16 December 2003 to 21 February 2004

21 February 2004

The whole point of having a pile of gold
was, well, to have a pile of gold.
It didn't have to do anything other than
be just as oraceous as gold can be.
- Terry Pratchett

What, am I crazy? Maybe. Quite likely, in fact. And yet, I can't help but think it's a good kind of crazy, the kind that takes the ordinary and adds an "extra" at the front. So I shall enjoy my crazy and see where it leads me. And you, I shall lead through another tapestry of excellent new reviews!

You probably thought our coverage of the Celtic Colours festival was through. Well, it's not!! We have one more performance review, which is this week's report by Virginia MacIsaac on the Celtic Pops Encore, featuring the Cape Breton Chamber Orchestra, Joey Beaton, J.P. Cormier, Dave MacIsaac, Buddy MacMaster and Scott Macmillan. What a lineup! Look for one more Celtic Colours feature in an upcoming edition, when Tom Knapp provides an overview of the event and shares some memorable moments from the nightly Festival Club.

Hugh Morrison puts his accordion to work and his Feet to the Floor. "Even in the most serious melodies, Morrison and the accordion both seem to be fighting off a case of laughter," raves Sarah Meador. "This permeating good humor may make the album too monotonous for those who prefer a heavy dose of instrumental angst."

Lisa Kelly, former lead vocalist for Riverdance, goes solo on Lisa. "Here is a crystal clear voice with a range that will entrance even a casual listener," says Nicky Rossiter. "Lisa is singer and a voice for the 21st century who will have great success if she gets the exposure."

Ceredwen reaches The Golden Land in this Welsh-language CD based on Celtic legends and history. "It's like Celtic music's answer to club dance music with a new age flavour for good measure," Jean Price explains.

Anders Norudde explores a collection of Swedish fiddle-centered music on Med Hull Och Har, with the help of Leo Svennson & Goran "Freddy" Fredriksson. Jennifer Hanson, noting Norudde's influence in the Scandinavian genre, says much of this CD "requires an enjoyment of minor keys and odd tunings."

The music is often frantic on Hear & Gone in 60 Seconds, a children's album from Rounder with 29 minute-long songs by various artists. "On the whole," Joy McKay says, "Hear & Gone in 60 Seconds is a cheerful and energetic children's record that doesn't take itself too seriously and an ode to the pleasures of a good creative challenge."

Toronto singer-songwriter and guitar-picker extraordinaire Brian Gladstone shares his Psychedelic Pholk Psongs including tracks that are "sometimes quirky, sometimes silly, sometimes satirical," Julie Bowerman says. While the songs are a mixed bag, Julie says "Brian's finger-picked guitar tunes and interludes within the songs are stand-outs throughout the album."

Dick Smith is a band, not a person, and Smoke Damage is their way of "saying what they really think about love, life and liquor," Sarah explains. "This is what happens to reputable country songs after they've got good and skunked."

Dan Whiteley takes the Highway Home on a bluegrass CD that sidetracks into "jazz, blues, folk and a rhythm guitar ramble," Alicia Karen Elkins says. "Whiteley does not simply cross genres, he breaks the barriers between them and brings all his friends through."

Putumayo spotlights American Blues. "All in all, this is a worthy sampling of modern blues in its assorted expressions," reports Jerome Clark. "Wisely eschewing the usual suspects, the compilers highlight fresh songs and superior performances, whether the artist is famous or unknown outside a small regional circuit."

Tuatara revisits its earlier work on The Loading Program, but Dave Howell says this jazzy reinterpretation might be premature. "Listeners who like dance beats may like this CD, but jazz listeners would be better served by Tuatara's other releases," he says.

Anjani Thomas mixes jazz and Hawaiian styles on Anjani. "Thomas has style and individuality, approaching her music with freshness and insight," says Jamie O'Brien. "This is an emotional journey giving pertinent and poignant insights into the soul of ordinary people and their everyday lives."

Balkan Playboys tap into the rich musical traditions of the former Eastern Bloc on Balkaninis. The music takes Ann Flynt, oddly enough to her former home in Pittsburgh, Pa. Why? Well, read her review!

Robert Tree Cody and Hovia Edwards share their Reflections on this recording of Native American relaxation music. "Reflections is aptly named," says Sherill Fulghum. "All 13 songs reflect song of life -- peace and harmony with the world around you."

Kin Za Za is Number One in Shambala with this new-age release. "Either you connect with Kin Za Za or you don't," Wil Owen remarks. "There does not seem to be much middle ground."

The legends of 16 Asian nations are briefly scrutinized in Folk Tales from Asia for Children Everywhere, a two-volume set that caught Tom Knapp's eye. "Each is written by a local storyteller and illustrated by a local artist, so each maintains the flavor of its country of origin," he says. "These do not read like the European and American stories with which I am more familiar. And that, of course, is what I was hoping for!"

The Olympians of Greece and the heroes and monsters surrounding them walk again in Island of the Minotaur: Greek Myths of Ancient Crete by Sheldon Oberman. Tom says Oberman "draws those legends together in a neat package that is suitable for young children (8 and above) to get their first taste of gods, goddesses, heroes and monsters that makes Greek mythology so enduring. Adults, too, should enjoy the book, which is a fast read and a refresher on several key stories."

Mark Abley defends dying cultures in Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages. "Today, thousands of languages are facing extinction," says David Cox. "In Spoken Here you meet the warriors fighting for languages that you may not have known existed and follow their daily struggles to save something they feel is of value. ... This is a very readable 240 pages on a fascinating subject."

Sharyn McCrumb's The Songcatcher has Nicky written all over it. "I love reading, I love folk music, I love mystery, I love social history and I love a little of the supernatural," he says. "This book must have been written with me in mind."

C.J. Cherryh's early novels Brothers of Earth and Hunter of Worlds are collected in a new, omnibus edition, At the Edge of Space. "Cherryh's universe is expansive and varied, and she has managed to build layers of depth into it without ever feeling the need to call attention to how awfully much world-building she's done," says Sarah. "Pairing the stories together gives each extra depth and context, and the joining of adventure tale with intellectual exploration makes At the Edge of Space a good introductory collection."

Kristine Kathryn Rusch goes to Extremes in a science-fiction mystery novel that left Jenny Ivor begging for more. "A need to sort the red herrings from the true clues, the motivation and the madness, and a certainty that, with this author, the ending will not be a trite let-down, keeps the reader turning pages late into the night," Jenny promises.

Chaz Brenchley continues his Outremer series with A Dark Way to Glory. While certain revelations at the close of the second book might have put off some readers, Daniel Jolley urges them to "forge ahead with the series. ... Few fantasy writers can equal the power and richness of Chaz Brenchley's prose, and I am more excited than ever to see what this visionary author has in store for me in the remaining Outremer books."

Sean Stewart stalks The Night Watch in a book that had Tracie Vida -- a new addition to our Rambles ranks -- "shivering with cold and damp as I wandered happily through his different worlds. ... While the large cast of major characters is sometimes difficult to follow, their overall richness and variety of emotional development yields a strong tapestry of meaning."

Karen Hancock shines the Light of Eidon. "Hancock's world building is a little shaky, but the sheer power of her storytelling carries the book past any rough spots, Donna Scanlon says. "She also knows how to leaven the action with humor without undermining the seriousness of her story."

Louis N. Gruber gets theological in Jay: A Spiritual Fantasy. "Jay is a parable of sorts, a comment on how humanity has spent too much time on the trappings of religion and ignored the substance of it," says David Roy. "Whether you are religious or not, this story will affect you, with only the most jaded cynics able to ignore it."

Mary Harvey is excited by the revamp of Batgirl in Year One. "This is one of the best Bat family stories in years, one destined to be a classic," she says.

Mark Allen takes a new look at the reboot of a popular Marvel character in Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, written by Frank Miller and illustrated by John Romita Jr. "No, it's not a 'feel-good' tale, but it's darned entertaining to read," he says.

Miles O'Dometer says Mostly Martha "starts as a quirky comedy but quickly becomes domestic drama of the first order, then spends most of the remainder of its 105 minutes step-dancing back and forth between the two. But unlike many films, which fail because they can't make up their minds what they want to be, Mostly Martha succeeds because it gives us the best of both worlds, plus a third -- some romance."

Tom hits the road with a pair of Bandits and the woman who loved them. "Bandits is not your typical 'buddies on a crime spree' sort of film," he says. Starring Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton and Cate Blanchett, the movie "is fresh, funny and atypically clever."

That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!

14 February 2004

There's no greater pain than to look back
and think 'I should have' when
you know in your heart that you could have.
- Brian Austin Whitney

This is, of course, the season for romance (if you believe Hallmark, anyway) and, for some of us, birthdays. The groundhog has spoken, and for some folks, the winter blues have settled in until spring.

We could just let that blah feeling settle in or, as we prefer to do here at Rambles, we could surround ourselves with music, books, movies and all the good things in life. We're glad to be able to share a bit of that with you, too. Cheers!

