8 March 2008 to 3 May 2008

3 May 2008

Civility is more than just manners. Civility is the oxygen that democracy requires, else it will become poisoned and die.
- Richard Dreyfuss

Can't chat, gotta go share the love of writing and music with a bunch of first-graders thirsting for knowledge. See ya!

Christina Harrison flits back to her Scottish childhood with Mrs. Paterson's Daughter: Memoirs of a Glasgow Bairn. "The songs on this CD would undoubtedly amuse any child, but also serve the purpose of telling what growing up in Glasgow was like for young Christina," Laurie Thayer says. "Invite Mrs. Paterson's Daughter home to meet your kids; she's sure to delight."

Sarah Blair plucks the Flower of the Red Mill. "Don't worry too much. The only real danger here is that you will exhaust yourself tapping along to this beautifully produced collection," says Nicky Rossiter. "There may not be any hit songs on here, but the overall album is a treasure to be sought out by lovers of good music and passionate playing."

Heidi Talbot "has a gorgeous voice," says Jennifer Mo. "If you took Kate Rusby and gave her a bit of Alison Krauss's ethereal breathiness, you'd have Talbot. Delicate, pitch-perfect and expressive, her voice is the single best reason to buy In Love & Light. ... Unfortunately, Talbot's second solo CD (following a brief stint as lead singer for Cherish the Ladies) doesn't quite do her voice justice."

Tiller's Folly crosses A River So Wide with its Vancouver brand of acoustic folk music. "The result may lead you to think of a kind of Canadian Fairport Convention -- not the classic Fairport line-up of Liege & Lief and Full House, focused on traditional and trad-sounding songs, but the later, still extant Fairport, where the material is largely original and folk but one of the genre influences," Jerome Clark says. "Happily, the influence of the Anglo-Celtic tradition is detectable even in River's more poppish or Californified country-rock moments. Tiller's Folly knows how to conjure up a strong, linger-in-the-psychic-ear melody."

Kim Beggs caught our reviewer's ear with her Wanderer's Paean. "Her music richly endowed with sense of place, Beggs is a folk singer in the best old-fashioned sense," Jerome says. "Wanderer's Paean is the full-bodied, fully realized statement of a major artist. One might compare Beggs broadly -- only broadly -- to Iris DeMent or Gillian Welch, but a more accurate comparison might be to a young Sara Carter, if Sara Carter had lived and sung in a much colder climate."

Natalie Merchant seeks out the Motherland on this musical departure. "You'll get mixed reviews for this one, possibly because a lot of listeners expect something akin to the edgier, quirky pop of Natalie Merchant's first album -- and of course, her work with 10,000 Maniacs," Dirk Logemann says. "Motherland is a departure from the earlier pure-pop sound. It's a lot more rootsy, exploring a few different styles including gospel and blues."

Eden Brent "doesn't fit any particular romantic Delta fantasy or stereotype, unlike the famously (or notoriously) poor, non-Caucasian musicians who nurtured the blues in that region in the first half of the last century," Jerome Clark says. But, "over time, she absorbed, even mastered, a range of African-American vernacular styles, including blues, r&b, soul and jazz-inflected pop. All are in evidence in Mississippi Number One. ... With strength, depth and beauty to spare, Mississippi Number One is a spectacularly moving musical statement."

Little Windows go vocal on Just Beyond Me. "Julee Glaub and Mark Weems, performing together as Little Windows, are based in North Carolina, and the primary instrument on offer on Just Beyond Me is the human voice," Nicky Rossiter explains. "They bring us a selection of songs that never fails to please."

Glenna Bell takes The Road Less Traveled for a little spin in the country. "A resident of Houston, Bell is not in fact a honkytonk girl but a writing teacher with a graduate degree in English," Jerome Clark says. "Clearly, she knows how to put together an exceptionally fine song, and she also knows how to deliver it with grace, power and humor, all of it direct, unadorned and blunt. The emotions are laid as bare as emotions can be laid in a song. The Road Less Traveled is one highway no discerning musical wayfarer will mind passing down."

Earl Klugh is playing with a Naked Guitar. "The album of 14 tracks is mostly cover tunes featuring, as the album title suggests, only Klugh and his guitar," Sherrill Fulghum says. "While there is no electronic manipulation of any kind -- only a stripped-down, straightforward recording -- it sounds at times as if Klugh has another guitarist on board. But don't let your ears fool you, it's only Earl."

Zera Vaughan heads Back to the Roots of her North African heritage. "Zera's music does not fit into the typical mold of any particular style," says Sherrill Fulghum. "Her distinctive voice blends with the traditional sound to form a world music sound that reaches right down to your soul."

The Essential Touch "is an album of music as therapy and an aid to relaxation, balance and healing," Nicky Rossiter says. "As it indicates, this is a selection of sounds meant to wash over you as you relax and allow your inner self to breathe."

Joyce Lucia teaches Voice for Musicians in a book that is decidedly not for beginners. "This means that beginning students, coming to this book, are likely to need some help getting through it; the book assumes a previous knowledege of musical concepts," says Michael Scott Cain. "In all, Voice for Musicians provides some good information, but for maximum usefulness, most beginning singing students are going to have to use it in conjunction with a teacher or vocal coach."

Brian Keene "turns the gore-and-death factor up to 11" for Kill Whitey. "A little more polish would have made this a much better novel," Tom Knapp says. "As it is, it's entertaining horror fiction that should keep readers stuck to the pages for a day or two of delicious mayhem."

Carole Nelson Douglas goes Dancing with Werewolves in the first volume of Delilah Street, Paranormal Investigator. "Dancing with Werewolves had everything going for it that makes a book good," says Becky Kyle. "While Dancing definitely falls in the fantasy classification, paranormal romance readers should find enough action to keep them interested. Anyone who enjoys Simon R. Green's Nightside series may very well like this book as well."

Kelley Armstrong employs a little Industrial Magic in the fourth volume of her popular Women of the Otherworld series. "The story takes us through a series of twists and turns that are both unexpected and well thought-out," says Becky. "I enjoyed the characterization, the plot and Armstrong's writing style. It doesn't often get much better than this."

Justina Robson is Keeping It Real in the first volume of her Quantum Gravity series. "The Quantum Bomb of 2015 rocked the world and altered life forever. It opened dimensions within the universe, linking the Earth to worlds only imagined," Cherise Everhard explains. "Mixed in with all the fantasy and adventure is a little bit of humor and a whole lotta heat -- my definition of a perfect read. This is a series I will happily continue to follow."

Naomi Novik ignites a Black Powder War in her world of dragons. "Once again, Naomi Novik has created a fun work with intrigue, excitement and woven history," Gloria Oliver says. "Several cultures make the scene and we're made to feel the agony of encountering the onslaught of Napoleon's ever advancing army."

Whitney LeBlanc writes about a Lousiana Creole family in Shadows of the Blues. "LeBlanc's writing flows easily and it is hard not to be captured by the trials and tribulations of life in Cajun country," Wil Owen says. "Sometimes the white man is their worst enemy. Sometimes it's their own race and, sometimes, their own family."

The Batman story Harvest Breed "is an ugly book," Tom Knapp warns. "The artwork is like scars on the paper. It doesn't tell the story as much as conceal it, hiding the progression of plot behind a slash of unpleasant and bewildering paintings. ... Fortunately, there's not much of a plot to hinder."

The enigmatic bounty hunter Jango Fett is laid bare in Open Season, a graphic novel exploring his personal history and the reasons he was chosen to "father" an army of clones, Tom says. "But if the story by Haden Blackman is strong, the art by Ramon Bachs is even stronger. The action fairly flies from the page, and the colors by Brad Anderson are vibrant and rich."

Mary Harvey slips into Charles Burns' Black Hole. "This is one of the darkest graphic novels I have ever read, and I mean that quite literally: rendered in the starkest black-and-white visuals, the lines are heavy and thick, with emphasis on black, black and more black," Mary says. "Much like David B.'s graphic autobiography Epileptic, the color black dominates every page, with white seemingly thrown in only when absolutely necessary."

Alexandra Holzer, daughter of ghost hunter Hans Holzer, describes a life of Growing Up Haunted. "You would think the result would be fascinating. Unfortunately, it is not," says Michael Scott Cain. "It is too bad Holzer didn't either hire an editor to work with her or get the editing she needed from her publisher. In Growing Up Haunted, she has interesting stories to tell, but only the very committed reader -- or a reviewer -- will wade through the confused and confusing text to find them."

In his previous book, Divine Nobodies, "Jim Palmer told the story of how he experienced a spiritual crisis that grew out of a fundamental error he had made: mistaking church for religion," Michael recalls. "Wide Open Spaces continues the story. ... It is about the experience of God in ordinary daily life, the life of walks in the woods, repairing household appliances, going to football games and so on. It does not preach, it does not shout or insist -- it simply relates one man's experiences and lets him share what he is in the process of learning."

Let's wrap up today's update with a pair of very different movie reviews.

Cherise Everhard travels to the streets of Ireland with Once. "The storyline is bittersweet and eloquent; a modern-day musical about two people at a crossroads in their lives when they meet," she says. "Once is a simple but magnificent film with amazing music and actors; the result is unforgettable."

Becky Kyle says Something the Lord Made "details the lives of Drs. Vivien Thomas (Mos Def) and Alfred Blalock (Alan Rickman), who were pioneers in the field of cardiac surgery. ... It's no surprise this film won an Emmy in 2004. Something the Lord Made is a fascinating historical depiction of a pioneering time in our history both scientifically and racially."

Lots more is on the way! (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions, below.)

26 April 2008

A leader is best when people barely know he exists,
Not so good when people obey and acclaim him,
Worse when they despise him.
Fail to honor people,
They fail to honor you.
But of a good leader who talks little,
When his work is done, his aim fulfilled.
The people will say, 'We did this ourselves.'
- Lao Tzu

Heading into the studio for a little recordin', so must dash. You go ahead and enjoy these reviews, now!

Jerome Clark takes a look at two Scottish recordings: Real Time's Home Thoughts and Rosslyn by North Sea Gas. "When we who dwell on this side of the big pond think of Scottish folk outfits, it is the Battlefield Band and the Tannahill Weavers that come automatically to mind," he says. "As treasured as they may be, they are not the only carriers of the Scots tradition, naturally and happily."

J.P. Cormier is a one-man band on Looking Back: The Instrumentals. "No, not in the sense that he has cymbals between his knees and a drum mounted on his back. But Cormier, who started teaching himself to play guitar at age 5 and was winning adult-level competitions by 9, has mastered an awesome number of instruments," Tom Knapp says. "Most tracks are 100 percent J.P., and it's an incredible aural experience."

