Sunday, the 6th of November, 2005

The next biweekly issue will be published on Sunday, the 20th of November, 2005

Featured Reviews

For every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance... -- Ecclesiastes 3:2

Jack Merry at your service. I've been listening to the Neverending Session musicians discuss what the tune they are composing in honor of all our Oak Kings should be like. Charles de Lint, a past Oak King, has a bit of sage advice for them: 'Whatever suits the author's fancy--I believe in free rein. That said, if I might offer only a suggestion, a tune in a minor key would seem to suit a foresty sort of king...' which they are mulling over.

On this early November night, when there's a warm fire blazing in the Pub fireplace, lights turned low inside this ancient building, and a cold, driving sleet falling outside, it's a perfect time to sit in the Pub so we can all listen to a tale being told. Storytellers are often found here -- not 'tall surprising given what Green Man does. Some rather well-known storytellers drop in briefly with a tale to tell, as will James Hetley in a short while when he gives us his Oak King tale. He was selected as the Oak King this year by acclamation of the editorial staff here at Green Man who greatly admire the mythic fiction he's been creating. Hetley has written three novels, The Summer Country, The Winter Oak, and Dragon's Eye, which are all brilliant reworkings of traditional mythopoeic material. I wholeheartedly recommended all three for winter reading pleasure!

Now let's listen to his tale..

Good evening to ye!

The keepers of this fine pub have offered me the title of Oak King for the season. Don't know if this means seven years of feasting, fine ale, and frolicsome wenches, followed by a messy death and long centuries buried in some peat bog waiting for the archaeologists, but I'll make the best of it I can. Seven good years are better than none.

October in Maine, chilly and raining as I write, gloomy advance-man for the winter lurking just around the corner. Come on over, sit by the fire, lift a pint, and listen to a cautionary tale of the cruel way the world has of dashing poetic hopes.

Like all such tales, I begin with the traditional words, 'once upon a time.' If someone kind would fetch me ale, for storytelling's thirsty work....

Ahhhh. Thank you.

Once upon a time there was a prince, handsome and strong after the way of princes but also intelligent and with great skill in his hands, unlike the common run of princes. He labored long and brilliantly in the shadows of his workshop, creating matchless beauty for his beloved, and caressed memories with the fingers of his thought....

'Prove your love for me,' she said, and he was glad, because it meant she cared. 'Bring me the moon, hung on a silver chain, and I will know your love is true.'

A boat he borrowed and rowed the Inland Sea, between the Sun Gates and the Moon Mountains, and dove time and time again beneath the emerald waves. Oysters he found and opened: one in a hundred bore a pearl. One pearl in a hundred shaped the sublime roundness of the full moon riding in the midnight sky. One pearl in a hundred of that rare shaping glowed with the serene inner light of the moon goddess, fit to touch the throat of his beloved. He wrought a silver chain, links marvelous to behold and strong, and hung the moon between her perfect breasts. She kissed him in joy and he took joy with her.

'Prove your love for me,' she said, and he was glad, because it meant she cared. 'Bring me the sun, set in a golden ring, and I will know your love is true.'

The Dragon Mountains he climbed, above the fire pits of Abbaddon and below the icy Peaks of Dawn, and delved into the heart of rock. Gems he found and cut: one fire-stone in a day of labor. One stone in a hundred brought a pure heart to the cutting. One stone in a hundred of that rare clarity shone with the beauty of the autumn sun in the Vale of Randilar, fit to reflect the glory of her cheekbones and her eyes. He wrought a golden ring of exquisite detail and set the sun upon her finger in a flare of beauty. She kissed him in joy and he took joy with her.

'Prove your love for me,' she said, and he was glad, because it meant she cared. 'Bring me the stars, cast in a veil of cloud, and I will know your love is true.'

Diamonds he sought, speaking traders from Cathay and Amritsar and Serendip, for such stones are never found in Kalimar. Baskets of stones he sifted: sands of adamant that would set the flame and twinkle of the zodiac against her raven hair. One stone in a hundred held the purity of her heart in its heart. One stone in a hundred of that purity matched the crimson fire of Aldebaran or the blue coldness of Rigel....

