Sunday, the 4th of June, 2006

As always, we will publish again in a fortnight. In the meantime, we
strongly recommend the Irish coffee with single malt whisky and
cream that Reynard in the Pub is serving right now.

Book Reviews Featured Reviews Music Reviews

'The only place that you seem to find anything of any value is at the margins of any of these cultures, at the fringes of pop and of cinema and comics and books. That's where the real action's going on, not in the kind of Oscar-winning or Booker-prize winning enclave.' -- Alan Moore in an interview

We see a lot of music and fiction come in to be reviewed here at Green Man months ahead of when it will actually be available for your enjoyment. Most of us are very happy that happens, and our editor's no exception. What has caught his interest these past few evenings is Summerlong, a new novel by Peter S. Beagle. Well, it will be, he says, well-worth reading when it's out, possibly late this summer but what he read only exists as a draft of what will be someday the finished novel. So why's he raving about it? Because it's damn good, according to him, and that indeed is why he likes reviewing drafts and the like, as there's always a thrill in reading that which really does not exist yet!

With that in mind, I decided to ask some of the Editorial staff what it was they liked most about reading books and listening to music long before they come out. Here are some of their replies...

Lisa Spangenberg says 'When the book is Clan Corporate, and I'm reading it for GMR, because I didn't have to wait and wait, and I really wanted to read it -- serious narrative lust. That's also true of Laura Anne Gilman's Bring it On. When it's one of the technical books I edit, because they pay me :) When it's a ms. from a university publisher, because they let me pick books from the backlist, and they pay me, sometimes.' Lisa has a review of the third novel in that series in this edition.

Robert Tilendis is a closet snob: 'That I'm reading books before they come out. Huge snob appeal there. Now, if I knew some snobs...' Robert had the first review of de Lint's Widdershins on the net -- way back when our advance reading copy came in early January of this year. (I was bemused to see a claim in another zine that the ARCs just came out last month --not bloody likely as it went on sale of as May.) Likewise he had the first review anywhere of McKillip's Solstice Wood. Now that's true snobbery!

Yet 'nother such snob is David Kidney: 'Call me crazy, but I like reading uncorrected proofs. It's a real joy to find all the typos. I like the idea of reading the book before the rest of the world sees it. A real snob factor. I don't even mind having unmatched editions on the shelf, next to the rest of the collection in series like James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux novels. What I miss is the photo sections in biographical books, which are not usually included in ARCs.'

Gary Whitehouse says 'It's the same thing I like about listening to CDs before they come out. It gives me an opportunity to form my own opinion about a work, largely before the hype machine kicks in. I'm fortunate to have a family member who works in a bookstore, who often brings home advance reader copies. We frequently both read these books, sometimes separately, sometimes aloud together, and compare opinions about them. Two of my most vivid memories of 'recent' books we read this way are of Cold Mountain and Angela's Ashes, both of which we thought would become immensely popular -- and we were right.'

Kim Bates gets the last word: 'In these days of constant buzz it's great to get something from one of your favourite artists before everyone else, not just because one hears it sooner, but also because it is one of the few times one gets to truly make up his or her own mind. A pristine opinion of the music only emerges without the pollution of others' opinions. Don't get me wrong -- I enjoy the exchange of opinions and relish conversations about my musical heroes. But, sometimes when I hear something that I've already heard buzz about I find myself either disappointed because of the buildup, or perhaps not giving it the credit its due. I'm not saying I'm more impressionable than the average listener, I'm not -- and I often am surprised at others opinions of something I really like from some obscure artist -- but then often our reviewers disagree on artists as well! We recently covered two different albums by Faroese singer Eivør -- one by Yvonne Carts-Powell, who loves her voice and by Peter Massey, who wasn't as impressed with her album with the Danish Radio Big Band, partly because he wanted to be able to understand the lyrics. That's one of the things I love most about working with GMR -- I'm exposed to so much more music than I would otherwise be, and it has really helped me hold to my own course in the sea of opinion. And develop very obscure musical loves -- but that is a tale for another day!'

