When I am dead, I want for my grave
A flashy funeral pray let me have
Six highwaymen for to carry me
Oh give them broadswords and sweet liberty
Oh give them broadswords and sweet liberty
‘The Newry Highwayman’
What’s that lovely piece of music I’ve been playing in the Library? That’d be Boiled in Lead‘s version of a trad piece called ‘Newry Highwayman’ Not ‘tall trad the way that they do it, but who cares long as it’s great music? I’m playing only that band this afternoon as I go through the correspondence that’s come in to me this past fortnight.
Some of it is from the publicists we deal with who thought I might be interested in purchasing something they were hawking for the Library. If I’m interested, particularly if it’s fiction, I’ll see if there’s sufficient interest among the Estate community, since the purpose of a work is to be read over and over, not sit on a shelf. And some works never garner enough interest to be worth having. For those books, we use the British Interlibrary loaning system.
In between lots of coffee and setting up my ‘office’ which is myself, a large mug of Blue Mountain coffee, a very large and warm cardamon chocolate sticky bun and my iPad, I‘m now down in the Kitchen on the corner bench watching the staff as they talk among themselves as they prepare the evening meal of roast chicken, new potatoes, sautéed corn and peppers, and blackberry tartlets with vanilla ice cream for dessert. Sounds positively yummy!
April starts us off with a treat for fairy tale aficionados: ‘Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales are well known, even to those who’ve never heard his name. His stories have entered our cultural consciousness (who doesn’t know of “The Little Mermaid,” even if it’s only through Disney’s version) and verbal lexicon (“The Emperor’s New Clothes”) and are here to stay. Maria Tatar’s The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen offers a glimpse at the man behind the tales, the subtle nuances of his art and language and renders the stories all the more powerful.’
Cat considers Emma Bull’s Finder to be the best look at the Terri Windling created Bordertown series: ‘My personally autographed copy of the hardcover edition is subtitled “A Novel of The Borderlands,” which tells you that it’s set in The Borderland ‘verse created by Terri Windling. It’s not the only Borderland novel: her husband, Will Shetterly, wrote two splendid novels set here, Elsewhere and Nevernever. I, however, think that it’s the best of the three.’
He was also pleased with The Best Thing You Can Steal, the first installment in the new Gideon Sable series from Simon R. Green. ‘Gideon Sable is a thief par excellance. He specializes in stealing the kind of things that can’t normally be stolen — sometimes they don’t even exist as we normally define such things. He’s even stolen his name — he’s not the first Gideon Sable. So now he’s planning a master heist, to steal something from the most evil man in the world.’
Chuck notes that ‘I figure this much: Ian McDonald’s Desolation Road starts with a green man crossing the desert, so this has to be the perfect book for Green Man Review. OK, the book calls him a “greenperson,” and the desert is on a Mars of the future, transformed by mankind’s effort, but you get the idea. Trailing this greenperson is Dr. Alimantando. He comes to a place along a railroad, where, almost accidentally, he settles and starts the community that he names Desolation Road. Soon after, more people begin arriving and, in short order, the community becomes a village, a city, a war zone and a ghost-town — all within 23 Martian years. That’s the story.’
Gary reviewed Arthur C. Clarke’s Tales From The White Hart which, he notes, ‘is a series of superficially linked stories told by the fictional patrons of a fictional pub somewhere in London. The narrator is a fictionalized version of Clarke (the other patrons rib him for being a teetotaler), and I’ve no doubt some of the other patrons mentioned are probably based on others in his scientific and writing circles.’
Gary also looks at a perennial favorites of lots of us: ‘The long and colorful publishing history of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit continues with a new edition that seems to be aimed at reclaiming the written version of the story as a way to introduce it to young readers. It’s a handsome hardcover book with illustrations by the young Jemima Catlin, who was hand-picked for the assignment by the Tolkien Estate.’
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.’
Welsh mythology in the guise of a well-loved novel gets looked at by me: ‘I must have first read Alan Garner’s The Owl Service some forty years ago when I was interested in all things concerning Welsh mythology. I wanted a hardcover first edition which cost a pretty penny at the time. I mention this because it’s now been at least twenty years since I last read this novel, which is long enough that when Naxos kindly sent the audiobook, I had pretty much forgotten the story beyond remembering that I was very impressed by the story Garner told.’
Kelly says ‘Poul Anderson, who died in 2001, was one of the grand old voices of science fiction right up until his death, winning the Hugo Award seven times, the Nebula Award three times, and being named in 1997 as a Grand Master of the Science Fiction Writers of America. His was a long and prolific career. In the middle of that career, he created a character named Dominic Flandry, whose adventures had eluded me as a reader until my review copy of Ensign Flandry arrived on my desk. Now I’m wondering why.’