He labored long and brilliantly in the shadows of his workshop, forging wire as fine as spider's silk into a misty net of platinum to hold the midnight beauty of her hair. Slipping through the shadows and around the edge of his distraction, a thief stabbed him to the heart and stole the gems. She heard the news and wept, for she loved diamonds.

And that is the way of life, my friends. Savor the moments of brilliance and joy, but keep an eye to the shadows. Winter comes, and with it darkness, and the wind and other things howling outside the door. For now, celebrate the harvest, full woodsheds and full larders. Feast, and sing, and dance, and drink. Take joy with one another.

Then draw closer to the fire and dream of spring.

Alan Lee's The Lord Of The Rings Sketchbook was everything Denise Dutton hoped it would be: 'This book is breathtaking from the moment you pick it up, right through to the very last page. At first glance, the cover looks like an actual well-worn sketchbook, with worn edges, bent corners and scuff marks drawn on to illustrate, if you will, the overall feel of the work itself. The book sleeve has beautiful illustrations, but if you remove it, you'll see that the hard cover itself is embossed with the same gorgeous, full-color graphics. The end pages are beautiful as well; a map of Middle Earth written in Elvish graces both sides. They've even sewn-in a gold ribbon bookmark. It's wonderful to see that the publishers took the time to give this book the treatment this subject deserves. Because goodness knows fans (and if they're smart, film/art fans in general) will be keeping this item on their shelves for a long, long time.'

Pose questions about this work to Alan Lee himself! The world-renowned, Academy Award-winning Lord of the Rings artist will answer your questions about the Sketchbook the week of November 7th on Houghton Mifflin's online Discussion Forum. The Forum will be accepting questions on Monday, November 7, and Tuesday, November 8. Alan Lee's answers will be posted by Friday, November 11. Unfortunately, due to the high volume of requests we cannot guarantee answers to all questions. Go here to visit the forum!

Kelly Sedinger says Dave Rowe's Big Shoes as invoked Proustian memories: 'Sometimes, in my youth, my family would embark on road trips to various locations - Grandma's house, perhaps, or a shopping destination a couple of hours away. In the course of such journeying, my father would often take back-country routes, often choosing to eschew the Interstate highways that, as many have noted, can get you from one end of our nation to the other without encountering any of its charm. When it came time for dinner, we'd often stop at some inn/bar/restaurant in some small town along the way, the kind of place that exists in the largest structure in town with bright neon beer signs shining in the windows, and sometimes, once in a while, when we'd go into one of these places, there'd be live music. More than a few times, the live music sounded like that made by the Dave Rowe Trio.'

Earl F. Bargainnier's The Gentle Art of Murder: The Detective Fiction of Agatha Christie collection of essays is being reviewed by us in acknowledgement that the setting of the British mysteries of the early Twentieth Century are as much a work of imagination as the London of The Master Detective or the countryside of Midsomer is. Faith J. Cormier says that 'The Gentle Art of Murder isn't heavy academia or an easy way to find out 'whodunit' in whichever of Christie's works you haven't read yet. It's an accessible, unpatronizing, even-handed examination of one of the most popular authors in English of the 20th century.'

Jennifer Schacker's National Dreams: The Remaking of Fairy Tales in Nineteenth-Century England was left for editing by Denise, appropriately enough, just before she was off to the Great Hall here for our All Hallows Eve party: 'This is not a social or cultural history, but rather a look at how oral traditions and folk tales evolved during the nineteenth century. National Dreams focuses mainly on how these works affected scholars, not society as a group; their thoughts are frequently given, but information on how mass readership reacted to these tales are only briefly touched upon. That's probably due to the fact that an accurate accounting of the social history of any time period, let alone one as busy as the nineteenth century, would have turned this book into an overly-padded mess. By focusing on the development of each particular collection of tales, the author paints a picture of the times while maintaining readability. Changes from the original tales (if oral history, with its incorporative nature, can be called original at any point where historians begin to document it) are noted, and plenty of examples are given for those who require particulars. This is a scholarly book, and while it reads as a research tome in most cases, there are points of illumination where the author gets across not only her knowledge of the subject matter, but her love of it.'

