Welcome to Green Man

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. There’s even stories about the felines here. 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: Reading Groups (A Letter to Anna)

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Dear Anna,

When you were here over the Fall you asked me how reading groups got started here. As we were headed out for a contradance with your partner and me with my wife, I forgot until now. And when I remembered, I was, as any Librarian would be, curious. So I went reading in the Journals kept by the Librarians since, well, let’s just say a very, very long time. So long that I can’t read the language of the earliest Librarians.

Isabella Summer, the Librarian here in the 1820s, wanted to increase use of the Library among the staffers here at the Estate, so she decided that reading groups would help as it would make everyone more comfortable if a given work was read aloud so that those who couldn’t read could still hear the tale chapter by chapter. She started off with what would seem a difficult book, Austen’s Sense and Sensibility! Of course, it’s an interesting tale and would have caught the minds of those hearing them read in the Library around a roaring fire on winter’s night.

But the reading group hit its pace a generation later when Dickens serialized Oliver Twist as a monthly serial in Bentley’s Miscellany from February 1837 to April 1839 over a total of twenty-four installments. She says the group grew from a comfortable gathering to nearly everyone on the Estate, so they moved it to the Pub where there was room for all.

Every Dickens serialized novel for the next thirty years would be the preoccupation of the reading group with, as she tells it, lively conversation about the chapter just read and what might happen next being the primary conversation of many on the Estate.

So that’s how they came to be. How they changed down the years is for another letter.

Cheers, Iain

P.S.: Will you be headed for the Libraries Without Walls conference this Fall? If so, I’ll reserve you a room in Kinrowan Hall instead of the Yurts as you’ll want to be there as you know that there is no formal presentation, no boring speakers droning on as this simply a gather of librarians and other folk to talk about libraries in an age of tribal communities.

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What’s New for the 28th of May: All Sorts of Interesting Reviews, Page and Plant’s ‘Kashmir’ and Kage’s Favourite Folk Song

There are few joys to compare with the telling of a well-told tale. — Charles de Lint’s Yarrow: An Autumn Tale

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So what was the best book you’ve read this year? Or the best recording you’ve had  a listen to? Do you have a favourite dark chocolate? Mine’s the Ritter dark chocolate with hazelnuts which is the perfect size for an afternoon snack while walking out and back to our Standing Stones.

Everything we like is unique to us as I noticed when Cat asked Deborah, author of the Haunted Ballad Series and the JP Kinkaid Chronicles, what her favourite Grateful Dead was and she replied, ‘I’m an old school Dead woman. Give me Aoxomoxoa, Anthem Of The Sun, Live Dead, Workingman’s Dead, and American Beauty. I helped Annette Flowers and Eileen Law stuff cartons of Europe ’72. After Pigpen died, they started losing me for good and never really got me back. But that was my period of Dead.’

 To me, one of the joys of this enterprise we are doing is reading what other staffers, both now and going back decades, has found that they really appreciate (and what they sometimes really, really don’t appreciate) as they’re often things I’d not a clue existed such as gremlins made physical from Roald Dahl’s The Gremlins: The Lost Walt Disney Production!

So let’s see what we found for you this time.

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Cat has a confession to make about Robert Heinlein’s fiction: ‘The Cat Who Walks Through Walls is, after over thirty years of my reading works beyond count by him, my favorite novel by him bar none. There are without doubt better written novels by Heinlein that stir strong passions in readers, say Starship Troopers and The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, both of which can cause otherwise sensible readers to start hissing and spitting at each over the perceived political and social commentary in those books, and let’s not even broach the matter of Stranger in A Strange Land, as that work will really get the mojo rising in many readers!’

Another novel written in the last years of his life drew this comment from Cat: ‘Robert Heinlein’s Friday, was a novel that deeply divided critics when it was published. Part of that was the gender and race politics of a male author writing a female character that got raped,  part of it was the usual kvetching about every novel Heinlein wrote from Stranger in a Strange Land to the end of his writing career.’

Joel looks at a juvenile, The Star Beast: ‘Beating out The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by a good three decades, and Men in Black by over four, Heinlein didn’t just do this story first, he did it best. I’ve been enjoying the recent books in John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. The last few books have been much more about diplomacy than space battles, and are no less riveting for it. But who knew that Heinlein, the creator of the self-same military science fiction tradition which led to Old Man’s War, was himself quite capable of having his heroes save the day by talking and listening as well?’

Kestrell looks into the future to review John Langan’s House of Windows. What does Kestrell have to say of this work of literary horror? Well, this might help — ‘House of Windows can be read on many levels — as a modern updating of the old-fashioned ghost story, as a commentary on the psychological ‘ghosts’ created by physical and emotional abuse, and as a perceptive reading of the overlapping of classic literature with supernatural fiction. Beneath all of these, however, runs the ongoing questions of why we read at all, why do words and stories possess such an irresistible attraction for us, and what these stories can reveal — or tragically fail to reveal-to us about our own lives and experiences.’

Kathleen has a confession regarding Time For The Stars: ‘Robert Anson Heinlein is inarguably one of the great formative writers of science fiction. His work is not only seminal, it’s good — well-told, well-plotted, with solid characterization. It’s also frequently thought-provoking, with underlying philosophy and speculation that stays with the reader for a lifetime. Most modern readers attribute these qualities to the more outré and/or famous novels, like Time Enough For Love and the iconic Stranger In A Strange Land. But Heinlein’s so-called juveniles are actually among the most thoughtful of his books.’

Kim found a book that was more than merely good: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Buffalo Gals. This novella, she says, takes the reader ‘… into the magical world Gal, or Myra as she is known in some circles, experiences after being injured in a plane crash and then rescued by Coyote. Boulet’s work draws us into the world Gal sees with her new eye, a multilayered field of vision that bridges the nature and the appearance of things so beautifully communicated in Le Guin’s story. It has earned a place next to my treasured “children’s” books — the selfishness of an adult who finds some things too beautiful to actually let the wee wilds grub them up.’

Lis says ‘Lies Sleeping picks up after The Hanging Tree, with Peter Grant newly promoted to Detective Constable, and Martin Chorley, a.k.a. the Faceless Man, pursuing his dire plan, which Nightingale and Peter still don’t know nearly enough about. As they involve most of the Metropolitan Police in finding the information they need, we see Nightingale in action more than usual, Peter has some educational experiences he might have preferred to avoid, and we find out why Lesley May really decided to join Chorley. Also why, apart from wanting to destroy everything Nightingale, Peter, and most decent people hold dear, Chorley really is truly evil. All this, and more, on the way to a doozy of a conclusion.’

She also appraised T. Kingfisher’s A House with Good Bones: ‘Archaeoentomologist Sam (Samantha) Montgomery, during an interruption in work at a dig site, heads home for the first extended visit to her mother in a while. She’s not taking too seriously her brother’s warning that “Mom seems off,” and isn’t expecting anything other than an enjoyable visit with her mother. The first hint that her brother could be right might be that her mother has redecorated in Gran Mae’s style, including the Confederate wedding painting. Or, it might be the vulture perched outside.’

Paul says ‘In Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun, a mostly historical fictional take on the end of the Yuan Dynasty becomes out and out fantasy when the author genderflips the future Ming Emperor, and adds some mild supernatural elements in the bargain.’

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

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Cat looks at Doctor Who’s The Unicorn and The Wasp episode: ‘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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Cat starts us off with a smashing review of Old Blind Dogs’ Play Live. ‘The Old Blind Dogs new CD Play Live was recorded in 2004 on the road in Chicago and Tulsa and I believe captures their live feel quite well. As befits a group that was judged Best Folk Band at the 2004 Scots Traditional Music Awards. Sadly though …’ Well, read the review to find out what’s so sad!

David reviewed a couple of live offerings from the 70s singer songwriter Jim Croce: A DVD that collects material from several concerts in about 1973, and a CD of kitchen demos of what would go on to be some of his best loved songs. ‘Jim Croce is one of those artists who slipped off the radar. He was once highly thought of, a star in fact – gold records, No. 1 hits, albums on the best-seller lists. Then mentioned in rock’n’roll death contests, and in the same breath as any number of one hit wonders. Two new releases from Shout! Factory go a long way towards recovering Jim’s credibility, and forcing us to reconsider his talent and catalogue.’

