non-destructive manner, we must let go of our old religious myths -- which contradict reality, isolate cultures, denigrate women, justify violence, and hinder us in countless other ways -- and create new myths that are supported by our ever-changing understanding of the universe.'
Our Editor-in-Chief, Cat Eldridge, had Tor rush him a copy of the just-released Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow, which he then read and reviewed in less than two weeks! Why should you buy this book? Cat answers the question in his trademark blunt, upfront fashion. 'You should buy it... largely because it's the rarest of things in this age of bloated books -- i.e., the latest Stephen King or Robert Jordan -- in that it's a slim novel, at just over two hundred pages, that works perfectly. There's not a wasted word, not a badly written paragraph. It's a quick read, barely a few hours, but worth the curling up in a quiet corner and savoring. It's nice to actually finish a novel in a relatively short time.'
Verlyn Flieger is a scholar noted for her tireless work promoting fantasy and the serious, academic study of fantastic literature at the university level. But she's recently shown that she can just as ably and adeptly write the sort of fiction she teaches about. Eric Eller gives Flieger's new 'young adult' fantasy novel, Pig Tale high marks. 'Flieger deftly weaves elements of Celtic mythology into a story of humanity's fear and hatred of the unknown and our all-too-common search for scapegoats.'
Stephen Hunt can't say enough good things about Summer Lightning, the second volume of singer-songwriter Ralph McTell's autobiography. Stephen begins his review by noting, 'It,s an oft-repeated cliche that singer-songwriters express themselves through song because they lack the facility to do it any other way. If there,s any truth in that, Ralph McTell must be the exception that proves the rule, as this is truly a tremendous book. Actually, McTell,s a somewhat exceptional songwriter, so perhaps his ability as a teller of stories (his own) shouldn,t have been much of a surprise.'
Unlike our beloved Ed-in-Chief above, Jack Merry has reviews of two enormous books this week. They're both cultural histories, and Jack raves enthusiastically about both of 'em. Of Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia, by Orlando Figes, Jack says, 'All in all, this is the best book on Russia I've ever read. At 700 pages it is a very long book. But don't let that put you off, as it reads like a wonderfully-written novel.' And he calls Bright Balkan Morning: Romani Lives and the Power of Music in Greek Macedonia, written by Charles and Angeliki Vellou Keil, '[a] stunning book... An illustrated fabric of personal narratives, black-and-white photographs of daily life, cultural commentary and soundscapes. Bright Balkan Morning provides an unprecedented view of settled Rom living in the Balkans, and the unique roles of these players in the daily lives of the people there. These Rom musicians provide the music that holds their often contentious communities together.'
After reading and reviewing these hefty tomes, Jack felt he needed a breather. So he sat down and whipped out another little 'retro-review'... of Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's The Year's Best Fantasy: First Annual Collection! Published in 1988, this is the first volume of what is arguably the best series of anthologies of its kind in the world. And Jack's review tells you why, in loving detail. Hear about the authors who shipped out on YBFH's (Year's Best Fantasy and Horror) maiden voyage; shake your head over all the wondrous tidbits of information provided in the Summation; and sigh again over the names of the fantasy greats we lost that year. We like Jack's two cultural history reviews above. But we love this one -- maybe partly because we love YBFH, and it's wonderful to remember how it all started. An Excellence in Writing Award goes to the fiddlin' Jack.
Patrick O'Donnell brings us another important 'retro' review this week, as well. Patrick has been steadily re-reading and reviewing the late Marion Zimmer Bradley's enormous Darkover series, the undertaking that stands squarely at the center of Bradley's remarkable work in the fantasy genre. The Saga of the Renunciates, released by DAW in 2002, contains the three books The Shattered Chain, Thendara House and City of Sorcery, which deal with the Free Amazons, an important sub-group of emancipated women in Darkover society. Read Patrick's review to see how these three novels provide essential shape for the Darkover mythos.
Still-fairly-new reviewer Kelly Sedinger has turned in yet another 'retro' review, this one of three books by John Bellairs, a writer of gothic mysteries for young adults. The House with a Clock in its Walls, The Figure in the Shadows and The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring tell the story of Lewis Barnavelt; Lewis's Uncle Jonathan, a magician; his neighbor, 'the cantankerous old witch (literally), Mrs. Zimmerman'; and his best friend, Rose Rita Pottinger. Kelly remembers these books for their 'quirky and interesting' characters, their spooky -- but not gory -- plots and their wonderful illustrations, some of which were drawn by Edward Gorey. Kelly garners an Excellence in Writing Award for this loving review of a favorite childhood author.
