'You would hardly believe, friends, what cries of satisfaction and delight filled the marketplace at the resounding noise of that bagpipe and the return of the muleteer, for every one thought him gone. The dancing had flagged and the company were about to disperse when he made his appearance once more on the piper's stone. Instantly such a hubbub arose! no longer four to eight couples were dancing, but sixteen to thirty-two, joining hands, skipping, shouting, laughing, so that the good God himself couldn't have got a word in edgewise. And presently everyone in the marketplace, old and young, children who couldn't yet use their legs, grandfathers tottering on theirs, old women jigging in the style of their youth, awkward folk who couldn't get the time or the tune -- they all set to spinning; and, indeed, it is a wonder the clock on the parish church didn't spin too.'-- George Sand, The Bagpipers

 

28th of March, 2004

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Hello. This is Donna Bird. They've asked me to step in this week and take you on a visit to one of our neighbors just down the street from our office building -- the urban campus of the Charles L. Dodgson School of the Imagination, named by admirers of the mathematician who authored Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. The School offers a variety of programs to people of all ages who are interested in learning new ways of thinking and doing.

The Dodgson School is a private institution, handsomely endowed by a group of highly successful scientists, writers, visual and performing artists whose identities are known only to the very small permanent staff of the school. Occasional rumors suggest that the school's endowment derives from treasure carried west across the Silk Route in the thirteenth century, but no one knows that for sure...

Most of the buildings on campus are named for people whose imagination (and eccentricity) have inspired others. For example, we have the Richard Feynmann Physics Laboratory and Observatory, the Bela Bartok Conservatory of Music, the Edward Gorey Creative Writing House and the Charles Babbage Hall of Mathematics and Computer Science. Some of the world's greatest (not necessarily most famous) architects designed the buildings to take advantage of native materials, landscape features, and conservation practices. Well, they did allow a sense of whimsy to permeate the designs, too -- for example, the courtyard in front of the Gilbert and Sullivan Theatre features a real merry-go-round, populated with mythical creatures like dragons and pushmipullyus and cameleopards.

One of the biggest attractions on campus is the Theodore S. Geisel Early Childhood Development Centre. It's built like an open wheel, with a splendid playground at the hub and separate play/rest areas for kids of different ages in the spokes. Because so many of the people affiliated with the Dodgson School believe that the imagination is at its peak in early childhood, many of the faculty and staff compete to spend time in the Geisel Centre, observing and participating in the games and storytelling.

In addition to the urban campus, the Dodgson School owns a large farm on the other side of Oberon's Wood, accessible by a narrow gravel road. With the participation of students and faculty from the school, the farm staff maintains livestock (a small dairy herd, some beef cattle, chickens, pigs and geese -- and of course horses for riding) and grows flowers, trees, fruits and vegetables. The farm also provides a facility for conducting field tests on new crop varieties and new forms of integrated pest management. (Everything is organic, of course -- none of those nasty synthetic nitrogen-based fertilizers!) The fishpond is stocked with lake trout and used for ice skating in winter. The gently rolling grain fields make a perfect location for cross-country ski trails. (Snowmobiles are not allowed!)

Most of the School's faculty members (from day care workers to professors) receive appointments ranging in length from one to three years. They are chosen by the Inner Circle of Supporters based on reports from the field concerning their special teaching talents and their active commitment to fostering their own and others' imaginations. Students at the school get to express their preferences in an annual meeting that is quite an event. The faculty members spend about half of their work time at the School teaching and the rest engaged in their own creative pursuits, whatever they might be. Many of them have been to the School before, either as students or as participants in or facilitators of summer workshops. Some of them live in cottages on campus, while others prefer to take apartments in the nearby neighborhoods of Samhain.

The Dodgson School of the Imagination is not Hogwarts or Miss Cackles' Academy. People don't come here to learn how to fly brooms or concoct potions or render themselves invisible. Depending on the composition of the resident faculty at any given time, they may study astronomy or biology or history or ancient languages and literature. This being a non-traditional educational institution, they are just as likely to study Sufi dancing, Macedonian cuisine, furniture making, plain and fancy needlework, beekeeping and rose gardening. The philosophy that guides the Dodgson experience says that everyone has an imagination, that imagination flourishes when exposed to a variety of learning experiences, and that imagination is the aspect of intelligence best able to grasp the interconnectedness among different aspects of learning.

There are no grades at the Dodgson School, in either the sense of age-segregated classes or the sense of letters marking the quality of people's achievement in a given area. Sure, some of the classes are predominantly people of a certain age range, but if an eight-year-old is already fluent in English and Japanese, she can participate in Japanese literature classes with people old enough to be her grandparents. Students are placed in classes based on demonstrated ability. For more experiential learning situations, like building construction, they are given roles based on other important factors, such as size and strength and maturity. Classes are typically small enough so that instructors can work collaboratively with students on forming qualitative assessments of accomplishments at the end of a defined learning period.

'While Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling didn't write the wonderful stories in the more than twenty anthologies they've brought us over the years (for a list of all of their anthologies we've reviewed at Green Man, look in our fiction index under either of their last names), they still deserve our first praise and gratitude -- without their expertise and unflagging search for new stories being written in corners and playas all over the world, we'd never get to read so much that is 'counter, original, spare, strange. . . fickle, freckled (who knows how?) with swift, slow, sweet, sour, adazzle, dim.''

And now we have another delightful anthology from the revered pair, and another Excellence in Writing Award for Grey Walker, who takes a careful and wonderful look at The Faery Reel.

Donna Bird begins with a piece of historical fiction: '...most of the action of The Floating Book takes place in Venice during the latter half of the fifteenth century. The von Speyer brothers arrive in town with a Gutenberg printing press, ready to set up shop and sell 'fast books' to the literate and diversion-seeking Venetian aristocracy and borghese (middle class). Both brothers marry local women and hire local editors, typesetters and press operators. Beset with supply and marketing challenges, the business struggles for a long while, only becoming moderately successful after publishing a book that includes the erotic works of the Roman poet Catullus.' Now that sounds fascinating. Find out more in her Excellence in Writing Award winning review of Michelle Lovric's 'complex and fascinating story', The Floating Book.

Now, we jump from historical fiction to futuristic fantasy. 'In its simplest form, The Twist is about a death wish.' Oh? Tell us more! 'The back cover blurb describes the book as The Matrix meets A Fistful of Dollars....' Oh my, that does sound interesting! 'The Twist may suit those who want to try something unusual, and prefer escapist chaos over clarity.' So says Nathan Brazil -- now, don't you want to go read the rest of his review of Richard Calder's The Twist? I thought you would!

Next, Craig Clarke turns us toward alternate history: ''It was forty years ago today' -- many paraphrased the famous Sergeant Pepper line -- when the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, effectively introducing them to the United States and beginning the avalanche that would result in the British Invasion and everything that followed. But what if that hadn't happened? What if the four lads never made it out of Liverpool? What if the Beatles -- with their constantly clashing personalities -- had imploded before they 'exploded'? What if, I'm trying to say, we lived in a world that exhibited no influence in any way by the Fab Four?' Craig finds out in Larry Kirwan's Liverpool Fantasy.

'It is indeed worth noting that Manna from Heaven is the first major collection of Zelazny's short fiction in 15 years. Though some of the pieces here have been reprinted elsewhere, there is a great deal of material here that has not been easily accessible without paying inordinately large sums of money for obscure collections and zines where they were originally printed. That Zelazny did some of his finest writing in the short form cannot be disputed; that he also could stretch out a thin premise beyond its breaking point is also cannot be disputed.' Did Cat Eldridge find this Zelazny collection worthwhile? Find out in his thoughtful review.

David Kidney explains 'God Bless the Child is the classic song written by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr. and if you don't know it, you should. If you haven't heard Ms. Holiday sing, run out right now and pick up one of the many 'best of' collections that reside in most CD shops.' God Bless the Child is also a children's book with the lyrics of the song illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, and David says that Pinkney's paintings 'lift the lyrics to new heights'.

'As a child,' reminisces Zina Lee, 'I discovered that [Jane] Yolen is the sort of author who can perform that alchemy that marks the best writers of fairy tales and fantasy: when I'd raised my eyes from the book and went about my business, I discovered that new possibilities existed behind everything.' (It is for this very reason that Yolen tends to be a favorite among Green Man staffers.) So Zina was more than happy to review a new Yolen collection: 'Mightier Than the Sword: World Folktales for Strong Boys (illustrated by Raul Colón) is a pleasantly diverse collection of folk tales, each teaching the value of strength and power without resorting to force. Similar to her collection for girls (Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls), the retellings of these fables are enjoyable, written and formatted to be easily read out loud, and lovingly researched. They are moral fables for modern tastes and cultural mores.' Kudos and an Excellence in Writing Award go to Zina for this superb review.

