New Years Day, 2006

The next fortnightly issue will be published on Sunday, the 15th of January, 2006

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Gig Reviews   Music Reviews

'Time is never called in my recurring dream of pubs.' -- Ciaran Carson in Last Night's Fun (The Pub in the Green Man building never closes. Ciaran, first pint's always on the house for session musicians!)

It is a hundred different late evenings in the deep of a hundred different winters in a hundred different cities.

What little light we've had today is fading from the lowering clouds, the wind blowing ever more bitterly cold. The few birds left scavenging the sidewalks in the late afternoon gloom sound small and worried as they speak in tiny, short notes. Even fewer people, muffled and featureless in scarves pulled high and hats pulled low, move quickly through the streets on their way to somewhere warm. Everywhere there are grey shadows and deeper shadows growing together into dark. Rain and snow and sleet fall in intermittent spurts, adding a baffling reflective quality to the deepening, developing night.

Frozen moments of different winters layer themselves into the same winter, the same dark, the same gloom, the same scurry for warmer spaces, like one of those flip books with the sketches slightly off-kilter.

Inside the pubs, the bars, the common rooms, it is that same moment of afternoon moving into night, too early for just-laid fires in the clamorous grate to have any effect at all on the loneliness of the room. You're still waiting for the space to be warmed by others like you, your footsteps clunking noisily over wooden floors with no company but the ghosts of other feet stomping over the planks. The people have not yet arrived to make the room alive, they're heading home to get ready for the evening to come, they're at the shops laying on provisions for dinner, they're trapped in the Tube, the buses, in the cars, in the trains, but you can't see them, you're still waiting for the session to come together, the musicians still somewhere out in the cold, with only the potentiality of the session to come.

The winter solstice has come and gone, and the nights are supposedly getting shorter while the days lengthen, but the dark comes far too early for real comfort, making the days feel stunted, aborted.

You hold cold fingers out to the infant fire, to the hundreds of fires that came before and will come after, the coal, the wood, the peat, piled up in a lumpy pyramid in the grate, thin young flames licking up in quick flicks and leaps; the fireplace, the stove, the firebox actually seeming colder than before the fire was lit, in that strange, backward way of the swept fireplace and a new fire.

You tacitly volunteer to feed the new fire, adding some coal, a piece or two of peat, as the voices of the bar staff echo around the empty room as they slice the lemons, stack the glasses, and check the inventory.

Perhaps not quite empty, there's almost always that regular who seems to magically appear without coming through any doors, sometimes more than one, sitting at the bar, lines sagging down beside his mouth, facing down a glass of amber liquid between his cupped hands, quiet words for the guy next to him or to the bartender as he clanks the bottles into place for the evening.

And in a hundred potential moments, you are dimly aware of the session gathered in the corner around the table, already playing in full spate; you've never heard Jim Donohue's played that fast or that drive-y before, god that big-boned fiddler and that tall narrow piper are cranking through it, mighty and mighty again.

And in a hundred moments the musicians are still trailing into the pub, trickling in like drops of water gathering themselves into a puddle, instrument cases slung over shoulders or dangling down their backs, eyeing the spot they want to sit in, stopping off at the bar for a drink in the case of early arrivals, or coming over to put the goods down in a chair in the case of later, claiming a space for their own before stopping for their drink.

In a hundred quietened rooms, the pretty singer the men have been eyeing all evening has been called on for a song, and she sways as she sings of the wee girl with a dark and roving eye and bad company and love betrayed and love found and wars fought and won and lost, young men dying for love or war or the right or the wrong or for nothing at all, and maids with agricultural jobs and love on their minds losing garters to soldiers, to craftsmen, to shepherds, in unlikely circumstance; and for a hundred potential moments it's all true and as likely as anything else that happens to anyone.

A hundred moments flash over and under each other, shifting without even the blink of an eye, and you choose the one you want and move into the moment, the space, the place where you need to be.

And, in this moment and in this time, there you are, here along with us.

