Some winters are things of joy, but not this one. By early January, we'd already seen triple our normal snowfall -- Hell, The Old Man's grumbling in Old Norse about fimbulvetr. And let's not even talk about how persnickety Hugin and Munin have been this winter... But the process of creating a good tune will always cheer up me as it does this tunesmith...

After you read this tale, I recommend glancing at our fine reviews including looks at a very superb Jethro Tull DVD, a dictionary devoted to the sf genre, and some rather good Celtopunk. Njota!

What happens is that the tune happens to you -- you don't happen to it. You can't help it, because it's not you, it's the tune. Night after night, morning after morning, day after day, the tunes live inside your head. They sing themselves to you, they have their own life independent of yours, and when your life and their lives intersect, the minor, everyday magic that all musicians live for...happens.

You might first hear a tune out at a session, or on an eagerly-awaited new album, or at a performance. It weaves itself into your head, into your gut, into the spaces between the cells of your body. You may not even know it's there, not for days, weeks.

And one day, while wholly occupied with something else, or just waking up in the morning, or last thing before dropping off to sleep, the tune sings itself to you -- sometimes so softly you hardly know it's there, sometimes in such an insistent, demanding way that there's no mistaking that it wants your attention.

Sometimes it's just a fragment, a phrase, or just one half of the tune. (At that point, it's sometimes worth going out to find the tune rather than letting it find you, before the unresolved tune drives you to distraction.) Other times, the entire tune is whole and entirely itself, like Athena stepping fully formed from Zeus's forehead.

Which is not to say it's not best to double check that you've got the thing right; there's any amount of tunes where it's fairly obvious someone's done what a friend calls a 'cut and shunt' -- the A part of one tune grafted onto the B part of another -- and it's stuck to become an entirely different tune. (Last night, we played a tune and someone led the B part into a different phrase from another similar tune at the end of it...which was obvious when we turned it round to the A again, as everyone briefly wanted to go into the other tune; but never mind, we all did it together and every time we came to the phrase, so it probably didn't matter much.)

They're pretty much simple little things, these tunes. They're a bit like nursery rhymes, repeating themselves and dangerously skirting a kind of musical doggerel, yet the best tunes form a complicated, fascinating tapestry from simple, plain threads.

Kage Baker and Kathleen Bartholomew start things off with a look at Jethro Tull -- Live at Montreux 2003. 'Montreux is no longer just about jazz. However, if you like jazz but are in the dark about rock and roll... no, there is no Jethro in Jethro Tull -- the group was named long ago for an 18th century agronomist. Even if you are totally befuddled about rock, you may well recognize Ian Anderson, the lead singer, lead writer and -- well, leader: he's the cold-eyed Scottish flautist who has been fronting the band (mostly standing on one foot) for the last 40 years.' Their review gives a detailed account of the performance, and whether you should give it some time in your DVD player, whether you're a Tull novice or aficionado.

Tonight's the Oscars, and our Film Editor is fairly squeeing with delight. But she's not the only one thinking about Oscar winners. David Kidney looks at Autumn deWilde's tribute to Academy Award-nominated singer-songwriter Elliott Smith. 'Elliot Smith, American singer-songwriter. Played the guitar mainly but also piano, clarinet, bass, drums,harmonica and sang in a thin breathy voice. Was nominated for an Academy Award for his song 'Miss Misery' which appeared in the film Good Will Hunting. Never saw the movie but I saw him on the Oscars show. He looked lost. And haunted. He was 34 years old when he died from two stab wounds to the chest. Suicide? Murder? No one seems to know.' Check out this review to find out more about this tragic, gifted artist.

During her work on this issue, Camille Alexa stumbled upon a problem many SF and fantasy fans come across. 'I'm torn. I don't want to begin a discussion of author Jessica Reisman's wonderful debut novel by opening with the least appealing aspect. But I'm afraid I have no choice. This thing is so huge, and it's the very first thing any prospective reader will notice when she picks up The Z Radiant. I just don't see any way to address the matter other than mentioning it right up front, getting it out of the way, moving on: this book has perhaps the single worst cover ever put on a science fiction novel.' Ulp. But 'never judge a book by its cover' plays in all of our heads, right? So check out her review to see if this novel soars above... er, unfortunate artwork.

I'm not ashamed to admit I love dictionaries. Ever since my first encounter with The Devil's Dictionary -- and my subsequent bafflement because I didn't recognize half of the words he 'defined' -- I hunt for old dictionaries in used bookstores with an almost obsessive passion. They don't have to be old dictionaries though; any dictionary that defines something particular catches my eye as well. One area-specific dictionary caught Kathleen Bartholomew's attention this time around, Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, and she admits to a similar pull. 'I want to state up front that I consider dictionaries both a literary art form and top-notch entertainment... A dictionary is like a worm-hole nexus, where myriad trails lead off in every direction and to every dimension. And Brave New Words lives up to that tradition. Nonetheless, it does not quite satisfy.' Read her Excellence In Writing Award winning review to see where this book succeeds, and where it comes up short.

Donna Bird reviews An Afghan Journey, a travel book that takes a look at a country in flux. 'German-born author Roger Willemsen is a human rights activist who makes his living as a writer and producer of documentary videos, many of which appear on his own weekly television program. An Afghan Journey documents a visit he made to Afghanistan in 2005, not long after that country's first national elections... ' Will it take you away? Donna reveals all.

Sometimes short and sweet works best. Like the blurb for this review, for instance. 'It isn't always easy to find a good title, but this time Marie Phillips is spot on. The title Gods Behaving Badly really does tell you everything you need to know about this book... What? Still here? You want details?' Well then, look no further; Faith J. Cormier's review give 'em to you.

'The Lovecraft Chronicles is a very odd book, and one that stands alone in the middle of a crowd. There’s a positive plethora of titles that feature the estimable Howard Philips Lovecraft as a character... However, most of them take a singular, somewhat clichéd approach... Peter Cannon, a well-regarded Lovecraft scholar, knows better than to fall into that particular trap with his stab at Lovecraft (as opposed to Lovecraftian) fiction.' Lovecraft or Lovecraftian, if you're a fan of H.P., Richard Dansky's review lets you know if this novel is worth stepping outside of Cthulhu mania for.

Cat Eldridge catches up on his graphic novel reading with B.P.R.D. Volume 7 -- Garden of Souls 'B.P.R.D. Volume 7 -- Garden of Souls rocks. Really. Truly. As I write this review in early days of February, I have spent about two months reading, for all practical purposes, nothing but graphic novels... [T]he good folks at Dark Horse sent me both B.P.R.D. Volume 7 -- Garden of Souls and the latest Hellboy trade edition.' Nice! Read Cat's review to see if this will tide you through 'til Hellboy II: The Golden Army hits theaters this summer.

Since he's been leafing through graphic novels of late, Cat also reviews Dark Horse Comic's Hellboy Volume 7: The Troll Witch and Other Stories. 'Volume number seven collects short stories from The Dark Horse Books of the Dead, the 2004 Hellboy -- Wizard 1/2, and Monsters, and Witchcraft, Hauntings, as well as the 2006 miniseries, Hellboy -- Makoma by Mignola and the well-regarded Richard Corben, and a previously unpublished Hellboy story jointly written by P. Craig Russell and Mike Mignola, along with the usual sketches and story notes.' If you're a Hellboy fan, see if this installment is also worth putting your cat down for!

Speaking of Lovcraftian... 'Imagine, if you will, Conan the Barbarian taking on Cthulhu and its inhuman minions, with the fate of the world at stake. Quite an image, isn't it? Admittedly, it does sound like something you'd find in a straight-to-video movie, or some obscure animated feature. But if you're a fan of either Conan or Cthulhu, it also sounds like a heck of a lot of fun.' And who doesn't love fun? April Gutierrez does, and her review of Shadows Bend tells you why you need to take a peek at this story if you want to up your fun quotient.

Show of hands; who 'round here has a soft spot for Norse Mythology? Impressive. Hands down now. Well then, Lory Hess has something for you; a look at Heather O'Donoghue's From Asgard to Valhalla: The Remarkable History of the Norse Myths. 'As a child, I was fascinated by retellings of the Norse myths, with their primal, powerful images... Such a complex, many-faceted world view still speaks to us today, more than a thousand years after the twilight of the culture that produced it.' Check out her Excellence In Writing Award winning review to see how well this book covers such a wide-reaching subject.

Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress XXII? Honestly? When series installments start to overtake -- and then pass -- those of horror movies, I start to worry. However, short story collections usually prove the exception to this rule. Case in point; Michael Jones's review of this latest installment. 'In 1984, the first Sword and Sorceress anthology came out, edited by the notoriously feminist writer and editor, Marion Zimmer Bradley. Her goal: to breathe new life into the roles of females in the fantasy field... In 2004, with the release of Volume 21, the series seemed dead, once and for all. It had done its job though, right?' Is there still has plenty of life left in it? Michael's Excellence In Writing Award winning review lets you know.

David Kidney reviews James Sturm's America: God, Gold and Golems, a triptych of tales '... .drawn from the history of the good ole USA... These three stories first appeared separately, but Strum and his publisher brought them together under one cover because they do tell a history of America.' It's not Memorial Day Weekend yet, but David's review may just put Yanks in a patriotic mood nonetheless.

Kelly Sedinger reviews The Last Days of Krypton, a new look at the Superman legend. 'It's hard to think these days of stories that everybody knows, but surely the origin of Superman is one of them... It's a tale that just about everybody in Western pop-culture knows, and probably well beyond Western pop-culture, too. That's where the story of Superman typically starts, but evidently someone decided that the definitive tale must now be told as to just what was happening on Krypton when that planet was destroyed. That's exactly the job that Kevin J. Anderson has here, in The Last Days of Krypton.'

There's an awful lot of stuff that comes in to our offices, some good some bad. Here in the Film section it's no different. David Kidney dives into a pile of the latest music DVD's that have passed through the GMR offices, and gives an omnibus review of what he found. 'Good pictures. Bad pictures. Good sound. Bad sound. 60s rock, southern rock, glam/metal/rockabilly, jazz-fusion. It's all music. The DVD is an excellent channel for showing us the images behind the music. These four, very different sets each contribute to the on-going visualization of music. Maybe they're not all for everybody... . but each one will definitely please some of the people some of the time!' Check out his review to get the lowdown.

Gary Whitehouse also spent time in front of the tv -- a nice way to spend some time in this Winter season, especially if you've got a nice mug of tea for company, or better yet, a good mulled wine -- and delivers a review of the Rounder's DVD, The Holy Modal Rounders... Bound To Lose. 'Bound To Lose is the Rounders' story, documented on film and in music, from their beginnings in the early 1960s, through their 1999 reunion and a brief tour that followed, and an attempt to put on a 40th anniversary show in Portland, Oregon.' Is their story one that will keep you interested, or is the title a prophetic one? Gary provides the details.

I seem to keep getting older every year. Not disproportionately so, but every time a birthday rolls around, there I am, one year older. Don't get me wrong -- spending a sunny late-winter afternoon in your local pub drinking pints of your favorite microbrew and eating warm pie is a lovely way to spend any day. And on one's birthday, if one is fortunate or wise enough to have good friends and true, those pints and pies come all unasked for and no one will hear of the birthday girl paying for a thing, or lifting her dainty birthday fingers to fetch the next round or remove a scraped-clean plate or, it might be extrapolated, choose the music.

So now I'm one day older than the one year I aged yesterday from the year before. Yes, yes -- of course all this makes more mischief than sense, but with my head slightly the lighter for yesterday's shenanigans and my stomach feeling considerably heavier, I'm going to see what the boys have to offer us this week in the way of music. I'm going to retroactively decorate my pub party with what they've reviewed this week, but only in the virtual sense, where age and time are what we make of them.

According to Green Man reviewer Christopher Condor, Michael McGoldrick has a reputation for a 'willingness to push folk music in new directions.' Is his album going to make the playlist for my virtual pub party? It depends on what he means when he claims McGoldrick's solo effort Fused may be 'overly tasteful.'.

Perhaps the first one David Kidney looked at this week, Michael Jerome Browne's Double, will be more like what I'm looking for. It's difficult not to want to go out and listen to something one of your fellow reviewers describes as 'a cookin' li'l album'!

Or what about this twofer he reviewed from Jacob Moon? As David says, 'It's a brave man indeed who releases two CDs at the same time.' Brave, perhaps, but wise? And do either of them suit a small local pub, where a girl might be found with a pint in her hand on a bright, blustery day? Well, one was a Christmas album, which may not work this time 'round. But I do love a good Christmas album at the Christmas party (which can last many days around these parts...).

Oooo, but this Christmas album, December Songs -- the Design Hope Songwriters Project, Volume Two does sound intriguing! A song about the Grinch by a band called the Savvy Fools? And why will fans of the composer of the soundtrack for Amelie 'be struck by two tracks by The Acoustics'? I must know more.

And of Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo David says 'maybe it's not for everyone, but who says music has to appeal to everyone?' Well said, David! And as the birthday girl, I'm really attempting to answer the burning, all-important question, is it right for my party? Anything you call 'a damn fine album' will definitely get a listen from me, so thanks for this review!

With David's look at two Maury Muehleisen albums which are 'almost identical except for two additional songs', he answers the question 'So why would you want both?' If, as he says, Muehlesein's 'voice and guitar and his lyrics and music are haunting', I want to hear why.

The last couple reviewed by David this week look like they might make for excellent party fare, aurally speaking. Perhaps not my late-winter birthday party, but my 'eighties beach party seems it might do far worse than rock out with Noble Rot releases from such bands as Beatnik Beatch and Surf Punks. It's a whole different party when you break out Party Bomb.

And finally from David we've got a look at howls, raps, and roars -- recordings from the san francisco poetry renaissance -- 'You've seen that little black-and-white book on the shelves in the hipper bookstores, maybe you even bought a copy, but did you ever get any further than that first line or two? On this magnificent collection you can hear Ginsberg read it himself. It's far out.' Thank you, David, for inspiring my next theme party!

But wait! Here comes Robert Tilendis with what sounds like almost exactly what I'm looking for! Everyone knows I love good Celtopunk. In this twofer review, Robert says -- 'There's not much in the way of angst, distance, or anger -- these guys are having too much fun. When all is said and done, the Real McKenzies are a party band.' Woo, hoo!

Whew. I've got to settle down a bit. My birthday party fever still seems to be running high. Apparently, pie and pints don't weigh one down the day after quite so much as one thought they might. I'll leave it to Gary Whitehouse to slow down the pace with the music he looked at this week. It seems Caroline Herring's 'Lantana is an excellent record for those who like their folk music with a strong element of traditional country.' That might not be for me (I make no secret of the fact), but it is for many, many others. Find out why Gary claims 'Caroline Herring's music is a welcome addition to the ranks of contemporary folk.'

The next one, Baby Dee's Safe Inside The Day sounds more to my taste, with everything from 'a rollicking New Orleans-style burlesque rocker that's full of bawdy lines' to 'a gentle piano-driven meditation on faith and friendship.' Is it too late to ask for birthday presents?

My mood may be revving back up just reading Gary's review of The Resurrection of Spiders In the Moonlight, which ostensibly includes 'a swinging gospel rave-up in multi-part vocal harmony, with Jesus crying, 'all your sins are forgiven, let me down!' '

I'll soothe myself by reading Gary's review of Stay Awhile, 'a beautiful album of mostly traditional songs from the Balkans.' According to Gary's lovely description, this is an album with at least one track 'full of pent-up emotion that smolders just under the surface.'

Or I could try westringing which, according to Gary, is a collection of Scottish tunes by Ian Hardie, 'a lovely player, with excellent control and expression in his playing.' Find out why 'westringing is a superb example of a 'concept' album that hews closely to its stated theme and delivers in spades.'

Mike Wilson reviewed something which sounded promising -- Tunefish, 'a German three-piece with a sound pitched somewhere between Cajun and Celtic.' Though it appears their self-released album From Texas to Tipperary might not have delivered all it could have. Mike has a little advice for this particular band...

I'll wind down with Mike's review of The McCalmans' latest album, Scots Abroad. Says Mike -- 'There is no questioning the quality of musicianship on display here, nor the classy, tight harmony vocals that create a delicious Scottish- accented wall of sound, but for me that's about as far as it goes.' I like a good review to clue me in to where things go awry as well as where they shine, so lead on, Mike, lead on. And Happy Birthday to all, wherever yours may fall.

The book itself is a curious artifact, not showy in its technology but complex and extremely efficient: a really neat little device, compact, often very pleasant to look at and handle, that can last decades, even centuries. It doesn't have to be plugged in, activated, or performed by a machine; all it needs is light, a human eye, and a human mind. It is not one of a kind, and it is not ephemeral. It lasts. It is reliable. If a book told you something when you were fifteen, it will tell it to you again when you're fifty, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you're reading a whole new book. -- Ursula K. LeGuin in Harper's Magazine, February 2008. page 37

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Revised by a rather over caffinated Several Annie around
midnight, 21 FEB 2008. Now where's our Librarian got off to?

Uploaded 9:22 PST 23 feb 2008 LLS