Welcome to GMR

If you haven’t encountered us before, read on; otherwise skip to the fortnightly edition which is up every other Sunday morning and which alternates with a Story on the other Sunday morning.

Everything that interests us as a diverse group of individuals will get attention here, be it Rock and RollIrish music, Nordic live music, a  jazz or classical recording, tarot decks,  Folkmanis puppetsmanor house mysteries and science fiction novels, action figures such as that of Spider-Man, the new Doctor Who series, fiction inspired by folklore, sf filmsegg nog recipes,  ymmmy street foodchocolatewhisky and cookbooks

Stories about the Kinrowan Estate will show up every Wednesday, be it Gus the Estate Head Gardener talking about pumpkins; Reynard, our Manager of the Green Man Pub located in Kinrowan Hall, sharing stories; Zina on the Neverending Session and Midsummer as well; or even Iain, our Librarian, talking about life there such as the Several Annies, his Library Apprentices. You’ll see material from The Sleeping Hedgehog, the in-house newsletter for our staff, such as Lady Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Estate Gardener here in the Victorian Era, on a tree spirit. You might even meet Hamish, one of the current hedgehogs living in the Library who sleep the Winter away in a basket near the fireplace in the New Library. And you’ll also get to hear music here every week such as Michele Walther and Irina Behrendt playing Aaron Copland’s ‘Hoe Down’  from his Rodeo album.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Dolmens

Green Leaves
I was passing by the Robert Graves Memorial Reading Room when Iain was lecturing the Several Annies on a subject that was dear to his heart:  ‘There are a number of  dolmens — ceremonial standing stones — scattered about the Kinrowan Estate. And these are not Victorian follies built to look like the real things, but are all very real dolmens situated where a number of ley lines come together, forming a nexus of supernatural energy.’

He went on to say that ‘The Victorian follies were new constructs, dolmens and water wheels to use two examples, made to look very old. So the water wheel would be broken, or the dolmens falling down. I think there were Greco-Roman temples built on some of the Estates. Fortunately it was something the prim and proper Edwardians disdained, so it ended as fast as it began.’

A Several Annie asked a question: ‘Do we know the purpose of the dolmens?’ Iain said, ‘No, not really. They’re far too old to have either oral or written histories that could be considered reliable. Sacrificial sites to whatever bloody gods the culture believed in is entirely possible, given many dolmens have a flat centre stone in them. Leyden’s ‘Ballad of Lord Soulis’ describes one such sacrifice at Skelf Hill — it was a horrid affair by any standards!’

I asked from the doorway where I was listening in, ‘So were the ley lines there before the dolmens were constructed? Or did the sacrifices bend them to where the dolmens had been raised?’ Iain looked at me and said, ‘Absolutely no idea. Archaeologists admit they have not a clue, though lots of New Agers think they know. Me, I know that those here on the Estate who’ve The Sight, including myself, know that some of them are safe to be around and some of them feel bad.’

He went on to say, ‘If you’re uncertain ask me, Tamsin, or Finch, as we can advise you. And never visit any of them without taking one of the Russian Wolfhounds with you as they’ll give you warning if a safe dolmen has changed its nature, as they ofttimes do. Someday I’ll tell you the story of Bloody Bones, who appeared as a shade out of one of the dolmens that had been quiet for years…’

With that, he broke off the lesson as it was afternoon tea time.

Oh, and here’s the tale in ballad form as recounted in Albion: A Guide to Legendary Britain.

In a circle of stones they placed the pot,
In a circle of stones, but barely nine
They heated it red and fiery hot
‘Till the burnished brass did glimmer and shine.

They rolled him up in a sheet of lead
A sheet of lead for a funeral pall.
They plunged him in the cauldron red,
Melted him, lead and bones and all.

At the Skelf Hill the cauldron still
The men of Liddesdale can show
And on the spot where they placed the pot
The grasses they will never grow.

Green Leaves

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What’s New for the 30th of May: Simon R. Green and Elizabeth Bear, Naomi Kritzer’s and Everina Maxwell’s full-length debuts; faux-Italian SF and revived pulp fiction; Brian Wilson tribute and food and footie on film; fantasy jazz, lo-fi country, Väsen from the archves; lots of chocolate, and more;

Having access to knowledge didn’t always mean understanding things. I do not entirely understand people. ― CheshireCat the AI in Naomi Kritzer’s Catfishing on CatNet
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Just what the Internet needs: more cat pictures. Lots more. Or at least that’s what I’m getting from reading Naomi Kritzer’s Hugo Award winning “Cat Pictures Please” short story in her Hugo Award winning short story collection Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories which she later riffed off in her novels, Catfishing on CatNet (see our review below) and the just published Chaos on CatNet. Highly recommended.

Of course I’m playing music as I read this afternoon and I like string quartets quite a bit, be they playing compositions written in the present day such as the music of the Methera Quartet or groups such as Les Witches whose usual fare is the likes of John Playford, a composer active in the early Seventeenth Century.

The latter’s what I’m playing as I’ve got the Library to myself this afternoon as the warm weather has Gus, our Estate Gardener and Groundskeeper, using many of the Estate staff as possible including my Several Annies out helping him with needed work. So I’m now drinking masala tea with a splash of cream and writing up this Edition for you…

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Simon R. Green’s The Dark Side of The Road was another fine outing according to Cat: ‘The story here of Ishmael Jones, the not human Very Secret Agent Solves Weird Problems is a bit science fiction, and with more than a dash of horror, and a lot of fantasy. And it’s a mystery as well though I don’t think that it’s really possible for the reader to solve the question of who the murderer is as Green doesn’t really play fair on the matter. Let’s just say that it’s a lot of fun and the first person narrative by Jones being highly entertaining, with the tone here similar in tone to his Ghost Finders series which I liked a lot.’

Chuck notes that ‘I figure this much: Ian McDonald’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.’

Gary reviews Machine, the second installment in Elizabeth Bear’s White Space series. This one features a doctor and rescue specialist named Brookllyn Jens, known as Llyn. ‘The story of Machine is several things — including murder mystery, police procedural, and utopian/dystopian novel – wrapped up in a space opera. Bear also is using sizable chunks of this book to continue to build her universe and the Synarche, explaining how they work and why. Core General is a big part of that; it’s a huge multi-species Clarkean ring of a habitat-hospital in the crowded region of the Galactic Core to which Llyn is highly devoted.’

Kit has a look at a book that has been praised widely: ‘Naomi Kritzer’s Catfishing on CatNet is one of those really kind, sweet, human novels where everyone except the villain is doing their best. They make mistakes — “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” could be this book’s subtitle — but they’re all trying.’

Matthew looks at a Kage Baker venture into children’s fiction: ‘In comparison to her other works,’ says he, ‘I would consider The Hotel under the Sand to be one of Kage Baker’s lesser works, but it is still highly enjoyable.’

Richard looks at an Ian MacDonald novel that is set in the same reality 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.’

Robert brings us a collaboration that he could hardly wait to open: ‘In my view, a new novel by Steven Brust is something to be eagerly awaited. And when he collaborates with another writer, the results can be both unexpected and very rewarding. And so, I opened The Incrementalists with a large measure of anticipation.’

And there’s more: ‘Call it “slipstream”: it’s not exactly science fiction, although it could be; nor is it fantasy, although it has elements of that, in the gritty, contemporary, urban vein; and anything it takes from mainstream fiction is more from the realm of Pynchon than Hemingway. I’m referring, of course, to The Skill of Our Hands, the sequel to The Incrementalists from Steven Brust and Skyler White.’

Warner has a romance to start off his reviews: ‘Everina Maxwell’s Winter’s Orbit is a brilliant piece of writing. It features a well thought out world, compelling characters, and enjoyable romance, all fitted surprisingly comfortably into less than 450 pages. It is highly recommended, and Everina Maxwell is an author to watch out for; this first novel is a good running start.’

He next has an interesting SF book for us: ‘Bruce Sterling’s Robot Artists & Black Swans represents a fascinating concept. A set of science fiction stories told by a fictional Italian author from an Italian point of view. Coming from a classic master of cyberpunk, such a collection is bound to be of interest, and the variety of stories range from the near future sci-fi to fantasy in the distant past.’

He has a pulp mystery for us: ‘Donald E. Westlake’s Castle In the Air is another example of Hard Case Crime bringing relatively forgotten volumes back into print. Castle In the Air is a technically accurately titled book, and an intriguing example of the heist novel as well.’

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April classifies her chocolate cravings in her look at three Amano Artisan Chocolate bars: ‘I can only speak for myself as a chocolate addict, but I loosely categorize chocolate into three general categories: cheap chocolate to be scarfed as needed, mid-grade chocolate that’s to be enjoyed more slowly . . . and then there’s the really good stuff, chocolate to be savored and hoarded and mourned when it is gone. My guilty pleasure, Reese’s, falls into the first category. Ritter Sport, Godiva and Ghirardelli fall into the second. And the third … well, it’s sparsely populated, but now includes, courtesy of Green Man Review, Amano dark chocolate bars.’

