A classic animated film, Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn, has been released in a special DVD edition which Kathleen Bartholomew and her sister Kage Baker avidly watched. Kathleen, a diehard fan of Peter's work, had very good things to say about it: 'We reviewed this film originally for our special Peter S. Beagle edition in July 2006. It really was a fine job of adaptation, largely because Mr. Beagle wrote the screenplay, and all I can say here is that it is still a good film. But now it is even more satisfying to watch. Read her loving review for all the details on this film!
We have reviewed more Nordic roots music than anyone else so it's fitting that our lead-off featured review is of all three volumes of Northside's Nordic Roots series. Kim Bates introduces these stellar discs to you, dear readers: 'There's a pleasing dissonance in Nordic traditions, often a restraint that hints of something without ever going there that's found much more in Nordic music than is often the case with music from the Irish and Celtic traditions. Listening to these collections I couldn't help but begin thinking about why that might be. After all, I thought, the live acts of many of the artists on these collections is so very similar to some of the best live shows in the Celtic traditions. While you're pondering that, let's take a look at these 3 discs, drawn from the Northside catalogue.'
This issue's featured live review is written by Vonnie Carts-Powell who tells us of her evening in the company of the Spanish band, La Musgaña. The night seemed get off to a shaky start; 'I had an odd experience at the beginning of La Musgna's show: I could tell that the music was lively, and was well-played, but darned if I could make enough sense out of the sound to comprehend it. It was the cacaphonous aural equivalent of a complex braid: I couldn't keep track of any strand of it long enough to actually hear the music.' However, Vonnie soon saw the light, and got into the swing of things; '. . .suddenly it all made sense. And it was glorious.' Read more about Vonnie's evening that included the sound of flutes, pipes, hurdy gurdy and horned violin, by stopping by her review.
Our reviewer says of Justina Robson's Living Next Door to the God of Love that 'Once upon a time, in the Years of Pulp, science fiction was about technology: problem, crisis, hero, invention. Basic story. That began to change in the Golden Age, when, post-World War II and the horrors it unleashed, human issues began to move to the forefront. Now, technology is there, as context and foundation. And, as we have witnessed the speed and range of technological growth, its capabilities are limited only by the author's idea of the possible. Justina Robson has a very elastic idea of 'possible.' Robson presents a universe of universes, pockets with their own quirks and sometimes their own natural laws, faster-than-light travel, genetic engineering, cyborgs, and even synthetic people. There is, of course, a problem -- you still need a problem to make a good story.' Now go read the full review by Robert M. Tilendis to see why he ends his review by saying 'Note to self: Add Robson to 'Absolutely Must Read Everything' list.'
Camille Alexa sent us an audition review well-worth sharing with you: 'It's 2006, and the sixth novel of Diana Gabaldon's
Outlander series, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, has just recently won the 2006 Quill Award in the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror category. For some of you, it may be 2007 or beyond, but like Gabaldon does in this series, I'm going to allow that time may have a more elastic quality than we have hitherto thought.
In fact, like Outlander heroine Claire Randall, I'm going to step through my ring of magical stones here,
and. . . . Ah! Here I am in 1991, with the first book of Gabaldon's series, Outlander, newly published under the title Cross Stitch.' Read her review to why she, like fellow reviewer new staffer Samantha Gillogly, really like men in kilts!
Donna Bird has a look at a Rom poetess: 'About the same time I read a very favorable review of Zoli in Harper's Magazine, I noticed that our local independent bookstore had stocked quite a few copies of the latest novel from Irish-expatriate author Colum McCann. It looked interesting, so I was only too happy to review it for the Green Man. This is the first novel I've read from this author, so I don't have any basis for comparison with his earlier work. A scan of his bibliography reveals that he's written three other novels and a few short-story collections over the last ten years or so. From the descriptions of his earlier works, especially This Side of Brightness and Dancer, it appears that he has developed an interest in telling stories embedded in historical periods, sometimes, but not always, about actual historical persons.' Read Donna's review for a look at novel of a woman poet and singer of Romani (Gypsy) descent living in central Europe to see if it's your cup of tea!