Kelly has a review of the audiobook version of a novel jointly written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. She says, ‘If you’ve never heard Good Omens, you should. Whether or not you give a damn about theology or metaphysics, I prophesy you’ll find yourself chuckling often — or, like me, barking — as Martin Jarvis and these two well loved masters poke fun at everything most people hold dear and bring you to the brink of Armageddon.’
Richard looks at an Ian MacDonald novel which is set in the same reality as Desolation Road and has a cautionary note as his first words: ‘You will know whether you will love or hate Ares Express long before you have finished the first chapter. The litmus test is very simple: what is your reaction to the name of the main character. If you find Sweetness Octave Glorious-Honeybun Assim Engineer 12th to be painfully twee or flat-out incomprehensible, then you will hate this book.’
Robert looked at a novel that should probably have a warning label, The Incrementalists, a collaboration between Steven Brust and Skyler White: ‘Readers who like everything laid out plainly are going to hate this book – nothing is up front. I was struck by how much of the story happens behind the words: it comes in layers and as they get unpeeled, one discovers more layers.’
And there’s more as he reviewed the sequel as well: ‘Call it “slipstream”: it’s not exactly science fiction, although it could be; nor is it fantasy, although it has elements of that, in the gritty, contemporary, urban vein; and anything it takes from mainstream fiction is more from the realm of Pynchon than Hemingway. I’m referring, of course, to The Skill of Our Hands, the sequel to The Incrementalists from Steven Brust and Skyler White.’
Christopher Buehlman’s The Blacktongue Thief is says our Warner, ‘ a fun and fast moving read. Not for those who need clean language, or who cannot handle the occasional tragic moment, but quite enjoyable. This would be easy to recommend to readers who might enjoy something rougher and darker fantasy.’
Up next for this reviewer is bit of comic fluff: ‘this David Ebenbach’s How To Mars is a fascinating bit of comedy built from a series of shorter pieces into a novel. A group of people are on an ill-considered mission to chastely colonize mars. One of them has gotten pregnant. As a premise goes, this certainly lends itself to comedic potential.’
A tough subject wraps up the reviews for this staffer: ‘Jamison Green’s Becoming a Visible Man is an excellent autobiography of an at this point fairly well-known trans rights activist and expert. It also represents an excellent tool for individuals seeking to better understand the trans man, the issues he might run up against and the life he might lead. A popular book in its area when first printed in 2004, this second edition updates and expands itself greatly.’
A certain Elizabeth has a chocolate story for us: ‘Best chocolate? Here’s a story: About ten years ago, my sister-in-law gave my family, gathered some 20-odd strong in Vermont, a box of extremely expensive Belgian chocolates for Christmas. (I can’t recall the name of the company, but I’ll check later.) We spent the week eating them, and then when there were only a few left, my 8-year-old daughter Callie picked one out, bit into it and cried out; then held out her hand to display a small metal bolt. (Fortunately no teeth were broken.) I took the bolt, and when we got home to Maine, wrote a very nice letter to the chocolate company’s American office, explaining what had happened, and sent it off with the offending metal. I then told Callie and her four-year-old brother, “We will now be supplied with chocolate for life.” Well, we weren’t set for life, but a week later an ENORMOUS box of chocolates (huge box, and three layers deep) arrived with a very nice very apologetic letter from the company. We ate those chocolates for about a month. They were fabulous. Sadly, I’ve never been able to afford to eat them since.’
OK, I’m not sure this exists anymore and I’m reasonably certain it was only released on VHS but Michael says it’s worth seeking out: ‘Adapted from the Charles de Lint short story of the same name, Sacred Fire was produced as an episode of the anthology television series, The Hunger, and first showed in 1999. A horror/dark fantasy series initially hosted by Terence Stamp and then David Bowie, The Hunger takes dark, twisted looks at the world around us.’ In an email, the author notes that one of his favourite things about it is ‘David Bowie dressed up as a mad scientist as he introduces it!’ The story is found in the Dreams Underfoot collection, which is available what I call the usual suspects of Apple Books, Kindle and Kobo.
Cat has another one of those ‘if you can find this, you must watch it’ reviews. This time out he tells us about Secret World Live, a DVD of a 1993 Peter Gabriel concert. ‘Peter is a man comfortable on the boundaries between folk and rock, between nature and technology, between theater and music — he thrives on the edges where most artists truly dare not go.’
Michelle enjoyed the updated film treatment of an age-old fairy tale, Ever After: A Cinderella Story, directed by Andy Tennant. ‘As a lighthearted twist on convention, Ever After offers many pleasures; and as a fantasy of a Renaissance woman out to transform her own fortunes if not her society, it has the virtue of a happy ending.’
