2 September 2006 to 28 October 2006

28 October 2006

Lots of people think they're charitable
if they give away their old clothes and
things they don't want.
- Myrtle Reed

I have pumpkins to carve and haunted hayrides to enjoy (and rain to wish away!) so let's get down to it!

Mitzie Collins reverences Scotland the Brave on this solo recording. "Mitzie explores her Scottish ancestry with this beautifully crafted album as she takes a musical journey through Scotland," Sherrill Fulghum says. "Just Mitzie and her hammered dulcimer, Scotland the Brave is the perfect addition to an evening by the fire as you relax with your favourite beverage and Mitzie leads you on her musical journey through Scotland's past."

El McMeen shares his music on Amazing Grace, a guitar-driven album that demonstrates his Celtic and folk tendencies to the hilt. "The arrangements give us that little spark of the familiar, but El McMeen always spins a new world out of an old song or tune," Virginia MacIsaac says. "All I can tell you is that when he makes this music, it feels like one end of his guitar strings are attached to your heart."

Al Petteway and Amy White share snapshots of their Acoustic Journey on this "best of" CD. "Together they have made several albums of wonderful duets, playing their original compositions in the Celtic vein and the occasional traditional song," says Michael Scott Cain. "The results have been consistently brilliant."

Barbara Dane's contributions to folk music are recaptured on this Anthology of American Folk Songs. "Dane's voice is as deep and rich as an African diamond mine and, without seeming to try, she can sing the laces out of your shoes," says Michael Scott Cain. "When you first hear her voice, it's like being whacked with a hammer. You're stunned."

Fiona Apple indulges in poetic misery on Extraordinary Machine. "Her voice is ethereal, operatic and sultry, yes, all together. It's aurally pleasing to hear her play with her voice like vocal gymnastics," says Katie Knapp. "But always, the best thing is the lyrics. She find the words to make a perfect poetry of pain, and they're just right, every time precise and cutting."

Debbie Davies' blues CD All I Found has very little that's wrong with it, Gregg Thurlbeck says. "Then again, there isn't anything particularly noteworthy about it, either. And with the blues, in order to distinguish oneself from a flock of other competent players, there must be something that sets one's music apart."

American Roots Publishing pays tribute on The Pilgrim: A Celebration of Kris Kristofferson. "The Pilgrim succeeds in what it set out to do, which is to remind us of Kristofferson's special genius," Jerome Clark says. "It's hard to imagine that any future tribute will improve on it."

Television Hill specializes "in the kind of Americana that is dark and authentic, while at the same time, dazzling and avant-garde-ish," Sean Walsh reports. "The debut album, Twilight, sounds like the kind of music a young The Band would be making if they were just starting out today."

The Hunger Mountain Boys make a musical splash with Three. "It's hillbilly touched with hokum and ragtime, with Appalachian folk always looming somewhere, close or distant, in the background," Jerome Clark says. "The result is a kind of rural vaudeville music."

Mike Phillips plays jazz for the Uncommon Denominator, and reviewer Virginia MacIsaac finds it to her liking. "It fills a space that you didn't know was empty," she says. "The flow and ebb of the tracks lift and groove, slide and soothe. More than a simple jazz CD, the saxophone under Phillips' lips moves into sweet and strange places."

Elaine Silver prepares the world for a little inertia with AH-Leluia. "This is music to lift you out of your body, music that makes little concerns of daily life, like bills or petty grievances or whether you still have feet, fade in to unimportance," a droopy pile of Sarah Meador mumbles from the floor. "Pachelbel's 'Canon in D' is always enchanting; under Silver's new arrangements, it becomes transcendental. And if you're still feeling anxious by the end of the elegant 'Mandolin Solo,' you'd better check to see if someone is actively electrocuting you."

Virginia MacIsaac offers up her second review from Celtic Colours 2006. This time, it's The Judique Flyers, a memorable performance featuring Liz Carroll, John Doyle, Ferintosh, Haugaard & Hoirup, Jerry Holland and, of course, Judique's own Buddy MacMaster.

Michael Foley, a poet from Northern Ireland, collects his latest work in Autumn Beguiles the Fatalist. "Coming 30 years after his debut collection -- True Life Love Stories, also published by Blackstaff Press -- Foley's verse bears the polished mark of a craftsman comfortable with his art," Sean Walsh says. "These poems have an easiness about them, an unhurried confidence, which -- while not being flashy -- strides through the reader's mind with a proud gait."

Jeff Hoke has thrown open the doors to The Museum of Lost Wonder. "The book feels more like a real museum than any text should, with rooms roughly based on alchemical principals, covering the evolution of the universe and everything in it through the alchemical process," says Sarah Meador. "There are displays, illuminations and elaborate make-it-yourself models that leave even frequent readers with an inescapable feeling of unexamined rooms and updating displays forever awaiting exploration."

Keith Topping gets down to the nittygritty in Slayer: The Last Days of Sunnydale, An Unofficial & Unauthorised Guide to the Final Season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Was the season as long as that title? -ed.) "Slayer: The Last Days of Sunnydale is surprisingly readable and enjoyable, even if, like me, you haven't seen the seventh season of BtVS since it aired," says Laurie Thayer. "In fact, my only complaint is that the cover illustration, a photograph of Sarah Michelle Gellar, is not from the seventh season, but from approximately the second."

Stefan Gates gets culinarily creative in Gastronaut: Adventures in Food for the Romantic, the Foolhardy & the Brave. "I'm not sure I ever plan to make chicken feet stew, mackerel tartare, nettle haggis, gruel or Irish blood stew, but I sure had a great time learning about them," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "Gates is a master humorist who has crafted an educational and enjoyable book about experiences with food."

Lemony Snicket reveals new insights -- vaguely -- in The Beatrice Letters, a companion book to A Series of Unfortunate Events. "Most of what is fun about The Beatrice Letters is the way it guards its secrets," says Jennifer Mo. "The book is filled with anagrams, hidden images (take a closer look at the cover!), puzzling sonnets, potentially misleading initials, codes and punch-out letters that, unscrambled, offer a most disturbing message -- or two? As usual, Snicket brings in the oddest assortment of random things, ranging from root beer to bats to hatpins, any of which could turn out to be significant clues or red herrings."

Hilari Bell rises above the norm with the second book of the Farsala Trilogy, Rise of a Hero. "Though Rise of a Hero is set in an imagined world in which magic exists, it is one in which people, cooperation and compromise -- not magic -- make the real difference," says Jennifer. "All this is very unusual, both in and outside of children's fantasy fiction, and though Rise of a Hero contains plenty of excitement, its real value lies in its characters, their conflicts and the thoughtfulness with which everything is depicted."

A.S. Mott attempts to chill the bood with his Haunting Fireside Stories. Our reviewer, Gilbert Head, says two are winners and three fall short. "If Mott uses those for guidance towards future work, he might well carve out a nice niche for himself," Gil says.

Tim Downs writes a "top-notch thriller" in Plague Maker, Nicky Rossiter says. "It rekindles ones faith in writers of true page-turner novels. From the opening lines to the final outcome, the reader wants to know more, wants to anticipate twists and turns, and most importantly wants the hero to prevail."

A.H. Holt crosses the Riding Fence in this old-fashioned western novel. "The writing style, which is simple enough for everybody to read, is enhanced by spontaneous local dialogue and evokes vivid images throughout the plot," says newcomer Liana Metal. "Holt, a historian, is an expert in narrating a cowboy's story back in the 19th century, using all the devices her own experience and her studies can offer."

James Patterson recounts Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas in an audionovel that, for this author, is a little light on murder, mystery and mayhem. "I am not a normal fan of love stories, but I was caught up in Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas," Wil Owen says. "For all you Patterson fans looking for his standard fare, avoid this offering. For those of you who enjoy love stories, but not tales of murder, this one is good."

Tom Knapp revisits his youth with Struwwelpeter. But this new rendition of Heinrich Hoffman's classic work, newly illustrated by Bob Staake, leaves him cold. "Where the original drawings were creepy and unsettling, Staake's are cartoony and comical," he says. "The effect doesn't make Hoffman's poems any more child-friendly, but it dilutes the potency of his words! After all, how can we worry too much about a long-legged scissorman with a friendly round face and a snowman's nose?"

Mark Allen was sucked right into Armor Quest: Genesis Vol. 1, especially because of the art by Sherwin Schwartzrock. "Drama. Emotion. Evocative imagery. All of that and more awaits those who have yet to feast their eyes on his work," Mark says. "His wonderful grasp of character expression lends a great deal of realism to the tale."

Sarah Meador gets spooky with The Gunwitch: Outskirts of Doom, featuring Dan Brereton's Nocturnals. "Outskirts of Doom is a monster story with some unquestionably vile monsters, but it would be a mistake to call it a horror story," Sarah Meador says. "It's a showdown between spite and justice, a tale of star-crossed romance, a whole lot of gorgeous art wrapped around a story that doesn't waste its time. It's a glorious oddity, a treat and trick rolled into one."

Daniel Jolley delves in the mysteries of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. "I generally enjoy dark comedies, but I just didn't find Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang funny. There are plenty of comical situations, but actual moments of comedy are few and far between," he says. "The whole thing's just too cute and obvious for its own good, especially the increasingly irksome narration bits."

Tom Knapp is still surprised to admit he and his wife watched Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. "But, after watching the 1989 cult movie on a whim, even my ready-to-be-offended and prepared-to-hate-it wife had to admit that Cannibal Women is pretty funny -- primarily because it knows full well what it is and never tries to be anything more," he says. "Aside from some really pitiful stage combat skills, Cannibal Women is the epitome of a good B-movie. The low budget and campy dialogue works perfectly in this setting; A-level actors and a bigger expense account would have only loused up a good thing."

Good stuff, and more's on the way! Check back often for regular updates at Rambles.NET! (And be sure to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

21 October 2006

This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. It's expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late parrot. It's a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. If you hadn't nailed it to the perch, it would be pushing up the daisies. It's rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-parrot.
- John Cleese

Gotta run, the electrician's here!

Kathleen MacInnes awakes for a Summer Dawn that impresses our reviewer with its Gaelic vocal excellence. "She has a voice made to sing," Nicky Rossiter says. "Through these 14 tracks she will entrance and beguile you even if you do not have a clue what the words mean. Fear not. This album might even teach Gaelic to some of you heathens."

Putumayo hosts a meeting of styles at the Celtic Crossroads. "It is diverse without being unlistenably eclectic, well arranged, thoroughly annotated and full of genuinely good music," says Jennifer Mo. "Contemporary Celtic music compilations so often turn out to be soapy, synthesized new age that it is refreshing to find that this one is nothing of the sort. Celtic Crossroads is a smoothly upbeat, electronic-tinged blend of modern Celtic music that serves as an inviting gateway to the genre, as well as being a fine recording in its own right."

