28 February 2004 to 17 April 2004
17 April 2004
Coincedence is the word we use
The editor (and one of the assistant editors, but that's a different story) are off on a week's adventure. So let's zip into this week's reviews without delay; next week's edition will be a day or two late in posting, but it'll still be packed with reviewy goodness! Cheers!
Christy Moore revisits 40 years of music on The Box Set 1964-2004. "The box of six CDs will delight the true fan of folk music," Nicky Rossiter says. "It will enthrall new fans. It will bring back four decades of memories to casual listeners." Congratulations, Nicky, on review #300!
Ann Flynt says Let Scotland Flourish after listening to this compilation disc of young artists from Foot Stompin' Records. "These songs are played with fire, passion and the panache youth can put on the old and traditional," she says.
Altramar moves From Galway to Galicia: The Celtic Shores in this exploration of medieval music from the Atlantic Coasts of Europe, Britain & Ireland. "This scholarly presentation is pleasing to the ear, and is not too 'heavy' to listen to at home, for all it would admirably suit the ambiance of a fine restaurant set within a converted chapel," Jenny Ivor reports.
Cal shares his love of country on Scotland: A Part of Me. "Cal has put together a wonderful collection of songs and does a formidable job performing them," says Jean Price. "If he focused more on his wonderful voice and fantastic songwriting ... he could easily become a force to be reckoned with in the Scottish-folk field."
Fromseier Rose is a musical Contradiction, a Danish duo with guest vocals by Irish singer Niamh Parsons. "The music they create together is graceful, partnering together as in a dance," Paul de Bruijn says. "I hope to hear more from them."
Ray Hearne's CD Broad Street Ballads is "something unique and worthy of special listening," Andy Jurgis reports. "The album is balanced between songs with a personal and lyrical touch, and those with a more historical and political perspective."
We're About 9 revs its Engine and attracts a "lot of attention on the northeast folk circuit," says Dave Townsend, who caught their act at Falcon Ridge. The new CD, he says, "is full of the beautiful vocal harmonies, quirky, thoughtful songwriting and passionate singing that made their live show so enjoyable."
Beth Orton shows off her "wonderful, emotive and soulful" folk singing on Daybreaker, Gregg Thurlbeck says. "The music is worth going mad for."
Jordan Kolton is there When the Hammer Drops for a "comfortable melange of smooth vocals, even instrumental flow and a steady pace," says C. Nathan Coyle. "Kolton's debut album is a pleasant collection of original songs that shows his talents are evenly distributed among vocals, guitar and songwriting."
The Seventh Triangle's TOWA is "a remarkable two hours" in length, Dave Howell notes. "It is an exceptional deal," Dave says. "You won't have to buy another CD for a couple of months."
The Pedrick-Hutson Guitar Duo explore varied guitar possibilities on Environs. Sherrill Fulghum says the CD is "a must-have for anyone who is interested in guitar technique and the virtuosity of the instrument."
Anthony Braxton heralds his News from the '70s for a bit of avant-garde jazz. "This CD provides a wonderful cross-section of his early work," Ron Bierman says. "The playing throughout is intelligent and passionate. Recommended for the adventurous."
Moossa blends blues, reggae, roots-rock and country in Get Away. "Does this claim to a wide variety of styles mean the band can't find its own sound, its special voice?" asks Virginia MacIsaac. "Not at all. Their sound is a strong composite of all the parts tied together with a beautiful beat, no matter what that beat is."
Chris Daniels, The Kings & Friends light The Spark for a highly varied country-blues recording. "They prefer to think of themselves as 'the hottest seven-piece horn band in the U.S.' and I'm willing to allow that just might be," says Sarah Meador. "But it might also bring to mind images of loudmouth brass, narrow walls of jazz or big band music. There's certainly some of that flavoring The Spark."
Ken Waldman brings the music and the poetry to Music Party, his third CD. "The music is simple and raw, though bigger in sound" than his previous recordings, notes Karen Elkins. "Waldman writes about the ordinary things in life; things you encounter every day, yet have never stopped to examine in detail."
Coyote Oldman dips into the past with In Medicine River, which Mary Harvey says "is perfect for anyone looking for a great introduction to traditional Native American Plains music. Its spellbinding, sensuous songs are as easygoing as they are elaborate."
Ramiro Musotto's Sudaka is among the "strangest" releases to come from Brazil, David Cox believes. "Sudaka is an unusual disc, even by Brazilian standards," he says. "Depending on your point of view, it could be either a work of great genius or an excessive and ambitious mistake."
Laura Sullivan's Pianoscapes for the Trails of North America is "pleasant music, offering a limited range of emotional values and not a great deal of substance, Robert Tilendis reveals. "The music is so uniform that one literally cannot tell sometimes where one song ends and the next begins."
Christine Lavin's Girl Uninterrupted is "the best sort of live concert video," William Kates says. The presentation, he adds, "allows you to feel like you are there."
Charlie Glendinning provides a "great new compilation of music for the Highland bagpipe," Wayne Morrison says, in the aptly titled Glendinning Collection of Bagpipe Music. "Glendinning has put together an uncommonly good collection of tunes," Wayne says. "Pipers, harpers, fiddlers and anyone else who likes a good tune -- lots of good tunes -- would be well-served by buying this book."
Sorley MacLean's complete Gaelic poetry cycle Dain do Eimhir is translated into English as Poems to Eimhir, edited by Christopher Whyte. "This is an edition to be warmly welcomed as it presents the original Gaelic poems in a restored sequence and makes it more widely accessible too through the English translation," Andy says. "MacLean's poetry is steadily emerging from the literary shadows to take its place in the centre of 20th century European poetry."
Victor Davis Hanson explores the Ripples of Battle, which sometimes extend far beyond the obvious repercussions. The book "doesn't quite live up to what the cover promises," says David Roy. "The title makes the book sound like a broad sociological text and the innards don't quite deliver this. But, once I got past these preconceived notions, I actually found the book quite fascinating."
Barbara Miller Fishman scored few points with Jenny with Emotional Healing through Mindfulness Meditation: Stories & Meditations for Women Seeking Wholeness. "I should have been warned off by the wordiness of the title, perhaps," Jenny says. "For a self-help book, this lacks the simplicity required, and many people will probably give up before achieving any kind of benefit."
Philemon Sturges and Anna Vojtech present the Slavic folktale Marushka & the Month Brothers to great effect in this book that wins praise from Tracie Vida. "Their prose is light and graceful, while Vojtech's delicate drawings viscerally evoke the miracles in the story," she says.
Tim McNeese collects the stories of a continent in Myths of Native America. "The book doesn't claim to be comprehensive -- a complete volume of stories from so large a region, after all, would fill many shelves -- but it does give a diverse sampling of tales," says Tom Knapp. Tom has high praise for the book -- and a singular complaint that mars the package.
N.M. Browne "has created not just one complete world, but two, both so intricately detailed as to defy disbelief" in her novel Basilisk, Kate Danemark says. But, while Kate strongly recommends the book, she isn't sure young adults are the right target audience. Read her review to see why!
Catherine Macphail dips into Dark Waters in this young-adult mystery novel from Bloomsbury Books. "MacPhail has trimmed Dark Waters to its swiftest, neatest form, so that the narrative flows swiftly and unstoppably to a conclusion that offers hope and a moment of calm, but no guarantees," says Sarah Meador. "It may be a young adult's book, but many who are technically mature will find this book offers them room for growth."
Christopher Rowley continues an excellent fantasy series in Doom's Break: The Third Book of Arna. "These are books full of rich characterization, vibrant personalities, great evil, even greater heroism, stunning military conflicts, love, hope, redemption -- the list goes on and on," Daniel Jolley says of the series. "Doom's Break ... takes the series to a stratospheric new level."
Jude Fisher is back with her Fool's Gold saga in Wild Magic. "The interweaving of plots and subplots is the most intricate I have found in many years," says Karen. "I was quite impressed with the author's ability to smoothly transition between the stories without any bumps in the road." So why did the end leave her with "an urge to throw the book across the room and say ugly words"?
Sherman Alexie counts Ten Little Indians, which David Cox calls "a stereotype-busting book" mostly about Spokane Indians living in Seattle. "While the stories don't appear that profound at first, they do haunt," David says. "What seems simple really isn't. Plus, Alexie is good at endings."
Gordon Van Gelder lights One Lamp in this anthology of alternate history stories from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. "This collection challenges every aspect of history, changing and shaping it into stories that are both wonderful and disturbing," Valerie Frankel reports.
Andrew Vachss is Down Here with the 15th Burke novel to date. "There is a power to Vachss' writing that sustains and nourishes the reader during even the most procedural of scenes," Chet Williamson says. "Vachss' Zen-like refusal to use traditional chapter breaks makes the novel flow like a stream, and once you pick it up it's a tough book to put down."
Beth Derochea takes a good first step into the world of manga comics with Cannon God Exaxxion: Stage 1. "The black and grey artwork is detailed and tight, with some moments of wry humor," Beth says. "At times, I almost suspect the author of poking fun at the breast-centric school of manga art."
