18 June 2005 to 27 August 2005

27 August 2005

In the end, it's not the years in your life that count.
It's the life in your years.
- Abraham Lincoln

After a week spent covering the Elizabethtown Fair -- with all of the sheep, swine, goats and cattle you care to see, to say nothing of the many messes they leave in their wake -- I'm quite prepared to sink down into my comfy chair and enjoy a new edition of reviews. What's that, you say? No, I do not smell anything, and I did not track anything untoward into the house! Sheesh!

Dulaman passes Four Years in November with this British/Celtic/bluegrass hybrid CD. Jerome Clark says the musicians need some more experience under their belts, but favorably likens their music to an alt-Fairport Convention. "The Dulamans harbor an undisguised enthusiasm for bluegrass and mountain music, and they have a good-natured English way of performing it," he says. "The problem is not the talent (which the band manifestly possesses), just the callow youth from which we all emerge eventually. More experience, life and musical, and Dulaman, if it endures, will get there."

April Verch stretches her talents on From Where I Stand. "Still steeped in Celtic-Canadian traditions, she has added to the field with her own compositions and has continued her passionate exploration of other musical genres," Tom Knapp, a longtime fan of this talented Ontario fiddler, says. "The most surprising addition to From Where I Stand, however, is a selection of vocal pieces that spotlight April's old-time/Appalachian spirit."

Hugh Morrison finds some friends Far From Home. "His latest album carries all the energy and bounce of previous compilations, with a bit more worldly polish, and Morrison's own accordion work finds companions on the journey," says Sarah Meador. "Though it roams far and wide, fans of Celtic music and folk tunes alike will feel right at home." With the woohoo for Sarah for review #250!!

The Lazy Jacks reach their Journey's End on a disc that fails to meet Tom Knapp's expectations. "If I saw the Lazy Jacks live," he says, "I'd probably enjoy this CD more as a musical postcard of a jolly good show -- and I have no doubt the band is a hoot in a live setting -- but for those of us who've never seen these guys play, Journey's End needs more spark to shine."

Eric Bogle is Singing the Spirit Home with this new box set from Greentrax. "Originally from Peebles, Scotland, but now resident in Australia (when not touring the world), this former accountant not only writes songs to perfection, he performs them as well," Nicky Rossiter says. "One unusual accolade -- or not -- for Bogle is that so many of his compositions are genuinely mistaken for traditional songs. Such is his talent to write."

Helen Slater, best known to many fans as Supergirl, shows off her pipes on One of These Days. "The theatrical 'hints' in Slater's songs are quite noticeable," says Valerie Fasimpaur. "There are poignant key changes, meaningful tempo modulations and affective phrasing. These devices are not used so heavy-handedly as to cause one to imagine Nathan Lane singing and dancing while the disc is playing, but Slater's dramatic background definitely does come through in her songwriting.

Kevin Kane's Blind Man "has some great writing and performing, but I fear it may prove hard to obtain," Nicky Rossiter warns.

Tim Stafford follows an Endless Line with his latest bluegrass release. "Stafford seems to be from the old school of bluegrass, taking even his original tunes and making them sound like they may have been written many, many years ago," says Paulette Isaccs. "He also has the knack of doing this with songs by others."

Sara Evans may have been Born to Fly, and this country music CD is just soaring. "I guess some people think this album is more pop than country, but all that matters to me is that I love this album," Daniel Jolley says. "Evans has one of the freshest, clearest, most beautiful voices I have heard in a long time. You don't just put this CD in and go about your business; you almost have to sit down, close your eyes, listen and experience the magic of this incredible singer."

Mike Whellans is a one-man blues band on Almost 42nd Street. "Whellans' years of experience in the music business give the album a reassuringly solid quality feel, without being in the least bit stolid," says Jenny Ivor. "For purists over the pond, trust me, this Scot is proof that blues can be as deep in the blood in the south of Scotland as in the American South."

The Paris Combo shares musical Motifs on this recording heavily influenced by Parisian jazz. "The lyrics contrast with the easygoing music, with themes about alienation and lost love," says Dave Howell. "There is a Burt Bacharach-meets-Cabaret vibe that harkens back to the days when beats were people who read poetry and were not something added to crappy dance music." Hey, Dave, that's review #50!

Monica Salmaso "straddles contemporary and traditional styles" from her native Brazil on Iaia. "These are quiet songs, closer to folk tunes than many of the upbeat, polyrhythmic Brazilian music genres. Of course, since it is Brazilian, you can always feel the rhythm," says Dave. "This is appropriate for Salmaso's beautiful, understated singing. Each of the 13 tracks has a wonderful, complex melody, another trait associated with Brazil."

Debbie Koritsas has an enthusiastic report to share from the Cambridge Folk Festival, a "relaxed-yet-vibrant" event at the Cherry Hinton Hall Grounds in Cambridge, England. "The range of music on offer is hugely eclectic," she relates. "This year's festival was no exception, with musicians checking in from England, Ireland, Scotland, Spain, America and Africa."

Blanche Caldwell Barrow shares her checkered past in My Life with Bonnie & Clyde. The book, Nicky Rossiter says, "will appeal to a far wider audience than those who love the exploits of gangsters and law enforcement. This is a social history of America in the 1930s seen through the eyes of someone who spent some time at the heart of the news."

Roger L. Depue lays it on the line with Between Good & Evil: A Master Profiler's Hunt for Society's Most Violent Predators. "Between Good & Evil is not an audiobook for the squeamish. Depue gets fairly graphic at times," says Wil Owen. "It is not hard to visualize much of what he has seen, and I, for one, am glad I have not had the opportunity to see the evil he describes at such a close and personal range."

Catherine Christian gives us an Arthur we can believe in The Pendragon. "The tale is exhilarating and sad, and deeply satisfying," Tom Knapp says. "You close the book believing that Arthur's saga should have happened in just this way -- and, more importantly, perhaps it could have."

Keith Miller creates a new heroic fable in The Book of Flying. "This is a quest novel and lyrical fable that is pungent with the scent of old books," Tom says. "Miller's writing is timeless, and his story has lessons buried deep inside. There are stories within stories within stories here, each with nuggets of wisdom and hidden verse."

Suzy McKee Charnas covers a broad range of topics in Stagestruck Vampires & Other Phantasms. Gregg Thurlbeck calls it "an odd book that doesn't quite come together thematically. ... Charnas is a talented writer whose output is far from prodigious, so any new offering, while cause for celebration, brings with it high expectations. Stagestruck Vampires & Other Phantasms is a bumpier ride than one might have wished."

Neal Stephenson continues The Baroque Cycle in The Confusion. "Along the way, Stephenson delivers pirates, civil war, revenge, true love, roaming samurai and every other piece of swash that can be buckled on, all with an earthy realism that keeps the tale more in the realm of history than fantasy," says Sarah Meador. "And he does something that very few authors of 800-page novels do: he creates serial drama."

Lionel Shriver tackles important social issues "that are more often repressed than discussed" in her novel We Need to Talk About Kevin, Risa Duff relates. "This is an extremely compelling book that has caused major cacophony in the United States for its brutal outlook on maternal love."

Robert A. Heinlein is "at his storytelling best" with Have Space Suit-Will Travel, Daniel Jolley recalls. "Free of the esoteric themes that would appear in his later writings, this book is pure science fiction seemingly written solely for the enjoyment of the reader. ... Most of all, Heinlein presents vividly real characters doing exceedingly interesting, heroic things."

C. Nathan Coyle examines the futuristic version of a classic manga series, Lone Wolf & Cub, in Lone Wolf 2100, Vol. 3: Pattern Storm. "The premise is very sound, but the execution is a bit lacking," he says.

T.E. (Bob) O'Sullivan is less than terrified when the Megalodon comes a-calling. "Sixty feet of prehistoric terror -- or so claims the box art," he explains. "Megalodon takes no chances by leaving nothing to the imagination. It simply takes no risks -- which is odd since it tries so hard to move in another direction all the time. There's a good story here blocked by a very large shark."

Daniel Jolley steps back to let Morgan Freeman Kiss the Girls. "Kiss the Girls is a disturbing, well-crafted movie that exceeded all of my expectations," Dan says. "It is not what I would call horror, per se, but there are certainly some realistic scenes of violence in it. This movie pulls no punches; any ghastly images are there not for shock value but for the simple reason that the story demands them to be there in order for the film to be as powerful as it is."

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

20 August 2005

Words ought to be a little wild
for they are the assaults of thought on the unthinking.
- John Maynard Keynes

New frogs! New fish! A bigger, better aquarium! Fixed fuses, repaired plumbing! Life is looking up!

Dervish makes the beautiful music to pass a Midsummer's Night. "The instrumentals are meticulously arranged, forged through countless sessions in their own Sligo pub and countless jams around the world," Tom Knapp says. As for Cathy Jordan's vocals, he adds, "her voice here is passionate and expressive, brimming with emotion and a crisp sensual edge. Singing both in English and Gaelic, she wraps herself around the words and invites her audience in to join her."

Richard Koechli unravels a Blue Celtic Mystery for the masses. "He takes the myths of our lands and adds music that retains a hint of the ancient but is truly 21st century in style," says Nicky Rossiter. "He concocts new tales for our timeless times."

Chris Murphy fits into several musical niches on Noir. "If you are a serious connoisseur of violin/fiddle music, then my advice is to check out this CD," Wil Owen says. "If you are a purist, you probably will not appreciate Chris's more modern musical style since he relies heavily on electrical help. I, however, have found myself listening to this CD quite a bit."

Po' Girl shares some Vagabond Lullabies on a CD that "grabs my heart so fast, on the first note I'm lost in a dreamy, dusty road-ruled world," Katey Knapp relates. "It's the music of freedom, of escape. But also of settling down into yourself as a home. It's as much about the movement toward self-love as it is about geography."

David Ross MacDonald is Far From Here, but this former Waifs' drummer proves he can play guitar, too. "Stepping forward as a solo artist, playing an instrument other than drums, must have been a courageous move for him. On this release, he ventures further into the world of the singer-songwriter, adding vocals and lyrics to his exceptional guitar work," says Joy McKay. "The venture, for me, isn't altogether successful. I do love his voice -- a slightly gravelly Australian drawl -- and I understand his artistic intent, but generally I felt that the songs fell short of their goal."

