'You've only been in nine bands and you call yourself
a musician?' -- overheard in the Green Man Pub late one night
27th of March, 2005
Jack Merry here. Once upon a time, I fiddled away the entire night of a summer solstice under the stars with a Québécois band named Les Chèvres Dansantes. That means in English 'The Dancing Goats', the French Canadian name for the Northern Lights, which they say dance in the sky. Like the Northern Lights, the band danced as much as they played that night. ( Québec has the world's finest junk food that I've ever been lucky 'nough to eat! It's is called poutine, and you can get it almost anywhere, to take out in paper boxes, or to eat there. It consists of a mixture of a sort of cheddar cheese that comes in popcorn-shaped clumps, frites (French fries), and a delicious gravy-like sauce that goes over the cheese and frites.) But the reason we were there was to provide, as Kevin Burke once said, 'dance music, and it's got to have a fair old bit of jizz in it'. Surely you've felt like dancing when the night grows cold and the there's 'nought but the stars overhead and a roaring bonfire for light? We did. For we who are musicians, it's always about playing music together, playing for dancing and for listening, and the magic that it creates in all of us. There's plenty of gossip among the musicians about who was playing with which bands, who has learned a new tune worth sharing, but mostly, it's about those jigs and reels and slow airs and waltzes, and how of all of us -- be we musician, dancer, or listener -- are part of the music.
We played damn near everything that long, magical night -- Québécois, Celtic, Nordic, Russian, Welsh, and even a few from over the Border that the Seelie Court introduced to an Irish fiddler named Mad Pat two decades ago, and which I first heard being played by the Neverending Session in the Green Man Pub. We had more than enough musicians present so that all of us could grab a bite, drink a bit, dance as we saw fit, and, for those so inclined, chase a willing lover. We finished off the next morning as the sun rose over the mountains with ' Midsummer's Night', a sprightly reel also known among fiddlers as 'Miss McKnight's Reel'. The dancers treated us to what they called a proper morning-after breakfast -- Blue Mountain coffee with cream, fresh squeezed tangerine juice, and a lavish buffet good enough to please even the most jaded of palates! For me, the freshly baked blueberry muffins the size of small melons was me favourite food that morning. Though I must admit the scrambled eggs with smoked Scottish salmon, Vidalia onions, and Chevrochon Tomme du Haut Richelieu was awfully good too!
There is oft times a considerable lag between the time we review a book in the form of a bound galley or an advance review copy and its actual publication. Such is the case with Charles de Lint's Quicksilver & Shadow -- Collected Early Stories, Vol. 2 which was published by Subterranean Press this week. Cat Eldridge reviewed it from the advance copy for the issue of the 26th of September, 2004, which sounds like a long time ago until you consider that he is now reading not one but three novels which won't reach the bookshelves until two or three years from now! Charles de Lint always impressed Cat with his ability to weave a tale that held his interest from the beginning to the end. He noted in his review that this is a much more exciting collection than A Handful of Coppers: Collected Early Stories, Volume 1: Heroic Fantasy was for him. If you, like Cat, collect de Lint, you'll want this collection, as will any serious readers of better than merely good fantasy.
Cat Eldridge is in love with the 20th Anniversary edition from Subterranean Press of Charles de Lint's beloved urban fantasy novel, Moonheart, as he notes thusly: It is 'a true hardcover. Not a cheap, quickly produced, and soon to be remaindered hardcover that'll be worth a few bucks at your favorite bookstore a few years from now, but a book that likely will be read by someone generations from now who appreciates the pleasure of reading a good novel. Subterranean Press never does any printing that is not among the best available and this is no exception. I have every de Lint that Subterranean Press has published and this is the best one to date. I really like the Art Deco design which Gail Cross (I presume) created. It is simply superb -- clean and fancy at the same time. Good book design is a rare creature indeed. Good book design with a truly classic text and suitable illustrations is even a rarer creature. Suffice it to say that all parties involved deserve a round on the house in the Green Man Pub for the work they've done here!'
