Sunday -- the 26th of March, 2006

We will publish again in a fortnight!

Featured Reviews This Edition

'To absent friends, lost loves, old gods, and the season of mists; and may each
and every one of us always give the devil his due.' -- Hob Gadling, toasting upon
Dream's journey as told in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: Season of Mists

Reynard, the afternoon barkeep speaking. As our editorial staff is quite mad mad about its reading and spends a fair bit o' time doing so, I thought I would ask them as I was serving a pint or two where their favorite place to read in our building was. The answers were quite amusing and rather informative to say the least!

Kim Bates likes the Library: 'I like the the library for reading. Predictable, I know, but what can I say? How many establishments have the library that we do? Not many! There might be spirits available in the afternoon there, discreetly served, with the fireplace and the stellar collections of unusual and impossible to find books. And tea for those so inclined.'

Denise Dutton found a small charmer of a spot: 'My favorite spot to read is a tiny rounded nook that's just off the passage between the kitchen and the library. I sit on a large, overstuffed cushion on the floor, where I battle for supremacy with Blodeuwedd, who has decided that since I found her, I'm responsible for her . . . and her comfort. We usually find a happy compromise. Blod usually sits in the middle of the cushion, and all the mathematical formulas in the world couldn't find the dead center of that cushion with more accuracy. After she gets comfy, I pack myself tightly underneath the little stained-glass window and lean myself back on the cool stone wall, which is a nice counterpoint to the heat of the kitchen. Cracking the window a bit gives a nice breeze and plenty of light for daytime reading. Being near the kitchen has its pluses and minuses; the kitchen staff often peek in and ask me to taste new recipes if they know I'm about. I keep hoping they'll ask for my opinion of the wild mushroom and barley stew again, but the haggis omelet flambe was something even Blod was glad to see the back of.'

Cat Eldridge wouldn't say where his favourite reading spot was, but Lisa Spangenberg says she's seen him reading: 'I have seen him in the tiny gallery, above the pub. I think he has some sort of arrangement with the barkeep, either that or a bottomless glass of Guinness. There's a samovar up there, and it's close enough to life and music to be social, but high up enough to be private.'

Tim Hoke reads outside: 'If the weather's nice, the fire escape. Why? Because no one else is there to interrupt me.It's a preference I picked up in the Army; if I went out on the fire escape, no one bothered me. This could be because the fire escape was off-limits except in the event of actual fire.'

Stephen Hunt says it's the under-cellar for him: 'It's actually a very wonderful place to be. There's a particular quality to subterranean spaces that focuses the psyche on the 'inner' rather than the outer planes. I've always got a big kick out of being underground, whether that be in the myriad potholes of Derbyshire's Peak District (stalactites and stalagmites a go-go!) or in the ancient 'Foggues' of West Cornwall. Being way down in the 'very bowels of the earth' focuses the human mind like nothing else in my experience. Taking a book 'down there' with you somehow almost makes the experience of reading more 'intimate'. It's as if reading below ground level makes the author complicit in some delicious, shared, secret rite, the acquired knowledge more 'arcane.' If nothing else, you get the most fantastic echoes when you laugh out loud at a supremely crafted passage of prose!'

Like Tim, David Kidney likes it open: 'As our office is in the sub-basement, I prefer reading out in the garden, under the Japanese maple seated in one of the two Muskoka chairs. I think of that song the Beach Boys did, 'the day in the life of a tree' one. 'Feel the wind rush through my leaves...' and before I get too depressed about the sad fate of that tree .. I bury my head in the book. Might be another graphic novel, or some mystery novel, maybe a biography of some 60s rocker, or a classic novel. Who knows? It's simply a relaxing spot, away from the office, where SPike is writing the second draft of his memoirs, and playing Joe Strummer CDs LOUD! You can still hear a bit of the music from my chair. But you hear a bit of everything, some Calexico from Gary's room, a little Tchaikovsky from Robert's, Celtic fiddle from all over. Then I turn the page and I'm transported. Doesn't matter where I am in reality...in my mind I'm wherever the book takes me.'

