17 November 2007 to 5 January 2008

5 January 2008

Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.
- John Steinbeck

Is everyone having a grand 2008 so far? We hope so! Things can only get better, right? Right?

Celtic Woman takes us along for A New Journey: Live at Slane Castle. "Slane Castle is the perfect backdrop for the second Celtic Woman concert on DVD. The castle is all lit up, and Celtic Woman is in top form," Cherise Everhard says. "The music is as wonderful as I had expected, and I watched the DVD twice today."

Peter, Bethany & Rufus offer their listeners Puff & Other Family Classics, which is not the children's album its title would suggest. "At least when I last checked, when my own children were small, kids' records weren't about sex, murder, war, tyranny -- the themes of some of the songs here, all but two of them old folk tunes," Jerome Clark says. "As I write, the year is rapidly winding down, and as one who got to listen to a whole lot of music, I am here to attest that 2007 was a stellar 12 months for folk and roots music. When I try to sort out what my favorite records were, it isn't easy; there's an embarrassment of riches to choose from. Even so, I have no doubt that this album sits near the top of the list."

Last Train Home is hoarding the Last Good Kiss. "This album is a succulent fruit, ripe with great sound and vibrant energy," says C. Nathan Coyle. "Last Good Kiss is one of those no-brainer kinds of albums with a wide variety of pacing in its songs with a consistent and entertaining sound. It's a CD that, while you're enjoying listening to it, you also know that the folks that made it enjoyed making it for you. So, do just that, and enjoy."

Duane Rutter has music to share in the Waiting Room. "On his debut album, veteran Ontario musician and singer-songwriter Duane Rutter offers 10 originals (plus a hidden track), performed in an acoustic folk style that brings to mind a Texan, Guy Clark, and a fellow Ontarian, Gordon Lightfoot," Jerome Clark says. "His cracked vocals are like Clark's, his fluid melodies like Lightfoot's."

Holly Burton failed to impress our reviewer with either Little Seattlight, her new CD, or First Person Singular, its EP precursor. "Burton's lyrics are mundane and literal, with little hint of depth," says Michael Scott Cain. "After a while, you're begging for a metaphor."

Mac & Jenny Traynham share their work on "two pleasant, unpretentious recordings" -- The Sweetest Way Home and When the Roses Bloom in Dixieland -- that recall the sounds of country music seven-odd decades ago. "Ably performed, as they are here, these songs of antique yet eternal human sentiment draw you inside them," Jerome Clark says. "They're so open, honest and welcoming that it would take a cold, cold heart indeed to keep them out."

Corey Harris reaches a Zion Crossroads as he takes his blues and reggae sound to Telarc. "Harris has assembled a band that won't quit, a rhythm section so tight it bonds like glue and a horn section that drives as strong and powerful as leather," Michael Scott Cain enthuses. "Structurally, it's a reggae album, with rhythms as sharp and precise as a Shakespeare soliloquy and vocals as smooth and warm as hot-buttered rum. Thematically, it's a shout of triumph, declaring that although the world is lost in sin, good is going to inevitably triumph."

Carey and Lurrie Bell preserved a moment of time with Gettin' Up Live. "It's truly unfortunate, but over the summer, Gettin' Up Live became not just a DVD of a Carey Bell performance but a farewell. Bell died during the summer," Michael says. But on this recording, he says, Bell "plays like a man half his age, a man in great shape who draws energy and strength from his harmonica."

Our coverage of Celtic Colours International Music Festival in Cape Breton will continue soon.

Janet Lorimer reinvents the story of Beauty & the Beast in Master of Shadows. "Best known as a children's author, Lorimer has made a good first step into a more adult field," Tom Knapp says. "I look forward to her next novel, and hope she irons out a few stylistic glitches in the meantime."

Heather Tomlinson makes her first splash with The Swan Maiden. "If you've had enough angsty werewolves and fickle crane wives, you might find Heather Tomlinson's swan maidens to be a refreshing change," says Jennifer Mo. "The Swan Maiden is a sparkling, magical tale whose sweetness -- like that of its heroine -- readily overshadows its faults."

Terry Goodkind has much to reveal in his Naked Empire. "This story caters to science fiction/fantasy lovers. It is a good read that could make a wonderful film if it had the opportunity," Liana Metal says. "Enjoyable, mysterious and magical, it makes the reader think of life as well."

Greg Rucka continues the story of Atticus Kodiak and others in Patriot Acts, the anticipated sequel to Critical Space. "Despite Rucka's meticulous attention to fleshing out these well-rounded and complex characters, he is downright cruel and abusive to his creations," C. Nathan Coyle relates. "And thank goodness for that, as the result is a gripping, suspenseful story about a group of characters that are anything but stagnant."

Robin Parrish is Relentless in his presentation of this tale. "The writing of Robin Parrish not only flows fast, it flows smoothly," Chris McCallister says. "The mysteries keep unfolding, being partially solved, and then getting bigger yet."

Ms. Marvel tackles a gang of pencil-headed thugs in Operation Lightning Storm. "Now, I've always had trouble connecting with stories in which the bad guy's sole aim is to cause death, destruction and panic in the streets. I mean, where's the motive?" Tom Knapp says. "That said, I can't help but enjoy this book. Good art, this time by Roberto de la Torre and Aaron Lopresti, certainly helps. But it's also entertaining to watch as our heroine, under writer Brian Reed's guidance, fumbles and stumbles through her efforts to become a really well-known and admire superguy."

Angel makes only a middling impression in The Curse, his first story as an IDW property. "Although IDW's take on Spike in his own series of books has been pretty impressive, Angel falls short," Tom remarks. "The art matches the tone -- gloomy, brooding, bleak -- and sometimes you just want Angel to get over himself for a few minutes. The story also lacks the ensemble feel that made the TV series a success; Angel doesn't do nearly so well on his own, in part because it was his merry band of sidekicks who provided the humor and the human perspective."

Vampirella's backstory is deconstructed and rebuilt in Revelations. "Obviously, Vampirella owes her truth birth to the wet dreams of countless comic book and horror fans, for whom the notion of a sexy and scantily clad vampire who fights the forces of darkness has always been beyond provocative," Tom says. "But Mike Carey, who knows his way around Hell, has decided to explore her roots a little more fully -- and there are some surprises in store, both in the circumstances of Vampirella's birth and her ultimate purpose."

Batman and Superman team up for World's Finest features in Batman & Superman Adventures: World's Finest and Legends of the World's Finest. "These two World's Finest books are diametric opposites -- dark and somber vs. light and witty -- and both have a mixture of strengths and weaknesses," Tom reports. "Bottom line is, if you like Batman/Superman team-ups, you'll enjoy 'em both."

William Crooker and Elizabeth Peirce take us to sea for Saladin: Piracy, Mutiny & Murder on the High Seas. "It's a fascinating story, one that seems almost too incredible to be true," Tom Knapp says. "Anyone who enjoys adventure at sea should grab this book, which presents a gripping chapter of maritime history with seasoned flair."

A.M. Homes writes about meeting her biological parents three decades after they gave her up for adoption in her autobiography The Mistress's Daughter: A Memoir. "Homes succeeds wildly at transporting the reader to this emotional turmoil with her sparse, haunting language," Jessica Lux-Baumann says. "She uses her gifts as a novelist to propel the reader along her journey to find and then to lose her biological parents."

Barbara Blossom Ashmun is happily Married to My Garden, as she reveals quite cheerily in this collection of personal essays. "Each one of the 35 essays is just a few pages long, which makes for perfect leisure reading or browsing, especially for those compatriots who would rather spend most of their daylight hours crouched next to a flower bed, using soil-soaked fingers to eradicate alien invaders," Corinne Smith says. "Married to My Garden is a slim and entertaining volume that would make a great gift for anyone who gardens or who has made a valiant attempt to do so."

There's a whole lot of blood-letting in Tim Burton's new film version of the classic Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Tom Knapp warns. "Johnny Depp, who in his sixth collaboration with Burton seems custom-made to star in this film, has a handle on the madness and rage that drives Todd through this murky plot," he says. "He glowers and rants and stalks through the streets of London like a force of nature carved right out of a stormy and unforgiving sky."

Eric Hughes takes a look at Dan in Real Life. "Following Dan in Real Life, I obeyed standard movie theater procedures and promptly hit the exit doors," he says. "But then a funny thing happened: nothing. No discussion. No follow-up questions. No, well, anything really. A supposed message movie failed to deliver its basic requirement: a message. Though I commend writer-director Peter Hedges for envisioning and then executing a creative, oftentimes entertaining dramedy -- with a respectable ensemble cast to boot -- sadly Real Life fails to offer audiences anything to ultimately reflect on."

There's always more good stuff on the way! (Meanwhile, you can pass the time and take a peek at the plentiful archives of past editions, below.)

29 December 2007

Look, I really don't want to wax philosophic, but I will say that if you're alive, you got to flap your arms and legs, you got to jump around a lot, you got to make a lot of noise, because life is the very opposite of death. And therefore, as I see it, if you're quiet, you're not living. You've got to be noisy, or at least your thoughts should be noisy and colorful and lively.
- Mel Brooks

Happy 2008! But first, our last hurrah of '07....

Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas are In the Moment with this collaborative blend. "Combining fiddle and cello -- and Scot with American -- is a winning mix on their joint recording," Nicky Rossiter says. "You will not want the album to end, and even with 14 tracks it will seem all too short."

The Old Crow Medicine Show sings to a Big Iron World on the band's latest CD. "Once again, OCMS makes country, bluegrass, folk and even protest songs sound fresh and new," Melissa Kashner says. "Big Iron World is highly recommended and a welcome reminder that Nashville -- where OCMS got its start -- can still make 'em like they used to. Or, in this case, even better."

Ben Bowen King recalls a bygone era with Sidewalk Saints: Roots Gospel Guitar. "The difficult thing in reviewing an album like this is that one could continue to emphasize particular elements of the album that contribute to its success," says C. Nathan Coyle. "However, in the case of Sidewalk Saints, it's not so much the individual aspects (e.g. the intricacies of each performance of each instrument or even one particular track over another), as much as it's the experiential aspect of the whole album. The simplicity of King's presentation leads to not just an enjoyment of this particular historical musical era, but an aural engulfment."