Stacie Rose blends Shadow & Splendor in a way that "is certainly enchanting," Nicky Rossiter says. "Rose has an excellent voice and a powerful delivery, and with the right airplay we will hear much more of this artist. From her opening track, "Consider Me," she has the listener hooked on the voice, the music and the content of the songs."

BareBones & WildFlowers settle in for some sweet and mellow folk music on this self-titled debut. "The duo -- Steve Palmer and Rachel Handman -- plays folk music that is mellow and sweet, stripped of all artifice and in its truest, simplest form," Tom Knapp says. "The stripped-down approach and delightful fiddle ornamentals are evidence of a well-chosen name for the band."

Lisa Dames might have more to say If These Walls Could Talk. "There's pretty much nothing to dislike," says Sarah Meador. "But there's also not much to hear in the first place. Six songs hardly give a performer room to show off range."

John Berry "gives a polish to some of the most well-known ballads, along with two original songs," on I Give My Heart, Sarah says. "An album devoted to covering established country-pop romance songs isn't going to shatter anyone's expectations. But those looking for an album to meet those standards will be well satisfied."

The roots of blues and country music is spotlighted in Bluebird's When the Sun Goes Down series of CDs. Chet Williamson takes a careful look at two recent additions to the series, Vol. 10: East Virginia Blues and Vol. 11: Sacred Roots of the Blues. "If you're a collector of American roots music, these are two discs you'll have to add to your library," Chet says. "The selection of tracks is exemplary, the documentation comprehensive, and the sound is crisp and clear for such old recordings."

Willie Nelson is coming at you Live at Billy Bob's Texas, a DVD recording of his 2003 performance there. "The concert is a good one, and a strong addition to Willie's body of work," says Gilbert Head. "Watch it soon with an outlaw you love...."

Katie Buckhaven's first, self-titled release "positively oozes quality from every pore," says Andrew Morris. "Katie's sound is unique but shares a similar territory with artists like Norah Jones and Joni Mitchell -- but at times the emotional intensity of the likes of both Tim and Jeff Buckley is what separates her from the pack. The quality and variety of her vocals makes Dido, for example, sound positively flat by comparison."

Terre Differenti seeks out Cities of Dreams on this "Italian world fusion music project headed by keyboardist and programmer Fabio Armani," Dave Howell explains. "It mixes world, jazz, electronic and progressive rock. The major influence is Middle Eastern. ... With its many different moods and influences, it is a welcome addition to the world fusion genre."

Martin Cradick's career in music has caused him to eat caterpillars -- but his work with Baka Beyond makes it all worthwhile. Read his interview with Tom Knapp for more insight into his Afro-Celt crossover sound!

Rebecca Hollweg's recent London performance drew the notice of Debbie Koritsas, who offers her views of the show. "Hollweg is a charming and beautifully relaxed performer," Debbie notes. "I loved hearing these songs in stripped-back, minimalist duo format, for it provided the perfect contrast to their fuller album versions."

William J. Cooper fails in his examination of The South & the Politics of Slavery, 1828-1856, Daniel Jolley reports. "Cooper relies mainly on data from presidential elections, ignoring nonpresidential contests at the state and local level," Dan says. "This approach prevents him from acknowledging the lack of unity and order in southern politics. He refuses to admit the existence of discord not only between but within parties, and he is blind to any evidence that the South was anything but unified in proslavery ideology by the 1850s."

Kevin Dwyer delves into cinematic culture with Beyond Casablanca: M.A. Tazi & the Adventure of Moroccan Cinema. "You needn't be a specialist to find this book fascinating," Ron Bierman says. "As Tazi's career is described, readers will also learn a great deal about filmmaking, Morocco's colonial hangover and the effects of globalization on Third World culture."

Caren A. Adams offers her advice for living in Life 101: For the Young & the Young at Heart. "In theory, this book was a great idea!" says Melissa Kowalewski. "What a great way to impart one's knowledge to many different people in different walks of life! However, her tone is extremely condescending, the prose is very difficult to follow and I had to put the book down every few 'lessons' or so in order to give my eyes and brain a rest."

Orson Scott Card is Posing as People with the help of playwrights Scott Brick, Aaron Johnston and Emily Janice Card. "Three Card short stories are transformed from page to stage as three playwrights morph these tales to life," Wil Owen explains. "Posing as People will appeal to those who love all things Orson Scott Card and those who enjoy science fiction as much as they do the theatre."

Judith Tarr undergoes a Rite of Conquest in this new examination of William the Conqueror. "William is the magical offspring of royal and druidic lines -- he is Arthur reincarnate, the once and future king who is destined to restore the magic of Britain," Tom Knapp explains. "As historic fantasy, Rite of Conquest is a powerful, sweeping saga of a young man's ascension from bastard to duke to king. The book smacks of meticulous research into the facts of the day, with keen insights into the many larger-than-life characters involved."

Nick Sagan continues his saga of a future Earth in Edenborn, which follows on the heels of his successful first novel, Idlewild. "Edenborn takes up their story some 18 years later," Daniel Jolley says. The book, he adds, "ends with both tragedy and a sense of hope, setting the stage for what should be a fascinating third entry in the series."

Billie Sue Mosiman sees a Red Moon Rising. In this book, says Daniel, Mosiman "presents the reader with a promising new vision of vampirism. ... Red Moon Rising is an original and quite enjoyable vampire novel. The medical rather than supernatural source of vampirism serves the author well."

Carol Lay has failed to capture the character in Mythos, a novel dedicated to Wonder Woman and the JLA. "Mythos is a repetitive and lackluster work filled with little in the way of plot, story or even action," says T.E. (Bob) O'Sullivan. "And while it's true that Wonder Woman predates Xena by decades, you'd be hard pressed to find any lick of difference between the two women here."

Sarah Meador would recommend Nightmares & Fairy Tales, Vol. 1: Once Upon a Time for the art alone. "Truly glorious black-and-white throws dramatic scenes into high relief as atmospheric grey washes bleed down stretched alleys and through skewed doorways," she says. "Characters boldly sacrifice their realism for emotional resonance."

T.E. (Bob) O'Sullivan gets some work done with The Machinist. "You've seen this movie before," he says. "Even if you've never actually seen it, it's already in your head. The Machinist lifts from all the right styles, borrows from all the right moods, takes its musical cues from all the right films and the performances hit all the right notes -- while visually it slides into home plate with plenty of time before the ball hits the glove."

Daniel Jolley turns two thumbs down on Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows. "I thought I would go back and see if this movie is as horrible as I remember it being," he says. "It is. I can only hope that few other people have had the misfortune of seeing this celluloid monstrosity twice. One is hard pressed to say which is worse -- the overdramatic acting or the hopeless script."

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

13 August 2005

The pride and presence of a professional football team
is far more important than 30 libraries.
- Art Modell, owner of the Baltimore Ravens

Reading on the rocky shore, fiddling along with an osprey and assorted loons, writing on a deck overlooking the sea, watching a pair of humpback whales doze just beneath the ocean's surface, marking a year of wedded bliss with lupines, pearls and a few pints of Real Ale ... we're glad to be back, but it's not without some regret, that's for sure! Of course, the return home included the blunt realities of a blown fuse, a clogged filtration system and a mess of dead fish. So, let's bury those unpleasant facts of life beneath those recent, oh-so pleasant memories, and read this week's reviews....

The Young Dubliners play to the Real World on this recording of lively Celtic rock. "Their music is comparable to that of the Pogues or U2 -- it has a good, hard beat to it and it is meant to be played loud," Kaitlin Hahn explains. "If you're into rowdy, upbeat music, you will probably enjoy it."

The depths of Scotland's traditions are plumbed in The Rough Guide to Scottish Folk, another in a long line of global compilation discs from the World Music Network. "This CD represents only a tiny dip in the immense pool of Scottish music, but it definitely does do a wonderful job showcasing the variety and unique sounds of a land where music seems to be a vital if not essential part of life," Daniel Jolley reports.

Rik Barron's CD The Quiet Faith of Man "is the kind of record that uplifts the spirit and renews one's faith in simple independent recordings," says Joy McKay. "A simple yet accomplished project, this collection of mostly-traditional folk songs is enjoyable from start to finish. Clocking in at just over 32 minutes for 12 songs, it never overstays its welcome and leaves the listener wanting more."

Allen Ramsey "is a more muscular version of the 1970s singer-songwriter, the sort of performer who chronicles mood swings and relationship travails," Jerome Clark says, after spinning Ramsey's self-titled CD debut. "His songs are solidly constructed, he has a good melodic sense and he sings in an expressive yet unpretentious voice that, even when announcing the latest heartbreak, seems never all that far from a chuckle."

Richard Thorne is, in some ways, like Buddy Holly, Jerome insists. "Thorne, a New York City singer-songwriter, is not Buddy Holly, of course, but you don't have to be psychic to sense Holly's ghost all over Amalgam," he says. "Holly might have sounded something like this if he had migrated to the Village scene in the latter 1960s, as folk music was transforming into folk-rock -- in other words into an intelligent, inner-directed, generally acoustic pop."

Sonja Kristina sings Songs from the Acid Folk on this CD recapturing a bygone age of music. "Sonja gives us a collection of songs that will delight," Nicky Rossiter says. "There are up-tempo and slow ballads -- I must confess that I prefer the slower tracks as they allow us to luxuriate in that voice."

Deryl Dodd provides Stronger Proof that he knows what good country music needs. "It's fun, catchy, easily accessible and crafted with a good bit of meaning and intention," says C. Nathan Coyle. "The title track leads by example, providing a good whiskey-drinking song loaded with double entendres."

Open Road is In the Life with this bluegrass CD. Paulette Isaacs says the disc "is very similar in sound to some of the older and more traditional groups, such as Flatt & Scruggs or Bill Monroe because of its straight-on bluegrass style. It definitely cannot be labeled as progressive or even modern bluegrass because of the intentional traditional way in which the selections are played."

Little Milton "can rightly be called a musical pioneer," Gregg Thurlbeck asserts. "Now the Blues Hall of Fame member makes his debut on the Telarc label with the wide-ranging album Think of Me. ... There's a breadth to the arrangements on Think of Me that keeps the album feeling fresh from top to tail."

