What’s New for the 9th of June: Some beach reads — dark fantasy, superhero romance, comic fantasy and teen aliens; Finnish fiddles, Swedish-American jazz, and an Earl Scruggs tribute, and a grab bag of archival music; glam rock on film; an Alan Moore tribute

We keep our cats as happy as we can. Anna Nimmhaus


Whats Iain drinking, you ask? That’s Mozart dark chocolate liqueur.


Cat reviewed the first two books in a dark fantasy series by Stephen Dedman, The Art of Arrow Cutting, and Shadows Bite. ‘While I can argue that both Batman and Grimjack are anti-heroes, that cannot be argued of our hero in this universe, Michelangelo ‘Mage’ Magistrale, a footloose photographer who wishes to avoid trouble at all costs, and whose idea of a relationship is a zipless fuck. Unfortunately for him, this relatively banal existence is about to end. Ancient evil will soon cause him endless grief!’

Denise got her kicks with Larry Doyle’s Go, Mutants!, which sends up mid-century SF tropes, teen angst and just about everything else. ‘This mish-mash of history, B-movie mayhem and slapstick might have turned into a real mess if it wasn’t done properly. Luckily, Larry Doyle has a way with the subject matter, and a seemingly limitless knowledge of mid-20th century history and culture. As with Joss Whedon, I wonder what the author’s life was like back in high school. It couldn’t have been pretty.’

Michael Hunter enjoyed Jennifer Estep’s Jinx, part of a series blending superhero action and romance. ‘I’ve loved this series so far, and have grown quite fond of the setting and the characters. Jinx is quite enjoyable, a worthy installment to the Bigtime Books. Estep demonstrates an admirable adeptness at blending genres, respecting the demands of superhero comics and romances without missing a beat, all the while maintaining a sense of humor.

Michael Jones had a good time reading Robert Asprin & Jody Lynn Nye’s License Invoked, a tasty morsel of Big Trouble in the Big Easy modern fantasy. ‘It’s a fun and quick read with engaging characters, a familiar but enjoyable premise, and plenty of potential for sequels. I’d be surprised if we didn’t see more of Boo-Boo and Liz, as the chemistry between them shines and carries the story along swiftly. This may not be the most complex or sophisticated novel of the year, but once I started it, I couldn’t put it down.’


It’s cherry season, and it’s beer season, so we’ll let Denise tell us about Council Béatitude Cherry Tart Saison. ‘Cherry Tart is a Saison that thinks it’s a Sour. There’s lovely sour here, which compliments the notes of cherry perfectly. Even a bit of cherry pie vibe. Sour cherry pie. Because there’s strong sour cherry here. Which I adore, but that much pucker may not be for everyone. Especially folks ordering a Saison.’


In the Archives, Kimberlee brought us a hybrid review of film and music, covering Todd Haynes’s glam rock cult classic Velvet Goldmine, and David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and The Man Who Sold The World. ‘The film’s characters are outrageous and fascinating. The dialogue is sassy and cheeky. Though all the players are dynamite, the great favorite has to be McGregor’s Curt Wild. Watching Ewan thrash nude onstage, then play out his hysterical role as a stoned June Cleaver bringing Brian Slade cocktails and slippers as part of their manager Jerry’s (Eddie Izzard) publicity hype, is just too much fun.’

IMG_0272April admitted she wasn’t Alan Moore’s biggest fan, but she really enjoyed smoky man & Gary Spencer Millidge’s 50th birthday tribute Alan Moore: Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentleman. ‘There’s a certain fascinating joy at discovering Moore’s work through the lens of others’ talent, vicariously soaking in what it is about him that inspires them. Their own delight and awe is infectious and I find myself wanting to give From Hell another try (as well as hunt down copies of his other work). While this is not the sort of book you would read straight through from cover to cover, it lends itself to opening to a random page and reading an essay here, admiring a two page inked comic there and otherwise enjoying the contents at your own pace and direction.’


In new music, Gary reviews Finnish fiddle music on Duo Emilia Lajunen & Suvi Oskala’s Toisjalkainen. ‘The duo of Emilia Lajunen and Suvi Oskala are known in their homeland and elsewhere around the globe as masterful interpreters of the historical fiddle repertoir of central Finland. Just by playing this music, both the well known repertoire and compositions they unearth while delving through archives, Emilia and Suvi are breaking ground as women performing music traditionally played only by men.’

He had very good things to say about The Mavericks’ Moon & Stars, which he says ‘ … is the music you put on as the cookout is winding down on a perfect summer night, the music to chill with as you finish that final beverage and talk quietly with your friends as you watch the light fade and the stars come out. It’s pleasant, soulful Latin-tinged Americana that just doesn’t wear out its welcome.’

Gary also enjoyed EarlJam: A Tribute To Earl Scruggs, with banjo legend Tony Trischka leading a stellar cast of bluegrass, oldtime, and Americana players and singers. ‘The 15 songs on this generous album were among some 200 informal recordings that modern bluegrass legend John Hartford made when he and his old friend Earl Scruggs got together (mostly at Earl’s house) to jam, over a period of several years beginning in the mid-1980s.’

And Gary reviews a big band jazz album, Evolver, from a tentet led by bassist and composer Bruno Råberg. ‘With Evolver he returns to the large ensemble format, this time with a tentet of top talent plus remarkable special guests pianist Kris Davis and tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III. It’s a complex, multi textured affair, swinging from melodic to highly experimental, bluesy to modal, jazzy to near classical, and back again.’

From the Archives, Alistair reviewed three albums by Aly Bain: First Album, Lonely Bird, and Follow the Moonstone, the latter with The BT Scottish Ensemble. ‘These three recordings have all been on the music shelves for some years now, and should certainly be in the library of every lover of traditional fiddle music. Taken together, they cover a wide range of material, including Shetland, Scottish, Irish, Quebecois, and U.S. traditions, a number of recent compositions, and a set of symphonic arrangements on traditional themes. Only the English get passed over! They are a fine showcase for a musician at the peak of his abilities, with all the passion, sensitivity and eclecticism that are his hallmarks.’

Chris reviewed the eponymous CD by American singer-songwriter Kreg Viesselman. ‘In short, Kreg Viesselman is a somewhat gruff voiced singer whose great strength is the ability to craft story songs that combine honest emotions with poetic yet accessible language. He’s a damn fine guitarist and harmonica player, too.’

Gary reviewed what apparently was the only album by the U.K. based Téa Hodžić Trio. ‘Stay Awhile is a beautiful album of mostly traditional songs from the Balkans. These three musicians perform with a superb sense of connection, working closely to bring out every drop of emotion in these often hyper-emotional songs, while never overplaying or over-emoting.’

Judith gave high marks to The Stones of Callanish, a folk opera written by Les Barker, set to traditional Scottish music, and delivered by a stellar cast of musicians and singers. ‘Les Barker, so used to writing witty puns, is also a wonderful writer of serious material, and so good at selecting traditional tunes and fitting lyrics to them. Much of this excellence lies in his perception of complex meaning and sound of words in lyrics, a skill that bypasses so many contemporary songwriters. On the other hand, the traditional Scots material is so good, he doesn’t have to worry about finding great tunes!’

Mike was pleased with the music on a long-anticipated album from Mary Black. ‘Full Tide is Mary’s first full studio album since 1999’s Speaking With The Angel. This uncharacteristically long break from the recording studio had long-term fans of Mary worrying that she had nothing left to say and was perhaps losing interest in making music. Full Tide is a strong statement to counter any such fears, and is a timely reminder that Mary is still one of the finest voices to come out of Ireland.’

