12 March 2011 to 14 May 2011

14 May 2011

On this day in history: In 1264, Henry III of England was captured at the Battle of Lewes and forced to sign the Mise of Lewes, making Simon de Montfort the de facto ruler of England. In 1607, Jamestown, Va., was settled as an English colony. In 1610, Henry IV of France was assassinated, bringing Louis XIII to the throne. In 1643, 4-year-old Louis XIV became King of France upon the death of his father, Louis XIII. In 1796, Edward Jenner administered the first smallpox vaccination in Gloucestershire, England. In 1804, the Lewis and Clark Expedition departed from Camp Dubois and began its historic journey by traveling up the Missouri River. In 1939, Lina Medina at the age of 5 became the youngest confirmed mother in medical history. In 1955, eight communist bloc countries including the Soviet Union signed a mutual defense treaty called the Warsaw Pact. In 1973, Skylab, the United States' first space station, was launched.

There are 231 days remaining until the end of the year.

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• • • MUSIC

Heidi Talbot "has a talent for choosing excellent songs to showcase her distinctive voice," as evidenced on The Last Star, Nicky Rossiter says.

"Talbot shows her writing talent on the title track, 'The Last Star,' which is a beautifully simple love song," he says. "The album closes with a song from the pen of the legendary Sandy Denny and it is fitting that 'At the End of the Day' is performed by this outstanding talent, whose choices and performances on this CD mark her out a true star of the genre."

Eliza Gilkyson offers Roses at the End of Time. "Why is Lucinda Williams, to whom Gilkyson is inevitably compared, famous when Gilkyson, the truer, more resonant artist, isn't?" Jerome Clark asks.

"Like Williams', Gilkyson's work can be personal, but unlike Williams, her view of creative possibility does not begin and end with autobiography. In common with her other Red House releases, Roses boasts great melodies, drawing on folk with occasional shades of rock and pop, and sparkling arrangements. On top of that, she's a fabulous vocalist. And man, can she write."

Sherry Austin exposes her Kate Wolf influence with Love Still Remains. "Sherry gives us an enjoyable collection of Kate's songs and does an excellent job paying tribute to Kate and her music. Her arraignments of Kate's songs don't stray much from the original versions, and that is by no means a bad thing," Dave Townsend says.

"Love Still Remains is a very enjoyable and thoughtful tribute. I've been a fan of Kate's music for many years and enjoyed this CD very much."

James Reams & the Barnstormers have One Foot in the Honky Tonk. "Together, they traffic in the sort of thing this longtime bluegrass geek most enjoys: traditional 'grass -- in other words, the approach inspired by the late 1940s/'50s sound of founders Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers and Flatt & Scruggs -- which they take into our own time with tasteful adjustments," Jerome Clark says.

"The effect is in a near-literal sense timeless: it feels neither quite old nor quite new. It always feels good, though."

Shir sings Israeli Songs on this collection from ARC. "Shir -- which, appropriately, means 'song' in Hebrew -- comprises five musicians with varied backgrounds and based in London. Formed in 1997 by Maurice Chernick, the group performs at concerts, festivals and other functions across the United Kingdom and in Europe," John Lindermuth says.

"Employing both European and traditional Middle Eastern instruments, the group provides an enjoyable listening experience spanning the diverse Jewish musical tradition."


Tom Knapp gives a summation of activities at LAUNCH 2011, an annual music conference and festival in Lancaster, Pa. "Only three years old, LAUNCH has plenty of time to grow and a welcoming city to spread its roots. More venues, more choices, and a national -- even international -- profile can only make it better for musicians and patrons alike," Tom says.

"They're certainly off to a great start." Read Tom's report to get a rundown of some of the performers he caught during the three-day event.


Jason Mundok's excellent podcast series of interviews continues this week with a pair of new entries: former acoustic band Kingsfoil talks about plugging in, and singer-songwriter Buddy Mondlock recalls his rocky road to Kerrville.


Daniel Kraus breaks new ground with Rotters, a novel that resurrects the ancient art of grave-robbing. "As you read, you will feel the touch of clammy flesh and black ichor and smell the stench of ancient graves in a very real, horrible sense ... and yet you're not going to be able to turn away. Light on action, Rotters is a brilliant examination of Joey's character in extreme and upsetting circumstances," Tom Knapp says.

"This is a dark, disturbing book, and one that is very hard to put down."

Duane Swierczynski takes a ride with The Wheelman. "Put on a neck brace before reading, because this book will whip your head around," Dave Sturm warns.

"Swierczynski, along with Charlie Huston, are the modern masters of the fast-paced, surprise-filled, blood-soaked, hard-boiled, all-American crime thriller. What's remarkable about Swierczynski is the frequency and casualness in which he kills off major characters. Toward the end, this book is getting severely depopulated as people are shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, dropped from on high and blown up."


Tom Knapp doesn't believe that all Bad Kids Go to Hell. "The problem is, the plot never really clicks, the two-dimensional characters never earn much sympathy and the story as a whole just trundles along in an effort to be something new ... which it's not," he says.

"These kids never seem too upset as their numbers drop. Attempts to build a sense of mystery around one of them fail, as do various efforts to inject a bit of humor or sex appeal into the mess. It's just not a very entertaining or interesting book, and there's little else to say about it."

The short graphic novel Cut, on the other hand, "is quick, simple and largely satisfying," Tom says.

"The story by Mike Richardson is eerie, a little tense, and it goes in unexpected directions. ... But Cut, a short read at just over 100 pages and in an unusually small format for graphic novels, is ultimately unfulfilling. After luring readers into the tale, Richardson just lets the story peter out. The suddenness of the ending isn't effective or moody, it's just abrupt."


Tony Delvecchio and Rich Herschlag recall the heady days of Sinatra, Gotti & Me. "It's odd how a person's life can appear one way to him and quite different to an observer. In this as-told-to autobiography, Tony Delvecchio, the manager of the famed Jilly's Nightclub in New York City, tells us proudly and repeatedly that he was never a made man. Yet all his life, his best friend and protector was John Gotti, who not only was a made man, but was the man who made the made men," Michael Scott Cain reports.

"Throughout, the book maintains interest because of the tension that comes from the difference between Delvecchio's self-concept and the way we, as a result of his stories, conceive of him."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley takes a spiritual view on this week's feature film, I Beheld His Glory. "This 'Family Theater' presentation from 1953 is a most commendable account of Jesus' last days, crucifixion and resurrection. The most noteworthy thing about it is the fact that it presents the Passion from the point of view of a Roman centurion who witnessed several key events in the story," he says.

"Despite the inclusion of flashbacks within flashbacks (a technique I usually decry quite vocally), this modest production quite effectively brings the Gospel to life in the space of just 55 minutes."

You think we're done? Ha!! Come back for more next week. (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions and find some good stuff you might have missed over the years. We have more than 10 years' worth of our work online for your perusal, totaling more than 13,000 reviews!)

7 May 2011

On this day in history: In 1429, Joan of Arc ended the Siege of Orleans, pulling an arrow from her own shoulder and returning, wounded, to lead the final charge, marking a turning point in the Hundred Years' War. In 1664, Louis XIV of France inaugurated the Palace of Versailles. In 1718, the city of New Orleans was founded by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. In 1824, world premiere of Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in Vienna, Austria, was conducted by Michael Umlauf under the composer's supervision. In 1832, the independence of Greece was recognized by the Treaty of London, and Otto of Wittelsbach, Prince of Bavaria, was chosen King. In 1846, the Cambridge Chronicle, America's oldest surviving weekly newspaper, was published for the first time in Cambridge, Mass. In 1915, the German submarine SM U-20 sank RMS Lusitania, killing 1,198 people. In 1945, General Alfred Jodl signed unconditional surrender terms at Reims, France, ending Germany's participation in the war. In 1946, Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering (later renamed Sony) was founded with around 20 employees. In 1952, the concept of the integrated circuit, the basis for all modern computers, was first published by Geoffrey W.A. Dummer.

There are 238 days remaining until the end of the year.

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• • • MUSIC

The Rapparees have this one Wrapped Up. "Sometimes change can be jarring, especially on old familiar tunes. But at other times it invigorates them, it entices new listeners and is a natural evolution of the tune," Nicky Rossiter says.

"This album is a lively reminder of what folk music always must be, an evolving tradition retaining the best and adding extra value with innovation that attracts new listeners and performers."

Martha Tilston comes to you from an old London church on Real: Live at the Union Chapel. "Martha Tilston is an English folk singer-songwriter who may not have an instantly recognizable name, even though her father Steve Tilston is a well-known singer songwriter and her stepmother is Irish singer Maggie Boyle," Dave Townsend says.

"I wasn't familiar with Martha Tilston before I listened to this CD, but after a few listens, I wanted to check out more of her music. Combining a nice voice and good songwriting make this a very enjoyable recording."

Pete Mroz finds a certain Detachment in his music. "If you took David Gray and put him into a Mixmaster with one part James Taylor and one part Harry Nilsson's voice, you might wind up with something like Pete Mroz's 2008 album Detachment. It's an unassuming soundtrack of melancholy that, when it hits its sweet spot, is capable of delivering some lovely moments and some damned good slow grooves," Jay Whelan says.

