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31st of July, 2005

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In the city, you cannot see the night sky. Traffic pollution thickens the air, and the reflected glare of a million street lamps fades out the stars. The constellations are numberless and stretch into infinity, yet a tiny cluster of man-made lights can dim their far-flung fires out of existence. And the moon is paled, and hides its concave profile behind the hunched shoulders of buildings and the jagged crests of walls, and in the blur of unclean fogs. For the city is an unreal place, where nature and magic are diminished, set at a distance, and Man reigns supreme in the jungle of his own creation, controlling, manipulating, lost, and alone. -- Jan Siegel's The Witch's Honour

 

The next biweekly issue will be published on the 14th of August, 2005

This is your Editor, Cat Eldridge. It's summertime here which means all of us are busy, errrr, catching up on our reviews. Sure. We believe that, don't we? Not bloody likely! Summer's for reading (yes), but most of our reviewers seem more interested in listening to music, hanging out in the Pub downing their favorite beverage, and generally just finding the coolest place in the building. Now keeping cool is which is easy given that the ivy outside is everywhere. This old building, built centuries ago, has at Lammastime, ivy covering it everywhere as it has been growing the summer long -- covering the casement windows, creeping into the courtyard, and even hiding almost completely the slates on the roof. As I was reading Anansi Boys in the Library over the past few weeks, the ivy was almost visibly creeping outside the window. (Some places in the building, it has crept inside forming a living carpet in the hallways, and climbed the walls.) It was as if the ivy was keeping me companion as I read the novel.

The ivy is almost as odd as the old oak trees that are in the enclosed courtyard that opens onto the street. It is thought that they are as old as the building itself, perhaps older. Now I'm not saying that Robin Goodfellow was alive when they were first big enough to hide him and his merry band, nor am I saying Oberon courted Titania under the bows of these beings, but I am saying that they are very, very old. I've sat in one of the crooks of the one a French fiddler once named Merlin's endroit de repos because it look like the oak in Broceliande, forest of legends, and of dreams, where the fiddler believes Merlin lies dreaming, trapped in the heart of the ancient oak by the sorceress Vivian.

Now what was I reading? Ahhh, the new Jane Lindskold novel, Child of a Rainless Year . . . Let's return to the Robert Graves Memorial Reading Room and see if the ivy is feeling as companionable as it was last week . . .

 

Iain MacKenzie, the GMR Librarian, speaking.

The Green Man library has a full set (in hardcover) of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies. I don't think more than a day or two goes by without one of our staffers checking one of them out to see what was recommended by the editors as the best in first novels, young adult fiction, and even music to name but three of the many cretaive endeavours the anthologies critique. (Charles de Lint does the music recommendations and I see from the material that was sent us that his choice pick for 2004 was Christy Moore's The Box Set 1964-2004, an excellent recommendation from what I've heard of it!) Certainly more than one staffer has spent a pleasant evening reading the fiction in these volumes. So it is with honour that we review the latest edition of this series.

Denise Dutton does the honours this outing in her review of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. Her lead-off to her Excellence in Writing Award winning review suggests reading it was almost as good as really great sex or a favourite bowl of ice cream: 'What's better in this world than the best? That's what I asked myself when I received an advance review copy of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. Like the seventeen before it, it promises some of the finest stories and poetry the year had to offer, along with information on what these genres were up to during the year. When it arrived on my doorstep, I did what any normal, red-blooded fangirl would do; I scanned the table of contents for hints of what was to come. I was excited to see that 'And the Sea Shall Give Up Its Dead' and 'Hunting Meth Zombies in the Great Nebraska Wasteland' were included, since I had heard about these stories but hadn't had the chance to read them yet. Then I looked for my favorite authors and found Douglas Clegg, Tanith Lee, Joyce Carol Oates and Peter Straub. I allowed myself a few minutes of childish glee, then I set aside fannish things and got to work.'

I'll let SPike Winch tell you about our other featured reviews . . .