Bless Compass Records (who just acquired the Green Linnet catalog) as they know what greedy bastards we can be when it comes to really good music -- they sent us three copies of the new Reunion release from Solas! Our Editor claimed one, Charles de Lint got one for his listening pleasure, and Kim Bates, our Music Editor, got a copy, which is why she was able to write an Excellence in Writing Award winning review: 'Ten years on, the members of Solas have come together to produce this concert DVD and CD, which will no doubt please their many fans. Despite personnel changes over the years, including the pivotal position of lead singer, the band has managed to thrive in a very crowded marketplace, and remain friendly enough to collaborate once again.' Read her review for all the details on this impressive release!

Our featured film review is one which merges mythic elements with what is generally accepted history as Michelle Erica Green notes here: 'Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code was a monumental bestseller for several years before Ron Howard's film went into production, giving Howard the unenviable task of creating a movie that would have to both fulfill the expectations of the book's legions of fans and stand as a creative work on its own. Brown has three other novels likely to follow The Da Vinci Code to the big screen, and since main character Robert Langdon appears in one of them -- the prequel, Angels and Demons -- the film represents the start of a potential franchise.' Read her Excellence in Writing Award winning review to see if she feels that the film captures the, errr, spirit of its source material.

A retro review garners an Excellence in Writing Award for Robert M. Tilendis: 'The Forgotten Beasts of Eld was the first book by Patricia A. McKillip that I ever read. Two things struck me about it: it was different than any other fantasy I had read to that point, most of which were in the high-minded, seriously heroic mode but written in 'realistic' prose; and it was funny. I didn't know fantasy could be funny. This was not the almost-tongue-in-cheek of L. Sprague de Camp or of Gordon Dickson's dragon books, nor the edgy satirical vision of Fritz Leiber, but the result of sharp, contemporary dialogue that betrayed a sympathy for slapstick that came out of nowhere and left you gasping -- think of it as the Marx Brothers meet the Fellowship of the Ring.' If you're scratching your head over that remark, go read his review now!

Historical fiction will always catch the interest of Donna Bird: 'If I fall asleep while I'm reading a Bartle Bull novel, I know am really, seriously tired! His writing keeps me awake and engaged, sometimes to the point that I can't easily fall asleep -- even when I am trying to -- after a session with one of his books. I ran across The Café on the Nile, the middle book from Bull's earlier trilogy (which also includes The White Rhino Hotel and The Devil's Oasis), at a used bookstore some years ago. I have been a fan ever since.' Read her look at his two novels set in early 20th Century China to see if these found favour with her!

She also looked at four novels in a murder mystery series set primarily in India (The Last Kashmiri Rose, Ragtime in Simla, The Damascened Blade, and The Palace Tiger): 'These books by British writer Barbara Cleverly form a murder mystery series. Although I have read other serial fiction and other murder mysteries, this is my first encounter with this particular combination. I found the first two books in a recent remainder catalog at prices much reduced from their original suggested retails. They were sufficiently enjoyable to prompt me to seek out the next two, which are readily available from the usual on-line sources. They are probably also available in the mystery section of any relatively large bricks-and-mortar bookstore, if you prefer to shop that way. They all run about 300 pages in length and are relatively quick reads -- probably good fare for summer travel.' Read her review to see if these are suitable summer fare for you!

Finally, a children's illustrated tale set in Paris by Barbara McClintock (story and artwork!) also ticked her fancy: 'Adèle & Simon is an illustrated children's book, destined for publication in early September 2006. The publisher used one of the illustrations from the book as cover art in a recent children's book catalog. It was so charming that we requested a review copy of the book and received a set of unbound flats.' Go read her review for a look at a truly charming affair!

