We got called a rather interesting pejorative in response to a review of a genre-related work we did a short while ago, as you can see in the quote here --
What fascinated the editorial staff as we discussed it over pints of Guinness in the Pub later that evening was that we were considered part of a 'genre literatzi' as we've never considered us to be so. We started out so long, long ago as a roots and branches of popular culture review 'zine that by inclination ends up reviewing anything that we liked reading -- general fiction. history, books on whisky and ale. . . .
Oh, you get the idea. Hell, just look at the first six books in for review as I write these notes a few weeks before publication date. We've got looks at year one of the Nightwing series, a look at the real King Arthur, the concluding volume of a YA trilogy, several horror novels, and, oh, one genre work.
We're almost as eclectic with what we cover for music, with our interests ranging from really classical music to music so new that members of the Neverending Session haven't had time to decide that is trad but they will eventually. And we really like covering the entire oeuvre of an artist or group when possible which is why, in addition to cover the latest CD from the Oysterband, The Oxford Girl and Other Stories, which gets reviewed for us this edition, we look at bloody near every recording they made to date in our recorded music section excepting some EPs and the like that are far too elusive even for our crack team of music hunters.
But first, a rant from The Old Man, a Green Man denizen who's old enough that he may well have seen a carnyx in action upon a time. . . .
The Old Man here -- Indeed it's cold and wet outside, not 'tall good for a long walk today, so I'm mucking about the database for the Infinite Jukebox here. Now, some might think it is indeed more than a bit queer that the Infinite Jukebox contains recordings of performers beyond count -- but it is, after all, the Infinite Jukebox. I found a version of the Rolling Stones' 'Let It Bleed' with Marianne Faithfull fronting, as her boyfriend had overdosed all those years ago. I also loved the other female fronted rock and roll I listened to this morning -- 'Hotel California' by The Eagles, with Linda Ronstadt as the lead vocalist! Cool, really cool.
However, I was searching the Infinite Jukebox because I fondly remembered an Oyster Band album called English Rock and Roll -- The Early Years. Yes, Oyster Band, not Oysterband. The band started life some thirty years ago as Fiddler's Dram, later becoming the Oyster Ceilidh Band and eventually dropping the Ceilidh part of their name. As the name suggests, much of their music is bloody fine dance tunes which I really like on days like today!
If you are a fan of the present-day Oysterband, their rather sedate earlier sound might surprise you. Especially when compared to the band's angry tone during the Thatcher years, when they would sing in 'The shouting end of life' that 'Hacks that want to see me shuffle off the shelf / I hand them each a bottle, I say -- Go fuck yourself!' No, this is a far quieter, more traditional band that aficionados of good electrified English folk music will love, as almost everything, unlike later albums, is traditional material -- only 'A Longport Hymn' (written by Alan Prosser) and the 'Holligrave' tune (written by Ian Kearey) are contemporary in composition. Oh, John Jones' lovely voice is here, as is the voice of the soon-to-depart Cathy Lesurf of later Albion Band fame.
Indeed it has the aspects of the later band, but it feels much different than they do a decade or so later. Listening to it play in my office as it rains outside, I'm reminded of a time before Thatcher. Bloody bitch that she was, she made folk music political as a reaction against her evil reign. Here is a more innocent, pre-Thatcher Oysterband, one where saying 'Go fuck yourself!' would have been unthinkable. I miss that time, that sense of innocence. As the years pass, I find myself less interested in electrified English folk than I was when it started out some forty years ago. I want to be cheered up, not depressed!
Now let's listen in as the ever so perfect tenor voice of John Jones sings the lyrics of 'The Prentice Boy,' a Cheshire folk song about a cobbler's boy who runs away to join the Spanish army. And yes, do help yourself to a bottle or two of the rather good ale I found in the Pub this afternoon!
In his featured Excellence in Writing Award-winning review of City of Glass, the third book in Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments trilogy, Matthew Winslow says, 'Too often the third installment of a trilogy is a disappointment, the author having given the reader too much in the second installment. But with City of Glass, Cassandra Clare has shown that she can sustain the pace throughout an entire trilogy.'
Now I must strongly disagree with The Old Man, as the Oysterband are still producing some truly great music, as can be heard quite well on their newest recording, The Oxford Girl and Other Stories, which Peter Massey reviews for us this edition. Indeed Peter says of this tasty recording that 'On first inspection of the play list I thought this was another compilation album with the 'best of·' thirty years or a systematic look back over Oysterband's past albums, although most are represented here. But I was wrong. What you have here is all new acoustic recordings of the songs with re-arrangements.' Did he like it? Oh, yes as you can read thisaway!