Sharyn November has edited her second anthology to date, Firebirds Rising, of which our Editor, Cat Eldridge, says 'Though it is seemingly far too early to make the statement I am now going to make, this would certainly be on my list of best anthologies of 2006! Yes, it's that superb. To judge by this anthology, November has become a better editor since did her first anthology a mere two years ago. As good as Firebirds was, this is a much better anthology in both the writers and their work herein. I can easily see a number of the pieces here being nominated for awards and November herself should be considered when award lists are being drawn up for Best Anthologies of 2006. With this superbly edited anthology, November has joined the exalted ranks of Yolen, Datlow, and Windling as one of the best anthology editors ever.'

He also revised an earlier look at Brian Stableford's Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction Literature to include a new volume, Historical Dictionary of Fantasy Literature, by him in the same series, Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts: 'Ok, consider this, like all reference works, to have two intertwined functions. The serious function is to help you find something out about, say, Roger Zelazny. Stableford does a decent job of that. Not as good as The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, but it is a decade newer than that work, so it has the virtue of being a lot more current. (We do need revised editions of both Encyclopedias in the worst way!) If you are a serious reader and collector of either or both genres, you'll want one or both of these works. Its second function is to entertain — it makes great intellectual 'popcorn'. Go ahead, grab yourself your favorite beverage — I'll have another one of the Irish Coffees that follows the Larry Niven recipe — and randomly browse it. In an hour or so, you'll find new books worth reading, argue with him over that $#@! opinion he has, and generally be well entertained.'

John W. Work, Lewis Wade Jones, and Samuel C. Adams, Jr. have written a worthy book with a very long title: Lost Delta Found: Rediscovering the Fisk University-Library of Congress Coahama County Study, 1941-1942 and David Kidney has a wry note about the subject of it: 'There are, in the Green Man Archives, 69 references to Alan Lomax, and fourteen more reference John Lomax, Alan's father. These two men, working for the Library of Congress, traveled through the southern States collecting songs. They are legendary. They discovered Leadbelly, Muddy Waters, and many more blues singers. They are heroes. Or are they? This is the question one begins to ponder after reading Lost Delta Found a new book edited by Robert Gordon and Bruce Nemerov, which seeks to reinstate the work done by three other researchers. Black scholars whose field notes and manuscripts were lost in Washington, and whose names did not appear on work they clearly had a hand in.' Read his Excellence in Writing Award winning review of Lost Delta Found for why this was so.

Holly Black is one of our favourite writers here at Green Man, both for what she writes and for what a truly cool person she is. Her Spiderwick series has been very popular among both the staff and our readers. Now comes Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to The Fantastical World Around You, an lavishly illustrated guide to all the fey creatures one will find in the Spiderwick universe. Maria Nutick has an insightful look at this guide: 'My first exposure to the natural history of the fey was Huygen and Poortvliet's Gnomes. A year later came Froud and Lee's Faeries. Froud has explored the field extensively since, most recently with Ari Berk in Goblins. Other authors have travelled similar ground, writing of faeries, dragons, and other fey creatures, but I find that I tend to return again and again to the earliest tomes. Finally, though, there is a book as beautifully conceived and lovingly rendered as those long ago originals: Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You.'

A new Ernest Hemingway novel?!? Robert M. Tilendis tells us the story: 'Under Kilimanjaro was one of the manuscripts Hemingway left in a Cuban safe deposit box, the ones he called his 'life insurance.' They were meant to be published after his death, and included this book, as well as A Moveable Feast, Islands in the Stream, and The Garden of Eden. The problems presented to the editors, as they note, all revolved around the fact that this book was not 'finished' -- the manuscript is replete with emendations, substantive notes from the author to himself, and repetitions and redundancies that most likely would have been dealt with in his final draft. Lewis and Fleming, however, have done an admirable job of presenting this book, having the grace to leave their comments to appendices and the Introduction and presenting the text essentially as Hemingway left it.'