Peter turned in a short omnibus review of music that’s startlingly varied: ‘For this review I decided to pick, purely at random, four CDs from the Green Man Review mailroom’s “orphans pile” and see what they have to offer. None of these artists are known to me, so with a virgin ear and a blank canvas, I set out.’ See what he thought of Lucie Idlout’s E5-770, My Mother’s Name; Liza Garelik’s Liza Garelik and The Wonderwheels;
BenJammin’s Shining From Inside; and Dave Rowe’s By The Way.

He also enjoyed a live album from an obscure folk group, The Skirlers’ Cutting the Bracken. ‘Take Lorraine Kelly and Marion Storey both on fiddles, add Allen Bowling on highland and border pipes, Bob Smith on vocals, mandolin, guitar, tin whistles and bodhran, Chic Judge on highland pipes and vocals, and Tom Docherty on guitar and vocals, and there you have it — Celtic folk music blended in a single malt style. But is this the real thing from Scotland? Err, not exactly — the album was recorded live at The Golden Lion public house in Prittlewell, Southend.’

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Chasing Fireflies


Come on in, you’re just in time! We haven’t started yet… don’t just stand there in the doorway, come in, come in! We have a contradance planned for tonight. I’m Kate, one of the assistant cooks here, but I’m also a dance caller. Grab yourself a seat for now, we’ll start soon. The band has to finish tuning, and… oh, there’s a fiddler missing! Would someone go roust Béla out of the pub?! I’ve danced without a fiddler before, but it just seems to lack something. As I was saying, as soon as Béla graces us with his presence, and the band finishes tuning, we’ll walk through the first dance. You’ll need a partner, of course; go ask one of those fine people sitting over by the fire. Go on, just ask! Yes, you can do this, it’s very easy. It is so! It’s just walking to music is all, for want of a better term. Well, mostly, anyway. But don’t you worry, the other dancers will help you.

Still no sign of Béla, eh? Who went to fetch him?

It’s that new porter that’s been tapped in the pub, I’m sure. Béla’s developed quite a taste for it. You should give it a try yourself, but after the dance, please. You’re certain to have quite a thirst then. Ah, I see some of the wallflowers have left their chairs and are headed this way. Looks like you’ll dancing this first one after all! Very good, now if you and your partner would fall in down at the end of the set, because I think I see Béla coming in…

Now, everyone, take hands in groups of four, starting at the top of the set. Odd numbered couples are active, even are inactive. Actives, change places with your partner, please. Let’s dance ‘Lady of the Lake.’ Actives meet in the center of the set with a balance and swing. Now promenade down the middle. Turn alone and come back… cast around. Do a ladies chain over… and back. Now balance and swing with that person below… and you should have progressed and be ready to meet in the center again. You’ve got it! Now, everyone back to place and we’ll dance this one with the music. Béla, if you please…


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What’s New for the 26th of May: Taza Chocolate, June Tabor live (twice), music books, remembering a beloved Irish singer, a beloved Canadian singer, and more

Things are bound to get a whole lot worse before they can get any better. Let’s have a drink. — Robert Heinlein’s “Logic of Empire”


I’m Jill, one of many, many House Jacks and Jills here down the centuries. Some doubt that we really exist, and insist that we are but a story spun by tellers of tales very late at night in hopes of garnering one more pint, a few more coins and hopefully a warm bed. I’ve no doubt that I exist, but that proves nought, as I might be just part of that tale someone else is telling…

What is true, what is not, largely depends on what you wish to believe in. And what I’ve been thinking about lately is how easy it is for that which is not real to be taken for that which is. And how things refuse sometimes — or ofttimes — to fit into neat little categories. Like we Jacks and Jills, they defy easy definition. All I know for sure is that all of us are an aspect of the same narrative.

So books are stories of course, but so music in its own be it instrumental or spoken. An Irish reel such as “Toss the Feather” and “Banish Misfortune” The latter has  a long history  when the first version was written down from 1850 when Edward Cronin played it and it  was ltranscribed and then  published in a famous compendium of Irish tunes.

All of our food carries with a history with going back centuries, if millennia. The Babka is a sweet bread often made with chocolate. Its original name was baba which means “grandmother.” But as time went on bakers made smaller loaves, so they started calling it babka, meaning “little grandmother.” This dessert originated in Easter Europe in the 19th century within Jewish communities.

The first illustrated story?  Egyptologists have discovered the oldest copy of what is being called the world’s first illustrated book, a 4,000-year-old edition of the “Book of Two Ways,” an ancient Egyptian guide to the afterlife considered to be a forerunner to the “Book of the Dead.” Cool, eh?

I could go on and talk about puppets, tarot cards, children’s toys and other things we’ve reviewed over the decades, but I think I’ve made the point I wanted to which is everything has a story if you know where to look for it, so do so and you’ll be please for doing so.IMG_0272

Not surprisingly, we’ve reviewed a lot of biographies and autobiographies about both performers and bands. So let’s pull a few of  those reviews from the Archives…

Remember ‘Hotel California’ which The Eagles did? (This performance of it is from their concert at the LA Forum back in 1980.)  Well, David looks at what’s likely the definitive book on them and that circle of Southern California musicians: ‘Subtitled the true life adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and their many friends, Barney Hoskyns’ Hotel California is exactly that: a chronicle of the heady days of the singer-songwriter era, when songs became diary entries, and radio listeners learned more about the artists’ sex lives, drug use, and political interests than we had ever known before. Hoskyns captures them all, in all their egomaniacal glory!’

David says Julian Dawson’s and on piano… Nicky Hopkins: The Extraordinary Life of Rock’s Greatest Session Man is a great treat for readers: ‘Dawson has captured the man, the time, and the milieu very well. The life of a sixties (seventies, eighties, nineties) rock’n’roller is documented perfectly. The book reads easily, and the story is so engaging that time flies by.’

David also looks at Mark Brend’s biography of a late and very much missed rock ‘n’ roller: ‘Mark Brend has written the first biography of Lowell George, described in the sub-title as guitarist, songwriter and founder of Little Feat, but known by his fans (and that includes many of the musicians who worked with him) as “a real musician.” Yeah, he was the Rock and Roll Doctor but the self medication got to him and he passed away far too early, but he left behind a legacy of songs and music that live long afterward.’

Clay Eals’ Steve Goodman: Facing The Music, says Gary, is about someone whose lyrics you’ve likely heard: ‘Everybody knows one Steve Goodman song. The Chicago-born and -bred folksinger wrote “City of New Orleans,” the iconic ’70s song popularized by Arlo Guthrie. If that were the only thing he’d ever done, it would be enough, because it’s a great song, expressing universal truths in a tale set in a particular time and place. Its chorus of “Good morning, America, how are you? / Don’t you know me, I’m your native son,” perfectly captured the blend of confusion and optimism that reigned over the late 1960s and early 1970s in America, as a generation came of age that loved their country but felt alienated from some of its actions and beliefs.’

Howard Pollack’s Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man gets an insightful look by Gary: ‘Aaron Copland is the central figure in serious American music, and Howard Pollack has produced a biography worthy of the man. His treatment of Copland in more than 500 pages is reverential but never blindly worshipful, candid without being lurid, scholarly but rarely tedious.’

Jim Longhi’s Woody, Cisco & Me, says Rebecca, ‘is an entertaining account of three men’s adventures as mess-men in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II. The Woody in the title is Woody Guthrie, the famous folksinger and labor organizer. Cisco is Cisco Houston, Woody’s organizing partner, who also sang and acted in Hollywood. The story is told by Jim Longhi, an Italian-American friend of theirs who went on to become a lawyer.’

And now for something completely different: Robert takes a look at a biography of a Canadia-American composer who had a big influence on modern music, Carol J. Oja’s Colin McPhee: Composer in Two Worlds, which as a biography is somewhat problematic: ‘Oja has done a remarkable job of filling in the outlines of McPhee’s life from interviews and his papers, but I’m not sure I can really consider this a “biography” in any real sense – it is much more about the music than about the man, and valuable for that. McPhee was, after all, a problematical character: forward-looking, to be sure, but ultimately, more influential as a source than as an example.’