"What saves the CD from becoming a genuine slog is Mroz's voice, which is, simply put, a thing of beauty."

The VW Boys go Retroactive with their bluegrass sound. "If not quite a novelty album, Retrospective feels cheerfully eccentric, or at least atypical, on multiple levels. Not the least is its open-throated, extroverted singing and vocal harmonies," Jerome Clark says.

"What they lack in profundity, the VW Boys make up for in amiability and accessibility. If you're looking for something out of the ordinary in your bluegrass, Retroactive is certainly that."

The crew at Cumbancha has come together for Umalali: The Garifuna Women's Project. "The singing of the Garifuna lies at the heart of Umalali: The Garifuna Women's Project, but there is more to it than that. There are the additional instruments and sounds that were added to most tracks in the studio, giving this traditional music a new feel with blues, rock and funk stylings and touches of African, Latin and Caribbean sounds," Paul de Bruijn says.

"Produced by Ivan Duran, the album is the culmination of five years of seeking and collecting songs, as well as finding the right female voices to sing them. Songs were recorded in a seaside hut before the final touches were added in a more professional studio setting."


Tom Knapp will report next week on the LAUNCH music festival & conference in Lancaster, Pa., but this week he features a single panel event: LAUNCH: Can You Handle the Truth? "Here's the deal: Musicians wanting feedback on their craft dropped CDs in a box. The sound guy pulled them out, supposedly at random, and played the first minute of the indicated track. Then the panel let loose, sometimes offering words of encouragement, but more often giving it to those hopefuls in the face with both barrels," he explains.

"Half the fun was watching the panelists' faces as they listened. Wincing and spasms of aural pain mixed with half smiles and sometimes even a bit of a chair dance if the melody clicked."


Jason Mundok's Wood Stove podcast this week features Camela Widad Kraemer, who details her journey from theater to songcraft.


J.E. Hopkins details a Lover's Betrayal within an extended vampire family.

"An author has delivered an excellent body of work when readers can actually visualize and relate to the characters in their novel. J.E. Hopkins achieved that in Lover's Betrayal," Renee Harmon says.

"The novel is an exciting, descriptive, interesting story about the highs and lows in the lives of vampires and misfits. The plot is strong and certainly unpredictable."

Sandra Balzo is Running on Empty with this faltering mystery novel.

"This is supposed to be a mystery, a cozy to be sure, but still a novel centered on the solution to a crime. What it's really about, though, is cuteness. The characters talk cute, incessantly," frets Michael Scott Cain.

"If a series of almost random digressions are what you look for in a book, this is the one for you."

Holly Payne teaches a lesson in forgiveness in Kingdom of Simplicity.

"The focus here is Eli Yoder, a troubled boy in the Amish community who is surrounded by sisters until an accident steals them away. His efforts to forgive the person at fault -- as well as himself, for an earlier transgression that, in many ways, defines his life -- are at the heart of this story," Tom Knapp says.

"But Payne isn't simply writing about a young man's struggle to accept his faith. She's telling a story of a culture that is at odds with modern society, an anachronism, a novelty for curiosity-seeking tourists. Her writing is fluid and eloquent, painting gentle pictures of Eli's life and surroundings."


The Doom Patrol reboots, again, in We Who are About to Die.

"DC Comics' Doom Patrol has a checkered past. I have vague memories of the team from my childhood. The group then, even to my youthful eyes, seemed at odds with the bright colors and optimism of the DC Universe. They were weird and uncomfortable. And, it turned out, quickly forgotten. Oh, they appeared and disappeared on the comic-book shelves with some regularity, but I couldn't be bothered to care," Tom Knapp says.

"I've never fully understood the concept behind the Doom Patrol. Why are Robotman and Elasti-Woman considered 'too weird' for normal society when other DC heroes, such as Plastic Man and Cyborg, interact with society just fine? Eh."

Mary Harvey shares The Tale of One Bad Rat.

"Master storyteller and artist Bryan Talbot wrote The Tale of One Bad Rat as a series of four books in 1988. It went on to win an Eisner and the complete respect of every writer and artist connected with the comics industry. It therefore comes highly recommended, and I can't recommend it highly enough," she says.

"The Tale of One Bad Rat could have been depressing, but it's truly one of the most uplifting stories I have read about such a traumatic subject. Talbot interviewed survivors of sexual abuse in order to make the story as accurate as possible. This research is what lends the book its authenticity. Talbot gives a fictional voice to the complex and heartrending problem of sexual abuse through literary allusion and lushly illustrated artwork. The result is a well-thought out story, imbued with realism and humanity."


John Cherry touts his favorite Beatle in Paul McCartney's Solo Music Career, 1970-2010: Life, Love & a Sense of Child-like Wonder.

"Cherry considers chronologically each McCartney album (with or without Wings) from McCartney (1970) to Electric Arguments (2008). (He deliberately omits the purely classical music ones, pleading unfamiliarity with the genre.) He provides some background information for the songwriting and the recording processes. He chats about guest musicians and instrumentations. He occasionally talks about the lyrics. He offers a bit of commentary on every song on every album," says Corinne H. Smith.

"It's admirable that John Cherry wants to share his passion, knowledge and opinions about Paul McCartney's music with the rest of us. This book is obviously one fan's labor of love, but it is hardly an 'in-depth examination.' It's really only a beginning."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley takes a Backwoods view of this week's film.

"I didn't have high expectations for this movie. To my way of thinking, the world already has more than enough B-horror movies featuring a group of young people going out into the woods and being attacked by a bunch of dirty, disgusting backwoods cretins. To make matters worse, the characters in this film are all taking part in a corporate team-building retreat, a practice I consider to be one of the most infernal ideas mankind has ever come up with," he says.

"To my surprise, the film actually grew some legs somewhere in the middle -- but not enough to really win me over. In the end, a complete lack of originality consigns Backwoods to the ranks of the slightly below average. Think Wrong Turn meets The Hills Have Eyes and you'll pretty much have Backwoods all figured out."

You think we're done? Ha!! Come back for more next week. (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions and find some good stuff you might have missed over the years. We have more than 10 years' worth of our work online for your perusal, totaling more than 13,000 reviews!)

30 April 2011

On this day in history: In 313, Emperor Licinius defeated Maximinus II and unified the Eastern Roman Empire. In 1006, Supernova SN 1006, the brightest supernova in recorded history, appeared in the constellation Lupus. In 1492, Spain gave Christopher Columbus his commission of exploration. In 1789, George Washington took the oath of office to become the first elected President of the United States on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York City. In 1803, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France for $15 million, more than doubling the size of the nation. In 1812, the Territory of Orleans became the 18th U.S. state under the name Louisiana. In 1838, Nicaragua declared its independence from the Central American Federation. In 1900, Hawaii became a U.S. territory ... on the same day that Casey Jones died in a train wreck in Vaughn, Miss., while trying to make up time on the Cannonball Express. In 1927, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford became the first celebrities to leave their footprints in concrete at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood. In 1945, Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide after being married for one day; Soviet soldiers raised the Victory Banner over the Reichstag building. In 1975, Communist forces gained control of Saigon and the Vietnam War formally ended with the unconditional surrender of South Vietnamese president Duong Van Minh.

There are 245 days remaining until the end of the year.

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• • • MUSIC

Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas offer a Highlander's Farewell. "Take two fantastic performers on fiddle and cello, mix in guest appearances by Martin Hayes, Dennis Cahill and Bruce Molsky, among others, and you have the ingredients for a classic album," says Nicky Rossiter.

"The baker's dozen of tracks on offer range over the many moods of great music, from dance tunes to romantic airs. Each track is finely crafted to perfection, as only such a crew can achieve."

Split Tongue Crow sends greetings from Vermont along with its self-titled album. "Split Tongue Crow is a fantastic album, tastefully crafted, ranging from simple Americana traveling music to rockabilly and folksy backporch virtuosity. The sound is tight, professional, clean and artfully arranged," says David Connor.

"This entire album is a wonderful discovery for me. This is a band worthy of recognition, artful and fresh in their compositions, compelling in their lyrics, musically strong in their instrumental arrangements."

Jerome Clark has a pair of double-headers for your consideration today. The first features Try Love by the Laws and Grass Routes by Two Twenty Two. "Grass Routes is a respectable and listenable record, a collection of originals written mostly in a folk vein with, here and there, rock, pop and country touches," Jerome says.

The Laws, he adds, "sing with bluegrass-inspired harmonies that excite wonder and pleasure."

Jerome also considers two fairly dissimilar entries, Isaac Allen's Mr. Isaac Allen Don't Smoke and Heroes Last Forever: The Sun Studio Sessions by Antsy McClain & the Trailer Park Troubadours. "In the crowd of singer-songwriter CDs that show up in a reviewer's mail, a very few stand out. What these two discs have is common is precisely that, if not a whole lot else," he says.

"He considers himself a bluesman, and blues is certainly a presence; so, too, are jazz, r&b, rock, folk-rock and pre-rock pop. His preferred instrument is the piano, and his singing is Waits-ish, a half-swallowed growl in service to tales of urban losers, drifters, lunatics and criminals," Jerome says of Allen. He adds, "Antsy McClain & the Trailer Park Troubadours, who work out of California, stand on the opposite coast both geographically and stylistically. Mostly, theirs is a light-hearted roots rock, which means there are country and blues touches to McClain's songs."