Michelle Erica Green has discovered a whole new academic genre: 'I'm sure that for truer fans of Joss Whedon, or maybe just a different sort of fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Rhonda Wilcox's Why Buffy Matters is a welcome addition to a library that includes a growing number of academic and quasi-academic analyses of the television phenomenon (Sex And The Slayer: A Gender Studies Primer For The Buffy Fan, Blood Relations: Chosen Families In Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Philosophy and BtVS: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale, etc.) These tomes seem to have grown weightier and increased in number ever since someone discovered that the handful of such books analyzing Star Trek in the 1970s would make a few bucks for an author/editor and publisher; there were only ever a few such books about the transgressive, innovative Xena, Warrior Princess, yet The X-Files' academic industry provided many graduate students with their first professional publication credit, and now Buffy seems to be a discipline unto itself.' Now go read her review of Rhonda Wilcox's Why Buffy Matters to see if this tome adds meaningfully to the sum of human knowledge!

James Lee Burke's forthcoming novel allowed David Kidney to answer a question: 'People ask us why we review mystery novels. How do they fit into our mandate? Well, we decided a long time back that if a book (or series of books) described a unique culture, or geographical/sociological area, then we would review it. And so the books of James Lee Burke fell very neatly into that category. Burke lives in two places, and he writes about them both. He has a home in Montana (where he has set his Billy Bob Holland series) and another in New Iberia, Louisiana. Pegasus Descending is the latest in his chronicles of New Iberia policeman Dave Robicheaux. And a Robicheaux novel holds the promise of a good mystery, surrounded by all the sights and sounds of the swamp, a drive into New Orleans, maybe a po'boy and an ice cold beer.'

Lisa L. Spangenberg took a look at the third book in Charles Stross' Merchant Prince series, Clan Corporate, about which she says, 'The central character is Miriam, the American born and raised World-walker, member of a clan of tinkers and peddlers turned merchant princes by virtue of a carefully maintained genetic ability to 'walk' between three known worlds . . . this volume introduces several characters, most importantly, Mike, Miriam's ex. It also presents others in new lights, making it as difficult for us as it is for Miriam to judge motivations and loyalties. There are several equally interesting narrative threads, and while I enjoyed the book, it ends in an odd place, since none of the threads are resolved.' Read her review for more details about this latest installment of Stross' intriguing series.

Octavia E. Butler's The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents get an appreciative look-see by Robert M. Tilendis: ' The two books of the Parables series depict a world that is too much like our own for comfort. Those who can live in walled communities to protect themselves from those who can't, who in turn build their own walls from the terrors that roam freely. Religious fanatics are poised to take over the government. The balance of economic power has left the United States and now resides in the North: Canada and Russia have the money and still some semblance of civil order. People begin heading up to Canada -- walking, if there's no other way. Not so many of them make it. Alaska secedes. And those walled communities are subject to attack by random gangs, bands of latter-day storm troopers, or the neighbors.'

All things Turkish are well-loved here at Green Man -- tulips, Turkish rugs, Turkish Delight, Turkish figs, small cups of ever-so-evil Turkish coffee, and (of course) the ever-so-cool music. So it's apt that Robert has a look at a guide to the culture of the Ottoman Empire from whence modern Turkey came: 'We tend to think of the Ottoman Empire as monolithic: a unitary state ruled from Istanbul and subject to a uniform system of laws. A moment's reflection will lead to the inescapable conclusion that this couldn't possibly be true. At its height, the Ottoman Empire stretched from north of the Caucasus through the Balkans and over the Anatolian Plateau, across North Africa in the west and to the borders of Persia in the east. Included in this vast empire were Turks, Arabs, Berbers, Slavs, Magyars, Tatars, Armenians, Iranians, Kurds and Greeks, not to mention Germans, Italians, and other Europeans brought in as war captives and slaves, many of whom became influential citizens. Among these peoples were Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims, Jews, Orthodox, Catholic, Coptic and Armenian Christians, and probably, in the hinterlands of Europe and Anatolia, more than a few Pagans. And the Empire was subject both to Islamic shariat and to Turkish civil law, not to mention local laws and customs that encompassed all the traditions inherent in the polyglot texture of the Ottoman state. The culture of such an entity, its arts and crafts, the interactions between the various ethnic and religious groups, the interfaces between high culture and popular culture, are the subject of Suraiya Faroqhi's Subjects of the Sultan. In many ways it is a dizzying survey. Faroqhi's coverage is extensive, the very richness of the subject is somewhat daunting, and the fascinating sidebars she explores almost lead to severe input overload -- but I didn't care. (She even devotes a section to cooking and dinner parties, and how many 'cultural histories' do that?)'