Paul Pasch is eyeing a Tornado Sky as he brings 30 years of New England performances to the recording studio. "All of those years performing in coffeehouses, open mics and festivals shows in his performances, especially his storytelling abilities," Nathan says. "Pasch knows how to produce songs with a wholeness, a fullness in which the lyrics merge with the music and the story is completely told."

Caren Armstrong has Everything going for her. "She delivers just about what the title promises: everything," Michael Scott Cain says. "Fine songs, fine arrangements, singing good enough to rivet you in place, singing that never calls undue attention to itself but instead serves the song instead of trying to overpower it."

Jud Caswell speaks his mind in Blackberry Time. "By any definition his songs are well-crafted, and the arrangements are smartly conceived and executed, suffused with textured jazz-pop rhythms," Jerome Clark says. "His guitar skills, well above average, are employed with taste and restraint. I like it that he gives voice to frank political sentiment."

Jennifer Richman offers Flowers of Gold to her listeners. "The music mostly straddles the line between folk-rock and light rock, with a bit of country thrown in," Wil Owen says. "Flowers of Gold is a pretty decent first CD. Jennifer's vocals are very pleasant. The production quality is good, which isn't always the case for independent CDs."

Susan Werner migrates from folk to blues with her latest CD. "The Gospel Truth, a CD Werner describes as the most American of Americana projects, is an examination of faith and doubt, a gospelish record by a self-confessed skeptic," Michael Scott Cain says. However, he warns, "it is a gospel record by an artist who will not commit to the music. As a result, it has a studied, objective tone to it, as though the material has been observed, not lived. In her singing and writing, you feel Werner holding back, keeping that detached edge."

Big Pete Pearson exposes the Phoenix blues on I'm Here Baby. "I'm Here Baby sounds a whole lot more like blues albums sounded in the 1960s than anything current, when the influence of hill-country Mississippi's raw and short riffs is in the ascendancy and much electric-blues performance looks to rural models," Jerome Clark says. "Unlike these, Pearson's approach is an unequivocally urban one, shaped by the influences of Albert King, T-Bone Walker and their like."

Ez-Zouhour brings the Music of Tunisia to the party. "These are traditional songs and music played on traditional instruments that are common to Oriental music, including the oud, qanum, nay, kamandjah, double bass, darbouka, tar and duf, plus the bender (which is not common to Oriental music)," Liana Metal says. "Tunisian music has traces of various cultures such as the Arabic, Andalusian and Ottoman. Thus, there is great variety in the sound and certain characteristics that are unique to this musical culture."

Our coverage of Celtic Colours International Music Festival in Cape Breton will continue after the holiday hullabaloo has concluded.

Justin Somper sinks more than swims with Demons of the Ocean, the first volume of his budding Vampirates series. "The combination of bloodsucking vampires and bloodthirsty pirates promises an action-filled, swashbuckling, guilty pleasure of a read, but Justin Somper doesn't quite manage to pull it off with the panache his subject demands," says Jennifer Mo. "It certainly doesn't help that Somper's writing is unsubtle and generally unimpressive."

Stefan Petrucha and Thomas Pendleton gather ghosts for stories in Wicked Dead: Lurker. "This is a tale with some creepy and frightening moments, but it is by no means terrifying or gory," says Cherise Everhard. "I found it appropriate for pre-teens as well as teens, and it was extremely entertaining to this 30-something reader."

Kelly McCullough's Cybermancy gets an in-depth exercise in verbosity from reviewer Chris McCallister. "This is another wild, fun ride through the world of computerized magic and Greek deities," he says. "McCullough continues his great writing, his fascinating fictional world and his marvelous characters. The puzzles are more complex here, and the danger level is definitely higher."

Roby James goes Beyond the Hedge for "a romantic novel of a different sort," Liana Metal says. "The story starts in the real world with real characters who eventually get entangled in a world that belongs to the past."

Shelly Fredman believes there is No Such Thing as a Good Blind Date. "Brandy Alexander could hold her own as the third member of an urban Northeast detecting triangle, anchored by Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum and Sarah Strohmeyer's Bubbles Yablonski. If she had stayed on the West Coast, she could have joined Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone and compared bruises," says Corinne H. Smith. "Fans of those sleuths will find a new set of books to read with this series."

Ian Morgan Cron responded to a crisis in faith with Chasing Francis, a novel that reflects his own spiritual journey. "It has to be said up front that whatever his gifts as a pastor, Cron is not much of a novelist," warns Michael Scott Cain. "Having said that, I must also say I do not believe his drawbacks as a novelist are going to bother either Cron or most of his readers very much. His real purpose is to introduce the mysticism of St. Francis to a modern audience in a painless and enjoyable way and to show what Francis has to offer to the post-modern church and post-modern believers. And in that he does a good job."

Tom Knapp journeys back to Kyoto, Japan, in the 1930s for Dark Mists: Kuroi Kiri. "I recommend this collection to anyone with an interest in the Japanese culture, and particularly in the art of the geisha," he says. "But the book is not without flaws. The art, for all its beauty, is stiff and cold, with little sense of motion or emotion in its lines."

Richard Sala's world grows even weirder in The Grave Robber's Daughter, Tom says. "Sala's world is not a deep one; his stories are resolved fairly quickly, as this slim volume demonstrates. But his characters are fascinating (Peculia remains my favorite, but this Drood chick has potential) and the circumstances in which they find themselves are out of this world. Or, rather, outside the bounds of normalcy which we in this world hold to be true."

The heroic vampire-with-a-soul is back in action in Spike: Asylum. "Kudos to writer Brian Lynch and illustrator Franco Urru who captured the look and feel of the character so perfectly," Tom says. "With Buffy well in hand over at Dark Horse, it's gratifying to see that Spike hasn't been forgotten by IDW. Let's hope for more quality material like this in the future!"

Ant, the insectoid superheroine in the skintight suit, is back in Mario Gully's Reality Bites. "I have only respect for Gully, who owns up to his own criminal past and explains how the creation of Ant's storyline, which he both writes and draws, while in prison helped turn his life around," Tom says. "But a good backstory for the creator doesn't translate to a strong package for the created, and Ant just doesn't have what it takes to hold my interest."

Mitch Myers assembles the real and the not-so-real in The Boy Who Cried Freebird: Rock & Roll Fables & Sonic Storytelling. "Myers' writing style keeps you reading, even if you don't recognize the names of the people he's talking about. You want to turn the pages, just to follow his well-crafted prose," Corinne H. Smith says. "And if at times you cannot ascertain the difference between his fact and his fiction, you can turn to the credits appendix, where Myers has thoughtfully provided pertinent explanatory information."

Jacqueline Langille reveals the truth behind the legends in Giants Angus McAskill & Anna Swan. "Langille's book is a fast read, but an absorbing one," says Tom Knapp. "It paints a loving portrait of two larger-than-life characters from Canadian history."

Eric Hughes says August Rush "isn't anything to write home about. But it's also not anything to completely avoid at the ticket counter, either. If a film is supposed to follow all the rules and appear completely realistic from the opening credits to the slow fade to black, then over half of all films today would never end up on the big screen. But the thing is, films like August Rush make it through production and succeed -- in a way -- when audience members understand that what they are watching would never happen, could never happen, but are still willing to follow along with the charming -- yet extremely predictable -- ride."

Eric later takes the 3:10 to Yuma, noting the film "certainly has a lot of the formulaic elements to be considered a Western release: horses, gunfights, desert, saloons and an easy barmaid to boot. But in reality, it would be unreasonable, really, to sequester the film into such a strict and, let's face it, stereotypical boundary. Those expecting an everyday Western are in for a pleasant and unanticipated surprise."

There's always more good stuff on the way! (Meanwhile, you can pass the time and take a peek at the plentiful archives of past editions, below.)

22 December 2007

I count myself in nothing else so happy
As in a soul remembering my good friends.
- William Shakespeare

Winter is officially upon us! (Brrrr.) And hey ... if you celebrate Christmas, be sure to have a Merry one!

Christmas is nearly upon us! For those still looking for some music with which to celebrate the season, take a look at these new offerings below -- as well as a whole host of recommendations on our holiday extravaganza page. Ho ho ho!

A Christmas tradition is brought to life for your listening and viewing pleasure on A Christmas Celtic Sojourn, Live. "If your taste runs to glizty spectacles like Celtic Woman: A Christmas Celebration with its huge choir, begowned singers and almost militarily precise choreography, then this DVD might not be for you," Laurie Thayer remarks. "But if you prefer a simple gathering with friends and family, then find your favorite hot drink and prepare to add A Christmas Celtic Sojourn, Live to your holiday traditions."

Rounder Records gathers the music for the highly recommended Home for Christmas: Voices from the Heartland. "Pop Home for Christmas into your dashboard CD player when you're driving to grandmother's house for that holiday dinner," Corinne Smith says. "Whether you sing along, tap your toe on the accelerator or just listen appreciatively, the miles will soon dash by without notice. And you'll show up at Granny's doorstep with a smile on your face."

Santa Claws & the Naughty but Nice Orchestra repeat all their previous sins with their release of The Green Days of Christmas: The Holiday Tribute to Green Day. "The theory behind these CDs is that you can take a hard-rockin' bands signature music and give it a little holiday makeover for all the good boys and girls to enjoy under der Tannenbaum," Tom Knapp reports. "But the execution, however, is a schmaltzy, sappy reinterpretation of songs ... into something you wouldn't even find playing in the lobby of the Hotel Ennui in Dullsville, N.J. Oh, and then they add metronomic jingle bells in the background for that extra holiday oomph."

Richie McDonald wonders If Every Day Could Be Christmas in his post-Lonestar career. "If Every Day Could Be Christmas is one of those typical, family-friendly Christmas albums that children will enjoy and will undoubtedly instill nostalgia in parents," says C. Nathan Coyle. "In the case of McDonald's album, the predictability should be a comfort and enjoyed for what it is. If anything should be reliable and steady, why not a Christmas album?"

Diane Arkenstone and Misha Segal received mixed reviews last week on volumes one and two of Christmas Healing. So how does Stephen Richmond break the tie with his review of Christmas Healing, Vol. 3? "Thin, barely competent vocals over simplistic lounge piano guitar and hackneyed arrangements make for anything but a healing holiday experience," he says. "Arkenstone's near-robotic diction and flat, untextured vocals grate far more than they ingratiate."