The Fiddlers 3 present their Encore, and Nicky Rossiter admits that he couldn't keep his feet still while listening. "I cannot recommend this CD too highly, but get a medical check-up before you play it," he warns.

Alan Lomax preserved the music and stories of Jimmy MacBeath and Davie Stewart, Two Gentlemen of the Road from Scotland. "The double album attempts to capture some of a lost way of life while sharing the music of two legends whose works are too easily missed," says Sarah Meador. "Two Gentlemen of the Road is a long, rambling journey that will leave you glad to be back home, and sorry to end the trip."

The short fiction of Eddie Stack is spotlighted on The West, which features Irish musical accompaniment by Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill. "This collection of stories is important as a cultural preservation tool," says Alicia Karen Elkins. "As you listen, you will understand so much about the people of West Ireland, their culture, community and lifestyle."

Aselin Debison has a bright future ahead of her, if Sweet is the Melody is any indication. "The young Glace Bay native from Cape Breton, who entered the recording studio and her teens at about the same time, has a pure, clear voice with a strength beyond her years," Tom Knapp says.

Per-Olof Moll & Per Hardestam expound on the sound of the Swedish fiddle on Jaggu Lekar. "This CD is essential for any collection of Swedish traditional music, or for anyone interested in regional fiddle styles," says Jennifer Hanson. "As someone who enjoys the dissonances and unusual tempos of Nordic music, I also enjoyed this CD for the music itself."

Zohreh Jooya and Madjid Derakhshani reinterpret ancient spiritual poetry through song on Music of the Persian Mystics. "The listener cannot only experience the beauty of the Persian language through song, but also catch a glimpse of the poetry's temperament and deep-felt passion," Carool Kersten explains. He lauds the project for "combining masterpieces of classical Persian poetry with impressions of that nation's equally magnificent musical legacy."

Donna Scanlon says there is a "mini-history of modern Russian music" on The Rough Guide to the Music of Russia. "If you grew up thinking that Russian music was mostly Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky and all the rest was balalaikas, then you are in for an eclectically pleasant experience," she says.

The Desert People, formerly known as the Papago, sing their culture on Tohono O'odham: Traditional Tohono O'odham Songs. Alicia recommends the music, particularly the distinctive rhythms formed by the basket drums, but warns that one singer in the group "should sing at lower volume than a scream."

Deb Pasternak heads Home with a CD from the Boston folk scene. "The main theme of this disc is the pursuit of love -- sometimes successful, sometimes not," Jennifer says. "Pasternak often gives a positive spin to her songs."

Lauren Sheehan shares Some Old Lonesome Day with her listeners, and Sarah is happy to join her. "Whether discovering true love or whistling her way through the graveyard, Lauren Sheehan clearly has enough spirit and skill to come through Some Old Lonesome Day smiling," she says.

A legendary songwriting career is honored on Just Because I'm a Woman: Songs of Dolly Parton. "Dolly's songs communicate the same beauty and strength she radiates as a performer," says Joy McKay, "and they're so well-crafted they need not be pigeonholed in the 'country' category."

Scott Parsons brings to mind "a male incarnation of Tracy Chapman" on his CD Nice to Wear. But, despite some strong moments from this Maritimes blues singer, Gregg Thurlbeck says the CD displays his weaknesses, too.

Modern Groove Syndicate gets jazzy with Vessel. "These guys do hit the groove," says Dave Howell. "Actually, it's more like they attack it. Vessel starts off with high energy and never loses it."

Gerardo Maza taps into The Conscious Flow of Dreams on a synthesizer-heavy new-age recording that has some good spots, according to C. Nathan Coyle, but "they don't save it from mediocrity."

The soundtrack to Finding Nemo manages "to capture the essence of the sea with all poignancy and beauty," Ann Flynt notes. "It is a lovely piece, and one worthy of performance in the new symphonic hall created for the Los Angeles Philharmonic."

Grey Larsen lays it all out in The Essential Guide to the Irish Flute & Tin Whistle, a hefty new publication from Mel Bay. "Larsen's Essential Guide is a superb book," raves Wayne Morrison. While he registers a few minor complaints on the book, he says the package "will give a firm grasp of the technique and interpretation needed to play Irish music on the tin whistle and Irish flute."

Grover S. Krantz supplies an argument for belief in Bigfoot Sasquatch: Evidence -- the book that destroyed his career. "If you want the hard facts, data analysis and evidence comparisons, order this book and set aside any doubts about the subject," says Alicia. "By the end, Krantz will leave no room for skepticism."

Cheryl Canfield tackles her experiences with cancer in Profound Healing: The Power of Acceptance on the Path to Wellness. "Canfield is an engaging and enthusiastic writer, and there is a lot in the book for anyone interested in spiritual development to draw on," Donna says. "She preaches to the choir for the most part, however, and her anecdotal approach will not convince any skeptics."

Martha Bolton waxes philosophical with I Think, Therefore I Have a Headache! Ann calls it "Chocolate for the Soul," and likens the book to comfort food. Read on!

Marianne Curley launches a new, young-adult fantasty trilogy with The Named. Laurie Thayer says the book "is based on an interesting concept, that a force of gifted individuals guards History. ... The Named is an exciting, fast-paced story that will keep readers turning pages." Kudos to Laurie for review #150!

Nancy Kress places a shipload of colonists in a Crossfire between alien races. "The plot is not simply one of survival; the characters face any number of moral and ethical decisions, none of which is simple," says Donna. "Thoughtful, original and fast-paced, Crossfire is an engrossing look at the potential of the future as well as a reminder that the more things change, the more they tend to stay the same."

David L. Howells revisits his ghost-assisting Fitzgalen family in Vanessa: All Heaven Breaks Loose. Daniel Jolley says the book has "a complexity and intellectual depth far surpassing that of its predecessors."

Jill Paton Walsh shares A Parcel of Patterns, but the villagers of Eyam might not be pleased with the plague that it carries. Jean Marchand says this award-winning book set in 1665 was written for young adults, "but the story will please readers of any age."

David Baldacci's audio-mystery Split Second is "a great story that will make you miss that TV show, bedtime or maybe even going to work," Nicky promises. "This is avid Baldacci in top form, and his is a top form that cannot be bettered."

Tom unveils The Death of Speedy in another volume of the Love & Rockets collection. Writer Jaime Hernandez "digs deeply into his characters in this collection, revealing volumes in the space of a single panel," Tom says. "This is a story you will feel and remember long after closing the book."

A genetically enhanced hero is the focus of The Interman. "Creator, writer and artist Jeff Parker has a winner on his hands," says Mark Allen. "Winning writing has created three-dimensional characters that are complex and full of surprises."

Miles O'Dometer crosses a Rabbit-Proof Fence, a story based in aboriginal Australia that is "a history lesson, a diatribe against racism and social engineering, the most somber chase film you can imagine and a tale of human triumph against all odds. It's also won more awards than most films ever get nominated for. A few minutes into it you'll understand why."

Tom hangs out with the Gangs of New York, a film that "shines a bright light on a dirty, hidden secret of New York City's bloody, brawling past. ... Director Martin Scorsese never turns his camera away from the vilest aspects of the time, and in the midst of all the action he delivers a startlingly thoughtful film."

That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!

7 February 2004

The only really happy people
are married women and single men.
- Marlene Dietrich

What, more snow? More sleet? More layers of ice, slush and winter yuck?! Hats off to the groundhogs who correctly called for a continuation of winter -- but who wants to join me in strangling a few of the little buggers?? OK, fine, I'm off to shovel the walk. You stay here and read some reviews....

Banshee's Long Awaited Day "is fantastic," Jean Price reports. "The original songs and traditional material go well together and are given wonderful treatments by some very talented musicians." Check out this New Brunswick band!

The Fenians announce that Every Day's a Hooley on their latest release. "The Fenians are a highly accomplished band, capable of and ready to push the boundaries of folk music," says Nicky Rossiter. "This is a great album combination of old, new and new interpretations."

Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer are Thumb Twiddling on a CD on which "the distinctive-sounding Scottish smallpipes and the flute seem to combine effortlessly with the guitar in what is a highly effective partnership," announces Andy Jurgis. "At times, it is difficult to believe there are only two instruments being played, such is the rich quality of sound achieved."

April Stace and Harp 46 blend Celtic, world and new-age sounds on Harp 46. "Hopefully, this first Harp 46 release (Stace also has a solo CD) will lead to others that will feature more excursions into musical territory not normally explored by harp players," says Dave Howell.

John R. Lindermuth joins us today by exposing his Early American Roots through the artistry of Hesperus. "Fresh. Energetic. Innovative," he says. "Any of these terms might be applied to this collection, and correctly. But there's something more."

The music is its own reward. "Drop the Debt is a CD that supports a very worthy cause, but I will not urge you to buy it because of that," says Nicky. "This CD is an ideal opportunity to acquire a knowledge and appreciation of the music and cultures of other lands, but it is also an excellent collection of music."

