5 November 2005 to 31 December 2005

31 December 2005

It is never too late to be what you might have been.
- George Eliot

It's been a good year, a bad year, a happy year and a sad one, too. There have been a lot of great new experiences, much loss, and a constant renewal of life. Let's ponder the past year for a bit, the good and the bad alike, and move into 2006 with a sense of purpose, a care for the world and people around us, and a deep, abiding commitment to peace.

Malinky sheds a little light on The Unseen Hours, an album that convinces Nicky Rossiter that the Scottish band is one of the best on the scene. "This album is just the right mix of old and new to please the discerning listener," he says. "The familiar will reassure and the new material will open your eyes, ears and heart to the great songs still being written, which give folk music its heart and soul."

The English Acoustic Collective is haunted by Ghosts of a musical sort. "This means that not only must the contemporary audience be satisfied, but the ghosts of those musicians who created the music, and who passed it along to them, are watching," Robert Tilendis explains. "I don't know if the ghosts of music past are satisfied, but I was. The trio brings to their debut CD a very strong tradition of their own in research, performance, composition and teaching along with a very high degree of musicianship."

The Putumayo label does it again with A Celtic Collection. "This collection lives up to its name," Jean Price says. "The music gathered here is representative of the genre (except for the lack of any Welsh artists), but not the final word."

Shad Weathersby bites down -- Chomp Chomp -- with this "charming, lyrical, silly and utterly fun little CD" that has made an instant fan of Stephen Richmond. "All of the songs bounce and flow with magical rhythms, whimsical and not-afraid-to-be silly vocals and, best of all, no overproduction," Stephen says. "As a former children's librarian, I can see endless uses of this CD in programming, but it's lots of fun for listening at home or in the car as well, even for Mom and Dad on the 10th playing of the day."

Bob Dylan marked his return to music in 1968 with John Wesley Harding. "What I find most striking about John Wesley Harding is the fluid, organic nature of the recording as a whole; there are some fine individual songs here, but this is first and foremost a complete album expressing a unified mood and presence that towers above whatever powers lie among its individual constituents," says Daniel Jolley. "One could say this album offers a softer side of Dylan; there are no hard-edged protest songs here, just quietly philosophical tracks reflecting a calm that belies the tumultuous times in which it was borne."

Cherryholmes gets in a family way on this self-titled CD. "What matters, of course, is how brilliantly this (in both senses of the word) attractive family comes to the task at hand: making a joyous, meaningful music out of found and invented materials," says Jerome Clark. "Each family member is almost ridiculously talented in every department, as instrumentalist, vocalist, harmony singer or composer. It's almost scary to think where, this good this early, Cherryholmes goes from here."

Alastair Moock must Let It Go for this music to work, and Nicky Rossiter says it does. "Put this disc in. Turn up the volume, dim the lights and prepare to be blown away," Nicky says. "This is Americana as it should be, combining intelligent lyrics, a driving beat and marvelous music."

Greg Walker joins together Latin music with jazz for Straight from the Source 1. "Walker produces beautifully light-filled, airy music that would invoke nostalgia in many a Pat Metheny fan, whisking you back to Metheny's Brazilian era with devastating panache!" says Debbie Koritsas. "This album is brimful with beautifully lyrical tunes; the Latin rhythm provides an easy, yet strong sense of flow, allowing guitar and piano to weave in and out with melodious ease."

There's still to plenty more to come in our ongoing coverage of Cape Breton's renowned Celtic Colours festival. This week, Virginia MacIsaac relates her evening with The Beatons of Mabou in Judique. The show featured performances by Allison Beaton, Andrea Beaton, Betty Beaton, Kinnon Beaton, Patrick Gillis, Glenn Graham, Mary Graham and Rodney MacDonald.

Patricia Elliott "has created a fantasy world gone wrong" with her upcoming novel Murkmere, says Jennifer Mo. "Elliott creates a memorably dark, gothic atmosphere that is unique in its inclusion of mythology, fairy tale and legend," Jennifer says. "Her world feels as if it has both history and depth, and she has a particularly good eye for setting a scene, whether the Gormenghast-like squalor of the kitchens or the gloomy dankness of the mere. The plot, driven by the revelation of interconnected secrets, steadily builds up to a cinematic climax that is impossible to put down."

L.A. Meyer continues the saga of Jacky Faber with Curse of the Blue Tattoo. "It's hard not to smile at Jacky's unflagging good cheer, the many adventures she stumbles upon and the friends and foes she meets along the way," Tom Knapp says. "Meyer again gives readers a wonderful collection of diverse, three-dimensional and believable characters, all of whom it will be your pleasure to know."

Len Bailey seeks adventure with the Clabbernappers. Laurie Thayer says she isn't sure if the book "is an inspired masterpiece of children's literature in the tradition of Lewis Carroll or ... a bit of a dud. ... While Clabbernappers may not be a masterpiece, its lively style and action-packed story will undoubtedly appeal to the youngsters for whom it was written -- though their parents may roll their eyes a bit when reading with them."

Jane Yolen launches her Tartan Magic series with The Wizard's Map. "Her inventive imagination, precise and incisive understanding of humanity, and absolutely incredible ability to create endlessly fascinating characters and plots has never been more vital and positively organic," Stephen Richmond opines. "Fans of Yolen's other work, especially the Young Merlin trilogy, will adore this, as will her more mature admirers of her fairy story and folktale collections."

Donna Jo Napoli goes up the beanstalk with Crazy Jack. "On the surface, Crazy Jack is just a retelling of 'Jack & the Beanstalk,' with some of the extremities of the story smoothed out and a pleasant rural English atmosphere," says Jennifer Mo. "However, the subtleties of this story are incredible...."

Jayme Lynn Blaschke talks to writers and editors in Voices of Vision: Creators of Fantasy & Science Fiction Speak. "The interviews present an interesting range of information from how the editors choose to publish stories to Harlan Ellison's assertion that he doesn't actually write science fiction," says Laurie Thayer. "It is always fascinating to see how creative people think and work, what brings them inspiration, even how they deal with their fans, and these interviews cover much of that."

Robert Tilendis takes authors Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln to task for shoddy historical and spiritual research in Holy Blood, Holy Grail. "The premises of this book are several, each more paranoid than the last," he says. "I found Holy Blood, Holy Grail to be, more than anything else, annoying; it is, in fundamental ways, a dishonest book, with an approach to the material that is, quite bluntly, sensationalistic and a method of explication that is insulting."

Catwoman is the focus -- sans costume, this time -- in Selina's Big Score. "Selina's Big Score is a fun, energetic, noirish story that shows Catwoman at her larcenous best. Selina's sheer joy in the job is mirrored by Cooke's obvious joy in writing the character, and it combines for a tense, can't-put-down stand-alone tale," Tom Knapp says. "Cooke also supplies the art for Big Score, and his bold, heavy lines and crisp characterization combine with Matt Hollingsworth's colors for a story that pops from the page."

Stephen Richmond takes a dim view of Graham Annable's Stickleback. He says the art "is flat and joyless, and the text is no better. ... There are many fine, literate, artistic and artful comics and graphic novels out there waiting to be read; this is not one of them, so do not waste your time."

Jen Kopf wonders at the trials of Being Julia. "When 1930s actress Julia Lambert steps onstage, no one can tear their eyes away from her," Jen says. "Luckily for the fictional Lambert, she's played in Istvan Szabo's Being Julia by Annette Bening. And who can tear their eyes away from Bening when she's on a roll?"

Daniel Jolley wanted to cheer by the end of The Nameless (Los Sin Nombre), a Spanish horror film he says exceeds both the book that inspired it and the typical American horror fare. "Ramsey Campbell's horror is of a somewhat erudite form, but Jaume Balaguero managed to take Campbell's story and bring it to vivid, haunting life in the most effective of ways," Daniel says. "Best of all, he cast away the novel's disappointing ending and fully embraced the horror that fueled the entire story. I love The Nameless, and I hope those who come across it will give it a chance -- it's really a terrific horror movie."

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

24 December 2005

It's always good to hear that people you like are happy.
- Will Shetterly

It's a big holiday weekend for many of us here at Rambles.NET, so we hope you won't mind too much if we're a little grinchy with our reviews this week. Rest assured, we'll be back on top of things once we've had our prezzies and 'nog and mistletoe smooches!

Coyote Run volunteers to Tend the Fire for Christmas this year. "There are meditative, almost holy moments, in many of the chosen carols, enhanced by Coyote Run's choir-like vocal layering," Sarah Meador says. "But try as they might to keep a straight face, the Coyotes and their friends can't maintain it for long, and soon they're swinging through 'The Christmas Song' and inserting tongues in the cheeks of overly familiar carols."

Bruce Kurnow spends his Holidays in Harmonicaland. "Stripped of words and given only the expressive voice of the harmonica, the eloquence of familiar carols is reinforced," says Sarah. "Joyous and solemn, Holidays in Harmonicaland is the perfect soundtrack for those holy nights."