For the story according to the man himself, Robert turns to McPhee’s own memoir, A House in Bali: ‘Colin McPhee, a Canadian-American composer who had much more influence on American music than the body of his music might indicate . . . , left behind two books that were as influential, if not more so, than his compositions: Music in Bali . . . and A House in Bali, a charming and perspicacious memoir of his years in Bali in the 1930s.’


Robert had the happy opportunity to sample another offering from Taza Chocolate, this time their Coconut Almond bar: ‘[T]his is one I can recommend for those times when you just have to have a little bit of chocolate — more than two bites verges on overwhelming, even for a confirmed chocoholic like me.’


Mattie brings us a film that memorializes the music of Irish singer Sean McCarthy late of Listowel, County Kerry. ‘Since his death in 1990 McCarthy has been honored there with the Sean McCarthy Memorial Weekend, which has been going from strength to strength since it started in 1991, and includes a trek through Killocrim bog, which he so loved. The “Weekend” has secured the immortality of his work within his community, but now it has been copper fastened for a wider audience by The Songs of Sean McCarthy, a video of 15 of his 160 songs sung by his friend and fellow Kerry-person Peggy Sweeney. The video covers a wide range of emotions, feelings and levels of consciousness, just as his songs did.


Sometimes the companion work to an awesome series is every bit as good as that series, as Cat tells us here: ‘The Art of The Mouse Guard is nearly three hundred and seventy pages of awesomeness and it’s packed with artworks such as sketches, pen and ink illustrations, and painted art. Let’s not overlook the photos of miniature sets of interiors and buildings that were used as references. Yes miniature sets of interiors and buildings were built by David Peterson to help him visualise the unique reality that his mice exist in.’


From the archives, Asher reviewed Aliens Alive, a live offering from Norwegian hardanger fiddler Annbjørg Lien. ‘This is a CD for fans: live cuts from the 2001 Norwegian tour; all of her other albums are represented, and there’s even some new material. Though Lien’s hardanger is the centerpiece, the band’s sonic integrity is due in part to including Väsen guitarist Roger Tallroth, as well as Norwegian guitar virtuoso Rolf Kristensen, keyboardist Bjørn Ole Rasch (of Bukkene Bruse), Hans Fredrik Jacobsen providing flutes, bagpipes, clarinet and oud, and Rune Arnesen and Per Hillestad driving percussion.’

David approved of a retrospective collection of the songs of Danny O’Keefe. ‘You probably remember Danny O’Keefe, if you know the name at all, as the performer of the all-time classic tune “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues.” I think I have heard this song done by more pub singers than any other. And it still sounds good. This collection is subtitled “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues.” One guesses that it’s there so prospective buyers will think, “Oh! I know that one!” But Danny O’Keefe has a lot more great songs, and Raven has selected a choice bunch for this collection.’

David was very much in favor of the Gordon Lightfoot Songbook box set. ‘A proper retrospective would deal with each of Lightfoot’s albums in turn, but the good people at Warner Archives/Rhino have created such a marvelous compilation in the four-disc Songbook that anyone interested in his career can simply dip into his life-work through this anthology. Released in 1999, Songbook is a model box-set.’

He also reviewed Beautiful, a compilation and homage by various Canadian musicians. ‘A group of (mainly) Canadian artists began work on a tribute album which would honour his lifework as a writer and singer of songs, and as a model for a couple of generations of musicians from the Great White North. Beautiful is the resulting labour of love, and it’s a winner from start to finish.’

Gary also got on the Lightfoot bandwagon, reviewing one of his all-time favorites, Don Quixote, which he’s owned since it was released in 1972. ‘I probably listened to it nearly exclusively for several weeks, and to this day as we near its 50th anniversary I can still sing along with every song and even sing most of them without the record going. It’s one of the classic albums of the era that I play most often even today.’

Michelle wrote up a lovely omnibus review of some early albums by Beth Nielsen Chapman including her debut self-titled album, You Hold the Key, Sand and Water, and Deeper Still. ‘Though sweet and controlled, Chapman’s voice isn’t particularly striking. Nor are her melodies easy to sing along with. It’s her words, emphasized by restrained, stately arrangements, which make her so extraordinary. They’re not sophisticated, witty rhymes, but intensely personal, heartfelt observations about love and loss.’


We’re not sure who wrote this Folkmanis review as our What Not this time, as that information does seem to have gone walkabout: Folkmanis has gained an excellent reputation in recent decades for its overwhelming array of puppets. The plushies range from eerily lifelike to utterly fantastical. Right now I’m holding the Sea Serpent Stage Puppet in my hand. Well, okay, I’m wearing it on my hand. . . is that so wrong?’


If there’s any voice that match the cool, strong feel of Grace Slick, it’d be in my not so humble opinion that of June Tabor, whom I’ve heard live and that we’ve reviewed many a time, including this review of An Echo Of Hooves. Now imagine that she performed Slick’s ‘White Rabbit’ with quite possibly the finest English folk rock band ever in the form of the Oysterband which has been reviewed here many, many times, including Ragged Kingdom which is their second second album with Taborr, the first being Freedom and Rain some thirty years ago.

Well you don’t need to imagine it happening as it did and you can hear ‘White Rabbit’ as performed by her and the Oysterband at City Varieties in Leeds on a November night some years back.

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A Kinrowan Estate Tale: A Restless Queen


I’m It was late at night when the green-cloaked storyteller told her tale. ‘ “Turning and turning in the widening gyre,” ‘ she said softly, quoting Yeats, ‘ “The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; The center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

‘The Queen knew that all was lost — her kingdom, her people, even her gods were gone. Nothing had survived in a war that ended with the Queen and her opposite, the King, fighting each other on a battlefield of bones, of blood, of the smell of chaos itself.’

She went on, ‘Though they cut each other deep, oftimes to very bone, neither could die as their mutual hate kept them from dying. And the land itself died just a bit more with each blow that landed from their swords.’ She took a deep drink of our Autumn ale and continued, ‘Eventually the king dealt a blow from his broadsword that cleaved her left arm off. That didn’t kill her, but she cried for mercy and he granted it, so long as she left the Kingdom never to return. She did, and like a restless spirit, wanders the land looking for peace.’

She finished her drink and with her only arm fastened her cloak tightly about her before she left us wondering how history becomes legend and legend gives way to myth and eventually drifts through our lives like fog.


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What’s New for the 12th of May: a Terry Pratchett edition: Discworld and other worlds, adult fantasy, YA stories, and lit-crit; new Karelian, Canadian and Big Band music; and Smithfield Fair from the archives

Cats have a way of always having been there even if they’ve only just arrived.  They move in their own personal time.  They act as if the human world is one they just happened to have stopped off in, on their way to somewhere that is possibly a whole lot more interesting. — Terry Pratchett in “The Unadulterated Cat”


The Kitchen followed through on their promise to Béla to cook choucroute garnie, a hearty pork and cabbage dish… Actually it’s even better than usual as it’s garnished with homemade kraut that we did last year with cabbages we grew and cider we made here.

I’ve got a whisky that I think you should try, it’s Toiteach which is a wonderfully peaty single malt from the Bunnahabhain brewery. Served neat with neither water nor ice is how we do it as there’s no single malts here that shouldn’t be appreciated that way. If you’re interested in knowing more about Scots whiskeys, take a look at the review by Stephen of the late Iain Bank’s Raw Spirit: In Search of The Perfect Dram as I believe it’s simply the best look at single drams ever done.