Haur Jolasen Abestiak plays Basque music for children on the band's self-titled CD. "For those of Basque heritage as well as those who just enjoy the culture, it's a great way to expose children to the language," says David Cox. "It's also fine for those simply looking for good music children can enjoy."

Eastern guitar stylings are the focus on Music from Vietnam #4: The Artistry of Kim Sinh. "There are soft and delicate compositions as well as some that are rhythmically driving, but all are played with great sensitivity and skill," says Chet Williamson. "Whatever influences you may find in these unique recordings, you will find delicacy and power, intensity and serenity side by side."

Peggy Seeger is Heading for Home on this new collection of story-songs. "To fully appreciate Seeger's art you must listen closely, otherwise much will be missed as each song is a story filled with interesting characters and plot twists," Erika Rabideau explains. "Seeger has been singing these songs since she was a child and continues to sing them wherever she goes."

Loosehoundrifters say it's Hard to Be Human, and Charlie Ricci agrees. "Loosehoundrifters need to vary their arrangements, pick up the pace on occasion and, most importantly, find a lyricist," he says. "Only then will I want to listen again."

White House lives up to its label as "the new bluegrass supergroup" on its self-titled debut, Nicky says. "It is often dangerous to class any group as 'super' as it can lead to expectations that cannot be delivered. I am glad to report that White House delivers on the promise."

The Churchmen are On the Journey Home on their first Pinecastle recording. Peter Harris calls it "an excellent collection of gospel songs in the bluegrass style."

Buddy Guy is a Blues Singer with history and talent, but Pamela Dow says his new release abandons his usual "high-voltage, electric blues style" for a "no-frills, back-to-basics, all-acoustic version of the Delta blues format." Guy, Pamela says, "is much better served staying with what he does best."

The Peter Smith Quartet plays in shades of Blue & Green on a jazz album that finds favor with Scott Woods. "This is easily one of the most all-around entertaining, underrated jazz records of the year," he enthuses.

Freddie Cole, the younger brother of Nat King Cole, has a long recording career of his own. His latest release, In the Name of Love, is a happy introduction for Charlie. "At times there are traces of Nat in Freddy's voice but he has his own distinctive sound," he notes.

Ann Flynt has kudos for the Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas soundtrack by Harry Gregson-Williams. "There are a multitude of pieces on this fine CD, and the music evokes much that is magic about pirates, friendship, honor, love and betrayal and is well worth having a Disney moment," she says.

Take a quick look at our newly remodeled legends, folklore & fairy tales department, which has been reorganized to make finding your specific interests much simpler. Look for this section to expand rapidly over the coming year!

Mairi Hedderwick casts an An Eye on the Hebrides: An Illustrated Journey, and her book of prose and art provides deep insight into the Scottish Hebridean way of life. It is "a fascinating and thoroughly readable book, full of ups and downs, far more evocative than any practical travel guide, and it fills me with ideas and curiosity," says Debbie Koritsas. "Hedderwick's admirable personal achievement with this book is no mean feat."

Anne Perry approaches the Edge of the World in Come Armageddon. "There are plenty of surprises and interesting insights into end-time attitudes," C. Nathan Coyle reveals. "If you want a good fantasy story with plenty of action, this book will suffice. If you seek a deeper-reaching work of fiction bordering on introspective religious studies, then you've still got the right book. The depth is there if you want it."

J. Ardian Lee lifts the Sword of King James in her third book about a man out of time in ancient Scotland. "There is science fiction, magic, ancient Anglo-Celtic history, love, remorse and passion, all mixing into a hell of a good read," Ann reports. "It is well worth reading, so get a mug of tea, allow yourself the time to relax and enjoy."

Byron Hansen and Dennis Meier target smart youngsters with The Science Club Kids & the Fabulous Phrenosan Wormhole Device. Laurie Thayer says the book may be above the heads of some young readers. "Still, kids who don't grasp the concepts initially may do so on second or third readings, or may choose to skip the explanations altogether and get on with the fun parts."

Dan Chernenko begins his Scepter of Mercy series with The Bastard King, which DeborahAnne MacGillivray labels "a rousing saga that holds much promise."

James Patterson revisits his Alex Cross character in the new thriller, The Big Bad Wolf. "As in the past, he uses misdirection to throw the audience off the true trail," says Wil Owen, he recommends this series of audio-thrillers over another series, involving genetic engineering, that Patterson has produced.

J. Robert Alley makes a convincing case in Raincoast Sasquatch: The Bigfoot/Sasquatch Records of Southeast Alaska, Coastal British Columbia & Northwest Washington from Puget Sound to Yakutat. "It is the most in-depth coverage of indigenous folklore about the creature that I found in one volume to date," says Alicia Karen Elkins.

Lizzie Borden "was the O.J. Simpson of her day," Tom Knapp decides. For evidence, read Rick Geary's fantastic graphic true-crime novel, The Borden Tragedy, which is part of his Treasury of Victorian Murder series of books. "The narrative is written formally, evocative of the time, and Geary's black-and-white illustrations provide a fly-on-the-wall view of events as they unfolded," Tom says.

Bob Levin tackles The Pirates & the Mouse: Disney's War Against the Counterculture, a "hilarious and candid inside look at one of the longest-running copyright infringement wars of the 20th century." Alicia says it's "an amusing story from beginning to end about how a few hungry artists can drive a huge entity like Walt Disney totally crazy."

Janine Kauffman spends a Gaudi Afternoon, a film that "tries really, really hard to be a surreal, comedic romp that makes its audience question the usual order and characteristics of relations between the sexes. ... But, instead of a true farce, director Susan Seidelman has created an offbeat movie that has a difficult time finding its pace."

Miles O'Dometer takes a lesson from The Pianist, which "looks at a world gone stark raving mad from the perspective of a very sane man, perhaps the sanest character ever to appear in a Polanski film. ... The Pianist deserved every award it won, and probably a whole bunch more."

That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!

31 January 2004

If a man walks in the woods for love of them, half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed as an industrious and enterprising citizen.
- Henry David Thoreau

A new ice age is coming! Maybe the scientists won't back me up on this, but the cold is growing -- and it's never too soon to start burying acorns in the nearest glacier! Outside, there's a cold wind, packed snow and ice, and spinning tires, but here it's nice and warm, the company's good, the Guinness is close to hand ... and there are plenty of reviews for the reading!

The Welsh tribute album I'r Brawd Hwdini salutes Meic Stevens with a broad variety of musical interpretations. "If nothing else, this CD is an eye-opener to the number of bands and variety of music available in the Welsh language," says David Cox. "I recommend it, but be ready for anything."

Ashley MacIsaac is back with a new, self-titled CD. But where, Tom Knapp wonders, is the Cape Breton bad boy going with this one? "What's MacIsaac trying to accomplish by attaching his name to an album on which he's not the central figure?" he asks.

Chloe Agnew, possibly the new Charlotte Church, makes her debut age 13 with Chloe, drawing much of her inspiration from her native Irish tradition, pop music and animated musicals. "This is a CD to treasure," proclaims Nicky Rossiter. "Get in on the ground floor and be sure to have this debut album from Chloe because it cannot be the last. This is a star in the ascendant."

William Jackson and MacKenzie share Notes from a Hebridean Island in this cooperative effort. "It is a wonderful recording, evoking a style of music and a glimpse of life in the Hebrides in times gone by," says Jean Price. "And if you don't like the music, there's always the cover!"

Emily Smith shows a great deal of promise on A Day Like Today. "There's a good chance that this relatively new face in traditional Scottish music will have many years to accomplish pretty much whatever she wants," predicts Ellen Rawson.

Mairead Nesbitt steps out from the background and into Raining Up, a spotlight on her "dazzling fiddle playing." Andy Jurgis says Nesbitt "has made a brilliant transition from playing lead fiddle in Lord of the Dance to this assured solo debut."

Over Stok og Steen specializes in "chamber folk" from the Hedmark region of Norway on Til Almuen. "The quintet plays music of different social strata, music both of the rich farmers and of the poor peasants," says Jennifer Hanson. "Lovers of classical music will probably enjoy this album as much as fans of folk."

John Wright shares a SongDance to celebrate 10 albums and 10 years as a professional musician. "A characteristic of Wright's fine interpretation of contemporary song is the wide range of material he covers -- particularly from folk to country but also touching on pop and rock, too," notes Andy. "There is a strong 'feel good' atmosphere to this album, but it never undermines the lyrical and powerfully emotional rendition of the songs that Wright achieves."

Laurie McClain may just have the folk album of the year with The Trumpet Vine: A Tribute to Kate Wolf. "The songs here are sung as only a person with true feeling for the lyrics and music can," says Nicky. "McClain cannot be praised too highly for bringing us this CD."

