'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
Reynard, the afternoon publican here at the Pub, and, if I must say so myself, a damn fine concertina player even though I need to find more time to play these days. I'm also an avid reader, so I've made many a visit to the Library here which is why you're getting this tale today...
The Green Man Library is full of dark paneling, with darkly stained walnut shelves up to the ceiling, with several open atriums of several stories, topped by an opaque skylight, with several stories of bookshelves, so that one can look up and see the books, or peer over the wrought iron balcony, over the white marble floors, or see a reader curled up below in a lovely overstuffed, winged armchair. All the shelves have those brass ladders attached to a sliding rail, so that one can climb up and get to the things tucked away on the top shelves. Many of the shelves have sliding glass doors, some with leaded stained glass, so that one is never sure of what might be inside. And some are locked! One must ask the Librarian for the key, if one has a pressing need. There are also study rooms with long tables, with lamps in the middle. And one can ask the assistants to get things from the stacks. Ah, the stacks. Given the nature of the filing system it is difficult to say what might be in there....
As one staffer put it, it has 'Nooks. Crannies. Things you can hide under.... Capability to find exactly what you are looking for immediately -- invaluable for research... Capability to find exactly what you really, really want to be reading right now, whether you knew it or not -- invaluable for fun... Ambient lighting that adjusts automatically for print size, strength of bifocals -- or lack thereof...' Sounds like a pretty normal library, eh? But the Library here is like none other as it straddles, like the GMR offices, the Border. As Maria Nutick once noted, 'The Green Man Library may be the only place where you can go to read William Shakespeare's The Trapping of the Mouse or Edgar Allen Poe's The Worm of Midnight while listening to the music of Gossamer Axe or Snori Snoriscousin and His Brass Idiots. The world of literature is a big, big place, and it's an intrepid and meticulous soul who can keep track of the shifting tapestry that we call reality.'
If you think the Library is a bit strange, wait 'til you meet the Librarian! Have you seen John Hurt as The Storyteller in the series of the same name? Iain MacKenzie is every bit as scruffy as The Storyteller was. Tattered old clothes that have seen much better times, long hair and a very scraggly beard... Now I know that one expects Librarians to be bespectacled boring and rather quiet beings. Sure. You obviously haven't spent anytime here as 'normal' is never what happens around here! No one here remembers when he first showed up, nor are we sure how he came to be the Librarian, but he's living proof that knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and that those who search for it must be brave, if not foolhardy.
The Librarian presides over a collection that holds as much delight as it does difficult truths and disturbing stories. No, the scruffiness is not accidental, it's the product of long years looking clearly into corners that might have preferred not to see the light of day. After awhile knowledge sticks to a person, so that you don't just see their face when you look at them, you see some of what they've seen as well. In our case those memories are bolstered through an appreciation of a certain beverage, aged in wooden casks, and bottled only after some years in the cellar. It's clear why he likes it -- they have a lot in common!
It's best not approach the Librarian with trivial requests -- after all, the magic of our library is the unexpected things one finds when searching. But more than that, he must find the applicant worthy, or he'll send you on a goose chase down a maze leading to a dead end. Or perhaps it's just hazing -- but we've found that it takes more than breezy persistence to crack the code -- you have to know your stuff, and be willing to accept what you find -- whether or not it's what you are expecting. In these days of search engines, it's important to remember that wisdom trumps knowledge is a living thing, and her keeper is not to be approached without caution.
The Green Man staff has a fondness for both Neil Gaiman as a person and for his writings. Right now, our Editor is sitting in his office making notes for his review next edition of the latest offering from Gaiman, Mirrormask -- The Illustrated Film Script of the Motion Picture from the Jim Henson Company, a book title that certainly is cool in and of itself. Oh, and the artwork is by Dave MacKean who, among many works with Neil, illustrated The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch! Our newest reviewer Jasmine Johnston receives an Excellence in Writing Award for her look at that graphic novel adapted as a BBC radio play by Neil. As Jasmine notes in her review, 'I tuned into BBC online today and heard a play by Neil Gaiman. Puppet shows, monsters in the dark, childhood memories, drab seaside towns and family history are stuff that it is made of. A brooding, intelligent yet intelligible narrator tells the story of his encounter with a Punch and Judy show a long time ago, even before there were hippies.'
