23rd of October, 2005

Some stories are literally true; some of them are figuratively true; some of them are wrong. That's the nature of stories, isn't it? They show us all the highlights of the world, but they never leave us certain we can trust the things we know. We listen because they delight us, and mind them as much as they illuminate our hearts; but no one with a lick of sense ever trusts a tale he can't verify himself.

-- Alan Rodgers in Bone Music

The next biweekly issue will be published on the 6th of November, 2005

Book Reviews
 
 

The Neverending Session is oft times at its very best when the weather grows colder and the days get shorter. So it's not surprising to this old publican that the number of musicians dropping in here at Green Man Pub grows dramatically this time of year! One such visitor was a Swedish fiddler who showed up here last week, Hans was his name I believe. He had one of the most unusual instruments I've ever seen. It was, I kid you not, a träskofiol (wooden shoe fiddle)! I found a photo of one here, so go take a look. It really, you must agree, does look like a wooden shoe! Though a few of the musicians hereabouts say this fiddle isn't as sweet as a 'true' fiddle, I thought the tune he played solo on it, Jågaremarsch (Hunter's March), was quite fine. And a proper benediction it was for a season of conversations round late night fires, the scent of falling oak leaves, and thick, hearty stews served up with fresh pressed apple cider!

Also perfect for those cold, rainy days when the winds blow like the bitter of the Caoineag is the telling of tales. Last week, the staff here took their turn at saying what were their favourite fairy and folk tales, so this week our Editor asked some of our favorite literary folk what their best-loved tales were. Their answers can be found here. I particularly want to draw your attention to the detailed reponse from Kage Baker about how a Hans Christian Andersen story, 'The Tinderbox', changed in meaning for her as she grew up, and Gwyneth Jones on a Moroccan tale known by many, many names in various variants including 'The Seven Crows'.

Several of the musicians here have been playing around with the idea of a tune -- The Oak King would be the name of it. Our next Oak King has been chosen and has accepted the honour of reigning. He says he's no good at giving speeches, but '[i]f the estimable Mr. de Lint could get by with a poem, could I slip in a story?' Yes, was the reply of the staff here that night in the Pub, so join us next week for his tale as we'll be in the Pub quaffing spiced pumpkin ale while we learn what he has to tell!

Ahhhh, Neil Gaiman, a man who claims on his blog this week that he's starting to look like a werewolf. A tired, but happy, werewolf at that. April Gutierrez was lucky enough to get him to sit down for a talk recently, as she notes in her introduction: 'This interview was conducted following Neil's reading and Q&A session at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. 2005; it marks Neil's second appearance at the Festival, and his second such interview with a Green Man Review staff member at the festival (Liz Milner did the honors last year). Though his day was off to a hectic start (so hectic, he arrived at his reading sans a copy of Anansi Boys and completely forgot to mention the Mirrormask opening) and we couldn't sit down until the brief window between his talk and signing sessions, he was quite gracious and answered all of my self-indulgent questions, some in great detail, for which I must extend a hearty thank you.' Read her Excellence in Interviewing Award winning interview for all the juicy details on what Neil's up to!

April also takes a look at the Mirrormask novella which she says 'can easily be read independently of the movie, being entirely self-contained, and its extra glimpses into Helena's psyche enhance the movie-goer's experience. So, all in all, a most excellent little book to add to one's library.'

Jack Merry rounds out our look at things Gaiman with a review of a book concerned with how Mirrormask was made by the folks at the Jim Henson Company: 'Now if you're wondering if you should read The Alchemy of Mirrormask before seeing Mirrormask, that would depend on how much you want to know before seeing it about the plot. Want to be surprised by all that happens? Don't buy The Alchemy of Mirrormask, or the novella, or even the script. Read it afterwards to appreciate the film even more!' Jack, being Jack, did not follow his own advice, and did read this before seeing the Mirrormask film!