Zina Lee has a cool place, one I hadn't thought of: 'The landing on the staircase on the first and second floors, with the window seat. I tend to disappear into my books, so noise and people walking past is never a problem. Maeve is not a 'drape yourself across the reading material' sort of cat, so as long as I'm not taking up her favorite pillow, she'll deign to let me sit with her for a while and sometimes will even purr for accompaniment.'

Jack Merry says: 'The Pub of course. The overstuffed chair near the fire's close enough to the Neverending Session to drown out conversation from the bar proper so I can read fiction while listening to really great music, there's always a cat or two sleeping near the fire to keep me company, and one can't beat the company when I want to put aside reading for a bit of conversation and a pint of something tasty!'

Liz Milner says simply: 'The bar, of course.' Though she later added that it's because of a particular libation: 'The Noweisser Beer, of course. After three, I crack the Da Vinci Code. Only I can't remember much about the Code or craic in the morning.'

Robert Tilendis has a cozy place to tell of: 'There's a little alcove with a window seat just down the corridor from the bookstore that Iain found that time. (I'm not going to tell you how I find it -- it's my secret). It has a nice window that looks out on a tiny little garden with evergreens and all sorts of seasonal flowers, including a rose that rambles all over the wall, so there's always a nice view, and good firm cushions so I can just curl up with a cat on my lap (whichever one happens along and feels companionable at the moment, unless Ben happens to have come with me that day -- he doesn't like to share, and for some reason -- perhaps his advanced age, or maybe his extra claws -- the others recognize his prior claim) with a ready supply of good books just around the corner. (I have a deal with the man who runs the store -- he lets me borrow books, and I bring him some that I no longer want to keep from time to time.) It's quiet but not too quiet (I can hear some of the activity from the offices upstairs), and the man who runs the bookstore -- his name is Sigurd, by the way -- sometimes sings quietly to himself as he's working. (He's rather a fascinating character. He speaks five languages fluently, although he doesn't really like to talk very much. We both find that very humorous.)'

Kathleen Bartholomew says, in 1983, Terry Pratchett's first Discworld volume was published by Colin Smythe Limited (UK). It wasn't his first novel, but it was the very first book of what is one of the longest running and best loved series in modern fantasy. Now Hill House, Publishers (U.S.) has begun issuing facsimile copies of the original British hardcover editions. It's been 23 years since Pratchett wrote The Colour of Magic. Since then, he has become one of the most successful fantasy writers since the author of the Kama Sutra (Vatsyayana, self-published, 340 AD approximately). So at this date does a reviewer approach The Colour of Magic with the reverence due a classic? Does a reader look back and discern the skill, the apt satire, the deep wells of humor and humanity apparent in the nascent saga?' Read her Excellence in Writing Award winning review for all the details on this impressive, errrr, new edition!

David Kidney has a few thoughts on V for Vendetta:

John Lennon once cried out in a song, 'Do you remember the 5th of November?' I did, because my Great-Grandmother had told me the story, as a bedtime tale many times of how on November Fifth, 1605, a man named Guy Fawkes was discovered guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder, ready to blow up the British House of Parliament. He and his co-conspirators were arrested, convicted of treason...and executed on January 30th 1606.

Legendary comics writer Alan Moore took this history bite, and created from it one of the most intricate (and controversial) comics series ever. V for Vendetta first appeared in one chapter installments in Britain's Warrior magazine from March 1982 through 1985. Illustrated by David Lloyd in glorious black and white, it wasn't coloured until DC Comics issued their ten monthly issues in 1988-89.

It's time-line goes something like this. World War Three breaks out in 1988, and Europe and Africa are completely destroyed by nuclear blasts. The fascist Norsefire party gathers strength in Britain, rounding up& ;minorities and locking them into concentration camps. In July 1993 the man in room five, at Larkhill Resettlement Camp is allowed to have a garden, shortly after that...he escapes. One night . . . November 5th, 1997 . . . Evey Hammond is nearly raped by three men; she is rescued by a man wearing a cape, and a Guy Fawkes mask. Later that night the Houses of Parliament explode . . .

