Such a quintessentially human thing, to express sorrow through apology. ―
Ahhh, that heavenly smell is the fresh baked lussekatter, a Swedish traditional bun, that I’m having with cardamom spiced coffee for a snack on this Winter afternoon. I’d be out for my daily walk before the persistent sleet and icy rain along with a driving wind made even the Estate Irish Wolf Hounds decide that staying in was the right thing to do and they like rough weather!
So I’ve got on well-worn jeans, soft boots and a Boiled in Lead t-shirt that I got twenty odd years ago at a concert in Minneapolis as I sit down to do this edition. So you’ll definitely be getting an introduction to that group this time and a few related goodies as well.
With generally no visitors allowed on the Estate due to the Pandemic, it has become a much more low-key scene around the Green Man Pub, and the Neverending Session is quite small and leans towards Nordic, Breton and Celtic trad music which is something the Estate staff is quite fond of. Now let’s see what we’ve have selected for you this time…
Cat had high hopes for Philip DePoy’s The Devil’s Hearth, as he has ‘a special fondness for mystery series set in the Appalachian Mountains, even though there aren’t a lot of good ones and a lot of not so great ones. Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballads series had some memorable outings, particularly among the later novels, and one which was outstanding, Ghost Riders.’ Read his review to see if DePoy lived up to his expectations.
He was also very enthusiastic about a new novel from Lavie Tidhar, Unholy Land, and with good reason: ‘Now we have this novel, which was nominated for a John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best SF Novel, a Locus Award for Best SF novel, a Sidewise Award for Alternate History and a Dragon Award for Best Alternate History Novel, which is a very impressive showing indeed. What we have here is an alternate history story that is also a chilling police thriller.’
Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas’ Haunted Legends, says Gereg, is ‘something of a paradox: As a collection I found this volume kind of weak, but there are a lot of very fine stories in it. So many, in fact, that on going back over the anthology a second time, I wondered why I’d thought it was weak in the first place. As a reader, I’d probably just leave it at that; but as reviewer, I feel I owe it to my adoring public to tell you precisely why I feel the overall effect is weak. So I dove back into the book for a third time. Such travails are how I earn my fabulously high salary here.’
Jack looks at a book he eagerly devoured: ‘Some books are just too good not to review as soon as they arrive. Such is the case with Tales from Earthsea, five mostly new tales of Earthsea, the delightful universe created by LeGuin more than 30 years ago.’
Joel says ‘Evil alien monsters, space battles, cybernetic humans . . . this might seem, at first glance, to be classic space opera. But it’s so much more than that. Neil Asher’s future history is a product of its technology: human augmentation; artificial intelligence; faster-than-light travel. The implications of these developments — socially, politically, morally — make his universe what it is. There’s much to plumb here, and I don’t see this series running out of steam anytime soon. Prador Moon makes another worthy addition. Recommended.’
Are you looking for a good Autumnal read? Well Richard has one for you in Robert Holdstock’s Ryhope Wood series: ‘Simply put, the Ryhope cycle is one of the most important fantasy series of the past two decades, at least. While other exemplars of the genre tell stories, Holdstock tells stories of storytelling, and yet manages to make them as exciting and engrossing as the most acrobatic bit of literary swordplay. His characters are multifaceted jewels, showing different aspects depending on whose tale they are cast in.’
Robert’s review of 9Tail Fox whittles down the general genre label and gets to the heart of the story. ‘The book cover claims that Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s 9Tail Fox is ‘A novel of science fiction.’ Considering what science fiction has become over the past generation, that could well be valid — with some qualifications. I’m going to call it ‘slipstream’ in honor of its genre-bending tendencies and let it go at that.’ Ahh, but is it any good? Robert’s review lets you know.
Robert looks at Steven Brust and Megan Lindholm’s The Gypsy, which has been in his ‘peripheral vision for some time, and was brought front and center by Boiled in Lead’s CD Songs from The Gypsy. I’ve sort of put off Brust’s collaborations, of which this is one, although I can see that I’ve got to catch up on them.’ He goes on to say that he found this Hungarian folklore-tinged novel to be terrific, a comment I wholeheartedly agree with! Did I mention there’s a Boiled in Lead album, Songs from The Gypsy, for it? There is and Robert has the review here.
