25th of September, 2005

'The session is where the music lives and breathes; where it does its homework, where it flexes its muscles and idly picks its nose.'

Barry Foy in Field Guide to the Irish Music Session

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The next biweekly issue will be published on the 9th of October, 2005

Zina Lee here.

Probably my favorite kind of Irish music sessions are house sessions, where musicians are invited over to someone's house for an evening of tunes and perhaps a few songs if there're any singers along, and of course lots of alcohol and food.

At house sessions, things can be more relaxed than out at a scheduled pub session, since you know most of your session mates as friends, and have probably played together with most of them more than a few times. It's nice sometimes to play with friends and be able to enjoy their company in a less public, less stressful environment. You know a lot of each other's tunes, you know how to figure out when they're about to change tunes, you might even know what the next tune will be before they get there.

This last weekend, fiddler Will Harmon brought his family along to our house and we enjoyed squiring them about Denver and Boulder. Along the way, we got in no few tunes, of course. We asked a few friends to come along for a house session, and a lovely time was had by all.

Towards the end of the evening when things are slowing down a bit and the first mad rush at tunes is done and you've started picking more carefully at the plate, as it were, considering whether perhaps a bite of this or a nibble of that would now be best suited to your almost-sated appetite, or whether you should perhaps have a second helping of the main course just for the taste, musos start asking each other, 'what have you got? what are you working on right now?' and we play bits and pieces at each other, perhaps a couple times through a tune to show what you can do with it, or just to give it to someone else for the next time you play together.

It's a lovely time, probably my favorite part of a session, except for maybe those moments when the music gels and comes together and everyone is roaring out a rake of reels and everything in the world is fine, just for that single moment.

Anyway, at that point in the evening, Will picked up his fiddle and lilted his way into The Winter Queen, the reel he wrote for Jane Yolen, one of the many Winter Queens Green Man has had down the centuries, at the request of Cat Eldridge. Pete immediately picked it up on his bouzouki, and then I faltered my way in, listening to how Will plays the tune and trying to adjust my setting to his.

And a doorway opened for me, somewhere inside my head; a peek into worlds where the commonplace becomes meaningful by squinting at it a slightly different way, where you can turn your head and realize that something extraordinary has been waiting for you to notice that it has been there all along, where the magic steps forward out of the periphery of the mundane. By concentrating on the tune, I stepped a little out of time and space and sideways into Jane Yolen's worlds, knowing the whole time that even a tiny jog of my concentration would knock me back out into my living room, sitting next to Will, playing Her Majesty's tune.

Even while I concentrated on the playing, adjusting here, missing there, I saw gold and blue and scarlet petalled flowers falling through my mental landscape onto sparkling crisp snow, felt the rush of faery horses galloping by, and I knew that this tune would always call up wondrous dragons for me.

Will and I ended the tune, Will jumping up a slightly dorky third for a bit of flourish; we paused for a short moment to admire the tune, hanging in the air like smoke, and then broke into laughter at the goofiness of his little harmony.

Pete caught the tune on his little Zen voice recorder and sent me The Winter Queen MP3, and here it is, from my house to yours, three slightly drunk and sleep deprived musos playing a tune, written for a wondrous storyteller of the most luminous of stories, for other musos at the end of a session. No flowers, no snow, no dragons, not even the laughter at the end. But I promise you that they were there.

Jack Merry loves a collection of short stories as they remind him of the storytellers that entertain avid listeners here at Green Man. The reading this time is of Patricia A. McKillip's Harrowing the Dragon: 'I've been sitting by the fireplace in the Green Man Pub reading the wonderful stories in this collection while listening to the Neverending Session play around with a reel called 'The Winter Queen' that was written by Will Harmon, a friend of Zina Lee, in honour of Jane Yolen, but I can't help but think that McKillip herself would be worthy of a reel, or perhaps a spritely jig, for all the great fiction she has written over the past quarter century!'