This edition, Denise digs into Lily’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups – 70% Cocoa, and seems to like what she’s found. ‘…this is about as guilt-free as you can get when you’re digging into a cheat day treat. Or an “I deserve this” treat. Or a “screw it I’m doing this” treat. You get the idea.’

Newman’s Own Organic Chocolates gets a review by Michael: ‘I find myself sitting and surveying some empty chocolate wrappers. Three of them, in fact; the product of Newman’s Own Organics. I’m not sure if these are available in my home country of Australia generally, as a view of their Web site seems to only show stock lists in the US and Canada. I’ve been well aware of Newman’s range of pasta sauces and the like for many years though, along with their reputation for quality. Of course, it is Paul Newman and family who were the instigators of the various food lines, though now the products are credited to “the second generation”.’

Robert has a very tasty chocolate bar for us to contemplate consuming: ‘The latest example of their craft to cross my desk is their “Intense Dark Sea Salt Soiree.” It comes in a flat 3.5 oz (100g) bar divided into large squares. It also contains roasted almond bits (which has become a cliche in my estimation).’ Read his tasty review here.

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David had mixed feelings about a DVD presentation called MusiCares Presents: A Tribute to Brian Wilson. ‘Just before the 2005 Grammy Awards a “star-studded gala took place in Los Angeles.” It was the MusiCares 2005 Person of the Year Awards, and the winner was Brian Wilson. Beach Boy extraordinaire, composer of the surf and hot-rod songs of my youth, and the “teenage symphony to God” that is Smile.’

Remember the food-and-football coming of age film Bend It Like Beckham? Nathan does. ‘Jes comes across as a girl who doesn’t want to reject her family or show disrespect for her culture, but is also desperate to pursue her own dreams. How this is resolved is a story of Indian cooking, cultural absurdity, family love, and an abiding desire to play what the English call “the beautiful game,” all done without ever becoming preachy or saccharine sweet.

Green LeavesGary says the webcomic ‘Questionable Content is a “slice of life” comic set in an alternate universe that’s very much like ours except the AI Singularity has already taken place.’ The characters, mostly twenty-somethings in a fictionalized Northampton, Mass., interact with AI characters who are also learning to navigate life within human society. ‘Be warned, it is R rated. What’d you expect with a name like that? Jacques is a very humorous writer but also politically and socially progressive and deeply compassionate, and it’s reflected in his characters and story lines.’

Green Leaves‘Let’s get this straight right off the top. John Mayall has long been a problematic artist for me,’ David says. What brought this up? Well, he reviewed a couple of archival releases by Mayall, The Masters and Live at the Marquee 1969. So what did he think of these particular albums? Read his review and see.

‘Rolling Stones! What the heck are the Rolling Stones doing in Green Man Review!?!?’ So says David in this archival review of something called Forty Licks. ‘In fact Forty Licks is a two disc best-of set that was probably designed around a boardroom table by cigar smoking lawyers seeking to make a quick few million bucks on a Christmas release, the same way The Beatles 1 had done the previous year. The thing is, they got it right for a change!’

‘Okay, I’m in love. Electric sitar! Bliss!’ says Deborah of one of her favorite musical discoveries, The StrangelingsSeason of the Witch. ‘Subtle touches, gorgeously layered vocals, a flying fiddle and wonderful musicians all the way round put this one into my heavy rotation.’

Music and fantasy cross paths in a new jazz release, Gary says. ‘Perhaps it was because I’d been editing some old GMR reviews of fantasy books by the likes of Kage Baker, Neil Gaiman, and Charles deLint, but I got a spooky sense of living oak trees dancing under a moonless sky when I first heard “Oak” as I was listening to Jason Branscum’s Beyond The Walls Of The World. It’s the kind of serendipity that adds enjoyment to both literature and music when they complement each other that way, and it happens more often than you might think.’

The Canadian indie folk group The Deep Dark Woods has a new album called Changing Faces, which Gary reviews approvingly. He says ‘[singer and songwriter Ryan] Boldt’s biggest accomplishment on Changing Faces may be the way he moves and shifts through styles including doo-wop, Celtic folk, Appalachian folk and more, while maintaining a continuity of sound and feel throughout. And that sound and feel is a folk version of the old “wall of sound” technique, this one made of layers of guitars, keyboards, percussion a string quartet and even some horns.’

For something a little different, Gary reports on The Marfa Tapes, a new CD of songs recorded in an informal setting in Marfa, Texas, by country music veterans (and good friends) Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert and Jon Randall. ‘Low fidelity rules the day, and highly emotional ballads rub up against heavenly harmonies and hijinks around the campfire.’

Michael raves (a bit) about a sprawling set of “Dark Brittanica” called John Barleycorn Reborn: ‘Brought to you by the people at the legal folk download service Woven Wheat Whispers, John Barleycorn Reborn‘s remit of dark traditional and tradition-based British music does not necessarily focus on negativity and gloom as the wording might suggest. It is more an exploration of the less “pretty” side of the genre, with no attempts at expurgation and a freedom for the musicians to express that side of the music and themselves. As a result, the set contains a great variety of arrangements from acoustic to folk rock to electronica and beyond, and a combination of ancient and newly written material that fits together easily.’

Just about everybody here at Green Man Review is a fan of the Swedish folk band Väsen. From the archives, here are some of the things we’ve published about this superb ensemble:

April starts us off with Väsen’s 1999 disc Gront. ‘Many of the tunes on Gront are a wild, wonderful ride. Not because they’re played fast and furious, but because of the many mood and tempo changes which the band springs on their unwary listeners.’

Barb reviewed Väsen’s Trio, and seems to have liked it a lot. ‘All of the cuts on this CD are wonderful. Just when I think I have a favorite, I change my mind. Each of the musicians contributes original material and there are two traditional pieces that round it out.’

After Väsen performed at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, in 2002 Barb noted: ‘These three musicians have obviously been playing together for a long time. They have that unspoken musical understanding that allows them to move through the music seemingly with little effort while at the same time expressing huge amounts of emotion. And their sense of humor put the audience at ease immediately – they are very funny fellows, especially when it comes to explaining to Americans the Swedish obsession with polskas … ‘

Barb also reviewed Keyed Up and attended a show on their 2004 tour behind that recording, this time in Portland, Maine. ‘This performance was toward the end of their very busy two weeks in the states, but you wouldn’t have guessed that they were operating on little sleep and lots of travel time. These men love what they do and they do it so well.’

A concept album by a Swedish instrumental folk group? That’s what Cat says their 2007 release Linnaeus Väsen is ‘The concept for this CD is centered around the renowned 18th century Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, the founder of the system of scientific nomenclature used in modern biology. Described by biographers as having no ear at all for music even though he came from a family of musicians, Linnaeus was, though not a musician, a rather good dancer of polskas. It is worth stressing that the majority of the tunes performed here have at least a minor connection to him. Would he recognize these tunes? Most likely. Indeed “Carl Linnaeus Polonaise” which leads off the album was composed for him by his brother-in-law, Gabriel Höök.’

Gary reports on a CD/DVD set from Väsen, Live på Gamla Bion. ‘In a rarity for me, I actually prefer the DVD version of this concert program. The concert footage is nicely shot, using good angles and paying attention to the performers’ faces and bodies as well as their instruments.’

Finally (for now), Scott reviews two related discs, Väsen’s Väsen Street, and Mikael Marin and Mia Gustafsson’s Mot Hagsätra. Of Väsen Street, he says, ‘On Väsen Street, Väsen provide the usual assortment of self-composed and traditional polskas, schottishes, and waltzes. The schottishes – bouncy tunes in 3/4 or 2/4 time – get a bit more emphasis than usual, and “Garageschottis” is my favorite track on the CD. And he notes that Mot Hagsätra by the married duo of Marin and Gustafsson is more traditional than the usual Väsen program. ‘Fans of Väsen who are in the mood for something with a more purely traditional feel will like this recording a lot.’

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Our What Not this week is another adventure at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, courtesy of Robert — and it’s a real adventure: ‘We tend to think of museums as places that display artifacts, sometimes on the walls, sometimes in cases, with descriptions of varying degrees of completeness on labels next to the objects. That is also true to a large extent of the Field Museum, although if you’ve read previous entries on the Museum, you know that’s not always the case. The Field Museum has gone beyond being a repository of objects, however, as evidenced by the exhibition “Restoring Earth”.’

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So I’ve got some music for you that I think fits pretty much any season. It’s Michele Walther and Irina Behrendt playing Aaron Copland’s ‘Hoe Down’from Rodeo from his Rodeo album. I sourced it off a Smithsonian Institution music archive which has no details where or when it was recorded which surprised me given how good they usually are at such things.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: I’m the Estate Gardener

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Though I’m called the Estate Gardener, my job covers far more than that, as it’s been enlarged many times over the centuries. So let me detail what I do.