Christopher White has for us an omnibus review of two biographies of noted folk musicians Tim and Jeff Buckley, a father and son who both sang well and died young. Chris likes Lee Underwood's biography, Blue Melody: Tim Buckley Remembered, for its detail, but has reservations about its objectivity. David Browne's bio, Dream Brother: The Lives & Music of Jeff & Tim Buckley, is more objective, but... Read Chris's review for an indepth study and comparison of the two books and their subjects.
Master Reviewer Gary Whitehouse has two reviews up this week, one of which he wrote twice (don't ask). Just out in 2003, Joseph O'Connor's Star of the Sea is a fascinating novel about Irish immigrants voyaging to America, pieced together from a fictitious journalist's private diary, the captain's log and passengers' letters. 'The genesis of folk songs and how they are adapted to fit the needs of the moment is one of many ingenious plot devices O'Connor weaves through his narrative,' Gary says. 'We're given to believe that the young Pius Mulvey [one of the passengers] wrote the song that has come down to us as 'Arthur McBride.' In Mulvey's original version, he and his brother are working their failing farm when they're visited by a recruiter for the English Army, who offers them escape from their toil and cash money if they enlist: 'Myself and my brother were scratching the land, When up came a captain with gold in his hand....'
Gary's second review is of two fantasies by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, who usually write more mainstream science fiction. The Magic Goes Away, says Gary, 'is a fairly straightforward sword-and-sorcery tale, with plenty of Niven's fingerprints, particularly the writing style and sly wit, and in the use of a conundrum as the major plot device.' The Burning City, written more than twenty years later with Jerry Pournelle, is set in the same imaginary world, but 'it successfully takes Niven's tongue-in-cheek conceit of the first book and turns it into a book-length tale with real flesh-and-blood characters.'
Matthew Winslow has a review this week with the following intriguing statement in it: 'This is not the book that I was expecting to read.' The book in question is Barry Hughart's Chinese-fairy-tale-cum-adventure-story Bridge of Birds. And you're just going to have to read the rest of Matthew's review to find out whether he was pleasantly surprised or not!
Wes Unruh had the very great pleasure of conducting a phone interview with author William Gibson this past week, while Gibson was on tour for his book Pattern Recognition. Wes worked hard to write questions Gibson would enjoy answering, and we think you'll enjoy reading his answers. Wes joins Stephen Hunt as the second recipient of the Odysseus Award for the lengths he went to make this interview happen!
And we have Issue the Seventh of Craig Clarke's column 'The Book of Tales,' in which Craig reviews shorter fiction from magazines and such. This time, Craig looks at stories in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, The New Yorker, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and a collection of short stories, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, by Twilight Zone veteran Richard Matheson.
Craig Clarke takes another skillful look at Woody Allen films this week. This time it's The Purple Rose of Cairo, a fantasy about loneliness, romance, and hard choices. Craig says that the film tells us that 'you can only escape into filmland for so long; eventually you have to come back to real life'. If you haven't seen it, Craig certainly makes it sound like a classic well worth revisiting!
Ryan Nutick brings us a review of a bona fide piece of Americana. Since it's debut in 1973, it has inspired CDs, music videos, rock and roll tribute albums, and not one but two live touring shows. The NYU Medical School and numerous English-as-a-Second-Language and Citizenship Preparation classes have adopted it as a teaching aid. Ryan 'unpacks his adjectives,' 'gets his adverbs from the Lolly's,' 'grabs some conjunctions,' and takes an Excellence in Writing Award-winning look at the School House Rock! Special 30th Anniversary Edition DVD set.
explores the fascinating subject of indie comics, and wins an
Excellence in Writing Award with a fabulous essay on Chasing Amy, a film
which Kestrell says 'explores that territory often left to comic
books and rituals like Valentine's Day and Halloween, where we
express what is best -- and worst --about ourselves. In comic
book terms, it's about what happens when the cool mask slips and
the people we love get to witness our secret identity'.
It seems our newer reviewers are on a roll this week, as Kelly Sedinger garners
an Excellence in Writing Award for his review of
a classic now available on DVD. Kelly says Amadeus
'plays out like a Greek tragedy with dual tragic heroes: first
Mozart, who is blessed with so much talent but no ability to manage
a life, and later Salieri himself, who has been blessed with only
enough talent to recognize the genius he so covets in someone
else.' Go read this marvelous review to find out why Kelly tells
us that 'Amadeus is one of the most superbly-executed films I
have ever seen'.
