Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
W.B. Yeats’ “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”
So what’s that libation with the lovely aroma that I’m drinking with my breakfast of a just baked cinnamon bun? That’s Glögg (pronounced glug), the Swedish version of mulled wine. Yeah mulled wine for breakfast. (I am not an alcoholic. Really I’m not. But then I’d say that, wouldn’t I?) Glögg is made of fortified wine and spiced with citrus, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and ginger. It’s been simmering all morning long up in the Estate Kitchen, which is a level up and some hundred feet from here.
Breakfast was waiting for me as I came up the stairs to the Kitchen. Canadian bacon sizzling in its pan, cheddar buttermilk biscuits warm in their basket, eggs ready to be cooked however I want them and coffee standing ready to poured. Mind you it was noon when I sort of graced the Kitchen staff with my presence but it’d been a long night as we’re hosting a curling tournament and they do love to drink so I assisted Finch, my associate Pub manager, and we all worked late into the night.
Walter Jon Williams’ Deep State gets a review by Cat as he notes Dagmar Shaw is once again in trouble in this series: ‘So now she finds herself trying to keep Great Big Idea, the ARG running company, afloat. Not an uneasy task given she’s an über geek, not an über money person. All of which explains how she ends up in yet another unstable country, Turkey this time, running an ARG just as those Generals decide to throw out those democratically elected leaders, a situation that has played itself out before in that both young and very old state.’
Last Night’s Fun: In and Out of Time with Irish Music pleased Chuck who tells us what’s about: ‘Ciaran Carson is an Irish poet and musician, who has, in Last Night’s Fun, put together a series of writings, each inspired by a traditional tune. In most cases, these are short essays. For others, he has written poetry or put together sets of quotations. Occasionally the subjects in consecutive chapters are directly related, but that is most likely happenstance.’
Looking for a guide to essential jazz or Latin music? David reviewed the Rough Guides books on those topics in their 100 Essential CDs series: ‘Books like this can be read front to back or they can be dipped into – flip here, scan there. They can be used as shopping lists (and they are small enough to fit into your pocket) when you browse the CD racks. They can be used to spark discussion and debate. Start your own list. You may not be the expert these authors are, but you know what you like.’
Gary says the Istanbul of Ian McDonald’s near-future novel The Dervish House is rather like what our own world could be very soon: ‘…hotter, more crowded, with an even starker divide between rich and poor, and teeming with technology. … It’s also brimming with Anatolian spirits that sometimes seem indistinguishable from the effects of nano-technology.’
Gary reviews a new science fiction release, Gareth L. Powell’s Stars and Bones. ‘British SF author Powell has begun a new series called Continuance with the action-packed <i>Stars and Bones</i>. It’s packed not just with action but with some intriguing ideas. Powell has created a universe, an FTL travel concept, and a timeline for Earth and its people that are unique among space operas, which is no mean feat.’
Jack does a thorough omnibus review of some printed guides to folk and world music, and tosses in some words about a humongous opera reference book. Regarding the folk and world guides, he says: ‘I recommend you take your spare halfpennies and buy both of the musicHound guides. Skip the two volumes of The Rough Guide to World Music unless you’re seriously into studying world music from a genre or regional basis. But do buy these volumes if you are seriously interested in knowing everything there is about traditional and sometimes not so traditional world music, as these are the best general overviews of the subject on the market today.’
Judith recommends Gail Holst-Warhaft’s Road To Rembetika to anyone wanting to learn about the history of this Greek folk music. The most striking property of Road To Rembetika is not that Holst gives a respectable history of rembetika, but that she does so with the passion and quirky writing style of an Australian woman enraptured with the Mediterranean, suspended between two worlds. Dr. Holst is an adjunct professor in Classics at Cornell, and, though her prose is adequately scholarly, you could imagine her writing travel articles about cafės in southern France.
Kim says a book called World Music: The Basics by Richard O. Nidel is pretty good, as far as it goes: ‘It would make a great gift for a young person with a love of music but no idea where to begin learning about it. It might also stimulate their interest in history and politics, which are so inextricably linked with so much of the music covered in this volume. Older readers accustomed to more sophisticated prose and even a smattering of world history or strong opinions on some of the regions covered here will be frustrated, but it is unlikely the book was written for them anyway! The Basics is just that, and succeeds partly because its ambitions are modest.’
Paul says ‘Greta Kelly’s The Seventh Queen completes her duology, with an often traditional fantasy narrative, once again putting its titular heroine into a Deadly Decadent Court, but with her life on the line, as well as her Kingdom.’
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 an indispensable guide to Irish music in all its varied facets.’
Robert notes that the Ottoman Empire included a dizzying array of peoples and traditions, which necessarily led to a less-than-monolithic culture, as outlined in Suraiya Faroqhi’s Subjects of the Sultan: ‘In many ways it is a dizzying survey: Faroqhi’s coverage is extensive, the very richness of the subject is somewhat daunting, and the fascinating sidebars she explores almost lead to severe input overload — but I didn’t care. (She even devotes a section to cooking and dinner parties, and how many “cultural histories” do that?)’