Of course I’m responsible for both the edible gardening and the ornamental landscaping we do here. Given the size of the Estate staff, the events we host and the bartering we do with our farms, we’ve many, many acres under production, all organic.

We have extensive livestock — bees, poultry (chickens, ducks and geese), pigs, and sheep. To keep the sheep safe, we have Russian wolfhounds — I dare any predator to tangle with them! Most of that work is done by my staff but I reserve the beekeeping for me as I love working with them.

Though we no longer heat the buildings with wood, we do have enough usage (kitchen, library, saunas, smoking bacon, et al.) that we burn twenty cords a year. That means we need to keep the acreage devoted to harvesting maintained. Much of that work gets done in the winter, a quiet time for pretty much all of the other outside work. Oh, and we have horses for harvesting work now.

We also maintain the pathways here, none of which are paved. We use stone, crushed stone and granite dust. Likewise we need to keep the paths through the woods safe by removing unsafe trees and limbs as quickly as we can.

We do all of the infrastructure work from the yurts to the massive Estate building by hiring extra staff that lives here all summer in a group of yurts we set aside for them. That frees us up to do everything else that needs doing.

There’s other stuff, such as maintaining the solar power setup and the low head hydro, the salmon spawning pools, and numerous other tasks.

It’s hard work, often with very long hours, but I (mostly) enjoy it.

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What’s New for the 16th of May: Space opera from Elizabeth Bear, Kage Baker’s last Company novel; lots of dark and milk chocolate, music from South Africa, Mali, China and Canada; Two Fat Ladies on DVD, and more

People need belief systems, Barnaby. Druidism is as good as any.― Caradoc Singer to Dectective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby in Midsomer Murder’s “The Sleeper Under The Hill”

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The Kitchen here at the Kinrowan Estate decided to make Eggs in Purgatory this morning which is baked eggs full of leftover finely diced ciabatta along with smoked sausage, onions, peppers, and two different cheeses, cheddar and mozzarella. They were baked in individual casserole dishes as that makes them easier to serve. They were serve up with fried turmeric spiced potatoes and lots of masala tea. Most delicious!

I’ve been reading the first in Simon R. Green’s latest series, The Best Thing You Can Steal. The character there is Gideon Sable, a master thief who steals magical items. It’s set in London, Green’s favorite setting. It doesn’t appear to overlap with his other series from what I’ve read so far, but I’d bet it does. Green’s ended several of his long-running series as of late, so it’s nice to see that he’s starting up some new series.

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Cat starts off our book reviews with a look at Charles Stross’ The Halting State, which he says ‘is the best near future thriller I’ve read since first encountering John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider nearly thirty years ago. Indeed I’m quite surprised that it’s being marketed as sf genre fiction and not as a mainstream novel! Like Brunner’s novel, The Halting State is a clear and logical extrapolation of current technology pushed a mere decade into the future. And like Brunner’s novel (which deserves to be read by anyone who cares about what technology can do to a society), Stross’ novel presents a society both like and quite unlike our own.’

Gary takes a deep dive into Ancestral Night, the first volume in Elizabeth Bear’s White Space series. ‘I love a good space opera and Ancestral Night is a very good one. Bear mentions both C.J. Cherryh and Iain Banks in her Acknowledgments, and I definitely see traces of both those space opera forbears in this book’s themes and accoutrements.’

For a change of pace, Gary looks at a book that has a murder mystery, some folk music lore, some Irish history and more: ‘ “Star of the Sea” is the ironic name of a leaking, creaking hulk of a ship that is making its last crossing of the Atlantic, with a handful of first-class passengers and a belly full of the dregs of Europe, destitute Irish people fleeing the horrors of famine.’ For a change of pace,

Gary also reviews Molly Gloss’s Wild Life, a re-examination of the Sasquatch myth with a healthy dose of Western history thrown in. ‘The book adds up to a lively portrait of life in the Pacific Northwest 100 years ago; an exploration of the differences and similarities between “civilized” men, “savages,” and “lesser” animals; and a thoughtful meditation on the relationships between art, dreams and insanity.’

Gili is a self-professed ‘Oz freak’. So what did she think of Gregory Maguire’s Son of a Witch, the sequel to his very popular book Wicked, which spawned a popular Broadway show? ‘Like its prequel, Son of a Witch abounds with atrocities, brutality and betrayal, with a good dash of the simply gruesome. But whereas the main theme of Wicked was righteousness and hypocrisy, Son of a Witch seems more concerned with fallibility as a universal and humanizing trait.’ Read her full review to find out what she really thought!

Matthew reviews Kage Baker’s Not Less Than Gods, her last Company novel which Kathleen, her sister, told Cat that apparently only she and Kage liked. (Cat says he liked it too.) Matthew says of this novel that ‘Ultimately, this is not going to be considered one of Kage’s strongest works. For someone who is a Company junkie, it is a nice installment, but the newcomer would not understand the novel’s position in the entire series. A lot of “inside” knowledge is required to more fully appreciate the novel.’

Mike got hold of a copy of her Thirteen Orphans, the first book in Lindskold’s ambitious urban fantasy series Breaking the Wall, which is, he says, ‘one of the best things I’ve seen from her in quite a while. Drawing from Chinese history, mythology, and astrology, she’s created a fascinating new setting, one that straddles two very different worlds.’ Jane Lindskold is an author who has done some adventurous things with urban fantasy.

He also had a copy of the next book in the series, Nine Gates: ‘Nine Gates is a wonderfully-told story, using the mythic resonance of the Chinese Zodiac along with elements of history, gamescraft and magical theory to build a world almost entirely divorced from the European traditions that make up so much of urban fantasy. It’s new and different, but not enough to create culture shock.’

Richard has a marvellous treat for all of us: ‘Seven Wild Sisters, a collaboration between Charles de Lint and Charles Vess, holds no surprises, and that’s a very good thing. The companion-cum-sequel to their earlier collaboration The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, the book delivers exactly what it promises: Gorgeous illustration and an encounter with the otherworld that’s ultimately more about wonder than it is about peril.’

Happily, Robert had a copy of the third (and final) novel in the Lindskold series that Matthew looked at above, Five Odd Honors: ‘Five Odd Honors continues the story begun in Thirteen Orphans and Nine Gates, leading the Orphans and their allies back to the Lands of Smoke and Sacrifice from which they were exiled years before. . . . The group decides on reconnaissance as the first necessity, but the scouting party runs into Lands bizarrely changed by a ruthless emperor determined to remake the Lands according to his own somewhat rigid and limited sense of what should be. (Yes, one can read a political subtext into this, if one wishes.)’

While poking around in the back reaches of the Library, Robert ran across an old favorite, Roger Zelazny’s collection The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth and Other Stories: ‘Although he published his first story in the early 1950s, Roger Zelazny didn’t really impact the science fiction scene until 1963. That’s when I remember reading “A Rose for Eccelsiastes” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (with their best cover ever illustrating Zelazny’s story). He followed it up the next year with the title story of this collection, which won him his first Nebula award. Zelazny and his contemporaries went on to become the American branch of science fiction’s New Wave, and pushed the envelope until it was altered beyond recognition.’

Vonnie looks at a novel by Patricia Mckillip, a favourite writer around here: ‘McKillip uses the sea in many of her books, but in Something Rich and Strange the sea is not only the setting and a metaphor for mystery and magic and change — the sea is the subject. The book begins with protagonists Megan and Jonah (how is that for an apropos name?) experiencing a sea change after a long winter during which their lives had settled into a routine dependent on the shore. But the sea brings ambiguity, too. Just as the sea has the power to transform the people and things near it, the characters slowly realize that humanity has the power to overwhelm the sea, defeat it and kill the life in it. Moreover, man is doing so.’ .

Green LeavesBissinger’s Coffee Toffee 75% Dark Chocolate, Almond Toffee & Rich Roasted Coffee Bar really impressed Denise: ‘Sometimes I feel as though I’m not cool enough for some of these uber-fancy chocolate bars. Such was the case with this one; made in Italy, sustainable trade, single-origin chocolate…I’m way out of my league here. And I’m not telling anyone I’m out of my depth. Well, except you. Because this bar is a wonder.’ Read her sweet commentary here.

Gary checked out Ghirardelli’s Intense Dark Blood Orange Sunset bar: ‘This bar with its crispy bits, chewy bits and pleasant blend of tart and bitter flavors, is pretty good for what it is. Decent chocolate with a fun mix of flavor and texture.’

Robert has some really great chocolate for us: ‘As you will remember, Alfred Ritter GmbH & Co. KG is a major German chocolatier and candy manufacturer. I happen to have recently received two of their Limited Edition candies for review, Raspberry Creme and Buttermilk Lemon, which means, sadly, that I wasn’t allowed to just snarf them down. These are part of a series of candies made with yogurt and flavorings and covered in chocolate.’