Gary reviews a new release from the Malian “desert blues” band Tinariwen, their ninth studio album Amatssou. ‘This time out they draw on some major players in Americana. Grammy winning producer and guitarist Daniel Lanois (I’ve covered his albums Belladonna and Goodbye to Language) was originally signed on to produce Tinariwen’s ninth at his Nashville studio but had to bow out due to Covid, so Amatssou instead was recorded mostly in Algeria and Morocco, but Lanois was able to contribute pedal steel and piano, and some production, to three tracks.

Gary notes that one of his favorite bands, Calexico, is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its album Feast of Wire with a re-release and a special tour of Europe and North America. Read Gary’s original review of Feast of Wire, and check out the expanded re-release on vinyl or CD, and keep up with tour dates on CasaDeCalexico.com.

John Benninghouse thoroughly enjoyed two albums of medieval and Renaissance music by a pair of American musicians, Duo LiveOak’s Piva and Woman of the Water. ‘Duo LiveOak consists of Nancy Knowles and Frank Wallace. Knowles brings her voice and poetry while Wallace contributes his guitar and lute plus his voice. And he is a composer to boot. As contemporary classical artists, the pair look back to the Renaissance and Middle Ages for inspiration and song.’

John O’Regan had a good time learning about the music of Childsplay, via their CD called Childsplay Live. ‘The group Childsplay includes over two-dozen musicians drawn from the folk, traditional, Celtic, and roots music communities whose mixed backgrounds and styles blend to form a cohesive whole. Getting such a large ensembles together is not an easy task but such is the respect shown to Bob Childs and his instruments. Childsplay Live offers an exhilarating chariot ride through a myriad of diverse musical styles displaying versatility, ensemble virtuosity, technical panache, and exuberance.’

Michael Hunter took a look back at a couple of offerings from Steeleye Span including Live at Last! ‘Recorded at the Winter Gardens in Bournemouth just days before the final split in 1978, the live representation of this line up shows further diversity in their repertoire, and the presence of an obviously enthusiastic audience helps prevent any perceived malaise in performance that some may see in the studio album. Kirkpatrick takes lead on the opening instrumental “Athol Highlanders / Walter Bulwer’s Polka” and with [Martin] Carthy’s distinctive acoustic guitar adding its part, the integration of the two ‘new’ members is quite apparent by this stage, while still sounding like a band worthy of the name Steeleye Span.’

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Our What Not is one that we like to use often here…  We’ve asked  some well-respected writers as to what was their favourite folk song and why. The answers were illuminating to say the least! The very much missed Kage Baker gave us a Grateful Dead-ish answer: ‘Probably ‘The Rambling Sailor’. The lyrics are sort of heartless, but it makes a helluva dance tune, especially a morris dance. I was once at a morris-ale held in an oak forest one summer night in northern California. Kate and I were providing the ale. The conditions were perfect — a full moon, thunder rumbling around the sky, there was a big turnout of dancers, we had a fairly full band– two fiddlers, a concertina, a standing bass, a couple of pennywhistles and a shawm.

There was a lantern strung up in the branches of this one big oak tree that must have been about 400 years old, and the dancing was done in the open space underneath. The different sides did the usual tunes, with the sword dances and the sticks, but then everyone got out the white handkerchiefs and the band struck up ‘Rambling Sailor’. There must have been fifty or sixty dancers moving in perfect time, and my memory insists the boys were all as beautiful as young satyrs and the girls all looked like wood nymphs. The white cloths flashed like seagull wings. The little gold bells rang. The ground shook. It was one of the most perfect moments of my life.’

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It being almost Summer, let’s have something warm and sprightly for our music this time. Hmmm… ‘Kashmir’ by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant will do nicely! It was recorded  apparently thirty five years ago, possibly at Glastonbury but I wouldn’t bet the farm on how truthful that is. It’s definitely a lovely take by them on this Moroccan influenced work

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A Kinrowan Estate Story: The Green Lady

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If we’ve left the impression with you that we’ve only encountered only Green Men on this Scottish Estate down the centuries, that’s not correct. There’re stories about The Green Lady in Sleeping Hedgehog, our Estate community newsletter, as far back as the Sixteen Hundreds.

Sometimes she appears completely human until you get close enough to see that her apparently tanned skin is ‘nought but fine grained wood. Though there were other  times she was definitely nothing more than a plant vaguely shaped like a woman. The Welsh have Blodeuwedd, a being made of roses and owl feathers, but that’s not this being. She’s all plant from her toes that restlessly seek the nearest soil to her hair that looks to be tangled dreads but is actually very fine -eafed strands of ivy which are always moving.

Like the Green Men we see here, none of them speak. However, none of the Green Ladies plays an instrument whereas all the Green Men do, but instead they seem to be all gardeners instead. I’ve seen them in our gardens, apparently talking in a low rustling voice to them. I know that I said that they didn’t speak but what I’ve heard is something far older than our speech is. Something felt in my soul more than heard with my ears.

One was apparently tasking bees to do certain pollination, an impressive task that Gus felt was more a dance of thousands than mere work. They don’t take notice of we mortals, fey or human alike, but neither do they not know we’re there.

I assume they live in the Wild Wood but not even Gutmansdottir, our resident botanist studying that region, has seen them there.

Now, shall we head over to the Pub for some of the mead that’s been made from the hives they tend? It’s a truly blessed drink.  

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What’s New for the 14 of May: Lots of live music plus some new jazz and country; urban fantasy, horror, and classic sf; new Oreos;

I sipped my own coffee, heavy on the sugar and cream, trying to make up for the late work the night before. Caffeine and sugar, the two basic food groups. — Laurell K. Hamilton’s Cerulean Sins

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It’s a little cooler than last week which touched thirty celsius, eighty to you Yanks, but still quite pleasant. Though it certainly wouldn’t hurt if we got a few days of rain now.

The Kitchen made sourdough waffles this morning, which of course require starting about ten or twelve hours beforehand, being yeast-raised. We top them with one of our favourite toppings, be it applesauce or preserves such as strawberry or blueberries. Even on rarer occasions, whipped cream from Riverrun Farm. And I had the twice-smoked applewood bacon as well.

The Estate wolfhounds were restless and in need of a good walk, as was I after that filling breakfast, so I packed a light lunch of some beef jerky for them, sourdough rolls, our own cheddar and an apple, with a thermos of tea, Earl Grey this time, and headed off for the Standing Stones. It made for a pleasant walk and my canine companions certainly enjoyed it as they chased a number of hares but never caught any.

Now it’s time to finish off this edition, so I suggest you have one of our Spring Peeper blonde ales and go out to the Courtyard to enjoy the warm weather. I’ll have this edition to you shortly …

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Cat will openly admit that he found the televised Torchwood to be quite dodgy at times, but he has an excellent full cast audio Torchwood adventure for you: ‘Golden Age is the story of Torchwood India and what happened to it. It is my belief that the best of all the Torchwood were the audio dramas made by BBC during the run of the series. Please note that it was BBC and not Big Finish that produced these despite the fact that latter produces most of the Doctor Who and spinoff dramas. This is so because the new Doctor Who audio dramas was kept in-house and these productions were kept there as well.’

Deborah gave high marks to many of the stories in Paper Cities: An Anthology of Urban Fantasy, edited by Ekateriina Sedia. ‘This is a fairly eclectic collection, bringing together semi-historical fantasy, mythpunk, cyberpunk, science fiction, YA fantasy, and even a hunting adventure about the one that got away. Of course, not all stories were created equal. While the quality of the writing in this collection is pretty consistent, the ideas and execution are not always as engaging.’

According to Denise, ‘Peter Dickinson takes the salamander of myth and gives it a new spin in The Tears of the Salamander. In 18th century Italy, young Alfredo is a promising singer in the church choir, and sings with the true love of one born to it. Soon though, he reaches the age where he must make a decision: to become a castrati and continue with the choir for his whole life, or to take his chances and hope his singing voice after puberty is as good as it had been before. As he weighs his decision, tragedy strikes. He is soon introduced to his Uncle Giorgio, a man whom he has never known and whom his father hated. Alfredo is whisked away to Sicily, where his uncle is the Master of the Mountain, a powerful man with the fire and fury of the mountain at his control.’

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

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.’