Faith J Cormier starts off her reviews with Frank D. Reno's The Historic King Arthur -- Authenticating the Celtic Hero of Post-Roman Britain, and finds it fascinating. 'I must confess to occasionally losing the thread of Frank D. Reno's arguments, but at no time was I in any doubt of his meticulous scholarship. This book isn't for the romantic or the Grail hunter by any means, but for the serious Arthurian scholar it's an important work.'
Faith failed to be impressed by Penelope Fitzgerald's The Bookshop, which she refers to as a 'deeply depressing' book. Read why here.
Of Kelley Armstrong's Angelic, reviewer Richard Dansky says, 'If I ever find myself magically transported into a realm where demons, angels, ghosts and other critters walk the streets of the modern world, I want it to be Kelley Armstrong's Otherworld, the setting for Angelic.'
Richard was not so pleased with Mark Chadbourn's World's End as he says that '. . .the biggest problem with the book is that it feels like television, with all of television's weaknesses laid out on the page for extended contemplation and few of its strengths.'
Richard was more positive about Shivers V, the horror anthology edited by Richard Chizmar -- 'the book is a worthwhile read, and there's more than enough in here to keep horror fans of various tastes satisfied.'
Richard follows with Grant Morrison's Batman RIP but sees the work as hit or miss. 'As a reader, you either go with what Morrison's doing, which is to use the worst excesses of Batman's long and storied history to try to get at some core truths about what has made the character so enduring, or you don't.' Richard earns himself a Excellence in Writing Award for this review.
Denise Dutton gives Jonathan Maberry's Patient Zero -- A Joe Ledger Novel a shot and finds herself sucked in. Says Denise 'Maberry's action sequences are compelling and his ability to create engaging characters left me no choice but to keep reading so I could figure out what would happen next, and to whom,' coining Joe Ledger the 'Jack Ryan of the new millennium.'
The first review by Michael Jones is of Rachel Caine, Undone, the first book of a spin-off series from her Weather Wardens saga. Michael says of the main character, 'Cassiel is just as good a protagonist as Joanne Baldwin, and in some ways, even more appealing; I can't wait to see where she goes next.'
For reviewer Mister Jones, Mark Del Franco's Unfallen is a welcome installment in 'a series whose strength lies in character relationships, as well as in strong plots and subtle, unfamiliar scenery.'
Michael's next urban fantasy which he reads and reviews is Jeaniene Frost's At Grave's End which he reviews rather splendidly thisaway.
Next comes Second Skin, by Caitlin Kittredge, about a werewolf cop who finds herself caught in the middle of a conspiracy. 'Second Skin really upped the stakes for Luna and Nocturne City, as well as once again altering the status quo. What started out as a series about a werewolf cop is now revealed to be something larger and more daring, and I'm looking forward to seeing what Kittredge has planned for her heroine next.'
After that, he reviews John Levitt's New Tricks, an impressive example of fantasy noir. 'New Tricks has a lot of honest appeal going for it, in terms of atmosphere, personality, and mystery; it's got this jazz-meets-noir tone that helps it stand out from others of its ilk, and Mason's a hero worth following.'
Michael's reactions to Pride, the newest book in Rachel Vincent's series about werecats, are a little more mixed. 'This series has taken some interesting turns thus far, and Pride continues that trend. I'm not sure if it's a strength or a weakness that some of the major plot points this time around hinge upon things that the werecats consider impossible until proven otherwise. After all, it doesn't speak well of werecat society that there can be so much about their own nature they either don't know or have dismissed as myth. However, that's a minor speed bump of plausibility in an otherwise engaging story.'
Finally, the last stop on Michael's personal Urban Fantasy tour (and an Excellence in Writing Award-winner, to boot) is Jaye Well's hilariously titled Red-Headed Stepchild, about a half-vampire, half-mage assassin. In what Michael calls an 'enjoyable debut,' 'it's clear that Red-Headed Stepchild is an energetic, action-packed story, one where intrigue lurks around every corner and no one can be fully trusted. Moments of unexpected humor help to lighten the mood now and again, adding a wry touch to the proceedings.'
Claire Owen's next at bat with her review of Just One Wish, by Janette Rallison, a sweet tale of a girl who invents a wish-granting genie to comfort her ill brother. 'All in all, it would appear that Janette Rallison has once more proven that teen fiction is most definitely her niche. She has a talent for weaving tales of love, laughter and "tough stuff," meshing all these things together to make readers both laugh and cry. Better yet, she does this without the over-used and over-killed glam and glitter of Manhattan's snob mob, or the Romeo and Juliet love affairs of vampires and humans. Ah, to read a classic story.'
Kestrell Rath reviews and enjoys Nina Kiriki Hoffman's Fall of Light, about a movie makeup artist who confronts magic that special effects can't explain away. 'Fall of Light is highly recommended to those readers who enjoy exploring the genre overlap of dark fantasy and horror, and it would also make a great addition to any library collection for teen readers.'
