15 January 2005 to 26 March 2005

26 March 2005

Don't worry about the world coming to an end today.
It's already tomorrow in Australia.
- Charles Schulz

The St. Patrick's Day season is winding down, but spring has sprung and -- well, we can only assume that spring-like weather will commence sometime soon. Not NOW, apparently -- the entire holiday weekend is supposed to be rainy and cold. Ugh. Stay warm and dry, nibble the ears off a chocolate bunny for us -- and enjoy this week's edition!

Tony McManus and Alain Genty put their fingers to work on Singing Sands. "This is a beautiful album of a fantastic mixture of traditions and styles. All are unified in the brilliance of interpretation and performance," says Nicky Rossiter. "There may not be any No. 1 hits or holiday dance tunes on offer, but if a lover of good music obtains the CD it will seldom leave the player."

Jiggernaut demonstrates its own Evolution with its second album. "Houston band Jiggernaut infuses Celtic rock with American country to create a lively mix," says Dave Howell. "The band has evolved with three years on the road and new band members. It is a change that seems to be working out quite well."

Popular Welsh label Sain combines tracks for The Music of Wales: The Folk Collection/Y Casgliad Gwerin. "This is indeed a great selection of artists, truly Sain's A-list -- even if one could question the choices made from their work," says David Cox. "It's a nice package of folk for all tastes, but should be taken as a brief introduction, not the final word on folk music in Wales today."

Lily Holbrook may think Everything was Beautiful & Nothing Hurt. Gianmarc Manzione, however, says Holbrook tries to hard to fly in the face of modern pop with her singer-songwriter style. "As a songwriter, Holbrook often bites off far more than she can chew," he says. "Holbrook's unfortunate interest in making statements rather than writing songs makes the album's production sound like an attempt at covering up the artist's shortcomings rather than enhancing her work."

This one's for a good cause. "ParkinSong, Vol. 1: 38 Songs of Hope offers a superb collection of singer-songwriters in a two-CD set assembled by Rob Litowitz with an acute ear for musical quality," says William Kates. "There are too many worthwhile artists contributing tracks to name just a few." So check out William's review for a thorough accounting!

Steve Tilston shares his Songs from the Dress Rehearsal in this new reissue of tracks recorded in the mid-1970s. "Tilston is a wonderful writer, performer and guitarist," says Nicky Rossiter. "The album is generally a nice quiet laidback set of tracks. Each is honed to perfection and performed with a passion."

The echoes of the Carter Family continue to resound, as is evidenced by The Unbroken Circle: The Musical Heritage of the Carter Family. "In thinking about the broad influence the Carter Family recordings made, it would probably be easier to list who wasn't influenced," says C. Nathan Coyle. "This tribute proves there's still a place (and always will be) for the music of the Carter Family."

The Waybacks are Way Live for their latest release. "My own tastes run more to straight-ahead, traditional bluegrass, but I certainly don't judge that to be the only worthy genre of acoustic vernacular music," says Jerome Clark. "New approaches done well ought to be welcome to anyone who cares about good music, wherever it comes from. For the most part, except for the not terribly inspired singing, the Waybacks do it well enough."

Jason Miles goes back to his roots with the release of Cozmopolitan, previously unreleased "basement tapes" from 1979. "The CD holds up well, although it is a product of its time," says Dave Howell. "The biggest element that points to the late '70s/early '80s is Miles' use of Prophet V and Arp synthesizers. Synthesizer solos are no longer in fashion in jazz, and Miles' solos with them may even sound a bit cheesy now."

Tango Siempre is all Tangled up in the tango nuevo style. "This is a recording of exceptional quality -- and the music twists and turns with moments of high drama, levity and humour," says Debbie Koritsas. "These are passionate expressions of an exciting world music form from a fine British ensemble who've chosen to make tango music their speciality."

Thomas Mapfumo & the Blacks Unlimited might not be dangerous, but Hondo "has a power and a passion that is undeniable," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "Mapfumo strikes a delicate balance between the old and the new creating, in the process, music that moves the heart and the head with equal intensity."

Joan Oliver Goldsmith poses the question: How Can We Keep from Singing: Music & the Passionate Life. "Just because you can't feed your cat with your passion does not mean you are not an artist," notes Tracie Vida. "As How Can We Keep From Singing reminds us, performing and creating in the face of your own limitations are the hallmarks of a real professional. You can still be a dreamer and a bread-winner."

William Riley Brooksher takes us back in Missouri in 1861 for Bloody Hill: The Civil War Battle of Wilson's Creek. "Brooksher makes you feel like you are there in St. Louis, Wilson's Creek and the other places with Lyon and the other historical figures involved with this tragic battle," says new Rambles.NET writer Benet Exton. "If you want to read about early Civil War Missouri, this is the book."

Holly Black returns to the world of her popular urban fantasy novel, Tithe, with Valiant. "Black has a gift for giving her young characters a realistic voice, so the dialogue -- even when faced with trolls, fairy queens and dead mermaids -- rings true," Tom Knapp says. "And, while it's hard to predict how youngsters would really react in these circumstances, Black's cast of characters acts in what I expect would be a realistic manner; i.e., they make dumb mistakes, respond badly to tense situations and otherwise come across as normal, everyday kids."

Charlaine Harris may be Dead to the World, but her heroine Sookie Stackhouse keeps right on starring in some of the best in modern vampire fiction. "Her novels are warmly funny, without slipping into realms of self-caricature a la Buffy or self-aggrandizement a la Anita Blake," Tom says. "The plot lines are original and suspenseful, artfully blending mystery and adventure with a real human (or inhuman, as the case may be) story."

Mercedes Lackey casts a new variation on the Cinderella tale in Phoenix & Ashes, the latest in her ongoing Elemental Masters series. "All of the elements are here, from the wicked stepmother to the 'fairy' godmother and the ball," says Laurie Thayer. "The settings are made vivid by Lackey's clear prose and the tale is full of likeable -- and not so likeable -- characters, all ingeniously woven into a story that never for an instant lets us forget the cost of war."

Alfredo Jose Estrada pays a writer's homage to Ernest Hemingway in Welcome to Havana, Senor Hemingway, Jean Marchand explains. "A lively sense of 'you are there' pervades Estrada's novel. Witty, pungent conversations (as terse as the ones in Hemingway's writing) move the plot along. Estrada, a master of understatement and good manners, is a joy to read."

Tom Knapp takes a dip from Scott Mills' Big Clay Pot, a story set in long-ago Japan. "The art is deceptively simple, but Scott Mills certainly has packed Big Clay Pot with amazing depth and expression," he says. "The story is broken into brief vignettes, many of which are whimsical, a few of which are poignant, and one or two of which are downright sad."

New Rambles.NET scribe Jo Overfield reviews the movie Vera Drake. "Imelda Staunton gives a powerful performance, playing Vera with such genuine emotion that I found myself honestly believing in the naivety of the character," Jo says. "Mike Leigh both wrote and directed this film, and some are calling it his best work to date."

Jen Kopf has a date with Shaun of the Dead, which is "a tribute to, and a spoof of, all those zombie flicks that, as a rule, must have the words 'Dead' or 'Blood' or 'Waking' in them," she says. "Serious horror film fans may hate this one. But its wit, its good acting and its tongue-in-cheek, cheeky attitude may help it worm its way into your heart."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back! (And feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

19 March 2005

The object of oratory is not truth, but persuasion.
- Lord Macauley

St. Patrick's Day is over but ... ugh! I'm so tired! I've gigged until I had no gigging left in me, and then I gigged some more. So let's skip the typing here and just things roll on down to this week's reviews....

Michael DeAngelis is a Son of a Dunigan, and his new recording "has the potential to be my album of 2005 even though it is only in the first quarter of the year," Nicky Rossiter says. "This album combines self-penned songs and interpretations of the works of others. It is a well-chosen mix and Michael does an excellent job in performance."

Billy O'Dwyer deeply moved reviewer Nicky with the sentiments expressed in 10 tracks on I'll See You Tonight in My Dreams. "You may gather that I like this album," Nicky says. "In fact it has hardly left the CD player since I got it."

Simon Mayor and Hilary James blend voice and mandolin on Duos. "It captures the joy and enthusiasm of the live performance as few other such albums have," says Nicky. "Simon Mayor is a true genius of the mandolin and he can make the instrument hum with life. When you add the fantastic vocals of Hilary James, you are in musical heaven."

The Lonesome Brothers meet heightened expectations with their latest country-folk release Fences. "Heck, it's damn fine music, regardless of genre," says C. Nathan Coyle. "It's broadly appealing and a delight to the ears."

Wylie & the Wild West features Wylie Gustafson, a real-life cowboy with the credentials to prove it -- and prove it he does on Hooves of the Horses. "Gustafson is a pro who does what he does well, and what he does grows on you, its pleasures far from exhausted after one listening," says Jerome Clark. "A modern-day folk musician playing to real folk (the people of the rural and small-town West), he knows how to make a good record, and he knows how to write or choose a good song and deliver it right. Besides, when he is of a mind to, he can yodel with the best of 'em."

John Gomez dives Head First into his music -- and Jenny Ivor likes what he has to say, but not how he chooses to say it. "Gomez should stick to writing and playing, and get someone else to sing his songs!" she exclaims. "I'm sorry, John, I just can't stand the voice."

Hiroshima's Spirit of the Season comes to us a bit late for Christmas '04 but in plenty of time for Yule '05. "Upon an initial listening, it may seem that Spirit of the Season starts off weak," warns C. Nathan Coyle. "When listening to Hiroshima's first holiday album, don't confuse 'weak' with 'understated' or 'controlled.' It's not so much a disciplined type of control, just an intentional reservation that produces a subtle soothing atmosphere."

Oskorri's 25th birthday party "is a masterpiece combining strong delivery and presence with time-tested material that highlights folk music as a moral force in society," David Cox relates. You can't have a slice of cake but you can listen to the band's recording of the event, 25 Kantu Urte. "It stands today as a passionate audio documentary of a vibrant concert and songs that resonate with an entire people," David says. "It affirms that the Basques are a part of Europe and a people determined to survive."

