What’s New for the 18th of February: More Tolkieniana – non-LOTR stories, letters, references, etc.; music acknowledging Black History Month

“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” — Gandalf to Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

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Greetings! It’s Gary, the sometime Music Editor, again, with another mostly Tolkien edition. Now, there are worlds of essays, theses and tracts that could be (and probably have been) written about the parochialism and indeed colonialism inherent in the first two sentences Prof. Tolkien puts in Gandalf’s mouth in the quote above. For there’s little doubt that Tolkien saw his hobbits as avatars of the English Everyman, homely and stodgy, set in his conservative ways, yet capable of rising to the occasion with nobility and heroism should circumstances call for it, while glossing over the fact that to millions of subject persons around the world, the British Empire more closely resembled the subjugation and enslavement offered by Saruman and Sauron, than the bucolic and carefree life of The Shire.

And yet … And yet, I know of no words that more accurately sum up our philosophy here at Green Man Review than Gandalf’s final sentence there — about “food and cheer and song.” What we try to do here, as we savor these cheerier aspects of life, is reflect a bit on the questions posed by the arts, and maybe prompt you to do the same.

This time out the Tolkien content is mostly books and one film review; I hope to have a graphic novel review to share in the near future.

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Asher took an in-depth tour of Tolkien’s The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book. The author, he says, spoke of Bombadil in two ways: ‘On the one hand, he has called Bombadil both the spirit of the dwindling English countryside and the spirit of natural science: “the spirit that desires knowledge of other things, their history and nature, because they are ‘other’.” On the other hand, he has suggested that the reason he couldn’t bring himself to keep Bombadil out of The Lord of the Rings is that he represents something larger, something best not left out, though he hesitated to look too closely at what that was. One can surmise that this is true both of Tom as he appears in the Ring saga and also as he appears in the Adventures.’

‘Every Christmas between the years 1920 and 1943, the ever-so-blessed children of J.R.R. Tolkien received some of the most unique mail that a child could ever hope for: letters from Father Christmas himself!’ says Cat in his splendid review of Letters From Father Christmas — both the book itself and a readers theater style performance of them at his local bookstore. ‘Beautifully illustrated and delivered in various ways, they told of all kinds of things that happened at the North Pole, and about the folk who lived there with Santa.’

And Craig reviewed the audio version of Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas audio, read by Derek Jacobi. ‘For those who may not be familiar with his work, I’ll simply say that you are in for a treat. Jacobi was the perfect choice for this reading. Not only has he read other Tolkien works but his voice resembles that of a kindly grandfather, ideal for the character of Father Christmas.’

Grey wrote an admiring review of J.E.A. Tyler’s The Complete Tolkien Companion, which she said is an invaluable reference. ‘Tyler is an author and journalist who is, in my opinion, one of the best authors of general “Tolkien guides” available today. While his scholarship may not be as extensive as that of some other authors, he has the ability to see the entire legendarium and its interlinking components, and to lay out and cross-reference those components with an understanding and clearness of text that makes his work easily accessible to readers, from the Tolkien neophyte to the Tolkien scholar. If you only have one reference book on Tolkien on your shelf, it ought to be this one.

Jack bestirred himself to read and review J.R.R. Tolkien’s Beowulf and the Critics, a collection of different versions of a lecture by Tolkien on the ancient Anglo-Saxon epic. He recommends it, with a caveat. ‘Just keep in mind that our dear don was writing a treatise on Beowulf that takes into account the entire thousand-year history of that ballad as a cultural object. Bloody Hell! He does a rather neat job in some forty-five or so pages of giving you everything, and I mean everything, you’ll ever need to know ’bout Beowulf. Just drink lots of very strong coffee before reading it – you’ll need the caffeine!’

‘Tolkien lived in that long-vanished era when letter writing was an intrinsic part of daily social and business activity,’ Jack says in his review of, what else, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. ‘There were few phones, obviously no e-mail, and telegrams were used only for very urgent business. (He did use airgraphs, a special postal service to reduce the mail volume, for letters to Christopher and the like.) But the proper gentleman or gentlewoman wrote letters — lots of letters! And Tolkien was, like the hobbits he created, a perfect English gentleman.’

He also reviewed and contrasted a couple of reference books aimed more at a general audience, Robert Foster and the Brothers Hildebrandt’s Tolkien’s World from A to Z: The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth, and J.E.A. Tyler and Kevin Really’s The Tolkien Companion. He definitely prefers the latter. ‘ Tyler rightfully assumes that one has either The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings in hand and is simply seeking more information. And information is what you get in The Tolkien Companion — a generous serving of lovingly detailed material that will enhance your understanding of these books every bit as much as The Annotated Hobbit will do. Tolkien’s World from A to Z just can’t compare to it!

Kathleen reviewed her copy of Tolkien’s Smith of Wooten Major & Farmer Giles of Ham that she first read when she was 13, a time when many readers of her generation were disappointed by them. ‘They aren’t epic, or sweeping, and there are no elves, hobbits or dwarves in them. That’s been a problem with a lot of Tolkien’s non-LOTR over the years, and not even the elf-centric The Silmarillion pleased most of his audience. But dismissing Smith and Farmer Giles is as much a loss to a reader as is ignoring the appendices of LOTR itself.’

Lisa reviewed a fairly obscure Tolkien text, Narn I Chîn Húrin, or The Tale of the Children of Húrin, which takes place many thousands of years before the bits we’re all more familiar with. ‘There are the usual things one expects in Tolkien’s mythic prose; it’s archaic but less like the King James Bible than some of his work, and a bit more like Norse saga. That said, there are influence and motifs from Siegfried and Norse saga, and the Finnish tale of Kullervo in the Kalevala. There’s a bit of medieval Irish too, in terms of the effects of the curse; it’s reminiscent of geasa like the one Macha put on the men of Ulster. But for all its archaism and tragic mythos, The Children of Húrin is extremely readable, and a very well made book.’

Liz wrote a monster review of the 2003 HarperCollins five-volume edition of Tolkien’s The History of Middle-Earth. The history was an immense undertaking for all involved, and the review was likewise. ‘At his death, J.R.R. Tolkien left a huge body of unfinished and often unorganized writings on the mythology and history of Middle-earth. In The History of Middle Earth (HoME), his son, Christopher, has sought to organize this huge collection of drafts, revisions and reworkings into an organized and intelligible whole.’

Liz also reviewed some collected essays and lectures of Tolkien’s, published as The Monsters and the Critics, which Jack also touched on at some length in his review of Beowulf and the Critics (see above). ‘These seven essays provide a glimpse into Tolkien’s intent as a scholar, translator of texts, and novelist. Just as Sir Gawain’s shield device, the pentangle, gave graphic evidence of how Gawain’s virtues were inextricably linked, this book shows how Tolkien’s interests in philology (i.e., historical linguistics) and the art of fantastic fiction were bound together, each giving life to the other.’

Matthew was impressed all around by the audiobook of Tolkien’s translation of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” as read by Terry Jones (yes, that Terry Jones). ‘One of Tolkien’s first scholarly works was a modern English translation of the 14th century alliterative poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Although there have been a handful of translations since, Tolkien’s stands out as accomplishing a two-fold mission that few others have achieved. He brings the poem into the modern idiom in a way that is readable, but he also retains the alliterative metric structure that the anonymous Gawain poet was trying to revive.’

Matthew also reviewed a helpful reference book, Christopher Tolkien’s The History of Middle-earth Index, which gathers the indexes from all 12 volumes of The History of Middle Earth into one volume. ‘The Index contains every entry from the separate indexes of the History, as well as Christopher Tolkien’s explanatory text that prefaces each separate index. However, instead of gathering all the references to a particular name under one heading, Tolkien has chosen to keep the entries separate. Thus, we have a separate heading for Beren’s appearances in the first volume, followed by an entry for Beren’s appearances in the second volume, etc.’

Warner reviewed the award winning book by academic Holly Ordway, Tolkien’s Modern Readings, in which Ordway lays to rest the notion that all Tolkien read was medieval literature. ‘It is a fascinating volume at times, veering from works still known to current readers all the way to quiet, esoteric works that have largely passed into oblivion. The book focuses on works likely to have influenced the creation of middle earth related works (specifically The Hobbit, Lord of The Rings, and the Silmarillion) and proving Tolkien read them.’