SPike loves Irish music which is why he insisted that this review be included in our Featured Reviews section this edition: 'Kings of Irish music, the Chieftains, pay tribute to their fallen comrade Derek Bell on a new live album, cleverly titled, Live From Dublin: a Tribute to Derek Bell. Scott Gianelli considers their long career, and looks at this new CD in context, as he concludes, 'Live from Dublin maintains the standard of quality performances which The Chieftains have set for themselves, and does more than adequate justice to the memory of a man who gave thirty years to the band and the music. Long-time fans of The Chieftains have no reason not to add this to their collection.' But the rest of his review is so informative... you jus' haveta read it!'
Not Irish music at all, but something more exotic is our next featured live review. Tuva is a Central Asian country north of Mongolia that is noted for its throat singers. Tuvan throat singers produce two tones at once when they sing: a fundamental tone and an eerie overtone. Tuvan singing is more than just an unusual vocal style; it is an evocation of this Central Asian 'Cowboy' culture's deeply rooted affinity with the natural world.
Green Man Review Senior Writer, Barbara Truex, explains how a throat singing concert by the Tuvan quartet Huun Huur Tu, encapsulated Tuvan culture. She adds that 'Asian music is probably the most difficult music for Westerners to develop a taste for. The instruments and singing styles tend to make many people comment that things seem 'out of tune' and sound too 'screechy.' If you shy away from listening to Asian music because of these reactions, perhaps introducing yourself to the Tuvan genre is a good place to start. I say this partly because the rhythms of the horse are incorporated into much of the music, and partly because of the range of vocal tones and timbres in the throat singing style. I guess you could say Tuvan music might be the appropriate bridge from Western to Asian styles. I thought all the music in this concert was incredibly accessible. It certainly seemed so from the crowd's reaction.'
More Celtic music is on tap as as two of Ireland's best Irish traditional bands, Dervish and Lúnasa, presented an evening of high-energy folk music at Alexandria, Virginia's legendary music club, the Birchmere. Our Live Editor, Liz Milner, writes that both performances were stellar, but she was mystified that Dervish, rather than Lúnasa, was the warm-up act. Both bands are great, she writes 'but in previous performances, Dervish had impressed me as the band to bring the house down. Also, I'd seen Lúnasa in other performances where they'd been a bit distant; technically perfect but lacking a rapport with their audience.' After describing the evening's entertainment, Liz gives a nostalgic account of days of yore, when a trip to the Birchmere was not just an opportunity to hear great music but a test of intestinal fortitude. An intimate interlude with a knothole is also described in detail. You can read about this and Liz's journey on The Spiral Path here.
All four of our featured reviews this edition get well-deserved Excellence in Writing Awards.
April here, filling in as Acting Book Editor while Mia enjoys a much-needed spring break. I'll be here for this issue and throughout my namesake month, spreading spring cheer -- or at least bringin' out the books!
First up, Donna Bird reviews Rudy Rucker's As Above, So Below a fictional recounting of painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder's life. While the transition from writing non-fiction to fiction is difficult for many writers, Bird says that Rucker 'has done a masterful job of evoking the ambiance of a period in European history that is unfamiliar to many contemporary readers ... He has likewise created a sympathetic and believable character out of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, using only the very sketchy biographical information available.' Check out the review to see how he pulled this off.
Fans of TV's late-lamented sci fi series Farscape -- or of Jim Henson's Creature Shop -- will definitely want to check out Jayme Lynn Blaschke's review of The Creatures of Farscape: Inside Jim Henson's Creature Shop. Jayme proclaims the book 'fascinating' and says that it's chock full of 'informative, straightforward prose' and lavish photographs, sketches and concept art.' A veritable treasure trove for fans!
When Lory Hess says 'Most people's knowledge of Canadian children's literature runs the gamut from Anne of Green Gables to . . . well, Anne of Green Gables' I think many of us can concur. But don't let that deter you from checking out Windows and Words: A Look at Canadian Children's Literature in English. While the book does focus predominantly on Montgomery's Anne and Emily of Full Moon, there's other authors to discover, like Tim Wynne-Jones and Patricia Galloway, Lory assures us.
Michael M. Jones dives back into 'London's rotten, blackened heart' with Simon R. Green's fourth novel about the Nightside in Hex and the City. And while Green's writing may not be to everyone's taste, Michael thinks, the 'Nightside series possesses a powerful, entertaining charm all its own, and it's obvious by now that Green has a master plan and is plunging towards the culmination of everything with an inexorable steadiness, much like a car with its brake lines cut.'