Chip Taylor proves his songcrafting talents on Unglorious Hallelujah, a two-disc set of original material. "Taylor has a gift for spare, appealing melodies, anchored in folk music, and a worn yet warm baritone, and for lyrics that, at their best, are the equal of anybody's," Jerome Clark says. "If not every cut is a tour de force, Taylor is far from just another mope singer-songwriter. His most accomplished material -- and the present CD showcases only the most recent of it -- is in its own noble class."

Beth Nielsen Chapman revives her childhood memories of Latin hymns on an album titled, appropriately, Hymns. "Even though hymns of this type are rarely heard in churches today, I found myself singing along -- the almost forgotten Latin phrases coming back almost magically -- even though I haven't heard some of them for too many years," Bill Knapp says. "The beloved hymns themselves are the real stars of this recording. Chapman pays tribute to these masterpieces with her simple and soothing style; she does not try to steal the spotlight for herself. This album is both awe-inspiring and overpowering."

Rick Nelson's music is recalled on the compilation CD Easy to Be Free: The Songs of Rick Nelson. "Most of the artists included seem too much in awe of the songs they're covering to dare to invest them with much in the way of new life," Gregg Thurlbeck notes. "And this brings me to the strangeness of this album's concept. Rick Nelson wrote very little of his best known material; fewer than half the songs on this tribute album were actually penned by Nelson."

Jess Klein nurtures her City Garden with "consistent musical angst and guts," Risa Duff proclaims. "City Garden is a diverse, risk-taking CD that is exploring genres and just might be the one to take Jess Klein to the top, where she belongs."

Jayme Kelly Curtis gets down with the blues on Sugar & Sand: A Trilogy in Three Moods. "Sugar & Sand is full-out, pure passion," Paul de Bruijn says. "Curtis's vocals give a ton of heart to the songs and the music adds flesh to that passion, emphasizing the tones of each mood."

The Blue Canyon Boys dig into the pre-bluegrass hillbilly tradition on Just an Ol' Dirt Road. "The Blue Canyon Boys will appeal to anyone who loves traditional music served straight-up," Jerome Clark says. "Their choice in material is outstanding, and their originals stand comfortably next to the covers of venerable folk songs, gospel tunes and trad-country favorites. Though the originals are in-the-tradition evocations of the old country home, hobos and heartbreak, they manage to make them feel fresh."

The Steep Canyon Rangers are playing One Dime at a Time. "It never ceases to surprise me how bluegrass, a genre now six decades old, continues to replenish itself and to find interesting ways of, well, repeating itself," Jerome says. "Yes, there is rote, exasperating bluegrass -- and no shortage of it -- and there's music played on bluegrass instruments that's spread the genre definition so thin as to have snapped it. (Not that there's anything wrong with that; it's just that it's cheating to call it bluegrass.) It's bands like the Steep Canyon Rangers, though, that keep the tradition on track while finding their own reserved seats on the bluegrass express."

Ravi Shankar pleases only part of the time on Flute & Sitar Music of India. "This remastered and re-released recording is still far from perfect; sound quality on all tracks but the first is mediocre even with excellent speakers, and the first track is plagued by resonant and frequent coughing," reports Jennifer Mo (who marks with this her 50th Rambles.NET review).

Peter Kater and R. Carlos Nakai join forces on Natives, a collaboration between a new-age pianist and a Native American flutist. Kevin Shlosberg joins the staff today and calls it "an album full of spaciousness, simplicity, mystery, gentleness and power. ... Often, piano and flute circle one another, looking for the proper place to connect. Once they do, whether it be the plaintive cries of the flute or the fragile percussion and plinking of the piano, the separateness of each sound is washed away by a deluge of wholeness."

The soundtrack to The Cooler impresses Sherrill Fulghum as "the perfect album to accompany an intimate evening with that significant other, with or without the candlelight and fire; it's great for dancing close and snuggling."

Celtic Colours has come and gone for another year! Fortunately, members of the Rambles.NET team were there. Here's our first report from this spendid event: Virginia MacIsaac's review of Natalie MacMaster & Friends: Bringing the World Home.

Barbara Spring shares her latest poetry in Sophia's Lost & Found: Poems of Above & Below. "The poet's words wrap around you like a friendly guiding arm, accompanying you on a journey of joy through the wonders and mysteries of nature and spirituality," says Jenny Ivor. "Her phrasing is rich and lush, while avoiding hyperbole, and after reading the first few poems, you approach each new one in the sure knowledge and delighted anticipation of a gift."

Karin Muller describes her experiences in Japanland: A Year in Search of Wa. "She truly jumps in to her new homeland, working diligently to fit into the social protocols," Jessica Lux-Baumann explains. "She's obviously done her research, and it pays off in the form of a compelling narrative about a year in search of wa (harmony)."

Roy Edwin Thomas gathers memories in Come Go With Me: Old-Timer Stories from the Southern Mountains. "I'm really not sure why this book is targeted at young children because it's a wonderful book that virtually anyone can enjoy -- and only adult readers are likely to truly appreciate the treasury of old-time memories collected here," Daniel Jolley remarks. "This book really is living history, reflecting the memories and traditions of a generation no longer with us, taking us back to olden days when life was simpler and the world seemingly a much better place."

Colin Murphy and Donal O'Dea make the language clear with The Book of Feckin' Irish Slang That's Great Craic for Cute Hoors & Bowsies. "If you're going to Ireland, be sure to get this book first and learn it from cover to cover," Tom Knapp urges. "I'm sure it will help you make friends. At least, you'll be able to order enough of the black stuff to get thoroughly knackered and end up in a deadly mill!"

James Kidman ignites a Black Fire with this mystery/horror novel. "At the risk of stringing up one of the many red herrings swimming through this mystery, I'll reveal that this isn't a traditional ghost story," Sarah Meador whispers. "There is a mystic, almost mythical terror throughout the book, but it's much more subtle and graceful than the usual unquiet spirit."

Craig Moodie takes readers to sea in Salt Luck, a novel set on Cape Cod. "I started this book with optimism, having enjoyed Moodie's work in the past, which turned quickly to annoyance at the small font size employed by Moodie's publisher. But just a few pages in, that minor irritant was forgotten as I was absorbed into life on the Cape," Tom Knapp says. "Moodie has a fisherman's voice in his writing, and it's hard not to fall under the spell of biting wind and rain, a tossing deck, the disappointment of an empty hook and the taste of Salt Luck on your lips."

Scott Nicholson creates a haunted setting on The Farm. "This is a creepy, intricate horror story, with a bit of a slow start, but some amazing characters and concepts that overshadow a few minor imperfections," Christopher McCallister says.

Janet Aylmer flounders in her efforts to add perspective to an English classic in Darcy's Story, her retelling of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice. "It was a good idea, and in more competent hands, it might have made a good book," Judy Lind reports with regret. "Unfortunately, Aylmer's retelling of the story involves lifting not just paragraphs, but whole pages of Pride & Prejudice verbatim. She adds almost nothing to our perception of Darcy as an individual."

Gerald Coomer's novel, The Summer I was Seventeen: A Story of the Appalachian Trail, fills a niche, Virginia MacIsaac believes. "This novel is a coming-of-age story written in a blend of essay and narrative. It is written with a very personal sensitivity and is contemplative reading. The author speaks about moments in the Appalachian wilderness and a young man questions himself, his companions and his beliefs. The grandeur of the mountainous wilderness is a great feature of the story, too."

Sarah Meador seeks safety behind The Five Fists of Science, a graphic novel by Matt Fraction and Steve Sanders. "The Five Fists of Science is an adventure that can actually lay some claim to being lushly illustrated," Sarah says. "The art, with its soft penciled feel and subdued naturalist tones, is lovely and very much in keeping with the style of illustrated adventure stories. The art also amplifies the absurdist, sometimes sarcastic nature of the dialogue."

Tom Knapp shares a series of Revelations with volume two of the Witchblade series. "The storyline goes in all sorts of convoluted directions," he says. "Still, anyone interested in reading the Witchblade series will be lost without knowing the events of this book, and as always there's plenty of action, murder and intrigue, as well as Pezzini and others in trademark Top Cow scanty attire."

Mark Allen appreciates the biblical slant of David: The Shepherd's Song. "It would seem that more and more creators are figuring out how to produce biblically based comics that are fun to read and a blast to look at," he says. "The long and short of it? Royden Lepp is a master storyteller, and I, for one, can't wait for the next installment. Bring on Goliath!"

Daniel Jolley takes a trip to Munich for a look at the events at the Summer Olympics in 1972. "Besides a grim reminder that terrorism is by no means a new phenomenon, Munich finds ready application to the lively debates of the present day," Daniel says. "The questions surrounding this story are the same kinds of questions being asked today in Western society (partly because we've let this cancer of the body politic fester for decades). That is what makes this film especially important."

Stefan Abley said this film went over like a ton of, well, Brick. "It can be best described as a hybrid of hardboiled private eye film noir and high school flick," Stefan says. "It sounds corny in principle, but it manages to work; it is unlike anything else I have seen."

Good stuff, and more's on the way! Check back often for regular updates at Rambles.NET! (And be sure to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

14 October 2006

If I could tell you what it meant, there would be no point in dancing it.
- Isadora Duncan

It is simply too chilly to consider mowing the lawn today....

Marcas O'Murchu showcases the Irish flute on Turas Ceoil. "But this is more than just flute playing," Nicky Rossiter says. "Such a narrow offering from Marcas O'Murchu would probably be a wonderful release, but on this CD you get that and more."

Al Stewart uncovers A Beach Full of Shells in this folk CD from Scotland. "He has a diverse discography, but throughout there's a theme of popularizing history and using eloquent wordplay in his lyrics," says Virginia MacIsaac. "The songs are pure folk art, of a sort, that take a swipe at conventional norms, royalty and cultural icons like the Mona Lisa, Catherine of Aragon and class reunions. ... More than anything, I'm curious about the songs and entertained by the voice and music. Have a listen to this international and historically themed folk CD with lyrics that keep you awake at night and music that relaxes like a cup of hot tea."

Judith Owen is ready for the music right Here and now. "Judith is a remarkable singer and deploys her smoky voice like a beautifully honed instrument. She has a naturally jazzy voice, with a gentle huskiness, and draws immediate comparisons with a young Joni Mitchell," says Mike Wilson. "Here is a soulful and relaxing album, impeccably capturing Judith's accomplished vocal dexterity -- perfect accompaniment for a late night on the sofa and a large glass of red wine!"