Janine Kauffman says that, from the beginning of John Malkovich's directorial debut, The Dancer Upstairs, "the quiet panic of political assassination and unrest never lets up." The movie is also "a violently passionate step" for its lead actor, she says.
That's all for another day here at Rambles. Hurry back soon -- new reviews are posted each week. Cheers!
10 April 2004
Everyone is criticizing and belittling the times.
The trees define the forest. And, here at Rambles, the magazine is defined by its staff. As individuals, they're a pretty talented bunch of people; as members of this creative organization, they become part of something much, much bigger. Some folks here do a lot, some do a little, but they all contribute in some way to the success of the magazine. And for that I, as editor, am continually astonished and very, very grateful.
Things are changing here at Rambles. In recent weeks, we've created several new editorial positions to recognize the efforts of certain writers, with the goal of expanding some existing sections and creating a few new ones. Too, we've lost a few people who we could ill-afford to lose. Still, people's needs and goals change, and we all must adapt accordingly. And, on the bright side, we've seen several excellent new people join the staff, and a few long-lost friends have returned to us. It's a cycle, a fluid existence, and Rambles will emerge from these changes stronger and better than ever.
So, enough rambulations about such things. You're here for the reviews, right? And today's edition has a lot to offer, so scroll on down and start reading!
Meaiti Jo Sheamuis O'Fatharta has a fine voice for tradition on Boithrini an Lochain: Sean-nos Songs from Connemara. "The CD is a treasure of historic Irish songs, a real cultural piece, probably even a collector's item," opines Virginia MacIsaac. "If I wanted to learn any of the songs on this CD, I'd think this would be a good choice for instruction. The singer's voice has an attractive roughness but the words are sharp and clear and with liner notes are easily followed."
Aoife Ferry, nee Aoife Ni Fhearraigh, is The Turning of the Tide with an album that Gilbert Head says is "substantially different from her previous work." The CD is "Ferry's move towards a broader audience," he says. "As such, I can recommend it enthusiastically and without reservation. I can still hope, however, for an occasional return to the leaner and edgier treatment of the traditional music of the Gaeltacht that first made me such an ardant fan."
Karen Matheson sails The Dreaming Sea on this, her first recording apart from Capercaillie. "This is an intelligent, beautifully crafted collection of songs," Debbie Koritsas succinctly reports. For more, check out her full review!
Not all Canadians are thrilled to be so, and I'm not talking about certain factions from Quebec. We Will Remain: Patriotic Songs of Newfoundland "takes a pretty dim view of the decision" to join the confederation, Tom Knapp explains. But, "whatever your views on Newfoundland's independence, We Will Remain is a wonderful snapshot of the debate and the music it generated."
Tanglefoot has been Captured Alive in this concert CD that "captures the essence of a Tanglefoot concert and, at the same time, it delivers studio quality sound," says Donna Scanlon. "This is an essential addition to the CD collections of those new to the band and dedicated FootHeads alike."
Sturla/Andreas is a pair of Norwegian musicians who join forces on Glimmer. "Two musicians, two fiddles, one guitar, one bouzouki, 11 mostly traditional Norwegian tunes," Nordic section editor Jennifer Hanson explains. "Glimmer begins with this handful of ingredients and proves that good music doesn't need a profusion of elements to be successful. In fact, this CD's success comes from its simplicity."
Dan Oakenhead records his own songs for Sky Geezer. "The listener is the winner," Nicky Rossiter says. "This is a beautiful collection of excellent music and song."
Jerome Clark says there are some notable names lacking from the playlist, but still enjoys the music compiled on Live at the Oak Center General Store/Folk Forum, Vol. 1. "This well-recorded and pleasant collection manages to cover a broad stylistic range, not just pure folk but also jazz, classic pop and world sounds," he says. "If it's meant to encourage you to stop by next time you're passing through Lake City, Minnesota, and somebody's on stage at the general store, it will have you pressing the brakes."
Leah Zicari is Pretty on Thursday, and Sherrill Fulghum aays this songwriter "didn't forget why she wrote the lyrics in the first place. ... Leah has the voice and talent to be a star."
Christopher Jak earns the Applause of the Rain with an album Wil Owen says is "surely one of 2003's best folk/pop-rock CDs. ... With a voice that was made for this genre of music, this former choirboy should make quite the splash as his musical career progresses."
Mark Erelli comes as a Hillbilly Pilgrim in this recording of "country via folk," Jennifer announces. "Before you know it, you're humming along by heart and you don't quite know what hit you."
Eve Goldberg mixes folk and country/bluegrass (plus a little touch of blues) on Crossing the Water. Andy Jurgis says the more contemporary songs are her strongest work, "particularly those written by Goldberg herself."
Tim O'Brien's Traveler is his "most successful" genre-bending recording yet, Chet Williamson states. "This album is O'Brien's masterpiece, and one gets the feeling that his heart was fully in it."
Taxi Chain tries to Smarten Up on a "bagpipe blues" recording that mixes the pipes and saxophone. "You cannot fault Taxi Chain for not being eclectic," says Dave Howell. "And at their best they are quite interesting and fun."
Incognito plays acid jazz on Who Needs Love, an album Gregg Thurlbeck says "is alternately reminiscent of George Benson and George Clinton. If my choice of these two influences suggests that a distinctly 1970s sound is in evidence on this album, I'd also like to suggest that this is both a good and a bad thing."
Bob Stewart is the Talk of the Town -- or at least he should be, according to Ron Bierman. "Good voice, fine supporting musicians, great songs. What are you waiting for?" Ron asks. "Britney Spears won't be singing these any time soon. At least I hope not."
Carool Kersten provides a detailed look at recordings from two prominent Hindustani musicians: Pandit Kumar Gandharva's Nirguni Bhajans and Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur Khayals. Read both reviews for an insightful look at Indian music by an expert in the field!
Wayne Erbsen's book Rural Roots of Bluegrass: Songs, Stories & History is a lot more than a selection of tunes, Chet says. "If you want to delve deeper into bluegrass than just knowing what chords go with what songs, you'll find this book a delight," he says. "It shows us the roots of the roots, as it were, and you may never think of bluegrass in quite the same way again."
Jane Yolen reminds writers to Take Joy in the process -- an obvious admonition that is far too often forgotten in the craft -- with this remarkable aide to the creative process. "This useful book reads less like an instruction manual and more like a letter of advice from a favorite aunt, slightly eccentric but always fun, interesting and -- let's face it -- more successful than you and I," Tom Knapp says.
Dexter Scott King recalls his life in Growing Up King: An Intimate Memoir. "Though Dexter's voice lacks the preacher quality of his father's, it is not without it's own power," says Kate Danemark, who reviewed the audio version of the book. "I think to hear this story, rather than to read it, lends to its epic quality. It feels as though we are being let in on the behind-the-scenes details of one very public life, and that of another life left behind."
Peter Berresford Ellis expounds on The Celtic Revolution in a book David Cox says "makes a strong but concise case for the integrity of the Celtic lands -- and their languages. ... Ellis's lively, non-academic primer points us in the direction of a brighter future for all Celts. For this alone, it's worth a read."
By the way, for people who enjoy our various non-fiction reviews of history, you'll be happy to know that a section devoted solely to history is currently in the works! (There are other changes underway, although others are still in the early stages and aren't ready to be announced.) This reflects the commitment by the Rambles staff to bring you the best in online reviews -- as well as a massive leap in readership we've witnessed over the past year!
Omer C. Stewart looks at a controversial religious practice in Peyote Religion: A History. "Stewart has managed to combine anecdotes, archeological research, anthropology, religion, a variety of journal and diary entries, quotations and his own research into a manuscript that flows smoothly and engages the reader's interest," says Alicia Karen Elkins. "This is the text on peyotism."
Thom Powell explores a local lore in The Locals: A Contemporary Investigation of the Bigfoot/Sasquatch Phenomenon. "It seems that each bigfoot book I read is a bit better than the previous ones," Alicia says. "If you have any interest in bigfoot, this is a must-have book!"
Peter Christensen roams a Winter Range in this poetry collection. "Christensen's verses are deceptively simple in appearance but complexly crafted," Julie Bowerman says. "From these poetic fences, there is no escape."
Patricia A. McKillip spells an Alphabet of Thorn for a rich, new fantasy. Two tales interweave like brambles, Donna says, "completely ensnaring the reader. McKillip once more demonstrates her ability to create a unique world and appealing complex characters, using rich and vivid language and imagery that lend elegance to the ordinary."
Ellen Kushner has reviewer Robert Tilendis at Swordspoint, "that most unusual fantasy, one without mages, wizards or sorcerers, no spectral visions, no medieval jousts or merry bands of thieves, no dire prophecies, goblins or dark spiritual presences," he says. "Kushner writes like a dream."
Richard Hamilton heads to sea with Violet & the Mean & Rotten Pirates. "Hamilton's book is entertaining for young readers, although his piratical slang might be a little hard for them to decipher," says Tom. "Not laugh-out-loud funny, it is witty enough to hold a youngster's interest as Violet learns her trade."