SAVAE celebrates the holidays south of the border with La Noche Buena: Christmas Music of Colonial Latin America. "La Noche Buena is a fine Christmas choice, particularly if you are looking for something different in the holiday music genre," Dave Howell says. "Of course, having the lyrics sung in non-English languages means that, for most listeners, La Noche Buena is not limited to Christmas, but can be played throughout the year."

As the holidays approach, let us take a moment to remind you that every purchase you make through our Amazon.com, Amazon.ca and Amazon.uk links -- whether or not you buy items that are reviewed on this site -- helps to support the daily cost of running Rambles.NET. Every little bit helps and, as always, we appreciate your support. Also, if you're looking for music, books or movies that celebrate the holiday season, check out our special Yule page, with tons of seasonally themed reviews.

Johnny Duhan takes The Voyage with Irish folk songs that reviewer Nicky Rossiter has longed for. "This entire album celebrates families and life and, as such, could have been dull and pious," Nicky says. "In fact it is far from it. This is music magic and inspirational."

The collection titled Celtic Mystery, Vol. 2 "includes a number of fairly bland, sort of ethereal and vaguely Celtic tracks," Andy Jurgis reports. "The album is saved, though, by a few high-quality tracks."

Nancy Apple and Rob McNurlin go by River Road or Rail for this "old-fashioned, pretension-free CD," Jerome Clark opines. "The only way to dislike this record is to dislike hillbilly-flavored folk music on principle, and if you don't like that sort of thing, you'll want to be on your way. I'll feel sorry for you, though."

Slipstream is far from Waterbound with this collection of Colorado-based bluegrass. "Slipstream is a young band, both in terms of ages of its members and its length of existence," says John Lindermuth. "But the band is old in quality of performance and, potentially, has what it takes to be around for a long, long time. ... The musicians combine great familiar tunes, musicianship and sweet vocals in a genuine and personal manner."

Dennis Pavao, formerly part of a prominent Hawaiian falsetto trio, breaks new ground on this posthumous release of Keiki Kupuna. "Pavao was truly one of the most important and most enjoyable Hawaiian musicians in recent times," Jamie O'Brien says. "Keiki Kupuna, which he produced along with his wife Leialoha (with Jon de Mello as executive producer), is a wonderful, entertaining gift he has left behind which will please all who know him and inspire those who only now have come to discover his work."

Amy Hanson unravels a slice of music history with Smashing Pumpkins: Tales of a Scorched Earth. "This book chronicles their story with in-depth research and a genuine interest in unearthing the soul of the band rather than the usual 'cut and paste, dish the dirt' approach," Nicky Rossiter says. "In chapters with headings that draw in even the casual reader -- like 'Nose Picking and Screaming' or 'The Ladder to Loathsome Infamy' -- Hanson unravels the legend and gives us intimate glimpses of a powerhouse band of an era."

Joe Haldeman proves true to his title in Camouflage. "Disguising the book as a new piece of science fiction, Haldeman instead springs a horror tale on his audience," Gregg Thurlbeck reveals. "The book contains enough science-fiction trappings to lure unsuspecting readers deep into the plot; there's a distant planet and a doomed mission to Earth that traps an alien intelligence on our watery world. But this alien is built from elements drawn from our nightmares rather than from the elements that compose our physical world. It's a shapeshifter, a changeling, a being that cannot be destroyed, and it does not hesitate to kill in order to survive."

Jonathan Lyons' science-fiction novel Machina is "a sweeping, provocative novel that takes the idea of existence as far as it can go -- all the way to God Himself," Daniel Jolley says. "Machina works into its inner core a truly impressive array of profound ideas from science to religion to philosophy. It is a challenging book in this regard."

Mark West has a selection of Strange Tales to offer. "The greatest aspect of Strange Tales is its variety," says Gregg Winkler. "It seems as though West made it a point to put a jarring gore-fest next to a more subtle yarn, giving the entire collection the feel of a rollercoaster ride."

Brian Freeman and Bev Vincent have compiled the final word on a popular master of horror with The Illustrated Stephen King Trivia Book. Stephen Richmond calls it "an absolute must-have for King aficionados. ... I've yet to see a bad product from Cemetery Dance and this should be the model for other trivia books."

Tom Knapp shares A Christmas Caper with the li'l Gen 13 gang. "The battle that follows offers equal portions Christmas magic and snot humor," Tom says. "It's good, clean, holiday fun, and it gives the Gen 13 team a chance to shine in a completely new form."

Jen Kopf isn't sure this Man of the Year deserves the title. "Nearly two dozen cameras have been set up throughout a Hollywood Hills mansion, all filming simultaneously to catch any action that more than a dozen actors improvise, based on a plot and character outline they've been given," she explains. "But what comes out is too often a confusing mush of shallow people manipulating, lying, cheating, stealing and breaking just about every other rule of decency and common sense."

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

17 December 2005

Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful.
It's the transition that's troublesome.
- Isaac Asimov

Tom Knapp shared the announcement of a dear friend's death at the beginning of last week's edition. Finding writing to be a cathartic method for dealing with grief, he began collecting his thoughts, memories and feelings about Morgan, which are presented here in a dog's life.

The Yellowjackets, nearly 25 years young, blend Christmas and jazz in Peace Round: A Christmas Celebration. "The Yellowjackets arranged and produced the album with a nice open mix that gives all the instruments room to breathe and be heard," says William Kates. "Jazz and Christmas go together very agreeably when done well, and Peace Round is a perfect example that comes highly recommended."

Katie McMahon celebrates a Celtic Christmas with all her friends. "The 15-track CD is a joyous occasion all by itself," Tom Knapp says. "And Katie provides a varied playlist for the party, with songs that range from sacred to secular, somber to sprightly. ... This is a package Christmas enthusiasts will love to find under their trees."

Johnny Coppin strives to Keep the Flame with this all-too-brief Celtic/folk holiday album. "I am very picky when it comes to Christmas music," Wil Owen states flatly. "If there is one thing I dread at the end of each year, it is hearing the same handful of holiday songs played over and over again wherever you go in public. I swear that this year the stores started playing these tunes before Halloween!" Follow the link to see what Wil thought of this one!

As the holidays approach, let us take a moment to remind you that every purchase you make through our Amazon.com, Amazon.ca and Amazon.uk links -- whether or not you buy items that are reviewed on this site -- helps to support the daily cost of running Rambles.NET. Every little bit helps and, as always, we appreciate your support. Also, if you're looking for music, books or movies that celebrate the holiday season, check out our special Yule page, with tons of seasonally themed reviews.

Dermot Hyde and Tom Hake, now performing as the duo Pipeline, first came together on the CD called, aptly enough, Pipeline. "Pipeline is, above anything else, a fantastic album," Jean Price says. "It is creative, eclectic and a highly enjoyable listen. The two musicians have fused together a variety of Celtic traditions to create quite an interesting sound on several of the pieces, all the while playing their instruments with the greatest of skill."

Kate Rusby may be The Girl Who Couldn't Fly, but her music still soars. "Rusby has a knack for seeking out and interpreting traditional songs that are far from well known," says Nicky Rossiter. "This makes her albums into journeys of discovery."

Jamie O'Brien's new album, My Wild Irish Boy, "sparkles with fun and innocence, which is rare for a performer as seasoned as O'Brien," Jean Price says. "The songs and tunes that make up the 50-minute album are refreshingly original and O'Brien has a sincerity in his voice that mixes perfectly with the acoustic instrumental accompaniment."

The Black Irish Band remembers The Day the Earth Shook with a disc of Irish standards. "The title comes from the fact that an earthquake hit California during their first practice in 1989," Nicky Rossiter explains. "Since then, they have been shaking the Earth with rousing renditions of some well-known songs, and on this album we get 17 of them."

Beth Nielsen Chapman has the Look, and her "heartfelt songs reflect a wealth of experience and emotion," Debbie Koritsas says. "These songs speak eloquently and emotionally of life, love in all its guises, and they're beautifully sung and composed. Chapman has an unwavering ability to connect with her listener through her voice and its many nuances -- this is an album of many moods."

Jim Hanlon sings From the Heart on his latest CD. "This album is one that I want to shout about from the rooftops," Nicky Rossiter gushes. "In case you have not guessed, I love this album. ... This is one of those albums that once played, will seldom leave the CD player or your mind. The songs are real, the emotion is catching and the lyrics are poetic."

Dave Knudsen waits in The Weeping City with a folk sound influenced by Neil Young, Jerome Clark says. "If superficially derivative, The Weeping City nonetheless manages to be so unpretentiously charming -- or so charmingly unpretentious -- that it renders all objection just about instantly futile," he adds. "It has been a while since I have heard a recording that so expertly creates and sustains a particular mood (or moodiness), drawing the listener into a vividly imagined realm of shadowy streets and starlit beaches, stark emotions and ghostly memories."

Anne Price asks that you Remember Me when looking for good, solid folk music. "Price is a bit too thought-provoking to listen to casually, but if you feel like being engaged in your music, Remember Me is a great choice," Jean Price (no relation) explains. "The songs will stay with you long after you finish listening."

