Taraf de Haidouks, Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts

Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts is the sixth CD released by Taraf de Haïdouks, a Romanian Gypsy band. Since the band formed in 1990, this CD also celebrates their 25th anniversary. Taraf de Haïdouks began as a group of individual musicians who came together to play for various village events, such as weddings and funerals. They all hail from Clejani, about 40 km south of Bucharest and not far from the border with Bulgaria. The area has long been recognized as a hotbed of traditional music; in fact, a number of the musicians in the band appeared on recordings from the area taken by ethnomusicologists who visited in the late 1980s.

taraf_de_haidouks_lovers_gamblers_parachcute_skirtsThe band has evolved over time into a strong and very popular performing ensemble, touring worldwide and appearing in films. These include Latcho Drom (Safe Journey), which documents the travels of the Romani people from India to the far western edges of Europe and The Man Who Cried, starring Johnny Depp and Cate Blanchett. Four of the original band members have passed away, but, like many traditional bands, new members have joined to replace them. Featured on this CD are nine band members, playing violin, flute, accordion, clarinet, and cimbalom (a large hammered dulcimer), along with five guest artists, including three vocalists.

At 72 minutes long, the CD contains 14 separate tracks, featuring a very listenable and entertaining mix of slow ballads and fast dance tunes. Selections reflect the band’s intention of revisiting some of the traditional melodies and styles that inspired them in the first place. Track 1, “Balalau from Bucharest,” is a song about a musician well-known for gambling and starting fights in bars. The vocalist is guest artist Viorica Rudareasa, one of the few Rom women working as a professional singer (all the regular members of Taraf de Haïdouks are men). Her voice and vocal style remind me of Marta Sebestyen, who often performs with the Hungarian traditional band Muzsikas. In fact, the pulsing rhythm on this track reminds me a lot of the music of this band! Rudareasa reappears on Track 13, “I’ve Got a Parachute Skirt,” a rather raunchy song about a woman whose husband leaves her alone a lot and her interest in finding other men.

Track 3, “Cold Snowball” is a ballad about someone whose lover left him. The song starts with a plaintive flute that slides into accordions and a very sad-sounding male vocal, in this case the band member Constantin Lautaru, who learned the song from another musician.

I always find myself preferring the instrumental tracks on CDs like this. One of my favorites was Manele Pomak, a fast one featuring Filip Simeonov, the band’s Bulgarian clarinet player. This one has a Middle Eastern feel, not surprising given the influence of the Ottoman Turks on this region. Another was Track 11, “Dance Suite a la Clejani,” a medley of dance tunes. But then I also enjoyed Track 9, “No Snow, Nor Rain,” an old ballad performed by Gheorghe Manole, a guest artist who usually performs as a street singer. He plays his violin with a horse hair in lieu of a bow, giving it an interesting raspy sound. The track, which also features the cimbalom playing of Ion Tanase, sounds like Gypsy blues.

Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts comes in a trifold paperboard package with two pockets. The CD is in one pocket. The other pocket contains a very nice little 28-page booklet in lieu of liner notes. Written in French and English, the notes include a brief description of the origins of each track and translated lyrics for the ones with vocals. Several pages in the booklet feature photographs of the band taken at various times over the last 25 years. They look like they are having fun!

(Crammed Discs, 2015)

[Editor’s note: Taraf de Haïdouks have a website. Crammed’s page for Taraf de Haïdouks’ Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts has a few tracks available for streaming.

Peter V. Brett, The Great Bazaar and Brayan’s Gold

For hardcore fans of Peter Brett’s Demon Cycle series, The Great Bazaar and Brayan’s Gold will be a welcome treat in the same way fans of a particular band will swarm all over a collection of b-sides and rarities. It’s a deep dive into the world of The Warded Man, including reference material, scenes cut from various official chapters in the series, and a couple of additional stories that flesh out the personal history of Brett’s protagonist, the Messenger Arlen Bales.