A new Jane Lindskold novel is for Robert a rare treat: 'The idea of a 'literary' fantasy novel still strikes many readers as unusual, if not an outright contradiction in terms. Those of us familiar with the field, of course, know better. I would advise anyone who harbors such suspicions to read Child of a Rainless Year. This is a spectacularly good book, with much more to it than I can hope to examine in anything as necessarily brief as a review -- it is as close to perfect as anything I've encountered in a long time.' Read the rest of this Excellence in Writing Award-winning review to see why he thinks this way.

Jack Zipes is a master at explaining folklore but his biography of a well known storyteller, Hans Christian Andersen -- The Misunderstood Storyteller, was not to the liking of Robert: 'All told, I'm afraid this book was a disappointment, although Zipes does introduce some interesting concepts, such as the idea of revenge being a means of righting an imbalance in our personal moral order. It didn't really broaden my understanding of Andersen and his role in nineteenth-century literature to any significant degree, or add to my appreciation of just why his fairy tales have remained the force that they are in literature and film as a whole. Pity -- I really would have enjoyed that, I think.'

Elizabeth Vail has nothing but good things to say about Alexander C. Irvine's One King, One Soldier: ' It is a rare and precious event when a novel attains a certain dramatic relevance to a new reader, and this was the case with Irvine's intricate, intriguing Arthurian fantasy/Cold War era thriller. It is a generation- and continent-spanning tale mixing Egyptian mythology, the British imperialism in Africa, King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, baseball, the Templars, the Korean war, and the Fisher King to create a refreshingly original take on the quest for the Holy Grail.'

A collection of essays edited by Anne K. Kale, Cordially Yours, Brother Cadfael, got the respect of Leona Wisoker: 'All in all, I think that anyone writing a research paper on the Brother Cadfael books or Ellis Peters in general will find this book is an excellent resource. Someone looking for a lighter, fun read about a favorite series would likely be sorely disappointed; but that doesn't seem to be the intended audience, so no loss there. For my part, I'll keep it on my shelf as a valuable resource -- just in case I ever decide to pursue that degree in English after all.'

A not so wee passel of singer-songwriters (Dave Gibb's Blood & Flame, Hothouse Flowers' into your heart, Brendan Devereux's Songs from a yellow chair, Davy Cowan's Fragile People, Beth Wood Marigolds, and Elana Arian's Foreword) get a listen by Vonnie Carts-Powell who says 'Most singer-songwriters have, thank god, progressed beyond the idea that a single voice and single guitar is all that's appropriate. We can't all be Joan Baez, captivating audiences with sheer presence and a transcendent voice, and this collection of singer-songwriters has enough sense not to try.'

This recording was snatched up by David Kidney while it was still in our mailroom: 'In his book, iPod Therefore I Am Dylan Jones made a comment to the effect that Janis Joplin was untalented and over-rated, and to tell you the truth, I've felt that way myself for many years. Recently, though, I have begun to reassess her work. It all comes from seeing the film Festival Express. Not the DVD you understand, but the film, on the big screen, where a bright, carefully timed light source illuminates thousands of tiny sequential photographs and displays a simulation of real time on a huge screen, with loud sound to accompany it! It's quite thrilling really. The motion picture experience, that is. Janis Joplin, in this film, epitomizes feeling in singing. She owns the screen. And her appearances on the Dick Cavett Show gave me more appreciation for her as a thoughtful, sensitive person. Now, Sony/Legacy's new double CD release of her classic Pearl album puts the icing on the cake. There was more to Janis than a screaming blues mama, for sure.' Read his Excellence in Writing Award winning review for all all the details on this amazing recording!