Fairport's Cropredy Convention was held as always in August and John O'Regan gives us a lovely look at this annual tradition: 'What We Did On Our Holidays was the title of Fairport Convention's second album for Island records in 1969. To paraphrase said title a little, what I did this year on my holidays was go to Cropredy in Oxfordshire for 'Fairport's Cropredy Convention'. But it wasn't for the first time. In fact this was my eighth trip to Cropredy in the last ten years. So I am by no means a 'Cropredy Virgin'. While it was familiar this year, it was also different, and exciting for reasons that will be revealed in the course of this review.' Read his review for a very good look at a most excellent festival!

One of our featured reviews this edition is actually an interview. And a bloody good interview it is! Robert M. Tilendis garners an Excellence in Interviewing and Writing Award for his conversation with Glen Cook. His intro sets up the interview ever-so-nicely: 'Glen Cook has been writing fantasy and science fiction for longer than most fans have been alive. I think it's safe to call him one of the field's grand masters, with a long string of successful series and stand-alones, from the 'Dread Empire' to the indestructible Black Company and the singular and popular Garret, P.I. I've long been an admirer of his work, and was just blown away by The Tyranny of the Night, so of course, when the opportunity arose to interview him, I was seized by total panic -- not only was it was the first of his books I'd read in about fifteen years, it had also been about fifteen years since I had interviewed anyone for publication. I had some refreshing of memory and catching up to do, which turned out to be just as enjoyable as reading all those books the first time. Fortunately, although it's far from my favorite way of conducting an interview, we did it via e-mail, so I had space in between batches of questions to do some of that catching up.'

Donna Bird does not have a review of Isabel Allende's Zorro, as she's having too much fun writing the review, so here's a taste of her review that will run next edition: 'There's just nothing like reviewing a piece of fiction to get you thinking about things you wouldn't otherwise have thought about at all. When I was a kid, all three television networks were scheduling shows with a Western motif in prime time every night of the week. I have pretty vivid memories of some of them and can still sing most of the theme songs. One of the shows I remember from this period is 'Zorro.' Of course my childhood memories are not as accurate as one might like, so a trip to my favorite on-line television and movie database must help me with the details. Looks like the show, a Disney production, aired on ABC from 1957-1959, in 82 half-hour episodes. My adult sensibilities are offended by the fact that all the main characters (with Hispanic names) are played by actors with Anglo names (well, at least one of them may have been a Mexican with an Anglicized stage name), but I have seen enough re-runs of other Westerns from that period to know that the practice was common.'

Japanese literature is a great favourite of April Gutierrez and she found an interesting series: 'Which is not to say that The Leopard Mask doesn't work at all, or isn't a good read. There's promise in the groundwork Kurimoto has set down. Who is Guin? Who -- or what -- usurped Vanon's existence? What comes next for the deposed twins? These questions demand to be answered, and will bring readers back for book two. Although it's not listed as such, this series seems ideal for younger readers (those old enough to comprehend and not be scared by the violence), more so than adults. They will likely appreciate the setting and characters more.' Read her detailed review for all the choice details on this series!

Yes, that's grog the lovely red-headed April Gutierrez is drinking. It's in honour of the book, Pirattitude! So You Wanna be a Pirate? Here's How!, she's reviewing this edition: 'In this quirky follow-up to their Well Blow Me Down! The Guy's Guide to Talking Like a Pirate, John Baur and Mark Summers, better known as Ol' Chumbucket and Cap'n Slappy (The Pirate Guys), have written the definitive etiquette guide to comporting oneself as a modern pirate.'

Michael Jones says 'This may very well be Hetley's best book to date, just in terms of complexity, originality, and fast-paced excitement. As I've said, the plot may be simple but he really fleshes out the trappings that give it life and color, making for a fun read. In his previous books, Hetley drew from Celtic myth primarily. Here, he seems to be blazing his own trail, and doing a damn fine job. I highly recommend Dragon's Eye. It was one of those books I just couldn't put down once I started reading.'