Next, Kestrell tries Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth a cunning story of zombies and adolescent coming-of-age, and, according to Kestrell, 'is an outstanding example of how a classic monster story can be reimagined as a complex and original novel and Carrie Ryan's crisp, clear prose has created a tense, action-packed novel which is difficult to put down.' This review garners Kestrell an Excellence in Writing Award.
Next up, Matthew Winslow gives Purple and Black, by K.J. Parker, a disappointed grade. The short novella is based on the Roman Empire, but 'shortness is also the main problem I had with Purple and Black -- there is too much going on in the plot to make the twists unexpected. Even a superficial reader can see what is coming, and so the time that Parker spends developing the background story via the letters is mostly wasted.'
Leona Wisoker says of Janine Cross' Touched By Venom -- Book One of the Dragon Temple Saga that 'This has to be one of the most unusual series I've picked up in recent years. . . . Dragons, in this series, hover somewhere between demi-gods on earth and holy slaves upon whose services are built the entire political structure of the world; not an approach I've seen before, especially linked to the extensive, blatant violence and eroticism on almost every page.'
To paraphrase Michael M. Jones's review of This Is the Voice (below), what can be said about the Oysterband that hasn't already been said by the Green Man reviewers, who seem to surely be some of the band's most vocal and articulate fans? For example, as Debbie Skolnik relates in her review of Here I Stand (also below), 'I have to confess right up front that the Oysters, (as they are familiarly known), are one of the few bands whose releases I anticipate with an eagerness usually reserved for unopened birthday presents, [and] dreams such as winning the lottery [and] being able to quit my day job.' But where many fans would stop at this profuse level of appreciation, the GMR staff are then able to follow up with why this is so, and why you should do the same.
In his review of the band's early albums, Celtic musician Ed Dale offers a concise history for the uninitiated along with a true fan's appreciation for the band's growth process. 'These LPs prove that the Oysters were always good, but have nevertheless gotten much better.'
Chuck Lipsig examines 1987's Wide Blue Yonder, finding lyrics that are by turns political and obscure while the tunes 'range from out-and-out rock to American bluegrass to Irish traditional without missing a beat.' He calls it 'a worthwhile recording for all who enjoy folk-rock.'
Rowan Inish writes that Deserters (1992), and especially its title track, 'announces , , , a new sort of Oysterband sound, one dependent on full-blown, meticulously arranged songs' and that it begins 'the finest period in the Oysterband's long and illustrious history,' which includes the next two albums.
Following Deserters the next year was Holy Bandits, which Lars Nilsson recommends 'to fans and . . . to people like myself who are not die-hard fans' as it begins and ends strongly but does not reach the heights of the band's 1995 album.
'With The Shouting End of Life,' proclaims Richard Dansky, 'the Oysterband has put its collective foot down firmly on the rock side of the folk-rock equation,' citing its 'incredible rage' combined with 'gleefully flippant word play' and the violin work of Ian Telfer as particular high points. Sounds like a classic.
Cat Eldridge covers two live releases, calling Alive and Shouting 'a very, very lively selection' that 'capture[s] their live energy' but is missing 'any tunes that are not part of songs.' Alive and Acoustic is an excellent companion, 'a quieter . . . album [where] John Jones' amazingly good voice is on full display. . . . [And it] does have the tunes missing on the previous album. . . . Bliss!'
Gary Whitehouse goes diving into 1998's Pearls from the Oysters (a '30-track, two-CD set [that covers] the Oysterband's middle years') and finds 'a frustratingly mixed bag on which the band shows its potential but often fails to live up to the promise. If you are a longtime fan, you probably have all four of the albums from which the songs on this set are drawn. If you're not, I doubt this set will convert you.'
Debbie Skolnik observes that Here I Stand, the Oysterband's next studio venture, 'has a more pop-oriented feel' and is 'also more introspective in nature . . . one of those albums that doesn't give up all its secrets in the first few listenings.'
Meanwhile, Michael M. Jones recommends the This Is the Voice EP for the uninitiated, calling it 'a sampler, containing a mere four tracks, two of which can also be found on . . . Here I Stand,' and proclaiming '[I] loved every minute of it. . . . These guys are good.'
The next year's EP, Ways of Holding On (Waiting for the Sun) gets high marks from Kim Bates. 'This EP shows that the political can give way to the personal, and offers up the valley that inevitably follows the mountain top using some of their better original material from [Here I Stand].'
With a dearth of releases across the turn of the century, it seems a good time to focus on the band's live performances for a tick. Vonnie Carts-Powell saw them at Leadmill in Sheffield, UK in February 1999, and her review begins very simply with 'Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.' Later she waxes poetic on the experience -- 'The drums and bass guitar rattle your rib cage and shock your feet off the ground, while the fiddle, Strat, and squeezebox provide the tune that ensures you come down dancing.'