He goes on to talk about another Ritter bar: ‘I have another (huge) bar of chocolate from Alfred Ritter GmbH & Co. KG of Germany , a major chocolatier. This one is the Ritter Sport Golden Edition Milk Chocolate Squares, and when I say “huge”, I mean just that: It’s about half a pound (8.8 oz, or 250 g) of fairly thick squares of milk chocolate. Now, I’m admittedly a dark chocolate person, but hey, chocolate is chocolate, right? So I’m willing to set my reservations aside and give this one a try.’

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If ever there was a series that broke all the rules, it is the one Kathleen and her sister Kage wrote up, the  The Two Fat Ladies. They were brilliant English cooks who rode a motorcycle with a sidecar, drank excessively, smoked whenever they pleased and cooked using bloody great hunks of meat, butter and anything else that isn’t ‘tall good for you. And funny as all Hell, as is the review.Green Leaves

April has a warm response to the first volume of what looks to be an intriguing comics series, Air: Letters from Lost Countries: ‘Blythe is not your typical airline attendant. Sure, she’s blonde, pretty and personable, playing into every conceivable stereotype there is. But Blythe is much more than that. For starters, she’s acrophobic, surviving each flight only through the wonders of modern pharmaceuticals. Then there’s the attractive, mysterious passenger she’s fallen in love with, who may or may not be a terrorist.’

Green LeavesCat had mixed feelings about Valiant, the sophomore effort of the New England Celtic/American roots band The Sevens: ‘Now I must admit I liked the songs on their first album a lot more than I do on this album — for pity’s sake, why would anyone cover Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms”? But the instrumentals here more than make up for the less than stellar songs.’

David enjoyed Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu: ‘Like an African doo-wop group combined with a gospel choir, Ladysmith, under the leadership of the great Joseph Shabalala, sound fantastic on this recording. Their harmonies are pure and gentle. The clicks and hoots that come from the native Zulu tongue add an exotic touch, but never distract from the enjoyment of the music.’

David is pretty enthusiastic about a best-of collection from the Canadian supergroup Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. ‘As an introduction to a remarkable band, Swinging From the Chains of Love can’t be faulted.’

Deborah has strong opinions about Raising Sand, the duet album by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. ‘There are no weak spots on this CD, either in the song selection or in the supporting band [producer T Bone] Burnett has put together.’

Phil Hardy, Donna tells us, makes whistles. He’s also ‘a musician who plays pipes, didgeridoo, guitar and bass, as well as a composer of tunes that I would characterize as somewhere between neo-traditional Celtic and plain old new age,’ so what does she think of his album Revisited?

Gary reviews another in a continuing series of Folk Music of China, this one Vol. 12, Folk Songs of the Bai, Nu & Derung Peoples. ‘This volume is yet another fascinating offering in the Naxos World series bringing examples of China’s rich and diverse musical heritage to the rest of the world.’

Richard takes a close look at two releases from Putumayo. Speaking of Putumayo World Music Presents: Mali, he says ‘… the CD contains a wealth of Malian music, and even if not every track will suit every taste, there is enough good music here to please every lover of Malian sounds.’  And regarding Putumayo World Music Presents: Afro-Latin Party, he says ‘This CD is a very good introduction to the fusion of African and Latin American music that has proved to be such a lasting force, beginning with the popularity of the rumba over half a century ago and passing through the mambo, the cha-cha and the samba that filled the dance halls, down to the Buena Vista phenomenon of the 1990s.’

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Our What Not is a role playing game this time. So let’s let Warner tell us about it it: ‘Overall, if something like the Dungeons and Dragons Starter set is a first car, Symbaroum: Treasure Hunts in Davokar would be one’s first car as a high performance vehicle. It is wonderful to look at, well constructed, well written, and easy to understand. While it is not a sure thing purchase for just any fantasy fan, it is effortless to recommend to gamers and worth more than a look even by those who doubt they would find the time to toss a few dice.’

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So let’s wander over to the Infinite Jukebox and see what we can find for something upbeat to usher this edition out. I think I’ll skip something from the Anglo-Celtic traditions in favour of something from France this time. The band’s Malicorne, which Gabriel and Marie Yacoub formed in the fall of ’73.

Gabriel had been a member of Alan Stivell’s band, playing folk-rock based on Breton music such as ‘Kost Ar C´hoat’ which was performed Germany on the 11th of May 1975, but the couple decided to focus more broadly on French trad music, which is why Steeleye Eye Span’s the most apt comparison in British folk music to them, as both are decidedly electric folk. So let’s now hear ‘Pierre De Grenoble’ which is also the name of what I consider their best album. It was recorded at Hunter College in New York sTate on the 21st of July ’84.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Riddles (A Letter to Elizabeth)

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Dear Elizabeth,

You asked me about the power of rhymes as I mentioned they’re common in Swedish children’s songs, and indeed there is power in the old rhymes, spells that they be, which even most hedgewitches forget, but not our Tamsin. Like all hedgewitches who have lived here at the Kinrowan Estate, she has a working knowledge of how important they are as she’s read the Journals written by centuries of the of hedgewitches before her at the Estate. She even claims that there’s an old fox with one eye that listens keenly when she recites riddling spells in the woods near her cottage!

I was drinking Oberon and Titania’s Ale in the pub with Tamsin and Reynard, the latter taking the evening off as Finch was on duty. There was a contradance later that night with me calling and Reynard playing with Chasing Dragonflies. Somehow the subject got into the matter of rhymes as sung by children.

Tamsin mentioned ‘Ring a Ring o’ Roses’ first appeared in print in the late eighteen hundreds, but it’s probably at least a century older, maybe a lot more. She noted that some folks, particularly fellow hedgewitches, say that the song originally described the plague as posies were thought to prevent the plague, but folklorists of recent years reject this idea. Silly lot, those folklorists in her opinion — she says that just because you can’t prove something is true is not proof it isn’t true.

Iain had just added a book on riddles in The Hobbit. He mused about the idea of riddles, as a riddle is a statement or question or even just a simple phrase having a double or often hidden meaning which makes what is a riddle rather expansive.

That led a Several Annie who was listening in to suggest a riddle slam, a contest in which anybody can state a riddle and both the riddler and the riddle get judged on the best of each. We set it for the next stormy day so that the Steward could declare it a Respite Day in which everyone (including the Kitchen staff as our eventide meal would be soup and such to keep prep minimal) got the day off.

That was several weeks ago and it’s been fun to watch everyone writing riddles and reciting them aloud to see how they sound. Tamsin has cautioned them about saying aloud riddles with an embedded wish, as they might just come true.

I’ll tell how the riddle slam goes after we have it. It might be a while (I almost said ‘spell’ but resisted) as the weather’s been ideal for my estate work crews and we’re still in lambing season as well!

Your friend, Gus

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What’s New for the 2nd of May: A Fat Music Review Section, Four British film mysteries, Live music from from Tatiana Hargreaves and Allison De Groot, Jennifer wallows in two historical fictions with delightfully authentic voices, Evil Kit Kat Bars, Willingham’s Fables series, Bordertown fiction and Other Cool Matters

I only laid the cobbles for the streets of Bordertown; it took all of us, an entire community, to bring the city to life. And that’s as it should be. Community, friendship, art: stirred together, they make a powerful magic. Used wisely, it can save your life. I know that it saved mine. – Terri Windling in Welcome to Bordertown

Green LeavesSomewhere, a chicken is roasting as I can most clearly smell its deliciousness all the way from here in in the Green Man Pub as I serve a patron her Kinrowan Special Reserve Pear Cider. Well it’s in the Estate kitchen obviously. With sage, rosemary and garlic. And fatty Lancashire bacon slathered over it as well. I’m guessing that it, along with several others, is intended for a large copper pot later this afternoon to become an awesomely delicious rice, veggie and chicken stew for our eventide meal tomorrow.

When not working in the Pub, I’m been reading the second Teixcalaanli Empire novel from Arkady Martine, A Desolation of Peace. If anything it’s even better than the first novel in the series,  A Memory Called Empire which most deservedly won a Hugo last year which I voted for. And I’ll be nominating A Desolation of Peace for a Hugo at the proper time.

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We’re running a special book review section this time exclusively looking at the fiction set in the Borderland universe created by Terry Windling.

First, read Michael’s incisive look at the series save Welcome to Bordertown: New Stories and Poems which came out after this first ran: ‘There are seven books in all: four anthologies, one solo book by Emma Bull, and two solo books by Will Shetterly. Together, they comprise the down-and-dirty, nitty-gritty, flight-of-fancy grunge-rock-punk ballad known as Bordertown. How can I describe it? It’s a stylized vision of New York in the ’80s, leather-and-lace big-hair bands, and the Wild West, all rolled into one. Youth gangs, runaways, flamboyant rock-and-roll bands, Elven court politics, people seeking their dreams … it was all there. You could find your heart, lose your soul, find your dreams, lose your way, and always come back to the beginning, in Bordertown.’