A GMRish novel gets a nod of approval from Deborah J. Brannon: 'Fitcher's Brides, by Gregory Frost, is one of the most recent additions to Terri Windling's excellent brainchild, The Fairy Tale Series. As such, it shares shelf space with other such remarkable works as Briar Rose by Jane Yolen and Tam Lin by Pamela Dean. Fitcher's Brides is, at its core, a retelling of Bluebeard, a cautionary fairy tale that warned against curiosity and temptation, for dark and potentially fatal secrets are hidden behind the locked doors of unknown husbands. While the original fairy tale seems to remove power from women in this regard, the version Frost here purports has a much more satisfying feminist slant to it.'
Denise Dutton is in love with Grant Geissman's Foul Play! The Art and Artists of the Notorious 1950's E.C. Comics!: 'This isn't the first history of E.C. Comics, and it won't be the last. But among the fact-heavy academic pieces and the slavish fan pieces, it stands out. Foul Play! is a great collection of information about some of the hardest working and least appreciated artistic talent post-WWII America had to offer. This book blends biography and information gathering with a greatest-hits story collection, and a bit lost treasure thrown in for good measure. What more could a Ghoul ask for?' I am not touching that question!
Cat Eldridge reviews the latest George Effinger offering from Golden Gryphon Press: ' There's not a bad story, not a rememberence not worth hearing, and I suspect that you too will be both sad and happy that you read Live! From Planet Earth, as it will show you how good a teller of tales he was, and how sad it is that he's passed on. Let's hope that Effinger is now hanging out on the the train headed to Hell. As Bloch noted in his story, 'The Hell-Bound Train,' the most interesting folks -- the whores, the gamblers, the rogues -- go to Hell on that ever-so-special train. I just hope Effinger caught the Hell-bound Train before it left the station, as I hear the drink is free-flowing and the that a good storyteller is always welcome aboard!'
April Gutierrez, a quite fanatical lover of all things Japanese, looks at Paul Gravett's Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics: 'Manga, for the uninitiated, are essentially Japanese comic books, though they're definitely not your father's comics – or your mother's for that matter. It should come as no surprise to anyone picking up this book that Paul Gravett is a manga fan, and a very well-versed fan at that. This over-sized, glossy book is his tribute to this expanding, if not always well-understood, worldwide pop culture phenomenon. In his brief introduction, Gravett touches on the major misconception people hold about manga: that it's all big-eyed characters engaging in se or violence ... or both. Gravett says he didn't intend this book to be an apology for manga, but he clearly sets out to dispel this misconception, and he largely succeeds. Manga is a gorgeous book, filled with numerous black & white and colour plates and samples of manga pages, both in Japanese and translated into English. Gravett has even managed pictures of the various artists, who are typically camera-shy. Unsuspecting readers might suffer from sensory overload, as there's so much going on on every page. In that sense, it's very manga-like indeed.' Read her Excellence in Writing Award winning review for all the colorful detail on this important work!
Martin Stokes and Phillip V. Bohlman's Celtic Modern Music at the Global Fringe gets looked at by, appropriately enough, Irish music journalist John O'Regan: 'While general readers looking for fact files on the varied strands of Celtic music would be best served elsewhere, some persistence is required for the contents of Celtic Modern to reveal themselves to passing ears. For those who want to debate the hows and whys and look at the interior conflicts that inhabit Irish and Celtic music as a whole this collection comes recommended. The point of the essays is that while descriptive of their subjects, they themselves are meant to foster discussion and further reflection on the many-faceted subject that is Celtic music in its varied styles. Taking that into consideration, Celtic Modern is a worthwhile, engaging and challenging reading'
Toby Faber's Stradivari's Genius -- Five Violins, One Cello, and Three Centuries of Enduring Perfection gets a loving review by Robert M. Tilendis: '. . . .beginning with some solid history, and working its way through an eminently readable portrayal of the technical aspects of violin construction, Stradivari's Genius offers an entertaining and thoughtful essay on genius and its legacy, with lively side trips through the foibles of the musical world.'
Elizabeth Vail has a cautionary note for those who think inside boxes too much: 'Too many people these days seem to confuse 'feminism' with 'radical feminism' The idea of a science fiction and fantasy novel mixed with a heavy dose of feminism may have people thinking about army-boot-wearing, goddess-worshipping, man-hating, unshaven-leg-baring lesbians. They wouldn't be completely wrong -- many of the interesting female characters in this book wear army boots, worship goddesses, snipe at men, and prefer the touch of the female gender. Just not all at once. Both thoughtful and thought-provoking, Anne Harris' novel Inventing Memory explores the entire spectrum of female empowerment (or lack thereof), from the passive battered wife to the determined female scientist to the crusading -- and yes, lesbian -- pro-choice activist.'