Jasmine Johnston found what might be her perfect read: 'Have you ever read a book for simply ages, all in one sitting, one gulp, one go? Till your eyes stick with every blink, and your bottom has pins and needles, and your calves are cramping, and your baby finger has been stained a permanent reddish-grey from rubbing inky pages open, and you've simply forgotten -- not just ignored but really forgotten -- all the pressing appointments of the day? Till you've lost all sense of purpose or self? Yeah . . . I have. And it was Alan Moore's Watchmen, collected issues 1-12, that did it. I guess I should be grateful that I encountered this little phenomenon long after the published fact, and that thus the story arc has been completed. Else, I'd be driven to weeping, as Susanna Clarke has charmingly quoted Jonathan Ross, at the release of every new issue.'

David Kidney is a very, very happy music buff: 'Weighing in at a massive 3.35 pounds, and using entire forests of trees to provide the 1005 pages, John L. Smith's labour of love Another Song to Sing lists EVERY song recorded by the legendary John R. Cash. Alongside the title, composer, and publishing information, Smith includes all the musicians who appeared on each different recording and tells you on what album each might be found. Who would want such a volume, you ask? Well. The answer is simple. Trivia nuts. Researchers. Writers. Fans. This is simply fascinating stuff.'

In his lead-off paragraph to his review of To Charles Fort, With Love, Carter Nipper tells you all you need to know in order to want to read his review in full: 'In his Afterword to this collection of short fiction, Ramsey Campbell says that 'Caitlin Kiernan is one of the true visionaries and finest stylists in our field, and not just in contemporary terms.' Effusive praise indeed from a man who is himself considered a true visionary and a master stylist. I certainly am not one to quibble with Mr. Campbell.'

Will Shetterly who will be reviewing Serenity for us, has a look at a collection of essays edited by Jane Espenson titled Finding Serenity: Anti-Heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon's Firefly. Though WIll does recommend it -- 'This reviewer's advice? If you're a Firefly completist, buy it. If you're not, take a look at it in your library or bookstore. If your library doesn't have it, nudge them: The need to discuss Firefly will only grow after the first movie opens.' -- read his review to see why he grumbles about some of the conclusions reached by the authors!

You already most likely know Ansel Adams, but Robert M. Tilendis is looking at Robert Adams, another photographer: 'The American West has been a potently mythic icon in the American imagination ever since we figured out it was there. As it moved out of the Ohio River Valley and across the Mississippi and the Great Plains, artists no less than explorers brought back visions of a country filled with vast spaces and cold grandeur, endless plains and soaring mountains in which natural wonders abounded. Starting with nineteenth-century painters such as Albert Bierstadt, this icon, a romantic one tied to ideas of Manifest Destiny and the unspoiled wilderness of Enlightenment writers such as Rousseau, became, perhaps, even more romantic in the hands of photographers such as Ansel Adams, whose well-known images of Yosemite and the Sierras have pervaded our visual vocabulary. There is another Adams who has photographed the West: Robert Adams, who brings us a much different picture. His western landscapes do not portray the lofty peaks of the Rockies or Sierra Nevada, nor the wonders of Yellowstone and Yosemite as icons of the pristine wilderness. They portray humanity's feeble attempts at domesticating a landscape that allows those attempts only because it hasn't really noticed them.' Read his review of Summer Nights for a look at this important artist and his work!

Urban fantasy gets tackled next by this daring reviewer as he looks at Orson Scott Card's Magic Street. Card? Urban fantasy?!? Let Robert explain -- this novel 'marks a distinct departure for Card, at least as far as his novels go. It marks his entry into urban fantasy, and it's a strong entry indeed. It's a lean book, much leaner than the Ender Wiggin saga or the Alvin Maker series, as I remember, and funny, which is not something that one necessarily thinks of in relation to Card. It's definitely going to become a permanent fixture in my library.' Read his Excellence in Writing Award winning review for the reasons he really liked this novel!

Kate Wilhelm's Storyteller -- Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers' Workshop gets the nod of approval from Robert: 'I was prepared to like this book just because of the publisher's name -- and, of course, the fact that it is by Kate Wilhelm, one of science fiction's legends: aside from the quality of her stories, in the 1950s and 60s she was one of the two or three women of note in a field dominated by men. Being a writer-working-on-being-a-novelist, I am particularly drawn to books about the craft of writing, and to have one about the Clarion Writers' Workshop drop into my lap was an unlooked-for gift.'