(Jack pokes his head in for a moment.)
There are no CD reviews this week, as Kim Bates is busy with the Beyond the Borders Music Festival that we're holding in the Great Hall this weekend. Now I'm sure you've heard of some of the performers, such as Lunasa and Sinfonye, but have you heard of Big Bad Wolf, a Celtic punk band from the American Southwest, or Running With Scissors, a band of fey who cover only material that Bela Bartok composed? (I swear the former band includes the shades of several departed Irish musicians that I'd rather not mention.) Neither had I until Kim booked them for this festival! Kim can be found in her 'command centre' in the Green Man Pub. Just for look for her near the Neverending Session with a tancr of spiced Metheglin in hand!
Now look over in the dark corner... See the man in the sharkskin suit with the long greasy hair? It's an A&R rep looking for new talent. His sort materialize every so often here in the Great Hall when we do a concert or festival that's open to the public. He's been showing up for more decades than would seem possible -- I remember him years ago eyeing me band, Ymyl Danheddog (Serrated Edge), to see if we could be packaged to sell to the masses at a tidy profit for a record company. But we told him -- much less than politely -- to go away. He was stubborn, so one of our band members put a reverse glamour on him... Not that it made much difference, as he was already sleazy enough!
It was certainly a pleasure meeting you here. I'm off to go gloat over my used book finds from today. I managed to snag some good stuff -- and a couple of things I'm not sure about, but they looked intriguing. You know, now that I think about it, I'm going to write a venue review of the store where I just got these. But that'll be next week, so you'll have to come back. Got your list of titles from the reviews you just read? Good. Good hunting!
-- Malcolm Gladwell, 'The Coolhunt,' The New Yorker, 17th of March 1995
A group of coolhunters has been meeting in the Green Man Pub for a few months now to informally discuss how to outfox the cool. Really. Truly.
They claim that the ever-so-traditional Irish or Engish pub has become cool once again. No, not the faux look of places like Ri Ra, but the real thing that only centuries of time can create. Which is why, they say, they are here. I personally think it's because they like the CAMRA certified ales and the far-better-than-merely-good pub fare that our kitchen prepares. And more than one of them has noted that the musicians in the Neverending Session are far better than almost anything you can get on CD. Guess we'd better get another keg of Dragons Breath XXX Stout from the sub-cellar. These coolhunters do love that ale!
The Tain is a new novella by China Miéville, who usually writes hefty novels. Jason Erik Lundberg believes that this amazing work is the next step in a writing career that keeps getting better and better. Read Jason's review to learn why reflections are so important in The Tain, and how this motif has been developing through Miéville's other works to reach this point.
You'll notice that we have book reviews from three new reviewers this week, Nathan Brazil, Kestrell Rath and Leona Wisoker. We're delighted to welcome these fine writers to GMR.
New reviewer Nathan Brazil reviews The Human Front, an alternate history novel by Ken Macleod with a Scot from the isle of Lewis as the main character. 'The Human Front is a novella-sized work,' says Nathan, 'but includes so many ideas that it seems much bigger.'
Jason Erik Lundberg, whose featured review of China Miéville's new novella The Tain is mentioned above, has also reviewed another book by Miéville this week, Perdido Street Station. Jason warns that this book is so thick that 'if you dropped the book on a gerbil, you might well kill it.' However, it's worth reading all seven hundred plus pages, he assures us. 'Its one of the most complex and fascinating novels out there, shattering all the conventions of secondary-world fantasy. Miéville combines science fiction, fantasy, and horror into a mélange of something entirely different. He calls it weird fiction.'
Kestrell Rath, another new reviewer, brings us a review of a charming and intriguing self-published chapbook by Carol Ballard, entitled The Greenman: The Shakespeare Connection. In her review, Kestrell says, 'Ballard does not limit herself to speculation and mere theoretical explorations.... This edition of the chapbook, which was reprinted in 2002, is complemented not only by an intriguing (and not at all arcane) bibliography, but also by photographic illustrations of Green Men on English churches and church furniture from that part of Warwickshire and its surrounding counties in which Shakespeare grew up.'