Brian Jacques' Redwall books are modern classics. Patrick O'Donnell takes us back to one of the earlier books in the series with this review: 'As we know all too well from watching the news and reading the paper, life is not always easy, especially for children. But children possess an inner strength that, with the right encouragement, can be tapped to bring out the best in them. That's what Mariel of Redwall is all about.'

Finally, Leona Wisoker takes us back to the early days of the fantasy genre, with a loving look at a new volume of old stories from Night Shade Books. 'Long, long ago, in a world far more uptight about hem lines and shirt collars than we are today, [Karl] Wagner's Kane joined the ranks of timeless heroes Conan and Fafhrd on the printed page. Fans of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber will find much to enjoy in these stories, but Midnight Sun bends on a path all its own, away from those 'other' barbarians, reminding us of the origins of the fantasy genre along the way.'

Huw Collingbourne continues his ruminations on the tarot with the second part of his thoroughly researched series: 'If my potted history of tarot and fortune telling has whetted your appetite (or, alternatively, caused you to smoke at the nostrils and bay for my blood) then you will no doubt be itching to learn more. Here I'll whiz through some of the best books and tarot decks in my own collection. Bearing in mind that there are thousands of decks and books available, this can't hope to be a comprehensive review. But it should, at least, point you in the direction of some of the most interesting, beautiful and historically significant decks and some of the most readable and informative books.' Find out more as he discusses Building a Tarot Library.

Reynard here. I got drafted by Jack to write these notes this outing as he and the other musicians in the building are celebrating a new band that Bela, our resident Balkan violinist, formed this week. Now I admit that the composition of the various bands and the names of bands here can be confusing -- I'm seen, to name but three bands that have called this place home down the centuries, the Painted Ladies and Gentlemen, the New St. Georgians, and Little Beggar Girls and Boys! What's interesting about this band, Shades of Grey, is that Bela and the other musicians claim that one of the band members is the poor street fiddler whose name might have been Jack that ran afoul of the law around the time that John Gay was penning The Beggar's Opera. Fatally afoul of the law, as the present Jack sadly notes. Supposedly hung on the spot where the Neverending Session plays in the Pub. Certainly the players say that there's a cold, haunting presence there, but musicians have lively imaginations. Bela claims he's a bleedin' good fiddler, so why not let him play?

I'd give Craig Clarke a dram of our finest single malt on the house but it sounds he doesn't need it as he details in his Excellence in Writing Award winning review of two releases from the Saw Doctors: 'I've said it before and it's still true: the music of the Saw Doctors is like a dose of Prozac -- I listen to it and I get happy. All the benefits, none of the side effects, and it's cheaper than a prescription' He goes on to say, 'Live in Galway -- in both its manifestations -- is a wonderful document.'

Country musician Dana Robinson's Avenue of the Saints (was spot on for new staffer Rick Hayes: 'Not too often do I like a collection of songs right away. This one I did! Dana Robinson has put together a group of songs that are lyrical and thoughtful, yet also melodic. I have become an instant fan!'

Ahhh, bluegrass, that bastard child of Celtic music and a bit more. If you like it, David Kidney has a CD for you: 'For lovers of history, bluegrass, and just good picking, Muleskinner offers an hour of pure mountain goodness.'

Just savour the identity of the band and who wrote the lyrics: Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, I Got Stoned and I Missed It: The Best from Shel Silverstein, 1971-1979. Wonderfully weird, isn't it? As David notes, 'Shel Silverstein was a true renaissance man, author, cartoonist, singer/songwriter and man about town. Raven's collection of his songs as done by Dr. Hook shines a new light into a dark corner of rock 'n' roll some people might have ignored. Or, maybe you just got stoned and missed it.'

David finishes out with his Excellence in Writing Award winning review of Tunesmith: 'Jimmy Webb was a millionaire by the time he was twenty-one years old! Why? Because he was a Tunesmith, a composer, a songwriter. He had written hits for Glen Campbell ('By the Time We Get to Phoenix'), Fifth Dimension ('Up, Up and Away') and many, many more. Raven Records, that antipodean bastion of remastered collections, has gathered these songs and dozens more to create Tunesmith: The Songs of Jimmy Webb, a double disc set which presents the hits and the misses. It's engrossing listening.'

Peter Massey suspects that A' The Bairns 'O' Adam (Hamish Henderson Tribute) will not be a CD most folks looking at CDs in their local music stall will pick up: 'With a tribute album, if you are not familiar with the artist as a person or what he has done, then looking at the album cover in a record store is about as much use to you as a one legged man in a bum kicking contest. I fear this may be the case with this album for most people who live outside Scotland and Edinburgh in particular.'

Losing Faith by Australian Audrey Auld met with approval from Gary Whitehouse: '[She] offers contrast aplenty, but it's not jarring. Everything fits together in a solid statement of Auld's independence, integrity and grit, as a woman and a musician. Audrey Auld is a welcome addition to the music scene on these shores.'

Never let it be said that Spike Winch is a man who can't express himself! After serving as our bouncer -- and giving a painful new meaning to that job title -- he decided to ask if he could do reviews here just like, as he noted, every ^%@$! else! (What he said in detail was, 'Finally, they've let me review some music all by meself! This little red package wif six scruffy lookin' rock 'n' roll types standin' around lookin' suspicious reminds me of the good ol' days when I usedta stand around lookin' suspicious. Now I just lie around lookin' scruffy. . . it's nearly the same thing!) So he looks this week at Yusef Lateef, Adam Rudolph and Go: Organic Orchestra's In the Garden CD which he says of, 'Yusef Lateef describes the music in the insert. He says it's 'thread bare lubricated alacrity, celestial effervescent edge. . . leap into the eternal ellipsoidal mix eternally, never to spiccato again.' I must say, that's exactly wot I wuz thinkin' as I listened to this #$%^. Adam Rudolph calls it all 'new musical concepts.' I fink that I will stick wif the good ole musical concepts that I grew up wif. Thank you very #$%^in' much!' He also reviews The Miniatures' coma kid which was 'recorded in Hamilton, Ontario. . . Dave [Kidney]'s home town! An' some of it is quite listenable, some of it does get a bit edgy. But for the most part it seems too #$%^in predictable. Maybe live they'd great. . . but too much of this will put this old kid into a coma!'

So... after the description at the beginning of this week's issue, you may be wondering, 'Who attends the Dodgson School of the Imagination?' Well, the little ones at the Geisel Centre are primarily the offspring of staff, faculty and students at the School, along with a few children from town. The town and the school itself are also the primary sources of the students in grades kindergarten through twelve. Many parents settle or remain in Samhain so that they can send their children to the Dodgson School. It's been around long enough so that three or more generations of some families have attended. While there are no dormitories for the younger students, a few from far away live on campus, typically in residences with faculty or staff, while their parents travel or work abroad. Adult students, who learn about the School by word of mouth, come from all over the world.

As a very well-endowed private school, Dodgson can easily afford to provide complete and partial scholarships to deserving students. Admission is on the basis of portfolios submitted by applicants, recommendations from people who know the applicants' work, and interviews with members of the Inner Circle of Supporters. Imagination is an elusive characteristic, and the people who are mostly likely to be accepted are not always the ones who have the most impressive credentials.

 

21st of March, 2004

'The first day of spring was once the time for taking the young virgins into the fields, there in dalliance to set an example in fertility for nature to follow. Now we just set the clocks an hour ahead and change the oil in the crankcase.'
-- E.B. White

Maria Nutick here. It's Spring again, and the Green Man offices are abuzz with excitement. That's meant quite literally, by the way. The bees we keep down in Oberon's Wood to provide the kitchen with fresh honey tend to swarm when the weather warms up, and one of the hives decided for some reason to settle in Jack's office. Under the desk. Judging by the yelping and swearing, Jack was unpleasantly surprised. (That's is a bit of an understatement! Even Hamish, our resident hedgehog who was sleeping under me desk, got stung by them! -- Jack) Currently he's out in the shed, tracking down a bee veil and some gloves so he can coax our little friends out to a more comfortable (both for Jack and for the bees) location.