Ross Kennedy shares the benefits of a quarter-century of performing experience on the simply titled Scottish Voice & Acoustic Guitar. "He combines his own work with traditional and other contemporary writers, and adds in a few instrumentals to showcase his excellent guitar playing," Nicky Rossiter says. "This baker's dozen of tracks will delight anyone used to hearing good Scottish folk."

Smithfield Fair's 10th album, Walking Through This World, features a collection of self-crafted songs and tunes composed between 2004 and 2006, in addition to three titles from the 1980s," Adolf Goriup says. "The CD is a kind of retrospective to the band's roots and an appreciation of the musicians that influenced them. ... American folk, country, gospel, as well as Celtic music and the sounds of the '70s are the ingredients for a great musical work."

A variety of artists join forces on Songs for a Better Planet, Vol. II. "An eclectic collection, as you can imagine, Songs for a Better Planet, Vol. II is a CD that demands and deserves thoughtful listening," Corinne H. Smith says. "It should not merely serve as an idle silence-remedying accompaniment for a long drive or a brisk walk."

James Hollingsworth is still Alive in 2005. Unfortunately, Wil Owen says he cannot recommend the recording. "The constant pub noise was not relegated to the background and was more than a little distracting. I also thought the dead spaces -- listening to dogs barking, James rambling, pub patrons carrying on conversations -- could have been cut even though it would have shortened the CD by a third," he explains. "In short, check out James Hollingsworth, but skip his live CD.

John Lester has So Many Reasons for singing the folksy blues. "The album should have been called So Many Styles," C. Nathan Coyle says. "While the most common denominators -- er, I mean, styles -- are blues and roots, that's still not an adequate description."

Lura is a Portuguese singer whose roots extend from the northwest African islands of Cape Verde to her latest recording, M'bem di fora (I've Come from Far Away). "Much of the music is similar in spirit to what you might hear from Cesaria Evora. Where Lura's vocals differ from Cesaria is that Lura seems fresh," Wil Owen says. "While I truly enjoy Cesaria, she sounds older and more weary with the world at times. Lura has more of a joy-of-life feel extending from her music."

In recent years, "as old-time music has undergone an unlikely and unanticipated revival, some artists -- especially younger ones -- have reinvented the music, sometimes to the point of reducing 'old time' more to influence than definition. That's all right if the result proves to be something worthwhile; otherwise, it's just fusion for pointless adventure's sake," Jerome Clark says. On Moon Behind the Hills and Traditional American Music, he says, "the Buck Mountain Band and Harmon's Peak manage all of this and more. These are two of the most thrilling old-time stringband albums you'll hear this year."

The Starline Rhythm Boys are all gathered at Red's Place for a little country music. "The honkabilly sound of the Vermont-based Starline Rhythm Boys is, I suppose, wildly romantic. Back in the late 1950s, when you could hear this sort of material on the radio, it was never consistently this good," Jerome says. "The best songs were pleasurable indeed, the rest not so, often by a wide margin. So the Boys are more modern than they sound, the musical time travel surely not so defiant of the laws of conventional physics as might appear. But let there be no mistake: this is a preposterously enjoyable album, jam-packed with joyously performed hillbilly-fevered rock 'n' roll. If you love country music with Brylcreem slathered atop its head -- I'll bet you thought they didn't make that sort of thing anymore, didn't you? -- Red's Place is where you want to go, and as fast as you can get there. The beer's cheap, the glasses are tall and the women all have big hair."

Samson Trinh gets the jazz flowing on a Very Strange Night. "This CD is not that strange, apart from beginning with the sound of a needle dropping onto a vinyl record," Dave Howell says. "The one drawback to this CD is its short length. ... However, it's an entertaining half-hour."

Our coverage of Celtic Colours International Music Festival in Cape Breton will continue after the holiday hullabaloo has concluded.

Marcus Sedgwick brings the vampire back to life in its more ancient form in My Swordhand is Singing. "Although written with young-adult readers in mind, Sedgwick has crafted a novel that is intensely bonechilling for adults, too," Tom Knapp says. "Steeped in lore far older than Bram Stoker's Dracula, the book evokes a visceral reaction of fear and loathing that centuries of civilization has not managed to eradicate. Slow-paced at times, My Swordhand builds tension in a manner that is far more effective than pages of fast action and spraying gore could ever accomplish."

MaryJanice Davidson is Swimming Without a Net in this followup to Sleeping With the Fishes. "I don't know what it is about Davidson's writing I like the best, the witty dialogue, her sassy characters, her humor or her vivid imagination," Cherise Everhard says. "All I do know is book after book she has me laughing out loud and all consumed in the worlds she has created."

M.J. Rose explores past lives in The Reincarnationist. "Whether you accept the possibility of reincarnation or not, Rose has once again crafted a fast-moving and skillfully plotted thriller guaranteed to keep the reader turning pages," John R. Lindermuth says. "Though I suspected the villain before the end, the conclusion still came as a surprising and satisfying twist."

Thomas Thorpe offers The Patriote Proposition in this mystery set in British North America in 1833. "The Patriote Proposition is a fun, fast read (just short of 200 pages) and fans of historical fiction will enjoy the detail and period description of eastern Canada in the early 1800s," Mark Bromberg says. "Thomas Thorpe really enjoys writing his Darmon family saga and three other books follow the family adventures in various locales."

Rebecca Lerwill's novel Relocating Mia is "a romantic story set in Siberia, Russia," Liana Metal says. "The story has all the ingredients that make up a bestseller: adventure, mystery, love, hate and suspense. ... Vivid description of action scenes offers the reader a movie-like experience that is gripping to the very last page!"

Tom Knapp samples Edgar Allan Poe's Haunt of Horror -- as reinvented by Richard Corben and Rich Margopoulos -- and finds the result wanting. "Messing with the classics is dicey business. Sure, a lot of good stuff has come from taking the greats and adding news twists and ideas, but obviously any new versions are going to be judged against the originals and, to stand up, they'll have to offer something worthwhile," he says. "Corben and Margopoulos have their fans, and more power to them. But even combined, they're no Poe."

You got your zombies," Tom says. "You got your campus filled with unsuspecting students. You got your lurching and shambling mobs with a voracious hunger for brains. ... But Zombies Calling has something most zombie yarns don't have: a protagonist who watches zombie movies."

Battle Pope returns in his second volume, Mayhem. "Still caught in the post-Rapture world of Battle Pope, writer Robert Kirkman continues to spout hilarious heresies that will surely offend more readers than it amuses," Tom remarks. "This book is not for the pure (or faint) of heart. Consider yourself warned."

Dwight Rounds identifies The Year the Music Died in his irreverent commentary on the downfall of the art. "The title of this book, accompanied by a cover archival photo of a crowd of fans greeting the Beatles, suggests the author will blame the British invasion for the demise of good, popular music," Corinne H. Smith says. "That's not exactly his premise. In spite of his slightly ambiguous title, Dwight Rounds' contention is that 'the year the music died' was 1972, and that everything that's been released since then is sub-par."

Robert V. Thompson, an ordained Baptist minister, explored the world's other spiritual traditions to find A Voluptuous God. "He now believes all of the world's religions have their roots in the same spiritual earth and the entire question of our relationship to a Supreme Being is much more complicated than most religious institutions would have us believe," says Michael Scott Cain. "A Voluptuous God is both an important book and an enjoyable one. Thompson offers a clear and vivid discussion of Christian Mysticism and its importance to our society."

Karen Elizabeth Chaney delves into one of the great unsolved crimes of American history in New England Remembers: Lizzie Borden. "Chaney's book is an easy read, providing in-depth studies of the various characters involved in the story as well as the settings and evidence obtained by police," Tom Knapp says. "As an overview of the Borden drama, it's as good as some and better than most."

Monica Kidd shows a strong poetic voice in Actualities. "Kidd, a former seabird biologist who is currently a medical student in Canada, has the objective eye of the scientist. She sees things clearly, without judgment, and has the ability to see inside the surfaces, the way a microscope does. She has the skill to capture what she sees on paper," says Michael Scott Cain. "Her images are sharp and precise."

The Geat hero Beowulf gets a new translation in the Robert Zemeckis film of the same name. "Animation may someday replace actors entirely on film. But that day hasn't yet arrived," Tom Knapp says. "Still, the movie rises above its weaknesses to present a powerful new interpretation of the tale, an epic as it surely must have existed in the imaginations of the Danes and Saxons who grew up with the story. I can recommend Beowulf because it was never meant to seem real." That's review #1,900 for Tom!

Chris McCallister, meanwhile, dives 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with this 1954 classic. "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was a favorite book of mine as a child, and the movie is true to the novel, with but a few modifications," Chris says. "While the special effects are slightly dated at times, the Nautilus in the film was a marvel, and still is. And watch out for the giant squid!"

There's always more good stuff on the way! (Meanwhile, you can pass the time and take a peek at the plentiful archives of past editions, below.)

15 December 2007

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

I hate colds, and I particularly hate colds when it's cold, damp and miserable outside. I want nothing more to do with coughing, sneezing and anything related to phlegm.

I can't speak for the rest of the world, but here in the States people seem a little desperate for Christmas. Maybe it's because of the tanked economy, or a general lack of confidence in the federal government. Perhaps it's the never-ending war, with loved ones far away -- or never coming home -- for the season. But, whatever the cause, there's a strong desire for a little holly-jolly in the air. We need a little Christmas right this very minute. So let's start this edition off with a little holiday music -- we hope it helps.

Eileen Ivers invites her friends to join her for An Nollaig: An Irish Christmas. "Ivers, one of the most innovative fiddlers to come out of the Irish-American music scene in a long while, wanted to create a Christmas gift of an album, one that suggests the sort of friends-and-family gatherings she remembers from her childhood and from stories of her parents' lives in Ireland. This recording suits that aim perfectly, evoking the mood of a group of friends taking turns offering up a song or tune at a casual Christmas party," Tom Knapp says. "But I was expecting a fiddler's album, and I very much wanted to hear Ivers put her very unique stamp on a selection of holiday tunes. You don't get that here."