We’ve come to expect nothing but the best from Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling’s Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies, and Joselle says the Fifth Annual Collection did not disappoint. ‘Overall, the selections in the YBFH5 intrigued me, charmed me, frightened me and made me think. Ultimately, this collection (the first I have read cover to cover) has shown me why many readers and critics consider this year’s best anthology of genre work to be the best in the field. I highly recommend it not just to readers curious about what was hot in 1991, but readers who like their fantasy and horror edgy, daring and thoughtful.’

Lis starts off with a Trek review of a novel by Janet Kagan, Uhura’s Song: ‘Enterprise is sent to respond to a devastating plague on a Federation world inhabited by a cat-like species, the Eeiauoans. McCoy and Chapel are on the planet working with local medical personnel, the disease has jumped species and is infecting humans, too, and Uhura’s old friend, Sunfall, an Eeiauoan diplomat who shares her love of music and gift for it, is among the ill. There’s an acting Chief Medical Officer on Enterprise, Evan Wilson, who when sent had hoped she’d be working with McCoy, not filling in for him. And she’s…unusual. As both Uhura and Spock search through all the information they have that might be relevant, they start pooling their efforts using the ballads she learned from Sunfall, and what he can piece together from their history and biology. Soon they’re convincing Kirk they need to go looking for the Eeiauons’ original homeworld. The result has Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Sulu, Checkov, and Evan Wilson trying to get medical information from people who are deeply ashamed of their ancestors having exiled the Eeiaoans, two millennia ago, and don’t want to talk about it. Oh, and the landing party has to figure out how to deal with a culture according to whose customs they’re not even adults. It’s a lot of fun.’ 

Next she has a review of a Revelation Space novel by Alasdair Reynolds: ‘Elysium Fire is the second adventure of Prefect Tom Dreyfus and his deputies, Thalia Ng and Sparver Bancal, confronting a new crisis. Or two crises. Or maybe the two crises are converging into one… They’re facing the new fragility of the Glitter Band, a seemingly inexplicable wave of deaths, and a very effective demagogue of murky backgroung and unknown motives.’

Remember Jack Vance? Robert’s been digging around in the Archives again and came up with something — well, it’s not by Jack Vance, it’s sort of about Jack Vance: a tribute volume, Songs of the Dying Earth, featuring a host of science fiction’s luminaries: ‘Anyone who doubts the pervasive and ongoing influence of Jack Vance need only look at the table of contents to this tribute volume. Many of the contributors are legends themselves (Glen Cook, Neil Gaiman, Tanith Lee, Robert Silverberg); others are some of the clearest and strongest voices of newer generations (Kage Baker, Jeff VanderMeer); and the influence seems to span the English-speaking world, from Britain (Matthew Hughes, Liz Williams) to Australia (Terry Dowling). And that’s not even half of them.”

Robert has some thoughts on a book about another legendary figure in science fiction, not a writer but an editor: Gary Westfahl’s Hugo Gernsback and the Century of Science Fiction: ‘Hugo Gernsback occupies a unique role in the history of science fiction, but exactly what that role is at present has generated a fair amount of controversy. He has been depicted as the visionary creator of a new genre of forward-looking fiction, and equally as a high-handed editor who thought nothing of rewriting his contributors’ stories to fit his ideas.”


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Rachel was positively horrified, in a good way, by 28 Days Later. ‘It’s not technically a zombie movie, for the infected are still alive, but it uses the conventions of one to great effect. The infected only come out at night, and any of the characters can, in the blink of an eye, become one of them. Like zombies, the infected are figures of fear and pathos, symbols of death and worse than death. But unlike traditional zombies, they move with terrifying speed. And they are motivated not by cannibalistic hunger, but by animalistic fury.’

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Lis says of Blackout Cake Flavor Creme Oreos that ‘Oreo cookies proudly own their status as junk food, and have never let me down. Empty calories for the masses, which have become increasingly colorful over the years. The latest Limited Edition, though, doesn’t flaunt bright colors, but chocolate. Dark and milk chocolate.’ 

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Harking back to our first couple of reviews (well, sort of), Robert takes a look at a graphic novel that’s not quite a fairy tale. In fact, it’s pretty firmly grounded in Greek mythology: ‘Mike Carey’s The Furies, illustrated by John Bolton, is another spin off from Neil Gaiman’s series The Sandman, and captures that same blend of myth and everyday life that was such a striking feature of Gaiman’s work.’Raspberry dividerWith warmer weather returning in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re getting back into live outdoor music season. This time we have a bunch of mostly live music reviews for you.

David was enthusiastic about Verlon Thompson’s solo album everywhere … yet. ‘This little album, only 37 minutes long, is an example of real home-made music. All instruments and vocals by Verlon Thompson. I can hear bass, mandolin and guitars. It’s marvelous in its simplicity. Recorded “out at the barn” in a studio he built for his previous album, the sound is as cozy as an Pendleton blanket in front of a log fire. The title song is a list of the places they HAVE played, with a chorus that promises if you “book us a room, we’ll be in your town soon … we ain’t been everywhere but we’re tryin’ to get there.”

David also liked a live offering from Verlon Thompson, Live at the Iveys. ‘Now the Iveys is not a club somewhere in Nashville, no way. It’s the living room of his friends Randy and Barbara Ivey in South Carolina. And it’s every bit as relaxed and fun as you might think it would be. Verlon takes the stage (or the couch?), and welcomes everyone, because he needs to talk. It’s always good to have some folks to talk to. And talk he does, in between songs that provide a history lesson in country music.’

Gary reviewed L.A. Shit, a new studio recording by GracieHorse. ‘The musical bones of this release are very ’70s SoCal country rock – Harvest, Burritos, SHF Band, that sort of thing. But lyrically we’re closer to some blend of Guyville-era Liz Phair and especially Mary Prankster in her alt-country days in the early 2000s. I welcome any return of sassy, foul-mouthed, feminist twang-rock!

Gary also reviewed another new release, this one called Home Is Here, by Felipe Salles and his big band. ‘It’s a great album of heartfelt, powerful jazz featuring these eight soloists backed by the hefty Interconnections Ensemble. We’re talking five saxes and woodwinds, five trumpets and flugelhorns, four trombones, and a five-member rhythm section of piano, guitar, bass, drums and percussion. Plus the soloists, including Salles himself on one number. The others run the gamut from old pros to young Turks, but all are excellent on their instruments and all have something to say.’

Gary overall enjoyed the music by various artists on Concerts for a Landmine Free World, organized by Emmylou Harris – particularly contributions by Harris, Steve Earle, Guy Clark and John Prine.  ‘There are no revelations or surprises here, just a disc of solid country and folk in the service of a good cause.’

Gary got a kick out of Mary Prankster’s Lemonade: Live. ‘Mary Prankster, now in her “late 20s,” has an impish grin, a foul mouth and an ear for a catchy tune. She puts it all to work on Lemonade, laying down swinging, unplugged versions of tunes from her previous four recordings, plus three new numbers.’

Lars came to enjoy a couple of albums by The Whisky Priests, including their released called Bloody Well Live! ‘As a whole, the album is a lot of fun. But it should be played very loud, and I strongly recommend chewing it off bit by bit, unless you are already familiar with the group’s work. It must be a marvellous souvenir for fans and people who have seen them live, but it works for others as well, believe me. All in all these two albums have almost turned me into a fan and I feel like I have to explore this band further. They are certainly worth it.’

Michael quite enjoyed a live offering from one of his favorite singers. ‘This is such an innocuous title for a CD of such an important event! Let me elaborate a little. Live In Concert was recorded in Cheltenham, UK, on March 12, 2006, to celebrate Steve Ashley’s sixtieth year on the planet – and what better way than to gather together as many as possible of the musicians he has worked with over the decades and have one big on-stage party?’

Peter was quite complimentary about a live recording by Darrell Scott, Danny Thompson & Kenny Malone, Live in NC. ‘Make no mistake about it; Darrell Scott is a great singer and handles all the vocals, as well as playing some wicked accompaniments on his guitar. Indeed, he ranks among such artists as Richard Thompson, Albert Lee, and Eric Clapton, to name but a few. Danny Thompson stands alongside of him playing a spectacular upright bass and along with some superb drumming from Kenny Malone, they really gel together. It’s not folk music, more what I call funky country blues / acoustic rock. However, call it what you like, but it still makes damn good listening – and will be enjoyed by country or folk music fans alike.’