I was sitting quietly noodling on my Baby Taylor today, taking a well earned respite from reviewing and editing. SPike stopped by and picked up the ukulele I keep in the corner of my office. We began to play a relaxed rendition of 'Stagolee' with SPike following my lead, when the inter-office phone rang shrilly. Talk about breaking the mood. It was the Boss. No, not Springsteen...Cat Eldridge. 'Have you got that music text written yet?' 'Yikes!' I thought, wiping the foam from my ice cold glass of Kilkenny from my upper lip...but I replied cooly, 'It's lookin' pretty good, boss, just a few more minutes.' Then I booted up the old computer and looked for the list. THIRTY-FIVE different CDs reviewed in a total of nineteen reviews! WOW! The live music would have to wait...I took one last bite of the pizza and set to work...
Staff writer John Benninghouse starts things off by reviewing The Best of Clannad: In a Lifetime. Clannad? The group Enya was in? That's right! 'Formed in the early 1970s in Ireland, Clannad was a combination of siblings Moya, Ciaran, and Pol Brennan along with their uncles Padraig and Noel Duggan. Through the 70s and early 80s, the band chronicled their love of Irish folk music. Youngest Brennan sibling Enya appeared on 1982's Fuaim and promptly left...around this point that the band began to eschew traditional instrumentation for the modern synthesizer and their music became more popular with each album.' After this brief history, John gets to the heart of the matter.
John also had a listen to Oil & Water by Stephen Kent, an English didjeridu player. WHAT!?! You heard me! John proclaims, that the album 'comes across a bit like an experiment to contemporize the didjeridu and it is mostly successful. Kent is able to combine folk traditions very well but his attempts at putting pop music into the mix doesn't work nearly as well. They sound trite; like a pop song with didj as accoutrement. When he sticks to his guns, though, Kent can produce some beautiful, enchanting music.' Hmmm.
Alistair Brown (Staff Writer) makes his presence felt with a review of three different albums by Aly Bain. Not sure who Aly Bain is? Well let's let our own Ali Brown tell you, 'Aly Bain today is probably the nearest we have in stature to the legendary Scots fiddlers Niel Gow and..Scott Skinner...born and grew up in Lerwick...began playing as a boy, taking lessons from...one of Shetland's most famous fiddlers and composers...moved to the mainland in the '60s...joined...The Boys of the Lough in 1968..During all that time Aly has always been a strong solo presence...took his music to a wider audience with his presentation of 'Down Home', a television series examining fiddling traditions in Britain and Ireland and looking at similar traditions across North America...he has toured regularly with Phil Cunningham and the duo has released several highly successful CDs...has worked to encourage young Scottish musicians, and toured Scotland with a group of talented youngsters as Aly Bain and Young Champions...In 1994, he was awarded an M.B.E for services to folk music, and 5 years later, was given the honorary degree of Doctor of Music from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.' And, according to Alistair's review, he plays some damn fine music too!
Faith J. Cormier keeps things going with her look at The Wexford Boys' Seems like only yesterdays. Some old Irish tunes done up in new and original ways...Faith describes some of it, 'There's a sort of diabolical electronic howl in the background of 'Cruscín Lan' that probably contributes to it, as does the pounding beat of 'County Down'. Is it the phrasing? Perhaps. Is it Robert Flaherty's voice? I honestly don't know, but I suspect that a non-English speaker listening to the album would not be able to tell you off-hand which songs among 'The Rakes of Mallow', 'Cruscín Lan' and 'Star of the County Down' were supposed to be love songs and which one was supposed to be depressing.' Read the rest of her review for the answer to that question.
Next Faith listened to Shilelagh Law's Good Intentions. Senior Writer Ms. Cormier found this CD 'to be a very 'New World Irish' collection. First there's the romantic view of the IRA in 'Broad Black Brimmer' and 'Boys of '98'. There's nothing quite like a good rousing Rebel song to remind a person that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter (and vice versa). Then there's the idealized look back on the immigrant experience, especially in 'When New York Was Irish'. Apparently there were no 'NO IRISH OR DOGS ALLOWED' signs in New York...'
The third review by Faith Cormier is called Caribbean Playground. '[It's] part of Putumayo Kids' World Playground series. As usual, Putumayo Kids has done an excellent job with the album cover (a multi-racial gang of kids in a brightly-coloured hammock strung between two coconut palms above an iguana), the picture printed on the CD itself and the notes...I did not say that kids wouldn't enjoy it, or that it is not suitable for them. This is an enjoyable album and a lively introduction to Caribbean music in three languages. Just don't be surprised if the adults like it as much or more than the kids do.' Sounds okay to me!