Donna Bird received a children's book to review, but it wasn't really quite a children's book: 'Folks around the Green Man offices know that I am working on an omnibus of novels that take place in Europe during or in the years leading up to World War II -- so I wasn't terribly surprised to find this book sitting on my desk one morning. In fact, the brownie who delivered it to my office took the Curious George toy off my bookcase and sat him on top of the book, just to make sure I didn't miss the connection!! [Louise Borden's] The Journey that Saved Curious George looks like a children's book -- it has the dimensions of a standard U.S. sheet of paper and is about 75 pages long, with large type and lots of cute and funny illustrations by Allan Drummond. Well, most of the type is large -- except for the footnotes, which are anything but large. And many of the illustrations are cute and funny -- but quite a lot of them are reproductions of archival documents, like passports and diary pages and typewritten letters from book publishers. And others are reproductions of archival photographs of Paris scenes and of soldiers marching and of Adolf Hitler saluting. These are neither cute nor funny.'

Denise Dutton has a confession to make: 'I love smarting myself up. Just read that last sentence; increasing my mental capacity is obviously a good idea. So whenever I see a book that promises to tell me something I don't know, I'm interested. Especially when the topic is one that I'm already interested in. And I've always been a fan of fantasy in general, and of children/YA fantasy in particular. Fantasy Literature for Children and Young Adults is a mouthful of a title, but it's also The Little Book That Could. The authors obviously know their subject, and they're able to lay it out for readers by giving plenty of examples of the good stuff. Which in turn makes it good stuff all by itself.'

So you thought you recognized the staffers catching up on gossip in the Pub? That's Brendan Foreman, who just started reviewing for us again: 'There are some books I am very glad that I did not read as a child, because I would have not been able to truly understand them (such as Gulliver's Travels) or because they would have ended my fantasies about things a bit too early. The Last Knight by Norman Cantor falls into both categories. This well-written, accessible history details the beginnings of the decline of Feudalism in Western Europe during the mid- to late 1300s with enough realistic description that I'm afraid my teenage dreams of the Middle Ages, fueled by King Arthur, Robin Hood and the Lord of the Rings would have been crushed by such a text. At the same time, though, this fairly brisk but substantial tour of the end of an era makes me appreciate just how far Europe needed to go before reaching its Modern Era.'

Obsessions are good. Really. Truly. I once had an obsession about red haired woman all in black leather riding motorcycles ... Oh, never mind... Dylan Jones' iPod, Therefore I Am is, according to David Kidney, a look at a mostly harmless obsession: 'I'm not normally drawn to books about technology, even though in my day time job I am responsible for much of the new technology that is used at a major Canadian University. But every once in a while a new book comes out which talks about technology in the way we think about it! As a tool which is way more fun to use than the last tool we had! Dylan Jones thinks that the iPod is the greatest thing to come along since . . . well, he thinks it is so great that there really isn't anything to compare with it! And he spends 207 pages telling us why! The book alternates between a history of the development of the iPod, its origin, design and mandate, and the story of how one man (Mr. Jones) decided just which 4000 songs would form the soundtrack to his life! It's a fascinating look at the obsessions of the music fan, and you might learn a few things about the business world too.'

David also looked at a novelized look at the life of Fatty Arbuckle, a early film start whose Bacchanalian excesses really were his downfall: 'I, Fatty is a first person narrative of Arbuckle's life story. It contains the ups and downs, the successes and failures and everything in between. It is a non-stop roller coaster of a read. Once you get on board, hang on tight! Jerry Stahl (who knows about Hollywood, and about substance abuse) takes the reader right inside Arbuckle's world, and inside his head.'

You'll find Jack Merry, a fan of the Farscape series, was not pleased with Farscape Forever!: 'Ok, you like Farscape so much that you bought the entire set of DVDs. Hell, you even have combed eBay looking for the ever-so-rare action figures that were issued. And you even bought the John Crichton figure! Now do you need this book? No, but you'll find it interesting in places, irritating as all hell in other places. Unlike Joe Nazarro's The Creatures of Farscape: Inside Jim Henson's Creature Shop, which all Farscape fans should own a copy of, this is a piece of fluff, nothing more.'