Alison Brown shares a few Stolen Moments on this new bluegrass recording. "Alison wrote or co-wrote each of the instrumental items on offer and they show both knowledge of the canon of good music and an ear for the innovative," Nicky Rossiter says. "With 11 tracks, the banjo lover will be enthralled and others converted."

Virginia MacIsaac had the experience of a lifetime when she saw Buddy MacMaster, the grand dean of Cape Breton fiddlers, perform in concert with his talented niece, Natalie MacMaster. Virginia draws envy from all directions as she tells us what it was like to see these two (mac)masters at work.

While she's at it, Virginia also shares her impressions of Ceol Na H-Aibhneadh (The Music of the River): A Tribute to Theresa & Marie MacLellan, one of the many performances covered by the crack Rambles.NET staff in Cape Breton this year. Featured performers at the event included Shelly Campbell, Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac, Jeff MacDonald, Dave MacIsaac, Alex Francis MacKay, Carl MacKenzie and Theresa MacLellan.

Patricia Briggs reveals a hidden world of modern mysteries in the forthcoming novel Moon Called. "Moon Called is an exciting new entry in the field of dark urban fantasy, and I'm pleased to see Briggs is already at work on a second book in the series," Tom Knapp says. "I will be watching for Mercy Thompson's next adventure with great anticipation. Moon Called has whet my appetite for more."

Neil Gaiman blends mythology and fiction as only he can in his latest novel, Anansi Boys. "All of the fun, drama, mythology, characterization and utter allusiveness are here in massive doses as Gaiman, full of witty and whimsical vinegar, is in prime (and primal) form as he tells his tale of the two sons of Anansi, the African spider trickster god," says Stephen Richmond. "Amazingly, the book is literature at its most sophisticated and yet the simplest, earliest, most quintessential of human stories. It is a most satisfying reading experience."

Robert Reed collects his short fiction in The Cuckoo's Boys. "Reed is a stylistically diverse writer and his range is fully showcased in The Cuckoo's Boys -- meaning that readers are unlikely to love everything in this collection," says Gregg Thurlbeck. "But equally true is that it's almost an impossibility one could read this book and not encounter stories that startle, exhilarate and impress." Way-hey, Gregg, for review #100!

Dan Chernenko continues The Scepter of Mercy series with The Chernagor Pirates. "Chernenko writes with a restrained dry humor reminiscent of David Eddings. His characterization is good and often quite entertaining," Laurie Thayer says. "There is a tiny bit of middle-bookness about The Chernagor Pirates and though it could probably stand alone, I wouldn't start the series here."

Lorna Joy Knox turns from poetry to fiction with Two Tales of Mystery. "This pair of short stories combines to create a delightful mystery novella with two seriously twisted endings," says Valerie Frankel. "The books offer a pleasant British country flavor, combined with a deep-seated love of family. Warm and caring, these two delightful stories are simultaneously shadowed and uplifting, haunting and joyous."

Tom Knapp needed "to wash the sour taste left by the movie Constantine from his mouth," so he picked up a copy of Hellblazer: All His Engines by Mike Carey and Leonardo Manco. "All His Engines is everything Constantine should be," Tom says. "Constantine fans should love this latest installment of the Hellblazer mythos. People who've only seen the movie -- assuming they haven't been turned from the Constantine name forever -- will likewise enjoy this as an introduction to the far superior series in print."

Tom also attends the long-anticipated Rebirth of Hal "Green Lantern" Jordan with interest. "Rebirth isn't just another chapter in the ongoing story of the Green Lantern Corps," Tom says. "It's an in-depth study of the mythology of the Guardians, the rings of power and the entities that bear them. It is a dazzling portrayal of personality and conflict, not just of Jordan and his immediate circle of friends, but of many familiar DC characters. And, it's a much-needed reinvention of Jordan himself -- the hero he was and, for many readers, always would be."

Mary Harvey explores a coming-of-age-in-wartime story through Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, by Marjane Satrapi. "That Satrapi tells her tale well is wonderful; that she does so in the form of a graphic novel that has won wide literary acclaim in a publishing world where graphic novels are not treated seriously is an even greater accomplishment," Mary says. "Add to that her interesting artistic breakthroughs and you have a classic along the lines of Maus and Jimmy Corrigan, graphic novels that took both the art of storytelling and the art of the story to new levels."

Jen Kopf shares her thoughts on My Flesh & Blood. "or all of us, who grouse at the traffic on the way to work, who complain about standing in line, who whine that life's not fair, My Flesh & Blood is a welcome reminder to just shut our mouths," she says. "Because rarely is so much pain, so much joy, so much triumph clustered so heartbreakingly close together."

Daniel Jolley has a Valentine to share. "Valentine is a vastly underrated, thrilling horror movie," he says. "At its root, it is obviously a slasher film, but this movie features great pacing, true suspense, quite effective musical transitions and, most importantly, a terrific finish. Valentine not only has a recognizable plot, it incorporates some dandy instances of symmetry that really help tie everything together in the end."

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

10 December 2005

Dying is a part of living -- a natural progression. Should I ignore the natural order of my life, twist it to MY liking and thereby become something I was not meant to be?
- Charles de Lint

Usually I try to start each week's edition off with something witty or informative, or both. Sometimes I describe a brief event or an amusing anecdote. This week, allow me to be selfish enough to share this: Morgan and I spent nearly 15 wonderful years together. She has been my confidante, my boon companion, my wrestling partner and my dear, dear friend. Rescued from an abusive owner, she was the dog I could not pass up and leave in that shelter way back in June 1991. Other dog owners may protest, but let me assure you -- mine was the sweetest, friendliest, happiest, best dog in all the world. And I will miss her.

Julie Fowlis is "the latest in a long line of female Gaelic singers and, with her solo debut Mar a Tha Mo Chridhe (As My Heart Is), she carries the tradition beautifully," Jean Price says. "Her voice is well suited to the material and she breathes new life into some very old songs with innovative arrangements."

Lissa Schneckenburger draws attention to the Maine tradition with her self-titled CD. "The disc itself is pure listening pleasure, like a cool and refreshing breeze on a sultry afternoon. The first time I listened, I had to restrain myself from hitting the repeat button on some tracks because I was equally eager to hear what was coming," Tom Knapp says. "Lissa's fiddling is sweet and precise, engaging but never too flashy. She works well with her band, leading them in tightly arranged sets that are solid without being overproduced -- and it's always clear just who is the star of this show."

Il Divo offers a new twist on multiculturalism with these two new CDs, Il Divo and, just in time for the holidays, The Christmas Collection. "Whatever Il Divo recording you might give to your friends and family (or yourself) this holiday season, they'll thank you all year long," Bill Knapp enthuses. "Look for many more recordings from Il Divo in the future; with talent like this, they will be in demand for a long time."

Linda Draper counts One Two Three Four for her latest independent folk release. "What you hear on this album is primarily Draper and her guitar," says John Lindermuth. "It's pure and simple. It's beautiful music, and that should be more than enough. But, pay attention to the lyrics and you know you're hearing poetry."

Night Sun is taking a Drive through the boundaries of "eclectic acoustic" folk music. "Night Sun does a great job of combining different styles of music into a nice mixture of original acoustic music," Dave Townsend says. "The fact that they are all excellent musicians makes their music always a welcome treat."

As the holidays approach, let us take a moment to remind you that every purchase you make through our Amazon.com, Amazon.ca and Amazon.uk links -- whether or not you buy items that are reviewed on this site -- helps to support the daily cost of running Rambles.NET. Every little bit helps and, as always, we appreciate your support. Also, if you're looking for music, books or movies that celebrate the holiday season, check out our special Yule page, with tons of seasonally themed reviews.

David Fiorenza gives a lesson in Fiology in this introduction to the works of this folksinger. "It is a retrospective collection of new, old, live and remixed songs from the past five years," Nicky Rossiter says.

Peter, Paul & Mary prepare to Carry It On. "Get out that pen and paper," Nicky says. "It's time for all true fans of folk music to write to Santa. It was released two years ago, but my son and his wife just brought me back this fantastic book/CD set/DVD of the masters and mistress of folk. On four discs, one DVD and 86 pages of text you are invited to step back into a golden age."

Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne gets down with the blues on Let it Loose. "Blues-loving folks who love boogie-woogie piano will love this album of 13 traditional-styled original songs (10 written by Wayne)," says Carole McDonnell. "This well-rounded album contains songs with wine-soaked sadness, jazzy blues and boogie-woogie jukes that show all aspects of a piano man's life."

Mike Bella shouldn't be Lost in the Shuffle once honkytonk fans catch wind of it, Jerome Clark announces. "It makes one wish -- let's upgrade that to hope -- that hardcore honkytonk music is on its way to becoming an enduring genre like bluegrass, surviving and thriving even without life support from mainstream radio," Jerome states. "If, in fact, Bella were a bluegrass artist, he'd be a Karl Shiflett or a Larry Cordle."

The Skaggs Family celebrates the season with A Skaggs Family Christmas, Volume One. "There is a lot of talent here, and the results are suitably professional. They're also too slick to be consistently inspiring," Jerome says. For the most part, he laments, "the material consists of blandly selected secular and sacred chestnuts as well as some recent compositions of modest interest from the Nashville song factory."