Cat has a look at Finder which he thinks is the best look at this shared universe: ‘My personally autographed copy of the hardcover edition is subtitled A Novel of The Borderlands, which tells you that it’s set in The Borderland ‘verse created by Terri Windling. It’s not the only Borderland novel: her husband, Will Shetterly, wrote two splendid novels set here, Elsewhere and Nevernever. I, however, think that it’s the best of the three.’

Grey says that ‘The Essential Bordertown anthology (edited by Terri Windling and Delia Sherman) was written to be your first Bordertown friend, the handbook you keep with you until you find your niche — or at least until you get to The Dancing Ferret and have your complimentary first drink. It’s partly a collection of stories told by a variety of the city’s residents and visitors, and partly a really good travel guide — the kind you wished you had the first time you visited a place where you didn’t speak the language.’

Life on The Border was the third and last of the original Bordertown series until The Essential Bordertown: A Traveller’s Guide to the Edge came out some seven years later. It was a fat little paperback with two weird looking individuals, one of whom might have pointed ears. I think they’re meant to be Bordertown elven punks. Iain has a loving look at it here.

Michael also  looks at Holly Black and Ellen Kushner’s Welcome to Bordertown anthology, the latest entry in this series: ‘A generation ago, Terri Windling and Mark Alan Arnold introduced us to Bordertown, an abandoned American city sitting on the Border between the “real world” (The World) and Faerie (The Realm). A place where science and magic both worked, if equally unpredictably, it became a haven and a destination for runaways and outcasts of both worlds, a place where humans and the Fae (aka Truebloods) could mingle, do business, eke out a living, and find themselves. It was a place where anything could happen.’

This last novel properly doesn’t belong here. So let’s have Michael tell the tale of why I included it: ‘For all its familiarity, The Last Hot Time by John M. Ford is -not- Bordertown. It’s Bordertown with the serial numbers scraped off and placed in the Witness Protection Program. But it’s also its own creature, and it’s on those merits that we’ll judge it.’

Green LeavesThe KillKat Evil Wafers vinyl figure, is Cat says, an odd thing for this section of this edition: ‘OK, I’ll admit that obviously speaking that this item didn’t  belong under our food and drink section as it’s quite inedible. Really, really inedible. But we like Kit Kat bars around here and actually reviewed some of the Kit Kat flavours though admittedly some should have never happened such as the Kumamon Ikinari Dango KitKat. Really should never have happened.’ Go ahead and read his review to see why this this vinyl figure is so tasteful. Pun fully intended.

Denise digs into a childhood favorite; Ritter Sport Dark Chocolate with Marzipan. ‘As my Grossie would say, “Dem Germans know how to make marzipan.” I concur.’ Check out her review for a taste of her thoughts about this bar!

Elizabeth (whose White Space novels, Ancestral Nights and Machine, are popular around here and which Gary is reviewing for us) reviews Berkshire Chocolates for us: ‘All in all, good respectable snacking chocolate, high quality, not a trace of bloom or unintentional grittiness in any of the bars, but not a lot of depth or nuance either. (The espresso beans are a bit gritty, of course.) It’s not the nuanced, rounded flavors of a Callebaut or a Schokinag, but it’s about as good as supermarket chocolate is going to get.’

J.S.S. says that ‘I’ve received a sampling of three different bars of chocolate  from E. Guittard, the oldest family-owned chocolate company in the United States. San Francisco chocolate-makers since the 1850s, the company began with one enterprising Frenchman, Etienne, who saw a market for premium chocolates during the California Gold Rush.’ Read his review here to see what he thought of these tasty treats.

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I‘be been watching a lot of British mysteries this month, so I’m going to recommend four of them for you —a Sherlock Holmes mystery of sorts, Gosford Park, a Hercule Poirot Christmas story and a Doctor Who episode. Yes, a Doctor Who episode.

Craig starts us off with a choice Sherlock film: ‘Nicholas Meyer adapted The Seven-Per-Cent Solution from his own novel, and he and director Herbert Ross turn out a fine Holmes pastiche. The book is even better, capturing the language as well as the different mannerisms of the characters. Meyers’ other outings were not as successful and can be skipped, but this one is a must-see (and read) for fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s best-known creation.’

David is up next with Gosford Park: ‘The film begins, as do most studies of murder in British society, by setting the tale. We meet an inordinate number of people (an Altman trait) who come and go with little logic. This is a common enough ploy in the films of Robert Altman, everyone has a reason for being there, and everyone has a story. Pay attention.’ Oh and what stories they tell!

Next up is Poirot’s Christmas as reviewed by Cat: ‘Ahhhh, an English locked room mystery set at Christmastime! What could be a better diversion on a cold winters night with snow falling ‘ Now there’s no snow falling out outside on this April day, but it’s still a most splendid mystery.

Finally we have a Tenth Doctor story, ‘The Unicorn & The Wasp’ which he also reviewed: ‘One of my favourite episodes of the newer episodes of this series was a country house mystery featuring a number of murders and, to add an aspect of metanarrative to the story, writer Agatha Christie at the beginning of her career. It would riff off her disappearance for ten days which occurred just after she found her husband in bed with another woman. Her disappearance is a mystery that has never been satisfactorily answered to this day.’

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So do you need a long graphic novel series to read? If so, I’m going to recommend Bill Willingham’s Fables series, which lasted for thirteen years and was collected in twenty volumes. Cat has a look at Fables, The Deluxe Edition: Book One: ‘Imagine, if you will, if the inhabitants of the fairytales you know so well — human and fantastical alike — were alive and well and living in New York. Such is the premise behind Bill Willingham’s Fables series for Vertigo Comics. The Fables, as they call themselves, have long since been driven from their lands by an entity they call only The Adversary. The human-looking Fables settled in New York City, in a neighborhood they call Fabletown. Those who are less than human (think the Three Little Pigs, Shere Kahn, and Oz’s winged monkeys) live in bucolic upstate New York. Good King Cole is mayor of Fabletown, but the real power is in his deputy, Snow White. Long divorced from Prince Charming and estranged from her younger sister Rose Red, Snow White is quite far removed from her former passive self. Helping her maintain order is the Big Bad Wolf, better known now as Bigby Wolf, gumshoe detective.’

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Donna has an overview of several CDs from the Spanish folk group La Musgaña from the late ’90s through the early 2000s. ‘Although the music is primarily Castilian Spanish, the band’s official website notes that the central Iberian region has experienced cultural influences from other parts of Europe, Africa, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.’

David thoroughly enjoyed two releases from Maury Muehleisen, a guitarist and singer-songwriter you’ve probably never heard of. Who was he? ‘He was Jim Croce’s guitar-playing accompanist, and the guy who made Big Bad Jim sound the way he did. He was killed in the same plane crash that killed Croce, on September 20, 1973.’

Otis Taylor masterfully realizes the premise of his CD Recapturing the Banjo, according to David. In Taylor’s hands, he says, ‘The banjo becomes more than simply that percussive, harsh thing in the background. It’s more than the flashy solo bluegrass instrument. It takes on an identity of its own. And you begin to hear subtleties you never thought possible.’

David also reviews Tom Paxton’s Comedians & Angels, a followup to his Grammy nominated 2002 album Looking For the Moon. ‘Paxton calls all these song “songs of love,” and admits that since he’s almost 70 years old his “definition of love songs is broader than I once would have found it to be. Still, there is love in them all.” ‘

‘The late great John Hartford’s legacy continues to resonate down the generations of American roots music.’ Gary notes in his review of Eli West’s Tapered Point of Stone. ‘The music itself is something Hartford would be pleased with, too, I like to think. Hartford liked music that could be played by folks together, not by soloists showing off, and there’s not much of that kind of bluegrass pyrotechnics here, although the playing is all top-notch.’

‘Will Beeley has spent the past three decades and change as a long-haul trucker, but before that he was a Texas troubadour,’ Gary says. He reviews 1970 Sessions, an album of demos Beeley cut that year, that he says offer ‘a perfect window into 1970.’

Gary reviews a CD from the Basel Music Academy made by jazz students from around the world as part of an annual residency program called Focusyear. ‘If nothing else, the Focusyear Band 21’s Bosque represents assurance that the future of jazz is in good hands. But it’s a lot more than that; it’s an hour of good music, for one thing.’

Gary’s getting all nostalgic for the “Cosmic American Music” of a half-century ago. Seems he’s been listening to the debut disc from the Athens, Georgia band The Pink Stones, who are influenced by Gram Parsons, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Tom Petty … you get the picture. ‘So if you’re looking for some Americana that has a bit more of an irreverent, cosmic vibe to it than the usual fare, Introducing… The Pink Stones would be a great place to start.