She's quite a fan of Middle-eastern things so it was no surprise that Desmond Stewart's Great Cairo: Mother of the World was something she wanted to review: 'I was thrilled to see Great Cairo in a box of books from International Publishers Marketing, which distributes books from The American University in Cairo Press stateside. Desmond Stewart, who died in 1981, was a British journalist who worked for many years in Cairo. He wrote a number of books about Egyptian culture and history and translated two Arabic novels into English. His sources for this book include works published in English, Italian and French (some of which appear to have been translated from Arabic by their credited authors) primarily in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I'm sure Edward Said would accuse Stewart of being a latter-day Orientalist. I can't say I would disagree!'
J.S.S. Boyce has a word of advice for those intending to read Neal Asher's Polity Agent: 'Fans will love this novel, and eagerly await the next installment. Newcomers to the Polity should start with one of his earlier works. For the Cormac series specifically, Gridlinked is the first, but the immediate predecessor to Polity Agent, Brass Man, also does well as an introduction to the series. If you like good hard sci-fi, and you're not familiar with Asher's work yet, you should probably remedy that.'
This reviewer also looked at Lesley Chamberlain's The Food and Cooking of Russia: which says is 'a book to learn about the food and cooking of Russia, not just a book of recipes. For the adventurous types, I recommend flipping through it, reading about traditional Russian fish dishes, ethnically-diverse soups and light stews, and the past, present, and speculated future of pyranik, amongst other things, and when something sounds particularly different and interesting, endeavour to taste it. Learn and taste. Only then will you be taking advantage of all this book has to offer.'
Cat Eldridge looks at an anthology edited by Lou Anders: 'Fast Forward 1 is but one of dozens of anthologies and collections which have arrived here at Green Man for possible review over the past month. Some of them were very good, some were neither good nor terribly interesting, and a lot simply looked trendy in their choices of the writers included. Most of us here have gotten in the habit of wandering down to the shelves in the Mail Room to see what's come in which might be interesting, and whoever sorted the review material thoughtfully put all the anthologies and collections together. I commandeered the leather chair near the window in this room, grabbed a tall pile of anthologies and collections and settled in to see what tickled my fancy. A few hours later, Fast Forward 1 was one of a handful of ones I thought worthy of reading. I wasn't wrong!'
Sometimes we go back and do a fresh review of a book we've already reviewed, which is what Kestrell Rath does here: 'Having recently finished Holly Black's Ironside, I wanted to reread Valiant, the preceding book in this YA fantasy series. From the very first book, Tithe, Holly Black managed to use the genre of urban fantasy to create a sense of the modern city as a surreal landscape which can be simultaneously magical and threatening. In Black's cityscapes, the faerie world exists not as a separate space, but an overlapping realm, a dark reflection of our own abandoned places and derelict dreams.' Read her Excellence in Writing Award winning look at a novel that will someday be considered a classic!
Master horror writer Ramsey Campbell's The Grin of the Dark is next up for her: 'Much of what we call comedy is not quite as harmless or as amusing as we like to picture it. From the classic pratfall to the traditional Punch and Judy show to the slapstick -- a stage prop which gave physical comedy it's nickname -- a disturbing amount of humor masks the dark side of human nature, with its violent enjoyment of embarrassing and humiliating those it casts in the role of scapegoat. Many of our most painful personal memories attest to the cruelty of those who claim to wear comedy's mask, yet what is more likely to cause us to squirm is to remember how often our response to such situations was merely to produce an ingratiating smile or a pacifying grin as we wonder, 'Am I the joke?' Simon Lester, the protagonist of Ramsey Campbell's new novel, The Grin of the Dark finds himself wondering this very question, even as his life seems to be falling apart.' Read her review for a look at a truly chilling tale!
