The storyteller in me asks: what if? And when I try to answer that, a story begins. ―
That lovely aroma is smoked ham cheddar biscuits with a dusting of unsweetened cocoa powder baking in the Kitchen down the hallway about fifty or so feet from here and one floor up. One of the perks of being the Pub Manager is that it is quite close to the Estate Kitchens so that no matter when the sudden urge to grab a bite occurs I can head that way quickly and grab something delicious. And of course I can smell every one of those ever so tasty things being conjured up there which is a great perk indeed!
Indeed Mrs. Ware and her oh so talented Kitchen staff spend much of the period from late November right through to lambing season providing lots of edible treats that are placed around Kinrowan Hall and the grounds as well, such as peanut butter dark chocolate fudge behind the bar in the Pub; s’mores ready for roasting in the warming hut out by the Mill Pond; and carefully wrapped clay pots of smoked turkey, rice and veggie soup in the Barn for those doing outdoor chores in this cold weather, to name but a few of them.
Now let’s see what I’ve got for you in this edition….
Cat says ‘Politics are always a bitch. And Murder in the Cathedral demonstrates this reality quite well. Generally thought to be the best of T.S. Eliot’s five plays, Murder in the Cathedral is about the murder of Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas à Beckett in 1170 in his cathedral. But it’s really about the now long-concluded struggle in Britain between secular and religious authorities that was still raging at that point in time. It is a dramatization in verse of the murder of Thomas Beckett at Canterbury, which over the years has become more important than it really was.’
Next he goes to sideways in time: ‘Ah, to visit John Carter and the inhabitants of Barsoom, Edger Rice Burrough’s richly imagined Mars. The characters in Robert Heinlein’s The Number of The Beast did in their travels across the multiverse, and now the protaganist of Rainbow Mars does it. Well, sort of. Maybe. Possibly. Let me explain the confusion that I may have intentionally generated… Larry Niven has stated many times that he firmly believes that time travel is logically impossible — an utter and complete fantasy. So when retrieval specialist Svetz heads back from polluted future Earth in search of extinct animals, he tends to sideslip into fantastic, fictional worlds. And delightfully so in these stories.’
That Charles looks at Charles Vess’ Drawing Down the Moon: The Art of Charles Vess. Now as his detailed review’s as much about the friendship that grew between them, I’ll let you read this charming tale of friendship and art without further ado. Oh and the book itself is simply stunning — truly an art gallery in a book form!
Craig looks at a John Updike novel considered a part of the literary canon: ‘In the end, The Witches of Eastwick is a good novel. It is not a great novel; it is not even a great witch novel. The research is at best minimal and often seems negligible. Nor does it compare favorably with the rest of the Updike canon, certainly not his tetralogy of everyman Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, whose libido gets him in enough trouble to fill four novels and a novella. The book is not a waste of time, as long as the reader appreciates the above mentioned prose and description style.’
Gary has read (and reviewed) a lot of the late great Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels, but for some reason hadn’t yet covered the second of the series, The Player of Games. He’s now remedying that: ‘It’s a deceptively layered story, something of a game in itself. From the very outset we’re told by the unidentified narrator that all is not what it seems. The story begins with a battle that is not a battle and ends with a game that isn’t a game, we’re told. Just who the book’s title actually refers to is but one of the bits of authorial legerdemaine we’ll contend with as we follow the story.’
Kate reviews a choice book on Jethro Tull: ‘Scott Allen Nollen has proven his devotion as a Tull fan in the countless miles travelled and the hours passed collecting details and interviewing band members and other associates. He has included nostalgic pictures of the band, some of which were borrowed from Ian Anderson, the often frenzied flautist who, despite some controversy, became the Fagin-like front man for the band. After ten long years of research, here in Jethro Tull: A History of the Band, 1968-2001 is a comprehensive and entertaining story of the much misunderstood Jethro Tull. The authenticity is underlined by the thoughtful and honest foreword written by Ian Anderson himself.’
A Chinese mythology infused series featuring Detective Inspector Chen is next up. The first one finds favour with Liz. She opens thusly — ‘Snake Agent, like any good detective novel, all starts with a dame …’ But does it lay ‘a solid framework for future novels in the series’?