Peter also reviewed a very obscure recording by The Celebrated Renaissance Band, an old-time trio from Missouri. ‘The title of the album says REAL LIVE American Music and this is how it is. I enjoyed the real live sound and I suspect if you were lucky enough to have been at University in the early 70s, you may well have experienced something very similar in a student bar. As such you may want to search out this album for a trip down memory lane!’

Peter was busy, also reviewing Dropkick Murphys’ Live on St. Patrick’s Day. ‘The album was recorded live on a recent St Patrick’s Day at the Avalon Ballroom in Boston, Massachusetts. This surprised me a little, because the overall sound is that of an open-air festival type concert. The sound quality and mixing could have been a lot better, especially in a confined space like a ballroom. Having said that, with this type of music, I don’t suppose it matters much. Throughout the album, the band is obviously having a great time as are the audience, who are obviously up for it. I can only imagine that one or two glasses of sherbet have been consumed beforehand, with it being St. Patrick’s Day! And they are playing before their home crowd.’

Richard reviewed a real treat, a live solo recording of Dave Swarbrick, Live at Jacksons Lane. ‘Musikfolk has done fans of Dave Swarbrick a great service in issuing this CD. It showcases his effortless mastery of the folk violin in an extremely diverse collection of pieces and is highly recommended to lovers of this genre. He acquits himself well on the three songs too, and if you think that three songs don’t give you enough of the Swarb voice, be reassured. The instrumentals are punctuated by frequent grunts and interjections that make Glen Gould and even Steffi Graf sound like mutes by comparison.’

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Our What Not is not unexpectedly of a Dragonish manner, and let’s have Camille explain for us: ‘Like every Folkmanis puppet I’ve so far seen, the Baby Dragon Puppet is a marvel of workmanship for the price: carefully stitched seams, articulated wings, darts along the inside of the limbs and belly to allow for movement and keep shape. The tag tells us it’s made in China, so we know who to thank.’

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In Roger Zelazny’s To Die in Italbar, there’s a character frozen at the edge of death who has no heartbeat but instead always has music playing as a sort of substitute for the silence in his chest. If you visit me in the Estate Library, you’ll always find something playing and recently I’ve been listening to a lot of music by a Scottish neo-trad band called The Iron Horse who were active starting some twenty five years ago. I’ve got two cuts from them performing live at the Gosport Easter Festival, April  of  ’96,  ‘The 8-Step Waltz’ and ‘The Sleeping Warrior’.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: The Calamity Janes

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They called themselves the Calamity Janes. They were an Americana group that showed up here. Jack hadn’t booked them, indeed hadn’t even heard of them, but they decided to visit us one fine summer day as they’d heard they could get room and board for playing here, which was (sort of) true. Jack consulted with Ingrid, the Estate Stewart who makes that decisions, and she said yes if they were willing to also help around the Estate as we always could more bodies during the growing season, which they were enthusiastic about doing anyway.

They were a three-woman group (fiddle, dobro, and mountain dulcimer) all in their thirties. Visually they were a striking group: all red-haired with green eyes and abundant freckles and ready smiles for all they encountered. In concert, they had a sweet sound, blending old-time, bluegrass (both of which are relatively new forms) and Celtic into something unique that worked nicely.

Of course they played acoustic as does everyone here and we got permission as we always do to record them for inclusion in our Infinite Jukebox, our MP3 archives. Their performances were attended by almost everyone on the Estate. One concert alone ran over three hours and a number of the musos here ended up sitting in with them for their jams after the concerts.

Ingrid arranged for them to play and give a hands-on workshop for the children at the Lewis Carroll School of The Imagination in the village nearest us. The teacher there said the students were in rapture from the entire time they were there. Several of the female students vowed that they would be musicians.

He also handed them, to their delight and surprise, a rather nice cheque even though they hadn’t expected to be paid. He also handed them three Eurorail passes so they could get around easily while they were still travelling. And Jack arranged for them to come back the next time that they came over this way.

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What’s New for the 30th of April: Some new sf, old sf and con mysteries; lots of Celtic music and Willie Nelson’s birthday bash; a Hans Christian Andersen biopic; and lots of booze

For heroes do not make history—that is the historian’s job—but, passive, let themselves be borne along, swept up to the crest of the tide of change, of chance, of war.― Ursula K. Le Guin’s Orsinian Tales

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It’s a cold, damp afternoon with temperatures nearly fifteen degrees celsius below normal, so many of us are in the Pub catching  up on our reading, or just engaging in conversation. See Gus, our Estate Gardener at the end of the Bar enjoying our Queen’s Lament IPA? He’s reading Cheese Holidays, a magazine solely devoted to cheeses and cheese regions worth visiting, which cheeses to try, best hotels in terms of the cheeses they offer and even local history as related to the cheeses created there. It even has a centrefold of sorts with a spread of the cheeses from a featured cheesery.

I’ve been reading the recently published journals of a British diplomatic attaché who spent quite some years in Orsinia nearly three centuries ago. Fascinating look at a country few even visit now, but I’ve had a decades long mail-based friendship with the Librarian for the National Archives there.

And Catherine’s been happily immersed in a history of medieval musical instruments and the contemporary renaissance of their usage, and making notes on which ones Max, our resident luthier, might make for her. She’s enjoying an Irish coffee made with Kona beans we roasted here, a generous measure of Redbreast 12-year-old Single Pot Still Irish whisky and a dollop of freshly whipped cream.

Now lets see what we’ve got for you in this edition…

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Lis starts off with a Star Trek review, a novel by Janet Kagan, Uhura’s Song: ‘Enterprise is sent to respond to a devastating plague on a Federation world inhabited by a cat-like species, the Eeiauoans. McCoy and Chapel are on the planet working with local medical personnel, the disease has jumped species and is infecting humans, too, and Uhura’s old friend, Sunfall, an Eeiauoan diplomat who shares her love of music and gift for it, is among the ill. There’s an acting Chief Medical Officer on Enterprise, Evan Wilson, who when sent had hoped she’d be working with McCoy, not filling in for him. And she’s…unusual. As both Uhura and Spock search through all the information they have that might be relevant, they start pooling their efforts using the ballads she learned from Sunfall, and what he can piece together from their history and biology. Soon they’re convincing Kirk they need to go looking for the Eeiauons’ original homeworld. The result has Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and Evan Wilson trying to get medical information from people who are deeply ashamed of their ancestors having exiled the Eeiaoans, two millennia ago, and don’t want to talk about it. Oh, and the landing party has to figure out how to deal with a culture according to whose customs they’re not even adults. It’s a lot of fun.’ 

Next she has a review of a Revelation Space novel by Alasdair Reynolds: ‘Elysium Fire is the second adventure of Prefect Tom Dreyfus and his deputies, Thalia Ng and Sparver Bancal, confronting a new crisis. Or two crises. Or maybe the two crises are converging into one … They’re facing the new fragility of the Glitter Band, a seemingly inexplicable wave of deaths, and a very effective demagogue of murky background and unknown motives.’

Finally she looks at a novellette, At Witt’s End to be precise, in the Spade/Paladin Conundrum series by Kristine Kathryn Rusch: ‘Science fiction fandom’s most renowned detective when things go wrong, has a sad job of a different kind to do. An old friend, another BNF (Big Name Fan), going by the single name Witt, has died, and Spade has the job of both organizing his memorial service for the benefit of fandom, and of auctioning off his collection of fannish treasures and memorabilia for the benefit of the charities Witt designated. Since Witt never wanted a memorial, and no West Coast convention in the right timeframe is large enough to host the auction, Spade has a major challenge. But when he gets those details sorted out, he soon finds himself confronting a bigger problem. During the memorial preceding the auction, the most valuable item in the collection disappears.’

Well, I lied. She also reviews another Spade/Paladin Conundrum story: ‘Spade is determined to stay far away from Unity Con, a convention run by people he loathes, who have no conrunning experience, whom he is convinced will make a disaster for all of fandom if well-known conrunners are seen to be involved. Then he gets a call from Paladin, telling him about a disaster that’s going to damage fandom anyway, unless she and Spade can prevent it. And Spade can’t say no to Paladin.’