Grey Walker reviews a book that should have been intriguing, Shahrukh Husain's Handsome Heroines: Women as Men in Folklore. With such a provocative title, Grey had high hopes. She says, 'I expected to read the folk tales themselves, with perhaps some exploration of their themes, symbolic motifs and historical background. Instead, Husain has re-written the original tales as stories of her own. While I found her retellings interesting, they lacked force for me, coming across curiously flat.' Read the rest of Grey's review for her speculations as to why the stories don't work as well as they should.
Finally, Leona Wisoker, our third new reviewer, gives an enthusiastic review of Mary Gentle's Rats and Gargoyles. 'Brilliant character development drives this story,' Leona says. 'It's not so much plotted by the author as pushed into inevitable shape by the people involved.' The rest of her review is a detailed analysis of why this novel, a mix of fantasy and science fiction (maybe more of Miéville's weird fiction?) works so well.
Ryan Nutick happened to ask, 'Hey, are we doing anything with the cool venue stuff?' Whereupon, following ancient GMR tradition, he was promptly put in charge of it and made Cool Venues and Other Haunts Editor. Way to go, Ryan!
This week Stephen Hunt takes us to one of his favorite venues, The Rum Store. As Stephen says, 'my local music venue must surely be the coolest. That's not an idle boast, but merely a statement of fact, as the temperature at The Rum Store is at a constant 10 degrees C!' While this might be a turn off for some, after reading the rest of this review, I now have the overwhelming urge to leave my couch in Oregon and join Stephen in Cornwall for a visit to this Cool Venue.
This week, Craig Clarke brings us a review of a film which he says is easily one of Woody Allen's ten best. The story of 'a man so starved for acceptance that he literally transforms himself into whoever he is around...a human chameleon', Zelig is both a comedy and a tragedy. Read Craig's review to find out why he's so fond of this strange and funny fantasy mockumentary.
You'll have to shop carefully to find a copy of the film David Kidney reviews this week...he says the original 1980 theatrical release 'died a quick death'. Of course, as we all know, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's a bad film! David says this film is 'packed with talent and possibilities. The musical sequences are immediate and captivating. The plot has a lot going for it...' So, go and read the rest of his insightful review of Paul Simon's One Trick Pony.
Jack Merry here. I just got chased out of the Music Library where Master Hunt is busily cataloging all the CDs that our beloved Editor-in-Chief got as swag a few weeks ago. And thus it falls to me to write these notes while he mutters to himself while sorting these CDs into some semblence of order.
Richard Condon has been absent far too long from these pages! But he returns this week with an Excellence in Writing Award winning look at Mick Thomas and the Sure Thing's Dust On My Shoes: 'Mick Thomas is well known in his native Australia as a musician and songwriter. He cut his musical teeth with a folk oriented Melbourne rock band called Weddings Parties Anything that played together from 1984 until the end of the 1990s, when the group decided that it was not making the impact that it had hoped for and called it a day. It had nonetheless built up quite a following in Australia, helped by having toured with some 'big name' visitors, and Mick has kept up this practice with his new band, The Sure Thing, which has opened for Green Man Review's favorite sons Fairport Convention when they were in Oz. Mick has also appeared on the same stage as the Levellers during his frequent trips to Britain and other parts of Europe. Musically, however, his current band is a long way from either of these groups.' Will Mick appeal to you? Read this review and find out!
Finnish anyone? Judith Gennett speaks it quite well and it's good thing she does! Spelarit's Kalabaliikki and Tradivaara's Kaikki Soita are hardcore Finnish trad bands -- just what she likes! As she notes, 'As in most genres, these two albums are the same, yet different. If I had a choice of bands, Spelarit would win hands down. The skill level is higher, the sound is richer, and they are more inventive. But Tradivaara has a stately charm all its own. In my life, there is way too little Finnish dance music, so comparing the albums is like comparing diamonds and gold.'
Stephen Hunt had a grand time with the Robert Fish Band's Dances With Fish: 'This is more of a 'golden oldie' than a new release, but it's a very welcome one for all that! My one and only actual encounter with The Robert Fish Band occurred during the folk festival in their native city of Edinburgh back in 1994. Perhaps 'encounter' isn't entirely the best word, as to get close to the band I'd have had to risk life and limb trying to get through a hall full of wildly exuberant Scots people dancing with terrifying enthusiasm.'
