We keep our cats as happy as we can. — Anna Nimmhaus
Remember I mentioned recently that we got snow? Well now it’s quite different, as it’s a steady, icy rain and a gusting wind which has kept every soul inside save the staff that needs to tend the farm animals. My Several Annies are helping with the decorating of the various spaces that get Winter Holiday garlands and such, so I’m doing this What’s New as I usually do while enjoying the Oysterband doing the Red Barn Stomp from their Minneapolis concert in 1991.
I’m going to start off this outing with an ebook from Charles de Lint and his wife MaryAnn Harris, Newford Stories: Crow Girls. I say both because the story of these apparently immortal shapeshifters I like the most is the one credited to both of them, to wit “A Crow Girls’ Christmas,.” If it doesn’t cheer you up quite a bit, I’m afraid your soul is lost.
Alastair Reynolds’ Slow Bullets gets reviewed by Richard, who sagely says that ‘Wars do not end neatly. While treaties may be signed and victories declared, there’s always room around the edges and in the grey spaces away from cameras and central command for those more interested in brutality than resolution’. So what happens when all sides of a recent conflict are thrown together on a ship that’s both dying and way off course? Quite a bit.
A true classic of literature is next as Robert give us this: ‘Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy is inarguably one of the seminal works of modern science fiction. It was one of the first to take its inspiration from the social sciences rather than the physical sciences (Gernsback’s formula of “better living through technology” had received a serious blow with the first use of the atomic bomb in 1945), and consequently the emphasis throughout is on those phenomena that have little to do with particles and waves and everything to do with human behavior: politics, war, and, ultimately, the relationships among the people who form our window onto this history’.
Robert’s next review is a bit different: ‘Gods have started showing up regularly in comics and graphic novels, everything from Thor and Loki in the various Avengers series to Titania and Auberon in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and The Books of Magic (no, they’re not gods now, but they were long ago) to Elder Gods too terrible to name in Hellboy and B.P.R.D., but I don’t know that anyone has every examined not only the nature of deity, but the morality of deity, before John Arcudi’s A God Somewhere.’
A trio of chocolate treats is reviewed by Robert: ‘Amano Artisan Chocolate is an American company founded and owned by Clark Goble and Art Pollard, located in Orem, Utah. They use vintage chocolate-making equipment and their products are made in small batches. Like regional cheeses and Old Country wines, their chocolates are unique: each comes from beans obtained from specific locations, and at present, they do not make blended chocolates.’
Reynard has a look at Harry Long’s The Waltons Guide to Irish Music: ‘The subtitle of this book is “A Comprehensive A-Z Guide to Irish and Celtic Music in All Its Forms” and for once this is an accurate statement. It is indeed indispensable guide to Irish music in all its varied facets.’
Gary starts off his music reviews by looking at Thelonious Monk’s Complete Riverside Recordings. Of Monk, Gary notes ‘Like all geniuses, pianist Thelonious Monk was initially misunderstood, even scorned. His ideas about harmony were ahead of his time, and he definitely didn’t fit in with the strictures of bebop, the lingua franca of the jazz world in the late 1940s and early ’50s, which he helped to invent.’ Gary goes on to tell the fascinating story of how Monk became very popular!
He continues with a new favourite recording: ‘”In The Morning,” the title work and opening track of Stefano Battaglia Trio’s new release, is one of the most poignant and evocative pieces of music I’ve encountered this year. I don’t know much about this work, and my knowledge of its composer Alec Wilder is woefully inadequate, but I do know that “In The Morning” has already entered my shortlist of favorite works of all time.’
He follows that review with a look at another recording that gets high praise from him: ‘I’ve been aware of the towering presence of jazz pianist Vijay Iyer for some time now but hadn’t felt quite ready to take on his music. I finally took the plunge with his 2015 trio release Break Stuff and find it about as I expected. From what I can tell, it’s among Iyer’s more accessible works.’
Gary’s definitely on a roll here: ‘Wow. Just, wow. That was my first reaction to this amazing new self-titled record by American songsters Anna & Elizabeth. You just don’t hear this kind of singing much anymore, outside of Appalachia, and it is a joy to find such skill and empathy employed in the presentation of these old songs by these young musicians.’
It seems that being dead doesn’t actually mean the release of new material ceases as Gary notes here: ‘If, like me, you never saw Frank Zappa live with one of his fabulous bands, this DVD release from Eagle Rock is a great way to see what you missed. Or even if you did witness the madness before Zappa died of cancer in 1993, you’ll enjoy The Torture Never Stops.’
Many Languages, One Soul is from a Balkan band, a favoured music here among the staffers and Gary’s no exception: ‘If you at all like instrumental music from southeastern Europe, if you enjoy the sound and versatility of the clarinet, or if you just like wildly eclectic international music – personally, all three describe me – then this Balkan Clarinet Summit disc is a must-have.’
I’m going to finish off with Calexico’s Edge of the Sun which gets reviewed by Gary, who says proudly he has everything they’ve released. He says of this release that it ‘is packed full of the kind of music that made me a longtime fan of the Tucson band. To me it’s one of Calexico’s more successful albums in quite a while. The songs have strong melodies – both on the catchy upbeat numbers and the more pensive ones – and deeply felt lyrics that lean frequently toward the melancholy, with glimmers here and there of hopefulness.’
The Infinite Jukebox, our digital library of books, artwork, journals, music and video, has a lot of live music performances so I decided to see what there was for Celexico on it…. Ahhh there’s a choice cut, ‘Sunken Waltz’ performed at the Roskilde Festival in the summer of 2000. Go ahead and listen to it as I’m off now to to have a slice of warm gingerbread with vanilla ice cream.