On a sad note: Blues great "Little" Milton Campbell, 71, passed away Aug. 4 in Memphis, Tennessee, following a cerebral hemorrhage stemming from a massive stroke suffered July 27. His label, Telarc International, joins his wife, Pat Campbell, in expressing their heartfelt thanks for the outpouring of support from well-wishers throughout the blues community.

Brandur Jacobsen makes jazz on the Faroe Islands that, like others from the Tutl label, is somewhat "more eclectic and varied sounding than most American jazz," Dave Howell explains. A Wizard's Journey, he says, "is not straight-ahead jazz; for example, it mixes in influences from electronica and folk music. The title would make this seem like one of those 'inspired by The Lord of the Rings' recordings, but there is too much jazz for that."

Ta Kavourakia gets into the Greek tradition with this self-titled CD. "I recommend this effort to all fans of Rembetika, and to any who would like to experience the form for the first time," says Gilbert Head. "Because it is self-produced, the digital sound is not overly engineered, but the resultant music retains a certain freshness one could easily associate with a Saturday night session at an (unusually quiet) ouzo bar."

Nick Pynn supplies the unexpected on Afterplanesman. "Afterplanesman is less an album than a tour of strange places, exotic landscapes grown with sound and populated with voices on the edge of familiarity," says Sarah Meador. "It's an enchanting trip, and won't use up your vacation time."

Dave Howell sifts through The Legend of Wild Man Fischer with the aid of a graphic novel/music biography by Dennis P. Eichhorn and J.R. Williams. "The authors have a genuine affection for Fischer," says Dave Howell. "They accept him and his music without intellectual meandering. It is unlikely that a scholarly biography will ever be produced, so this short book may stand as the best-written work about this remarkable individual. It is a worthy tribute."

Joseph A. Citro exposes the power of words in Cursed in New England: Stories of Damned Yankees, a follow-up to his excellent collection of New England ghost stories, Passing Strange. "Citro is a master of his craft," Tom Knapp says. "I look forward to exploring New England further with him. No one else, in my experience to date, does it better."

Arnold R. Brown attempts to lay to rest a famous mystery with Lizzie Borden: The Legend, the Truth, the Final Chapter. "Brown's arguments are really quite intriguing, and they are indeed credible -- to some degree," Daniel Jolley decides. "His tale does fit many of the facts of the case, yet in the end he has no real way to prove that he is correct. This does not mean that he has not in fact cracked the case wide open, but he has no incontrovertible proof to offer the reader to support the theory he is convinced explains everything."

Parke Godwin continues the legend in Robin & the King. "Robin & the King is less exciting than Sherwood in many respects, although it breaks new ground by taking Hood far beyond the usual bounds of his story and into the middle of events in the heart of Normandy," Tom Knapp says. "The climax is exciting and unforgettable, a fitting conclusion to Godwin's tale."

Robert Charles Wilson goes for a Spin in a story "that suddenly, without preamble, cuts the Earth off from the rest of the universe." Gregg Thurlbeck says Spin "is quite an exceptional novel. It contains enough science to satisfy hard SF fans and, thanks to Wilson's attention to characterization and his stylistic craftsmanship, it will please readers looking for a more literary read. Wilson has put it all together in one very neat and entertaining package."

Tamara Thorne sets her sights on Thunder Road, which Sarah Meador tells us "is a busy place. There's a serial killer at work, and another may be waiting on the curb. UFOs have been sighted, along with government agents who may or may not be responsible for them. Livestock have gone missing from the local shepherdess, and the town's real live cowboy is rounding up and moving out religious fanatics intent on invading the local theme park. It's a mad jumble of plots from westerns, thrillers and sci-fi dystopias."

Daniel Jolley is back with more on the life and writings of Robert A. Heinlein. "First published in 1942, Beyond This Horizon gives clear evidence of the genius and writing power that Robert Heinlein possessed -- but this early novel is definitely less than perfect," Dan says. "In the process of churning it out for publication in Astounding Stories (published under the pseudonym of Anson MacDonald), he privately confessed to editor John W. Campbell Jr. that 'it stinks.'" Read on for Dan's assessment -- and give Dan a hearty cheer for his 150th Rambles.NET review!

Dennis O'Neil flopped when he tried to write a superhero tale focusing on the lackluster Green Lantern in Hero's Quest, says T.E. (Bob) O'Sullivan. "I'm not sure what O'Neil had in mind when he started this book, but by the time it ends, you're lost -- just what happened and why is a complete mystery."

Sarah Meador never shakes My Faith in Frankie with this favorable review, despite some reservations about the coloring style. "Aside from that minor visual issue, My Faith in Frankie has everything going for it," Sarah says. "The art and story are original enough to surprise even a jaded comics fan."

Daniel Jolley enjoys a taste of Sugar & Spice -- primarily in the guise of Mena Suvari -- in this cheerleading flick designed primarily with the male viewer in mind. "Mena aside, this is just a fun and entertaining movie," Dan says. "There are some people who would call this movie lame and silly, but who cares about those overly serious people? All movies don't have to be dramatic passion plays that enrich and inform our lives."

Dan taps into The Atomic Brain (a.k.a. Monstrosity). "Let's not beat around the bush here: The Atomic Brain just isn't any good," he confides. "From the title, you might expect to see some sort of interesting, even intense, science-fiction thriller; what you get in reality is a snooze fest that you're only too happy to forget once it's over."

Tom Knapp wrote up a review of Will Smith's I, Robot, not realizing that William Kates had been there nearly a year before him. Still, Tom's opinion is drastically different from William's; check out both reviews for a comparison!

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

30 July 2005

There is real magic in enthusiasm.
It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment.
- Norman Vincent Peale

The editor is heading back into the wilds of Maine for some well-earned relaxation, so this extra-big update must serve for two weeks, instead of the usual one. Now, don't go 'way mad! We don't take many breaks, but every now and again the need is fierce and must be heeded. So please, enjoy this bonus-sized edition and we'll see you again with even more reviews in 14 days. Cheers!

A note from the editor: While on this much-needed holiday, my lovely wife Katey and I will mark our first year of marriage. Allow me to abuse my editorial privileges slightly by saying that this marriage was the best decision I've ever made, and I've never regretted joining my life to the lives of my wife and her two children. May everyone find so much happiness!

Charlie Zahm is singing Among the Heather. "Zahm is a big man with a powerful and expressive singing voice. Listening to him sing Scottish and Irish music is like a deep draught of a thick, heady stout, rich in taste and body," Tom Knapp says. "His latest recording, Among the Heather, is more like a luxurious dram of Irish cream -- smooth and sweet, yet intoxicating all the same."

Smithfield Fair withstands the Winds of Time on its latest recording of "simple, acoustic folk music," says Kaitlin Hahn. "Their voices are clear and the instrumentals are uncomplicated. There is no fancy electronic work involved -- just strong, smooth ballads, all of which are original Smithfield Fair compositions."

The Irish Descendants "are one of Canada's premier traditional groups," Jean Price notes, and The Best ... So Far, So Good collects a great deal of material from the Newfoundland band's recorded history. "Featuring tracks from their five albums, released between 1991 and '98, the 19 selections do justice to the skill and diversity of styles the group is capable of," she says. "The strong male vocals, fantastic fiddling, beautiful guitar and whistle accompaniment and excellent percussion make each song wonderful to hear."

Steve Schuch provides both the fun and the learning on Trees of Life: Songs of Friendship & the Earth. "Schuch has fulfilled his mandate of providing quality educational music for children," says Jean. "The ballads are beautifully sung and the faster songs are all songs that children will love to sing or listen to, while the songs will not grate on adults' nerves. Many grown-ups will also enjoy much of the album. Used properly, it will be a hit and provide a variety of fun and educational opportunities."

John Minton is Going Back to Vicksburg with his latest recording. "He sings in a voice that, depending on how you hear it, is either spooky or merely whispery," Jerome Clark says. "It is certainly sweeter than one expects to hear from a rooted modern folksinger. Actually, it wouldn't be out of place in '70s California country-rock bands (and their modern-day Americana equivalents such as Railroad Earth), and that is a sound I have always found easy to resist. ... Still, two or three listenings into Going Back to Vicksburg, I fell under its spell."

Tori Amos is hard to pin down on Boys for Pele. "It is very difficult to write a review for this album," Daniel Jolley concedes. "It is so dark, mysterious and complicated that I can't pretend to understand all of the songs, but I have no problem hailing it as an original work of musical genius. Tori Amos opens up her heart in so many ways that you can gain new insights each time you listen."

Nicky Rossiter says Pierre's Plastic Dreams "is a piece of pop history, an artifact of a time past and a great listen. In essence, it is a compilation of the original garage music but, unlike the latter examples of the genre, these songs were originally recorded in 1966 and 1967 by a number of groups featuring the common factor of Pierre Tubbs."

Leon Redbone shifts from Red to Blue on this recent reissue from Rounder, which Gilbert Head calls "a sterling set of some of Redbone's finest work. ... If you're a fan, you doubtless already have this, but if you're not, listening to this fine disc could easily change your thinking."

The Kathy Kallick Band is into a Warmer Kind of Blue. "Over the course of a 30-year recording career, veteran Bay-area musician Kathy Kallick has explored a variety of rooted styles but always manages to find her way back to bluegrass," says Jerome Clark. "She's a pro -- an appealing singer, a polished songwriter -- and the only unexpected news would be if she put out something unworthy of her gifts. The news here is that there's no news, except that she's home once more. Well, yes, of course it's pleasurable listening. You thought it could be otherwise?"

Josh Williams is on a Lonesome Highway with this new CD. Paulette Isaacs said the disc "is a refreshing mix of traditional bluegrass with a touch of the more contemporary sounds coming out of the younger generation of pickers. Josh's song picks give the listener a sample of what great bluegrass is all about -- good, clean, solid picking and singing."

Jim Lauderdale is Headed for the Hills. "The recording is enjoyable except for the chronic flatness of Lauderdale's singing, which also tends to sound whiny," says Paulette. "I recommend it for the songs -- penned with Grateful Dead songwriter Robert Hunter -- and the musicianship of the guests."

