19 June 2004 to 21 August 2004

21 August 2004

I love being married.
It's so great to find that one special person
you want to annoy for the rest of your life.
- Rita Rudner

We're back! What, you want details? Shame! It was a honeymoon, for goodness sakes!

The Bogside Rogues promote Irish music Philadelphia-style on Rogue Mahone. "Do you like the Dubliners or the Clancy Brothers? Think in that vein, but younger and much more energized," Tom Knapp says. "I'd love to see these guys live."

Benji Kirkpatrick shares his English roots and Half a Fruit Pie with his listeners. "His voice is by no means perfect, but its earthy, direct quality is just excellent," says Debbie Koritsas. "Throughout these recordings, Kirkpatrick's bouzouki playing is exceptional and I consider this a very fine debut from a young English musician showing masses of promise."

Maggie Sansone slips into the mystical side of Celtic music with Celtic Meditations: Into the Light. "This reflective album of accomplished arrangements and hypnotic sounds will lure the listener into a calm place of peace," says Tracie Vida. "Though the songs easily lull the listener into a reflective state, the album rewards attentive listening with multiple layers, subtle mood-shadings and stellar group instrumentation."

The David Milligan Trio provides "an immensely rewarding album" that blends piano jazz with a hint of Scottish traditions on Late Show. Debbie Koritsas says Late Show "brims with interest and detail for anyone who loves innovative, structured yet lyrical jazz -- it's the best jazz album I've heard in ages and is strongly recommended!"

Krauka's Stiklur "is an intriguing flashback to Old Scandinavia," Tom Knapp explains. "Without a doubt, Stiklur is unlike anything I've heard before, a unique listening experience. I'd recommend that you give it a try."

Emilie Autumn strives to Enchant -- and succeeds on this album of fey folk-pop! The music, says Jenny Ivor, is "as distinctive as the look of the artist who penned, played and sang them. Tinkerbell grows up and enchants in combat-gear, pink hair, fishnets and biker boots, an exquisite illusion of goth meets designer home-guard chic!"

John Flynn lets loose the Dragon for a collection of "urban folk songs that are pertinent to the problems of today," Jenny explains. "The album doesn't preach, doesn't foist Flynn's viewpoint on the listener, but allows the listener to be both educated and entertained."

Lou and Peter Berryman share The Pink One with adults and children alike. "Their sound is as sugary sweet as the candy-pink package would suggest," says Sarah Meador. "The lyrics are bouncy and playful, with memorable, repeated choruses and many tacit encouragements for audience participation."

Grant-Lee Phillips cuts loose with Virginia Creeper. "If you're a fan of the Jayhawks' fusion of country, folk and rock and can imagine mixing in a smattering of Dexy's Midnight Runners' instrumentation and Kevin Rowland's vocal style, you'll have a pretty good sense of what to expect from Grant-Lee Phillips," says Gregg Thurlbeck. "This is an album that slides out of your speakers and into your head with an ease that's astounding."

Chris Knight is a musician of The Jealous Kind, as he demonstrates on this CD boasting "the country/folk/rock fusion of his earlier efforts, drawing deep from his rural roots," says Jerome Clark. "Knight is a poet of life's other side."

Hank Locklin shares Generations in Song in this new country music release. "Lockin felt no need to update his classic sound for his golden throat, and the tasteful arrangements of strings, singer and guitars on Generations in Song is a winning combination," says Tom Schulte. "With folks like Locklin, quality never goes out of style."

Jen Elliott belts out a collection of blues-pop on The Secret's Out. Jenny Ivor calls it "an eminently listen-to-it-again-and-again selection of 12 songs, each one a stand-alone gem, contributing to a rich, high-quality album."

Phishbacher is Chillin'. "This jazzy instrumental album would fit any occasion," C. Nathan Coyle decides. "With the range this album encompasses, it seems that is exactly what pianist Walter Fischbacher was wanting."

Sol y Canto make bilingual learning fun with El Doble de Amigos (Twice as Many Friends), says David Cox. "The songs are happy, fun, educational and, of course, fully bilingual," he says. "If your children are learning Spanish (or English, for that matter) this CD is a fun, easy and melodic way to help them enjoy the process!"

Ayako Hotta-Lister demonstrates excellence with The Japanese Koto. "This is a very specialised recording, featuring the sound of the koto and little else, and as such will not reach a wide audience," says Debbie Koritsas. "However, I know for certain that this is the work of a passionate supporter of Japanese tradition. This recording is a powerful testament to Lister's wish to promote and preserve her culture."

A three-day festival is captured on Pow-Wow! Southern Style Pow-Wow Songs. "The rattles and bells in these pieces are tremendous and the percussion is strong throughout the selections," says Karen Elkins. "When you listen to this CD, you feel as if you are actually attending a pow-wow. The bells make you want to get up and join the dancing."

Jeffrey Thompson and Pat Moffitt are brainwave specialists, not musicians, but their four-disc set Brainwave Symphony: Orchestrate Your State of Mind is excellent both for relaxation and stimulation, Karen says.

Tom Knapp slides a little Harry Connick Jr. into the stereo -- but When Harry Met Sally is not, despite the name, a soundtrack to the popular film. So what's to like?

Ralph Lee Smith and Madeline MacNeil share the Folk Songs of Old Kentucky in this songbook and diary "in the spirit of the movie Songcatcher," Karen Elkins explains. "Loaded with photos and anecdotes, it is like a trip back in time to the rugged mountains and a simpler life."

Lori Reid's Moon Blessings: Drawing Inspiration & Power from the Moon is a disappointing package, says Karen. "I feel this book is over-priced and under-written," she says.

It was an interesting attempt. But Robert F. Kauffmann's epic fantasy poem, The Mask of Ollock, doesn't work, says Robert Tilendis. "Writing an 'epic' gives no special dispensation from the standards of literary accomplishment that include believable, well-developed characters, realistic portrayal of events, and clear and intelligible development," he explains.

Marjorie B. Kellogg concludes The Dragon Quartet with The Book of Air. "While the ending to this saga may not delight all readers, I found it a fitting end that somewhat defied my expectations," says Daniel Jolley. "Kellogg let this novel go where the story led her."

Chaz Brenchley concludes the Outremer saga with The End of All Roads. Daniel calls the novel "a truly fitting conclusion to an extraordinary fantasy series."

Tamora Pierce returns to her series with Song of the Lioness #2: In the Hand of the Goddess. "Young teens and tween readers will no doubt find it as entertaining as the first book," says Laurie Thayer.

The nautical adventures of Aubrey and Maturin continue in Patrick O'Brian's The Letter of Marque. "Naval history buffs (who are no doubt already fans of the series) will enjoy O'Brian's detailed account of the differences in action and attitude between government ships and the 'lowly' privateers, and armchair strategists will want to absorb the brilliance of Aubrey's tactics again and again," Tom Knapp proclaims. "I continue to be impressed by O'Brian's intelligent plotting, with dialogue and atmosphere that wisks readers right back to the early 19th century."

E.L. Konigsburg's children's classic, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, remains a favorite for the decidedly adult Katey Knapp (formerly Kate Danemark). "Although written in the 1960s, there is nothing in the story to deter modern children from enjoying it thoroughly," she asserts. "The characters and events are immediately recognizable and the struggle for independence crosses all ages and genders."

Stephen R. Donaldson returns to the Land with The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. In this trilogy -- The Wounded Land, The One Tree, White Gold Wielder -- "the action becomes more melodramatic and harder to follow. The finely wrought intensity of the first series evaporates in the face of too much purple prose, and the overfocus on description ends up sinking the delicate writing," Mary Harvey frets. But, she says, "mistakes notwithstanding, the Covenant books are still amazingly complex and quite detailed in their insight."

Michael Vance takes a look at Barry Windsor-Smith's Young Gods -- and compares it to the earlier work of Jack Kirby. How does it rate? Let Michael tell you!

Janine Kauffman is no Dummy -- and neither are the makers of this film about people who "wake up one day as adults, realize with horror that they've been out of high school for a decade and then think, 'What am I still doing here? Shouldn't I be someone else by now?' ... Writer/director Greg Pritikin knows there's lots more out there, but he also shows, in this 2002 film, how hard it can be to get a grasp on getting what you want."

Salma Hayek takes our Miles O'Dometer for a peek at The Maldonado Miracle. "All directors know that turning out a good film is nothing short of a miracle," Miles says. "And as miracles go, Maldonado holds up shockingly well."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back!

6 August 2004

A love being married.
It's so great to find that one special person
you want to annoy for the rest of your life.
- Rita Rudner

The thought of taking two weeks off just broke our editor's heart. So here's a very short mini-update to keep you going 'til the honeymoon is over. Yes, it's short, but it's quality! And don't forget, there was an extra-BIG edition on July 31, so if you haven't perused it all yet, just scroll on down!

Now, where did I leave that tux...?

Smoky Finish orders everyone to Clear This Planet ... Immediately with "rock 'n' reel" album of clever arrangements and heightened emotion, Tom Knapp says. "A fine Scotch whisky is often described as having a 'smoky finish.' Likewise, this band is a pure, concentrated dose that goes down smooth and just might leave you reeling in the aftermath."

The Spiderwick Chronicles conclude with The Wrath of Mulgarath, and authors Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black don't let the story slacken for even a moment. "This is no lark of a summer's day adventure; the Graces face real dangers and suffer real losses as they match wits and youthful courage against terrible odds," Tom says. "While not appropriate for the very youngest of children, who might be disturbed by images of ogres and goblins, this series will be loved by children and young adults, standing on a par with Harry Potter without the same time commitment needed to wade through such weighty tomes."