Peter Scherr gets a jump on summer with his Son of August. "I'm tempted to call this 'stoner jazz.' I have no idea if the musicians partake or not, but everything moves at a slow and stately pace," Dave Howell remarks.

"These are moody, etheral pieces. Blake provides low, mellow sax tones while the electric guitars are toned down and low key, jazzy with little or no rock influence. There are a few times when the CD veers towards the abstract, but in general it sticks to its offbeat melodies."

Edward Powell bridges the gap between the improvisational Indian raga and the more formal Turkish makam with Ragmakam. "That Powell has even made the attempt to seek out the similarities between the two styles is admirable. That he has actually gone out and invented his own instrument in order to facilitate this -- a double-necked, fretless amalgam of the sarod and the oud called a ragmakamtar -- is either the sign of an obsessive or a genius," Jay Whelan says.

"Given the results Powell achieves with Ragmakam, I'm inclined towards the latter, for the CD is an undeniable success."


Jason Mundok's Wood Stove series of podcasts returns this week with a pair of featured interviews. Heather Kropf is seeking something shiny, while Hiram Ring demonstrates crossover appeal. Take a look, have a listen!

While you're at it, you should also check out Jason's interview with Lydia Brubaker and Chet Williamson about a local drive for the arts, acting and all-around creative works in Lancaster.


This past weekend saw the LAUNCH music festival & conference begin and end in Lancaster, Pa. Watch this space for coverage of the event, as well as more interviews with the performers!


Elizabeth Laird details The Betrayal of Maggie Blair in 17th-century Scotland. "Through meticulous research and careful character growth, Laird has captured Scotland as it must have been. Maggie's small world is so fully and colorfully developed, you can smell the heather and kine on the Scottish countryside. You feel her danger and can't help but admire her plucky tenacity throughout," Tom Knapp says.

"There are heroes and villains in this book, but mostly there are just people who disagree. Some are nicer than others, but few (not even the black-hearted Annie) are painted with a two-dimensional brush. Laird has brought both the landscape and its inhabitants to life."

Alexandrea Weis deals in murder in Recovery. "This was a dynamic story: adventurous, suspenseful, funny, sexy and at times painfully sad. I really find it hard to categorize it under one genre," Cherise Everhard says.

"This book was practically perfect. It's a cleverly written page-turner with plenty of intrigue."

David Brin concludes The Uplift Saga with The Uplift War. "Warning: if you are not a fan of novels that deal in ideas rather than mindless shoot-'em-ups, which trade in complex concepts and mysteries rather than simple plots, or that take their time to develop three-dimensional, motivated characters rather than offer thinly drawn, unimaginative dimbulbs whose chief function is to chew cigars and shewt them thar alien critters, then this book is not for you," Jay Whelan says.

"Brin handles it all with aplomb and intelligence. He lets the story develop at its own pace -- something I find far preferable to the forced pace of most SF. Along the way develops his characters, and their stories, in truly masterful fashion."


Tom Knapp wishes another cook had been in the kitchen for Celadore. "Teamwork can be a valuable tool in creative endeavors, transforming one person's vision into a fully formed package," he says.

"Caanan Grall should have used teamwork on his stand-alone book Celadore. The idea is good, the presentation is appealing, but the vision is blurred and disjointed. He really could have used another pair of eyes on this one."

Mary Harvey says you don't need to love the band to love Ellen Forney's I Love Led Zeppelin. "Fair warning: there's nothing about Led Zeppelin in this collection of graphic shorts. But it is very much about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, among other topics. And it is very, very good," she says.

"Often labeled as an 'exploration of alternative lifestyles,' Forney's Eisner award-winning collection takes a Pekar-like look at life through terrifically drawn vignettes that tackle a variety of subjects, from how to do morning yoga, kick heroin at home or roller skate backwards. There are other subjects of a highly sexual nature, so this comic comes with a 'for mature audiences' recommendation."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley suggests not visiting the sunny steppes of Russia for Trackman. "The Russians are trying, by gum, but they seemingly have no idea what they're doing. The result, at least in this case, is a horror film that disappoints on just about every level," he says.

"The only real difference between Trackman and a long list of underachieving American horror films is that this one is badly dubbed in English. There's no originality in play here, the characters aren't very interesting or likable and there's almost no tension or suspense as to everything that takes place. In other words, Trackman is a boring slasher film, and that's really all there is to it."

Hey hey, whaddya know, this is Daniel's 400th review for Rambles.NET!!

You think we're done? Ha!! Come back for more next week. (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions and find some good stuff you might have missed over the years. We have more than 10 years' worth of our work online for your perusal, totaling more than 13,000 reviews!)

23 April 2011

On this day in history: In 1014, at the Battle of Clontarf, Irish king Brian Boru defeated the Viking invaders, but was killed in battle. In 1348, the founding of the Order of the Garter by King Edward III was announced on St George's Day. In 1597, William Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor was first performed, with Queen Elizabeth I in attendance. In 1941, the Greek government and King George II evacuated Athens before the invading Wehrmacht. In 1942, German bombers hit Exeter, Bath and York in retaliation for the British raid on Lubeck. In 1985, Coca-Cola changed its formula and released New Coke to an overwhelmingly negative response; the original formula was back on the market in less than three months. In 2009, the gamma ray burst GRB 090423 was observed for 10 seconds, to be recognized as the most distant object of any kind ever seen from Earth and also the oldest known object in the universe.

There are 252 days remaining until the end of the year.

Support Rambles.NET every time you make a purchase through Amazon by clicking the links in our reviews or simply following this link here. It doesn't cost you a nickel extra but helps cover the costs of running this site. We appreciate your support!

Want to be a reviewer? Drop us a line!

• • • MUSIC

Various Scottish artists are ready to Steele the Show in Davy Steele's name. "Marking the 10th anniversary of the death of prolific Scottish singer Davy Steele, this album is a magnificent tribute to the man and an introduction to his work. The performers range from Kate Rusby and Andy M. Stewart to Steele's own son," Nicky Rossiter says.

"With such a diverse range of performers, the sounds are equally wide ranging."

The Decemberists hit new heights with The King is Dead. "While their previous albums had been more British folk tunes than anything else, their newest release takes the band in a slightly different direction. Just as all of their albums are, this work is meant to be listened to from start to finish; very few songs will really stick out if listened to individually," Bryan Frantz reports.

"The King is Dead is a solid album that not only draws in new admirers but also remains loyal to the original fans of the band."

Steve Martin (yes, the actor/comedian) and the Steep Canyon Rangers are raising a Rare Bird Alert. "It's good in large part because it plays on the strengths of both parties, namely Martin's absurdist humor and the Rangers' musical chops," Jerome Clark says.

"Martin writes or co-writes all of the cuts, both instrumentals and songs, bringing a distinctive sensibility -- comedic, intellectual, melodic and informed -- to the project. The Rangers play bluegrass and handle harmonies and sometimes lead vocals as well. They don't surprise because anyone who's heard them know they're as proficient as any outfit on the current bluegrass scene."

Jerome also has a pair of big reviews: namely, You Can't Keep a Big Man Down by Big Joe & the Dynaflows and Big Shanty's Collection. "Two big men, each a master of his domain, practice the blues but from different addresses in the realm," he says.

"One I was not at all surprised to like, while the other I was shocked to find myself taking to."

Victor Hugo shows his spice on Tropical Gangster: Salsa From Venezuela. "A native of Venezuela, Victor Hugo is among the pioneers of Latin music in Europe. His music has worldwide radio play and his compositions have been featured in film and advertising," John Lindermuth says.

"With the increasing popularity of salsa and other Latin musical styles, his name is bound to become more familiar to audiences here."


This weekend is the LAUNCH music festival and conference in Lancaster, Pa., and we sat down with two featured performers to share their thoughts on music.

Emily Yanek remains forever young with her love of '70s-style songwriting. "I'm a very emotion-based person. For me, music is all about feeling. I think you miss a little bit of that in today's music," she says. "I go back to the era where music was a life statement of the artists, and signature sounds were born."

Although strong lyrics are vital to Emily's original material, "melody always comes first," she says. "Sometimes I'll have a title or a couple of lines bouncing around in my head -- but I've always been melody-driven."

KimberLiana, a.k.a. Kimberly Narcisi, is catching butterflies with her songs. "I see unwritten songs as butterflies," she says. "Sometimes, you catch them. Sometimes, you don't. And if you don't catch them, where do they go? There must be unwritten songs, just floating around."

Also check out Kimberly's commitment to Haiti relief!


Corinne Smith shares her recollections of a 2010 jam with Gov't Mule and Jackie Greene. (Why are we posting this now? Blame the shiftless, no-good editor, not Corinne.) "If you love good guitar playing; and if you like Southern rock and blues and expanded jam versions of melodies, then you need not know everything about Gov't Mule. Just go and see the band. The music is worth it, believe me -- even if you have to stand in a driving rain to absorb it," she says.

"I think back to that night with sheer pleasure and a smile on my face. I may not have been familiar with Gov't Mule's catalogue before that evening, but I sure enjoyed learning and hearing more of it. I hope to see the band again."