Al Gromer Khan and Emin Corrado share Tantra Electronica with a disc that promises a higher level of consciousness and a tie-in with tantric sex. "I don't think this CD will either raise your consciousness or raise, well you know," Dave Howell reveals. "This bliss CD could put you in a mellow mood, however."

Richard Wilbur "is perhaps the most accessible of the major 20th-century American poets," Chet Williamson opines, "and this collection of nearly all of his verse is a thick volume that deserves its inch and a half on every poetry reader's most frequented bookcase. ... Wilbur's Collected Poems: 1943-2004 is a treasure chest of the finest verse the past century has offered."

Salvatore T. Bruno explores the philosophy of doing business in Middle Ages with Templar Organization: The Management of Warrior Monasticism. "This book is recommended to those interested in the Templars and the Crusades," says Benet Exton. "It is also recommended to those who are interested in medieval economics. It meets its goal of providing the readers with knowledge of their organization."

Philip Sugden reveals The Complete History of Jack the Ripper. "Having read several books on Jack the Ripper, I can enthusiastically declare Philip Sugden's volume the best of the lot," Daniel Jolley claims. "Sugden is very determined to dispel a number of myths that have wrongly influenced Ripperology for many years, and his contribution toward this end is the most important contribution he makes."

Randy Russell and Janet Barnett share some Mountain Ghost Stories & Curious Tales of Western North Carolina. "Frankly, I was somewhat disappointed by this book," Daniel Jolley says. "I picked it up because I am interested in ghosts and because I live just east of the foothills in western North Carolina. I had also enjoyed reading the authors' book Ghost Dogs of the South. But, despite the title of this book, the vast majority of the stories collected here have nothing to do with ghosts, and no story deals with a traditional type of haunting."

J.K. Rowling's latest installment, Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince, has got to be one of the most anticipated novels of 2005. "The ending may well leave you in tears; you may not even feel like the same person after you finish it," says Daniel Jolley. "I don't consider Book 6 quite as strong as Book 5, but, at the same time, I think it proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that J.K. Rowling is the best writer of our generation."

Lucius Shepard spends time in the Liar's House in this new, dragon-based fantasy from Subterranean Press. "Liar's House reads a bit like the middle book of a trilogy, a story not so much compelling in its own right, but one that covers territory essential to getting the reader into position for the important events of the concluding chapter," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "I'm sure Shepard has more dragon stories up his sleeve and that these will be more dynamic, though perhaps more traditional, than Liar's House. This time out, however, the story is rather less than readers will be used to from such a highly skilled and inventive writer."

Chris Genoa's novel Foop! "features a blind hog-tying monkey, a levitating guru named Ba Hubba Tree Bob, a mad Bingo devotee and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by a tour guide named Joe. And that's not even the funny part," says Sarah Meador. "Hilarious, sad and intriguing to the core, Foop! may be too good for our own time; my own copy keeps vanishing to parts and borrowers unknown. Grab a copy for yourself, and keep an eye on it. It's livelier than you'd expect."

Brian Keene takes us on a tour of the City of the Dead, and it's the sort of thing that Keene fans die for. "This is a very linear story filled with often brutal violence and gore that we've all come to expect (and even to love)," says Bob O'Sullivan. "Some novel twists abound in the book and you get what you pay for -- Action! Action! Action!"

Matthew Pearl invents a literary mystery set in 1865 Boston with The Dante Club. New Rambles.NET reviewer Gregg Winkler likens the novel to "Alan Moore's graphic novel League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets the film Se7en." He adds, "Pearl, a very educated man, does an excellent job of incorporating true American history ..., many allusions to Dante's Inferno and plenty of gruesome detail to color the pages."

Celia Rees digs deeply into the 17th-century Puritan mindset in Witch Child, set in a town in the remote Massachusetts wilderness. "Written loosely in the form of a girl's journal, Witch Child demonstrates the author's gift for historical fiction," Tom Knapp says. "In many ways reminiscent of Elizabeth George Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond, this book has the added spice of revolving around an actual witch."

David Sedaris collects a variety of short stories for charity in Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules. Katey Knapp says the volume includes "17 short stories of life, featuring humanity at its grittiest, funniest, most appallingly bad-mannered and deadly. ... Of course, what I really want is a new book written entirely by Sedaris, but peeking into what makes his imagination fire is a pretty neat thing to do in the meantime."

A visionary in the field of science fiction, Robert A. Heinlein no doubt felt like a Stranger in a Strange Land. "Reviewing Stranger in a Strange Land is quite a challenge," Daniel Jolley admits. "Is it the best science fiction novel ever published? I would say yes. Is it my favorite? No; it's not even my favorite Heinlein novel. To add a little more irony to the pot, Heinlein himself insisted that the book is not really science fiction to begin with." For further analysis, read Dan's complete review!

The late, great Samuel Clemens goes under the glass in Graphic Classics: Mark Twain. It should be a great read, Sarah Meador believes. "But the majority of Graphic Classics: Mark Twain is just another highlight collection of Twain tales, with fewer stories and more illustrations than most. Twain's prose never disappoints, but many of the chosen illustrators do."

Tom Knapp takes a look at the World's Finest in this book bringing Batman and Superman together in action. "The biggest strength of this book is the art, which casts Metropolis and Gotham in very different lights," Tom says. "Superman's city is bright, shiny and clean, a place for dazzling sunrises and sunny afternoons. Gotham, on the other hand, is dark, dirty and mean, dominated by sunsets and midnight forays into ruined buildings and alleyways."

Tom Knapp had high hopes when he sat down in the theater for Batman Begins. Did the new reboot of the Batman franchise meet expectations? "For the first time, we are able to understand how the Batman persona helps to create fear among criminals," Tom reports. "This is not just some guy in fancy blue tights or form-fitting rubber; this is a vigilante who works best in darkness, and filmmakers rely on the unseen as much as the seen to make their point."

Tom also paid a visit to the Fantastic Four. "I went into Fantastic Four with purposefully low expectations, which allowed me to be pleasantly surprised," he says. "Now, with the characters in place and their powers revealed, the team is poised for a more action-packed sequel, and I hope to see this cast return to do the job."

Daniel Jolley dabbles in The Craft -- but that doesn't mean basketweaving! "The plot seems to have a few potholes in the road, the acting varies in quality from time to time, and what the special effects lack in realism they make up for in sheer volume," he says, "but The Craft has a mysterious dark charm about it that makes it a worthwhile movie experience."

Dan flashes back to 1983 with V. "This really was a landmark event in television and science fiction; if my memory serves me, this was actually one of television's very first miniseries and did much to lay the groundwork for future successes in the genre," he says. "V no longer packs quite the punch it did in 1983, especially in terms of special effects, but its classic status does nothing to lessen its impact."

In a new commentary in our Ramblings section, Tom Knapp voices his dismay over an unfortunate site on the Internet promoting Columbine Paintball. Take a look but be warned, it isn't pretty.

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

23 July 2005

Peculiar things, people. ... Dead certain they know what they need.
Dead wrong, more often than not.
- John Ney Rieber

Storms, swimming and sweltering heat are the main things on my mind right now. Oh, and today's update, which is loaded with summery goodness!

Happy birthday, Pop!

Johnny Connolly shows what the melodeon can do on An Mileoidean Scaoilte, on which he joins forces with Charlie Lennon for a strictly traditional sound. Kaitlin Hahn recommends the album for "dancers or musicians who would like to learn more tunes. ... His playing sounds very free and easy, and he is someone that other melodeon players should listen to and learn from."

Footloose proves fancy free on Everdance, a homage to waltzes and musettes. The focus, says Sarah Meador, "allows the players to explore the nuances of the form, rather than adjusting to a new style for each track, and the result is a surprisingly diverse album. ... Though devoted to music some might consider old-fashioned, Everdance is instantly accessible and always charming."

Lehto & Wright play A Game of Chess along with their Celtic-inflected folk-rock. "This album is not for traditionalists, as Lehto and Wright have definitely pushed a few boundaries," Jean Price concludes. "They never push too far, though, as the music does remain firmly rooted in the folk tradition. It is this ability to walk a very fine line and create great music while they are at it that make A Game of Chess such a great album."

The Woods Tea Company can offer Standing Room Only at this 2003 performance. "This four-man band from Vermont has a light, easy and free approach to music. They blend folk standards with original work, salting the mix with a heavy dose of Celtic and old-time influences," Tom Knapp says. "The resulting CD is a pleasant evening's entertainment, a gig in good company that encourages singing along."

Judith Owen is celebrating Christmas in July, and C. Nathan Coyle has gotten his first present under the tree. "Owen shows right off the bat that Christmas in July isn't a typical holiday album," Nathan says. "Sure, there are some traditional Christmas carols and hymns, but they don't quite sound like one would expect. (This is a good thing.) Owen infuses energy, vitality and innovation into previously/seemingly tired holiday songs."

Kevin Ayers & the Wizards of Twiddly desire to Turn the Lights Down for this live recording. "This is one of the most authentic live recordings that I have experienced in a long time," Nicky Rossiter says. "It does not have that high-tech editing feel, where perfection of production was paramount. This sounds to me like a 'warts and all' live record of an actual performance by Kevin Ayers & the Wizards of Twiddly, and I feel that I am there."

Marie Roche "writes and sings songs from her heart and mind" in a Roomfull of Noise, Nicky says. "She prides herself on the fact that these recordings are laid down without high-tech tweaks, electronic wizardry or multiple edits. What you hear is a writer who loves to express herself in music and has the voice and courage to do it."

Bill Garrett and Sue Lothrop put on their Red Shoes for a quiet evening of folk. "Based in Montreal, the two perform in an only modestly updated version of the style pioneered by Canada's most celebrated folk duo, Ian & Sylvia," says Jerome Clark. "This is an enjoyable album by a couple of people who know what they're about. What they're about is creating a music that's sort of the aural equivalent of a comfortable old shoe. In other words, not fancy, but the fit is hard to beat."

Dick Kimmel & Co. promote their brand of Lutheran gospel bluegrass on My Lord Keeps a Record. "The band's sound is charmingly low-key and unfailingly melodic as it takes on a nicely chosen assortment of famous and not-so-famous sacred tunes," says Jerome. "Kimmel's craggy tenor is a wonderfully expressive communicating instrument."