Rob Huffman, a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist from New England, offers a varied feast on his CD Tone Without Tension, Wil Owen says. "There are some standard sounding Celtic tracks, a few old-time bluegrass tunes, a few tongue-in-cheek selections and even a country piece or two. What he lacks in vocal talent, Rob makes up with superb playing skills, an entertaining presentation and some great backup."

Greg Adkins is ready and willing to Chase the Western Sky. "Adkins can write, play and sing," Michael Scott Cain says. "With producer Chris Rosser, he has put together an album where fiddles and Dobros blend with electric guitars and Hammond organs, creating a soundscape that serves the songs well."

Bob Dylan is making a mark on Modern Times. "Not sure if you've heard of this guy," Tim Readman says, tongue firmly in cheek. "He's been around for years, released some great albums, confused and confounded fans and critics alike and is still in the ring, swinging punches. At 65 years old, he has swagger and energy that a lot of youngsters would die for. His voice has always fallen into the love-it-or-hate-it category. Now it is raspy and worn but has a sparkle and a sense of devilment to be relished."

Charlie Sohmer is just Dying to Have a Good Time. "Sohmer, a Candian folk/country/roots musician and singer, prides himself on smiling a lot and feeling terrific every day," opines Michael Scott Cain. "The only problem with the CD is that all the emphasis on the ultimate joy can cause a casual listener to lose sight of what Sohmer is really doing: bringing light into the darkness. His subject matter isn't always bright and happy; there is an awareness of the dark side that he explores with insight and much more depth than is apparent on the surface."

Lori McKenna serves up a heapin' helpin' of The Kitchen Tapes. "The Kitchen Tapes is one of four albums that Lori self-released during the first years of her career," Corinne H. Smith says. "She recorded these 13 tracks in her kitchen, using just a small recorder and microphone. So this is the ultimate 'unplugged' session, complete with occasional door slams and Mom asking the kids to be quiet. And yet, she still manages to blow us away with her vocals, her strumming and a selection of haunting and amazing songs."

Interstate Cowboy passes by with There's a Road, the band's second release. "As I scrutinized the cover, I expected either a straight-ahead Western swing outfit or -- in the fashion of some Texas groups -- a guitar-rock band showcasing gimmicky Western imagery," Jerome Clark says. "It turns out the five-man Interstate Cowboy's sound synthesizes popular and vernacular styles, incorporating or integrating rock, reggae, folk, jazz, swing and classic pop at various points."

Omar Kent Dykes and Jimmie Vaughan are playing their blues On the Jimmy Reed Highway. "It helps, obviously, that Texans Omar Kent Dykes and Jimmie Vaughan have been playing the blues circuit all of their adult lives, and by now they're into serious middle age," Jerome remarks. "They have absorbed Reed's music into skin and bone, to take its place among innumerable other influences to be reshaped inside their own informed imaginations."

Dobet Gnahore shares the music of Ivory Coast on Na Afriki. "On her second release, this 24-year-old has the energy and spirit of the best African performers," Dave Howell says. "She sings with a variety of emotions, softly or powerfully, communicating each of the 15 tracks in a different way."

Evan Bartholomew brings organic electronica to the Borderlands. "It's electronica without a thumping beat, new age without sappiness and minimalism without mind-numbing repetition. It has too much melody to please diehard Philip Glass fans, and too few unidentifiable electronic sounds to please diehard Robert Rich fans," says Jennifer Mo. "In short, I like it."

Najee breaks a dry spell by sharing My Point of View. "My Point of View is a collection of 10 mostly instrumental pieces that do more than entertain the listener, they sooth the soul in a way that only smooth jazz can," says Sherrill Fulghum. "Fans of Bob James, Spyro Gyra, Hiroshima and Rupert Holmes will want to give Najee a listen and add this album to their musical collections."

Cecilia Smith's Dark Triumph: The Life of Victoria Lancaster Smith "is a fascinating double album," Nicky Rossiter says. "The album is also a record and an affirmation of what it once meant to be black and American. ... This is an innovative way of telling a life story and is well worth seeking out."

Caitlin R. Kiernan crosses the Threshold with this gothic horror. "The characterization is excellent. Caitlin Kiernan has found a tatterdemalion cast of misfits with their personal demons scarcely at bay before the greater monster comes into the picture," Becky Kyle says. "It's hard to believe Threshold is only Kiernan's second book. Her writing is slightly oblique -- like a fog with the light of the idea shining through. Then, she literally blows the fog away and leaves readers wide-eyed, with hearts pounding."

Kelley Armstrong dazzles the crowd with a little Dime Store Magic in the third book of her Women of the Otherworld series. "I actually didn't realize Dime Store Magic was the third book in a series when I picked it up at the bookstore," Becky says. "In my opinion, this is a strong recommendation. One of my pet peeves about this genre is the 'to be continued' tag after slogging through 400-plus pages."

Karen E. Taylor is Twelve Steps from Darkness in this modern tale of shivers. "While there is a frightening presence in the home that gave me a few shivers and a solid mystery behind it, the spooks take a back seat to Laura's everyday struggles with alcohol and substance abuse and trying to start over," Cherise Everhard says. "That being said, I wasn't disappointed in this story one bit. While I was looking forward to a good scare, one that kept me up tonight, I was pleasantly surprised to be treated to a solid, well-rounded story, with a little spook and a lot of hope."

Adele Geras takes a Voyage on the SS Danzig in the early 20th century. "The story has many main characters as it captures several different people and their thoughts, feelings and experiences as they sail from their homes in Europe across the Atlantic to start over in America," Cherise Everhard says. "The multiple character perspective gives the reader a deeper, more profound glimpse of ship life."

James L. Nelson sails on with the Brethren of the Coast with the second volume in the trilogy, The Blackbirder. "Like the previous book in the series, The Guardship, The Blackbirder makes full use of author James L. Nelson's knowledge of the sea. Set in 1702, the story sails along at a brisk pace, filled with action and excitement but never overlooking the rich, layered development that makes these characters colorfully human," Tom Knapp says. "Nelson is a man to watch. I have already begun reading the third book in the series, The Pirate Round, although I am a little disappointed to know the book ends the saga of Thomas Marlowe."

Katie MacAlister brings Becky Kyle for another one with Aisling Grey, Guardian #1: You Slay Me. "MacAlister has a laugh-a-minute dry Scottish wit that keeps you rolling in the aisles through this romantic fantasy romp," Becky says. "This is a quick and light read -- maybe not one you want to take to quiet environments if you have a tendency to laugh out loud!"

Spider-Man and Red Sonja are together again in a Marvel/Dynamite crossover cleverly titled Spider-Man/Red Sonja. "Fantasy fiends will of course love this. And anyone who likes Spider-Man at his silliest will enjoy it, too," Tom Knapp says. "The writing takes us on a pleasant, fun-filled romp through the transformed city, and the artwork by Mel Rubi is an eye-candy treat."

The spotlight is shown on the Darkness in this Ultimate Collection. "These are a few of my least favorite things: buckets of gore, extreme violence, profanity, promiscuity, visual and prose cliches, a 'hero' who is vile, an entire cast (except a one-dimensional barkeep) that is vile, unrealistic dialogue, nihilism and a protagonist who transforms into a superhero for no discernable reason," says Michael Vance. "So why is this distasteful series so popular if I, Mr. Know-It-All, doesn't like it? The art is terrific throughout, and some folks like to watch trainwrecks."

Michael also has a close encounter with Ed's Terrestrials. "You'll be reminded of the best in animation as you read this well-drawn romp with Ed, who is probably 8 or 9 years old," Michael says. "The colors are vibrant and perfect for the minimalistic art. The visual storytelling is flawless."

Phillip Gardner opens the Gateways to the Otherworld -- or, at least he tries to in this book. "For all I know, Gardner might be absolutely right on in his statements. He might have access to some subjective knowledge that escapes me and, I suspect, most reasonable readers," says Michael Scott Cain. "However, since he promises at the outset a scientific discussion, we can only rely on his use of scientific principles and his use of logic, both of which are, shall we say, a touch off the wall."

Becky Kyle takes a trip to Neverwas, a film that "went straight from the can to DVD despite an amazing cast" including William Hurt, Ian McKellen and Nick Nolte. "The problem is, Neverwas really doesn't quite have a niche. It's not precisely a fantasy as it's billed or a psychodrama," she says. "My suggestion is you rent this film before you buy it. You may not want or need to see Neverwas again, but for the price of a rental, it's an interesting and inspiring way to spend a quiet afternoon."

Next, Becky takes a ride on the Darjeeling Limited. "The story's about three brothers: Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman)," she says. "Even if the brothers are occasionally depressing, the scenery, music and train are well worth watching Darjeeling Limited for. This is definitely a spiritual journey even for those of us watching in the audience."

Lots more is on the way! (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions, below.)

19 April 2008

Only the winners decide what were war crimes.
- Gary Wills

It's another beautiful day. I'm sensing a trend -- must investigate! See ya!

The Outside Track takes The Outside Track for a blended collection of Celtic music. "Usually supergroups emerge as established stars combine to release an album. The Outside Track takes a different tack," Nicky Rossiter says. "These musicians from Vancouver, Derbyshire, Edinburgh, Mayo and the Highlands of Scotland got together at the Irish World Academy of Music & Dance in 2005, and on this album they present us with an accomplished piece of work redolent of their musical education allied to a true love of the genre. Drawing on a repertoire that combines old and new, Irish and other, folk and more, they present 14 tracks of musical treasure."

Empty Hats remembers its former days on Greatest Hats. "Some of these songs might sound familiar at first, but the Hats tend to muck about with the lyrics -- quite often to great effect. A few are slow, but most are bursting with the kind of energy the Empty Hats pour forth from the stage at their performances," Tom Knapp says. "It's a treat to see these guys perform. A CD just can't match the live experience, but it comes close. You should try to find this."

Captain Tractor motors North of the Yellowhead, but doesn't hold the attention of reviewer Tim Readman. "They are a bunch of blokes that celebrate drinking, partying and being in a band in a frenetic, student-pleasing, beer-soaked frenzy. They are clumsy, lack sublety, swear a bit and have left their sense of deftness and tact at the door," he says. "If you are a fan of that kind of thing, then Captain Tractor's North of the Yellowhead will bring back many happily blurred memories. It just gets on my nerves."