A more historic and political perspective is found in a pair of books, Suraiya Faroqhi’s The Ottoman Empire and the World Around It and Handan Nezir Akmeşe’s The Birth of Modern Turkey: The Ottoman Military and the March to World War I. Says Robert: ‘The Ottoman Empire and its successor, modern Turkey, have time and again played an important role in European politics, and yet there are vanishingly few sources in English to bring us the viewpoint of the Turks themselves, or, indeed, to focus on the Anatolian peninsula as other than an adjunct to the doings of European states. Addressing that lack is one of the aims of two recent histories.’
April has some chocolate cups for us: ‘Founded by Paul Newman’s daughter Nell in 1993, and once a division of Newman’s Own, Newman’s Own Organics has been a separate company since 2001. Its focus is, unsurprisingly, on certified organic foods. The company provides a limited range of organic snacks, beverages, olive oil, vinegar and pet foods. Up for review are three of the five varieties of chocolate cup candy available: dark chocolate with peanut butter, milk chocolate with peanut butter and dark chocolate with peppermint.’
Carletti’s Jakobsen Coffee Time chocolate collection pleased Denise: ‘ Danish chocolates? Don’t mind if I do! Especially when the package itself gives me a great excuse to indulge. Coffee time? Yes please! And while these chocolates would go great with coffee, I had mine with a stout, and then a mug of green tea. I was pleased.’ Read her detailed reviews for all the sweet notes.
A trio of Trader Joe’s chocolates, to wit Super Dark Chocolate, Super Dark Chocolate with Almonds and Dark Chocolate Truffle are, says Robert, socially conscious: ‘ In the case of Trader Joe’s Organic Chocolates, this also includes certification by both the USDA and Quality Assurance International, and since organic chocolate is the product of a fairly limited group of producers, its almost guaranteed that the growers are getting fair, and probably premium prices. So, how does all that social consciousness taste?’ Read his review here.
A rummage through the archives turned up a trove of writings about Bill Willingham’s splendid Fables graphic novel series:
We begin with April’s thorough look at Fables Volumes 3, 4, and 5, Storybook Love, March of the Wooden Soldiers, and The Mean Seasons: ‘Willingham continues to produce witty, sharp dialog and compelling characters as he guides the story ever closer to an inevitable clash with The Adversary. It’s very handy that as the cast of characters grows, each volume includes pages at the beginning with pictures and brief bios of the key players. And while the art varies from story to story, in both style and quality, it remains consistently serviceable for the story. I can offer no higher praise than to say that the instant I finished The Mean Seasons, I went online looking for Volume 6: Homelands, to devour, which was not available for another six months or so (much to my dismay).’
April reviews two more volumes of Fables, Volume 6: Homelands, and Volume 7: Arabian Nights (and Days). ‘Though not as compelling as earlier volumes, Arabian Nights still has significant details that further the overall story and reveal teasing hints about various characters.’
Next she reviews a slightly different volume of the Fables series, Sons of Empire: ‘In this ninth installment in the ongoing Fables series, Bill Willingham is back in top form, delivering solid character development and intriguing plot in spades. A mix of multi-part and one-shot stories, Sons of Empire introduces new characters and provides insight into the lives of others while driving the over-arching story forward.’
April makes a startling claim for another of Willingham’s Fables volumes: ‘When a series is as consistently excellent as Fables, it can be extremely difficult to decide which is the finest issue or volume. However, The Good Prince, the tenth volume, certainly makes a strong case for itself as the best of the best.’
Regarding Willingham’s twelfth volume of Fables, The Dark Ages, April says: ‘Willingham proves in this arc that there’s not only life still in his marvelous creation, but a whole new realm of possibilities. The writing and art remain top-notch and the story as riveting. It remains to be seen what will become of the new, if not necessarily improved, Fabletown; the overcrowded Farm; the splintering Empire and everyone involved. No doubt the ride will be bumpy for all involved, but worth every bruise!’
Finally, April was disappointed with a volume that combined threads from three series within the larger Fables universe: ‘The Great Fables Crossover takes place entirely within the Fables universe, pulling together characters and plot threads from the Fables, Jack of Fables and The Literals series. … The Great Fables Crossover is mildly entertaining, a diversion from the larger Fables’ story, but best enjoyed by enthusiasts who have read the related series.’
Richard reviewed a couple of volumes in Willingham’s Fables offshoot series Jack of Fables: The (Nearly) Great Escape, and Jack of Hearts. ‘Jack is cocky, brash, self-centered to the point of obnoxiousness, and just good enough to pull it off. Depending on how that sort of protagonist rubs you, that means any book detailing his adventures is either a) a hoot and a holler or b) an exercise in grinding away your irreplaceable tooth enamel as the smartass – who no doubt bears an uncanny resemblance to someone you really, really hated in elementary school – gets away with murder because he’s so damn charming.’