The soundtrack to the Disney sequel Mulan II -- like the animated movie itself -- fails to please reviewer Ann Flynt. "With its all-over-the-place music and cheap caricatures of characters in the movie as well as the CD, Mulan II is vastly inferior to Mulan," she says. "In fact, comparing the two movies/soundtracks in a cultural context is similar to comparing righteous Asian cuisine to certain canned meals that claim to be 'genuine.'"

Virginia MacIsaac reports back from Celtic Colours this week with her impressions of the yearly Guitar Summit in Judique. Guitarists in the spotlight this year were J.P. Cormier, Brian Doyle, Kris Dreaver, Scott MacMillan and Andrew White -- you can imagine why Virginia makes it an annual event!

Shanna Caughey dips into C.S. Lewis's world with essays from a variety of writers in Revisiting Narnia: Fantasy, Myth & Religion in C.S. Lewis' Chronicles. "As with any anthology, the essays vary in readability and quality," Laurie Thayer says. "Some of them are quite engaging, some of them are more difficult (and you might want to brush up on your Plato) and there are one or two which seem only tangentially related to either C.S. Lewis or Narnia, and you wonder what on earth the author was thinking. If you're looking for intelligent and thoughtful discussion of The Chronicles of Narnia, you can't go wrong with Revisiting Narnia."

Gregory Benford gets highly detailed in his science-fiction novel The Sunborn. "An astrophysicist, he can fill a book with plausible descriptions of strange planets, interstellar plasma flows and alternate universes," Ron Bierman explains. "Read Benford to get a glimpse of their sense of wonder and awe as the universe grudgingly gives up its secrets. If you aren't a fan of our space programs, you may become one."

Eric Garcia gets down in his latest book with some Hot & Sweaty Rex. "If you like tough-detective stories, are looking for some laughs and are tickled by the thought of dinosaurs disguised as humans, Garcia is definitely your man," Ron says. "I can't imagine anyone doing it better."

Kenneth Oppel returns to his alternate Earth with Skybreaker. "As in Airborn, Oppel takes full advantage of his deft plotting skills in Skybreaker," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "The story chugs along, with a number of surprising twists and turns thrown in to keep the reader fully engaged. Yet there's plenty of character exploration as well." (Also, be sure to compare Gregg's review with one posted last week by Jennifer Mo.)

Persia Woolley continues her Arthurian series, as told by Guinevere, in Queen of the Summer Stars. "It was a long, four-year delay between Child of the Northern Spring and its sequel, but it was well worth the wait," Tom Knapp says. "Seen through the queen's eyes, the great story is tempered by her grace, compassion, love and loyalty."

Michael Moorcock impresses reviewer Stephen Richmond with The Dreamthief's Daughter: A Tale of the Albino. "Moorcock has no peers for sheer brain-bopping, mind-engorging, plain ol' brainy fun," Stephen says. "This is an amazing book from a wild genius who never fails to engage and enthrall."

Richard Laymon takes a Bite out of vampiric lore with a novel Daniel Jolley says "has the feel of a short story. ... I ended up hoping everyone in this book would die. As I try to describe this book now, it really does sound like a stupid, hackneyed premise. Action alone keeps this story going; when all is said and done, there is no real story here -- just action."

Pramoedya Ananta Toer, also known as Pram, begins his famous Javanese-Indonesian quartet with This Earth of Mankind. "Many readers of this translation will not be familiar with Indonesian history or politics," says David Cox. "For any reader, however, it will be difficult to finish this novel without continuing with the tetralogy."

Sarah Meador lights up the town with Electric Girl, Vol. 1 by Michael Brennan. The book, Sarah says, "features gremlins, vengeance-driven zombies, mad scientists and young women with powers beyond the reach of common humanity. And it's suitable for all ages. Really."

Tom Knapp steps back into the early 1960s with Batgirl and Robin in Thrillkiller. "For some members of the Batman fan base, the 1960s will always be linked to the image of Adam West camping it up in tights against an array of colorful foes," Tom says. "Writer Howard Chaykin reclaims a bit of the Batman legacy from that decade with Thrillkiller, a lushly, darkly painted Elseworlds story that offers an entirely new stamp on the story."

The concept behind the original Gen 13 miniseries might not score high on the originality scale, but Tom still enjoys the book at its intended level. "The characters are interesting and they interact amusingly, often with romantic and/or sexual overtones," he explains. "The stories are typically lighthearted and fun. The female characters are all beautiful -- long, lean, perky and immodest -- and they show a lot of skin -- either intentionally as a fashion choice or accidentally as a consequence of battle. And the art is very good; after all, cheesecake requires good presentation."

Daniel Jolley takes on global politics and terrorism with Team America: World Police. The movie, Daniel says, "is juvenile and disgusting, yet sharply pointed satire that goes out of its way to be offensive -- in other words, it's hilarious, and yet more proof of Trey Parker's genius. Parker and partner Matt Stone do things no one else would ever dream of doing -- or even be allowed to do. It's a film I know I know I will enjoy watching time and time again for years to come."

Daniel shares a tender moment with Dracula's Great Love. "I'm quite taken with this movie," he says. "This Spanish vampire film from 1972 actually gives you blood flowing from open veins, a pretty Gothic atmosphere, lovely women running around in rather revealing clothing (and sometimes licking blood off of one another), gratuitous nudity and even one good virgin-whipping. What's not to like?"

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

3 December 2005

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
- Douglas Adams

The Town Pants measure the Weight of Words with an album "filled with great songwriting and talented musicianship," Jean Price says. "The quartet of young musicians handles ballads as well as they handle more raucous songs, and they do have a rather good sense of humour!"

Katie McMahon takes her first big steps as a solo performer on After the Morning. "McMahon's pure, clear soprano is best known from the show Riverdance and vocal group Anuna," Jean says. "On her first solo release, she shows that she does not need an elaborate show or the support of a choral group to enhance her voice. Her carefully selected songs are minimally arranged, leaving it to her beautiful singing to carry the album."

Emmy Cerra is Metamorphic on an album that's hers from start to finish. "If Cerra sung the phonebook, it would be beautiful," Sarah Meador says. "When she uses that voice to deliver her darkly poetic, black-blues songs, it's downright addictive."

Michael Merenda has this timely offering for Election Day. "It's a political album, but one that focuses on social concepts more than immediate politics," says Sarah. "It's a musically experimental album that borrows from folk, pop, rock, electronica and gospel for its sound. It's a singer-songwriter performance that dares comparison to Bob Dylan with its casual storytelling rambles, and risks serious cliches by taking on topics like God and marijuana use. The odds of making that combination work make the lottery seem like a wise investment plan. But Michael Merenda won the bet."

Daniel Ho catches the Coolest Drop of Rain on this recent CD. "Ho is a secret waiting to be discovered: a dynamic multi-instrumentalist with an expressive voice and a creative songwriting ability," says Jamie O'Brien. "A high tenor, his wistful voice is filled with emotion -- desire, disappointment, despair and joy. He always captures the essence of the lyrics and delivers them in a natural, almost conversational manner. You feel you are listening to an old friend pouring his heart out over a cup of coffee."

Tori Amos released "truly a magical collection of songs" with Hey Jupiter, Daniel Jolley says. "In this case, EP stands for essentially perfect."

Jimbo Mathus supplies "black magic set to music" on Knockdown South, Sarah Meador says. "It colors the guitar and horns and even the electric piano. Mathus has the voice for it. He can sound heartbroken or overwhelmed or exhausted or wild, or all at the same time," she adds. "Too powerful to be easy listening, Knockdown South will leave you flat on the floor and begging for more."

Wayne Long gives his music Only a Glance, but it gave Sarah visions. "With every note he called out of string and wood, I saw soft rain on windows, country hills fading in the sunset, tree branches reaching for the light through the clouds," she says. "No matter how hard I tried to attach a more dramatic, human story to his tunes, each new chord called out another landscape."

XTC, here? Well, Gregg Thurlbeck makes his case for Apple Venus, Vol. 1 and Wasp Star (Apple Venus, Vol. 2). We'll let him explain it in this pair of new reviews!

The artists at Putumayo pull up a chair in this Italian Cafe. "From the opening track -- "Juke Box," recorded in 1958 -- I was taken in by the freshness of these songs," Jane Eamon reports. "This collection is delightful and definitely worth a listen."

Kaitlin Hahn spent an evening with The Tune Makers during an early portion of the Celtic Colours festival in Cape Breton last month. That meant enjoying the music of Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton, Phil Cunningham, Jerry Holland, Dougie MacDonald, Ryan J. MacNeil, Mac Morin and Brenda Stubbert. Do you think Kaitlin had a good time? Her review tells all!

Debbie Koritsas also shares her experiences with the Kate Rusby Band in South Yorkshire, England. "Kate has just released a new acoustic album, The Girl Who Couldn't Fly, and lent her graceful voice to the new material this evening -- she appeared relaxed and happy and was in beautiful voice throughout," Debbie recalls.