Melissa Gibson is In Your Corner with "a gorgeous dark-toned voice that she employs to express her belief that life is a good thing," Laurie Thayer announces. "The songs on In Your Corner are basically hopeful, a tone set right from the start."

Gary Fjellgaard & Valdy are back with Contenders Two: Still in the Running. "Two guys, two voices, two guitars. It's a simple, homey formula and this album sticks to it almost without fail," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "For the most part, however, the album chooses more bland, cliched emotional content and I'm left, at the end of the disc, feeling pleasant but not deeply moved by the songs. A nice evening with old friends, but no one has said anything controversial or challenging, nothing that will have me thinking the next day."

Dailey & Vincent "accomplish the always welcome feat of reminding me why I have liked bluegrass for a very long time" with their self-titled CD, Jerome Clark says. "They do it through the sorts of harmony singing ordinarily associated with the brother duets of the pre-bluegrass era -- Monroe Brothers (Bill and Charlie), Blue Sky Boys (Bill and Earl Bolick) and others. ... They also do it by choosing excellent material."

Jerome next takes a look at two recent releases from the Boston-based Cow Island label: Bar of Gold by Arty Hill & the Long Gone Daddys, and Pictures from Life's Other Side by Preacher Jack. Cow Island, Jerome explains, "celebrates that moment in the mid- to late 1950s when country music and rock 'n' roll rubbed shoulders and electricity, virtual and literal, crackled. Make no mistake, in that golden era Cow Island's acts would have been judged country singers, meaning they would have performed in country venues and had their records spun on country radio stations. In that sense, though rockabilly is inevitably part of their sound, they aren't rockabilly artists as such."

Lydia Pense & Cold Blood provide a Transfusion of blues. "They offer a deeply grooved, funk-filled, horn-driven music soundscape against which the guitar and keyboards soar, and with Lydia Pense's lead vocals on top of it all," says Michael Scott Cain. "It's a sound you love because of its drive, its verve -- and its familiarity."

Boston jazz singer turned Arizona belter Wensday "is trading on her varied musical past, saying that her background as a classically trained jazz, rock and blues singer has enabled her to create a new genre, a musical hybrid she calls torch rock," says Michael Scott Cain. "The claim might be a bit overstated, but there's no mistaking that this woman can sing." For more on this one, read Michael's review of Torch Rock.

Marion Meadows joins the Player's Club for a little Heads Up jazz. "Meadows, who appreciates a variety of musical styles, sticks mostly to smooth jazz, a genre that easily lends itself to integrating a number of musical ingredients into the mix," Sherrill Fulghum says. "The music wraps itself around you and carries you away. The album grabs you and says listen only to me ... and do nothing else."

Mary Youngblood invites you to Dance with the Wind. "The opening track on this wonderful CD will mesmerize and relax you as only the music of a person as in touch with the elements as this artist is can achieve in a few short minutes," Nicky Rossiter says. "Mary Youngblood is an expert in her Native American flutes, and when you add the other instrumentation and arrangement this very soul of the old wilderness is filtered and made all the more enjoyable to modern ears. She adds drums, violins, chimes and much more, but never loses that authentic sound."

UB40 takes its reggae sound Live at Montreux 2002. "Outside a 'best of' album, this is a pretty decent CD that covers a lot of UB40 material," Wil Owen says. "However, unless you are truly a fan of the live format or just have to get everything released by this band, Live at Montreux 2002 might be skipped and not missed."

Al Young's poetry is Something About the Blues. "His language is the language of conversation, plain talk, the American diction of direct speech," says Michael Scott Cain. "In this book, Young collects all of the poems he has written that use the blues as their basis. ... The astonishing thing about the collection is its range. When all of the poems center on one subject, the results can be claustrophobic, but, like many of the musicians he writes about, Young has the chops to create a variety of moods, effects and subthemes within his dominant idea."

Christopher Hart has some words to share on the art of Drawing Dragons & Those Who Hunt Them. "Hart's latest is primarily a Really Cool Dragon Book, and only secondarily an art how-to book," says Jennifer Mo. "These predatory and menacing dragons won't thrill Pern fans, and it would be all too easy to go on about the objectification of women (see cover), but for what it is, Drawing Dragons is a nifty and attractive book that should please the Dragonology fans in your life. ... Whether it will teach them to draw dragons is probably another matter."

Val McDermid "weaves another tale of wonderful crime amid very human turmoil" in the Tony Hill mystery Beneath the Bleeding, Nicky Rossiter says. "I cannot say too much about the story in case I spoil the suspense, but I guarantee you will not have long to wait for the denouement because you will race through the book barely stopping to breathe."

Mark Henry is taking orders for Happy Hour of the Damned. "This book is HILARIOUS, but it's an acquired taste," Becky Kyle remarks. "Readers with a weak stomach should not apply! If you love totally twisted far-out horror film humor, you will get more than a happy hour reading this book."

Simon R. Green takes a trip to Nightside in Hex & the City. "Hex & the City is another fast-paced dark fantasy story full of quirky characters and places," Becky says. "Hex is the fourth in the Nightside series. So far, I haven't been disappointed by any of them."

Wen Spencer brings an Elven realm to Philadelphia in Tinker. "Spencer's world of a not-so-distant Philadelphia, changed both by technology and by an invasion of elves, is both engaging and intriguing," says Becky. "Spencer weaves a fine tale with Tinker and the assorted supporting cast of humans, halflings and elves."

Sylvia Engdahl takes a more adult tack than usual with Stewards of the Flame. "Don't let the new-age associations deter you: like its predecessors, Stewards brims with startlingly intelligent, well-developed ideas about mankind, civilization and technology," says Jennifer Mo. "Engdahl insists, perhaps because of the link she establishes between sexuality and telepathy, that this is not a young-adult book. Its length, complexity and lack of cool aliens also mean that it is unlikely to appeal to mainstream SF readers. Rather, this is mind-stretching speculative fiction for the thinking person."

Richard Uhlig is looking for partners for the Last Dance at the Frosty Queen. "This young-adult story sketches the everyday turmoil that lies beneath the small-town calm, where nothing is as it seems," Mark Bromberg says. "Last Dance at the Frosty Queen is written in a fast, first-person style that captures the confusion and uncertainty of life in a too-small town."

Tom Knapp is a little disturbed -- and rightly so -- by Daddy's Girl. "You need to know from the start just what kind of book this is before you pick it up to read," he says. "You won't enjoy reading Daddy's Girl. This book will shock you, and it should."

The graphic novel collection of Heroes: Vol. 1 "doesn't necessarily make a lot of sense unless you're familiar with Heroes, the hit television series," Tom says. "You can watch and enjoy the series without ever reading this book, and you probably won't feel its absence. But if you have unanswered questions -- or if you just can't get enough of the stuff -- you'll probably find much of what you're looking for here."

Emperor Palpatine's elite, scarlet-garbed guards take the center ring in Crimson Empire. "The Rebels in this case are something of a cliche -- the last lines of their commander, Mirith Sinn, are among the hokiest I've read this week -- but it doesn't matter too much because the Rebels aren't the focus of this book. The interplay among the elite guards, both in the present and in flashbacks to their training, is welcome storytelling all around," Tom says. "Crimson Empire is nonessential reading, but it's a good book nonetheless."

James L. Nelson describes a clash of seafaring titans in Reign of Iron, which relates the history surrounding the famous Civil War battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack (or Virginia, as it is less frequently but more correctly called). "Nelson, a practiced novelist, shows his storytelling skills here by keeping history from being dry despite the long list of characters who appear in the narrative and the lengthy technical explanations that the story requires," Tom Knapp says. "This is a thoroughly enjoyable book that will appeal to history buffs, particularly those who enjoy Civil War or battles at sea."

Becky Kyle has two movie reviews to share with us today. The first is for The Golden Compass, which is "both an adventure-quest and a coming-of-age tale for a young orphan. What makes the movie such a standout is the execution of the story both visually and sonically," she says. "Compass is one of the most beautifully filmed fantasies since The Lord of the Rings."

The other is for The Other Boleyn Girl, a tale of historical intrigue at the court of Henry VIII. "I suspect this film will get the nod at the 2008 Oscars for costuming," Becky says. "The garb was gorgeous and beautifully detailed. The film is a treat for Ren faire junkies just to see what everyone's wearing."

Lots of goodies are on their way! (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions, below.)

12 April 2008

The whole process of education is to find out what you're good at and what you enjoy doing. If you can get paid for that, it's a bonus.
- John Allan Cameron

It's a beautiful day! So why am I typing? Must go outside and play!!

Fiddlers 3 open right up to The Rhythm Chapter. "They keep on coming with this compulsively foot-tapping music and an album that should have a health warning to be avoided by those of a sedate or 'dicky ticker' disposition," Nicky Rossiter notes. "If a person warned against excessive excitement were to accidentally hear this album, we dare not contemplate the consequences."

Alasdair White, the Battlefield Band's fiddler, makes his solo debut on An Clar Geal (The White Album). "White is from the Isle of Lewis, in Scotland's Outer Hebrides, where the Gaelic language and traditional music were all around him," Tim Readman says. "He is an exponent of what has become known as the northwest Scottish style, which is strongly influenced by the playing of pipers."

Bill Hibbets builds his songs with Bricks & Trees. "Bricks & Trees is entirely by Bill Hibbets, from the songwriting to the production, engineering, arrangement and musical performances," says C. Nathan Coyle. "It's difficult to believe that such a mellow-sounding album was actually compiled by one person. Hibbets creates such a laid-back atmosphere throughout the album that such a sole energetic effort seems nearly impossible. But, regardless of the album's history, the truly noteworthy aspect of this album is its delightfully relaxed and amenable sound."

Elaine Silver is singing where Faeries are Gathering. "Never judge a book by the cover, and definitely do not judge an album by its title," says Nicky Rossiter. "I will admit that, seeing this CD arrive with its green cover and fey title, I expected a trip into the new age world of years gone by. But Elaine Silver is an accomplished writer and performer whose lyrics and rendition will win over the hardened hearts who have little interest in the 'wee folk'."

Burgandy Brown is on a roll with My Lucky 13. "Burgandy has a voice that's easy to listen to -- a little bit of a rock growl when she wants to get down and dirty, and a soothing tone when she wants to bring things back down," says Timothy Keene. "Brown's star is assuredly on the rise."

Carolyn Justice takes country music Out of the Fast Lane. "Self-produced records give us a chance to hear lots of good performers that might otherwise linger in the clubs or small venues," Nicky Rossiter says. "Carolyn Justice is an immense talent waiting for the world to find it either as writer, performer or both."