Scott Gianelli did a long e-mail interview wif Pina: ' Since my parents were so young when they had me I grew up in a huge family with all my teenage aunts and uncles as well. They were listening quite a bit to the Doors and David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Jethro Tull. After a few years my dad got us our own flat and I left all that great music behind me within the walls of my granny's flat. My teacher took us to a classical guitar concert when I was about 11. There I heard Villa-Lobos being played for the first time. That day I fell head over heels in love with classical guitar and Villa-Lobos's work. I do think that the tools of interpreting classical music have influenced my work a lot. Also using my vocals very often like an instrument, might be influenced from my choir year at the Vienna conservatorium where I got introduced to the choirs of Anton Bruckner.'

I love this kind of give 'n 'take, don't you?

Scott goes on to give a $#@! look at Pina's latest recording which Scott also reviewed, describing it 'as one of those 'guilty pleasure' reviews . . . you know the kind, where you're simply entranced by the music but uvver people just don't get it. He describes the music pretty well in his review of Pina's new album, called (of all things) Guess You Got It. Listen to what he says: 'Pina is a unique and challenging artist whose wildly creative vocal and instrumental arrangements, rooted in modern rock but incorporating primal elements that certainly transcend the rock genre, have hit a few listeners straight through the heart and slammed them against the wall while sailing clear over many other listeners' heads. In other words, some people 'get it,' and some people don't. Needless to say it was with great anticipation that I listened to Pina's new album which she titled, perhaps ironically, Guess You Got It.'

 

Neal Asher's Brass Man is SF, so why are we reviewing it? Let's have J.J.S. Boyce explain: 'Here at the Green Man corporate offices, we spend a lot of time in meetings with statistics and pie charts, trying to determine just what exactly it is that we review here. Fantasy, folklore, and a bit of history seems to be the norm, as far as books go. Science fiction is always the big question mark. When do we get too far away from the roots of our art and culture, and too deeply into the far-removed realm of scientific speculation and extrapolation? Intuitively, cold, clinical walls, exacting techology, and deep empty space is our future, not our past. Our past is a world of enchantment, overgrown, near-sentient forests, iconic beasts, and the wonders of an unexplained world. But isn't so much of human history cyclical? Indeed, how many sci-fi stories open up on primitive, semi-medieval worlds, with the same strange creatures and magical phenomena, iconic heroes and villains and epic circumstances, only to later reveal said world as some distant future colony of genetic engineering, alien fauna, or any number of other explanations.' Read J.J.S. Boyce's Excellence in Writing Award winning review to see his analysis of this myth tinged SF novel!

An anthology, Galileo's Children: Tales of Science vs. Superstition, edited by Gardner Dozois earns the praise of our reviewer: 'Galileo's Children occasionally lapses into pedantry, but there are enough stories in here that offer a genuinely new perspective -- there are enough questions raised, which are legitimately thought-provoking, and not clichéd -- there are enough pieces that simply must be read, because they just hit the nail on the head in a way that no one else has ever done quite so squarely before -- to overcome that. And if some of the stories contained within don't bring much new to the table -- at least in terms of perspectives on religion and science and tradition and society -- they are all well-written and enjoyable in their own way. I heartily recommend checking this one out. You just might learn something. For science!'

After you read that review, go read Boyce's review of Matthew Hughes' The Gist Hunter and Other Stories for a really neat look at how a story collection is akin to a truly good recording. Really. Truly. Oh, and he indeed really does like this collection!

Cat Eldridge has a fondess for Jane Yolen, both as a writer and as a really cool person. Her latest collection, Once Upon A Time (she said), warrants his opinion of her as one of the truly great writers of short fiction. As he says in his review: 'We here at Green Man get more fiction for review than really bears thinking about. Some of it is very good, some of it is serviceable if somewhat uninspiring, and a lot of it is just plain awful. I personally always look forward to a book by Yolen coming in as I have a fondness for Jane Yolen, both as a writer and as a really cool person.'

April Gutierrez looks at the beginning ofa new series by a writer she really favours: 'With Furies of Calderon, Jim Butcher veers away from the urban fantasy of his Chicago-set Dresden Files series and tackles good, old-fashioned high fantasy, complete with a very different setting, political intrigue, epic battles and a system of magic far removed from that which wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden relies on.' Read her Excellence in Writing Award winning review for all the details on this new fantasy series.