The Library is closed to browsers for the moment, as Liath is supervising the annual spring cleaning. If you need anything, just shout through the door and she'll send out a brownie with the item you're looking for. Likewise the Pub; the Equinox celebration last night was as wild as wild can be, and the Neverending Session players are gingerly playing some soothing instrumentals as Reynard and his crew clean up broken glass and spilled drink. Anyone needing a libation can sit out on the patio, and one of the Pub wait staff will be with you shortly. I wouldn't advise hanging about in the kitchen, either, or you'll be put to work painting eggs. Yes, I said painting -- Easter's not far off, and we hand paint our eggs. This year we've put two of our most artistic staffers, Zina Lee and Rebecca Scott, in charge of design. I believe Zina said something about reproducing scenes from the Book of Kells on a series of quail eggs?

I'll be heading out to the Meadow, myself, as that's where the real fun is. We're having a birthday party: Master Stephen Hunt turns a very Douglas Adams-ish 42 today! We've got both a suckling pig and a lamb roasting on spits over an open fire, as well as mounds of cold fried chicken and a whole chilled smoked salmon. There's a cheese tray three feet across, with four (!) kinds of aged extra-sharp cheddar, Danish havarti, baked brie, a tub of Stilton, rosemary infused sheep's cheese, pecorino, thin sliced romano, and Spanish manchego, with a dozen different types of cracker besides. We're serving salads, of course: fresh garden salad, spinach Caesar, sour cream potato, macaroni, and tomato mozzarella salad dressed with balsamic vinegar. Fresh squeezed lemonade and iced tea; chocolate milk for the kids; strong coffee for those of us still recovering from last night's festivities. The children are particularly excited about the nine... sorry, ten different kinds of cookies and tarts. And his cake, which we had flown in from the famed Helen Bernhard's Bakery in Portland, Oregon. Well of course we've spared no expense; it's for Steve Hunt, after all!

Why don't you go read some reviews, while I run outside. I don't want to miss Steve blowing out the candles on his white chocolate and hazelnut cake.


Cat Eldridge here. Our Featured Review this week is from Free Reed, a CD company that any fan of British folk music will know well! Previous superb releases from them include the Martin Carthy Box Set, The Carthy Chronicles, and Fairport unConventional, not to mention Wake the Vaulted Echoes: A Celebration of Peter Bellamy! The newest offering from them is The Transports: Silver Edition, an updating of The Transports: A Ballad Opera by Peter Bellamy. The lucky bastard to review this Stephen Hunt is who admits in his Excellence in Writing Award winning review that he was remiss years ago regarding the original release: '1977 seemed like an important year to be a music obsessed teenager in England's green and pleasant land. The front pages of the tabloids were temporarily dominated by rock 'n' roll as (firstly) The Sex Pistols injected some actual excitement into HM The Queen's Silver Jubilee celebrations, and (secondly) Elvis permanently 'left the building.' In the midst of all the spit and tears, the release of The Transports: A Ballad Opera by Peter Bellamy didn't really register on my youthful radar. It would be years before I realised that I'd actually missed the year's most extraordinary record....' Stephen makes up for being remiss oh so many years ago by giving you, our readers, an in-depth look at this important release. As he notes later in his review, 'I can't think of another label that demonstrates the commitment to accurate information and comprehensive detail that Free Reed consistently applies to their recordings. With The Transports: Silver Edition, Free Reed has given Peter Bellamy's brilliant Ballad Opera the format it deserves, and presented it to a whole new audience. I hope that they sell a million!' Having listened to other copy that Free Reed sent, I wholeheartedly concur!

Christine Doiron begins with a look at a children's book which she calls 'a lovely book with a lovely aim'. She explains that in her youth '...Burleigh Muten was fascinated and inspired by the legend of Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, moon, childbirth, and nature. She compiled this encyclopedia of goddesses from around the world in an effort to spark a similar interest in other children.' Read Christine's review of Goddesses: A World of Myth and Magic to find out if this effort works for Christine.

Next up is the Chief, Cat Eldridge, who spent some recent illness-induced downtime catching up on his reading. Here he reviews an anthology of stories by authors who tend to be favorites here at Green Man. Cat says that what he wants out of an anthology is 'to find out what authors, both known and unknown to me, have published that I somehow missed. Just as I eagerly await the review copies of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror in summer so I can sit down and see what the editors thought was good, an anthology like this, though smaller than that massive work, often holds treasures that I didn't know existed.' Read his review of editor Patrick Neilsen Hayden's New Magics to see what gems he discovered this time.

'If a geography of human suffering is ever written, the tiny West Indian island of Barbados will surely get a chapter all its own. Though it's now described as an island paradise, in the 17th century it was known as 'the white man's graveyard,' and likened to 'a dunghill' with the planters at the top of the heap greedily pecking through the shit.' So says Liz Milner, who once lived in Barbados, and who reviews a book this week set during those early, inhumane plantation years. Liz picks up an Excellence in Writing Award for her thoroughly riveting analysis of Kate McCafferty's Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl.

Kelly Sedinger tells us '[I]n what I like to call 'The Geek Genres' of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, a common method for genre participants to wallow in 'geekiness' is the venerable crossover. (And before I go any farther, I should indicate that I hold geekiness, in all but the most extreme forms, to be a virtue.)' He goes on to explain that 'sometimes a crossover comes along that's so obvious that I can't believe no one ever thought of it before. Such is the case with Shadows Over Baker Street. This book is a collection of stories in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and his erstwhile companion Dr. John Watson confront the mysteries of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. As soon as I saw the cover to this book, I thought, 'Of course! How did no one ever think of doing this!'' Kelly enjoyed the book put together by Michael Reaves and John Pelan, and we enjoyed Kelly's review of Shadows Over Baker Street.

Tracy Hickman of Dragonlance fame teams up with his wife Laura with a new series called The Bronze Canticles. Of the first book, Mystic Warrior, reviewer Elizabeth Vail says 'what kept me reading were the fantastic details of the tale. Dialogue and style aside, the story is creative, colourful, and completely original...the Hickmans never let the cat out of the bag too soon. They dangled juicy titbits of knowledge in front of me like a carrot in front of a plodding donkey the whole way, urging me ever forward, tormenting my rampant curiosity.'

Finally, Gary Whitehouse is in a Beatle mood this week, as he brings us both a book review and a film review of materials involving the Fab Four. First up is his book review, in which he advises us that 'Larry Kane indeed got a ticket to ride. He was the only American journalist in the Beatles official press group on their groundbreaking 1964 U.S. tour. The tour changed the way rock 'n' roll concerts were played, it changed a lot of people's minds about the Beatles, and it changed Larry Kane's life. Nearly 40 years later, he's finally gotten around to writing about it. With Ticket To Ride, he joins the legions of writers whose tomes feed the still insatiable appetite of Beatles fans.' Gary, in turn, adds another Excellence in Writing Award to the legions already lining his shelves.

Staffer Huw Collingbourne has amassed quite a lot of knowledge about tarot, not to mention quite a large library of tarot books and decks. In this essay, the first of three parts, Huw explains a bit about the history of tarot. As Huw says, '[H]undreds, maybe thousands, of books have been written about the tarot. More still have been written about divination or 'cartomancy' with ordinary playing cards and fortune telling decks known as 'oracles'. In all probability, you have neither the time nor the inclination to read all those books. To save you that trouble, I have condensed the entire history of fortune telling with cards into the few words which you see before you. Now, maybe you think that such a terse account is likely to be hopelessly incomplete, distorted, biased and downright unfair. And maybe you have a point. Then again, level-headed objectivity is not a quality which features largely in the history of tarot, so let's just say that I consider myself in good company.' Go read All in the Cards to find out more!

In 1964, The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was, as Gary Whitehouse says, 'a seminal moment'. Gary's been watching a DVD: Ed Sullivan: Four Complete Historic Shows Featuring The Beatles. While Gary was floored by The Fab Four's performances, he was less than impressed with many of the other acts. He notes, 'Thankfully, with DVDs, you can easily skip to the good parts.' Gary picks up another Excellence In Writing Award for his observations.

Jack Merry at your service. Deborah Frost in the Village Voice, an American alternative newspaper, once said that 'Analysing the Breeders may be as useful as deconstructing a good fuck, or for those less carnally inclined, a strawberry shortcake. When it works, you really don't have to discuss it. If it doesn't, you just signal for mas cafe por favor and slosh away.' Now there is s in me humble opinion a major difference between deconstructing an album like Greil Marcus and his ilk are fond of doing and reviewing it here, as our purpose, or so I've heard more than once from the editors, is to both entertain and inform you. So let's see if the reviews this week do that!

