People used to say, don’t you object to the title? And I said, well there are two of us. I had problems with ‘ladies’ because it sounds like a public convenience. But which bit do you object to? Are you saying I’m thin? — Clarissa Dickson Wright of the Two Fat Ladies whose DVD the late Kage Baker who greatly admired them reviewed here.
I have noted before that the Library on this Scottish Estate is just a few hundred feet away from the Kitchen, which is why you’re clearly smelling bacon wrapped roast duck with apple and onion stuffing being baked right now. It’s quite mouth watering, isn’t it? They’ll be our evening repast be later tonight along with roasted sweet potatoes and warm apple tarts with fresh churned Madagascar vanilla ice cream.
It’s still morning here, so there’s nothing quite like a freshly brewed pot of tea to get me going. I should know as I need at least two large mugs of tea before I’m fully awake. Not black though as I’ve a generous splash of Riverrun cream in my tea.
I once knew a well-regarded folk musician who started each morning with much more than a dram of Kilbeggan Irish whiskey. Seemed to suit him well for the coming day as far as anyone could tell. He once offer me and I accepted some of that excellent whiskey.
So I’m up in my Library office, a pot of Darjeeling second blush tea at hand, putting together this edition and watching the rain lash heavily outside the window. I’m playing a live performance by Altan with you hearing ‘A Bhean Udaí Thall’ from a concert in Phoenix nearly thirty years ago.
Want to see what I’ve got this week? Of course you do.
April says that James Hamilton’s Arthur Rackham: a Life with Illustrations ‘has been gorgeously reproduced here as an oversized softcover editing…Hamilton’s book is an excellent glimpse into the painter’s life for both fans and those unfamiliar with Rackham’s own special brand of whimsy.
The Vernal Equinox plays a role in this next book, which Cat reviewed. ‘This is a great book for fantasy lovers, but it will probably be most appreciated by those with a musical background,’ he says of Gael Baudino’s Gossamer Axe, which he notes ‘is clearly written by a musician. Indeed, under her stage name of Gael Kathryns, Gael Baudino is a concert harpist who also teach workshops, composes, and regularly writes for the Folk Harp journal. Gossamer Axe was an early work of hers, but while it may appear rather roughly written at first glance, it is still definitely worth the read.
Cat’s review of Baudino’s Gossamer Axe referenced his earlier review of George R.R. Martin’s The Armageddon Rag, which makes sense as they’re both fantasy novels that incorporate music into the plot; Martin uses an imagined ’60s band called the Nazgul. ‘Rock ‘n’ roll music from the Rolling Stones to Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix infuses the book as it pervaded that tragic period in American history. The author’s use of lyrics from real songs of the ’60s as chapter headings emphatically conveys a chillingly accurate sense of the ’60s, and the music credits in fact run for two pages in the hardcover edition.’
Gereg looks at a novel by Larry Kirwan, founder of the Black 47 band: ‘Pour yourself a cold one; put on a few old Horslips albums — not the mythic ones, the edgy ones about Irishmen sailing to Americay; steel yourself to endure some self-pity time with an emigrant version of Holden Caulfield who ‘s had a few too many himself . . . and you’re ready to settle down to Rockin’ the Bronx. The soundtrack helps the book go down the smoother, and for sure the good beer won’t hurt.’
Lory looks at what sounds like a very interesting book given its subject matter, Mark I. West’s A Children’s Literature Tour of Great Britain, but really wasn’t ‘tall interesting. Read her review to see why this was so.
Marian looks at a trilogy by Jane Yolen that deserves to be a classic. First up is ‘The Books of Great Alta which is the compilation of Yolen’s two books in the series, Sister Light, Sister Dark and White Jenna. It is the story of the women of Dale, who worship Great Alta, the mother goddess and what happens to them for better or worse.’ If you’ve read these already, then do read Marian’s review of the final volume, The One-Armed Queen, but otherwise do not as it has major spoilers about what happens in the first two novels.
Richard has an intriguing thriller for us: ‘The reference that gets used most often to describe Dave Hutchinson’s Europe in Autumn is John le Carre. Now the sequel, Europe At Midnight has arrived and the comparison is even more apt. Like le Carre, Hutchinson excels at telling stories of espionage through quiet, human moments, only later revealing how those seemingly innocuous passages affected the larger whole. And like le Carre, Hutchinson punctuates his narratives with moments of unexpected violence that are all the more shocking because they feel so unlikely.’
Steven Brust, a musician himself, brings us, in collaboration with Megan Lindholm, The Gypsy, which — well, as Robert puts it: ‘There are three brothers who have become separated. They are the Raven, the Owl, and the Dove. Or perhaps they are Raymond, Daniel, and Charlie. They are probably Baroly, Hollo, and Csucskari. One plays the fiddle, one plays tambourine, and one has a knife with a purpose.’ There’s a lot more to it, of course, so check it out.