Buzz Cason pays tribute with Hats Off to Hank. "A title like Hats Off to Hank naturally leads the prospective listener to anticipate the sort of honkytonk wail that Hank Williams practically patented. Though 'Hats' is the title song, this is not, in fact, a particularly country record," Jerome Clark says. "A songwriter, performer, producer and all-around music-business professional who's been around since the latter 1950s and the rockabilly era, Buzz Cason is more likely to generate thoughts of Bob Dylan and J.J. Cale. Yes, country is an influence, but blues at its grittiest and chuggiest is a larger presence."

Keith Bear mixes storytelling with the Native American flute on Morning Star Whispered. "Bear is a fine flautist, adding a few trills and techniques not often heard on this simple but hard to play instrument," Dave Howell says.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo marks its 48th year of music with Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu. "These are songs of praise and faith," says Becky Kyle. "The sound is exhilaratingly ambient. Their music is an excellent test of any music system."

The Fabian Zone Trio breaks the iPod barrier with The Masters Return. "Fabian is a Swedish-born player who has spent the last decade anchoring the Lionel Hampton Big Band, a gig guaranteed to develop strong and calloused fingers. Here he's in a more relaxed atmosphere," Ron Bierman says. "Strongly recommended."

Keali'i Reichel is captured in concert on the aptly titled Kukahi: Keali'i Reichel Live in Concert. "Keali'i Reichel is an icon of both modern and traditional Hawaiian music and chant," Wil Owen says. "For just over 90 minutes, Reichel leads a talented troupe of musicians and hula dancers in a celebration of the ancient Hawaiian culture. For those familiar with that culture, the quality of this production will be appreciated. For those from different cultures, other than attending a concert like this yourself, I cannot imagine a better glimpse in the islands' rich past."

Deborah Kapchan shares her expertise in Traveling Spirit Masters: Morrocan Gnawa Trance & Music in the Global Marketplace. "Kapchan is not writing for a general audience; her work is aimed at other scholars and intends to shed light on a phenomenon that other researchers can follow up on," says Michael Scott Cain. "To be able to follow her discussion, you have to be willing and able to deal with academic jargon. ... Not that she isn't clear, and it isn't that the book isn't fascinating, it's just that more than a little decoding is necessary."

Elise Paschen and Rebecca Presson Mosby have compiled words and voices on Poetry Speaks Expanded. "Poetry Speaks Expanded is a magnificent anthology of some of the Western world's most important poets, featuring their work as it appears on the printed page and on CD, recorded by the poets themselves," Michael says. "The editors admit that some excellent poets were left out because they could only include those who had recorded their works. That means every reader will quarrel with the selections -- I was surprised by the absence of Nancy Willard, for example -- but that kind of quarreling is part of the fun."

Mette Ivie Harrison looses The Princess & the Hound in this young-adult fantasy. "With its gentle, introspective hero, The Princess & the Hound is based more on the leisurely revelation of secrets than it is upon actual action. Readers impatient enough to skim will find themselves lost in a convoluted denouement that ties all the disparate threads together," says Jennifer Mo. "It might be more ambitious than successful, but The Princess & the Hound ventures into subjects commonly overlooked in favour of splashy special effects and action."

Horror novelist Brian Keene sets out to destroy the Earth (again) in The Conqueror Worms. "This is a thoroughly enjoyable horror novel, building tension through the first portion, action and terror in the second and outright cataclysm in the third," Tom Knapp says. "I was unable to put the book down. Keene is a talented writer who knows how to destroy a world -- and make sure you never look at earthworms the same way again."

Sandra Riley sells the lady pirates short in Sisters of the Sea. "The saga of 18th-century pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read is worthy of a big-budget film boasting an A-list cast and top-of-the-line special effects," Tom says. "However, if Sandra Riley's novel were used as the basis of a screenplay, we'd be looking at a B-movie treatment for which the majority of the buzz would undoubtedly focus on which hopeful starlet would be baring all as Bonny."

Jenna Black introduces Morgan Kingsley, Exorcist in The Devil Inside. "The hints of world-building in this novel are very interesting, particularly in relation to demon advocacy," says Becky Kyle. "Unfortunately, the plot got bogged down in heavy erotic content. When I say heavy, I am referring to whips and chains."

Martha Wells brings back The Element of Fire for another generation to enjoy. "Wells has figured out how to bring back this out-of-print book so that readers can enjoy it again," Gloria Oliver says. "I couldn't be happier, since I encountered her writing for the first time only recently and have avidly devoured all I could get my hands on. This particular book is set in her world of Il-Rien, based similarly in the time of the Musketeers. With political intrigue, murder and Fae running amok, it is a total treat."

Captain America's dead sidekick Bucky is back in action in Winter Soldier. "Where comics are concerned, I have to admit to being a continuity buff," Mark Allen grouses. "I don't agree with many of the decisions and directions of the Big Two publishers (Marvel and DC, for any newcomers) these days. Regardless of my personal predilections, however, a well-done piece of work is just that. Marvel's Captain America: Winter Soldier is such a work."

Michael Vance takes a Sojourn with The Berserker's Tale, the sixth volume in a series published first by CrossGen, and now by Checker. "Every genre has its touchstones, its stylistic nuances that separate it from other genres," Michael says. "Epic fantasy needs big situations, big settings, big characters and big plots to be epic fantasy instead of say, a western or a situation comedy. So the only worthwhile question is: does Sojourn do it well? I'd say it does it very well indeed."

Rogue Squadron takes its final bows in Mandatory Retirement, the ninth and final volume of the Star Wars series starring Wedge Antilles and his team of ace X-Wing pilots, Tom Knapp says. "I can't help but think there were more stories to tell in this series. But I suppose I will have to look elsewhere for my Star Wars fix."

Hans Holzer unravels The Spirit Connection. "When I first became interested in the paranormal, one of the earliest people I read was Hans Holzer, the 'Ghost Hunter' -- his term -- who has now written over one hundred books, most of them on paranormal phenomenon. At the age of 88, he is, as this title shows, still on the job, exploring and explaining what he calls the Other Side," says Michael Scott Cain. "Reading The Spirit Connection shows he has maintained his enthusiasm and his curiosity. A man of integrity, Holzer has not sold out to current fads; he deplores the TV ghost hunters who bring infrared cameras, sophisticated digital recorders and television crews along, maintaining that all you need is an open mind, some research and a spirit medium. He is exactly what he always was."

Becky Kyle is simply Enchanted with this film. "While this isn't exactly a Fractured Fairy Tale, Enchanted is a delightful film for fairy-tale lovers of all ages," she says. "My favorite character of the whole cast is the chipmunk."

Wil Owen learns the truth about A Christmas Family Tragedy: Legends of the 1929 Lawson Family Murders. "This DVD is rather short -- only about an hour and 15 minutes -- with no extras," Wil says. "What you get is a series of interviews with various relatives several generations removed, as well as family friends, those who have experienced paranormal activities in the Lawson house (before it was destroyed) and at the family gravesite, and finally those who like a good murder-mystery. Interspersed, you will hear some of the historical facts and see some of the official documents of the murder."

Lots of goodies are on their way! (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions, below.)

5 April 2008

In order to live free and happily, you must sacrifice boredom. It is not always an easy sacrifice.
- Richard Bach

Did you ever read a book or listen to a CD and wish you could share your thoughts on it with others? Are you opinionated and articulate? Do you have a passion for the cultural arts? If so, you may have what it takes to be a Rambles.NET reviewer! Books and CDs are flowing through our doors at an unprecedented rate, and we could use a few more people on our team to help handle the load. So if you have any interest in becoming a reviewer, just drop us a line at this address and let's chat about the possibilities. Cheers!

Scottish poet and songwriter Robert Tannahill is remembered in The Complete Songs of Robert Tannahill, Vol. 1. "Dr. Fred Freeman is embarking on a five-disc celebration of Tannahill's work, of which this is the first volume -- the fifth and final volume will be released in 2010, the bicentenary year of Tannahill's death," Mike Wilson explains. "The concept of this is enticing enough, but Freeman's ingenuity is in avoiding the recreation of a period performance and opting to allow the songs to take on a new life, thanks to a collection of Scotland's finest contemporary folk artists."

Old Blind Dogs have gained a well-earned reputation as one of Scotland's best traditional folk bands, a label the Dogs continue to carry on Four on the Floor. "Despite quite a few personnel changes over the years, they have continued to put out good music," Dave Townsend remarks. "Four on the Floor is another great collection of Scottish music from Old Blind Dogs that has all of the elements that have made their music so appealing over the past 15 years."

Elmer Deagle brings a Prince Edward Island sound to this self-titled debut. "This is a fine collection of great tunes that shows us how well good music travels and also how a young man with a love for good tunes can produce an album of high quality," Nicky Rossiter says. "Give Elmer a listen and he will give you the joy of music."

Geoffrey Welchman "must be the peculiar type, or at least a bit on the eccentric side," C. Nathan Coyle surmises after spinning Welchman's One Band Man. "From his punchy instrumentation to his constantly-almost-out-of-tune vocal style, Welchman's whole vibe is a difficult pill to swallow." However, he adds, "once you commit your ear to Welchman's quirkiness quality, he can and does provide an interesting time."

A.J. Roach's CD Revelation inspires a lengthy discourse on the merits of singer-songwriters by veteran music critic Jerome Clark. Despite his own personal feelings on the genre, he says Roach "is a good one, as -- unheard -- you may infer from the sole fact of his being on Andrew Calhoun's Waterbug label, which is an outlet for a whole bunch of gifted folk and folk-referencing acts who merit the attention of discerning listeners. Besides that, Tom T. Hall says, 'A.J. Roach is a true poet,' and if anybody knows songwriting poets, Tom T. Hall, he of overwhelming and irrefutable authority, surely does."

Ray Bonneville is Goin' by Feel on this collection of folkin' blues. "Bonneville's second Red House release satisfies in ways that his first, Roll It Down (2004), which suffered from a certain monotony of approach, does not," Jerome says. "As before, Bonneville is rooted in older musical traditions, his chosen method of expression an electrified, bluesy approach, sometimes with a rock rumble at the bottom, to folk-accented material, incorporating a fair amount of slide guitar alongside graveled vocal. This time around, though, the songs are more distinctive, more consistently strong."

Lurrie Bell followed a hard road to the blues, the results of which can be heard on Let's Talk About Love. "The album is here, and the good news is that Bell hasn't lost a bit of his talent," says Michael Scott Cain. "He plays and sings beautifully, tastefully, with a sense of life and optimism that makes even the down songs on the album ... sound alive and positive."