Now, finally, V for Vendetta has emerged as a film. Alan Moore divorced himself from the project, but does the film work?

Denise Dutton -- who has not read Alan Moore's graphic novel -- -- sought the answer to David's question. 'It's been said that Guy Fawkes was the only person who ever entered the Houses of Parliament with honest intentions. He honestly meant to blow the place to smithereens, and though he was foiled in his attempt, at least his motives were easy to understand. He and his co-conspirators were striking out against the Protestant monarchy of James I, in the hopes of replacing him with an individual more sympathetic to Roman Catholics. The titular hero of V for Vendetta has a similar plan....' That's no answer, you may say. Ah, but she does provide one. Read her Excellence in Writing Award winning review to see if the story plays as well on screen as it did as a graphic novel.

Donna Bird found another novel set in the Ottoman Empire: 'February was the coldest month this winter. We spent a lot more time than usual at the local shopping mall, since it was a far better place to take a walk than our ordinary outdoor haunts. Thus we also spent a lot more time than usual in the Borders Books and Music that sits on the parking lot next to the mall. On one of those visits, I spent time looking over the new book releases on display in the front of the store. My eye alighted with pleasure on the dust jacket for The Sultan's Seal, causing me to pick it up and open it. I liked what I saw, so I got a copy.' Go read her review of this debut novel by Jenny White for all the details.

Faith J. Cormier says 'The Sword of Straw is the second volume in Amanda Hemingway's Sangreal trilogy, following The Green Stone Grail. It must be hard to write a decent trilogy. For one thing, you not only have to remind prior readers of what went before, but also bring people just joining the series up to speed without being crushingly boring about it. I had the luxury of reading The Sword of Straw immediately after The Greenstone Grail, so it's hard to judge objectively whether Hemingway succeeds, but I think she does. I also think that she is vague enough that if I had started with volume two I would have wanted to go back and find out more about what had happened previously.'

Faith also looked at Lisa Tuttle's The Mysteries, a fantasy novel with a mystery at its heart: 'Ian Kennedy is a confused man. His father disappeared when Ian was nine. Certainly a good reason to start life out as confused. When he was 30, Jenny, the woman Ian had been living with and believed he loved, walked out with no explanation. This was also very confusing. As The Mysteries starts, Ian is about 40 and still confused. He makes a living as a private investigator specializing in finding missing persons. Not too hard to figure out where that comes from -- ache over his father and Jenny. At the end of the book, Ian is still confused. 'I thought of all the mysteries of my own life, waiting to be solved, and wondered how I could let myself be so distracted. I don't know how long I stood there.' You could almost feel sorry for him, if you weren't left with the sneaking suspicion that someone should just tell him to grow up'. Read her review to see if this novel tickled her fancy.

I suspect that you too have read Frank Herbert's Dune. But have you wondered where the idea for Dune came from? Read Denise Dutton's entertaining look at The Road to Dune. As she notes in her review, 'Attics can be magical places, full of surprises nobody ever expected. Trunks full of old photographs, an old hobbyhorse standing in a corner next to a dusty chiffarobe. And of course an alternate version of a best-selling, classic novel. I've never had that kind of attic. But Frank Herbert did, and his son Brian unearthed Spice Planet, the first 'draft' of what would ultimately become Dune, along with scores of notes, letters and discarded chapters. He and Kevin J. Anderson sorted through these papers, added a few of their own stories as a postscript, and produced The Road To Dune. What they've compiled is a mix (or melange, if you will) of rare gems and toys in the attic.'

Two books of art by Amy Brown, The Art of Amy Brown and The Art of Amy Brown II, get an appreciative look from April Gutierrez: 'With over 300 illustrations, these two volumes together are a fantastic retrospective of a popular, talented fantasy artist, particularly for those unfamiliar with her work.' Read her review to see what really pleased her about those volumes!