Old Crow Medicine Show stretches the boundaries of bluegrass on this self-titled CD. "They certainly have the sound that some new listeners to bluegrass are looking for, one that pushes on to what one would call 'in your face' because of the high-energy instrumentation and vocals," says Paulette Isaacs.

John Reischman & the Jaybirds supply a Field Guide to bluegrass with this Juno-nominated CD. "This is not the kind of music I normally listen to and I have a lot to learn about the genre," Jean Lewis admits, "but even to my hesitant ear it's clear this is a class act well worth further investigation."

Bob Zander "takes the unusual step of making a jazz album with world music flavor, featuring the kalimba, or African thumb piano," on Skyline to the Sea, Dave Howell reports. "This unusual CD may not be to everyone's taste, although it should not sound strange to those used to hearing nu-jazz and broken-beat jazz. Zander's kalimba is a superior replacement to the programmed beats in this style, being more original and less mechanical (and less irritating)."

Darlene Ahuna builds a Bridge Between Generations for Hawaiian music lovers. "It is exquisite and perfect, just one glorious song after another, sung mostly in the Hawaiian language," Jerome Clark says. "It is truly real and alluring, the beauty of Darlene Ahuna's music. If I'm really lucky, I'll hear a more beautiful record this year, but I'm not counting on it."

John Williams doesn't do his best work on The Terminal soundtrack, C. Nathan Coyle opines. "It's almost as if Williams had a bunch of nice, pleasant tunes and just bunched them together," he says. "Each piece is well done, but a good, solid soundtrack requires that each piece contribute to a cohesive whole. It all needs to add up."

Douglas Edward Leach gets colonial with Roots of Conflict: British Armed Forces & Colonial Americans, 1677-1763. "Roots of Conflict is an eye-opening study of the relations between colonial Americans and British regular troops and Royal Navy seamen in the century preceding the flashpoint of the American Revolution," says Daniel Jolley. "The relatively unknown history revealed in these pages is both fascinating and disturbing."

Ed and Lorraine Warren supply the stories for Graveyard: True Hauntings from an Old New England Cemetery (with the assistance of Robert David Chase). "Almost all of these stories are interesting if not fascinating, and the centrality of cemeteries in each story makes this a somewhat unusual book of ghost tales," says Daniel. "Taken in this vein and viewed primarily in terms of entertainment, Graveyard is a successful book. If you expect more than that from the Warrens, you may be disappointed, as this book is not constructed on a solid foundation of credibility."

Parke Godwin provides a new slant on an old legend in Sherwood. "Sherwood is not a simple recitation of the legend with the dates and some names changed. Godwin has crafted an elegant, often brutal saga with twists in the telling to keep readers guessing," Tom Knapp says. "This novel smacks of history as much as fable or ballad, a plausible tale that is absorbing from start to finish."

Kenneth Oppel gets Airborn with this novel Gregg Thurlbeck calls "a Victorian period, alternate-Earth story filled with adventure, intrigue and just the right degree of romance. ... Airborn lifts itself above its shortcomings and soars, a thrilling, smart, well-written adventure that's sure to be a hit with young readers."

Charles P. Shanks is seeking A Mythical Man -- but it's not here, in his novel by that name. "The story is hackneyed and unimaginative," Frank Blair complains. "What passes for plot development is a series of convenient, contrived and predictable devices. The characters are one-dimensional and barely relate to themselves, much less each other or their environment. They tend to be a collection of stereotypes drawn in crayon on construction paper."

Craig Alan Johnson explores the ebb and flow of water in a family's life in Wave Watcher. "The chapters in this book resemble parables in that they are fairly short, but pack a powerful lesson," Ann Flynt explains. "Each chapter builds upon the last, and allows the reader to feel as if he or she is listening to the story. It is clear that Johnson put much thought into each word he wrote, and that the book truly was a labor of love. It is a wonderful book, and one that allows the reader to easily gain the rhythm of the water's song within."

Daniel Jolley says Methuselah's Children "is a critical component of Robert Heinlein's remarkably impressive body of work. Not only does it culminate the Future History series of stories, it also points the way toward a better understanding of Heinlein's later writings. Perhaps most importantly, this novel introduces us to Lazarus Long and other prominent members of the Howard family of long-timers."

C. Nathan Coyle tackles an early chapter of U.S. history in graphic form with Pacific Bound: The Adventures of Lewis & Clark. "Some of the action sequences seemed forced, as do some of the character interactions," Nathan says. "However, this graphic novel does a good job of outlining the expedition by Lewis & Clark. Regardless of its simplistic nature, Pacific Bound is a good effort and could serve children as a valid introduction to the great expedition."

Sarah Meador takes a flight with Supergirl in Archives, Vol. 2. "With the production issues that often marred the original work solved, the composition and basic artwork shine through, and the quality is sometimes astonishing," Sarah notes. "These are stories to be read with gasps, giggles and a super-suspension of disbelief."

Daniel Jolley says this horror movie took a Wrong Turn along the way. "While the movie is quite good, it just didn't manage to push any of my buttons," he says. "The overriding purpose of this film was to scare people, but I didn't find it remotely frightening in the least. It wasn't even as grisly as I expected it to be."

Daniel has a memorable brush with Jaws, Steven Spielberg's 1975 masterpiece. "This 25th anniversary DVD release only furthers and adds to the legend, tossing extra features into the waters of our consciousness like so much delectable chum," Jolley says, "and we are drawn to this aromatic feast of bloody entertainment the same way the star of this movie (which isn't Dreyfus, Scheider or Shaw) is drawn to the smell of blood and the necessity of constant feeding as it slips through the oceans of our planet and, thanks to Peter Benchley, Steven Spielberg and others, the oceans of our very thoughts and fears."

For those with a soft spot in their hearts for the original Star Trek cast, we are sad to announce the passing of James "Scotty" Doohan, the best and brightest of the Federations Corps of Starfleet Engineers. A Canadian by birth, Doohan died Wednesday morning at his Redmond, Wash., home. He was 85.

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

16 July 2005

Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man's original virtue. It is through disobedience and rebellion that progress has been made.
- Oscar Wilde

Last night's lightning storm carried only a little rain, but it put most fireworks displays to shame! Must be nature's way of wishing a slightly premature happy birthday to John!

Enoch Kent shares his Songs of Love, Lust & Loathing. "Though the name Enoch Kent did not sound immediately familiar, I had only to put the disc on the player to recognize the voice; I knew it from cuts by the Exiles that one often hears on CD retrospectives documenting the British folk revival," Jerome Clark says. "It is an unmistakably Scottish voice, full of burr, smoke and whiskey. Kent's involvement in the Scottish and English folk movement harks back to the late 1950s, making him one of its pioneers."

Al Petteway "infuses his guitar melodies with a vibrancy that brings to mind exactly what he intends: The Waters & the Wild," Jean Price says. "Capturing the varying moods of nature, the music evokes images of the great outdoors that city dwellers rarely get to see. Visions of forests, waterfalls, lakes, streams and wildlife will dance in your head when you listen to this album."

The Zomba label aims high with Ireland: The Greatest Songs Ever. "While maybe not always songs and maybe not the 'greatest ever,' these are all quality tracks by some of the most prominent Irish folk groups of the age," says Jean. "With an upbeat feel and, for the most part, a danceable edge, this is a great album to remind yourself how much fun Ireland is and how talented its musicians and songwriters are."

Joe Giltrap "is a true troubadour," Nicky Rossiter says, and he proves it again with The Mountains of Mourne. "This re-released album gives old and new listeners an exciting opportunity to relive some of our Irish traditional songs," Nicky says. "He has a knack of taking us into our history with a freshness that few can match."

Pete Muller believes there is More Than This in his music. The folk album, says C. Nathan Coyle, "has great vocals, great lyrics, great instrumental work, great arrangements, great everything. And the greatest thing about this album is that it's not an overwhelming greatness -- it's more of a comfortable greatness." Hooray for Nathan, who's written 100 reviews for Rambles.NET to date!

The Cowboy Junkies share One Soul Now with their musical fans. "They have a great ability to combine elements of rock, folk, blues and Americana roots music," says Dave Townsend. "The Cowboy Junkies are an example of a band that has consistently put out good music over the years, and One Soul Now won't disappoint you."

Bob Dylan caught Daniel Jolley's ear with Good as I Been to You. "When this album was released, I snatched it up, listened to it a few times and proceeded to forget about it for some reason. Being less of a Dylan addict at the time, the fact that this album consisted basically of folk music accompanied by impeccable acoustic guitar did not strike me as very significant, and I was slightly disappointed that these songs were all covers," Dan says. "Listening to it now, I am amazed by this album's greatness."

Mike Stevens and Raymond McLain share that Old Time Mojo. "The two, sans backing musicians, revisit at-first-sight drearily familiar titles from the bluegrass, trad-country and Southern-folk songbook," Jerome Clark explains. "Two musicians of lesser gifts could easily have embarrassed themselves and us, but these guys, who have brains, imagination and chops aplenty, do no such thing. Not even close. I'll bet they're even more entertaining in concert."

The Amazing Grace Praise Band shares its Glorious Triumph with the masses on this recording of gospel bluegrass. Paulette Isaacs calls the album "a great praise CD of wonderful black, soulful gospel music. ... The vocal work is very soulful and beautiful."

Carlos del Junco's Blues Mongrel has "some excellent tracks mixed with some that are, well, beastly," Dave Howell announces. "Blues Mongrel has terrific, imaginative instrumental tracks alternating with the ones del Junco sings on."

Geno Delafose & French Rockin' Boogie are making with the zydeco, and Everbody's Dancin'. With good reason, according to Jerome Clark. "Zydeco is first, last and always good-time dance music. It doesn't always make a successful transition to the recording studio. This one does. Zydeco is best experienced in a sweaty Louisiana dance club, but if you can't make it there, Everybody's Dancin', which will take the party to your living room, will do just fine."

Risa Duff takes along us to see Hem perform with Nerina Pallot at the Late Room in Manchester, England. "Hem is an enigmatic band that is almost impossible to define," she notes. "They are a conglomerate of folk, with new country elements fused into their own form of pop." Check out her review for details on the show!