Big Earl reviewed three discs of Mongolian music from the Swiss label Face Music: ‘This is sort of a full circle review for yours truly. My first review (my “audition,” if you will) for Green Man was Tsagaan Sar’s White Moon, a disc of music from Mongolia. And now I have some more glorious Mongolian discs to share with you, courtesy of the fine folks at Face Music. I recommend you hunt these discs out, even if your listening tastes aren’t especially esoteric, as you will find some of the most incredible music produced on this planet.’
Big Earl was less enthusiastic about four CDs of music from former Soviet lands. ‘These four discs are marred by an almost too clinical style. While these are musical styles that are often celebratory and jovial, the performances are almost uniformly stiff, stoic and a bit severe. Whatever reverence these artists have for the music they are performing is overshadowed by the overly formal workouts these songs get.’
Cat really liked a very oddly titled CD by an oddly titled group, Swill’s Doh, Ray, Me-Me-Me-Me-Me: ‘I eagerly look forward to seeing what certain artists will do next. Swill, one of the founders of The Men They Couldn’t Hang, is one of those artists. Nothing Swill has done has ever been less than superb, and Doh, Ray, Me-Me-Me-Me-Me is certainly no exception! My only complaint is that it is a mere seven cuts long, as it’s the EP of an album still to be released! Damn!’
Charles rhapsodized over the massive box set from Topic Records, Three Score & Ten: A Voice to the People: 70 Years of the Oldest Independent Record Label in Great Britain. ‘I can’t think of a better introduction to the music of the British Isles than this collection. The only down side I see is that, if you don’t already have the original albums from which these sample tracks were culled, you’re going to want to go out and track down many of the full albums. And that will hurt your wallet. But your ears and your heart, they will thank you for it.’
David compares and contrasts three blues CDs: Michael Jerome Browne’s Michael Jerome Browne, Ruthie Foster’s Runaway Soul, and various artists’ Shout, Sister, Shout!: A Tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe. ‘Three CDs, each coming from that part of our musical geography known as the blues. The fan, the next generation, the descendents, the originator. Only three chords … but stir in a heaping helping of soul and you’ve really got something. Take your pick: there’s something worthwhile on each of these CDs.’
Gary was ‘smitten’ with an album entitled Hárr by Benedicte Maurseth. ‘It’s doubly true that Benedicte Maurseth is a Hardanger fiddler. She plays the hardanger fiddle, and she is from the western Norwegian district of Hardanger. Her latest album Hárr is an homage to the wildlife and mountain people of her home region, where she has spent a lot of time hiking in the subarctic landscape of Maurset in Eidfjord, near Hardangervidda National Park.’
Gary reviews Song Dust, a jazz trio album by Norwegian trumpeter Karl Strømme. ‘An easy comparison to Strømme is Chet Baker, in both his often airy tonal quality and his phrasing and material. He emphasizes that here with the opening track, the standard “Nature Boy,” which he presents quite naturally and freely, with only minor embellishments from bass and guitar behind his trumpet lines. But elsewhere he follows his own path, particularly in his penchant for playing trumpet and synth lines simultaneously.’
Gary has many nice things to say about an album called Good Time Music from Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra, a New York jazz ensemble: ‘This album, the second installment in the four album set called Community Music from Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra, has its roots all over America. From Levon Helms’ Midnight Rambles in Woodstock, N.Y., to the streets and clubs of New Orleans, to the R&B, blues and jazz of Ray Charles, and of course the Big Apple jazz community, it’s all there in the pot.’
Gary reviewed several discs that collect traditional music of Central Asia plus one from Armenia. ‘Many parts of Asia have only recently been opened to the West. Many of these lands have for much of the past several centuries been under the sway of huge empires – the Ottomans, Tsarist Russia, the Mongols, ancient and modern China, the Soviet Union. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the beginnings of the opening of China, we’re seeing and hearing new sights and sounds from these lands. This collection of CDs dips a proverbial toe into those waters.’
Patrick revels in the funk of Dr. John’s Creole Moon. ‘His bourbon growl gives his music a distinct flavor that says, instantly, “Dr. John.” And no bad aftertaste, either. It’s smooth like sandpaper, soft like steel wool. And piano? He’s one of the few who plays a piano the way it should be played: with a vengeance. No tickling the ivories here.’
Richard reviewed The Rough Guide to Chicago Blues, which took him back to his earlier days as a young music fan. ‘Suddenly there we were, white kids growing up in post-World War Two England, steeped in the music of Chicago’s Southside, pestering record stores for obscure recordings by Black musicians destined initially for the North American “race” market; i.e., the relatively prosperous (anyway, prosperous enough to buy records) urban African Americans whose music this was, and many of whom lived in Chicago.’
This week’s What Not comes from Jennifer, who has adored ZBS Media‘s crazy, musical, funny, melodramatic radio plays for decades. All their stuff is full of rich zen conundrums illustrated with fart-o-matic subtlety, and also with kindness and charm and silliness. ZBS revels in the best traditions of old-timey radio plays, in those days before tee-vee. Give ’em a listen!
In August twenty four years ago, Joni Mitchell did something unusual — she covered “‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’ word for word. No idea why, but it is quite brilliant. It was recorded at Max Yasgur’s Farm in Bethel, New York. Yes, the place where Woodstock had taken place.