Cover of Peter V. Brett's The Great Bazaar & Brayan's GoldThe first piece, “Brayan’s Gold,” is a deep dive into Arlen’s personal history. It details his first solo run as a Messenger, hauling a load of dynamite up the side of a mountain for the benefit of a tightfisted noble. Along the way he’s ambushed by bandits and demons and abandoned by his traveling companion, but he brings the load home thanks to some Sgt. Riggs-level theatrics. As an adventure it’s rollicking enough, with Arlen coming face to face with a new breed of demon and making an ingenious escape. Where the story’s on less sure footing is in Arlen’s interactions with others. His uncompromising sense of duty and black-and-white morality may feel right on a classic fantasy protagonist, but here they play out largely through interaction with characters who feel a bit straw-mannish. Arlen’s morality is absolute, but it’s also never really challenged, and so the moral victories he scores feel less earned than the physical and magical ones.

The second piece, “The Great Bazaar,” drops in later in Arlen’s history (according to the author, it’s set between chapters 16 and 17 of The Warded Man, when he’s working with the Krasnian merchant Abban. Following Abban’s instructions, Arlen uncovers a treasure trove of salable pottery left behind on sacred ground after its makers were slaughtered by demons. This is just a prologue, however, as Arlen leverages the incomplete intel Abban provided him with into getting a map showing the whereabouts of the lost city of Anoch Sun. Abban is certainly the more amusing character here, playing off both Arlen and the strict cultural mores of Krasnia with equal aplomb. Clever, witty and charming, the merchant gets exactly what he wants, even with the killer dama bearing down on them. Arlen, on the other hand, comes off second best, making a series of bad and impetuous decisions. They may fail to come back to haunt him, but one gets the feeling that he might have gotten a helping auctorial hand along the way. Still, the action moves at a brisk pace, and Brett’s world building is shown to great effect here.

Next are two short sections cut from The Warded Man, “Arlen” and “Brienne Beaten.” The former is largely a curiosity; it’s easy to see why, tone-wise, it didn’t fit with the rest of the book. “Brienne Beaten” is a more complex, interesting piece, dealing with events in Arlen’s home village with a deft hand and a sly sense of humor.

Rounding out the book is a fair bit of reference material on the world, including guides to wards and various demon types. This sort of thing is catnip to completists, and to his credit Brett provides them with plenty to chew on. This is another place where his world building is shown to best effect, with the detailed information offering an interesting look into the systems and thoughts behind key aspects of the setting.

For hardcore fans of the Demon Cycle series — especially those trying to track down earlier versions of the two titular novellas — this one’s a no-brainer. More casual fans will probably get a kick out of the two longer pieces, while newcomers can probably pick a better place to start. Still, Tachyon is doing readers of Brett’s work a service by putting this short collection together, and its intended audience will no doubt receive it warmly.

(Tachyon, 2015)

[Editor’s note: Peter V. Brett has a website.

Whisky Tasting

Have I mentioned that several times a year we have a high-end whisky tasting here? Each is hosted by, quite naturally, the Estate Librarian, Iain Nicholas Mackenzie, a Scot born and bred. It’s limited to a mere dozen participants, each of whom pay five thousand pounds for the privilege of tasting the whiskies, being fed rather nicely, and generally having a good time.

The Alt, The Alt

the_altIrish music comes in many forms, from the loud and boisterous to the soft and soothing, from the long slow ballads to the fast furious instrumentals. The Alt is a trio focusing on songs, only three of the eleven tracks are instrumental sets, and traditional material. No pipes, no fiddle, but plenty of guitar, bouzouki, that special wooden Irish flute and vocal harmonies. Their sound is much closer to the style set by groups like Sweeney’s Men, Planxty and Patrick Street, than the Dubliner-side of Irish folk.

The self-titled The Alt is the first album from The Alt, but they are no newcomers to the scene. They have all recorded with other people and one of them, guitar/bouzouki/madola player John Doyle, has been musical director for Joan Baez on one of her tours. The other members are Nuala Kennede on flute and whistles and Eamon O’Leary on guitar and bouzouki.

They all sing and I think the vocals are one of their strong points. They take turns delivering the songs, with the others joining in to supply harmonies. They even give us some a capella, like the intro on the opening track “Lovely Nancy” and the closing “The Letter Song”, one of my favourite tracks on the album.