Daryl Gregory raises a little Pandemonium. "Every once in a while, a novel comes along that impresses you with its strong, smart prose and characters. Even better is one that slowly, slyly, teases you along a path of steady good humor and well-paced action, until suddenly you realize you're being led down a garden path by the author, and your expectations are suddenly turned on their collective head. And that's when you realize the book you're reading just got that much better," Jay Whelan says.

"Such is the case with Daryl Gregory's impeccable first book, Pandemonium."

P.G. Wodehouse details a silly adventure in The Swoop!, or How Clarence Saved England. "In the farcical tone and generally silly nature of The Swoop!, or How Clarence Saved England, I can hear echoes of Terry Pratchett, Ben Elton, Rowan Atkinson and Douglas Adams, among other notable luminaries of British humor. I would certainly not be surprised if the comic writers mentioned above listed P.G. Wodehouse, the author of The Swoop!, as a major influence on their style," Tom Knapp remarks.

"I hope then that they will not take offense if I say that The Swoop is not among Wodehouse's better works. Even if it is damn funny."


Tom Knapp looks at life through the Satanic viewpoint of The Sixsmiths. "The religious aspects of the Sixsmiths' lives are presented with dry, deadpan humor. Sacrifices and sex magic are as mundane to them as other church rituals are to the general populace around them. In fact, the Sixsmiths are probably as normal -- if not more so -- than the people among whom they live and work," Tom says.

"While it falls short of biting social commentary, it certainly provides plenty of food for thought, suggesting that, beneath the veneer of accepted social mores, people aren't really all that different."

Jay Whelan has a lot of praise for All Star Superman, Vol. 1 & 2, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's "astonishing tour de force miniseries."

"It's nothing you haven't seen before in a Superman comic book, especially if you're familiar with the classic Silver Age stories," Jay says. "And yet, in writer Morrison and artist Quitely's hands, it becomes completely new all over again, suffused with the joy and wonder that the best of those old tales used to generate. It all becomes something you have never, ever seen before."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley reports on an Incident On & Off a Mountain Road. "The brainchild of Mick Garris, the Masters of Horror series essentially gave one famed horror director after another the chance to make and direct a one-hour film of his choosing. Given such free reign over the production, each director was limited by little more than his imagination -- and, as you would expect, this proved to be a strong formula for great horror," Daniel says.

"Don Coscarelli of Phantasm fame apparently drew the first straw and got to go first -- and he set the bar high. Teaming up with Joe R. Lansdale, who wrote the short story this film is based on, Coscarelli even brings Phantasm's Angus Scrimm along for what proves to be a glorious joyride into the dark side of human nature."

You think we're done? Ha!! Come back for more next week. (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions and find some good stuff you might have missed over the years. We have more than 10 years' worth of our work online for your perusal, totaling more than 13,000 reviews!)

16 April 2011

On this day in history: In 1778 BC, historians believe, the Greek king Odysseus returned home from the Trojan War. In 73 AD, the Jewish fortress Masada fell to the Romans after a siege lasting several months, ending the Jewish Revolt. In 1521, Martin Luther made his first appearance before the Diet of Worms to be examined by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and the other estates of the empire. In Scotland in 1746, the Battle of Culloden was fought between the French-supported Jacobites, led by Bonnie Prince Charles Stuart, and the British Hanoverian forces, commanded by William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. In 1818, the U.S. Senate ratified the Rush-Bagot Treaty to establish the border with Canada. In 1912, Harriet Quimby became the first woman to fly an airplane across the English Channel. In 1943, Dr. Albert Hofmann discovered the psychedelic effects of LSD. In 1945, the Red Army began its final assault on German forces around Berlin. In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail while incarcerated in Birmingham, Ala., for protesting against segregation. In 1990, Dr. Jack Kevorkian participated in his first assisted suicide. And, in 2007, Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and injured 23 before committing suicide in the Virginia Tech massacre, the deadliest spree killing in modern American history.

There are 259 days remaining until the end of the year.

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• • • MUSIC

Charles de Lint and MaryAnn Harris have released their long-awaited recordings: Old Blue Truck and Crow Girls. "The songs, like the couple's other artistic endeavors, are thoughtful and introspective. They tell stories, at times touching on the mystic and at others focusing on the mundane. They reflect on a life-changing moment, the pleasure of a familiar journey, a destined meeting, a painful parting, black wings and an ongoing fondness for train songs," Tom Knapp says.

"Both singers have strong voices. His is a bit growly, with a pleasing folky grit and a driving intensity that seems almost at odds with his more relaxed mien. Hers is lighter, airier, with a hint of whimsy in her tone."

Owen Temple settles into his Mountain Home. "My initial impression on hearing Owen Temple's Mountain Home -- it's his sixth CD but the first I heard -- was of a better than average Townes Van Zandt imitator," Jerome Clark says.

"On further listening, though, Temple sounds more distinctive, though I have yet not to notice the Van Zandt influence. Of course, if Bob Dylan had his Woody Guthrie, every artist can be permitted his muse or hers. It matters only if the artist is a no-talent and the art is insipid simulation. Happily, Temple is no hack, and the songs, it turns out, sparkle with their own light."

Steve Dawson cuts loose with an album of deadly Nightshade. "Master of the guitar in its various identities, Steve Dawson is a justly respected producer, session player and performer," Jerome says.

"On this disc, for good and ill, Dawson comes across equal parts Richard Thompson and Ry Cooder, creating a modern rock sound into which earlier vernacular styles have been integrated. In Thompson's case it's the British folk tradition, which isn't a presence here so much as some of Thompson's dark lyric sensibility. Cooder's electric and acoustic fashioning of a kind of post-blues musical vocabulary is in evidence, as is Cooder's ability to arrange instrumental interactions into distinctive shapes. Dawson's well-nigh perfect slide-guitar sound, particularly in its acoustic manifestation, will give you a nice kind of chill."


Amanda Wells was destined from birth to make music. "Literally, from the day my parents brought me home from the hospital, I was surrounded by musicians," she says. "I was either going to love it or hate it."

Read more about this up-and-coming singer-songwriter in her interview with Tom Knapp.

Sarah Mbogo is singing her gift in three languages. "From an early age, Sarah Mbogo felt called to spread her faith through song," Tom reports.

"Some people, she says, simply respond better to a message wrapped in music, she adds. 'People are different. Some people get messages mostly from singing, others from preaching,' Mbogo says. 'Singing is powerful.'"


Carolyn MacCullough introduces a charming new young-adult series with Once a Witch. "In an extended family of powerful witches, Tamsin alone is powerless. This, despite portents at her birth that she would be the mightiest of them all. Now 17, she is resigned to her fate as a mere mortal when, on a whim, she takes a job -- finding a lost heirloom -- intended for her magical sister and is whisked into an adventure that will span time and bring her into conflict with another, more sinister clan," Tom Knapp says.

"The characters in this novel are especially well drawn. Tamsin in particular is a well-crafted, imperfect protagonist who will resonate with readers who feel cut off from their own families. She is a bit abrasive, yes, but also resourceful, loyal and doesn't whine much about her lot in life, even if she is a touch clueless at times."

Rob Kroese expresses himself in The Force is Middling in This One. "This is not a novel, but a book of humor based upon author Rob Kroese's longstanding blog. If you've read Kroese's excellent novel, Mercury Falls, you know that he can be wickedly funny and highly irreverent," Chris McCallister says.

"I am accustomed to reviewing novels that have a story. The Force is Middling in This One is not a novel but, like his blog, it is wickedly funny at times and highly irreverent. Everything is fair game, including the author himself."


Tom Knapp crosses dimensions with Zita the Spacegirl. "Her adventures are cute and charming, never overwhelmingly tense, and so are perfect for younger readers," Tom says.

"Ben Hatke handles both the script and art well. Young readers will be enthralled. And, since Hatke leaves room for at least one sequel, be sure to come back for more with this spunky little adventuress."

Tom next goes back to the boneyard for Boneyard No. 4. "Frankly, I can't get enough of this book," he says.

"It's a fun, good-humored, well-drawn and nicely crafted series that doesn't get old."


Lee Sandlin dips a toe into history with Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild. "Thieves, con men, drunkards, fools, slave owners, gamblers, vigilantes and murderers fill these entertaining pages about the United States' widest and most famous waterway. Much of it is about the people who worked on the Mississippi River, who were shunned by townsfolk and had to sleep on their boats," Dave Howell says.

"Lee Sandlin is a terrific storyteller. There are duels, fears of a slave revolt that never happened except in a fake memoir, revival meetings that get out of hand, riverboat pirates, the rise of New Orleans, the Civil War battle of Vicksburg and a lot more."


Richard Bauckham and Trevor Hart examine the crucifixion in At the Cross: Meditations on People Who Were There. "The title is something of a misnomer, in my opinion, because most of the individuals examined here were not literally there on Golgotha to witness Jesus's death -- yet they all offer different and potentially instructive viewpoints on this pivotal event in world history," Daniel Jolley says.

"With such a range of experiences and perspectives to draw upon, Bauckham and Hart have given us a work that should prove insightful to Christians wishing to grow in their faith. Relatively short and straightforward, it combines history and theology in a reader-friendly way that is rich with insight."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley looks for pure horror in Vikaren (a.k.a. The Substitute). "I couldn't help but worry when what I thought was a pure horror film (it certainly looked like one, and it is one of the Ghost House Underground films, after all) opened with the words 'once upon a time.' A somewhat confusing opening and lots of obviously bad dubbing (this is a Danish film) did little to reassure me," he says.