Santa Claws & the Naughty but Nice Orchestra gets coal in its stocking for Hell's Bells of Christmas: The Holiday Tribute to AC/DC. The gimmick, Tom explains, is to take watered-down versions of AC/DC songs and add sleigh bells to the mix. "Whoop-de-flippin'-doo," he says. "This album commits the ultimate musical sin of being dull and uninteresting. Perry Como rocks harder than this. Burl Ives is more daring."

Mindy Smith wants to share My Holiday with her fans. "This Christmas album is about half standards," Jerome Clark says, "the best of them a pure and lovely version of the centuries-old 'Away in a Manger' (it doesn't hurt that Alison Krauss is singing harmony on the chorus), though each is done in a spare arrangement with Smith's vocals, shaded delicately in a balance of folk-pop and jazz, that is far removed from the usual kitsch."

This debut holiday album of 10 songs by Oleta Adams "is really, really good," Liana Metal, after spinning her copy of Christmas Time with Oleta. "It certainly is a new version of Christmas songs that will appeal to a wide audience."

The Staple Singers celebrate The 25th Day of December on this reissued recording from 1962. "True to their Mississippi gospel roots, the foursome offers us 12 thoughtful spirituals," Corinne Smith says. "This early recording aptly shows their commitment to music and their four-part harmonies at work."

Diane Arkenstone and Misha Segal water down the holidays with Christmas Healing, Vol. 2. "Judging by the title alone, I got the impression the music would somehow be ethereal, otherworldly, a form of audio incense, or the kind of charming soundtrack you could play in the background during a family holiday dinner," Corrine says. "We need not have complexity in every piece of music that we hear, especially in songs that are so familiar to us. But we at least need passion and a certain quality of musicianship. Quite frankly, Christmas Healing falls short."

And now the other side of the story. Laurie Thayer reviews Christmas Healing, Vol. 1 (by the same artists, of course) and has a very different opinion to share. "I have to say that this is one of the most enjoyable Christmas CDs I've heard in a long time," she says. "The gentle traditional sounds are the perfect antidote to December's hectic pace."

We'll settle this soon, when our review comes in for Vol. 3 of the set by a third, impartial judge. (Otherwise, we'd have to ask Corrine and Laurie to settle it gladiator-style.)

Anyway, there's plenty more where that came from. Be sure to check out a whole host of seasonal music on our holiday extravaganza page.

Michael Black keeps an Irish family's tradition alive in song. "His self-titled solo release is living-room music," says Michael Scott Cain. "As you listen, you can easily imagine Black and a few friends and relatives scattered about his living room, playing and singing the songs they love simply because they love them."

In a Celtic music doubleheader, Jerome Clark looks at Kate Chadbourne's The Irishy Girl and the compilation disc Celtic Women of Song, which is "not to be confused -- though perhaps the label hopes you will be -- with the mega-selling folk-pop Celtic Women phenomenon." Take a gander at Jerome's thoughts on these two!

June Tabor, "one of the British folk scene's towering figures, is a brooding presence, her choice of songs -- traditional and contemporary -- generally focused on dark themes richly suited to her pensive contralto," Jerome Clark says after taking a deep bite of her Apples. "A mature and confident performer, Tabor does not do mediocre albums. On the other hand, those albums are not for everybody. Nobody would ever mistake them for pop records or even conventionally commercial folk ones. They're the musical equivalent of literary fiction: more demanding than the mass-market competition, but with a whole lot bigger pay-off."

The Innocence Mission are back with We Walked in Song, which Kevin Shlosberg calls "a wonderful album to wake up or wind down to. ... Constantly in my CD player -- on repeat, at that -- We Walked in Song is quickly becoming one of my favorite albums of the year. The tone of the album could be easily mistaken for sad when it's simply quiet and modest. The Innocence Mission offers us no bells, no whistles, no pomp; just this humble trio on vocals, guitar and keyboards creating soft, sombre melodies with intimations of dream pop and shoegaze."

Grayson Capps breaks out the Songbones for your inspection. "Blues-rocker or folk-singer, depending on mood or circumstance, Grayson Capps writes Southern songs rooted in the region's musical traditions," Jerome Clark says. "The songs have an impressive depth and maturity that afford them more heft than most singer-songwriters can provide."

The Alex Tintinalli Band has Nothing to Lose, and they'll prove it. "Tintinalli is an amazing guitar player, a fine singer and a very good blues songwriter," says Michael Scott Cain. "He is a wonderfully talented kid who can't be judged as a kid; he is a professional, playing in a man's game and he holds up to comparison to adult players very well. He can shred on a guitar and is well on his way to mastering many different forms of blues."

Oh Susanna has some Short Stories to share. "With a plaintive note from Luke Doucet's pedal-steel guitar, augmented by chords from a six-string acoustic guitar, we're on our way through the first of 11 quietly remarkable tracks on Short Stories, the latest musical outing from Oh Susanna, a.k.a. Suzie Ungerleider," Gregg Thurlbeck remarks. "It's been four years since the release of Suzie's last album, and during that time she's become a more mature and confident singer. There's a wonderful ease to the vocals on Short Stories. And the production, handled by the trio of Suzie, her husband/drummer Cam Giroux and long-time collaborator, bassist Bazil Donovan, allows room for the vocals to command center stage without subjugating the instrumentation."

Martin Wolff "possesses a gift to be admired" and shares it on Shakti-Bhakti, John Cross says. "Instead of the usual ersatz, bogus, hyped-up amalgams of parodies of ancient wisdom traditions, Wolff has -- surprise! -- rendered faithfully some Vedic chanting, literally, to a tee!"

Coyote Poets have some Unmistakable Evidence to present. "While I can appreciate some of the improvisational sounds of some of the ambient and electronica tracks, I am underwhelmed with those tracks that might be termed poetry-to-background noise," Wil Owen says. "However, I am biased and not a big fan of spoken-word, so to those true fans of the art, take my negative stance with a grain of salt and go make up your own minds. And while I think improv has the potential to create some really great music, the resulting creation can just as likely be terrible."

Our coverage of Celtic Colours International Music Festival in Cape Breton will continue after the holiday hullabaloo has concluded.

Brian Keene returns to a world of zombies in Dead Sea. "A novel loses some of its zip when you know how it ends before you start reading," Tom Knapp warns. "With no mystery left for the conclusion, the question is how good the journey is to get there. On that score, author Keene rises above his previous novel."

Mel Odom is on The Quest for the Trilogy in a novel that seems like it should be more derivative than it actually is. "Are you ready to read a good adventure-fantasy-mystery story about arrogant nearly-immortal bow-wielding elves, gruff but big-hearted axe-wielding dwarves, clever but short-lived and sometimes untrustworthy humans, crotchety but very powerful wizards (some good, some evil, some with pointy hats and beards), a supposedly-dead dragon that might not be quite as dead as everyone thought, some enchanted weapons, lots of ancient treachery causing long-standing feuds, and small beings called 'dwellers' who wear no shoes but have a knack for unexpected heroics, narrow escapes and journal-writing?" asks Chris McCallister. "If you are, you've found exactly that, and much more."

Vivian Vande Velde offers a few surprises in Curses Inc. & Other Stories, an anthology of young-adult fantasy stories. "Expect the unexpected, and you still won't be able to guess the ends of most of these stories," says Jennifer Mo. "From a well-intentioned boy who tries to use his mother's spellbook, to a young peasant enraptured by a water spirit, to a Southern belle who trades a year of her life for a love spell, the 10 fantasy stories can't be pinned down to a single theme, tone or setting, but all exhibit Vande Velde's abundant imagination and laconic wit."

Brian Lumley "treated his fans on the American side of the pond with some sweetmeats selected from across his long career of churning out chillers" with The Taint & Other Novellas: Best Mythos Tales, Vol. I, says Gary Cramer. "Lumley's morbid affection for the Cthulhu Mythos shines through in these stories, and we are all the richer for having such rare frights set before us in a collected format. I look forward to the next volume with the fervor of an overgrown kid waiting for his next Halloween candy spree."

Rob Ritchie switches his focus from music to fiction with Orphans of Winter. "There are many lyrically descriptive passages in the narrative and at times, Ritchie's writing is reminiscent of Ray Bradbury's," Donna Scanlon says. "The main characters are vividly drawn, and the pace is brisk. What is most remarkable is how Ritchie balances such disparate elements: spiritual and secular, emotional and rational, instinct and logic. It is not incongruous to elevate hockey to a spiritual level within the context of the story."

Harry I. Freund "writes of life and death with wit, humor and a profound sense of justice" in I Never Saw Paris: A Novel of the Afterlife, Barbara Spring says. "His take on a serious subject is both entertaining and, at times, profound."

Alan Moore and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen have seen better days. Certainly, Tom Knapp says, the long-awaited Black Dossier does them no favors. "It's well documented that creator Alan Moore spent much of the creative period for this book in a slap-fight with DC, which owns the America's Best imprint under which the League books to date have been published," Tom mourns. "And it seems to me Moore -- who has since severed all ties to DC and has promised future League books to Top Shelf -- basically just tossed a bunch of ideas into the Cuisinart to produce this mess."

It's a sad truth that comic-book adaptations of movies are typically very bad, Tom says. "It's a surprising truth that the comic-book adaptation of the film Shaun of the Dead is not. ... Ultimately, though, I have to say if I have the urge and the time to relive Shaun of the Dead, I'm still likely to pick up the movie, not the book."

Politics rears its ugly head in Masquerade, the eighth volume of Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron. "Sure, dogfights in space and the destruction of a planet-killing battlestation might make for better movies, but that's not to say politics and intrigue don't have their place in the story," Tom says. "The art isn't great, but it's head and shoulders above some of the other Star Wars titles I've read for which art seemed to be a very low priority. All in all, it's a good package for fans of the series, which unfortunately was very close to wrapping up when this storyline was written."

Prepare for some strangeness -- and some derivative storytelling -- in Oddly Normal: Family Reunion. "There may be a kernel of truth to the cynical literary saying that there are only three stories to be told. But in the case of Oddly Normal: Family Reunion, the story is told in such a fun and entertaining manner that originality will be the last thing on your mind," C. Nathan Coyle says. "So, don't get hung up on the obvious influences, homages and references -- just enjoy yourself."

Martin Gardner gets to the heart of the matter with The Annotated Night Before Christmas. "If the popular holiday story-poem holds even the slightest interest for you, Martin Gardner has all your answers, and more," Tom Knapp says. "Gardner (better known to the world as a mathematician) devotes more attention to the famous rhyme than NASA has expended on quarks."