Carol Berg's Song of the Beast persuades Dana Fletcher to enjoy a first-person point-of-view in fiction. "Few authors are able to write in that perspective with enough skill that I'm able to suspend disbelief and 'feel' the story," Dana says. "I was pleasantly surprised."
Don Sakers reveals The Curse of the Zwilling when a group of college students must fight to save the world from a great evil. Paul de Bruijn says the book "is more modern fantasy than thriller," and says it's an interesting read from start to finish.
A superhero icon meets The X-Files in Superman: The Kansas Sightings. "What supports the story is the sharp characterization and its complete, at times almost zealous, honesty," says Mary Harvey. Alas, she says, "the plot jumps all over the place."
The Crystal Ballroom is "a glimpse into the past of renowned cartoonist Frank Thorne," C. Nathan Coyle explains. "The feeling of truth (in prose and imagery) and the attention to detail elevates The Crystal Ballroom from a self-indulgent piece of nostalgia to a provocative day-in-the-life-of story."
The movie 13 Conversations About One Thing centers on the time when there's no going back, no changing the future. The film boasts "a kind of world-weary wisdom," Janine Kauffman says. "Sometimes, the movie says, you do get a second chance. There's not much you can do to 'deserve' it, but it sometimes lands in your lap as a gift anyway."
Miles O'Dometer says Owning Mahowny is a somber, ultimately lackluster tale. "For all the talent that went into Mahowny and all the interest it sparks, the film ultimately lacks emotional punch," he says.
That's all for another day here at Rambles. Hurry back soon -- new reviews are posted each week. Cheers!
3 April 2004
The artist never entirely knows.
It's been a gloomy, rainy couple of days here at the Rambles home base, but now that Morgan, the official staff dog, is home and resting comfortably after a successful lumpectomy, the day seems bright and sunny indeed! So let's all sit back, scratch the dog behind the ears and enjoy this week's edition -- now bigger and better than ever!
Rag Foundation has turned away from its Welsh roots on Uplands, David Cox complains. "The songs on Uplands have little to do with either the traditional life, or the current situation, in Wales," he says. "Unless they go back to staking out their own turf in Welsh folk-based acoustic music, their careers could be very short."
Arlene Faith's River of Dreams is "a beautiful and peaceful album of Celtic instrumental music," Jenny Ivor reports. "The 50 minutes of music pass as if the listener is floating on a tranquil and deep-flowing river."
Karine Polwart steps out from the shadow of Scottish band Malinky for her solo CD, Faultlines. "I cannot recommend this album highly enough," says Andy Jurgis. "If you want to hear contemporary compositions and singing at its very best combined with a top band, you will not be disappointed by this."
Darren Crossey's Coming Home "demonstrates his musical and vocal ability with traditional songs, instrumental pieces and cover tunes," Jean Price says. "With pieces ranging from country to folk, from ballads to lively, rollicking songs, Crossey shows he is a musical force to be reckoned with."
Jeffrey Foucault is Miles From the Lightning with a folk recording that demonstrates a courageous streak. "The songs are extremely well written and expertly performed," says Nicky Rossiter. "His performance actually belies his young age (26) and promises great things for the future."
Tom Russell made a good first impression on William Kates, but the pleasure didn't hold true through his look at Modern Art. "If you've ever attended a folk festival, you will likely have encountered a song circle where singers both accomplished and aspiring get together and each take turns doing a song. Everyone is usually treated respectfully, sometimes even reverentially, regardless of their ability or lack thereof," William says. "I fear that this sort of open-minded egalitarianism that is part of the folk music tradition can legitimize bad songwriting such as the songs on this disc."
A Canadian songwriter gets his due on Beautiful: A Tribute to Gordon Lightfoot. "This shows the diversity and influence of Lightfoot's songs -- they cross many musical genres and continue to inspire musicians," Erika Rabideau reports -- although she isn't thrilled with some interpretations.
Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater takes us to Rock 'n' Roll City for some Mississippi-born and Chicago-bred blues. Clearwater, says Jerome Clark, is "a genial, gentle good-timer whose music may not exactly move your soul but it will move your legs out onto the dance floor."
Joanne Shenandoah makes a Covenant between traditional and modern sounds of the Haudenosaunee, or Six Nations Iroquois. "Covenant may not delight purists, but Shenandoah's fans will want to follow her journey, and those who like new age music should check out this album," says Jennifer Hanson. "Shenandoah's blend of tribal heritage and modern sounds is an intriguing one and one well worth hearing."
The Music of Corsica is featured in this new ARC collection of songs and musical forms that "have lived on in certain mountain villages and have been revived by the artists who perform on this well-produced CD," David reports. "Music of Corsica reflects the numerous cultures that have made their impact on this remote but beautiful spot, and melded into one."
Four bands -- Auri, Ilgi, Grodi and Rasa -- celebrate their musical legacy on Beyond the River: Seasonal Songs of Latvia. "The music has a passion and rawness that, at times, can be uncomfortable," says Andy. "It is not music that will necessarily appeal to everyone but will interest many interested in the authentic folk traditions of Europe."
The union of Solomon & Socalled is "a strange love affair" on HipHopKhasene, says Sarah Meador. The marriage of klezmer and a modern beat is "a great party, and we should take the time to enjoy it," she says.
Dromedary is Live from the Make Believe in this "very entertaining instrumental album of fine world music," Wil Owen says. "It is hard to say which half of this CD -- the studio created first half, or the live second half -- is better. The quality of both is excellent."
Bad Livers have an odd name, but Horses in the Mines is "down-home, foot-stompin' bluegrass," according to Alicia Karen Elkins. "If you like bluegrass, this CD will tug at your heart and assault your feet."
Kelly Wright says it's No Secret Anymore on her debut recording of jazz standards. "Kelly sings a succession of old songs while stamping her own identity on each," says Peter Harris. "This is a fine debut by a singer with a great voice."
Gilbert Head didn't see the movie, but the soundtrack of Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World still impresses. "For those who are devotees of the film, or fans of period jigs and hornpipes, I strongly recommend this soundtrack," he says. "I also eagerly look forward to actually seeing the movie that I've already 'heard.'"
Bernard Cornwell has made his mark writing novels set in several very distinct periods of history. In her interview, making histories, DeborahAnne MacGillivray taps into his creative process.
Pamela Petro "takes her role as cultural ambassador for the South too seriously and not seriously enough" in Sitting Up with the Dead: A Storied Journey through the American South, says Tracie Vida. "Both facts damage an otherwise fascinating glimpse into the cultural heritage of America's southern states."
S.E. Schlosser digs deep into the U.S. Northeast for quirky stories to retell in Spooky New England: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings & Other Local Lore. "This is the ideal book for curling on the couch on a rainy afternoon and enjoying an entertaining read. The stories will take you into the heart of New England's landscape and introduce you to the locals, the scenery and the lifestyles," Alicia says. "It is as much a wonderful cultural preservation tool as a book of scary tales."
Lewis Mehl-Madrona explores issues of faith and health in Coyote Healing: Miracles in Native Medicine. "There is not a person who could not benefit from absorbing this book and putting the author's teachings into practice," says Alicia.
Bill Bryson provides A Short History of Nearly Everything, which Gregg Thurlbeck calls "an excellent, very readable science guidebook thanks to Bryson's ability to take the most arcane aspects of physics, chemistry and geology and make them comprehensible to the layman. He's a master of the clever comparison."
Charles de Lint takes urban fantasy in a fresh direction, creating a new playground for modern mythology with Spirits in the Wires. "De Lint has the power to draw readers back to his world, again and again, simply by devising real people who exist in our world (or its very close neighbor) and who touch magic and mystery in ways we can only begin to imagine," says Tom Knapp. "He makes it possible to dream that we, too, might stumble into another world or catch a mystery at play on some random city street."
Tom eagerly devoured the pages of The Ironwood Tree, the fourth book in The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black. "The Ironwood Tree is the most frantic chapter for the three Graces yet," Tom says. "Intending to read the first few pages, I found myself quickly reaching the end without pausing once along the way. Young readers will find this a challenging and enjoyable read, and children too young for the vocabulary will certainly enjoy having it read to them -- especially with DiTerlizzi's highly detailed black-and-white illustrations scattered throughout."
Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees came highly recommended to our Kate Danemark ... but it didn't live up to the hype! "As great a force as the Civil Rights Movement was, I don't feel it is truly reflected very strongly here," she explains. "With such shallow characters it is hard to believe in their motivations, and harder yet to feel they are capable of affecting significant change."
Jasper Fforde continues the adventures of "literary" agent Thursday Next in The Well of Lost Plots. "As in Fforde's other books, The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots is a fast-paced and wildly funny romp in an alternate earth where books really matter," says Donna Scanlon. "Literary allusions abound, and the more versed a reader is, the funnier it gets."