Insingizi sings the Voices of Southern Africa with a "rich, a cappella, male choral style of music," Gregg Thurlbeck explains. "Unlike the Ladysmith Black Mambazo vocal style, produced by 10 voices, Insingizi's music is the result of but three vocalists. Yet the depth of sound on the 17 tracks on Voices of Southern Africa is anything but limited."

Although not officially part of the lineup of entertainment at Celtic Colours, the Dancing Lights Troupe brought Twelve Celtic Winds to Judique because of the well-attended festival. Virginia MacIsaac, who enjoyed many festival offerings, manages to squeeze in this show on the side -- and she's glad she did, although she's one of the few who made it there. "We had a wonderful time and I would quickly return to see it again," she said.

Erika Rabideau took some time at Celtic Colours to sit down with the members of Le Vent du Nord to discuss their popular (and tireless!) French-Canadian sound. "They sure made me shiver with delight on many occasions and I was (and truthfully still am) under their spell," she recalls. Read her interview for more!

Duck Baker is the professor for Fingerstyle Blues Guitar 101. "If you don't have a real live teacher in front of you, this is the next best thing," says Virginia MacIsaac. "And just because it's a 101 course, don't think you can pick up a guitar for the first time and join in. It's a little more complicated than that."

Matthew D. Dovel appears to have the inside scoop on Heaven and Hell in his novel/autobiography My Last Breath. "The book misses as a short novel," Ron Bierman decides. "Taken as a true story, on the other hand, it's like a series of intimate diary excerpts, oddly fascinating in a Jerry Springer, Reality TV, fire and brimstone sort of way."

Marie Jakober explores issues of gender and faith in her fantasy novel Even the Stones. "What is the proper place and behavior of a woman? Should even a queen be allowed to rule as she sees fit, with no man to guide her? And what of religion? How can a strong woman be seen as other than a witch or whore when she breaks the rules of a patriarchal religion and worships a goddess, be she queen or commoner?" asks Laurie Thayer. "Jakober examines all of these questions and more in this powerful, absorbing book."

Dave Duncan begins his latest novel in an alternate, post-Renaissance Europe and ends in a bent version of the New World. "Not so much a page-turning mystery as an adventure story, The Jaguar Knights is an enjoyable novel," says Laurie. "Although it is part of an extensive series, no prior knowledge of this world is necessary to enjoy the story."

Harry Turtledove takes on the ultimate barbarian in Conan of Venarium. "Fans of Turtledove's usual epic or detailed alternate histories may be surprised that he would take on such a rough and tumble character," says Sarah Meador. "And some of the Turtledove thoughtfulness does come through. ... But it's a slight hint indeed. Turtledove's usual scholarly bent can't long resist the sheer power of Conan's mythos."

William Martin "deftly blends history, adventure, mystery and romance into a late-night with the book-light," says Tracie Vida of Harvard Yard. "This is a tale you may never want to stop reading, even when you have work the next day and your flashlight is flickering."

Michael Vance sets a Table for One with a graphic novel he almost recommends. "If this graphic novel is meant to be a microcosm of life (and I believe it is), life stinks," he says. "Why?"

Miles O'Dometer says actor Jamie Foxx has a way with Ray, Taylor Hackford's story of how the son of a black sharecropper rose to become one of the most powerful pop icons of the 20th century by combining jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues and country music, despite the resistance of record company execs, fellow musicians and some audience members -- and the fact that he'd been blind since age 7. Peccadilloes aside, Miles says, "Ray is that rare film that not only allows for repeated viewings -- it begs for them."

Jen Kopf takes a page from Vanity Fair in her review of the 2004 film version of William Makepeace Thackeray's serial novel of 1847-48. "The book, starkly 'real' for its time, has morphed into a film with a Becky Sharp who, at least until the last quarter of the movie, is by and large likeable," Jen says. "That's not really the idea of the original Becky Sharp. And it comes about because of a variety of issues. Scrunching down a novel hundreds of pages long is just one of the problems."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back! (And feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

17 March 2005

Put courage in your dreams, Ronan,
and leave the rest to the Man Above,
and then you will carve your footprints
in the sand.
- Therese Tynan, to her son

It's St. Patrick's Day, and how better to mark the occasion than with a special review of one of Ireland's favorite sons, Ronan Tynan?! For more Irish songs and tunes, check out our Celtic music department. For Irish fiction, non-fiction or films, peruse our Irish interest page. And be sure to stop back this weekend for a new edition. Cheers!

Ronan Tynan has left the Irish Tenors and struck out on his own with Ronan. "Ireland has contributed much to the world; Dr. Tynan has to be near the top of those gifts," says Bill Knapp. "This recording is a sublime achievement and is a must-hear for anyone who loves good music."

12 March 2005

Wonderland is what we are.
Oz is what we would hope and like to be.
- Ray Bradbury

St. Patrick's Month is well underway, St. Patrick's Week is just around the corner and St. Patrick's Day is fast approaching! Can you tell we're mighty fond of St. Paddy's in general? Well, if you're looking for Irish music, be sure to scan the many offerings in our Celtic music department. If Irish fiction, non-fiction or films are more to your liking, check out the reviews on our Irish interest page. Or, just read on down this page and enjoy the new reviews we have for you this week. Cheers!

The Sharecroppers give a strong showing from start to finish on their recent album, Home, Boys. "The Sharecroppers sing of Ireland and Newfoundland, of fishers and musicians and doctors," says Sarah Meador. "But through it all, they sing of home, with warmth and conviction that will resonate in any who have found their spot of belonging in this world. Whether you're an islander or not, the good cheer of the Sharecroppers will make you feel you too have come Home, Boys."

Charlotte Greig's visit to the Winter Woods didn't impress Virginia MacIsaac last year, but Sarah thinks it deserves a second look. Read why Sarah calls it "a sparkling-cut crystal of an album, cold and sharp and beautiful to see. It's also frighteningly powerful."

Martha Tilston is Bimbling along with "a collection of songs on love and life delivered as only Martha Tilston can," Nicky Rossiter says. "Here is a unique voice bringing enchanting new songs, which will mesmerize listeners from the opening track."

The Well Tempered String Band opens Book Two for some Appalachian folk songs. "Mutability and the inevitability of change is the theme that holds together the wonderful songs on this 20-song CD," says Carole McDonnell. "All the songs are treasures and anyone who loves Appalachian folk songs with accompanying banjos, mandolin, guitar and autoharp will definitely love this album."

Shawn Camp recaptures the basics while Live at the Station Inn. "The bluegrass band backing him consists of genre pros who hadn't even bothered to rehearse before they hit the stage," says Jerome Clark. "No matter. The playing is just fine and the songs are exceptional, showing that Camp's roots are deep, his knowledge of bluegrass, folk and traditional country not shallow, either."

Leon Redbone carries No Regrets on this new Rounder release of a 1988 recording. "No Regrets, with its backward-gazing production and astonishing range, carries a charm more distinct today than ever before," says Gianmarc Manzione. "Redbone swings just as easily as he yodels throughout one of the most eclectic sets of his career."

Janiva Magness suggests we Bury Him at the Crossroads with this new blues outing. "For those whose memories stretch back that far, Janiva Magness's record will bring to mind those splendid albums Maria Muldaur was recording in the 1970s," Jerome says. "Muldaur, like Magness, had superior taste in material, which she set in arrangements that were both tradition-based and appealingly innovative."

The traditions of the Northern Plains are recorded in Sacred Dance: Pow-Wows of the Native American Indians. "If you have any interest in the Northern Plains style of Native American music, this is a solid purchase," says Karen Elkins. "It allows you to compare the different sounds, styles and techniques found within this subset of the Native American genre with a sampling of the best of the best within this field."

Ensemble Karot draws on Armenia's tumultuous history for the music in Vol. I. "Ensemble Karot bears witness of the cultural legacy of a people known for their will to survival and artistic genius," says Carool Kersten. "As migrants they have fared well all over the world -- artists like French chansonnier Charles Aznavour and popstar Cher can both claim Armenian ancestry. It is good that we can now become acquainted with music that is more directly connected to the Armenian soil."

Hans Zimmer does his usual soundtracky best with Thunderbirds. "As long as you place this album in the proper context, as a summer/popcorn movie soundtrack, then you should really enjoy Thunderbirds," says C. Nathan Coyle. "It's entertaining and versatile when least expected. And it's probably much better than the actual movie."

Andy Jurgis provides a peek at the Tonder Festival Celebration, part of the renowned Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow, Scotland. Join him for a chance to experience "four of Denmark's liveliest bands and some of the best folk musicians from that country."

Scott Zesch seeks The Captured in an effort to unravel his third great-uncle's life with the Comanche. "There have been captivity narrative books before including some by former captives," says John Lindermuth. "Zesch went beyond many of these in his quest, interviewing surviving relatives, digging into dusty archives and meeting with Comanche elders to gain a better understanding of tribal ways. He does not romanticize about the hardships of life on the frontier or that of the Native Americans."

C. Alan Bradley and William A.S. Sargeant make a case for gender misidentification in Ms. Holmes of Baker Street: The Truth about Sherlock. "Ms. Holmes of Baker Street is a surprisingly fascinating book, even for a non-Sherlockian such as myself," says Laurie Thayer. "It is really not necessary to have read any of the Holmes stories to be able to follow the argument or the examination of the canon, though whether the authors prove their case or not must be left up to the individual reader to decide."

Kim Wilkins pays a visit to The Autumn Castle in this enchanting modern fantasy. "The resolutions to several key plot twists became obvious to me fairly early in the book, but that didn't stop me from enjoying other, more surprising twists along the way," Tom Knapp says. "Even after guessing the ending, I was absorbed in the story to the very last word."