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‘Now I admit that I groaned at first, muttered somethin’ about all the shite that the Jackson films have loosed upon the buying public such as Gollum bookends and Gandalf hats to name but two products,’ Jack recalled about the time he learned he was to review The Real Middle Earth on DVD. ‘However, I found this DVD to be both pleasantly low-key and well worth watching. Indeed it’s narrated by Ian Holm, a definite reason to watch it!’

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Robert has a treat for us: three chocolate candies from Chocolove: ‘Chocolove is an American company headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, that produces chocolate bars and candies using all natural ingredients and following the traditions of European chocolatiers. What came across my desk was three packages of “nut-butter cups” — one the classic peanut-butter cup, and two made with almond butter.’

 

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One of our Diverse Voices got ’round to reading the original DC series Watchmen when it was issued as a collector’s box of 12 editions – and read it all in one go! ‘It is rich in meaning, in imagination, in visual and verbal motifs, to dizzying degree. Watch the Rorschach blobs, the embracing lovers, the viscous gloss of moving blood, the clock. Moore is ambitious and he set a remarkable standard. My favourite episodes are four and ten — the monologue-driven time travel of the first and the sheer colour and energy of the second are pleasing and meaningful to degrees usually reserved for tosh such as War and Peace. And reading the more relevant Watchmen should take considerably less time.’

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In new music, Tatiana reviews Hajda!, the debut album by Hajda Banda, which she says ‘…is a captivating journey into the rich musical traditions of the Podlasie region in eastern Poland, the western parts of Belarus, and Polesye on the Polish-Ukrainian-Belarusian border. The album showcases the band’s commitment to preserving and innovating rural music from the borderlands, infusing it with their unique style and ideas.’

From the archives, Big Earl reviewed Deep River of Song: Big Brazos – Texas Prison Recordings, 1933 & 1934, a collection of field recordings. ‘Made entirely of group or call-and-response singing, this disc covers a surprising breadth of the pre-1950s African-American musical spectrum. “Old Rattler” gives us a look at the blues of Leadbelly and Muddy Waters, in the form of a folk song. “I Wonder What’s The Matter,” led by Lightnin’ Washington (one of the stars of this disc) foreshadows slow testifying gospel, and ultimately the Africanization of jazz by Davis & Malaska some 30 years later. While most of this disc was either taken from the black culture mainstream (“Black Betty,” “Long John”) or entered it (“Hammer Ring,” “Great God A’Mighty (Long Hot Summer Days)”), there’s still a fascinating angle to how these songs are performed.’

He also reviewed another recording in the Deep River of Song series, Virginia and the Piedmont. ‘The breadth of talent presented, both amateur and professional, is simply phenomenal. We get to hear a very young Sonny Terry, in full falsetto glory, blowing that great blues rural harp of his. Brownie McGhee is unfortunately rather quiet on these recordings but adds to the proceedings nonetheless. Their scorching version of “John Henry” is alone worth the price of this disc; coupled with their other two tracks, it ups the disc’s desirability considerably.’

Brendan reviewed another of the “Deep River” series, Black Appalachia. ‘The sheer variety of songs here is daunting; there are fiddle reels, work chants, square-dancing numbers, hoedowns, blues, as well just straightforward folk songs. What makes this CD so interesting is that the Lomaxes (travelling with famed bluesman Leadbelly) recorded these songs at a time of great transition for the American folk song. The current crop of rural musicians were taking all of the various American idiomatic styles – the blues, country, ragtime, swing – and melding them to create new sounds.’

David reviewed a handful of the CDs released as part of the Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues juggernaut of the early Aughts. He round them to be a mixed bag but was still enthusiastic. ‘Before the deluge, a lot of this material was obscure and hard to get. Some of it didn’t exist at all. If Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues introduces blues to a new generation, if it causes people to reconsider this powerful American music, then it’s done what many before couldn’t do. Bravo to Columbia/Legacy, and to Martin Scorsese for for their efforts in this worthy cause.’

I reviewed two parts of a three disc package about a towering figure in Black entertainment from the early 20th Century, Bert Williams’ The Middle years, 1910-1918 and His Final Releases, 1919-1922. ‘It’s a tragedy that a talent of Williams’ caliber was restricted to playing the role of the shufflin’ darky, even if it was an act that he perfected. He longed to try his hand at dramatic roles, but at the time the prevailing wisdom was that white audiences wouldn’t accept a black man in any but a comic role.’

I also reviewed Down In Jamaica, a box set celebrating the 40th anniversary of the reggae label VP Records. ‘The set isn’t a bunch of deep or obscure tracks, but rather hit songs by some top artists. It’s taken almost exclusively from singles, which were the main form in which the music was produced. The 94 tracks feature 101 artists on four CDs plus four seven-inch singles and four 12-inch singles.’

Next I reviewed One Night In Indy, a previously unreleased live date by jazz guitar great Wes Montgomery. ‘Just when you think there can’t possibly be any more undiscovered recordings of Wes Montgomery, here comes Resonance Records with yet another one. And One Night In Indy is a truly great record for jazz fans and Montgomery fans – and even for fans of Eddie Higgins, with whose trio Wes is sitting in on this date.’

And I reached way back into the past to review some compilation discs that highlight the work of actor and singer Bert Williams, the most important Black recording artist of the early 20th century. ‘It’s a tragedy that a talent of Williams’ caliber was restricted to playing the role of the shufflin’ darky, even if it was an act that he perfected. He longed to try his hand at dramatic roles, but at the time the prevailing wisdom was that white audiences wouldn’t accept a black man in any but a comic role.’

The Rough Guide to Chicago Blues CD got Richard to reminiscing about his youth. ‘Suddenly there we were, white kids growing up in post-World War Two England, steeped in the music of Chicago’s Southside, pestering record stores for obscure recordings by Black musicians destined initially for the North American “race” market; i.e., the relatively prosperous (anyway, prosperous enough to buy records) urban African Americans whose music this was, and many of whom lived in Chicago.’

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Our What Not this time is sort of about Jane Austen, who was an devoted dancer. Extended scenes set in the ballroom are intrinsic aspects of all of her novels. Alison Thompson, noted musician, dancer and writer, wrote an article called ‘The Felicities of Rapid Motion; Jane Austen in the Ballroom’ which was printed in Persuasions, Winter 2000. Persuasions’s the online journal of the Jane Austen Society of North America.

We’ve got these reviews of other works by her, Dancing Through Time subtitled Western Social Dance in Literature, 1400-1918, Lighting the Fire: Elsie J. Oxenham, The Abbey Girls, and the English Folk Dance Revival and The Blind Harper Dances: Modern English Country Dances which is set to airs by Turlough O’Carolan.

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I think a bit of rather lively music in the form of ‘Red Barn Stomp’ to show us out this edition will do very nicely.  Recorded sometime in June of 1990 in Minneapolis by the Oysterband  with June Tabor joining them there as well. The lads were on tour in support of their Little Rock to Leipzig album where you can find another version of this tune.

Ian Tefler, a band member, tells us that the name of this piece was chosen to sound trad. It features John Tefler calling the tune and very neatly incorporates the actually trad tune, ‘The Cornish Six-Hand Reel’ in it as well.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Chasing Fireflies

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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 4th of February: Mostly Tolkien – The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books, films, and even some audio

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” – Thorin Oakenshield, to Fili and Kili, The Hobbit, Chapter 4, “Over Hill and Under Hill”

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Hello, you’re probably not expecting me. This is Gary, the GMR music editor. I’m filling in for Iain, who is … well, he seems to have gone walkabout. He was singing the praises of various malts in our last edition, which was followed shortly by this year’s Burns Night, when he seems to have sampled one that he particularly enjoyed. None of the staff is certain whether the dram in question originated in, well, the ‘real’ Scotland outside the gates of Kinrowan Estate, or the … other Scotland that’s across the invisible border that intersects with the Estate here and there. But the best guess is that we won’t see Iain again until he can bring back a bottle or better yet a barrel of the elixir for the Pub.