Richard Condon found The Rough Guide to Chicago Blues to be both fun and informative but far from perfect: 'It is always easy to gripe about compilations. Every listener probably imagines that he could have made a better job of selecting the artists and songs. Well, this reviewer will not disappoint you. For a start, the track by the obscure falsetto singer Nolan Struck should never have been included: the recording quality is awful and its inclusion would be justified only if it was essential to ensure that a really brilliant musician was included in the absence of anything better. Then there are the omissions: why is there nothing from Howlin' Wolf, from either of the two fine musicians who called themselves Sonny Boy Williamson, from the wonderful Willie Dixon or the sometimes sublime Jimmy Reed, men whose recordings haunted my adolescence? When it comes to pianists, I miss the mighty Memphis Slim (and although this is purportedly a Chicago collection, there are several musicians included from other cities, including Memphis). Pleased though I am to have discovered the talents of John Littlejohn and Robert Nighthawk, I would gladly accept their omission if it meant that better and more iconic Chicago blues musicians obtained a place on the CD.' Richard receives a well-deserved Excellence in Writing Award for this excellent review!

Peter Massey found Michael William Harrison's First Time 'Round to be very entertaining: 'If you have liking for good honest folk music, recorded 'live' or in its natural form, then this is an album for you. I define good honest folk music as the sort of thing you are most likely to hear if you visit a folk club. As most venues (clubs) are strapped for cash, they can't always afford top line bands with four or more members. Even solo artists, when recording an album, will import talented guest musicians to finish of the overall sound. Nothing wrong with this, as it does make folk music easy on the ear and more acceptable to non-folkies. But it's not the same as what you'll hear at the club.'

No'am Newman, an Israeli with a deep and affectionate interest in Celtic music, got a CD, Ceilizemer's Shalom Ireland, which appeared perfect for him, but wasn't: 'As the sleeve notes say, 'To combine traditional Irish music with klezmer is a compelling, but little explored, idea.' To the outside eye, one might imagine that there is a great deal of common ground between these two traditions, but maybe there is a reason why that compelling idea has not yet been explored. I admit that, before listening, I was expecting either Irish tunes played in correspondence to a klezmer scale, or klezmer tunes played on pipes and whistles. But that's not what we have on this fourteen track (55 minutes) disc. Generally speaking, the Irish-sourced tunes sound like Irish tunes, and the klezmer tunes sound like klezmer, with very little cross-pollination in action.' Read his entertaining review to see why this was so!

Marc Broussard's Momentary Setback, Jens Hausmann's Back on the Track, and Penny Nichols's I'll Never Be That Old Again are, according to John O'Regan, 'a diverse bag... ... two American singer songwriters dealing in varied parts of the Roots arena, and an American born guitarist/singer now based in Germany. The music is equally varied, from big-sounding acoustic rock with mainstream potential to warm intimate country/folk crossovers and cool continental jazz/blues/folk combinations. Does that whet the inquisitive appetite? Well, if so, drop in.'

Another omni from John finishes off this issue. As he says, 'In this review, lesser known blues men and Southern Soul legends, in posthumous collections of their many and varied wares, juggle for attention with a recent release from an outfit alive and kicking. One thing that this trio of releases has in common, as well as covering the waters of soul and blues, is a refreshing honesty and musical flair.' Go read his review Cooper Terry & The Nightlife's Take a Ride with Cooper T, Johnnie Taylor's There's No Good in Goodbye, Chris Daniels, and The Kings and Friends' The Spark. to see if you'll be singing the blues too!

Well, I hope you enjoyed this issue! Why don't you go have a piece of cake, and don't forget to wish Master Hunt a Happy Birthday. He'll be opening his gifts in just a moment. I do hope he likes mine. Finding it wasn't too hard, but figuring out how to wrap it was a real pain! It kept struggling...

 

14th of March, 2004

'Don't worry if what you know you can't prove or haven't studied.'
-- Natalie Goldberg

In case any of you have missed the announcements, St. Patrick's Day is almost here. I've (me being Grey Walker) been wandering around the Web, looking for obscure St. Patrick's Day traditions. There are going to be parades everywhere, of course. Green beer. Sequinned shamrocks. In Alexandria, Virginia, USA, I know a woman who has a bright orange suit that she only wears once a year. On St. Patrick's Day.

Is it about being Irish? It can be. Is it about wishing you were Irish? Sure. Is it about drinking too much green beer? For some people (though Jack is scornful of such folks. If the beer's good, don't add anything to it, that's his opinion!).

But I've also seen a lot of sites on the Web that claim to tell you 'who the real St. Patrick was.' In a way, I care. But in a way, I don't.

That's what Green Man Review is about, really. Not just who people really are or were, but how we've come to remember them. The songs about them. Why they're important to us. And how our memories and ways of celebrating them have changed over the generations. Sure, we've got plenty of serious, detailed reviews about historical and anthropological books here, in which we examine whether or not the author's work is credible (for an example, see Lisa Spangenberg's superb scholarly review of Taliesin: The Last Celtic Shaman, by John Matthews). But we've also got reviews of urban myths (Craig Clarke's eighth issue in The Book of Tales column) and of how ballads have grown from scant historical evidence (my review of Sandy Ives' The Bonny Earl of Murray: The Man, the Murder, the Ballad -- including a fascinating look at 'mondegreens').

So celebrate St. Pat's with seriousness or silliness. Follow your family's traditions, or drink green beer while singing 'When Irish Eyes Are Smiling'. Wear a shamrock, or an orange suit. Or try something new. Like this week's reviews, perhaps.

Reynard here. I heard the editors grumbling loudly over a workingman's lunch -- well, they claimed they were working -- that far too many 'zines on the net don't seem to bother to edit their content 'tall. Not here! A good writer like Peter Massey needs but a light touch when edited, but even he has become a better writer from the process of give and take with the editing staff. And that's how you get the featured music review this outing: Peter's look at Michael Snow's Never Say No to a Jar, the third album in Snow's 'Skelly' trilogy. A 'Skelly' is (friendly) Liverpool slang for someone whose parents came from Ireland. Peter says, 'You can take the lad out of Liverpool, but you will never take the Liverpool out of the lad. Indeed, why the hell would you want to, I ask myself. After all, hasn't Liverpool just been voted European Capital of Culture 2008? These days Michael Snow is fortunate to live in Nashville, Tennessee, but he was born and raised in Liverpool. He has been in the music business, one way or another, nearly all his life. Starting in the Mersey Beat era, he played in a band called The Barons, but he now runs a music publishing and recording company in Nashville. A composer of many songs, he is most noted is 'Rossetta'. It was a big hit for Allan Price and Georgie Fame in nine countries. Now, with Never Say No to a Jar, Michael is returning to his roots, re-kindling his embers as the son of Irish immigrants who settled in Liverpool.' Peter receives an Excellence in Writing Award for this insightful review!

Maria Nutick here, stepping in to drop off the featured book review for this week. Our Grey Walker says that '[T]his is a story about twos. How two can be alike, or diametrically opposite. How two can strive against each other, or work together. Light and dark are two. Opposites. But then there's the left hand and the right hand, working together. Or two eyes, essential for depth perception. The combinations are endless. In this story, just a few twos dance a pattern, and we as readers are left tantalized and satisfied.' In this glorious Excellence in Writing Award winning review, she is speaking of Medicine Road, written and illustrated by perennial GMR favorites, 'the two Charleses' (de Lint and Vess.)

Several times a day deliveries come into our mailroom, and found in these deliveries are some of the most interesting tidbits. Consider 'a serious work of scholarship' which 'reads like a post-graduate thesis' reviewed this week by Faith Cormier. A translator by profession, Faith was fascinated by King Artus: A Hebrew Arthurian Romance of 1279. Faith says 'King Artus is translated from what Leviant calls The Hebrew Romance. This is a short manuscript, the only known copy of which is in the Vatican library. The Hebrew Romance is itself a translation into Hebrew of part of a lost Italian version of an Old French manuscript of tales of King Arthur. The Hebrew Romance was produced in 1279, a period when there were very few secular books in Hebrew.'