And the fire leaps and crackles, as we play the tunes in the warm and crowded room, as the music shifts from reel to jig to reel to polka, from good to wreckingly horrible to brilliant, from the hotshots to the beginners to the lot of us. We toast to the new year and the cycles that bring us together and tear us apart, and to the publican and to each other, here in a hundred moments at the Neverending Session, at the Pub on the Edge, the Green Man Pub under Reynard's watchful eye, in the kitchens of the Green Man's building, in corners of hallways, as we launch into another set of tunes.

Outside, the night is black and unbelievably cold, the wind biting at noses and fingers, and Samhain's ever-present ravens are croaking as they huddle under dripping, icy trees. Inside, at this moment and in this time, we are together, and warm, and happy (or, at the very least, content as only someone forgetting unhappiness for the space of a night can be).

Best wishes to you in the New Year. May it bring you peace and warmth and happiness and music. Stay with us a while.

Perhaps the most faithful of the Oysterband fans that are among us, Vonnie Carts-Powell has a review for us of the lads in the early days of a better nation: 'A quick Google search tells me that the average life span of a pearl-farmed oyster is six years, while the life span of a freshwater oyster can be as long as 80. The individual ages of the Oysters -- members of our own, darling Oysterband -- lie someplace between the two, while the Oysterband as a whole marked its 25th anniversary several years ago. If you've followed the Oysterband for only the past 20 years, Before the Flood will surprise.'

Our featured film review for this issue takes a look at a new release currently in theaters. Robert M. Tilendis reviews at Brokeback Mountain, a movie is already receiving award nominations and much critical praise. How did our GMR reviewer feel about this film? 'No one was talking much as we filed out. I walked around for about an hour in the snow and the wind. I couldn't think of anything else to do.' I agree; this film left me speechless when I caught a screening of it a few weeks back. As a film that breaks down the archetype of the cowboy, and as a watershed in GLBT film, it deserves consideration. His Excellence in Writing Award winning review talks about these issues, painting a picture of a film that will surely be talked about for years to come.

Puppetry has come a long way since Christopher White thrilled to the doings of Lambchop and Kukla, Fran & Ollie. In his review of Figures of Speech Theatre's Anerca, Chris writes of a puppet theater that owes as much to Japanese drama and American-Indian Mythology as it does to Jim Henson and Sherri Lewis. 'Among the complex issues they set out to explore with Anerca are cross-cultural interactions, the misunderstandings of language, and direct emotional communication. Rather than putting Western words into another language, they focus on the emotional tone, physical world and spiritual quest of the characters. The story of the shaman and boy is interwoven with scenes featuring the historical figure of Knud Rasmussen, a complex and conflicted explorer of Danish/Inuit heritage, and the fictive Beulah Borealis, an Arctic barmaid. With its evocative and innovative sets, effects and music, Anerca, a word that means 'breath' and 'soul' and 'poetry' in the Eskimo language, 'is deeply moving, disturbing, painful, funny, honest, and dreamlike; impossible to reduce to mere words.'

Last edition, Elizabeth Vail looked at the first three novels of A Song of Ice and Fire, the epic George R. R. Martin fantasy series. Now she looks at A Feast for Crows, the newest volume. Elizabeth echoes the grumbling I've heard 'round our offices 'bout this novel: 'So far, with the previous three novels in George R. R. Martin's gargantuan A Song of Ice and Fire series, the author has deftly managed to maintain a semblance of organization over the sprawling, multilayered saga of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. However, in A Feast for Crows, there is a troubling sense that the wheels on this fantastically complex machine are beginning to loosen.' Read her Excellence in Writing Award winning review of A Feast for Crows for why she thinks this novel is less than satisfying.

Graham Anderson's King Arthur in Antiquity has Kim Bates pondering: 'Why are the King Arthur stories so enduring in the popular imagination? And why did they captivate mediaeval Europe? Did the crusaders bring these stories to the middle east, or were the stories waiting for them when they got there? Anderson parses classical and mediaeval writing, as well as surviving folktales from the near east for evidence of Arthur figures, and not surprisingly, he finds not only similar tales of a 'bear son' who is a military culture hero, but also evidence of some of Arthur's companions as well. Perhaps these stories resonated with so many people because Indo-Europeans share the stories in common. As the author emphasizes, all this may be quite disappointing for those who cherish the idea that the stories emerged from the life of one embattled Briton in the fifth or sixth century, and it is the focus on this place and this era that may have caused Arthurian scholars to miss, or to fail to look for Arthur in all these 'wrong' places -- and times.'