Cassandra Eason "believes wholeheartedly in fairies. Of that, her book A Complete Guide to Faeries & Magical Beings leaves little doubt," Tom Knapp reveals. "But while a little belief -- or, at least, suspension of disbelief -- can be quite refreshing in a book on this subject, I'm not sure Eason isn't a little too credulous. In today's world, lacking any reliable scientific, personal or anecdotal evidence to prove their existence, a healthy bit of doubt is probably good for you."

Beth Scott and Michael Norman welcome us to our Haunted Heartland. "The authors do a very good job in telling the stories, giving us enough information to appreciate and understand each unique mystery while refraining from offering any conclusions of their own," says Daniel Jolley. "I was thoroughly entertained and intrigued from beginning to end."

William L. Smith makes a study of Irish Priests in the United States: A Vanishing Subculture. "Smith's book has helped to preserve for the Catholic Church the history of the Irish priests who had a great impact on the Church in America," Benet Exton reports. "The book is a bit dry and academic since it is relating the results of a sociological survey, but still there is much that can be gained from it."

Robin McKinley provides a different take on Robin Hood in The Outlaws of Sherwood. "He's not quite so dashing, charming or bold; he's a young man caught up in an unwinnable circumstance and, with the help of his friends, makes the best of it -- and helps a lot of people along the way. Heck, he's not even all that good with a bow," Tom Knapp explains. "But McKinley's take of the hero is all the more believable for those very reasons."

Tommy Tenney tells a tale thousands of years old in Hadassah: One Night with the King. The book "tells the story of Esther, the beautiful queen chosen by God to rescue her people from a bloodthirsty massacre," says Valerie Frankel. "As a Jewish novel of faith and devotion to God, family and husband, this novel outshines many weaker retellings. ... Esther's strength of character echoes into the modern day, becoming a powerful icon for Jewish women everywhere."

Anita Shreve finds treasures in Sea Glass in this novel set in New England during the Great Depression. "Shreve skillfully creates a sense of place, from the Beechers' stormtossed home to a seedy speakeasy to the stifling conditions of the local mills, while still formulating a compelling narrative," Celeste Miller relates. "The brevity of each chapter might entice the reader to blow through half the book in one sitting, but a slightly more careful reading may be necessary to notice the subtleties Shreve weaves into each character and the story."

Anne Rice's The Vampire Lestat "is not only one of the most engaging, remarkable, illuminating and important horror novels ever written, it is a beautiful work of art that stands proudly among the ranks of what I define as great literature," Daniel Jolley enthuses. "The breadth and scope of this novel is almost staggering, as is the hypnotic language in which every word and phrase is uttered."

Robert A. Heinlein continues his Future History series with a Revolt in 2100. "The bulk of the book consists of the famous novella 'If This Goes On,'" Daniel Jolley notes. "'If This Goes On' is one of Heinlein's most significant works, certainly among the Future History stories, and should not be missed by science fiction fans. Its surreal setting seems fantastic to anyone whose spoken or unspoken belief is that 'it can't happen here,' yet it provides an ever-timely warning against the dangers of extreme religious fanaticism gaining control over government."

Peter Benchley writes a dead-end adventure in White Shark. "Although packed with ideas, some adventure and many, many 10-mile-wide close calls, by the end of the book you are literally left wondering what is it you just read," says T.E. (Bob) O'Sullivan. "Not his best work."

Mary Harvey looks at DC's Big 3 as portrayed in Matt Wagner's Trinity. "Characterization is more the star of this show than pacing, plotting and action, which is a welcome break from the rather shallow portrayals of all three that seem to be such a staple of their respective monthly titles," she says. "There are a few contrivances, which are forgivable; overall, the book has the delicious feel of a return to a more enjoyable, less angst-ridden age that somehow remains very engaging and modern in its approach."

Daniel Jolley meets a new kind of superhero in Spawn. "There are a lot, and I do mean a lot, of CGI effects in this movie. Most of them are quite good, but as a whole the effects do not live up to their overhyped billing," he says. "The human side of this story is a compelling one, even though the film does not allow for the type of exposition found in the comic-book series, I am sure."

On the other hand, Dan admits a certain fondness for the much-maligned Amityville II: The Possession. "I know that many horror fans hold this movie in low regard, but I found it gritty, disturbing and genuinely scary," he says. "It's not perfect, but I think it deserves another look."

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

9 July 2005

The creative person is both more primitive and more cultivated, more destructive, a lot madder and a lot saner, than the average person.
- Frank Barron

There's always so much to deal with! This week has been a-twitter with fish and frogs, dogs, digits, deaths and disclosures, a gashed finger and a mowed lawn, filtration, pagination, reports and retorts, messes, mosses, ice cream and cream ices, alien invasions and unfortunate events, friends, family, crabs and cats and oh so much more!

Oh, and happy birthday to Bill!

Teada begs you to Give Us a Penny & Let Us Be Gone. "The five young musicians maintain a very traditional sound throughout the recording, focusing on creating solid, tuneful music based on 19th and 20th century texts and other recordings," says Jean Price. "Although the group draws heavily on the respect that fiddler Oisin Mac Diarmada commands, the overall solidness of the music they produce together gives this album something that few other predominantly instrumental groups have."

Kevin Keegan's contributions are remembered on The Music of Kevin Keegan, a celebration of the Irish button accordion. "This collection of Keegan's performances is a melange of home cassette and open-reel recordings, and even a couple of wire recordings," says Gilbert Head. "In short, the last thing these recordings will be mistaken for is studio work. What these performances lack in technical polish, however, they more than make up for in the obvious vitality and brio present in nearly every tune."

Bill Morrissey "is a marvelous writer and performer, composing and singing with a deceptive ease that hides a great writing talent," Nicky Rossiter opines. For evidence, he offers The Essential Collection. "His songs are sensitive (sometimes), memorable and always worth paying attention to."

Over the Rhine shares a Drunkard's Prayer with reviewer Celeste Miller. The album "was created in husband-and-wife duo Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist's Cincinnati, Ohio, living room, a familiar locale befitting of this intoxicating collection of deeply confessional, intimate songs," Celeste says. "The pared-down arrangements, featuring only acoustic guitars, piano, upright bass, a few horns and some minimal percussion, allow Bergquist to showcase her vocal versatility."

Joan Coffey "has a style that ranges through folk, country and soul music," Nicky says, who adds that her love of live performances is evident even on a studio-produced album such as Everybody Needs One. "And, as with all the best singers, her performance comes from the heart."

Tori Amos brings spring to Daniel Jolley's heart -- with Winter. "This CD single is truly incredible," he says. "Most artists would give their teeth to record five songs this good over their entire careers."

Mike Strasser has a cup in the Alienation Cafe. "Strasser's voice seems so sad and somber. It's not a bad kind of sad, but it has an underlying sense of longing, with a touch of inherent experience," says C. Nathan Coyle. "His voice almost seems out of time, as if it were lifted from the early 20th-century Carter family recordings. And to top it off, he combines his somber vocals with pensive lyrics to really push your mind, your ears and your eyes towards the surrounding social-political world."

Rustie Blue plays the kind of country that Jerome Clark enjoys on her new album, Chip Chip. "Blue, who indisputably is, doesn't have to pretend to be a country girl, though in prosaic otherwise she is a grown woman past the age when stardom in Nashville, with its dismal youth obsession, looms as a realistic career prospect," Jerome says. "But she is damn good, and I'll bet that she's one fireball of a live entertainer. If you like it country, that's what you get, and in all the spades you'd want in that -- to steal the title of an old country song -- deck of cards."

A collection of country and honkytonk veterans pay their respects with Touch My Heart: A Tribute to Johnny Paycheck. "To a degree that almost sets him in a category of his own, he lived the music -- fueling his days with excesses of liquor, cocaine, sex and other craziness, punctuated by periods of homeless wandering and of incarceration in various prisons," says Jerome. "A tragic and even (at times) frightening figure, Paycheck ... was a screwed-up human being whose one saving grace was his musical gift, albeit a nearly squandered one."

Chris Cotton "sounds about a hundred years old, but always in the way you want somebody to sound a hundred years old," Jerome proclaims. "I Watched the Devil Die will end up deservedly on many, maybe most, perhaps just about all, best-blues-recordings-of-2005 lists."

Shunsuke Mizuno celebrates the Slow Time, blending jazz with "the unrushed, flowing feel of Japanese classical music," Dave Howell explains. "This meditative CD, entirely acoustic, is a fine bridge between jazz and traditional Asian music."

Kazu Matsui rides The Stone Monkey with this new album. "Matsui may be the best-known shakuhachi flautist in the United States," says Dave. "Those who wish to hear a shakuhachi (traditional Japanese bamboo) flute CD will be disappointed by The Stone Monkey, however. This is a fusion CD, straying farther from tradition than his previous Narada release, Bamboo. That being said, it is an above average electronica release."

Randy Russell and Janet Barnet have a kibble to share with their Ghost Dogs. "This is such a wonderful book, it is just precious (a word I rarely use)," says Daniel Jolley. "Ghost lovers, dog lovers, folktale lovers -- this is your book. The stories are wonderfully tongue-in-cheek, folksy tales that capture much of the oral traditions from whence they assuredly came."

Diana & Michael Preston detail the adventures of William Dampier, A Pirate of Exquisite Mind. "For a man whose writing had (and continues to have) so much influence on so many others, it is surprising that Dampier is largely forgotten," John Lindermuth says. "The Prestons searched out manuscripts in the British Library and moldering papers in various record offices, then went one better than many biographers, actually visiting the many places his path took him around the world."

Steven E. Woodworth and Kenneth J. Winkle have prepared the Atlas of the Civil War for history buffs. Benet Exton is impressed with the volume's readibility and the thoroughness of its maps and illustrations, and compares it favorably to the classic Official Military Atlas of the Civil War, first published in 1891.

Tom Wright holds forth on The Original Jesus: The Life & Vision of a Revolutionary. "Wright tries to 'take you there' to see Jesus as he was 2,000 years ago," Daniel Jolley says. "It is a short and seemingly uncomplicated book, filled with a number of illustrations of Jesus in the Holy Land, yet it does succeed surprisingly well in its aims."