A writer whose works are already classics in the fantasy genre also gets a look-see by her: 'As someone who is part of the generation which grew up after the political and cultural revolutions of the 1960s, the songs and stories of that time often come to me accompanied by a certain sense of wistfulness and the impression of having arrived too late. Many readers are familiar with this nostalgia for a half-imagined past -- or, in the case of science fiction readers, nostalgia for a half-imagined future --for it is symptomatic of that gentle madness that infects bibliophiles, a madness documented in the stories of such fictional readers as Don Quixote and Catherine Morland. One reason that such works remain classics is that they explore the ways in which stories from the past are constantly recycled and reimagined in order to shape our current thoughts and attitudes, and even influence our ideas about the future. In Endless Things, John Crowley has produced a work which explores our own recent but romanticized past, that idealized 1960s where magic seemed to be in the air and hopes and dreams of utopian futures were as bright and real as the pictures embroidered upon a pair of old and faded jeans. At the same time, through the complex and poetic nature of his prose and the heartbreakingly romantic character of Pierce Moffett, his protagonist, Crowley has created a story which itself explores the relationship between books and readers, a story which is part romance, part dream vision.'
Robert M. Tilendis has a confession: 'At first glance, this year's edition of Spectrum, the thirteenth in the series, looked a little flat. I didn't see any of the knock-me-down standouts that grabbed me last year. Let this be an object lesson in jumping to conclusions... He goes on to say that there are 'rewards [in] looking again: there's a fair amount of subtlety in Spectrum 13, some humor, some scariness (perhaps in some cases even scarier than last year), some poetry, and many top quality pictures. I wish I could include pictures of the ones I've mentioned. All I can do, though, is recommend the book.'
Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map gets the nod of approval from Gary Whitheouse: 'In the late summer of 1854, cholera struck a densely crowded poor neighborhood in London's Soho district. Within days, hundreds were dead, and dozens more had fled the area for other parts of London or the surrounding countryside. In terms of the sheer speed with which it ran through the neighborhood and the concentration of deaths in a small area, it was the worst epidemic in London's history. But by the end of it, events had been set in motion that would change the face of science, medicine, sociology and urban planning. Those changes are still reverberating today, more than a century-and-a-half later. Brooklyn-based journalist and author Steven Johnson brilliantly lays out the complex set of circumstances that led to the cholera outbreak, and uses novelistic techniques to tell the narrative of two men -- a surgeon and a pastor -- whose efforts eventually convinced the skeptical doctors, scientists, journalists and bureaucrats of the day that the disease was spread by water. That in turn led to some of the first public health laws in history and to massive public-works projects to protect the municipal water supply.'
Nostalgia is sometimes a good thing as Donna Bird notes here: 'I first ran across Robbie Basho and this album in particular when I was working at the radio station at my undergraduate school many more years ago than I care to admit. Well, let's be accurate about this -- Venus in Cancer was initially released on the Blue Thumb label in 1969. The album cover, much reduced in size for a CD case, is a bit, well, kinky, showing two nude women, one black, one white, artfully posed in juxtaposition to each other so that breasts are visible but pubes are not. I am quite certain that the copy of the album we had at the radio station quickly attracted all kinds of notes -- I can almost imagine one of the male techies writing balloon comments coming out of the women's mouths.' Donna snags an Excellence in Writing Award for this well-crafted review!
A recording from Emerald Rose pleased new staffer Samantha Gillogly who admits something else in her review: 'It¹s a fact: I love men in kilts. Place a musical instrument in their hands? Even better. Now add a dash of magic, a dollop of lore, some excellent harmonies, and a shot of strong whiskey to taste. Mix well, and you have some fine music. Multiply by four, and you have a feast for the ears. This is Emerald Rose. Although it was released in 2005, Archives of Ages Yet to Come, the latest offering from the Georgia-based Celtic rock quartet, only just arrived in my mailbox at Christmastime. Brian (Logan) Sullivan, Larry Morris, Arthur Hinds and Clyde Gilbert labored for two years on what is now their second full-length studio release. All I can say is their hard work has paid off in spades.' Hmmmm.... That would explain why she's hangin' 'bout with Jack's Celtic band, The Dead Heroes of Culloden!