This biography of a well-known musician has no gossipy scandals or sordid details in it according to David Kidney: 'Randy Newman was born in New Orleans in 1944. He writes songs, plays the piano, and conducts orchestras. His uncles are well known and respected composers of film music, and Randy followed them into the family business. He's had a couple of hit singles, won a few Grammys and even (after 16 nominations) an Academy Award! But what do we really know about him? Well, essentially.. these are the facts. Sure he's been married twice, has kids by both wives, lives in LA, has suffered from writer's block and Epstein-Barr, and is too tall to be writing songs about how 'Short people have no reason to live!' but what of his secrets? He must have them, otherwise how could he write such pithy, ironic, pointed lyrics?  If secrets are what you're looking for...look beyond Kevin Courrier's new book Randy Newman's American Dreams, because they simply aren't in there. Instead Courrier provides a detailed and fascinating study of the work Newman has completed over his career. Courrier's last book was a study of Frank Zappa's oeuvre called Dangerous Kitchen which GMR recommended, and the new book is every bit as good as that one.'

Now there's a bio of Nazgul that has some really juicy details about the life of the late Patrick Henry 'Hobbit' Hobbins . . .

A biography of a well-known if not universally liked Sixties group is also reviewed by David as he looks at The Monkees: the day-by-day story of the '60s TV pop sensation. As he notes in his review, 'Commencing with their 'pre-Monkee' days Sandoval tells the whole story, where they came from, how they auditioned, (and who DIDN'T pass!) how the show was developed, how the music was written and recorded, and the day by day touring, promoting, and struggling that went on. It's a fascinating story really, and very timely. These days of American Idol and other shows of that ilk would not be possible without the Monkees pioneering work.'

A classic work of fiction gets reviewed by Carter Nipper -- Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. He says this work 'is a baklava of a book -- rich, layered, so sweet it has to be enjoyed in small bits. This novel-that-is-not-a-novel rightfully remains a classic in the science fiction genre, and a classic example of Ray Bradbury's genius with words. As with all of Bradbury's work, don't look for accurate or even consistent science. Look, instead, for tales well told, stories that seep into your mind and blood and become part of you forever.'

New staffer Melissa Shell has a look at Susan Dexter's The Prince of Ill Luck: 'It is genuine pleasure to read a novel in which one grows to know the characters so well that they could slip from the pages of the novel, into the stream of our reality, and still be known to the reader by their actions. Susan Dexter delivers this type of pleasure in her novel The Prince of Ill Luck. Dexter offers characters who are thick with well developed personalities, language rich enough to add texture to the tale, and judicious helpings of magic and humor.'

Robert M. Tilendis has a review this edition of a unique work: 'Bear Pond begins with Reynolds Price's 'Gold Day,' a recollection, perhaps, of the First Man, alone, in a time when the world existed in a state of innocence: . . . Around one man, the perfect Earth Unfolds one final day -- The golden day I find and dream to keep. That is what this book is about. It may seem somewhat singular to say that a book of male nudes by a gay photographer deals with innocence, particularly when the photographer was roundly criticized by many for his commercial images delineating the sensual beauty of the male body as well as -- and even more so -- those depicting what some termed a 'teen-age drug culture,' but there you have it. There is no escaping that this book (published, incidentally, in 1990 to benefit the AIDS Resource Center in New York) celebrates a vision at once romantic and fundamentally spiritual.'

Before you send us letters criticizing the pan by Gary Whitehouse of Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper's Building Harlequin's Moon, do consider there are many staffers here love Niven's work including Gary. But even the very best of authors such as Niven can write a clunker. And it's definitely not one of the better efforts according to Gary which Niven has done: 'Harlequin is the only Niven-associated book I've ever had to force myself to keep reading. By the end, the resolution, though devoid of surprise, was admittedly moving, but I'm not sure it was worth the effort. That is a shame, because Harlequin deals with some big themes, particularly that of a one-sided power relationship between a group of exploiters and their subjects. It's too bad it was so poorly executed.' Now if you do want to send a letter still, here's the address to use.

So, 'ere I am, jus' lollygaggin' in the lounge, late in the afternoon. Pint of Guinness close at 'and, and diggin' some sounds from a collection of CDs on loan from record producer an' songwriter Wayne Marshall. Great old stuff like Dan Penn an' James Carr. Bluesy and as funky as you get. I been keepin' a low profile lately 'cause I'm writin' me autobiography. At least as much as I can recall, an' then someone else'll 'ave to fill in the blank spots. But, as for right now...it's time to 'ave a look at the CD reviews that've come in in the past fortnight! Some good stuff the writers claim! Let's see what we've got . . .