Rick Berlin makes his music for Me & Van Gogh. "With his Brechtian melodies reminiscent of Kurt Weil, Rick Berlin would not be everyone's cup of tea," says Risa Duff. "Personally, I think his music grows on you with each listen. ... Rick is an outstanding lyricist and this is just plain poignant poetry."

Patricia Vonne mixes flamenco and rock on Guitars & Castanets. "Combine her soulful voice, a theatrical style reminiscent of Cher, rhythmic guitar and outstanding accompaniment, and you have an exhilarating musical experience," says John R. Lindermuth. "Mixing an edgy rockabilly style with South-of-the-Border flavoring makes an evocative and passionate combination."

Doug Cox and Sam Hurrie are singing for Hungry Ghosts on this folk-blues recording. "Hungry Ghosts isn't an album that flaunts its virtuosity," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "The guitar solos aren't particularly flashy; they don't distract from the songs themselves. And yet the playing is always dynamic, always spot on, always in sync with the mood of the composition, whether it's a lighthearted ditty, a traditional blues number or something more exotic."

Jay Soto's debut recording was a Long Time Coming -- but Sherrill Fulghum says it was worth the wait. "Soto, who was named one of the top unsigned artists at the Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Festival, plays with the style and skill of such jazz guitar greats as George Benson, Lee Ritenour and Larry Carlton," she says.

Chris Thile, formerly of the bluegrass trio Nickel Creek, releases his fifth solo recording, How to Grow a Woman from the Ground, on the Sugar Hill label. "Thile's mandolin playing is phenomenal and is the driving force behind much of the material on the album," Mike Wilson says. "Vocally, Thile ranges from hushed whisper -- sometimes too hushed -- to frenzied old-timey, at times recalling early Neil Young or Ryan Adams."

Kacey Jones Sings Mickey Newbury on this sensitive tribute CD. "I don't know how you'd improve on a tribute album so sensitively conceived and executed as this one," Jerome Clark says. "Jones' riveting interpretations lift these gorgeous, heartbreaking songs to a kind of tragic glory."

Dakato Sid & the Badland Serenaders perform Live at Josiah Stillwater Cooper's Saloon. "Dakota Sid's deep voice rumbles and rolls, at times similar to many of the recognizable names in country, but he varies it enough to keep the music original," Virginia MacIsaac says. "And instrumentally, it's a gem. A boot-kicking mandolin instrumental on track six pretty near carries the price of the CD by itself."

The life of the professional cow manager is celebrated in songs and poetry on Elko! A Cowboy's Gathering. "The offerings range from the cleverly spun yarn to the elegaic poem, from the quiet instrumental to the rambunctuous hoedown," says Gilbert Head. "All are rendered with respectable audio clarity, in spite of field recording in a variety of different venues."

Kaitlin Hahn had a mixed experience at Celtic Fest Chicago this year. Read her report to see what went right -- and what went wrong!

Next week, coverage begins of the 2006 Celtic Colours festival. Meantime, here's another small taste from last year's event: Na h-Eilthirich: The Emigrants at the Nova Scotia Highland Village. Katie Knapp makes the observations!

Chris Wangler takes a look at Famous People of the Paranormal. "This is an interesting, fun read and just might satisfy any curious fixation you might have with the unknown," says Risa Duff. "If you take it for what it is -- a book that gives you specific examples of visionary individuals and their backgrounds -- you might enjoy Famous People of the Paranormal."

Julie Powell demonstrates plenty of fortitude in Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. "Expect a love or hate reaction to this book," Jessica Lux-Baumann warns. "Don't pick this up is you want to master the art of French cooking. ... This is a book for anyone who enjoys a good memoir -- this one just happens to be centered around the ultimate gourmet cookbook."

David Borgenicht gives parents a hand with How to Con Your Kid: Simple Scams for Mealtime, Bedtime, Bathtime, Anytime. "This isn't a dry child-rearing tome, so don't pick it up looking for an academic treatment of the subject," Jessica says. "With that said, the entire book follows a terrific child-rearing philosophy without stating it directly. All the cons are stated in a positive light."

Stephen Elliott crosses the line between fiction and memoir in My Girlfriend Comes to the City & Beats Me Up. "As a reviewer, I am faced with the challenge of communicating how powerful Elliott's narrative is, without just cutting and pasting an entire short story right here," says Jessica. "My personal proclivities do not include the S&M lifestyle, but Elliott was able take me inside the mind of a lost, painfully confused, desperate man seeking sexual release and affirmation via domination by beautiful, powerful women."

Nalo Hopkinson and Geoff Ryman pull together the Tesseracts Nine in this collection of "New Canadian Speculative Fiction." "The general run of stories in Tesseracts is friendlier than those in most anthologies, magic closer to hand and wonder more immediate," says Sarah Meador. "Above all, the wonder and magic in the worlds of Tesseracts are immediate, not dependent on random chance or grand fate to reveal themselves to mere mortals, but an almost inescapable part of daily life."

Simone Maroney does more waning than waxing with Moon Child, says Jennifer Mo. "While it is evident that first-time author Maroney lacks neither ambition nor enthusiasm, the results are uneven, ranging from the merely pedestrian to the cringe-inducing," she says. "Its slight charms are eclipsed by writing so awkward that even some non-sticklers are bound to find it disruptive, and as a whole, it is neither a cohesive nor convincing fantasy."

Debra Galant is just a bit Rattled by circumstances in her characters' idyllic New Jersey countryside. "The action is larger than life, but Galant manages to execute a resolution in which the good guys win, the bad guys lose and the characters on the fence manage to change the course of their lives for the better," Jessica Lux-Baumann says. "Pick this novel up for a light, fun read."

Avi gets mysterious with The Man Who Was Poe. "Avi's story is a masterful riff on the Poe genre, conjuring a mystery and atmosphere worthy of Poe himself," Tom Knapp says. "He has written a Poe, not as we might have liked him to be, but quite probably very much like he was."

Mary Harvey pulls up a chair to enjoy a collection of Embroideries by Iranian writer and graphic artist Marjane Satrapi. "Satrapi lets the stories tell themselves, each one of them an element in a delicately woven embroidery of anecdotes about an equally delicate subject matter," Mary says. "Satrapi's art is beautiful wedded to her words, her ingenious use of simple, dark lines calling up a rich and complex world full of women dealing with a complete lack of sexual equality, sometimes in very subversive ways. Using the format of images to confront illusions is quite ingenious, and Satrapi's free-flowing, vivid illustrations have the same respect for their subject as Persepolis and Persepolis 2."

Tom Knapp glimpses a racy early-morning farewell in Darling Cheri, a "picto-novelette" by Walter Minus. "Darling Cheri is not a graphic novel so much as it is a brief vignette," he says. "It's not for readers looking for action, suspense or character-driven plotting; it's slim slice of cheesecake that briefly sates the senses and is gone."

Tom revisits The Origin of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with the movie starring Kristy Swanson recast in this graphic novel to suit the Sarah Michelle Gellar version of events. "The popular Dark Horse series of Buffy books proved the perfect place to build a bridge between Los Angeles and Sunnydale," Tom says. "Among longtime fans, The Origin is an essential part of the complete set. For newcomers making a first foray into the Buffyverse, this is the perfect place to start."

Daniel Jolley takes in a little "Springtime for Hitler" with The Producers. "The Producers is a smart, very funny movie (the original story, after all, did come from Mel Brooks, so you know it's going to make you laugh), but the engine that drives it just seems to skip every once and a while," he says. "I'm certainly thankful to finally get a chance to see this production that I have heard so much about, but I have to believe the actual Broadway show presented the story more effectively than the film."

Juliet Youngren makes a surprise visit to fill us in on the details of the new, special edition DVD version of The Castle of Cagliostro. "The artwork is nothing short of amazing, especially considering that this movie was first released in 1979. And the new, digitally remastered version has done a fine job of cleaning up the picture," she says. "The movie itself is as fresh and entertaining as ever. It's good to see it getting the VIP treatment."

More to come! Be sure to check back soon for more great reviews at Rambles.NET! (Or go on and browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

7 October 2006

A crust eaten in peace is better
than a banquet partaken in anxiety.
- Aesop

It always feels different when it happens somewhere else. A man walking into a one-room schoolhouse and murdering several young Amish girls is a tragedy anywhere; when it happens a few miles from your home, it cuts especially deep. Our thoughts are with their families this week.

Empire Musicwerks reissues a vital early recording called Lark in the Morning: Folk Songs & Dances from the Irish Countryside. "The 22 tracks on offer here are seminal recordings made with just the pure sweet (sometimes not too sweet) voices of the people who preserved the music, not for profit, fame or fortune but purely for love," Nicky Rossiter says. "You can listen to this album as any other collection of folk songs and music, oblivious to the underlying history. Knowing that you are listening to history will, however, give that extra frisson to the lover of folk music."

North Sea Gas is singing Scottish songs Lochanside. "There's nothing flashy about North Sea Gas," Tom Knapp says. "Thank God. ... The trio from Scotland is quite comfortable in their own skins, playing and singing with plenty of polish and enthusiasm, but they're content to play their acoustic instruments and sing without undue embellishment. And let me tell you, after sifting through a dozen or so Celtic rock albums, it's refreshing."

The Bog Wanderers conjure a ceili dance with the music on Here's to You. "It's hard to listen without visualizing a floor full of couples moving gaily to the sound in the same way they've been dancing in Ireland for generations," Tom says. "Anyone who wants to host a ceili dance of their own or even just take a few turns 'round the living room could do far worse than to pop Here's to You into the stereo and whirl to this expertly played music that brings Ireland home to Virginia."

Dan McKinnon sings of Fields of Dreams & Glory on this, his fifth recording. "This talent of writing modern songs imbued with a familiar traditional sound reminds me of another artist who does the same: Scotland's Karine Polwart, who sings and writes in the same fine storytelling tradition," says Virginia MacIsaac. "For sure, MacKinnon's new CD offers a selection of ballads with strong, flowing, melodies and many stories told in original, poetic lyrics well-suited to the rhythm of the singer's voice."

Estampie gets medieval on Signum. "Estampie explores (and, perhaps inevitably, reinterprets) medieval man's psyche, caught between the vivid joys and woes of daily existence and loftier concerns with the forthcoming apocalypse," says Jennifer Mo. "But don't dismiss Signum as a mere academic exercise: varying between lively dance pieces, solemn chorals and dirge-like melodies, it lacks neither in listening pleasure, variety, nor artistry. Its 16 tracks are richly textured, thematically cohesive and enjoyably old-world in feel."