It’s our usually grey beginning to December here in the Scottish Highlands: rainy, cold and blustery winds to boot. Even the most diehard of Estate staff find going outside unless their duties require to do so are quite willing to stay inside. Iain’s has been keeping to his hiding spot and I myself are spending time off duty in the Kitchen quite content to play tunes and nosh on whatever the staff there feels we should be eating such as blackberry cobbler, the very last of the fresh fruits here.

So there’s no theme this edition, but rather is whatever the Editors found interesting with our usual mix of new materiel along with some older material from the Archivesinvluding all our book reviews being on works by Terry Pratchett. So let’s get started.


Christine got a big surprise when she read Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch after taking a break from Discworld for several years. ‘Discworld has changed since last I visited. There are still plenty of laughs to be had here, but they are almost overshadowed by the sheer darkness of this story, and by the remarkably sympathetic, shockingly un-bumbling lead character Sam Vimes. The man is actually deep. He’s sensitive, conflicted, intelligent, and I’ll be damned if he’s not a do-gooder! What’s going on here?’

Gary reviewed several Discworld books, including Thief of Time. ‘The book’s plot centers on one Miss Susan, a beloved school teacher in Ankh-Morpork who ignites her young students’ passion for learning. She also happens to be a human-immortal hybrid, the granddaughter of Death — you know, the skeleton guy in the hooded cape who sometimes carries a scythe? Her grandfather enlists her in a quest to stop a plot by The Auditors to halt time, thus ending the disturbances caused in their orderly universe by the pesky presence of people.’

He also read Pratchett’s first YA Discworld title: ‘The Amazing Maurice is a retelling of the Pied Piper legend (in fact the subtitle is The Pied Piper of  … Discworld?), told in Pratchett’s typically skewed way.’

Gary got a kick out of The Last Hero, the story of Discworld’s Cohen The Barbarian. ‘This one is special, since it’s illustrated by Paul Kidby, who has previously collaborated with Pratchett on book covers and calendars. It’s a big coffee-table book, loaded with gorgeous paintings of Discworld, drawings, sketches and hilarious renderings of the story’s characters and situations.’

And he especially enjoyed the 25th installment of Discworld in which the Printing Press is invented. ‘As a former newspaperman myself, I got a real kick out of a lot of the gags in The Truth. As a former journalist, Pratchett got a lot of details right. He also takes every opportunity to draw on many 20th century forms, from the detective novel to the newspaper movie about bumbling reporters and hardbitten editors.’

Kathleen found the U.S. publication of a facsimile edition of Pratchett’s first Discworld novel to be revelatory. Of The Colour of Magic, she says, ‘I first read this book in my callow 20s, and I dismissed it as a light piece of fluff, funnier than most fantasy (a definite plus) but derivative. I was wrong.’

She also reviewed one of Pratchett’s non-Discworld YA books, Nation. ‘This is a story of worlds ending. Everyone’s world ends differently, but sometimes those endings overlap, forcing the survivors to join forces. Eventually, too, new worlds begin. They are seldom what we expect them to be, and the world’s ending usually reveals that that world wasn’t what we thought it was, either.’

Kathleen beat the drum for Wintersmith, the third installment of Pratchett’s YA series that began with The Wee Free Men. ‘Wintersmith is a wonderful book, and I advise all adult fans of Pratchett to get it and read it. Give it to your children to read. Better yet, read it with your children. This is a story you can all happily share.’

Rachel had some thoughts about Pratchett’s YA novel The Wee Free Men: ‘…this review is mainly going to be of interest to two groups: those who have never read anything by him and are wondering if The Wee Free Men is a good starting point; and those doubtful fans who are wondering if the cutesy title and the fact that it’s marketed as a young adult novel mean that it’s dumbed down or less good than or different from his recent Discworld novels for adults. In order: yes, it’s a great introduction to Pratchett; no, it’s not dumbed down …’

She also reviewed the follow-up, A Hat Full of Sky. ‘Tiffany Aching is back. So are Granny Weatherwax and the Nac Mac Feegle. If that means nothing to you, be aware that I’m writing about the sequel to The Wee Free Men, in which young Tiffany Aching and a band of rowdy fairies rescued her sticky little brother from the Fairy Queen. A Hat Full of Sky stands on its own, but you should read the first book anyway; it’s good.’

She also found Monstrous Regiment unexpectedly weighty. ‘It’s funny as hell, especially if you’ve watched a lot of war movies or had slogans like “One blow, one kill” yelled at you by a sergeant or sensei. But it’s more a serious novel that also makes you laugh a lot than a comedy that has serious bits. Reading it is an enjoyable experience, but not a comforting one.’

Richard Dansky has been our most prolific Pratchett reviewer. He went in-depth on The Fifth Elephant when it was part of a campaign to release early Discworld books in the U.S. ‘As much as the dedicated Pratchettian (such as myself) may wish to rush into reading the story, the book itself demands attention, and causes consternation as well.’

He definitely enjoyed the book in which “music with rocks in it” comes Discworld. ‘Soul Music – the novel – rests pretty much in the middle of the Discworld canon. The story of a young druid named Imp Y Celyn who heads off to the big city to seek his fortune playing music, the novel is certainly enjoyable, but it lacks the marvelous inventiveness of The Colour of Magic or the emotional clout of Reaper Man. It is, however, funny as hell… ‘

He says there’s a lot going on in Hogfather. ‘That’s because the book is really the Disc’s take on all things Christmas, thinly disguised here as “Hogswatchnight.” Pratchett’s not about to let such a juicy target go by without peppering it from every angle he can. That’s not to say that Pratchett is anti-Christmas, indeed, far from it. But he clearly differentiates the spirit of the holiday from the way it is celebrated in some circles, and finds those celebrants wanting.’

Richard says it took a while for Pratchett to get around to skewering vampires. ‘One gets the suspicion that Pratchett’s been looking forward to this one, though, as Carpe Jugulum isn’t just a book about vampires on Discworld. It’s also a meditation on tradition, knowing your place, modernity, Goths, Highlander, parenthood, faith, religious crises, identity and most important of all, keeping your Igor happy. Got all that? No? Then read the book.’

Finally, Richard reviewed Terry Pratchett: Guilty of Literature, a book of literary criticism which he found mostly unsuccessful. ‘In their attempt to expose as many critical takes on Pratchett as possible, Andrew M. Butler, Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn have gathered together what can only be described as an encircling barrage of approaches. In some instances, the writing is incisive, insightful and useful in opening new approaches to reading Pratchett’s work. In others, it’s turgid, self-righteous and poorly supported, making one long for a good Edmund Wilson-style smackdown.

And then there’s Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett … Kathleen rejoiced when their early joint project Good Omens was put back in print. ‘Good Omens is a very funny, very serious book about the end of the world. The Antichrist has been born and is now 11 years old, and all manner of classically predicted phenomena are manifesting. Naturally, most of them are being ignored, misinterpreted or missed altogether. And since this is the work of Gaiman and Pratchett, there is a darkly comic twist to the action.’

Kelley then enjoyed the audio version of Pratchett and Gaiman’s (or Gaiman and Pratchett’s) Good Omens, though not without a few quibbles. ‘Despite my criticism of a few accents, I thoroughly enjoyed Martin Jarvis’s rendition of Good Omens. He met the challenge of a massive number of voices head on, always sounding as though he had a sly grin hidden away in the pit of his stomach.’

And Cat thoroughly enjoyed Gaiman’s screenplay for … well, not exactly Good Omens, although it’s related. It’s rare, and it’s actually called just A Screenplay. ‘It’s fun, it’s fast-paced, it reads like Neil at his very best. Stylistically, it’s similar to both Coraline and Wolves in the Walls. Unlike the War for the Oaks treatment where it really helps if you”ve read the novel, it stands on its own very nicely.’