Benjamin Franklin's more surprising thoughts are collected by Carl Japikse in Fart Proudly: Writings of Benjamin Franklin You Never Read in School. Kate Danemark explains why it's sometimes best to keep a bit of mystery around beloved historical figures. "I don't like this guy," she sadly explains. "He's misogynistic, classist and long-winded. He clearly finds himself very amusing and tends to explain at great length to the rest of us just why that is so."

The new movie De-Lovely fails to live up to its name, says Chet Williamson. "Five minutes into it my wife and I looked at each other as though to reassure ourselves that the movie theatre we were in was indeed part of reality, and we had not slipped into some Bizarro world of alternate movie musicals," he says. "A weak, schizophrenic script and a collection of what may be the worst performances ever of a great songwriter's oeuvre sink this poor tub before it's even christened."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back!

31 July 2004

The idea behind the tuxedo is the woman's point of view
that men are all the same, so we might as well dress them that way.
That's why a wedding is like the joining together
of a beautiful, glowing bride and some guy.
- Jerry Seinfeld

A successful marriage requires
falling in love many times,
always with the same person.
- Mignon McLaughlin

We're taking a break! Why, you ask? Well, by this time next week Rambles.NET editor Tom Knapp will be exchanging wedding vows with assistant editor, writer and all-around sweetiehead Kate Danemark, and they'll be far too busy doing pre- and post-wedding things to upload a new edition. Let's face it, their minds will be on other stuff, so the next edition will have to wait 'til AFTER the honeymoon.

It's very rare that Rambles.NET takes a break, but this occasion seems to warrant one in a big way! Don't worry, we're making this edition extra tremendous to tide you over 'til we get back, when we'll provide you with another big splash to make up for our time away. And so, without further ado, here's the update -- see you after the wedding!

Oisin Mac Diarmada is Ar an Bhfidil (On the Fiddle), which Robert Tilendis describes as "a collection by an extraordinary young fiddler who already has a huge reputation. ... It is an unrepentantly lighthearted grouping presented with a degree of polish and virtuosity that need take second place to none." (Although previously reviewed following its initial release in 2002, this new release through a different label deserves another look!)

The Crimson Pirates hone their nautical powers on Your Day in the Barrel. "Barrel demonstrates the band's excellent vocal harmonies throughout the recording, as well as plenty of strong, enthusiastic solo singin'," says Tom Knapp. "Those little humorous asides that often grow tiresome on these sorts of albums after just a few spins actually keep me smiling each time I play it."

Fathom uses the Available Light to expose reviewer Beth Derochea to Celtic folk-rock from upstate New York. "The songs have a timeless quality and a spiritual, though not overtly religious, theme running through their lyrics," Beth said. "The mix of Celtic influence shown in the fiddles and almost jazzy percussion created a unique sound I relished."

Scottish musicians take the spotlight for Folk'n Hell. "The 17 chosen as representatives of the new Scottish folk hail from many, though not all, regions of the country, sing in Gaelic and English and play traditional and modern instruments," says Jean Price. "They are a very diverse lot, with diverse styles. But despite that, there is a commonality between them."

Runrig rides The Big Wheel in this decades-old release that remains the band's biggest seller. "The amazing musicianship, remarkable songwriting and passionate singing all make this a classic," Jean proclaims. "The Big Wheel captures Runrig at a definite hight point in their career."

Jean travels the world with Putumayo's Dublin to Dakar: A Celtic Odyssey. "The diversity on the compilation and consistent high quality of the memorable songs chosen make this a fantastically wonderful CD," she says. "Celtic music truly is international. This collection not only showcases musical bridges already built, but may inspire more."

Bruce MacGregor takes his brand of Scottish fiddling live for a concert in Portland, Maine. New staffer Michelle Doyle was there to tell us about it!

Nonie Crete is a Girl in a Crazy World, Jenny Ivor says. "She is a lady with a voice of sanity, whether she is poking fun at designer cowboys, mourning personal loss or injustice or celebrating love."

Michele Mercure is Giving Up the Ghost with a collection of songs Tom Knapp calls "well-thought, considered and poetic, delivered with gentle intensity. ... Mercure is an inquisitive, introspective, strongly opinionated singer who pushes the envelope with strong lyrics."

Sara Marlowe speaks her mind freely on A World to Win: Songs from the Struggle for Global Justice. "Marlowe's strong, young but rough-edged voice is a decent vehicle for a pointed message, and the guitar playing is more than adequate to the task of accompaniment on this well-mastered CD," says David Cox. "Much of what she says here needs to be said -- and to be said in strong words. But this CD is not for everyone."

Buddy Greenbloom covers the Jesus & Mary Chain on My Little Underground. "This is the musical antidote to Prozac and should carry a warning against listening to it if you are clinically depressed," Jenny Ivor cautions.

Ray's Vast Basement has plenty of room for music By a River Burning Blue. New staffer Philip Fairbanks says the band "mixes musical metaphors, drawing from the rich folk heritage of the Southwest and adding its own particular style of rock to create a form of music that is aged, but ageless. Aside from the tasty stew of Americana, the ingenious explication of the stories of Drakesville themselves make this band a must-hear."

Lenny Solomon shares a slice of Armando's Pie. Nicky Rossiter calls him "one of the many gifted singer-songwriters currently on the scene. His music has a delicately honed urgency that often reminds me of early Bob Dylan."

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver go Beyond the Shadows in this re-release from Sugar Hill. "Really, what's not to like?" asks Jerome Clark. "At this stage of a distinguished career, praise for Lawson and his cohorts is surely redundant. 'Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver' on a CD cover alone ought to be sufficient. And when it's a gospel recording -- well, a few may do it as well, but nobody does it better."

Chris Cortez says Hold It Right There in his latest collection of jazz and blues standards. "It's an extremely smooth, very polished set; Cortez's vocals and all the instrumentals are delivered with consummate ease and panache," says Debbie Koritsas. "This is archetypal smooth jazz, which is ultimately easy on the ears, doesn't demand intense concentration from the listener -- in short, it's music to relax to and will be enjoyed by those who like their music nice and easy."

Euge Groove is Livin' Large. This focus on sax is "replete with a smooth jazz sound that curls lazily around the senses, with the occasional tickle and twist perking it away from smooth predictability," Jenny Ivor explains. "If smooth jazz is your thing, Euge Groove is your man!"

Barry Wedgle is In Your Dreams -- if you're fond of Latin-infused jazz, that is. "Sad and sprightly, deep and breezy, In Your Dreams is, overall, a good album of gentle moods," says Tracie Vida. "Pop this one in the CD player on a rainy night for an evening of gentle reminiscence -- of lost loves, moving on and the hope of a bright sunny day when winter's over."

James Asher leads us down the Lotus Path with this new-age recording that doesn't quite hit its mark. "Asher certainly provides the requisite mysterious tones and unique instruments to qualify as a new-age artist, but his inability to blend them all smoothly left me more irritated than soul-inspired," Tracie explains.

Abdullah Chhadeh and Nara wowed the crowd in York, England, and Debbie Koritsas recounts the "hypnotic, exotic" experience for us all.

The Warsaw Village Band plays for the People's Spring and brings Polish roots music to a new, global audience. "You don't have to understand Polish to enjoy this wonderful CD," says David Cox. "Good notes are provided in English and, besides, the sound transcends language."

ARC produces a collection of music by Famous Greek Composers, and David agrees the timing couldn't be better. "It's music that blends Eastern and Middle Eastern sounds with pop stylings of the West in a way that is instantly identifiable," he says. "There are some spectacular instrumentalists and soloists on this CD."

The Kiowa Dance Group Singers present Traditional Kiowa Songs from the American Plains. Karen Elkins says the collection "gives the listener an interesting introduction and overview to the musical culture of the Kiowa people."

C. Nathan Coyle recalls A Star is Born with this newly reissued and expanded soundtrack. "I realize it's Judy Garland -- that name has become synonymous with unquestioning star quality," he says. "There's plenty of Garland in this album, with her belting out songs in her grandiose style. But you've got to put her performances in this soundtrack in context with all of her other works."

Brian Hinton and Geoff Wall explore a major root of British folk-rock in Ashley Hutchings: The Guv'nor & the Rise of Folk Rock 1945-1973. "The authors spend ample time on the technical aspects of the music and the comings and goings of the various band members -- and their personal tragedies -- but it is not for aficionados only," says David Cox. "This mid-length authorized biography overcomes a few flaws to present a very readable, detailed biography of "Tyger" Hutchings up to 1973."

Harish Johari and Vatsala Sperling explain How Ganesh Got His Elephant Head in this Indian folklore tale for the ages. "The illustrations are gorgeous," says Karen Elkins. "Do not be surprised if you enjoy reading this story as much as your child enjoys hearing it."

Gwinevere Rain offers Moonbeams & Shooting Stars in a slim, spiritual volume for teenage women. "It is difficult not to sound patronizing when praising Rain's accomplishment," says Laurie Thayer. "Her first book was written at age 16 and she is currently working on her third, but she is a talented writer and one can only wish her further success."

What could be more innocent than a collection of Mother Goose rhymes? Well, try The Charles Addams Mother Goose on for size. "Addams in 1967 knew what it would take to keep the poems fresh for a jaded audience: a bit of a giggle, a shiver or two and the feeling that everything's not entirely sunny in Goose country," Tom Knapp explains. "That's exactly what his spoof-riddled illustrations provide."

Susan J. Douglas and Meredith W. Michaels "detail a snowballing anti-feminist zeitgeist for our modern times, one that presses women on all sides to ignore the reality of 21st-century life and return to the 1950s" in The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood & How It Has Undermined Women, says Tracie Vida. "The Mommy Myth should be required reading for everyone, whether you have a uterus or not."