Big Bill Broonzy comes back to life in this new release, Amsterdam Live Concerts 1953. "This attractively packaged two-disc set pays homage to a musician (1893-1958) who, though hugely influential and prolifically recorded, now survives only in the memories of hard-core devotees of blues and folk music," Jerome Clark says. "The sound quality is fabulous, so sharp and warm it sustains the illusion that Broonzy is talking, singing and playing to you personally. ... Listening to this, you feel real good."

James Reams, Walter Hensley and the Barons of Bluegrass join forces on Wild Card. "In their understated but quietly confident way Reams, Hensley and compatriots make some of the most satisfying bluegrass around," Jerome says. "I suppose that there is no one way that bluegrass is 'supposed' to sound; nor, I'm sure, should there be. But if there were, it ought to be something like this, where the singers, the pickers, the songs and the soul of the music are as one."

Bobby Bare Jr.'s Young Criminal's Starvation League follows the road not taken on The Longest Meow. "The result is one of the most eccentric records of the year, blending psychedelic effects, country rock, alternative brooding and straight-ahead boogy music -- often in the same song," says Michael Scott Cain. "The result is interesting, frustrating, fascinating and occasionally wrong-headed -- again, often in the same song."

For "more than four decades, Grammy-winning jazz pianist Bob James has been making his particular style of smooth jazz," Sherrill Fulghum says. "The culmination of that career has been put on display in a two-disc set, The Essential Collection: 24 Smooth Jazz Classics. ... It's a collection well worth the listen."

Karl Seglem hits the New North with a blend of jazz and Norwegian sounds. "It's jazz music, but jazz music uprooted from its American homeland and replanted in the heart of Norway, frozen and cracked and thawed and frozen again, so that all the Mississippi mud and darker blue streaks have filtered out," Sarah Meador says. "And it's traditional Norwegian music, and Seglem's own tradition-influenced compositions, but painted in the modern colors of electric guitar and synthesizer."

Celtic Colours is about to begin for another year; this world-famous Celtic music festival is marking 10 years of excellence! We've saved a tidbit or two to whet your appetite for the event -- here's Erika Rabideau's report on last year's high-profile event, Step into the Past, at the Fortress of Louisbourg.

Tom Knapp, meanwhile, reminisces about the many nights spent in 2005 at the Festival Club -- and he laments the sad state of affairs that keeps him from attending the festival this year!!

And Katie Knapp discusses the pleasures she found, both in the Festival Club green room and through a local merchant, Baadeck Yarns, in her recollection of a skein of yarn.

John O'Brien Jr. digs deeply into the history of Irish folk music in Festival Legends: Songs & Stories. "The subtitle tells it all: 'The people who made the music that defined a people.' The book looks at a selection of these legends," says Nicky Rossiter. "This is a top-class book that must grace the bookshelf of every folk music lover in the world."

Macdara Woods draws together his latest collection of poetry in Artichoke Wine. The verse, Sean Walsh says, is in "the voice of a seasoned mature poet, comfortable in his skin but still in awe of the world that surrounds him. ... Woods' cool architecture frames the portrayed experiences culled from the mundane, loaded with the significant. His strengths are clarity, elegance and musicality, his creations often sublime."

Brian Hicks tackles one of the greatest maritime questions of all time in Ghost Ship: The Mysterious True Story of the Mary Celeste & Her Missing Crew. "Hicks' narrative is fresh and a pleasure to read, wading through dense material without bogging down in the text," Tom Knapp reports. "His thorough research is beyond reproach, and his conclusions are grounded in logic. The story itself is a sweeping epic that has held the world's imagination for generations, and the author gives it its due. Anyone tantalized by the sea or unsolved mysteries will find this a gripping experience."

Adena Halpern shares frank segments of her life in Target Underwear & a Vera Wang Gown: Notes from a Single Girl's Closet. "Halpern will win you over if you give her a chance," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "Despite the cover and the subtitle, don't expect this to be a whiny female rant about personal flaws and interpersonal drama. It's a witty, over-the-top, self-satire that any modern gal will relate to. Halpern writes with the wisdom that comes from experience, so she is able to analyze the flaws in her logic during her younger years."

Cathy Travis boils the history and politics down for easy understanding in Constitution Translated for Kids. "Don't leave this book for just the grade-school students to enjoy!" Jessica urges. "As a twenty-something with a dual degree in engineering and economics, I consider myself fairly well-versed in politics and history, but I learned a lot in just the first few pages of this book."

Joe Haldeman once again proves his mastery of science fiction in Old Twentieth. "With more Hugo, Nebula and other prestigious awards than he can probably keep track of, Joe Haldeman is a modern-day master that needs no introduction to science fiction fans," Dan Jolley says. "In his latest offering, Old Twentieth, he offers a nostalgic look back at the good old 20th century from a distant future where interstellar travel is practical, warfare is a relic of history and man has seemingly gained immortality."

Mary Beth Miller dances On the Head of a Pin with this new, young-adult novel and intense psychological drama. "The book is about figuring out who to trust (and surprisingly, there are some adults who come through for troubled teens in here) and how far one can go without being true to oneself," Jessica Lux-Baumann says. "She writes candidly about issues that are important for teens to consider and fit into their own personal belief structure."

Rachel Caine plays a round or two of djinn rummy in her second Weather Warden book, Heat Stroke. "When not engaged in saving the world, Joanne focuses the totality of her being on clothes, candy and other bits of hedonism. The resulting blend of strength and superficiality makes for frequently unappealing character, which makes it hard to accept all the fuss generated over her throughout the book," says Sarah Meador. "And unlike Ill Wind, which felt complete on its own, Heat Stroke suffers from sequelitis, with a woefully broken ending and wide assortment of loose ends."

Lemony Snicket refuses to leave those poor children alone, as he demonstrates cruelly in #3 of A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Wide Window. "I felt that this book had dropped a half-notch in quality from the first two books of the series," Chris McCallister states, but "I want to make it clear that I still feel this to be a good story that was fun to read."

Douglas Adams candidly explains Life, the Universe, & Everything in his third Hitchhiker's novel -- although reviewer Daniel Jolley finds this a lesser chapter in the series. "It's quite funny, particularly in a few rather memorable sections, but it is not consistently funny from beginning to end," he says. "On the whole, much less seems to happen in this book than often happened over the course of a few chapters in the first two books of the trilogy. This is still an entertaining read, but even the comedy lacks some of the satirical and witty zest that typified Adams' earlier successes."

Jennifer Mo books a room at Linda Medley's Castle Waiting -- and decides that character, art and humor are a fair substitute for plot. "If ever there was a book in which the journey, not the destination, was important, this is it," she says. "Never pedantic nor overtly feminist, its feel-good quality balanced by Medley's wicked wit that works particularly closely with her illustrations, Castle Waiting is certainly an unusual -- er -- medley of modern fairytale, picaresque and graphic novel. Medley's black-and-white artwork isn't quite as delicately Arthur Rackhamesque as that of Charles Vess, but it is pleasingly expressive and becomes bolder and more stylized as the book goes on. Somewhat unusually for a graphic novel, Castle Waiting is suitable for a preteen audience, but is more likely to be appreciated by older readers for its subtle allusions and sly humor."

Tom ferrets out the Hobgoblin in volume 13 of the Ultimate Spider-Man. On its surface, he says, the book "is about a big, destructive battle between Spider-Man and the Hobgoblin." Deeper in, however, it's about relationships. "Ultimate Spider-Man continues to set the benchmark for superhuman stories with a dominant human side," Tom says. "Spider-Man is slightly less important to this book than Peter is, and the series is far stronger for it."

Carole McDonnell shares her sandwich with Robert K. Ullman and his Lunch Hour Comix. "Ullman assures us that all the comic strips were created in one-hour lunch periods. That is a feat, I suppose," she says. "His skill is good, but he falters in his subject matter. ... On the whole, it's a forgettable little book."

Daniel Jolley is checking the forecast with The Weather Man. "I've never been much of a Nicholas Cage fan, but his performance in The Weather Man has finally put him over the top," Daniel says. "From now on, I am a Cage fan. He turns in a marvelous, make-it-or-break-it performance in this film."

Tom Knapp may have occasional bouts of Cabin Fever, but at least a dog never eats his lips! If that statement makes sense, you've already seen this low-budget horror film that earned a surprising amount of acclaim from the movie industry. "This movie is not for anyone who's looking for a strong plot, credible logic, sensible decisions or good acting," Tom warns. "It is, however, for anyone who likes gore. Gore is served up in buckets -- almost literally, mind you -- as skins peels and bubbles and scabs, blood flows and spatters, panicked people do violent and panicky things to each other, and a dog snacks messily on one or two of the stars."

More to come! Be sure to check back soon for more mighty reviews at Rambles.NET! (Or go on and browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

30 September 2006

I'm your only friend, I'm not your only friend,
but I'm a little glowing friend,
but really I'm not actually your friend, but I am....
- They Might Be Giants

Autumn, she's a rollin' in!

The top artists from Cape Breton celebrate the Celtic sound with Failte: A Cape Breton Welcome. "What better way to open up a new building that's focused on the preservation and promotion of Cape Breton's Celtic music than to compile a sampler CD of some of the finest Cape Breton/Scottish-Canadian musicians who are active in the Cape Breton music scene right now?" Virginia MacIsaac asks. "The musicians are all established players ranging from ages 80 (Buddy MacMaster) to nearly 18 (Isaac Fraser), while the rest fall somewhere in between."

Talisman is heading Just Up the Hill with its Washington-based brand of Celtic sounds. "Talisman utilizes traditional instruments like whistles, guitars, fiddles and a hammered dulcimer to impart their versions of the old tunes," says Sherrill Fulghum. "But the band also uses harmonies and the blending of their instruments to bring a different sound to the album, demonstrating that not all Celtic music bands or music sound alike."

Neil Gaiman's writing has inspired a collection of songs on Where's Neil When You Need Him? -- the brainchild of Gaiman fan and music executive Patrick Rodgers. "It's good. It's fun. It's moody. It's diverse," Tom Knapp says. "I don't love all of the music, but every track honors the source material, and that's saying a lot."

Colleen Power is Face & Eyes into her music. (Hey, it's a Newfoundland expression, OK?) "Colleen has no problem expressing her feelings through song," Tom says. "Face & Eyes is a delightful album, more proof of my personal theory that much of the world's best musical talent and creativity is nestled in the snug harbors of the Atlantic Provinces."