Chris Woods reviewed two concerts at the Congleton Town Hall, one on December 4, 1999 (The Last Oysterband Gig of the Millennium), and another on December 8, 2001. Of the 1999 show, he says, 'The best gigs are like this one, when most of the people attending know the band's work. . . . They may not know all the words... but most of the choruses are easy, and there is often more volume from the floor than from the stage on the classic songs. All [John Jones] has to do is stop singing … and the audience just take over the vocals.'
At the same venue, two years later, Chris writes, 'Over the past couple of years Oysterband have not introduced much new material to their set. . . . This time around however there was a noticeable quantity of new material and some rather different arrangements.' Unfortunately, the titles of this new material eluded him, since the 'Oysterband don't stop playing long enough or often enough to do anything boring like intros or giving titles. . . . However all the new tunes and songs were strong material which fit into the Oyster's existing style.'
Just a few months before in August, Ed Dale had seen the band at Richards on Richards Street in Vancouver. 'The performance was outstanding -- a long single set offering a full range of Oyster standards played with energy, commitment and passion, followed [by] three ovations and encores. . . . The diehard fan ... was bound to be disappointe by the many songs left unsung. But after close to two hours of near nonstop music, it's hard to complain.'
2002 finally saw a new studio album, Rise Above. Vonnie says, 'In the past, the Oysterband has given me everything I want from music -- a sinewy strength; musical roots and simplicity; sheer skill with instruments and words; a beat that I can dance and stomp and rejoice with; and idealism based on a lot of love for people -- without getting pretentious. This album continues in the same vein.' In addition, 'the songs resonate with the riffs and themes and lyrics of so many previous works that Rise Above feels like a "Best Of" album -- of all new songs.'
Oyster Origins 2 -- Twenty Golden Tie-Slackeners Plus is a compilation of some of the band's early instrumentals, and Kim Bates offers 'a word of caution here -- because it doesn't have the Oysters' early selection of traditional songs or their fledgling efforts at original songs, some fans may find it more difficult to parse for clues as to what the band later became [but] I just like the music.'
25 is yet another EP, this one celebrating the band's 25th anniversary. As Kim notes, 'This EP of four new tracks and three previously unreleased tracks ... shows the Oysterband in a thoughtful, yet defiant, mood. . . . It's also a mature work in the best sense of the word -- there is depth here that is difficult to achieve until you've lived a while.'
Before the Flood (a.k.a. Oyster Origins 1) is the companion to Twenty Golden Tie-Slackeners that pulls all of its material from the abovementioned 'Early Years' albums. Vonnie states that 'One can think of this collection as either revisionist history or merciful editing,' and concludes that 'I've enjoyed the band's evolution over the years, but I like where they started from, too.'
Fiddler and general trouble maker Jack Merry raves over the film of Oysterband -- The 25th Anniversary Concert, calling it 'a fine mix of songs and tunes . . . done with the intelligence, energy, and sense of fun . . . on everything else the Oysters have done. . . . If you haven't seen the finest folk rock band in Britain, this is your chance to do so.'
Kim Bates compares the 2006 live release Northern Lights with one of its predecessors, Alive and acoustic, and finds that 'each release has different strengths.' In the end, however, 'As an acoustic recording, Northern Lights is superior to Alive and Acoustic, but it fails as a representation of a live Oysterband experience.'
Kim opines that 2007's Meet You There -- the Oysterband's first studio album since Rise Above -- 'finds the band grayer, more pensive, and, I'm relieved to report, still angry. . . . They may be long in the tooth, but those teeth are still sharp.' And Kim concludes with a hopeful message that will do just as well to close out this section -- 'The Oysterband's visions remain relevant and inspiring; they are a creative force whose power to delight and challenge is only growing with time.'
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 Year's Best Fantasy & Horror anthology.
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 a properly poured pint of Guinness while listening to Roger Zelazny tell a tale, he'll try to answer your question!
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Entire Contents Copyright 1993 - 2009, Green Man Review, a publication of Le hérisson de sommeil Compagnie d'édition except where specifically noted such as the illustration here of the album cover for the Oysterband's 1982 album, English Rock and Roll The Early Years (1800-1850).
A metafictional postscript -- all actual living beings referred to in the Green Man metanarrative has agreed to be there. Really. Truly. Confused? Just set back and enjoy our stories within stories. And do keep in mind that opinions expressed in the metanarritve do not necessarily reflect the views of Green Man Review or that of Le hérisson de sommeil Compagnie d'édition. They might, they might not. Any resemblance in Continuity to persons, places, or times of anyone or anywhere living or dead, is purely coincidental unless otherwise noted. Those who know differently are unlikely to admit their involvement.
Uploaded 18 April, 2009 LLS