Shannon Hale goes to war in Enna Burning. "This is a novel for young adults, the companion to Hale's The Goose Girl," says Laurie Thayer. "The characters are likeable, the plot is well thought-out and original. It is every bit as entertaining as its predecessor."

Nicholas C. Prata shares a Dream of Fire in this "intellectually challenging but very rewarding work of dark fantasy," Daniel Jolley says. "Prata possesses impressive understanding of ancient military tactics, and this makes the engagements and armed clashes he describes verily ring with the clash of swords; not only can you envision the carnage of the battlefield, you can almost smell the blood and entrails that mark the landscape."

Kristyn Dunnion dances in the Mosh Pit, but it's not the young-adult novel it's purported to be, Gregg Thurlbeck warns. "Dunnion ... paints an unflinchingly detailed portrait of the disenfranchised youths who populate the Toronto punk scene," he says. "And she's created a protagonist whose conflicted nature makes her truly memorable. But I'm not sure Dunnion had a particular audience in mind when she wrote this book."

Mark Allen is off with the monkeys in Lex Talionis: A Jungle Tale by Aneurin Wright. It's a good story, he says, but "the real highlight ... is the artwork."

Jen Kopf (the writer formerly known as Janine Kauffman but now unveiled in all her glory) takes some Collateral damage from her latest review. This film, starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx, "turns into a dark buddy picture," she says. "Cruise is able to plow his considerable intensity (much as he did in Magnolia) into Vincent, and Foxx is amazing going toe-to-toe as the initially intimidated, then desperate, then determined Max. There's a tension between them that's almost suffocating, and the nighttime that surrounds them only intensifies the isolation."

Tom Knapp is disappointed by the big-screen adaptation of Hellboy. "Sure, Ron Perlman plays the role of the big red demonic hero like he was born to it," Tom says. "But, beyond Hellboy's Nazi-driven origins, the movie leaves most of the back-story, character development and motivation for readers to find in the pages of Mike Mignola's Hellboy comics. That makes for a fairly flat, uninteresting movie."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back! (And feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

5 March 2005

Seal up the mouth of outrage for a while,
till we can clear these ambiguities.
- William Shakespeare

March is here, and that means Irish musicians all over the world are enjoying unprecedented popularity and a sharp rise in the number of gig offers. Woohoo! Of course, we're only a week into St. Paddy's Month and I'm already tired. ... On the other hand, this week's edition coincides with the release of the new CD by Rambles.NET editor Tom Knapp's band, Fire in the Glen. Woohoo!

The Crofters gain points for innovative titling with the release of Hold My Beer While I Kiss Your Girlfriend. "Stunning stuff, this," says John Lindermuth. "Some might say these boys are cheeky and, indeed, they are. But, I'll guarantee they'll set your foot to stomping. If they don't, you're cold-blooded, mon."

Scottish singer Mick West describes A Poor Man's Labour in this collection of songs. "The songs, once one makes it through the Scottish dialect, are ballads that narrate a poor man's lot from his roaming days to his less free days of marriage," explains Carole McDonnell. "These traditional songs show that whatever the depth of our sorrows, loss of love, tragedy or lost friends, that somehow love and grace touch the poor man's life."

Sondre Lerche holds a Two Way Monologue that likens the young Norwegian's vocal style to that of '60s icon Donovan Leitch. "Two Way Monologue is a difficult disc to nail down. It refuses to sit still," says Gregg Thurlbeck. "But this, ultimately, is its charm. So track it down, give it a listen and let it sneak into your subconscious. This is a terrific album."

Mary McCandless is a Lipstick Legend. "Her latest self-produced effort consists of 15 tracks, some standards, some new, and all done with impeccable skill and taste," says Chet Williamson. "With minimal yet effective backup, McCandless weaves a vocal spell that will keep lovers of classic female vocals delighted from start to finish."

Josh Crowe plies his craft Sincerely in his latest album. "Recordings like Sincerely keep us longtime bluegrass listeners from growing cynical about the genre," says Jerome Clark. "It's pretty simple, really: If you don't like this record, you don't like bluegrass music."

Country singer Allison Moorer pushes no boundaries with The Duel. "Moorer has obviously been inspired to new levels of creative intensity on this project," William Kates says, "and, as good as her past records have been, The Duel is her strongest and most enjoyable record yet."

Big Joe Duskin shows he still has his stuff at age 83 with Big Joe Jumps Again: Cincinnati Blues Session. "Duskin plays a classic-style piano, but he does not otherwise show his age much on these 16 tracks," says David Howell. "This CD is the real deal, well worth visiting by fans of the blues or any genre of Americana."

SAVAE pours gloom into Ancient Echoes: Music from the Time of Jesus & Jerusalem's Second Temple, Tracie Vida asserts. "To be fair, the group's vocalizations and instrumentation are superb," she says. "But there is more to Jerusalem than the Wailing Wall, a history filled as much with secular joy as sacred grief. SAVAE should have remembered this fact when selecting songs for Ancient Echoes, because, after a while, the album's ponderous gravitas becomes cloying, even laughable."

The new CD Beatwave Argentina is "a solid compilation dance-album and an intriguing example of how technology is revolutionizing recorded music from performance to distribution," Ron Bierman says. Of primary concern to us is the use of South American traditions in a modern format; Ron also has the skinny on the only way to hear it.

Debbie Koritsas takes us along to see Mike McGoldrick, Eamonn Coyne, John Joe Kelly and Ed Boyd, with Des Hurley, at the Sheepscar Club in Leeds, England. Enjoy the show!

Peter Lewry details a musical life in I've Been Everywhere: A Johnny Cash Chronicle. "If you're the sort of fan who wants to know everything about your favorite star -- from where he was born to what kind of jam he likes on his toast -- then this book is for you," John Lindermuth explains.

Orson Scott Card "undoubtedly needs no introduction to readers of this site: the creator of Ender Wiggin and Alvin Maker is himself near to being a legend, highly regarded not only as a novelist but as a teacher, and someone whose work I have enjoyed since the early years of his career. And so, it was with great anticipation that I turned to An Open Book, Card's first collection of poems," says Robert Tilendis. "Regrettably, as much as I have enjoyed and admired Card's prose, and as rich and illuminating as I find his novels, his poetry left me cold."

Michael Lawrence left reviewer Sarah Meador absolutely stunned with Withern Rise #1: A Crack in the Line. "This is powerful, devastating writing, made more effective because it seems to draw its power from nowhere," she says. "The fact that I couldn't put the book down, even to make dinner, was interesting, but the book had my attention too fully to think about the significance of that fact."

Leah R. Cutter goes spelunking in The Caves of Buda with reviewer Daniel Jolley. "The Caves of Buda is a product of both extensive research and the magical creativity of Cutter's inspired imagination," he says, "and the end result is a highly literary novel that takes on a living and breathing life of its own."

Steven Gould fails to recapture the success of his debut novel Jumper with his latest sequel, Reflex. "Reflex strikes me as a half-hearted effort," says Gregg Thurlbeck. "Gould has revived his most successful character, likely at the prompting of his publisher, but hasn't really convinced himself that there's anything new to say. The 'jumping' gimmick still works as a plot springboard, but what Reflex really needed, if it was going to live up to its potential, was greater depth.

Till Noever takes us along to the fantasy land of Keaen for a lesson in politics and responsibility. "Keaen is a somewhat convoluted novel, as any novel involving politics seems to be," says Laurie Thayer. "There is a great deal of action in the story; at times it feels like reading about the individual ants in a recently kicked over anthill, with everyone scurrying this way and that, giving the novel quite a frantic pace with very few pauses for breath."

Michael Vance tackles the bad guys with Captain Gravity & the Power of the Vril. "Hurrah for Captain Gravity!!" he exclaims. "It will remind you of an Indiana Jones movie, and of course, Indiana Jones movies remind you of pulp magazines."

Tom Knapp gets just the black and white facts with Thomas Ott's Tales of Error. "The art is strange, surreal and oddly compelling," Tom says. "The stories, unsettling. The package, unique."

Claude Jasmin's 1965 novel Pleure Pas Germaine gets a facelift as Alan de Halleux's 2000 film of the same name. How do they compare? David Cox takes a look at both.

Miles O'Dometer sings a wee song with The Cuckoo and tells us about a film originally released as Kukushka. "A Russian, a Lapp and a Finn find themselves on a Finnish reindeer farm in the fall of '44," he says. "It sounds like the opening to a bad ethnic joke, but in reality it's the plot line of an ingenious little film."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back! (And feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

26 February 2005

Youth is not a time of life, it is a state of mind.
You are as old as your doubt, your fear, your despair.
The way to keep young is to keep your faith young.
Keep your self-confidence young. Keep your hope young.
- Luella F. Phean

Snow! You want it? We got it. Consider this a last, soft-white break before we crank things up for St. Patrick's Month. Cheers!

Marc Gunn has the Soul of a Harper ... or the soul of an autoharper, as Dave Howell points out. "Most people would expect to hear either classic or Celtic harp, and the CD cover, which has a picture of Marc Gunn and the tuning keys of his instrument, does not make this clear," he says. Still, Dave notes, "Gunn is a member of Renaissance Festival super-band Brobdingnagian Bards. The pleasant music on this CD would likely be even more enjoyable live in Ye Olde Shire."

Sean Tyrrell is a recent discovery for Nicky Rossiter -- and a new favorite as well. This Irish singer "has a distinctive voice that takes any song -- folk, pop or musical -- and makes it sound as it has been in the traditional songbook for centuries," Nicky says. Check out his review of Rising Tide for more info!

Joe Giltrap "is one of the finest singer-songwriters on the scene today," Nicky proclaims, and he proved it on his 1998 release, The Soldiers Tree. "His voice has a unique quality that is ideally suited to the story-song," Nicky adds. "He mines a rich vein of history for the tracks on this CD alongside some personal romantic tracks."