Kim also reviews Richard O. Nidel's World Music -- The Basics: 'If the goal is to set an absolute beginner on the road to appreciating the world's music, World Music, The Basics succeeds. It would make a great gift for a young person with a love of music, but no idea where to begin learning about it.'

Good book, bad jacket design. So says Donna Bird of Brian Murphy's The Root of Wild Madder: 'It's hard to miss the design on the dust jacket of this book. It's a wraparound photograph of a Persian carpet, cropped so that the selvedges line up with the top and bottom edges of the jacket and the fringes touch the edges of the front and back covers. The paper has a slightly rough texture. Of course the opaque and somewhat garish overlays of the book's title and subtitle (Chasing the History, Mystery and Lore of the Persian Carpet), the author's name, and the blurbs and bar code on the back cover really detract from this lovely design. Fortunately, these dust jacket gaffes do not signal any comparable shortcomings in the contents. In fact, this is one of the most interesting non-fiction books I've read in a long time -- so much so that I read it from cover to cover, which is not my usual practice with non-fiction. I volunteered to review it because I thought it was about an ancient craft -- the making of elaborately patterned Persian carpets. Murphy's engaging first-person narrative style, his use of active verbs and his vivid, sensual descriptions grabbed and held my attention.'

Gregory Maguire's Son of a Witch did not fare well at all with Gili Bar-Hilel: 'If you liked Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,you will probably like its sequel, for here is more of the same. Wicked did very well, and has been enjoying success in its Broadway incarnation, which I have got to see someday, because for the life of me I don't understand how any musical based on that book could be enjoyable. But I digress. I'll come straight out and say that I did not like Wicked. I don't think I've ever disliked a book more and yet owned three copies of it. People just kept thrusting the book at me, because I'm a known Oz freak, and an intellectual, and it was supposed to be a good book. I felt duty-bound to read it all the way through, though I disliked it from moment one. The same sense of duty made me read Son of a Witch'

Hiawyn Oram and Tudor Humphries are respectively writer and illustrator of The Giant Surprise -- a Narnia Story, a book which was bad enough, so lacking in the spirit of Narnia itself, that Gili earned a coveted Grinch Award for reviewing it. Now go read her succinct and perfectly worded review of this book that shouldn't have been!

Ronald Schwartz's Neo-Noir: The New Film Noir Style from Psycho to Collateral earns this cautionary note from Craig Clarke: 'This type of film criticism automatically brings up questions due to its very subjectivity. Each reader will surely argue why certain movies should have been omitted in favor of their obviously better choices. (I certainly wonder why Blood Work or Out of Time were chosen as more representative than, say, Dead Again or One False Move, both superior films.) The remaining number are catalogued in the exhaustive filmography (650 films!) included at the back of the book. Despite its $30 price tag (for a 150-page paperback), the depth and breadth of Neo-Noir makes it required reading for anyone longing to be a serious fan of films made in the modern noir style.'

April Gutierrez is a great fan of Jim Butcher, so it's not surprising she liked Academ's Fury: Book Two of the Codex Alera: 'Butcher does a deft job of keeping the pace moving, while still allowing for substantive character development. A number of new characters are introduced (and a few old ones revisited) that further flesh out Alera's tenuous political environment. The stage is set for this year's eagerly awaited third installment.'

April, a lover of all aspects of Japanese pop culture, strongly recommends a book I. B. Tauris sent us: 'When I pick up a book written by a self-avowed fan of anything -- be it history, popular culture, art, what have you -- there's always some measure of trepidation involved, since the book may well be little more than a fannish stream of consciousness. Given Chris D.'s seeming lack of a last name and the pulpy cover to Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film, I was initially hesitant . . . a hesitancy that my own not-so-inner fan tossed out the window when I discovered he had devoted chapters to directors Miike Takashi and Kurosawa Kiyoshi, whose films I find intriguing, to say the least. So I dove head first into the book and quickly found it nigh near impossible to put down. Chalk one up for Chris D.: he may be a fan, but he's a knowledgeable, articulate one, who's composed a fascinating book.'