Kate Danemark -- who, as you no doubt read above, is about to marry and embark on a happy new adventure -- has left another review magazine to focus her efforts here. Yay! Kate brings with her several excellent reviews that we are pleased to add to the Rambles.NET archives for your enjoyment and illumination. Here's the first; there are a couple more below and more to come in future editions.

Editor's note: Certainly I have a personal stake in this, being a week away from marrying her and all, but I'd like to add a boo and hiss for the man who tried to sully her wedding for spite's sake. I'm thrilled to have Kate's writings exclusive to us here at Rambles.NET -- it's good to see her work get the attention it deserves and be properly edited for the first time. Glad to have ya, Kate!

Laura Hillenbrand brings racing history to life with Seabiscuit. "It builds into a story so engrossing you forget that what you're reading are facts," says Kate. "It seems every bit a novel as much as a biography, and I think Hillenbrand was the perfect author to capture this tale."

Christopher Moore serves up a big mug of 'nog and some early Christmas cheer in The Stupidest Angel. "Some folks will have you believe that The Stupidest Angel is about the violent death of Santa Claus. Or the ghastly resurrection of Santa Claus. Or even a member of the Heavenly Host, an archangel no less, who is a few feathers short of a full wingspan," Tom Knapp recounts. "But no. Christopher Moore's latest novel is about the people -- the wonderfully quirky, eccentric and at times downright insane people -- of Pine Grove, Calif."

Stephen R. Donaldson is revisiting his popular Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, a series that consists of two trilogies to date, with more on the way. That seems reason enough to take a fresh look at the early books in the saga -- Lord Foul's Bane, The Illearth War, The Power That Preserves -- and Mary Harvey is up to the task. "This is not a story for readers who like Good Guys to win against Bad Guys," she notes. "Donaldson employs broken, repugnant human beings as believable, if miserable and flawed, heroes. Covenant is not easy at all to like, if such a thing is even possible."

Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover saga continues to be reprinted in collected form for modern audiences. Latest in the series is A World Divided, which combines three novels in one. "Both Star of Danger and The Winds of Darkover are wonderfully evocative, adventure-filled novels painting an illuminating picture of Darkovan culture, but The Bloody Sun is among the most important and significant of Bradley's Darkover novels," says Daniel Jolley.

Scott Mackay sets the stage for the future in Omnifix. "There is a simplicity to the flow of words, a distinctly retro approach to Mackay's future and an underlying atmosphere of distrust and conspiracy," says Gregg Thurlbeck. "The combination is gripping. For a time." Congrats, Gregg, on Rambles.NET review #50!

Tamora Pierce opens her gender-bending fantasy trilogy with Song of the Lioness #1: Alanna, the First Adventure. "The story is told in a clear, straightforward style, making it very accessible to its intended age group," says Laurie Thayer. "This short book is aimed at 9- to 12-year-old readers and should be well received by those who enjoy fantasy and adventure."

Ellen Datlow touches on an otherwordly taboo in Off Limits: Tales of Alien Sex, a collection of stories "written by some of the most talented authors of our time," Kate Danemark says. "As improbable as many of the circumstances seem, the emotions and actions of the characters are ultimately familiar, even in cases which we may wish they were not."

Francesca Lia Block's Echo left Kate bewildered and confused. "I don't understand it, and after some reflection have decided that I'm OK with that," Kate says. "It's possible there was nothing to understand, and that the story really was as disjointed as it seemed."

Tom Knapp is at sea again, this time with Hornblower & the Hotspur by C.S. Forester. In his review, Tom explains the pros and cons of Hornblower's character -- and compares him to another prominent captain in the 19th-century British navy.

The monster slayer takes a break in Van Helsing's Night Off & Other Tales by Nicolas Mahler. "Mahler hits a home run where putting a new twist on old characters is concerned," says Mark Allen. "Additionally, he does so with no word balloons, a venture that is rarely pulled off well in comics, but Mahler does a better job than many."

Janine Kauffman wants to talk about Love Actually. Despite an amazing cast of British actors and the directing talents of Richard Curtis, this love affair is on the rocks, she says. "Curtis needs about 40 arms to juggle all the plot lines he uses to make his point, and he probably needed only an eighth of them ... and there are some jarring notes that don't do justice to Curtis's argument of love around us everywhere."

Miles O'Dometer says Elling "is one of those rare films that has the power to surprise and delight viewers at every turn. While their ultimate goals may become transparent, the paths by which Elling and Bjarne get there is always a mystery until the very last moment."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back!

24 July 2004

Words have divided man from woman,
one from another, this from that,
until only sages know how to put things together.
Without words, without even understanding,
lovers find each other.
... The moment of finding is always a surprise,
like meeting an old friend never before known.
- Lao Tzu

We're in a romantic frame of mind, courtesty of old Lao Tzu. Ah, I'm in the mood for love and reviews!

Christine Primrose & Brian O'hEadhra divvy up the singing duties on An Turas: Gaelic Songs from Scotland & Ireland. "The recording quality is superb. Voices are very clear and pronounced -- they sounded like they were in my house giving me a personal concert," says Erika Rabideau.

Llio Rhydderch draws inspiration from "one of the most remote and beautiful peninsulas in Wales, the Llyn," for Enlli, a recording of Welsh harp music, David Cox reveals. "This beautifully recorded work brings together experimental and traditional Welsh music for the harp, which -- along with the voice -- is most emblematic of that country's sound."

Morgan Wolfsinger opens her Heartrose with "a collection of 10 original ballads that would satisfy any great hall," Sarah Meador says. "Her voice has the depth and clarity of a good red wine, able to flavor stories of kings and wizards with the proper grandiosity while still leaving some gentleness for fairy lovers and the homesickness of an exile."

The Johnstons was one of the greatest Irish folk bands on the Transatlantic label in the 1960s and early '70s, says Nicky Rossiter. The Transatlantic Years collects some of the band's best work, he says. "Hear the Johnstons once and you will never mistake them for anyone else. The have a unique sound born of talent and a love of what they are performing."

Sarah samples The Best of Cajun & Zydeco: Homebrew in this new compilation disc from ARC. "While Cajun and zydeco offer music from the heartbreaking to the wild, Homebrew focuses on the party music," she says. "With few exceptions, these are songs made for dancing."

Jim Kremens spins powerful folk-pop on his latest album. "From the glowering goth picture on the front of Spun, I expected violence and darkness and wondered if my editor had been, well, less than honest in his description," admits Tracie Vida. But, she concedes, "Spun is folk-pop music as it should be: tender, inspiring and emotive without the sappy sentimentalism of dorm music or the insipid lyrics of boy/girl bands. Driving this is Jim Kremens' gorgeous voice."

The Slackers bring back a three-decades-old prom sound for Virginia MacIsaac on Close My Eyes. "These guys would have satisfied the sophisticates who savored sax. They'd please practically everyone else with the earthy rock 'n' roll beats, some of it tinged with strains of reggae, for great dance music. And to top it all off, the romantics would have clung to the slow-dancing Bobby Curtolla sound of the lead crooner."

Sonny Landreth shows his mastery of the slide guitar on The Road We're On. "The Road We're On serves as an example to just about every blues band out there that there's something more to shoot for than the time-honored but frankly cliched barroom sound," says Tim Truman. "With his innovative ideas, imaginative arangements and strong songwriting, Landreth is keeping the art of blues guitar playing and songwriting alive and growing."

The Bluegrass Express focuses on bluegrass train songs by a variety of artists. "To many of us, the very phrase 'bluegrass train song' says all you need to know; if you're disappointed, something has gone terribly wrong," Jerome Clark opines. "Fortunately, there's no train wreck here."

The Porch Rockers have Heard the News for this "subtle mix of roots, Americana and blues with a bit of country and gospel," says C. Nathan Coyle. "All the performances, vocals and instrumentals, seem to realize their role and don't try to overshadow each other. The final effect is a measured, consistent and enjoyable album."

The Gerald Wilson Orchestra celebrates the big city with New York, New Sound. "If you have an ear for modern big band jazz, look no further," says Chet Williamson. "The years have only honed Gerald Wilson's compositional and arranging skills. This is timeless music, and should sound as good 50 years from now as it does today."

The sounds of African traditions and jazz merge in Africa Straight Ahead. Gregg Thurlbeck expected more diversity -- and a more traditional African sound -- but still calls the album "a very good investment" for fans of the genre.

Kristian Blak serves up a a collection of instrumental music based on traditional vocal and instrumental music from the Faroe and Shetland islands on Shalder Geo. "While the packaging may lead to expectations of traditional-sounding music, don't harbor those expectations," warns C. Nathan Coyle. "Instead, approach Shalder Geo with expectations of eclectic sounds and you won't be disappointed."

The music of the Basque Country gets the triple-disc treatment on Euskarians. "The three CDs each have a distinct flavour. No. 1, my favorite, is current neo-traditional music; No. 2 has more of a folk/country/'80s feel, and No. 3 is from the early days of Basque folk revival (1960s and '70s)," explains David Cox. "You can see the evolution of Basque roots music in reverse."

The Earth-Wheel-Sky-Band plays a Waltz Rromano for a "fiery, potent blast of Gypsy Roma passion." Debbie Koritsas says the music is "delivered with such urgency and fire that itŐs not always an easy listen!"

Kelsang Chukie Tethong is "working to preserve the traditional music of her native Tibet" with Voice from Tara, Jennifer Hanson explains. "She has one of those voices that could sing the telephone book and have the listener asking for more."

