After doing extensive research, I can definitely tell you that single malt whiskies are good to drink. – Iain Banks’ Raw Spirit: In Search of the Prefect Dram
Summer is passing as it always does on the Kinrowan Estate in fits and starts with both unseasonably warm weather and weather that means a fire is built in the rooms that Ingrid, the Estate Steward, and I have on the fourth floor of Kinrowan Hall. I think having a fire this time of year, as the early Autumn rains begin in earnest, is as much about feeling warm as being warm.
And that also applies to my fondness for both playing and listening to Celtic music as both activities are quite comforting. It just feels good to be either a member of the Neverending Session, particularly when they’re here in our Pub, or working behind the Bar when they’re playing. That space feels at its very best on a late Summer evening when there’s a chill in the air and the Neverending Session is playing this steller music.
April says ‘Wise Children, like Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus, is comprised of stories within stories. The framing story concerns events occurring on the day of Melchior’s 100th birthday — which also happens to be Nora and Dora’s 75th birthday. But Dora runs away with the narrative and lays out a memoir for the “Lucky” Chances (as the sisters were known professionally), beginning two generations before they were even born, with their paternal grandparents. Along the way, readers are treated to a brief history of British live stage entertainment — with a brief foray into American movies — throughout the 1900s.’
Thomas the Rhymer gets the approval of Debbie: ‘Ellen Kushner has taken Child Ballad #37 (upon which Steeleye’s version is based) and thoroughly fleshed it out into a most enjoyable and fascinating read. In one of those odd coincidences in life (or maybe not so odd), the aforementioned Maddy Prior is quoted on the back cover of this paperback, saying “A book to introduce those who know nothing of the ballads to their rich and deep content … and intrigue those already familiar with them.” I couldn’t agree with her more. Think of it, if you will, as your invitation to a most marvelous world you might not discover otherwise.’
Cat has an unusual offering from an English writer: ‘Let’s start off with what Boneland isn’t: despite sharing a primary character with The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath, beloved children’s novels known as The Alderley Tales that were published in 1957 and 1964, this is very much an adult novel not intended for the pleasure of children whatsoever. Indeed its tone is more akin to what the late Robert Holdstock did in his Ryhope Wood series than anything else Alan Garner has done excepting Thursbitch and Strandloper.’
Grey looks at The Wood Wife by Terri Windling: ‘Some writers give us stories that are like keys to the door of our cage. They let us escape out of a world that is mostly mundane, often confusing and troubling, into worlds of light and beauty. Because of them, we learn to hope for a better world. Then there are writers who give us stories that are like looking glasses, through which we can see our world with fresh, strangely clear vision. Because of them, we learn to love the world we have more fiercely. In her fairy tale The Wood Wife, Terri Windling gives us a story that begins like a key, but turns into a looking glass in our hands.’
Iain looks at Angela Carter’s The Curious Room: Plays, Film Scripts and an Opera. As he says of her in his review, ‘Sometimes the Reaper is just too damn unfair. Angela Olive Stalker Carter died of lung cancer in 1992 at the far too young age of 52. Writer, feminist theorist, folklorist, opera buff, playwright, poet — she was these things and much, much more. ‘
Welsh mythology in the guise of a well-loved novel gets looked at by him: ‘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.’
Steven has a look at a novel in a long running mystery series: ‘Tony Hillerman’s Hunting Badger was inspired by a real 1998 case that resulted in the murder of a police officer. The author refers to the case repeatedly but doesn’t offer any clues to its solution. Instead, he uses it as the springboard for a story that plays on Navajo history and mythology, with the “Badger” of the title turning out to be both a legendary Ute warrior and his son, the former having been thought of as a witch by mystified Navajos and the latter perhaps taking advantage of his father’s tricks following a murderous raid on a casino.’
Warner has a mystery for us: ‘One Last Lie is Paul Doiron’s latest novel of adventure and mystery in the wilderness near the U.S.-Canada border. Filled with questions of past sins and current crimes, the book manages to continue in the trend of exciting and detailed mysteries in Doiron’s work. Like many mysteries, this volume starts with a little breathing room to familiarize us with the protagonist.’
He next moves on to this book: ‘Rhythm of War is a big step for Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series. Sanderson has a reputation for writing very long books, as well as very intricate rule-based magic systems. At over 1,200 pages, many of them focusing explicitly upon characters researching the systems in this setting, Rhythm of War stays very true to form in that regard.’