Kate Danemark is up next, with a biography of a horse. Yes, a horse. As she says in the beginning of her review, '[W]hat's so special about a horse that lived nearly a century ago? Well, this horse was mentioned more times in the newspaper than was Hitler, and this was during World War II.' She's speaking of a horse recently immortalized in a blockbuster film, and of the book upon which that film was based: Seabiscuit, by Laura Hillenbrand.

'I was walking by the paperback display in Barnes & Noble, disappointed that a novel I came for was not in stock...Tropic of Night caught my eye. It could have been the colors on the book — purple and orange, a scene of sunrise — or sunset — over Miami. It could have been something else, one of those little coincidences that makes you pause, just for a minute. I backtracked a few feet, picked up the book and read on the cover, 'Jane Doe ...' blah blah 'anthropologist ... shamanism ...' Hmm, it's starting to sound interesting.... 'Cuban-American police detective ... ritualistic murders ... Miami.' These are a few key words that clued me in to what the book might be about. I opened randomly, sure enough, there's Shango, fierce god of storms, and on another page further along in the book I see Oshun, and Eshu. I like stories that invoke the Orishas; they give another perspective on these powerful spirits. This book seemed to have a good number of references to them; I was intrigued.' So, are you as intrigued as Nellie Levine was? Well then, go read her review of Tropic of Night by Michael Gruber!

Many on the staff will greet Rebecca Scott's review with a lump in the throat, as the 2001 death of the subject of this biography is still incredibly difficult for some of us to fathom. 'This is the funny, sometimes depressing story,' explains Rebecca, 'of a funny, sometimes depressed man. The original twenty-three chapters were written by a then-unknown Englishman named Neil Gaiman. Hints can be found therein of Gaiman's own style, but mostly he borrows from [Douglas] Adams'. This is perfectly understandable, and is even very pleasant, since he does it quite well. These chapters are full of anecdotes, interviews, script excerpts, quotes that were cut from various sources, and other gems.' Go read her review of this updated reprint of Don't Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Pat Simmonds takes us off into an examination of another scholarly work, this one a music tutorial: 'Grey Larsen has condensed a lifetime of learning into this work. For those who have themselves laboured at this art form much of the material in this book will seem obvious or even pointless, but from the beginner's point of view this book must be seen as essential. As Irish Tradional Music becomes ever more popular worldwide, tools such as this book are the only way that people starting out can get even remotely close to a source or a teacher.' Pat picks up an Excellence in Writing Award for this look at The Essential Guide to Irish Flute and Tin Whistle.

Finally, Wes Unruh informs us that 'seventeen prose pieces carve slices of urban decay from the mind of Conrad Williams, a terrifyingly evocative writer who throws images at the reader with a kind of underhandedness that, when it works, leaves behind a warning of just how bad things could get.' Sounds like there's some good stuff in Use Once, Then Destroy! There's some good stuff in this review, too, which is why Wes receives his own Excellence in Writing Award.

Come back next week for more superb book reviews. I'm off to find out which of our reviewers wants to tackle this pile of Francesca Lia Block books that came in this week...

Kim Bates went to a performance by Heather Dale, a singer who is 'committed to the concept of bringing Arthurian traditions into modern consciousness through original songs and contemporary arrangements.' Kim was intrigued by Heather Dale's interpretation of the Arthurian mythos. She was especially struck by the fact that 'Heather has indeed tapped into some of the emotional truths contained within these stories. 'Read her review to see why. If the stories surrounding King Arthur strike as strong a chord with you as they have with Kim, you'll want to jump on the opportunity to learn more about Heather's approach.

Scott Gianelli took in a memorable show by Ronnie Drew, formerly of the legendary Irish group the Dubliners. Ronnie, along with guest performer Mike Hanrahan, delivered an outstanding evening of song and story. Scott gets an Excellence in Writing Award for his review -- read it to get a snapshot of Dublin history through the eyes of a great performer. Take the opportunity to see how Ronnie and Mike brought their memories of Dublin to life. You'll understand why Ronnie Drew 'is not only a cultural icon in his own right, but a great repository of the vast cultural wealth of his native Dublin.'

Jack Merry at your service. Did you notice the new player in the Neverending Session this afternoon? That's Zina Lee, one of our recent additions to the staff. She's an Irish fiddler, writer, designer, and Irish step dancer and teacher (not necessarily in that order). Her company, Aniar Design, specialises in the design, embroidery, and building of Irish step dancing costumes. Rather good, isn't she? The tune they're playing is a favourite of hers, so let's grab a couple of the Bad Frog Beers that a musician from the States brought with him to the Pub as payment for staying here for a few days, and listen for a while!

Fiddler Bonnie Rideout's Celtic Circles album fared very well in the mind's eye of musician Alistair Brown: 'Musically, I cannot fault this recording. The airs are satisfyingly heartbreaking, the jigs are suitably perky, the rants stir the blood. Tune sets work well together. The playing is exquisite. Rich textures are created by the instrumental combinations. Taken as a whole, the album paints a pleasing, if rather nostalgic picture, to be enjoyed with a glass of expensive malt with a fancy label rather than a pint of heavy.' Alistair picks up a well-deserved Excellence in Writing Award!

Craig Clarke says of this Celtic CD that 'The Clumsy Lovers call their music 'raging bluegrass Celtic rock.' Now, I don't know about 'raging,' but there's an infectious energy that permeates every song on their latest release, After the Flood. Fast fiddling (from Andrea Lewis) and banjo picking (courtesy Jason Homey) combine with clever wordplay and emotional truths to make a truly satisfying album.' And a truly satisfying review which is why Craig gets an Excellence in Writing Award.

Faith J. Cormier says Lauren Sheehan's 'Some Old Lonesome Day is a lovely mixture of American folk music, old and new. Several of the songs are quite old, like 'House Carpenter' and 'Careless Love,' while others, like 'The Werewolf,' are very modern, but all have their roots in the same traditions.'

Absolute Animals 1964-1968 is a relief to David Kidney as '[a] while back we looked at a couple of live CDs by Eric Burdon. We were not too happy with what we heard. The I-Band and even The New Animals were disappointing at best, and Burdon's fundamental blues growl was a shadow of itself. This new collection, of forty-year-old classics, offers Eric Burdon at his prime, fronting a series of excellent bands, doing the hits and displaying the grit and drive that made the Animals the best British blues band ever.'

Verlon Thompson's everywhere...yet CD caught David in a particularly mellow moment: 'This is mellow, acoustic stuff, well crafted songs, beautifully and subtly played and sung. It's almost as though Thompson was singing for you in your living room. And, he is one fine guitar player!'

Stephen Stills' Turnin' Back the Pages hit the right note for David: ''Stills's perfectionism, his juxtaposition of rock with Latin beats, his rich harmonies and his fiery guitar playing make me sit up and take notice. There are some fine things happening on these tracks.' (If you don't know who Stills is, you are definitely a wee poor bugger indeed!) David is not a wee poor bugger -- he receives an Excellence in Writing Award!

Cordero is a band that combines Latin music with alternative rock, so what did the often jaded Big Earl Sellar think of their Cordero Live album in his Excellence in Writing Award winning review: 'Y'all wanna know what the coolest thing about being a music critic is? It's when you discover some great band doing something that seems obvious, but you can't ever recall it being attempted before. Cordero is exactly the kind of kick in the ears that makes writing about music so addicting: another jolt to defer the jadeness of tired ears.'

Overall, Pat Simmonds was pleased with 5 Mile Chase's debut album which reflects the rich Irish heritage of the Northeastern USA, but he says 'I would imagine that the next CD from this duo will be very good indeed, given that they will have tucked in a few loose corners here and there and tightened up the overall sound. This is the first traditional-oriented CD that I've come across with a tune dedicated to ice hockey.'

Pat was less than pleased with the self-titled debut effort from Halali which consists of three fiddlers, Hanneke Cassel, Laura Cotese and Lissa Schneckenburger, with Flynn Cohen providing guitar accompaniment. It wasn't that it was a bad effort so much as 'While the music is a great reflection of the New England scene, it lacks some of the grittiness or ethereal qualities of its more traditional contemporaries. Jimmy Noonan's recent release, for instance. There is a softness to this record that is immediately recognisable as being modern American, and one wonders what the outcome would be if the musicians decided to further explore that aspect of their cultural heritage. There are nine pieces in all, a little short perhaps? Not really. The record cruises past the ears at a relaxed pace, and would be a good buy at the gig or festival.' 