Olga blends folk and blues with a few other ingredients to make Now Is the Time with her husband, Jimbo Mathus of Squirrel Nut Zippers fame. "If Bonnie Raitt hadn't surrendered long ago to the blandishments of Adult Contemporary Radio, and instead stuck closer to where she started, she would probably sound something like this," Jerome Clark decides. "By which I mean to say, I'd far rather listen to Olga."

Ted Estersohn offers both the Root & Branch of blues with this album. "This man has made an art of blues and knows just what colours to pull off his palette to create a CD that captures the shine of the old greats and brings them into a new era with Estersohn expressionism," Virginia MacIsaac opines. "It's blues with a light and airy touch; perhaps Estersohn might be called the Lawrence Welk of blues. And I mean that in a good way."

Radney Foster, who is possibly best known as the pen behind several Dixie Chicks hits, goes it alone on This World We Live In. "The album avoids all the pitfalls of the genre, perfectly combining rootsy country sounds with heartfelt ballads and a dash of good old-fashioned rock 'n' roll," Mike Wilson says. "Radney's musings on love and life immediately entice you to empathise with the characters in his songs, or reflections on his own life experiences. Radney has the uncanny ability to decode the spectrum of human emotions that are familiar territory to us all."

Jim Lauderdale makes his musical genre plain on Bluegrass. "Bluegrass, which draws on the services of some of the genre's leading pickers, benefits from Lauderdale's impressively biting vocals and his professional's composing skills," Jerome Clark says. However, he adds, "little of the material strays far from lyrics and melodies that would render the product unacceptable to some 15-minute superstar looking for the tune that would give him or her a shot at 16."

The independent label Palo Duro champions Texas music with its new compilation, Texas Unplugged, Vol. 2. "Musical droughts come and go, but whatever the climatic conditions elsewhere, the musical well of Texas never seems in danger of running dry," Jerome says. "Texas Unplugged is a drink of cool, cool water."

Ross Milligan makes an impressive debut as a jazz musician on electric and acoustic guitar, Debbie Koritsas says. "Passing Places is an outstanding contemporary collection of original compositions for electric and acoustic guitar revealing the finest ear for melody, each composition rich in detail, emotion and expression. ... Milligan quite simply gets it right every time, properly focusing on lyricism, nuance, drama, emotion and rhythm."

Pedro Luis Ferrer is a Natural when it comes to Cuban revolution -- er, make that evolution. "That attitude landed him in hot water with Fidel Castro, and his music has been banned from the national media," John R. Lindermuth says. "Despite that, Ferrer is beloved by many in Cuba as a musician who has reinvented the country's musical traditions and transformed them to create a new means of expression."

Andrew Beaujon dissects a genre in Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock. "There are gems in this nearly 300-page tome, but as a body of work, this collection is aimless," Jessica Lux-Baumann reports. "Beaujon wanders around the country looking for material, but the book has no direction or thesis, and the chapters don't tie into one another. ... As stand-alone magazine pieces, each of the chapters would be moderately interesting, but to sell this book as a definite source on the Christian rock phenomenon is misleading."

Mike Dash digs into Batavia's Graveyard to unearth the story of a shipwreck and bloody mutiny led by Jeronimus Cornelisz in the early days of the East India spice trade. "Dash should be commended for his ability to present the story with such perfect balance between sensational drama and stark historical facts. There are enough notes and references to sate even the most passionate researcher, and the narrative never falters in its flow," Tom Knapp says. "Sadistic and savage, Cornelisz is a fascinating character from history, a zealot and madman that puts many modern serial killers to shame. Hard to read at times because of the unflinching violence, it is impossible to look away."

Kayla Williams details her service in Iraq in Love My Rifle More Than You: Young & Female in the U.S. Army. "She never provides any solid answers, choosing instead to reveal how confused and frustrated she was, yet how rewarding some parts of the experience were," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "I rather like the fact that she is honest about her love/hate relationship with the Army and the mission in Iraq, and she transports the reader to the point of view of a foot solider."

Bob Andelman dips into the creative well for Will Eisner: A Spirited Life. "You would think a biography about such a successful, creative and accomplished individual would be really entertaining, right? Well, Will Eisner: A Spirited Life seems to focus more on the people around Eisner than on Eisner himself," says C. Nathan Coyle. "In other words, Andelman writes the biography as if Eisner was a supporting character in his own life."

Isabel Glass enters the realm of high fantasy with Daughter of Exile. "Daughter of Exile is densely plotted with numerous storylines, none of which is left hanging," says Laurie Thayer. "While the story is not precisely fast-paced because of that denseness, it never drags."

Elvira Woodruff remembers the Small Beauties in this tale of forced emigration during the Irish famine of 1845. "The story is short, sweet and touching, a reminder of the vital connections to home that can sustain people forced to leave," Tom Knapp says. "The large illustrations are painted in warm, subdued colors, giving an expressive human face to the O'Hara family's suffering and joy."

Jennifer Egan opens her third novel, The Keep, with "neo-punk cyber-junkie main character Danny arriving at his cousin Howie's dilapidated European castle," Jessica Lux-Baumann explains. "The Keep is one of the best books of the year, and it's nearly impossible for a reviewer to re-create the experience in a few short paragraphs. Go ahead and pick this one up to see for youself!"

Carrie Kabak delves into her protagonist's mid-life crisis in Cover the Butter. "There is a good message of self-reliance here -- no matter how long you've let others push you around, you can still seize control," says Jessica. "I'm giving it only a cautionary recommendation, but don't let that dissuade you, especially if you are a fan of authors like Jane Green."

Bruce Coville's stories, Oddly Enough, don't appeal to Jennifer Mo. "Most of them come across as a little bland and predictable," she says. "I would tend to agree with Coville when he said he never thought of himself as a short-story writer."

China Mieville is not reprising Perdido Street Station with The Scar. "Most assuredly, The Scar marks a new direction for Mieville," Theo deRoth says. "It's not a sequel, in that it's not necessary to have read one to enjoy the other and their only real link is the fact that they're set in the same world. It's better."

Sarah Meador blurs the line between print and online political cartoons with her review of Attitude 3: The New Subversive Online Cartoonists. "Attitude 3 is a print anthology, but it's a print anthology that couldn't exist without the innovation and artistic freedom offered by the Internet," she says. "Every artist in Attitude 3 has more work online (yes, links are provided), sometimes in quantities that would fill volumes of print material. But Attitude 3 offers deeper understanding of that work, along with a print presentation that often benefit's the cartoonists' art. And unlike the online comics, Attitude 3 can be read in the tub."

Tom Knapp pays a visit to Astro City to see The Tarnished Angel. The fourth volume in the series, he says, combines "superheroics and villainy with a plain, old-fashioned potboiler detective yarn. Busiek and Anderson proved long ago that they weren't one-note creators, but it's always gratifying to find new evidence to the fact."

Daniel Jolley is quite ready to play Ring Around the Rosie. "An hour into Ring Around the Rosie, I was wondering why in the name of H.P. Lovecraft so many reviewers trashed this movie," he says. "It is genuinely creepy, suspenseful, disturbing in an I-haven't-figured-it-out-yet-but-I-have-some-ideas kind of way, and building up to something quite possibly momentous. Very soon thereafter, though, the story suddenly becomes way too disjointed and tumbled into several what-the-heck-just-happened moments. That most definitely is a problem."

Daniel next takes a trip back to Camelot. "With its lavish sets, beautiful music and undeniable star quality, Camelot is a wonderful motion picture built upon the successful Lerner-Loewe Broadway musical, which in turn was based on T.H. White's The Once & Future King," he says. "This version of King Arthur is exceedingly human, and that makes for some powerful scenes, particularly his passionate soliloquies as he ponders the loss of everything he cares about. One cannot help but despair alongside Arthur as Camelot begins to crumble."

More to come! Be sure to check back soon for more mighty reviews at Rambles.NET! (Or go on and browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

23 September 2006

I discovered I scream the same way whether I'm about to be devoured by a Great White or if a piece of seaweed touches my foot.
- Kevin James

I promised myself I wouldn't complain ... but DAMN, this cold has lingered for more than a week now, and I'm Really Tired of it! Someone make it better and let me breathe again!

Kathryn Tickell and Corrina Hewat stand amazed that The Sky Didn't Fall. "The album takes you on a gorgeously feminine journey, where intimate vocal numbers are tastefully interwoven with radiant instrumentals," Debbie Koritsas says. "For an album featuring just two musicians, the resulting sound is immediate and impressive. The sweet, heady flow of Northumbrian pipes and the lyricism of fiddle are kept wonderfully in check by the reverberant, beautifully supportive notes of Camac electro harp."

Al Petteway and Amy White evoke the Land of the Sky with a recording packing Celtic roots into Appalachian traditions. "Land of the Sky sings of forests, wood smoke and wide open skies," raves Jennifer Mo. "The diversity of the tracks can be subtle and requires a few listens to appreciate, but it is immediately clear that the songs fit well together; they might each describe a slightly different aspect of the Southern Appalachians, but together they form a cohesive, intimate and highly evocative soundtrack of the place, even to someone who has never been there."

Dale Watson finds his musical inspiration somewhere between Whiskey or God. "If you love country music but can't find it anywhere anymore, Whiskey or God is where you want to go," Jerome Clark says. "In the kingdom of honkytonk, Dale Watson is a prince, a terrific singer who brings to mind a rougher-hewn Merle Haggard (who still rules that realm). An able songwriter, he tells gripping blue-collar tales set in bars, dance halls, truck stops and workplaces, lacing them with pathos and humor."

Allison Moorer is certainly Getting Somewhere with meaning on her new country-rock CD. "The arrrangements are full of strong rock backbeats, some with grungy rock guitar and mostly done in mid-tempo or faster arrangements that you can dance to," says Charlie Ricci. "However, when you dig deeper and listen to the dark lyrics, you'll find that Moorer confronts her frightening adolescence and childhood head-on."

Dierks Bentley mines country music for all its cliches on Modern Day Drifter, Mike Wilson says. "The production repeatedly lacks focus," he adds. "It doesn't know whether it's trying to be pop, rock or country, and what you end up with is often the worst elements of all three, fighting for prominence throughout the mix."

The Kennedys make a likable musical statement with Songs of the Open Road. "Any musical act that takes its CD's title from a Walt Whitman poem has already scored points with me. At least you know you're dealing with smart people who probably have something interesting to say," Jerome Clark explains. "Maura plays acoustic guitar and sings, backed by harmony vocalist Pete with a staggering range of mostly stringed instruments, all in service to the songs and never a false note."