Ahhh, Stephen gets some of the best CDs to review. Case in point is the Feast of Fiddles' Live '01 CD. All I need to say in order to get you to read his Excellence in Writing Award winner of a review is this list of fiddlers that you'll hear on this double CD: Chris Leslie (Fairport), Peter Knight (Steeleye), Phil Beer (Show of Hands, Albion Band), Brian McNeill (Battlefield Band), Ian Cutler (Wicker Man soundtrack - yay!) and Tom Leary. Really. Truly.
Now you do know that David Kidney is the Editor and Publisher of The Rylander, the coolest newsletter you'll find concerning Ry Cooder? (If you don't, ask him for details.) After you email him, go read his Excellence in Writing Award winning review of Cooder's newest CD, Mambo Sinuendo. As David says of one cut, ' If your feet aren't moving, if your hips aren't swaying, have someone nearby take your pulse!'
David tells great tales. Some are true, some are not. (I still don't believe his story of where that keg of centuries-old rum went!). But his Excellence in Writing Award winning commentary on two albums (Roger Ruskin Spear's Electric Shocks + and the Bonzo Dog Band's Anthropology: the beast within) deserves to be quoted at length: 'One day in the second half of the last century, in the late '60s to be precise, a bunch of chaps at a British art college got together to form a band. How many stories begin in exactly the same way? It seems that all people did at art colleges in England was sit around playing guitars! Wait a minute! I went to art school in Canada, and all we did was sit around and play guitars, when we weren't lounging around drinking coffee with the nude models! Anyway...back to our story. This group of chaps was different than most. They had no intention to copy Chicago blues, or Detroit R&B, or mountain music from the Ozarks or Appalachians, no their intention was different, and weirder than you can imagine. They wanted to do to music what Marcel Duchamp had done to art. Wake it up, shake it up, and create something new under the sun. They wanted to make people think while they danced! Hmmm.'
The Making God Smile anthology is in honour of Brian Wilson. Now I am not a fan of the Beach Boys, but David is: 'The Silent Planet Web site offers a two disc version of Making God Smile but there's plenty of good music on the single-disc release. It all just makes this listener want to add his thanks to the artists involved. 'Most of all: thank you Brian, for the music.'
Peter Massey, one of our many staff musicians, likes live music a lot. And he thinks that two CDs by Jed Marum, Streets Of Fall River and Into The West: Celts In Texas, are quite good with the latter capturing that live feel: 'It is a very subjective thing, but I like this kind of recording, for this is how the artist really sounds at a live gig. You can almost feel the atmosphere; it is as though you were there. Nowadays modern studio techniques can make an artist sound much better, and I know this can be pleasant to listen to, but this live disc is the real thing!' Wicked Tinkers' Loud CD almost didn't curry favour with Peter, so let him say what changed his mind: 'I would love to hear what comedian, and once upon-a-time folk singer, Billy Connolly would have to say about the Corn Na Lliran (Bronze Age Irish Horn) and Didgeridoo on the aptly named opening track 'Bog'. Because you see, on this side of the pond the word bog is often used to refer to the toilet! Now don't let this put you off the album! For although I thought the horn part was a bit too long, and I was just about to hit the fast-forward button, when the Highland bagpipes and drums set in my confidence was restored. You might say the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and I found myself reaching for my Claymore, just to kill off a few more sassenachs. For make no mistake about it, this is real Sterling music!'
Kevin McGowin says that everyone should know who Odetta is! If you don't, may I suggest reading his review of her The Tradition Masters release?
Now why is that I always hear the coolest music coming from the third floor office of Maria Nutick when I pass by it? Simple -- the lass has bloody fine taste! (Hell, she married Ryan, our Master Indexer, which proves me point!) So it's not 'tall surprising that Gaia Consort's Gaia Circles and Secret Voices which I've heard her playing lately get her hearty approval: 'Recently I saw Gaia Consort in concert, and while I was there I picked up their two recent CDs, Gaia Circles and Secret Voices. Having already downloaded a couple of songs from their Web site and played both to the hair-tearing distraction of my neighbors, I was prepared to enjoy the CDs as well. 'Enjoy' would be an understatement...'