Michael has a second review for us this week, a bit of urban fantasy, Nawlins-style, with Charlaine Harris' Dead as a Doornail, which he says 'is another excellent installment to a highly enjoyable series,' despite having a few quibbles with its more soap opera elements and hurried resolution.
In his glowing review of James D. Houston and Eddie Kamae's Hawaiian Son: the Life and Music of Eddie Kamae David Kidney fondly recalls his meeting with the famous ukelele player. And of the book itself, he says, 'Through it all, author James D. Houston presents a warm and loving portrait of a true Hawaiian Son . . . Add a wealth of photographs, a discography, filmography and chronology, all put together in a stunningly designed volume that simply feels like quality, and Hawaiian Son provides an endearing look at an enduring talent.'
Patrick O'Donnell asks, 'Ever wonder if there's another world under your feet? Ever peer into a hole in the ground and wonder how far down it goes, what strange and wonderful things it might lead to, what fascinating things the dirt and rocks and roots might hide from your prying eyes?' If your answer, like his, is an enthusiastic'yes!' then you should check out his review of Peter Fitting's Subterranean Worlds, a look into hollow earth theories and the fiction they spawned. Patrick has some reservations about Fitting's tendency for redundancy, but concludes that while the book 'may not have enough facets to sparkle brightly, it's certainly polished enough to catch hold your attention for a while.'
While he regrets having to reveal more of the plot than he'd wanted to, Kelly Sedinger's review of Tristam Kyth's Trouble in the Forest: A Cold Summer Night is, on the whole, positive. Kelly says, 'For an interesting take on an old tale, told with excellent attention to detail and atmosphere, Trouble in the Forest: A Cold Summer Night is a good read. If its pacing had been a bit more brisk, it might have been a great one.' To see which tale has been turned on its head, read the rest of his review!
Robert M. Tilendis brings us two books this week related to composer Hector Berlioz. The first, which he heartily recommends, is Michael Rose's Berlioz Remembered, a biography that is 'immediate, colorful, poignant, sometimes irrepressibly funny, with a real sense of the time and context.' Berlioz's own writing, The Musical Madhouse, doesn't fare as well, alas. Robert feels that this collection of Berlioz's essays, translated from the French, 'are not so much humorous as fantastic and after a while tend to partake of an overriding sameness.'
Valerie Paradiz's Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales, 'succeeds being in being eye-opening, entertaining, and informative' in its treatment of the Grimm Brothers' lives and work according to reviewer Elizabeth Vail. The book provides an intriguing perspective on the role of young women and the Grimms' creations.
Rachel Manija Brown thought that Steamboy has beautiful animation, but otherwise she finds it lacking. 'There are no interesting characters,' she says, adding,'As for the plot, it's all about stuff blowing up.' Rachel's review picks up both an Excellence In Writing Award and a Grinch Award.
David Kidney has mixed feelings about the DVD version of Festival Express. 'If your interest is the film...this is a wonderful package,' but he warns, 'If, however, you are more interested in the wonders of the DVD, and the special features which often appear on special edition 2-disc sets...you may be in for a disappointment.' How so? David explains it all in his review.
'I have had a change of heart about this film. I was not overly impressed by it the first time out, but after this most recent viewing I began to see it in a different light. It was no longer about Tom Cruise, movie star. I saw the bigger picture. So David comments after viewing the DVD release of The Last Samurai. Read his review to find out what brought the change of heart.
It would be an understatement say that David considered viewing four hours of The Lost World to be an ordeal. 'The characters spout the pointless dialogue as if it was Shakespeare. The colour of the scenery is supersaturated, and while it's beautiful to look at it cries out 'comic book!' The special effects are unbelievably silly. The dinosaurs are generic creatures that look nothing like any specific species. The blending of animation and actors is so clumsy that you can almost see them standing in front of the blue screen interacting on two distinct levels. The costumes for the ape-men deny any gender specific details, these are hairy Barbie dolls!' A Grinch Award goes to David for this review.