Elizabeth Hand, writer of some of the finest novels you'll have the pleasure to read, including Waking the Moon and Mortal Love, has a look at a new edition of fairy tales written by Hans Christian Anderson which finally makes him a pleasure to read instead of sounding like a pompous Victorian: 'Tiina Nunnally has given this great storyteller a wonderful gift for his two hundredth birthday, putting life back into all those charming unhappy people, match girls and robber girls, princesses and paupers, dancers and doomed snowmen.'

Donovan Leitch's The Autobiography of Donovan: the Hurdy Gurdy Man is but the latest of many Donovan products which David Kidney has reviewed recently: '2005 has been a banner year for Donovan Leitch. It started in the summer of 2004 when his latest album beat cafe was released. It continued to sell steadily, to increasingly warm reviews. He toured here and there, presenting a strong mix of the new music with the old hits. Then Epic/Legacy released a marvelous retrospective box set of his music which covered his long career. Now, he has put down his guitar, put pen to paper, and presented us with his own story of his life. Interesting.' David goes on to caution you, dear reader, that 'Donovan's prose style is rambling, and idiomatic. It works best if you read it aloud, with a Scottish burr, softly and gently, in a virtual whisper. Like the voice he used for 'Atlantis,' '. . .in the days before the grrreat flood. . . .' Then it becomes almost spoken poetry. Otherwise, the text seems precious and twee. But spoken it takes on a life of its own.' Read his Excellence in Writing Award winning commentary for the full skinny!

Robert M. Tilendis was the lucky staffer who got to review Patricia A. McKillip's forthcoming novel, Solstice Wood: 'It took almost a whole paragraph for me to realize I was going to love this book. I will admit to a certain bias: I have always enjoyed reading McKillip. I happen to consider Riddle-Master, which is firmly on my 're-read frequently' list, one of the two or three best fantasy trilogies ever. She is also a writer I admire for her economy, poetic use of language -- those resonances between and around the words -- and her humor. This one is McKillip's first foray into 'contemporary fantasy,' and aside from being a new book by Patricia McKillip, it's engaging on a number of fronts.'>Robert's reading now the forthcoming Charles de Lint novel, Widdershins, so look for his review here in about a month!

Robert has a confession to make: 'It grieves me to realize that Brian M. Stableford is one of those (too many) authors whose work I have never encountered before. At least, it does after reading The Wayward Muse. Before that, of course, it was pretty much value-neutral, but now I'm faced with adding another body of work to my 'to read' list, and Stableford has been publishing for forty years.'

Michelle Erica Green dropped by GMR offices with a holiday present; an Excellence in Writing Award winning review of the new movie The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. ''Once a King or Queen in Narnia, always a King or Queen,' the saying goes. But as I watched Andrew Adamson's beautifully-realized, superbly cast film of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I found myself wondering whether that was really true.' She'll tell you exactly why, and whether or not you'd like to step into the wardrobe yourself. Glad to have you back, Michelle!

With Narnia in theaters, some folks may want to revisit other children's favorites. David Kidney decided to take another look at the timeless classic of children's films, The Wizard of Oz. 'Sure I've seen it before, lots of times. I've read at least three of the books, and seen several of the other film interpretations. The Wiz, Return to Oz, a bunch of animated films (both good and bad) and last summer I saw Wicked (with Idena Menzel) on Broadway. . . .I have never, in all those viewings, seen the film in colour!' Did this new DVD transfer send him 'Over the Rainbow'? His review will let you know; as with the other film reviews this week, it too garners an Excellence In Writing award.