The instrumental work is much what you have come to expect from Irish groups. The guitars and the bouzoukis are kept as backing instruments, plucking along, never banging out the chords, with Kennedy’s flute and whistle takes the solos and leads on the instrumentals.

I especially like their choice of material. I have listened to and played a lot of Irish songs, but they have managed to find eight tunes I have not come across before, but a few that I probably will try to learn. Apart from the two already mentioned I am very found of ”The Eighteenth of June”, an English song about the Battle of Waterloo. Not a song to celebrate the victory, but to lament the loss of thousands of lives.

I think The Alt has produced a fine debut album. It will not go down in history as one of the greats nor shake the folk music world, but if you want something nice, well-played and sung to listen to or for finding new songs, it will do nicely. You can listen to two tracks performed live on YouTube, the song ”What Put the Blood” and one instrumental set. There are also samples on The Alt’s website.

(Under the Arch 2014)

Robert Heinlein, The Number of The Beast

“He’s a Mad Scientist and I’m his Beautiful Daughter.”

That’s what she said: the oldest cliché in pulp fiction. She wasn’t old enough to remember the pulps.

The thing to do with a silly remark is to fail to hear it. I went on waltzing while taking another look down her evening formal. Nice view. Not foam rubber.

She waltzed well. Today most girls who even attempt ballroom dancing drape themselves around your neck and expect you to shove them around the floor. She kept her weight on her own feet, danced close without snuggling, and knew what I was going to do a split second before I led it. A perfect partner—as long as she didn’t talk.”

Towards the end of his writing career, Heinlein wrote four novels that were attempts, however flawed, to tie together his fiction into what he called The World as Myth. The premise was that all worlds were merely fictions created by Storytellers. Some Storytellers, say Frank Baum, were the best at creating their universes; others were more mundane in the act of creation.

The Number of The Beast is the first novel in which this idea really was brought to the forefront by Heinlein, though some critics think Stranger in a Strange Land is where the World as Myth first was used by Heinlein (which might be true but I’m not re-reading timagehat novel just to see if that’s true as it’s definitely not one of my favorite Heinlein novels).

The Number of the Beast has four first person narrators — two women, two men; two young, two older. They are Zebadiah John Carter, an engineer; computer programmer Dejah Thoris ‘Deety’ Burroughs Carter; her father mathematician Jacob Burroughs; and Hilda Vorners, off campus socialite and sometimes lover of Jacob’s. (Did you notice the references to John Carter of Mars?)

The premise is that someone is out to erase these four from their timeline and would’ve succeeded if if hadn’t been that Mad Scientist (Jacob) has invented a device that allows the user to access the multiverse including what you might have thought was mere fiction such as Oz. The flying ship they escape in a character herself — Gay Deceiver.

The story is a romp through both literature and the Future History of Heinlein’s meta verse with damn many a character from his extensive writings showing up here. The Coda itself is worth the time to read this large and sprawling book.

Now the really bad news. The full cast ensemble sucks on this production. Every voice characterisation of a major character, save that of Jacob, is cringingly wrong. Zeb Carter has a high twangy voice despite being described in the novel as having a deep commanding voice. And DeeDee manages to sounds like a complete airhead here, curious given that she’s an intelligent woman.

It reminds me of those book covers where the artist wasn’t required to read the book before rendering the artwork. Here I’ll blame the voice production person as they must have either not given instructions on how the characters should sound, or didn’t give a fuck how they sounded. It’s quite probably the worst depiction of characters in a nutshell over I’ve encountered to date.

Give this one a pass, just read the book.

(Blackstone, 2012)

Neil Hegarty’s Waking Up in Dublin

imageSo what’s to like in Neil Hegarty’s compact guide to music in Dublin, Ireland Waking up in Dublin? Pretty much everything as far as I’m concerned. Its subtitle of ‘A Musical Tour of the Celtic Capital’ states exactly what it is.