Doug Cox, Salil Bhatt and Ramkumar Mishra take a Slide to Freedom in this merger between East and West. "This is a complex and well thought-out experiment that should appeal to both blues and world music listeners," Dave Howell reflects.

The Mattias Perez Trio does up some country fiddle music from Sweden on mp3. "Much of it is like old-time American fiddle playing," Dave says. "Certain tracks sound as if they are straight from the American Appalachians, while others have a gypsy tinge or a melancholy feeling not associated with American fiddle work."

A collection of fine musicians take on the Great White North in North to Ontario 2007. "While we here at Rambles.NET get a steady flow of better-than-average music to review, there occasionally comes an album that knocks our proverbial socks off and warrants a rave review," says C. Nathan Coyle. "North to Ontario 2007 is certainly one of those albums in which the pleasure is all mine. ... It's just one of those albums that manages to successfully capture all of the happiness, joy and earnest effort to play music."

The John Jorgenson Quintet offers up its share of jazz on Ultraspontane. "Although he is perhaps not that well known as a solo artist, Jorgenson's playing has graced the records of Elton John, the Byrds, Bob Dylan, Bob Seger, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Pavoratti and a host of others," notes Michael Scott Cain. "What's the result? Well, this stuff swings like crazy."

Charles de Lint targets a youthful audience in What the Mouse Found & Other Stories. "The stories are very short, easy to digest and easily read aloud," Tom Knapp says. "Though brief, they are filled with the rich imagery and almost-alive characterizations that are to be expected in de Lint's writing. So don't be surprised if, while reading, you feel a light breeze tickle your feet, hear the crunch of leaves and far-off voices or smell, just at the edge of imagination, a fresh chocolate-chip cookie."

Sherwood Smith rustles up A Posse of Princesses for this tale. "Smith's newest well-mannered fantasy is nothing short of charming," Jennifer Mo states. "As might be expected from the title, A Posse of Princesses is a quick and slightly fluffy read for the teenage girl crowd. Don't be put off, however: a beautifully detailed courtly world and acutely drawn characters elevate it above the standards of the genre."

Karen Koehler crosses into Slayer territory with this contemporary horror. "The battle scenes are graphic and horrific; the love scenes are sensual and erotic. To say that this is a complex tale would be a gross understatement," Cherise Everhard concludes. "Koehler has created a multifaceted and riveting story that encompasses and crosses over many genres. With so much action and suspense, love and hate, good and evil, fantasy and reality, and heart aching pain, this well-written book is completely and utterly compelling."

Justin Gustainis pulls off multiple points of view with interwoven plotlines in Black Magic Woman. "Gustainis does a stellar job of creating a widely varied cast from both the good and bad guys with unique voices and stories to tell," says Becky Kyle. "If you're a fan of dark urban fantasy sharing a close border with horror, you're going to enjoy Black Magic Woman. Gustainis is a strong entry into the fantasy field and I'm hoping to hear more from him very soon."

Marly Youmans disappoints our reviewer only by bringing the young-adult fantasy Ingledove to a close. "I want more!" Cherise Everhard exclaims. "The characters and the scenery are written with such depth and detail, I could picture every scene and person like I was in the pages with them. ... While the story was making me want to read faster and turn the pages quicker, I forced myself to slow down to savor the journey; to enjoy and prolong my visit to this magical place."

Rachel Caine continues her Weather Warden saga in Windfall, the fourth volume in the series "I think this is probably my favorite book of the series so far!" Gloria Oliver enthuses. "The dominoes are still falling from the chaos of the first book in the series, and they continue to pick up steam."

Bill Ison gets to the heart of the story in KillRod: The Cross of Lorraine Murders. "In recent years we have been inundated with thrillers that have some rather esoteric cause and effect governing the hero or protagonist, and this book is no exception," Nicky Rossiter says. "But this is not a garden-variety thriller written to a set scenario. Bill Ison brings a fresh, spacy, almost breathless style to the genre."

Most graphic bios and autobiographies "are intriguing, if angst-ridden works of art," Mary Harvey says. "What a pleasure it is to read an account of life in a small town that doesn't have a thing to do with rape, incest, the quest for sexual identity, drug addiction or any of the Grimm's Fairy Tale kinds of darkness that are the stock in trade of most graphic stories and autobiographies." She's referring to Kampung Boy, a "pleasant, simply written but by no means simple autobiography ... as told by Lat, one of Malaysia's most prominent artists."

Mark Allen is glad he got in on the ground floor of Peter Bergting's The Portent. "The characterization is a true achievement, resulting in interesting players and intriguing secrets," he says. "Ultimately, however, his story is about redemption and sacrifice. And it works. ... Conveying the wonderful contrast of a world still clinging to hope, reflected in amazing use of colors (buoying the mood), and a world overtaken by evil, marked by the dark and dismal use of blacks, Bergting has demonstrated a near-mastery of using art to complement a story and convey emotional settings."

Tom Knapp says Dark Empire I "is a book in which a very good story is unable to overcome the failings of bad art and hackneyed dialogue." This Star Wars sequel cannot rise above its flaws, he says. "There's lots of action and plain, old-fashioned good storytelling by writer Tom Veitch. ... But above all else, the art in this book is truly terrible. Perhaps someone hid artist Cam Kennedy's crayons, but he's working with a limited palate; each page is washed in green, or blue, or pink -- like those old watercolor coloring books where little Timmy dumped the tinted water in one big puddle on the page."

A slice of Steve Canyon's prominent run is revived in 1949, the third volume of the Checker series of reprints by Milton Caniff. "The artwork is astounding, as it is sometimes simplistic to focus on a person or object, and other times there is elaborate detail provided -- be it the facial contours, carvings on the wall of an Asian temple or the intricate elements of a gun," C. Nathan Coyle muses. "And thanks to the printed layout, we get to see what Caniff drew (in lieu of what was printed in the newspapers), even if it falls outside the edges of the far left or far right panel."

Christina Binkley takes in Las Vegas -- and the men who rule it -- in Winner Takes All. "To a certain extent, the story of these guys is fascinating," says Michael Scott Cain. "After a while, though, you find yourself, despite Binkley's solid research, marvelous grasp of the facts and smooth writing, getting just a little tired of them. The amounts of money thrown around in an attempt to lure more money out of gamblers and to satisfy the gigantic egos of the owners is ludicrous and more than a little obscene."

Becky Kyle is Dancing at Lughnasa with Meryl Streep and Michael Gambon. "I won't kid you, Lughnasa is grim. It's also lovely," she says. "Dancing at Lughnasa is a very worthwhile watch and an essential for fans of Irish film."

Is the truth out there? Some light may be shed in Nick Pope, The Man Who Left the MOD: The UFO Phenomenon Unveiled. "This DVD does not unveil the UFO phenomenon, and that is to its credit," Dave Howell says. "Pope admits there is no physical evidence of aliens or extraterrestrial spacecraft. What Pope convincingly presents, however, are the large number of UFO sightings."

Lots of goodies still a-comin'! (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions, below.)

29 March 2008

Avoid poetry, dramatic presentations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy, sentimental people, and everything likely to excite feeling or emotion not ending in active benevolence.
- Sydney Smith

Everything seems to be working just fine....

Maireid Sullivan brings an Australian air to Celtic music on Never Drift Apart. The CD, Dave Townsend says, "is a pleasant mixture of traditional and contemporary Irish, English and American music. Her soothing unique voice reminds me of singers like June Tabor, Niamh Parsons and Susan McKeown."

The Merry Wives of Windsor have Tales from Windsor's Tavern to share. "The Merry Wives of Windsor are worth hearing," Michael Scott Cain says. "They offer pleasure and humor, but the CD could have benefitted from a more careful editing."

Richard Burgess, Anders Adin & Patrik Wingard are off to Doggerland for a melange of English, French, Swedish and Norwegian music, new and old. "This is music redolent of salty sea air. Of course, it sounds even better, says Jennifer Mo. "The contemporary songs are occasionally less compelling than their traditional counterparts, but the CD turns out to be surprisingly cohesive. ... It's an intelligent intercultural project and a solidly enjoyable recording."

Patty Griffin may have topped her own good work with Children Running Through. "To date, I don't believe there's been a Patty Griffin CD worth any less than the highest praise, but Children Running Through is overall the best of her work to date," says Becky Kyle. "I suspect she's got a lot more to say and, hopefully, many more years to convey the message to us."

Gretchen Witt comes up a little short -- time-wise, at least -- on Six. "Witt could be probably shoehorned into the Dar Williams/Sarah McLachlan nook of the female singer-songwriter genre -- and that's not bad company, mind you -- but Witt has her own sound that really shouldn't have to be compared to anyone else," says C. Nathan Coyle. "Her work, even as brief as it is in this instance, stands on its own merits."

Patrick Flynn has some sorely needed Good News to share. "Flynn doesn't seem to have any need to overpower his music," Michael Scott Cain says. "He doesn't hit you over the head with it as much as he comes up beside you and starts a conversation. Even if you've never heard him before, listening to Patrick Flynn is like talking with an old friend."

Minton Sparks may be feeling a touch Sin Sick. "Sparks' performance poetry is not for the faint of heart," Virginia MacIsaac warns. "Her words paint streaks of pain across the canvas that can't be ignored once spoken."

Shelley Morningsong rises Out of the Ashes for this recent CD. "Out of the Ashes is an album that promotes a knowledge of heritage, a remembrance of the ancient secrets of the past, the stories of the elders, while using up-to-the-minute instrumentation; native drums and flutes take a back seat to electric guitars and synthesizers," Michael Scott Cain says. "Morningsong's voice, strong and bluesy, floats over it all, though it seems, to this listener at least, more interested in raising consciousness than entertaining."

Two recent recordings get close scrutiny -- Concrete Country by the Gene Butler Band and Bill Wence's Songs from the Rocky Fork Tavern -- by reviewer Jerome Clark. Wence, Jerome says, is "a confident craftsman at work," while Butler "possesses a craggy, soulful voice that sounds like his face looks: pure blue-collar."

Mike Dougherty offers up a little Southern Comfort for our readers. "If I lived in the Washington, D.C., area and wanted to learn fingerstyle guitar, I'd seek out Mike Dougherty," says Michael Scott Cain. "The man is a master. His playing is smooth, sounding almost effortless. It is back-porch music at its best."

The Gamelan of Central Java gets the spotlight on this pair of CDs: Court Music Treasures and Songs of Wisdom & Love. "A gamelan orchestra consists of a number of unique instruments that are mostly metallic percussion," Dave Howell explains. "Whether you are familar with gamelan or not, there is no denying the beauty of these fine recordings."