Good music could be heard coming from Gary Whitehouse's office recently. Gary's been watching DVDs of Beausoleil and The Funky Meters, both filmed at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Gary thought that Beausoleil delivered some good music, but he wasn't thrilled by the cinematography -- 'Far too often the camera zeroes in on the wrong musicians: when Michael is taking the lead on his fiddle, we see guitarist David Doucet and bassist Al Tharp, and vice-versa...The camera tries to move around and keep things interesting, which turns out to be a problem; BeauSoleil really doesn't lend itself to the kind of passive viewing offered by a DVD.' Of The Funky Meters' DVD, he notes, 'The camera work is good, but the editing here is also more jumpy than it needs to be, even with only four musicians to cover.' Gary's review earns him an Excellence In Writing Award.
This wuz a @#$%in' BIG job today!
Well, faith an' #$%^in' begorah! We've missed St. Paddie's Day. Don't really matter though! I wore me Guinness shirt, an' Dave an' I drank our fills of that black brew! Aaaahhh! I remember it well. An' then we ate ourselves a healthy helpin' of Mrs. Dave's Irish Stew. She called it, 'Oirish stew!' mind ya. Wotever, it were DEEEElicious! Then we watched a DVD all about Shane McGowan, played a wack of Van Morrison records... no... I mean records, on that wee little record player that Dave has! The sound is thin and all @#$%in' trebly but Dave says it reminds 'im of growin' up, an' wot records sounded like when he was a kid. I said, 'They had @#$%in' electricity when YOU wuz a kid?' He smacked me gob, an' then we settled into playing a jam session wif a leprechaunish fellow named Stephen, who kept tryin' to request tunes that we didn't know. Finally he says, 'Let's finish wif a rollickin' version of The Clash's rendition of 'Catch the Wind!' So Dave kicks it off, an' we @#$%in' DID! Thought I'd die!
Anyway, we don't 'ave any Clash today... maybe next time (I been workin' on it!) but we DO 'ave lots of various things that might just tickle yer fancy!
First off, it's John Benninghouse wif Carwreck Conversations by Ralston. 'While it has been a while since any music by Townes van Zandt has graced my ears, Carwreck Conversations' opening cut, 'What Kind of Friend' brought him to mind immediately. Although he hails from Michigan and not Texas, Ralston has more than a bit in common with van Zandt. Like Townes, Ralston falls most easily into the Americana camp and doesn't raise a lot of winsome smiles with his music.' Ah well, who the @#$% wants 'winsome smiles' anyway? John continues his reviews wif a look at a collection of blues music called Back to the Crossroads: the Roots of Robert Johnson . It's a bunch of blues artistes who either influenced or wuz influenced by RJ. How'd they do? Read the review...but for certain John wuz impressed by the way they did it! 'The folks at Yazoo lovingly transfer aging 78 RPM records to compact disc, cleaning up the sound along the way as best as modern technology permits. Whether featuring a single artist or several, each release provides a snapshot of a time and place far removed from today's urban, MTV-permeated pop culture.'
THEN the erudite Mr. Benninghouse writes about a Polish band Kroke, wif an introductory paragraph wot 'ad ol' SPike runnin' for the Jamieson's. 'Ave a gander at this! 'I read today that a group of über-geeks at Southwest Missouri State University published a paper refuting Metcalfe's Law. Metcalfe's Law, don't ya know, posits that the value of a computer network goes up with n2 -- the square of the number of members. The computer scientists in Missouri argue that, because not all links in a network are equally valuable, a more correct formula is nlog(n) -- a considerably smaller number! Yet while we here in the United States have some of our most brilliant minds working out equations for the utility of computer networks, the marketing geniuses in this country still dictate that we lump just about any kind of music not made in any of our 50 states into that all purpose category 'world music.' Any club DJ will tell you that there are nine families of electronica (house, tech-house, techno, trance, breaks, down tempo, drum'n'bass, hip-hop, and ambient), but we categorize purveyors of traditional Ghanian dance music alongside the jazz-inflected klezmer of a band from Poland. While this situation is not likely to change anytime in the near future, it does show that the utility of the phrase 'world music' approaches zero for the listener.' An' then, somehow he manages to talk about the music on Quartet: Live at Home an' make it all make sense! Wot a guy!
Me ole chum David Kidney wuz playin' this reggae music turned up really loud. I thought the @#$%in' bass wuz gonna explode 'is head! Especially after all those Guinnesses 'e'd been drinkin'. Is It Rolling, Bob pays homage to Bob Dylan's songs by using Bob Marley's style. Quite nifty, it is! 'The crack 'riddim' section finds a groove and sticks 'wid it' and the singers do their thing over top. It's a pretty straitforward formula, but it sure pays off with some of the funkiest grooves Dylan's songs have ever had.'