Frank Darabont pens a story on Walpuski's Typewriter that, Sarah Meador says, "is the short, sick tale of a very bad writer, a strange repair shop and a flesh-eating typewriter. ... Walpusksi's Typewriter is a toothy grinning nightmare, black humor without redemption for the characters or the readers, and a lot of fun."

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro revists the vampire Saint-Germain in States of Grace. "There are many subtleties in this book, most notably the understated quality of the characterizations," says Robert Tilendis. "Saint-Germain himself is in some ways rather muted as a character, but somehow comes vividly to life. Yarbro doesn't beat you over the head with him, which is something I appreciate."

Kenneth Oppel serves up a tasty dish of young-adult fantasy in Skybreaker. "Any slightness of plot is easily overshadowed by Oppel's ability to write great scenes," says Jennifer Mo. "Whether his heroes are escaping across rooftops or diving through the sky in winged ornithopters, his writing has a cinematic attention to detail that makes it impossible to put down. ... Head and shoulders above most fantasies, Skybreaker is a fun, fast and surprisingly thoughtful read."

Jack McDevitt unravels a ghost ship mystery in space in Polaris. "It is certainly an engaging read that casual science fiction fans will likely quite enjoy," Daniel Jolley says. "For McDevitt fans, however, Polaris is more of an afternoon matinee than McDevitt's usual prime-time special."

Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novel Traitor's Sun was released shortly after her death in 1999. Unfortunately, Stephen Richmond says, "it -- like its recent predecessors -- suffers from the author's return to her science fiction roots and her departure from the high fantasy, a genre at which she was near peerless. ... Traitor's Sun is an essential read for fans, but it is not a good introduction to the author and her series."

Patrick O'Brian continues the narrative of Aubrey and Maturin in The Wine-Dark Sea. "There are few prose stylists writing today who can compare with Patrick O'Brian for the smooth, evocative and fluid stories that come from his pen," says Stephen Richmond. "The Wine-Dark Sea is a particularly fine example of O'Brian's craft."

Tom Knapp is off on an adventure with Danger Girl. "The makers of Danger Girl knew exactly what they were doing when they designed the central characters of the book," he says. "They deal in Indiana Jones-style archeology and face international intrigue and gadgetry a la James Bond. But Jones and Bond are notably absent -- in Danger Girl, the ladies face the danger and duke it out with the villains; the men in the picture are mostly afterthoughts. Heck, these women fight Nazis, evil archeologists, mad scientists and crocodiles, and how cool is that?!"

Tom returns to feudal Japan with Usagi Yojimbo in Samurai. "This, the second book of the series collected by Fantagraphics, certainly has its portion of cartoony violence. But don't make the mistake of assuming it's silly. This series of tales is fascinating, packed with historical detail and completely absorbing," Tom says. "Did I mention he's a rabbit?" Woohoo! That's review #1,400 for Tom!

Mark Allen blasts off with the Imaginauts in this Fantastic Four adventure. "To be clear, we're talking about something that is derivative of nothing you've seen in television or movies," he says. "Incentive enough for you?"

To wrap up this week's edition, Daniel Jolley serves up a pair of reviews of movies from 1964.

Daniel waxes enthusiastic over the 1964 Brazilian classic, At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul, which introduced Coffin Joe to a horror-eager world. "At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul is probably one of the best cult horror films you've never seen," Dan says. "Coffin Joe is a strikingly captivating fiend who revels in his own evil; I daresay I've never encountered a character quite like him."

Next up, Daniel holds his breath with glee each time that Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. "Maybe you've seen this movie hilariously skewered on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but you have to watch it on its own to truly appreciate it," he says. "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is just so awful that I can't help but love it."

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

26 November 2005

It's no harder to be nice than it is to be creepy. And it's much more fun..
- Neil Gaiman

Here at Rambles.NET central, we're still groaning and trudging heavily with the weight of two Thanksgiving feasts to boggle the mind -- and stuff the belly! During preparations for one of the bountiful meals, I became better acquainted with a headless turkey than I ever thought possible! A brief but beautiful snowfall added extra luster to the day; unfortunately, an unexplained fire destroyed a significant historic landmark just a stone's throw from home. It was a day of contrasts ... and much for which to be thankful.

Just as a reminder -- remember, if you do your holiday shopping through any of the Amazon.com, Amazon.ca or Amazon.uk links scattered 'round our site -- whether or not it's an item we've reviewed -- a small percentage of your purchase price will be donated by Amazon to help with the daily operating costs of Rambles.NET. If you're so inclined, we can always use your support!

Paul O'Shaughnessy and Harry Bradley are Born for Sport. "This album of duets from two of Ireland's great instrumentalists is an energetic, light, refreshing collection of tunes," Jean Price opines. "Paul O'Shaughnessy's fiddle and Harry Bradley's flute play in perfect time with each other and the tunes have such a cohesive sound that at times one forgets that there are two instruments there, so well do they blend together."

Regina Kate needs a little more practice before making another CD, Tom Knapp suggests. "This Fiddle, her debut release, shows a musician who still needs to hone her skills before recording again," he says. "Here's to a better sophomore effort."

Megson performs On the Side and perfects the duo's brand of modern British folk. "Megson's treatment of traditional material, with rich and uplifting instrumentation, has similarities to Kate Rusby's approach," says Andy Jurgis. "They have been described as 'nu folk,' which is perhaps as good a definition as there is to suggest the way in which they take the traditional into the contemporary arena."

Sarah Meador comes to us next with a quintet of folk and bluegrass reviews. Sarah always has something interesting to say, so let's give her the floor!

Erik Balkey makes his music While the Paint Dries. "Balkey's vocal styling is close to spoken word, with just enough melodic tinting to blend in with his uncomplicated instrumental arrangements," is Sarah's description. "The style is flexible enough to carry heavy emotion without dramatic emphasis, and perfect for subtler emotions that would be overwhelmed by a more dramatic performance."

Rob Siegel bewilders our reviewer with Voices from the Right Brain: Live at Club Passim. "Musically, Voices stays in folksy Siegel-songwriter territory, with a few notable experiments towards rock, spoken word and even modernism," says Sarah. "Siegel has an earthy, modest voice that unfortunately can't perform all the vocal gymnastics he asks of it in his more bombastic numbers. The instrumental arrangements are very well done and add interest to even the strangest songs, but Siegel's dominating voice provides the real unifying sound of the album."

Mr. Love & Justice are on their Homeground with an album that laces 1960s British pop sounds with "candy-sweet lyrics that happen to have a razor waiting in the center," Sarah warns. "That unpredictable edge gives Homeground more power and deeper effect than its early pop sound would otherwise allow. An easygoing album that refuses to fade into the background, Homeground has dark appeal for the nostalgic and the cutting edge alike."

Andrew McKnight goes Beyond Borders with an album that begins pleasantly, than develops extra strength in the end. "McKnight finds some intriguing material when he ventures Beyond Borders," says Sarah. "But his folk sound is a reminder of the strength and elegance found at home. Interesting as it will be to hear his future attempts to blend the two, the contrast makes Beyond Borders a more compelling album."

Adie Grey shows us How to Find a Rainbow among the clouds. "Unlike some singer-songwriters, Grey seems to have listened to herself well enough to know her musical strengths, and each song on Rainbow is pitched perfectly for her light, familiar voice," Sarah says. "That skilled utilization of her most natural instrument lets her move between genres while maintinaning a unifying sound, and, perhaps more importantly, a unified spirit."

Brittni Paiva, an award-winning teenage musician from the Big Island of Hawaii, "approaches Brittni x 3 with an open mind and a sense of adventure," says Jamie O'Brien. "She is the sole performer on the album, playing ukulele, slack key guitar and bass (hence the title), and shows herself to be a more-than-capable interpreter of music from Hawaiian tradition and more."

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Chris Whitley died of lung cancer Nov. 20, in Houston, Texas. He was 45.

This week's report from Celtic Colours is Celtic Connections, a multicultural music event at Strathspey Place, Mabou. Tom Knapp was there and files this account of the performance, which featured the musical talents of the Barra MacNeils, the Brock Maguire Band, Karen & Helene and the Old Blind Dogs.

While he was in Cape Breton, Tom also took time to attend Songs & Anecdotes of Gaelic Scotland, an afternoon workshop with the renowned singer and storyteller Margaret Bennett. "Speaking with a soft, distinct voice and a lilting Scottish accent, Bennett spun stories with an easy manner, painting pictures in the air and engrossing the audience in timeless tales of their shared Gaelic heritage," Tom recalls. Follow the link to see more on this memorable event!

Natalie MacMaster, the shining star among fiddlers in Cape Breton, recently talked about her work with staff member Kaitlin Hahn. Here. she discusses her roles as fiddler, producer, wife and chef.

Ellen Datlow teams up this year with Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant to produce the 18th annual edition of The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror. "By its variety of story, unity of spirit and depth of research, The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror is more than a look back at past triumphs," says Sarah Meador. "It's an invitation to further flights of fantasy and a promise of the many new joys to be discovered."