The Iguanas offer up a "much less serious version of Los Lobos's Hispanic-American sound," Charlie Ricci says, on Plastic Silver 9 Volt Heart. "Unlike their more successful and famous counterparts, there are no politics or social commentary anywhere in the Iguanas' music," Charlie says. "They are much more of a party band than the Lobos can ever possibly be."

The Mavericks end a five-year hiatus from country music with their new, self-titled release. "Welcome back, Mavericks," Nicky cheers. "We missed you but did not realise how much."

The Kinleys display "a unique ability to write and interpret songs" on Just Between You & Me, says Nicky. "The voices blend together perfectly and the chosen songs are great to listen to, but they also have meaning."

Renee Austin tries a little Sweet Talk, and Pamela Dow says the new singer "has emerged onto the blues scene like a storm surge. ... Like a stick of dynamite, her vocal strength explodes right from the very first note, practically taking your breath away."

Pat Metheny plays jazz guitar on One Quiet Night. "The album feels both expansive and orchestral in arrangement, despite the fact that you're listening to just one guitar," says Debbie Koritsas. "This is timeless music that offers the listener the opportunity to listen to one of the world's finest jazz guitarists working quietly and alone."

Doug Cameron has a little Rendezvous with Alicia Karen Elkins, who says the jazz musician "can make a violin talk and sing" in front of a big-band sound.

Caitlin Matthews delves into the ladies behind the legend in King Arthur & the Goddess of the Land: The Divine Feminine in the Maginogion. "This book is wonderful and deeply researched, but it is not for the casual reader," says Laurie Thayer. "This is a book for someone deeply interested in the Matter of Britain and its sources, and looking for a somewhat mystical interpretation of the stories."

Paul Rhys Mountfort dives into divination with Ogam, the Celtic Oracle of the Trees: Understanding, Casting & Interpreting the Ancient Druidic Alphabet. The book, says Donna Scanlon, is "at once scholarly, accessible and practical."

Bodie and Brock Thoene dip into a dark period in Irish history in Only the River Runs Free, the first book in The Galway Chronicles. "Only the River Runs Free is no sentimental, idyllic look at 19th-century Ireland," Tom says. "Often grim and unforgiving, the novel casts in sharp relief the hardships suffered in a time and place dominated by poverty."

N.M. Browne introduces the Warriors of Alavna in this time-slipping fantasy novel for young adults. "This is not a saccharine-sweet, pixie-dust fantasy, but grim and bloody, realistic for the time in which it is set," notes Laurie. "It may be a little too dark for some of the target audience ... but it is nevertheless very compelling."

E.E. Knight's Vampire Earth series begins with The Way of the Wolf, which Daniel Jolley says "is one of the most impressive debut novels I have ever read. ... Knight creates a wholly original world that lives and breathes in the imagination of the reader."

Alice Hoffman exposes The Probable Future in a novel Donna says is "easily one of her best. ... Hoffman contains her themes within an intricate story that flows as smoothly as honey."

David Morrell's The Protector "has all the high-tech action you could ask for and secret government conspiracies to go with it," Ron Bierman promises. "Morrell's ability to induce an adrenaline rush rivals anyone not actually waving a blood-stained knife in your face."

Jay Ladin's Alternatives to History, a slim book of poetry, "caught my attention instantly with the eclectic mixture of truth, beauty and humour," says Nicky. "It has poems that that will make you laugh, think and feel."

Tired of The X-Files? Don't worry, there's something very different in Atmospherics -- despite the alien abductions and cattle mutilations. Mark Allen calls it "a real page-turner with a definite chill factor."

Rob Maisch reveals his Confessions of a Cereal Eater in his second volume of personal recollections. "Tales from Maisch's college life are hilarious and his travails with women from his youth into adulthood bounce from poignant to downright wacky," says Scott Woods.

William Kates says Win a Date With Tad Hamilton is a classic movie love triangle that "almost seems to luxuriate in its formulaic cliches." Still, he says, "this isn't rocket science, but it is good moviemaking, and ... good mindless escapist entertainment."

Janine Kauffman says Jane White is Sick & Twisted will find particular favor with anyone who was "a fiend for television in the 1970s and early '80s." This movie, she adds, is not for the easily offended.

That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!

24 January 2004

Do not despise the lore
that has come down from distant years;
for oft it may chance
that old wives keep in memory
word of things that once were needful
for the wise to know.
- J.R.R. Tolkien

It peaked above freezing today, and some of the ice melted (only to reform later in slicker, puddle-shaped pools). The cold blasts of wind are back and more snow is on the horizon, but it was today not to feel quite so cold when stepping outside. Believe me, I am very concerned with issues of global warming and the catastrophic impact it seems likely to have on the world (while politicians mutter and mumble and do nothing because, heck, it's their grandchildren who'll pay the price) -- and yet, on a day like today, it's hard not to think, hey, that global warming sounds like a good thing.

Of course I'll feel differently when the summer grows hot. We are creatures of the moment, after all.

Mara Freeman brings a touch of Celtic and new age music to the lore of the land in Celtic Tales of Birds & Beasts, a CD of stories featuring music by Gerry Smids. "Freeman is marvelous as a storyteller," enthuses Alicia Karen Elkins. "She takes this ancient art into the level of the bard -- the highest form of storyteller in any age."

Three female singers (Bill Jones, Aoife Clancy and Anne Hills) from three countries (England, Ireland and the USA) join forces for the short but exceptional CD Faire Winds Live. "It is only six tracks, but it is worth the price of many a three-CD set," Nicky Rossiter raves.

Round the House plays 'Til the Wee Hours, and Jean Price says the Arizona band "does a wonderful job playing traditional music and does it with a great deal of energy, fun and talent."

Cynthia Cathcart's Alchemy of a Rose "marries the beautiful and ethereal sounds of (her) wire-strung harp with some of the loveliest and most haunting of Scottish traditional melodies," says Joyce Rankin. "I find myself unable to listen to them now without the echo of this sweetness in my ears."

Rita MacNeil joins forces with Men of the Deeps for Mining the Soul, a rich collection from Cape Breton's mining tradition that is "just about as close to heaven as you can get and still be alive," says Donna Scanlon.

La Bottine Souriante launched its distinctive take on Celtic/Quebecois music with 1991's Jusqu'aux p'tites heures ('Til the wee hours), and David Cox takes us back to the beginning for another look. "No album was more pivotal to the band's development than this one, which lands high up on any all time top-10 lists of recordings," he says.

Piniartut "brings together two Finns, a Greenlander and a Faroe Islander," Jennifer Hanson explains, for the recording of the band's self-titled album. "Piniartut is the best of what world music and cultural fusion is all about," she says. "Taking an interesting concept, skilled musicians and good material, it becomes a conversation in different languages about the similarities in the lives of those who go to the ocean to fish and out on the snow and ice to hunt."

Benito Lertxundi is "one of two fathers of contemporary Basque-language folk music," David explains, and Nere Ekialdean is "a fine example of how a folksinger can use sophisticated production to advantage."

Doina Timisului shares sounds from the Romanian Tradition. "Even the slow pieces are uplifting," says Alicia, "while the fast ones can challenge the quickest dancers."

New Harmony Indiana's folksy brand of Parlour Music finds favor with Dave Howell, who calls it "quirky, beautiful and highly recommended."

Wild Carrot offers Hope on a recording Peter Harris describes as "an outstanding collection of contemporary folk music."

The Box of the Blues is "a veritable encyclopedia of the form," says Chet Williamson, who lauds the long-time investment Rounder Records has made in blues music. "Taking the quality of the music, the presentation and the price into account, this is a tidy box of treasures that belongs in every blues fan's library," he says.

The Locust Mountain Boys prove themselves the real deal on Ode to the Locusts. "You can't fake it," says Jerome Clark. "Either you chill the heart of the listener with the lonesome wind blowing down from the high atmosphere or you don't."

Luther Wright & the Wrongs are a bunch of Guitar Pickin' Martyrs on an album that Nicky says "has that lovely, fresh feeling of not being over-influenced by any awe of the past masters. ... I hope that many more people manage to hear this work."

Mercedes Lackey unveils Luna, a new fantasy-for-women imprint, with The Fairy Godmother. Tom Knapp -- who isn't a woman but who enjoys a good fantasy book -- has praise for both. "This lively, well-written book signals a healthy beginning for Luna," he says. "While the target audience is primarily female, the fledgling imprint should be cause for delight among any fantasy enthusiast."

Tad Williams' The War of the Flowers "is remarkable in a number of ways, the least of which is that it is 675 pages long without a single wasted word," says Donna. "Often a writer excels at either the big picture or the details. Williams has mastered both elements."

Don Sakers' latest, A Voice in Every Wind: Two Tales of the Scattered Worlds, is a pair of novelettes from the author's science-fiction world. "Sakers' work reminds me, in a way, of early Orson Scott Card books," says Wil Owen. "Their writing styles are definitely different, yet they both have the ability to draw you in to a story through a unique perspective."