Kevin J. Anderson's A Forest of Stars, the second book in his Saga of Seven Suns, is a winner, according to Daniel Jolley. "It has been many years since I have been this excited and emotionally attached to a science fiction series," he says. "Anderson not only builds upon the galactic epic begun in Hidden Empire, he makes the incredible drama detailed in the first book seem like a warm-up act to the real performance."
Thomas Moran visits the Troubles of Ireland in Water, Carry Me: A Love Story. "Though not free of the 'Oirish' cliches American writers can't seem to avoid," says new Rambles writer Celeste Miller, "Moran's compelling, deftly written prose drives the narrative along."
Jim Butcher gives Harry Dresden a very bad day in Death Masks. "The series mixes tough-guy detective with Harry Potter for adults," opines Ron Bierman. "A manic pace with continuous off-the-wall surprises works better for authors such as Adams and Pratchett who emphasize the laughs."
Ann Tatlock presents a poignant tale in I'll Watch the Moon. "It is a textured, lovely portrait of unconditional love for others overcoming adversity and hatred," Donna reports.
James Patterson helps Wil pass the time with When the Wind Blows -- but Wil says the audiobook failed to meet his high expectations. "I was a little underwhelmed by this story," he says.
Mary Harvey spends time in Arkham Asylum: Living Hell. "One page into this highly absorbing story and you'll find yourself in a landscape both familiar and utterly different from anything you've read before," she promises. Despite the noteable absence of Batman through most of the tale, the book "establishes itself from the get-go as a suspense thriller that's so gripping, with characters so real and yet so frightening in their disguised absurdities, that it would be easy to classify it as a supernatural thriller."
Michael Moore is Bowling for Columbine in a provocative film that targets "the climate of fear used by merchandisers and manufacturers to ratchet up consumption, by politicians to promote their ends and by TV stations and producers to garner better ratings," says Miles O'Dometer. "Take it for what it is -- a one-sided diatribe on a very complicated issue. But take it."
Tom is back with Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom, the second of the action-adventure trilogy. "While it was certainly not equal to Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones's second appearance on the big screen was a welcome addition to his heroic saga," Tom says.
That's all for another day here at Rambles. Hurry back soon -- new reviews are posted each week. Cheers!
27 March 2004
There is nothing more dangerous in this world
Just as spring is a time of rebirth, Rambles is shaking off a bit of snow and a few dead leaves to make way for new growth. Several valued members of the staff have already accepted new positions of leadership that will help existing sections of the magazine to grow in new directions -- and some fresh areas of interest will also make an appearance here soon. It's an exciting time for us all, so please be sure to stick around and see what sprouts!
If you haven't already done so, consider joining our newsletter (the link is at the top of this page) so that weekly announcements listing new reviews can be e-mailed directly to your mailbox. And be sure to stop by the site often to see what's happening! And now, onto this latest edition!
Annie Grace wants you to Take Me Out Drinking Tonight. Don't give in to the invitation, Nicky Rossiter suggests. "You will want to stay in and savour the delights" of this CD, he says. "If 2004 continues to produce albums like this, it should be a vintage year."
Harriet Bartlett has her Eyes Wide Open while displaying a brilliant gift with the accordion. "But Harriet is not just a top-class player, she is also a beautiful singer," notes Nicky. "Sounding somewhat like Kate Rusby, she brings a lovely innocent sound to her vocal offerings."
Sunhoney brings us the chill of November from Scotland, "a chilled, vibey, laidback collection" featuring a group of talented Scottish musicians! "This is a contemporary, easygoing and accessible album by these fine artists," says Debbie Koritsas, "providing further evidence that Scotland's musicians aren't afraid of combining their traditional roots with new and vibrant sounds."
Todd Menton steps away from his reputation with Boiled in Lead for Where Will You Land. "This album is very well done and Menton's songwriting, singing and playing are all fantastic," raves Jean Price. "This is an excellent addition to a collection, as long as you don't like your traditional music too traditional!"
Chinmaya Dunster and Vidroha Jamie blend worlds in Celtic Ragas. "It's relaxing meditative music, but not soporific," says Donna Scanlon. "Rather, it evokes authentic emotions in the listener and is uplifting and inspiring."
Boda Spelmanslag celebrates its 50th anniversary as a Swedish folk group with 50 Ar. "Boda Spelmanslag is essentially a fiddle orchestra and fans of the Finnish fiddle orchestra JPP will recognize the sound," explains Jennifer Hanson. "It sounds like classical music at times and raises thoughts about how a type of music can be considered high culture and then work its way into the vernacular."
Recent Appleseed disc Spain in My Heart: Songs of the Spanish Civil War "is an opportunity for contemporary artists of conscience (and the ageless Pete Seeger) to share the musical side of those who struggled against Franco and his Nazi supporters," Gilbert Head explains. "It is a disc well worth having for all who appreciate the politics of struggle against tyranny and the role that music plays in that struggle."
The new Putumayo disc French Cafe "is intended for the majority of us that haven't been exposed to this music beyond a foreign film or background music at a trendy restaurant," C. Nathan Coyle explains. "This assemblage of classic and modern French music is a pleasant survey of 20th-century musical styles, such as musette and chanson, that emanated from French cafes (hence the title)."
Oi Va Voi sings Laughter Through Tears on an album Debbie says "fulfills my every wish. ... It's a scorching mix of contemporary dance grooves, stunning musicianship, excellent songwriting and, on top of all this, it's an unabashed celebration of the band's Jewish roots."
The Rounder compilation disc Alan Lomax: Popular Songbook "is essential for anybody who would seek to understand the evolution of popular music, both in the United States and in the wider world," Gilbert insists. "It will lead you to music you never thought of exploring, and you may never listen to your Animals or Hendrix or Zeppelin records in precisely the same way again."
David Fiorenza is Tan, Rested & Ready on a CD Nicky calls "an excellent introduction to this writer and performer. ... This songwriter deserves to be heard."
It's A Brand New Night for the Cash Brothers. "Wow! This is a great album," Gregg Thurlbeck enthuses. "The result is the kind of ragged perfection found in the bark of an old, burled oak."
Chalee Tennison woos Wil Owen to the country-side with Parading in the Rain by tackling the usual country-song problems with a positive attitude. "There Chalee goes again," he says, "looking at the positive in what would be considered a negative situation by most folks."
Rick Fines crosses the lines betwixt jazz and blues on Riley Wants His Life Back. "While Fines is best known for his guitar prowess, this collection proves that he's a very able songwriter," says Joy McKay. "Although several of the songs are 'down' and bluesy in tone ... the overall effect of the collection is contented, even happy-go-lucky."
DJ Cheb i Sabbah provides "an exotic fusion of Indian, indigenous percussion and rock," Alicia Karen Elkins says, on As Far As: A DJ Mix. "This is the best thing ever to hit Indian music."
Corey Harris ranges from Mississippi to Mali in his quest for the blues. "Mississippi to Mali is an amazing CD, leaving the listener wondering who influenced whom," states Carool Kersten. "What both blues lovers and world music aficionados can learn from this project is the remarkable compatibility of musical expressions found on opposite sides of the Atlantic."
The Cherokee National Youth Choir and Gil Silverbird are Building One Fire on a 2002 recording to commemorate the victims of 9-11. "I could talk about the strong points of this CD all night," says Alicia. "This is the ideal CD to give any Christian, historian or serious collector of music, as well as your 10 closest friends."
Danny Elfman's soundtrack to the comic-book flick Hulk "was much more than I expected," says Virginia MacIsaac. "This is a piece of music that has a sense of suspense and drama and sensitivity that is not campy or cheap."
Brian Gleeson -- with the help of Steven Guarnaccia, Denzel Washington and UB40 -- brings a pair of African-by-way-of-Jamaica tales to new life in Anansi. "Anansi is a mischievous spider-god who manages to create enough trouble for himself to fill volumes," says Kate Danemark, who frequently enjoys this "delightful book of traditional folktales."
Marius Barbeau collects a series of classic French-Canadian fairytales in The Golden Phoenix (also published as The Magic Tree & Other Tales). Tom Knapp says this slim volume "still has the craft to transport me to those faraway places. The stories hold true for audiences young or old, and this often-overlooked collection of tales deserves to be added to more childhood reading lists."
Ocha'ni Lele's The Diloggun: The Orishas, Proverbs, Sacrifices & Prohibitions of Cuban Santeria evokes a simple response from Alicia: "Holy cow! What a book!" She adds, "It is far more than simply a reference book. It is downright addictive."
Mike Resnick and Janis Ian combine interests in compiling Stars, a book of short science-fiction stories inspired by Ian's music. "Listening to music as thoughtful as Ian's can be an intensely personal experience," says Jean Lewis. "It is interesting to see writers responding to audio stimuli and coming up with intriguing interpretations."
Kage Baker turns from science fiction to fantasy for The Anvil of the World. "With her trademark wit and punchy style fully in evidence, The Anvil of the World contains enough juicy goodness for even the most cynical palate," promises David Roy. "Baker has further cemented her place as one of the best authors of the genre."
