'Music begins where words are powerless to express. 
Music is made for the inexpressible. I want music to seem to rise
from the shadows and indeed sometimes to return to them.' 
-- Claude Debussy



12th of December, 2004


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Recorded Music

Jack Merry at your service! Do come in. Put your wet duster and boots over by the fireplace. Let's have a cup of Glengettie tea to warm our bones.

We're putting together the issue for this outing. Yes, you correctly noticed that there's 'nought but music omnibuses this outing. No book reviews, no live performance reviews, no film reviews. Ahhh, and doesn't that make for an interesting tale!

Has Kim Bates, our Music Editor, ever shown you the piles of recordings that we get in? Some of them come because we ask for them -- she says that accounts for 'bout a third of what we get, some thirty to forty a month -- but some two-thirds of everything we get in the mail is quite unsolicited. Like a spaghetti western, the latter often could be described as 'the good, the bad, and the ugly.' The ugliest by far would be the poor lost souls who learned to play a guitar a week ago (or so it seems from the almost complete lack of talent shown) and decided that they too were singer-songwriters, so they penned a collection of really awful lyrics and put out a recording. (Shudder!) Maggie (our resident corvid) and her brood of wee bairns really hate these recordings -- they go cawing out of the building when we put one on. Or else they do something foul!

So we weed. If you want to hear some of the really ugly recordings we didn't review, search the Infinite Jukebox for the music in the 'merde' genre as we keep copies of much of it to train new reviewers on what makes a terribly awful album. Just don't play any of it when Maggie's around or we'll need to replace the speakers! Yes, she ripped one off the wall the last time a particularly awful disc was played...

(The Infinite Jukebox holds what amounts to hundreds of thousands of albums worth of material ranging from live recordings of Johnny Cunningham with Nightnoise to a complete set of Nazgul's recorded output including the Mesa concert. If you've heard of it anywhere, it's likely you'll find it here. Even if it was never recorded in this reality. I kid you not.)

Only one disc in three or four is deemed worthy of seeing if a reviewer wants to write it up. (Not all recordings the Music Editor thinks should be reviewed actually get someone interested in them. That's just what happens.) That leaves maybe fifty to seventy recordings a month needing a review. Now assuming our reviewers have lives outside of just reviewing for us, there's only so many recordings that are going to get in-depth reviews. Obviously a new Steeleye Span will get a full in-depth review, or the latest tasty recording from Wildgoose Studio, one of our favourite English labels, but what do you do with four Latvian folk music CDs that need reviewing? You do what Barb Truex does this week -- you put them into one thoughtfully reasoned omnibus. Or perhaps you're John O'Regan, one of the best Irish music journos ever, who always entertains me when I read his Celtic music omnibuses. Yes, there are several reviews by John this outing!

Four American roots recordings (Mike Barnett's Lost Indian, Cast Iron Filter's Falls of Rough, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Welcome to Woody Creek, and an anthology of various artists called Close Harmony: a History of Southern Gospel Music) were what David Kidney looked at in this review: 'While the four CDs under consideration all fit into the category of Traditional American Music, only one of them can be safely categorized as bluegrass; however, all four are inexorably linked by a firm root system buried deep in the garden of American music.'

David in his Excellence in Writing Award winning review of four re-released recordings (David Ackles' Five & Dime, Roger Chapman's Mango Crazy, Roger Chapman's Mail Order Magic, and Tommy Sands' Man, Like WOW!) comments 'There is a huge market these days for obscure music. Once only available on vinyl, sometimes only on expensive import copies, now remastered and attractively compiled and packaged, this stuff is finding release by caring archival labels around the world. England's Mystic Records and antipodean Raven Records are two of the absolute best at this retrieval business. Green Man Review has been fortunate to receive many of their recordings, and the four under consideration here are sterling examples of what they do best.'

In this review, Peter Massey takes, as he notes, 'a look at three albums from three lesser-known singers [Liz Carlisle's Half & Half, Wandering Soles' Imaginary Key, and Rory Ellis's Road Of The Braver Man], each one from a different part of the world. True, they are completely different in one sense, but they are linked together by the common fact. That being that each one will be appearing at various Folk Festivals in the U.K. in 2005, and news on the grapevine is that they may still have some dates available on their tours. A point of interest if you happen to be a festival or folk club organiser.'

Stephen E. McDonald in reviewing two bluegrass recordings, Tim Graves & Daryl Mosley's Remembering The Beacon Brothers and the Larry Stephenson Band's Clinch Mountain Mystery, says we have 'We have two examples of the lighter-hearted end of American roots music -- bluegrass, specifically -- one intended to represent the genre circa the mid-fifties, the other a straightforward modern set of tunes. The airy production and light feel of both albums belie the skill behind both -- the performances on both sets are fluid and engaging throughout.'

John O'Regan, a staffer who I believe has reviewed more Celtic recordings for us than anyone else, look at three more recordings (The Occasionals' Reel Of Four, Tulca Mor's Into The Night, and Cara's In Colour) which have nothing in common, leading to John declare ' [t]his omnibus is generally entitled 'Celtic bands from everywhere' because like the promotional blurb for 'Ronseal' (A UK brand of timber undercoat) -- 'It does exactly what it says on the tin'. Here we have music from Scotland, Australia, and Germany, all bearing the Celtic logo of some description or other.'