But Faith isn't finished YET! She reviews The Rough Guide to Fado, another album by that eclectic group known worldwide as Various Artists! Fado? What the heck is 'fado?' Faith explains, 'Fado is the stuff of romance: candlelight and wine and soft summer breezes. Unfortunately for me, I remember all too well life before electricity; I've never much cared for wine, and summer breezes around here tend to be full of mosquitoes, some bearing West Nile disease. In other words, this is a beautiful compilation, but it isn't my style.' But what about the music? Read the review!
Now, myself, (David Kidney) I've been thinking a lot about the acoustic guitar (except for that little diversion thinking about Faith with no hydro, a bottle of muscatel, and giant mosquitoes). Playing my Baby Taylor, and my Simon & Patrick, is sheer joy for me. And so is listening to other people play. Well, so long as they play well. And the three CDs in this first omni feature some stunning playing, in a variety of contexts. Robbie Basho, Martin Carthy and Bert Jansch are the three musicians under consideration. Each one remarkable in his own way. 'three very different guitar players. Each one playing in the folk genre, but each one as different from the others as night is to day, as fluorescent light is from incandescent or from the natural light of the sun. Each man holds in his hands, cradled next to his body a machine made of wood and wire, and coaxes from it the sounds that come from within. That is the beauty of the acoustic guitar.'
Then I looked at a set of new blues albums -- Mem Shannon, Jimmy Thckery and Little Milton, each who has a new CD out. And each one of them has something new to add: 'It just never ceases to amaze me how the blues just keeps reinventing itself. The same old 12-bar structure and repeated lyrics about love and lust, luck and loss, with a bit of moaning, and some stinging guitar...and yet it still manages to sound relevant and fresh in the creative ways in which modern labels are able to capture the music and the personalities of players young and old. Three recent albums from three strong singers-guitarists show that there's still life in the old dog.'
Two CDs by John Conolly return us to the 'Irish' theme that seems to have captured so many of our reviewers this issue! Peter Massey introduces Conolly thus, 'John comes from Grimsby, on the north east coast of England. He has been writing and singing folk songs for more years than I care to remember. You might say he is a real folk singer and one that was around in the revival era of the 60's. Indeed his name appears on Sidmouth, and many other festival guest lists, even earlier than Martin Carthy.' And then he summarizes, 'You seriously need to get these albums for your collection -- you won't be disappointed.' The readers will be needing to increase their music budgets this week! Sometimes music from our heroes can stir us to our very soul...sometimes...ummm...not.
Senior Writer Lars Nilsson had a few problems with the new CD by Peter Knight, Too Late For Shadows: 'Peter Knight has created a space for himself in the history of folk rock by his long membership of Steeleye Span. Joining the group right after the first LP and still being there means that anything Knight releases must be looked upon as having some significance in the world of English folk...' Sounds promising, eh? (Note: pure Canadian idiom!) Well, read the whole review for Lars' conclusions!
Lars raves about another CD this week, one by Jock Tamson's Bairns: 'Rare is really something special. Maybe not quite another The Lasses Fashion, but almost. Had they been 25 years younger we would have hailed them as the new Messiahs of Scottish folk, now we just get proof that these lads know their craft and that they still can deliver the goods.' Sounds good to me!
Next Lars comments on Jewels by Chris Foster. 'It is a collection of stories, told through the medium of the song. All but one of the twelve tracks tells a story, with the remaining being a novelty song about ideas on how to use the different parts of a herring.' A herring? Could this be a red herring to get us to read the review? See for yourself! Sorry, I'm taking a wee break here, SPike has cracked two more cans of Kilkenny and we're just going to play for a little while...then I'll tell you what else the denizens of the GMR building were digging this week. Aaahhhh! A break is good for you!
Patrick O'Donnell has had a long break waiting for John Willams Davis to release a followup to his album. So expectantly that he's been pacing the floors! In his EIWA winning review of Revelation Land -- you'll read of his passion, his excitement, and even a few disappointments. Patrick doesn't pull any punches. Here's a sample...'It seems to me this is a darker CD to fit darker times: we're at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, there's discontent at home and disillusionment abroad, and to many it seems the American dream has become the world's nightmare...' but read on...it gets better!
John O'Regan takes a listen to a couple of new albums of Celtic music. Cady Finlayson's Harp And Shamrock and House to House by Randal Bays & Roger Landes . John states, 'Being Irish born I am always mildly curious to hear how musicians not born in Ireland but who love [fiddle] music and strive to play it will approach it. This review features two homegrown US releases that are different although they use the same wellspring of Irish Traditional music as their starting point.' As always, John provides an in depth and fascinating perspective on these recordings. Read it for yourself.