"Once the 'substitute' showed up, though, I quickly found myself being drawn into this quite unusual film. Let me assure you that this is a really weird movie -- surreal, actually -- and some people will undoubtedly hate it. As for me, I loved it."

You think we're done? Ha!! Come back for more next week. (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions and find some good stuff you might have missed over the years. We have more than 10 years' worth of our work online for your perusal, totaling more than 13,000 reviews!)

9 April 2011

On this day in history: Henry V was crowned King of England in 1413. In 1440, Christopher of Bavaria was appointed King of Denmark. In 1511, St John's College in Cambridge, England, founded by Lady Margaret Beaufort, received its charter. Robert Cavelier de La Salle in 1682 discovered the mouth of the Mississippi River, claimed it for France and named it Louisiana. In 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Va., effectively ending the American Civil War. In 1867, the United States Senate ratified a treaty with Russia for the purchase of Alaska. (The Senate approved the purchase by one vote, suggesting that -- if a single senator had felt differently that day -- Sarah Palin would have been Russian instead of American, and thus she truly could have seen Russia from her house.) In 1957, Egypt's Suez Canal was opened to shipping. In 1959, NASA named the "Mercury Seven," the first seven astronauts of the U.S. space program. In 1965, the Astrodome was opened in Houston, Texas, and the world's first indoor baseball game was played. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 was laid to rest. And, in Iraq in 2003, Baghdad fell to American forces.

There are 266 days remaining until the end of the year.

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• • • MUSIC

Celtic Thunder reveals its Heritage. "The group consists primarily of six male singers who sing alone, as duos and as an ensemble. Each member has his own distinctive singing style and personality and yet they blend together with a familiar ease," Bill Knapp says.

"CT fans are applauding Heritage as it marks the group's return to its Celtic roots after earlier CDs -- It's Entertainment and Christmas -- which featured mostly show and Yule tunes. ... There's not a track on this recording that you will not want to listen to over and over. It's pure energetic enjoyment."

Hugh Morrison believes that Robert Burns Rocks. "Robert Burns tribute discs are not exactly in short supply," Jerome Clark says.

"Occasional up-tempo arrangements and percussion aside, it's not really a rock album -- in other words, you won't confuse this with a hard-driving Pogues record -- and the band that backs vocalist Hugh Morrison would comfortably fit any number of acts currently playing modernized versions of Scottish and Irish folk music."

Rachel Harrington takes a refreshing dip at Celilo Falls. "Celilo Falls successfully follows up Rachel Harrington's City of Refuge, which I reviewed here on 6 December 2008. I admired the earlier CD for its quiet strength, beauty and bow to older folk-music traditions, notwithstanding the fact that Harrington is mostly a singer-songwriter," Jerome says.

"A grown-up in an enterprise plagued by more 20-somethings than you can chase off your lawn, she distinguishes herself as an artist with musical roots deeper than any that the shallow soil nurturing other singer-songwriters could begin to sustain. The cover photo exposes a not-young, tough-looking woman who appears to have traveled a few lost highways and gone 90 miles an hour down more than one dead-end street."

Johnny Rawls proves his own point with Memphis Still Got Soul. "The band is crisp and sharp, with a great horn section and a fine Hammond B-3 and a rhythm section that punches like Mohammad Ali. Rawls has a perfect soul voice; you hear him, you believe him," says Michael Scott Cain.

"With better material, he would have had a killer CD."

Shawn Costantino dances a Waltz for Anne. "Shawn Costantino leads a band with mainstream, well-written compositions and a few covers on Waltz for Anne, his debut CD. Costantino is credited with playing alto and tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute, bass clarinet and clarinet on the CD, although only it is only his saxophone that is really featured," Dave Howell says.

"Costantino is a fine sax player, but what stands out are his six compositions."

Be sure to check back next week for a review of a pair of releases by Charles de Lint and MaryAnn Harris!


Jason Mundok's podcast series, Around the Wood Stove, continues with another pair of interviews: Joy Ike and Beggar Folk (the latter returning for an encore presentation).


Steve O'Brien flips Elijah's Coin to determine his protagonist's path. "This short book moves along quickly and has a big and memorable story packed into it. The writing is crisp and technically clean. The characters are interesting, and Tom and Elijah come off as credible and developed," Chris McCallister says.

"If you view the story as fictionalized real life, there are definite credibility issues. The book, I believe, is aimed at communicating a philosophy of life and the meanings of success. If you view it as more of a parable, then it works extremely well."

Lisa Genova makes waves with Still Alice. "This beautiful debut novel from Lisa Genova is exceptionally moving in its portrayal of early onset Alzheimer's disease, and is at once riveting, poignant, heartbreaking, terrifying," Lee Lukaszewicz says.

"With her credentials, Genova is highly qualified to speak about the effects of Alzheimer's, both for the patient and the patient's loved ones and caregivers. An unusual approach, her novel looks at this debilitating disease through the eyes of Alice, a victim of EOAD, and through her eyes we gain a greater appreciation of the random cruelty this disease imparts on its victims."

P.G. Wodehouse crosses oceans with Piccadilly Jim. "Machinations and complications abound in Piccadilly Jim, a convoluted P.G. Wodehouse novel with enough plot twists to fill a bus," Tom Knapp says.

"It is, by far, the mostly densely packed Wodehouse tale I've had the pleasure to read -- to date -- and I'll admit, the intricately woven threads of Piccadilly Jim caught me a bit off my guard. But, while accustomed to frothier tales from this master wordsmith, I found this more complicated work entirely enjoyable -- if, at times, highly improbable. As usual, the characters are a delight, their dialogue is priceless and the novel itself is a work of art."


Tom Knapp revisits the spark that led to Ireland's independence with Blood Upon the Rose: Easter 1916, The Rebellion That Set Ireland Free. "The story is presented sparingly, hastily, lacking many of the particulars that would render the narrative more complete," Tom says.

"It's a valuable history lesson, and a stirring read. Recommended."

Cinderella plays a deadly game of espionage in From Fabletown with Love. "In a world where the Big Bad Wolf works as a sheriff, Snow White is a city administrator and Little Boy Blue is hailed as a war hero, all in a magical corner of New York City, it only makes sense that Cinderella makes her living as an international spy," Tom says.

"Overall, From Fabletown... is a fun romp, featuring a distaff James Bond whose internal monologue supplies an entertaining point of view. Although lacking the depth of the flagship series, it is more consistently satisfying than the main spinoff series, Jack of Fables. I hope Cinderella's adventures continue."


Steve Turner brings eight brave musicians to the surface in The Band That Played On. "Accounts differ over whether or not the Titanic's band -- actually two bands, a trio and a quintet, who joined together after the iceberg struck -- were told to play or did so on their own initiative. Certainly no one could have blamed them, orders or not, if at some point they'd abandoned their posts and made some effort to save themselves in the last remaining lifeboats," Tom Knapp says.

"But they didn't. And, according to eyewitness accounts, all eight musicians made that heroic sacrifice, playing music that could be heard over the still ocean by survivors in lifeboats more than a mile away."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley casts his lot with Asian cinema after viewing Loner: Horror of Hikikomori. "The more Asian horror films I watch, the more I realize that Hollywood has no clue regarding the full and true nature of the genre. It's all about emotion, and Loner: Horror of Hikikomori has it in spades," Daniel says.

"You'll be lucky to find even a tense moment in American horror, but in this particular gem from our friends in South Korea you will be emotionally bathed in grief, human pathos and insanity by a deep and moving storyline that wends its way through your body as if it were part of your bloodstream. ... This is a very emotional film that pulls no punches."

You think we're done? Ha!! Come back for more next week. (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions and find some good stuff you might have missed over the years. We have more than 10 years' worth of our work online for your perusal, totaling more than 13,000 reviews!)

2 April 2011

On this day in history: In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon was the first European to set foot on and name Florida. In 1801, the British destroyed the Danish fleet at the Battle of Copenhagen. In 1902, the Electric Theatre -- the first full-time movie theater in the United States -- opened in Los Angeles, California. In 1917, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war on Germany. In 1956, As the World Turns and The Edge of Night -- the first daytime dramas to debut in the 30-minute format -- premiered on CBS-TV.

There are 273 days remaining until the end of the year.

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• • • MUSIC

Stan Rogers is remembered with The Very Best of Stan Rogers. "There aren't a lot of people sitting on the fence when it comes to Stan Rogers. Either you love the man and his music, or you've never heard him before," Tom Knapp says.

"If you're in the latter category, now is the perfect opportunity to introduce yourself to The Very Best of Stan Rogers. Although his life was cut tragically short in 1983 at the age of 33, his music continues to awe and inspire music fans around the world, even as it remains standing as a pinnacle of Canadian songwriting."

White Raven peeks in at The Place Where Life Began. "While not all of the songs are traditional, they all feel very much so. Some of that stems from the clear and strong vocals that are found on every track," Paul de Bruijn remarks.

"The rest of it is carried by the music and the instruments the band plays. And with White Raven you have a group that could switch either to purely a cappella or instrumental and still serve up a lovely CD."