Christopher White is a great lover of a well-written biography and this one was among the best: 'The chief questions that arise with a book like Jimi Hendrix: The Man, The Magic, The Truth, a book in which the author is offering a personal memoir rather than an outside view based on truly objective independent research, revolve around how accurately the author's memories match the facts. Did the author dissemble in ways to appear in a more favorable light? Do they have biases they are seeking to bolster? I can only hope Sharon Lawrence was (and is) the sort of friend she appears to have been (and continues to be) to Jimi Hendrix.'

Music is definitely in the air in this issue, skipping around the offices and filling the halls with song. The film library has been touched by music, too, with two DVDs that focus on musicmakers this issue.

First off, David Kidney reviews the DVD from Donovan Leitch's boxed set Try For The Sun. David's already reviewed the music itself, and said in that review that he 'could hardly wait' 'til the DVD came out. Well, was it worth the wait? David certainly thinks so: 'It is such a product of its time, as to be almost essential viewing for anyone who would understand the '60s. The addition of this brief documentary to an already excellent cross-section of songs makes Try For the Sun a must-have for any of Donovan's fans, a perfect introduction for newcomers to his gentle music, and a fine example of the art of the box set.' High praise indeed!

Gary Whitehouse takes a look at Woody Guthrie's life and legacy in the DVD Woody Guthrie -- This Machine Kills Fascists. Gary notes that, '. . . this is not the first film that has documented his life, but it may be the most extensive. Which makes its weaknesses all the more frustrating.' Read his review to find out what could have been better in this look at the singer-songwriter's life.

Hello, there. Robert M. Tilendis, brand new Letters Editor here. I've appeared in this department before, but only as a respondent. I am now, I'm told, in charge, trying desperately to fill the shoes of Craig Clarke, who gave me such a nice introduction last time and to whom I extend heartfelt and fully deserved thanks for helping me get up to speed.

My task now is to keep you all abreast of the feedback we get here at GMR, which I will do with minimum participation by my trusty blue pencil. To that end, I begin my tenure by presenting a spirited exchange sparked by a review by Maria Nutick of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series, which brought a sharp response from reader Richard Lamont. Mia's responses, I think, help to clarify (once again) just exactly what it is our reviewers do.

Donna Bird and Cat Eldridge love live music so it's no surprise where they were recently. No, not sitting in our Pub listening to the Neverending Session: 'Early September in Maine, most of the tourists have gone home, the kids (and teachers) are back in school, the days are getting shorter and the air starts to cool. It's about the best time in the year for concerts. We found out through the electronic grapevine that Cantrip was playing a gig at Bowdoin College on a Saturday night, and made plans to go as opportunities to hear live Celtic music are somewhat scarce if you're interested in something outside of the Irish repertoire. Indeed, one local promoter, we kid you not, won't do anything but Irish as obviously only Irish music is Celtic music!' Read their look at this concert to see how good live music can be!

Arlo Guthrie's Live in Sydney recording gets a seal of approval from David Kidney: 'Telling tales is one of the things Arlo does best, and this new double CD set features many of his stories. Whether talking about his dad, or Cisco Houston, or singing the same songs after 40 years. His voice is sounding older, but he's still an engaging speaker, funny and charming. And his stories are darned interesting.'

Ahhh, squeeze boxes -- Surely you remember The Who singing '. . . Mama's got a squeeze box / She wears on her chest / And when Daddy comes home / He never gets no rest . . .' Now get your mind out of the gutter, as these are folk musician playing squeeze boxes (Sharon Shannon on Spellbound and John Kirkpatrick and Chris Parkinson's The Sultans of Squeeze). Suffice it to say Lars Nilsson thought 'Squeeze box time coming up and two CDs with three of the best box-squeezers around.'