Steven-Elliot Altman gives mixed emotions to Sarah Meador with Deprivers. "Deprivers has drama to spare and a fair shot of action," she explains. "But it feels as though the moments of greatest drama are happening offstage, making for a somewhat frustrating read."
Linda Nichols' If I Gained the World is "a fairly predictable piece of Christian fiction," Paul de Bruijn reports. "It is a very safe book and while there is an interesting concept that it plays with the plot, it never really amounts to much."
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child impress Wil a second time with Still Life with Crows, an audiobook murder-mystery. "The combination of superb writing and expert storytelling made this an audiobook that listeners will want to hear more than once," he says.
Tom takes a swat at Flies on the Ceiling, the ninth volume from the Love & Rockets series by Los Bros Hernandez. "Flies on the Ceiling has none of the earth-shaking twists and dramatic turns that some volumes in this series have had," he says. "But it's a solid, enjoyable series of tales that advances several important storylines in new directions. It's a must-have piece of the Love & Rockets collection."
Miles O'Dometer braves A Mighty Wind for the latest mockumentary by Christopher Guest. "What ultimately makes Wind work is the music, written by the pseudo-folk artists themselves and performed with a gusto that captures the best and worst of folk concerts then and now," he says.
Tom goes back to the original in the series, The Crow, and explains why the movie "deserves to be visited and revisited to see how a story of revenge, blood and hate -- all wrapped around a nugget of tragic love -- should be filmed."
20 March 2004
Death is a very dull, dreary affair,
St. Patrick's Day is over. St. Paddy's Week is ending. St. Paddy's Month is still rolling along! The Rambles house band, Fire in the Glen, is just wrapping up a couple of exhausting weeks after plenty of pub shows, performances at retirement homes and charitable fundraisers, and our second appearance on national television as the studio band for QVC! With weary arms and tired voices, we drag ourselves into the weekend and look forward to a bit of rest. It's a good thing we have so many new reviews to read!
Mary Smith sings Of Rogues & Lovers on a CD that "offers a wonderful selection of traditional stories, either recorded too rarely or in unusual variants," according to Sarah Meador. "This is rich theatre presented by an artist with rare joy in her craft, and every tale here is fit to inspire its own collection of variants and sagas."
Kerensa gets Totally Hammered on this recording featuring -- you guessed it -- the hammered dulcimer. "Truly, I'll never get tired of hearing this CD," Virginia MacIsaac says with a happy smile. "Just like a new friend, it grew more pleasurable and familiar to my heart every time I slid it in the player drawer. This, her debut album, should be the beginning of a fruitful recording career."
Mary Black's classic No Frontiers "is filled with the rich, full voice of the Irish singer," says Jean Price. "Singing passionately and vibrantly, she brings the songs to life."
A pair of Judy Collins recordings from the early 1960s are back on the shelves in one package, thanks to Elektra. After spinning Maids & Golden Apples, Nicky Rossiter is proud to share his thoughts on Collins' interpretations of traditional songs. "This is folk as it should be: voice, music, heart and soul combined in equal measure," he says.
The various musics of Wales are featured on Y Gwir yn Erbyn y Byd. "Of the many anthologies of Welsh music released in recent years, this collection is easily the most wide-ranging in musical style, the most commercial and the most politically charged," says David Cox. "What an eclectic mix it is."
Tom has a Norwegian Glød (Glow) on after hearing the dual talents of Gudbrandsdal fiddlers Mari Eggen and Helene Høye. "These tunes are rich in atmosphere and lore, drawing on a dance tradition that might not have you hoofing it around the parlor, but will certainly catch your ear and get your foot moving in time," he promises.
The Arrogant Worms serve it jelly-side-up on Toast!, the Ontario band's new live CD. The Worms, Tom explains, is "a popular, never dull, often surprising and somewhat loopy band," and this recording lives up to the trio's prior reputation. "You'd be hard-pressed to find a band more outrageous or genuinely gleeful in its antics, and the whomp-on-your-head subtlety of their humor will keep you coming back for more."
Nellie McKay, just 19 years old, has inspired a nigh-obsessive response in William Kates with her debut recording, Get Away From Me. (You haven't been stalking anyone, have you, William?) "The depth of her songwriting combined with her vocal and instrumental ability suggests that an old soul resides in this young singer and songwriter," our starstruck reviewer raves. "That an artist could come up with something so fresh, new, brash, smart, clever, funny and most of all supremely musical and hit a grand slam the first time up is huge."
Erik Douglas Tasa urges fans to Take Your Clay Eyes to the Well. "While staying mostly to a sort of dark folk sound, Tasa borrows from grunge, rock and even a little country," says Sarah. "This is an album made of grey days and loneliness, and dark undertow moods which can only be survived by giving in for a while."
Priscilla Herdman takes The Road Home on this long-awaited solo recording. "Herdman has an undeniably fine and pure voice," says Andy Jurgis. "It is a polished and enjoyable album."
The Kennedys take a Stand on a recording that looks generic, but "the quality of the music and the tasty playing within bode well for the listener," according to Ann Flynt. "The music is fresh, acoustically played on way-cool orange guitars, and the Kennedys are fine at all of it."
Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer share memories of outstanding folk music with Postcards. "This album must be purchased by anyone who even suspects an interest in good music well sung," insists Nicky.
Rita Coolidge, Laura Satterfield and Priscilla Coolidge celebrate the Cherokee sound on Walela. "Most of the selections speak of Cherokee spirituality," says Alicia Karen Elkins. "A few talk about the hardships and trials faced by the Cherokee people through the ages, but even these sad ones are inspirational in nature and promise a better life to come. They speak of peace and laughter, love and forgiveness, and freedom."
Norah Jones says it Feels Like Home, and Gregg Thurlbeck agrees. "Feels Like Home isn't a radical departure from the material that propelled Jones and her debut album into the spotlight in 2002," he says. "But there is enough that's different, that's fresh in this recording that it should manage to avoid the sophomore syndrome that so frequently plagues artists who manage to capture huge audience affection with their first release."
Tony Furtado & the American Gypsies sample some Live Gypsy "playing music that is impossible to pigeonhole, but music that is essentially American at the same time," says Jennifer Hanson. "If you love any of the great wellsprings of music that come from the American vernacular -- blues, jazz, folk, rock, bluegrass, country -- do yourself a favor and get this album."
Jim Thackery & the Drivers share their True Stories on this roadhouse blues CD. "This is electric roots music of the sort one would be thrilled to encounter in a honkytonk or juke joint off some rural southern highway," says Jerome Clark.
The All Music crew get serious with the second edition of their All Music Guide to Country. "This is an invaluable resource for the serious fan of any part of the varied country music spectrum," says Tom Schulte. "Where else would you find that the Residents, Savoy Brown and Elvis Costello all drew on the early '70s countrified British pub rock group Chilli Willi & the Red Hot Peppers for members?"
William J. Bennett shares his Children's Book of Virtues with the masses, and Kate Danemark shares it with us. "Each story is presented as an example of right and wrong, with role models to emulate, and little morals head each one for easy reference," she says. "As well as being instructional, the tales are entertaining, and children don't feel as though they are being preached to or lectured."
Rona Rustige collects the lore of a Mohawk tribe of the Iroquois Nation in Tyendinaga Tales. "Anyone who enjoys Native American myths should enjoy this short but delightful book that preserves the tales of a forgotten tribal tradition," Tom K. says.
Tom Bissell is Chasing the Sea in this "brilliant travel book about a place many of us would never think of visiting: Uzbekistan," says David C. "Bissell's prose sparkles on the page; his travelogue reads like a novel as he recounts stories of drunken mountain climbers in the Ferghana Valley, a blood-curdling police roadblock near Samarkand and brutal poverty in Karakalpakistan, the autonomous area bordering the Aral Sea."
Pauline Fisk is up and away in Midnight Blue, a young-adult novel that Donna Scanlon says is "deceptively simple with few embellishments, but the story is far from simplistic. ... Midnight Blue is beautifully written, with a timelessness that destines it to become a modern classic."
Amy Thomson's Storyteller rivals the science-fiction/fantasy creations of Anne McCaffrey, Jenny Ivor proclaims. "There is joy and immense sadness in the story," she says. "I found myself in tears more than once, such is the power of the writing, so ensnared is the reader in the lives of the three main characters."
The collaboration between Marion Zimmer Bradley and Deborah J. Ross continues with Zandru's Forge, the second book of The Clingfire Trilogy. "This is a story driven as much by characters and their ideals as by action," says Laurie Thayer. "It is an excellent addition to the saga of the planet Darkover."
The new Denise Little anthology, The Sorcerer's Academy, "sounds just like Harry Potter," David Roy admits. Although set in the southeastern U.S. and employing various authors in the project, the book "doesn't do enough to shy away from the whole Harry Potter idea," he says.
Elaine Cunningham re-enters the Forgotten Realms with Starlight & Shadows 3: Windwalker. "Cunningham is a master storyteller with a talent for description," says Alicia. "She creates scenes that are so vivid that you see them in minute detail as you read."
Nicholas Sparks throws rice at The Wedding, an audiobook romance that Wil Owen says "comes across more as a self-help book for guys who need pointers in rekindling an old romance than of a typical love story."