Delphia Blize sails down the West River. "If Joni Mitchell had persisted in the vaguely folkish acoustic-pop style of her early career and her first two albums, she might sound today as Delphia Blize does," Jerome Clark says.

"A Minneapolis-based singer-songwriter, Delphia Blize is unlikely ever to be as famous as Mitchell has been, but that doesn't mean she doesn't deserve as much attention -- a lot -- as this stunning CD should bring her, or at least would in a just world. Listening to West River on a number of occasions until I felt comfortable enough with it to write about it, I feel the winter chill, physical and psychic, that we Minnesotans know all too well. Beneath River's icy surface, however, lie love, loss, faith and a profound connectedness with the world. Not to mention the amazing grace to pull it off without ever sounding self-centered or mopish or ridiculous."

Al "Coffee" McDaniel serves up a filet of Sole Music. "There will never be any doubt that Al 'Coffee' McDaniel has an overwhelming level and range of talent. This much is solidified by his most recent album," Bryan Frantz says.

"The one thing that is drawn to question is his understanding of how an album should run from start to finish. While each song brings its own unique flavor to the album, the pacing is all over the place."

John L. Holmes y los amigos are running The Holmes Stretch. "These are complex, original songs that cannot be absorbed in one listening," Dave Howell says.

"The Holmes Stretch has a modern sound, but it is still accessible to any listener. It is especially recommended to those who are tired of uninspired and derivative albums and would like something with a fresh approach in both performance and composition."


Jason Mundok's podcast series, Around the Wood Stove, continues with two singer-songwriters, Rhyne McCormick and Mike McMonagle. Check 'em out!


Charles Baxter addresses the short form in Gryphon: New & Selected Stories. "Baxter's stock in trade is the traditional short story, which is characterized by an emphasis on characters in conflict, struggling to resolve their problems and find a way to go on," says Michael Scott Cain.

"Gryphon is a wonderful book. Each story is magical, a trip into the mind and soul of the central characters that always results in a universal truth that applies as much to the reader as to the character. It's a book you can't get out of your mind."

Katherine Howe revisits Salem in The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. "The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is a very good and enjoyable read, but I must admit it didn't quite live up to my expectations. Perhaps I was a bit too intrigued by the premise. I'll read anything connected to the Salem Witch Trials, and here we have a novel -- written by an historian -- promising to offer a different take on the controversial subject, one that not only proffers the idea that there could be an element of truth to the colonial witchcraft charges but also offers up the prospect of an actual witch's spellbook lying in wait in some forgotten repository," Daniel Jolley says.

"Unfortunately, the novel never developed into a true page-turner for me."

Steve North issues an invitation to Mauria. "Mauria is a world with two intelligent species: the highly industrialized Maurians, who were the original species, and the Vuervee, who were genetically engineered by the Maurians as a food source. The result is two extremely different peoples," Chris McCallister says.

"Although a work of fantasy fiction, this book also stands as social commentary. The Maurians are caricatures of Western industrialists, capitalists and materialists, with classicism thrown in. The Vuervee come off as representing the aboriginal peoples of Earth's different continents in idealized form. The moral of the commentary, as I see it, differs from what is often seen today, with the capitalists being evil and the aboriginal people good, although there is some of that flavor. Instead, the lesson seems to be that being extreme in either direction is self-defeating, and the best result comes from the two groups working together and learning from one another."


Tom Knapp finds Impaler, Vol. 2 less impressive than its forerunner. "The story seems tame," he says.

"That doesn't mean there's less violence and bloodshed. Oh no, there's plenty of that. It's just that the story has settled into a fairly predictable pattern, wherein various people run afoul of ruthless bloodsuckers and die. Vlad himself makes lots of weighty pronouncements, and his cop sidekick complains all the time. And, maybe it's just me, but the vampires have stopped looking like vampires to my eye."


Christopher Coppes interprets Messages from the Light. "Dutch writer Christopher Coppes is the president of of the International Association for Near Death Studies in the Netherlands and has been studying near-death experiences (NDEs) since 1979. That being the case, you'd expect him to be up to date and bring new dimensions to a book about them," says Michael Scott Cain.

"He is content, however, to merely make the case that NDEs are a gateway to spirituality, that they prove that we live in four-dimensional world."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley enjoys Cult in spite of itself. "There is plenty to nit-pick and complain about with Cult, what with people and objects being magically transported to different places, a bloody crime scene that still hasn't been cleaned up days after the victim was declared a suicide, the least developed possible love triangle ever, and the whole story rapidly plunging headfirst down the rabbit hole on its way to a wholly illogical conclusion. I can forgive a lot of that, but I don't think there is any possible justification for the 'Dancing Bear' scene," he says.

"Still, the story -- weak as it was -- kept me interested, there was a decent amount of blood, and Rachel Miner is pretty hot, so Cult is by no means a total loss of a horror film."

Tom Knapp reflects on Heathers after sharing it with his teenage daughter. "Heathers is a darkly funny film, with the emphasis strongly on dark," he says.

"The focus here is always on teen angst, anger and suicide. There's real pain here, but also a shining example of the resilience of your average teen, who can mourn the death of a friend, mug for the news camera and wonder what's on TV without missing a beat."

You think we're done? Ha!! Come back for more next week. (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions and find some good stuff you might have missed over the years. We have more than 10 years' worth of our work online for your perusal, totaling more than 13,000 reviews!)

26 March 2011

On this day in history: In 1812, an earthquake destroyed Caracas, Venezuela. In 1830, the Book of Mormon was published in Palmyra, N.Y. In 1881, Thessaly was freed and became part of Greece again. In 1945, U.S. forces during World War II declared Iwo Jima secure. In 1953, Jonas Salk announced the first successful test of his polio vaccine on a small group of adults and children. In 1971, East Pakistan declared its independence from Pakistan to form the People's Republic of Bangladesh, and the Bangladesh Liberation War began. In 1976, Queen Elizabeth II sent the first royal email, from the Royal Signals & Radar Establishment.

There are 280 days remaining until the end of the year.

Support Rambles.NET every time you make a purchase through Amazon by clicking the links in our reviews or simply following this link here. It doesn't cost you a nickel extra but helps cover the costs of running this site. We appreciate your support!

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• • • MUSIC

Hadrian's Wall introduces Tonight's Lineup with its trademark sense of fun. "It's good to know the band hasn't lost its touch and is still going strong," Tom Knapp says.

"Their sound is full, fun and lively."

Seven Nations trips back to the late 20th century with A Celtic Rock Tribute to The Cure. "Seven Nations is a Celtic band, formed in New York, based in Florida and primarily associated with bagpipe rock. The Cure is an English alternative post-punk/new wave pop band known best for gothic angst," Tom says.

"Who would have thought one would cover the other? Seven Nations makes it work on A Celtic Rock Tribute to The Cure. Sure, the album's title lacks imagination, but the execution of the music -- with 7N's lead singer Kirk McLeod doing his best interpretation of The Cure's Robert Smith -- is fantastic."

Josh Williams has a Down Home style in this bluegrass release. "Williams -- the cover photograph would lead one to believe he's in his mid-20s -- already has a solid bluegrass resume as guitarist in Rhonda Vincent's high-profile band, The Rage (as in the fashion, not as in the pissed-off), and as solo act on two previous albums," Jerome Clark says.

"A listening to this CD, which with apparent effortlessness merges older and contemporary approaches, suggests the influence of another bluegrass-bred acoustic guitarist, Tony Rice. Rice appears here, in fact, in a rendering of the much-loved Delmore Brothers standard 'Blue Railroad Train.' Even better, Rice is actually singing, if not in quite the same smooth tenor as the one he possessed before vocal problems silenced him for years. No matter; he sounds fine, and what a pleasure to have him back."

Pecolia Fitts has Lots of Little Goodies to share. "It is hard to classify; soul-pop might be better than jazz, but it stands out as an individual statement more than it fits into any musical genre," Dave Howell says.

"What it seems to be is outsider music, something that is rarely found but treasured by outsider adherents when it is."

Spyro Gyra goes over The Deep End. "Spyro Gyra's infamous longevity is put on display once more with their 2004 album, The Deep End, a smooth and eclectic record that will further cement the band in jazz history. While it might not blow your mind as a Poncho Sanchez album might, The Deep End has a good deal to offer," Bryan Frantz reports.

"If you are unfamiliar with the work of Spyro Gyra, The Deep End might not be the best choice to start with, though it will certainly not disappoint. Should you be rather new to the genre of jazz fusion, this would be a fine introduction and will, hopefully, encourage you to pursue the style more adamantly."


Jason Mundok's podcast series, Around the Wood Stove, continues with a St. Patrick's Day interview with Fire in the Glen, a Celtic trio based in Lancaster, Pa. (featuring Rambles.NET editor Tom Knapp on fiddle and bodhran), and a chat with Boston-based singer-songwriter Sarah Blacker.


Jeffrey Small walks a familiar path with The Breath of God. "Yes, we've entered Dan Brown country. Where Brown excels, though, is in keeping the story moving at a pace that won't allow you to put down the book and at creating characters who, as long as you are engaged with the book, at least, you feel you know and care about. Brown creates verisimilitude that allows you to feel that there is a reality beneath his stories," says Michael Scott Cain.