David Myles is both Together & Alone in a folksy state of mind. "The themes in the lyrics help to pull the songs together as they switch from one point of the arc to another," Paul de Bruijn states. "All said, Together & Alone is a strong CD."

Chris Beard is a real Live Wire on this new recording. "Beard, the son of guitarist Joe Beard, has been steeped in the blues his entire life," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "Unfortunately, Live Wire is an album of rather unexceptional electric blues driven by the sort of guitar pyrotechnics that may work reasonably well in a packed club but don't readily translate to disc."

Sax man Paul Carr is Just Noodlin' on his new jazz recording with trumpeter Terell Stafford. "Even if Noodlin' does not break any new ground, the playing is excellent," Dave Howell remarks. "This is an example of solid, professional jazz done by an artist who knows how to use his noodle."

Rob Tobias does not disappoint with By the River: Renewing the Jewish Spirit. "Tobias is the modern version of the traditional Jewish music group Safam," says Sherrill Fulghum. "Some of the 16 songs were taken from traditional Jewish songs and others were inspired by a trip to a kibbutz in Israel, but all of them are tunes to lift your hearts and celebrate life."

Virginia MacIsaac is not a fan of Pan -- but she still wanted to give a fair shake to the soundtrack of Finding Neverland. "There's no doubting the musicianship, the density of the music, the layering, the beautiful moments, but overall it's too drawn out, too slow, and I feel a need to break away from it as I sit and listen," she admits. "It might be a great listen for those who are more classically minded and able to take an hour of dream-time during the middle of the day."

Anthony Kiedis, lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, probes a bit of Scar Tissue in this examination of his life. "He experienced more drugs and debauchery before the age of 18 than most people could live through in their entire life," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "In describing his experiences, however, Kiedis uses an inviting tone; he never brags about his exploits or tries to paint himself in an excessively rosy light. He simply invites the reader along to explore his personal experiences and emotions."

Linda Greenlaw, who survived The Perfect Storm, defies The Hungry Ocean on an almost daily basis. "Writing with the casual, conversational style of a story told over coffee and breakfast, Greenlaw describes the details of preparing for and executing a swordfishing expedition," Tom Knapp says. "By the end of this book, you'll know how to clean a fish, whether you want to or not."

Richard Moore gets political and analytical in Escaping the Matrix: How We the People Can Change the World. "Think Michael Moore but more cogently argued. Think John Pilger with an American slant. Think Oliver Stone but more widely focused," says Nicky Rossiter. "He follows up the demonstration of a world in crisis with closely argued possible remedies. This is a constructive book."

Jennifer Saginor exposes memories from her youth in Playground: A Childhood Lost Inside the Playboy Mansion. "She writes with a tone of reflection and analysis, explaining how her father used her to punish her mother and how her father manipulated her like he did all his girlfriends and the Playmate wannabes," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "Overall, this is a quick and telling read about life in the fast lane and the consequences of living large."

Jon Krakauer delves into the Mormon Church in Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith. "This book is really three stories -- that of the mainstream Mormon Church (a cutthroat business poised to take over the world by 2080), another about the polygamist, often incestual, beliefs of the offshoot Fundamentalist Mormon sects, and a third about the religious convictions and potentially schizophrenic beliefs of the Lafferty brothers, who believed God commanded them to kill Brenda and Erica Lafferty 15 years ago," Jessica says. "I came away much better educated about both mainstream and Fundamentalist LDS beliefs and practices."

Susan Cooper shares her Victory in this novel set in both 1803 and 2006. "Cooper's work is always readable and entertaining, but Victory is a step above her earlier works," Tom Knapp says. "Seasoning her story heavily with history from the exciting days of Nelson's Navy, there's enough detail about life aboard a naval flagship to make readers feel the wood beneath their feet, hear the wind in the rigging and knock their bread against the table, for fear of weevils."

Julia Donaldson takes a reverse view on "Jack & the Beanstalk" in The Giants & the Joneses. "Full of giantisms -- my copy included a small Groilish/English dictionary -- that children will no doubt love, it also teaches a gentle lesson about collecting too much stuff," says Laurie Thayer. "I'd love a chance to read this to my soon-to-be 6-year-old niece."

George Zebrowski makes your acquaintance with Black Pockets & Other Dark Thoughts. "After finishing the 19 stories featured in this anthology I would conclude that Zebrowski is an adventurous writer whose style too frequently gets in the way of his storytelling," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "There are some very strange and compelling ideas explored in Black Pockets. ... But the ratio of powerful fiction to forgettable stuff in Black Pockets & Other Dark Thoughts is simply not high enough to justify a hardcover price."

M.J. Rose is in on The Venus Fix in this psychological suspense novel. "It's a gripping mix, guaranteed to keep you turning pages," John R. Lindermuth says.

Brian Joseph has The Gift of Gabe -- but can he write a good philosophical novel? "I really dug this book. Joseph's understanding of consensus reality, theology and philosophy is rather profound, and his method of using song lyrics to illustrate classic philosophical ideas is effective," Gregg Winkler says. "If you're a more inquisitive person, someone who asks the questions that great thinkers like Plato, Aristotle and John Lennon asked, then The Gift of Gabe is a good way to spend an afternoon."

Carole McDonnell joins writer/artist Wilfred Santiago In My Darkest Hour. "I've got to say there were moments when I was confused as to what was going on," Carole admits. "There are pages that have all the great poeticism and muddy storytelling of a Nouvelle Vague picture. I'm all for auteurs and writers and artists going where the story leads them, but vagueness is a detriment to any story because a reader tires after a while if communication is unclear."

Tom Knapp is more than willing to ride along with the Crash Test Demons in this book from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series by Dark Horse. "The people who populate Sunnydale, both living and dead, look like the actors who portray them, right down to Sarah Michelle Gellar's cute button nose," he says. "This might seem like an obvious point, but I'm often amazed how often I see iconic characters in comics who look nothing like their real-life models."

Laurie Thayer gets her fill of obsessed fantasy fans in Ringers: Lord of the Fans. "While Peter Jackson's movie trilogy constantly looms in the background, the documentary is more concerned with following the story of Tolkien's epic through history, giving an especially long chapter to examining its effect on the counter-culture of the '60s (and watch out for the clip of Leonard Nimoy with Spock bangs singing "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins")," she says. "Needless to say, this is not a documentary that takes itself too seriously, but if you doubt that, just wait for the mariachi band."

Chris McCallister is Defending Your Life with this film starring and directed by Albert Brooks. "This is a different movie. It is a good comedy that will seldom make you laugh aloud, but will make you smile a lot," he says. "I'm glad I bought it instead of just renting, as it is definitely rewatchable."

More to come! Be sure to check back soon for more mighty reviews at Rambles.NET! (Or go on and browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

16 September 2006

Imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life.
- Simone Weil

A slight twitch in the weather and, BOOM, a cold. Feh!

Rachel Hair celebrates the clarsach, or Scottish harp, on Hubcaps & Potholes. "It would be difficult to find another Celtic music debut album of such consistent quality and beauty," says Andy Jurgis. "Sit back at the end of a busy day and lose yourself in this gorgeous music!"

The Makem & Spain Brothers go Live on this wish-you-were-here recording. "These lads sing with passion and gusto and an infectious love of the material," Nicky Rossiter says. "This is an album that must be heard to be believed."

James Krueger's "poetry -- and his music -- are derived from an appreciation of nature and often combined with philosophic statements derived from life and relationships," John R. Lindermuth says after spinning Bluebird in the Snow. "There are 12 tracks on this album and they offer pleasant listening with his warm voice and guitar. But, listen -- or, better still, read -- the lyrics for a deeper insight into his music."

Nathalie Nahai "has achieved an appealing and accessible debut album" with this self-titled release, Andy Jurgis says. "Nahai's beautifully poised voice, which is not afraid to explore emotional nuances, successfully links with her own multi-instrumental skills ... and five other musicians to create an expansive sound. Her lyrics are direct, simple and yet powerful."

Dafni is just Drifting in Circles. "While the music of Drifting in Circles ranges widely from song to song, it all comes together by the time the CD closes down," says Paul de Bruijn. "There may be the odd moment or two on the CD while the vocals and music take a moment before they fit comfortably together, but on the whole Dafni has created a lovely package."

Charlie Sexton and Shannon McNally join forces for these Southside Sessions. "These are two very talented, intelligent people who manage to fashion a distinctive and appealing approach out of their own beyond-the-usual talent, exceptional performance skills and finely honed writing," Jerome Clark says. "Southside Sessions feels happily unforced and unbusy, its reason for being simply Sexton and McNally's ambition -- fully realized -- to do some good songs well."

Country singer Liz Carlisle is having a Five Star Day. "What is really making people sit up and take notice is her warm soprano voice, verve and the insightful lyrics that cross boundaries and speak to a variety of people," says John R. Lindermuth. "Whether it's recalling what she misses about 'Montana,' the plaintive 'Waiting,' the folksy 'Little Sadie' or the lovely 'Feels Like Home,' Carlisle knows how to touch a chord in the listener."

Bobby Osborne & the Rocky Top X-Press "can match any band when it comes to playing basic bluegrass," says Sarah Meador. "Osborne himself has the very sort of unvarnished country-boy voice that has come to symbolize bluegrass singers in the minds of most aficionados. But when they Try a Little Kindness, they reach deeper than the country roots of bluegrass and into its gospel and spiritual soul."

Kevin Gordon rocks into motion with O Come Look at the Burning. "The tracks that really rock have an infectiousness that will likely have you tapping your foot and singing along enthusiastically, whilst the slower tracks just slip gently into your consciousness as you drift away with the soothing melodies and spellbinding arrangements," Mike Wilson says. "It is hard to find fault with this markedly relaxed collection."

Angelyna Martinez proves her music is a Labor of Love. "Martinez has a voice like honey, sure to win the applause of the most dedicated jazz lover and win converts to the genre. Delightfully fresh and different, her voice is evocative and haunting," John R. Lindermuth says. "The album is a collection of standards, and is joyful jazz at its best."

Roger Scannura and Ritmo Flamenco are primed for a little Noche Flamenco. "The CD features 11 self-crafted dance tunes including bulerias, rumbas, fandangos and tangos, just to name the most popular styles," Adolf Goriup says. "Scannura is a gifted composer and flamenco guitarist, and his music takes the listener to the fascinating world of Spanish gypsies."

Ed Bernik's photographs and Lisa Gensheimer's text combine to make Pennsylvania Wilds: Images from the Allegheny National Forest a keeper. "Bernik, a veteran commercial photographer, has captured an outstanding collection of images of the forest and its inhabitants," John R. Lindermuth explains. "Gensheimer, a documentary producer and writer whose work has appeared nationwide on public television stations, lucidly outlines the history and color of the region."