Michael Vance sets sail with Isaac the Pirate: To Exotic Lands. "This is a graphic novel for adults with little or no interest in superheroes, science-fiction or fantasy," Michael says. "This is also a story filled with adult themes, characterization, believable dialogue, several complicated and intertwined plots, and a central theme not concerned with an epic battle between good and evil."
Tom K. says X2: X-Men United flops as 2003's superhero sequel. "Mutant powers aside, the filmmakers had to blow up a dam just to get a little bit of suspenseful tension in this film," he complains. "When a minor romantic subplot has more kick to it than the action in an action flick, somebody needs to consider a new script."
Julie Bowerman viewed Hidalgo with high hopes for a shirtless Viggo Mortensen. Not only were those hopes dashed, but she also came away with a less-than-enthusiastic view of the film. "The sweet story of a man finding his identity by bonding with his horse is predictable in a Disney tradition," she says. "Hidalgo is a good story wrapped in lovely scenery, but it's not a spectacular follow-up for Mortensen."
That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!
13 March 2004
The harpist is the only musician who is of noble standing. Flute-players, trumpeters and timpanists, as well as jugglers, conjurers and equestrians who stand on the backs of horses at fairs, have no status of their own in the community, only that of the noble chieftain to whom they are attached.
The Irish music and Guinness both continue to flow as March -- the month when everyone is a little bit Irish -- rolls on. Rambles always can be counted on for a bumper crop of Irish reviews; check out our huge Celtic music section to see what you've missed in recent years, as well as Irish and Celtic folklore and a host of Irish-themed books and movies. Today is no exception, so look for several new Irish music and book reviews as well as plenty of other items to keep you busy between pints and jigs. Slainte!
Two Rambles writers -- Andy Jurgis and Debbie Koritsas -- had the good fortune to see Flook perform within a few days of each other last month. Here are their side-by-side reports on gigs by a top-notch English/Irish band in Derbyshire and York.
Kila "is a band of exuberant contradictions," Sarah Meador announces with glee. "Luna Park is that rare studio album that achieves the energy of a live performance with the technical perfection available only in recordings."
The Elders share their American Wake with Kate Danemark, who says this is a collection of pop-inflected Irish music "I could throw in anytime and enjoy. ... This enormously talented group comes to us from Kansas City with this, their third CD release. Of course, this means now I'll have to track down the previous two, and for sure I'll be keeping an eye out for tour dates."
Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaola "runs through many styles of Irish singing and proves herself mistress of them all" on An Raicin Alainn, an all-Gaelic recording from the west of Ireland, Tom Knapp says. "Ni Chonaola has a soft, dusky voice, low and gentle, and she artfully wields it in the pursuit of Gaelic excellence," he says. "There is a deep richness to this recording, and the production is polished to a fine sheen."
Banshee in the Kitchen explores a Celtic sound with If We Were Us. "In its best moments, and there are many, Banshee in the Kitchen will remind you of what brought you to Celtic music in the first place," says Jerome Clark. "Nothing flashy is happening, but there is a whole lot that is solid, respectable and deeply felt, and that's more than enough to carry the day and the disc."
Karan Casey leads a pack of fine musicians on Seal Maiden, a Celtic Musical. "Seal Maiden is a fantastic journey through a Celtic myth, a pleasure for children as well as for their parents, brilliantly narrated by Casey and accompanied by some of the finest folk musicians in the field," says Adolf Goriup, a newcomer to these waters. "This is an excellent gift for your kids."
The compilation disc Drag Lines: New Irish Traditions "is a major addition to the canon of folk music and does not confine itself to the Emerald Isle," according to Nicky Rossiter. "This CD may prove slightly elusive but it will be worth the effort to track it down if only for the combination of performers on offer."
Turning to Scotland, Eddi Reader Sings the Songs of Robert Burns and "recruits some of Scotland's finest acoustic instrumentalists and the entire string section of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra" in the process. "It's hard to believe that most of these poems and songs were penned 200 years ago," raves Debbie. "Burns' influence on Scottish culture cannot be understated."
Karen Matheson takes a break from Capercaillie for Time to Fall, her second solo recording. "The album combines the traditional and contemporary, and throughout there is something unexpected and wonderful around every corner," Andy says. "Matheson's voice is always strong yet sensitively lyrical, and on this album it encompasses a breathtaking range of emotions."
Trio Hardanger spotlights the native Norwegian fiddle on this self-titled CD. "The Hardanger fiddle and its music are considered Norwegian national treasures, and rightly so," says Jennifer Hanson, our resident expert on Scandinavian music traditions. "Trio Hardanger gives an introduction to the cream of this music. To those past the need of introductions, this CD will be even more entrancing."
Tim Rose's death in 2002 was a major blow to the folk world. But his music can be experienced anew on The London Sessions 1978-1998. "This eclectic collection of his work spanning 20 years can serve as an introduction for new listeners and also a retrospective for existing fans," says Nicky. "Rose reminds us of some of the great music that is out there and shows us that a good performer can make any song new and exciting."
Trout Fishing in America admits It's a Puzzle, but that doesn't stop Ann Flynt from recommending this delightful CD for folky children. "One of the reasons this music and its lyrics is so appealing is that it is fresh, funny, definitely relevant to all of us, and smart," she says. "This is a good CD for just about anyone."
Ani DiFranco's music continues to Evolve in this, her 18th CD. "An artist who never seems to stop moving -- whether it be to write, perform or record -- DiFranco is an inspiring example to artists who hope to tread their own path," says Joy McKay. "Evolve is a satisfying experience on many levels."
John Gorka lays down recording No. 9 on Old Futures Gone. The CD "contains more of the graceful, warm songwriting that we have come to expect," says Dave Townsend. "When you listen closely to his songs, it's easy to see why he is one of folk music's most respected artists."
Peter Mulvey proves his ability to put his own mark on other people's songs with Ten Thousand Mornings. "This album is an excellent showcase of a great talent," says Nicky.
Jim Love & the Blue Groove exhort jazz fans to Gather 'Round for a CD Virginia MacIsaac calls "a real gutsy project. ... They aren't afraid to push limits and yet they stay firmly inside their own set of musical boundaries."
Despite the long name, "Papa John Kolstad & the Hot Club of East Lake have a very solid and condensed sound providing a splendid mix of early blues, swing, jugband and jazz," says C. Nathan Coyle. "This self-titled debut album contains vocals and instruments that intricately complement each other, forming a tight interconnection of tone and timbre."
Ken Waldman, Alaska's fiddling poet, spends A Week in Eek with our very own Jen Hanson. "A Week in Eek is an unassuming hybrid of spoken-word poetry and back-porch folk music," she reports. "Look for polish elsewhere; enjoy this CD for its unique sensibility and everyday rough beauty."
Alison Krauss & Union Station go live on Live, a Louisville, Ky., performance that Chet Williamson calls "the best-filmed and produced concert video I've seen. ... There's not a trace of the slipshod in this product. Production, sound quality and, most of all, performances, are all top-notch."
Ellen Pearlman reveals a musical mystery in Tibetan Sacred Dance: A Journey into the Religious & Folk Traditions. "This work is filled not only with interesting narration describing both the history and meaning behind this Buddhist tradition, but also scores of large pictures and photos regarding the culture in question," says Wil Owen. "You won't come away with a complete understanding of Tibetan sacred dance, but you might at least gain some appreciation."
Terri Hardin's Legends & Lore of the American Indians falls short of being truly useful, Robert Tilendis decides. "Hardin's book is nice to have as an adjunct -- there are stories not included in other collections -- but in terms of coherence and intelligibility, there are better volumes," he says.
Anne S. Baumgartner supplies a directory of divinity in Ye Gods! "She approaches the gods with a touch of wit that blows the dust off their histories no matter how dusty they might be," Tom says. "It's an extremely handy reference and is also fun to browse at random to learn more about the rich and varied tapestry of divinity that has sprung from this world."
Henry Niese describes The Man Who Knew the Medicine: The Teachings of Bill Eagle Feather in an informative and spiritual look at the teachings of a shaman of the Lakota Sioux. "The author's memoirs of the Lakota ceremonies are brilliantly vivid and downright fascinating," says Alicia Karen Elkins.
Bodie & Brock Thoene return to The Galway Chronicles with Of Men & of Angels. Tom says "it is the focus on the people and lifestyle of rural Ireland that keeps the story interesting," but complains about two-dimensional characters, melodrama and an overexaggeration of Britain's evils.
Tanith Lee's name is what caught reviewer Kate's eye when she picked up When Darkness Falls, and she says it's the highlight of a triple-threat book with additional stories by Susan Krinard and Evelyn Vaughn. However, Kate admits, she didn't know what she was in for when she cracked open the cover....
Rachel Caine made a new fan here at Rambles with Weather Warden, Book One: Ill Wind. "Caine's writing has an accessible, familiar pace that makes her feel like an old favorite storyteller even to a new reader like me," says Sarah.