Zina has a story for us about something quite wonderful: ‘For me, the inky little cups of Turkish coffee are exactly that — it’s not so much the coffee itself that’s so wonderful, but what tends to happen over the cups of it, even if I’m drinking it alone. I was in a tiny, tiny village in the pastoral English countryside visiting friends a bit ago, and after dinner we had Turkish coffee, some tunes, and a great deal of talking and laughing, in the lovely, warm, hospitable dining room of that unbelievably old house.’


Richard reviewed one of the animated adaptations of a Discworld story. ‘Wyrd Sisters is not a masterpiece. The animation is far too clunky for that. It is, however, a faithful, enjoyable rendition of the book, and neither Pratchett fans nor newcomers will find much cause to complain.’


In new music, Daryana gives us a fresh review of Mua, the second full-length release from the Karelian band Ilmu. ‘The album’s 13 tracks delve into the essence of primordial Earth, capturing the magic of nature’s dance and the raw beauty of life and death. Collaborations with artists like Saylyk Ommun and Tuomas Rounakari add depth to the sonic landscape, infusing traditional folk songs with a contemporary arrangements.’

Gary reviews some new Quebecois music: ‘Guitarist and singer Yann Falquet steps outside the familiar confines of Genticorum, the Quebecois folk trio in which he has recorded and toured for more than two decades, with a set of traditional songs on Les Secrets Du Ciel. Though it represents a slightly different direction than usually followed by Genticorum, his warm baritone vocals and textured guitar playing still feel familiar and comforting.’

Gary also enthusiastically reviews Canadian singer songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Abigail Lapell’s latest. ‘Anniversary is an album full of love songs and a certain amount of introspection as Lapell hits her 40s and ponders time, the past and the future, the present, and loved ones alive and ghostly.’

He also enjoyed the aptly titled Exuberance by Christopher Zuar Orchestra. ‘Exuberance is a sprawling, need I say exuberant chronicle of his relationship with the woman who’s now his wife, animation filmmaker Anne Beal. But don’t expect lush slow dances and waltzes; this is a clear eyed romp through the highs and lows (but mostly highs) of a relationship between two, as they say, “creatives.” ‘

From the Archives, our Jayme Lynn Blaschke turned in reviews of several releases by the prolific Louisiana-based Scottish folk band Smithfield Fair. We’ve pulled several from the archives including Cairdeas (Kinship), Highland Call, The Winter Kirk, Jacobites By Name, and Winds of Time. ‘Smithfield Fair is a band that has adopted a rustic, rugged sound that eschews glossy adornments or slick production and, for the most part, succeeds admirably,’ he says.

Jayme also enthused about Across the Water by the American Celtic band SixMileBridge. ‘Altogether, this former Houston band (now based on the U.S. East Coast) puts out a confident, vibrant sound that at times hints at a wide range of influences that include such notables as the Cranberries and Ashley MacIsaac. You can’t really say that there is a “SixMileBridge sound”; they’re all over the place, picking and choosing from a wide variety of musical traditions, with one song sounding nothing at all like the one preceeding it. And that, for what it’s worth, is a good thing.’

John O’Regan turned in an omnibus review of Celtic music with an international twist. ‘This omnibus review features bands from the UK, Ireland, Canada and the USA [including Smithfield Fair] whose basic approach would be to buck the obvious ideologies associated with Celtic music. Some have mixed lineups nationality wise, and others just like taking chances with the music and adding their own personal flavours to the brew. The fact that the bulk of the material on 90% of the seven CDs under review contains mostly all original material says enough for the personalised viewpoint expressed on things Celtic.’

Mike Stiles got into the Smithfield Fair act as well, reviewing their disc Burns Night Out! ‘For this CD they put on their best Broad Scots in homage to the immortal Robbie Burns. They pack 18 of his pieces into three-quarters of an hour, but nothing is rushed or short-changed as they put their unique stamp on the old familiar material.’


So lets us finish off with some choice music from Nightnoise, to wit ‘Toys, Not Ties’ which was performed at Teatro Calderón de la Barca, which is a theater in Valladolid, Spain, some thirty years ago. For more on this superb sort of Celtic band, go read our career retrospective here. Nightnoise had its origins in members of the Bothy Band and Skara Brae, august bands indeed, and also included fiddler Johnny Cunningham for a while.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: A Cookbook

FoxDear Anna,

I’m going to pitch a book for that culinary folklore seminar you’re teaching next Winter here for those visiting food writers, as I really think it’ll be a good addition to that endeavour.

One of Several Annies, Iain’s library apprentices, was literally squealing with delight in the kitchen this week over a book that just got added to the collection of cookbooks and culinary history we have here at the Kinrowan Estate. It was Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook by Jane Yolen and her daughter, Heidi E. Y. Stemple. And I would be remiss not to note that the illustrator is Sima Elizabeth Shefrin, whose work here is simply charming.

The recipes look really great, with easy to follow instructions that allow even an inexperienced cook to make each dish easily. Our reviewer noted that ‘When I think of the books I loved as child, I get hungry. There was Pooh lapping up honey and cream teas, Mary Poppins handing out magical gingerbread, while Frodo chowed down on mushrooms and lembas. Food surely is an integral part of children’s literature. After all, where would Cinderella be without her pumpkin coach? Would Alice in Wonderland be half as memorable without the magic mushrooms and the strange bottles labeled “Drink Me?”‘

This is traditional fare like you find here with lots of butter and the like: no thought about healthy cooking is here! But then food centered on Jewish folklore would hardy be concerned about counting calories and getting enough greens in your diet, would they? (Iain used it in a course on Jewish traditions for his Several Annies several years back, as he firmly believes learning should be fun. And this is a very fun book.)

I’ve got other books that I’ll bring to your attention but the person skiing down to the Post in the village as the road’s closed again wants to get going.

Warmest regards, Gus


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What’s New for the 28th of April: Tull, Ian MacDonald, Finnish candy and The Wicker Man

One day I walked the road and crossed a field
to go by where the hounds ran hard.
And on the master raced: behind the hunters chased
to where the path was barred.
One fine young lady’s horse refused the fence to clear.
I unlocked the gate but she did wait until the pack had disappeared.

Jethro Tull’s “The Hunting Girl”


What’s that? A Maypole going up in the courtyard in front of the Green Man Pub? There can be no surer sign that summer’s ‘acumin’in!’ It looks like the denizens of the pub’s Neverending Session may be lured outside, along with staff members tucked away in offices in the most unlikely places.

Yes, spring has burst out all over, and some of the folks around here seem to be feeling the effects of the impending May Day. Who was that slipping into Oberon’s Wood just now? Well, spring is as good an excuse as any, I suppose.

We’ve got spring greens in our salad, and some of the winter vegetables roasting on the grill, along with some tender lamb steaks, braised with mint and garlic. Are we starting early? I suppose, but this is the Kinrowan Estate staff, after all.

So pull up a chair, fill your plate, get Reynard to pour you a pint, and feast your eyes on this week’s set of reviews.


So let’s have a look at novels by just one writer this time, this being Ian MacDonald as I am again reading his two Mars novel, Desolation Road and Ares Express, two of the best SF novels ever done. sp let’s start off with this novels…

So Chuck says  that ‘I figure this much: Ian MacDonald’s Desolation Road starts with a green man crossing the desert, so this has to be the perfect book for Green Man Review. OK, the book calls him a “greenperson,” and the desert is on a Mars of the future, transformed by mankind’s effort, but you get the idea. Trailing this greenperson is Dr. Alimantando. He comes to a place along a railroad, where, almost accidentally, he settles and starts the community that he names Desolation Road. Soon after, more people begin arriving and, in short order, the community becomes a village, a city, a war zone and a ghost-town — all within 23 Martian years. That’s the story.’