Jamison Young "is an enigmatic musician whose music is an eclectic mix of a number of styles, all blended together to make a smooth, unified sound," says Ann Flynt. "His recent CD, Shifting Sands of a Blue Car, contains music that is a smorgasbord of sound in that it is interesting, soothing, stimulating, dull and sometimes overwhelming. Smorgasbords are enjoyable, colorful, sometimes entertaining and often delicious. However, with Jamison Young, as with smorgasbords, the challenge can be finding something fresh, palatable and worth a second trip."

Charlie Parr evokes classic Depression-era folk music with King Earl. "This is folk music in the old-fashioned, ripe, unbathed and unshaved sense," Jerome Clark says. "What it lacks in sunshine and warmth, it more than makes up for in arctic wind and bone-numbing temperature. You're glad you're not any of Parr's characters, but he lets you be happy that you've met them."

Ginny Hawker and Tracy Schwarz Draw Closer in this recording of "old Southern songs in the close-to-the-bone, clench-toned style familiar to anybody who knows how it sounds from early hillbilly 78s and field recordings of long-gone Appalachian folk singers," Jerome explains. "The stuff is raw, and no artifice is to be found anywhere within."

John Hammond is In Your Arms Again. "If this stuff doesn't haunt you with the urge to strap on some overalls and go wrasslin' a bunch of pot-bellied hogs in the pen at feeding time, you need a heart transplant," says Gianmarc Manzione. "This is quite simply some of the filthiest blues John Hammond has put to tape in many a year. ... The production boasts a kind of grit and edge that will have Muddy Waters slapping a rhythm on his knee in the grave."

Instinkt, a band of five distinguished Danish folk musicians, make their first studio impressions with Hur! "It is immediately apparent listening to this album that musical excellence is at work," Andy Jurgis reports. "Despite the music being clearly based in the Danish/Nordic folk traditions, the whole album has a feeling of modernity and originality, particularly through all the numbers being new compositions by different band members."

Eric Roth invites us to listen to his Secret Beach Solos. "Striking out on his own with this second release, he produces a dreamy, smooth blend of acoustic jazz, folk and new age sensibilities that perfectly mirror the shifting moods of the coast," Tracie Vida reports.

Debbie Koritsas takes us back for a second look at the musical doings at Celtic Connections, an exceptional, no-holds-barred event held each year in Glasgow. The music, she recalls, took on a decidely Viking theme with the likes of Instinkt, Zar, Henrik Jansberg and more.

Keeping to the Celtic theme, Virginia MacIsaac serves up a tasty recounting of the Guitar Summit, another in our series of reports from Celtic Colours, the autumn's outstanding festival in Cape Breton. Check out the list of extraordinary guitar artists who squeezed into this year's line-up!

Watch this space for more reports from both festivals, as well as many other exciting performances 'round the world!

Olive Sharkey describes the Ways of Old: Traditional Life in Ireland. "This updated and enlarged version of the well-known chronicle of traditional Irish life proves an indispensible resource for anyone curious about everyday life in rural Ireland of the past," says Celeste Miller (who usually works behind the scenes as a Rambles.NET copy editor). "While her folksy approach may grate on the nerves of some historians, Sharkey has such an ingenuous closeness to the objects and time she describes that one can almost smell the turf smoking and hear the butter churning."

Frank Chigas "very nearly writes a good horror tale," Tom Knapp reports. In The Damp Chamber & Other Bad Places, Chigas "creates good characters and puts them in interesting settings packed with atmosphere. He builds suspense and develops plots that stir the imagination and sometimes make you shift uneasily at strange noises in your home. He makes dark places some real and excites the imagination where supernatural possibilities are concerned." Unfortunately, Tom says, "Chigas consisently demonstrates a vital weakness in his writing: the endings."

New release Covenants "is a fascinating, stellar fantasy novel that will have many readers scrambling to find all of Lorna Freeman's previous novels -- but there are none," says Daniel Jolley. "The book reads as if it is the work of a master craftsman in the genre, but Covenants is in fact the author's first published work. This novel is so engaging that I actually read it twice."

R.A. Salvatore joins three novels in one for Spearwielder's Tale. "Although not very sophisticated formally or stylistically, it is a rousing adventure and without doubt what is commonly termed 'a good read,'" says Robert Tilendis. "I quite literally had to force myself to put this volume down -- like, in order to eat."

James Kelman "writes in a stream-of-consciousness style peppered with Scots dialect and four-letter words" in his novel, You Have to Be Careful in the Land of the Free, Andy Jurgis reports. "If you are reader fascinated by rambling and gritty life stories written in the first person, then this one might be for you. If not, then it's probably best to stay clear."

Tom Knapp takes a trip down Morbid Drive with creator Ron Cremeans. "Morbid Drive is a quirky package of goofy humor that pays homage -- in a nyuck-nyuck kind of way -- to the classic horror villains of old," Tom says. "I hope he writes more in this vein."

Next, Tom travels through time with the proto-Celtic hero Slaine Mac Roth, leaving Ireland behind to defend Britain from the Romans. "Bloodshed, of course, is plentiful in any Slaine story, and it reddens the pages of Demon Killer from start to end," Tom says. "Unfortunately, the story lacks the depth and rich detail that made The Horned God a pinnacle of achievement among fantasy-based graphic novels."

Janine Kauffman passes some time with Monsieur Ibrahim. "It sounds dark, it sounds sordid, but Monsieur Ibrahim, a French film (originally titled Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran) from director Francois Dupeyron, captures innocence, generosity and the better part of human nature while successfully walking that fine line between sweetness and saccharine," she says. "It'll leave you feeling the phrase 'human nature' can be a positive thing. How many movies you've watched recently have done that?"

Miles O'Dometer, meanwhile, can be found hanging out by The Cooler. "Sadly, ... The Cooler, an otherwise promising film with a great look and an even better cast, craps out before it can achieve even half its potential," Miles says.

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back! (And feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

19 February 2005

All my friends tell me I actually exist,
and by an act of faith I've come to believe them.
- Christopher Fry

It's the cold and flu season, and it has not passed us by ... so I'm off to make some nice, hot honey tea and snuffle in a warm, dark room. You, stay healthy and enjoy this week's reviews!

Hamish Henderson is celebrated for his contribution to folk music on A' the Bairns o' Adam. "It is in the songs and poems concerning his time as a soldier that this CD is a revelation," says Nicky Rossiter. "The words are so true and realistic that at times they seem very politically incorrect, but get past that and enjoy folk song and poetry at its best."

Blou provides its third taste of Acadian music on Blou Blanc Rouge! "The CD ranges in tone and emotion, sometimes serious, other times just having fun," says Paul de Bruijn. "While you may or may not understand the lyrics (they sing all but the last song in French), you should have no difficulty understanding the heart of each song."

The musicians are Swedish but the sound is Irish on West of Eden's A Stupid Thing to Do, Nicky Rossiter says. "It is amazing to listen to natives of Sweden sounding as if they hail from Kerry, Clare or Connemara when they play folk music that captures an Irish spirit," he says. "It is all the more intriguing when we realize that all 13 tracks are originals."

Patrick McKeown may just be Passing By, but Nicky says his acoustic-rock/folk-pop sound is worth sticking around for. "This debut album, however short, would make any listener interested in hearing more from Patrick, and I am sure that we will," he says.

Quietly Spinning Man is Inside Out with this "wonderfully gentle album of new music and song," Nicky says. "It will wash away your worries and elevate your spirit; you will experience quiet reflection, heartfelt emotions and wonderful lyrics."

Little Wings (a.k.a. Kyle Field) waves a Magic Wand to share this "quirky electro-folk lo-fi odyssey," Tom Schulte says. "Listening to these simple and honest songs is overhearing Little Wings relate his personal and unique view of the world."

Asleep at the Wheel turns up wide awake and ready to play for Live at Billy Bob's Texas -- a CD and/or DVD that demonstrates the band's handy nature with western swing. "Asleep at the Wheel can rightfully be considered the standard by which all others may be judged," William Kates enthuses. "Get the CD or the DVD or both, Asleep at the Wheel's Live at Billy Bob's Texas is western swing at its best -- and it's highly recommended."

Ensemble Karot explores many themes with Traditional Songs of Armenia, Vol. II. "Those who understand Armenian should find this an enjoyable listening experience, but even if you have no command of the language, the structure of the melodies and rhythms ... speaks to the heart of folk and roots music lovers everywhere," says Gilbert Head. "Though spare in production, it is rendered with both heart and considerable musical talent, and as such, I recommend this disc highly to those ready for a new musical experience."

ARC Music revives the cinematic use of a folk dance from Punjab with Bhangra: The Sound of Bollywood. "Definitely sensual, the music -- depending on the singers or actors -- can be steamily suggestive, innocently romantic or brimming with light-hearted fun and pleasure," says Virginia MacIsaac. "The music is vibrant and the words often fun and teasing. An exuberant drum beat from the dhol, a two-headed drum, is traditionally the center of the song, and the Bhangra CD follows suit."

Debbie Koritsas presents the first of three daily reports from Celtic Connections, the grand music festival held each year in Glasgow, Scotland. Watch for more from Debbie on this fabulous festival -- and additional reports from Andy Jurgis as well!

Kaitlin Hahn also takes us along to see Danu at the Irish Cultural & Heritage Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. "I would highly recommend going to check out Danu if you ever have the chance," she concludes. "They will blow you away."

Clinton Heylin may have missed the mark in his biography No More Sad Refrains: The Life & Times of Sandy Denny. "After reading the book, I did not feel I had been taken into the heart of her complex psychological make-up," says Andy Jurgis. "Rather, I felt that I knew a fair amount about many of the people involved with Denny during her lifetime and their opinions of her. ... More about Denny's lasting legacy in music today would have strengthened the argument about her significance."

Melissa Fay Greene digs deep to recount the facts of Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster. "Greene never forgets for a moment that she's talking about human beings, people who are our brothers and sisters, who had aspirations and talents that could have been used far beyond the dark confines of a coal mine," says Virginia MacIsaac. "Sometimes, it's a mite stark, with her observations and descriptions, but there's a very strong sense that she's giving you the truth, like it or not."