Robert also looked at novel by a master storyteller of a different kind: 'Patricia A. McKillip seems to write two kinds of novels. On the one hand, she has produced what I can only call thoughtful adventure stories, such as Riddle-Master. On the other are what I call the 'mystery' stories -- not detective fiction, but those stories that involve a central mystery in the religious sense: a transcendent image that cannot be explained or really even described. The Tower at Stony Wood is one of the latter.' Read his review to see why he was slightly disappointed in what is a merely good read.

A novel from Patricia Briggs was not to the liking of Elizabeth Vail: 'When trying to establish a series of novels based on the same character, the first book is the most important, and probably the most difficult, to write. They have to set up the fantasy world without info-dumping. They have to reveal the characters while leaving them enough mysteries to inspire further novels about them. And they should provide a plot that is self-contained, but with enough room left to stack a horde of sequels on top of it. While Patricia Briggs populates Moon Called with some very intriguing roles, the story itself is sadly lacking.'

David Kidney here just back from the city of Montreal, where I discovered a dandy Quebecois folksinger named Mario Peluso whose new CD minuit-5 has some of the greatest sounding acoustic guitar I've heard in a long time.  This CD was playing in rotation over the in-store stereo, along with new albums from the Dixie Chicks and Johnny Cash and I was struck by the quiet mood that was created by Peluso's picking, and the layering of a haunting cello and some stunning lapsteel guitar. I just had to buy it!  

That's the way our reviewers feel about music. It's obvious from reading their reviews. We don't distribute stars or points here...we talk about sonic quality, tone, feel, emotion. Music does that to you. I've never been able to have music playing in the background while I'm working. It distracts me. I have to listen to the music. My wife told me when we were first married that I was the first person she'd ever met for whom 'listening' was an interactive activity! Hmmm. We're all like that here in the Green Man building!  

Take Scott Gianelli for instance. He plays guitar and bouzouki, and has interests as broad as atmospheric science and Scandinavian folk music! His review of Draupner's Arvet CD is informed and passionate: 'Arvet does live up to its name (Heritage), as it is both a celebration and a promotion of the musical heritage of Draupner's home region. The band's style is more purely traditional on the whole than that of Våsen, or the other New Nordic Folk bands carried by NorthSide for that matter.' 

Senior Writer Peter Massey is another Green Man guitarist, with a collection of over 3500 folk songs. He looks at another collection by Dick Gaughan  and finds it wanting: 'The album was recorded in the Vegas Suite studio, and (in my opinion) it is spoilt by too much 'empty hall' reverb being added. It made it very hard to catch the lyrics; in fact it was almost impossible on several tracks. I had to resort to reading them...then...I realized there might be one or two decent songs here with a lot of potential. It will be interesting to see what they sound like live, or if other artists do covers of them!' Read his review for his full opinion.

Peter also took on the challenge of a Green Man omni review! New discs from Doug & Telisha Williams, Ed McCurdy, John Parker Compton, and two from Lee Martindale arrived in a package! 'When I received a handful of CD's to review as an omni, I was curious to see what they all had in common. The answer is virtually nothing! That turned out to be a big plus in my view, as they serve to demonstrate what a wide variety of music can be found under the folk music/story genre mantle.' Read the whole review as it's fascinating!

Robert Tilendis
is an enigma to many of us here. Sure we all have our specialties, but Robert's is...well...different than the rest of us. That's what makes his reviews so intriguing! He starts off with a look at a hat trick of Javanese Gamelan recordings. Intrigued? I am! 'So, what about the music itself? In a word: gorgeous. Bapak Hardja Susilo, in the interview included with the Yogyakarta volume, notes that Balinese gamelan (which is most of my experience in this area) possesses a sense of urgency, 'one which requires our immediate attention.' The Javanese works in this group are much more relaxed, more introspective, and very seductive.' Who amongst us can say that we have experience with any kind of gamelan?