Joe Craven carries forward the jazz stylings of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli in Django Latino. "Its tango elegance makes me wish all the more that I was dancing like all the stars in heaven over 1920 Cuba," Ann Flynt says. "The joy, tears and mood swings within this music and the pieces from Brazil, Argentina, Cuba, Columbia and Spain, to name just a few, paint a mural of the colors and rhythms within each country, yet unite them with the mysticism and emotions one associates with Django and Stephane. In short, these songs give them life."

Rob Silvan hears The Breathing of the World in his music. "Putting the words of masters such as Rumi and T.S. Eliot to music is a difficult task," Dave Howell muses. "The melodies tend to be similar, which is a bit off-putting considering the range of verse covered, from Rabindranath Tagore to W.B. Yeats. Still, there are some pretty moments."

Lawrence Barker shares the joys of Mother Feral's Love in a novel that disturbed our reviewer's psyche through the images it conjured. "Barker did excellent work on this book, which is interesting and filled with surprises," Renee Harmon says. "When I first started reading it, I kept balking because I couldn't keep the names of the characters straight in my head, but as the story progressed I came to know them like the back of my hand. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who wishes to break away from predictable reading."

Shannon Hale enrolls her readers in the Princess Academy. "I admit right now if anyone but Shannon Hale had written the book, I probably would not have purchased it," says Becky Kyle. "Princess Academy as a title doesn't serve the volume as well as it could. But Hale manages to give new life to an old theme."

Tim Lebbon writes of Fears Unnamed in this collection of four tales. "In at least two of the stories, Lebbon turns what might be the stuff of B-movies into something much more by making it about the characters as much as (if not more than) their situation," Scott Promish says. "This is a worthwhile collection overall, but in my opinion only the second and third stories are exceptional."

Saskia Walker is Unveiling the Sorceress in this new fantasy novel. "Walker's pseudo-Arabian setting is well-realized and a pleasant change of pace from fantasy's more usual medieval European settings," Laurie Thayer says. "The ending, however, is something of a disappointment."

James L. Nelson introduces the Brethren of the Coast series with The Guardship. "Set in 1701, The Guardship is a thrilling adventure on land and sea," Tom Knapp says. "Nelson has penned an exciting, richly developed story that bursts with adventure while still leaving ample time for developing living, breathing, three-dimensional characters. Nelson obviously has an extensive knowledge of ships, nautical customs and battles at sea, but he doesn't forget that plenty of action takes place on land, too."

Stephen R. Donaldson, again writing as Reed Stephens, describes The Man Who Tried to Get Away. "The Man Who Tried to Get Away is one twisted puppy, with a bizarre yet compelling cast of characters and some awesome discussions on mystery fiction vs. the real-life variety," Gloria Oliver remarks. "Relationships, sneaking, lies and more galore, along with several definite surprises. Good stuff!"

Although we have only three graphic novel reviews this week, I'm sure you'll agree it's an interesting variety!

The story takes a serious turn in the graphic novel Mom's Cancer, by freelance writer and artist Brian Fies. "This is a graphic autobiography that, along with Cancer Victim, probably really has helped save lives and seen many cancer sufferers through some very dark times," says Mary Harvey. "This humorous, informative, but never weighty book, along with Cancer Vixen, would be a perfect read for someone needing a helping hand up during any crisis."

Several key characters stand In the Shadows of Their Fathers in this sequel to the Clone Wars story Last Stand on Jabiim. "The story by Thomas Andrews is tight, making full use of the previous storyline to explore the Jabiimi matter from a new perspective," Tom Knapp says. "The bulk of the art by Adriana Melo is solidly appealing and bright, but a last-chapter switch to artist Michel LaCombe is a disappointment; his more cartoony style of drawing is bland and uninteresting."

Dick Tracy is back in action in The Collins Casefiles, Vol. 2. "Fans of Dick Tracy will like this volume for continuity purposes, notably the birth of Tracy's third child. There are also plenty of typical Tracy moments, sparring with the press and urgent exchanges via television wristwatches," says C. Nathan Coyle. "This really is a charming book with peculiar characters and fun storylines."

Stephen Banick hits the byways for Accidental Enlightenment: The Extraordinary Travels of a Modern-Day Gulliver. "If dreams of getting stamps in your passport have eluded you because life keeps getting in the way, perhaps Stephen Banick can give you the mental kick in the rear that you need to get motivated and get moving," Wil Owen says. However, he adds, "I do not think this book is going to connect with everyone. Not everyone likes to read a travel log (which is arguably what most of this book is about). Not everyone agrees with Stephen's version of spirituality and spiritual growth."

Becky Kyle says The Wind that Shakes the Barley is "the tale of one man and his love for his family and his nation -- and what happens when both are tested. ... War films are generally not my interest, but this is an exceptional movie and I would sincerely recommend it to students of English-Irish History. The research behind the film is extensive and the film attempted to create as realistic historical tale as possible."

The story begins in ancient times in Gardiner's Forbidden Knowledge: Secret Societies. "Director and producer Philip Gardiner maintains that angels (and giants) mentioned in the Bible and elsewhere were based in reality," Dave Howell explains. "A group he calls the Shining Ones, with an implied extraterrestrial origin, came to Earth to guide mankind and teach it the basis of scientific knowledge. Going a ways back, the belief systems of many secret cults and systems draw upon this knowledge."

There's more good stuff on the way! (Meanwhile, take a peek at the archives of past editions, below.)

22 March 2008

The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.
- Bertrand Russell

There's a new computer in the house! Unfortunately, that meant much of this week -- which was already spent recovering from past St. Paddy's Day weekend -- was devoted to file transfers, reconfigurations, glitch control and the like. So forgive us for a slightly shorter-than-usual edition this weekend; we'll make it up to you, we promise!

Mary Kathleen Burke has A Song in Her Heart to share. "It combines traditional with contemporary music, and the songs of well-known writers with her own," Nicky Rossiter says. "This is an outstanding first album -- even if she waited about 30 years to burst on the scene -- and I look forward to many more."

Nerea is making Footprints with her fiddle on this new recording. "It's to Nerea Gourlaouen Alonso's credit that, when I first started listening to her new CD Footprints, I assumed she was a Cape Breton native," Tom Knapp says. "This album, released simply under her given name, Nerea, is a fiddle spotlight, with other instruments (guitar and piano) added to some arrangements as ornamentation only to her fine playing. Most of the tune sets here draw on the hefty Scottish/Cape Breton playbook, with tunes linked together in pleasant, toe-tapping arrangements."

Caroline Herring delivers the goods on Lantana. Jerome Clark says the recording is "brimming with creatively conceived, mostly self-penned material, 10 songs in all. Herring's vocals -- alto with vibrato -- afford them a persuasively life-as-lived quality that may take more than one listening to register and appreciate. You might say Herring, who forces nothing and gives the impression of living comfortably inside her imagined song-worlds, is self-assured enough in her gift to resist the impulse to hit up you upside the head with it."

Cosy Sheridan comes to us Live at CedarHouse. "Live at CedarHouse has all the feel of catching a show in a small venue," Paul de Bruijn says. "There are a couple of small hiccups along the way, but the music keeps going in spite of them and the laughter keeps the moments light. The CD does what a live CD should do: give you a taste of what the performer sounds like live and give you a reason to want more of the same."

Bruce Piephoff is "fairly prolific in the Carolinas, with 12 productions from Flyin' Cloud Records. No wonder, since his deep rolling voice, unadorned except for a bit of guitar, draws your attention right away," Virginia MacIsaac reports. "There are a great number of beauties to be found in the 24 tracks on Bright Leaf Blues. There's lots of practical old moaning with a good appreciation of the simple life."

The Dixie Bee-Liners are Ripe for a little bluegrass action in Virginia, where they've shifted their base of operations since their last recording in New York. "Oddly, the transition has ... well, it may not have turned them into a mainstream band, but it's put more of pop gloss on their more-or-less-bluegrass template," Jerome Clark says. "In other words, if the Bee-Liners now merit the Dixie part of their name, they sound less Southern and rural than they used to."

Dan Walsh is playing through a haze of Diesel & Smokes on this recent recording. "This album is a tour-de-force showcase of the undoubted talent of Dan Walsh on a multitude of instruments, and not just those with strings," Nicky Rossiter says. "A CD of instrumental music is not everyone's favorite purchase, but you could make an exception in this case and be delighted by Walsh."

Philip Roth unearths The Plot Against America in his alternative history. "In reading The Plot Against America the reader will reap one of the rewards of imaginative literature: to see the reality about them, long dulled by familiarity, with a fresh vision," says Conor O'Connor. "Anyone reading the book today cannot fail to see the lessons and warning for the contemporary world."

Scott Westerfield spotlights his Pretties in the second book of his Uglies trilogy. "Westerfield maintains the pace of the second novel well, again favoring plot over characterization to keep the pages turning. Characterization isn't completely sacrificed, however," Donna Scanlon says. "The book does not stand well independently; readers would be well advised to start with Uglies to get the necessary background."

Anne McCaffrey offers up A Gift of Dragons in this return to Pern. "Reading dragon stories from Anne McCaffrey is a delight anytime, but especially so during the holidays," Stephen Richmond says. "Her prose, always so smooth and humanely warm, shimmers in the holiday glow."

Susan Cooper visits World War II London in Dawn of Fear, which has been newly reprinted. "At first, it might seem as though nothing really happens in this slim book, but that would be far from the case. Unlike some of Susan Cooper's other novels, the antagonist is not immediately obviousm" Laurie Thayer says. "Dawn of Fear is a powerful story, intended for children approximately 10 and up, and I highly recommend it."

Linda Berdoll follows up on Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice with Mr Darcy Takes a Wife. "Austen purists will no doubt be horrified by how little Berdoll respects the privacy of the Darcys' bedroom (who knew that Lizzie Bennett could be quite so lusty?), but reading these scenes in the language that Miss Austen would have used had she ever written something so shocking makes them at once tender and amusing," Laurie remarks. "As well, Berdoll not only mentions the war, something Austen never did, but takes us right into the thick of it (where we learn even more of Mr Wickham's wickedness)."

Mary Harvey recalls something a friend once said about the nature of diseases: "that if one member of the family was, for instance, a cancer victim, then the entire family is a cancer victim. Whether one had the disease or not it is shared, osmosis-style, by all who live within the sphere of the one who suffers. This is more or less the thrust of David B.'s graphic autobiography, Epileptic, a hard but beautiful narrative of life with a brother who suffers from severe epileptic seizures.