David Kidney is never one who will pass up a good Blues recording: 'When Ry Cooder recorded with V.M. Bhatt in an old church in California for 1992's A Meeting by the River the two had just met. They basically jammed and created an amazing amalgam of blues, Hawaiian echoes and Indian classical music. Imagine what might have happened had they actually practised. Well, Canadian slide guitarist Doug Cox and V.M.Bhatt's son Salil worked for a year on the material that has just been released as Slide to Freedom and it is a knockout!' David too garners an Excellence in Writing Award.
Adrienne Pierce's Faultline Po' Girl's home to you, and Nathan's Key Principles all came from the Nettwerk label of fine music recordings. David couldn't decide which was the best so you'll have to read his review to see if you can decide which ones you want to hear!
Want to get David's mojo going? Here's how: 'Stax Records was one of the two most important sources of soul music in the world. Only Motown sold more records or had more hits. Stax placed more than 167 songs in Billboard's Hot 100 pop charts, and 243 hits on the R&B charts. Even Bill Cosby, Albert King, Richard Pryor and Moms Mabley recorded for Stax! All this on a label started by a white country fiddler (Jim Stewart) and his sister (Estelle Axton) who combined the first two letters of their last names and stuck them on top of some snapping fingers for one of the most recognizable logos ever. This logo, in lenticular form, serves as the cover of this new (and incredibly hot) celebration of fifty years of hits. The Stax 50th Anniversary Celebration is a two-disc set that does just what it claims. By presenting all the major chart hits of their biggest artists they are re-introducing themselves to a new audience. Concord Music will be re-launching the label with a re-issue of old favourites, special events and some new signings, but first up...this marvelous history of Stax. The promo material promises 'extensive liner notes by Stax historian Rob Bowman' but the review set GMR has only presents the music. And it's fantastic.' David is so good this edition that he gets another Excellence in Writing Award for this sterling review!
The various artists on Endless Highway covering the songs of The Band did a great job according to this reviewer: 'There's Blues Traveler, Jakob Dylan, The Roches, Rosanne Cash and a handful more. Every one of them contributing to a tasty portrait of a group that meant so much to the development of roots music. If you've played the originals 'til the grooves were smooth, here's a collection of Band classics to keep you going. The highway may be endless...or maybe there's a pot of gold along the side of the road. ' My favourite cut? (I heard David playing the disc over and over.) The Allman Brothers Band's live version of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down'!
Violinist Joshua Bell's effort on two recordings with music composed by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35; Meditation in D minor, Op. 42, No. 1; 'Danse russe' from Swan Lake, Op. 20) certainly pleased Kelly Sedinger: ' Here are two discs of classical music, with one disc presenting one of classical music's greatest 'warhorse' works, and the other presenting works that few today are likely to have heard. The former is a very fine recording that I'm glad to have heard; the latter is one of the best discs of early music I have heard in quite some time.' Read his Excellence in Writing Award winning look at two recordings well-worth your time to hear!
Boiled in Lead's Songs from The Gypsy deserved a review apart from its place in the Boiled in Lead omnibus review where it got an all too brief mention so we provided Robert M. Tilendis with a copy for his perusal and review. Did he like it? Oh, yes indeed: 'The general musicianship is superb. No arguments anywhere. Stemple's vocals sometimes out-dylan Dylan, as though he were a little beyond the limit of what's possible, but on a song like 'Blackened Page,' he can break your heart. (A mention also for Lojo Russo, whose supporting vocals on 'Hide My Track' and 'The Gypsy' are intense.) (Note to self: find more Boiled in Lead.) Those who are looking for traditional Celtic tunes are not going to find them here. Don't let that stop you, because what you will find is some damned fine music.' Read his Excellence in Writing Award winning look at a recording well-worth your time to seek out and listen to!