Warner leads off with the ablest entry in a long-running urban fantasy series: ‘The wonderful surprise announcement of Jim Butcher’s Battle Ground, the latest in the long-running Dresden Files series, was a wonderful surprise earlier in 2020. The newest volume, continuing quickly on from Peace Talks a few months ago, and the fact that volume ended on quite a cliffhanger only heightened the desire for Battle Ground. The published volume is a stunning book which alters the setting noticeably, and moves the narrative forward in unexpected ways.’
He has a bit of horror for us: ‘Joan Samson‘s The Auctioneer is the brilliant product of Joan Samson’s mind, a career and life cut terribly short. It is a story that depicts how the fear of change can lead to the worst kind. About a small community filled with fear of outsiders managing to destroy themselves and fail to notice the risks they truly face. It it’s an easy novel to recommend both to the horror and literary crowd, and the new Suntup edition promises to be gorgeous.’
Joseph got to review Anthony Bourdain’s special edition programme of a visit to Iceland: ‘my favorite bar differs greatly from Iceland. In the winter, it gets more than four hours of day light. It does not serve smoked puffin, roasted sheep’s head, rotten shark, or sheep’s testicle loaf. And there is a distinct shortage of Viking related stories. But in No Reservations: Iceland Special Edition, Iceland fails not for being Iceland. It fails because Bourdain begins under the weather and ends with a hangover.’
Stacy has a tasty offering for us as well: ‘Filled with over 150 recipes, Patricia Wells’ The Paris Cookbook has something for everyone, from the beginning cook to the most skilled chef. Whether you want to spend a day creating a classic French feast or simply to add a Parisian accent to an upcoming meal, restaurant critic and author Patricia Wells makes it easy to add French flare to your cooking. Loaded with both classic and contemporary dishes, The Paris Cookbook deserves a spot on any foodie’s kitchen shelf. Clearly written with a wide range of courses and choices, what sets Wells latest book apart is its ability to transport the reader right to the streets of Paris.’
Denise has the perfect ending to a walk in the brisk weather: ‘I love books. I love music. I absolutely adore beer. And when the cool breezes start to blow, I need hot chocolate. It’s a requirement around here. So when I got some “TJ’s” cocoa in the mail, I rushed to my kitchen to brew up a pot of hot water. I really liked what happened next.’
Richard looks at what is a now a “best beloved”for many here: ‘For those who haven’t seen the filmed version of the play (and shame on you if you haven’t), stop reading right now and go watch the bloody thing), The Lion In Winter details one rather dysfunctional family’s Christmas gathering in France. Of course, the family is that of Henry II of England (including Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionhearted and the future King John, among others); the invited guest is Philip Capet of France, and the holiday gathering takes place at Henry’s castle of Chinon.’
Cat says ‘I’m not going to give anything away but will note that if you like Doctor Who, I think you’ll like Jodi Houser’s Doctor Who: A Tale of Two Time Lords, Vol. 1: A Little Help From My Friends. Her Doctors are believable and the story is told very very well with the artwork good enough to carry her story excellently.’
As I promised, we’ve got a look at the music of Boiled in Lead. First, Cat has them live: ‘I’ve heard Boiled in Lead in person but one time, and that was twenty years ago when they played in a field one late summer. Lovely they were, and their live sound carries over very well to being recorded.The Well Below EP is an excellent look at them live with some rare material not recorded elsewhere. ’
Cat leads off our music reviews with a look at a recording from Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelly and Charlie Pilzer’s Hambo in the Barn: ‘Back in the twentieth century, a lot of Scandinavians relocated from Sweden and the surrounding countries to the upper Midwest where they became farmers and shopkeepers for the most part. Naturally they brought both their instruments and their music with them. Not surprisingly, this music has persisted to this day which is why this lovely CD exists.’
Chuck looks at the first decade of Boiled of Lead: ‘The problem when writing about Boiled in Lead is how to describe them. Rock and Roll? Punk? Blues? Jazz? Traditional? Which tradition? They’ve done everything from Irish to Albanian to Vietnamese to American Traditional. Indeed, there have been few constants with the band. They’ve had three different lead singers and the same number of fiddlers. They’ve had dozens of musicians and singers backing them up on various tracks. About the only consistencies, besides their name and eclectic nature, have been Drew Miller on bass and the fact that the band has been based in Minneapolis.Part of the reason for Boiled in Lead’s variety is that they’ve gone through three distinct phases: one for each of the lead vocalists they’ve had. With Jane Dauphin in the lead (Boiled in Lead and Hotheads), the band primarily performed rocked-up Celtic tunes. With Todd Menton taking over the lead, the group played music from a large variety of ethnic traditions along with bizarre punkish side trips. The most recent version, with Adam Stemple at the head, has taken the band to a more blues-rock and American roots style.’