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‘The scenery, costumes, and sets in the movie are really lovely,’ Andrea says of a Hallmark production, Hans Christian Andersen: My Life as a Fairytale. Never a good sign, when a reviewer praises the sets, costumes and such … so what else does she have to say? ‘A great deal of the acting was sub-par. It was in many places too childish for adults and in many others too adult for children, and did not do justice to the subject, one of the most revered writers in the history of fairy tales.’

Raspberry dividerGary has all of our culinary reviews this time and he says in his first review, ‘Not only has alcohol been intimately involved in the history of the United States of America, it has been closely associated with some of the key moments in that history, from the very beginning. That’s the argument that Susan Cheever makes in her book Drinking in America: Our Secret History.’

A loving look at Reid Mitenbuler’s Bourbon Empire which bears the subtitle of The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey being his second review. A history of bourbon lovingly told? Need I say more to get you to read his review? I think not!

Amy Stewart’s book might be a novel from its title but as Gary notes ‘No, it’s not a murder mystery or a light romantic comedy. The Drunken Botanist is a botanical exploration of “The plants that create the world’s great drinks,” as its subtitle says.’

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Michael tackled an omnibus review of the entire series of Paradox Press’ series called The Big Book of … ‘Each is the size of a magazine, weighing in at 200 pages, give or take a few. These are well-designed, sturdy volumes which will look good on any shelf. Essentially, they’re graphic novels, with the numerous entries in each book written either by one author or one of several, and illustrated by any one of dozens of different artists. That’s right, one book can include upwards of 70 artists or more, featuring a wildly varying range of styles. While listing them all would be prohibitive, some regular and familiar names include Gahan Wilson, Sergio Aragones (of Mad Magazine and Groo fame), Eddie Campbell (the From Hell graphic novel), Phil Jiminez (current writer and artist of Wonder Woman), Colleen Doran (A Distant Soil), Frank Quietly (The Authority, New X-Men), and so many more.’

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John O’Regan turned in a massive omnibus review of all sorts of Celtic music: ‘Celtic music is a wild and strange beast at the best of times, but beauty exists alongside the power and fury. This omnibus crosses both power and beauty and also the whole gamut of performers from harpists and pipers to families – parents and sibling outfits, various artists and a sole female vocalist who stands on the operatic side of Irish music. The artists hail from Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, USA and the UK.’

John also reviewed six CDs of  ‘Celtic mavericks‘ music, which he characterized as ‘a bunch of releases from people who have more than once stepped outside the zone marked “Familiar.” ‘ For example, he says of one of them, Music From the Four Corners of Hell by The Woods Band: ‘Named after a Dublin side street at which a pub existed on each corner, nostalgia is part of this package – but only half. Taking a bunch of popular Irish ballads like ‘Finnegan’s Wake’, ‘As I Roved Out’, ‘Spanish Lady’ and ‘The Travelling People’, some of which have been battered to extinction or forgotten in Celtic Tiger/Cosmopolitan Ireland, Woods returns them to their state of beauty, but tinged with with a little smattering of depravity.’

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Camille has a look at toys made based on the characters in a film that never existed except as a script: Dark Horse Books, a division of Dark Horse Comics, recently released Roald Dahl’s The Gremlins in commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of the United States Air Force. In a slightly melodramatic and over-sentimentalized introduction, Leonard Maltin gives a nevertheless fascinating brief history of this Disney-movie-that-wasn’t.’ They even came with an actual Gremlin bitten cookie!

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Once upon a time and place, Enya was a founding member of Clannad and there are live recordings of the band from that period. She has never toured as a solo artist so, alas, there are no live recordings of her doing her own work.

So here are two of Clannad’s early pieces, with first up being ‘The Two Sisters’  from a performance in Köln, Germany, in 1977. This is a variant of the better known ‘Cruel Sister’ which is a Child Ballad covered by myriad bands. Pay attention to the lyrics at the end as they tell the gruesome ending the murderous sister comes to. It’s an ending worthy of the original Grimm Tales!

The second piece by them is ‘Down By The Sally Gardens’, which was performed in Bremen, Germany, in 1980 in what might have well have been one of Enya’s last performances with the band. The lyrics to the latter come from that well-known Irish poet William Butler Yeats.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: A Hidden Bookstore

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It’s been jocularly observed that the presence of many books in one place can actually warp both space and time.

I’m Iain MacKenzie, the Head Librarian here at the Kinrowan Estate, and I’m not sure that this view is so very far from being right. The stacks here at the Library, for instance, can be rather frighteningly extensive. Though we’ve never actually lost anyone, that I know of.

And did you know there is a unique little bookshop in Kinrowan Hall? You didn’t, did you? I was here for years before I stumbled upon it, just last year.

I was restless late one winter night a month or so ago, unable to sleep no matter what I did, so I came down from our garret revidence leaving Catherine, my wife, sleeping to the Library to do some cataloguing, escorted by Finn, one of the cats. I noticed a warm, yellow light coming from a hallway where I didn’t recall existing before now, so I went to investigate.

The light spilled from the open top-half of a door; the door had a small sign hanging on it that read, rather simply, ‘Books’.

Peering through the door, I saw a rather small, gnarled-looking individual sitting at a tiny desk surrounded by what looked to be thousands of books, shelf after shelf of them. Library-style ladders ran along the walls on the left and right.

The whole lot was in a space barely wider than the doorway itself, but seemingly running deep into the building.

The proprietor appeared to be deeply immersed in a book, and didn’t seem to notice me and the cat standing rather hesitantly just outside the door, even when Finn jumped up onto the top ledge of the half-door and leaned in, waving his stumpy tail around for balance, to get a closer look.

All in all, it put me in mind of one of those tiny bookstores where the proprietor must be talked into parting with one of the books for sale. Finn and I exchanged a glance, and after a moment I decided to continue on my way to my catalogues, Finn jumping down with a soft thud to the floor and running ahead of me across the hall.

And then, as so often happens, I was busy with thing after thing, and I haven’t managed to make my way back to the strange little bookshop to explore. One of these days…

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What’s New for the 16th of April: Matty Groves as done by Sandy Denny, Mushroom Hunting, Michael Kaluta, Shane McGowan, some books that touch on the American Pastime, Norwegian folk, a Swiss classical take on American music, The Weavers, Federal Music Project, and more

Conspiracy theories are really attractive. Figuring out patterns is one of the things that gets your brain to give you a nice dose of chemical reward, the little ping of dopamine and whatever else that keeps you smiling. As a result, your brain is pretty good at finding patterns, and at disregarding information that doesn’t fit. Which means it’s also pretty good at finding false patterns, and at confirmation bias, and a bunch of other things that can be fatal. Our brains are also really good at making us the center of a narrative, because it’s what we evolved for.

Elizabeth Bear’s  Ancestral Night

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So you want to know about the Sandy Denny bio that Reynard was alluding to in our Pub? Well I can’t give any specifics about it but I can tell the tale by changing the names of all involved. A writer for an American music magazine, call it Frest, decided to write a biography of Sandy Denny, who died as the result of a fall down the stairs at her home even though her death was some weeks later. The Coroner’s Inquest found mid-brain trauma to be the cause of her death. She was just over thirty years old when she died, a tragedy for a folk musician of high esteem for her work with Fairport Convention, Fotheringay, the Strawbs and otherwise.

The writer got an advance from a well-regarded publisher here in Britain and set out doing interviews and such. So far, so good. And then our writer turned in a draft, which was when the shit started piling up. Really deep. It’s been speculated on who was Denny’s pusher, and the writer decided to say who it was, a speculation at best. (I read the draft — the evidence was scant at best. And I no longer remember who it was.) The publisher hit the roof and said that bit had to go (the writer refused), so the publisher got a ban from it being published anywhere and demanded the not-small advance back. And that’s where the story ends.

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David reviewed All of This Music Belongs to the Nation, an interesting academic book about the Federal Music Project, part of Roosevelt’s New Deal during the Great Depression, which aimed to employee musicians and elevate the public’s musical tastes. ‘The program seemed doomed to failure from the beginning, partly because a Russian classical musician, Nikolai Sokoloff, was put in charge of the project. His taste helped define the type of “cultured music” citizens and musicians were to be taught to appreciate, to the exclusion of more vernacular music. He formed a 25-member advisory committee to help implement the program. This committee included George Gershwin and Leopold Stokowski, among others.’