Allan Cooper celebrates a house in The Alma Elegies. "Please don't go running for the door when I tell you that Allan Cooper is a nature poet," pleads Michael Scott Cain. "The usual conception of a nature poet is a person who wants you to marvel at the larger significance of a buzzard, a person who insists that a tree is not a tree, but instead is the symbolic second coming of Jesus. Cooper writes about nature but he sees beyond the sentimental. To him, nature is a force, with a dark side as well as a surface beauty."

Stephen Fried shines his light on a Thing of Beauty in this look at the life of Gia Carangi. "Fried has collected dozens of first-person quotes from Gia's family, friends, photographers, agents, fellow models and other New York artists," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "He presents these narratives in a compelling story of the tragedy surrounding a lost girl searching for love and acceptance on the streets of New York."

We take another look at the Buffy phenomenon with Fighting the Forces: What's at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, edited by Rhonda V. Wilcox and David Lavery. "During its seven-season run, the series demonstrated that it was very much deeper than its ridiculous name indicated," Laurie Thayer says. "Deep enough, in fact, to have not one but several books dedicated to dissecting the show's deeper meanings and hidden themes."

Filmmaker Ken Burns brings The War into our living rooms to share. "He makes use of an astounding array of film footage: hours of rough battle scenes in scratchy black-and-white, newsreels, home movies, raw color film from the decks of aircraft carriers, heartbreaking scenes from the home front of birthday parties and dances -- The War uses a lot of film in its 15 hours," says Mark Bromberg. "The War is, by far, his most visually oriented epic to date."

Liam Clancy recalls the folk revival with his musical DVD, Yes Those Were the Days. "This DVD gives the modern audience a unique chance to experience this maestro in action as he was in 1992," Nicky Rossiter says. "The concert originally played in Dublin's Olympia Theatre that year, and this DVD captures something of the atmosphere and the laidback delivery of the time. It is not a frenetic, angle-changing, high-tech lighting production with extras like how Clancy gets out of bed. It is what it says, a concert plain and simple."

There's always more good stuff on the way! (Meanwhile, you can pass the time and take a peek at the plentiful archives of past editions, below.)

8 December 2007

I respect faith, but doubt is what gets you an education.
- Wilson Mizner

Snow, snow, snow! Snow, SNOW, snow! Snow!!!

Fiona Mackenzie offers up a Gaelic Christmas on Duan Nollaig. "Being a Gaelic Christmas album, the tracks are in Gaelic. You will recognize all the old favourites and they sound unusually fresh when heard in a different tongue," Nicky Rossiter says. "Mackenzie has a beautiful sweet voice ideally suited to such a collection, and I bet if you purchase this and play it, your Christmas repertoire will be enhanced this year."

While we're on the topic of Christmas, you can find a host of music, movies and books surrounding this busy holiday season -- Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, New Year's Eve, Hogmanay and, of course, the Solstice -- at our Season's Greetings extravaganza page!

Lowri Evans is prepared to Kick the Sand to get her music noticed. "Like our usual notion of a Welsh person, this young lady has music in her body, blood and bones," Nicky Rossiter says. "She started singing lessons at age 7 and has moved through choirs, musicals and bands to emerge here as a solo artist of great merit and talent."

Howie Newman may be overzealous in his choice of album title, Trust Me, You'll Like It. "He's charming and affable, but ... it just doesn't last," says C. Nathan Coyle. "When taken in the first or second time, Trust Me, You'll Like It is good for a smirk here and there, but beyond that, the novelty of Newman's humor fades away."

James Apollo insists you Hide Your Heart in a Hive. "Apollo has traded his more intimate feel for a grander production on his new release," says Risa Duff. "What it has not lost, however, is its angst and darkness that envelops it. In fact, it is even darker than Good Grief and deals with hurt, pain, fate and even the wicked with hints of classical, rock and roots motifs accompanying those themes."

Devon Sproule urges fans to Keep Your Silver Shined. "Every so often a CD comes along that is just thoroughly delightful in every way," Dave Townsend says. "Sproule is a very talented singer-songwriter, and Keep Your Silver Shined is full of wonderful music for anyone who enjoys folk music with a little of that old-time Appalachian and jazz sound."

Lisa O'Kane's new CD It Don't Hurt "sounds in many ways like a more commercial, more contemporary version of the great records Emmylou Harris (whom O'Kane acknowledges as a large influence) was cutting in the 1970s," Jerome Clark opines. "Grounded yet marketable music is what this is, and from the evidence of Hurt, O'Kane knows how to get it done. She's one more reminder of something it's easy to forget: that pop-accented country doesn't have to be inane pap."

Tommy Alverson is, quite simply, Country to the Bone. "Listening to veteran Texas country singer Tommy Alverson will not convince you that we need another Texas-bred president -- ever -- but it'll make you feel good about the more down-to-earth Texas culture he represents, spawned in honkytonks and dance halls where blue-collar folk go to ease their sorrows by memorializing them in songs," Jerome says. "Country to the Bone doesn't penetrate quite so deeply as the title suggests, but it's burrowed at a respectable depth beneath the skin."

Putumayo offers a look at the diversity of Israel in this new compilation disc. "As with most Putumayo compilations, Israel is breezily downtempo and easy on a foreign palate," says Jennifer Mo. "World music snobs may pan Putumayo compilations for being too mainstream, but these brightly coloured CDs offer accessible and enjoyable introductions to music we might not otherwise come across. Chalk up Israel as another success."

Mark Holdaway works a little kalimba magic Between the Light & the Dark. "Holdaway does not play African music," Dave Howell notes. "He plays more in a new-age style, although this CD does not suffer from the blandness of much of that genre. ... Although these tracks are showpieces for the instrument, they can stand on their own for their uniqueness and evocative quality."

Beep! relates a series of Short Stories in this jazz recording full of potent original music. "Hailing from the Bay area of the west coast, the trio known as Beep! -- Michael Coleman on piano, Nate Brenner on bass and Rob Schwartz on drums -- offers a dynamic, vibrant sound on its debut album," C. Nathan Coyle says. "Beep! shows a lot of promise and skill, and will hopefully have more stories to share."

Kaitlin Hahn did the unthinkable -- she got up before the crack of noon during Celtic Colours week -- to attend the Pipers' Ceilidh matinee show at Cape Breton's far-famed Gaelic College. "I had the opportunity to see this particular show last year and loved it, so I was really excited to be back," she says. "Even more exciting was the stellar lineup again this year. It included multi-talented Glenn Coolen, who played uilleann pipes for this show, Cape Bretoners Jamie MacInnis, Paul K. MacNeil and Tracey Dares, and Scotland's Calum Alex MacMillan."

Robert Silverberg "is a gifted short-story writer. He knows it. And he isn't the least bit shy about trumpeting the fact," Gregg Thurlbeck says. The Collected Stories, Vol. 2: To the Dark Star, 1962-69, he adds, "is an intriguing snapshot of a vibrant era in science fiction, a portrait of one of the period's most important and enduring writers. The fiction shows Silverberg to be a wonderfully accomplished wordsmith; his introductions paint a somewhat less flattering picture while managing to contextualize the stories in an illuminating manner."

Haruki Murakami is waiting After Dark with a novel that takes place over the course of seven hours. "Murakami is an author known for his mysterious characters and minimalism," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "With this book, however, he was too minimalistic, leaving far too much up to the reader for not just interpretation, but invention of a storyline. He doesn't provide the reader any conclusions, which is his trademark, but with this book, he has released a lot of story threads, loosely wound together, without the true structure of a novel."

Bob Freeman unlocks Cairnwood Manor for Shadows Over Somerset. "Freeman writes a fabulous story of werewolves, witches and vampires, of good vs. evil, of legacies, prophecies and fates," Cherise Everhard says. "Shadows Over Somerset is an intriguing combination of horror, suspense, fantasy and even romance. It looks like this book is the first in a series and I can't wait to read the next installment."

Ann Rinaldi takes a look back at turbulent times in Come Juneteenth, a historical novel set in the days following the American Civil War. "Reaching the astonishing conclusion, and delving into times that are in some ways more complex than their own, readers will no doubt ponder over the many 'what ifs' in this story," Corinne H. Smith says. "By the last page, they may be relieved to return to the 21st century, leaving the 19th far, far behind."

Tom Lewis looks at World War II from the North Carolina coast in Sunday's Child. "The historical angle is the main hook for me," Wil Owen says. "The way the war intrudes on the mostly quiet life of Sunday Everette will leave you wanting to read more. Fortunately for me, I had the second book in the series, Hitler's Judas, ready to pick up as soon as I put Sunday's Child down."

Long before Horton heard a Who or the Grinch stole Christmas, Theodor Seuss Geisel sold car parts and prevented malaria among U.S. troops. A sample of those days is collected in The Early Works of Dr. Seuss, Vol. 1 from Checker Publishing. "This book is a treat, particularly for anyone who either grew up with Dr. Seuss books or shared them with their own children," Tom Knapp says. "The clear signs of genius -- and a crazy sense of humor -- are all linked together by Geisel's unmistakable visual style. I really enjoyed seeing how this beloved figure got his start."

Tom shares a guilty pleasure with Adam Warren's Empowered 2. "Empowered, who has one of the more awkward code names in comic-book history and who boasts one of the lamest gimmicks, is endlessly endearing, a sexed-up little engine that could," he says. "She's all too aware of her own shortcomings and weaknesses, she has a big goose-egg in the confidence department and she ends up as a hostage more often than savior in these tales. But she cares, damn it, and she doesn't give up. That counts for something."

Aphrodite IX is "a synthetic human being who has been programmed to be the perfect assassin. In an effort to help her blend seamlessly into human society, she wears very few clothes and has green hair," Tom says. Time Out of Mind, he adds, "was probably a whole lot more fun to draw than it was to write. And, consequently, it's more fun to look at than it is to read."