He also looks at Venus in Tweeds and A Whisky Kiss: ‘ Shooglenifty is far from the only band to put traditional and traditional style Celtic tunes over a rocked-up backing. However, they are one of the tightest and most inventive bands playing that fusion style. Based in Scotland, these are the only two CDs the band has put out so far, except for a live recording. However, their Web site indicates that they’re still active, having played venues as far flung as Malaysia, Cuba, and Chicago last year. As I said, “Farewell to Nigg” left me wanting more. Here’s hoping that they fulfil that wish very soon.’
Gary found some holiday music he likes, no mean feat for our resident Grinch. It is called Joyeux Noël, Bon Chrismeusse: A Holiday EP From South Louisiana. ‘This six-track EP puts a Cajun and Creole spin on some Christmas classics and tosses in some South Louisiana originals with a holiday theme, all done up in Acadian French with mostly traditional instruments.
Gary also found a tasty bit of winter holiday music from Norwegian accordionist Frode Haltli and his Avant Folk ensemble. They recently gathered to record “St. Morten,” a traditional Norwegian version of “The Twelve Days Of Christmas,” in a little church near Haltli’s home in Svartskog.
Gary continues his year-end list-making. This time around he shares with us some of his favorite jazz and experimental music of 2020.
Gary really likes this album of unaccompanied vocal music from the singers in the English big band The Unthanks. ‘Let me tell you, the first time I put Diversions Vol. 5 on the player, my hair stood on end and didn’t lay down again until these 13 songs were done, some three-quarters of an hour later.’
Gary has a tale about the long and twisted history of the song “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” including a link to a review he wrote here way back in 2001, and a new, dark version of the song by ‘Swedish gothic garage blues singer and guitarist Bror Gunnar Jansson’ whose video of it was released this year.
The Pandemic has killed almost a year’s worth of in-person music festivals, so I thought I share two reviews of the Cropredy Festival, the annual Fairport Convention led outing in August, which of course didn’t happen this year.
First is John’s look at the Festival: ”What We Did On Our Holidays’ was the title of Fairport Convention’s second album for Island records in 1969. To paraphrase said title a little, what I did this year on my holidays was go to Cropredy in Oxfordshire for ‘Fairport’s Cropredy Convention’. But it wasn’t for the first time. In fact this was my eighth trip to Cropredy in the last ten years. So I am by no means a ‘Cropredy Virgin’. While it was familiar this year, it was also different, and exciting for reasons that will be revealed in the course of this review.’
Lars has our other look: ‘The 2017 festival was something special, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the band. Every living past member had been invited to take part, and the tickets sold out two months in advance. Even the weather seemed to celebrate. There were a total of 40 minutes of light rain during the whole event, in spite of it having poured down earlier that week, and it was an enjoyable 20 degrees Centigrade with spots of sun every now and then. Perfect for good music and a few pints.’
Speaking of Fairport Convention, the group has had many a boxset in its over fifty-year existence and David looks at one of them in our final commentary this time, Fairport unCconventional: ‘Eleven lead singers, eleven lead guitarists, six fiddlers, seven drummers, five keyboard players, two bass players, four CDs, one 172 page book, a Family Tree from Pete Frame, a poster by Koen Hottentot, a history of Cropredy, some interesting loose papers and ads, a postcard for a 5th CD and a program from Martin Carthy’s birthday celebration! Whew! Does Free Reed know how to throw a party? Until further notice this box is the anthology of the year! Don’t miss it!’
If you happen to be in Chicago, Robert has come up with a nice holiday outing for the family. The Field Museum is not very crowded these days, and do check the website to be sure it’s open — the pandemic is playing hob with the city’s attractions, but, all else being equal, take the kids to see the Museum’s exhibit, “What Is an Animal?”
So let’s have some sweet sounding Celtic music to see us out on this cold, hairy morning. I think that the Irish trad group Altan’s ‘A Tune For Mairéad And Anna’ recorded at Folkadelphia Session some five years ago will do very nicely. Go ahead and listen to it as I’m off now to to have a slice of warm gingerbread with vanilla ice cream.