"With Small, we never leave the land of stock characters -- the self-absorbed minister who puts his own ambition before his church, the plucky young journalist, the stock psycho killer -- and the best he can do with these stick figures is put them through a set of familiar paces."

Edward Rutherfurd pays a visit to New York. "As in his other tomes, Rutherfurd shows his mastery of research, results of which he skillfully injects into the storyline without impeding its flow. Because they are fictional, he is able to have his characters interact with an array of actual historical characters as he traces the growth of the city from its rural beginnings in the 17th century down to the tragic events of 9/11," John Lindermuth says.

"There are exciting events along the way -- the draft riots during the Civil War and the horror of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, to name a few. Nor does he evade the evils of the slave trade and its connection to New York, or the prejudices against other ethnic lines in later years."

Haven Kimmel applies Iodine to the tale. "Evident immediately in Iodine is the persistent, frigid cold of the region that permeates this story, a bone-chilling look from the inside out into a brilliant girl in the depths of a confusing psychosis, who is holding a terrible and forgotten family secret that is as horrifying as it is elusive," Lee Lukaszewicz says.

"Both the protagonist and the novel itself were more than a little odd. Author Haven Kimmel was a little over my head here, yet I was strangely compelled to keep reading out of a warped sense of voyeurism, as the look inside this girl's mind was hypnotizing."

P.G. Wodehouse revisits a legend in William Tell Told Again. "It's a whimsical retelling of the old crossbow-and-apple yarn, with a few new Wodehousian characters added to the mix for humor's sake. Otherwise, it's no great shakes in the otherwise exceptional library of Wodehouse books I've read so far," Tom Knapp says.

"I mean, it's cute, but it's neither groundbreaking nor especially funny. It is, however, a prime example of a budding literary master still at an early stage of his craft."


Tom Knapp has mixed feelings about Kwaidan. "The story by Jung (also the artist) and Jee-Yun is epic in scale, packed with spirits and demons and evil machinations. It's also confusing, at least to my eye -- but ultimately I didn't mind all that much," he says.

"It's a muddled plot. It has improbable twists. ... But I can rave unreservedly about the art, which is beautifully rendered, richly colored and printed on heavy stock."

• • • POETRY

Thomas Noel Smith throws back to an earlier time with "Dust" & Other Poems. "In both style and subject, there's a lot of Tennyson here. Not to mention a bit of Manley Hopkins. Few are personal; most address, from an objective point of view, larger issues and ideas; the one sheet that accompanied the book describes them as poems about the human condition," Michael Scott Cain explains.

"If your taste lean toward familiar statements about familiar things, then you might enjoy browsing through this collection. If however, you appreciate contemporary poetry, you won't find much for you here."

• • • MOVIES

Becky Kyle is in the mood to Whip It it good. "Getting your first set of wheels is quite a coming-of-age experience, but most people who think in terms of wheels have a motor vehicle on their minds. For Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page of Juno), those wheels are a pair of roller skates -- and some bitches on wheels," Becky says.

"If you loved Juno and Page's witty performance, you are at least going to like this film. Maybe not for pageant moms, but the message is strong -- every young girl deserves her 'bliss,' whether it's wearing a tiara or a pair of skates."

Daniel Jolley plants himself in the Garden of the Dead. "Garden of the Dead is the epitome of incredibly low budget drive-through horror cinema; this film is truly awful, which means I freaking loved it. If you're going to make a stupid movie, I say go all the way, and that is exactly what these guys did (well, except for the nonexistent gore)," he says.

"And get this! Not only is Garden of the Dead loads of fun to watch, it's also educational. Here's just one lesson I learned from watching this film: if you're the clumsy convict who tripped and fired the shot that alerted the guards to your gang's great escape, don't hand the group's only gun over to your buddies when you finally catch up to them."

You think we're done? Ha!! Come back for more next week. (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions and find some good stuff you might have missed over the years. We have more than 10 years' worth of our work online for your perusal, totaling more than 13,000 reviews!)

19 March 2011

On this day in history: In 1863, the SS Georgiana, said to have been the most powerful Confederate cruiser, was destroyed on her maiden voyage with a cargo of munitions, medicines and merchandise then valued at over $1 million. In 1915, Pluto was photographed for the first time but was not recognized as a planet. In 1918, the U.S. Congress established time zones and approved daylight saving time. In 1931, gambling was legalized in Nevada. In 1944, Nazi forces occupied Hungary. In 1965, the wreck of the SS Georgiana, then valued at more than $50,000,000, was discovered by teenage diver and pioneer underwater archaeologist E. Lee Spence, exactly 102 years after its destruction.

There are 287 days remaining until the end of the year.

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• • • MUSIC

Seamus Kennedy sings of Sailing Ships & Sailing Men on this recent CD. "Sailing Ships & Sailing Men is, as its title implies, a collection of nautical ditties from a master of the Irish form," Tom Knapp says.

"It's as fine a set of nautical songs as you're likely to find. Not only is it a fairly complete and varied collection, but it's presented in the warm and friendly manner for which Kennedy's performances are known."

Annbjorg Lien invites you to Waltz With Me. "Most people who are not well up on the top fiddle players and musicians of the circuit will look at the cover and the lyrics in Norwegian and may decide to pass on. Theirs will be the loss because this is a strong and intense album born of collaboration from some of the strongest talents of the contemporary folk scene," Nicky Rossiter says.

"Waltz With Me is a bit experimental, but then how else can we experience new music?"

Jody Adams shares some Voices of Home. "Adams definitely has a strong message that's timely," Becky Kyle reports.

"Voices of Home is one CD that today's Christian can listen to without having fears of getting secular messages tangled in. Adams's strong sentiment, evocative voice and playing will speak to your heart."

Yonder Mountain String Band is back with Mountain Tracks: Vol. 2. "Yonder Mountain String Band is not the kind of band you would expect to see from the name, though the music may somewhat fit the role. For those biased against backwoods 'yee-haw' hillbilly music, Mountain Tracks: Vol. 2 makes for a smooth transition album, filled with songs all genres can enjoy," Bryan Frantz opines.

"No matter your musical preference, Mountain Tracks: Vol. 2 is a work that should be observed by every true fan. While following no definitive structure, the performance keeps a virtually flawless rhythm from beginning to end, only rarely breaking the music for more than a moment."

Rich DelGrosso and Jonn Del Toro Richardson play the blues as Time Slips on By. "Although the copyright date on the back cover says 2010, Time Slips on By's official release date was Jan. 18 of this year. So it is all right, I guess, to nominate it as the first essential blues album of 2011, a resistance-is-futile set of passionate modern blues, electric and acoustic, with pronounced downhome accents," Jerome Clark says.

"As do all memorable recordings, it rewards obsessive relistenings -- believe me, I know -- and yields some fresh marvel with each return."

Popa Chubby gives you a proper good sampling on The Essential Popa Chubby. "The problem with Popa Chubby is that when he releases a new CD you never know which Chubby is going to show up: will it be the bluesman, the rocker, the balladeer or the psychedelic guitar hero?" Michael Scott Cain relates.

"But one thing about Popa Chubby, whatever he is, he is never boring or predictable. Each album finds him going in whatever direction suits him at the moment."

Henry Darragh asks you to Tell Her for Me. "Henry Darragh has a cocktail lounge-like 11 tracks on Tell Her for Me -- five standards and six of his own compositions, delivered with a voice like an indie singer/songwriter," Dave Howell says.

"Darragh has an unusual style. He is not a natural singer, but his vocals are pleasing. They have a reedy, sometimes hesitant feel, and he sometimes struggles to reach the high notes. This works well with his selections."


Jason Mundok runs a popular series of podcast interviews with independent musicians from Around the Wood Stove. Many of these interviews are now available for your listening pleasure in our interview section, so please check them out! Also watch this space for new interviews as they become available. In particular, take a look at two new features with Caleb Hawley and Via Linota.


Alexandra Monir's first novel takes a Timeless look at time. "The book is enjoyable despite its few shortcomings, particularly for its young-adult target audience who should enjoy the magical nature of the tale that is -- a rarity in today's market -- entirely bereft of vampires, werewolves, zombies and wizards," Tom Knapp says.

"I'd say the book ends poorly, but it sets the scene for an inevitable sequel. Personally, I wish Monir had stopped two pages sooner, but I'll reserve final judgment until I see where she takes things."

Susan B. Johnson blends ghosts and romance in Spirit Willing: A Savannah Haunting. "I was totally swept away by this enchanting little book and its endearing characters. Set in the heart of historic Savannah, it is a ghost story, a love story, a story of family loyalty, with a bit of intrigue thrown in for good measure," says Lee Lukaszewicz. "Johnson has created a memorable cast of characters, and I was sad to leave them behind at the end of the book. Her love of and affection for Savannah and its inhabitants is obvious throughout, and she does a very impressive job of bringing us right into the middle of it."


Superman gets a makeover in Earth One. "Superman: Earth One is the most recent reboot, written by J. Michael Straczynski and illustrated by Shane Davis. Here, Superman -- and his alter-ego, Clark Kent -- get an entirely new, if somewhat familiar, polish," Tom Knapp says.