Be that as it may. This is the time of year — cold, wet, often stormy — when you’ll find staffers and whatever visitors have washed up on the Estate curled up beside one of our many fireplaces enjoying a dram, or a pint of something dark, as they read (or more likely re-read) their favorite work of J.R.R. Tolkien. As you might imagine, our Archives are replete with reviews of The Don’s works, and so I’ve asked a couple of The Annies to see what they could come up with. Unsurprisingly, they’ve rounded up enough for at least two editions. This time we’re focusing on the core works: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. Next time out the plan is to take a tour through the less well known works, the more recently published stuff, and perhaps some of the many books that’ve been written about Tolkien and his work … or maybe those will be left for yet a third. As I said, there’s a lot …

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Not a fan of Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Hobbit, I liked a recent new edition of the book with illustrations by Jemima Catlin. ‘It’s a perfect size for reading aloud, its illustrations just right to be seen when held up by the reader or the book is sturdy enough to be passed around. Those illustrations, as befits this rather gentle adventure tale, are humorous or mildly scary as appropriate. As a bonus, you can read it in just about the same amount of time that it would take you to watch all three installments of the overblown and misguided movie adaptation.’

Iain gives us the rundown on The Annotated Hobbit, with Douglas A. Anderson’s annotations added to the classic tale. ‘All in all, an amazing amount of information gets added to an already finely detailed tale. I must stress that I would not have wanted this to be my first encounter with The Hobbit, as the annotations are distracting, but I will cherish this valuable addition to me library!’

In her in-depth review Liz acknowledges that Tolkien’s The Silmarillion is a difficult read. ‘So why read The Silmarillion if it is difficult? The obvious answer, “because it is the backstory to The Lord of the Rings,” doesn’t do the book justice. The Silmarillion is way more than just a prequel. It can stand on its own as a work of art.’

Naomi wrote a delightful review of the book that started it all. ‘The Hobbit is a delightful tale for old and young alike; it is a tale to be shared, and a kick-start to the imagination of us lowly humans. Dare to dream, for look what treasures you may find; a dragon’s gold, a night spent in the company of elves, a meeting with royalty — there is so much to be experienced here in this single novel. Don’t deprive yourself of an incredible experience. Read it!’

Naomi also wrote a loving review of The Lord of the Rings trilogy of books, just a bit before they became an even bigger sensation than they were with the release of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations. She speaks for us all when she says: ‘Tolkien created an unparalleled masterpiece, and left a strong and undying legacy behind him, as witness the continued popularity of The Lord of the Rings, which has now been translated into both animated and live-action films.’

Rachel didn’t much care for the readings by Christopher Tolkien on The J.R.R. Tolkien Audio Collection CDs. However, she says, ‘J.R.R. Tolkien’s readings are a different matter. Most especially, his lively and very funny rendition of The Hobbit‘s “Riddles in the Dark” is an enormous treat, from his hissing, spluttering Gollum to his deadpan professorial asides concerning the difficulty of thinking of riddles when you’re sitting next to a slimy creature who wants to eat you.’

She did, however, have unqualified praise for the huge set of The Lord of the Rings audio version, read by Rob Inglis. ‘Even if you’ve read the books many times yourself, hearing them aloud is different. You are forced to listen to passages you might have otherwise skipped or hurried over, and many of them yield up unexpected treasures, a turn of phrase or simile that you never noticed before. We can never again read them for the first time, but this is the next best thing.’

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Grey took on the daunting project of reviewing all three of Peter Jackson’s LOTR films: The Fellowship of the Rings, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. This passage from the first of those reviews serves as her generl feeling about all: ‘As director and one of the writers of the screenplay, Peter Jackson worked very hard to remain faithful to Tolkien’s massive epic, while working within the restrictions of a limited number of screen hours. He has, over all, succeeded admirably. The movie flows smoothly, and the plot progression seems as inevitable as it does in Tolkien’s luminous prose. But, as closely watching fans will undoubtedly notice, Jackson did indeed make several changes to Tolkien’s story.’

Robert was ambivalent about the film adaptations Jackson did of The Hobbit, at least the first two installments that he reviewed: An Unexpected Journey, and The Desolation of Smaug. ‘I have to confess, I was not one of those wildly enthusiastic about Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Quite aside from the liberties he took with the story (which, if you’re trying to compress three lengthy novels into three films, are understandable in large part), I had reservations about some of the characterizations, the lack of support for some scenes, and the pacing. Those faults are not so much in evidence in The Hobbit, but they haven’t vanished, either.’

Going back a bit further, Sarah reviewed the animated Rankin-Bass production of The Hobbit when it came out on DVD. She didn’t like what she saw … or rather, heard. ‘The most disappointing thing about Rankin-Bass’ The Hobbit is that it didn’t have to be disappointing. The animation is fluid and lively, the character designs are expressive, and the backgrounds are a joy. The movie even holds true to the book in its shoreline. The only elements that don’t work at all are the soundtrack and script, but they manage to sink the entire thing.’

She liked Ralph Bakshi’s animated version of The Lord of the Rings better, especially the smaller moments. ‘Bilbo’s moment of Gollum-like ring fixation, Boromir’s low-key feuds with Aragorn, Galadriel’s self-mocking laugh when Frodo offers her the Ring; these added more character to the story than any number of spectacular fight scenes. Character development fan that I am, I’m willing to accept a badly-costumed Balrog in exchange for Sam’s frantic terror when he looks into the Mirror.’

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Cat dug into The Road Goes Ever On — A Song Cycle, in which composer Donald Swann put some of Tolkien’s poems to music, with Tolkien’s approval. ‘Now before you run out as a Tolkien fan and purchase the 2002 edition which was released only in Britain by Harper Collins (with a CD of the songs to boot!) be advised that this is mostly sheet music, something that even most of the regular members of the Neverending Session would find boring. Really boring. But if you’re interested in a relatively practical look at how some of Tolkien’s poetry is as song, this is the book for you.’

Kelly wrote a deep and deeply enlightening review of the full set of The Lord of the Rings film soundtrack recordings, in which he says, ‘ …these three scores reward repeated listening more than any other scores I have encountered in quite a few years. There’s a constant sense of discovery as one studies what Howard Shore has wrought, as one discovers more and more connecting tissue between all of those separate and distinct motifs.’

In new reviews, I enjoyed Tutupatu’s IV. ‘The debut album from Madrid-based Tutupatu is a blend of psychedelic krautrock, ambient synthesizer music, free jazz, and experimental noise. I’ve never really listened to krautrock before, and I’m still not sure it’s my thing, but the three out of this album’s five tracks that are more ambient than krautrock are beautiful and mesmerizing.’

I also review Ville Blomster (wild flowers) the debut studio album from Norway’s Liv Andrea Hauge Trio. ‘The trio’s members come by their obvious tight connections by dint of hard work. Only together a couple of years, they’ve spent most of the time playing together in live settings since they recorded their debut Live from St. Hanshaugen in Hauge’s living room only a couple of weeks after they got together.

Tatiana makes some good points about a new recording from a world music ensemble called Hysterrae. ‘This debut self-titled album by Hysterrae is a captivating and innovative exploration of world music, blending the traditional with the contemporary. The collaborative effort of four acclaimed Italian and Iranian world music artists from different ethnic and musical backgrounds, along with the electronic music producer Emanuele Flandoli, results in a unique and mesmerizing listening experience.’

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The Russian World Music Chart for 2023 was recently released. This new effort was created just three years ago to publicize the excellent but overlooked contemporary and traditional folk music that’s currently being recorded throughout the vast lands of Russia and Siberia. To explain a little more about the topic, we also have a Q&A with Daryana Antipova and Tatiana Naryshkina, two members of the organization who are also GMR’s latest contributing reviewers.

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We don’t normally link to YouTube in our Coda, but I’m making an exception this time to present audio of Tolkien reading the chapter “Riddles in the Dark” from The Hobbit. It originally appeared on an LP and now is available on The J.R.R. Tolkien Audio Collection, which you’ll find reviewed above. So take whatever device you’re using and a cup of tea over by the fireplace and prepare to be enchanted: “Riddles in the Dark.”