Robert M. Tilendis, a resident of Chicago himself, looks at some cool guides to this city: 'Many people don't realize that Chicago is a major destination for tourists: in the summer, particularly, you are likely to run into people from almost anywhere strolling through the parks, shopping on Michigan Avenue, or investigating our museums and art galleries. One reason for this is that Chicago has a long tradition of fine hotels, catering not only to conventioneers but to others from all walks of life. Joan Green, in Hotels and Hospitality and Marshall Field's Food and Fashion, two guidebooks published by Pomegranate, investigates some of that tradition.' John W. Stamper's North Michigan Avenue and Jay Pridmore's Soldier Field also got his stamp of approval: 'These two guidebooks, because that is really what they are, are small treasures: they are beautifully produced and extensively illustrated with photographs and drawings both contemporary and from various archives that show their respective subjects in various stages of development. The texts are clear and concise and contain a wealth of information.'

Gary Whitehouse rounds out our book reviews with a look at David Marusek's Counting Heads, which he says 'is David Marusek's first novel, and an expansion of an earlier short story. It is a riveting work of excitement, adventure and character.' Read his Excellence in Writing Award winning review for all the details on this novel!

Ready for Halloween? Well, if you haven't decided what to do with your evening yet, here are two reviews to have you trembling, and two blasts from the past to satiate the spirits.

I'll start things off is a look at a new spin on the '80s horror movie The Fog. It's the same story, kinda, but with a slight twist. 'Cad-about-town Nick Castle (played well enough by Smallville Superman Tom Welling) and his back-in-town girlfriend Elizabeth (Lost's Maggie Grace) find out that things aren't exactly peachy in their hometown of Antonio Island, Oregon. Local DJ Stevie Wayne (a not-given-enough-screen-time Selma Blair) also buys a clue. Along with a handful of other townies, they discover that the evil presence rolling into town may be thanks to some home-grown dastardly deeds from years gone by.' Is the presence of all that pretty enough to float your boat? Or is it just horrifyingly bad? The review will tell you everything you need to know.

David Kidney shares a review of The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons. 'Not that [Dick Cavett]'s dead or anything, but his accomplishments seem squarely planted in the past. He would show up on the Tonight Show as a replacement for Johnny Carson from time to time, and then he got his own show which was a model of intelligent conversation and wit. . . .The DVD set provides hours of entertainment, and serves as a virtual history lesson of the late 60s, early 70s.' Dead or living, this DVD re-animates that bygone era. David's got quite a bit more to say about this offering in his Excellence In Writing Award winning review.

James Lynch turned in a review that has the Old Ones quivering in expectation. Call of Cthulhu is a brand-new movie that uses old-time style to tell its terrifying tale. 'The good people at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society have tackled this tale by giving it the silent treatment: Their movie The Call of Cthulhu is a 1920s-style silent movie.' The fact that James says it's a silent film is enough to pique my interest, but if you need more than that to make a decision, read his review to see if it's just the scare you're looking for.

Gary Whitehouse wraps things up with a look at a new DVD celebrating an old concert -- 40 years old, to be exact. The Beatles in Portland, '. . . two hours or so in length, is about four times as long as any of The Beatles' typical performances on that tour. It is packed with detail, and much of it is quite interesting. . . . For the most part, it consists of interviews with dozens of people who were there that day. . . . for some of whom it seems to have been the high point of their lives.' Ahh, but did Gary settle in and enjoy the show, or was it too scary for words? Read his review, if you dare!

It's Fairport Reunion Day at Green Man Towers as our Live reporters cover two concerts no Fairport fan would want to miss.

Master Reviewer and Music Review Production Editor Gary Whitehouse reports on a Richard Thompson gig in Portland, Oregon. The concert is part of Thompson's West Coast Tour. Actually, it could be subtitled 'A Tale of Two Thompsons,' because Richard's side man is none other than the tremendously talented bassist, Danny 'No Relation' Thompson.

Gary reports that by the fourth song he felt 'blessed and transported,' and things just kept getting better and better. Thompson, he writes, 'should by now have a patent on the trick of playing his acoustic guitar with a combination of flat- and finger-picking so that it sounds like three guitar players going at once. He can hold an audience's attention indefinitely by himself, and with the addition of Danny's sympathetic bass-playing, can blow many much larger acoustic ensembles off the stage. Over the past decade or so he's also taken to drawing out song endings with a combination of vocal and instrumental improvisation so that none of the songs come off like sparse acoustic arrangements of numbers intended for a full band. He's pretty much a whole band in himself, now vocally as well as instrumentally.' To read more about Gary's out-of-body experience, click here.