Me old room-mate David Kidney leads off with a quite varied set of reviews. About Tony Furtado's These Chains Dave says '[this] has been sitting at the bottom of my 'review' pile for a long time. Every time I built up a stack of blues albums to put together an omni review...it somehow got relegated back to the pile of 'next time' discs. Too bad...because there's some really stunning guitar playing, and a few thoughtful compositions that you don't always get on an album by blues guitarists. Furtado has released an album since this one, an acoustic blues collection called Bare Bones, but on These Chains he went with a full band approach, and I'm only sorry I didn't pay more attention to it when it first arrived.' I think Dave liked it, as he's been playin' it quite a bit lately.

But not near as muchg as he's been playin' Donovan's Try For the Sun. 'Forty years down the line, the cap is gone. The beautiful face is lined and older. The hair still curly, but grey. He is, in 2005, after a few years in relative obscurity, back on tour...his most recent album (last summer's Beat Café) still resonates on informed sound systems. The time is ripe for a rethinking of Donovan's career. Randy Newman recently asked why, after so many hit songs, Donovan was not better appreciated by today's musical community. Well, if Epic/Legacy has anything to do with it, this new three-disc anthology will change that forever.'

Mr. Kidney also look at Kate Campbell's Blues & Lamentations. Dave's a great fan of Kate Campbell and confesses that, 'Kate Campbell is one of those performers who, once you hear them . . . you just feel as though you've joined a private club. You have a sense of ownership almost, pride in discovering something (someone) special! And Kate's new album (due out in September) is a remarkable collection of songs, melodic, intelligent, and literate. And very musical!' I think he @#$%in' liked it!

Peter Massey writes about three singer-songwriters who all record for the Whistleberry label! Robin Laing, Tom Clelland and Peter Nardini all come from Scotland a place I found @#$%in' cold but Peter says it's '. . . home to some of the finest singer songwriters on this planet. The variation and quality is almost scary. Whistleberry is a fairly new record label, and organized as a songwriters co-operative label based in Scotland.' He says a lot of uvver stuff as well, so you might as well take a gander fer y'selves!

Bill Malkin's Now & Then also is assessed by Peter. 'This is Bill Malkins' 4th album recorded at his home studio in Chester, England. It is called Now and Then mainly because on it Bill revisits some of the songs he has written and recorded from previous albums. Only this time they have been re-arranged into soft rock & Americana arrangements with drums and a full-on band.' So does that make 'em better or worse? Read Peter's complete review an' see why dontcha!

Next, Liz Milner listens to Red Molly's eponymous EP. I told ya I've been writin'! I 'ave a new thesaurus to help me wif the big words! Liz says that 'Red Molly play high energy, satisfying string band music with a hint of pop and a dash of country and blend their voices in soul-pleasing three part harmony. This 4-song EP highlights the accomplished musicianship and the quirks of this all-female trio.' Hmm. Check it out!

Robert Tilendis adds a bit of class to the issue by looking at some 'serious' music. First up? Thomas Barth's Beyond Black & White. 'Thomas Barth seems to attach great significance to the fact that Beyond Black & White was recorded in a room containing thirty other pianos. He calls it 'holistic resonance.' He also claims that it was 'a successful attempt to transform vibrations going beyond the audible spectrum.' Frankly, I don't know how a listener can tell, or why it matters...I can't vouch for the 'holistic resonance' -- there is indeed resonance here, but to my ears it could as easily be an artifact of the recording process as anything else. It does help the sound, but then, resonance always does.' Well, if that don't get you int'rested in readin' his review...nuffink will!

Bob also was diggin' music from the land of the Vikings! Gabriel Fliflet and Ole Hamre's Eine Kleine Kraftmusik.  'My first reaction to Fliflet/Hamre's Eine kleine Kraftmusick was to break into laughter from sheer surprise and delight. One forgets, sometimes, how raucously fun-loving Norwegians can be.' Yeah, those fun-lovin' Norwegians like Erik the Red! Ah well . . .