A truly great music review has a statement of why the reviewer liked this music in it that makes you want to hear the music now. Mike Stiles does it for me with these words: 'Kalman Magyar is the Eileen Ivers of Gypsy music. I know I don't usually lavish such gargantuan praise, but I'd swear on a pile of my editors' skulls that I'm not wallowing in hyperbole here!' Now go read his review of Kalman Magyar's Exposed and Alexander Fedoriouk and Kalman Magyar's Crossing Paths to see why this is so!

Grey Walker just came in from a walk and says she saw Maggie, our resident corvid, outside. Grey says 'Maggie Pye is alive and well. She would have apologised for her lack of conversation recently, but she's been busy nest building! She'll certainly get in touch in April, when she hopes to have between 4 and 7 lovely green eggs, with lots of grey and brown speckles on them... She says that she's very excited about being a mother, and plans to spend more of her life outside, in the Green Man garden.'

Bloody hell... this means (inarguably) that Maggie has got herself.... gulp..... a mate! No, Grey didn't know his name as the mother-to-be got rather coy at that point. Well there you go, 'one for sorrow, two for mirth!'

Maggie says that she'll start flying into the office after the young ones are old 'nough to join her, just to ensure that standards are maintained! And she'll train the fledglings to crap on the head of anyone who gives a Christy Moore or Phil Cunningham CD a bad review -- ever.....

 

Remember, celebrate the Irish this week! That's something we at Green Man (as our gigantic assortment of reviews of Irish music can attest to) can all raise our glasses to... And Cat Eldridge, our Editor in Chief, just wandered by my desk and, looking over my shoulder, said, 'Don't forget to mention buggle cakes.' Apparently, buggle cakes are part of Scotland's St. Pat's traditions. They're bannocks, made from corn and clipped all around the edges to resemble the sun. I wonder if they'll have them in the Pub this week...

 

 

7th of March, 2004

'Never own more than you can carry
at a dead run, except for books.
Books are worth taking risks for.'
-- Kage Baker

Cat Eldridge, the Editor of Green Man, speaking.

Ahhh, books. One of the principal pleasures of this enterprise for the staff who work here has been discovering books and writers that we never knew existed. For me, it was the joy of discovering Simon R. Green and his fantastic tales after reading our review of Drinking Midnight Wine -- a novel which I read in one sitting! (His new series, set in the Nightside, the demon-infested side of London, is quite excellent. I've been reading the ARCs as they come in to us. A review of The Nightingale's Lament, the third novel in the series, will be up shortly.) Another author that I discovered from reading our reviews is Holly Black, author of Tithe, which any fantasy fan should read. Holly also sent me a really macabre holiday card this year.

Then there's Jasper Fforde and his Thursday Next series, and Laurell K. Hamilton, whose Merry Gentry series is witty, sexy, and quite entertaining. And just as often I discover a new offer not by reading one of our reviews, but by picking up an advance copy from the pile of new mail in our Mailroom and seeing if it's any good. Paul Brandon, a fine musician and a very talented writer, was unknown to me 'til I picked up the ARC of Swim the Moon and found myself fascinated by his take on Scottish music, seelies, and other matters dear to me. (He too sent a wonderful holiday card this year.)

We receive much more fiction in the mail than we can review -- we don't review most science fiction, but we still get it from the publishers. I highly recommend four such novels I read recently, courtesy of their publishers, to those of you who like this genre: Neal Asher's Gridlinked, Chris Moriarty's Solid State, Richard K. Morgan's Altered Carbon and Charles Stross' Singularity Sky.

Another novel that I had no idea existed until the publisher sent it for review was one I reviewed a few weeks ago: Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines, the first of The Hungry City Chronicles. This lovely fantasy I recommend to anyone who enjoys Prachett and the like.

At our weekly editorial meeting, where we discuss the upcoming issue and, errr, drool over the particularly good stuff that's come in, I asked the editorial group what's the favorite book, author or series they'd discovered as a result of being here at Green Man. (One fey staffer said that Dragons Breath XXXX Stout is the best thing she's discovered here, but I'd say that she's got a somewhat faulty memory, as any spirits that are handy are her favorite drink. Even ones extremely toxic to mortals.)

After some thought and a sip of Dai-Ginjo Nambu Bijin Sake, April Gutierrez said, 'Hmmmm, Probably Holly Black and her Spiderwick Chronicles.' Maria Nutick concurred with April, as did I! Grey Walker, one of our Book Review Editors down the years, said, 'Two come to mind, folks I'd never have run across without being pointed to them by GMR. Meinrad Craighead is an incredible artist. And Jacqueline Carey -- she's not the sort of writer I'd pick up by browsing at random, but now that I've read her, I'll read anything she writes.'

Stephen Hunt had no problem picking his favorite discovery: 'That's easy -- Paul Brandon's Swim the Moon. The first that I'd ever heard of him was your (Cat's) review. Neil Gaiman's Coraline and Holly Black's Titheare two more books that I discovered as a direct result of GMR (via natter in the break room, and the generosity of colleagues!) Just to broaden the horizons of the question, we've been listening to Bonnie Rideout's fabulous Scottish Reflections this evening -- she's a musician I would have probably never heard without GMR!' After a sip of an exceptionally fine single malt, he added, 'Oh, and Emma Bull, of course! I'm probably one of the very few people on Earth who watched the movie trailer for War for the Oaks before buying the novel. That was followed by reading (and loving) Bone Dance (again, due to the generosity of a fellow reviewer).

Tim Hoke agreed with Stephen on Emma's novel: 'War for the Oaks, hands down. It was one that I didn't want to set down, and when I was finished, I wanted to start it again.'

(If you haven't figured it out by now, we hold the editorial staff meetings in the Green Man Pub -- fine drink, great music, and far above average pub fare. It's no wonder that we have really long meetings...)

Ryan Nutick, our webmaster, said, 'For me it would be Holly Black and Neil Gaiman. Hands down. I don't know how I never read Gaiman before, but I love his writing. Thanks, GMR!' Ryan has a promo poster of Coraline hanging in his office...



This week we feature a book review from Jessica Paige, who picks up an Excellence in Writing Award for her beautifully detailed review of Alice Hoffman's Green Angel. Jessica says 'Green Angel is a gorgeous, haunting post-apocalyptic fairytale. I could draw comparisons between the story and various myths, but it would be an exercise in futility. Green Angel is wholly its own story, with mythic bones, yes, but also with the author's sure sense of poetry for blood.' Sounds lovely, doesn't it?

Our featured music review this outing is of three CDs from Scottish Gaelic singer Catherine-Ann MacPhee (Canan Nan Gaidheal/The Language of the Gael, Chi Mi'n Geamradh/I See Winter, and Catherine-Ann MacPhee Sings Mairi Mhor) reviewed by Liz Milner, who notes in her review that MacPhee has 'completed a new recording, which should be released in March of 2004.' Liz says that 'Catherine Ann MacPhee is a glorious anomaly. In a genre that is dominated by women with high, often childlike voices, MacPhee has a huge, sensual, smoky, gorgeous alto. Her voice and talent could make her an international pop star. There's only one catch -- she sings only in Scottish Gaelic.' Read the rest of the review to read, among other things, the email conversation betwixt Liz and Catherine-Ann! Did I mention that Liz picks up an Excellence In Writing Award for this wonderful review?



Earlier this year we reviewed two books illustrated by Maurice Sendak and written by Tony Kushner. Kushner may be best known, though, not for his work with Sendak, but for his play Angels in America, which was recently presented by HBO as a miniseries starring Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson. This week Deborah Brannon makes her Green Man debut with a review of the play as written. Deborah says '[T]he play, broadly, is about humanity: more specifically, about Americans ('in the melting pot where nothing melted' as a Rabbi states in the first scene). The lens through which humanity is examined is the homosexual community and the AIDS outbreak during the Reagan years. So, what then makes this mythical fiction? The angels: in all their glory, their grand trumpeting, and pulsating sexuality.'

Nathan Brazil has a review of a book first published in 1986 by an author who would go on to become famous for a trilogy entitled His Dark Materials. Earlier in his career, Philip Pullman wrote a quartet of novels starring Sally Lockhart, described by the author himself as 'historical thrillers, old-fashioned Victorian blood-and-thunder. Deliberately written with a genuine cliché of melodrama right at the heart of it, on purpose.' Or, in Nathan's words, '[C]rime, conspiracy, murder, politics, stage magic to rival that of Jasper Maskelyne, Victorian fisticuffs, the Hopkinson Self-Regulator, and a super-weapon in the hands of a Scandinavian madman!' Go read Nathan's review to find out more about The Shadow in the North.