Dave Marinaccio reveals his fanboy nature in All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Watching Star Trek. "This amusing little book will likely only appeal to people with a passing familiarity with Star Trek," says Laurie Thayer. "If you're a Trekker (or a Trekkie), though, it'll definitely make you smile and nod in delight."

Jack Williamson writes about his work as a writer in Wonder's Child: My Life in Science Fiction. "Williamson is one of those rare human beings who manage to grow to adulthood without sloughing off their sense of wonder," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "And this gift is what has kept Williamson an active, vibrant member of the science fiction writing community for nearly eight decades."

D.V. Pasupuleti believes he has the answers in Change Your Mind: A Neurologist's Guide to Happiness. "Unfortunately, the author doesn't provide any exercises or guidance for generating the kind of introspection necessary for self-knowledge," says Corinne H. Smith. "He prefers to hint at the process, saying he's providing only pieces of the puzzle so individuals can figure it out themselves after several readings of his book."

James White makes the science secondary in his SF novel The Genocidal Healer, Chris McCallister says. "On one level, this is a well-written, fun and exotic future-space story that flows rapidly. It is very character-driven, with a strong central character and an amusingly diverse supporting cast, most of whom have been the central characters in previous, or will be in future, novels in the series. The technology and science part of this 'science fiction' is not well articulated, but it is not the focus anyway. This is a story about people, no matter how many legs or wings they have."

Meredith Ann Pierce treads Waters Luminous & Deep in this collection of shorter works. "As with Pierce's previous young-adult fantasy novels, Waters features an abundance of dreamscapes rich in imagery and sensory detail, unusual protagonists, strange creatures and a faint, underlying melancholy," says Jennifer Mo. "Ostensibly for the young-adult crowd but suitable for any fan of lyrical, dreamy fantasy, Waters Luminous & Deep covers a broad range of subjects and proves Pierce to be a skilled and diverse fantasist."

Glen Duncan rewrites a few gospel truths in I, Lucifer: Finally, the Other Side of the Story. "While there are some funny parts to the narration, for the most part it is overly long and drawn out, rambling and self-serving," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "It made the entire book very inaccessible to me, and it exercised my brain to try to follow along and stay on top of where the narrator was going with his point (he often didn't know himself)."

Dale Bailey and Jack Slay Jr. should have let Sleeping Policemen lie. "The word 'dark' is a significant understatement," Gregg Thurlbeck warns. "This book is pornographic in its use of violence and sexual violence. It's one thing to use fiction to explore the darkest areas of the human psyche, it's another to revel in the details of a snuff video as this book does."

Richard Hawke sets his detective story in New York in Speak of the Devil. "In Fritz Malone, Hawke has created a narrative voice that evokes Robert B. Parker's extensive cast of main characters and Elmore Leonard's strong dialogue and gritty reality," Ann Flynt says. "This book is a wonderful introduction for a new author, and gives him the right to be cocky."

Tom Knapp jumps back to the Origins of the longrunning book Witchblade. "Witchblade isn't the pinnacle of character depth and development, but it still manages to tell a good story with an intriguing, unusual cast," he says. "Far from the usual style of superhero comic books, Witchblade is grittier, in many ways more realistic and certainly eye candy for anyone who likes women who are impossibly long-legged, lean and scantily clad."

Next, Tom jets to Hollywood with young Peter Parker, the Ultimate Spider-Man. Let's see if we can summarize the events of this story. Nah, Tom says. "Look, just read the book, OK?"

Daniel Jolley is enraptured by The Legend of Zorro. "The Legend of Zorro is actually a great movie, one which I never expected to be so thoroughly entertaining," he says. "I would have been content just looking at Catherine Zeta-Jones for a couple of hours, but this is a swashbuckling good time from beginning to end."

Daniel next prepares for a second shock with The Ring Two. "Producing a successful sequel to such a truly new and unusual (not to mention highly successful) film as The Ring is a daunting task," he says. "Certainly, this film is not as good as the original -- how could it be? ... The Ring Two does not lay out such a clear pathway for the hero or viewer; the symbology is much deeper and abstract this time around."

Check back next week for another rollicking edition of Rambles.NET reviews! (Or stick around and browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

9 September 2006

Animals have these advantages over man: they never hear the clock strike, they die without any idea of death, they have no theologians to instruct them, their last moments are not disturbed by unwelcome and unpleasant ceremonies, their funerals cost them nothing, and no one starts lawsuits over their wills.
- Voltaire

Hersheypark happy! Hersheypark glad! (Just keep me off those rides that go zig-uppity-swirl-whoosh-down!)

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Beyond the Pale (one of at least four bands using that name) makes itself heard with The Music Plays Me. "The Music Plays Me is an enjoyable recording, with a warm, organic sound and an affable, relaxed way with songs and tunes. The traditionals -- mostly, not exclusively, instrumentals here -- are especially strong," Jerome Clark says. "BTP has a keen ear for out-of-the-ordinary material. Most of it will be fresh even to informed folk fans."

The Duhks document their musical Migrations on the band's third CD, which incorporates more jazz, soul, pop and Latin rhythms into their Celtic/bluegrass sound. "Under the superior production skills of Tim O'Brien and Gary Paczosa, Migrations beams brightly and stirs resonantly, so infused with vital energy that it could sustain the illusion that Duhks are quacking and otherwise carrying on in your living room," Jerome says. "As accomplished as this recording is, however, one hopes that next time the Duhks will slow down a bit, take a deep breath or two and allow for the occasional sparer, less-is-more arrangement."

Atlantic Wave makes its recorded debut with Craic'd. "This band has a powerful, traditional sound showcasing some of the best musical craftsmanship and synergy that I've yet experienced from an American group of Irish music players," says Rambles.NET newcomer Nita Moore. "Their tight groove and that element of fun that is evident in live performances really comes through on the CD, especially in the unexpected breaks, those sudden musical pauses inserted into a song to enhance excitement and effect."

Uncle Dave Huber channels a bit of Dylan for his self-titled CD. "Huber isn't the first singer-songwriter to wish he'd been born Bob Dylan," Sarah Meador opines. "But it does seem a waste, hearing Huber sweat and sing his way toward another man's sound, when he could be doing just fine on his own. His original work suffers from the paradox of imitation, intentional or not, so that Huber sounds most himself on the traditional tracks of his album."

Sonja Kristina recaptures her youth on the reissue of this self-titled recording from decades ago. "The material was recorded in 1980, but such was the innovation of Sonja and her fellow musicians over a quarter century ago that this album sounds like one written and produced yesterday," Nicky Rossiter says. "Enjoy this as a reminder that 'cool' music did not originate in the 21st century."

Chris Alan and Stefan des Lauriers are riding a Carousel Wind. "Des Lauriers wrote the songs, sings lead on the last song and plays the harmonica," says Paul de Bruijn. "Alan plays piano and provides the rest of the lead vocals; his delivery is a large part of why all of the songs feel like they come from musicals."

A catalogue of classics is coming back into circulation, and a good place for the collector to start is the compilation disc American Folk & Blues: The Roots of Americana from Empire Musicwerks. "It's gratifying to have this material available again," Jerome Clark says. "American Folk & Blues assembles some tasty representative selections from artists representing a range of styles and traditions."

Ruby Dee & the Snakehandlers are playing rockabilly and honkytonk styles North of Bakersfield. "All but one of the songs are originals, very much in the tradition yet never like thin echoes of ideas sounded earlier and fuller in a distant, halcyon age," Jerome says. "The lyrics are Ruby Dee's, the melodies and arrangements her and the band's communal creation. You have to listen closely to hear the words, but they're worth the effort. She's a writer of wit and hard-won worldly wisdom." Kudos, Jerome, on review #150!

Two Siberians are appearing Out of Nowhere with their Russian folk-inflected jazz. "The Slavic temperament spiced with electric violin and guitar strikes western audiences as something new, hot and certainly interesting," says Ester Eggert. "As a whole, the album has many sudden mood swings."

Sonya Lorelle is living The Life You Wanted with this new album. "I found a mixture of intoxicating sounds -- pure, unadulterated jazz and soul with a touch of the Brazilian and Americana," Risa Duff says. "Her lyrics remind me of a person searching for the ultimate pinnacle in life -- soul searching, love seeking and life revelations."

Jonas Brandin, Erik Berg and Hadrian Prett draw on the Swedish town of Boda for inspiration on Bodalatar. "Those interested in Swedish traditional music will find this a goldmine of information, and the confirmed aficionado will get more out of the album than a neophyte," says Jennifer Hanson. "Bodalatar is a fine collection of tunes from one of the heartlands of Swedish folk music."

Jay Begaye sings a Song of Colors in this celebration of Navajo traditions. "Begaye performs round dances and traditional songs and blessings from family events, everyday life and the history of his people," Sherrill Fulghum says. "Begaye brings the sounds and traditions of Navajo music to the world, taking listeners on a trip to the reservation and through history."

Anyone in the mood for a yodel? Tom Knapp presents a performance review and interview with the incredibly young champion yodeler, Taylor Ware, who recently earned a nation's attention in NBC's America's Got Talent. Be sure to take notice of this one before she starts noticing boys!

Mairead Byrne expresses her art in the poetry collection Vivas. "Byrne's poems are immediate and accessible, (post?)modern and at times fun," Steve Walsh says. "Hers is a voice that can certainly make poetry human. And that's saying something."

Glenn Yeffeth gets into the nittygritty in Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy & Religion in The Matrix. "It doesn't matter if you're an actual fan of the dystopian techno/sci-fi action thriller The Matrix," says C. Nathan Coyle. "The real fun in reading these essays is seeing how subtle nuances in a film can (and do) encourage intellectual dissection and expounding discussions."

Rajesh Singh made our reviewer quite unhappy with Human Species & Beyond. "The arguments are so filled with assumptions, assertions and misrepresentations that I would have to write an encyclopedia to rebut them all," Robert says. "Singh starts off with nonsense and just goes downhill from there."

MaryJanice Davidson's irrepressible heroine Betsy Taylor is both Undead & Unemployed. "Davidson has a deft hand for her chosen genre niche -- and, believe it or not, humorous romantic horror seems to be a growing field," Tom Knapp says. "Undead & Unemployed is every bit as much fun as its predecessor, Undead & Unwed."

Jay Nussbaum takes the Blue Road to Atlantis in this novel that, among other things, retells Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man & the Sea from the point of view of the fish. "With all the books I've read, this is my favorite, and I re-read it whenever I'm feeling down or stressed out," Chris McCallister says.