The famed Scottish author gets an artistic reinvention in Graphic Classics #9: Robert Louis Stevenson. "Instead of merely cutting and pasting a graphic retelling of one Robert Louis Stevenson story after another, we are treated to a baker's dozen of interpretations based on Stevenson's shorter works as well as anecdotal stories recounting the effect of his Treasure Island upon famed cartoonist Robert Crumb's childhood," says C. Nathan Coyle. "Kudos to Tom Pomplun for selecting such a broad range of the author's stories and for finding such an equally broad stable of artists and illustrators to meet the breadth of story subjects. This volume is certainly worth not just one reading, but several more."

Gary R. Varner takes a comparative view of mythology in Creatures in the Mist: Little People, Wild Men & Spirit Beings Around the World. "The book takes on a challenge that perhaps cannot be met in such a short work. Varner strives to show concordances between mythologies of all cultures and countries," says Barbara Bamberger Scott. "With such sweeping themes, it's no wonder Varner's book cannot do fullest justice to the subject matter, but his expertise and his sincerity are obvious."

Peter Bogdanovich tells his own story as much as his lover's in The Killing of the Unicorn: Dorothy Stratten, 1960-1980. "Bogdanovich published this tribute to the young, beautiful Stratten in 1984, four years after her murder, and then promptly married Stratten's younger sister Louise, who is 29 years his junior," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "The prose is colored by Bogdanovich's blind, revisionist devotion to the deceased model/actress and his extreme anger at Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner."

Harry Thurston draws on his experiences on an archeological dig in Egypt's Western Desert for Broken Vessel. "Since the desert is quiet, these are quiet poems, small and short," Michael Scott Cain says. "None is more than a page long and most are half a page or less. Each, though, offers a terrific reading experience and each, in its quiet unassuming way, makes a larger point about the desert and about life itself."

The musical education of Tom Knapp's young daughter continues with her first exposure to the screen version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. "Neither of us came away disappointed, although I was not as astonished by the experience as she was," he says. "Some critics love to deride the musical and pat themselves on the back for tut-tutting the unwashed, lowbrowed masses who enjoy it. Nuts to them, I say. Its weaknesses aside, this Phantom of the Opera is a spectacle worth seeing."

Chris McCallister sets sail with The Vikings for this MGM classic. "In a way, the story was just a good Hollywood vehicle to make a fun, high-action adventure film that was not set during World War II, the Wild West, ancient Rome or ancient Egypt," he says. But, he warns, "there are some definite flaws in the film."

There's always more good stuff on the way! (Meanwhile, you can pass the time and take a peek at the plentiful archives of past editions, below.)

1 December 2007

More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.
- Woody Allen

Ha! My wife so thought I would need reading glasses -- but I don't!

Johnny McEvoy gets his due on the 59 tracks of Trilogy. "Many will be familiar with Johnny McEvoy; we grew up and matured with his extraordinary output at a time when songwriters were not given their proper respect," Nicky Rossiter says. "We often forget that Johnny is a songwriter par excellence. This comes about mainly because we wrongly assume his biggest hits, like most of the early folk revival, were traditional songs. I suppose this is the most double-edged compliment we can give a writer."

Ronan Tynan sets the holidays singing with I'll Be Home for Christmas (a.k.a. My Gift of Christmas Song). "At this time of year we are inundated with Christmas music of all stripes and hues -- most of which become humdrum after a few listens," Bill Knapp says. "This one will be at the top of your stack of Christmas listening for a long time to come. Ronan's treatment of these Christmas classics guarantees frequent playing."

Christy Hodder puts her Celtic Energy on display with a CD designed to kickstart a cardio workout. "Celtic Energy is an upbeat way to pass 45 minutes of exercise, be it a structured workout, a personal exercise plan or even an ambitious attempt to tackle household chores," Tom Knapp says. Hodder, herself a certified fitness instructor, knows what it takes to keep the blood flowing and the muscles from losing their zip."

Tanglefoot is ready to Dance Like Flames with this recent album. "Tanglefoot's most recent release crackles with the fiery full-throated energy for which the band is known," says Donna Scanlon. "Tight arrangements and heartfelt harmonies combine with original and intelligent lyrics into a rich and powerful listening experience with only one flaw: it's over way too soon."

There's no denying that Northern Stars: A Canadian Singers & Songwriters Collection has reviewer David Cox a little peeved. "It sets out to represent Canadian songwriters and singers," he says. "But a lot of the tracks on this CD, while well-known, don't have anything instrumentally or lyrically of much interest. ... Heck, somebody has to tell the world how much good, distinct Canadian music there is out there. It sure isn't the producers of Northern Stars."

Cliff Eberhardt unveils his sixth album, his third for the Red House label, with The High Above & the Down Below. "The clouds hang heavy over Eberhardt's world, but they also loom darkly over all of ours," Jerome Clark says. "The High Above is definitely not for the kids. Any adult listener who seeks perfectly realized grown-up music, however, will listen and weep, and play it again."

Lea "has been climbing the folk-singer-songwriter ladder for a few years now, and her time on the road, playing clubs and festivals internationally, has sharpened both her vision and her ability to put that vision over to an audience," says Michael Scott Cain. "Always a good performer and a sharp songwriter, she has turned a corner and become superb." Read more in Michael's review of Great Big World.

Country-blues guitarist Breadfoot joins up with classical violinist Anna Phoebe for a spot of Tea with Leo. "The two teamed up over a two-day period in London for this delightful collection of instrumental music," John Lindermuth says. "My only complaint is it's just too danged short, with only seven tracks."

Another pair of country albums worth considering are "Holdin' Our Own" & Other Country Gold Duets by Jesse Dayton and Brennen Leigh and Live from the Ruhr Triennale by Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez. Jerome Clark has the skinny on both, so check out his review!

Hands on Strings takes its guitar-oriented jazz Offroad for a spin. "You'd be forgiven for expecting a CD titled Offroad to be wildly experimental and unlistenably innovative," says Jennifer Mo. "But apart from fudging the boundaries between jazz, instrumental and world music, this recording by German guitar duo Hands on Strings only strays a little off the main road. The result: a melodic and energetic set of 11 guitar tracks that resist being pigeonholed into a genre."

Wendy MacIsaac, Tom Knapp says, "will always hold a special place in my fiddler's heart." Although we're taking a quick break from our ongoing (and fairly intensive) coverage of the Celtic Colours International Music Festival, Tom has a bit to say about Wendy in this Festival Club Spotlight.

Instead of additional snippets from Celtic Colours, we have this report from Corinne H. Smith, who has a lot to say about the recent Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band performance at Times Union Center in Albany. By the end, Corinne says, "he was exhausted, and so were we. And isn't that the way it should be?"

More from Colours is on the way!

Kage Baker takes us all on a pirate adventure in her new short novel, Or Else My Lady Keeps the Key. "Short and compact, Or Else My Lady Keeps the Key is a muscular tale with a great plot and exceptionally well-drawn characters surrounding our two protagonists," Tom Knapp says. "At 184 pages, potential readers might balk at the price, but those who can afford it (or borrow it) will find it a satisfying value."

Ursula K. Le Guin demonstrates her Powers of writing with her newest fantasy novel. "The story is full of adventure, does not avoid tough subjects like sexual subjugation and warfare, and does not end with a neat resolution, leaving the reader with more to ponder," says Barbara Bamberger Scott. "It is geared to young teens, and is written by the premier female writer of fantasy fiction."

Editor Paula Guran compiles The Best New Paranormal Romance for Juno Books. "I am not usually a huge fan of anthologies; the stories often seem rushed and lacking in depth," Cherise Everhard says. "While I have liked several anthologies enough to keep and reread, I think this is the first anthology that actually captivated me, start to finish, entirely. I absolutely loved it."

Lawrence Lee Rowe Jr. brings the past to the present in Tempus Fugit. "Tempus Fugit is a mixture of fact and fiction that's cleverly written, expounding on the way a trip to the future surprises and astounds our past leaders," Renee Harmon says. "Out of the blue they surface in a forest a short distance from Mount Rushmore, where their faces are sculpted, leaving them with the challenge of trying to blend in with tourists without being recognized. It doesn't go off without a hitch."

David Morrell's Scavenger continues the adventures of Frank Balenger, Paul de Bruijn says. "It is this pacing that keeps the story moving -- there are constantly more obstacles to overcome. ... The various characters have their own strengths and weaknesses and issues from the past to deal with -- some you are more aware of than others, but you do see how many of them play out."

Donna Woolfolk Cross lays bare the life of Pope Joan in this historical novel. "Cross provides herself with a wide range of characters through which to paint Joan's world using example and symbolism," Whitney Mallenby says. "This cleverly woven background will keep readers intrigued through what it reveals of the historical time period, as well as the messages it imparts to supplement that of Joan's own story."

Buffy the Vampire Slayer takes The Long Way Home in a collection by creator Joss Whedon that kicks off the launch of Season 8 of the series -- in comic-book form. "Have you wondered what Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles have been up to since Sunnydale imploded? Joss has the answers," Tom Knapp says. "Have you pondered the effect on the world of the sudden existence of countless powerful young women with Slayer powers? Joss knows, and he's willing to share. Has it occurred to you that someone -- or something -- might have survived in the rubble of Sunnydale? You might be surprised by that one."

Brian K. Vaughan considers the cost of war through a lion's eyes in Pride of Baghdad, which details in fictional form the true story of a group of lions who escaped the Baghdad Zoo in the wake of American bombing. "Vaughan has done an amazing thing with this book," Tom says. "It is a fanciful representation, true enough, but it is also vivid, thoughtful, passionate and at times downright brutal. If lions thought the way humans do, this would be their narrative."

Josh Howard reaps a Black Harvest with a "spooky, X-Filesesque atmosphere that deals with aliens, widescale paranoia, secret organizations, cover-ups and unnatural pacts," Tom says. "The book builds tension nicely, but be prepared for a letdown by the end. I enjoyed the journey -- Howard is a talented writer and artist, and he tells a good story -- but the destination is a disappointment."

Michael Vance was "much younger when I last read an Amazing Spider-Man comic book. Reading the massive Essential #7: The Amazing Spider-Man, which reprints issues from the mid-1970s, made three things apparent to this now more mature reader." What are they? Duh! Read the review to find out!

Ruth Finnegan is making music in an English town with The Hidden Musicians, an "exhaustively researched book (that) proves the adage that all universal concerns are local," Nicky Rossiter says. "Rather than try to analyse how the world makes music, Finnegan concentrates her efforts on the very English town of Milton Keynes. Anyone reading the book can then extrapolate to almost any corner of the globe, and if they were to dig deep enough I am sure they would find similar expressions of music in their own backyards."

