'The heavy moldings around the door and windows, the shelves, the pedestal table, were oak; the chairs were high-backed and upholstered in a dark fabric full of birds and flowers. The shelves were anywhere the windows weren't, except for the floor and ceiling. The rug under the table and the smaller ones by the windows were deep red, figured with detailed geometric medallions in many other colors. There were lamps on brackets and on stands by the chairs, and a huge oil and candle chandelier over the pedestal table. Reading after dark, it seemed, was expected.' -- Emma Bull's Bone Dance

16th of January, 2005

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Jack Merry here. The personal library that we have in our flat is fairly large -- a thousand or so works of fiction are in it. Now neither Brigid, me lovely wife, nor I keep something unless we're planning on re-reading it, or it has some sort of sentimental value. If we kept everything we read, the cats would risk getting buried under piles of books! But as large as it is, oft times I find nothing new has been added to the library that tickles me fancy. What I do is go back and read again something I like such as the Naigo Marsh Lord Alleyn -- ever-so-properly English mysteries (Our Editor is reviewing the BBC series which was recently released on DVD). Or perhaps a second pass at a Neil Gaiman will suffice as did Stardust a fortnight ago. Re-reading is comforting -- especially on a cold winters night when being disappointed by a less than sterling read is not something to look forward to.

So I decided to ask some of me fellow staffers what they re-read and why. Here are some of their answers over coffee -- Irish of course -- in the Pub late last week.

Kim Bates says 'I often re-read novels before bedtime because I know that will put me to sleep, where a new novel will keep me up all night because I want to know what's going to happen next.  (For the same reason, I don't have a TV in the bedroom!) I tend to like stuff that absorbed me the first time, something where I can savour the writing or the character or the theme. Lord of the Rings and Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper both end up on the bedside table.  Recently I have been reviewing audiotapes of Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, so I re-read all of them to evaluate the voice of the reader -- and because there is so much sweet and funny dialogue, and because the main characters of a melancholy sort like myself...and of course Harry Potter gets left in the room by the one of the girls on fairly regular basis. But it can't be anything new or I'm up till it's done!'

Joel Boyce actually admitted he reads things again: 'For fantasy, it's Mask of the Sorcerer, by Darrell Schweitzer. For sci-fi, it's Helm by Steven Gould. I've read them both at least thrice. I'd like to read them both again soon. Maybe over the break. Though I have a lot of other stuff to get through.' Whereas Tim Hoke answered 'I enjoy Wellman's Silver John stories, so I often reread my battered copy of John the Balladeer. Also, I recently reread War For The Oaks.'

Huw Collingbourne -- who declared a pox upon on both sides of the fox hunting controversy in Britain when we were discussing it in the Pub recently -- noted that he 'rarely re-read novels. Well, not unless I read them more than one or two decades ago.... I do sometimes re-read short stories (everything from Philip K Dick to P G Wodehouse) and poetry (Shakespeare sonnets, Andrew Marvell, John Donne, Milton). Having said that, I re-read The Lord Of The Rings recently and was not as impressed as when I read it first, many, many years ago. The epic quality and scholarship are undoubted but some of the writing is a bit clunky and Gandalf really irritates me when he peppers his speech with 'Lo!' and 'For Behold!' etc. I do re-read M. R. James ghost stories fairly often, especially at this time of year. And I occasionally re-read Sherlock Holmes stories. But there is just so much that I haven't yet read that I rarely have time to go back and read things I read before...'

Matej Novak has a single book he revisits: Perfume by Patrick Suskind. He says that 'it's one of the only books I've ever read more than once, and thinking about it now makes me want to read it again. It's just so rich and vibrant, yet amazingly easy to read, that I find something new each time and feel incredibly rewarded when I'm done.'

Gary Whitehouse too does little re-reading: 'I read so many new books that I rarely re-read anything any more, which is a pity. Well, I do sometimes go back and zip through previous installments in the Larry Niven-inspired Man-Kzin Wars series, and I've been known to re-read Niven's entire universe of 'Known Space' works, because its such an interesting universe he has developed, and peopled with such engaging characters, such as Beowulf Shaeffer, Louis Wu and Gil Hamilton. But my favorite work to re-read is Conrad's Lord Jim; don't ask me why. Its theme of the possibility of redemption through self-sacrifice must resonate. I first read it as a school assignment at a particularly formative age, 15 or so, and I still pull it off the shelf every few years and re-read it. It's a mature work by a mature writer, and it never fails to make me think deep thoughts about things like human nature, the nature of heroism and cowardice, and the enduring power of literature.'

Now I'm off to see what Mia has discovered for interesting books in the afternoon post, as one never knows what might come in for review.

Jack Merry here. SPike's off writing up his Best of 2004 list this week. He left me this note about that endeavour: 'Wot grabbed my attention f'r the first time in 2004? Well, let's see. I think it 'ad to be, ummm. No wasn't that. Errr. @#$%! Yeah! It 'as to be Sleeman's Cream Ale! Of course. @#$%! The stuff is just as described. Smooth, creamy, ice cold an' brewed right down the road in Guelph. Unlike the run of the gutter generic brews available in Canada, Sleeman's taste like real ale. Highly @#$%in' recommended, especially for those late night jam sessions!' While we eagerly await SPike's views on popular culture in the last year, we have a tidy number of reviews for you this outing...