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Stockpots

oak_leaf_fallen_colored2There’s always a need for a bowl of hot stockpot soup no matter what the hour, be it the Eventide meal or for a break from watching the ewes during lambing season all night long (a task I gratefully now leave to the much younger staff). A bowl of that exhilarating warmth along with a slice of just-baked bread slathered in butter does wonders for a cold, tired staff member.

The stockpots themselves are immense thirty-gallon affairs made of thick gauge copper. I’ve been told that these cost four hundred pounds thirty years ago and would easily be double that today. One always has either a chicken- or turkey-based concoction in it, the other has a similar one with beef and other stuff in it.

The chicken one usually has just vegetables in it (well aside from bacon ends for an added smokiness) with carrots, potatoes, onions, dried mushrooms and spicing as need be. However, Mrs. Ware, our Head Cook, has offered up everything from the same soup but with dumplings to curried chicken with rice and lentils, or on rare occasions, one of the Several Annies gets to cook a pot of whatever from their regional or national culture, such such as Swedish chicken and noodles.

Though we do raise our own chickens, we don’t raise beef. Instead we trade for it from one of the neighbouring farming Estates, say Riverrun or High Meadow. We buy it already butchered and frozen for later use though we do get a side aged and unfrozen for immediate use. We trade cider, ale and slots in our various apprentice programmes for it.

Our most common beef soup’s simply beef, bacon and vegetables with salt, pepper and garlic. That stockpot starts happening well before Samhain and doesn’t end ’til after Beltaine. If the Kitchen decides to do something different with beef, it goes into yet a third copper stockpot, so it doesn’t stop the main beef concoction from continuing.

The favourite one here is Gulyás, the Hungarian paprika-spiked beef soup that gets served up with a dark bread which may or may not be traditional. Béla, our resident Hungarian violinist, gets tears in his eyes when we serve it (and always with several bottles of Szekszárd, a full-bodied Hungarian red wine, to drink with it).

I don’t know about you, but I’m now ravenous so I’m heading down to see what’s in those stockpots. Care to join me?

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What’s New for the 21st of January: A (mostly) Robin Hood themed edition: Child ballads, scholarly tomes, young readers’ books, comics, movies, and TV series about the bandit of Sherwood; plus The Boy and the Heron, and more

After doing extensive research, I can definitely tell you that single malt whiskies are good to drink.― Iain Banks’ Raw Spirit

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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 these 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 malts ever done.

Banks was also a SF writer of quite some note as can be seen here in Gary’s review of this novel: ‘As with all of Bank’s Culture novels, Surface Detail is richly imagined in addition to being intricately plotted. The characters’ actions sometimes surprise but never seem out of character. The settings are minutely described, and in such a way that I can almost always them see in my mind’s eye. There was a short section somewhere past the midpoint where I felt that the plot got bogged down for a while; other than that, I could hardly turn its nearly 650 pages fast enough.’

It’s our usually grey weather 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 not a great idea in the extreme.  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.

So lets see what Editors found interesting with our usual mix of new materiel along with some older material from the Archives. We might even have something from the Sleeping Hedgehog, our inhouse newsletter for staff and visitors. So let’s get started…

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Francis Child collected an impressive number of English folk ballads, many of them obviously pagan in origin, so let’s look at the edition of them published by Loomis House fifteen years ago. Francis James Child’s The English and Scottish Popular Ballads includes some Robin Hood ballads, and as Jack notes: ‘A nice bonus is that they do include sixty ballad tunes drawn from Child’s original sources. (Child felt the words, not the music, were the ‘real’ ballad.)

Jack also reviewed a bunch of Robin Hood related books. We start with a couple of studies of The Robin Hood Myth: J.C. Holt’s Robin Hood, and Stephen Knight’s Robin Hood: A Complete Study of the English Outlaw. ‘Some hold Robin Hood to be a real man. But who was he? These two books take radically different approaches to answering that crucial question. Bear in mind that here are no actual records that might corroborate that Robin Hood was an actual person, but there are an immeasurable number of paintings, books, ballads, stories and other writings that would say he was.’

And another by one of those authors, Stephen Knight’s Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography, which Jack says ‘is an extended look at what Robin Hood has become in various guises, ranging from a nationalist rallying point (in 1555, the Scottish parliament banned all annual celebrations involving Robin, Little John, the Abbot of Unreason, or the Queen of the May, as plotters against the Scottish Crown were using them as the basis of a populist uprising) to his transformation by Disney into a cartoon fox in the 1973 Robin Hood feature, not to mention Daffy Duck playing him in a 1958 cartoon.’

Next up is a trio of books, James Goldman’s Robin and Marian, Robin McKinley’s The Outlaws of Sherwood, Richard Kluger’s The Sheriff of Nottingham, Jane Yolen edited Sherwood: A Collection of Original Robin Hood Stories. ‘These four books certainly suggest alternative ways of looking at the legend that help to strip away much of the romanticism that Howard Pyle gave it in his novel The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood.’

Jessica reviewed the script for a play written in faux-Elizabethan verse by Scott Lynch-Giddings, A Fancyfull Historie of That Most Notable & Fameous Outlaw Robyn Hood, which she found to be ‘a good old-fashioned romp through the life and times of “that most notable & fameous outlaw” Robin Hood.’

Laurie reviewed a pair of young reader’s books, Theresa Tomlinson’s The Forestwife and Child of the May, which tell the tale of the girl who becomes known as Maid Marian. ‘In The Forestwife Tomlinson gives us a strong Marian, not a weeping maid content to wait in a castle and be rescued. From organizing nuns and children to hunt deer in Sherwood to rescuing prisoners, Marian is as brave as any man. The story only lightly follows the traditional Robin Hood tales, but since the story is not really about Robin anyway, that doesn’t matter.’

Rebecca reviewed a couple of younger children’s books on the subject, Jane Louise Curry’s Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and Robin Hood in the Greenwood. ‘I believe these books will bring great enjoyment to children and will serve as an excellent grounding in the Robin Hood legend. From here young readers can go on to the multitude of other books written on this subject. Sherwood Forest is a big, beautiful, merry place. It’s never too soon to enter it.’

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Smoke in your whisky? Jennifer has a review of a rather interesting whiskey: Johnny Smoking Gun, a blended whiskey produced by Detroit’s Two James Distillery. Johnny Smoking Gun was insulted at great length and repeatedly by a vlogger somewhere, but she won’t link to it because she actually has nice things to say about this peculiarly delicious booze.

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Straying from the theme for a new release, Gary reviewed Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron. ‘In the end, despite its 124-minute run time, it’s a simple tale. Like most of Miyazaki’s films, it’s a coming of age story. This time, a child comes to terms with mortality and with the violence and malice that are present in every human being, including himself. He learns that each generation must pass into and out of this world through its own door. And that the world and its systems built by our ancestors are made of weak and fallible materials, and each generation needs to try to create it anew with better stuff.’

Cat reviewed the DVD release of the Robin of Sherwood series. ‘Richard Carpenter claims that he wanted to reclaim the true Robin Hood from all the falsehoods that had been added to him over the past millennia. That in itself may be a falsehood, as no one knows for certain how the legend came to be. Be that as it might be, Carpenter certainly created a world as stunningly real as that of Holdstock, creator of the Ryhope Wood series, in that saga of another Wood beyond time itself.’

I just had to include the lovely review that Kage Baker wrote for us of Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits: The Criterion Edition, which includes an encounter with Robin Hood. ‘Time Bandits is a classic magical adventure story in the mold of E. Nesbit’s books, but with an updated edge and a sharper sense of humor. Unlike most candy-coated parables handed out to kids, it tells no lies and ends in a brutal and surprisingly exhilarating way.’

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Robert had mixed feelings about Tony Lee, Sam Hart, Artur Fujita’s graphic novel Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood. ‘Anyone telling a story as well-known as this one is facing some built-in constraints, not the least of which is that we know there’s a happy ending, and it’s to Lee’s credit that he makes the telling as absorbing as he does.’