Peter Massey 'ad a listen to Paul Tiernan's new one Belle. 'If you have never heard of Paul before, let me give you a brief introduction. Paul Tiernan, ex member and singer with Flex and the Fastweather a band who in their heyday had a string of hit singles in Ireland, and culminating with a top ten hit in Sweden, but he is virtually unheard of in Great Britain. For the past few years he has embarked on a solo career.' A singin' Irish man... sounds promisin', don't it!?!
Lars Nilsson reviews a couple of CDs by a duo called Simon Mayor and Hilary James on one disc, an' Hilary James with Simon Mayer on the uvver! Wot's the diff'rence? Lars don't rightly know, but he does say this...'Hilary James and Simon Mayor have spent the last month acting as support on Fairport Convention's winter tour in England. People have described their opening sets as a great success. From these records I can understand why. They are not revolutionary in any way and their music will not change your life. But they are two damn good musicians playing damn good music, and that will take them a long way. Clearly worth checking out.'
An Excellence in Writing Award goes to Kelly Sedinger for his review of Maggie Sansone's Mystic Dance: a Celtic Celebration album. He describers the music like this: 'Featuring nineteen tracks divided into themed 'sets,' the disc offers a surprisingly eclectic mixture of musical styles. Opening with a 'Medieval Set,' there are two tracks based on melodies by composers dating back to the 1100s. The fourth track, 'Mystic Dance,' is especially fascinating, being an improvisation on which Sansone performs both instruments in a 'call and response' style. This track seemingly departs from the Celtic world for the world of Persia, and it is a lovely and mystical track indeed. There are several other tracks of this improvisatory nature.' An' odd as it sounds to my ol' ears...Kelly seems to like it!
Gary Whitehouse (whose office is NOT in the west wing of the building as some of 'is rabid fans seem to think) joins in wif an Excellence in Writing Award winning take on Moot Davis's self-titled CD. 'It's a promising start, and Davis is spending a lot of time this year out singing his songs in small venues, honing his act and probably gathering some more substantial material. Fans of honest country should keep an eye on this'n.' Well, yee-#$%&in'-haw, good buddy!
Gary wuz seen runnin' down the halls the uvver day proclaimin' the new Andrew Bird album 'a work of sheer genius!' It's called The Mysterious Production of Eggs an' when Gary finally sat down at 'is old Smith-Corona he managed to say this about it, 'Andrew Bird, from his musical beginnings a decade ago as a hot-jazz revivalist fiddler alongside the Squirrel Nut Zippers, has grown into a singular artist. His idiosyncratic vision finds expression in a music that is essentially unclassifiable. Call it some kind of baroque chamber-pop, perhaps. His densely layered lyrics reflect a sensibility similar to a Nick Drake or Elliott Smith without all the gloomy angst, set in light-as-a-feather melodies and motifs.' To find out all the uvver stuff he said, you haveta read the review!
So that's that...all the music fer today. Some of it excellent an' some of it even better than that! But wotever...'ave yerself a wee @#$%in' dram, relax on the chesterfield, put yer feet up, and put another record on (well, I guess, actually you'll haveta put the record on before ya sit down, wontcha?) OK, pour yerself annuver wee dram, put a record on the player, careful-like place the tonearm so's ya don't put a @#$%in' scratch on one o' Dave's precious @#$%in' vinyl LPs, THEN sit down. Feet up! Oh bloody hell...time for annuver drink...
Before we go this issue, a note about a new Web site. Although we love food here at Green Man and do review a bit of food related books and the like, we do not do reviews of, oh, the best cheese we've eaten except in The Hedgehog, the in-house newsletter for staffers. (It was, for me, a particularly fine cheddar that I was served in some pub as part of a full English breakfast in a rural part of that country years ago. I'd tell you what it was called, but the ale that came with that repast has wiped me memory clean!) So I was delighted that Jessica Crispin who publishes and edits Bookslut has decided to branch out with a new Web site. Here, without further comment from me, is her recent letter from the Editor at Saucy, which debuted recently: