I know that it's our Midsummer edition and you were rather eagerly anticipating our annual Summer Queen edition with Her Speech, tributes to Her and Her Literary Works, and other goodies to boot. Well, this year is different as we decided to do that edition around the time of the ancient Gaelic festival of Lughnasadh. Why this is so will be revealed in August! In the meantime, enjoy yet another edition full of reviews which this time, befitting our story, are all music reviews! Classical and Celtic, new releases and overdue re-issues, singer-songwriters and fiddlers -- all that and more are to be found here.
During the course of a long and rambling conversation late at night in the Green Man Pub which touched on matters from cricket and the best single malts to how to make a proper chocolate souffle, we somehow decided this edition to have reviewers pick the single best recording that they reviewed for us. We think you'll find their choices rather interesting!
Well now, I think spring is finally sprung and we're about into summer. How about a nice pint of IPA? There you are, dearie -- a nice summer beer, I always think about IPA. Our brewmaster does a nice one, don't you think?
Yes, it's summer, I'm thinking. You should have seen this fiddler in here last night during the Neverending Session. Whoooooeeeee. The Session is always around here somewhere, sometimes one or two musicians playing in a hallway or in the kitchen or wherever, sometimes a whole roomful of them, but last night they were here in the front room.
Everybody noticed her when she walked into the pub: nut brown skin, hair all shadows and light, eyes of green that...well, I don't actually know what 'lambent' means exactly, but if there were ever eyes that were lambent, I'll bet they were. None of us have seen her here before, not in recent memory, anyway, and 'recent' is a fairly loose term around here, you know.
Anyway, she was a head-turner. Oh, she wasn't beautiful or anything, or even attractive, but as soon as she walked in the door, we all felt Someone had come in and we all looked, I could see heads turning all over the pub. Not that we looked long. You don't stare at anyone here, it isn't safe. You might give offense to someone it's better not to offend, you know what I mean?
Anyway, down she sat in the circle of musicians, with her brown silk skirt swirling out around her, a leafy lace of changeable greens over that, and damned if she didn't produce a fiddle and bow seemingly out of nowhere. She started playing, and that thing that musicians do, that happened then. Some of them started slowly drifting away, to the bar to listen, to friends to chat, or out the door, and others started appearing as if by magic, some just to listen, some to sit down and play.
Her fiddle playing was the wild kind, the kind that doesn't care what the others are playing, she has her own ideas about what the tune is doing, and she cares more about those ideas than fitting into a group -- you don't necessarily get a great night of playing tunes together out of that, but you often get an earful of great music if everyone's willing to let it happen, and most of our musos are the sort who'll let a night go the way it'll go; they know there'll be more tunes soon. I like that, that these guys will let a night go where it will.
Anyway, the night was good -- lots of this wild music, almost impossible for the backers to play, so most of them dropped out to listen. They were all over the place, musically speaking, it was like she was catching or something. Lots of shifts in key or mode or what have you, all in a single tune, then they'd be off to the next one.
And she sat there in the middle of them. She didn't drink except for some water. It was like she'd put down roots. She didn't say much, and I don't think anyone ever got her name. And her fiddle -- the same nut brown as her skin, and she let it do most of her talking. Talk about your fiddle being part of you -- you've heard people say that? Like the fiddle is an extension of you, or how the fiddle is your voice? She was like that.
Well, I guess she IS that.
At the end of the night, she played a slow air that sounded like a goodbye, then looked around, smiled a little bit, stood up and walked out without saying anything else. By that time, of course, we were all watching her pretty carefully. We never saw her put the fiddle into a case, but it was just gone somehow, as if she'd just put it into a pocket. I guess that was when we all knew instead of just guessing.
Yeah. I'd say summer is definitely here. The sap has risen, and now it's out walking around, you know?
Camille Alexa had no problem picking her all-time favourite recording that she reviewed for us -- 'Cote d'Azur with Ella Fitzgerald and Joan Miro. Man! The entire thing is gorgeous, shot in that amazing gritty sepia-tinted black & white around the 1960s French Riviera, a region visibly crackling with the excitement of true cosmopolitanism, at the cutting edge of art and thought and social progressiveness. Ellington's brief intro, in which he describes there being 'nothing unwonderful about a truly well-appointed bikini' and being 'with it with the in-people,' is absolutely drool-worthy. His trio's extemporaneous session in a sculpture garden (with Joan Miro himself tapping toe in the background, lounging against one of his own sculptures on a marble-white pedestal that glows in the bright Riviera sunshine) is nothing short of astounding, and Ms. Fitzgerald's performance at the 1966 jazz festival at Juan-les-Pins, hours after learning of her sister's death, brings tears to my eyes every time.'
Craig Clarke offers -- 'Best recording? How about one that I actually still listen to years later, when many of the rest are long forgotten? That would definitely be Play It Again, Sham!, the collection of rarities and B-sides that the Saw Doctors put out in 2002. What I said back then still applies today: 'I [can't] listen to it and not instantly cheer up. It's a veritable party in a jewel case.'
Cat Eldridge says without doubt it was Beyond the Stacks -- 'Simply put, they're brilliant. The intertwining of the Shetland sound of [Frifot] fiddler Aly Bain meets the varied instruments (mandola, harmonica, jews harp) of Swede Möller in a way which few duos I've ever heard match. The only group that sounds close to this duo is -- not at all to my surprise -- Frifot.'
Tim Hoke says 'When the Editor-in-Chief asked which CD, of all that I've reviewed, was the best, I was daunted to say the least. There are several that I continue to pull off the shelf and listen to again. One recording, though, remains fresh with each listening. Committed, by the now-defunct Stark Raven, is a lively,
Michael Hunter has a lengthy answer -- 'If I was being clever, I'd say that the definition of 'best' changes over time and there's no way I could select one CD now without that choice becoming redundant again very quickly. If I was being obvious, I'd choose one of the many Fairport Convention CDs reviewed over the years and again, that would probably change day by day too. However - for conforming to the various criteria I like in a CD; things like unpredictability, melody, a mix of ancient and modern, light and shade and so much more, I would have to go for the John Barleycorn Reborn set from 2007. Everything that's in the review still remains true, including the sheer listenability of such a large and diverse collection of music, and the clear intent and successful execution of the theme of Dark Brittanica. Sadly, Woven Wheat Whispers no longer exists but Cold Spring Records still distributes the album, and I happily recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in its premise.
The choice of Jack Merry will not surprise anyone who knows him -- 'After finishing a review of the latest Alasdair Fraser endeavour, Fire and Grace, I looked around the Green Man music library to see if we had overlooked any of his other CDs. Indeed we had. Dawn Dance really should have been reviewed sometime ago, given that it says on it 'promotional use only'. How it got overlooked is a story in itself, but we'll let sleeping musicians that shall not be named here by me stay that way. Let's just say that it was such an excellent CD that some of the fiddlers here kept borrowing it from the library for extended periods of time!'
Robert M. Tilendis, after he had calmed down a bit, responded thus -- 'Y'know, this is not easy. Comparing Celto-punk and classical is a lot harder than apples and oranges. So what do I pick? Gamelan? Raga? Celtic or Nordic trad? Nubian drumming? Medieval Iberia or Germany? A great romantic masterpiece? Sheesh! I'm calling it for Morton Feldman's The Viola in My Life. It was a landmark recording when first issued and still has power: subtle, spare, intelligent, lean but intoxicating, it's got everything I love about American music in the late twentieth century. Feldman works by implication, and I demand that an artist leave something for me to do. 'Nuff said?'
Gary Whitehouse says 'As I confessed in my review at the time, I'm not much of a jazz writer. And for jazz, I prefer 1930s and '40s swing. But it was such a humbling moment to be able to scribble my own few notes about the great Miles Davis landmark album Kind of Blue when Columbia Legacy released this CD/DVD DualDisc edition. This cool yet lush and (as I said at the time) 'supremely romantic' album is surely one of the greats in the Western music canon.'
We're doing all DVD reviews next edition with picks for the Best DVDs Reviewed as well.
Starting us off this week, Peter Massey gives us a bit of a history lesson by way of Our Featured Music Review. Peter writes, 'So, who was Freeborn John? This was a nickname given to John Lilburne, a radical 17th century politician and activist.' Freeborn John was the leader of the Levellers who 'were an informal alliance of agitators and pamphleteers who came together during the English Civil War (1642 - 1648) to demand constitutional reform and equal rights under the law. Levellers believed all men were born free and equal and possessed natural rights that resided in the individual, not the government. They believed that each man should have freedom limited only by regard for the freedom of others. They believed the law should equally protect the poor and the wealthy.' Doesn't sound too radical to us, but we have the benefit of their struggle. What does this all have to do with folk music? Well, Rev Hammer wrote a rock opera back in 1996 about Freeborn John and Peter reviews the recording of what he believes is the first live performance of Freeborn John 'Live'. So fascinating is this review, that we just had to give Peter an 'Excellence in Writing award.
Back from the towers of academe, Donna Bird brings us a review of a Klezmer band with music from the Carpathian region of Central Europe. Di Naye Kapelye (which means 'the new band' in Yiddish) delivers 'pieces that are complex and rich, most of them faster in tempo than some of the Klezmer music I've heard before,' Donna writes of their new album 'Traktorist.'
Cat Eldridge brings us a review of a Casey Neill Band's studio album, Skree. Of Casey Neill, Cat tells us that he's 'A storyteller par excellence' with music that is 'a strikingly appealing blending of acoustic Americana, from a Leftist rabble rouser akin to Billy Bragg, and quite adept Irish musician.'
Cat also invites us to listen to the latest by Belshazzar's Feast, The Food of Love. Any album with 'food' in its title has got to be good, and Cat really entices us with his review of this delicious album.
And in a totally different vein, Cat also reviews String Quartets Nos 2 and 3 by Mark O'Connor, Matt Haimovitz, Paul Neubaeur, and Ida Kavafian. Of the pieces, Cat writes, 'Think ragas when dealing with these pieces, No, they don't feel Indian, but consider that a raga is essentially a really extended musical riff and that String Quartets Nos. 2 & 3 are essentially two classical music pieces done as extended musical riffs that repeat themselves in both tone and content.
'Personal struggles is often the material for songwriters, but too often those struggles are worn on sleeves and chock full of misdrected pathos. Not so the latest release from Mark Karan. A survivor of stage 4B throat cancer, Karan has created an extremely personal, but also very honest album in Walk Through the Fire. Deborah Grabien describes it as both 'passionate and detached at the same time.' Go to Deborah's Excellence in Writing award-winning review to learn more about this intriguing new release.
Deborah has also written a lengthy essay entitled Summer in Fog City: The 2009 Bay Area Summer Music Roundup. No need to say anymore about it! Just read Deborah's reflections on quite a lot of new CDs.
Michael Hunter looks at Steeleye Span's latest, a double CD/DVD combination of a live performance, Live at a Distance. Michael sums it up well: 'When they play a delicate piece, it can be genuinely moving. When they rock out, it can be exhilarating. When they just coast along however, it’s OK but disappointing, and while there’s not an overwhelming amount of coasting altogether here, there’s a bit too much for comfort.'
Next, Michael takes a look at cover band Bad Shepherds. Bad Shepherds is not just any cover band, though, they are 'a group which exists to perform mainly UK punk and new wave songs of the late 70s and early 80s, but with acoustic instruments and trad tunes interspersed throughout.' In this age of mash-ups galore, one has to wonder if they are just one more trendy band or whether they're something special. Read Michael's review to find out!
David Kidney found himself with a disc that describes itself as 'piano pop music.' Yes, his reaction was the same as yours, surely: 'Sounds like we're looking at the next Billy Joel or Elton John.' Well, are we? Read David's review of Adlai Waxman's Down at Joe's.
Peter Massey, who also wrote our featured review this issue, takes a look at another live album. This time, it's legendary performer Dick Gaughan who recently released Live! At the Trades Club. Peter reports that Gaughan is 'as radical as ever, and sings, or should I say 'barks' his way through 13 of his favourite songs that make up his set. Gaughan puts his life and soul into his performance, and has a guitar style that is admired by many, which compliments the songs and completes the overall sound. ' Read Peter's review for more.
We've got a lot of great writing this month. So many, in fact, that we had to go back to our vendor to get some more Excellence in Writing awards made up! Liz Milner gets one for her extensive review of the original London cast recording of the forgotten London musical from 1958, Expresso Bongo. That sentence alone is a great enticement to get you to read the full review.
There are many words we would use to describe reviewer Kelly Sedinger, but 'monster' is not one of them. However, that's how he describes himself in his review of Secret Voyage by Blackmore's Night. What brings him to call himself that? Well, you'll just have to read the review to find out!
Robert M. Tilendis has been busy writing reviews of classical music ! To start with, he took a listen to The Complete Symphonies of Gustav Mahler as performed by the New York Philharmonic with Leonard Bernstein conducting. After giving us a bit of a historical overview of Bernstein's 'rehabilitation' of Mahler, Robert tells us that listening to the entire sequence was a bit of an eye-opener. Read his review for more.
Next, Robert reviews Bernd Alois Zimmerman's Canto di speranza. Robert describes Zimmerman as 'one of those unclassifiable artists whose style progressed through what seems to be the normal twentieth-century pattern: neoclassicism, atonality and the twelve-tone row of Schoenberg, serialism, and finally a kind of polyglot style that resolved into what is known in Germany as 'Klangkomposition,' a style marked by planes or blocks of sound, similar to the late music of Claude Debussy and found in one variation or another across Europe, especially in the east among composers as diverse as Krzysztof Penderecki and Arvo Pärt ' Canto di speranza is a one-movement concerto for cello and chamber orchestra. Sounds interesting!
Robert then turns to Die Jarheszeit (The Seasons) by Joseph Haydn. In his review, Robert found 'a lot to delight the ear here, whether you are looking for grandeur or something slightly smaller.'
Robert also reviews a new Beethoven recording by 'talented young violinist and conductor, Lisa Batiashvili', as well as Alexander Raskatov's rendition of Soviet composer Alfred Scnittke's Symphony No. 9.' It's exhausting just recording all the reviews Robert wrote for us this issue!
Gary has also reviewed what is for him a local band, The Decemberists, and their latest studio album, The Hazards of Love. This is a concept album 'the likes of which hasn't been seen much in 30 years or more.' Inspired by frontman Colin Meloy's longtime love for English folk rock, it sounds like we have a milestone in the making. Read Gary's review to learn more.
We should remind you about our special editions which are our way of looking at specific writers and other subjects worthy of exploring in-depth. Of course, we've done several editions on master storyteller Peter S. Beagle which you can find thisaway and over 'ere. Needless to say, we're very proud of the great edition on Charles de Lint we did.
We did one on the ever fascinating trio of Brian, Toby, and Wendy Froud; naturally we did one on master storyteller J.R.R. Tolkien who is much loved by our staff; not to mention ones on Catherynne M. Valente, Patricia McKillip, and Elizabeth Bear
Oh, our Editor just reminded me that we did (as if I could 'ave forgotten!) an edition devoted to the now departed and much missed Year's Best Fantasy & Horror anthology.
Lastly, we have put together a Recommended Series Reading List covering many genres from fantasy to mystery and (of course) sf for your reading pleasure. You can find that list thisaway.
For our main page, please go here; to search the roots, branches, and leaves of This Tree, use the Google search engine; every past edition of our fortnightly What's New can be found here; for a detailed look at Green Man Review, go thisaway; and lastly, you report errors over here. Still have questions? Email our Editor here. Provided he's not in the Green Man Pub savouring some kick ass metheglin while listening to Blodeuwedd tell her tale, he'll try to answer your question!
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Entire Contents Copyright 1993 - 2009, Green Man Review, a publication of Twa Corbies Publishing. The GMR logo illustration this edition is designed by Lahri Bond for us and any other use will result in one of our ravens tearing out your eyes very slowly and eating them. Really. Truly. And when isn't a raven hungry? All Rights Reserved.
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Forthcoming edition revised 6 June 2009
Uploaded 13th June, 2009 9:43pm PST LLS
archived 27 June, 2009 LLS