Martin Delrio enters Battletech's Mechwarrior-Dark Age universe with A Silence in the Heavens. Paul de Bruijn calls it "a nice, light read ... (that) will keep you entertained from the first page to the last."

Michael Bishop's Unicorn Mountain gets high praise from Robert M. Tilendis. "Bishop portrays a dark world, but brings it from a kind of gritty realism to a beautiful, magical story, with moments of emotional truth that are genuine and deeply compelling," he says.

Arlene Gaal goes In Search of Ogopogo: Sacred Creature of the Okanagan Waters. Alicia Karen Elkins says the author pulls a host of information together in her quest. "Her exuberance with the subject matter clearly shines through, making this a stimulating read that you cannot put down until you reach the end," she says.

The late Alain Danielou was a versatile and well-known Indian scholar, but A Brief History of India, reissued after more than 30 years with updated information, fails to meet some of its goals. For more, read Ron Bierman's detailed review!

Scottish poet John Burnside attempts "to see into the inner workings of the natural world" in The Light Trap, according to reviewer Andy Jurgis. "Read this book and find some new insights about how we can better understand our relationship with nature," he says.

The inception of everyone's favorite neighborhood gang gets a high-class reintroduction on The Complete Peanuts: 1950 to 1952, a new collection of the earliest work by the late Charles M. Schulz. "This tremendous project, spanning five decades of ground-breaking artistry, deserves notice," Tom says, "and Fantagraphics should be lauded for tackling such an impressive body of work."

The saga of Promethea continues in Volume IV. "By now it should be quite clear that Alan Moore isn't really writing a story so much as using a story as an excuse to explore the history of magic, Jungian archetypes, colorful characters such as Aleister Crowley, and just about anything between the pages of those Time-Life books about everything that's strange in the world," says Mary Harvey. "This is truly one of the best comics out there."

Miles O'Dometer takes a ride with Seabiscuit, a film that is "more than a history lesson, more than a tale of loss and renewal, more than the story of a committee of misfits who overcame all odds and gave the little people of the world a little bit of hope in a time when a little bit of anything had to go a long way. ... It's an epic for the common folk. And one uncommon horse."

Tom puts one of the latest comic-book adaptations under the microscope. Unfortunately, he says, "Hulk is too slow-moving to hold the interest of your average smash-and-flash comic-book movie, and too cartoony for your more serious film fan."

That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!

17 January 2004

Love is not something that you can
put chains on and throw into a lake.
That's called Houdini.
Love is liking someone a lot.
- Jack Handey

Brrrr! It's cold, snowy and blustery in our part of the world -- all the more reason brew yourself a hot cup o' tea or warm a glass of mead, sit back and read this latest batch of reviews. Stay warm, be healthy and ramble your day away!

Sarah Meador invites us all along to see Tartanic perform at the Texas Renaissance Festival. "Moving far from the "clap on cue" rules, members of the band hauled in parts of the audience to dance, chased each other around with sticks, flipped up their kilts and performed a few acrobatics that left the life of their instruments, if not themselves, in the hands of startled listeners," she relates.

Virginia MacIsaac, meanwhile, takes another glance at Celtic Colours. This time, her eyes are on Teacher's Pets, a celebration of the life's work of Stan Chapman through the skills of his students, including Kendra MacGillvary, Jackie Dunn MacIsaac, Wendy MacIsaac, Natalie MacMaster, Mairi Rankin and Stephanie Wills.

Kate Rusby sings Underneath the Stars on an album that combines Celtic traditions with modern compositions. "Rusby has one of the most distinctive voices in music today," says Nicky Rossiter. "She performs in a 21st-century idiom but can compose a song today that you might believe has been around the clubs for centuries."

Capercaillie's Live in Concert "captures the spirit of the group, featuring several of their best-known songs and showcasing the range of styles the group is capable of," says Jean Price. Debbie Koritsas, who also supplied a review, says the album "is over 70 minutes of incredibly pleasurable listening, capturing the true essence of this fine Scottish band doing what they do best."

Brother is back with more from the Urban Cave. "This album can be put on repeat and never get tiresome," raves Jean. "This is fantastic, cutting-edge music!"

Corrine Hewat shows off My Favourite Places, which Jenny Ivor calls "an enchanting CD, presenting a balance of traditional songs and tunes."

Ado Matheson, a Scottish singer-songwriter, is Out on the Islands. "The music tends to be very mellow, almost sad," says Wil Owen. "Matheson has a nice voice and the melodies are very supporting for his range."

Rusk explores Norwegian music on its self-titled CD. The album, says Jennifer Hanson, "is another piece of evidence demonstrating that traditional Nordic music is in the good hands of a new generation." Hoopla, Jennifer, for your 50th Rambles review!

Klakki sails down Lemon River with a trip's supply of Chinese poetry set to Danish music. "Listeners who are looking for an experimental twist on folk-rock should check it out," Jennifer urges.

The mountains ring with melody on The Rough Guide to the Music of the Alps. Donna Scanlon says "this effervescent sampler of the diverse offerings from the Alps is at once a concise education and an inspiration to explore further into the music of another culture."

Matt McGinn retreads The Best of Matt McGinn, Vol. 2, and Nicky calls this "one of the best-value albums on offer this year. ... Here you have a chance on one CD to experience folk music as it was best written and performed a few decades ago."

Steve Nelson asks us to Listen What the Katmandu. Nicky says Nelson's "anarchic wit ... bears very close listening. ... Within the fun songs and the love songs, Nelson also shows his steel edge and his views on a world that needs change."

Canadian guitarists are the focus of Six Strings North of the Border, Vol. 2. "There's not a bad track in this bunch of gems from north of the border, where there's some dandy picking that shouldn't be ignored," says Chet Williamson. "Guitar fanciers are highly advised not to miss it."

Rory Block offers the Last Fair Deal on a blues CD that Pamela Dow says "is a true testament to the artist's personal dedication in keeping the traditional blues sound alive and vibrant for future generations."

Jim Self gets innovative with his brass on My America. "This CD will not be to everyone's taste," says Dave Howell -- but curious listeners might want to check out the fluba!

Ken Kaufman's brand of new age music, demonstrated on Rhythms of the World, is so relaxing, "it makes George Winston sound like Jerry Lee Lewis," Dave says. "It would be excellent for yoga, massage or guided meditations."

Ken Waldman picks his Burnt Down House apart in this CD combining poetry with old-time music. "When you listen to the poem about his dishwashing routine, you realize how easy it is to turn the most mundane daily routines into poetry and art," says Alicia Karen Elkins.

Sharron Rose defines her own spirituality in The Path of the Priestess: A Guidebook for Awakening the Divine Feminine. "The Path of the Priestess is a fascinating and thoughtful book, interesting both as biography and as an argument on why we need to return the divine Feminine to our modern lives," says Laurie Thayer.

Nancy Red Star shares Legends of the Star Ancestors: Stories of Extraterrestrial Contact from Wisdomkeepers Around the World, a long-winded title of lore that Alicia says might surprise you. "I enjoyed this book tremendously and found it to be a catalyst for deep reflection upon the shape of the world today and the outlook for the future," she remarks.

Margaret Atwood extrapolates on a "multitude of mysteries" surrounding a "provocative young servant and the double murder of her employer and his mistress in 1843" in Alias Grace. "Alias Grace ponders the flimsy and oft-corrupted lines between truth and deception, sanity and irrationality, servant and master," says Julie Bowerman. "The research into Grace, her trial and her life as a prisoner is extensive and impressive."

Julie E. Czerneda compiles stories of a future workforce in Space Inc., featuring 14 talented writers. Donna calls it "one of the best collections of its kind; there isn't a bad story in the book, and certainly all will serve whatever mood you are in."

Diana Reed Slattery maps out The Maze Game in a science-fiction world where humans are immortal -- and bored. "A story so dependent on chance poetry and unspoken assumptions should feel forced and artificial," says Sarah Meador. "The Maze Game comes together with the deceptive ease and unplanned inevitability of a spider's web. One wrong sentence would destroy the fragile beauty of the story, but Slattery never writes that wrong line."

Jonathan Lethem shifts from science fiction to contemporary fantasy in The Fortress of Solitude, and Gregg Thurlbeck says the transition is only partly successful. "Lethem is a tremendously skilled writer, one of those rare talents who can work both inside and outside of genre fiction," Gregg says. "But in The Fortress of Solitude he's tried to do both at the same time."

Michael Moore asks Dude, Where's My Country? Wil says the audiobook version of this politically motivated book is "amusing, annoying, interesting, intriguing, boring and sometimes scandalous. ... Regardless of your political opinions, this book has the ability to make you laugh, nod your head in agreement, as well as think Moore is a nut case."