John O'Regan garners an Excellence in Writing Award for his look at Say hello to the band And the best of what's left! and Parabola Road -- The Anthology by Decameron. Let's let John describe this act: 'Named after Boccacio's Decameron, this English folk band lasted almost a decade between 1968 and 1976. Their music was very distinctive with highly literate word skills allied to florid, often-opaque arrangements. They flitted between the acid folk, contemporary folk and folk rock fields but never settled successfully in any one genre. Resembling a cross between The Strawbs, Magna Carta, latter-day Incredible String Band and Amazing Blondel, Decameron was very much a band of its period. Their music was an eclectic mix of contemporary folk with the late ends of Pschycedelia, West Coast FM Rock, and Progressive Rock styles with subtle nods towards 30's jazz and 50's rock and roll thrown in.'

Kelly Sedinger's faith in Celtic music was upheld by a recording from Lisa Moscatiello and Rosie Shipley: 'One of the things I love most about Celtic music is the feeling I have that I could spend the next 50 years exploring its mighty currents, its eddying backwaters, and off-branching tributaries, and still manage to find something new and delightful around every bend and behind every rock and beyond every hill. It's discs like Well Kept Secrets that give me this feeling.'

Gary Whitehouse ecstatically exclaims that 'Desert-noir chameleons Calexico team up with contemporary folksinger Sam Beam, who performs as Iron and Wine, in a seven-track 'extended play' (EP) CD that works extremely well.' He goes on to say, 'In the Reins is a quietly powerful little masterpiece of Americana.' Read his full review to get the low-down on this recording!

Bob Dylan is much favoured among the staffers here, and Gary found much to like in this recording by him: 'No Direction Home is Volume 7 of the Dylan Bootleg Series, mostly made up of previously unreleased material that has been subject to bootlegging over the years. And it's sort of the soundtrack to the Martin Scorsese film of the same title, scheduled to be shown on U.S. public television in September 2005 and released on DVD about the same time. Apparently the actual soundtrack uses mostly other music, and the tracks for this recording were culled as the best and most significant from the vaults that illustrate Dylan's growth and transformation during that period, 1959-66.'

Gary says 'Freakwater may be an acquired taste; they're certainly on the far fringes of alternative country. Fans of acts like Gillian Welch, Lambchop, Vic Chesnutt and Giant Sand, and anyone who appreciates a modern take on hardcore traditional music should check them out. Thinking of You is a good place to start.'

Jimmy Rosenberg and Stian Carstensen's Rose Room was also to Gary's liking: 'The music of Django Reinhardt lives on! In addition to continuing reissues of the great Gypsy guitarist's recordings, modern musicians continue to pay tribute to and expand on his legacy. Among these are Seattle, Washington's Pearl Django and the Hot Club of Norway, whose record label puts out their own recordings as well as those of the Dutch Gypsy guitar prodigy, Jimmy Rosenberg. Rosenberg has recorded with the Hot Club of Norway and has also put out several solo and duet recordings, the latest of which teams him with the eclectic Norwegian accordeonist, Stian Carstensen . . . Rose Room is a spectacular showcase of acoustic jazz, played by two of the hottest swingers on the Continent.'

Over a few pints of Guinness, I asked Zina what her favorite Yolen tale was and why so. Here's her answer:

I've so many favorite Yolen stories and I am so grateful to her for them all, but I suppose that right now my favorite is 'Briar Rose', her re-telling of Sleeping Beauty within the framework of the Holocaust.

There are three things that I love about Jane Yolen's writing and that 'Briar Rose' seems to me to be an exemplar of:

First, Jane Yolen's luminous use of language is fluid, facile yet challenging, exquisite in its clarity.

Second, Yolen is a writer's writer; the story is the thing in a Jane Yolen tale, everything furthers the story along, there's almost never any self-indulgent prose that doesn't keep the story in the air.

and finally,and possibly the most important,

Jane Yolen is a remarkably human writer. Her stories always always always illuminate some facet of human nature, strengths, weaknesses, abilities, or beauties, in some way that causes me to look at life differently, from someone else's viewpoint, through another human's eyes.

That 'Briar Rose' is about an evil that grew to be so large that it almost eclipsed the humanity of its participants, yet still manages to be a beautiful tale astounds me as a writer. As a human being and a reader, I was touched to the core over and over again.

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Updated 23 09 2005, 19.:45 GMT (Cat)