Maxine Gadd's Faeries And Other Fantastical Folk: The Faery Paintings of Maxine Gadd also was to April's liking: 'Each picture is titled, typically with the character's name, but a I would've liked a bit more info on the inspiration for each piece. But that minor quibbling aside, Faeries is a delightful little tome, an excellent introduction to Gadd's artwork.'

David Kidney looks at a cool piece of fiction: 'Storyville. The name alone conjures up images. Even if you don't know where it is, it speaks of a city of tales. The fact that Storyville is the legendary red-light district of New Orleans, where jazz was born, only adds to the possibilities of the kinds of yarns that might be woven from its rich history. The best book ever written about Storyville would have to be the brief and poetic Coming Through Slaughter, by Michael Ondaatje, which told the story of Buddy Bolden, the man to whom all jazz is traced. Bolden's ghost haunts this new book as well. He is recently deceased as David Fulmer's Jass opens. But his presence is everywhere.'

Robert M. Tilendis notes that 'Anne Bishop, in The Black Jewels Trilogy, created one of those stories that the reader wishes would never end, if only because the characters are real enough and appealing enough that we're not quite through with them when the story is over. This problem is at least party ameliorated with Dreams Made Flesh, a collection consisting of one story (although I tend to think of it as a vignette more than a story) and three novellas centered around the more engaging characters from the trilogy.' Read his review to see why reading this collection will enhance your appreciation of The Black Jewels trilogy!

Robert looks at the sequel to C. E. Murphy's Urban Shaman: 'Jo Walker is back, and I, for one, am glad she is. Not only is she back, she has stopped worrying so much about her shamanic powers (settling instead for cautious engagement), and she's not getting knocked on the head so often.' Read his review for the scoop on this impressive novel!

Another good read for Robert was an autobiography: 'Reading Jack Williamson's autobiography, Wonder's Child, is in many ways like a walk through my own childhood -- not that my life has had that much in common with Williamson's, but that his friends and colleagues were in many cases the authors I was reading when I was young. To many people, Jack Williamson is science fiction. Let's call him part of the First Generation, those who became Hugo Gernsback's authors when he ran out of reprint material for Amazing Stories, which he had launched in 1926. (Williamson sold his first story to Gernsback in 1928.) They went on to become the mainstay of the pulps, figures who now are half-legendary: A. Merritt, Edmond Hamilton, Edgar Rice Burroughs, E. E. 'Doc' Smith, others lost to memory.' Read his Excellence in Writing Award review for a look at a fascinating writer!

Craig Clarke, our resident Sherlock Holmes aficionado, takes a look at a slew of the detective's stories, tied up with a bow in The Sherlock Holmes Feature Film Collection. 'The Sherlock Feature Film Collection gathers together the five feature-length installments of the Brett/Hardwicke series, giving the viewer an opportunity to see these two actors together over a more leisurely period of time. Some are better than others, of course, but all of them allow us to further get to know this Holmes and Watson, without being rushed by the necessity of getting the story told in an hour's time.' Read Craig's Excellence In Writing Award winning review to get the particulars on each offering in this series, and whether or not the package is a worthy tribute to this layered, fascinating character.

Speaking of fascinating, Gary Whitehouse discovered a film that's sure to spark thought and conversation, The Search For The Wrong Eyed Jesus. 'Douglas heard a song by alt-country singer Jim White called 'Searching For the Wrong-Eyed Jesus,' and set out to make a fictional film based on the song's plot. That's not the movie they ended up making.' Anyone who has grown up south of the Mason-Dixon line is sure to see something familiar. Others 'will discover a whole different country in this film.' Gary adds another Excellence In Writing Award to his collection for this look at a very compelling film.

The other day I stopped at the local music shop to buy some new strings for my guitar. While there I tested an electric Godin, which was the only left-handed axe in the store. That's a major problem for people like me, and Sir Paul McCartney. There just isn't the choice! Well, choice is not a problem with today's music reviews, nosirree! Eighteen different albums ;with performances by by more than two dozen artists! Now that's choice.