David also enjoyed another book on a somewhat related theme, Sing Out, Warning! Sing Out, Love! the collected writing of Lee Hays of The Weavers. ‘You all recall Mister Lee Hays: the bass singer from The Weavers. He was last seen in the Weavers reunion film Wasn’t That a Time. He passed away shortly thereafter. Robert S. Koppelman, assistant professor of English at Broward Community College and a banjo player and singer, has gathered together a rich collection of Hays’s writings. With these writings and the Weavers’ albums, Lee Hays will live on. His spirit is tangible on these pages.’

Elizabeth had a mixed reaction to Ben Sherwood’s The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, which is about a fellow who is able to commune with the dead following his own near death in a car crash. ‘In summary, this book is warm, cozy, and predictable, like a Lifetime movie-of-the-week you’ve seen a dozen times. A good choice for a library run, but not re-readable enough to make it a permanent addition to one’s book collection. It’s a nice little novel to curl up with on a rainy day, but not one to necessarily philosophise over.’

Gary has nothing but good words for a recent science fiction book that deals with currently relevent topics like bioengineering and artificial intelligence. ‘With Autonomous, Annalee Newitz has written the most subversive sf novel I’ve ever read. I’ve followed Newitz on Twitter for a couple of years but this is the first book of theirs I’ve read, so maybe all of them are like this. But I kept having to put it down and ponder the gravity of what I’d just read, which doesn’t happen so often with genre fiction.’

Guy covered an unusual collection, Esther Friesner’s Death and the Librarian and Other Stories. ‘All these stories are rather unorthodox – this is by no means classic fantasy. Friesner is usually recognized as a humorous fantasy writer, but most of these stories made me want to cry. My recommendation: If you are looking for a different kind of fantasy story, this book is worth a try.’

Michael had mostly good things to say about Charlaine Harris’s Dead as a Doornail. ‘I’ve been saying it all along: there’s no way that a southern vampire murder mystery/romance with a telepathic cocktail waitress should work, and yet the elements manage to come together rather nicely. Harris has an ear for dialogue and a way with making the storylines flow together, and the world she’s presented certainly has room for all the disparate elements involved.’

Michelle offers up a book themed to the American Pastime: ‘It’s already been established that baseball exists primarily to serve as a metaphor for the meaning of life. If you didn’t get that from Malamud’s The Natural or Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe, then surely you got it from Mays’ Say Hey or Kahn’s The Boys of Summer. So it should come as no surprise that Summerland, the most recent novel by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon, reiterates this all-important theme. And should you be a reader who is only happy when the Red Sox are winning or who actually doesn’t like baseball — should you fail to appreciate that “a baseball game is nothing but a great slow contraption for getting you to pay attention to the cadence of a summer day,” to quote Chabon — then Summerland is even more important for you.’

Warner has a few surprises this time around.

There are some books that fit a lot into a short space. Camelo Jose Celas’s The Hive is one of them. Sporting more characters than its page count, this short book focusing on one town in a nation suffering will leave heads spinning. A fascinating book that got a Nobel Laureate blacklisted.

Loren Estleman is an old name in the mystery genre, well-rounded and respected. His latest book, City Walls, continues a long-running series and is likely to please fans right away. Like many private detective novels, it starts investigating a financial crime and moves into looking at something more life and death.

Amulya Malladis’s A Death in Denmark serves as a well constructed start to a new series. Between a musician PI and a dead politician the opening alone is a startling mix. Featuring a mystery involving the refugee crisis with roots going back to a similar phenomenon during the second World War, this book keeps readers guessing.

Polar Horrors is a wonderful anthology from the British Library Tales of the Weird series. Edited by John Miller, it contains many different examples of horror from the coldest parts of the world. It’s also one of the most varied collections in the series, with far newer works than one might expect.

Karina Moss returns to her Cheese Shop mystery series with Curds of Prey. Opening with a wedding, it’s not long before the story also includes a funeral. With all of the feel and look of a cozy mystery, this one has more depth than you might expect.

Sometimes a book can be sold under more than one genre. Mia Tsai has mastered that with Bitter Medicine. A globetrotting tale of magic and the fair folk, this volume fits equally in urban fantasy and paranormal Romance. Certainly a good look into a global setting with a certain regional influence.

Josh Weiss’s Sunset Empire  is the second in a series of alternate history detective novels. A sequel to an already well received volume, it does a lot to expand the world. Looking into a world very much like our own recent history, the mix of anti-Semitism and anti-asian bias will be chilling to many.

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Our reviewer Richard tackled the Sundance Channel’s documentary, If I Should Fall from Grace: the Shane McGowan Story. ‘The Shane McGowan that emerges from this portrait is as paradoxical as his music; hiding behind a mask of simplicity lies a complex man who wrestles every day with his own private demons.’

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One of my favourite breakfast treats is a bacon, mushroom and cheddar cheese omelet. So. In when Gus reviewed a certain work and led off by saying that  ‘The Mushroom Hunters showed up for review a few years back but it took me a while to get around to reading it. Now keep in mind that these are not the weekend mushroom hunters who go looking for a few pounds of these fungi to use in their own culinary endeavours. These are hardcore individuals who live rough for months on end, searching the forests where the rarest mushrooms grow in anticipation of selling their harvest to high-end restaurants that’ll pay them top price for them.’

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Ian conducted an interview with one of our favorite illustrators, Michael William Kaluta, in which the artist comes across very much as self-deprecating as his art is masterful. ‘Contrary to the way I’d like to be perceived, always questing forward toward uncharted realms of art and accomplishment, I’m much more a slow, stumbling, whimsical worker full of overcautious doubt. Perhaps that zombie approach helps in the long run, but it does get in the way too often for me to be happy about it.’

Robert found a Neil Gaiman offering beyond delightful. ‘With The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish, Gaiman fully embraces his inner juvenile surrealist. While the cover promises the books “will delight anyone who is — or has ever been — a kid,” Gaiman goes further than delight. Reading this book, an adult will be plunged back into a child-like frame of mind, a reality, once coloured in Seuss-ian bolds, now vivid and starkly rendered by Gaiman’s long-time friend and frequent illustrator Dave McKean in line drawings, collages and bold washes.’

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Chris thoroughly enjoyed an album by the Michigan-based Americana band Steppin’ In It. ‘Last Winter in the Copper Country feels like a great live gig in some sitcom pub, minus the cigarette smoke and hangover. They do fine, distinctive versions of perennial pickin’ faves “Red Haired Boy,” “Trouble in Mind,” and a conjoined “Over the Waterfall/Mississippi Sawyer.” The originals are more than fine. They cover a range of moods with nicely varied arrangements and dynamics.

David took a tour through, as he puts it, ‘…four CDs that each take the essentials of American roots music and play it their own way. From the founders who are represented on Close Harmony to the close harmony of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. From the Dirt Band’s respectful modelling of traditions to the update provided by Cast Iron Filter. From the fiddle virtuosity of Mike Barnett to master mandolinist Mike Orlando. The circle is not unbroken, it just keeps rolling around. Long may it roll!’

Next up, David reviews two soul anthologies, Solomon Burke’s That’s Heavy Baby and Eddie Hinton’s A Mighty Field of Vision. ‘Solomon Burke is enjoying a renaissance, with two highly acclaimed recent albums and a live DVD. Eddie Hinton (who passed away in 1995) is also being rediscovered; a new CD of unreleased material was just advertised in British rock magazines. But the albums under review today are both from the wonderful antipodean archival label Raven Records, which seeks to re-issue some of the great lost music of our time. They’ve done it again!’

It took Gary a while but eventually he came around to enjoying an album of Norwegian traditional music. ‘At first I was put off by the relative lack of variety in the tempos and arrangements on Buen & Groven’s Kjenslevev, and it’s true that I tend to prefer modern music like Morgonrode’s. But the nearly continual stately pace and grave nature of Buen & Groven’s music is a feature, not a bug, chosen by musicians whose aim is to preserve and bring forward the old folk traditions.’

He liked Brìghde Chaimbeul’s second album Carry Them With Us immediately, noting that it ‘… is a masterful, exhilarating melange of traditional and modern music for the Scottish smallpipes. It’s definitely not for the traditionalists among piping fans, but what Chaimbeul is doing with Scottish smallpipe music is very much like what Nils Øklund and Benedicte Maurseth do with Norwegian Hardanger fiddling – using the tradition as a springboard for a new thing that incorporates minimalism and other modernist ideas.’