Benjamin Franklin -- patriot, scientist, sage -- American hero, yes? Yes? Well, yes, but he wasn't exactly the wise, kindly old codger portrayed in American schoolbooks. At least not according to Kate Danemark, who says in her review of Fart Proudly, Writings of Benjamin Franklin You Never Read in School 'I don't like this guy. He's misogynistic, classist, and long-winded. He clearly finds himself very amusing, and tends to explain at great length to the rest of us just why that is so.' Editor Carl Japikse's collection of lesser known Franklin essays definitely didn't find favor with Kate, as you can tell. Read her review to find out all of the reasons why not.

Kate has a much kinder opinion of a book which many of us Generation X kids remember fondly as a childhood favorite. As Kate says, '[T]here are certain books which whenever in life we read them become a part of us, never forgotten and always savored.' In this case, she's speaking of E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Now here's something we don't review very often in these pages -- a book with no text. Reviewer Scott Gianelli was visiting with his godson when he discovered a gem. 'Normally,' Scott explains, 'I don't pay too much attention to children's picture books, especially when there are no words accompanying the pictures at all, but something about the quality of the artwork in Sector 7 by David Wiesner compelled me to pay close attention to every frame of the story, and then to run home and write a review of it.' Scott goes on to say of Sector 7, '[I]n wordlessly depicting a small boy's encounter with a group of personified clouds, Wiesner creates a timeless fairy tale that is truly fantastic in both senses of the word.' Scott picks up an Excellence in Writing Award for this serendipitous finding.

April Gutierrez also garners an Excellence in Writing Award for her look at two books of Greek myths, retold by author Andrew Callimach from a new -- or perhaps old -- perspective. April says of Lovers' Legends: The Gay Greek Myths and Lovers' Legends Unbound, 'Callimach's premise is that adaptations over time have stripped many of these myths of most, if not all, intimations of homosexuality or homoeroticism, which seems contrary to the Greeks' espousal of man-youth relationships. Thus, he has taken on the task of reclaiming these myths and casting them in a different light, one more favorable to love between men. Not for the sake of titillation, but to recapture an aesthetic long lost.'

Lory Hess claims that 'the werewolf has a long and distinguished history as a subject of literature.' Her claim is amply supported by one of the books she reviews this week, entitled The Literary Werewolf. Edited by Charlotte Otten, this Syracuse University Press publication includes 'satirical sketches by Saki, British-Indian adventure from Rudyard Kipling, erotic horror by Stephen King, psychological introspection from Fritz Leiber, and the classic detective fiction of Seabury Quinn. A few of the stories even question the inherent evil of the werewolf. In Jane Yolen's 'Green Messiah' a woman involved in a genetic experiment relishes her gradual transformation into wolf as a way to greater freedom and dignity.' According to Lory, 'whatever your tastes, you'll probably find something here to suit them.'

Lory also enjoyed Patrick Jennings' The Wolving Time, a book for younger readers set in sixteenth century France, and also involving werewolves -- 'a kindler, gentler sort of werewolf,' Lory says.

'The Tale of Despereaux does not begin with 'Once upon a time....' nor does it finish with 'and they lived happily ever after.' But without those two phrases, so crucial to the structure of every fairy tale, The Tale of Despereaux would forever go untold. The introduction of 'Once upon a time....' is what induces a young, undersized mouse named Despereaux to break the cardinal rule of mice and fall in love with a Princess named Pea. The Princess Pea is partially responsible for a broken-hearted dungeon rat named Chiaroscuro who plots his revenge in the darkness. Miggory Sow, a young servant girl gone nearly deaf from repeated clouts to the ear, longs to become a beautiful princess herself. All of these characters, mixed together with a hearty serving of soup, a spool of red thread, and a large dose of imagination, create one of the most warm-hearted and insightful children’s books I’ve read all year.' So says Elizabeth Vail in this review of Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux -- a review for which Elizabeth takes home an Excellence in Writing Award to add to her growing collection.

Elizabeth wasn't quite so enamored of Mercedes Lackey's Joust, a book about dragons in which '[t]he actual plot...does not even come into play until half the book is already read.' It's not all bad; Elizabeth raves about the intricate setting. But she goes on to say 'Mercedes Lackey obviously spent a great deal of time creating this elaborate, self-contained world, but the story suffers a little because of it. It almost seems as though Ms. Lackey, after adding the finishing flourish to her world, suddenly realised, 'Oh, I have to put a story in, too.''

Come back next week for more book reviews. You must, you really must. Because our own Grey Walker will be reviewing the new Charles De Lint title, Medicine Road. Now you know you don't want to miss that!



Letters editor Craig Clarke here. It's always nice to be read, and I was heartened by a recent letter from Steve Redwood who was not only 'amazed' at the scope of reviews at GMR, but also expressed his belief that the 'recent letters pages' were worthy of note. (Oh, sure, he was talking about the content as opposed to the formatting, but, hey, I'll take what I can get.)

The most mail in my editorial inbox comes, by far, from people reading the reviews of Master Reviewer David Kidney. This issue is no different, first featuring Canadian ukulelist James Hill's thanks for David's review of his second album, On the Other Hand. Also, Michael Buffalo Smith fired out some appreciation for David's review of his newest release, Southern Lights, and gave his experiential opinion regarding a question recently discussed around the GMR offices.

Thirdly, David and author Elijah Wald had a short interchange involving David's opinion of Wald's book, Escaping the Delta.

Kathleen Schultz, manager of the band Turkey Hollow, liked John O'Regan's review of the band's recent disc, Live Turkey, and also took the time to suggest a few minor corrections and deliver some sad news.

Elsewhere, Adam Rockoff was affirmed by my review of his book, Going to Pieces, and Evan Reeves, producer for Kreg Viesselman, wrote Christopher White a letter of appreciation for his 'wonderful' and 'in depth review' of Viesselman's self-titled CD.

Barb Treux was nearly overwhelmed by the quality and variety of performance delivered by Childsplay in a Portland, Maine performance. Childsplay performs every December in Portland, and it's a memorable experience. Barb's review makes it clear why. 'The whole concert was like a great road trip: sometimes we'd be zipping down the highway, then we'd get off a random exit and find a quaint little town, then find ourselves in an urban music club...It was smooth, but always with some unexpected turns. It was the kind of concert that kept me smiling so much just from the sheer joy of the music that my cheeks hurt by the end of it!' I could go on quoting her, but you're better off reading Barb's review to get the whole story.

Jack Merry here. It's fairly quiet around here, as a number of staffers have come down with really bad colds of late. Quite ironic, given that the weather here is finally getting warmer! Even our dear Editor has a head cold that has made him rather miserable, so he, like many here, is in his warm office quietly reading, sipping tea with honey, and listening to music. The cold viruses don't seem to find me 'tall interesting, so I'm sitting in the Pub writing these notes for you to read...

Green Man has reviewed more Oysterband CDs than anyone else, period. And Kim Bates has done her fair share of those reviews, including this one of their latest EP, 25, whose name is in honour of 25 years of the Oysterband playing. She mentioned in the Pub last week that it took a few spins of this disc to get into it but, as she notes, '25 will appeal to most Oyster fans and whet their appetites until the next full length album emerges. It finds the band in fine form, still out there banging on the doors of the powerful, ready to reweave the cultural fabric by pulling some threads, knotting others, and singing their hearts out.'

Warning -- The following CD didn't please Craig Clarke 'tall: 'I am usually a big fan of concept albums. They feed that part of my brain that likes novels over short stories and that has a longer attention span than the part that thrives on top 40 radio and sound bites. Nevertheless, an album has to have an engaging concept, and execute it well, to hold my attention. Terry G. Reed's The Film of Eternity at first seemed like a good risk but unfortunately proved to be a disappointment, mostly because of a poor choice of theme that is simply too vast to be encompassed in a single album.'

Faith J. Cormier, on the other hand, found the latest CD from The Tannahill Weavers to be comforting: 'There's nothing flashy or spectacular about Arnish Light, and that's meant as a compliment. It's good, enjoyable music, played and sung with skill and talent. It's comfort food for the ear, something much more likely to be played over and over than the flash and spectacle.'