Marian looks at a trilogy by Jane Yolen that deserves to be a classic. First up is ‘The Books of Great Alta which is the compilation of Yolen’s two books in the series, Sister Light, Sister Dark and White Jenna. It is the story of the women of Dale, who worship Great Alta, the mother goddess and what happens to them for better or worse.’ If you’ve read these already, then do read Marian’s review of the final volume, The One-Armed Queen, but otherwise do not as it has major spoilers about what happens in the first two novels.
Michael looks at Holly Black and Ellen Kushner’s Welcome To Bordertown collection: ‘A generation ago, Terri Windling and Mark Alan Arnold introduced us to Bordertown, an abandoned American city sitting on the Border between the “real world” (The World) and Faerie (The Realm). A place where science and magic both worked, if equally unpredictably, it became a haven and a destination for runaways and outcasts of both worlds, a place where humans and the Fae (aka Truebloods) could mingle, do business, eke out a living, and find themselves. It was a place where anything could happen.’ Need I say that a goodly number of women writers are present throughout the course of these books?
Robert looks first at Moonheart, perhaps de Lint’s best loved novel: ‘Moonheart may very well be the first novel by Charles de Lint that I ever read. I can’t really say for sure — it’s been awhile. It certainly is one that I reread periodically, a fixture on my “reread often” list. It contains, in an early form, all the magic that keeps us coming back to de Lint. (And be reminded that Charles de Lint may very well be the creator of what we call “urban fantasy” — he was certainly one of the first to combine contemporary life and the stuff of myth.)’
Spritwalk, he says, ‘is a loose sequel to Moonheart, a series of related tales, again centering around Tamson House and including many of the same characters. In fact, the House is even more important as a Place in this group of stories. It begins with a brief discussion of Tamson House from a book by Christy Riddell, whom we will meet again in The Onion Girl and Widdershins, followed by a delightful vignette, “Merlin Dreams in the Mondream Wood,” of Sarah Kendell, age seventeen, remembering her childhood “imaginary” playmate, a red-haired boy named Merlin who lived in the oak tree at the center of the garden. It’s a sweet, sad tale of the price of love.’
Vonnie looks at a novel by Patricia Mckillip, a favourite writer around here: ‘McKillip uses the sea in many of her books, but in Something Rich and Strange the sea is not only the setting and a metaphor for mystery and magic and change — the sea is the subject. The book begins with protagonists Megan and Jonah (how is that for an apropos name?) experiencing a sea change after a long winter during which their lives had settled into a routine dependent on the shore. But the sea brings ambiguity, too. Just as the sea has the power to transform the people and things near it, the characters slowly realize that humanity has the power to overwhelm the sea, defeat it and kill the life in it. Moreover, man is doing so.’
Warner leads off this review: ‘Jeffrey Ford’s Big Dark Hole is another collection by an acknowledged expert storyteller. It contains stories that range from the horrific to the whimsical, and gives a broad range of stories within a relatively small package.’
Warner has the start of a mystery series for us: ‘Gone for Good is a wonderful little book detailing the ins and outs of a cold case gone hot. The twists and turns that happened throughout the plot are believable enough and keep the reader invested, while the characters remain both interesting and largely relatable. Easily recommended to fans of Joanna Schaffhausen’s work, or those merely looking for a good mystery.’
Chuao Chocolatier’s Chocolate Bars were a mixed bag accord to Cat R: ‘ Most of the bars I tried were terrific but some are more successful than others. Idiosyncrasies of taste may make a difference; when I tweeted about the one I really disliked, someone mentioned that was their favorite, and bemoaned not being able to find it. And it’s not entirely fair to stack dark chocolate up against milk, particularly given that my sweet tooth resembles that of a six-year-old’s. Still, I present them in order of how much I liked them, from most to least.’
Lest you think we like all chocolate that we taste here as it seems very often than not, Leona reviews a bar she most definitely didn’t at all take to: ‘Bloomsberry & Company’s The Peace On Earth box is white with a big blue peace sign splashed off-center on the front; beneath, it says “May this chocolate bring you peace (and quiet) these Holidays, if only for a moment.” Beneath that is a note that this “premium milk chocolate” bar contains 34% Cocoa.’
Care for some more chocolate to nibble on? Robert has some very good stuff for you: ‘Among the latest goodies to cross my desk are two tins of Trader Joe’s Chocolate Wedges, Dark Chocolate Caramel and Extra Dark Chocolate. Since Trader Joe’s sells everything under its own label, there’s no way to know, without doing a lot more sleuthing than I care to, who actually makes their chocolates, but the quality is generally quite good, so it’s a moot point.’