The first thing the publisher did right was put the maps of where venues are in the front of the guide followed by a list of seventy six of the venues and on what page you can find a look at a specific venue. Keep in mind that some of the descriptions are brief, just giving you a quick taste of what the bar (as most of them are) is like, but usually that’ll suffice.

Hegarty wisely didn’t limit his venues to rock or traditional music as some writers do (again that’s the main focus but other places are included as need be) too. He covers traditional, rock, folk, jazz, classical and more. He looks at bands ranging from the Afro-Celt Sound System to (naturally) U2. And it’s just not bands still active, you’ll find bands such as Moving Hearts and Thin Lizzy here too.

There’s a lot of contextual material as well, discussing the Dublin music scene from an insider’s viewpoint, such as pointing out which performers are popular in that city but also known in London. Though Neil Hegarty was born in Northern Ireland, he had been resident in Dublin for quite some time when he wrote Waking Up in Dublin.

The language here is breezy, informal and quite readable. And Hegarty helpfully adds such useful features as a guide to traditional music terminology, the top five venues for rock music, and foodie Dublin. (I did say it’s written in informal language.) My only caution is make sure that you get the 2011 edition from Bobcat Books.

(Sanctuary Publications, 2004)

Our Greensward

I don’t think I’ve talked about our greensward which is to say an immense lawn that starts from the back of the Estate Building all the way down to Oberon’s Wood.

At the very top of it are the formal gardens, interspersed with a series of paved stone areas ranging from intimate (just big enough for a table and two chairs) to an area big enough that we hold contradances in good weather there. We’ve even added solar cell power lighting so this area can be used in the evenings. There’s several fire pits in this area which is very nice year round.

For the rest of this story, go thisaway.

What’s New This Fortnight

logo_muchalady2So I do hope you enjoyed the strawberry shortcake I mentioned last time. A few of our guests here were nonplussed by the strawberries being white, even after the Kitchen staff explained they were Border berries which start out red and turn white as they ripen. Personally I think some Elf botanist was pulling an odd joke with them!

Lars’s review of Niamh Boadle’s latest album, Maid on the Shore, is proof that she’s one of the talented new folk musicians in Britain and you see why he believes so in his review here.

A self-titled released by Woody Pines is, says Gary, a mix of ‘Jimmie Rodgers-style hobo blues, Delmore Brothers’ hillbilly boogie and swingin’ acoustic takes on some of the more obscure back pages of the American songbook.’ Intrigued? If so, read his review here.

Reynard decided to take a look at just one song, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Take This Waltz’. Not only did he like this song as you can see in his review, he also has a recording from a concert Cohen that means you can hear it for yourself in this commentary.

We’ve got two stories for you, the first being Gus, our Estate Head Gardener, taking a ramble about our Scottish Estate; the second

Speaking of stories, my look at Robert Heinlein’s All You Zombies both shows you why I consider it to be the best time travel story ever told and which version of it you should listen to.

Let’s finish off our reviews with a bit of choice Nordic dance music with Hambo in the Barn by musicians Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelley, and Charlie Pilzer. Hambos are a variant on waltzes and have become popular at contradances including the ones we have here. Read Reynard’s review to get more on this album.

I’m going to leave you with the Red Barn Stomp as performed by the Oysterband during their American tour with June Tabor in support of their Freedom and Rain recording back in 1991. Ian Tefler of the band says that it’s trad. arranged and ‘The title is whimsy, no one could remember the original name.’ The Oysters have a superb website which you can visit here. Lovely dance music, isn’t it?


Let’s have a bit more music to finish up. Here’s some Norwegian dance music, from Hungary.


Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelly and Charlie Pilzer’s Hambo in the Barn

Cover of Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelly and Charlie Pilzer's Hambo in the BarnBack in the twentieth century, a lot of Scandinavians relocated from Sweden and the surrounding countries to the upper Midwest where they became farmers and shopkeepers, for the most part. Naturally they brought their instruments and their music with them. Not surprisingly, this music has persisted to this day, which is why this lovely CD from Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelly and Charlie Pilzer exists.