Greg Maroney plays his piano in Harmony Grove. "Maroney creates a tender tapestry of reminiscence and homage," says Tracie Vida. "This collection of original compositions beautifully evokes the gentle feelings of common life and reverence the everyday miracles of nature."

Bob Brunning explores Blues: The British Connection in an "either/or" book that Dave Howell says will entertain some readers, bore others. "But as a picture of the blues scene in Britain, this book is superb," he says.

Owen Chase lived to tell about The Wreck of the Whaleship Essex. His narrative about the whale who left him and his crew stranded thousands of miles from any known land "is plainly written but never dry -- this is history straight from the source," Tom Knapp says. "There have been several books written about the incident, but Chase's own words, preserved here, are a riveting tale of survival against the greatest of odds."

Joyce Meyer explains How to Hear from God: Learn to Hear His Voice & Make Right Decisions. "I was intrigued by Meyer's brusque voice," notes Virginia MacIsaac. "It's not cultured or refined, but it brings home to us how God is present in the real, solid and everyday things of life and, ephemeral though he is, she assures us you can find him and hear him almost anywhere if you want to learn to listen."

Simon R. Green sings the Nightingale's Lament in this new fantasy-mystery novel. "Hardly a scene passes without some intriguing figure being glimpsed from the corner of the story," says Sarah Meador. "The Fractured Protagonist, a single-souled temporal triplet and thousands of others beg for a closer look, usually denied by the pressing demands of solving Nightingale's mystery."

Janny Wurts "intrigues her readers with the multi-lingual, psychically aware hero" in To Ride Hell's Chasm, Jenny Ivor reports. "Wurts weaves a fast-paced and enthralling tale, laden with emotion -- horror, fear, sadness, determination, love and bravery. Your heart will race, you will hold your breath in suspense and you may even be moved to tears."

Tracy & Laura Hickman launch a new, dragon-related fantasy series with Mystic Warrior. "I'm happy to say that (the Hickmans) have created a novel world using some standard fantasy tropes and turning them on their side a bit," says David Roy. "While some cliches are still used (dwarves live underground, dragons are mean and nasty), they add just enough new stuff to make a fascinating first book."

Patrick O'Brian continues the story of Capt. Jack Aubrey in The Reverse of the Medal, a novel that takes place, not at sea, but in the legal landscape of early 19th-century England. "I wouldn't recommend this as a starting point in the series -- after all, Aubrey has his finest moments at sea, not locked in legal struggles ashore -- but this was only my second visit to O'Brian's world and already the characters seem real and their experiences are absorbing," Tom Knapp explains.

Sarah Meador isn't sure why it's called Exit 13 -- it "doesn't feature 13 stories, it's not focused on off ramps, there's no significance to the number except, perhaps, that '13' might sound somewhat edgy," she says. "For the most part, there's an uncomfortable (and ineffective) reliance on mechanical shading, a certain clunkiness in page composition and a general self awareness that doesn't always benefit the story. But every artist in the collection has achieved at least a personal sense of style, and their lack of set patterns encourages some experimentation that is, if not always effective, at least always interesting to watch." (Hoopla, Sarah, for review #200!)

C. Nathan Coyle warns readers not to "expect any sense of linear continuity" in Graham Annable's Further Grickle. "The story concepts of this graphic novel are hit-and-miss, but the storytelling itself is aptly done," Nathan says. "Graham Annable should be commended for conveying so much emotion into stick figures, especially in the final story arc."

Tom Knapp says Spider-Man 2 "pales a bit in comparison to the first Spider-Man movie ... but, ultimately, Spider-Man 2 succeeds because we care more about Peter and Mary Jane more than we care about Spider-Man, and Dr. Octavius is a more fully realized human being than Dr. Octopus. It's funny, it's poignant, it's real." (Be sure to check out our collection of superhero movie reviews!)

Janine Kauffman spends her Mondays in the Sun. "In the sometimes unrelentingly harsh world of international economics, sometimes putting your heart and soul into your job isn't nearly enough to save it," she says. "Quiet desperation is rarely so intense."

Finally today, Tom Schulte provides reviews of three recent concert DVDs: Albert "The Iceman" Collins, Candye Kane and Iggy & the Stooges. Check them out on our music video page!

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back soon -- new reviews are posted each week. Cheers!

17 July 2004

When angry, count four;
when very angry, swear.
- Mark Twain

Let's get crackin'!

Lady Godiva provides a German slant on Irish folk-rock with Zooperation. "The musicians give the impression they are serious about having fun when they play," says Wil Owen. "The music is the highlight of the CD. Unfortunately, the band can't sing."

Davy Spillane finds A Place Among the Stones in this early recording. "Most offerings of so-called 'popular' music have a fairly short shelf life, at least in the U.S.," Robert Tilendis says. "Chalk it up at least in part to Americans' insatiable appetite for the 'new' and in part to the relative mediocrity of most popular music. I don't think Davy Spillane is in any danger here: this is an absorbing album filled with delightful surprises that don't seem to lose their magic."

Mary Black's early music is Collected for all to hear. "The album is extremely beautiful and evocative," says Jean Price. "Black has done a wonderful job of breathing new life into some old songs, while maintaining their distinctive sounds and messages."

Irish female singers share the spotlight on A Woman's Heart 2. "Ireland has no shortage of remarkable women on any front, and it particularly excels in music," says Jean. "Each of the nine featured on the album are at the top of the field."

Raylene Rankin's Lambs in Spring "is a beautiful album," says Jean, rounding out her triple play for the day. "Given her stunning, pure voice, this is no surprise. ... This album is a positive, heart-lifting selection of traditional and contemporary songs."

C. Daniel Boling has produced "unquestionably a modern, very American folk album" with The Old International, Sarah Meador says. "It's not especially uncovered ground, advocating self-control, appreciation of others and forgiveness over anger. These insights are nonetheless valid, but the strength of their expression comes from finding a new, true way of sharing them."

Greg Tamblyn is Saving the World from Whiny Victim Love Songs. "A quick listen to any generic radio station shows that Greg Tamblyn has not quite succeeded in his mission yet," Sarah laments. "The self-denigrating lovebirds and modern tragedians still dominate the airwaves. But for the span of two hefty albums, they get ousted with spirit, style and some darn singable tunes."

A longtime writer, performer and producer, Steve Mayone proves himself to be a Bedroom Rockstar on his folk-rock recording debut. "Two decades of experience shine through in this wonderfully versatile album," says C. Nathan Coyle.

James Krueger is feeling Fine. "Fine is a wonderful blend of Krueger's delicate voice and a dazzling array of instruments," Nathan explains. "The album is smooth and rich like coffee with cream, with each song having unique characteristics."

Alecia Nugent's voice, on her new, self-titled CD, "has a timeless quality -- an honest, straightforward singing style in a manner similar to Loretta Lynn or Emmylou Harris," says Nathan -- who's on a roll today! "It wouldn't surprise me at all if she becomes a country/bluegrass superstar."

The Dixie Chicks come Home for some well-honed bluegrass, says new Rambles.NET staffer Nicole van Zanten. "With the unique blend of country and bluegrass, it has proved to be a very dynamic recording," she says. "I hope to see more of the band in the future, but possibly not too soon considering they are all new parents!"

Marcus Miller teaches us a few things about jazz in The Ozell Tapes: The Official Bootleg. "If you'd like to hear pure jazz played live in concert by one of the masters of the genre in a high intensity performance, you can't miss with The Ozell Tapes," says William Kates. "Your homework for tonight is to put on this disc, crank it up really loud and let Marcus Miller take you wherever he wants to go."

Gonzo goes all bass on this self-titled CD release of jazz-rock music. "The sound is unique," says Karen Elkins. Still, she says, the brevity of this CD "makes me grouchy."

David Cox lends an ear to the Music of the Silk Road. "ARC continues its record of excellence in folk and popular recordings from unlikely places with this compilation from countries on the legendary Silk Road, the ancient trading route from Europe to China," he says. "There is plenty to enjoy and lots to learn about as well."

Ensemble Tumbash shares a Mongolian sound -- particularly hoomij, the art of Mongolian throat singing -- on Hoomij: Vol. II. "Hoomij is capable of great variety on its own, sinking bone-rattlingly low or rising high as a mosquito drone," says Sarah Meador. "It possesses a primal, sometimes eerie quality, summoning up the spirit of landscapes and wild creatures while holding onto the empathy and intelligence of the human voice. To those of us who don't know how to translate it, the throat singing carries its message through feel and by dialogue with the instruments that back it."

Berroguetto taps into Galician tradition for Viaxe por Urticaria. The music sent reviewer Daniel Berlanga Ramos into a parallel dimension! "It was a weird sensation -- notes that were able to trigger imagination and push me into new places that I haven't been before," he says.

Randy Newman proves himself again to be "a gifted, prolific composer" with the soundtrack to Seabiscuit," Ann Flynt remarks. "The music within this score allows its performance without the benefit of a movie. Thus, Newman has written a score that contains not only his trademark style, but also allows a story to be told."

Tom Knapp closes the music section today with an interview with Scantily Plaid, an acoustic Celtic-Canadian band with attitude. Go ahead, have a peek at Tom's conversation with Doug Feaver and Ruth Sutherland!

Barbara Spring exposes The Wilderness Within in a collection of poetry "notable for a wealth of striking images and apt turns of phrase," says Robert Tilendis. "It is not an unqualified success, but does provide a series of sensitive and often revealing vignettes."

Naomi Mitchison must Travel Light in this lore-based children's fantasy book. "Every page is full of magic and wonder," says Jennifer Hanson. "It is difficult to imagine any child with a love of mythology not loving this story."