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In new music, Gary reviews the self-titled debut album by the Mallorcan folk rock band Toc de Crida. ‘Toc de Crida sounds kind of like your favorite Celtic folk rock band just returned from a long holiday in Mallorca. In fact that’s where they’re from, the Spanish island in the warm, sunny Mediterranean. On their debut self-titled album they fuse the traditional music of Mallorca with modern and folk sounds and instruments of Northern Europe, North Africa, Brazil, around the Mediterranean, and the Iberian peninsula’s Valencia, Catalonia, and Basque country.’

Gary also reviews a new album from Catalonian composer, singer, and clarinetist Carola Ortiz. ‘Cantareras is a stunning exploration of the women’s oral tradition of the Iberian Peninsula by the multi-talented Ortiz, who has taken the simple songs originally sung by the women who fetched water from the springs and rivers for their community’s cisterns and transformed them into rich vessels of modern, jazzy electro-folk.’

‘Stretching jazz in different directions is a common goal of the members of the Marthe Lea Band, and this Norway-based quintet certainly does just that on its sophomore date Herlighetens Vei,’ Gary says of another new release. ‘With sounds and influences as wide-ranging as Ugandan and Ethiopian instruments and beats, European classical music, American jazz and rock, and of course Nordic motifs, this disc follows strongly on the path of the band’s 2021 debut, the critically regarded Asura.’

Also in new music, Tatiana reviews Égből, Fényből by the Hungarian women’s ensemble Napfonat, whose previous two albums were a capella. ‘The band takes the ancient beauty of folk songs and Christmas carols and dresses them up in a new way, enriched with instruments as well, this time, which creates a truly unique atmosphere under the Christmas tree. Yeah, I know it’s a little bit late, but … Christmas carols and albums never get old.’

From the archives, Gary notes that many Child Ballads are about Robin Hood. Anaïs Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer’s Child Ballads album doesn’t contain any of them, but it’s still an excellent album, he said. ‘These are deceptively simple songs to listen to, but they are complex and difficult arrangements, which Mitchell and Hamer perform admirably. The apparently ease with which they play and sing them belies what must have been a lot of hard work, study and rehearsal.’

In addition to singing a song or two about Robin Hood, Steeleye Span had something of his outlaw spirit, Peter Massey claimed in his lengthy Career Retrospective of the band spanning 1970-2000. ‘The band’s intention was not to be a rock band, but to be traditional musicians working with electric instruments. This brought them a lot of undue criticism from the self appointed “folk police” who decided what we should hear and what we should or should not like! Thankfully the band took no notice and went on to produce some of the most innovative folk music of the century.’

Michael turned in a similarly in-depth review of the various artists’ collection titled John Barleycorn Reborn: Dark Brittanica, which includes at least one Robin song. ‘Although Venereum Arvum’s take on ‘Child 101: Willie and Earl Richard’s Daughter’ is an electronic remix of their song on disc 2, it was the “flower mix” here that made me realise that after a few listens, it’s the sort of song you feel you’ve known forever. With the birth of Robin Hood as its topic, the song’s arrangement combines male and female vocals with an appropriately ethereal backing.’

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Mia leads this review of this stellar item this way:  ‘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?’

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I think a bit of rather lively music in the form of ‘Red Barn Stomp’ to show us out this edition will do very nicely. Recorded sometime in June of 1990 in Minneapolis by the Oysterband with June Tabor joining them there as well. The lads were on tour in support of their Little Rock to Leipzig album, where you can find another version of this tune.

Ian Tefler, a band member, tells us that the name of this piece was chosen to sound trad. It features John Tefler calling the tune and very neatly incorporates the actually trad tune, ‘The Cornish Six-Hand Reel’ in it as well.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Irish coffee

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Let me tell the tale of Irish coffee while I fix you one.

It is said the very first Irish coffee was invented by Joseph Sheridan, a barkeep at an airbase located in Foynes, a small town in the West of Ireland.

The story goes that this drink was the result of  a group of American passengers back in the Forties disembarked from a Pan Am flight on a miserable evening like the one we’re having. Sheridan added a generous measure of whiskey to the coffee to warm the shivering passengers. The story since told is that one of the passengers asked if they were being served Brazilian coffee, Sheridan told them it was Irish coffee.

Now this doesn’t explain the commonly accepted Irish coffee recipe that calls for fresh brewed coffee, a tablespoon of brown sugar, a generous dollop of Irish whiskey, and a tablespoon of lightly whipped heavy cream. I always ask the drinker which way they prefer their Irish coffee as more than a few like it sans the cream and sugar. Others shudder at the idea of skipping these ingredients. It’s the punter’s choice as always, as one staffer wrote in the Pub journal one night: ‘It’s all Irish whiskey all the time for me, honestly! Irish coffee, especially, tends to be my drink of choice: there’s just something glorious about quality coffee, heavy cream, and a generous bit of sweet, golden Irish sunshine. Er, not to wax poetic or anything.’

I use a dark roast, preferably Kona if I can get it, or even Jamaican Blue Mountain when that blessed bean is available. The whiskey, Irish of course, is one of the good single malts, usually Connemara, which is a peat-smoked single-malt whiskey from the Cooley Distillery. If you insist, I’ll put sugar and cream in, but I think it’s better with just coffee and whiskey.

Here’s your Irish coffee.

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What’s New for the 7th of January: Robert Holdstock and other easonally appropriate books, jazz in winter, real and not-real beer, a poor comic book, cold weather music, and Gary’s music pics of 2023

 

If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased. ― attributed to Katharine Hepburn

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Traditional Central European and Jewish comfort foods are common here in Kinrowan Hall. Mrs. Ware, our Head Cook, says ‘It’s not the sexiest cuisine in the world, but it’s so satisfying and perfect for this time of year. When Rebekah, our Jerusalem born and raised Several Annie, decided to join our kitchen family, her knowledge of Jewish food was a decided blessing.’ And that’s how I came to be sipping on a most delightful cardamon spiced coffee along with some chocolate rugelach on this rather cold morning.

It’s not something I’d eat in hotter, more humid weather but the weather is becoming ideal for such edible delights. I’ve even been looking forward to lox, onions and cheese in scrambled eggs for breakfast – the lox is from the salmon in the river that runs through this Scottish Estate.

Meanwhile I’ve been organising the reading groups, which always gear up as the weather gets colder, with of course the usual Norse language study group, ones devoted to works by McKillip, Tolkien, Sayers, Holdstock and Wynne Jones. There  was a Harry Potter group but her transphobic remarks awhile back got her informally banned here, as our staff is definitely leftist in their political persuasion.

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Cat reviewed The Bone Forest, a story collection by Robert Holdstock that predates the tales in his beloved Ryhope Wood series. ‘ “The Bone Forest,” the title story of this collection, is the true beginning to the Ryhope Wood series, Well, sort of,’ he says. ‘Narrative cycles, be they written, spoken, or sung, by their very nature do not allow for true beginnings or ending. The tragedy that is the preordained fate of all who enter Ryhope Wood has no ending. So where does the ongoing tragedy that is these families’ entanglement with Ryhope Wood, particularly the Huxleys, start?’

He also reviewed the first two books of Holdstock’s Merlin Codex, Celtika and The Iron Grail. ‘If you have the time to read carefully, holding lots of details in your head, you’ll find much to enjoy here. This Merlin is quite unlike any other Merlin you’ll encounter, as he has a depth, a reality to him, lacking in most Merlin portrayals. Holdstock really has made Merlin his own, and Merlin as a character is much better off for it.’

Gary reviewed Craig Morrison’s Go Cat Go!, which he says is a flawed book about rockabilly music. ‘It is one of the most vibrant and durable musical styles ever to be born in America, but it’s more popular in Europe than in its homeland. It’s difficult to define, but everybody knows it when they hear it. And it wasn’t recognized as a distinct genre until after it had nearly died out and been revived.’

Jack came up with a massive omnibus review of books dealing with British folk lore, fairy tales, and legends. Of one of them by Nina Auerbach, he says, ‘Forbidden Journeys: Fairy Tales and Fantasies by Victorian Women Writers is an interesting look at how different Victorian women writers were in terms of what they created. The editors note rightfully that Victorian women were less likely to idealize childhood, as their own childhoods were often less than perfect, so their fiction tended to be much darker than that of their male counterparts.’