C.J. Cherryh begins Destroyer with a surprise that hooked Jean Marchand right into the plot. "High drama is what we expect of Cherryh's writing," she says. "It was early in the morning when I finished reading Destroyer. The next day, I reread the second half to savor again the conversations and settings. I then read between the lines for the clues that point to the content of the next book, which can't come too soon."

Marion Zimmer Bradley and Deborah J. Ross conclude The Clingfire Trilogy with A Flame in Hali. "Ross began working on The Clingfire Trilogy with Bradley before the latter's death in 1999, and she has stayed true to Bradley's vision of Darkover," Laurie Thayer says. "A Flame in Hali is an extremely satisfying conclusion to The Clingfire Trilogy, with a deep message that could, perhaps, be applied to our own world."

Daniel Jolley continues his look at the works of Robert A. Heinlein. "There have been many science-fiction novels written about time travel, but The Door into Summer is my pick for the greatest among them. It comes remarkably close to conveying the very theory of the subject in layman's terms," he says. "I'm not saying Heinlein's arguments are correct, but they darn near make sense."

Alan Grant addresses the Justice League of America in The Stone King, a graphic novel without the graphic part. "The Stone King is the first in a series of books based around the Justice League of America, and if the rest are as fast, powerful and confused as the first, they should all prove to be a quick fix for fans of DC's top superhero team," says T.E. (Bob) O'Sullivan. "It's all a heady, rich mix that will leave you both bored and breathless all at once."

C. Nathan Coyle takes a visual tour of O. Henry's works in this new, graphic adaptation. "Graphic Classics proves that the graphic novel can take existing material and re-present it as if it's new," Nathan says. "The versatility of illustrators, mixed with the myriad methods of re-telling the source material, offer an engaging visual exploration of O. Henry's short stories."

Tom Knapp spends a few busy hours with Nightwing in Love & Bullets. "Dick Grayson went from sidekick to star when he became Nightwing," Tom says, "and Chuck Dixon's run on the book is a big reason for the series' success."

Tom Knapp is witness to a War of the Worlds, but comes away unimpressed by the spectacle. "Ray Ferrier, the central character, is a shallow man and a terrible father," Tom says. "He never earns my sympathy or interest, so I never care if he lives or dies. As Ferrier, Tom Cruise -- whom I've liked in several movies -- just can't pull this one off."

Daniel Jolley said this film made a Deep Impact on him. "I find myself watching Deep Impact every eight months or so for some reason," he says. "Despite a few flaws, it's really quite a good film, always moving and powerful."

Daniel stretches up into the Vanilla Sky. "I enjoyed this movie immensely," he says. "Tom Cruise proves himself to be a gifted actor, the angelic Penelope Cruz is delightful, Cameron Diaz is great, even Kurt Russell shines in his role. ... If you approach this movie with an open mind and let the story absorb you into its unique world, I do not see how you can walk away disappointed."

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

2 July 2005

The question is, why are politicians so eager to be president? What is it about the job that makes it worth revealing, on national television, that you have the ethical standards of a slime-coated piece of industrial waste?
- Dave Barry

Did you miss us while we were gone? I hope so! But don't despair, we're back now with another collection of new reviews for your enjoyment and edification. Hoopla!

It might be over-enthusiastically named, but The Greatest Irish Album ... Ever! does have its strong points, says Jean Price. "Featuring some of Ireland's biggest names in folk and traditional music, as well as some very good songs, it is definitely a good investment for Irish music lovers -- although the general public would probably find some of it a bit old-fashioned," she says. "Several songs are more in the line of adult contemporary music than folk or traditional, which makes some of it a bit less than pleasant for those looking for a quality folk/traditional collection."

The artists on the Maggie's Music label celebrate the Bard of Ireland with Carolan's Gift. (This album, previously and thoroughly reviewed in 2002, has been revived for another look through some sort of boggart-inspired clerical error.) "The sound is vibrant and full, yet has a delicate quality. The arrangements bring out the best in the performers and the music itself," says Jean. "With a variety of musicians playing a variety of instruments, the sound changes with each piece."

Mick Hanly asks you to Wish Me Well in his latest release. "I am proud to say that I heard many of the songs on this CD in an intimate live performance in a Wexford pub over a year ago," says Nicky Rossiter. "At the time I was mightily impressed, even with minimal musical backing. Presented here with lush backing and production, they are even better. The songs are intensely personal but are professionally crafted."

Peggy Seeger celebrates her 70th birthday and her 21st solo release with Love Call Me Home. "The magnificent feat here is not just the choice of material but the fact that many of the traditional songs are released in her voice for the first time," says Nicky. "Imagine 50 years and 21 albums and she is still coming up with 'new' old songs. This release is like an anthology of folk."

The Bills, formerly the Bill Hilly Band, will just Let Em Run on this new folk release. "You don't have to afford Bills your undivided attention to notice that they love what they do," Jerome Clark says. "Humor and hot (but tasteful) licks fly out of their instruments, and a joyful noise rises out of their throats and through the speakers and into your ears. If they're this exciting on record, I shudder to think what they must be like in person."

Melissa Ferrick takes a look at The Other Side of the female singer-songwriter genre. "On The Other Side, Melissa played all the instruments, as well as produced, recorded and engineered the project," says Dave Townsend. "The result is a good collection of songs, a powerful, passionate voice and some very good guitar playing. If you like the very personal singer-songwriter types, Melissa Ferrick is a good choice."

Iron & Wine counts Our Endless Numbered Days with an album Gregg Thurlbeck calls "Sam Beam's first assemblage of songs produced by someone other than himself, his first foray into a professional recording studio, his first significant move toward broader instrumentation. ... Our Endless Numbered Days is more about mood than meaning; it's evening music. So relax, dim the lights and let Iron & Wine's music wash over you."

Tom Adams and Michael Cleveland are Live at the Ragged Edge for this "nice, scaled-down performance with a guitar, banjo, fiddle and mandolin played by just the two musicians in a small, informal setting," says Paulette Isaacs. "The show has a jam-session feel to it, but with every bit of the stunning musicianship bluegrass lovers have come to expect from these two."

Reckless Kelly travels a Wicked Twisted Road with this "album of contrasts that works on all fronts," says Nicky Rossiter. "This is a great release from a band with lots to say and sing."

Paul Rishell and Annie Raines are Goin' Home with an album that shows this blues duo "in stratospheric form," Jerome Clark proclaims. "I like everything they've recorded so far (this is their third as a duo), but this one somehow, however improbably, manages to surpass the previous two."

Mercan Dede fuses jazz and Turkish Sufism on Su. "His compositions are quite listenable to Westerners unfamiliar with Turkish music," says Dave Howell. "But the sound and feel of the Middle East is here, with the use of Western and Eastern acoustic instruments."

Tara Fuki, a duo from the Czech Republic, is up next with Kapka. "The sound on Kapka is very full, and at times the layers can almost overwhelm the listener," warns Paul de Bruijn. "Tara Fuki have blended old with new on this CD, and the different parts fit well together."

Cybertribe carries its new-age sound through Eons of Dignity. "Anchored by digeridoo, Eons explores the worldbeat idiom and provides soothing but not boring auditory entertainment," says Philip Fairbanks. "However, if you're not into eight-minute-long songs based on repetition of a single motif, then this one is not for you."

C. Nathan Coyle takes a spin on the ice with Walt Disney's Ice Princess soundtrack. "A soundtrack packed with female recording artists isn't a bad idea, per se, but in the case of this album it becomes hopelessly formulaic," he says.

Trina Robbins celebrates the lives of strong Irish women in Wild Irish Roses. "Whether lusty or greedy, passionate or political, scholarly or savage, these are women with a positive, independent outlook on the world around them," Tom Knapp says. "Robbins has compiled an enoyable collection of Irish history, lore and mini-biographies that will delight those with an interest in Ireland's past as well as the bold strides women have made to seize their place in the world."

C.S. Forester is still Hunting the Bismarck in this "exciting story of a pivotal World War II naval battle," Daniel Jolley reports. "Hunting the Bismarck strikes me as an excellent resource for young readers; it richly portrays the mystery, majesty and glory of this naval battle without burdening the reader with the technical descriptions and ponderous musings of academic history."

David Moats explores a political hot-topic in Civil Wars: A Battle for Gay Marriage. "Moats has found the drama in what might seem the dull processes of the legislature and crafted from it a gripping chapter in the story of America's ongoing search for equality for all," says Robert Tilendis. "It is a deeply moving group portrait of Americans making democracy work, reading like a political thriller, with strongly drawn examples of courage, meanness, arrogance and humility. It was almost impossible to put this book down."

Pat Carey describes the perils of Growing up Irish Catholic & Surviving My Mom's 11 Sisters. "Readers may fall out of their chairs more than once from laughing so hard -- so don't disturb the neighbors!" Benet Exton says. "These are true stories of Carey and his family, but they also give a glimpse into Irish-American life near Boston."

Ursula K. Le Guin shares her Gifts again with this new young-adult fantasy. "It's always a pleasure to read a master at the height of her powers," says Tracie Vida. "To say this phrase about Ursula Le Guin's newest book is a bit misleading, as she never seems to peak. Like a magical wine from one of her worlds, Le Guin's writing improves with every year, gaining power and ethical intelligence without ever turning sour."

N. Lee Wood may be Master of None, but his new novel certainly impressed Laurie Thayer. "Master of None is an amazing novel," she says. "The society of Vanar is so vividly portrayed that one can smell the dust of the streets, see the colorful silks of the women and feel Nathan Crewe's confusion and frustration. It is thought-provoking while still being entertaining, a difficult balance to maintain. Long after finishing the novel, I continued to ponder the society, its history and its future."

M.M. Buckner forms a Neurolink in our over-populated and dangerously polluted future world. "Good science fiction often has something interesting to say about how people might overcome or adapt to the outcomes of undesirable trends," says Ron Bierman. "Alas, Neurolink doesn't and is further undermined by an implausible plot and unrealistic characters."

Irene Radford delivers engaging fantasy in The Stargods #2: The Dragon Circle, Daniel Jolley reports. "Past, present and future all seem to be in collision; much remains to be done, and many questions remain to be answered," Dan says. "I for one eagerly await the third novel in The Stargods series."