Christopher Whitcomb's thriller Black "may not be the most disappointing book ever," Kate Danemark says -- but it's close. "Blame for the book's failure could be placed on the flat characters mercilessly trapped within cliches of personality, so that by the end no connection has been made with the reader," she says.

Bruce Sterling "has captured the emotional essence of post-9/11 government paranoia and the confusion of the United States in The Zenith Angle," Beth Derochea says. "The technology he describes is believable -- something just barely out of reach of the public."

Malachy Doyle makes the introductions to Georgie, a young-adult novel that is "a knowing and compassionate look into a brutalized mind," Tracie Vida says. "This book is a perfect tool to teach children compassion and tolerance for their challenged peers and is a great introduction into mental illness."

Tom Holt stoops to the subject of Little People. "Holt's brand of British humor rarely hits a roadblock, and Little People is no exception," says Julie Bowerman. "Holt's intriguing concept of each elf's geographically opposite personality, paired with recurring and memorable human characters, contribute to a well-rendered tall tale."

Sarah Meador says the plot of Carol Swain's Foodboy "takes several pages to materialize -- forever, in a graphic novel -- but is simple enough to come through in Swain's broken, picture-driven prose. ... Often relying on pages of voiceless imagery, the emotional resonance would never work as pure text. The art, largely confined in a reliable grid pattern, is remarkable in its simplicity."

James Kochalka's Peanutbutter & Jeremy's Best Book Ever! "will be enjoyed by the young in age and young at heart alike," promises C. Nathan Coyle. "Reading Peanutbutter & Jeremy's Best Book Ever! on a cloudy day (literal or metaphorical) will guarantee a sunny disposition."

The legendary King Arthur has never meshed well with the historical facts of the era in which he allegedly lived. So Tom Knapp was excited to see King Arthur, which purports to be a more accurate version of the tale. Does it succeed? "Despite a few obvious failings along the way, Arthur is a solid action film with grand scenery and exciting battle scenes throughout," he says. "While the 'truth' about Arthur may never be known for certain, this movie feels much closer to the mark than any I've seen before."

Miles O'Dometer spends a riveting couple of hours in The Grey Zone, which takes a close look at a certain period in Auschwitz. "For all its historical context, The Grey Zone is less a history lesson than a morality play, a complex look at the lives of a small band of prisoners who have been given the choice of dying now or aiding and abetting their captors in return for a two- or three-month stay of execution," Miles explains. "Like it or not, this is one film you won't forget, even if you want to."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back soon -- new reviews are posted each week. Cheers!

10 July 2004

It's surprising how imaginative you can be
with five people and 10 chairs.
- David Howey

Who wants to wear Rambles.NET on their chest? Apparently, quite a few of you! We've gotten a lot of requests about t-shirts and such, and finally we have yielded to temptation and created some. We're using Cafe Press, an online service that makes shirts and other cool items on demand; we've designed a few nifty variations on the Rambles.NET theme to use as logos (including one version with a quote by one of our favorite authors, Charles de Lint).

We're not sure how long we'll maintain this Rambles.NETwear line of high fashion, so if you're interested, take a look! We have more than three dozen items for the discriminating shopper (including the official Rambles.NET thong); why wait 'til these are featured on Paris runways and prices skyrocket? Pay a visit to our lovely links page and follow the link to our Cafe Press boutique. (And while you're on the links page, be sure to visit some of the important click-for-charity sites we've highlighted there!)

Now, enough of this stuff. We have reviews!

Enter the Haggis serves a heady mix on Casualties of Retail, Sherrill Fulghum reports. "While the CD is full of the typical Haggis fare, it is also a bit of a departure for the band," she says. "Casualties of Retail contains bluegrass and traditional Celtic tunes, but at the same time the album could be considered a rock crossover album."

Gavin Whelan has created "an exciting album of Irish traditional music," says Andy Jurgis. "Whelan can make the whistle sing and his self-titled album achieves a purity and simplicity of uncluttered excellence."

Solas is at the top of its game on The Words That Remain, Jean Price recalls. "They deserve every good word written about them and probably a lot more," she says. "Solas is a phenomenal group, talented and refreshingly unique."

Philip Riley & Jayne Elleson earn comparisons to Enya, Loreena McKennitt and Secret Garden with the release of The Blessing Tree, Jean proclaims. "Their gift for creating music that is at once grand and sweeping, yet gentle and mystical, is unsurpassed," she says.

La Bottine Souriante is, David Cox said, "the band that best epitomizes roots music. En Spectacle, he adds, "is LBS is at its very best -- very good indeed."

Buddy MacDonald goes live with A Night at the Pub. "Having enjoyed seeing Buddy perform dozens of times," Tom Knapp notes, "it's nice to have this live recording to bring back the moment!"

Bruce Guthro sings songs Of Your Son on this multi-award-winning album. "Guthro has a gift for storytelling through song, never lapsing into the trite or overused," says Jean Price. "His songs reflect both his life and more widespread issues."

David Rovics marks his Return with an album of in-your-face political folk. "This is folk-rock with an emphasis on the rock, blunt force beats with sharp-bladed lyrics," says Sarah Meador. "This album is a call to action, not a therapy session or a guilt trip."

Annie Humphrey takes her music to the Edge of America. "Throughout the album, most songs have a social mission," C. Nathan Coyle explains. "While lyrics are usually a method to convey a singer's talents, in this case they take a rare position as co-star, competing with Humphrey's vocal talents in terms of depth, as both seek to eliminate boundaries and share life experiences."

Nicky Rossiter says People on the Highway: A Bert Jansch Encomium is "a roll call of the best in contemporary folk music. ... This album is fantastic and could be either the basis of a folk library or an essential addition."

Willie Nelson's new release, Crazy: The Demo Sessions, showcases "the simple genius of the country legend," Charlie Irons says. "Simply put, if you love Willie, then you need this album."

The Urban Knights supply some jazz to remember on V. "With pumping bass and drums on nearly every track, V is something of a party record that offers well-written songs and first-rate jazz players working a hugely listenable mix of jazz, pop, R&B, funk and rock while retaining jazz credibility," says William Kates. "This is smooth jazz of the highest order."

Mylene Pires's self-titled CD, a blend of Brazilian-based music, is a "wonderfully produced combination of world folk and jazz (that) should appeal to a wide range of listeners," says Dave Howell.

Nicky Rossiter finds a hint of warmth in Numero Uno by the Cuban band La Sonera Calaveras. "From roots in folk, Latin and jazz, they grow into a massive explosion of colour through music," Nicky promises.

Tha Tribe exhibits Mad Hops & Crazy Stops in this recording of pow-wow pieces. "It is marvelous to hear the tradition of dance music as carried on by the young people on this CD," says Virginia MacIsaac. "What I liked most was the energy level. The music is mighty."

David Corter wants to break out of the Australian mold with Didgeridoo Mania II: Goin' Walkabout. "He has succeeded," says Karen Elkins. "This recording is like no other I have heard."

NuSound supplies the World Moods on a disc that puzzles Carool Kersten. "Experimenting with various musical styles in one composition is a risky business, and not all composers and arrangers are equally successful," he says. "NuSound has relied too much on technology to achieve the desired effects."

Al Franken presents his unsubtle views in Lies (And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them). "I'm both impressed by the evidence he presents to back up this claim and disheartened by the manner in which he delivers some of it," says Gregg Thurlbeck. "Fortunately, there are plenty of places where Franken manages to better balance the comedy and the commentary. And when the mix is right Lies (And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them) is an eye-opening, disturbing expose that's well worth reading."

Patrick O'Brian's novel The Far Side of the World has gained a new level of interest in the wake of the recent Russell Crowe film, Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World. Tom Knapp finds the book less active than it's big-screen cousin, but no less absorbing. "The author quickly draws readers into the world of seamanship and His Majesty's Navy, filling the pages with rich images and jargon that bring a bygone era back to life with less flash but more substance," Tom says.

Anne Bishop releases The Black Jewels Trilogy in a package that quite impressed our Dan Jolley. "Anne Bishop has taken the literature of dark fantasy to heights I never even dreamed of," he says. "If you are searching for something different, something that will completely captivate you in the form of a world unlike any you have yet encountered in your literary journeys, The Black Jewels Trilogy stands ready to redefine your very conception of the literature of dark fantasy."

Michael A. Arnzen serves up brief horror in 100 Jolts: Shockingly Short Stories. "100 Jolts isn't an unqualified success. But with 100 stories to choose from, it doesn't have to be," Sarah Meador explains. "When Michael Arnzen is good, he's amazing, a writer deserving a place on any 'best fiction' list; even when he's at his worst, he's not dull, and always, at least, brief."

Rich Kisielewski goes digging in Da Bushes for a private investigator yarn. "Kisielewski's first novel has introduced a strong lead character to the overcrowded world of mystery," says Jamie O'Brien. "Given time, Shorts might end up there with the Sam Spades and Philip Marlowes of this world."

Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers have compiled the stories in Space Stations. Gregg Thurlbeck notes a lack of many "A-list writers" in the collection but recommends several of the lesser-known works. "The style and focus of the stories is more wide ranging than the premise might suggest," he says.

Mack Maloney takes his Star Hawk series into a Battle at Zero Point. "Hunter is a hero most of us would like to be and Maloney has placed him in an action story with endless surprises and quirky characters," says Ron Bierman. "But the Star Hawk series would work better for me in a comic book format." Why? Read on!