Jack also reviewed a big stack of books about the history and folklore surrounding our celebration of Christmas (I know, I know, but Christmas isn’t officially over until the last decorated tree comes down…). A scan of the titles reviewed include When Santa Was a Shaman, Dickens’ Christmas, All Silver and No Brass: An Irish Christmas, Christmas in Scandinavia, and, I kid you not, A Righte Merrie Christmasse!!! (Exclamation points are the publisher’s, not mine.)

Jo Morrison warns readers of weak or uncertain faith away from reading The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas, by John Matthews with contributions from Caitlin Matthews. ‘The book itself is a work of art, filled with lavish illustrations ranging from paintings you might see in an art gallery to contemporary photography, and everything in between. Divided into seven basic sections, the book discusses some of the most significant symbols of the season, one in each of the first five chapters. Starting with the current associations of these symbols, the chapters soon branch off in many directions, exploring the probable roots from which these traditions stemmed, be those roots Norse, Greek, or pagan.’

Richard also reviewed a Robert Holdstock book, an earlier work called Unknown Regions, which he gave a mixed review. ‘Even when Holdstock does stumble, as he does with Unknown Regions, he gives you something interesting. A trifle next to the Ryhope books, Unknown Regions still provides much of interest. And if it ultimately fails to satisfy, that’s in part because this reader, at least, expects such great things from each and every Holdstock novel that something that’s merely good is below the bar.’

Robert brought us a review of a fascinating book about the intertwined lives of the people and animals of Siberia: ‘In its southern reaches it was the site of one of the most significant events of animal domestication in human prehistory, and one that is little-known in the West: the domestication of the reindeer. This phenomenon, and the lives of the people who live with their herds, are the focus of Piers Vitebsky’s The Reindeer People.’

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If you’re among those attempting an alcohol-free January, Denise has a review that may be of interest: BrewDog’s Punk AF Non-alcoholic beer. ‘I have to say that Punk AF could fool a serious beer drinker if you put it in her glass and said nothing but “hey, here ya go.” This beer (beer-ish?) ain’t your momma’s O’Doul’s.’

As an antidote if one is needed. we offer Chris’s review of Garrett Oliver’s book The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food. ‘I greatly enjoyed the introduction with its overview of beer; what beer is, the basics of brewing, a view of beer and brewing through the ages and the setting forth of Oliver’s basic premise, namely that for any meal one can find appropriate beer(s) to accompany the food. I also particularly enjoyed a number of chapters in the second section dealing with specific brewing traditions (e.g., Lambic, Wheat, British). The book is well written, informative and engaging. My one negative comment is that The Brewmaster’s Table is at times a tad too earnest and dry for its own good.’

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Camille warms our wintry souls with her review a DVD of a couple of winter jazz concerts that are more than a half-century old now, Duke Ellington At The Cote D’azur With Ella Fitzgerald And Joan Miro, and Duke: The Last Jam Session. ‘… in a kind of gritty, sepia-tinted black and white, Duke Ellington’s Orchestra plays in all their sweet fullness. If you love this music, watch live footage of the stuff. Watch the facial expressions, the raw emotion, the individual responses of various members of the orchestra as they listen to their fellow musicians play. Watch Ellington pounding out on his keyboard or counting aloud to the band during such numbers as “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be” and “La Plus Belle Africaine” and the Shakespeare-inspired “Such Sweet Thunder.” All of this serves only to intensify the appreciation for this music’s complexity and virtually assures longevity in future listenings.’

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Camille was dissatisfied with DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, even though, or perhaps because, it ticked off all the necessary clichés … er, elements of a superhero comic. ‘ …[Y]ou’ve got a Multiverse on the brink of collapse. You’ve got your Villain, and your multitude of Heroes, and even your One Last Hope for Humanity. Everything is meticulously and lovingly rendered in eye-stabbing hues, from every gravity-defying globe of a breast to every pointy torpedo of another breast to every chiseled cleft and pout of heroic jaw and lip and chin. Nearly any randomly selected page opens onto at least one explosion or jagged slash of lightning; manly bulges abound, and there are plenty closeups of tears and blood coursing across agonized expressions.’

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In new music, Gary put together a review of his favorite albums of 2023. ‘My music coverage for Green Man Review focuses mainly on jazz, World roots, and Americana. And that matches the music I listen to personally as well, pretty much in that order. I’ve found that the lines between those three “genres” are pretty blurry, though, as we’ll see.’

From the Archives, Asher got a big kick out of a record called ain’t being treated right by Texas band the Burtschi Brothers. ‘This is a 16-track omnibus CD of Burtschi experience and development. Many of these songs are field-tested live performance hits like “you hold the whiskey, i’ll hold the money,” “just out of reach,” and “casting my shadow” that wowed audiences at multi-band outdoor concerts, openings for blockbuster acts, and venues frequented by cutting-edge college music devotees.’

‘It’s a great pleasure to begin the a new year with an album of Irish music that is filled with stellar arrangements, tunes and songs that don’t pop up on every second disc, fine musicianship and a one of those famous Irish tenor voices singing the traditional style,’ Kim says. What’s she so enthusiastic about? Why, Danú’s stellar album Think Before You Think.

An upbeat album that Gary likes to start the year with is by a Cape Breton Island duo, Mary Jane Lamond & Wendy MacIsaac’s Seinn – and he’s been doing so for a good 10 years now. ‘Really, there’s hardly a less-than-stellar moment on this album. Both Lamond and MacIsaac bring this music forth from deep in their souls, and they and their collaborators bring a great sense of fun and passion to it that comes across at every turn.’

Lars spent a long time listening to The Bushburys’ Trying to Catch the Sun before he felt up to reviewing it. ‘Though they are an English group you can easily detect American influences on the record. Sometimes they come close to country, sometimes the songs sound like Woody Guthrie and there are one or two songs that could easily have been written by early Paul Simon. The instrumentation varies, always with a very strong emphasis on the acoustic, including lots of acoustic guitar, some banjo, accordion and a drummer who is more of a percussionist than a drummer. But in spite of the changes you always recognize the sound as the Bushburys.’

Mike reviewed two releases by Dan Newton and his Café Accordion Orchestra, On Holiday: A Musical Cruise; and La Vie Musette. ‘Here are two CDs that had this reviewer reaching for the escargot and absinthe. The Café Accordion Orchestra has preserved a style of squeezebox playing that richly deserves remembering for its historically pervasive folk character.’

Patrick had nothing but good things to say about Nua Teorainn, a compilation of music by some of the best artists on the Green Linnet label. ‘The 15 full-length tracks on this sampler CD give a taste of each artist that leaves you hungering for more. From the commanding voice of rising star Niamh Parsons on the lovely traditional ballad “Fear a Bhata” to the mahogany-mellowed sound of veterans Kila on their avante garde “Tine Lasta,” this CD showcases some of Green Linnet’s best and brightest.’

‘The first time I became aware of The Bushwackers was over 30 years ago, when I had a telephone call from a friend who told me he was going to make a Lager-phone,’ says Peter in his review of the 30th anniversary edition of that band’s Australian Songbook. Who are the Bushwackers and what’s a Lager-phone? Read his review to find out.

Peter also reviewed The Bushwackers’ 25th Jubilee, a live recording from Australia Day 1996. ‘What a concert it must have been; the album boasts 16 tracks of the favourite songs from the band featuring their specially invited guests, some of whom have been members of the Bushwackers at some time or other over the years.’

Sean reviewed an album of excellent Irish music titled Cairde that was compiled to benefit a Dublin hospital. ‘Unlike a number of compilation albums I could name, this collection has been self selected by the musicians; consequently it does not suffer from the over commercialised complaint of many of this type that are swiftly made up from a trawl through a company back catalogue to get the most bucks for the least recording effort. What we get here is an album of 22 high quality recordings, technically excellent without the dead hand of over arrangement or the tweaking and twiddling so often meted out on “re-mastered” compos — it’s a virtual Macy’s shop window for the variety of top flight recording studios in Ireland.’

Stephen isn’t alone among Green Man reviewers who greatly enjoy the music of fiddler Bonnie Rideout. ‘Rideout’s particular forte is the performance of the slow laments and song airs which comprise the majority of the music on Scottish Reflections. Her exquisite tone and wonderfully controlled bowing (legacies of her classical training?), combined with her emotional empathy for these tunes, has resulted in some wonderful recordings.’