Kathleen was pleasantly surprised by a collection of folk songs called Old Wine, New Skins. ‘The CD is a companion piece to The Folk Handbook: Working With Songs From The English Tradition (Backbeat Books, 2007). Clean and straightforward, it showcases 17 songs from the book in an exquisitely simple presentation: Good songs. Good singers. Good musicians.’

Mike liked pretty much everything about a CD from Old Crow Medicine Show called Tennessee Pusher. ‘The five-piece Old Crow Medicine Show take an old-time American roots sound and give it a contemporary makeover, in much the same way that Gram Parsons did with country music some 40 years ago.’

Peter highly recommends a collection of Irish songs and tunes from Canadian singer and flutist Norah Rendell and American guitarist Brian Miller, titled Wait There Pretty One. ‘Put together these two experienced and talented musicians from the folk world, and you get, as you would expect, something above average in terms of performance and taste.’ Put together these two experienced and talented musicians from the folk world, and you get, as you would expect, something above average in terms of performance and taste.

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Jennifer wallows in two historical fictions with delightfully authentic voices: David Liss’s new novel, The Peculiarities, and the first novel in a new series of Victorian mysteries by  bestselling author Barbara Monajem, Lady Rosamund and the Poison Pen.

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Spring is definitely upon us here in the Northern Hemisphere. If that makes you feel like dancing, check out this offering from Tatiana Hargreaves and Allison De Groot. They’re joined by clogger Ruth Alpert as they play the delightful Appalachian tune ‘Cotton Bonnet’ at a house concert in early 2020.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Foxes

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Though 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.

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 Headehhog 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.

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 male known as Diamond as he had a perfect white diamond bit of fur on his 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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What’s New for the 18th of April: Chicago’s Field Museum’s Cyrus Tang Hall of China, Live Music from Midnight Oil, A Potpourri of Music Reviews, Some Mars Fiction, Lots of Chocolate and Other Cool Stuff

The most important thing in the universe, it turns out, is a complex of subjective and individual approximations. Of tries and fails. Of ideals, and things we do to try to get close to those ideals. It’s who we are when nobody is looking. — Elizabeth Bear’s Machine: A White Space Novel

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Spring is upon us but the weather is cold today with snow steadily falling so that hearty food was warranted which is why that heavenly smell is coming from the Estate Kitchen sone distance  away from the Pub. One smell is from the garlic and bacon jam infused challah baking off in the wood fired oven while the other smell is the smoked ham hocks slowly baking in the same oven for our eventide repast. It along with basmati rice with saffron served with steamed veggies along with apple tarts with fresh made vanilla ice cream for dessert is the rest of that delicious repast.

I’ve been re-reading Elizabeth Bear’s White Space series which so far consists of Ancestral Nights and its sequel Machine. Though set in the same universe, they’re delightfully different. They’re well worth the time to read again. Indeed I nominated Machine for a Hugo.

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Carter starts off our review with a classic: ‘Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles is a baklava of a book — rich, layered, so sweet it has to be enjoyed in small bits. This novel-that-is-not-a-novel rightfully remains a classic in the science fiction genre, and a classic example of Ray Bradbury’s genius with words. As with all of Bradbury’s work, don’t look for accurate or even consistent science. Look, instead, for tales well told, stories that seep into your mind and blood and become part of you forever.’

Cat has a neat work for us: ‘At a mere one hundred and three pages, this is one of the best Robert Heinlein works I’ve ever read. Oops, I meant Kage Baker works. Or did I? Ok, let me reconcile the contradiction I just created (somewhat). The Empress of Mars reads like the best of Heinlein’s short fiction from the golden period of the 1940s and 1950s. It is so good that I’ve no doubt John W. Campbell would’ve published it! It would sit very nicely alongside much of his short fiction such as ‘Blowups Happen’, ‘The Long Watch’, and ‘The Green Hills of Earth’, to name but three classic Heinlein tales. It’s that well-crafted. It’s that entertaining. And it’s that rarest of short works — one that is just the right length.’

(You can hear her narrating it here. It’s a splendid telling by her.)

I’ve got your late  reading in one splendid volume. Let’s have Chris tell you about it: ‘Saga Press has released Ursula LeGuin’s collected Earthsea works, beautifully illustrated by Charles Vess. This collection includes the original trilogy: A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1971 ) and The Farthest Shore (1972), as well as the novels in which LeGuin revisited the trilogy, Tehanu (1990) and The Other Wind (2001), which conclude the saga many years after the events of the originals. Also included are Tales from Earthsea, LeGuin’s 2001 collection, and four other stories, including the never before published “Daughter of Odren.” Her illuminating essay, “Earthsea Revisioned,” which she delivered as a lecture in Oxford in 1992, is also here, along with an introduction from the author. In short, this giant of a volume includes everything you need to know about Earthsea, and it’s a delight to see it all collected in one place.’

Craig notes ‘I figure this much: Ian McDonald’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.’ You’ll need to read to read his review to see why this tale is so much more.

Gary tackles In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, a book of essays by Margaret Atwood about the fiction that she writes, which is hard to define. Is it fantasy, science fiction, speculative fiction? ‘Actually, that is exactly the topic she tackles in this collection of some of her writings, mostly non-fiction, about the definition and meaning of science fiction.’

Richard looks at an 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.’

Robert has a choice bit of non-fiction for us to consider: ‘Being the purist that I am, I wince when people talk about the evolution of this, the evolution of that – evolution has nothing to do with automobile design or cell phones or political systems. It is, however, a legitimate concept when discussing language: language does change over time, languages to descend from common ancestors, and there are exchanges and mutations of “genetic material” – words. Merritt Ruhlen, a prominent linguist, has, in The Origin of Language, given us a fascinating, hands-on investigation of that evolution. He also gives us a history of linguistics and in particular, brings us up to date on developments in historical linguistics over the past fifty years.’

He also looks at Hugo winning set of stitched together stories: ‘Old Earth Books has done us the signal service of reissuing two of Clifford Simak’s most memorable works in honor of the centennial of his birth in 1904, of which City is one. I confess that reading this book was an unsettling experience. It is, first off, one of the great “future histories” concocted by science fiction writers of the Golden Age. I remember vividly Poul Anderson’s version, and no less than Spider Robinson had reason to wax eloquent over Heinlein’s. Simak’s City is a series of connected stories, a series of legends, myths, and campfire stories told by Dogs about the end of human civilization, centering on the Webster family, who, among their other accomplishments, designed the ships that took Men to the stars and gave Dogs the gift of speech and robots to be their hands.’

Warner starts off with Elly Bangs’ Unity which he says ‘is a fascinating little novel, filled with unexpected turns and twists to a set of concepts that are extremely familiar to a scifi reader.  The concepts explored here have been touched on before, however the writer’s style does a great deal to remind the reader that individual point of view is important, even when combined with others.’

He’s with an neat take off historical reality: ‘Loren D. Estleman’s The Eagle and The Viper looks at a set of attempts upon the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, and in no small part doing so from a contemporary police investigative point of view. Told in the style of a suspensful thriller, this historical novel moves fast enough some readers might just expect it to slip into the alternate reality.’

He next has a WW II mystery for us: ‘Overall The Consequences of Fear gives an excellent example of Jacqueline Winspear as a historical mystery author, and a good argument for picking up the Maisie Dobbs series. There might be better volumes to start with, however this one will work fine for the reader who happens to see it first.’

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Robert watched a film courtesy of browsing a well known retailer one day: ‘I missed John Carter in the theaters, but ran across the DVD on one of my browsing trips through Amazon. I figured I’d probably enjoy it, and I found the DVD for half price. How could I say no?’ Read his review to see if it was worth his time.

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Reece’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups doesn’t sound like the sort of roots and branches of our shared global culture that we’d bother to comment upon but our resident Summer Queen explains why we are doing so: ‘I have a confession to make. Yes, I have a problem. And that problem’s name is Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. I’m the person at Hallowe’en who looks at the bowl of candy designated for trick or treaters and asks, plaintively, “Could we hold the Reese’s in reserve? Or at least hide them on the bottom of the bowl?” and who will blatantly pilfer from the bowl throughout the evening. And if there’s any left over? Bliss!’

Sukkerfri Dent Duett: Berry + Licorice Pastilles found a fan in Denise: ‘ I’m an unabashed fan of black licorice. I’ve tasted (and reviewed) lots of different styles, from salty to sweet, and even covered in chocolate. (Don’t knock ’em ’til you’ve tried ’em y’all.) But licorice and berries? No, not berry flavored licorice. A mashup of black licorice and berry flavors. For those days when you can’t seem to make up your mind on what kind of taste you’re craving – which for me is just about every single day of my life – Duet has an equal amount of sweet and sweetly savory. And I’m a fan.’

Looking for a different taste to snack on or stir into your oatmeal? Gary has a recipe for Curried Cashew Trail Mix, which he used to buy in bulk but now makes himself to reduce the sodium content. ‘It’s probably 10 years that I’ve been putting this in my porridge (and occasionally snacking on it by itself), and I’m not tired of it yet.’