First up is a review of some Swill by our fearless leader Cat Eldridge. 'Swill?' you ask. Cat replies, 'One of the artists whom I eagerly look forward to seeing what he'll do next is Swill, one of the founders of The Men They Couldn't Hang. Nothing Swill has done has ever been less than superb, and Doh, Ray, Me-Me-Me-Me-Me-Me is certainly no exception! My only complaint is that [it] is a mere seven cuts long, as it's the EP of an album still to be released! Damn!' Read the whole review to understand why Cat is so passionate about it!

Myself (that is David Kidney), when I wasn't retuning my guitars, I spent the past fortnight listening to a broad range of music from many distinct and varied artists. 'Richard Harris may be best known now for his role as Professor Dumbledore in a couple of Harry Potter films, or as a dying Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator. But he had a long and varied career in film, and was responsible for many memorable characters. He was also a rascal, a drinker, a womanizer, a poet, and a singer . . . sort of. His biggest hit came with an overwrought, orchestral rendition of Jimmy Webb's 'MacArthur Park.' Harris added the apostrophe 's'! That first album A Tramp Shining (and a second one called The Yard Went On Forever) linked Harris the singer with Webb the songwriter inextricably. Try as he might, Harris would never reach the heights he scaled as an interpreter of Jimmy Webb's finely crafted pop songs. But he did try. This new two-CD set from Raven Records is where his journey took him.' To discover where that journey took him read my review here.

The mailman is always dropping independent CDs into my mail slot. Two recent arrivals were new discs by Stacy Jagger and Rhonda Towns. 'I'm not really an expert on girl singers. I've spent a lifetime thinking I didn't really like girl singers. Once I was talking about this with Judy Henske (or maybe it was Pamela Polland) and I told her that I only really liked Linda Ronstadt, and Joni Mitchell, and ked lang, Bonnie Raitt, and maybe a little Joan Baez, and she said, 'Don't kid yourself man... sounds to ME like you like chick singers!' Anyway, here's a couple more.'

The first thing I play on my guitar once I get the strings on will be a few blues riffs. I love those blues, playin' 'em and listenin' to 'em. The JW-Jones Blues Band has a new CD and it's a goodun! '. . . The sound is more New Orleans based. That 'Tipitina' rhythm is laid down by the rhythm section of drummer Artie Makris and electric and upright bass by Nathan Morris. These guys make sure everything has a solid foundation, but still swings like crazy. The piano and organ are provided by Geoff Daye. JW adds his trademark sizzling guitar. And all this is complemented by the Wind Chill Factor Horns. Sax legend David 'Fathead' Newman guests on three tracks -- blow, man, blow!' Dig it!

'Bill Garrett, guitar player and a founder of Borealis Records makes the following comment in the liner notes of this new CD. 'Welcome to Volume 3 of Six Strings North of the Border. I'm convinced that we could keep producing these CDs for the rest of our lives as there is just so much great guitar music being played these days...' And it's everywhere! North of the border means here in Canada...the Great White North, if you will.' I guess there are a whole lot of us changing strings and tuning up, and this latest contribution to a wonderful series maintains the quality all the way through. Check out the review to see who takes part this time.

Finally (for me) I had the opportunity to relive my youth grooving to a couple of important re-releasesfrom the Elektra Records catalogue. 'Elektra was a small private record label begun in 1950 on a shoestring budget of $300 each by Jac Holzman and Paul Rickholt. Through the '50s the label focused on folk recordings, but in the '60s Holzman and Rickholt were responsible for a couple of dramatic signings. L. A. bands The Doors and Love came from the Elektra stable. The whole history of the label was written up in Holzman's book Follow the Music: The Life and High Times of Elektra Records in the Great Years of American Pop Culture. But Elektra was responsible for a lot of smaller success stories.' You'll find Eric Clapton, Paul Butterfield, the Lovin' Spoonful and many more on these collections!