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What not

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Coda

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A Kinrowan Estate story: New Years Eve

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Time is never called in my recurring dream of pubs. — Ciaran Carson in Last Night’s Fun: In and Out of Time with Irish Music

It is a hundred different late evenings in the deep of a hundred different winters in a hundred different cities.

What little light we’ve had today is fading from the lowering clouds, the wind blowing ever more bitterly cold. The few birds left scavenging the sidewalks in the late afternoon gloom sound small and worried as they speak in tiny, short notes. Even fewer people, muffled and featureless in scarves pulled high and hats pulled low, move quickly through the streets on their way to somewhere warm. Everywhere there are grey shadows and deeper shadows growing together into dark. Rain and snow and sleet fall in intermittent spurts, adding a baffling reflective quality to the deepening, developing night.

Frozen moments of different winters layer themselves into the same winter, the same dark, the same gloom, the same scurry for warmer spaces, like one of those flip books with the sketches slightly off-kilter.

Inside the pubs, the bars, the common rooms, it is that same moment of afternoon moving into night, too early for just-laid fires in the clamorous grate to have any effect at all on the loneliness of the room. You’re still waiting for the space to be warmed by others like you, your footsteps clunking noisily over wooden floors with no company but the ghosts of other feet stomping over the planks. The people have not yet arrived to make the room alive, they’re heading home to get ready for the evening to come, they’re at the shops laying on provisions for dinner, they’re trapped in the Tube, the buses, in the cars, in the trains, but you can’t see them, you’re still waiting for the session to come together, the musicians still somewhere out in the cold, with only the potentiality of the session to come.

The winter solstice has come and gone, and the nights are supposedly getting shorter while the days lengthen, but the dark comes far too early for real comfort, making the days feel stunted, aborted.

You hold cold fingers out to the infant fire, to the hundreds of fires that came before and will come after, the coal, the wood, the peat, piled up in a lumpy pyramid in the grate, thin young flames licking up in quick flicks and leaps; the fireplace, the stove, the firebox actually seeming colder than before the fire was lit, in that strange, backward way of the swept fireplace and a new fire.

You tacitly volunteer to feed the new fire, adding some coal, a piece or two of peat, as the voices of the bar staff echo around the empty room as they slice the lemons, stack the glasses, and check the inventory.

Perhaps not quite empty, there’s almost always that regular who seems to magically appear without coming through any doors, sometimes more than one, sitting at the bar, lines sagging down beside his mouth, facing down a glass of amber liquid between his cupped hands, quiet words for the guy next to him or to the bartender as he clanks the bottles into place for the evening.

And in a hundred potential moments, you are dimly aware of the session gathered in the corner around the table, already playing in full spate; you’ve never heard Jim Donohue’s played that fast or that drive-y before, god that big-boned fiddler and that tall narrow piper are cranking through it, mighty and mighty again.

And in a hundred moments the musicians are still trailing into the pub, trickling in like drops of water gathering themselves into a puddle, instrument cases slung over shoulders or dangling down their backs, eyeing the spot they want to sit in, stopping off at the bar for a drink in the case of early arrivals, or coming over to put the goods down in a chair in the case of later, claiming a space for their own before stopping for their drink.

In a hundred quietened rooms, the pretty singer the men have been eyeing all evening has been called on for a song, and she sways as she sings of the wee girl with a dark and roving eye and bad company and love betrayed and love found and wars fought and won and lost, young men dying for love or war or the right or the wrong or for nothing at all, and maids with agricultural jobs and love on their minds losing garters to soldiers, to craftsmen, to shepherds, in unlikely circumstance; and for a hundred potential moments it’s all true and as likely as anything else that happens to anyone.

A hundred moments flash over and under each other, shifting without even the blink of an eye, and you choose the one you want and move into the moment, the space, the place where you need to be.

And, in this moment and in this time, there you are, here along with us.

And the fire leaps and crackles, as we play the tunes in the warm and crowded room, as the music shifts from reel to jig to reel to polka, from good to wreckingly horrible to brilliant, from the hotshots to the beginners to the lot of us. We toast to the new year and the cycles that bring us together and tear us apart, and to the publican and to each other, here in a hundred moments at the Neverending Session, at the Pub on the Edge, the Green Man Pub under Reynard’s watchful eye, in the kitchens of the Green Man’s building, in corners of hallways, as we launch into another set of tunes.

Outside, the night is black and unbelievably cold, the wind biting at noses and fingers, and Samhain’s ever-present ravens are croaking as they huddle under dripping, icy trees. Inside, at this moment and in this time, we are together, and warm, and happy (or, at the very least, content as only someone forgetting unhappiness for the space of a night can be).

Best wishes to you in the New Year. May it bring you peace and warmth and happiness and music. Stay with us a while.

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What’s New for the 24th of December: The Heist; Seasonal music and books; The Polar Express; winter ales; and Christmas Revels

Wassail! wassail! all over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink unto thee.

First stanza of the ‘Gloucestershire Wassail’
carol, which dates back to the Middle Ages

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If Reynard didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him. So said Iain while enjoying a rather spectacular Boxing Day Stout. He went to say that ‘He’s a singular force, and we’re lucky to have him. He showed up here at Christmas time with a travelling kit and pulled a concertina from that bag and started playing. Bloody good he was.’

What endeared him was not his music but that he noticed we were decidedly short-handed behind the bar and said he had more than a bit of experience tending bar. So the staff said ‘Sure, come help us.’ He worked ten hours from early evening to the wee hours. Smiling, not looking harried and pleasant as well. Made sure everyone was treated right too, a neat ability as we were slammed by having a wedding that afternoon.

Our Pub Manager at the time was from the Border area that Reynard was from and it turned out that they had friends in common, so she hired him on the spot: he’s worked his way up over the past thirty years to Pub Manager. Now we think that he’s in his Fifties, and has been married to Ingrid, our Estonian born Estate Steward, for a decade now. He’d worked at a few Pubs previously, largely those being owned by friends but admitted that he spent more time observing how a good Pub worked than actually working in them.

Good bloke to have here.

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Just three book reviews this time, all of seasonal works. Oh, but what works they are!

Let’s start off with a look at Charles de Lint’s Newford Stories: The Crow Girls. Of all the immortal shapeshifting being that inhabit the Newford stories, the most charming at least for me are Maida and Zia, the two crow girls, who look like pinkish teenagers all in black naturally. After you read Cat’s review, you can experience them first hand in A Crow Girls Christmas written by (obviously) Charles de Lint and charmingly illustrated by his wife, MaryAnn Harris.

Grey says ‘When I was a teenager I often repeated these lines to myself as a kind of charm. It wasn’t that I expected them to make something happen; the words were a “happening” in and of themselves, and just saying them put me into the middle of it. They were a door into Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising cycle, one of the most compelling stories I had ever read. The story compels me to this day, and I continue to re-read it every few years.’

Jo has this review she wrote for Folk Tales, the predecessor of GMR a very long time ago: ‘Folk legend merges with Jane Yolen’s creative world to create a work of pure magic in The Wild Hunt, which should be destined to become a classic in the world of children’s literature. Pitting the forces of light and dark against one another is a common theme, but it is rare for those forces to acknowledge the other as essential to their own existence, as done in this delightful tale. Yolen’s use of time and words have woven a masterpiece from the ancient threads of an old tale together with the modern threads of something totally new and different. The resulting tapestry is beautiful to behold.’

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It’s no secret that Denise adores dark beers. And while the warmer months may make the body happy, her taste-buds sneer at all the light beers those months have on offer. So when things start to get cool, she starts to anticipate all the porters, stouts, Scotch ales, and holiday selections brew masters inevitably hold for the chillier parts of the year.

This year, as Yule approaches and thoughts turn to fireplaces and friends, why not take a peek at her thoughts on few of this season’s offerings? There’s Egg Nog Ale and Holiday Milk Stout from Flying Dog Brewery, and Shiner’s Texas Warmer for folks who are more worried about sixty degree temps rather than minus sixteen.