Jennifer knows that when you’ve been overdoing the tests and tasks of Spring, it’s time for hearty comfort food from Mexico: chilaquiles, the best and easiest breakfast in the world.

And because one good pepper deserves another, Jennifer provides a hearty beef stew with gobs of mushrooms and rich, complex, not-very-hot guajillo peppers.

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David and Gary delve into late recordings of one of the greats of classic country and Americana music, Charlie Louvin. First up is his first comeback album, the self-titled Charlie Louvin. Gary says, ‘Now nearing his 80th birthday in July 2007, Charlie is still performing occasionally, and has put out this disc as a career overview, with assistance from a stable of Nashville regulars in the band and a gaggle of singing partners from among his peers and later generations of admirers.’

Next up, David tells us about the first album of all gospel songs Louvin released in his long career: ‘Steps to Heaven belongs on the shelf next to Johnny Cash’s My Mother’s Hymn Book as testament of the faith and devotion of a lifetime. Finally, David looks at Charlie Louvin’s Sings Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs: ‘I waited a long time for this album. Not as long as Charlie Louvin did, though. The liner notes tell us that he’s been “singing about murder and disaster all his life.” And that’s 81 years.’

David also reviewed the re-release of two, two-disc sets of some of the best music from the “exotica” music craze of the 1950s and 1960s, Arthur Lyman’s Bwana Á & Bahia, and Isle of Enchantment & Polynesia. ‘You put these CDs on, and you are transported out of the city, out of this world and into another world. A fantasy world perhaps, but one where nature still has input — monkey sounds, bird calls, wind and waves, and the exotica of Arthur Lyman’s music.’

Donna got a lot of enjoyment out of a disc called Goodbye to the Madhouse, by McDermott’s Two Hours. ‘I can count on the fingers of one hand, with at least the thumb left over, the number of singer-songwriters whose work I tolerate, let alone enjoy. That puts Nick Burbridge, the powerhouse behind McDermott’s 2 Hours, in rare and precious company.’

Gary reviews a new album from Norwegian accordionist Frode Haltli and his 10-piece ensemble, Avant Folk II. ‘The album’s four tracks explore folk themes in ways that reflect folk, jazz and avant garde idioms. And they’re clever, did I mention clever?’

Gary also delves into two collections of pianist Dave Brubeck’s music released in honor of his 90th birthday: Dave Brubeck’s Original Album Classics – Jazz Goes To College, Brubeck Plays Brubeck, Gone With The Wind, Brandenberg Gate: Revisited, Jazz Impressions Of New York; and The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Original Album Classics – Time Out, Time Further Out, Time Changes, Time In, Countdown – Time in Outer Space.

Gereg surprised himself by liking a Steeleye Span album that took a left turn in 1980: ‘Sails of Silver isn’t the sound I expect from Steeleye. For long-time listeners, that can’t be emphasised strongly enough. Because if you go in expecting electric folk, you’ll be disappointed. This is rock with folk roots. And yet those roots run deep. So if you can wrap your imagination around the incongruous concept of a rock with roots, then this might be the album for you.’

Scott had fun listening to Ljova and the Kontraband’s Mnemosyne: ‘Ljova displays some serious skill as both a composer and player throughout the disc, but he definitely has a playful side as well. Often this side manifests itself in the tune titles — my two favorite instrumentals on the disc are called “Love Potion, Expired” and “Crutchahoy Nign”– but the music itself often unpredictably bounces off on some fun tangents.’

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Robert takes us on another adventure through Chicago’s Field Museum, this time the mysterious East — namely, the Cyrus Tang Hall of China: ‘No, I don’t know who Cyrus Tang is, or was, but I suspect this exhibition is named for him because a major portion came from his collection. That said, the exhibition itself gives an overview of the history of China from the Neolithic to the early 20th Century.’

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Midnight Oil is one of the most politically active groups you’ll ever have the pleasure to encounter provided that you like their politics as I very much do. And bloody good rock and roll and as well. I’ve not encountered many great boots of them as most have really shitty sound but I did find one. But ‘Blue Sky Mine’ and ‘Earth And Sun And Moon’ from an aoustic set at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Boston  on the 23rd of June, 24 years ago which is from a soundboard recording and sounds amazing.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Icelandic Tunes

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You up too? My old bones are aching far too much to sleep, so I thought I’d sit here in the Pub, a glass of something strong in hand, and listen to the Neverending Session who for some reason are playing Icelandic tunes tonight while I ponder how each winter’s just a bit harder to take. Oh, but the warm fire as I sit in Falstaff’s Chair does feel rather good!

Why Icelandic fiddle tunes, you ask? I, too, was wondering. Even here, in a building that was practically built on music, they were once an uncommon thing to hear. But Estate staffers have been collecting music for so long that it’s said we have a Fey recording somewhere of a carnyx being played at the burial of a Elf Lord — a sound that will send a chill clear to your marrow as it did to Roman soldiers encountering it in ancient Britain.

It is said that an Icelandic woman by the name of Kárhildur came here to share her herbal lore a century back on the invitation of Lady Alexandra, the Estate Head Gardener, and she ended up staying far longer than the Summer and Autumn she planned. Being here in the Winter meant she, being a violinist, shared her tunes and other much older Icelandic ones.

So do have a drink of Brennivín (Black Death), a particularly potent drink fashioned after a libation popular in Iceland, while we listen for a while. It sounds as though they’re just beginning ‘Rimur Og Kvaedalog’, a favorite of mine to play as well.

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What’s New for 4th of April: Holmesian matters, lots of chocolate…

He. Does there have to be a he? It seems weak and unoriginal doesn’t it,  for stories told by girls to always have a he?” ― Rinsai Rossetti’s The Girl With Borrowed Wings

Green LeavesSomewhere a chicken is roasting as I can clearly smell its deliciousness. Well, it’s in the Estate kitchen, obviously. With sage, rosemary and lots of roasted garlic. And fatty bacon slathered over it as well. I’m guessing that it, along with several others, is intended for a soup pot later this afternoon along with lots of tasty veggies.

In the meantime I know that Mrs. Ware has been making use of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Cookbook to make really fudgy chocolate brownies that are truly awesome with a glass of that really amazing chocolate milk that she’s been making lately.

So it’ll be all Holmes related material this time for our book reviews this time because that’s what tickles my fancy. Now the culinary section is all chocolate related as it often with items drawn from our Archives. And I’d write of a review of that bottle of Bicerin Italian Chocolate Liqueur made with hazelnuts that came in, if I could ever get it back from Iain – though I’m expecting it’ll be empty soon…

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Craig starts us off with a tasty buffet including offerings from from the Firesign Theatre and Michael Moorcock: ‘No doubt Sherlock Holmes will continue to be the subject of more literary, audio, and even cinematic offerings for years to come, so we’ve no need to fear his disappearance any time soon. Personally, I prefer the old standards myself, but I’m always interested in a new voice’s interpretation of a mythic character. These offerings show just in how many ways he can be approached. Holmes is in our public consciousness now; we all own him, so why not have a little fun with him?’

Faith is next up with this tasty reference work: ‘Andrew Lycett puts Arthur Conan Doyle in context in The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes: The Life and Times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, talking about his parents and grandparents and the circles they moved in so as to explain the milieu into which he was born and the influences on his childhood. The advance copy has spaces for family trees and I’m sorry not to have had the benefit of them. Both sides of Conan Doyle’s family had a lot of interesting people in them, and a family tree would certainly make them easier to keep track of.’

Irene says of a slender volume by Dorothy Sayers on a subject dear to many of us: ‘These essays, as well as a transcription of an original radio play featuring a young Peter Death Bredon Wimsey and Sherlock Holmes, are reprinted in the slim volume by The Mythopoeic Press entitled Sayers on Holmes: Essays and Fiction on Sherlock Holmes. The essays are lovely examples of canonical scholarship and show Sayers’ skill as a detective and a scholar (for what is a true research scholar but a detective) as well as her undoubted skill as an entertaining author.’

J.R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec are the editors of Gaslight Grimoire: Fantastic Tales of Sherlock Holmes of which Kage says, ‘All in all, Gaslight Grimoire is well worth picking up if you enjoy lighting the fire, curling up in your armchair with a glass of sherry at your elbow in the gloom of a winter afternoon, and having a good Victorian-era read.’

Matthew has some Sherlockian fiction for us: ‘In Sherlock Holmes: A Duel with the Devil, Roger Jaynes has added another leaf to the immense Holmesian corpus. In this slim volume, Jaynes provides Holmes fans with three mysteries tied together by the character of Holmes’ archnemesis, Moriarty. In ‘The Case of the Dishonoured Professor’, Holmes and Watson labor to remove scandal from an academic’s reputation. In ‘The Case of the Baffled Courier’, they turn their attention to good smuggling. The final mystery, ‘Moriarty’s Fiendish Plan’, is half the book’s length and pulls out all the stops, bringing in most all the trademark Holmesian mystery elements: a secret code, deception, and of course, Moriarty, not to mention Watson attempting to murder Holmes.’