Every tune on Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelly and Charlie Pilzer’s Hambo in the Barn is either Traditional Swedish or written by composers whose identity is known to this day, which is remarkable given how fast a tune can be thought of a traditional arranged! There’s even a story of how ‘Music for a Found Harmonium’ (written by Simon Jeffes of Penguin Cafe Orchestra) found its way into the repertoire of Irish sessions within a few years of its being recorded.

Hambo in the Barn is a companion recording of sorts to Hambo in the Snow which rather obviously is one they intended to be Winter music. So what do we have here? Well a plentitude of great dance music, provided you like waltzes which are what hambos are akin to.

The hambo is in the gammaldans (old-time dance) tradition that actually developed fairly recently around the beginning of the 20th century. Hambos, or dances in 3/4 time, are also popular in North America in the social clubs formed by immigrant Swedes, and much more recently, at contradances. Many social waltz groups include the hambo among their regular dances.

Charlie Pilzer (Bass, piano and accordion) plays with fiddlers Andrea Hoag and Loretta Kelley on a recording of sixteen hambos, two waltzes, a snoa and two schottisches. With the added playing of Frank Brown on guitar and Larry Robinson on mandola Hambo in the Barn includes fast and slow, major and minor, solo and ensemble pieces suitable for dancing, tune learning or just listening.

It’s not really music that you’d listen to as a primary undertaking but rather as music to put on while you’re cleaning, cooking or perhaps reading. It is, for those tasks, quite wonderful. I’ve also had it playing here in the Green Man Pub when the Neverending Session has decamped to somewhere else and it’s certainly appreciated by the patrons.

Azalea, 1996

Blowzabella’s Strange News

imageI was trying to remember when I first saw Blowzabella play. I think it was sometime in the late ’80s at some folk festival in the north of England but I cannot say for sure. Except for an extended break in the ’90s, they’ve been active as a band for 32 years!

(Founder Bill O’Toole, who left before they recorded their first album, has an interview with us in which he discusses the very early days of the band.)

For those of you who don’t know them, Blowzabella (who may or may not be named after a certain whore in a song in Wit and Mirth: Or Pills to Purge Melancholy, a large collection of songs by Thomas d’Urfey, published between 1698 and 1727) is an English band who play bagpipes, hurdy-gurdies, saxophones, accordions, and an array of acoustic instruments including violins and guitars to produce a wall-of-sound drone — somewhat influenced by British and European traditional dance music. Many of their tunes have become ‘standards’ in the current folk music scene, some tunes to the point that they are thought to be traditional, arranged by Blowzabella!

Strange News is their 13th album and I’m proud to say that the Infinite Jukebox, the music server here at the Kinrowan Estate, has all of them on it, including the one they did with Frankie Armstrong, Tam Lin. The band has had a number of changes over the years, including the death of Dave Roberts, the musician who replaced Bill O’Toole, and so it comes to be that the current version is Andy Cutting, Jo Freya, Paul James, Gregory Jolivet, David Shepherd, Barn Stradling, Jon Swayne, and Patrick Bouffard guesting on ‘The Diggers / Cotillon’.

It starts off with one of the four songs to feature Jo’s voice, ‘All Things Are Quite Silent’, which is a woman’s lament for her husband who has been abducted from his bed and press-ganged into the navy. Ralph Vaughan Williams collected it in 1904.

Don’t worry — there’s lots of upbeat, fast-tempoed dance music here! Indeed I’m listening right now to ‘Falco’, a tune described as an English rant step dance tune which Paul James composed. And as is always the case, there are French tunes here as well — including Gregory Jolivet’s ‘Malique’ and others. There’s also an extremely goofy waltz by Jolivet, ”Nain Dans La Main’.

All in all, it’s the usual superb album by them, something of course that I expected. It’ll take a few more listenings to see if it’s one of my favorite albums by Blowzabella. Right now Blowzabella’s Bobbityshooty, Pingha Frenzy (recorded live on tour in Brazil), and Octomento are the ones I listen to the most, but Blowzabella’s Strange News has a good chance of joining them. Do check out Blowzabella’s Website.

(Self-released, 2013)