Robert also has a breadth of knowledge about classical music. He reviews Mozart's Early Symphonies 2 and he seems to like them! 'The recording is superb: the performances...are crystal clear and display great sympathy to the music...This is a beautiful rendering of some small-scale masterpieces...'

And he likes American folk music too! Odetta's At the Gate of Horn CD gave him 'goosebumps! From the opening 'He's Got the Whole World in His Hands' through the bitterness of 'The Gallows Pole' and the passion of 'The Lass From The Low Countree,' here is Odetta. One forgets...the remarkable range of expression she commands...the deep thrum of that incredible voice is here...along with an edgy -- call it 'anger' and hope you're close -- that breaks that voice in 'Timber' and the playfulness of the story-song 'The Fox.' She even makes 'Greensleeves,' one of the most over-performed pieces of music ever, palatable...[her performance] left me speechless.' That's what I'm talking about. Knowledge and passion.  People who listen, whose main concerns are not commerce, and the modern pop song! Robert garners an Excellence in Writing Award for this review!

Master Reviewer Gary Whitehouse always likes to learn about a new talent like Diana Jones. Gary reviews her new disc My Remembrance of You. And he raves about it! '[Diana Jones] sings with a strong, deep and clear voice that breaks in all the right places. She wrote all 11 songs on this, her third album, and her voice inhabits the songs like a lonely wind crying in the eaves of an abandoned homestead.' He was also pretty well hooked on the self-titled CD by The Gousters. 'Most of the songs are sung by Cronin, I assume, in a deep, craggy, unaffected voice, accompanied by all manner of acoustic instruments: guitar, banjo, mandolin, accordion, plus bass guitar and drums. He sings from the heart...' And Gary, like most of our reviewers, writes from the heart too!

Gary is, like many of us here at GMR, a fan of Richard Thompson, whose son Teddy Thompson just released his second album Separate Ways. Gary says, 'The title track particularly stands out. Set in a noire soundscape with bowed bass and brushed snares, it's a passive-aggressive breakup song from a young man learning the ropes of heartbreak...' He says a lot more, but you need to read the whole review!

Then Mr. Whitehouse checked out Live in Hope: the Wildlife Album 2, one of those charity, compilation CDs which have almost become a genre of their own!  Gary wonders about this, '...overall, I enjoyed this album far more than I expected to. Are we in danger of being overwhelmed by comp albums? Yes indeed. But this one is a pretty good example of how to do it right. It's very well documented as well, though the booklet's type size is quite small. The cover is a stunning bit of art by Larry Chandler, a painting of the American ivory-billed woodpecker in flight. And it makes the album's title quite appropriate, because this bird, once thought to be extinct, was found in 2005 to be living in a remote Southern swamp.' See, you can learn a lot by reading our music reviews!

Gary's always passionate about the music he reviews. His specialty is that broad spectrum of American Roots Music that interests me too! We're always trying to claim the same CDs for review! This week Gary looks at a CD by the Wolfkings, Freeze-Die-Come to Life. 'The music of the Wolfkings belies their name, if you equate wolves with something wild and muscular. The San Francisco-based ensemble fronted by singer-songwriter Michael Talbott makes gentle chamber-folk-pop in the confessional vein of Bright Eyes, Elliott Smith, Nick Drake, et al.' 

New staffer Mike Wilson admits in his biography that Mary Black's Collection album was the first record he bought! It's only appropriate then that his introductory review is of Mary Black's Full Tide.  He writes about it with a fan's passion, 'Full Tide contains all the ingredients that have contributed to many great Mary Black recordings in the past; outstanding choice of material, sympathetic arrangements and Mary's effortless vocal style. It may be a cliché, but Full Tide marks a tremendous return to form for this much-loved and critically acclaimed artist.'

That's about it for this week. A dozen reviews which cover almost twenty recordings. Each one assessed by someone who listens to the music. No easy letter grade, no set of stars or bullets, but a thoughtful appraisal of how this new music sounds and how it makes us feel! That's what it's all about!

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Updated 03/06/2006 by Mister Wednesday