After a warning about Robert's new interest in 'metaconversations' and the like he goes on to describe the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra's new version of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons 'The performance itself is rather darker than one would expect, given the sunny, Mediterranean nature of Vivaldi's music. This approach does, however, lead to a really riveting summer storm in the second movement and, while the lively passages are, indeed, as lively as one might wish, there is what I can only call a deeper foundation: the violin floats over a heavier bass line, which, among other things, creates a very interesting layered effect, especially apparent in the opening of 'Winter,' which is superbly done.' Whew!

This brings us all to Gary Whitehouse who managed to get ahold of an early release version of a CD that people 'round the pub have been awaitin' wif bated breath!  Richard Thompson's Front Parlour Ballads (about which I might wonder . . . if it's bein' promoted so 'eavily as Thompson's first acoustic album in years . . . why'd the bloody hell does the cover photo show 'is nibs holdin' an electric guitar? Just @#$%in' curious!) Anyway . . . Gary says this . . .'A new release from Richard Thompson is always an occasion, although this one is perhaps a bit less so than most. For an 'aging folk-rocker,' Mr. Thompson is in the midst of an extraordinarily productive period. Freed from the constraints of major label promotion and production schedules and now with an established Web presence and strategy that includes exclusive releases on his Web site as well as on iTunes, Thompson is releasing material at a pace long hoped for by his small army of rabidly loyal fans. It's the sort of rich lyrical stew fans and critics have come to expect from Richard Thompson, who's never been satisfied with navel-gazing platitudes so common among singer-songwriters.'

Gary then provides an alt-country two-fer ! So-called alternative country is often indistinguishable from the real thing. Here are a couple of 2005 releases for fans of classic country music, by a couple of different acts that clearly love the music . . . [Robbie Fulks . . . whose] songs cover a whole variety of country styles, from hardcore honky-tonk to smooth countrypolitan, from rocked-up newgrass to urban cowboy. Fulks' voice is a versatile and expressive instrument that works well within all of these styles . . . Caitlin Cary & Thad Cockrell . . . covers many styles within the classic country and folk genres, but the overall impression is of great warmth; you wish you could be there on the front porch as they're spinning out these songs.' Don't miss Gary's complete reviews!

Well . . . that's it from the music department this time 'round. I guess it's safe to go back to me corner booth in the pub, annuver Guinness, an' some live music provided by whoever happens to be there. I might even take me new Tokai Stratocaster copy, an' play some reggae wif the boys! Lollygaggin' indeed!

Michael Hunter has a Public Service Announcement:

It was 20 years ago today. Or 20 years ago sometime in October, if my memory serves me right (and there's always that chance). Around that general timeframe in 1985, 'Fiddlestix' was born. Issue 1 of the fanzine of the Australian Friends Of Fairport was put together on an old portable typewriter, mainly using articles lovingly stolen from other sources. The rest of the story of the mag's beginnings and progression is covered elsewhere on the Green Man so I won't repeat it here.

Over the last few years, Fiddlestix has outgrown its hard copy roots and converted to an email-only format. It's quite a change from two-finger hammering on a manual typewriter to the same on a new Mac keyboard, and articles taking minutes rather than days or weeks to reach the readers. It's also very fulfilling to have lasted long enough to see such changes occur. We still have our exclusive interviews and still get the news of Fairport Convention and related acts out to discerning subscribers around the globe -- though nowadays the term 'subscriber' has no financial implications!

Fiddlestix now walks the line between being an 'online fanzine' -- whatever that really means -- and an information service but we still seem to have our own niche, developed over the last couple of decades. The web page has brought in a number of subscribers but a change of ISP has necessitated its move to a new server. Where better to find its new home than here in the sumptuous surrounds of GMR? Indeed, what better timing to do so than on the mag's 20th anniversary? Pointing your browser of choice here will show you the web page as it has been for a while now, but who's to say it might not develop and flourish further in its new home? I do say a big thank you to Cat for allowing us here -- may the partnership prove mutually satisfying!

 

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Entire Contents Copyright 2005, The Green Man Review except where specifically noted. All Rights Reserved.

Updated 31th July, 2005, 00:00 GMT (JM)