Tom Knapp revisits Palomar in the new, hardcover collection of The Heartbreak Soup Stories by Gilbert Hernandez. "The Heartbreak Soup Stories are a sort of extended soap opera, and it includes the usual ingredients: secret romance, forbidden love, murder, loyalty, betrayal, insanity, imprisonment, sex, marriage, divorce, reunion, corruption, justice and monkeys," Tom says. "Every chapter and story is absorbing, whether humorous or dramatic -- or, as is usually the case, both."

Mary Harvey says there are more failures than successes in the Elsewords tale Blue Amazon, which concludes a three-part homage to German cinema. "The prose is absolutely turgid, the dialogue as stiff as it gets," Mary complains. "The art is dark but, far from being experimental or erotic, is surrealistically overdone, in a bad drug trip kind of way."

The only disappointment with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Tom says, "is that it's over. ... Breaking the usual rules about substandard sequels wide open, the movie meets and exceeds all expectations."

William Kates cashes his Paycheck on this John Woo film that ultimately disappoints. "I can never understand how the people who make movies can spend hundreds of millions of dollars on special effects, actors' salaries, craft service and the like and still pay so little attention to good writing. The dialogue in Paycheck is cringe-inducingly stupid at times," he explains.

That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!

10 January 2004

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.
- William Butler Yeats

In our continuing coverage of Celtic Colours, Cheryl Turner spends an afternoon with the Next Generation, a matinee concert featuring the Cape Breton Fiddler's Association, Rankin MacInnes, Krista MacKinnon, the McCarrel Sisters and the Plockton School Group.

Andy Jurgis also takes us along to see Malinky at England's Northwich Folk Club. Take a peek and enjoy the show!

Mac Morin demonstrates the power of the piano on his new, self-titled CD. All 17 tracks, Tom says, "exhibit the artistry of Cape Breton piano styles."

Maeve Donnelly has earned a new fan with her self-titled CD. "Donnelly plays the heart of her chosen tunes with verve and silken grace," says Sarah Meador. "It's rare to hear a fiddle sing; one with such a clear and shining voice is not to be missed."

Celtic Soul continues to mix Celtic music with American country on Ways, an album Joyce Rankin admits is hard to categorize. "Who knows what to call it?" she asks. "But hey, it works."

Runrig goes the Long Distance in this best-of compilation disc. "A fairly equal mix of Gaelic and English, the songs reflect some of the best songwriting and musical abilities of the group," says Jean Price. "It is a great introduction to their earlier music and would be perfect for anyone who wants to hear a good representative sample."

Eivor Palsdottir, a new Scandinavian singer, makes her mark on her self-titled debut CD. "This album is worth looking into for all fans of female singer-songwriters, whether or not they understand Faroese," says Jennifer Hanson.

Hans Fredrik Jacobsen isn't blowing hot air on Vind, a Nordic recording featuring various wind (and other) instruments. The album "will appeal most to those with adventurous musical tastes," Jennifer decides. "Jacobsen shows himself to be a musician with many influences and a sense of humor who is capable of getting funky or being ambient."

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Michael Brook collaborate on Night Song, which Erika Rabideau calls "a perfect introduction to Qawaal singing for an adventurous listener trying to discover different types of music."

Ontario singer Nathan Caswell unveils Einstein's Brain, and Rachel Jagt has a good response. "His is unselfconscious intelligent songwriting that also has a sense of humour," she says, "and it provides an interesting alternative to the piles of unoriginal compact discs floating around out there in music land."

Laurie McClain reissues The Child Behind My Eyes to support a good cause, but Jenny Ivor says McClain's voice leaves her cold.

Donna Scanlon sings the praises of The Rough Guide to Gospel. "The Rough Guide is packed with samples of the top performers in the field -- good news indeed," she proclaims.

The-Low-Country is a gathering of two Brits, an Australian and a German who, combined, perform music in an American country style. Welcome to the Low Country, says Peter Harris, is "a little different from what you usually hear."

Rob McNurlin shows off his songwriting and singing talents on Lonesome Valley Again. Nicky Rossiter says this is "country music as it was meant to be."

On Sometimes in Bad Weather, Jenny proclaims, "Kemp Harris has produced a deliciously slow-burning blend of jazz, soul and folk that is so laid back it is horizontal!"

Tom Schulte employs his wife in his review of Nina Simone's The Lady Has the Blues, a divergence from Simone's more usual jazz and pop format.

Norman MacCaig shares Selected Poems in this volume demonstrating why he was "a cultural icon in Scotland," says Debbie Koritsas. "His lyric poems had great appeal, especially to those who would not normally enjoy poetry."

Eddie Lenihan "is a national treasure of Ireland," says Tom Knapp. For proof, read Meeting the Other Crowd: The Fairy Stories of Hidden Ireland, a collaboration with American radio producer Carolyn Eve Green. "Following in the footsteps of Yeats and Gregory, Lenihan collects tales in the old fashion -- by talking to those who knew and loved them, by listening while there are still voices to share this rich cultural heritage," Tom says.

Robert M. Tilendis joins us today with a review of Donnerjack, a novel by Roger Zelazny and Jane Linskold. "Zelazny was a writer of immense vision; in the canon of his work, Donnerjack is quite possibly that vision's most breathtaking statement," Robert says. "This is a richly poetic, tremendously exciting book, and without doubt Zelazny's finest."

Kristen Britain answers the First Rider's Call in a book Jennifer says should appeal to fans of Mercedes Lackey. "Britain is attentive to the social forces shaping the cultures in her world and her descriptions of natural settings are more than generic landscapes," Jennifer says. "Her combat scenes are sometimes jarring, but in such a way as to convey the shock of such encounters, and as a result they are very effective."

Vu X. Do doesn't quite succeed in bringing a sci-fi world to life with The Beginning, The Seventh Storm, The End. The book, says C. Nathan Coyle, "bites off a little bit more than it can chew. While it has enjoyable moments, it doesn't quite reach its potential." Hoopla, Nathan, for review #50!

The audio version of Brian Haig's Private Sector finds an eager audience in Wil Owen. Read his review to see how important the right voice is for the story!

Kevin Murphy spends A Year at the Movies and shares his opinions -- not just about movies, but travel and life -- with David Roy. "Through his journey, he regains his love of film, his affection for that flashing light and flickering screen, and he brings us along with him," says David. "He's not the most wonderful writer in the world, but he makes up for it with an intensity about his subject that's contagious."

Mark Allen takes a swing with Tarzan in Le Monstre, a Dark Horse publication by Lovern Kindzierski, Stan Manoukian and Vince Roucher. "The bold, detailed style finely portrays the macabre nature of the villainy within the pages, as well as the wonder of early 20th-century Paris and New York City," he says.

The saga continues with Zendra 2.0: Heart of Fire, a sci-fi graphic novel series by Stuart Moore. Unfortunately, C. Nathan says the book doesn't live up to the standard set by its predecessor. "As great as the artwork and character designs are, it just can't carry the story," he says.

Wil pays a visit to Red River Valley, a Chinese film newly released in the States. "The focus of the film is Tibet as it was a century ago," Wil says. "The best aspect of the film is the cinematography."

Janine Kauffman takes a seat with the Bleacher Bums, but says the film -- in some ways a homage to the doomed fans of the Chicago Cubs -- "often seems to have some spark missing, some flavor of the field that somehow doesn't leap the ivy-covered wall."

That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!

3 January 2004

No matter how qualified or deserving we are,
we will never reach a better life until
we can imagine it for ourselves
and allow ourselves to have it.
- Richard Bach

Welcome to 2004!! We hope that the coming year is in every way better than the year before!!

Virginia MacIsaac takes us back to Cape Breton for another installment of our comprehensive coverage of the Celtic Colours festival. This week, she takes us to the Guitar Summit in Judique, where J.P. Cormier, John Doyle, Dave MacIsaac, Scott MacMillan and Anna Massie put their talents on display.

Andy Jurgis takes us along to see the Kate Rusby Band perform at the Nantwich Folk & Roots Festival in Cheshire, England. "There is no doubting the richness and subtlety of Rusby's voice -- a quite remarkable talent -- and her singing and guitar playing was faultless," Andy reports.

Still feeling a bit of holiday spirit -- or ready to get the jump on the coming year? The musicians on Christmas Around the World have "tapped into the joyous energy of Christmastime," says Sarah Meador. "With the earnest, barely restrained exuberance of a child who can't wait for the big day, these artists put their own bright polish on old standards, spreading an infectious, honest energy that will drown out any number of forced ad jingles and elevator treatments of favorite hymns."

Fonnmhor, a Michigan-based Celtic band, "wastes no time in exhibiting its perfectly balanced, tightly knit sound" on its self-titled debut, Tom Knapp says. You'll never guess what nontraditional idea has him intrigued the most about this album!

The Sheiling sings about The Shape I'm In, and Nicky Rossiter is very pleased with this Welsh band's sound. "Once upon a time Tom Jones was the voice of Wales and before him Harry Secombe; now we have another 'Jones the Song' in Dylan Jones," Nicky says.