Denise was a little surprised to find herself enjoying Danger Girl: The Ultimate Collection, by J. Scott Campbell and Andy Hartnell. But she found the story and especially the art too titillating to put down. ‘As far as the story goes, with the not-so-subtle nod to Indiana Jones-type, rock-’em-sock-’em action, the pages turn quickly. Every chapter/issue has a cliffhanger that will kill any idea of “just one more page before bed.” ‘
Donna takes a close look at a graphic treatment of a subject she knows something about, the labor struggle in the United States. Here she reviews Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World, edited by Paul Buhle and Nicole Schulman. ‘Intended to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the IWW, Wobblies! is an unabashed tribute to the union and its founders and members, known and unknown.’
From the Archives, we have a couple of reviews of CDs by Americana musician Darrell Scott:
Brendan had mixed feelings about Darrell Scott’s Family Tree. ‘Combining his husky, world-weary voice with a cadre of top-notch musicians — Sam Bush on fiddle and mandolin, Vassar Clements on fiddle, and Tim O’Brien on backing vocals, just to name a few — and his own capable guitar and mandolin work, Scott has produced a fine work of country-tinged, straight-forward modern American folk music.’ Read his review to find out what his misgivings were.
Christopher also had mixed emotions about two releases by Darrell Scott, Theatre of the Unheard and Live in NC. Of the former, he says, ‘Perhaps this says more about my prejudices than the record, but I find the deeply earnest nature of it somewhat embarrassing, in much the same way I have a problem with Bruce Springsteen.’ And of the latter, ‘Live in NC works so much better than Theatre of the Unheard because the songs are given space, both terms of both the arrangements and timing.
Since we’re talking about Boiled in Lead and related matters, do check out the detailed omnibus review that Chuck wrote on BiL’s first decade. It covers Boiled in Lead and Hotheads (1985 and 1986), 1989’s From the Ladle to the Grave, Orb, Antler Dance, all the way to 1995’s Songs From the Gypsy.
Daniel reports on Tori Amos’s Tales of a Librarian, an early career overview of an American musician who’s difficult to classify. Is she Americana? Pop? Singer-songwriter? ‘Tales Of A Librarian is the CliffsNotes version of Amos’s decade-long career — a career that, in addition to being broadly represented on the album, is also depicted bravely and unflinchingly, warts and all.’
David has high praise for an anthology of music by the band everybody thinks of as just Neil Young’s backing band, Crazy Horse’s Gone Dead Train: The Best of 1971-1989. ‘It’s amazing that so many personnel changes, so much tragedy, could lead to so many great (but virtually unknown) songs. These guys deserve to be heard. The album flat out rocks.’
‘Jay Hammond, now based in Durham, North Carolina by way of Brooklyn, and his musical collective called Trippers & Askers, have created a layered masterpiece of spiritual, jazzy indie folk music that speaks of hope to this pandemic-battered and climate change scorched world,’ Gary says. The album is called Acorn, and it’s inspired by Parable of the Sower, a prescient, spiritual science fiction tale written in the 1990s by Octavia Butler. Read his review for more about this multi-layered project.
Judith laments that she turned up her nose at folk dancing while at college, now that there’s lots of good Balkan music to dance to, like The Baksheesh Boys’ self-titled CD. ‘At my college, the typical folkdancer was a nerdy professor’s daughter wearing a homemade polyester peasant blouse who danced with a buck-toothed smile to crackly Monitor LPs. Hence, I long ago missed the boat on Eastern European music. Now, they’ve got wonderful live party music on that boat and I have two left feet!’
In addition to enjoying the increased popularity of East Asian film in the west, Kelly is glad to see the scores and soundtracks to these Asian films becoming more accessible. Here he takes a look at two CD releases of such scores, Shigeru Umebayashi’s House of Flying Daggers and Tan Dun’s Hero. ‘Tan Dun’s score to Hero is a fairly contemplative effort, and is marked by the restraint of a classical composer. … Composed by Shigeru Umebayashi — who was once the front man for the Japanese New Wave band EX — the score to House of Flying Daggers is more animated than Hero‘s, and it supplements the traditional orchestral sound with Asian instruments such the Chinese erhu and pipa, as well as wooden flutes and Chinese percussion.
Swedish duo Olov Johansson & André Ferrari are releasing their first album after playing together in Väsen as well as other projects over the years. The album, In Beat Ween Rhythm, features Johansson on nyckelharpa and Ferrari on percussion, drums and bass. We’re eagerly anticipating the full release – it was out July 31 in Europe and is coming somewhat later in the States – and encourage you to check out their video of the first single, “Skevschottis.”
Let’s finish this edition with Boiled In Lead playing ‘The Newry Highwayman’ at Minnesota State Fair 10 years ago. It’s a lovely piece of music with their usual full own enthusiasm. I never have the privilege of seeing them live unfortunately, though Cat did once.