Jonna L. Miller is Haunting for Time with this contemporary fantasy/historical romance beginning just prior to the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. "While Miller's inventive plot contains surprising and intriguing twists and turns, the writing itself sometimes gets in the way, and readers are left with more questions than answers," Corinne H. Smith relates. "A publisher's disclaimer on the title page notes the author refused 'editorial input.' That decision might have been a mistake."

Robina Williams revives her dead friar and annoyingly superior cat for Angelos. "Angelos is half of what is trying to be a very good book, held captive to the whim of a cat and the personal development of a slow-witted saint," Sarah Meador says. "If Robina Williams ever finds the nerve to tell her supernatural tour guides farewell, she may yet go to some wonderful destinations."

Tom Knapp spends another cold and scary month with vampires in 30 Days of Night: Return to Barrow. "30 Days of Night: Return to Barrow is entertaining in exactly the same way that 30 Days of Night and its first sequel, Dark Days, were," Tom says. "It's fun and intense and adds nothing new to the series."

Tom tackles an ancient evil along with Buffy the Vampire Slayer in The Dust Waltz. "Chaos ensues. You know the drill," he says. "While a good, solid Buffy yarn, it doesn't stand out as exceptional, and there are weaknesses that lessen the overall punch."

Daniel Jolley finds himself absorbed by the Memoirs of a Geisha. "With so many filmmakers producing films these days, it's a rare joy to sit and watch a work of actual cinematic artistry," he says. "Memoirs of a Geisha is a beautiful film in almost every way -- the vibrant cinematography, the music ... and of course the mysterious geisha at the heart of this story."

Tom Knapp is ready to set sail with Yellowbeard. "Have you had enough Johnny Depp for a while? Are you in the mood for a pirate with a little more experience under his swordbelt, a man who takes an old-fashioned sort of pride in raping and robbing and who, if the circumstances are right, will force men to eat their own lips?" he asks. "Critics who dismiss it as nonsense miss the point. It's rough and unpolished, and even funnier for it. Yellowbeard is a laugh riot, and it deserves to be pulled from the shelf and enjoyed at least once each year."

Check back next week for another rollicking edition of Rambles.NET reviews! (Or stick around and browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

2 September 2006

All the lonely people, where do they all belong?
- John Lennon/Paul McCartney

Well, we were gonna spend our Saturday at Hersheypark, but a bit of tropical weather seems to have other ideas for us. I know, let's all write some reviews!

Edel Fox and Ronan O'Flaherty stick to the basics of fiddle and concertina on their self-titled CD debut. "Their self-titled CD is a testament to simple arrangements of mostly traditional tunes, recorded here without a lot of bells and whistles coming between the music and the listener's ear," Tom Knapp says. "It's pure, it's well-constructed, it's fun -- and it's the sort of thing anyone looking for the heart and soul of Irish session music will crave."

Randall Bramblett has aspirations to be Rich Someday. "The sound is mostly mainstream guitar rock, with soul, r&b and folk inflections," Jerome Clark says. "None of this sounds radically inventive, and you'd have to be sternly misanthropic to object to any of it. It's all good melodies, good lyrics and good arrangements, and Bramblett's graceful, expressive vocals charm the ears."

Carrie Rodriguez may not know from the heads of pins, but she can fit Seven Angels on a Bicycle. "Rodriguez is best known for her recordings with Chip Taylor," Jerome states. "Though still recognizably a folk-accented record ... Seven Angels manages to infuse rock, jazz and classic-pop elements into the mix with altogether organic ease."

Naama Hillman invites us all into her Living Room for a bit of music. "Hillman's voice instantly reminded me of Sarah McLachlan," Mike Wilson says. "My initial feelings were borne out through the entire album, and the similarity with McLachlan extends beyond the sound of their voices to both the quality of material and production; Living Room is the equal of anything McLachlan has produced in recent years -- a promising sign given that this is Naama's debut album, and a self-produced effort at that."

Kathryn Mostow believes there are Dreamers Everywhere. "Mostow has a warm soprano voice that is smooth and easy to listen to; she also plays the acoustic guitar on the CD," says Paul de Bruijn. "The music drapes wonderfully around her vocals, supporting and giving back to her voice."

Petrella offers its Dreams of the Heartland with "a deep-dish country sound," says Virginia MacIsaac. "She's definitely a country singer, but her voice has an urban twang and you can't listen to her without thinking of Tina Turner."

Brenda Russell finds herself Between the Sun & the Moon on this vocal jazz recording. The album "mixes different styles to form a totally new, interesting sound," says Ester Eggert.

Bob Masteller and his musical pals go live on The Jazz Corner Swings Latin. "If you are looking for some good, safe jazz, this CD would be a good choice," says Paul de Bruijn. "If you are in their neck of the woods, go hear them perform live." Claps for Paul and his 150th Rambles.NET review!

Faust is a band of three Swedish folk musicians who celebrated their 10th anniversary with the release of a new album, Vildsint. "Most of the tracks on the album are traditional tunes, but you can also find some modern compositions and traditional songs," Adolf Goriup says. "The CD is a wonderful collection of original folk music from the North."

Corinne H. Smith invites us to join her to see Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony perform live in Scranton, Pa. "Hagar is hands-down the fan-friendliest performer in popular music," she says. "Concert-goers can't help but get caught up in his frenzy."

Joan Druett covers a great deal of ground in She Captains: Heroines & Hellions of the Sea. "The story of the sea is dominated by men, but Druett shows here how the numerous roles of women should not be overlooked," Tom Knapp says. "Neither dry nor boring, She Captains is a colorful tapestry of maritime history."

Hana Schank lays it all on the table in A More Perfect Union: How I Survived the Happiest Day of My Life. "I read this book just a year after planning my own wedding, and I had repeated moments of identification with Schank's experience," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "I would have loved to have this book as a bride-to-be."

Sarah Monette picks up where she left off with Mildmay the Fox and his half-brother Felix Harrowgate in The Virtu. "Like its predecessor, this novel is narrated by Felix and Mildmay in turns, but there is never any confusion as to which character is speaking. Both men are reprehensible, and yet totally engaging and sympathetic to the reader," says Laurie Thayer. "Nor is characterization the only talent on display here. Carefully detailed worldbuilding, right down to two differing -- but synchronized -- calendar systems, also helps to keep the reader enthralled."

Julie Kenner's Carpe Demon "is an obvious riff on the Buffy genre," Tom Knapp says. "What sets Carpe Demon apart is Kate's family circumstance, as well as a busy lifestyle that doesn't leave much time for slaying. But with the help of a geriatric former hunter, a martial arts dogo, a spritzer of holy water and a fully-gassed minivan, she just might get the job done and have time to make dinner, change diapers and tidy up the den."

Cameron Dokey makes a new entry into Once Upon a Time with Golden -- but this one doesn't compare well to his previous novels, Jennifer Mo says. "Golden is a pleasant enough way to kill an hour, though it offers no brilliant reflections on "Rapunzel" and is easily surpassed by other books even in the things it does modestly well."

Robina Williams makes her religious arguments through Jerome & the Seraph. "Anyone who's read the Chronicles of Narnia or has taken a basic philosophy course has already examined the questions that Jerome and Quant spend pages debating in Jerome & the Seraph. These tired epiphanies might be excusable if the debate between Jerome and Quant were challenging or in any way novel," says Sarah Meador. "This pedantry is more annoying because Robina Williams is not a bad writer."

Greg Bear makes his coming-of-age story special by adding a Dinosaur Summer or two to the mix. "The pace of the book is quick, and character development is quite good," longtime fan Chris McCallister states. "The coming-of-age story is very well done, and it blends in seamlessly with the adventure. The setting is also described lushly and elaborately, without bogging the story down in detail."

John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany is a classic in good standing. "What can be said about this literary masterpiece?" asks Jessica Lux-Baumann. "Despite its length, the plot will grab the reader and suck them in to the world of the one-of-a-kind Meany and the people who were touched by his short time on Earth."

Sarah Meador ties up the loose ends between Firefly and Serenity with Serenity: Those Left Behind, a fill-in graphic novel. "Will Conrad does an excellent job of capturing not just the actors, but the characters, with every expression and gesture recognizable," Sarah says. "The dialogue and story by Brett Matthews and series creator Joss Whedon are unsurprisingly faithful to the spirit and canon of everything that's gone before. And for those who've seen the movie, there's a nice nod towards what's coming next."

Tom Knapp sings a dirge for Gen13 with this September Song. "The Gen13 comic series had a couple things going for it -- two of them notably exposed through the oft-torn costume of team leader Caitlin Fairchild -- but the series ultimately fizzled and lost reader interest. Rather than build on the title's strengths and improve the stories, WildStorm opted to kill off the entire team ... and start fresh with a new batch of teens," Tom says. "Enter September Song, an ill-conceived notion from day one."

Tom joins up with the Great Lakes Avengers in Misassembled. "On one hand, it's a comic approach to superheroing with a team of misfit heroes, much like the Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis incarnation of DC's Justice League," Tom says. "On the other hand, the book has a darker side, in which several of these hapless good guys keep dying. ... The book has an edgier brand of humor of the sort that will drive a good many parents into a frenzy."

Paddy O'Furniture takes a laid-back look at comics as they make the transition from paper to celluloid. "If you've been to the movies in the last few years -- or even if you haven't -- you're likely aware that we're currently in the middle of a glut of films based on comic books. So it stands to reason an unrepentant comic geek like me should be quite pleased with the state of summer cinema these days, right? Well, not so much." Find out why in this insightful rambling!

Tom Knapp wants to keelhaul the scurvy dog who doesn't know the difference between Davy Jones and the Flying Dutchman -- and he has a few more things to say about Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. "Unfortunately, while Black Pearl offered a jolly mix of action, humor and horror-lite, Chest has bungled the formula," he says. "There is far too much action without purpose, based on the flawed theory that an action movie can succeed as long as there is enough running around to a bombastic score."

Daniel Jolley says it's no honeymoon with the 2005 remake of The Honeymooners. "Here we have one of the most ill-conceived remakes in history, a truly forgettable film exploiting a well-known, much-loved commodity for money (and very little of it, as things turned out)," he says. "Exploiting may not be the right word for me to use here, however; it's not as if this movie sought out to make fun of the original series, and the transformation of the Kramdens and Nortons into middle-class African-Americans carries no kind of overt or underlying statement whatsoever. The only problem with this odd movie is its failure to be very funny."

Check back next week for another rollicking edition of Rambles.NET reviews! (Or stick around and browse the archives of our past editions, below.)