Did you ever have a toy kit that didn't have everything in it that it was supposed to have? For instance, a G.I. Joe jet plane that only had stickers for one wing but not for the other? That, says C. Nathan Coyle, is "the feeling you'll more than likely have after reading MPD-Psycho No. 1. "The artwork is consistent, but relies too much on gore and sound effects to shoehorn dramatic tension where it would not be otherwise apparent. It has potential for an interesting story in the same vein as Silence of the Lambs or the CBS television series CSI, but the plot is too weak and the dialogue is even weaker."

The truth is out there, but it's not in Volume 2 of The X-Files comic-book series. "Don't get me wrong, I'm glad the book is out there," Tom Knapp says. "Some fans will probably love it, if for no other reason than it continues the paranormal adventures of FBI agents Mulder and Scully. But the stories here are simplistic, resolved far too quickly, and in most cases Mulder guesses the solution mere moments into the story."

Bryan W. Alaspa reveals the Ghosts of St. Louis. "In Ghosts of St. Louis, the reader is treated to a tour of the city's haunted places, with especial emphasis on Lemp Mansion," Laurie Thayer says. "While the subject of the book is interesting enough, the writing is rough and unpolished, with a lot of repetition."

Son Seals gets a well-deserved biographical salute on A Journey Through the Blues: The Son Seals Story. "If the documentary has a flaw, it's that it is too short, offering a summary view of Seals and his career, which isn't sufficient because the stories told in the summary lead you to want more," says Michael Scott Cain. "Fortunately, the DVD is fleshed out with footage from three of Son Seals' concerts, two filmed in Chicago clubs and one at a blues festival. The concert footage helps fulfill the promise of the documentary by showing you exactly how good this man was."

There's more good stuff on the way! (Meanwhile, take a peek at the archives of past editions, below.)

15 March 2008

'Tis pride that pulls the country down.
- William Shakespeare

Another St. Patrick's Day weekend is upon us, and we here at Rambles.NET are always up for any excuse to hoist a pint and enjoy grand craic. Our house band, Fire in the Glen, has a fair assembly of performances lined up to break in the new singer.

Still, we find it odd -- more amusing than disturbing, but curious nonetheless -- that so many "Irish pubs" here in the States are advertising bagpipers to mark the occasion. These aren't uillean pipers, mind you, but full-blown kilt-wearing Highland pipers. Americans do realize that Ireland and Scotland are NOT the same country, right? Do we wave the Stars and Stripes to celebrate Canada Day? Do we don our lederhosen to honor Bastille Day? Perhaps we should wear leis and grass skirts for Cinco de Mayo!

We love the Scots, truly we do. But using a Scottish instrument to commemorate an Irish holiday falls somewhere between a smack in the face and woeful ignorance.

Now, where's that pint...?

Breabach invites listeners along on The Big Spree. "It is hard for any band to recreate the energy of a live gig, but on first hearing it sounds as if this silver disc has the capacity to transport us to such a setting," Nicky Rossiter says. "We will certainly be hearing a lot more from this breathtaking band."

Margaret Stewart brings a variety of songs from Gaelic Scotland, including lullabies, ballads and humour, on Togaidh mi mo Sheolta. "The album opens with a haunting song that translates as 'Little Sister, Oh Sister' -- in a way it reminds me of Clannad in those days when they could bring Gaelic into the British charts, although the majority of those listening didn't have a clue what they sang about," Nicky says. "Ranging through heartfelt love songs like 'They Took You From Me' and more upbeat tracks such as 'Clan Donald in the Civil War' featuring the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band, this album inspired by a love of Gaelic Scotland will in turn inspire the listener."

Elizabeth Nicholson & Stringed Migration bring a repertoire of mostly Irish and Scottish traditional material together on Fly Not Yet. "Though (so I judge from photographs) a young woman, Nicholson is already a formidably skilled harpist and a striking vocalist besides," Jerome Clark says. "She's surrounded herself with four comparably gifted musicians (fiddle, guitars, pipes, percussion, bass) with experience in a range of genres, including rock, jazz, classical, Appalachian and Middle Eastern."

Tom Paxton certainly draws attention with the release of Comedians & Angels, and two of our writers tackle the task of reviewing it. "A new release from maestro Tom Paxton is an occasion to be savoured," says Nicky. "Paxton has been a stalwart of the folk and protest genre for more than a generation, and reaching his three-score-and-ten has dimmed neither his voice nor his talent for writing." Jerome, meanwhile, says Paxton, "over his extended stay on the American (and British) folk scene, ... has piled up so much goodwill that his albums threaten to be reviewer-proof. Even if you wanted to, how cold an eye and ear would you need to possess to trash one?" Click on the link for both gentlemen's complete reviews.

Randy Browning, who lives in Maine, ordinarily performs and records with Brett Kinney in the duo Late Bloomers, Jerome notes. "Radical Rags, however, is a solo outing -- just Browning, guitar and banjo. As the title would lead you to believe, it's a collection of politically themed songs, mostly originals. If Browning doesn't sound particularly like the late Phil Ochs, it's the same basic idea: a folksinger protesting the rotten state of the nation."

Dallas Jones is back for more with Wherever You Roam. "A good first album doesn't always assure a successful follow-up," John R. Lindermuth says. "But that isn't the case with Dallas Jones' second album of contemporary folk music. It's a winner."

Jen Spool's Soul Threads has 12 original songs in a folk-rock style. "Jen's vocals are a little on the high side at times, but as a general rule, she has a nice vocal range," Wil Owen says. "I can easily recommend checking out this CD if you are a fan of folk music similar to what you might have heard from Dar or Natalie back in the early 1990s."

The Tallboys' old-time sound "is tight as a drum" on Yeah Buddy, Melissa Kashner reports. "Listening to that album, it's quite evident the band has honed its performance to a science. And I think that may be the problem, because I had a hard time finding much heart or soul on most of the album's 16 tracks. Maybe it's because the Tallboys hail from the Cascades rather than the Appalachians, but it was as if the Seattle-based band crafted its sound via an Excel spreadsheet that listed all the well-researched points of what an old-time band should include."

Willie Nelson's CD Countryman finds the singer "marrying his world-weary vocals and country sounds with colourful reggae rhythms," Mike Wilson says. "Nelson's vocals never miss a beat and the reggae aspects are little more than an unwelcome distraction. It's just not my favoured setting in which to listen to Willie Nelson."

Jeff Beck receives a tribute blues-style with Freeway Jam: To Beck & Back. "The main issue with Freeway Jam is that it is one of those albums in which you MUST be a fan of guitar solos," says C. Nathan Coyle. "To the untrained ear, it can seem like a never-ending rambling of electric guitar strumming and non-stop wah-wahs; however, to a die-hard guitar lover, Freeway Jam is sure to delight."

The Pamela Hines Trio kicks off Drop2 with an eight-minute interpretation of the Beatles' song, "I Will." "If that seems unusual -- a jazz trio taking on a Lennon-McCartney ballad and using the low-key song to open an album -- well, that's the way Pamela Hines does things," says Michael Scott Cain. "The resulting CD is always pleasant and frequently more than pleasant."

Sylvain St-Amour puts his harmonica on display at the Cafe des Solitudes. "St-Amour takes the diatonic away from the blues ghetto," Dave Howell says. "For harmonica fans looking for something outside of the usual blues, this CD is a must."

Tobias S. Buckell singlehandedly invents the subgenre of "Caribbean steampunk" with his novel Crystal Rain, says Robert M. Tilendis. "Buckell has put together an absorbing adventure story with the added richness of an economically rendered culture that is outside the usual cast of science fiction. ... The real joy, aside from the story itself, however, is the dialogue with its strong Afro-Caribbean flavor, which Buckell has rendered clearly and faithfully without making it incomprehensible."

Erin McCarthy lays a Sucker Bet in the fourth installment of Vegas Vampires. "Like usual, I flew through this book in a day," Cherise Everhard says. "McCarthy has a knack for writing books you can't set down."

Jenine Wilson exposes The Shadow Within in this contemporary fantasy with a mysterious twist. "The Shadow Within is a great mystery story that makes the readers turn the pages until they reach the very end," Liana Metal says. "It has suspense and thriller elements that will excite readers of all ages, and the subtle romance involved enhances the unpredictable plot."

Bret Easton Ellis unveils an American Psycho in the novel upon which the 2000 film was based. "I've seen Mary Harron's film adaptation of the book several times, and it is a true, but condensed version of the novel," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "The novel is far darker, however, with graphic descriptions of torture and murder."

Bill Pronzini earns cautious praise with The Jade Figurine. "No matter how gripping and compelling this tale might be, I doubt that there is a large amount of originality here," Chris McCallister says. On the other hand, he adds, "the quality of writing is there, loud and clear, the story is quite complex, the characters are colorful, the setting is fascinating, and the pace and suspense are amazing."

Nora Roberts, writing as J.D. Robb, finds Creation in Death. "There is a reason I rush out to the bookstore on the release dates of all the In Death books," Cherise Everhard sats. "J.D. (Nora) consistently creates spellbinding and suspenseful stories with the most charming characters, and this book is no exception. Her villains wheedle their way into your mind because they are so deliciously evil; you can't help but be fascinated by them. Her books never cease to entertain and delight me, and they are stories I read over and over again."

The Way of the Rat gets its long-overdue third installment with Haunted Zhumar. "It's clear throughout that the writer and the artistic team understand what the story needs, in terms of visuals/imagery as well as text and dialogue," says C. Nathan Coyle. "In some instances, Jeff Johnson does such an amazing job of facial expressions and character posing that Chuck Dixon abandons the use of dialogue, allowing the images to portray and pace the panel sequence."

It's a Mad Night with Richard Sala -- but Tom Knapp says this one isn't the writer/artist's best work. "While Mad Night overflows with dark atmosphere and intriguing twists and bends, it suffers from an excess of imagination. Sala peopled this story with so many characters that they begin to run together, and it's tough sometimes to recall just who's working with whom," he explains. "Fortunately, the cast drops like flies, so it's not always necessary to figure out exactly what one character's role is in the story before the issue becomes bloody and moot."

Tom joins the Jedi for their Last Stand on Jabiim. "Anyone who favors the "wars" part of Star Wars and the Clone Wars will love this book, which focuses almost solely on brutal, bitter fighting, with heavy losses and scenes of uncommon bravery on both sides," he says. "Written primarily by Haden Blackman, the story doesn't shirk at the blunt realities of combat, and the artwork by Brian Ching captures every nuance of the action."