David proclaims 'There's nothing in the world like a good old American band playing rootsy rock 'n' roll. Nosirree! And The Nadas do just that.' Now go read his review of Listen Through the Static to find out about the nifty colouring booklet that came with the recording. Really. Truly.

Peter Massey says of Brian Peters' Different Tongues that 'the traditional folk purists amongst you will enjoy this album. I have seen Brian perform live on a couple of occasions, both as solo artist and in a duo with Gordon Tyrrall and he was really good. For me this album simply does not do him credit.'

Lars Nilsson, one of our most thoughtful music reviewers, looks at two recordings featuring ex-Decameron Johnny Coppin, Keep the Flame and Edge of Day. One of these offerings really pleased Master Reviewer Lars, but one was less than memorable. Read his review to see why!

Not one, but two Ukulele Orchestra recordings , both from The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Anarchy in the Ukulele and Top Notch, get reviewed by Lars. Lars obviously loves the band live ('And now for something completely different. In spite of the Ukulele Orchestra claiming they have been going for 20+ years, I first came across them in February 2003 at the Cellar Upstairs Folk Club in London. It was love at first sight, and I have seen them five more times since then, with tickets booked for another concert in London in November.') but he also, no surprise, loves their recordings! Lars picks an Excellence in Writing Award for this review.

Allison Crowe's Tidings caused a problem for our reviewer, Kelly Sedinger, who notes 'I'm not sure how to take this album. Upon my first perusal of the track listing, I said, 'Ah, a Christmas album.' It has traditional Christmas songs like 'It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,' 'Silent Night,' 'What Child Is This,' and 'The First Noel'. Then there's Joni Mitchell's 'River,' which is also a Christmas-inspired song, so that makes sense. But I'm not sure that Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' is exactly a Christmas song; ditto 'Let It Be' and 'In My Life' (by a songwriting duo named Lennon and McCartney -- I should check these fellows out one of these days). It's a pretty eclectic mixture, at first glance, but as I listened to the album, it all made sense in the context of a larger spiritual theme. This is a very meditative and reflective album, the kind of thing you put in the stereo after you've lit a few candles, turned out the electric lights, poured a bit of wine, and curled up on the floor.'

Johannes Brahms is first up for Robert M. Tilendis this edition, Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68, Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56A and Sonata in F Minor for Two Pianos, Op. 34B, Variations on a Theme By Haydn for Two Pianos, Op. 56B. Robert thinks highly of the composer ('Johannes Brahms was, to put it mildly, one of the more thoughtful composers in the history of Western music, as evidenced by the fact that, although he is known to have been working on a symphony in 1854 (never finished, although parts did find their way to the D Minor Concerto for Piano and the Deutsches Requiem), his first, the C Minor, was not published until 1877, when he was forty-four. He, as well as others, considered himself the heir of Beethoven, but you will not find that kind of defiant heroism in Brahms' music -- that was not his temperament nor, I think, the temper of his time.') Now go read his review to see how these recordings faired.

A recording which feature two compositions by Frédéric Chopin, Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 11 and Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21, get a listen by this reviewer next: 'They are terrifically, supremely romantic works, with full weight given to what we think of as 'romantic' in this day and age. To someone such as yours truly, whose ears are tuned to the astringencies of the twentieth century, they are sometimes excessive. And yet, I found myself enjoying these recordings. Whatever their faults, there is enough meat to these two works to keep even the most skeptical listener engaged, and the performances are, as is the case with this series, legendary. There are a bare handful of pianists who can be considered the absolute masters of the romantic repertoire, and Arthur Rubinstein is on everyone's list. These recordings also date from a time when we had a wealth of conductors who were more than capable, and classical music had not yet become 'other,' the sort of thing listened to only by highbrows, so that we also had fine ensembles that did not really need government support to exist. Both Skrowaczewski and Wallenstein earned their reputations, and their showing here is more than worthy of praise.'