L.A. Meyer tells the tale of Mary "Bloody Jack" Faber in this high-adventure novel set in the heyday of Britain's navy. "Bloody Jack is a a rollicking good time, a colorful yarn with a lively protagonist and a boatload of action," Tom Knapp says. "Once begun, the book is difficult to put down; once completed, it's hard not to leap immediately into the next in the series."

Valerie Rolfe Lupini blows The Whistle in this contemporary fantasy/historical novel set in British Columbia, circa 1914. "The Whistle is a reasonably enjoyable tale," Gregg Thurlbeck says, "but it could have been a much better book had the author stuck to her magical concept and let it lead her through more difficult, and more powerful, territory."

Margaret Gray reinvents the fairy tale in The Ugly Princess & the Wise Fool. "Gray's writing is sprightly and energetic and often laugh-out-loud funny, and the wacky illustrations by Randy Cecil add to the fun," says Jennifer Mo. "It isn't profound or groundbreaking, but it is a thoroughly entertaining concoction of wisdom and nonsense in exactly the right proportions."

Roger Zelazny and Robert Sheckley move Hell and Earth for Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming. "The idea behind the story is brilliant, and the authors clearly start out with the power and will to make it work, but something goes wrong along the way, making the second half of the novel feel forced and unsatisfying," Daniel Jolley says. "Still, though, there is a lot of fun and laughs to be found in these pages, and the reader's thoughts about what could have been do not necessarily destroy the entertainment value of this farcical fantasy." Three cheers for Daniel on this occasion of his 200th Rambles.NET review!

Sarah Meador leaps from computer to book with Alpha Shade: Chapter One. "The art in Alpha Shade is suggestive of animation, with simplified characters and flat, broadly shaded colors," she says. "The supplemental background material shows evidence of some serious world-building and the suggestions of a far-reaching and complicated plot, but Chapter One is too focused on explosive action to give more than a taste of the depth in the story."

Tom Knapp wasted minutes of his life reading Tenth Muse: The Odyssey, a comic book that is proud of its celebrity cover model but forgot to establish much of a plot. "Tenth Muse: The Odyssey is directionless and, worse yet, dull," Tom says. "I can think of no good reason to seek it out."

Michael Vance says Hello, Again, with this look at a new book from Max Estes. "Hello, Again is all about right and wrong and forgiveness," Michael says. "This is, indeed, a comic book for mature readers, and not because it has naked adults running around doing naked things."

Jen Kopf shares some Kitchen Stories with the crowd. "This film, folks, is about friendship and loneliness, about being a stranger and finding a home among strangers," she explains. "And it's all buried in a plotline I feel confident you haven't come across before: 1950s Swedes studying the kitchen habits of Norwegian bachelors."

Daniel Jolley spends a little quality time in The Dead Zone. "For some reason, The Dead Zone has always been one of my least favorite Stephen King novels," he says, "but I have to say this movie adaptation of the novel is first-rate indeed, one of the most underappreciated of all the movies based on the work of the king of horror."

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

19 November 2005

It's no harder to be nice than it is to be creepy. And it's much more fun..
- Neil Gaiman

For future reference and emergency planning purposes, be advised that a quart of Strawberry Gatorade can be quite effectatious when it comes to dousing a car engine on fire.

Broceliande celebrates autumn with Barley Rigs: Songs of the Season. "A collection of traditional songs, Barley Rigs reminds us that in the fields and forests, autumn is the time of red apples and golden grains, when the worry of the growing season is rewarded by the bounty of the harvest," says Sarah Meador. "Broceliande strives to perform their traditional songs with historically correct instruments and accurate arrangements, but that doesn't keep the group from having fun with its music. Barley Rigs features haunting a cappella numbers, hypnotic chants and hip swinging Celtic-style instrumental numbers."

Steven Spence shares his Shetland sound on Spencie's Tunes. "A key point of interest in this album is that, although Spence's playing is embedded in the Shetland (specifically Unst) tradition, all the tunes are his original compositions, which he has written over a period of almost 30 years from the age of 11," says Andy Jurgis. "Throughout the album there is no doubting Spence's fine musicianship as both musician and composer."

Tom Lewis takes his music by turns to 360 Degrees. "The choices of songs and the arrangements suit both Lewis's voice and the material," says Jean Price. "The nautical theme is appropriate for a former member of the Royal Navy and his passion for this topic is evident in his enthusiastic singing. A happy, joyful tone resonates throughout the album and the addition of many guest musicians creates a solid, full sound."

Ralph McTell takes us on a "moving and insightful journey into the very heart of the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas" with The Boy With a Note, Andrew Morris reveals. "Simply put, this is a masterpiece by arguably one of England's greatest living singer-songwriters."

Eric Bogle is a highly recognized and lauded performer At This Stage of the game. "Just weeks after releasing a wonderful five-CD set, Greentrax now offers us a marvelous double CD," Nicky Rossiter says. "This is Bogle live, and if you have not experienced it in real life you have not lived. This CD gives a good idea of the experience."

Tommy Emmanuel walks an Endless Road with this recording of folk guitar that left Chet Williamson breathless. "This Australian guitarist seems to have inherited the mantle of the late, great Chet Atkins, and rightfully so," Chet says. "If you like acoustic guitar, you absolutely must listen to (and subsequently worship at the altar of) Tommy Emmanuel. He's one of those rare musicians whose musical vision is actually achievable thanks to his remarkable ability on his chosen instrument. More than highly recommended -- absolutely essential."

Anjuli Dawn, a young singer-songwriter out of the Detroit, Michigan area, has good Reason to celebrate. "Anjuli is still in her early 20s, but she has already had almost 20 years of musical experience," Wil Owen says. "Anjuli Dawn might not be a household name like Brittany Spears or Jessica Simpson, but she is, in my opinion, a much more highly talented musician."

Donnacha Toomey gives three Reasons to listen to him sing -- and Nicky Rossiter wants more. "The great disappointment of the album is that we only get a little over 10 minutes of musical magic," he says.

The 10,000 Maniacs belong In My Tribe, or so Daniel Jolley believes. "This really is an amazingly good album, filled with depth and passion and shaped by one of music's most distinct, compelling voices," he explains. "It's almost impossible to get tired of any of these songs, no matter how many times you listen to them."

Rory Block rises From the Dust with her latest CD -- but, for the first time, her work leaves Chet Williamson cold. "I never thought I'd say a Rory Block album lacked authenticity, but this one does," he says. "I'm not saying that Block should sing only delta blues and dress in coveralls, but she, like any artist, is best served when playing to her strengths. This album takes a step ahead in experimentation, but a step back in follow-through."

Beyond the Pale takes its Old World sound to the stage for Consensus: Live in Concert. "Consensus is a delightfully accessible recording, especially given the sophistication and intricacy of the compositions," says Joy McKay. "You can't listen to this album without feeling enriched, respected and entertained, no matter what your cultural heritage."

Tom Knapp's excursion this time at Celtic Colours was the fabulous performance, When Coal was King at the Boardmore Playhouse in Sydney, Cape Breton, and featuring Wally MacAulay, Men of the Deeps and Kathryn Tickell. "It was impossible to leave Tuesday's performance without feeling a little dread for a life spent digging for coal, as well as admiration for those who performed the needed work despite the many hardships," Tom says.

Another peak moment in Cape Breton this year was an unscheduled stop at the Red Shoe Pub. Tom, who stopped for dinner with his wife en route to a show in Mabou, shares his thoughts on this musical Cape Breton landmark.

Ly De Angeles examines modern practices in When I See the Wild God: Encountering Urban Celtic Witchcraft. "Her book is not for beginners, but is aimed at a target audience of practicing members of the pagan community, especially those in nontraditional places outside of the United Kingdom and living in an urban setting; interestingly enough, the male audience is specifically addressed," Jean Price says. "It is very practical, yet at the same time spiritual."

Persia Woolley introduces Guinevere as a Child of the Northern Spring in this novel of the early days of Arthur's reign over Britain. "Woolley has done her research and the book smacks of history -- not as contrived by Malory or those who followed in his fantasy-heavy footsteps, but of Britain as it may have been in the wake of Rome's withdrawal and the early days of Saxon occupation," Tom Knapp says. "Likewise, she has drawn characters who are believable, likable and strong."

Robert Newman reveals Merlin's Mistake in a novel about a magician's apprentice who received the wrong gift from the powerful mage. "By turn serious and humorous, Merlin's Mistake reminds me just a bit of Lloyd Alexander, Patricia C. Wrede and T.H. White," says Jennifer Mo. "Its messages about mercy and good judgment are never overstated and never get in the way of a good tale."

Gregory Frost presents a mixed bag of work in Attack of the Jazz Giants & Other Stories. "Frost is an ambitious writer," says Gregg Thurlbeck. "His stories, for the most part, set out to do more than simply entertain. I wasn't blown away by every story included in this collection but there were no stories here that I truly disliked. And given the broad range of styles and subjects, from space opera to quiet horror to fables..., my guess is that anyone who picks up this collection will discover something marvelous between its covers."