Tom Knapp endeavors to lure his 9-year-old daughter away from sugar-pop music with a little musical theater. "Stage one was the soundtrack to Phantom of the Opera, which she absolutely adored. Stage two was sitting down to watch a production in the comfort of our own home, and for that the obvious choice was Into the Woods," he says. "So, did it pass the Molly test?" Read the review to find out!

The title says it all: Shriek if You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th. The movie "has its moments, but by and large this spoofalicious film is exceedingly average in terms of the laughs it manages to induce," Daniel Jolley says. "Still, you have to appreciate the effort that went into it, as SIYKWIDLFT sinks its parody hooks into a vast number of genres: teen slashers, teen comedies, teen TV dramas, Baywatch, TV commercials and more."

There's always more good stuff on the way! (Meanwhile, you can pass the time and take a peek at the plentiful archives of past editions, below.)

24 November 2007

If you think you're too small to be effective,
you have never been in bed with a mosquito.
- Bette Reese

I'm still stuffed with turkey dinner. Too full to move, much less to type witty introductions. You read, while I lie down over there and loosen my belt.

Two Irish-themed CDs get the look-see in this review from Jerome Clark: Humdinger by Paul Brock and Enda Scahill and Across the Black River by Kevin Burke and Cal Scott. "If Black River is Irish-Americans performing Irish music, Humdinger (also all-instrumental) is precisely its opposite: Irish musicians doing Irish-American music," Jerome says. Read on for more details!

Mojo breaks its silence -- in Welsh, no less -- with Ardal. "There's nothing not to like about the first five tracks, which come out in a burst of energy, unless of course you don't have a pulse or don't like music," says David Cox. "Yes, it's commercial enough to be played on the radio, but it's just darn good, full of superb licks, fine vocal harmonies and memorable hooks." As for rest of the album ... read on!

Christopher Smith is next with the Gravedigger's Boy and a dozen original songs. "His uptempo songs, with a full band, are funny, ironic and laced with a sly wit," Mark Bromberg says. "When he gets serious, Smith's more subtle ballads are sweetly sung, bordering more on longing than sentiment."

Alex Kash shares a touch of the Florida Heat in this recent recording. "While the style of Kash's music has familiar and comfortable elements, the method of music-making is rather intriguing," says C. Nathan Coyle. "Kash employs a tricky form of veiled simplicity in his music. Outside of two songs using additional vocals, the bulk of the album contains just Kash using his voice (no overdubs), a 12-string acoustic guitar and an occasional harmonica. Until reading that in the CD jacket notes, it wasn't an easily discernable situation."

Royal Wood shares a few Tall Tales on his second CD. "Tall Tales has definitely made friends with my CD player," Wil Owen says. "I may not relate to the lyrics, but musically I quite enjoy this release. If I was in middle school, I would snicker and tell you to hit the website listed below to check out some Royal Wood. But since I'm a little older, I'll refrain."

The Mississippi Mudsharks have Train Rolls On and Jimmy Thackery & the Drivers offer up Solid Ice; both blues CDs get the benefit of Jerome Clark's pen. "If not much alike, these two albums testify to the continuing robust health of electric blues, still vital six decades after emerging as a full-blooded genre in the years immediately following World War II," he writes. "The Mississippi Mudsharks are swimming in country blues' muddy waters, while Jimmy Thackery is awash in the more urban sounds of the 1960s and beyond."

The music and legacy of Woody Simmons is celebrated on Double Geared Lightning. "By the time you get through the CD, you'll have a better understanding of who Woody Simmons was and why he is considered a legend," Michael Scott Cain says. "From a consumer's standpoint, though, you might not want to hear the stories again. You will, though, want to hear the music more than once."

Tingstad & Rumbel offer A Moment's Peace for those who need one. "The veteran duo of Eric Tingstad (fingerstyle acoustic guitar) and Nancy Rumbel (double ocarina, oboe and English horn) are leading proponents of intelligent relaxation music," Dave Howell says. "By intelligent, I mean that they are never bland or particularly repetitive. All 10 tracks stay at the level of ultra-softness, using the formula of Rumbel's languid woodwind playing over Tingstad's picking."

Jazz Speak comes to you Live -- maybe -- on this polished but unimpressive recording. "Blending Latin elements with those of funk, blues and a drop of rock here or there, Jazz Speak attempts to bring a modern approach to traditional (whatever that means) jazz forms," says Kevin Shlosberg. "But seldom on this record do I hear what I think of as true jazz sound."

The Alex Levin Trio may have A Reason for Being Alone, but don't let that keep you away from the music. "Some of the pieces are made for swinging around the dance floor and others are slower, and the two tempos act as counterpoints to each other," Paul de Bruijn says. "There is a lot to like."

The trials and tribulations of travel can trounce the very best of intentions. For Tom Knapp and his lovely wife Katie, unusual traffic conditions in New England threw them off schedule and got them to Cape Breton a good bit later than planned. Thus, we have an incomplete report from the Wagmatcook Culture & Heritage Center, the couple's first stop of the Celtic Colours concert series, where J.P Cormier shared the stage with Sierra Noble and Shooglenifty for Mawita'mk: Getting Together. Tom might have missed a good portion of the show (sob! was his comment on that) but he still had a great deal to say about Cormier's sterling performance.

Patricia Murray is a stunning Gaelic singer from Prince Edward Island who played multiple roles at Celtic Colours this year, Tom says. "Not only was she performing solo as a golden-throated ambassador of PEI's rich Scots-Gaelic tradition, she also was center stage as the charismatic singer, bodhranist and spokeswoman for the lively Halifax-based set band Tuig -- and she was one of 10 music composers tapped to join in the much-ballyhooed 'New Tunemakers' project," he explains. Read Tom's spotlight on Patricia to get a little insight into her work.

Huw Williams "dances with a lively, shambling style that has its roots in the homes, the pubs and the shale fields of Wales. There are obvious similarities to Irish and Scottish stepdancing, but Welsh clogging is a class all its own," Tom says. Read Tom's Green Room interview with Huw to learn more about the unique tradition.

Liz Moore knows The Words of Every Song, and proves it in this novel for music lovers everywhere. "We should all read it because The Words of Every Song is, quite simply, a brilliant book, one that shines on all levels," Michael Scott Cain enthuses. "Although she's only in her 20s, Moore writes with a wisdom, compassion and insight that is rare in an older, more experienced writer."

Shannon Hale revisits a Grimm fairy tale in her Book of a Thousand Days. "It's a fantasy more concerned with characters than magic, an ambitious retelling that stands as a story in its own right, a glimpse into an unfamiliar world alive with history and culture," says Jennifer Mo. "It's a subtle coming-of-age story. And though I enjoyed The Goose Girl, it's my new favorite book by Shannon Hale." Woohoo, Jennifer -- that's #100!

Charles Foran builds a tale around the last great bard of Ireland in Carolan's Farewell. "The narrative sets the stage for a turbulent time in Ireland's history, and readers will learn a great deal about the issues and opinions of the time. But more importantly, it makes a flesh-and-blood figure of a legendary character," Tom Knapp says. "Carolan's Farewell is warm and deeply human,witty, dramatic and emotionally draining, a celebration of a life and an exploration of its mysteries."

Chris Moriarty tackles the posthuman in Spin State and Spin Control. "Each of these novels can be read independently but to appreciate the author's superb vision and grasp of a possible human future I would recommend reading them in sequence," says Conor O'Connor. "Any such reading will reveal a narrative peopled by well-drawn characters and incorporating interesting scientific, sociological and philosophical ideas -- in short some great science fiction."

Matt Bronleewe, formerly with the Christian band called Jars of Clay, has penned his first novel, Illuminated. "The characters are well built and resemble reality, and there is a touch of humor in some cases despite the seriousness of the situation the characters are in," Liana Metal says. "The readers expect the heroes to win and so it happens, but they have not the time to think or predict the outcome as the plot is tight and fast paced."

Tom Knapp hops aboard The Underworld Railroad for a little brouhaha in the afterlife. "The story by Jason M. Burns is an entertaining journey for various souls -- some living, some lingering -- in the conflict that arises," he says. "But, while the story is cleverly crafted, it at times feels rushed, like maybe Burns needed a few more pages to work with. Worse, the story is linked to drab, lifeless art by Paul Tucker; it's ugly and thick, lacking in detail or expression."

This may be the Best of a Bad Lot, but Tom still finds himself disappointed with this unnecessary reinvention of the Gen13 team. "The revamped genesis of their powers is murkier, involving false parents, an archvillain with a baby fetish and an assistant motivated solely by her sexual desires," Tom says. "By the end of the book, it's still hard to tell if the teens were unwitting participants in a secret government program to create supersoldiers or if they were roped into a private enterprise to provide super-powered snuff films to rich Internet voyeurs."

The X-Wing Rogue Squadron kicks the action up a notch for In the Empire's Service. "Art by John Nadeau is not a selling point for this book, unfortunately; it is rough and lacks depth and detail," Tom says. "However, there are plenty of X-Wing on TIE dogfights to keep readers busy, and the story by Michael A. Stackpole -- along with a very important final line -- is worthy of the Star Wars brand."

Mark Allen has a ball reading The Last Fantastic Four Story. "What makes this one different is that it was written by comics' answer to Mr. Disney himself, Stan Lee," Mark Allen says. "Combine the story with the extremely appealing art of penciler John Romita Jr. and inker Scott Hanna, both of whom demonstrate by their talent that they deserve to work with someone of Lee's legendary status, and you have a comic book that's a must for many different fans of the medium."

Jonathan Gould revisits an icon with Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain & America. "Gould chronicles the history of the group from the time that young John Lennon's path crossed first with that of Paul McCartney and then with George Harrison ('two protons and a neutron') in the late 1950s, to that horrific New York City night that ended all reunion possibilities in early December 1980," Corinne H. Smith says. "His three-pronged approach covers the detailed biographies of each of the major and minor players in this real-life drama; an analysis of both the lyrics and the music of every song recorded; and what he calls 'the real outside story,' which includes the reception of fans, critics, and music and film industry executives in America and Britain, and their reactions to each step these four men took."