After all that blues and rock Robert Tilendis takes us to a completely different aural plane!  A new CD of music by Eric Whitacre. WHO? Robert explains, 'Eric Whitacre is one of those contemporary composers whose background is as patchy as it is eclectic. He was thrown out of his high-school marching band, in which he played the trumpet, for being a troublemaker. As a teenager he played synthesizers in a technopop band, with the aim [or at least the dream] of being a rock star...then joined a chorus...by accident, at the University of Nevada... participated in a performance of the Mozart Requiem and...the die was cast. His first work for chorus, 'Go, lovely Rose,' was published when he was twenty-one, and since then his work has centered largely around choral music...The selections presented in Cloudburst and Other Choral Works reveal [his] diverse influences...' Read Robert's Excellence in Writing Award winning review for all the details

Robert wasn't sure about the next artist. And yet he accepted the task of reviewing three different albums by Kristian Blak. He begins, 'To be perfectly honest, I hadn't expected to like the music of Kristian Blak. It does fall, to a large extent, under the rubric 'new age,' although much more in the progressive jazz camp than my most favored artists from that area. Blak is obviously open to other influences, and is, by all reports, a major force in the Faroese music scene. In detail, this music is unclassifiable (not that I feel impelled to classify it; that is simply a means of giving you, Gentle Reader, some points of reference), although it is, in the final analysis, jazz-derived, which, given the origins of the whole new age movement (in music, at least) is no real surprise.'

It's not all about roots music, and guitars here at GMR, as the last couple of reviews make perfectly clear. But there are roots of a different kind in a new CD by the Orlando Consort. 'The Orlando Consort has presented, in The Rose, the Lily, and the Whortleberry, a survey of medieval music about gardens. It's a journey around Europe through time and space, beginning in thirteenth-century France, with a chanson by Guillame de Machaut, then progressing through England, Burgundy, Italy, Spain and the Low Countries, ending on the edge of the Renaissance and including motets both sacred and profane, madrigals, chansons, and even a 'missa' by the fifteenth-century English composer Walter Frye (which is something like an English Gothic cathedral constructed of song; it's quite an amazing piece).' Want to know more? Read Robert's review here.

Until we get a staff member named Zorba, it seems Gary Whitehouse will be last on our list of music reviews. Last on our list, but first in our hearts! Today he looks at a new release by Howe Gelb. Gary writes ''Sno Angel Like You is a soulful collection of songs with Gelb singing and playing guitar, accompanied by the Voices of Praise gospel choir. There are all kinds of reasons why this shouldn't work. But to the contrary, it's perhaps one of the best records Gelb has ever made.' Read the whole review here.

Then Gary continues his musical odyssey with a review of a recent album by Ion Petre Stoican, who Mr. Whitehouse tells us '...was a relatively unknown musician in the lively Bucharest scene of the 1970s. He had played professionally, particularly for weddings and such, in a port town for some 15 years, but the recording business was pretty much locked up by established families. But Stoican had caught a notorious spy in the 1960s and been promised an opportunity to make an album at the state-run studios, and in about 1977 he returned to Bucharest to call in his chips.' Fascinated yet? Read the whole story here.

We conclude our music section today with another world renowned GMR omni review. This time Gary studies three different groups each presenting their own unique blend of (dare I say it?) rootsy goodness! You'll have to read Gary's review for the specifics, but here's a taste: 'Cordero is a Brooklyn-based band that blends indie-rock with various Latin pop styles to come up with a signature sound all its own. Urban street smarts and Latin dance beats meet the desert Southwest... Chuck Cleaver has teamed up with Lisa Walker in Wussy...Melodic songs, big power chords, soaring choruses and evocative lyrics in every song...Archer Avenue is a young four-piece indie-rock band based in San Antonio and hailing from all over Texas...They've got lots of swagger and attitude, they sing nice three- and four-part harmonies, and they all play their instruments with panache.' Sounds good to me.

But right now I'm going to finish tuning up, and then SPike and I are going to jam a bit on some old Clash tunes he's been teaching me. We're working on an acoustic version of 'Rock the Casbah' to sing at our celebration of the president's birthday. We've got 'til July...might take that long to work it out. Maybe it needs a fiddle? See you next time. 

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Archived by LLS at 8:58 pm 8th April 2006