Charles de Lint expands his writer's palette with The Blue Girl, a new addition to his growing library of urban fantasy. "The Blue Girl is an excellent starting point for newcomers to Newford, and for long-time fans it's a welcome addition to the Newford mythology," Tom Knapp says. "While it's always a pleasure to read about the new adventures of Jilly, Geordie and other Newford regulars, it's a treat to be introduced to new, fully realized characters in this exciting, mystical city."

Simon R. Green takes us down Memory Lane -- SF-style -- with Deathstalker Return. "One thing Green never fails to deliver is a litany of shocking surprises," says Daniel Jolley. "You have to wait a little longer than usual this time around, but Deathstalker Return has a host of monkey wrenches to throw into the inner workings of the ongoing Deathstalker saga, including a final revelation that will have fans waiting with baited breath for the next installment in this incredible series."

Throne Price, Laurie Thayer says, "is a difficult book to summarize due to the twisted nature of Gelack politics and the complex net of shifting loyalties. It's easy enough to call it science fiction, but like all good science fiction, it examines deeper issues: loyalty, love, propriety, sexual relationships (heterosexuality, homosexuality and incest) and family values, among others. Authors Lynda Williams and Alison Sinclair treat each of these subjects -- even the most difficult ones -- fairly."

Michael McCrann supplies a taste of horror in Midnight Tableau. "The stories had a lingering creepiness because most of them were dealing with human fragility," says George Schaefer. "It is an enticing read. I recommend this for fans of horror and of quality fiction in general."

C. Nathan Coyle isn't impressed by Marshal Law: Blood, Sweat & Fears, a new Titan reprint of 10-year-old material. "The problem with this graphic novel is that it borders between violent superhero romp and satire, but never takes a side," he says. "If you're itching for a violent superhero romp, there's better stuff out there. If you're looking for satire, there's better stuff out there. If you're wanting both a violent superhero romp AND satire, there's still better stuff out there."

Miles O'Dometer hails Maria Full of Grace. "Compared to films like Blow or Traffic, Maria is a rather tiny ripple in the drug-flick pond," he says. "But it's very smallness is its greatest strength. By showing us the drug trade through the eyes of one 17-year-old girl, writer-director Joshua Marston forces us to think about it in ways drug czars never do."

Tom Knapp has some play time with Garfield, America's favorite feline -- and he's pleased that Breckin Meyer, not Jim Carrey, landed the role of Jon Arbuckle. "Meyer knows when to fade into the background, when to dampen his personality under a layer or two of wet blanket," Tom says. "Meyer lets the cat -- a CGI effect, no less -- run the show."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back! (And feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

12 February 2005

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

It's mid-February -- time for manufactured holidays for girlfriends and wives, a celebration of U.S. presidents (the good ones, anyway) and even editorial birthdays! It's also time for some nifty reviews, so let's get to 'em!

The Greenland Whalefishers raise a ruckus on the Streets of Salvation, "sounding drunk, half mad and insanely pleased with themselves," Sarah Meador reports. "Everyone's going to want to compare this to the Pogues. That's a grave disservice to the Greenland Whalefishers. ... The Whalefishers sound like themselves, boisterous and rough and slightly less coherent than the Pogues on a good day."

Clannad's early recording Macalla still holds water today, Adolf Goriup reports. "While the first six albums ... featured mostly Irish titles, the band now used more and more the English language, probably due to their chart-breaking 'Theme from Harry's Game' and their successful album Magical Ring," Adolf says. Much of this album, he says, includes "a mixture of delightful, esoteric songs that make you dream and some pleasant Celtic pop songs, all enchanted by Maire's angelic singing and the guys' brilliant musicianship."

Amy White and Al Petteway join forces on Golden Wing, an "instantly enchanting album, and a pleasant surprise for me with my innate skepticism about new age and modern folk music," Jenny Ivor exclaims. "Amy White's voice is charmingly pure and carries the songs to a level both deeper and higher than her and partner Al Petteway's acoustic skills would achieve alone. This is really music to soothe, restore and lift you away from the busy world of here-and-now on the golden wings of sound."

The Bees share their Starry Gazey Pie with the rest of us. "I can put on their CD, start out making a few notes, get pulled into the song ... and then it's an album of time later," Sarah Meador says, "and I'm a half-conscious bliss puddle, left with nothing more specific than a vague recollection of having just had a fantastic time."

Lisa Simpson finds a folkier sound on Steeping Orion. "Her lyrics are soul-searching, reminiscent and sometimes starkly poetical," Jenny Ivor says. "It is not an album to lift your spirits."

For an "eclectic collection of folk and blues songs from a wide-ranging set of performers," travel to the mountains of Wales for music that's Live at the Talbot. "This is a revelation of an album," Nicky Rossiter says. "It brings together a variety of performers, styles and genres and blends them into a confection that will please all palates. It should also be an inspiration to venues and promoters."

This DVD tells The Story of the Blues: From Blind Lemon Jefferson to BB King. "It is a tough challenge to tell the story of blues music with utter completeness, and this DVD does not purport explicitly to do that," Tom Schulte says. However, he says, "the DVD does a good job at covering the chronology of the blues and fitting in by musical example Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ma Rainey, Elmore James and more."

Sibling team Mark Holt and Kimberlee Holt Tully go Acoustically Native in this CD that swings on the folk side of bluegrass. "Nothing on this album really made my hair stand up, but I can appreciate quality when I hear it, and it is here in abundance," says Robert Tilendis. "Holt is a very talented singer and songwriter, and the people backing him on this one are superb. Holt and Holt Tully deserve a wide audience, and I hope they get it."

Ken Elkinson "has created some wonderful music for the piano on Opal," Paul de Bruijn reports. "Elkinson is the sole musician on the CD and the sound he creates is quite commanding."

Ann Flynt brings back a bit of the holiday season with her review of Celtic Christmas, with Danny O'Flaherty in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The music was well played, Ann says, but she "was not moved to the shivers" by the experience.

Be sure to check back next week for the first of three reports from Debbie Koritsas on the renowned Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow! Also on tap, additional reviews from Celtic Colours and more!

Claude Lecouteux tells us all about Witches, Werewolves & Fairies: Shapeshifters & Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages. "Begin with the first page and read slowly, carefully digesting the wonders that will be revealed about the beliefs of earlier peoples and how they directly relate to the modern beliefs," Karen Elkins urges. "This is a book that you can enjoy over and over, and it will serve as a valuable reference work for those with an interest in parascience."

Robert E. Gaebel examines Cavalry Operations in the Ancient Greek World. "On the whole, although the results of his investigations fly in the face of much received wisdom, Gaebel's arguments are cogent and well-documented, his analysis of not only written sources but examples from visual art and archaeology are relevant ... and his discussions of such written sources as Xenophon, Diodorus and Appian show a good helping of common sense," says Robert Tilendis. "This one is not only interesting for itself, but I think is valuable for any student of military history -- or for writers of historical novels, for that matter."

Jon Katz caught Sheree Morrow's ear just by talking about his book, The Dogs of Bedlam Farm: An Adventure with 16 Sheep, 3 Dogs, 2 Donkeys & Me. So, how did the actual story stand up to the hype? "I did not read the last page of this book," Sheree admits. "I am that unwilling to have the story end."

Editors F. Brett Cox and Andy Duncan dabble in Southern attitude with Crossroads: Tales of the Southern Literary Fantastic. "Cox and Duncan deserve credit for making Crossroads more than just a hefty collection of fantastic stories," says Sarah Meador. "In a great anthology, which this one may well claim to be, the stories do more than coexist; they exist together, each setting the others off like the setting in an especially good piece of jewelry."

Richard Gray's novel, The Piaculum, has "seared itself" into Daniel Jolley's memory. "It's a dark tale, to be sure, but it is also an enlightening one with a religious and humanistic depth that burns with the light of true inspiration," Daniel says. "I was moved to a few tears by the powerful, uplifting and incredibly inspirational final chapters and I remain somewhat stunned by the intellectual and emotional depth displayed in Richard Gray's incredible first novel."

Nic Kelman takes a look at Girls in this novel about an everyman who is "inexcusably human, so frighteningly ordinary, he might be a friend, a relative, a co-worker, anyone," Katey Knapp explains. "It either requires bravery or an unapologetic curiosity to read this book. Without reservation I recommend it, but don't pick it up unless you're willing for the knowledge it endows to cause things in your own soul to change."

Larry Peterson knows what it takes to be a City Editor, experience that serves him well in his recent novel. "He really brings the hectic newsroom to life in this fast and furious chronicle of one singular week of news," Daniel Jolley reports. "It also gives me a new respect for journalists who will fight to preserve the integrity of their profession -- one can only wish there were more of them in real life."

Sarah Meador catches a ride with a new set of heroes in Shockrockets: We Have Ignition. "In the hands of Kurt Busiek, Shockrockets: We Have Ignition is much more than the standard fare," she says. "The heroes are still heroic, the villains snide and megalomaniacal. But they aren't the only players on the screen, and all their actions resound through a fractured and complicated society."

Michael Vance recommends Bighead despite itself. "Although Bighead looks like such an amateur attempt, it is actually something more," he says. "It is an extremely convincing mock amateur attempt, with the cartoonist's tongue firmly in cheek."

Miles O'Dometer lauds the achievement of Napoleon Dynamite. "Napoleon Dynamite is anti-expressionism taken to its illogical extreme, drama for the reality-TV-impaired," he says. "And in part because it tackles so much familiar ground in such an unfamiliar way, it works."