Whether you're a newcomer to the fold or a fan from way back, this Vol. 1 collection by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo is a good jumping-on point for the Fantastic Four. "Waid continues to take the group to exciting new heights with stories involving such imaginative concepts as an out-of-control wave of molecular instability and a sentient creature composed of pure mathematics," Scott Promish says. "But the centerpiece of this collection is a multi-part storyline in which the Fantastic Four's greatest foe is frighteningly reimagined. Unfortunately, it's here where the art really lets the story down. It's a dark tale that would have been much more suited to an artist with a moodier, more realistic style."

Daniel Jolley says A Tale of Two Sisters "is billed as a horror movie, but please don't confuse this fascinating, multi-layered story with the sort of simple-minded horror films coming out of Hollywood. The stigma attached to horror movies in the West doesn't apply when you talk about Asian horror -- solely because Asian filmmakers continue to develop horror as an art form built upon subtlety, complexity and the deepest of human emotions. A Tale of Two Sisters is high art indeed."

Next, Daniel has a few things to say about The Nativity Story. "When you're talking about film adaptations of the story of Christ's birth, the old rubric 'if you've seen one, you've seen them all' just does not apply," he says. "That is especially the case with The Nativity Story, a truly wonderful film that conveys great spiritual power, even as it brings home the humanity of Mary and Joseph to a degree few of its predecessors ever even attempted."

There's more good stuff on the way! (Meanwhile, take a peek at the archives of past editions, below.)

8 March 2008

I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.
- Thomas Jefferson

When we decided to ramp up our MySpace presence, I never dreamed the reaction would be so positive! Thanks to everyone who has joined us there as friends ... and welcome to anyone else who'd like to check us out! You can find us here if you'd like to join our ever-growing community. Cheers!

Kilshannig performs On Holy Ground to the wonderment of Nicky Rossiter's ears. "For me the jewel in an album of gems is the title track, 'The Holy Ground,'" Nicky says. "We have heard and enjoyed the boisterous versions starting with the Clancys, but Kilshannig uses Mary Black as its source and not only changes the gender viewpoint but transfers the lyrics from a shanty to a sort of soulful lament. This works brilliantly and gives us a new song that will delight."

Empty Hats have once again Captured Tom Knapp's attention. "Maybe I've been living too long with the ghosts of a defunct band," he says. "It's been a long time coming, but Captured has convinced me that change ain't always so bad after all."

Robbie Byrne steps beyond his role as a community piper with Sunset Isle. "In many ways, Sunset Isle is as beautiful as its name implies, but better production is needed," Virginia MacIsaac says. "Hopefully, Byrne will have another go round at this and bring us more of his compositions and playing to enjoy."

Nathan Wiley makes a folky splash with The City Destroyed Me. "I like to think of myself as reasonably well informed about the Canadian alternative music scene. But somehow Nathan Wiley managed to slip below my radar with his first two albums," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "Luckily, this gap in my musical knowledge has been partially plugged with ... the spectacular, moody, sonically diverse release The City Destroyed Me."

Johnny Cuomo may be giving the wrong impression with the title of American Idle. "Each song has an amicable and accessible sound, even those with a more wistful mood," C. Nathan Coyle says. "This is undoubtedly because of Cuomo's instrumental skill and his approachable vocal style."

Samuel Markus samples his "tranquil brand of folk" on No Mission, Wil Owen says. "Markus has a decent, low-energy promotional EP here," he says. Still, "unless you are a fan of the single "Life Is," you like EPs, or you just have to have every single thing released by an artist, I would sit on the fence on this one and wait to see what comes out next."

Zoe Scott believes it's Beautiful to Be Alive, and she tells us so through music. "About half the songs on Beautiful to Be Alive are actually pretty decent. Zoe doesn't have the best vocals in the world, but on the more folk-rock offerings, they aren't bad," Wil says. "The lyrics are sometimes a little too 'new-age' in my opinion, but still palatable. Unfortunately, Zoe has a bunch of rock tracks that simply doesn't mesh well with the folkier side. In short, I can recommend a little over half of Zoe's debut."

Lisa Dawn Miller spent the first part of her professional life as an investment counselor, working her way up to first vice president of investments at Morgan Stanley before deciding to go into the family business, says Michael Scott Cain. "Fly Away is her first album and, from the way it sounds, she won't have to go back to managing investments. Miller has a good voice and can get to the heart of a lyric."

Roger Cairns plays jazz as A Scot in L.A.. "The CD is strong and confident from its early notes to the very end," Virginia MacIsaac says. "It's a pleasure to listen to even if jazz and swing aren't your usual fare. Martin and Sinatra would have met a strong contender had these guys peaked at the same time."

Blue Highway takes bluegrass Through the Window of a Train. "Approximately once in a generation, there comes a bluegrass band that so perfectly integrates tradition and innovation that the listener can only sit back stunned and slack-jawed," Jerome Clark says. "In the 1950s and beyond, it was the Country Gentlemen. In the 1970s and beyond, it was the Seldom Scene. These days, it's Blue Highway."

Debbie Davies supplies a Blues Blast for your enjoyment. "How's this for a band?" asks Michael Scott Cain. "Tab Benoit, Coco Montoya, Charlie Musselwhite, Bruce Katz, Rod Carey and Per Hanson. That's who Debbie Davies brought in to support her on Blues Blast, and a blast it is." That's the century mark, Michael: 100 reviews!

I Viulan goes Live with "the folk and roots music of the appennine valleys of the Tuscany and Emilia regions of Northern Italy, a rich vein of tunes and traditions," David Cox says. "These are the songs and stories of the people of these mountains, stories about thwarted love and desire, lullabyes, and other stories. ... I Viulan is one of those great bands that labors away for decades, doing that great work of taking a region's folksongs and keeping them alive, even bringing them back to the broader consciousness. This is a fine selection of the band's work, certainly worth a listen."

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's prose is Borne in Blood in this, the 20th novel in the Saint-Germain series. "Borne in Blood moves at a leisurely pace that reflects the long, slow life of the vampire," Laurie Thayer says. "Despite the pace, Borne in Blood is compelling reading. The setting is well-researched and meticulously presented, and the characters keep the reader coming back for more."

Tanith Lee sets sail with Piratica -- or does she? "Lee's young-adult novel Piratica has a good many twists and turns in the plot before readers discover the real story of this young girl's past," Tom Knapp says. "Compared to some of Lee's other, more mature fiction, Piratica is a trifle awkward and oddly paced, and its heroine is just a little bit too good at everything she tries to do. ... Not that Piratica isn't an enjoyable read. It is, and I was never tempted to cast it aside; Lee's mastery of character and plot are too deft not to hold my interest."

D. Kim Burnham opens The Bureau of Resurrection for your perusal. "This is a different book," says Chris McCallister. "It contains a very nice love story, a strange view of the political future of the United States, time travel, invisibility, seemingly ad-lib comedy references to many popular culture icons, the cultural and societal implications of finding the secret to extreme longevity and a cross-section view of the eternal battle between Good and Evil. There are also religious concepts, political jabs in every direction, genetically engineered deer and attempts to humanely treat mental illnesses. It is like a department store of genres, except all the products in the store are filed almost randomly."

Craig Rondinone offers up Ten Tales to Make Your Head Explode. "Rondinone is an energetic writer with an amazing prose style that covers adventure, comedy, science fiction, horror and humor," Dave Howell says. "There is more pulp in this collection that a truckful of oranges. But I have to stop now. My head is exploding."

L. Frank James' Mr. Inside is "a fascinating novel," Nicky Rossiter says. "Like with all thrillers, I am loathe to disclose too much for fear of spoiling the many plot twists and turns that the reader deserves to discover just as the good doctor lives to solve ancient mysteries."

Jason wages a strange war with The Last Musketeer. "For the first time since I first discovered this minimalistic Norwegian artist and storyteller, I am disappointed," Tom Knapp sighs. "The Last Musketeer is cute and wryly amusing. But the story seems curiously empty, lacking the amazing depth that usually defines a Jason tale."

Red Sonja tackles the Queen of the Frozen Wastes in a battle between two buff, nearly naked women. "OK, so we all know Red Sonja has good reasons for wearing a chainmail bikini into battle," Tom says. "But even she can hardly excuse wearing little more than that on a foray in the Arctic north of her barbarian homeland. I mean, the exposed flesh (which accounts for most of her) would be frost-bitten in moments, and the bits under the chainmail -- damn, that metal must be cold."

Tom gets to know the future Mrs. Skywalker in Mara Jade: By the Emperor's Hand. "Timothy Zahn and Michael A. Stackpole, both veteran Star Wars scribes, have written a densely packed and entertaining story about this beloved character," he says. "Carlos Ezquerra's art is bold and clear, a strong visual presentation of the tale. All in all, that makes By the Emperor's Hand a big win for fans and a good way to get to know Mrs. Skywalker from back in the day."

The Graphic Classics eyes up the scary stuff in volume 10, Horror Classics. "The best thing about this volume is that it doesn't fall prey to the contemporary confusion of 'horror' and 'gore.' There are tales of horror that may not frighten children of all ages, but the good news is that this book can be enjoyed by most ages, not just the over-17 crowd," C. Nathan Coyle says. "This horror-centric volume of the Graphic Classics line is a great addition to an already-great series of graphic novels." Hey, Nathan, that's review #150!

Michael Stallard, Carolyn Dewing-Hommes and Jason Pankau have their piece to share in Fired Up or Burned Out. "This is not a complex book, but simple books can sometimes be quite effective at saying something important, and this is one such book," Chris McCallister says. "The underlying idea is very simple: People who get along with their co-workers and feel good about their jobs are not only happier, but are also more productive and more creative. In other words, employees need to feel connected with each other, with their employer and with the community."

Daniel Jolley just can't work up a sincere "yee-haw!" for The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning, the never-should-have-been-made prequel to a never-should-have-been-made film. "I for one hope the Dukes of Hazzard movies will stop at two," he says. "Neither of them have been loyal to the spirit of the show, especially when it comes to Uncle Jessie, and there are plenty of other dumb scripts floating around out there in La-La Land full of the same dumb jokes and toilet humor you'll find here."

On the other hand, Daniel said that "plenty of laughs and some really impressive animation make Open Season a film just about anyone, young or old, will enjoy watching. The only problem is the fact that it really has nothing to make it stand out from the crowd."

There's more good stuff on the way! (Meanwhile, take a peek at the archives of past editions, below.)