Scott Gianelli found a great Nordic CD in a package from Kim Bates, our Music Editor. 'On til almuen, Over Stok og Steen show themselves to be a very capable band that successfully manages to add its own creativity into the musical arrangements, while still honoring the history and traditions from which these tunes were born,' Scott says. 'If I have any complaint about the sound, it is that I would have liked to have heard the guitar more strongly in the mix, although that could easily result from my own personal bias with regards to that particular instrument. Fans of traditional Scandinavian music looking to examine the folk music of Norway more deeply will want to have this CD, as will players of Norwegian and Swedish music looking to add to the tunes and styles their repertoire.'

Life on a String and Live at Town Hall New York City September 19-29, 2001 find a fan in David Kidney. 'Cue the tape loop. A gentle female voice, almost human, sets up a rhythm, 'ah ah ah ah...' A violin, amplified, scratches. Then a melody finds its way out of the midst. You can imagine a blank canvas, in the dark... then a dim light illuminates a spot in the middle of this canvas. A person steps out of the darkness, into this pinpoint of light. Drums pick up the rhythm. What is that sound (I almost said noise) that fills the space? The person, dressed in a pant suit, is thin and beautiful in a fragile, pointy way. She begins to speak, telling a story about a trip to Japan. Or two brothers from West Virginia with the same name, did they fall into a black hole? Her voice is fragile, soft, but pointy too. This could be Laurie Anderson.'

360 Degrees: All Points of the Compass is, David notes, from 'Tom Lewis... a sailor, a submariner, who came ashore to play his own brand of folk music a few years ago. As he sings in 'Port of Call', 'No sixty year old sailor is wanted on the sea....' Indeed, I saw what happens to a sailor without a hobby, when my father was forced to retire. It's not a pretty sight. Fortunately the retirement date for folk singers hasn't been set yet!' Read his review to see if Lewis is -- how can I resist? -- all wet or not!

Finding Our Way is 'a masterpiece' according to Peter Massey, who also says, 'Have the [Americana acoustic country folk] Mickeys won their spurs? Yes, you'd better believe it! This album is blisteringly good; the spur marks are all down my back to prove it.' Peter's review's also a masterpiece, which is why he gets an Excellence in Writing Award!

Ahhhh, I love everything that Lúnasa's done, so it's not surprising that I like their new CD. As I note in me review, 'Australian author and Celtic musician Paul Brandon, who wrote of one of the finest fantasy novels of recent years, Swim the Moon, has a new novel, The Wild Reel, coming out this summer. He's also a great fan of Lúnasa, who are capable of some really wild reels! Now, I know that Paul hasn't heard this album yet, but I'm certain that he'll find the very wild reels and jigs here to be quite fine, as The Kinnitty Sessions is the first live recording that this group has released. Paul sent me a recording of a concert they did in Brunswick, Melbourne, way back in 1991. Now, as good as that live sound board recording is, this is far, far better. And if you are a fan of Irish music, this is a must hear album.' (The music editing staff tells me I got an Excellence in Writing Award for this review. Thanks kindly!)

Somewhere in the Music Library files here at Green Man is an autographed photo of June Tabor dressed in leather, boots and all, holding a riding crop. A scary publicity photo indeed! Lars Nilsson, in his review of her new CD, An Echo of Hooves, echoes that mood: 'If anyone could pull off a whole album full of dark dismal ballads it must be June Tabor. And she certainly proves it on this album.'

Big Earl Sellar had great hopes for the CD from Shujaat Huskain Khan, but they were dashed upon hearing it. 'This is one of those discs that I go into thinking, 'Oooh, this is going to be cool.' I hate it when I do that: a premise is hardly the basis of fantastic music,' he says. 'On this disc, Indian sitarist/singer Khan recalls six songs from his rural youth, folk melodies from days gone by, and interprets them using only himself and two percussionists. Like I said, great premise: a master of a classical idiom tackling the sparsest, simplest, and most rudimentary of the musical forms, the true folk tradition. But Hawa Hawa doesn't quite live up to expectations, unfortunately.'

It's the newest CD by Van the Man -- or Van Morrison, one of the greatest Irish musicians ever, if you've been hiding away from popular culture for thirty-five years and have not a bleedin' clue who I'm talking about. However, if you know Van the Man, all you need to know about his new CD is summed up by Christopher White this way: '... I've been a Van fan since he was one of Them. What's Wrong with This Picture? Not a damn thing!' Nor is there anything wrong with this review, which is why Chris get Excellence in Writing Award!

Gary Whitehouse is one of those truly great reviewers who can, in a single paragraph, tell you all you need to know about an album. He does it here with Jodie Holland's CD Catalpa: 'Jolie Holland makes new music that sounds -- some of it, anyway -- very old. A true daughter of the American South, she was born and raised in Texas, and cut her musical teeth on the gypsy-like circuit of like-minded musicians, artists, carnies and the like between Austin and New Orleans. The music on this bare-bones record combines elements of Appalachian balladry, bluegrass, Texas hill-country, and N'awlins jazz, sung in a voice that is at once young and carefree and older and wiser than the hills.'

Gary was also enthusiastic about this next CD: 'The Lucky Tomblin Band's self-titled debut is a swingin' platter of honky-tonk straight out of Texas. This band has a pedigree guaranteed to get it a blue ribbon in any show; its members have about a zillion years of recording and performing credits among them, and it shows.' Read the rest of his review to get the entire story of this cool CD!

Also to the liking of Gary was Dulcie Taylor's new release. 'Dulcie Taylor has a few surprises up her sleeve,' he says. 'Mirrors and Windows, her second release on Black Iris, starts like a fairly typical singer-songwriter album of contemporary folk music -- albeit a very good one. 'Blackberry Winter', the opening track, is one of those songs about a relationship going bad but for which a small glimmer of hope remains. The jangly electric guitar and very subtle pedal steel accents complement Taylor's lightly drawled vocals.'

Finally for Gary is Wylie & The Wild West's Hooves of the Horses. 'Wylie Gustafson is a real-life, actual cowboy,' says Gary. 'He has a ranch in eastern Washington State, and he's a world-class trainer and rider of cutting horses. Not only that, but he's one of only a handful of artists around today still actively creating music that puts the 'Western' back in what used to be known as country and Western music. On his ninth album, Wylie & The Wild West present a song-cycle of love songs to The Horse. With only a handful of exceptions, the sixteen tracks on Hooves are all about horses in one way or another.'

Gary receives Excellence in Writing Awards for his Jodie Holland and Dulcie Taylor reviews!

A hefty package from Free Read was waiting for us this week -- advance copies of the Silver Edition of The Transports: A Ballad Opera, by Peter Bellamy! Due to be released later in the month, this so-called opera tells the story of the First Fleet of convicts sent from England to Australia in the late Eighteenth Century. It does so through a series of songs performed by artists as varied as composer Bellamy with Dave Swarbrick, Nic Jones, A. L. Lloyd, the Watersons (Norma and Mike), Martin Carthy and others. It's an English folky's dream album, recorded in 1977 and finally remastered for this Silver Edition. But that's not all! Free Read has included a newly recorded version called The Transports: 2004, with participation from Cockersdale, Jim Lawton, Simon Nicol, Chris Leslie, and many others, including Fairport Convention! And, as is their wont, the people at Free Read have provided a huge book with history, photos, libretti and cast notes. Stephen Hunt will be reviewing this masterpiece in an upcoming edition of GMR, but right now... I'm going back to listen. It's lovely!

Getting back to our pub discussion from earlier, Craig Clarke, our Letters Editor, had a longer answer: 'I'd never read any Charles de Lint before working here. He's very uneven, but it's been interesting to go from the really bad (Riddle of the Wren) to the really great (Spirits in the Wires), and all the interesting stuff in between (such as the Samuel Key books). And I'm not nearly through with my quest. Also, I had never listened to any Celtic music and have been constantly introduced to fabulous bands in my newly burgeoning interest in the Celtic Rock vein. Especially the Saw Doctors, which are likely my favorite 'discovery' overall. But what's most fascinating is that each day brings new things to investigate.' Kim Bates concurred with Craig on de Lint: 'Charles was a great find! Forests of the Heart is my favorite.'

So you can see that even our well-read (and well-listened) staff here at GMR are constantly making new discoveries. It's why we make it one of our main missions here to foster a continuing sense of delight and wonder, for our staff and readers alike. We're glad you've joined us on the journey. And won't you please tell us what The Green Man Review has helped you to discover? Send your e-mail to Craig Clarke, our Letters Editor.

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Entire Contents Copyright 2004, The Green Man Review. All Rights Reserved.

Updated 28 March 2004, 04:00 GMT (MN)