 

Vonnie Carts-Powell notes: 'There's something about Christmas Revels. Actually, there are a number of hard-to-define somethings: There's something magical about singing a round of 'Dona Nobis Pacem' in an auditorium filled with hundreds of people -- all on key. Something heart-warming about this same group singing a rousing 'Sussex Mummer's Carol' together. Something mysterious and thrilling about the Abbots Bromley Sword dance. And something fortifying at being able to laugh at the evils and foolishness of the world through the satire of Fauvel.' Read her review of this year's Revels to see why it was good but not quite as good as last year's!

All of us here at Green Man Review were either too young or too stoned to remember the original Alice's Restaurant Massacree, but never fear! Our intrepid New Englanders, Senior Writers Barb Truex and Christopher White, are bringing the whole Alice's Restaurant experience to you complete with Officer Obie and and “the twenty seven 8 x 10 color glossy pictures with the circles and arrows on the back of each one.” If anything, they say, Alice's Restaurant is as fresh and as timely today as it was in nineteen-sixty-I-was-too-stoned-to-remember. To read about Arlo's 'Fortieth Anniversary Alice's Restaurant Massacree' tour and his genetically gifted warm-up act 'The Mammals,' click here.

Kim Bates notes that 'The Pogues have a lot to answer for. I blame them for every half-assed Celtic Rock band filled with musicians who learned to play on stage and couldn't make it at a slow session to save their lives. As GMR music editor I've listened to many, loved a few, and grown exceptionally weary of most. But The Pogues also have lot to take credit for - they brought Irish music to many. I suspect that they launched more than a few journeys seeking the heart that lies within many musics. Their cynical sentimentality is almost irresistible, and really listening to their music you begin to suspect they may not be that weary of the world after all. McGowan's impact on music is as undeniable as the question of whether his habits are inseparable from his genius or the demon that holds it back. BBC reviewer Cormac Heron puts it very well: 'MacGowan has a rare way with words and an ability to take something horrible and make it sound beautiful, delicate and, of course, intoxicating.' And it's not just McGowan -- it's the package. Being at a Pogues show, or even listening to one, is gaining admission to a rare vision of the world, where so many of the really dreadful things about being here now are redeemed in a haze of altered reality.' Now go read her review to see if this was indeed the ultimate Pogues collection, or just the group saying pogue mahone to its fans.

Kim also looked at three of the many Celtic recordings we get for review -- Kíla's Live in Dublin, Shooglenifty's Live, Radical Mestizo, and Ronan O'Snodaigh's Playdays -- and found much to like: ' These three albums represent some good work by some of the more creative musicians working in that amorphous marketing category sometimes referred to as 'world' music. As their careers progress, we see more of the artists, and less genuflecting to the strictures of the traditions that birthed them. '

Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run: 30th Anniversary Edition caused David Kidney to exclaim 'Thirty years!?! Wow! It's been 30 years since I heard Bruce Springsteen for the first time? I had heard so much about other 'new Dylans' that I ignored his first two albums. When I played Born To Run for the first time I was amazed, almost awestruck, by the power of this music. Why, he wasn't like Dylan at all! His songs were all about cars, and the mean streets of New York City. But somehow they were more than that. They encapsulated the history of rock 'n' roll into brief, shining moments of sound. You could hear 'Roy Orbison singin' for the lonely . . .' if you listened with a rock fan's ear. The car songs went beyond those of the Beach Boys. Bruce wasn't driving to the 'hot dog stand' he was 'catching rides to the outskirts, tying faith between [his] teeth . . . getting wasted in the heat and hiding on the backstreets.' There was a sense of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound about the production by Springsteen, Jon Landau and Mike Appel. Now here we are -- 30 years later -- and the music sounds every bit as huge, every bit as exciting, in this newly remastered digital rendition.'