Tom Knapp is a witness to 50 First Dates between Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, who provide a cute, surprisingly touching romantic comedy. "The concept is clever," Tom says. "It's the Sandler-Barrymore chemistry that really sells this film. This is not the laugh-a-minute or gross-out comedy some folks might expect."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back! (And feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

5 February 2005

Food, one assumes, provides nourishment; but Americans eat it fully aware that small amounts of poison have been added to improve its appearance and delay its putrefaction.
- John Cage

On this date in 1933, the first "Don't Walk" sign was installed in New York City to help pedestrians survive rush-hour traffic. Has it helped? You be the judge. But, before you go and risk life and limb under the tires of a runaway taxi, enjoy these reviews!

Last Night's Fun has Tempered its Celtic sound. "The instrumental tracks are simply superlative -- strong, lyrical tunes delivered with masses of flair and technical skill and sounding exactly the way I like to hear them at gigs," says Debbie Koritsas. "I find that there's a fragility, a thinness to the vocals, however, which I've found in a good deal of traditional Irish music over the years; it doesn't match up to the potent lyricism and rhythm-defining qualities of the instrumentation surrounding it."

Archie Fisher and Garnet Rogers combined are Off the Map, Nicky Rossiter says -- and he urges you to check out this re-release of their classic 1985 recording. "Fisher has influenced Scottish guitar playing since the 1960s and Garnet continues the line of his late brother Stan in excellent music," Nicky says. "The collection of music here is a revelation and is important simply as good music -- but also for its historic content."

The folks at Greentrax have compiled "a fantastic live album based on a tour by some of the greatest living exponents of Scottish music," Nicky says. "From the opening track, the voices the music and the atmosphere are entrancing. Never have the pipes sounded so haunting or the female voices so touching." That's right, this CD features the female voice, and it's called Scottish Women. Check it out!

Maggie Sansone will Dance Upon the Shore with this collection of Celtic and early music. "Maggie's hammered dulcimer predominates on this CD, her mallets flawlessly dancing upon the keys," John Lindermuth says. "This album, which takes it title from a Yeats poem, is a valuable contribution to her repertoire of traditional music of Ireland and Scotland. It is tasteful, exquisitely performed and definitely a pleasure for the listener and it proves once more that Celtic music is not a fad but a rich and ever-growing tradition."

Eric Darius spends a Night on the Town with Virginia MacIsaac -- and he sells her on the merits of his jazz en route. "The album is full of rich tones, saxophone that moves you all the way," she says. "There's no doubt Darius is a versatile, very memorable player-composer, and the whole package is so much more than I ever expected jazz to offer."

Jay Geils, Duke Robillard and Gerry Beaudoin join forces for the New Guitar Summit, which Tom Schulte calls "a cool, hip CD to put on in nearly any setting" if you're in the mood for swinging blues.

The Cascade Folk Trio brings its Armenian traditions to bear on Old Street. "Cascade Folk Trio sees it as its mission to promote Armenian music by blending it with contemporary influences from the outside," Carool Kersten explains. "With Old Street, this expatriate trio has succeeded in striking a balance between traditional Armenian and contemporary music that will appeal also to listeners outside the Armenian community."

Erika Rabideau makes her first visit to Celtic Colours, Cape Breton, for an Acadien Saturday Night in Petit-de-Grat. "It didn't take long for the foot-stomping and whooping to begin" as Brent Aucoin, Robert Deveaux, Samantha Robichaud and Le Vent du Nord took the stage!

Colin Harper and Trevor Hodgett expose the truth in Irish Folk, Trad & Blues: A Secret History. "Much of the book's content was originally published in magazines and newspapers over the past decades and, although they have revised the material and added fascinating prologues, we get repeated phrases and anecdotes, which can jar at times," Nicky Rossiter says. "Still, the volume is full of fascinating facts, insights and behind-the-scenes stories." Kudos to Nicky on the occasion of his 400th review!!

Dan Kurzman touches on a powerful scene in history with No Greater Glory: The Four Immortal Chaplains & the Sinking of the Dorchester in World War II. "It is a profound irony that war, man's most inhumane treatment of his fellow man, oftentimes provides the most poignant lessons in humanity, selflessness and heroism," Daniel Jolley says. "The tragedy of 9/11 helped inspire Dan Kurzman to tell their story anew. ... He succeeds admirably in bringing a spirit of hope and unity to today's fractured world."

Christopher L. Murphy helps us to Meet the Sasquatch. "It is the most information to be found in one volume on the subject and surpasses everything in this market niche for quality," says Karen Elkins. "This over-sized volume contains 239 pages packed with photographs, maps, charts, illustrations, reproductions of book covers, newspaper articles, protective ordinances, stamps, and much more. If it is Sasquatch-related, you will find it here."

Susan Jane Gilman may just be a Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress -- you'll have to decide for yourself after reading her autobiographical essays! "Gilman chronicles the trials and tribulations of growing up an outsider in a world of outsiders with grace, insight and above all, honest, gripping, awe-inspiring, gut-shaking hilarity," says Tracie Vida. "Gilman knows how to take the sting out of rejection, the bitters out of reality; she knows how to separate the wheat from the chaff, the gold from the dross. Because she knows how to use laughter for its highest purposes: the alleviation of suffering and the making of meaning. And once you finish reading her fantastic essay collection, you will, too."

Lorna Joy Knox (nee Ramsamugh) touches the Flames of a Rose for her debut collection of poetry. "Knox's poetry has won international acclaim and appeared in a variety of anthologies," says Valerie Frankel. "Her first collection, with its stunning cover and soulful words, cannot fail to touch its readers."

Denise Little airs a bit of dirty laundry regarding some Rotten Relations. "Rotten Relations isn't entirely without its flaws," says Sarah Meador. "But, like the best of villains, it conducts its affairs with enough style and passion to stir forgiveness in the pure-hearted and envy in those with darker bent. And a guilty hope for another such family gathering."

Anna Dale is Whispering to Witches in this new young-adult novel. "Dale has fun creating the witch universe that lies parallel to the human one and imbues it with some clever spells and tricks," says Celeste Miller. "While the plot may be a bit transparent to grown-ups and more sophisticated child readers, and the children's dialogue is often too mature-sounding to believe, Whispering to Witches is a light and exciting tale that will surely entertain young readers -- and their parents, too."

K.A. Bedford combines science fiction, mystery, a dead woman, a talking dog and the end of the world in Orbital Burn. "Orbital Burn is a very entertaining book with one of the best opening lines I've read in a long time: One morning, not long before the end of the world, a dead woman named Lou sat drinking espresso in Sheb's Old Earth Diner, one of the few places still open in the cheap part of Stalktown," Laurie Thayer reveals. "It's not one of those sci-fi books that dumps you into the author's invented world and leaves you to flounder in a sea of unpronounceable invented words and concepts."

James Patrick Kelly is Strange But Not a Stranger in this collection of short science fiction. "Kelly is likely the best overlooked writer in science fiction," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "Kelly's great strength is his ability to remain focused on the people at the heart of his stories as he crafts his finely detailed futures. The marvels of technology are there, but always in support of his characters; the technology is simply and seamlessly interwoven into their lives."

C. Nathan Coyle says Judge Dredd: The Apocalypse War, originally printed in 1982 as a serial piece, "probably worked in that particular format. However, reading the numerous chapters in one sitting becomes an arduous task. The continual onslaught of cliffhangers provides an over-inflated dramatic atmosphere, but given the overall threat level involved, the tension somewhat makes sense."

Tom Knapp gets sucked into Elektra Lives Again, a 15-year-old tale from Frank Miller that predates the Hollywood hoopla. "Elektra Lives Again is still a top-notch story filled with layers and symbols -- and I don't usually like back-from-the-dead stories," Tom says.

Janine Kauffman ponders the ever-changing world along with director Wolfgang Becker in Good Bye Lenin! It is, she explains, "a German film that blends political upheaval and personal tragedy in a way that doesn't gloss over the politics or make the personal side maudlin. ... In fact, it turns to humor as a way to examine both the gray life of the Eastern Bloc as well as the crass commercialism and overwhelming sparkle of West Germany."

Tom Knapp takes a look at the forecast for The Day After Tomorrow -- and it looks to be unseasonably chilly. "The special weather effects were unquestionably superb," he says. "And let's face it -- the movie is visually spectacular but a trifle thin when it comes to plot, characterization and basic science. ... (But) perhaps awesome special effects will succeed where science has failed."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back! (And feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

29 January 2005

Faith is important.
It needn't be invested in a particular deity
-- most who do so, do it by rote anyway.
But you must believe in something
or your life has no meaning.
- Charles de Lint

Has a whole month passed already? Wow, 2005 seems to be slipping by at record pace! Still, be sure to fit in time to read today's bang-up collection of new reviews! And don't forget to mark Monday, Jan. 31, which is the 154th anniversary of the invention of evaporated milk! Hoopla!

Kenneth Thomson had a long career in health service administration before releasing Seoladh Dhachaigh, an album of traditional Scottish-Gaelic songs. "I'm pleased to have the opportunity to listen to these lovely songs, and it's refreshing to hear them sung by a male voice offering such clarity of tone and clear pronunciation of one of Britain's most endangered languages," says Debbie Koritsas. "If you're interested in this genre of Celtic music culture, you will find this a fascinating, rewarding, pleasingly sung collection -- and it's so relaxing to listen to."

Debbie also reviews The Old Style, the second release from Scotland's Blazin' Fiddles, and takes a look back at the band's first album, Fire On!, as well. "There's vibrant, masterly fiddle playing and wonderful harmony on both albums," she says. "Blazin' Fiddles set out to show you what they're capable of, and boy do they deliver!"

Josephine Mulvenna has the Spirit of the Song and "the voice of an angel," Nicky Rossiter reports. "Mulvenna takes songs that we know, love and at times might be quite tired of and transforms them," he says. "To her great credit, the transformation is not with lush arrangements or semi-rock beats. This young lady takes the songs back to the drawing room, the wedding party and the real old-fashioned pub with simple arrangements and minimal backing."

Hilary James and Simon Mayor are Laughing with the Moon. "Mixing new and traditional songs and tunes, this virtuoso pair will lift your spirits in almost any circumstance," Nicky promises. "This is pure joy."