Gary Whitehouse is our resident really old time music expert, so 'tis fittin' that he got to review two CDs by Bert Williams: The Middle years, 1910-1918 and His Final Releases, 1919-1922. Who's that you ask? Fair question. Even Gary notes, 'I know about Fanny Brice. Her portrayal of Brice in 'Funny Girl' was the breakthrough that made Barbra Streisand a star. I know about W.C. Fields, and can recite many of his best-known lines in an approximation of his trademark leer. I can quote many of Will Rogers' aphorisms, including 'I don't belong to any organized party, I'm a Democrat.' These and many others who appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies from about 1913 to 1920 have become household names, and many of them went on to be early movie stars. So why haven't I heard of Bert Williams, the entertainer who played the Follies alongside all of the above, and was also an early star of silent films? The black entertainer, that is. Perhaps my question is answered.' Read his Excellence in Writing Award winning review to see who this artist was. And why you should care 'bout him.
Now I'm off to, errr, help the Neverending Session musicians in drinking a particularly fine vintage of Midnight Wine. You're welcome to join us down in the Green Man Pub!
We lost a piano from the concert rehearsal space on the third
floor. It just left. Not a trace of it. No one saw it leave, but
one of our staffers, Kelly Sedinger, thinks he knows what happened:
'It was probably the Steinway Club, a fringe group that splintered
off the Sierra Club a few years back... they believe in taking
pianos from practice rooms and releasing them into the wild, based
on their rejection of the standard scientific view that the natural
habitat of the wild piano is the concert hall. Sad, really.'
A joyous Candlemas/Imbolc!
Our Editor-in-Chief gets odd but wonderful things given to him, much of which ends up here in the Green Man offices. I walked in earlier this week to see more Celtic CDs piled on the work table in the Music Library than I thought could ever be possible. Hundreds upon hundreds of them were there -- Capercaille, Bowhouse Quartet, Runrig, The Tannies, Old Blind Dogs, Corries, and so forth! Mostly Scottish, but more than a smattering of Irish, Quebecois, and Breton too. Asking him where they came from only resulted in a wide grin, and an offer to help meself to a few of them! The limits of me greed were sorely tested -- how can one pass up classic recordings of Cape Breton fiddling? Or the first album Aly Bain did before he became the stuff of legends? In the end, I only took a dozen or so...
We've also got a pile of staffers to promote this week. Eric Eller, Patrick O'Donnell, Peter Massey, Michael Hunter, Mike Stiles and Liz Milner have all been with us for a while now, and have consistently brought us timely, high-quality reviews. We acknowledge their excellent work by naming them Senior Writers.
Now where's that Skyedance album I found in the pile? If you want me, I'll be upstairs in me office listening to music.
Once upon a Thanksgiving, two boys in New York disposed of some rubbish. Convicted of littering, one Arlo Guthrie was rejected for military service in Vietnam by a draft board that considered him of 'not high enough moral character to burn villages and kill people'. He wrote a classic song based on this event; a song with 'a nifty little fingerpicking guitar part, and a long talkin' blues kinda story about Arlo and his friends and a Thanksgiving dinner and a pile of garbage. And a visit to the draft board, and well, everybody sing the chorus one more time.' Now here's a look at the film that sprang from the 60s opus, Alice's Restaurant, in this Excellence in Writing Award winning review from the talented David Kidney.
As we've said before, there are Tolkien fans, and then there are Tolkien fans... Matthew Winslow not only owns the entire twelve volumes of the History of Middle-earth -- in hardback and paperback -- he also owns the separately-published Index to it! Read Matthew's enthusiastic review to see why it was absolutely necessary to publish this index, and why every serious Tolkien-atic needs to own it (but note that it's only available from HarperCollins in the UK, so you'll need to special-order it if you don't live in the Blessed Isles). We're also featuring this review as a sort of 'teaser' for Liz Milner's upcoming omnibus review of the entire History!
Rachel Manija Brown opens her review of Promethea: Book One by Alan Moore by saying, 'If you don't know Alan Moore, you don't know modern fantasy. At least, you don't know vibrant, witty, sexy, brutal, erudite, mind-blowing, cutting-edge modern fantasy. And you certainly don't know comics.' Rachel wins an Excellence in Writing Award for her provocative review.
Stephen Hunt has two reviews for us this week. He likes Peter Bayliss' Myth & Mystery: A Collection of Ghost Stories and Folklore from the U.K., even though the ghost stories are all 'somewhat genteel in nature.' In fact, he suggests that 'this book would be an excellent companion for anyone planning a family holiday camping or caravanning in the UK. You could visit some of these sites, get the kids to read the appropriate folk tales as you travel around, then have a ghost story before bedtime!' Stephen is even more enthusiastic about Merlin Music, Session Book One: One Hundred Great Session Tunes by Henry Tarbatt and Jenny Smith. 'These are tunes for life,' he asserts, 'for playing, listening, dancing, enjoying and learning. If you want to learn them from a book, then this is, undoubtedly, the user-friendliest example available. Highly recommended!' Stephen garners an Excellence in Writing Award for proving, as No'am Newman did last week, that a review of a tune book can be entertaining and informative.