Wat er next a neat Sherlockian reference work for us: ‘Mike Foy’s The Curious Book of Sherlock Holmes Characters is a new incarnation of a rather old concept. It is a full alphabetical concordance of the many characters and personages to appear or be mentioned in the original Sherlock Holmes tales by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In a tried and true formula, attempting to stand out can be difficult, and Foy finds clever ways to do so.’

Next up for him is one is one in which Holmes isn’t a character: Tales of Scotland Yard: Lestrade is a most entertaining volume, and speaks well to publisher Orange Pip Books and author Bianca Jenkins. There is a mystery, and a carefully and considered investigation. Easy to recommend as a short and easy, if not particularly light, read. This review has failed until this line to mention Sherlock Holmes, and has done so because the book stands well enough entirely apart.’

He’s got some offbeat Holmes for us next: ‘Dorothy Elllen Palmer’s Wiggins: Son of Sherlock is not for anyone looking to read a Sherlockian story as it is known. It is not a traditional Watsonian tale, nor even one of the more common variations upon reinventon. It is a well written reinvention and reexamination of the classic concepts and characters. Certainly worth a look to someone a bit tired of standard Sherlock Holmes pastiche, me, someone wishing for surprises. It is well told, and a reader will look forward to seeing what else Dorothy Ellen Palmer creates.’

He wraps up our Holmesian reviews with a look at a (relatively) slim volume of Sherlockian scholarship: ‘A difficulty for most Sherlockian scholars is getting their hands on much of the wealth of older material. One reprint anthology that aids in this a great deal is Philip A. Schreffler’s Sherlock Holmes by Gas-Lamp, which contains a variety of materials from the Baker Street Journal from its first forty years of publication.’

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Cat leads offs with a look at Diana’s Bananas’ Dark Chocolate Banana Babies: ‘OK, it’s way too cute a name, I’ll grant you, but once you meet them and taste them for the first time you’ll forgive the overly cute name, as they’re amazingly good. Diana’s Bananas’ Dark Chocolate Banana Babies are one of those snacks that are both an indulgent treat and, surprisingly, rather good for you, as I’ll detail shortly.’

Cat R. encounters chocolate of a different manner: ‘By the register little chocolate squares beckoned. Labeled, somewhat exotically, ‘Xocolatl de David’, there were three sorts, but the one that caught my eye read “72% Ecuadorian Chocolate with Black Truffles and Sea Salt.” Not a chocolate truffle, mind you, but the kind of truffle pigs sniff out of the woods in Italy and France. I surrendered to impulse and bought one.’

Ghirardelli’s Intense Dark Hazlenut Heaven Bar is a new favorite of Denise’s: ‘I’m always game for dark chocolate. Plus, I’m a sucker for hazelnuts (aka filbert, a name I absolutely love) in any form. So hello, combination of the two! Ghirardelli blends their premium chocolate with nicely minced nuts to create a bar that’s going onto my list of favorite scandies.’

Gary seems to have enjoyed a chocolate bar made from single-origin beans by a company based in Eureka, Calif. From his review, it sounds like a multi-media experience. ‘The bar is beautifully decorated in an incised pattern that resembles Islamic geometric tesserae.’

Jennifer flashes back to a consulting firm’s typing pool, where every birthday was celebrated with all that was good and fattening. This sour cream chocolate cake lives on long after its creator, alas, has left the red dust of earth.

Robert was a little ambivalent about Trader Joe’s Organic Dark Chocolate PB&J Minis, but decided that, on the whole, they’re a plus: ‘I don’t know if I’ll go searching for these at my local Trader Joe’s, but they are a nice treat if you’re in the mood for PB&J and don’t feel like making a sandwich. And the chocolate is a plus. But be warned: it occurs to me that it would be very easy to work through a whole bag without realizing it.’

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Craig has a choice Sherlock film for us: ‘Nicholas Meyer adapted The Seven-Per-Cent Solution from his own novel, and he and director Herbert Ross turn out a fine Holmes pastiche. The book is even better, capturing the language as well as the different mannerisms of the characters. Meyers’ other outings were not as successful and can be skipped, but this one is a must-see (and read) for fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s best-known creation.’

Green LeavesBarb very much enjoyed an album of Icelandic folk music, Bára Grímsdóttir’s Funi. ‘Each of the 18 songs on Funi has something very special to offer. The variety is refreshing. So often folk music albums have no dynamic or textural changes. Not so with Funi. And it accomplishes this without losing its focus on the singing. I also find the accompaniment exceptional for the way that it always supports that singing without getting boring.’

Gary explored Volume 11 in the Naxos World Folk Music of China series, Folk Songs Of The Dai And Hani Peoples: ‘The music of this region could hardly be more different from that presented in Vol. 9, Folk Songs of the Uzbeks & Tatars of China, Turkic peoples in China’s far west, whose culture and music are closer to those of the Central Asian republics than to Han China. You won’t mistake the music on Vol. 11 for anything other than East Asian.’

Mike reviews a concert recording by Jez Lowe & The Bad Pennies, Northern Echoes: Live On The Tyne. ‘There is a perceptible warmth that permeates Lowe’s lyrics, demonstrating empathy and gentle humour, whilst painting vivid portraits of the characters and their livelihoods that fill his songs. A more palpable warmth is captured in the exquisite quality of this live recording.’

Music festivals are getting set to resume in one form or another, so we looked through the archives for some past examples. Peter very much enjoyed the Chester Folk Festival he attended: ‘As festivals go, Chester Festival may not be biggest, but it must surely take the prize for one of the best thought-out festivals on the calendar. It has something going on most hours of the day between 11 a.m. and midnight for three days, and importantly, all the venues are within yards of the main stage marquee making it easy walking distance.’

Peter also greatly enjoyed the English folk trio Isambarde’s Living History. The three young musicians all sing and play multiple instruments as well. ‘So, what’s the music like? In short, bloody marvellous! Isambarde have re-worked and breathed fresh life into another collection of mainly traditional songs such as ‘The Outlandish Knight’, ‘Ye Mariners All’, ‘The Maid On The Shore’, ‘Just As The Tide Was Flowing’ and ‘Annan Waters’, to name but a few.’

From the archives this time we delve into francophone music from Canada and the United States. Gary kicks things off with a twofer of Genticorum’s La Bibournoise and Le Vent du Nord’s live album Mesdames et Messieurs!: ‘Genticorum plays Quebecois music that displays its connections to Celtic folk music more than most, due largely to the presence of flute on many tunes,’ he notes. And of Mesdames et Messieurs! he says: ‘This is Quebecois music as it was intended, fast, hot and sweaty and live, with a partisan crowd dancing and cheering at the lip of the stage. Wish I’d been there!’

Speaking of Le Vent du Nord, Gary also listened to their followup studio album: ‘On La Part de Feu they incorporate a few ideas from other avenues of world music, particularly Celtic and American roots, that they’ve picked up on tour. But mostly, they continue to do what they’ve always done, perform traditional French Canadian music with an ear toward modern sounds.’

Gary also will tell us about two discs from Quebec: Reveillons!’s Quiquequoidontou? and Belzébuth’s Les Pèches du Diable. ‘Both of these albums are superb and highly entertaining examples of contemporary Quebecois folk music. Both include lyrics and more information (in French) in the liner notes. Though self-produced and released, both are solidly professional products.’

Gary heads south for an album by a boundary-pushing group from Louisiana. ‘Grand Isle, the 11th album by Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, continues to push southern Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole music in new directions while remaining solidly rooted in tradition.’

Finally, Richard takes a deep dive into Le Vent Du Nord’s Les Amants Du Saint-Laurent and La Volute’s Descendez A Gaspé, and he notes both are primarily dance music. Of the former, he says, ‘Not only the instrumental pieces and passages but also most of the songs are danceable, with the foot-tapping and step dancing to encourage listeners to start moving their own feet’; while of the latter, ‘Most of the tracks again follow the Québecquois tradition by being eminently danceable even when they are songs rather than instrumentals, and there is again much unison singing.’

Green LeavesThe Austin, Texas folk fusion group Ley Line recorded a song about the importance of water, the day before a record-breaking storm cut off power and water to millions across the Lone Star State in February. It’s a lovely song all in Spanish with rich harmony vocals and minimalist percussion, called “En Busca del Agua,” and sales benefit Austin Youth River Watch, an organization working to protect and conserve water in Central Texas.

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That looks like it for today, so for our Coda we have a special video presentation by The Lonely Lockdown Consort, a.k.a. early music specialist Jude Rees, formerly of the superb folk trio Isambarde. She presents several versions of herself performing “A Round of 3 Country Dances” spliced with “A canon for four voices” plus hurdy-gurdy and two crumhorns.  Very creative!

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