David Cox brings his knowledge of Welsh folk music to bear in his review of The Rough Guide to the Music of Wales: Harps, Bards & Gwerin Sounds. See David's review for his praise of the high points -- and his questions about what was left off of this popular collection.

Anuna, best known for its performance in Riverdance, explores medieval Irish music in this early self-titled CD. "This is a very different take on Celtic music, and includes vast amounts of classical and (obviously) medieval music," says Jean Price. "But this is no fancy tenor belting out "Danny Boy." These are beautifully arranged, well-performed renditions of songs that may otherwise be lost."

Tigerlily explores new styles with traditional instruments on the Norwegian band's self-titled CD. "In a setting like this, words like 'traditional' and 'modern' become meaningless," says Jennifer Hanson. "The voice of each instrument reverts to being a pure sound beyond classifications such as 'digital' or 'acoustic.'"

Boris Kovac & Ladaaba Orchest respond with music to the violence in their world on Ballads at the End of Time: La Danza Apocalypsa Balcanica #2. "This is one of the best albums I've heard this year," says Ron Bierman. "It's about the day after the apocalypse and the nervous surprise at having survived."

Animus's self-titled CD is "an eclectic blend of contemporary and traditional musical styles from the Mediterranean, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, with a pinch of jazz and rock," explains Carool Kersten. "The novelty of Animus's music is further enhanced by the unorthodox instrumentation."

Eleanor McEvoy revisits an early recording and adds a few extras for this Special Edition, an album that includes English and Spanish versions of her hit "A Woman's Heart." "The songs on offer are at times heart-rending, as McEvoy seems to write very much from feelings of loss and heartbreak," says Nicky. "Her songs are intelligent, heartfelt and moving."

Amy Fradon shares her Small Town News, an album Nicky says "almost defies classification as it ranges so easily among genres from bluegrass through county, jazz to folk in the best possible way. Amy Fradon is a name to watch, she could veer in any direction and be a major star in any genre, including as a writer."

Kevin Patrick Baiko should stay away from rockabilly, Alicia Karen Elkins warns, but on his new CD Fool's Gold he shows a talent for gospel and folk. "He is a master of voices and characterization," Alicia says. "The humor in these folksongs is off-the-wall and knee-slapping funny."

Nancy Apple shows her diverse singing styles on Shoulda Lied About That. "Apple's music may be too eclectic for her ever to become a major star in today's music scene," suggests Peter Harris, "but if you are interested in alt-country and Americana and you like a twangy voice, this is for you."

Sheri Lee has More Than Words to share on this CD. Sarah says "there's no getting around it: this is just a strong, powerful dose of folk-flavored country, with no apologies or distractions."

Sharon Shinn returns to Samaria with Angelica. "Not only does Shinn tell a terrific story, but also the whole concept of how various societies evolve and develop over 200 years is intriguing and thought-provoking," says Donna Scanlon. "This is science fiction with an anthropological and theological flair and certainly an inspired and inspiring novel that is not only heavenly but thoroughly grounded in its credibility."

Christopher Golden "brings a new twist to the vampire legend" in The Shadow Saga, a book series continuing with The Gathering Dark. Read Daniel Jolley's review to see the strengths -- and the weaknesses -- of Golden's Shadow folk.

Marion Zimmer Bradley had completed the editing for Sword & Sorceress XX, a fantasy anthology that has been guided by her hand since 1984, shortly before her death. "This volume is a fitting memorial for Bradley, who may be remembered as much for her discoveries of new writers as for her own body of work," says Jennifer.

Juliet Marillier dips into Norse fantasy with Wolfskin. "She constructs her plot with care and her writing is just magical," says Donna. "I understand that this is the beginning of a series of novels, and I look forward to reading more by this talented author." Hoopla, Donna, for review #500!

Frank Joseph fails to make his point in The Lost Treasure of King Juba: The Evidence of Africans in America before Columbus, according to Sarah. "Joseph follows a hypothetical crew of exiled Romans, Africans, Celts, Christians and Jews across the oceans in extreme and unsupported detail," she explains.

It's a "dark vision to be sure, but also the setting for a very exciting, extremely different kind of comic book story," says Mark Allen. Whither does he speak? The Foot Soldiers, a graphic novel set in a world "where all heroes have been slain, all hope has been lost and harsh law is enforced by human/mechanical hybrids."

Tim Hunter comes to America in Girl in the Box, the next in John Ney Rieber's excellent Books of Magic series. "I suspect I'll be enjoying Tim Hunter's adventures for a long time to come," Tom enthuses.

Susan Orlean's book The Orchid Thief is made into a movie, sort of, in Adaptation, which is a movie about making a movie of a book. "Adaptation mixes reality with fiction more readily, and with more gusto, than just about anything else that's come along in recent years," remarks Janine Kauffman.

Tom flashes back to a pivotal moment in his youth -- when Steven Spielberg and Raiders of the Lost Ark redefined his concept of action-adventure movies. "Spielberg didn't strive for deep meaning or to break new ground with this one; it was and remains a boyish fantasy that appeals to the wide-eyed child in all of us."

That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!

27 December 2003

Those who wear fig leaves
should not dance with hungry goats.
- Lewis Cougill

We hope everyone is having a grand holiday season, whether they celebrate Christmas, Solistice, Chanukah, Kwanzaa or any other year-end holidays or combinations thereof!! At this festive and oh-so busy time of year, a lot of people schedule vacations, television networks show reruns, newspapers print retrospectives and even unimaginative magazines repeat material from earlier in the year. However, life goes on at Rambles, and we didn't want to leave our readers with nothing to read this week, so here is our regularly scheduled update. Ho ho ho, and a very happy 2004 to all!

Henry Marten's Ghost haunts the ol' sod with Ireland: A Troubled Romance. Donna Scanlon says this "graceful collection of songs" is a keeper.

It's No Trouble at All for Irishman Noel Lenaghan, whose new CD "draws the listener into the world of a great new talent." Nicky Rossiter says Lenaghan "is another name to watch out for."

The City Waites address The English Tradition: 400 Years of Music & Song in an album Tom Knapp describes as exceedingly varied. "The instrumentals range from stately dances to rousing frolics. The songs are lovely, stately and romantic or, at times, fast and bawdy," Tom says. "The City Waites tackle them all with equal enthusiasm, skill and authenticity."

And Did Those Feet draws our attention with Spirit of the Age. Nicky says the album is hard to find, but worth the search!

Enekk brings a touch of Bulgarian music to its usual Faroese sound with Fyra Naetur Fyri Jol. "The arrangements are in the folk-rock vein with some room for improvisation," says Jennifer Hanson. "For a taste of Faroese music that explores different territory, try this CD."

Jeremiah McLane puts the accordion in its place on Smile When You're Ready. "Smile When You're Ready isn't just a good album for accordion fans. It's a good album for anyone who enjoys instrumentals, or waltzes, or would like to hear a fiddle's gentler side," says Sarah Meador. "That all is held together by McLane's extremely sharp accordion playing is an added bonus."

Dave and Julia Evardson take A Ramble on the Viking Way with music meditating on Lincolnshire and the decline of its fishing industry. Peter Harris explores the package in his review.

Carol Elizabeth Jones and Laurel Bliss get to the roots of country music with Girl from Jericho, but Jerome Clark says the album has successes and failures in its mix. Read his review for the details.

Julie Powell makes a good first impression on her brief CD Heart of a Woman. "Powell has a beautiful voice, and she uses it to great effect on this CD," Nicky says of this new-age singer.

Besh o droM serves up some Balkan jazz on Can't Make Me! (Nekemtenemmutogatol!) -- and Paul de Bruijn says the music "stays with you -- it is fun, and it is wonderful. Listen, no dance to it, interact with it and enjoy."

Metropolitan Klezmer offers Yiddish for Travelers on an album Carool Kersten says covers "an impressive breadth" of music. "Yiddish for Travelers offers an entertaining musical journey through a unique and truly global musical tradition that deserves every effort to be preserved," he says.

Alicia Karen Elkins has her camel packed for Arabian Travels 2. "If you love to dance, Arabian Travels 2 will be a trip to heaven for you," she says. "If you like electronic music or world fusion, order this one today."

Shannon Hale revisits the old Grimm tale of The Goose Girl in this new fantasy novel for young adults. "Hale has taken that barebones frame and embroidered a colorful tale of growing up, friendship and learning one's place in the world," says Laurie Thayer. "This is a charming, magical book, and one that is sure to be read over and over again."

S.L. Farrell launches his Cloudmages trilogy with Holder of Lightning. "The story is depicted in broad strokes filled in with an incredible amount of detail," says Donna. "Sometimes it feels as if there is a bit too much flesh for the story, but it holds together without collapsing."

Charles Stross makes the leap from short fiction to novels with Singularity Sky. "Stross is obviously a man with plenty of ideas and a stylistic palette that would make many writers envious," Gregg Thurlbeck states. "But he needs to rein in his talents somewhat if he's going to produce novels of real significance."