Vonnie Carts-Powell, a very long time fan of the Oysterband, found The Big Session, Vol. 1 which features the Oysters with various guests to be rather excellent: 'Music sounds best live. And even live, the best music often doesn't happen on stage in front of an audience. It happens when the musicians are relaxed, and pleased with their company, and having fun. This is a recording of concerts that try to reproduce the feel of an informal session, with the likes of the Oysterband, Show of Hands, The Handsome Family, Eliza Carthy, Ben Ivitsky, Jim Moray, and James O'Grady. Rose Kemp also supplied backing vocals.' Having heard this recording, I can only that she is indeed spot on!

Jake La Botz's All Soul and No Money and Night Sun's drive get an appreciative review from David Kidney: ' Two albums of rootsy music with dabs of colour from the blues, folk music, world and even jazz are up for consideration with this pair from two of our favourite distributors. And while the music contained on them may not seem similar, it is (in both cases) proof that geography has a lot to do with music. One is urban, informed by the blues and American roots; the other is Canadian with roots in the dark greens of the forest and lakes of the north.'

Neil Mulligan's An Tobar Glé and an anthology entitled Third Grand Concert of Piping are two great recordings -- that according to John O'Regan who is working right now on a review of the new (!) Horslips album. He notes: 'Piping is one of the most distinctive aspects of the Celtic music repertoire. Whether the pipes are the Irish bellows-blown uilleann pipes or Scottish mouth-blown bagpipes or otherwise, each instrument is distinctive and possesses a unique position in the native tradition of its place of origin. Here are two fine examples from different strands of the piping repertoire: Irish piper Neil Mulligan plays the uilleann pipes solo -- without accompaniment -- on his third CD An Tobar Glé while The Third Grand Concert of Piping takes a wide angled look at piping traditions of Scotland and Mainland Europe with a pronounced contemporary twist.'

Lisa L. Spangenberg has a confession about her experience in reviewing this Paul Mounsey recording : 'I lack the depth of exposure needed to truly appreciate the variety of musical genres and styles Paul Mounsey draws on, but I definitely know City of Walls is a great album. It's Mounsey's fourth. You may know his work from the three Nahoo albums, Nahoo, Nahoo Too, and Nahoo3: Notes from the Republic, all previously reviewed at Green Man Review. In the past, critics have used terms like 'techno,' and 'ethnic groove' to describe Mounsey's work. In City of Walls, Mounsey draws, very definitely and obviously on his Celtic roots as a native of Ayrshire, but he also draws on the music traditions of Brazil, his current home.'

Pat Simmonds looks at the Gaelic Ireland anthology: 'Perhaps it is a testament to the strength of Irish language singing that even a four-CD box set still would not fully represent the current status of the genre.' Go read his review to see why he holds this to be true!

Catherine Braslavsky Ensemble's Chartres - The Path of the Soul was a live recording that Robert M. Tilendis had somewhat mixed feelings about: 'I found this collection somewhat problematical only because there is little intensity. It would be foolish to expect the soul-grabbing magnificence of Bach's Mass in B minor or Pärt's Passio, but even in music devoted to meditation, one hopes for a certain fire.' It is worth noting, as reviewer does, ' The Catherine Braslavsky Ensemble has issued Chartres - The Path of the Soul not so much to present a style or period of music as to commemorate an event in which they have participated since 1997: they perform each year at Chartres Cathedral accompanying groups of pilgrims as they walk the labyrinth set in tile in the Cathedral. The exercise is a form of walking meditation, guided by the pattern of the labyrinth.The ensemble consist of Catherine Braslavsky, solo voice, chorus, and doulcimer, Thierry Renard, solo voice, chorus, and cello, Joseph Rowe, oud, percussion, and doulcimer, with the remaining chorus members made up of Blandine Lambert, Nadine Ouannoughi, and Pakoune.'

Robert also looked at two ragas by Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Raga Shuddh-Sarang and Raga Piloo-Kafi, which he says are 'for those interested in classical Indian music, an excellent illustration of the possibilities of the sarod. Neither raga is terribly long -- about 25 minutes each -- and in both, the musicians display the kind of engagement that is an integral part of successful performance in Indian music. This one really rewards attention.'

Next up for Robert is a recording of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, certainly a favourite of mine. Unfortunately this recording did not altogether appeal to him: 'I wish I could be as enthusiastic about German's effort as about Gay's. I was somewhat put off by it on first listening, although subsequently it did redeem itself to a certain extent. It might be more engaging in a full presentation, and certainly suffers by comparison with The Beggar's Opera. It is pleasant music, tuneful and engaging, although lacking in bite, and the cast is certainly accomplished: not only the soloists but the chorus as well deliver some tricky passages cleanly and strongly. In fact, the singers are the strength of these highlights. The madrigal (Here's a paradox for lovers) at the end of Act I is delicious, and Sophia's solo in Act II, Love maketh the heart a garden fair, is lovely in itself and sung with great depth.'

Before heading off to the pub for some more Irish coffee, I must tease with a bit from a review next week by Mike Stiles of Josh Lederman y los Diablos' This Town's Old Fair recording: 'This is one of those CDs that simply cannot be reviewed with any sort of objective poise. After scores of notes written on the backs of cocktail napkins and Chinese restaurant menus, not to mention entire tables filled with empty beer bottles, I decided fuck it, here's my best shot.' Sure as 'ell piqued my interest!


Before I take your leave, I should note that that we will not be covering the Folk Alliance conference in Montreal this coming month as we had planned. According to our Editor-in-Chief who had a conversation earlier this week with the Folk Alliance publicist, Folk Alliance doesn't do comp press passes unless it's for the Really Big Media like CNN. So we won't be there. And that means that you, our readers, will not get to know how terribly cool the bands and record labels attending may be. Their loss and, more importantly, your loss.


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Updated 16 January 2005, 10:00 GMT (JM)