Meanwhile, Senior Writer Lars Nilsson braved a throng of boogying Danes for a chance to hear Fairport. The venue was far from ideal and the audience seemed a little vague on the whole electric folk concept. Nonetheless, Lars concludes, 'Fairport are always Fairport, and even when they are not in top form they are better than most bands I know. This night was not one of their best, but very far from bad.'

Kim Bates, taking a break from searching for colourful vistas here in my adopted Ontario home. We've got plenty of those, with the deep reds giving way to the orange and yellow tones this week. And what could be better to warm a fall day, to make a road trip to the Canadian shield more vibrant? Music, of course. And we've got some interesting offerings for you this week.

Yvonne Carts-Powell enjoyed Paso Fino's latest offering, Into the Cactus Plain, which is a sensuous listening experience: 'Listening to Diana Anderson's smooth, rich, not quite sultry voice, is like stroking microsuede. She glides over Shane Lamphier's bright guitar and the Latin beat of several percussionists. It's all atmospheric -- even on a dark wet autumn day in New England, the sound transports me to a little bodega near the Cactus Plain.' Hot!

David Kidney also brings some gems this week, in his inimitable fashion. First up is a man whose songs we've all heard --- sung by someone else: Fred Neil, whose passion for saving dolphins may even have trumped his love of music. Fred's finally getting his own back, posthumously, with Echoes Of My Mind: The Best of 1963-1971. As David tells us, 'Fred Neil's biggest hit was in a version by someone else. His guitar style is best known because of his influence on other people. He released only a handful of albums, played live around New York City, made a major impression on everyone who saw, or heard him. Although labels courted him, looking for another record, he turned them all down. 1963-1971 is about it. Raven, the antediluvian re-issue company, has captured the best of those years on this new anthology.'

David also gives us his take on another senior statesman, Willie Nelson, whose Countryman gave even David some pause. Why? It's reggae, mon, and it's been brewing for over a decade! 'Okay! Right from the first cymbal splash this new Willie Nelson CD is something else. It comes wrapped in a red, yellow and green digipac which features an herbal centrepiece (it isn't a fern) and on the back, a black and white picture of Willie in the woods.' Does it work? Read David's Excellence In Writing Award winning review to find out.

Now, if David doesn't travel down to Jamaica on a horticultural expedition in search of Willie, he may travel out to B.C., on a Wednesday, for the music of Doug Cox & Sam Hurrie, whose live album Hungry Ghosts left him wanting more, as it 'just sidles up alongside you and makes itself at home.'

Peter Massey samples from a very mixed musical bag this week. He was very moved by Chloe & Jason Roweth's The Riderless Horse, which paints a very vivid portrait of the experiences of Australians in the first World War through soldiers' poems set to music, and popular songs of the day. 'I think everyone should listen to this album, if only at least once in their lives' Peter tells us, in an unreservered commendation for this disc.

He also enjoyed another historical album, John Handcox's Songs, Poems, and Stories of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union. As he tells us, Handcox was the 'main light; he was organiser and songwriter for the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, particularly in its early days. As such he attracted the attention of legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie. Most of the songs, poems and stories here were originally recorded in or about 1937. In Handcox's songs and poems the protest themes highlighted the plight and grievances of the tenant farmers and the sharecroppers during the great depression and later.'

Peter found the Faroese lyrics created too much distance between the music and the English-speaking listener on her album with The Danish Radio Big Band, Trollabundin: 'Eiver Palsdottir sings very well in an expressive style, and needlessly to say the Danish Radio Band performs beautifully. Eiver sings all the songs in Danish (or Faroese?). The booklet also contains all the lyrics printed in Danish / Faroese, either way it was lost on me, for I speak neither.'

Lars Nilsson first takes a listen to two EPs this week, Folk For Peace's benefit disc, Rumors of Rain , which he tells us is 'not quite as instantly catchy as 'We Are the World,' but well in the same league as the original Band Aid song,' and Jugopunch's Cold/A Fiver on the Horses: 'Mid-English band Jugopunch describes their music as 'Kick Ass Irish folk blues,' and it makes sense to find an advert for a concert with the group supporting The Family Mahone, a band heavily inspired by the Pogues.' Read more to find out if this offering lives up to the legend.