Mary Harvey takes Love on the Lam with popular Batman villainesses Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. The two ladies, Mary says, "have to be two of the all-time most inventive, most comically paired villains Batman has ever faced. However, even their particular brand of zany criminality isn't enough to keep Harley & Ivy: Love on the Lam from being a rather lightweight piece of fluff that doesn't really show either villainess at her madcap best."

Mark Allen really enjoys the possible-future look at Peter Parker's daughter in Spider-Girl. "Quite simply, it's a lot of fun -- something many comics are missing these days," he says. "Spider-Girl is recommended for everyone, so let your children, as well as your inner child, read it."

Jerome Clark has some illusions shattered about several early Texas singer-songwriters, captured on video in the 1970s and released now in Heartworn Highways, a kind of on-the-road home movie. "Most of these guys sport horrible 1970s hair, and they're drunk and stoned a lot," Jerome says. "When not singing, none of them are interesting. When singing drunk and stoned, they're not interesting, either."

Miles O'Dometer says My Life Without Me is "a very close-up and introspective look at the last two months in the life of a very wise young woman who charts a very untried course for herself. In some ways it's like reading the journal of a stranger whose life -- there's that word again -- nevertheless speaks to you in unexpected ways."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back soon -- new reviews are posted each week. Cheers!

3 July 2004

What nearly all medicine boils down to is:
leave the human body alone and comfortable,
and in time it'll sort itself out.
- Tom Holt

We're posting a bit early this week (so the editor can zip away to his lovely fiancee's side for the weekend), but I'm sure no one will complain about getting this hefty batch of reviews a bit sooner than planned! Have a great week ... and if you live in the States, enjoy the fireworks!

The self-titled CD from Eleanor Shanley, formerly of De Danaan, is worth buying just for "one great line in one great song," Nicky Rossiter says. "But this CD is more than just one great line; it is a tour de force of fantastic music performed by an outstanding talent with excellent collaborations."

Joe Giltrap shares a few Distant Memories on this album that, "despite its quiet delivery, will rise up and smack you between the eyes," warns Nicky. "It is one of the best CDs I have heard in years, and I have listened to works from legends and new talent in that time."

Rachel Williams (who, like Cher and Madonna, decided to drop her surname for recording purposes) brings her Cornish and Welsh roots to Both Sides/O'r Ddwy Ochr. David Cox admires her skill with voice and harp, but says she hasn't yet attained the status of a Sian James or Loreena McKennitt.

The Chieftains lift the Long Black Veil in this landmark CD featuring "many rock and pop musicians (most coming from the British Isles) singing lead vocals on mostly traditional songs," Charlie Ricci explains. "The music makes you feel as if the guest pop stars and rockers lived with these folk songs on a daily basis because, to their credit, the Chieftains don't try to sound like a modern rock band."

Spade McQuade & the Allstars reveal their Irish folk-rockin' sound on their self-titled CD debut. Jerome Clark calls them a "decent if not especially distinguished roots-rock bar band" and explains where this recording went wrong.

Colcannon (the Australian variety) goes live on Step It Out. Nicky calls them "a top-class group that performs from the heart with a talent that is unsurpassed."

The Barra MacNeils have shared their music Until Now on this "best of" collection from 1997. "With only 14 tracks, it can hardly do justice to over a decade of music, but each track is well chosen, demonstrating the talents of each member and the cohesiveness they have as a whole," Jean Price reports.

Deborah Wai Kapohe proves "her many-faceted abilities, playing guitar and singing her own lyrics with the power and beauty of an opera singer," on I Unwrap You, Jenny Ivor says. "This soprano voice has a surprising depth and a purity all its own."

Sylvia Tyson reminds us of her presence with River Road & Other Stories, a collection of storytelling folk ballads "that speak to the heart of everyone who hears them," says Debbie Gayle Rose.

The perpetual hippie and guru of grunge gets his due on The Bridge: A Tribute to Neil Young. Gregg Thurlbeck rates the artists who contributed to this recording, noting the successes and flops along the way.

Katie Marie has Been Here Before with a brief but high-quality introduction to her music. "This short CD is a worthwhile piece for your collection to get in on the ground floor of a young singer-songwriter with very good potential," Nicky says.

Brian Gladstone and Tony Quarrington are Alive & Picking. The album, says Sarah Meador, "is self-explanatory fun, with simple, pleasant guitar work and earnest good cheer emanating from every note. It doesn't sound like much to discuss, but it sure sounds good in the performance."

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver Thank God in a new bluegrass release that has Chet Williamson singing their praises. "Lawson is once more playing the kind of music that made him one of the giants of bluegrass," Chet says. "After a too-long flirtation with Southern-style gospel music, Lawson and his band are back in the bluegrass groove, and the results are spectacular."

The blues recordings of Alan Lomax set the standard for later studio work; those early field recordings get new life in Alan Lomax: Blues Songbook. "This two-disc set serves as a solid introduction to Lomax's accomplishments in preserving the sound of the blues for generations to come," says Chet. "The tracks themselves sound as good as the newest technology can make them, and that's quite good indeed."

The Yellowjackets demonstrate the jazz principle of Time Squared. "The Yellowjackets have maintained a remarkably consistent level of quality throughout their career," says William Kates. "These guys are consummate pros and you can hear the quality on every track."

Incognito's jazz disc Who Needs Love earned faint praise from reviewer Gregg Thurlbeck in April. Through a filing mixup, a second copy of the disc was assigned to reviewer Ann Flynt, who has a more favorable view. While Rambles.NET does not usually duplicate reviews, we decided not to discard Ann's hard work because of our mistake! So click on the link above and get TWO reviews for the price of one!

Vivian Khor finds Paradise in this "soothing and peaceful album of keyboard music, ideal for meditation or relaxing," Jenny Ivor says. "It is a form of musical massage, and very pleasant to unwind to!"

Bio Ritmo's self-titled CD fuses "a bit of soul, rock and jazz within a salsa base," Wil Owen says. "At a time when a lot of modern music is starting to sound dull and repetitive, many of the tracks presented here are a splash of color by comparison."

Sharon Katz & the Peace Train indulge in the sounds of South Africa on Imbizo. "Both the message and the music here are generally upbeat, as it is with much African music," says Dave Howell. "The lyrics are not full of platitudes, however. Throughout the CD Katz sings descriptions of African life, mentions the AIDS epidemic and tells stories about war and violence."

Raga Nova combines saxophone and sitar in a fusion of jazz and Indian sounds on this self-titled CD. "Hearing the fusion of the two styles is nothing less than exotic and exhilarating," says Karen Elkins. "Raga Nova is like nothing you have heard."

Tom Knapp relives Van Helsing through his review of Alan Silvestri's soundtrack. "Hunting and slaying monsters is boisterous work, and when you're on the job, you want a suitably bombastic soundtrack to reflect your every peril-fraught move," he says. "So don't listen for musical nuances here; prepare for smashing percussion, blaring brass, chanting choirs and volume, volume, volume."

Jeanne Page provides assistance for musicians with a pair of Mel Bay releases: Irish Songbook for Hammered Dulcimer and Scottish Songbook for Hammered Dulcimer. "Page has done a marvelous job of arranging each piece," says Alanna Berger. "The only thing I found missing is some indication of tempo. Is it a slow jig, reel or air, strathspey, march or measure, is it played 60 or 120 beats to the measure -- it's up to you."

Ben Buxton explores a lost piece of Scotland in Mingulay: An Island & its People. "He attempts to cut through (and I feel succeeds in his aim) the romanticism and ignorance of some of the earlier chroniclers of Mingulay," says Debbie Koritsas, "in an attempt to present a more honest and reliable portrayal of life on this beautiful but inaccessible island."

Gabriel Garcia Marquez shares a portion of his life in Living to Tell the Tale, his "long-awaited autobiography -- or at least the first 500-page long installment of the projected three-volume work," says David Cox. "Along with Garcia Marquez's story, the reader is treated to the opportunity to learn more about Colombia itself, its diverse geography, its violent political struggles and, foremost, its literature. Did you know Colombia even had a literature?"

Susan Sizemore "has carved a wonderful little niche for herself in the vampire genre with her Laws of the Blood series," Daniel Jolley relates. "Heroes, the fifth book in the series, begins to blend what has come before into a new concoction full of future possibilities."

Alex Irvine shares the Unintended Consequences that arose from this set of 13 short tales. Jean Lewis welcomes "the opportunity to dip in and out of several genres whilst skipping through a variety of settings and historical periods."

Mercedes Lackey edits a new selection of stories presented in Sun in Glory & Other Tales of Valdemar. "This is a must for Valdemar fans, and presents no problems for the reader not familiar with this land," says Jenny Ivor.

William Gibson and Bruce Sterling present an alternate Victorian London in The Difference Engine. "I enjoyed the book mostly because the society of story is so well drawn and convincing," says Beth Derochea. "I believed in that world, though I wouldn't want to live there."

Steven Brust proves himself to be "quite arguably the most sophisticated stylist working in the realm of fantasy literature today" with To Reign in Hell, says Robert Tilendis. "Although the freight is heavy, Brust's stance is light, another characteristic that invites comparison with Zelazny. Neither is a writer of little substance, and they share a deft touch, an almost surgically precise use of irony, and a distance that sets the issues out very clearly without ever letting them become ponderous."

Troy Nilsson's Shadow Stones of Hiroshima "is born of a deep passion," Paul de Bruijn explains. "Nilsson uses the book to deliver an anti-war message and the focus is on the message. ... However, as it stands the book could use another draft or two to bring out more of its potential."

Ellen Sussman's audionovel On a Night Like This earned a mixed reaction from Wil Owen. "I do not think I have ever listened to an audiobook in which I have flip-flopped back and forth between enjoying the story and thinking it was overly dramatic," he explains.