Will Owsley "wanders down the electric side of folk on The Hard Way," Paul de Bruijn says. "His voice is wonderful to listen to, with just a touch of rasp. The songs vary in content, and the music fills out the emotional context of the songs."

The JW-Jones Blues Band bares the blues on My Kind of Evil. "Hey, this is an album of music that totally expresses a youthful stirring of the senses and the crazy sentiments that surge with the excitement of youth, the heady feeling of connecting with a woman, and the heavy head and heart after too much shameless indulgence," Virginia MacIsaac says. "My Kind of Evil is the most exciting, pulsating collection of blues happening in North America in a long time."

William Woods helps Virginia to explore the jazz world through Cobalt Blue. "I find the mood of the album contemplative, yet pulsing with life," she reports. "Strength in numbers helped create the album, but I feel it is solely the piano player, Woods, whom the album depends on to stand up and follow through. Perhaps it's just the personality of his playing that makes me think that. Very strong, very precise."

Native American singer Mary Youngblood will Feed the Fire with her latest album. "Youngblood is a brilliant musician with a captivating voice and a modest approach to her mighty talent," says Mary Harvey. "She lets the music shape itself, refusing, as so many singers often do, to drive it with her ego. Rather than take center stage, Youngblood lets her vocals and finely tuned flute and piano work in harmony to create a gently compelling tour de force of musical styles."

We have some exciting live reviews coming -- keep your eyes peeled!

Meic Stevens shares his Solva Blues in this "rollicking and sometimes sad tale" of his ascension to fame in Wales. "It is a frightening rollercoaster ride as he learns the trade of musician and songwriter in a multitude of drinking establishments, and starts a family that is eventually shattered by his wife's schizophrenia and other stresses," says David Cox. "The pace of the book never slows, which sometimes leads to confusion over the various events and characters, but Stevens paints a vivid picture of these times."

Walter R. Borneman digs up some early American history in 1812: The War that Forged a Nation. "He has obviously done his research and he gives descriptions of tactics in each battle (including wonderfully rendered maps)," says David Roy. "These descriptions make you feel like you are right there on the battlefield, hearing the explosions and feeling musket balls whistle past your ear."

Maurice Manning examines the life of a hero through poetry with A Companion for Owls: Being the Commonplace Book of D. Boone, Long Hunter, Back Woodsman, &c. "These are not poems that are necessarily easy (indeed, they are often quite discomforting), nor are they particularly cheerful (although sometimes wickedly, mordantly humorous) but they are extraordinarily rich, not only in the idea of the life of Daniel Boone but in their reflections on what life is really about, or perhaps what it should really be about," says Robert Tilendis. "Manning has a way of turning on you, leading you along a perfectly innocent path until you find yourself on the edge of a precipice."

Jacqueline Marcell keeps a sense of humor about her in Elder Rage, or Take My Father ... Please: How to Survive Caring for Aging Parents. "This could have been two books -- the first, a non-fictional story about a daughter who has troubles of her own, trying to find a way to take care of her elderly parents, and the second, a mini-handbook on how to she thinks others might achieve that and stay sane," Jean Lewis reports.

Charles de Lint welcomes a peek into his past through Quicksilver & Shadow, his second collection of early short fiction. "While he has certainly exceeded this level of writing many times over with more recent works, it's fascinating to get a closer look at this chapter in his development in the craft," Tom Knapp says. "De Lint fans will want this collection without question."

David Morrell paints a NightScape of horror in this collection of short fiction. "The works are dark and, at times, disturbing," says Paul de Bruijn. "Obsession, madness, grief, loss and love intertwine to form the horrors within the pages. The monsters that you will find here, where there are monsters, are often human."

John Vornholt continues his young-adult fantasy saga in The Troll Treasure. "These books are not the best children's fantasy I've ever read, but they aren't bad," Wil Owen says. "At a minimum, there are some good moral lessons to be picked up by the reader."

David L. Howells has written an exceedingly human series of five novels," Daniel Jolley says. "Maybe they aren't perfect in their construction and execution, but they are extremely effective and heart-warming books unlike anything else out there. Reading them has been not only a joy, but a blessing as well." On tap today is the final book in the series, Vanessa: Fallen Colors.

James Patterson's audiobook version of London Bridges accompanied Tracie Vida on a "very long road trip" from Florida to Chicago. "Thrillers of this sort are not my normal fare," she says. But "London Bridges kept me engrossed and sane during a six-hour traffic jam in southern Indiana. No mean feat!"

C. Nathan Coyle shares a few laughs, a few tears with Fred the Clown, the dimwitted creation of Roger Langridge. "The storytelling is decent enough, but the real showcase is the overwhelming variety of artistic styles," Nathan says. "Flipping through this book, you'd think that at least 10 different artists contributed to this graphic novel."

Miles O'Dometer plays along with The Ladykillers, "a film that's both a continuation of and stark departure from Joel and Ethan Coens' earlier work. ... Like their previous films, Ladykillers is a tale of criminal mischief that leads to violence and death, and like their previous films, it's imbued with such dark humor that it's hard not to laugh at the violence and death. Unlike their earlier efforts, however, Ladykillers is an adaptation, a remake of a mid-'50s caper comedy starring Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers. And, for better or worse, Guinness and Sellers aren't Tom Hanks and Marlon Wayans."

Janine Kauffman passes the seasons with Ki-duk Kim's Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter ... and Spring -- or, as it was originally titled, Bom yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo bom. It "may be one of the most awkwardly translated titles you'll come across," Janine says, "but his movie itself is magical."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back! (And feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

22 January 2005

Of all noises, I think music is the least disagreeable.
- Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson sounds like a real fun guy, eh? But don't let his dour view of the world color your perception of the wonderfulness that is music -- or, of course, the books and movies that follow. We've got some exciting new reviews for you today, so please, don't let Sam or me stop you, just dive right in!

The Iron Horse rides on with The Wind Shall Blow for Ever More, which Debbie Koritsas calls "an exceptionally fine album of traditional Scottish vocal/instrumental music. ... There's a lovely balance of original and traditional material, and the playing styles reveal the wealth of influences the band members have picked up on their travels over the years; musical influences are from Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain, Eastern Europe and even Holland."

Bachue "has produced one of the finest crossover albums ever with The Butterfly," Debbie reveals. "Utterly dynamic, the CD makes for fabulous listening and reveals a richly imaginative handling of traditional Scots music. ... The musicians' jazz backgrounds are evident throughout, and reveal themselves in beautifully structured arrangements -- rhythmic flow and lyricism absolutely drives these tunes." Hoopla, Debbie, for review No. 50!

Bonnie Rideout shares a Soft May Morn with fans of Scottish fiddling. "This highly pleasurable CD of fiddle music was Rideout's first solo album, and was recorded in 1994," says Debbie, single-handedly completing this week's Celtic triumvirate. "Her expressive tone reminds me more than a little of Alasdair Fraser's playing -- her bowing is light, precise, very emotive, and it twists, turns and shimmers from start to finish."

Tracy Grammer goes The Verdant Mile in her first release since the death of partner Dave Carter. "The songs are nice, simple acoustic arrangements that feature Tracy's beautiful vocals, guitar, mandola and violin, plus Jim Henry's vocals, mandolin and dobro," Dave Townsend says. "It is also the first taste we have gotten of Tracy as a songwriter."

Swill & the Swaggerband celebrate The Day After in music. "There is a certain sameness to each track; the tunes are quite melodic -- some are melodic and cheery, some melodic and sad," says Laurie Thayer. Still, she adds, "there are few CDs that make my workday rotation; The Day After will be one of them."

Mick Hanly "is one of our greatest songwriters and performers," Nicky Rossiter proclaims, and with this album he is Free to Run. "He has written fantastic selling songs for others, performed with the best in Ireland and played in small pubs to small crowds, but Hanly is a gentleman and a genius of music," Nicky says. "On this 10-track album he packs in a cornucopia of sounds, sentiments and class."

Evalyn Parry isn't being Unreasonable with her new folk CD. "Parry takes a look at life and goes from there," Paul de Bruijn remarks. "You might not always agree with what she sees or says, but the songs are almost always passionate and powerful."

Uncle Cuckleburr's Champion Possum Carvers serve a pint of the pure on The Ozark Sheiks. "This is raw, unvarnished, unpainted stuff, and often sounds like the tree itself before somebody took a saw to it," Chet Williamson says. "UCCPC is one helluva band, and they make enough ragged but right noise to satisfy even the most discriminating fan of old-time and traditional music."

There is No Assembly Required where jazz band Pieces of a Dream is concerned -- but Paul de Bruijn believes the whole is not greater than the sum of this band's pieces. "The members of Pieces of a Dream are all talented musicians, and No Assembly Required should be better than it is," he says. "The skill is there, but for the most part I can't find the passion, and that lack leaves me cold."

Kitka's CD Wintersongs is "a constant surprise and road of discovery, and not just of exotic countries and foreign lands," Tracie Vida says. "While the academic opportunities in Kitka are delicious to the thinking music fan, in the end, the album stands on its rich sound tapestry and sheer vocal beauty."

Baltinget exposes the Classic side of Danish music on a CD that "will be particularly enjoyed by folk purists," Andy Jurgis remarks. The band boasts traditional and contemporary sides to its production, he says. "The tension between these two aspects of the band's music tends to be a creative one although, ultimately, it is the more conformist wing that wins out, which is not always advantageous to the overall sound."

Ensemble Pesnokhorki comes from the Altaiski Kray region of Siberia with Vol. II of its music. "The music of this region reflects the old traditions of these peoples that moved into this region and displaced the aboriginal inhabitants," David Cox explains. "The songs of this region reflect the daily lives of these settlers and the longing for the old homeland."

Watch this space! We have more reviews coming from Celtic Colours, as well as other great performances to boot. Stay tuned!