Richard looks at the other Ian MacDonald novel set in the same world as Desolation Road and has a cautionary note as his first words: ‘You will know whether you will love or hate Ares Express long before you have finished the first chapter. The litmus test is very simple: what is your reaction to the name of the main character. If you find Sweetness Octave Glorious-Honeybun Assim Engineer 12th to be painfully twee or flat-out incomprehensible, then you will hate this book.’

Now let’s look at some other novels by him… 

We’ll start off with Elizabeth’s look at this novel: ‘ Following his previous work, River of Gods, which depicted a near future India, Ian McDonald launches into a new country, a new culture, and a new mindset for his most recent novel, Brasyl, a dazzling, if somewhat warped, story involving three separate but somehow connected narratives that evolve across three different timelines.’

Gary says the Istanbul of Ian McDonald’s near-future novel The Dervish House is rather like what our own world could be very soon: ‘…hotter, more crowded, with an even starker divide between rich and poor, and teeming with technology. … It’s also brimming with Anatolian spirits that sometimes seem indistinguishable from the effects of nano-technology.’

This novel garners this comment from Grey: ‘Today, I picked up King of Morning, Queen of Day again just to refresh my memory before writing this review. After all, it doesn’t do to refer to a book’s main character as Jennifer if her name is actually Jessica. But my quick brush-up turned into a day-long marathon of fully-engaged, all-out reading. I’ve been on the edge of my seat, I’ve been moved to tears, I’ve laughed, I’ve marked passages that I want to quote.’

Another novel Gary looks at in this review is set in a richly imagined future India, Ian Mcdonald’s River of Gods. And it’s a bloody good read as well: ‘You can hold whole universes in your hand, between the covers. And as with those old faery tales, you need to pay attention to books like River of Gods. They contain important truths, hidden inside entertaining stories.’

Following up on this novel, is  Cyberabad Days which Tammy notes is “author Ian McDonald returns to the technologically brilliant, parched and i-Dusty India of 2047, an India first visited in his award-winning novel River of Gods. The seven stories collected in this volume follow the rise and fall of this new India, from the luxurious, robot-monkey guarded palaces of the super-rich to the slums where the robotwallahs rule like tinpot gods.’


Cat R. reviews and finds it very sweet: ‘There is certainly both a determined sweetness and solidity to this Finnish candy (lakritsi in Finnish). The label tells me this is called “black gold” in Finland but a cursory scan of search engine results failed to corroborate this. It is an enigmatic candy that, despite the name, has no black licorice taste to it.’


Speaking of Beltane, Mia reviewed one of our favorite films, The Wicker Man. ‘This film is psychological thriller, detective story, action film, comedy, all of these things and more. Christopher Lee (Lord Summerisle) considers it the finest film that he ever made, and it has a cult following that shows no signs of lessening almost 30 years later. On the most visceral level, I would call The Wicker Man a film about the nature of faith.’

In new music, Gary reviews the electro folk EP Da Vo Gornitsa (Yes in the upper room) by the Russian group Leli. ‘Leli performs songs from the Belgorod, Kursk and Tver regions. The singing is polyphonic, by men and women mixed, and they’re accompanied by some unnamed traditional instruments that include flutes and zithers, plus some rock instruments like electric and acoustic guitars, horns, and drums, plus those synths. The vocal and instrumental parts are recorded on analog equipment.’

He also liked some new jazz. ‘A seasoned veteran working a date with talented younger artists is a trope almost as old as jazz music itself. It finds one of its most delightful recent expressions in this ecstatic album anchored by leading Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen, accompanied by Danish drummer Daniel Sommer and London guitarist Rob Luft. As Time Passes is a thoroughly enjoyable guitar trio recording by three players in obvious synchronization.

Tatiana reviews Sukha-khur, a new Russian world music album from a musician who performs as Zor. ‘The musician Zor, having been on stage for more than 30 years, has a fine sense of national music, and at the same time, his work is very original and filled with deep philosophy. Although Zor was originally a guitarist, he has now mastered the two–string suukha-hur perfectly. But in the album Suukha-hur the musician went even further. The album is based on an instrument with only one string and the musician’s own voice. However, with this, he creates a truly magical sound!’

From the archives, Chuck found the Funks Grove album Albuminium Blue hit ‘n’ miss, but overall he liked it. ‘Lojo Russo’s smoky singing sets the tone and the band, especially, Eric Penrotty’s penny whistle playing, more than hold up their end. Borrowing one more time from my review of The EP — since it’s just as correct for Albuminium Blue — “for solid, smoky folk-blues, this is one great group.” ‘Martin Carthy and friends in the band Brass Monkey lead off their album Flame of Fire with the old chestnut “The Swinton May Song,” David tells us. I have never heard an album Martin Carthy was involved with that didn’t yield treasures. Brass Monkey’s Flame of Fire is no exception. Musical, danceable, foot-tappable, it harkens back to the past to make one appreciate the long history of folk music.

Gary was enthusiastic about the 2006 release from Jolie Holland, Springtime Can Kill You. ‘Holland owned me from the first time I heard her sing “The Littlest Birds” on her home-recorded first release, 2003’s Catalpa. Through 2004’s Escondida to this new release, Springtime Can Kill You, Holland’s music follows a true trajectory of her own design.’

Jack found Jethro Tull’s Songs From the Wood to be right in his wheelhouse. ‘Now, this is not your typical countryside, as our narrator will encounter green men, a huntress who may or may not be the leader of a Wild Hunt, druids, mad whistlers, and maidens who are certainly no longer chaste by the time the song ends. Ian is indulging his interest in folk motifs in a very serious manner.’

Lars had high prise for an album by Scottish folksters Jack Tamson’s Bairns. Rare, he says, is something special. ‘Maybe not quite another “The Lasses Fashion,” but almost. Had they been 25 years younger we would have hailed them as the new messiahs of Scottish folk, now we just get proof that these lads know their craft and that they still can deliver the goods.’

Mia was surprised to find she enjoyed Sons of Somerled by New Age musician Steve McDonald. ‘Generally I am not a fan of New Age music, which so often begins with a grand design and rapidly deteriorates into plinky woo-woo pseudo-ethnic background noise. Sons of Somerled is not of this ilk. Though the most obvious instrument on this album is the synthesizer and some of the traditional instrument sounds are actually done with keyboards, McDonald has done a truly wonderful job of capturing the feeling of traditional Scottish music.’

Tim was disappointed by Fling’s The Wild Swans At Coole. ‘With a name like Fling, you would expect something fast, wild, and maybe a bit out of control. You’ll find none of that here. This Dutch band favors a mellower sound, with lush, almost orchestral arrangements. Evertjan’t Hart’s uilleann pipes strain at the leash sometimes, but never quite break loose.IMG_0272

I personally have a keen liking for the Jethro Tull of the Sixties and early Seventies, which is why you’re getting a cut off the album Jack reviewed above. The cut I’ve selected is ‘The Hunting Girl’, a fine story about boy meets girl riding horse and … Oh just go give it a listen! It’s a soundboard recording done over forty five years ago.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Foxes

IMG_0272Though fox hunting by the gentry was common in Scotland for centuries, this Estate never allowed them to be hunted here, so the Estate foxes have thrived. Even when we had a Gameskeeper here, before we abolished that position and created the Estate Head Gardener position that I now hold, they were safe from being hunted. Deer and rabbits have to be hunted or the bloody buggers multiply beyond belief.

There are, roughly speaking, two types of foxes here — those who like humans and those who really could do without us. Given the size of the Estate, both types can easily find their preference here. There’s a long history of the human inhabitants here noting in The Sleeping Hedgehhog who were the foxes they were especially interested in.