He was very impressed with Claire Mann and Aaron Jones's, Secret Orders: 'Throughout, the musicianship and singing are impeccable, and Mann and Jones have a gift for picking good songs and tunes. A quite remarkable debut album by any standard.' I'm sure we'll be seeing more from this duo.

Robert Tilendis brings us quite a variety of reviews this time. Jody Marshall's Cottage in the Glen show that she 'has a distinct facility for drawing together a variety of musical threads into a rich and engaging weave.' Meanwhile, Malcom Dalglish has created an entire album of hammered dulcimer music, with Jogging the Memory that draw 'on Dalglish's experience in theater and as a storyteller as well as musical influences at least as diverse as anyone else's -- Stravinsky, Vaughan Williams, Zap Mama. Sweet Honey in the Rock, the Beatles.' Read his review to find out what he has to say about the clarity of Dalglish's playing.

Nick Humez has created an album of music to teach mythology -- now that is dedication! But does it work as an album? Read Robert's review of Myth Songs to find out! And, last but not least, Robert gives us a look at two renderings of composer Johannes Brahms' work. The first is a classic performance, by Utah Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Maurice Abravanel, which has been recently reissued, Brahms' Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68 and Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56A.

According to Robert, Abravenel delivers a performance of Brahms that 'does catch the nuances of the middle two movements, highlighting the lyricism and bringing out the sweetness of the music. And he does the final movement proud: suddenly, there is momentum, there is tension, and there is Brahms' own brand of heroism' Robert had to be convinced when it came to the next treatment of Brahms' work in a piano duet. Robert liked the DVD of the Emanuel Ax and Yefim Bronfman's performance better than the CD treatment of Sonata in F Minor for Two Pianos, Op. 34B and Variations on a Theme By Haydn for Two Pianos, Op. 56B. Read his Excellence In Writing Award-winning review to find out why.

Gary Whitehouse often closes our selection of music reviews -- but they're worth waiting for! This time he brings us Laura Veirs, 'one of the better-kept secrets of the Pacific Northwest music scene, and it's a shame she's not more well known. This is her fifth album and it's an idiosyncratic and beguiling affair.' Will Veirs stay a secret for long? Not if our Gary has anything to do with it. He also liked Dropkick's Music To Watch Sheep By, which 'is very enjoyable Americana with a Scottish lilt.'

As I close out this week's collection of reviews, the cold rains are doing their best to strip all that colour off of the branches of our trees, leaving them bare to the bone. Their colour may fade, but you should be able to find something bright and vibrant amongst this week's offerings. So, sit back, put the kettle on, and enjoy!

 

SPike gets the last words this edition. Over a Boddingtons in the Pub, he was ranting about a song he heard: 'So, once a while back this bloke called Corneilius sent us a Web Site an' like a crazyman I went on an' listened to 'is song. Now 'e's back. More music, this one inspired by the war in Iraq an' the Olympics, two topics right at the peak of my lack of int'rest heap. Although...both of these subjects make my stomach ache. An' apparently, Corny feels pretty much the same #$%&in' way. Listen to 'im y'rself. He's a bit like an old-time folksinger, an' 'e records all this stuff on a computer. So 'e's a bit like a modern up-to-date-old-time folksinger! He is described thusly, 'a unique irish voice meshed with relaxed funky guitar riffs overlaid with succint lyrics, stories of experience and resolution. Melodic and inspiring, clear sighted, a conversation touching on love, lust, joy and fear, some of his songs are already classics in the london psychedelic underground community music scene.' Well, I guess that's about right. I useta be part of the 'london punk underground community' an' it's entirely possible that Corny an' me ole band the JapZeros shared a stage one time. Who the @#$% knows? Any-road, the audience seems to like 'im, an' truth be told, I sorta like 'im as well . . . go for it Corny! Let yer @#$%in' freak flag fly, as somebody once famously said. Oh . . . y'all wanna know wot I'm talkin' 'bout, dontcha? Check it out!'

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Archived LLS Jan 15, 2006 4: 44 PM PST