Michael M. Jones reviews the mammoth Dreaming Down-Under, an anthology of speculative fiction by Australian writers. '200,000 words of original fiction, and 20,000 more of commentary and notes. The limit? Imagination itself.' Michael also takes a look at Chosen of the Sun, Beloved of the Dead and Children of the Dragon, which together comprise The Trilogy of the Second Age by Richard Dansky (yes, that Richard Dansky). Michael's feelings about this trilogy are mixed. 'Would I recommend this trilogy? I'm honestly torn. Yes ... and no. It has its problems, and it has its strengths. If you're familiar with the game Exalted, then by all means pick it up. If you like action-packed fantasy in the style of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this evokes the same imagery and sense of atmosphere.' Read the rest of Michael's review to see what he thinks the problems and strengths of The Trilogy of the Second Age are.
Maria Nutick asked us, when we blurbed her review this week, to 'please mention that we received a big box of food related books from HarperCollins, and that I'll be reviewing them over the next few issues.' She wanted us to add a teaser for 'the best cookbook Maria's ever owned' and mention a review 'heavily weighted toward chocolate.' She's hoping, you see, that maybe all of this will take the edge off her review of Anthony Bourdain's A Cook's Tour. Why? I hear you asking. Well, let's just say the review's a wee bit, err, 'Grinchy.' In fact, we had a split vote among the editors as to whether to give it this week's Grinch Award. Those of us who voted no said, 'It's not caustically biting, it's just an honest appraisal. It should get an Excellence in Writing Award, but it doesn't have that extra je ne sais quoi that says 'Grinch'.' Whatever. I'm sure you've already stopped reading all this waffling and gone off to look at the review for yourself.
Grey Walker reviews the second book in the Arthur Trilogy by Kevin Crossley-Holland, At the Crossing-Places. She says, 'As Rebecca Swain, reviewer of The Seeing Stone (Book One in the trilogy), says in her review, the strength of this story lies not in its link to Arthuriana even though Crossley-Holland employs a deft hand weaving the old legends into Arthur's daily life but in its depiction of the world of a young boy in medieval England. The small details of herbal medicines, the way the people of that day mixed Christianity with folk wisdom and tradition, the rhythms of the year, all feel real and compelling.'
And once again, Matthew Winslow finishes us off with a look at an oldie-but-goodie. This time it's Jack Vance's short story collection, The Dying Earth, originally written in the late 1940s. 'I have spent much of my life reading fantastic literature,' Matthew says, 'but rarely do I come across a book that keeps me on my toes by doing exactly what a fantasy book should, but with enough self-awareness to make me expect something more.' The Dying Earth is such a book.
Be afraid, be very, very afraid. Why? Because Asher Black says so, of course! No, he hasn't been leaving those blasted rubber snakes coiled up in the staff lounge again. He's been watching horror films. Films in which 'the old nightmares of the cave have come howling and snuffling back across the threshold.' Films which 'return to the high terror of the old fairy tales, stories that stood as a warning that perhaps we don't know everything, and perhaps we sleep better for it.' Films like Darkness Falls, which our Asher says 'may reawaken that old fear of things that go bump in the night.' Brrrr...
David Kidney's been busy. In
addition to his review featured above, not to mention those wonderful CD reviews,
he managed to find time to watch a 2 hour DVD. Compiled from two live shows
by guitarist Randy Bachman, 'Canadian institution' and force behind bands Bachman
Turner Overdrive and the Guess Who, Randy
Bachman: Every Song Tells A Story 'tells more than a dozen tales of
life in the music business, on the road, in the studio, and on stage.' Find
out why David and his fellow Canucks are bursting with pride over their 'Canadian
treasure', Randy Bachman.
This week's CD section is a small but perfectly formed affair, lovingly hand-crafted by three dedicated experts in the art of music reviewing! There's a discernible theme running through the music that they've reviewed for us this week, as it's all the work of true 'eccentrics,' people whose boundless enthusiasm and restless creativity leads them to produce fascinating work which reaches for destinations miles beyond the stifling confines of 'the mainstream.' Hey, that sounds (in the nicest possible way) like our reviewers, too! Gennett, Kidney and O'Regan, we salute you!