There was Tess, who according to the Estate Ghillie, had a burrow down by one of the salmon breeding pools; he fed rabbits to her and her kits during a particularly bad winter; there was the fox that bedded down with the Irish wolfhounds who guarded the sheep; there was one fox that, based on his markings, was estimated to be over thirty years old, an impossible age for a fox, even in captivity; and one Estate Gardener swore he had not been drunk when he had a conversation with a ghost fox out in the Wood. I am not one to dispute that having seen weirder things on this Estate.

The foxes that are truly wild are harder to get a handle on as they avoid us at all costs. Some have only been glimpsed, being known as individuals solely because of their unique characteristics, such as the female known as Diamond as she had a perfect white diamond bit of fur on hher forehead, or the one called Broad Arrow as he had such a marking on his back.

So if you visit our Estate, do take the time to look for our foxes. It’ll be worth your while to do so.



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Whats New for the 14th of April: It’s truly Spring, so go outside and enjoy the warm weather. Really it’s worth doing.

Remember, pain is not a test. Knowledge is not enough.
Catherynne M. Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden


The tulips such as the one in the vase on my desk here in the Estate Library are the predominant flowers this time of year as every Estate Gardener for the past three centuries has had a rather keen interest in them. The more recent ones are acquired by Gus, our Estate Head Gardener for three decades now, in trade with MacGregor, a fellow tulip enthusiast who goes to the Turkish tulip markets to get the much rarer heirloom tulips. Just don’t get Gus talking about tuplips unless you’re planning on being there quite awhile!

If you’re really interested in all things tulips, you can drop by his workshop late this afternoon as he’s giving the Several Annies, my Library Apprentices, a practical exercise in how history really happens, using the Dutch Tulip Mania as his example. And we’ve reviewed a book on their origins in the guise of  Ottoman Tulips, Ottoman Coffee: Leisure and Lifestyle in the Eighteenth Century, which has a nice article on the actual history of the so-called Tulip Period of the Ottoman Empire. Do beware that these papers are dry at times as they’re intended for other scholars.

I’m off to the Kitchen as soon as I get this Edition done and  I suspect you’ll want to join me in heading for the Kitchen after you read and listen to our offering this time as Mrs. Ware and her talented staff are serving up just baked Toll House chocolate chip cookies with glasses of Riverrun Farm whole milk. Yes real whole milk — bet you’ve never had that!


Cat looks at the urban legend retold yet again of a ghost girl asking for a ride home on the anniversary of her death: ‘Seanan McGuire decided to tell her own ghost story in Sparrow Hill Road which, like her novel Indexing, was originally a series of short stories published through The Edge of Propinquity, starting in January of 2010 and ending in December of that year. It appears they’ve been somewhat revised for this telling of her ghostly narrator’s tale but I can’t say how much as I’ve not read the original versions.’

Deborah reviewed Sam Cutler’s memoir with the delightful title You Can’t Always Get What You Want: My Life with the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead and Other Wonderful Reprobates. ‘One of the most remarkable things about You Can’t Always Get What You Want is its brilliant balancing act. If there’s very little gel on Cutler’s lens, there’s no vituperation, either. This is no “I know where the bodies are buried and I’m getting back at you gits!” tell-all. This is one man’s memories, setting the record straight for one of the most pivotal periods in modern music and, by extension, in popular culture.’

Grey says of Medicine Road that ‘I suppose it’s fitting, for a story about twos, that the creators are two Charleses. Charles Vess’s illustrations make this not-so-simple fable deeper and richer. Vess combines line drawing and painting in a way that makes his pictures simultaneously vividly life-like and fairy tale-remote.’

There’s a bar in the above novel where the Dillard sisters play called A Hole in The Wall which de Lint borrowed from Terri Windling’s The Wood WifeIt’s possible that The Wood Wife is the first novel  to take full advantage of the myths of Southwest USA and Mexican region. And Grey notes that it is ‘not only an expertly-crafted tale of suspense. It also stands squarely within the realm of modern fantasy. Windling’s Arizona desert comes alive with fey beings, shapeshifters small and great that are as mysterious and amoral as any European Fair Folk, yet practical and earthy and distinctively Native American in their coloration.’

A woman who sees ghosts is the central character in a novel that Kathleen reviews for us: ‘Cherie Priest is a first time novelist. However, she writes with ease and a deceptive power, like the flow of the Tennessee River through her home city of Chattanooga. Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a Southern Gothic with a hint of hard boiled mystery: there’s grit in the magnolia honey and in the heroine as well.’

Leona gives an incisive review of  Black Is the Colour of My True-love’s Heart, a Ellis Peters novel: ‘Originally published in 1967, ‘this is a book of music, of silence, of words; it has love, hate, and all their analogues. Myths and facts combine to wrap the storyline in a heavy cloak of authenticity. This is a story of high passion and cool deliberation; it dances through the morals and minds of another age and gives the reader a wide window into the world of folk music and ballad-singers.’

I’m picking books this time that I consider summertime reading, starting off with a Charles de Lint novel that Mia looks at: ‘Seven Wild Sisters advertises itself as a modern fairy tale. Including the seven sisters, it certainly has all the trappings: an old woman who may be a witch, an enchanted forest, a stolen princess. But Sisters is not just borrowing the clothes of fairy tale. It sings with the true voice of fairy tale: capricious, wild, and not entirely safe, but rich and enchanting.’

Somehow, we’ve never done a stand-alone review of the following novel which Robert has now corrected for us: ‘Steven Brust’s The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars is a strangely deceptive novel. It seems, at first, fairly straightforward – a narrative about a group of artists trying to make it, interspersed with sections of a folk tale – but you start to wonder whether it’s really that up front or if Brust is pulling a Gene Wolfe and playing with your head – there seem to be all sorts of clues in the book, but are they?’

Robert confessed to some difficulty in reviewing the art anthology Spectrum 12: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art edited by Cathy Fenner & Arnie Fenner. ‘I learned early in my career as an art reviewer to avoid group exhibitions, especially those with very large themes. I find many of the same problems in discussing the newest Spectrum: disparate visions, a wide range of approaches, and, since these are all illustrations, a variety of assignments. Not an easy thing to discuss.’ We also have Robert’s reviews of Spectrum 13 and Spectrum 15.


Reynard told me a few minutes ago that he asked Kathleen what her favourite libation was and she waxed nostalgic: ‘Nova Albion of blessed memory – a bright copper, richly hopped ale with an aftertaste of roses. But in the world of beers I can actually get my hands on … maybe Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale, full of fresh new Zealand hops. Or Lagunitas Censored Ale. Or even the venerable Bass Ale — served room temperature, of course. With straw floating on the top. I like hops…’


Denise got down with a concert film called Dub Side of the Moon, featuring a dub version of the classic Pink Floyd album. ‘It’s not like the Easy Star All-Stars play Dark Side with a cheesy reggae track tacked on, then call it their own. They reimagine riffs, add vocals and take different turns with the music, all the while staying true to the course of the original album’s main concepts. A bit of animation starts things off; a lone Rasta man in his spaceship (don’t question it, it’s cool) picks up a transmission on the other side of the moon. He wakes from suspended animation and gets to grooving.’

IMG_0272Nathan recommends It Was a Dark and Silly Night, a collection of comics for younger readers. ‘Those interested in more slapstick humour, subtle messages and a good variety of image styles may find this title to be just the job. Stories include Patrick McDonnell’s charming tale of a Moon who is afraid of the dark, Lemony Snicket and Richard Sala’s unique origin for the Yeti, and Neil Gaiman’s irreverent Jell-O tag in the cemetery escapade.’