He finishes off with a short story that became a novel, albeit of a compact nature: ‘Richard Wright’s The Man Who Lived Underground is a fascinating example of a lost novel. A relatively early manuscript by an author famed for his work dealing with the American black experience, this volume is as much a reflection of what could have been as it is an extension of his existing themes and storytelling.’
Our food and drink reviews this time is all about whisky, something that many of us here at the Kinrowan Estate are quite fond of. Did you know we do whisky tastings here? The tastings are one of the two times a year, midsummer, and the annual Robert Burns supper being the other one, when Iain dons his clan kilt with full regalia. It’s quite a sight. And the Neverending Session plays nothing but traditional Scottish tunes for them. There’s also a concert at each tasting featuring performers such as Dougie MacLean, the Old Blind Dogs or Shooglenifty.
So let’s start off with American whisky. Gary looks at a detailed history of that drink: ‘I realize that movie Westerns are no longer the cultural touchstone they were for my generation, but I’m sure many of you have no trouble remembering a movie scene in which a cowboy walks into a saloon, orders a whiskey and the barkeep pours him one from a clear glass quart-size bottle. Maybe the cowboy even says “I’ll take the bottle” and heads for a table. Sorry, but it probably didn’t happen that way. Like so many other historical details, the makers of Westerns probably got that one wrong, or so implies Reid Mitenbuler in his lucid book Bourbon Empire.’
Jennifer heard tell of putting smoke in your booze years ago, but it was a while before she met an actual smoke-flavored whiskey. Actually, it’s even weirder than that. Here she reviews the most controversial of the offerings from Two James Distillery of Detroit.
Judith looks at The Water of Life; ‘You would think that one album about booze would be enough for even a Scotsman, but not for singer-traditional songwriter Robin Laing. The Water of Life is Laing’s second, after The Angel’s Share, with songs on both CDs from his one-man show on whiskey. Laing, originally from Edinborough but now living in rural Lanarkshire, seems to have settled into a distillery groove. Great idea!’
Speaking of great ideas, the late Iain Banks, best known for his Culture novels such as The Hydrogen Sonata and Surface Detail, decided to ask his publisher for money to sample the smaller whiskey distilleries in Scotland. The resulting book, Raw Spirit: In Search of The Perfect Dram was given a rave review by our Cornish-based Michael, who aptly notes that ‘This review was written over Hogmanay, 2003, under the influence of Ardbeg and Glenmorangie Port-Wood Finish, both of which, I’m delighted to report, meet with the approval of Mr Banks.’
Coming full circle, Vonnie looks at yet another album about whisky by Robin Laing: ‘Whisky for Breakfast is an amiable album, not to be taken too seriously, about the pleasures of life as seen through the lens of whisky. Robin Laing’s songs all have something to do with whisky, but the thread is interpreted broadly, with celebrations of drinking but also history and a grand sense of place.’
Lets finish off with a recommendation of a whiskey tasting blogspot which is described this way: ‘SmokyBeast is penned by a whisky-loving wife and husband team in New York City. We sit down every Sunday night after our daughter goes to bed, and crack open a well-earned reward: a bottle of dark, smoky, and delicious whisky. Here are some of our favorites, and some lessons we’ve learned along the way.’ Need I say more? I think not.
Craig is a big fan of the PBS film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s stage musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. So how did he feel about Tim Burton’s film adaptation of Sweeney Todd, starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter? He liked it! ‘It works as a horror film, as a tragedy, as an oddball romance (of sorts), and best of all, it still works as a musical.’
Although she liked the original Wes Craven film of Swamp Thing, Denise was less happy with the DVD set of the first two seasons of Swamp Thing: The Series based on that movie. ‘I’m a Swampy fan, so when I started watching this set I was excited. That excitement dimmed once I got hip-deep into the first episode. These episodes are touted as “the first 22 episodes in the order they were meant to be seen!” so things should flow seamlessly. But the first five episodes are horrible, jumbled messes, bouncing from one scene to the other with little if any explanation for the gaps in continuity.’
Gary enjoyed a concert DVD from one of his favorite musical acts, Calexico’s World Drifts In: Live at the Barbican London: ‘Calexico is one of the most interesting bands performing right now, both aurally and visually, and World Drifts In captures the band in all its glory during a festival at London’s Barbican hall in November 2002. The Tucson alt-rockers put on quite a show.’
Cat predicted a serious hit to his disposable income from the purchase of many new graphic novel series, after he spent some quality time with one particular tome: ‘So can I say 500 Essential Graphic Novels will help assist me – or you, for that matter – with finding new series? Quite well I’d say, given that it covers more than three hundred fifty authors, four hundred artists, and yes, five hundred graphic novels.’