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Richard looks at what is a now a best beloved film for many here: ‘For those who haven’t seen the filmed version of the play (and shame on you if you haven’t, stop reading right now and go watch the bloody thing), The Lion In Winter details one rather dysfunctional family’s Christmas gathering in France. Of course, the family is that of Henry II of England (including Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionhearted and the future King John, among others); the invited guest is Philip Capet of France, and the holiday gathering takes place at Henry’s castle of Chinon.’

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Christopher has, though it’s no surprise, a glowing review of a beloved holiday favorite. ‘Perhaps it’s the season, or the utter magic of Van Allsburg’s talents, whatever the reasons, the Twentieth Anniversary Edition of The Polar Express appears luxurious and incandescent.’

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In new music, Gary turned in a year-end omnibus review of some very good World Roots releases from Spain, Scandinavia, and South America that came out in the past few weeks. This worthy crop of music includes Sigrid Moldestad’s Breim, Alba Careta and Henrio’s Càntut, Johanna Juhola’s A Brighter Future, Madera Viva Trío’s Senderos, and Los Ruphay’s The Three Seasons Of The Andes.

Gary also covered a new release by the electro-acoustic Norwegian duo Njaalos Ljom titled simply 2. Traditional music played on acoustic instruments with elements of electronics and noise is one of my sweet spots, and Naaljos Ljom hits the bullseye with 2. It honors the old tunes that express the soul of certain parts of Norway going back a century or more, and brings them to a modern audience in a package that they may find more familiar and appealing than the old scratchy archival recordings. In that way, they’re definitely taking part in the age old folk process.

From the archives, Chuck reviewed a Celtic-flavoured CD of winter music: ‘On Midwinter Night’s Dream, Boys of the Lough include Aly Bain (fiddle), Cathal McConnell (flute, whistles, song), Dave Richardson (concertina, mandolin, cittern, accordion), and Christy O’Leary (uilleann pipes, whistles, song). They call on Christmas and winter traditions of Ireland, Scotland, Shetland, and Sweden to put together a fine CD.

As a listening treat, Gary brought us a video from the first pandemic Christmas, in 2020. Frode Haltli and his Avant Folk ensemble, joined by singer Helga Myhr, gathered (with social distancing) to record “St. Morten,” a traditional Norwegian version of “The Twelve Days Of Christmas,” in a little church near Haltli’s home in Svartskog. We wouldn’t mind if this became regular holiday listening.

Jayme was fascinated but not entirely won over by an esoteric recording, Donal Hinely’s Midwinter Carols: Fourteen Selections on Glass Harmonica. ‘This is, I would say, the perfect CD to have playing in the background during a Christmas party or holiday gathering. It’s unpretentious and familiar on some deep level, but the look of fascinated confusion on listeners’ faces once they realize they’re listening to something unworldly may turn out to be the real treat for the host.’

Kim lovingly reviewed some of her personal favorite holiday CDs including Ensemble Galilei’s A Winter’s Night: Christmas in the Great Hall; St. Agnes Fountain’s Acoustic Carols for Christmas, and Comfort & Joy; various artists’ Oh Christmas Tree: A Bluegrass Collection for the Holidays. ‘My personal holiday tastes run to the traditional and instumental, and I prefer those that refer to the religious or seasonal aspects of the seasons; I loathe those lounge singer holiday albums that go on about Santa bringing diamonds, or snowmen officiating weddings. Give me a holiday album that doesn’t pander to the frenzy, something soothing and instrumental, I say.’

Peter found plenty of good music in Broceliande’s album Sir Christèmas. ‘For me, a Christian living in the Northern Hemisphere, it is a time of the year pervaded with a feeling of good will to all men and which brightens up your spirits, in an otherwise cold and dreary winter. Broceliande are four people from California, (where Christmas can be a little bit warmer) but they have chosen songs, carols and tunes from England, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany and America.’

‘Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 8 (The “Christmas” Concerto) has long been one of my favorite baroque works,’ Robert said in his review of this work and Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons on a disc by an ensemble known as Red Priest. Of the Christmas Concerto, he says, ‘In places the music registers so much differently than what I’ve been used to that it took me a moment to realize that this delightful piece of music was indeed the old warhorse I’ve loved all these years.’

Robert also wrote about a brief song by Claude Debussy that, sadly, is all too appropriate for these times, more than 100 years after he wrote it: “Noel des Enfants Qui N’ont Plus De Maisons” (“Christmas Carol for Homeless Children“) on soprano Carmen Balthrop’s CD The Art of Christmas, Vol. 1. ‘It’s a strange, disturbing (and possibly disturbed) thing — Debussy wrote it in 1915 during World War I as a plea for vengeance, a prayer from the French children that the Germans should have no Christmas.’

Scott had mixed feelings about Enya’s And Winter Came…, which he said mostly has little to distinguish it from the singer’s other albums. ‘On And Winter Came… the two standout songs are “Trains and Winter Rains” (the leadoff single) and “My! My! Time Flies!” The latter song features the album’s one guest performer, guitarist Pat Farrell, and has an uncharacteristically lively tempo with quirky lyrics making reference to people as diverse as Isaac Newton and The Beatles. It’s a rare example of Enya letting her guard down a bit and audibly having fun with a particular song, and she should do songs like it more often.’

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I know that theThe Winter Solstice just passed, but let’s still have our annual story about that sacred event, Jennifer Stevenson’s ‘Solstice’ about a small-time rocker — well, listen to it as told by the author to find out what happens to her on that night, or if you prefer to read it, you can do so here.

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Our coda isn’t a musical selection this time. Up to her passing a decade or so back from cancer, Vonnie was a frequent attendee of the Christmas Revels at the Sanders Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Here’s her lead in to the one she saw fifteen years ago: ‘The Christmas Revels is a special event, an annual tradition on par with performances of the Nutcracker, only tailored to lovers of folk traditions. After 42 years, it has accreted tradition of its own, which helps audience members to feel like part of the holiday community — which is the point of the Revels. The culture on which the performance focuses changes from year to year but the basic shape of the performance — and its professionalism — remains constant.’

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A Kinriowan Estate story: A Package from Budapest

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Nicholas Winter, the Global News Service correspondent who’s a friend of many folks here, just sent Bela and others lovers of Hungarian food a very tasty shipment of food and spirits from Budapest! The lucky soul got to spend December in that city which really knows hope to celebrate the season in good fashion.

In his letter with this shipment which I’ll detail shortly, he noted that he hadn’t been there for the Christmas season since the Wall came down and it’s certainly been an amazing recovery for that city from the dark days of Communist Party rule. He was there to review, among other things, the Budapest concert by Chasing Fireflies, a band that includes small piper Finn, my wife Ingrid on violin, and, in her first professional concert, violinist Svetlana, Ingrid’s sister from the Ukraine who’s now resident here.

(There was a small group of us from the Kinrowan Estate who went over for a week after Christmas as that’s actually the best time as the tourists are gone. my wife Catherine speaks Hungarian as she did her postgrad work in music history here. And that’s very handy there.)

I suspect my wife helped in choosing the contents as she’s the expert at finding the best of anything wanted. Winter’s admitted to me that shopping is not his favourite thing to do, but he’ll happily tag along and pick up the tab if someone else is doing the decision making. It’s a good thing that his bank account is flush.

There was a case of properly aged barack palinka, the apricot brandy every Hungarian loves; lots of lekvar, a preserve made of plums; smoked garlic infused Kolbasz sausage; several rashers of Kolozsvari bacon; large strings of dried whole paprika peppers; Egri Bikaver, a full bodied red wine; and even Csokoldetorta, a chocolate cake favoured in this season.

There was enoughszaloncukor chocolate to decorate the fir tree in the Great Hall in traditional Hungarian style and have enough left over to enjoy.

There was, for the Estate knitters, wool from the Hungarian Racka sheep, both white and black. Of course it was fleeces as its best prepared by those who would be knitting with it. The shouts of joy from them were indeed enough to me me smile.

Now you and I should make our way quickly down to the kitchen for afternoon tea. There’s fresh baked turos lepeny (Hungarian yeast bread with cheese topping) out of the brick ovens Which hoes well withe lekvar.

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