Robert A. Heinlein "was writing great science fiction before a lot of people even knew what it was," Daniel says. "The Green Hills of Earth features 10 early short stories from the 1940s; all of these stories are set in outer space, but these are more sociological and entertaining than technical in the way of hard science fiction."

Mark Allen takes a look at a comic-book homage by writer Alan Moore called Supreme: The Story of the Year. "Moore, known for breathing freshness and new-found originality into old properties, takes readers for an interesting ride with a character that, on the surface, is nothing more than a Superman knock-off," Mark says. "This volume will entertain not just Supreme fans, but perhaps even those who haven't picked up a comic for a couple of decades."

Tom Knapp jumps back more than a decade for Batman: Prey. "Prey is another strong entry in the Batman mythos," Tom says. "It is both analytical and action-packed, a psychological thriller with style, flash and even a little bit of cheesecake on the side."

Is it true, Daniel Jolley has Never Been Kissed? None of your business! But it is true Dan enjoys the film of that title, starring Drew Barrymore. "To be honest, this rather formulaic movie with its stereotypical depiction of high school society could have been a forgettable, disappointing experience had it starred someone without Drew's immense acting ability and natural charm," he explains. "For that reason, I never tire of watching this funny, heartwarming film."

Nicole Kidman is the Birthday Girl in a film that, to Daniel's mind, proves her "the greatest actress of our generation (at least until Jodie Foster makes a comeback). ... This film is really about people and emotions and the uncanny ability for love to blossom in even the harshest of conditions. Even if you don't like the story, you can't help but be impressed by the performances, especially that of Kidman."

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

18 June 2005

I base my fashion taste on what doesn't itch.
- Gilda Radner

The editor and his family are taking a short break in the backwoods of Massachusetts and Maine, so there will be no edition of Rambles.NET on June 25. We will resume our weekly updates on Saturday, July 2. Meantime, enjoy these new reviews as well as the nearly 8,000 reviews in our archives. Cheers!

Marcille Wallis celebrates A Celtic Heritage with this recording. "The dulcimer is probably not the first instrument that comes to mind when thinking of traditional instrumental Celtic music," says Jean Price, who today marks her 50th Rambles.NET review. "This misconception might lead people to dismiss this album out of hand, and that would be their great loss. Marcille Wallis plays the hammered dulcimer beautifully, and manages to be both innovative and conservative at the same time. Her music occasionally has a medieval sound, but is always lovely and often lively."

Michael Rooney and June McCormack combine efforts on Draiocht. "This album is a treat," says Jean. "The range and variety on the album, added to the fantastic quality of the musicianship, make this a recording that will make repeated trips to your CD player."

Aryeh Frankfurter dips into an ancient tradition with Celtic Harp: The Morning Dew. "Frankfurter is not only a wonderful harp player, but an inspired arranger," Jean decides. "He breathes new life into some old tunes and introduces plenty more that few people will have encountered before. This album is a great addition to the collection of any Celtic music lover."

Maggie Sansone is back with more Celtic excellence. "Mystic Dance: A Celtic Celebration is a beautiful collection of tunes performed with a hammered dulcimer, cello, fiddle, bass clarinet, flute, piccolo, shakers, hand drums, Celtic harp, accordion, guitar, Persian santur, clarinet, pipes ... and the list goes on," says Paulette Isaacs. "The tunes are very spirited and energetic, which makes this CD one of the best Celtic recordings I have heard in a while."

Rachael Sage paints a broad spectrum of singer-songwriter folk with Ballads & Burlesque, Tracie Vida says. "The music is beautiful, of course, but that's not the source of Ballads & Burlesque's hypnotic pull. Sage's unique style -- Lillith-Fair sensibilities, water-painted with jazz, gospel and pop -- isn't the main draw, either. ... Sage moves beyond those countries and into the land of the gifted with one dizzying talent."

The band is Irish but the music is Cajun/bluegrass on The Very Best of Two Time Polka, Nicky Rossiter says. "One of the joys of this album is the realization that, while so much of Ireland's music has been traveling east and west to get new treatments by singers from other lands and cultures, we have here a showcase of the opposite migration," he says. "Ireland can take the music of these lands and give it a new intonation and enthusiasm that brings it to wider audiences."

Free Range Pickin' serves up its sophomore class of new bluegrass music on this self-titled CD. Paulette Isaacs says this "great-sounding project ... is recommended for a majority of original music (which is rare these days) and the band's use of a 6-foot chicken as its mascot."

Chris Whitley "reaches deep back into the Delta, to the roots of the tradition," on War Crime Blues, according to Philip Fairbanks. "If you're a fan of Whitley's early work, you'll not be let down, but if you're unfamiliar with the artist and a fan of good blues, then War Crime Blues is definitely worth a spin."

The collected archives of folkologist Alan Lomax continue to impress us today, and that's certainly the case with The Spanish Recordings - Basque Country: Navarre, another in a series of recent re-releases. "If you are not used to the instrumentation, this music is challenging to western ears, but I encourage you to give the material time to work its magic on you," says Gilbert Head. "Those willing to do so will be surprised by the subtlety and nuance waiting for the patient listener. Lomax and company have given us yet another gift of music."

Risa Duff joins the staff and, as a special "hello" treat, invites us along to see Nerina Pallot in concert at the Late Room in Manchester, England. "The lovely acoustics of the Late Room were ideal in enhancing Nerina's dulcet tones, and her guitar playing and piano were in top form," Risa says.

Michael Scott reveals the fate of The Last of the Fianna in this Irish hero tale for young readers. "Written in easy language for young readers to understand and neatly illustrated by Gary Ward, the book remains a tiny treasure of Irish lore," Tom says.

Editors Maxim Jakubowski and Nathan Braund compile a diverse range of theories in The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper. "This is an excellent introduction to Ripperology for the uninitiated; likewise, it is very useful for someone, like myself, who has read about Jack the Ripper fairly extensively in the past and just needed a good brush-up," Daniel Jolley reports. "The background information provided by the editors is quite objective and fact-oriented, which is a rare find in books on this subject."

Deanne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook explode a few gender expectations with They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War. "There is much of interest in these pages: the means by which women soldiers managed to keep their real identities a secret, accounts of women in battle and the ranks several women attained as a result of their bravery and skill, stories of discovery and reenlistment, accounts of women captives in the worst of the prison camps, reports of children born on the front lines, information on the lives of several of these individuals in the years and decades following the war, etc.," says Dan. "Numerous anecdotes are as informative as they are extraordinary."

Leith Anderson gets theological with Jesus: An Intimate Portrait of the Man, His Land & His People. "His knowledge of the era in question blends with his very obvious commitment to the man and his story to produce a tour de force of over 350 pages of facts, insights and entertaining reading," says Nicky Rossiter. "This is a wonderful book in the literal sense that it is filled with wonders."

Spider Robinson is best known for his science fiction, but he also shares his thoughts on other topics in The Crazy Years: Reflections from a Science Fiction Original. "Robinson can actually be located somewhere on a continuum between bloggers and journalists," says Robert Tilendis. "Unlike many bloggers, Robinson's only ideology seems to be common sense."

Elizabeth E. and Thomas F. Monteleone compile a selection of short stories in From the Borderlands: Stories of Terror & Madness. "Some of these stories are better than others, but piled together they soon become numbing. Worse, they become predictable," Sarah Meador states firmly. "It allows itself too many variations on a theme of madness and one too many child molesters for the sake of good taste or suspense. But wedged in among the ranting madmen are some hauntingly lucid tales and disturbing picture postcards brought back From the Borderlands."

Mick Farren digs into the Underland for a story involving Nazis, vampires and flying saucers. "Underland has some good ideas, some solid writing, but takes too long to get to an end that's over too fast for it have any meaning," says new Rambles.NET reviewer T.E. (Bob) O'Sullivan. "For fans of the series, it's a disappointment, but for first-time readers it's a puzzle that will leave you wanting to jump back to book one and see just where this all began."

Steven Brust's Agyar has been reprinted for a new generation, and Robert Tilendis is glad to see this dark fantasy classic back on the shelves. "This may very well be one of Brust's best books," Robert says. "It's not a comforting book, by any means; it's serious enough that his trademark insouciance would be out of place, and both the development of the story and its resolution are outside the canon of comfort. It's a very "literary" novel, proving once more that literature is literature, and all genres are subject to the same standards."

John Zaiss offers A Dedication in his first novel, and Melissa Kowalewski says it's "a masterful one. ... I put this book down feeling inspired and having red eyes because I cried so much during the last few chapters. This is definitely a novel that everyone should try."

Robert A. Heinlein tackles lunar issues well before his time with The Man Who Sold the Moon. "Certainly, most of the scientific ideas Heinlein espouses here are obviously dated and untenable, but that really doesn't matter to me," Daniel Jolley says. "The excitement over the idea of leaving the confines of Earth and traveling to the moon and planets is downright infectious and stimulating. Mankind set foot on the moon a year before I was born, but Heinlein's stories really convey the passion and desire that yesterday's dreamers must have felt about an idea that was patently absurd to many people in 1950."

Tom Knapp has a hot date with Blecky Yuckerella ... but decides to leave this gross-out collection by Johnny Ryan on the trash heap. "It's crude," he says. "It's mean-spirited. And creator Johnny Ryan obviously believes the toilet (and its associated functions) to be the greatest source of humor known to man."

Ben Latimer takes flight with The Aviator in a film he ranks high on director Martin Scorcese's resume. "The Aviator sees Martin Scorsese returning to familiar ground: yet another epic tale that documents the rise, fall and perhaps ultimately the redemption of its central character," says Ben. "Such films appear to have become something of a trademark for him, with other notable examples including Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Casino and arguably even The Last Temptation of Christ. However, as with these films, The Aviator is an exceptional piece of modern cinema, and if Scorsese does apply a formula, he lets his results speak for themselves."

The aptly named sequel, Scream 2, takes us back to the heart of the horror trilogy. "As a whole, ignoring the conclusion for a moment, I judge Scream 2 to be the best film in the Scream trilogy," Daniel Jolley reports. "Of course, it is all but impossible for it to achieve the same effect on the viewer as the original Scream did because, while you may not know exactly what is coming, you can be reasonably sure that you know the form in which it will appear."

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