Mary Harvey cautions comic-book writers from writing themselves into the story -- then notes that, in the JLA adventure Welcome to the Working Week, it works quite well. "In short, it's probably the same kind of story you'd come up with, given a blank pad and the opportunity to produce a script for your favorite heroes, which makes it easier to get into with every turn of the page," she says. "Highly recommended."

Veteran movie reviewer Janine Kauffman says it's "hard to look anywhere but the stunning scenery in Respiro -- Emanuele Crialese's third effort as a director, second as a producer -- but the story, in fits and starts like its lead's behavior, gives jolts just when it needs to."

Tom Knapp takes a look back at Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- not the highly acclaimed television series, mind you, but the movie that started it all. "The two incarnations of Buffy have very loyal camps, and for many it seems hard to like one without hating the other," he says. "Well, allow me to provide a bridge between them: I appreciate the intelligent writing, highly developed characters and unique concepts that were a hallmark of the series, but I likewise enjoy the highly original idea and general good, clean fun that makes the movie a treat to this day."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back soon -- new reviews are posted each week. Cheers!

26 June 2004

The diameter divides into the circumference, you know. It ought to be three times. You'd think so, wouldn't you? But does it? No. Three point one four one and lots of other figures. There's no end to the buggers. Do you know how pissed off that makes me? ... It tells me that the Creator used the wrong kind of circles. It's not even a proper number! I mean, three point five, you could respect. Or three point three. That'd look right.
- Terry Pratchett

Welcome back!

Fiona Mackenzie and Arthur Cormack's new CD Seinn! O Ho Ro Seinn! is "essentially one of the best Gaelic song and language teaching resources I've come across," says Debbie Koritsas. "When you read and understand the lyrics, these songs evoke vivid images of a way of life long gone, of partings and sorrows, and of evocative Highland and Island landscapes."

Jimmy Rankin's latest recording is Handmade. "Every song is a beautifully written story, while the vocals and music are honest and earthy," Jean Price says. "This is an amazing album that will touch your soul and maybe give you a wee bit of wanderlust as well!"

The Occasionals dance a Scottish Reel of Four with "a flow and vitality that is hard to resist," Nicky Rossiter says. "The album is a collection of old and new music that blends like malt whisky."

The Third Grand Concert of Piping is a must-have CD "for anyone with the mildest interest in that Scottish symbol of music," Nicky announces. "No, these are not the familiar pipe bands of the skirl o' pipes and swish of tartan. Here you get some excellent duos and solo performances that introduce the listener to a new dimension of the pipes and manage to combine the traditional instrument with some unlikely bedfellows."

Mary Black gives good value on her solo debut recording, Jean Price informs. "Black has infused each song with her rich, strong voice," Jean says, "and though sometimes the arrangements are a bit lacking, that can all be forgiven to hear the singing."

Clannad made new Landmarks with this Grammy Award-winning album, which veered the group's direction from Irish traditions into Celtic new age. "The overall sound is much more ethereal than some of their previous albums, and a bit more contemporary, making broad use of electric instruments and with the saxophone popping up periodically," says Jean. "It definitely lives up to its new age label."

Maria Kalaniemi and Aldargaz join forces for Iho. Jennifer Hanson recommends it for "some of the best in contemporary Finnish music."

Octobre's folk legacy is revisited on Octobre 1972-1989. "They were perhaps the most Quebecois of bands during an era that Quebecois music thrived," David Cox explains. "This double CD collection, complete with French lyrics, brings us back to the genius of group leader and keyboardist Pierre Flynn."

Dr. J says It Really Don't Change Much with songs that "cover the spectrum between emotions," says Paul de Bruijn. "Quiet joys, quiet sorrows and sometimes they come hand in hand."

Late Bloomers are Sneakin' in the Back Door. "Self-taught guitarists Randy Browning and Brett Kinney honed their skills and came together at Boston's Berklee College of Music," Jean Lewis notes. "I don't know what teaching methods they employ there, but they should keep on doing whatever they're doing because these two musicians are first-rate."

Jens Hausmann is Back on the Track with his debut album of light blues, folk and more. Jenny Ivor recommends it "if you are partial to some blues but like a bit of diversity in your listening and are a definite guitar fan."

Jamie Reno proves his talents as a songwriter and musician on All American Music -- but unfortunately, says C. Nathan Coyle, "his vocal performance is dreadful." Some amazing country singers join him for the experience, but even they can't salvage the duets, Nathan says. "If only he could have stuck to instrumental work and had guest vocals on each song, this album would have been exponentially better."

Jazz greats Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny are "at their very best" on Beyond the Missouri Sky (Short Stories), which has been freshly released with new material, Debbie K. reports. "Each knows when to bring his playing to the fore, and exactly when to hold back."

Gilbert Isbin shares a bit of Red Wine for his jazz 12th recording, "which overall is a palatable experience with some strong and lasting notes," says Jenny. "His 14 compositions are sometimes restful and other times the melody can be rather disturbing, but his skill on the guitar is unquestionable."

Gregori Schechter & the Wandering Few demonstrate the craft of Klezmer. "This CD is beautifully produced, authentic and professionally played. Unfortunately, (as admitted in the album's notes) studio performances do not do justice to klezmer," says David C. "The music really requires the energy of a live performance and an audience. As a result this CD seems a bit too polished."

Coyote Oldman sheds a Tear of the Moon in this early recording. "Powerful energy runs through these evocative compositions of ancient Incan pan pipes and Native American flutes," says Mary Harvey. "Soft but haunting, the lilting flute and pipe duets take you on a voyage through different moods: wistful, somber, even playful at times, but the feel throughout is one of deep, almost meditative mournfulness."

Putumayo's artists get on a Brazilian Groove, which blends worldbeat and pop. "The extremes work well," says Ron Bierman. "What's in between offers more mixed results."

Wladyslaw Szpilman's The Pianist "is not an easy book to read," says Paul. "All the same it tells a tale that we need to hear." Read his review for the story that led to Roman Polanski's award-winning film.

Todd and Jedd Hafer share their Mischief from the Back Pew in a book about religion and humor. Dave Howell provides samples of their jokes -- and tries to decide if they're funny or not.

Margaret Peterson Haddix reinvents the classic rags-to-riches tale in Just Ella. "Haddix turns the Cinderella story on its ear by exploring the young girl's motivations and examining gender roles that apply, honestly, more to modern times than they did in the medieval setting of the book," Tom Knapp says. "Of note, this book gives us a Cinderella who does not rely on fairy godmothers, talking mice or convertible pumpkins to make her way to and from the prince's ball."

Peter Crowther shares his Songs of Leaving in this new short-story collection. "Crowther acknowledges Bradbury's great influence on him several times, and this shows in more than his word choice," says Tracie Vida. "Like Bradbury, Ursula LeGuin and Margaret Atwood, Crowther focuses on the effects of extraordinary events on ordinary people. The results are limned with pathos, poignancy and sometimes fright."

Michelle West unsheathes The Sun Sword in this complex fantasy novel. "Her prose is magical, rich, sinuous and compelling and her use of inference brings a kind of tension to the work that is all too rare," Robert Tilendis says.

E.E. Knight returns to The Vampire Earth in Choice of the Cat. "Many a young writer finds it difficult to recreate the magic of a successful first novel, but Knight has come through with an impressive follow-up sure to delight all fans of dark fantasy and hair-raising heroic adventure," says Daniel Jolley. "Don't let the word 'vampire' throw you; this is in no way a traditional vampire novel, for the Kur are unlike any vampires you have ever encountered."

Bruce Balfour presents a new sci-fi adventure in The Digital Dead. "Before the cybernetic showdown for the ages comes to a head, you will witness the most unbelievable political assassination of all time, marvel at the theft of a dead former president's digital identity and encounter some of the most incredible and daring advertising campaigns ever dreamed of," Daniel says. "Balfour, an expert in the field of artificial intelligence, somehow holds the entire story together, but character development remains, for me, a weakness in his writing."

Jacqueline Lichtenberg reveals Those of My Blood in a novel about alien vampires who threaten our planet. "I enjoyed this book, in spite of the fact that I prefer earthly vampires and hate romance for the sake of romance," says Karen Elkins. "There is plenty of suspense and intrigue, conflict and resolution, and romance to keep most readers enmeshed in the story."

Sharon Kay Penman's Dragon's Lair, A Medieval Mystery drew Jean Marchand right in. "Find your Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary and a good atlas, as I did, and enter the world of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine in the year of Richard the Lionhearted's imprisonment in a royal dungeon in Germany," she urges. "Read this vivid, action-filled book and live for a time in Wales as it might have been centuries ago."

G.M. Ford turns A Blind Eye to this new mystery novel, says David Roy. "Ford creates a page-turner that will keep any hard-boiled detective fan glued to the text," he says.

Elizabeth Robinson tells The True & Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters in a debut audionovel that kept Wil Owen hooked despite its length -- and despite its unusual format.

Tom Knapp is quickly asea with Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World. The British naval film, he says, "does a superlative job of recreating the look and feel of a British naval voyage in the early 19th century. From the creak of the rigging to the roll of the deck, it feels real -- and, speaking as a lifelong landlubber, that's saying a lot." (Watch next week for Tom's review of the Patrick O'Brian novel upon which the movie was loosely based.)

David Cox compares two films by Oscar-winning director Roberto Benigni: Johnny Stecchino and The Monster/Il Mostro. "Here are two films that share a number of similarities; both involve the old Shakespearean comic tricks of mistaken identities, coincidences and using seemingly unrelated events to set up a gag for later," David says. "Both allow Benigni to shine at his unique brand of physical comedy and set-up gags."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back soon -- new reviews are posted each week. Cheers!