"Straczynski's writing is strong and, if read in a vacuum, would rank as a highly successful book ... but it's not really Superman. This new take on the character (some have likened it to DC's version of Marvel's successful 'Ultimate' reboot of Spider-Man) might impress young readers who aren't already steeped in Superman lore -- who are, apparently, the target audience anyway -- but to us old-timers, aspects of this tale ring false. On the other hand, Davis's art is pretty darn good, and reading the book is a pleasant visual experience."

The Green Hornet goes back to his roots in Year One: The Sting of Justice. "Kevin Smith and Seth Rogen have both given us new interpretations of a modern Green Hornet and Kato. Now, Matt Wagner gives us a fresh look at the original heroes," Tom Knapp says.

"The radio, television, movie and comic-book variations on the Green Hornet theme have never given him a concrete origin story; Wagner corrects that oversight here in a flashbacks-within-flashbacks yarn that introduces us to a young Britt Reid, a young Hayashi Kato and the globe-spanning events that drew them together. Wagner also presents the duo's first overtures against the Chicago mob, which would be the Green Hornet's primary target throughout the span of his career."

• • • MOVIES

The ubiquitous fairy gets a new backstory in Tinker Bell. "I figured, going in, that Tinker Bell -- the first in a series to feature the tiny sprite -- would be closely connected with Peter Pan, as either a prequel or a sequel. There are connections, but indirect ones, and it is neither a prequel nor a sequel, although this story would pre-date the Peter Pan story, and young Wendy does get a brief cameo appearance," Chris McCallister says.

"So, what is this movie, then? It tells us the story of how fairies come to be, what they do, how they are organized and where they live, with Tinker Bell being the prime focus and example."

Daniel Jolley is unimpressed by Dead of Winter. "Dead of Winter (a.k.a. Lost Signal) has all the makings of a good, intense movie -- but it never truly delivers. Throwing a big surprise in at the last moment doesn't help. You can't make up for a weak story by delivering a surprise questionable ending -- when is Hollywood going to figure that out?" he says.

"The film does muster up a couple of creepy moments, one of which features a beautifully subtle and perfectly executed shot that you may not notice if you aren't paying attention at the time, but the story just isn't strong enough to carry this film all the way through."

You think we're done? Ha!! Come back for more next week. (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions and find some good stuff you might have missed over the years. We have more than 10 years' worth of our work online for your perusal, totaling more than 13,000 reviews!)

12 March 2011

On this day in history: In 538, Witiges, king of the Ostrogoths ended his siege of Rome and retreated to Ravenna, leaving the city in the hands of the victorious Roman general, Belisarius. In 1664, New Jersey became a colony of England. In Vicksburg, Miss., in 1894, Coca-Cola was sold in bottles for the first time. In 1912, the Girl Guides (later renamed the Girl Scouts) were founded in the United States. In 1918, Moscow became the capital of Russia again after Saint Petersburg held the status for 215 years. In 1930, Mohandas Gandhi led a 200-mile march, known as the Dandi March, to the sea in defiance of British opposition, to protest the British monopoly on salt. In 1993, North Korea announced plans to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and refused to allow inspectors access to its nuclear sites. In 1994, the Church of England ordained its first female priests.

There are 294 days remaining until the end of the year.

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• • • MUSIC

Cynthia MacLeod unravels a Riddle with her latest recording from the musically fertile Atlantic Provinces. "A lot of fiddlers produce albums on which they go out of their way to be something other than fiddlers. Cynthia, however, sticks to her strengths here; she fiddles on every track (except for the last one, on which she does not appear at all) with a deft and delicate hand, and she provides occasional piano. She adds backing vocals to one track and, although I know she can dance extremely well, she lets someone else provide the foot percussion," Tom Knapp says.

"Cynthia lets the spotlight shine on the other musicians on Riddle, but the fiddle is what stands out in every single track. She's a lively and passionate player whose energy cannot be restrained. Her talent is a PEI goldmine, and Riddle is a pleasure to hear."

Brogue unleashes the Rhythm of the Celts on this Scottish/world-music recording. "There are rhythms at work here you won't find in your typical Scottish song, but little of the album says 'world music' to my ear. It's basically a nice selection of traditional Scottish songs couched in fresh pop settings," Tom says.

"Music purists may bemoan these radio-friendly adaptations of traditional Scottish songs, but I expect Rhythm of the Celts could find a broad audience of people who enjoy a modern twist on old standards."

Israel Cannan invites you for a Walk. "Israel Cannan's 2010 album Walk is not one that will rock your world, nor is it one that will win Album of the Year at the Grammys. It is not intended to change the planet, nor to change the way the listener sees his environment. Rather, this masterpiece is such because of its simplicity and raw emotion," says Bryan Frantz.

"Not necessarily the most sophisticated piece of musical composition anybody has ever seen, but by no means unimpressive, Walk offers the listener a chance to experience music in its most original form."

Laura Harrison supplies this week's jazz on Now Here. "Harrison sings a mixture of 12 standards and originals in a trio format of piano, bass and drums," Dave Howell reveals.

"Fans of vocalese, or anyone into standards, should like this CD."

Chris Cain travels So Many Miles with the blues. "If you're like me, then when Chris Cain's CD starts blasting through your speakers, you draw yourself up to your full height and lean toward the speakers, your attention caught, concentrated and extended like your consciousness under meditation. This guy is good," says Michael Scott Cain (no relation).

"He's got kind of a B.B. King voice -- deep, urban, flexible and unforced -- and the guitar skills to match."

Jerome Clark has a gander at The Mississippi Sheiks Tribute Concert. "Tributes tend to be an iffy business, often pointless and too close to the original to be of much interest. Steve Dawson, roots musician, head of the Canadian folk label Black Hen and the brains behind the project, is too bright and creative a soul to fall into that trap," he says.

"The performers, a mix of Americans and Canadians, are clearly having a very good time of it. It's also obvious that they love the Sheiks' songs, which admittedly is not the hardest thing in the world to do. A fabulous band, sometimes electric, sometimes acoustic, backs the singers. A whole lot of joy follows."


Annabel Lyon travels through time via The Golden Mean. "By looking through the eyes of Aristotle, Annabel Lyon invites her readers to study the times of Alexander the Great through contemporary eyes," Whitney Mallenby says.

"It's easy to perceive how different life seemed to the ancient Greeks if even the great thinker Aristotle held such strange views in certain areas. This merciless method of forcing readers into an altered state of mind lends The Golden Mean an aptly harsh beauty. It makes it a compelling read, if not a particularly easy one."

James David Jordan sets up a Double Cross. "An author's opening lines tell a lot about the book and whether you will want to read it or not. Double Cross starts here: 'The day my mother came back into my life began with a low December fog and a suicide. Mom was not responsible for the fog.' If this won't start your pulse racing, nothing will," warns Becky Kyle.

"Of course, nothing in this book is what it seems to be."

P.G. Wodehouse proves to be A Man of Means with this book first collected in 1991. "A collaboration with C.H. Bovill, it first appeared as a series of six short stories before being collected as a continuous unit," Tom Knapp explains.

"This series of stories is brief but charming, a fine example of a young Wodehouse still exploring his style. The book ends somewhat abruptly, as if the serial was canceled before Wodehouse was quite finished with young Bleke, but it certainly stands alone as an enjoyable read."


Mary Harvey addresses Yoshihiro Tatsumi's A Drifting Life. "A Drifting Life would probably be best enjoyed by those who either love manga or have a deep-seated love of biographies," she says.

"At 856 pages, ADL is an autobiographical, Bible-sized eye-opener about a highly important but very obscure period in comics history that needs to be told, if only because Japanese writer and artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi is one of the forefathers of the modern long-form comic book known as the graphic novel."


Lori Schiller and Amanda Bennett explore a troubling time in The Quiet Room: A Journey Out of the Torment of Madness. "In this riveting memoir, Lori Schiller recounts in detail her spiraling descent into mental illness, which began in adolescence, when she first heard the voices that she would fight for the rest of her life," Lee Lukaszewicz says.

"Her heartbreaking narrative about this debilitating disease, schizophrenia, gives us all a compassion for these victims that we may not have had before. Her poignant tale reminds all of us who have our mental health intact just how lucky we really are."

• • • MOVIES

Becky Kyle dives into a bit of Michael Moore commentary in Capitalism: A Love Story. "Once again, Michael Moore tackles a tough subject and makes it understandable for the masses. This time, he's addressed the economic crisis in America and the battle between Wall Street and Main Street," she says.

"While some may disagree with his flamboyant presentation, Moore takes dry subjects and adds interest and humanity. Is the film slanted, yes; however, in the places where Moore states factual numbers, those statements are verifiable."

Daniel Jolley, meanwhile, suffers feelings of Unrest. "Unrest has more than its fair share of problems, but I have to admit I did enjoy watching it. I can't give director Jason Todd Ipson too much credit, though, because he wrote as well as directed the project -- and this storyline has some gargantuan holes and death-defying jumps of logic interspersed throughout," he says.

"As always, the story's the thing, and this story just has far too many problems to qualify as any sort of stand-out title in the After Dark Horrorfest collection."

You think we're done? Ha!! Come back for more next week. (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions and find some good stuff you might have missed over the years. We have more than 10 years' worth of our work online for your perusal, totaling more than 13,000 reviews!)