Three more Celtic recordings (Kenneth Thompson's Seoladh Dhachaigh, Mary Smith's Sgith Airgid, and Catherine-Ann MacPhee's Suil Air Ais -- Looking Back) get a look-see by John. What, he says that they have in common is this: ' Here are three Scottish Gaelic singers that share a mixed repertoire as well as having a shared heritage in that Gaelic songs are their means of communication of choice. Kenneth Thompson, Mary Smith, Catherine-Ann MacPhee are all fine exponents of Scots Gaelic song whether it be solo or accompanied.'

I first encountered Laura MacKenzie when I heard her superb Macha Tri recording, so I was delighted to read this review of two of her latest recordings, Evidence and Laura and the Lad, by Kelly Sedinger. Kelly says 'Laura and the Lads is the more lively, while Evidence is the more lovely' but you'll need to read his lovely review to see why this is so.

Soundtrack music, the recordings composed and conducted by Howard Shore for each of the Peter Jackson The Lord of the Rings films to be precise, is another thing that Kelly Sedinger is looking at this week: ' Shore's music isn't terribly ground-breaking. In fact, at first hearing, it all strikes the listener as precisely the kind of thing one would expect for a massive fantasy trilogy: lots of dark themes juxtaposed with lots of lyrical ones; heroic fanfares in the brass; large-scale passages for full orchestra and chorus. To really discover what Shore has done here, one must dig beneath the surface a bit.' Read his review to see what he discovered while listening to these recordings!

Classic music titles to me ofttimes sound oddly complex, and the CDs of works composed by Bela Bartok are no exception to this: Solo Piano Works, Vol. I: Seven Sketches (Sz 44), Sonata 1926 (Sz 80), Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs and Dances (Sz 71), Four Dirges (Sz 45), Allegro Barbaro (Sz 49); Solo Piano Works, Vol. III: Six Roumanian Folk Songs (Sz 56), Ten Easy Piano Pieces (Sz 39), Fourteen Bagatelles (Sz 38), Three Rondes on Folk Tunes (Sz 84), Sonatina (Sz 55), Roumanian Dance No. 1 (Sz 43); and Solo Piano Works, Vol. IV: 'For Children,' 43 Slovakian Folk Songs (Sz 42), Petite Suite (Sz 105), Roumanian Christmas Carols (Sz 57) Vol. V: Two Elegies (Sz 41), Three Hungarian Folk Songs (Sz 35), Nine Little Piano Pieces (Sz 82), Improvisations (Sz 74), Out of Doors (Sz 8). Robert M. Tilendis, masterful reviewer that he is, does an excellent job of explaining that '[a] composer's works for solo piano are in many ways equivalent to a painter's drawings: they can range from sketches to major finished works, and allow us to explore an artist's thinking in an intimate format -- a chance, quite often, to be 'present at the creation.' The solo piano works of Bela Bartok are no exception. This collection, performed by Hungarian-born pianist June de Toth, is the first part of a complete issue of Bartok's solo piano works.'

First Folk, to use a currently popular label, music is what Robert looks at in this omnibus of four recordings (Perry Silverbird's The Blessing Way, Tokeya Inajin's Dream Catcher, Mary Youngblood's The Offering. and Bryan Akipa's Mystic Moments: Dakota Flute Music). He has a cautionary tale to tell: 'As I listen to more traditional music and more music from non-Western sources, I begin to realize that the blithe use of the word 'traditional' is tantamount to making your own noose and putting it on your neck. This was brought vividly home to me while listening to a group of CDs from Native American and Native-derived artists. Historically, American Indian music has been viewed as being an integral part of a whole, residing quite inextricably with dance, religious ritual, singing, and drama. Music, in this situation, is functional rather than being purely aesthetic, in that it almost invariably accompan ies some other activity: North American Indians did not have 'concerts.''

Barbara Truex puts it quite simply: 'If you like any kind of European folk music, you will most certainly enjoy music from Latvia.' Go read her review of these four Latvian recordings (A Touch of Latvian Folk Music anthology, Skandinieki's self-titled recording, Valdis Muktupavels's self-titled recording, and Marija Golubova's Stasti Un Dziesmas) to get all the juicy details!

Christopher White notes: 'Certain instruments seem destined to evoke particular musical genres, whether the connections are intended or not. If someone tells you a CD features dobro, pedal steel, or, to a somewhat lesser extent, slide guitar playing you're unlikely to imagine a jazz or reggae release. You're going to begin with the country blues, accent on the country, and work forward. Maybe it will be more modern or very old timey, it could be redneck pure or hippy alternative. Each of these three releases [Druce amd Jones' Songs from the Silver Band Room, John Train's The Sugar Ditch, and the Prairie Dogs' Brand New Heart] slide into the waters of the country blues, each in its own different way. Together they show the ongoing interest the form holds for artists and the different ways that form can be altered.'

Chris notes of the two Nordic recordings that 'my partner and fellow GMR writer Barbara Truex asks what I'm listening to and expresses admiration. And I concur. Peaux defies easy categorization, but seems to fit nicely into most of the accidental mixes that get created with our five-CD changer. At the moment they're comfortably spiraling around with Oddjob's Koyo, some female Finnish yoiking in the Sami tradition, and a pair of disks featuring the fiddles and nyklharpa that are 'in the tradition' if not purely traditional. They've also cohabited nicely with the aforementioned Miles Davis and Steve Reich, as well as with the Ry Cooder & V.M. Bhatt disk A Meeting by the River.'

So pick any of the thirteen omnibuses that are here this week -- see what the reviewer discovered about that group of recordings. I know that I found more than a few recordings which I'll give a listen to on the Infinite Jukebox here in the Green Man offices that I knew nought about before reading these reviews!


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Updated 12 December 2004, 21:00 GMT (CE)