Now that you all know who Aly Bain is...our very own fiddler Pat Simmonds scopes out another of his CDs. This time it's The Best Of Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham. 'This CD is a brief look at twenty years of collaborative effort. When I say brief, there are a very generous 19 tracks but even that is a mere drop in the bucket if one was to look at the sum total of their efforts together. What stands out clearly is the ease with which these two musicians are able to mix it up with other traditions.' The high regard our reviewers have for Bain and associates caused me to send SPike to the library to bring some of this fine music back with him. Of course...SPike probably forgot what I sent him for, and is sitting in the pub trying to remember.
Next up Mike Stiles provides a couple of entertaining reviews. First Dorris Henderson's Here I Go Again. Who is Dorris Henderson? Mike tells you in his review, which he sums up like this, 'Dorris Henderson is a little bit of Libba Cotton, a little bit of Tom Waits at his classier turn of growl, a little bit of Holly Near, and a whole lot of that deep smoky soul to which contemporary American Folk music turns a deaf ear. Never mind that roots stuff. This CD is a study in the bedrock.' Bedrock? I wanna hear it!
Mike also writes about a CD I had hanging around my office for a while. The Delbert & Glen Sessions by Delbert McClinton & Glen Clark. I have to give Mike credit...he doesn't pussyfoot around. He tells it like it is. 'In my mind, this style of Country was what the big names had to work with to simply fill up albums to meet contractual recording obligations before moving on in life. You want 1970's Texan, go back to Willy and Waylon and Jerry Jeff.' He fills up the rest of his review with opinions too!
More American music is up as Master Reviewer Gary Whitehouse has a HUGE omni. Did you know Gary had a huge omni? Well...this week he does! Alice Gerrard, John Reischman, Joey Wright, Jim Smoak, Mac Martin, Nothin' Fancy, Ron Spears, Charlie Waller and Darin Aldridge and all their associated bands conjoin in one giant tribute to Traditional Bluegrass, assessed by the skilled eyes, and ears of Mr. Whitehouse. The music contained on these CDs ranges from '...old-time music...traditional folksongs and country songs...a stunning unaccompanied hymn...solid and immensely likeable brand of tradition-based bluegrass with some modern touches...a similar modern-traditional take on the music...gentle -- not to say genteel -- bluegrass and old-time music...excellent traditional bluegrass [with]...high-lonesome tenor...today's contemporary tradition-based bluegrass...five guys with the usual instruments, tight harmonies and songs that touch all the bases...high baritone voice [that is] a wonder, somehow craggy and smooth at the same time...[and]...smooth bluegrass, with a little more emphasis on instrumental prowess.' That's what Gary heard...how did he assess it? You'll have to read his review!
There you have it. Over thirty CDs! A dozen reviewers! A hundred opinions! But here in the sub-basement offices of the Green Man Building SPike is back plunking on the ukulele. I'm going to pick up my Baby Taylor, detune to open D and play a bit of bottleneck. Crack open another ice cold Kilkenny and play my troubles away. See you next time.
Reynard here again. You did know that all of us are really ruled by the felines who live here? There's at least a dozen in residence. perhaps many more. Ysbaddaden, named after the King of all Giants from the story of 'Culhwch & Olwen' and sometimes less than affectionately known as 'He Who Rules' by the staff, is the oldest of the ones here. He's probably all tortie but it's somewhat difficult to be entirely sure due to the amount of 'markings' that he's picked up over his very long life. Fiercely loyal and protective towards the other cats, he still packs a hell of a wallop and a frightening turn of speed for a cat well over twenty years old. He's mostly mellow at times -- he's been known to spend hour upon hour curled up near the Neverending Session listening to them play. His purr's almost loud enough to drown out the music!
Yet there are mice here... And yet more mice here... Mice, like the musicians who show up to be part of the Neverending Session, hate cold weather. So naturally a lot of them come in for the winter and are just now moving outside as the weather gets warmer. So you'd guess the felines here find 'em a tasty snack? Sure. Not a chance. Oh, they'll chase 'em. And even toss the little furry buggers by their tails 'til they run off, but they consider themselves too refined to actually consume them. So the kitchen staff keep everything edible tightly containered or warded against mice. (Neither of which works on the musicians here unfortunately!) And so we learn to live with 'em. What else can you do?
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Updated 08 May 2005, 06:45 GMT (RN)