Elizabeth J. Cockey outlines innovative art therapy treatments in Drawn from Memory: A Personal Story of Healing Through Art. "This book is an exciting account of her personal story as a mother and a therapist," Liana Metal explains. "Apart from a good storyline that involves the author's life story through the years, the book is also an excellent read for all those interested in the issues of art therapy, old age and people suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia. Moreover, it is educational as it indicates alternative ways of helping people in those difficult situations."

Cherise Everhard admits she went to see 300 primarily to ogle Gerard Butler's buff torso. "It is not at all the type of film I normally flock to or enjoy, but I was more than pleasantly surprised at how much I thoroughly liked this film," she says. "This is probably one of the most visually appealing movies I have seen in a long time. It was like watching artwork come to life, a feast for the eyes."

Daniel Jolley joins the experts on a Shark Quest. "This is only a 50-minute program, but it does feature some of the most remarkable footage of sharks in their natural habitat you're likely to see," he says. "I still can't believe these guys are crazy enough to jump in the water unprotected in order to get intimately close to these awesome creatures, but I'm certainly glad I can enjoy the fruits of their labor from the comfort and security of my own home."

There's always more good stuff on the way! (Meanwhile, you can pass the time and take a peek at the plentiful archives of past editions, below.)

17 November 2007

Time is a drug. Too much of it kills you.
- Terry Pratchett

It's getting cold and the car ain't working. *grumble*

John McLean Allan & Stand Easy are Tainted by their music. "Bagpipes fit well with rock, since they are loud and dramatic, if somewhat limited melodically," Dave Howell says. "The melodies are well tailored for bagpipes, both for the instrument's strength and its haunting quality. And Allan is a passable vocalist."

Two musical anthologies -- Americana from the Putumayo label and Give US Your Poor from Appleseed -- get the once over from Jerome Clark. "It does not rest easy on the conscience to greet CDs promoting worthy causes with unfavorable notices," he says. "The truth is, however, that sometimes the music isn't as good as the cause. In such cases the reviewer is tempted to opt for the easy solution: not to review at all. Fortunately, in the two present instances the music is solid, and one's aesthetic satisfaction and one's sense of one's responsibility to one's fellows are one."

Sarah McLachlan gets seasonal without the jolly on Wintersong. "Many artists put out commercially viable, little-effort-required Christmas CDs. Sarah McLachlan is not one of those artists. Wintersong is not one of those CDs," says Jennifer Mo. "Play Wintersong by a dying fire on a cold December evening. Play it on a sultry afternoon in July for a breath of crisp, cold air. Play it any time of the year, except on Christmas morning when a little more yuletide cheer is called for. Then you can pull out the Chipmunks."

The Squeezebox Stompers are feeling good on this self-titled CD. "The name says it all on this album," Nicky Rossiter says. "This trio brings the accordion out of the background and puts it center stage along with the guitar."

Porter Wagoner, who died late last month, is remembered in two new releases: Porter Wagoner Sings His Hits and Wagonmaster. "Here was a tall, gawky guy with a big blond pompadour and spangled Nudie suits, standing as if in conscious, defiant resistance to the very notion of cool," Jerome Clark says. "And then there were the songs, some harking back to the Gothic story-telling traditions of old balladry, not to mention the nakedly emotional recitations with their unsparing tales of tragedy and broken lives."

Two tribute albums come under Jerome's microscope this week: The Derailers' Under the Influence of Buck and Robert Gordon and Chris Spedding's collaboration, It's Now or Never. Read the review to see how well these homages to Buck Owens and Elvis Presley succeed.

Devon Allman's Honeytribe lights a Torch for our blues-lovin' readers. The band, says Paul de Bruijn, "is at its best when the band goes full out as they play the blues. And while they do fine when they do choose to slow down, some of the intensity gets lost in the transition."

Nelson Rangell is playing Soul to Souls. "If you are a smooth jazz fan you'll like this one," Ron Bierman says. "Just know that Rangell is a Trojan horse. Once he infiltrates, you may begin to acquire a taste for even more fiber in your listening diet."

Paulette Dozier gets lowkey praise from reviewer Adolf Goriup for With You. "The recording succeeds quite well, though I miss the real punch you get when listening to one of those breathtaking jazz albums," he says. "Nevertheless, it is a nice collection of jazz standards brought forward flawlessly -- and I like it."

Metropolitan Klezmer brings the music home on Live: Traveling Show. "Metropolitan Klezmer is highly skilled, but with a sense of humor," Dave Howell says. "Traveling Show works equally well as an introduction of klezmer or as a treat for those who already love the music."

The next batch of Celtic Colours reports begins in North River, where Tom Knapp witnessed Seinn nam Fonn: Singing the Tunes. The performance featured Michael Black, Gwenan Gibbard, Rocky Shore, Otis Tomas and Catriona Watt. "It was an easy drive from the Gaelic College, up a beautifully forested road (and some ill-timed roadway construction) through St. Ann's and Goose Cove to North River," Tom says. "Just after the North River Bridge, we hung a left on Oregon Road and past the Shape Shifter's pottery barn to the North River Community Hall, a cozy venue packed with more than 150 people, and where a host of local performers and visitors from away got their time to shine."

What a thrill it is to see Jerry Holland play. Tom was even more impressed one night at the Festival Club, where Jerry put on a sterling performance despite a serious medical condition that has laid him low. Share the experience in this Festival Club spotlight.

Tom has one more for today, this one featuring the Sangsters in Songs of the Scots, part of the Bell Series of workshops and lectures that punctuated the festival week. "If you drink enough whisky while eating haggis, you'll soon forget what you're eating," Tom reports. "Those are words of wisdom from the Sangsters, a close-harmony vocal band from Fife in the Lowlands of Scotland, who gathered Monday at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck to describe Scotland in story and song. They had an hour to do it, and close to 150 people were packed into the small conference hall -- standing and sitting-on-the-floor room only -- to hang on every word."

K.A. Bedford zips to the future for Hydrogen Steel. "The real problem with Hydrogen Steel is that Bedford doesn't know when to stop adding layers of technological complexity," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "And, more importantly, when to stop adding to his protagonists' methods of dealing with each new layer of difficulties. At a certain point the reader's suspension of disbelief begins to falter."

Orson Scott Card expands on prior world-building with First Meetings in Ender's Universe. "The universe that Card created for Ender is rich and vivid, especially in its handling of political and religious themes," says C. Nathan Coyle. "First Meetings is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in the 'Enderverse,' but also serves as a fill-in-the-blanks treat for longtime fans."

Larriane Wills takes us on historical fantasy journey "packed with religious fanatics and royal protocol: in The Knowing, Cherise Everhard says. "The Knowing is a respectable debut and an enjoyable read. I think with a little polish it could have been a fantastic book."

Beverly Lewis returns to Amish country for The Courtship of Nellie Fisher, which begins with The Parting. "Seasoned readers should know the drill by now: author Lewis drops hints but doesn't solve all of the challenges and mini-mysteries in the opening episode of a series," Corinne Smith says. "Fans will gobble up this latest saga and will eagerly await the next two books in the series. As always, Lewis supplies light but thoughtful reading, serving to show that life, even in a simpler society, can become quite complex."

James Patterson and Peter de Jonge take us along the Beach Road for a tale in which a triple murder carries racial overtones. "The story held my interest till near the end, when it takes a route I found totally unbelievable," John R. Lindermuth says. "Still, Beach Road is typical Patterson: fast moving, entertaining and with adequate suspense to keep one going. In short, a good alternative to TV and great for the beach."

Don't write this one off, even though it bears the dreaded title of Clone Saga. "It had its moments, but overall the mainstream Marvel "Clone Saga" was a trainwreck for Spider-Man. For many devoted readers, it's a long and intricately woven chapter in Spider-Man's life that is best forgotten," Tom Knapp says. "Not so in Ultimate Spider-Man, however. Brian Michael Bendis, one of the top writing talents in comics today, certainly knows from clones."

The beautiful Aayla Secura gets her due in Rite of Passage. "This is a Star Wars chapter that weds excellent storytelling to fantastic art, making a stand-alone package that more than satisfies," Tom Knapp says. "Writer John Ostrander's plot is strong and his dialogue is good, the action fast-paced, and the fluid style of penciller Jan Duursema makes the story come alive."

Tom deals directly with the Middleman in Inescapability, the character's third collection from Viper. "If you've read one story about a secret agent with a tragic past, a perky sidekick and an irascible boss who faces off against an arch-nemesis from a global organization of evil with a really bad acronym and stolen alien technology that could destroy the world, you've read them all," he says. "Thing is, I'm not sure if there are any others."

Today's dose of heresy comes via Image, in the guise of Battle Pope and a new edition of his first volume, originally released by Funk-o-Tron, titled Genesis. Five years ago, reviewer Michael Vance called the book a "beautifully wrapped package of sewage." Now, Tom tackles the new version and, while conceding the book is "sacrilegious to the furthest extreme," says readers might find themselves "secretly enjoying this motherlode of action-packed fun."

Michael E. Veal explores the music in Dub: Soundscapes & Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae. "This book is not for casual readers," Dave Howell says. "Although it is only 260 pages long, it is dense with information and theory. It is essential, however, for those who wish to learn about the music of Jamaica."

Mike Parker says it's not always picnics and ice cream between England and Wales in Neighbours from Hell? "This odd little book with a funny title is about the history of English attitudes to Wales," David Cox says. "It's written by one of those rare individuals who, having grown up in England, are attracted to Welsh culture and grow to appreciate and even love it."

Eric Hughes readies his serve for Woody Allen's Match Point. "Talk about being unexpectedly blindsided again and again," Eric says. "I haven't been this schooled by honest, creative storytelling since, well, ever.'

Daniel Jolley's opinion of this film is Unbreakable. "Ah yes, here we have another example of the 'genius' of M. Night Shyamalan, the writer/director with the uncanny ability to take a silly, fantastical story and transform it into a film that is -- well, silly and fantastical. And patronizing, as well," Daniel says. "I haven't seen all of Shyamalan's films yet, so maybe there is still some hope for him, but the evidence is definitely mounting that The Sixth Sense was a one-hit wonder for this filmmaker."

There's always more good stuff on the way! (Meanwhile, you can pass the time and take a peek at the plentiful archives of past editions, below.)