Sara King bares a bit of her soul in I Stole a Rock: Poems of Love & Romance. "The stories told are told in plain language, with just enough imagery peppering the work to keep it from being representative of a 'real' conversation, but tracing a conversation you wish you knew someone smart enough or infatuated with you enough to have," says Scott Woods.

Mark Allen takes a close look at Negative Exposure, a graphic novel that gets up close and personal to the events at Tiananmen Square. "This engaging tale combines breakneck-paced action, international intrigue and great humor to produce a comic-reading experience," Mark says. (But he doesn't like the nudity.)

Mary Harvey expounds on Hush, Vol. 2, a piece of this year's much talked-about Batman storyline. "Don't be surprised if, at the end, you're still left wondering just what, exactly, did happen in the series," she says. "Just enjoy it for the light fun that it is."

It's summer in America's heartland, Janine Kauffman announces, "and in Tully, you can nearly smell the crops as they surge forward, nearly feel the evening's exhaustion after a day toiling in the sun. ... Tully overcomes most of the challenges inherent in simply being a tiny movie on a tight budget."

Tom sinks Deeply into a Nova Scotian fairytale with this film starring Kirsten Dunst, Lynn Redgrave and Julia Brendler. "Much like Ireland's The Secret of Roan Inish, Deeply is set both in the present and the recent past, bringing just a hint of fantasy into the tale," he says. "Deeply is a wonderful fairytale that avoids the glossy overproduction of typical Hollywood fare."

That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!

20 December 2003

In the end we shall have had enough
of cynicism and skepticism and humbug,
and we shall want to live more musically.
- Vincent Van Gogh

We're coming down to the wire for holiday preparations!! Some of us here at Rambles (like the editor, for instance...) might be a wee bit behind on a few items (like shopping, for example...), but we're not letting it interfere with our regularly scheduled updates. Today you'll find concert reports, seasonal music and the usual array of book, CD and movie reviews. So hang your mistletoe over a special someone's head, trim your tree, deck your halls and fa-la-la your way down this holly-jolly page of reviews!

Tom Knapp provides another glimpse of Celtic Colours at Islanders All, a performance featuring John Ferguson, Flook, Buddy MacDonald and Cynthia MacLeod. Check out the action in Prime Brook!!

Also today, Ellen Rawson reports on the Mediaeval Baebes, with Carolyn Hillyer & Nigel Shaw, at England's Witchfest.

Diane Taraz nails nearly all of Donna Scanlon's holiday favorites on Hope! Says the Holly. The carols, Donna says, "are performed beautifully."

Jeff Ball celebrates the holidays with a very different sound on Songs of Winter, a CD featuring the Native American wood flute. "The beauty of this album is that it appeals to nearly anyone," says C. Nathan Coyle. "This is not a tiresome rehash of old standards."

Christine Lavin & the Mistletones ring in the season with The Runaway Christmas Tree: Favorite Holiday Songs & Bedtime Stories. "The vocal rounds in particular -- inspired by New York's Sol "Roundman" Weber -- make for great holiday listening with great harmonies, precise timing and a big slice of seasonal cheer," Tom says.

Another holiday compilation is out for bluegrass fans, C. Nathan announces. "True to the season, Pinecastle Records offers some of their best bluegrass artists on A Pinecastle Christmas Gatherin', with a collection offering typical and not-so-typical Christmas songs," he says.

In the mood for more holiday hoopla? Check out more reviews in our special holiday section, where you'll find plenty to tide you over for another 12 months!

Alanna Berger goes on a 5 Mile Chase with this Minnesota-Irish duo whose self-titled CD defies their lack of Irish blood. "If you can't be in an Irish pub, pour yourself a Guinness and put on this recording and close your eyes -- its charm and energy will transport you immediately to the magic of your neighborhood public house," says Alanna.

Dervish shows its Irish Spirit on this new CD, and Nicky Rossiter says the album clearly shows why they "are one of the finest bands on the circuit at present."

Shave the Monkey pays a visit to The Unseelie Court. The music, Tom says, "is so good -- and so varied -- that it really whets my appetite to hear everything else this band has recorded. ... Shave the Monkey has a unique sound to match a very unique name."

The Mats Berglund Trio serves up a selection of music from the Swedish-Norwegian region of Varmland with this self-titled release from Giga Folkmusik. "Like many Giga albums, this is a slightly esoteric disc to be beloved by students of Nordic folk more than the regular album-buying public," notes Jennifer Hanson. "But also like many Giga albums, this is a winner for people who love this kind of music."

Doug Young's Laurel Mill is "one of the better acoustic fingerstyle guitar CDs I've run across in a long while," Wil Owen writes. "How can you not just slow down and take a time out when you listen to music like this?"

Jane gets Close Up & Real in this CD that hearkens back to her pre-family-and-proper-job days. "The strength of the album is in Jane's vocals (similar to Faith Hill for power and texture), but the atmospheric effects used and the raw quality of the production also contribute to its freshness," Jean Lewis reports.

George Kahumoku Jr. makes Footprints in the Poi in this slice of Hawaiian life. "This is George Kahumoku Jr. at his best," says Jamie O'Brien. "The talent, the humor, the entertainment all combine for a live evening that you can return to again and again."

Bobby Seals summons the spirits of Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis on Time Machine, which Nicky says "sounds just like living in the 1960s, but with better production."

Toni Lynn Washington makes a believer of Jerome Clark with Been So Long, a blues album that proves the potential of the Boston blues scene. "Her roots are in the country church in North Carolina, but her mature sound -- and Been So Long is every inch a grown-up record -- claims big-city bars and clubs as its natural habitat," Jerome says.

Oliver Mtukudzi reprises The Tuku Years in this new release from Putumayo. "This is a wonderful assortment of music that, through its interwoven layers of guitar and vocal tracks, blends a completely modern sound with southern African musical traditions," says Gregg Thurlbeck.

The soundtrack to Camp got Alicia Karen Elkins moving. "It is excellently composed and manages to introduce the ideal voice at the precise moment for maximum impact," she says. "From folk songs to big band sounds, it is all here."

Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson tackle the first element in Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits. "Both are extremely talented writers, but their styles are very different," says Donna. "Dickinson's stories are usually darker, spare to the point of bleakness; McKinley's are more light-hearted although still complex and rich."

Tom Orrell says we're Not Alone Out Here, but this self-proclaimed "old-fashioned ghost story" doesn't satisfy Tom. "Orrell relates the story in a dry, dispassionate first-person narrative that fails to involve the reader," he explains. "The protagonist, a new widower with two children, may tell me he's scared, but I never feel it."

David J. Schow explores a world of horror and science fiction in Rock Breaks Scissors Cut, a book that tries "to delve into matters of life itself and its ultimate meaning," according to Daniel Jolley. "The story shows great promise initially but seems to break down at the very end."

Chaz Brenchley begins his Outremer series with The Devil in the Dust, a tale which focuses on one kingdom's love affair with the Truth. "The author's command of prose at times shines with the beauty of poetry without being enamored of it at the expense of clarity," says Dana Fletcher.

James Patterson's new novel, Four Blind Mice, is brought to life in audio. Donna calls it "a gripping and engrossing thriller to liven up your commute."

John C. Myre encourages us to Live Safely in a Dangerous World in his book subtitled How to Beat the Odds of Dying in an Accident. "Live Safely is a collection of extremely practical advice," notes Sarah Meador. "It's advice that most people already know and are busy ignoring."

C. Nathan loves a good villain, and that's the main reason he likes Zendra 1.0: Collocation, a far-future graphic novel by Stuart Moore. "The grand epic sense and the characters are the selling points of this book," Nathan says.

It might sound like a story drawn from the pen of Faulkner, but Dixie Road owes its inspiration to a Belgian writer and French artist. Michael Vance offers high praise for the book, which spotlights "the dirty side of human nature."

Even the background material is complicated in Hable con ella (Talk to Her), warns Miles O'Dometer. "Talk to Her is a brilliant film that combines a powerful narrative with equally powerful images, many drawn from the world of ballet, others from classic silent cinema," Miles says. "It has moments that are very sweet and some that are quite funny, but just as many that are maddeningly bitter."

Virginity must go in Roger Dodger, a film that debates the best route for reaching that destination. "The smooth verbal nastiness of Roger Dodger, writer/director Dylan Kidd's first film, and the rapport between its two leads, pretty much makes up for a story line that's similar to other 'boys behaving badly' films of recent years," says Janine Kauffman.

That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!

16 December 2003

Johnny Cunningham, renowned Scottish fiddler who first came to prominence as a founding member of Silly Wizard, died on the evening of Dec. 15, 2003. Cunningham, 46, died at home in Trisha's arms from a heart attack. Most recently, he had been touring with Irish singer Susan McKeown and guitarist Aidan Brennan on the third edition of the Winter Talisman Tour.