Kevin J. Anderson's Hidden Empire, the first book in The Saga of Seven Suns, "requires a certain level of commitment from the reader," Daniel Jolley reports, "but one's patience and focus is well rewarded by a thrilling, almost intoxicating reading experience. This is a true space epic in every sense of the word."
Carol Emshwiller "gifts us with a rare treatise on the nature of humanity" in The Mount, Tracie Vida says. "Hard science fiction fans will be unhappy with the believability of Emshwiller's new Earth; the science is the novel's only main weakness," Tracie says. "But fans of political and sociological science fiction will find a reassuring voice in Emshwiller's troubling tale."
Mike Resnick continues to play with the sexes in his anthology Men Writing Science Fiction as Women. Still, Gregg Thurlbeck says, "I think the editor ought to have made a greater effort to bring up the quality of the weaker tales ... unless Resnick's point was to demonstrate that some of his authors were, in fact, incapable of writing convincingly from the viewpoint of the opposite sex."
Alan Moore gives us superpowered cops in Top 10, this two-volume collection of his futuristic tales. "Moore's particular brand of magic, where he infuses the everyday and the mundane with something imaginative, is done with such perfection here that the seams between the ordinary and the fantastic are all but invisible," Mary Harvey cheers. "The plots are character driven and the situations as suspenseful as they come."
Tom says Bats is a very bad movie. If you really need to know why, read his review. Otherwise, just pass this one by!
Miles O'Dometer heads to New Zealand with Whale Rider, a movie that deals with gender roles among New Zealand natives. "Whale Rider is an uncommon tale of valor, a dark story set in a bright landscape," he says. "It's also beautifully photographed, showing a side of New Zealand you don't get to see in Lord of the Rings."
That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!
6 March 2004
He who wants to persuade
We're rolling into St. Patrick's Month (who can really call it just a day any more?) and Irish musicians, as well as Irish music fans, are rejoicing at the annual proliferation of musical opportunities ... even as we mourn the American corruption of a tradition by dyeing bad American beer green and calling it Irish. ... Still, we can avoid these minor blasphemies and just enjoy the season. For us musicians, the month will doubtlessly end with our voices raw and our fingers bloody stumps -- but no sacrifice is too great in the service of the music! Speaking of music, we've got a bunch of it reviewed down below, as well as a nice variety of books and a couple o' movies to boot. So get on down there and read! And support Irish music All Year Long!
Capercaillie runs through its musical heritage on Dusk till Dawn, a "best of" collection. The disc "includes some obvious choices, as well as a few more obscure pieces," notes longtime fan Jean Price. "The one previously unreleased track is worth the whole price by itself."
The Henry Girls make their impressive debut on Between Us. "The Henry Girls will surely be a force to be reckoned with as time goes on," Nicky Rossiter says of the trio from County Donegal. "The variety of styles and the obvious talent make this a CD worth making an effort to find."
Kirk S. McWhorter strolls through Brambleshire Wood. Tom Knapp admires the variety of this Celtic collection, which ranges from pure traditions to hard-rockin' innovations. Says Tom, "It all adds up to a great Celtic package!"
Rag Foundation brings a traditional Welsh sound to Minka, a precursor to the pop-based sound of later recordings. "I have found this to be an album that greatly rewards careful listening as there are many subtleties hidden away," says Andy Jurgis.
Swedish guitarish Jan Ekedahl collects his fingerstyle tunes on Dubbelgangarn. "Ekedahl's influences are blended together until it is impossible to tell what came from where," Jennifer Hanson notes. "Any lover of fingerstyle guitar should enjoy this album."
Kepa Junkera, musical ambassador of the Basque people, demonstrates his onstage presence on K. "Junkera, ably assisted as usual by a host of talented friends from across the Basqueland and around the world, gives us two hours of music that will swell the ranks of his legion of admirers worldwide," David Cox asserts.
Metropolitan Klezmer and the Isle of Klezbos collaborate on Mosaic Persuasion, a klezmer album Sarah Meador says could be her one Desert Island Disc, were she forced to make that choice. "The album has a little of everything," she says.
There's no cover of "Yesterday," to his everlasting regret, but Peter Harris still marvels at the music on Here Comes ... el Son: Songs of the Beatles with a Cuban Twist. "I've heard a fair number of Beatles tributes, and this is one of the better ones," he says. "These versions of classic songs sound significantly different -- fresh and exciting -- simply because of the different instrumentation."
Carrie Newcomer serves up a plate of her finest at Betty's Diner, says Joy McKay. "It's hard to imagine listening to the album without feeling somehow better about your life as an ordinary struggling person," she says. "A gifted lyricist, Newcomer is able to write optimistic and faith-full messages without seeming syrupy."
Laurie Lewis is a friend of a feather on Birdsong, a recent recording that raises funds and awareness for Audubon Canyon Ranch. "The music is good, lowkey folk/country with a theme and cause," says Tom. "That should be enough of a reason to check it out -- and help build a nest egg for birds in danger of losing their homes."
Leah Callahan exposes her brand of folk music on Even Sleepers, an album Nicky says has "a vulnerable sound to it, but her lyrics are at odds with that vulnerability. Her influences are varied and come from all quarters."
English folksinger Les Barker gets silly/serious with Guide Cats for the Blind, a compilation disc of wit to support the British Computer Association for the Blind. "This is a CD you must hear to believe," says Nicky. "It will help the blind but you need not buy it to be generous. Buy it to be good to yourself."
Memarie blazes a trail in the wake of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Nicky says, on her new, self-titled CD. It is "one of the most consistent albums in the Americana genre that I have heard in a long time," he says.
Trio Bravo's Menschen am Sonntag "is a novel, a rich, unified piece of work where each chapter builds on what came before and is enhanced by what comes next," says Sarah. But surely it's a jazz CD, not a book? "I must admit I don't know what Trio Bravo's intentions were in making this musical tale," she says. "It's possible that this is meant to be the soundtrack to a film; it certainly has the feel of a narrative."
Bob Margolin lets loose with an All-Star Blues Jam that "packs a memorable punch and stays true to what it is," according to Virginia MacIsaac. "It's like an old family specialty -- made using the best ingredients by the best cooks in the house served up on a brand new platter."
TerryLee Whetstone gives Good Medicine on this recording of traditional Native American flute music. "This is the kind of CD that will mean something unique to each listener and will often sound different according to your mood when you hear it," says Alicia Karen Elkins. "It is a music collection that you will never tire of and always look forward to hearing again."
TerryLee Whetstone (see above) "quickly moves into deep spiritual teachings" in Good Medicine Book, an audio exploration of Native American faith. "This is one of the most moving spiritual books I have encountered," Alicia says. "Regardless of your belief system, it will apply to you and Whetstone's logical explanations are certain to make sense to you."
Tommy Flint demonstrates Kentucky Thumbpicking Blues for Guitar in a new book from Mel Bay. This music tutor, Virginia says, celebrates the region's "hard-living miners and the music that gave them solace, entertainment and an outlet for their troubles."
Mike Dixon-Kennedy outlines a culture's lore in The Encyclopedia of Russian & Slavic Myth & Legend. The text "is the perfect gateway into this lesser-known realm of magic and myth," says Tracie Vida. "While Dixon-Kennedy's text arrangement is academic, his writing style is surprisingly clear and colorful."
Virginia Hamilton gets everything started with In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World. This classic collection of folklore is "a marvelous book for any mythological enthusiast," says Tom. "Hamilton travels the world, dipping into the deep well of lore from many different cultures and offering just enough to whet an appetite for more."
Charles de Lint walks the Medicine Road in a "magical and musical adventure" featuring two characters from his popular Seven Wild Sisters tale. "De Lint wraps his story and characters in an evocative description of the desert that, although arid, is a world brimming with life, with mystery and with magic," says Donna Scanlon. "This book is a gem, a gift from a master storyteller."
Neil Gaiman's The Wolves in the Walls is "a strange, wonderful new book" with dramatic illustrations by Dave McKean, Kate Danemark proclaims. "Gaiman never panders to children and never assumes their fears are less valid than an adult's," she says. "Saying that, he also seems to have no qualms with playing off those fears."
N.M. Browne sends his time-traveling teens to join the Warriors of Camlann. "The Arthurian framework is pretty standard, but the story isn't really about Arthur; it's about how Dan and Ursula fit themselves into a new situation and thrive," says Laurie Thayer. "The author shows a sure touch for characterization, as well as a gift for bringing history to life in gritty detail."
Billie Sue Mosiman continues to develop her own breed of vampire lore in Craven Moon. Daniel Jolley enjoys the book but says Mosiman "just tried to go too far too fast with this novel."
Madeleine E. Robins discusses a Point of Honour in her new historical mystery novel. "The characters are wonderfully vivid," Donna says. "Robins's commentary on the society of the time is informed by the work of Jane Austen although tempered through hindsight."
Loren L. Coleman continues the Battletech saga with By Temptations & By War. "As pulp fiction goes, this is not a bad effort," says Dave Howell. "It does not come off as a stand-alone novel, however."