Gary also reviewed some jazz-inflected trance music featuring the Moroccan guimbri plus harp, harmonium and horns. ‘I hadn’t experienced Natural Information Society before this release, but Since Time Is Gravity is something like the seventh release by this ensemble that has been the project of composer and multi-instrumentalist Joshua Abrams for 15 years.’

Gary reviews some music in the classical style, Calefax’s An American Rhapsody. ‘Calefax’s vision of both classical and American music is pretty expansive, and the album’s source music ranges from purely classical pieces (by Samuel Barber and Florence Price), through Gershwin’s music which is both classical- and jazz-adjacent, through the jazz of Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn to Stevie Wonder’s funky rocking soul and Moondog’s eclecticism. Quite rightly it puts much of its spotlight on music composed by Black Americans and Jewish Americans, whose contributions in many ways dominated American music both popular and serious, for much of the 20th century.’

Gary gave a mixed review to John McCutcheon’s Storied Ground. ‘ …I have to say that John McCutcheon on disc isn’t as interesting as John McCutcheon in concert. At least, that’s the impression I have from listening to Storied Ground and a handful of his others over the years. Mostly, it’s a matter of taste. McCutcheon writes and performs in a very sincere, no-frills style that also, for me, holds few surprises.’

Another week, another Celtic music omni from John O’Regan. This time he covers four CDs of Celtic women vocalists, including the debut recording of Julie Fowlis, whom he correctly pegged as a rising star. ‘She freely borrows much from the Irish tradition for her instrumental tunes as much as her Scottish repertoire highlighting the twined connection. Overall, this is a very pleasing debut and one that marks Julie Fowlis as a very promising talent. I do not think we have heard the last of her.’

John next tells us about Niall Toner Band’s There’s a Better Way, which amounts to the first solo album by this particular Irish country musician. ‘Dublin’s Niall Toner has been called the father of Irish bluegrass music. Certainly, his dedication to playing and preserving American folk and old time music has proven both a vocation and a calling card. Having played for four decades with many leading Irish and American bluegrass musicians including Bill Monroe, and presenting country music shows on RTE radio and Lite FM, Niall Toner’s name immediately commands respect.’

Kim enjoyed Song of the Green Linnet, a “various artists” collection from one of our favorite labels. ‘I’ve enjoyed most of the Green Linnet collections I’ve come across, so I was happy when this one came up for review – and I was not disappointed. It’sdefinitely meant for those who love the songs. There are no instrumentals to vary the pace, although a few of the songs are paired in sets with instrumentals. But there is no shortage of good playing or singing on this two disc set.

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Our usual What Not is a puppet or a tarot deck, but this time Reynard has a review of two action figures that inhabit his office space: ‘Well back in 2003, Stronghold Group released two characters based on the sort of people that inhabited the CBGB club, one being Maxx, a singer, and the other being, Bad Apple, who is less clearly defined though he too could be a musician, a fan, and even perhaps a CGBG bouncer. One site claimed these are ‘extreme look-alikes of Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten’ but the manufacturer doesn’t say who they based on.’ Read his full review for a look at two fascinating characters!

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For our musical coda, I’ve got  ‘Matty Groves’ as performed by Fairport Convention at the Nottingham University on the 27th of  November 1974 with Sandy Denny being the vocalist. It’s definitely not soundboard quality but it’s hard to find performances of her that are legal to use.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Estate gossip (A Letter to Tessa)

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A letter from the journal of Lady Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Head Gardener here in the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India, to her friend who was in Constantinople as of this letter. Alex, as she was known, copied her personal correspondence into her Journal. She noted in her will that her letters were to be part of the Estate Library upon her death. She would live to well over one hundred, even longer than her Queen would! She is buried on the Estate beneath her beloved oaks.

Dearest Tessa,

Thank you for your wonderful gift of spices and herbs for the kitchen here! Blackie said that they would certainly be well used. I, for one, am looking forward to cardamom-infused coffee with cream as your description of it sounds wonderful.

I have shipped the botanical society bulletins you requested this past week. The Royal Post said the ship should reach you within the month if the weather holds. I’ve also included professional correspondence from your fellow botanists, as they had far too many questions and requests for me to list here. I think they’re just envious of your receiving sponsorship for your travels and I had to fend off questions about how you got such backing. My, they’re like cats looking at another cat with a new toy!

Speaking of cats, the orange tabby you named Gefjun has lived up to her name as she gave birth this past month to four terribly cute kittens, all of which had very short stump tails. Their colour was quite odd too — a black so deep it looked as though they were made out of the midnight sky at lunar eclipse — with intense green eyes. No idea who their father was as no male cat about here looks like that. And all of the kittens are males, which is very strange.

They’re being raised near to the furnace in the sub-cellar, which is warm enough. More than one of the Several Annies has been derelict in their duties as they’re spending a lot of time down there, but Isabella has been understanding. I’ve put in a claim on one of them, as has Isabella.

Isabella was delighted by The One Thousand and One Nights that you found in the Grand Bazaar and sent her. Fortunately, you knew that she read Turkish, so she’s being pestered by almost all of the Several Annies to read tales to them, which she is delighted to do.

Oh, you’ll be delighted to know that the grape vine stock from Bordeaux is doing well. I think we may be able to do a reasonable champagne within a few years. You were indeed right about the climate being good enough to grow them here. We’ll need help with the pressing and casking, as neither of us knows enough to do it properly!

Lastly Isabella’s futile quest to discover to the identity of Our Patron showed how badly the Journals needed annotating and indexing. Even my beloved Estate Garden Journals need this!

Still missing you, Alex

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What’s New for the 2nd of April: Kaiju preservation, Francesca Lia Block; lots of Alan Moore; Celtic music, organ jazz trios, West Coast jazz, and meld of American exotica, minimalist jazz, and Middle Eastern modes

I sipped my own coffee, heavy on the sugar and cream, trying to make up for the late work the night before. Caffeine and sugar, the two basic food groups. — Anita Blake in Laurell K. Hamilton’s Cerulean Sins

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No, it’s not that cold but it’s definitely nasty enough that I passed on my morning ramble around the Estate, as once again there’s a stiff wind along with a freezing drizzle – not quite what I would want to walk or ski in. So I settled in for a quiet day of reading and answering correspondence (my fellow librarians and book lovers still like letters), as Ingrid, our Steward, took my apprentices for the day for them to learn what an Estate Steward does.

So first breakfast. Unlike Blake, I always drink tea as I never developed a taste for coffee no matter how good it was. So it was lapsong soochong, a loose leaf first blush smoked black tea from Ceylon. With a splash of cream of course. And a rare surprise too — apple fritters served with thick cut twice smoked bacon, using apple wood only, and yet more apples in the form of cinnamon and nutmeg infused apple sauce. There was even mulled cider for those wanting even more apples in their breakfast fare! Thus fortified, I turned to writing the What’s New for this week …

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Cat says Roger Zelazny’s Roadmarks features a protagonist somebody is trying to kill as he moves along a time-travelling road. As one does. ‘Zelazny really didn’t do plots all that well, but he was gifted at developed unique characters and settings. So, like so many of his novels, this one’s true strengths lies in the unique nature of the setting, combined with the character development…’

Christopher enjoyed Deborah Grabien’s Still Life with Devils but found the pudding a bit over-egged. ‘The story revolves around Cassius Chant, an African American San Francisco police detective, and his efforts to find and stop an elusive serial killer who has been murdering pregnant women. Chant’s sister Leontyne, known as Leo, is an artist with the unusual ability to literally enter into her paintings via a form of what used to be called astral projection. Chant is also the single parent to a precocious teenage daughter whose Chinese mother abandoned the family immediately following her birth.’

Gary has unqualified praise for John Scalzi’s The Kaiju Preservation Society. ‘It’s a rollicking comic book of a tale, combining elements of Christopher Moore’s satiric fantasies with Indiana Jones-like adventure, told in Scalzi’s signature breezy style. In his light way Scalzi sends up the old monster movies as well as modern franchises like Scooby Doo and Jurassic Park, glossing over wildly unlikely “science” with a joke and a wave of the hand – and he even tells you what he’s doing when he does it, which got the biggest laugh of the book from me.’