Richard Bowes brings us this mosaic novel From the Files of the Time Rangers. "Perhaps I'm being too much the science-fiction purist, but Bowes never managed to get me to buy into his imagined world," Gregg decides. "The mix of classical mythology with an inconsistent melange of science fictional tropes including time portals and multiple-worlds theory simply didn't click for me."

Jane Yolen pre-Potters the ever-popular Harry in Wizard's Hall. "Thornmallow, his friends and enemies are all cut from the same rich fabric as the other grand mages of literature, from Merlin to ubiquitous Potter," says Stephen Richmond. "A great break between or after the Rowling books, you'll read this without disappointment."

Karen Kinsgbury opens the window to A Thousand Tomorrows in this novel about love and pain, loneliness and loss, and two young rodeo riders. "It's a relaxing read, easy on the mind and soul, and yet may inspire us to look at people who suffer from illnesses in a new light," Virginia MacIsaac says.

Tom Knapp reveals the Pendragon reincarnate in Matt Wagner's Mage: The Hero Discovered. "The pleasure here is in watching an everyman in a lightning-blazed t-shirt accept his newly elevated status in life and rise -- at times grudgingly -- to the many challenges before him," Tom says. "It's the sort of series that demands a sequel."

Mark Allen finds this Venom to his liking. "If there's one thing that can be said about Batman, it's that he's probably mentally the toughest character in the D.C. Comics universe," he says. "That's why Batman: Venom is such a great yarn, as it presents Batman with one of the most serious challenges of his career -- a challenge to said mental toughness."

William Kates said they filed a Flightplan, but this film starring Jodie Foster fails to take off. "The tension never lets up as the movie unspools, which allows me to give this a conditional recommendation: if you're someone who has the capacity to suspend disbelief and enjoy a well-made action thriller, you could do a lot worse than spending 98 minutes with Flightplan," he says. "Anyone else will find this plot to be preposterous from beginning to end and should likely take another flight."

Daniel Jolley has been curious about this "wildly popular Lemony Snicket business for some time now," so he offers his thoughts after seeing the film, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. "It does stand out as something different, with its dark atmosphere and theatrically villainous antagonist," he reports. "It's largely a children's story that plays well to an adult audience. Actually, I tend to think that there may well be more in this film for adults than there is for children."

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.)

12 November 2005

All of the animals, excepting man,
know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it.
- Samuel Butler

Karen Matheson is making new strides with her latest release. "Perhaps it's because the songs on Downriver seem so personal; perhaps it's because the album feels so different from its predecessors. Either way, this is Karen Matheson's most rewarding solo release to date," Debbie Koritsas says. "She has reaffirmed her position as one of the most enchanting singers in the Scottish-Gaelic language; her voice shimmers with passion yet at the same time exudes a cool elegance."

Mike Katz passes A Month of Sundays on pipes and whistles. "Katz is a marvel, and so is this album," Chet Williamson says. "If you love the sound of Celtic instrumental music at its best (and what Rambles reader doesn't?), this disc is a must-have."

El McMeen explores The Soul of Christmas Guitar in plenty of time for the holidays! "Not only is it a beautiful selection of tunes, the arrangements are absolutely unique," says Virginia MacIsaac. "I've come to expect that McMeen doesn't offer half-baked products -- only the finest of ingredients used. Skill, timing, fine ear, experience and spirit all play a large part in his music."

Jim Tozier plays a Solo Guitar for tunes that are "gentle and low-key," Carole McDonnell relates. "They are like scattered meditations, moments remembered in tranquility."

Eric Andersen is a folk singer of the old school," Jerome Clark says. On Waves: Great American Song Series, Vol. 2, he pays tribute to the artists with whom Andersen roamed Village streets and shared club and festival stages. "It is clear by now, has been for a long time, that Andersen is a significant talent," Jerome says. "He shows how it's done, and he'll spoil you for the lesser ones, which means most of them."

Sharon Edry bares her Semi Broken Heart on a dozen folk tracks. "Each one is ideally suited as a showcase for this talented lady," Nicky Rossiter says. "This is a very good collection of top-class songs that deserve your attention."

Shawn Phillips makes reviewer Ken Fasimpaur's acquaintance with No Category. "Despite all of this musical success, there are two large drawbacks," Ken says. "The first, unfortunately, is Phillips' voice. ... I suspect it would be more entertaining to swap stories with the intriguing Phillips than it is to listen to this recording."

Charmer rolls back the years in The Perfect Cafe. "Though Charmer disbanded in 1989, and the album is made of songs from the 1980s, their arrangements are innovative enough to sound fresh, the vocal harmonies as classic as a hymn," Sarah Meador relates. "The Perfect Cafe is a bit of a heartbreaker, offering the barest hints of a sound effectively lost to time."

Ireland's Niall Toner Band suffers a Mood Swing, and wants us along for the country/blues ride. "Set the lights, load the CD player, open a bottle and chill," Nicky Rossiter urges. "This album must get out there into the wide world to make everyone aware that Ireland can still do it in writing, producing and performing in all genres of music."

Rosco Gordon's final recording, No Dark in America, is released posthumously to great acclaim by reviewer Jerome Clark. "Though Gordon was in failing health, there's little evidence of it on these tracks," Jerome says. "His singing and songwriting are inspired, and he's playing with a sympathetic band and a sensitive production team. No Dark in America serves as tribute and farewell to an important, if obscure to most, American music figure."

Nancy Wilson doesn't disappoint with R.S.V.P. (Rare Songs, Very Personal). "This is a CD that's review-proof," Chet Williamson says admiringly. "It's quite simply impossible for any lover of jazz vocals not to be enthused by the premise of this album and thrilled by the reality of it. Wilson's voice hasn't lost a bit of its timbre and tone. The elegance, the taste, the style, the wit have all increased rather than weakened with age."

Daniel Jolley just can't get enough of the '80s, so he's back with The Wedding Singer 2: More Music from the Motion Picture. "Remarkably, two CDs still do not contain all of the great '80s songs from the movie itself, and we all have some other tracks we wish had been included on the soundtracks," he says, "but this is still a great collection of quintessential '80s music."

This week's coverage from Celtic Colours features the Causeway Crossing, one of two opening night performances on Cape Breton. Virginia MacIsaac was there for the concert, which included the music of Blazin' Fiddles, Duncan Chisholm, Phil Cunningham, Marion Dewar, Goirigh Domhnallach, Kris Drever, Bruce Guthro, Jerry Holland and Brian O'hEadhra.

Kaitlin Hahn had a chance recently to chat with Chicago-Irish fiddler Liz Carroll. In this interview, she discusses her affection for fiddles, kids & the Cubs.

Steve Sanchez discusses Spiritual Perversion in a timely fashion, Andrew Morris states. "It is very enlightening to read just how a shady cult uses several techniques -- mental, emotional, financial, amongst a whole array of threats -- to control their victims," Andrew says. "Sanchez is a very brave man to have written this, given the very real threats he had to deal with."

Nancy McKenzie continues her Arthurian saga in The High Queen. "Her characterization of Arthur and Guinevere are among the best, most detailed and most satisfying I've read," Tom Knapp says. "It's a real trick to make characters worthy of so much care, but McKenzie handles it easily."

Patricia C. Wrede reinvents an old fairy tale in a whole new light with her now-classic novel, Snow White & Rose Red. "In transporting the story to a 16th-century Elizabethan England filled with alchemy, balladry, brutal bear and witch hunts and, of course, magic, Wrede works a little alchemy of her own," says Jennifer Mo. "The elements of the setting lend themselves perfectly to creating a world in which those nagging questions of the original story ... can finally be satisfactorily answered."

James Lee Burke finds the answers at the Crusader's Cross. "I've been a Burke fan since The Neon Rain, but I have been away from his works awhile," Stephen Richmond says. "This was a marvelous homecoming and it was just so pleasant reading about places I love in Louisiana, particularly now that many of them will never be quite the same again."

Bill Myers blends science fiction and Christian prose in his novel Soul Tracker. "The science fiction aspect of the plot makes for a thrilling read in itself, drawing in non-religious readers and introducing them, in a far from heavy-handed manner, to the central tenets of the Christian faith," says Daniel Jolley. "If you're worried that Christian fiction might be too preachy for your tastes or just plain boring, this exciting novel should dispel many of your doubts."

Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House "remains one of the most important horror novels of all time and certainly one of the most singular haunted house tales ever written," Daniel believes. "Truly, Jackson's writing itself is haunted, and she herself almost surely was in some manner. There is a degree of insanity in every page."

Jonathan Campbell takes us to the tar pits of Cape Breton in Tarcadia. Stephen Richmond calls it "a delightful gem of fine writing. ... It's Canadiana at its sparkling best."

Tom Knapp gets spooky and ooky with Peculia & the Groon Grove Vampires by Richard Sala. "Peculia & the Groon Grove Vampires is a sexy black-and-white graphic novel in which the humor is subtle, and the violence is real but not grotesque," Tom says. "Sala's art is crisp and detailed."