Kate White has A Body to Die For in this audiobook murder-mystery. Read Wil Owen's review to see why White has stepped up with this latest Bailey Weggins adventure!
They're back! The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, that is, in the second volume of turn-of-the-century adventures. But now it's Mars that threatens humanity, borrowing heavily from H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds. "The story isn't quite as strong as the first League tale (although still far stronger than the film, see below), but Alan Moore's text, littered with references to literature both famous and esoteric, and Kevin O'Neill's tight, muted artwork deliver a grand adventure all the same," says Tom. "I can only hope it isn't too long before a new League rises from the ashes of this one."
The movie version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen suffers in comparison to the excellent Alan Moore book that inspired it (see above) -- particularly since scriptwriters apparently didn't read it! "They worked, so far as I can tell, from a single page torn from a ratty old copy that listed several key characters but provided no clue whatsoever as to the direction of Moore's plot or character development," says Tom. "The storyline sputters and spirals without a firm hand to guide it."
Wil explores Chinese cinema with Country Teacher, an award-winning movie now available in the U.S. "While I am not an expert on Chinese cinema, I have seen more engaging films from that nation," Wil admits.
That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!
28 February 2004
If you don't control your mind,
It's so tempting to comment on the current state of politics in the United States, but ... it's just too sad. Too depressing for these pages, anyway. Rambles is a happy place (with a very happy editor), so let's focus on the positive ... like, spring is coming! St. Patrick's Day is just around the corner! There's a big election in the fall! And, in this little corner of the world, the weekend looks to be exciting and fun and WARM. So, with those cheery notes, we shall delay this week's edition no further. Enjoy! (And make the absolute best of Sunday, which is of course LEAP DAY!)
Tom Knapp writes the final chapter for Celtic Colours 2003 in an overview of the world-renowned Cape Breton festival -- with a focus on the goings-on at the infamous Festival Club. Take a look to see what exciting and unexpected things went on there! (Hoopla! This is Tom's 1,200th review!)
Karan Casey sings from a Distant Shore on a new release Debbie Koritsas calls her "strongest album yet, a lovely collection of contemporary and traditional material with assured, typically sparse production. ... This album is further proof that Karan Casey has one of the purest voices to ever grace a recording studio."
Moya Brennan, now phonetically named, explores Two Horizons on her latest CD. "The album concept is quite unique and there are definite high points, but overall, it is still the echo-y, mystical music we are used to," Jean Price reports.
El McMeen exercises his talents on Dancing the Strings: Celtic to Contemporary. "His playing has an unfussy style throughout with no unnecessary fabrication," says Andy Jurgis, "and he has the ability to get into the heart of a tune through his solo guitar."
Darcy Nair, erstwhile member of the Pyrates Royale, strikes out on her own with I Feel My Heart Fly. "Dulcimer fans in particular should want this one," says Tom, "but anyone who enjoys Celtic music with a delicate touch should try it out."
Phonix shows off its Danish roots sound with Pigen og Drengen. "This is a terrific band, tight but not slick," says Jennifer Hanson. "I was reminded of other Nordic groups like Gjallarhorn, Jord and Groupa, but Phonix has its own sound, making any such similarities fleeting."
Calliope Fair makes a strong first impression with On Board the Armenia. "I've never heard a first recording so polished in both engineering and in the musical accomplishments of the ensemble," gushes Gilbert Head. "It is the first offering from a group that I hope will continue to make more spectacular music together."
Tseng Yung-Ching reveals the Magic of the Chinese Flute on this "virtuoso recording that captures many moods." Janice Snapp says the traditional bamboo flute is "beautifully played."
Riccardo Tesi teams with Maurizio Geri on Acqua, Foco e Vento (Water, Fire & Wind), which David Cox describes as "almost 70 minutes of fabulous music" from Italy. "The only problem with this CD is that you might end up listening to it almost constantly," he says.
Christopher Prim is Number One on his new folk CD. "Prim is a writer and performer to watch," says Nicky Rossiter. "His canvas is broad and his ability matches it."
John DeGrazio sings of an Abandoned World on his second full-length CD, which immediately drew the attention of Wil Owen. "I have yet to make up my mind if DeGrazio is a better guitar player or songwriter," Wil says. "He isn't a bad singer, either."
Scarlett, Washington & Whiteley impress only part of the way on Sitting on a Rainbow. Gregg Thurlbeck blames the song choices, in part. "Coupled with this is the rather muppet-like quality of some of the vocals," he complains.
Chris Stuart has made quite an impression on new Rambles writer Paulette Isaacs, who says the bluegrass and country sounds of Angels of Mineral Springs is phenomenal. "There is no doubt that Stuart is one of most attention-capturing songwriters out there," she says.
Toby Keith is Shock'n Y'All on a country CD that demonstrates the good and bad sides of Keith's badness. "He can't make up his mind what kind of bad boy he wants to be -- politically-motivated bad boy or party bad boy," C. Nathan Coyle explains. "In Keith's case, he's found gold and platinum being a party bad boy and should stay that way."
Curt Porter's Blues for Beginners "is deceptive," Scott Woods says. It's also "one of the most consistently clever records I've heard all year. ... It's just flat-out engaging and a ton of fun to listen to."
Steve Lacy plays jazz with 10 different musical partners on Duets: Associates. "His tone is strong and confident, sometimes even intentionally harsh," notes Ron Bierman. "Those who already know and admire his work will appreciate this release. So will those unfamiliar with him -- if they like serious jazz with a hard, tough edge."
Kathleen Swann supplies Seasons of Serenity on this "peaceful guided meditation that soothes listeners while coaxing them into a place of relaxation," says Valerie Frankel.
Charlotte Huck tackles a folk tale crossing the borders between Celts and Scandinavians in The Black Bull of Norroway. DeborahAnne MacGillivray reviews the book and ponders its place in the Celtic and Pictish cycle of stories.
Author Charles de Lint and artist Charles Vess combine their awesome talents on A Circle of Cats to create a new North American folk tale "in which a young girl and the spirits of trees interact with the innate magic of cats," and Tom Knapp says the end result is stunning. "Charles and Charles have put a fresh, new coat on the genre by building something new atop an old tradition," he says. "I am pleased to see how comfortably the tale nestles among its older siblings while still bearing the mark of unmistakable innovation."
Tony DiTerlizzi gives a new lift to Mary Howitt's classic fable, The Spider & the Fly. "The poem would stand alone, but combined with the amazing artwork of Tony DiTerlizzi, the book is a masterpiece," says Kate Danemark, who rejoins us after a too-long hiatus from this site. "The result is one of the most haunting and ghastly collection of images since, perhaps, Edward Gorey."
Mary Hoffman presents the first of three novels in Stravaganza: City of Masks. Laurie Thayer says the book "is a very enjoyable young adult novel and ... the bittersweet ending is also totally unexpected." She's already looking forward to the sequel!
Sarah Meador is "trying desperately to forget Redemption Ark," a new book by Alastair Reynolds. "I have been putting my mind to the task since I read the last page and let the book fall from my death grip," she gushes. "The sooner I can forget what I've read, the sooner I can go back and experience it again."
Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master & Margarita is a classic novel written in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, published (in censored form) in the 1960s and now available today as its author intended. New Rambles writer Danny Schwartz explains how Bulgakov "managed to offend both the Orthodox Church and the Soviet government" with this book, which features a not-so-evil Satan and a wisecracking cat.
The new Jack Dann/Gardner Dozois anthology Future Crimes gives Nicky hope for the future of short fiction. "Future Crimes is a joy to discover and a pleasure to read," he says. "Here in eight stories we are amazed, amused and scared about how crime could develop as the century unfolds."
Cathleen Schine packs "a depressingly tragic double dose of cancer" into She is Me, a new audiobook from Time Warner. "She is Me deals with important and timely topics," says Lynne Remick, "but does so in a way that goes over the border."
Tom says Blood of Palomar "contains one of the creepiest and bloodiest stories of the Love & Rockets line." The collection from Gilbert Hernandez, he says, "is a landmark volume that belongs in the collection of any collector of graphic novels or, for that matter, any form of quality storytelling. This is one of those books that can change people's minds about the medium."
The Batman flies to Hong Kong in this East-meets-West action story written by Doug Moench and drawn by manga artist Tony Wong. "The plot is interesting but lightweight, more focused on splashy fight scenes than a smoothly functioning plot," says Mary Harvey. "But the real point of the story is to create an almost musical arrangement between two very different cultures, and on that end I have to say that the story doesn't really go far enough."
Tom sets out for revenge with The Count of Monte Cristo, a 2002 remake of the Alexandre Dumas classic. "The action is exciting in spurts without overwhelming the story, and the character development is credibly written," Tom says. "This is fresh, satisfying cinema."
Miles O'Dometer cracks The Italian Job, a triple-heist movie he says you should take for what it's worth: "plenty of action, artfully shot, with lots of pans and zooms and camerawork as stylish as the city of Venice itself -- plus a bunch of scenes that should have ended up on the cutting-room floor."
That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!