Richard Crawford puts it all together in America's Musical Life: A History. "One would have to look long and hard to find better written and more incisive individual essays about their particular subjects," Chet Williamson reports. "Crawford grants general readers the boon of not writing too technically, and the layman with only a rudimentary knowledge of musical forms should be able to understand the book easily. Granted, one gets the sense that Crawford prefers some genres more than others, but this in no way lessens his authority or his readability."

Joseph McCabe spends a little quality time with one of the great literary geniuses of our time as well as some of the many talented folks who've worked with him, and he shares the experience with us in Hanging Out with the Dream King: Conversations with Neil Gaiman & His Collaborators. "For anyone who has ever peeked into Neil Gaiman's quirky, funny, deeply philosophical and richly imagined worlds, this book has incredible insights into the ways in which he thinks, creates, works and interacts with the many writers, artists, editors and others who have helped advance his vision," Tom Knapp says. For more, check out Tom's review!

S. Andrew Swann's Broken Crescent boasts "a most intriguing premise for a novel," Daniel Jolley says. "The novel is full of action and mystery, heating up to a fever pitch by the end. The concept of magic as a programming language is fascinating in and of itself."

Ian Graham's new fantasy novel is a Monument to good writing, Daniel says. "The gritty realism of Monument extends all the way to the final period on the last page," he says. "In all honesty, Monument is one of the most distinctive, memorable and impressive debut fantasy novels I have ever read."

Bernardo Atxaga "has written his most wide-ranging, penetrating and important work of fiction to date, and perhaps Atxaga's most personally revealing work as well," David Cox reports. The book is El Hijo del Acordeonista (The Accordionist's Son), in which Atxaga returns to his fictional town of Obaba. "The narrative is a much more straightforward tale of coming of age in a divided land," David says.

Gerald Allen Wunsch falls short of his mark with Curiosity, Tracie Vida says. "There's not much to this children's tale" about the Underground Railroad, Tracie explains. "Wunsch just does not yet have his finger on the pulse of a child's mind or attention span."

Tom Knapp has high praise for Slaine: The Horned God, a masterful graphic novel that blends highly detailed Celtic mythology with enough blood and thunder to make Conan blush. "Fans of blood and thunder will enjoy the exploits of this mighty-thewed barbarian warrior, the muscular warrior queens and witches who surround him, the vile dwarves and dragons and sea demons who people his world," Tom says. "Fans of Celtic mythology will revel in the close links between this tale and heroic lore from Ireland, particularly the legend of the mighty warrior Cuchulainn as well as the magical artifacts and weapons featured in ancient stories."

Miles O'Dometer cries "all aboard" for The Station Agent, "a warm film, full of real, if rarely seen, acts of human compassion and glimpses into the lives of people just beyond our radar screens. It's meant to be bitten off in large chunks, consumed in large quantities and savored 'til the flavor cools. That takes some doing, but it's well worth the effort."

Janine Kauffman wishes us a cheery Bon Voyage as she emerges from watching this World War II-era French farce featuring "the pouty movie star, the long-suffering admirer, the brilliant but endangered scientist, his deceptively sexy-and-brilliant assistant, evil Nazis and the capitulating French. ... Bon Voyage isn't going to break any new ground, and it's a voyage that, at two hours, lasts a bit too long. But when it's in full steam, it's entertaining enough and creative enough to burnish the cliches with a little shine."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back! (And feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

15 January 2005

I hate flowers -- I paint them because
they're cheaper than models and they don't move.
- Georgia O'Keeffe

It's a blustery day of the cold and rainy sort. Yesterday it was in the 60s. The weather gods are playing with us, and I don't like it. To make matters worse, my noble fish Ozymandius died just 36 hours after his noble brother, Alexander, went to the great Public Sewage System in the sky (or, more accurately, underground). At least they'll be together. But the quote from Georgia O'Keeffe (above) amused me, so I'm smiling despite the general chill and dead-fishiness of the day. Seems like the perfect time for some reviews....

Dessie O'Halloran is "an acquired taste like caviar, coddle, drisheen or Ronnie Drew," Nicky Rossiter opines. "His 2001 CD The Pound Road contains 13 songs that showcase a man and a wide array of songs."

The work of Scotsman Ian McCalman, of the band McCalmans, is celebrated in McCalman Singular, a new compilation disc from Greentrax. "This is a showcase of the writing talent of Ian McCalman allied to a showcase of contemporary Scottish folk performers at their best," Nicky states.

The list of performers on Diamond Mountain Sessions presents... "reads and sounds like a 'who's who' of the contemporary, roots and traditional canon," Nicky, batting three for three this week, explains. "This is a beautifully produced album that will cater to a varied audience."

Peter Mulvey switches on the Kitchen Radio for some fine folk Jean Lewis says is a cross between -- but not comparable to -- Christy Moore and Richard Thompson. "His voice is clear, the music (guitar, bass and drums) is strong and the songwriting is thoughtful if occasionally just a little to the left of obscure," she says.

Peter Lainson thrives on The Wind & the Waves, a CD Jenny Ivor describes as "a gentle, easy-listening kind of album. ... This is pleasant music to have playing in the background, but take the time to enter Lainson's lyrics and be transported to past times and other emotions. Although predominantly of the 'feel-good' variety, there is sufficient mention of the downside and sharper aspect of life to prevent it being smaltzy."

Tom Waits is Real Gone on his latest edgy recording, Tom Schulte says. "The album opener on Real Gone, "Top of the Hill," is so clamorous, primitive and dark as to be a threatening storm cloud of Waits' own destruction in the sound and fury of sonic nihilism," he explains.

KT Tunstall has her Eye to the Telescope in this introduction to her Scottish folk/blues sound. "Together with her first-rate producer Steve Osborne, Tunstall has achieved one of the albums of the year through her gorgeous and bluesy singing combining alt pop with a roots touch," Andy Jurgis says. "Much has been written already about who Tunstall can be compared with, but she deserves to be judged independently in her own right."

Kristine Heeboll comes from Denmark with Trio Mio. "The CD is a wonderful collection of well-crafted tunes and dances, composed in traditional style and fused with contemporary and refreshing elements reaching from jazz to classical music and folk," says Adolf Goriup. "Dances like waltzes, polkas, Scottish as well as hauntingly beautiful tunes played by the string quartet and stunning melodies played by the trio are brought forward with perfection."

Ensemble Georgika presents Vol. III of its recordings from home. "Georgia, the former Soviet Republic in the Caucasus, produces some of the most beautiful, diverse and distinct vocal music in the world," says David Cox. "Georgian music has an exceptional beauty of its own and this CD is no exception."

Dengue Fever gives a modern twist to Eastern music on this self-titled CD. "The album contains a mix of the Cambodian '60s rock the band started covering, along with originals sung in Khmer," Tom Schulte explains.

Plena Libre gets you moving with Estamos Gozando!, Tracie Vida says. The album "is born and bred for dancing, for swirling bright skirts and thick crowds and parties filled with the promise of an exciting time."

We have a varied pair of performance reviews this week. First up is prodigal son Stan Cocheo with a slightly dusty review of Eric Johnson's concert at the Great Aunt Stella Center in Charlotte, N.C.

Next, Ellen Rawson files a report from A Woman's Word, a recent London performance by Karine Polwart, Kellie While, Kirsty McGee and Abbie Lathe. "Four jewels shone in London that night," Ellen enthuses!

Robert W. Norris is Looking for the Summer in this memoir of the war-torn '60s. "This book is not an easy read," says Ann Flynt. "At 113 pages, it is relatively short. It is not a page-turner. However, when I started reading it again and again, the story revealed itself as one that explores the issues of a young man caught in a time where he could not fight a war in which he did not believe."

Gideon Defoe may not have impressed his would-be girlfriend, but he impressed the heck out of Tom Knapp with his debut novel, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists. "The adventure soon takes the pirate crew to England, where there's a circus, a bishop a very tall clock, a well-mannered manpanzee, the Elephant Man, a few rousing games of miniature golf and other assorted plot twists," Tom says. "But really, it's not what they do or where they do it that matters so much as the way it all gets done. If you're not laughing throughout this too-short book, you need to take a refresher course on basic wit."

Martin H. Greenberg and Russell Davis get your new year off right with a slanted look at the upcoming calendar in Haunted Holidays. "The novelty of Haunted Holidays alone is reason enough to pick up the book," says Tracie Vida. "And the inclusion of several smaller or unusual holidays, like Twelfth Night and Columbus Day, makes for an intriguing read."

Andrew Weiner impressed reviewer Gregg Thurlbeck with his "taut, clever short fiction," but disappointed him with his first novel, Station Gehenna. So how does novel #2 fare, in Gregg's view? "Getting Near the End is a most enjoyable read and one hopes that there isn't another 17-year lull before Andrew Weiner's next novel," he reports.

Neil Bartlett's novel Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall "is extraordinarily hard to describe," says Robert Tilendis. "In its basics, it is a romance -- a love story of modern times, set in a universe at once mundane and fantastic. It is also fable, fantasy, allegory, history and myth."

Tom Knapp learns a thing or two about the undead through the ages in Tales of the Vampires, a new collection of stories from Buffyverse creator Joss Whedon and an assortment of writers and artists. "In a world that still hungers for stories about the blond-haired vampire slayer despite the cancellation of her TV series, creator Joss Whedon has devised a new avenue to expand the Buffy mythos -- sans slayer," Tom explains.

Janine Kauffman is on her way Far Far Away for a screening of Shrek 2. "Even if fairytales aren't your cup of tea, it's still fun to sit back and catch the inside jokes, the big-name voices..., the spot-on soundtrack, the astounding animation," Janine says. "Entertaining for Mom and Dad, but sweet enough for the kids: it really is a fairytale."

Miles O'Dometer takes time to listen to The Quiet American, a movie with "rip-snorting action, a tale of love, trust and betrayal, and pause to reflect, all in 113 minutes."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back! (And feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)