Judith Gennett commences proceedings with her review of Fever from Texan 'journalist/punster/singer-songwriter Steve Brooks . This is a four song EP released as: 'a protest against changes which have take place since the World Trade Center crash.' Judith reckons that : 'Brooks' songs seem to represent the 'real people' potpourri of peace advocates.'
Any review which begins with the line: 'Alternative ethnic recordings have now become a fixture in the avant garde ethnophile and polka scenes!' is guaranteed to grab my attention straight away. One James Tiberius Kirk famously claimed that space was the final frontier - he'd obviously never been to some of the music venues that Judith frequents! I don't recall whether the Enterprise crew ever encountered The Kubasonics, but Judith certainly has, and she's reviewed their Giants Of the Prairies CD for us. Judith helpfully informs us that this Edmonton, Alberta, band 'are the Brave Combo of the zabava, of the Can-Ukrainian Prairies,' and 'Giants Of the Prairies is named for big, strange statues that towns erect.'
If that all sounds rather mysterious, Judith also reviews a CD from The Black Cat Orchestra entitled Mysteries Explained. Judith describes the The Black Cat Orchestra as: 'a wind and brass-heavy band from Seattle,' and the CD as: 'mostly esoteric film music.'
David Kidney is currently mourning the recent loss of one his local musical talents - Richard Newell, AKA King Biscuit Boy. Somehow David has achieved the remarkable feat of not only reviewing Biscuit's entire recorded output, but simultaneously penning a hugely engaging tribute to the harmonica hero. David notes: 'Richard Newell's blues ran as deep as his soul -- his body finally couldn't take any more abuse, and gave up the ghost. King Biscuit Boy is gone. But his music will never die!' Speaking of departed musical mavericks, what 'in tarnation' is Frank Zappa doing in here in Green Man?! The answer is that there's a new compilation entitled Zappa Picks-by Larry LaLonde of Primus which has fallen into the hands of the wonderfully astute Mr Kidney. Here's an example of what to expect from David's Excellence in Writing Award winning review: 'Funny, challenging, a little bit dirty, even sophomoric at times, Zappa is an acquired taste. Ryko has done a wonderful job of managing the old music, and now they've come up with a way to sell the legend to legions of new fans' with a collection 'hand picked by somebody the kids will dig!'
John O'Regan turns his attentions to The Clumsy Lovers, a self-defined 'Canadian Raging Bluegrass Celtic Rock' group. Their CD, Under The Covers with The Clumsy Lovers is as John observes an album of cover versions. 'However,' says John, 'the swagbag includes songs by Paul Simon, Shane McGowan right through to U2, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page' which makes for 'a lively ride through some standard favorites seen through delightfully different eyes.' John's second review is of Childsplay Live, which he describes as: 'a wide-ranging and eclectic mix of Irish, American, European music.' Our reviewer states: 'For those not familiar with Childsplay (and that included this reviewer until he heard this CD and dug a little further), the best comparison would be that of an acoustic folk/roots music orchestra. The group includes over two-dozen musicians drawn from the folk, traditional, Celtic, and roots music communities whose mixed backgrounds and styles blend to form a cohesive whole displaying versatility, ensemble virtuosity, technical panache, and exuberance.' A remarkable CD then, possibly even more remarkable given that the common bond that provided the impetus for it is that these musicians all play instruments from the same maker!
Reynard here. While Jack's off in his office blissing out to music, you and I are going to make our way quickly down to the kitchen for afternoon tea. There's fresh baked Turos Lepeny (Hungarian yeast bread with cheese topping) out of the brick ovens. To make it even better, Bela has donated a tin of Hungarian Lekvar, a thick, soft spread made of fruit (usually prunes or apricots) cooked with sugar! I hear that there might even be Poppy Butter, so wonderful on warm breakfast rolls. And lashings of Earl Grey tea to wash it all down with? Ymmm!
And yes, I'm constantly surprised at what our resident violinist pulls out of that not-terribly-large bed roll he showed up here with a few months back. The kitchen staff is still buzzing over the Smoked Hungarian Garlic Kolbasz he gave them as a gift for us allowing him to stay here. They were so happy that they made him Translyvania Krumbumballe to help him get over the cold he was suffering from when he arrived...
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