Its Autumn and an English country house murder mystery set in the time of year gets reviewed by David: ‘As traditional as the genres he chose might have been, in Altman’s hand they were turned upside-down, and sideways. Warren Beatty and Julie Christie became anti-hero and opium addict in Altman’s “western” McCabe & Mrs. Miller, set to the music of Leonard Cohen! A laconic Elliott Gould became Raymond Chandler’s private dick Phillip Marlowe in an updated LA for Altman’s “detective” classic The Long Goodbye. Robert Altman has been the most American of directors, and now, in Gosford Park, he takes on the English country house murder mystery. Altman’s Agatha Christie film? What could this mean?’David enjoyed Chris Ware’s The Acme Novelty Library #16, which typically for Ware has multiple story lines, the main one being a tale of the redheaded boy Rusty Brown, who is himself obsessed by comic books. Ware is very creative in his storytelling techniques. He uses flashbacks, dream sequences, and quick cutting. It’s all very cinematic. His drawing style is unique. He uses architecture, not just as settings but to propel the narrative. His characters have a precise look, as if the french curve and a compass were Ware’s constant companions at the drafting table. But never do the characters become ciphers. Each character has his or her own personality.’
David follows up with a fond review of The Acme Novelty Library #17, which also follows young Rusty Brown. ‘Ware’s panels are different than what you might be used to. Unlike Peanuts (another collection of “Scenes of Early Childhood”) which start in the left and using four equal squares tells a linear tale, Ware’s work is much more cinematic. There may be a large cover shot in the centre of the page, then quick cut closeups on one side, zooming out, panning right, and the story progresses visually.’
Gary reviews Island of Noise, a new album by English singer and songwriter Jack Cooper and his band Modern Nature. It’s based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” and walks the line between indie rock and jazz. ‘As ambitious a project as this was for the musicians, it requires nearly as much commitment from the listener to get the whole experience. This is the kind of project that you used to find on bombastic albums from prog rock bands, but Cooper and his collaborators always keep it down to earth, emphasizing subtlety over flair.’
Gary has high praise for Pohorylle, the debut album from Oregon country singer Margo Cilker. ‘Cilker writes and sings most potently about the joys, sorrows and dangers of a life on the road as a traveling musician – particularly for a woman. I have a hard time getting past her song “Broken Arm In Oregon,” which is all about those hazards that face women out in the world, and how much energy and time and thought they have to waste just to try to stay safe.’
Gary reviews some jazz music from a group with an odd name: ‘The Spanish jazz trio DAMUG‘s name is an acronym created from the name of pianist, composer and leader David Muñoz Guillamon. But it’s not a one-man show: the music this trio makes is a splendid example of three-way synergy as Guillamon makes lively, accessible jazz with drummer/percussionist Martí Hosta and bassist Manolo López.’
I went rambling through the archives this week looking for some English folk music. And I found some indeed, and plenty of other interesting tidbits along the way:
Donna went down something of a rabbit hole of Latvian music from the UPE Records label in that country. She starts with Kaza Kapa Debesis by the band Ilgi, which she says, ‘was founded in the early 1980s by violinist Ilga Reizniece. Although they began as a traditional folk ensemble, they have evolved into a genre they characterize as post-folk.’ And she goes on to Orkla Bolss by labelmates Laimas Muzykanti. ‘What distinguishes Laimas Muzykanti’s sound from that of Ilgi is the presence of an electric bass and two rock drummers, all mixed pretty well forward. I’m afraid the result is less than pleasing, at least on most of the tracks.’
She then went on in a separate review of Ilgi’s Isakas Nakts Dziesmas. ‘The music is based on a Latvian song cycle celebrating the summer solstice as embodied in an ancient pagan deity named Janis. Appropriate to that theme, the band held its CD release party at a park in Riga on June 13. Must have been a wild party!’
Finally Donna was flabbergasted by Ilgi’s album Ej Tu Dejot: ‘Just to make this all a bit sillier than it already is, a number of the tracks bear very non-traditional names, e.g. ‘pancakes,’ ‘hotcakes,’ ‘crepes,’ flapjacks,’ spacecakes,’ and (last but not least), ‘latkes.’ Did I already say what the…?’