Classical recording titles are amazing! Just consider this one -- ' Arthur Fiedler, Hi-Fi Fiedler [Boston Pops, Arthur Fiedler, cond.] (Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Le Coq d'or -- Suite; Gioachino Rossini, William Tell Overture; Piotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky, March slave; Emmanuel Chabrier, España; Franz Liszt, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, Rákóczy March) (Sony BMG Music Entertainment (orig. released on RCA Red Seal), 2005)'. Got all of that? What you really need to know is summed up by Robert this way: 'Arthur Fiedler has the distinction of being the best-selling classical conductor of all time, due in no small part to his immense popularity as the musical director of the Boston Pops, a post he held for fifty years. His recordings of so-called 'light' classics and orchestral settings of show tunes, jazz, and popular songs sold 50 million copies during his lifetime. After listening to this collection, it's not hard to see why.'

We could stock a very nice classical music shop with the recordings that Sony sends us for review. Robert looks at another Sony offering with César Franck's Symphony in D Minor and Igor Stravinsky's Pétrouchka on it. He says the bottom line for this recording is that ' these are classic renderings of two concert-hall staples, both very deserving of that status. In Monteux's hands, the music is fresh, compelling, and well worth having on hand.'

Giacomo Puccini's Tosca (on Sony BMG Music of course) found a friendly reviewer in Robert: 'It is not easy to argue with this particular performance, even if I wanted to (I happen to have this one on LP from many years ago -- one of my first forays into Italian opera). It's another case of Sony reissuing a legendary recording, and even if it weren't my favorite, I could hardly take exception to it. It is, however, indeed my favorite.'

Both Quebec traditional music (Christian Laurence's Christal and Sardinian traditional music (Tenores di Bitti's Caminos de pache) didn't 'tall connect with Robert: 'I can't really recommend either of these albums, unless you are a real fanatic for either the traditional music of Quebec or of Sardinia. I'm afraid, on the strength of these offerings, that is not something in my future.' Read his review to see why his friends are wasting their time trying to broaden his musical tastes!

Celtic music from Nightnoise, 'The Busker On The Bridge', is playing in the Library here at Green Man courtesy of the Infinite Jukebox, so it's appropriate that two Celtic recordings wrap up the reviews by Robert, Jody Marshall's Cottage in the Glen and Malcolm Dalglish's Jogging the Memory (which like Nightnoise is on Windham Hill). Both pleased Robert so go read his review to see what he liked in these recordings.

That The Essential Taj Mahal was to the liking of Gary Whitehouse didn't surprise me 'tall: 'Taj Mahal was one of the pioneers of the American roots music revival, long before it was even recognized as such. So if, for the past couple of decades, he has made some excursions into slightly too smooth, FM radio-type fare, he's to be forgiven. And as this set proves, he can still get down 'n' dirty with the best of the bluesmen when he wants to.'

Robert has some thoughts on winter and music for you to contemplate as we take your leave for another edition...

Hmm -- a storm. Nothing really storms for very long. Maybe the bare minute at the end of Das Rheingold, where Donner creates the storm that makes the rainbow bridge, or the bit at the end of Act II of Die Walkure, when Wotan arrives at the battle between Siegmund and Hunding -- Wagner could do some terrific storms, just in sixteen bars of music, even if they're not winter. I wish I could remember Flying Dutchman better -- I'm sure some sections of that would work. The opening of the Dies Irae from Verdi's Requiem certainly has a stormy feeling to it, or some sections of Penderecki's Dies Irae -- Penderecki can storm with the best of them, even when he doesn't mean to.

For after the storm, it's a toss-up between Vaughn Williams' Seventh Symphony, the Antarctic, although it's not really that terrific -- he developed it out of a movie score, and it shows, but it's certainly chilly enough -- or Rautavaara's Cantus Arcticus. Rautavaara really captures that intensely lonely feeling, like standing on the edge of tundra looking at nothing but ice -- there's a purity to the piece that almost hurts. It's incredible that a composer can use music to evoke silence that way.


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Updated Cat -- 19.00 GMT, 05/NOV/2005