In new music, Gary waxed enthusiastic about Standards II by jazz pianist Noah Haidu and his trio. ‘This time out, pianist Haidu is joined by two legendary players, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Billy Hart, who’ve been collaborating for five decades now.) Some of these chestnuts they cover with the simplicity of a hard bop trio circa 1959, and others they turn inside out, so to speak.’

He was also highly impressed by Vedan Kolod’s Birds. ‘The Russian folk music ensemble Vedan Kolod has created a triumphant album in the midst of personal and national upheaval. Birds, their tenth album since forming in 2005, is a master work of world music combining traditional Siberian folk songs and new songs in the traditional style, played on an array of acoustic instruments.’

From the archives, Brendan had some words of advice about Okros Ensemble’s Transylvanian Village Music. ‘To many an untrained Western ear, this music can have a jolting, often unpleasant quality with its very complex and unusual harmony patterns, made even more so by the violinists’ tendencies to use microtones, i.e. the notes between the standard A, A sharp, B, C, etc. However, with repeated listens, this music will reveal its beauty, especially if it is played the way it was meant to be: very loud.’

Cat Rambo gave an enthusiastic nod to a couple of albums of kids’ music, Ants Ants Ants‘ Why Why Why? and Red Yarn’s Old Barn. Both can be listened to by kids and adults, she says. ‘Overall there’s a more mature vibe [to Old Barn] than Why Why Why, including several adaptations of traditional folk songs like “Sally Ann” and “Did You Feed My Cow?”

Gary enjoyed the “Balkan blues” on Amira Medunjanin’s Damar. ‘This album’s intimate production heightens the impression that Amira is pouring out her heart’s deepest sorrows to you alone. Unlike some recordings in this tradition that is many hundreds of years old, she places these songs, both traditional and new compositions in the tradition, in unique and innovative settings.’

Gary also was enthusiastic about Dark Desert Night by 3hattrio. ‘I’m a huge fan of southern Utah, home of Zion, Arches, Canyonlands and Bryce national parks. And I’m a newly minted fan of this outfit called 3hattrio, which is based in the Zion area and makes music that matches the region’s lonely grandeur.’

Jack swooned over an album called Hambo in the Snow from Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelley, and Charlie Pilzer. ‘Hambo in the Snow is not a Nordic traditional recording ‘tall, but a Nordic-American traditional recording firmly grounded, like A Prairie Home Companion, in the culture of Minnesota. So, it’s not surprising to sense a slightly mist-eyed vision of the Nordic countries…’

Jayme got a kick out of Andean Fusion’s Andean Sounds for the World Vol. VII, which contains the band’s exhuberant takes on everything from Ennio Morricone to The Beatles to Celine Dion to Carlos Santana. ‘Rather than a dilution of their skill and a case of selling out, the songs showcase the creativity and flexibility of Andean Fusion, with clever arrangements and performances that never betray the band’s roots.’

Judith reviewed Aoife Clancy’s Silvery Moon. ‘If her name were not so Irish and were it not for the reputation of Cherish the Ladies, it would be easier to present this as a folk album with a few Celtic tracks, instead of a Celtic album with leanings toward American folk. But trust my words, Silvery Moon is a folk album.’

Naomi reviewed  Chulrua’s Barefoot on the Altar, which she says ‘gives us a sampling of all aspects of Irish music, from jigs to airs. All are played with a skill and passion that make the music itself seem as if it were a living entity. The majority of the 17 tracks are traditional; the entire 70 minutes are a journey to another time, another style of life.’

Scott wrote a geneerous career overview of Nightnoise. ‘How you view the legacy of Nightnoise depends a lot on your perspective. For a fan of New Age music, Nightnoise were a flagship band who brought quality and credibility to a genre that didn’t always enjoy the best of reputations otherwise, and whose popularity has waned considerably in the intervening years. As a folk music fan familiar with the other work of Mícheál and Tríona and of Johnny Cunningham, I consider Nightnoise to be a worthy endeavor by some world-class performers, but most of their music fell a bit short of these musicians’ best work.’


Our What Not this time is a favourite tune as we asked a Winter Queen, the late Josepha Sherman, what hers was: ‘OK, my dear: I play the folk harp a wee bit (I’m sadly out of practice) and of the older songs, I like ‘Sumer is icumen in,’ ca. 1260 or so, by our old friend, Anonymous. I like it both for the melody and the words, which are cheerful and alive with the image of animals jumping about for the joy of it. It also makes for a cheerful round for several voices. For the earliest songs, though we don’t have the melodies, alas, I love some of the Ancient Egyptian love songs, which are downright modern — such as the one about the girl who sees her boyfriend and rushes out to meet him with half her hair still undone!’ She went on to note that ‘The Ancient Egyptians had our concept of romantic love, btw, clear in their songs. There’s even a sadly fragmentary one of a wife undressing her husband, who’s passed out after what was clearly too much drinking at a party, and how she loves him even so.’


So I’m following up on Scott’s review of Nightnoise by  finish off with some choice music from them, to wit ‘Toys, Not Ties’ which was performed at Teatro Calderón de la Barca, which is a theater in Valladolid, Spain thurry years ago. Nightnoise had its origins in members of the Bothy Band and Skara Brae, august bands indeed, and also included fiddler Johnny Cunningham for a while.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Designing Trolls


Dear Anna,

Imagine an old forest witch, a crone with a cackle and gnarled hands. Well Justina did one of those when she was here the first time. Alas the Troll proved more elusive in design. Much more elusive. And of course, this troll was not the vision of just Justina, the potter, but instead was created on a collective basis.

There aren’t many descriptions of them in Old Norse and what exist are more intent on describing their personality as in the Prose Edda:

Troll kalla mik trungl sjǫtrungnis, auðsug jǫtuns, élsólar bǫl, vilsinn vǫlu, vǫrð nafjarðar, hvélsveg himins – hvat’s troll nema þat?

Which roughly translates as:

They call me a troll, moon of the earth-Hrungnir, wealth sucker of the giant, destroyer of the storm-sun, beloved follower of the seeress, guardian of the “nafjord”, swallower of the sun: What’s a troll if not that?

Other Old Norse sources note they are magical creatures with special skills, but that doesn’t say if that was good or evil. In J. R. R. Tolkien’s universe, trolls are large humanoids of great strength and poor intellect.

What they found with the help of Iain, who called on what he calls L-Space to ask private estate librarians in Norway to dig deep into their archives for folk material not commonly accessed by folklorists, was that they are dark and slow of movement and covered with a tangle of foliage, like a forested mountain brought to life. Now this of course added a whole new level of complexity to this project as most trolls under the bridge projects use a smooth looking design with almost no fine work. Justina, however, noted this actually made the project easier as the leaves, moss and such would make hiding the seams easier.

The first step was what is called a one sixth scale model of the troll-to-be. Now keep in mind that no one expected Justina to work full-time on this so she danced a lot, gossiped in the pub while listening to the Neverending Session, spent hours reading in the Library, taught the Several Annies (and anyone else interested) basic and advanced pottery.

That model went through, I think, at least a dozen iterations before it was considered right by just about everyone present here this Winter. It was indeed leafy, mossy, and similar to what one of Tolkien’s Ents might have looked like if it was far more stocky and a great deal shorter. (One of the models now lives in a museum in the home city of the Norwegian Several Annie who got the project going; Justine took one with her; and four got sold by us on behalf of her.) And so the project stood until after Candlemas as we agreed no one should would work on it during the Winter Holidays.

And that’s where I’ll leave the tale for now, as Chasing Fireflies, the contradance band that I’m calling for this coming weekend, wants to go over the list of dances they’re considering. Gossip has it that they’ve been intensely interested with the dances of John Garden, the Australian composer and Jane Austen scholar, so it’ll be interesting to see what they’ve come up with!

Affectionately, Gus


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