Elizabeth was not pleased with the comic treatment of the Marvel universe’s Wolverine Volume 1: Prodigal Son, which she found to be the literary equivalent of a cheap knock-off action figure toy. ‘Heaven knows, the creators of this forgot everything they knew about Logan, as well as about plot, subtly-developed female characters, and realistic dialogue.’
Jack was thoroughly pleased with Alexander Irvine’s The Vertigo Encyclopedia, which he found to be a valuable guide to the various graphic series published by the estimable Vertigo house. ‘It is absolutely perfect for sensing if a series will interest you, as each entry for the major series includes a look at the characters and key story arcs, plus generous amounts of the artwork for that series.’
Big Earl did his best to review Abdouli Diakite and Mamadou Sidibe’s Jebebara: The Bamana Djembe; and various artists’ Tambacounda Senegal: Live Sogoni. They’re a couple of field recordings featuring the African drum known as the djembe. ‘It’s a beautiful sounding instrument, and in the hands of a master, an incredibly versatile one. However, on its own, it’s still a drum, and after a while, one would really appreciate another instrument (even a differently toned drum) to accompany the sound.’
David appreciated an album looking back at “The very best of” Dickey Betts from the 1970s and ’80s. ‘Bougainvillea’s Call reminds us that there were two great guitarists in the Allman Brothers Band, and it makes an outstanding call for us to pay more attention to the Richard Betts side of the equation.’
David truly enjoyed a reissue of an One More Shot, an early album by Rick Danko, Jonas Fjeld and Eric Andersen. ‘The studio album is beautiful. The three members play acoustic guitars and take turns singing lead and harmony vocals. They are complementary and supportive. This is truly a collaborative effort.’
Gary reviews an album that combines 19th century poetry with country music, noise rock and even jazz. ‘Queens-based singer, songwriter and bandleader Nico Hedley has dubbed his first full length album Painterly. It’s an odd sort of adjective, but just one listen to the album’s first track and its first single “Tennessee” explains it succinctly and sufficiently. This is an album whose lyrics and sound are indeed painterly.’
‘Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra is a modern big band featuring lots of horns including Bernstein’s slide trumpet, trombone, up to three saxophones, violin, guitar, bass, drums and the occasional guest vocalist,’ Gary notes. They’ve just released the first of a four-part series of albums of new music, this one called Tinctures in Time.
Gary reviews an album from Florida native Matthew Fowler. ‘The Grief We Gave Our Mother is a lesson in how arrangement and production can turn a collection of good songs into something more. Along the way a collection of confessional songs that started out as bare-bones acoustic numbers became an album of sparkling, enlivening and enlightening indie folk songs.’
Since Deb mentioned Steeleye Span & Maddy Prior’s A Rare Collection 1972-1996 in her book review above, we dug through the archives and found Michael’s review of the record. Of which he says, ‘The twenty tracks are a mix of never-before-released songs, different mixes, unusual edits, songs from solo and collaborative albums and so on. Yet, it comes across as a pretty cohesive album in its own right. In other words, it doesn’t necessarily “sound” like a compilation. All the tracks flow together well, and the musical quality is as high as anyone who knows Steeleye Span will expect.’
Speaking of Richard Danko, No’am was ambivalent about his posthumous solo album Times Like These. ‘Liking The Band does not mean that automatically you are going to like Rick Danko’s solo records, especially if The Band’s records you like the most were recorded in the 1960s.’
Peter warmed up to Jim Causley’s Fruits of the Earth, an album of old English folk songs by a young English folk singer. ‘I wasn’t quite sure about this album to begin with but it does grow on you. I fancy it will be favoured by the staunch traditionalists amongst you, so don’t be put off of buying it by the cover. It has a lot of excellent songs. The sound and content could have been recorded 20 years ago.’
Our What Not this week is another treat from Folkmanis. Says Robert: ‘I seem to have another Folkmanis puppet lurking around, this one the Rat In a Tin Can. The Folkmanis website describes him as being ready for a playful picnic (note the napkin in one paw). However, it seemed to me that he might just as easily be a waiter in an upscale rat restaurant: his black-and-white pattern might almost be taken for formal wear.’
I’m very fond of the newish wave of Scottish bands that started up some thirty years ago, I’m also giving you the Peatbog Faeries, Peaties to their fans, doing ‘The Great Ceilidh Swindle’ at the 2006 Celtic Connections in Glasgow. This band’s a favourite among the Fey including a friend of mine, Jenny Thistlethwaite.