Lis thoroughly enjoyed a reissued classic mystery novel, Anthony Boucher’s Rocket to the Morgue, featuring LAPD Detective Lt. Terence Marshall. It has an SF tie-in, too: ‘… Marshall is investigating a locked-room attempted murder, questioning a selection of potential suspects from the Mañana Literary Society, the informal social circle of the science fiction writers living in and around Los Angeles at the time. For dedicated science fiction fans, this adds some extra fun, because these writers are mostly thinly disguised major sf writers of the period. However, if you’re only here for the mystery, you won’t notice, and it won’t distract from the story.’

Marian looks at a trilogy by Jane Yolen that deserves to be a classic. First up is ‘The Books of Great Alta which is the compilation of Yolen’s two books in the series,  Sister Light, Sister Dark and White Jenna. It is the story of the women of Dale, who worship Great Alta, the mother goddess and what happens to them for better or worse.’ If you’ve read these already, then do read Marian’s review of  the final volume, The One-Armed Queen, but otherwise do not as it has major spoilers about what happens in the first two novels.

Rebecca fell in love with Francesca Lia Block’s YA books about Weetzie Bat, which were compiled in a tome called Dangerous Angels. ‘These books are Los Angelene fairy tales, set in an LA that must be in the ’80s and ’90s, but feels like the mythic ’50s or ’60s, or like no time at all. This LA glitters and glimmers through a golden haze. This is not to say that the books ignore what is ugly in the world. Instead, the grime and the crime and the evil are seen, and they hurt, but that hurt fuels the creative process, inspiring the characters to make movies and music, causing them to want to reach out, to change the world.’

Moving on from that, Rebecca also liked another Block compilation, Girl Goddess #9. ‘If the Weetzie Bat books were fairy tales, these are, perhaps, folk tales, or fables. These stories are darker. The princess does not always get her prince, and wishes are not granted, or not many of them. Yet many of the same themes and motifs are present: love and alienation, growing up, coming out, AIDS, prejudice, fear, and loss.’

An (un)novel set in a future Tel Aviv caught the interest of Richard as well: ‘Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station is barely a novel, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Instead, it’s a loosely connected series of stories featuring a rotating cast of characters, and the gently ramshackle DIY nature of the narrative structure matches up perfectly with the DIY, maker-centric vision of the world that Central Station presents.’ (Warner reviews the sequel Neom here.)

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April reviewed a relatively obscure documentary about one of our favorite comic artists, The Mindscape of Alan Moore. It’s a short film consisting mostly of interview footage with Moore on a variety of topics. ‘Interspliced between the segments of Moore’s talk are some early film renditions of V for Vendetta and Watchmen. Another segment alludes to John Constantine of Swamp Thing and Hellblazer fame. The clips make for an interesting comparison with the commercially released versions of the films, particularly given Moore’s intentional distance from those works.’

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

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.’

Gary went a long way for this treat: ‘On a recent vacation (or “holiday”) trip in New Zealand’s South Island, we were doing some grocery shopping before hitting the road for our next destination. We’d already picked up a couple of bags of Cadbury Jaffas to take home as candy mementos, and were looking for something else unique and representative of Kiwi candy culture. These RJ’s Licorice Choc Twists immediately jumped out out me.’

Raspberry dividerSpeaking of Alan Moore, you’ll find a lot of his work covered here. April also reviewed Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Jess Nevins’ Heroes and Monsters: The Unofficial Companion to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; Cat reviewed The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Absolute Edition; Rachel Manija Brown covered Promethea, Book One; and Kage covered Moore and O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier.

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Danny takes us track by track through a compilation album of organ trio jazz called Kickin’ The 3 – referring of course to the mighty Hammond B-3. Other than a couple of minor beefs, he says, ‘this is an excellent collection of a genre that is still alive and well and is a must for any serious collector. You can also safely acquire anything by any of the artists featured here and be very happy with your choice.’

‘A lot of what goes by the name of jazz music these days is either quite complex musically or some sort of hybrid combining classical, folk, pop, ambient, and experimental music,’ Gary says. ‘However, Dave Askren & Jeff Benedict’s Denver Sessions is none of that. This is an absolute feel-good album of swinging West Coast jazz in mostly straight ahead mode. Sometimes that’s just the sort of music you need.’

Gary recommends a new album by a Brooklyn trio that blends lots of influences into a satisfying whole. ‘Jasmine on a Night in July is the debut studio full-length from the trio that calls itself Scree. They’re led by Arab-American guitarist Ryan El-Solh in creation of a unique melding of American exotica, minimalist jazz and El-Solh’s Lebanese and Palestinian heritage.’

John reviewed a Celtic-adjacent soundtrack album of a film called Evelyn, which he describes as a warm-hearted, post-9/11 family movie starting Pierce Brosnan. ‘The soundtrack music reveals some interesting facts. First off is Van Morrison’s ‘Sitting on top of the world’ – not the blues song of the same name but an original delivered in his customary smooth gospel soul fusion. Secondly, Pierce Brosnan sings – yes you read right – and reveals himself as a no shame balladeer on ‘The Parting Glass’ and ‘Banks of the Roses’.’

John also took a crack at Battlefield Band’s Time & Tide, which featured some shifts in membership. ‘As far as Battlefield Band lineups go it’s perhaps early in the day yet to guess their staying power and compare them to any previous grouping. What’s obvious is that the Battlefield Band is a functional working unit on the move. Time & Tide harks back to their 1980 album Home is Where the Van Is, when Ged Foley came in. This album has a similar transitional feel to it and a sense of regrouping and reshuffling the deck is evident.

And John turned in an omnibus review of three Celtic themed CDs, Glengarry Bhoys’ Mountain Road, Crookshank’s Crookshank, and Various artists’ Cold Blow These Winter Winds. ‘This omnibus, while detailing Celtic releases of an ensemble nature, finds three releases with their own individual approach, style and sound. The result is a mix of solid Celtic rock, experimental Celtic and medieval cum renaissance strains, and a novel approach to that most fettered and difficult of endeavours: the Celtic Christmas album.’

Judith had a mixed response to Take Your Time, and Roots & Branches, a couple of early releases by Northern Irish singer songwriter Ben Sands, of the legendary Sands Family. She found the cover tunes a mixed bag, but the instrumental work always top notch. ‘Whatever the interpretation of ambience, Sand’s Irish vocals are always pleasant and warm, and the albums are well produced. They certainly navigate the border of Irish contemporary and traditional music, of past and present.’

Peter has good news and bad news about an album called Tempered by the group Last Night’s Fun. ‘This album is good, very good, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t think this album does them enough credit. Their live performances coupled with their humour and stagecraft are supreme. This is the reason I suspect they are so popular at festivals. Without the banter, the music comes out brilliantly performed but cold in comparison. For a band like this it must always be difficult to produce a representative album.’

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Our What Not is another writer telling us what they think of Tolkien, and Elizabeth Hand gave a lengthy reply: ‘I’d probably have to say The Lord of the Rings, which I’ve read it countless times over the last forty years. It imprinted on me at such an early age — I had the good luck to read it as a kid in the 1960s, when it was still a cult novel, and you had a real sense that you were in some secret, marvelous group of insiders who had visited a place not everyone knew about. Maybe kids discovering it today still have that feeling, in spite of the success of the movies (which I love). I hope so.

But I also find that, as I’ve gotten older, I’m far more drawn to reread other works, especially in The Complete History of Middle Earth and The Silmarillion (we have very long Tolkien shelves here). I love the Beren & Luthien material, and also the various accounts of Turin, which recently were republished as The Children of Hurin. The dark tone of all of it, the tragic cast and also the recurring motifs involving elves and mortal lovers — great stuff. It doesn’t serve the function of comfort reading that LOTR does, and because I’m not so familiar with the stories I can still read them with something like my original sense of discovery. The breadth and depth of Tolkien’s achievement really becomes apparent when one reads The Complete History — 13 volumes, including an Index. Every time I go back to them I think, I could be learning Greek, or Ancient Egyptian, something that has to do with the real world.

But then, I’m continually so amazed by what this one man came up with, the intensity and single mindedness of his obsession. And I get sucked into it all over again.’

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

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

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