19 June 2004

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.
- Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Well, I don't know about you, but I have a bit of a sun tan despite a long, rainy/cloudy weekend at the shore. It's certainly not savage or anything ... but at least I'm less pale! And my skin is now providing a nice, healthy glow by which to read this week's reviews. Enjoy!

Chris Stout plays his Shetland fiddle on First o' the Darkenin' -- in a nontraditional style. "Chris has used the freedom offered by the progressive Greentrax label to experiment -- in the best possible taste -- with sounds old and new," says Nicky Rossiter. "This is old music revitalised and played from the heart."

Eddi Reader proves her devotion to the songs of Robert Burns by following up her CD of his music with four live recordings from Scotland and England. William Kates takes a look at all four. "I would suggest that the casual listener needs at least one of the live albums as an essential companion to the studio album," he says. "For the collector, completist or serious fan, all four live albums are well worth buying."

Michael McGoldrick has Fused Celtic music with jazz and other styles on this "hugely original album with stunning musicianship and an amazing breadth of sounds, rhythms and textures," Debbie Koritsas reports. "McGoldrick is a musician of supreme talent."

Vasen shows its Spirit on an album that "weds a love of traditional music with venturesome musicianship and high energy," Jennifer Hanson reveals. "This is an essential recording for anyone interested in Nordic music."

Lucy Kaplansky unravels The Red Thread on this folk recording that grabs reviewer Nicky from the very beginning. "Lucy Kaplansky is an artist who should be watched," he says. "Based on this album she has a lot to say and the talent to say it in a way that will make us listen."

The Arrogant Worms are joined by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra on Semi-Conducted. "Instead of providing new material, this CD brings a fresh -- and more vibrant -- interpretation of well-received songs," says Julie Bowerman. "Semi-Conducted is much more than semi-entertaining."

Earl Patrick and Dear Francis decide To Fall Again into "good music, interesting lyrics and solid vocals," Paul de Bruijn says. Unfortunately, "the music and lyrics tend to run on separate tracks and never touch."

Iain Matthews sings both Pure & Crooked. "The songs can have a strange edge at times and there is a distance in them as they tell their dark tales," says Paul. "The songs keep twisting things so they end up at sharp angles to reality, and they tend to pull the listener along."

Three accomplished blues artists combine talents on Sisters & Brothers, a new recording featuring Eric Bibb, Rory Block and Maria Muldaur. "The album is a celebration of their musical journey and the bond shared as blues musicians," says Pamela Dow. "Each artist's expressive originality truly complements the others, highlighting their strengths and creativity."

T.S. Baker is singing Through the Shadows. "The instrumentation on this country/folk disc includes a full range of strings to back up Baker's guitar, piano and vocals," says Valerie Fasimpaur. "The artist's considerable experience and talent makes this a much better than average debut, and I imagine there's lots more where this came from."

The Waybacks serve up a Burger After Church with "a healthy mix of bluegrass, jazz and swing," Sheree Morrow reports, "all with a fresh new twist performed by an extraordinary group of musicians who get it."

Maria Buza and Taraful Ciuleandra bring The Gypsies of Wallachia to surprising life. "While Maria Buza's work with Taraful Ciuleandra is the stuff of National Theatre, restaurant and cabaret performances and TV shows, aside from seeking out a campfire in the woods of Romania or some other rustic setting, it's as authentic as you're going to get today," John Cross reports. "This is Gypsy music from the heart of the Gypsy populace."

The diminutive ukulele is in the spotlight on Legends of the Ukulele: Hawaiian Masters. "Aloha Joe and Michael Cord have assembled an album that shows casual listeners what they've been missing," says Sarah Meador. "Legends of the Ukulele is out to do more than gratify the tourists."

Young Bird, a group of 12 Native American singers, shows its YB Style in a recording of southern-style pow-wow songs. "It resonates with the rich, energetic sound of the pow-wow," says Jenny Ivor. "This is not really music just to listen to: it encourages action, be it dancing or just chanting along with the singers."

Ejigayehu "Gigi" Shibabaw and Bill Laswell are at it again. "Whoever thought that jazz and traditional Ethiopian music must exist in separate realms is proven wrong by Abyssinia Infinite," says Carool Kersten. "Gigi taps into her home country's unbelievably -- indeed infinitely -- rich heritage."

Alex Bugnon shares the perks of Southern Living on this smooth jazz CD, which Jenny I. calls "pure joy: cool, laidback, light on the ears, laden with soulful style and fired up with funk."

Carolyn Yarnell's Sonic Vision "blends the borders of classical and electronic music, blurs the time between Baroque and the 21st century," says Jenny I. "She derives her inspiration from things natural -- the beauty and the power of nature."

Allan Zola Kronzek and Elizabeth Kronzek reveal The Sorcerer's Companion: A Guide to the Magical World of Harry Potter. "While this book does offer a lot of good source material on subjects touched upon in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels," Daniel Jolley says, "it is by no means an indispensable addition to the Pottermaniac's personal library."

Jennifer Lata and Mark Rung supply the answers in The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Being a Groom. "Darned if the book isn't incredibly useful, crammed with tips and tidbits to ease one's transition from bachelor to bridegroom, wit to make one chuckle in spite of the stress of preparing for the impending changes and reassurances that, yes, other people really have gone through all of these stumbles and hiccups before, and, no, a few setbacks really won't spoil your special day. Probably," says Tom, who protests the label "idiot."

Alaskan poet Ken Waldman shares his work in To Live on This Earth. "His poems bring life in the rural wilds sharply and beautifully into focus, and for those of us who live in warm lands and enjoy all the comforts and conveniences of modern life, the contrasts between our surroundings and Ken's are vividly painted by his words," Jenny I. says.

Victor Klemperer bares his soul in I Will Bear Witness: 1933-1941, A Diary of the Nazi Years. "What makes these entries so intriguing is their disarming honesty and directness, and the fact that they were not written with publication in mind," says new Rambles.NET scribe Brenda Cook. "It is his raw emotion that grabs the reader as he fills his need to settle accounts with the events of the day as they affect his own life."

Philip J. Deloria's Playing Indian still stands as an excellent study of the way non-Native Americans have used "Indian items, clothing, ceremonies and lifestyles for their own purposes or gains throughout history," Karen Elkins says. "While this book is groundbreaking in the arenas of history, psychology and sociology, it is also great for pleasure reading."

Mercedes Lackey continues her fantasy storyline in Alta. "Two things set this series apart from other fantasy series. The first is the refreshing, pseudo-Egyptian setting, a nice change of pace from the more familiar, pseudo-medieval European setting of most fantasy," says Laurie Thayer. "The second is the dragons themselves."

C.J. Cherryh's first atevi trilogy, Foreigner, Invader and Inheritor, gets a fresh look by Robert Tilendis. The trilogy, which turns "on a vivid portrayal of the difficulties of cultural interfaces, also provide a merciless commentary on the rise and fall of societies," he says. "Cherryh has developed a single story that arches through three volumes packed with intrigue, adventure and the kind of multilayered politics that is one of her trademarks."

Carol Berg begins The Bridge of D'Arnath series with Son of Avonar. "Berg is a capable writer who can spin a fascinating tale, and Son of Avonar has moments when her abilities shine through strongly," says Robert. "Regrettably, as a seasoned veteran of fantasy literature, I found several aspects of this novel that seriously interfered with my enjoyment."

Tom Holt opens The Portable Door, a book that shifts the British humorist's focus "to Gilbert & Sullivan in a subtle and devious way," says Julie. "The ensuing plot developments range from lively to ludicrous, but never disappoint."

William Gibson, the "father of cyberpunk," returns in Pattern Recognition, "a seductively fascinating and socially prophetic story," Beth Derochea says. "Gibson's slightly cynical view of advertising and branding pokes sly fun at those who believe having the right brand makes a difference."

S.L. Viehl "doesn't make women to be rescued" in the sci-fi saga Blade Dancer, Sarah proclaims. The book, she says, "offers an exciting journey with likeable interesting companions, and the pleasure of witnessing the intelligent, healthily flawed relationships that are Viehl's greatest strength in writing."

Keith Roberts explores a late 20th century as it didn't happen in Pavane, an alternate history of the future first published in 1968. "Pavane is a puzzle-box of a novel," says Jennifer H. "Only at the end will the reader realize how all the different events interconnect and lead to the story's denouement."

Brad Meltzer plays The Zero Game, but Wil Owen doesn't want to play along. "I was not impressed," he says of the popular author's new audiobook. "Maybe I'm simply too picky because I want more entertainment value for my money."

Michael Vance is happy to see Steve Canyon again, and he lauds the presentation of Vol. 1: 1947 & Vol. 2: 1948, which give us his first two years under the guiding hand of Milton Caniff. "Caniff's reality-based art was technically perfect, stylistically distinctive and widely influential with at least the first and second generations of comic book artists," he notes.

Janine Kauffman wants to lie Under the Tuscan Sun, a film that loses much of the original novel by Frances Mayes. "What stays, though, is a worn villa slowly brought back to life by Frances, an existence shattered by divorce painstakingly reborn and a landscape so beautiful it can't help but nudge Frances in the direction of peace and healing," Janine Kauffman says.

Dan says The Evil Dead "is one of the true Hall of Fame cult classics in the field of horror, a movie more than justified in billing itself as 'the ultimate in grueling horror.' Its pervasive influence is felt strongly even today, and the movie stands as a primer on how to do terror most effectively."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back soon -- new reviews are posted each week. Cheers!