Peter Massey was handed a recording from our beloved Editor which left him puzzled but pleased to say the very least -- Helen Rivero & Ian Blake's Luminous. Why so? Let's ask him: 'We get all sorts of music here at GMR, none more so than this album from Australia. It can be filed under 'cultural arts world music'. Helen Rivero is best known in Australia for her work with Spanish and Sephardic music and is a member of the female a capella group Blindman's Holiday. Here with Ian Blake, who enjoys folk music, early music and electronica, indeed his own music encompasses traces of all three and is more widely known for writing for theatre, film, dance and public arts projects, which has earned him an ARIA nomination for his production skills. Together on this album, they have put together . . . a collection of 'night music, dreams and charms' based on lullabies from around the world. Helen sings and creates a variety of vocal characterisations set against Ian's instrumental backings and soundscapes.'>

>Darrell Scott, Danny Thompson & Kenny Malone's Live in NC has Peter raving: 'Take 3 musicians, each one a virtuoso on his instrument, plus one of them who is no mean singer; record them live in a couple of great sessions entertaining an audience. The adrenalin starts to pump and brings out that little bit extra from each performer, and that's just about what you hear on this album. This is one of the finest 'live' performance recordings I have heard for a long time. Each of the performers are obviously comfortable with other two, and produce a sound that you might swear that there is more than just three of them up there on the stage. Darrell Scott maybe more readily recognised, as a songwriter of many country & western songs that have been recorded by most of the big name artists, and this alone should earn Darrell a place in the hall of fame.'

First the facts from Robert M. Tilendis: ' La Bohème is [Giacomo] Puccini before Tosca -- it's a wonderful opera, and one can easily see why it maintains its place as one of the most popular in the repertoire and beyond -- it is, in fact, the basis of the musical Rent. The libretto was developed from a play by Henri Murger, La Vie de Bohème, and was premiered in 1896.' Now for his opinion on this recording: 'This is another in Sony's reissues of great past recordings of classical music and opera, and I'd go so far as to call it a must-have for the basic opera library. I am completely smitten with this one.' Go read his review for his in-depth look at this impressive recording!

Breath deep and read this header for the next review by Robert -- Sergei Rachmaninoff, Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 44, Chanson Georgienne, Op. 4. No 4 [Utah Symphony Orchestra, Maurice Abravanel, cond.] (Silverline Classics, 2004; Sergei Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30; Sergei Prokofiev, Piano Concerto No. 3 in C. Op. 26 [Van Cliburn, piano; Symphony of the Air, Kiril Kondrashin, cond; Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Walter Hendl, cond.] (Sony BMG Music Entertainment (orig. RCA Red Seal), 2005). Got that? V'Good. Now go read his review to see why one recording was colourless, but the other was sheer technicolour itself!

Three re-released recordings -- Ibrahim Ferrer's Ay, Candela, Eliades Ochoa's A la Casa, and Omara Portuondo's Sentimiento get the nod of approval from Gary Whitehouse: 'these releases give an airing to some of the pre-Buena Vista recordings made by these three greats, and are worthwhile additions to the Cuban music catalog'

Jack Merry here. I've been playing, as I oft do this time of year, David DiGiuseppe's 'Midwinter Reel', a quite spritely tune that befits the rather nasty midwinter weather we're experiencing right now. As you leave us this edition, may you be of good cheer in this New Year! Bliain úr faoi shéan is faoi mise duit!

Before we leave you this edition, a concert announcement for those of you in the Boston, Massachusetts, USA region..

Pipeline, a new duo with Dermot Hyde and Tom Hake, unites the music of Ireland, Scotland, Galicia, and Brittany. They are now based in Munich, Germany. Their first appearance in North America was at the Folk Alliance Conference held in Montreal in February 2005 where they gave a banner showcase/performance. These two multi-instrumentalists cover a complete range of sounds from the Celtic world. Dermot Hyde is a virtuoso uilleann piper, whistle-player, and accomplished singer with connections to both Ulster and Scotland. He joins forces with multi-instrumentalist, Tom Hake, a native German. who accompanies on bouzouki, guitar and harp. Their repertoire includes traditional pieces from the Celtic world, and original tunes and songs composed by Dermot.

Their performance in Arlington, MA on January 13 is part of their first tour in eastern U.S. Information. Go here for more information.

Vonnie Carts-Powell has a review for us in the next issue!

 

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This edition put up at the witching hour by Iain MacKenzie
who wishes all good folk a peaceful new year!