Sarah Meador revisits a popular film in this manga take on Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, by Jun Asuga. "'The grey-toned artwork can't compete with Burton's original garish reds and sickly greens," she says. "The dialogue, robbed of music and poetry, can't be saved even by Asuga's lively text balloons."

Jen Kopf is Finding Neverland along with Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet. "The story of J.M. Barrie's creation of Peter Pan has been tinkered with a bit; the timeline of actual history has been altered, yet it all works to create a lovely movie that takes a long look at what it means to grow up, at the power of imagination and at the ways imagination can save us when the inevitable 'growing up' occurs," she says.

Daniel Jolley finds a real Ice Princess in the lead of this new Walt Disney film. "Ice Princess, naturally enough, is all about figure skating -- but it's really about so much more than that: pursuing a dream, doing what you love, having the courage to take chances and make big decisions, dealing with parental pressure at its best and worst, competing with honor and basically just figuring out what you want and taking control of your own life," he says, "and, yes, it's also about Michelle Trachtenberg looking absolutely gorgeous."

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.)

5 November 2005

When choosing between two evils,
I always like to try the one I've never tried before.
- Mae West

Party plans and paint jobs keep us occupied today, so let's get to it!

Danette Eddy poses a mystery, having disappeared since the release of her debut CD, Motion Potion. Tom Knapp wants her back. "The album is a vibrant and exciting recording of 12 tracks, many of her own composition," he says. "There are elements of rock, funk, classical and jazz supporting and enhancing her traditional Newfoundland style, but none of it overwhelms the fiddle as it swoops and dances to the music."

Ken Kolodner leads a Journey to the Heartland with this new, instrumental release. "Hang on to your hat!" Barbara Spring exclaims. "These dulcimer and fiddle tunes could make a confirmed couch potato jump up and dance."

John Prine plays it Fair & Square on his first CD release in nine years. "Prine speaks to us in simple language that we all understand, yet he continually surprises us with playful and vivid images, many of which are stamped with his trademark wit," Joy McKay says. "He's getting older, sure, but maybe he's getting wiser too. He's a good companion to have along the road of setbacks we all travel. His voice, more weathered these days since a recent bout with cancer, is inspiring in the fact that it's still here. If John Prine can come up with so many things to laugh and sing about, we can, too."

Wes Tucker is keeping Tradition alive with his band, the Skillets. "The music has its roots in folk, but adds in elements of light rock and occasionally some blues," Wil Owen says. "While the group is based in the Washington, D.C., region, after a few listens, one can understand that this CD would have appeal across a much wider area."

Otis Taylor finds his blues Below the Fold. "Make no mistake about it, this is smart stuff from a well-read man who thinks deeply and who holds strong points of view," Jerome Clark opines. "The man is surely prolific, but then, as one successful recording after another documents, he has a whole lot to say. If what he does may not be blues exactly, it still feels eerily like blues' future, marched toward with one step backward and two forward."

Tim O'Brien feasts in a Cornbread Nation with this new release. "A good-natured and superbly executed album, Cornbread Nation will not soon wear out its welcome," Jerome says. "Here he takes mostly old folk songs and reworks them, changing or switching lyrics and applying rhythm sections or whatever happens to strike his fancy, and serves up uniformly tasty fare. He records so prolifically that I can't claim to have heard or absorbed everything he's done, but to my taste this is his most consistently realized solo album."

The Eli Young Band is on a Level playing field for this new release. "Their music, not surprisingly for a Texas band, spans the country and rock genres," Wil Owen says. "The tracks range from folksy ballads with a hint of rock to country and full-out rock. And it is all good!"

The Ramsey Lewis Trio fields a do-over with Time Flies. "Lewis take the opportunity to apply all the perspective and expertise he has gained over the course of his nearly 50-year career and has produced a beautiful jazz recording consisting mostly of selections from various points in his history, presented in new versions that sound so fresh that unless you were familiar with the originals, you might not know that this was an album of remakes," William Kates explains. "In the right hands, such a project is hardly a retread, great material gets improved upon, informed with everything the artist knows now but didn't know then. Lewis is just such an artist."

Abdullah Chhadeh and his band, Nara, lay down a Middle Eastern sound on Seven Gates. "Musically, these performances are consummate," says Debbie Koritsas. "Chhadeh plays the qanun, a many-stringed relative of the harp, with an outstanding degree of accomplishment, which you appreciate more fully when you see his live performance. His band members hail from Lebanon, Syria, the UK and Ireland, and their contributions are equally skilled."

Thomas Newman brings the movie to life with his soundtrack for Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Unfortunately, Jennifer Mo reveals, listeners unfamiliar with the film "are likely to find its soundtrack unlistenably eclectic. ... This one is too distracting to be background music and too eclectic to create any particular atmosphere except that of the film."

Kaitlin Hahn made it to Cape Breton in time for one of two opening night galas at Celtic Colours this year. Here is her report from the Ceilidh at the Big Fiddle, a Sydney-based concert featuring Beolach, Mary Jane Lamond, La Swing du Suete, Buddy MacMaster, Doug MacPhee, Cathie Ryan and Kathryn Tickell.

Catriona MacDonald is a rose among thorns when the Blazin' Fiddles take the stage, as they did several times this year in Cape Breton. Tom Knapp sat down with the talented Shetland fiddler to see what makes her tick -- with a series of "hard to answer and potentially embarrassing questions."

Before she went to Cape Breton, Kaitlin Hahn enjoyed four days of musical bliss in Milwaukee. She concludes her series of reviews from the Milwaukee Irish Fest with these impressions from the fourth day of music.

Cecil Woodham-Smith tells us The Reason Why: The Story of the Fatal Charge of the Light Brigade. "The heart of this book concerns the relationship between society at large and the military," Daniel Jolley explains. "Military leaders feared nothing so much as public scrutiny, for widespread discontent could lead to political interference and, indeed, political control of the army. Whether in dealing with the incorrigible personalities of Lords Lucan and Cardigan or in covering up the series of blunders that resulted in the sacrificial ride of the Light Brigade, the military leadership acted with the overriding principle of preserving the army from governmental control."

Joyce Meyer reveals the Seven Things That Steal Your Joy. "If you already have a strong religious background, this is a refresher tool, and if you are lost, it could open doors to renew your spiritual strength," says Virginia MacIsaac. "It's not the beginning and end of learning one's faith, but is a tool to consider."

Patrice Kindl is Lost in the Labyrinth with Theseus and the Minotaur. "Kindl never allows the reader to forget that what is seen from one perspective as a triumph is, in another, a tragedy," says Jennifer Mo. "And be forewarned! This book has little of the frothy wit and lightness that characterized Kindl's earlier novel, Goose Chase."

E.D. Baker reverses fairy tale conventions in The Frog Princess. "Writing skewed, young adult fairy tales has become a very popular thing to do, with the result that a number of books have been recently published that deal with the same basic themes," says Jennifer. "Fairy tale aficionados will enjoy Baker's offering, but may find themselves returning to stronger novels in this subgenre. The Frog Princess is an amusing little book, but it covers no new ground and leaves no deep impression."

Vivian Vande Velde awakens a ghost during World War II, but A Coming Evil, "while a very readable book, had a number of plot flaws that prevent it from being an excellent one," Jennifer, completing her triumvirate, says. "On the other hand, Vande Velde is excellent at creating the right atmosphere, and the World War II setting works unexpectedly well."

Kathryn Mackel links stage magic and a Satanic cult in her "Christian chiller" novel, The Departed. "It's a modern tale, bursting with story and action; sometimes it moved faster than I could follow as characters appeared and returned," Virginia MacIsaac says. "But what keeps you on the edge is your own imagination. How cleverly this author uses that, enhancing your fears until they become a layer of the story."

Cecelia Holland shows how to do historical fiction right in The Angel & the Sword, Stephen Richmond says. "This marvelous interlacing of fiction, legend and history is a hallmark of Holland's work and of great historical fiction itself."

Stephen Richmond takes a look at Lovecraft in this "beautifully written and illustrated tribute to America's master of the weird and creepy. ... This is an astounding, if unsettling work."

Sarah Meador celebrates women in science and in the graphic arts with the re-release of Dignifying Science. "It has adventure, drama, romance and a graphic display of what the comic medium can offer when real artists do work they love," Sarah Meador says. "It's so packed with stories of true heroism and extraordinary characters that they spill out of the book itself and onto the back cover."

It may be a sinking ship for some, but Daniel Jolley has a fondness for Titanic. "This movie affects me greatly no matter how many times I have already watched it," he says. "I hope that some of those individuals vowing never to watch Titanic will reconsider their decision; I feel sure that many unbelievers would find themselves as captivated and completely in love with this motion picture as I am."

Jen Kopf offers a Eulogy for this film, which "packs in an astonishing amount of mean-spirited, gasping, I-can't-believe-they-said-that sibling humor. ... It all wallows in bad taste; it all could go spinning so easily out of control, but director Michael Clancy keeps a tight rein (as tight as the reins on this circus can be kept) and manages to get some honest emotion squirreled in among the bickering, the biting and the back-stabbing."

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.)