Gary Whitheouse leads off his reviews this with edition with something different: 'Shades of classic rock, bossa nova, Cuban son, modern folk-rock, electronica and indie-rock are thrown into the musical blender, emerging as Apostle of Hustle's National Anthem Of Nowhere. Sounds weird, but it works wonderfully. Apostle of Hustle is the creation of Toronto musician Andrew Whiteman, who is a member of the Canadian musical collective Broken Social Scene. He plays a sinuous electric guitar and sings in a pleasant tenor, backed by Dean Stone on drums and percussion and Julian Brown on bass and other things. Added to the mix are nylon-string guitars, farfisa and other organs and keyboards, lush horn charts, and a raft of Latin-style percussion. This is different from a lot of the other music I listen to, and it's a refreshing difference.'
A good singer-songwriter also appeals to Gary: 'Kristin Hersh seems driven to create music. In a 20-year career she has put out 15 albums with her groups -- the '80s and '90s alt-rockers Throwing Muses and in the 2000s with 50 Foot Wave -- and solo. And with the exception of her 1998 album of folksong murder ballads Murder, Misery, and Goodnight she makes a particularly driven-sounding music. Once you've heard Hersh sing -- her breathy, sometimes tortured delivery -- you'll never mistake her for anyone else. Acoustic and electric guitars, insistent rhythms and lyrics that seem to burst fully formed from her fevered subconscious are all Kristin Hersh's hallmarks. And they're back in spades on Learn To Sing Like A Star.'
Now something a bit rockier will really get his mojo going: 'Melissa Swingle's heroes include William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Fred McDowell and Bob Dylan. This Mississippi-born, Chapel Hill-based singer-songwriter-guitarist who fronts The Moaners has done her idols proud on Blackwing Yalobusha, the duo's followup to 2005's Dark Snack. This time out, she's written all the songs, she has kicked up her guitar-playing a notch, and she once again rocks like crazy.'
What else get his mojo rising? Steel guitars: 'I love steel guitar. I love instrumentals. I love western-style lounge arrangements of old swing and big band standards and ballads. That's why I love Jon Rauhouse, because that's the kind of music he makes.' Read his review of Jon Rauhouse's Steel Guitar Heart Attack if you want to get your mojo rising as well!
Fairport Convention's Sense of Occasion is fittingly enough from the Matty Grooves label. Mike Wilson was the lucky bugger who got to review it: 'What I find particularly impressive for a band of Fairport's age and reputation is that Sense of Occasion doesn't find them resting on their laurels, but still exploring an eclectic mix of styles, with an impressive array of new material to maintain a contemporary edge. Happy 40th birthday, Fairport!'
Winter -- and cabin fever -- bring on all kinds of odd scholarly pursuits around here. Most folks post times and subjects on the walls in the Pub or the official posting board in the Library (no one would dare pin anything to MacKenzie's walls!) and the seasonally bored sort of make the rounds. The Old Norse Reading Group is currently learning Hrafnkel's Saga. While I'll admit it's one of the leading gems of Icelandic literature, that's not a field with a lot of gems at all. Hrafnkel is more or less the Job of the North -- a pious but overbearing bully, he offends all his neighbors with his violent ways, refusing to pay wergild and indulging in ostentatious sacrifices. This gets him a long run of bad luck and worse politics, culminating in his being reduced to a dependent on one of his own shepherds. And then the cabal of his enemies murders his beloved horse. At that low point, Hrafnkel becomes an atheist, and curiously, the saga reports he's also a much nicer guy after he decides the gods are no help.
It's a rather modern story, actually. And I understand the ONRG has gotten a copy actually penned on horse hide, which ought to be a pretty original version. Could be interesting. I might wander over and join the discussion group.
As long as I don't have to wear one of those knitted caps with ears!