Faith was nigh on ecstatic about an album called Floating Verses by the Welsh and English duo Mary Humphreys and Anahata. ‘Floating Verses is a gem of a CD — traditional English folk tunes played and sung by people who actually know how to play and sing and who have the scholarly background to know what they’re playing and singing. What a treat!’
‘The chabreta is a bagpipe equipped with an oboe and two bumblebees: the large bumblebee rests on the arm of the musician.’ Or so Jack was told by an online translation service when he was doing some research for his excellent omnibus review of bagpipe CDs from various places. You should read the review to see what the liner notes actually said.
Lars thought he didn’t care much about Danish folk music until he listened to Habbadám’s Bornholmsk Folkemusik and Sussie Nielsen’s Pigens Morgen. ‘Suddenly Danish folk music and folk-inspired music catches my ear and I must make another confession. I find myself wondering, why did I not search for this long ago?’
Lars also reported back from Uddevalla Folk Music Festival, which he says was held in the town’s museum: ‘With a small concert hall, holding up to about 200 people, one more proper stage and spaces for people to play together outside the official festival programme, it is a great place to hold a festival in.’
And that reminded us of the time Lars attended the Skagen Folk Festival in far northern Denmark, out at the tip of the Jutland peninsula: ‘During my family’s four days in Skagen we only tasted a small sample of the music on offer since we also did some travelling around to experience the wonderful north Jutland scenery. Our main intent when it came to the festival was to look for English, Irish and Scottish music, of which there was a lot.’
‘Hiring Fair has taken the bold step to release their debut album in the form of a live album, recorded during two gigs in New York in July 1999. I am not entirely convinced that this was such a brilliant idea,’ Lars says. See what he means in his review of Breakfast Anyone?
Scott called on a couple of Russian-speaking acquaintances to help him decipher the music of Russian singer-songwriter Boris Grebenshikov on a collection titled Russian Songwriter. ‘In this collection, he presents a number of his songs that characterize the Russian singer-songwriter tradition, along with his own versions of one traditional song and three covers of Russian songwriters who exerted a particularly heavy influence on him.’
Our What Not this week are four rodent puppets from Folkmanis. First up is Denise with the Mouse in Pumpkin puppet: ‘All hail the spice! Pumpkin everything is the rule of the day this time of year, and I’m all for it. Give me my pumpkin donuts, pumpkin pies,spicy roasted pumpkin, and pumpkin crumble. And okay, a PSL or two while we’re at it, though I’m more a Chestnut Praline Latte gal myself. So when Folkmanis decided to indulge my love of the orange squash, my grabby hands eagerly shot out. And I’ve been snuggling with this adorable puppet ever since.’
Our next one this outing is the Folkmanis Mouse with Cheese puppet that got overlooked when it came in so Reynard gives it a review now: ‘I’ve no idea when it came in for review, nor do I know how it ended up in the room off the Estate Kitchen that houses the centuries-old collection of cookbooks, restaurant menus and other culinary related material, but I just noticed a very adorable white mouse puppet holding a wedge of cheese in its paws there. Somebody had placed it in a white teacup on the middle of the large table so I really couldn’t overlook it. ’
Next is one reviewed by Robert: ‘I seem to have another Folkmanis puppet lurking around, this one the Rat In a Tin Can. The Folkmanis website describes him as being ready for a playful picnic (note the napkin in one paw). However, it seemed to me that he might just as easily be a waiter in an upscale rat restaurant: his black-and-white pattern might almost be taken for formal wear.’
He finishes off our reviews with a succinct note on this puppet: ‘The entry for the Mini Brown Mouse Finger Puppet at Folkmanis’ website reads: “The Folkmanis Mini Brown Mouse finger puppet is a pocket pet perfect to surprise your unsuspecting friends.” I see it.’
So let’s wander over to the Infinite Jukebox and see what we can find for something upbeat to usher this edition out. I think I’ll skip something from the Anglo-Celtic traditions in favour of something from France this time. The band’s Malicorne, which Gabriel and Marie Yacoub formed nearly fifty years ago.
Gabriel had been a member of Alan Stivell’s band, playing folk-rock based on Breton music such as ‘Kost Ar C´hoat’ which was performed Germany fortho six years ago, but the couple decided to focus more broadly on French trad music, which is why Steeleye Span’s the most apt comparison in British folk music to them, as both are decidedly electric folk.
So let’s now hear ‘Pierre De Grenoble’ which is also the name of what I consider their best album. It was recorded at Hunter College in New York State in July thirty five years ago.