He also has a review of Brokedown Palace by Brust: ‘This is a novel, with all the elements that make a novel what it is. I’ve said before that I think Brust is one of the master stylists working in fantasy today, and this one only confirms that opinion. Even though Brust is describing fantastic things, his mode is realist narrative, and a very clean and spare narrative it is, although more poetic than most of his work. While his characteristically sardonic humor and his flair for irony are readily apparent, there is a magical feel to it, in the sense of things that cannot be, and perhaps should not be, explained.’
A classic leads in for Warner: ‘Peter Benchley’s Jaws is well remembered as a bestselling novel, and even more so as a film directed by Stephen Spielberg. In the past few years this book has gained a new significance for many people, making it more than understandable that a press like Suntup would put out a delightful edition.’ Read his review to discover that this edition is chock full of interviews and other really cool stuff befitting its high end cost.
A novel that will make some uncomfortable is next: ‘Andrea Hairston’s Redwood and Wildfire is a fascinating and strange piece of historical fantasy. While the concept of a fantasy relating to the early twentieth century entertainment world is not unusual, nor is the portrayal of the situations of marginalized people, this book represents an excellent mixing of both concepts.’
A bit of crime is up next for Warner: ‘Dervla McTiernan’s The Murder Rule is a dark, disturbing and twisting thriller. Touching upon real life organizations such as the Innocence Project, this volume deals with the difficulties of investigation in an unusual manner and quickly draws in the reader. Based loosely upon an actual case tied to Michigan, this volume revises the setting and adds unusual layers of intrigue for real or fictitious crime stories.’
Next up is a beloved author who died far too early: ‘John M. Ford was a well respected author among the speculative fiction set of his time. He also died young at the age of 49 years, and the legal oddities surrounding much of his work meant that for over a decade it remained largely out of print. While the return of older works to print was greatly appreciated, in Aspects readers get a work that was unpublished and indeed unfinished at the time of his passing.’
Zina ends our book reviews with Charles de Lint’s What The Mouse Found and Other Stories: ‘Ah — two of my favorite things, paired in one slim volume. (Sorry, I’ve always wanted to use the phrase “slim volume” somewhere.) Fairy tales and Charles de Lint. The postman dropped the package through the door this afternoon. Just a bit later, here I am at my computer. I couldn’t not read it right away, could I?’
Mia gave a high recommendation for three classic films from Studio Ghibli by Hayao Miyazaki: My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Princess Mononoke. ‘Even those who do not generally watch anime should give the work of Studio Ghibli a try. These are all beautiful films made to engage the mind, heart, and spirit of the viewer.’
Rachael was similarly effusive about Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. ‘Visually, it’s an exquisitely detailed, painterly film. Miyazaki’s incomparable style encompasses everything from comedy to pathos, from heartbreakingly beautiful vistas to sequences of Hitchcockian suspense, from the very Japanese mask of the No-Face spirit to a lamp post that might have stepped out of a Disney version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. A number of images, like a train running on the surface of the ocean, are pure magic.’
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.’
Robert got a treat this week – Chocolat Frey’s Chocobloc Dark 72% with Honey-Almond Nougat: ‘Chocolat Frey AG was founded in 1887, and is presently the number one chocolate in the Swiss retail market. Like all good chocolatiers these days, Frey is environmentally and socially conscious, which extends not only to its procurement of raw materials, but to its conservation-minded manufacturing and shipping.’
A trio of Trader Joe’s chocolates, to wit Super Dark Chocolate, Trader Joe’s Super Dark Chocolate with Almonds and Trader Joe’s 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 insightful review here.
‘Comics and graphic novels have always had an affinity for the bizarre, surreal, fantastic, and otherwise otherworldly, and manga is no exception,’ Robert says. ‘Although many titles – probably most – deal with the here and now, many series take place in future universes, alternate historical universes, and sometimes even fairly standard fantasy universes.’ His three-part deep-dive into speculative manga takes us into some dark fantasy series, some heroic fantasy series, and some science fiction titles.
Gary found a lot to like in the jazz-dub-world music of the Boston-based band Club d’Elf. ‘Fans of the jazz rock fusion of Miles Davis and Frank Zappa, and anyone who likes North African music but isn’t a purist about it, will find a lot to like on this sprawling set. Club d’Elf’s You Never Know is utterly amazing on first listen and offers depths that infinitely reward close attention.
Gary says ‘transcultural jazz’ is a good description of the music on fiddler Coloma Bertran’s second album Principis. ‘The disc opens with the title track that after a dramatic fiddle-and-tympani intro kicks into a blazing Celtic reel, which is interrupted for a brief interlude of sunny West Coast jazz meandering. That’s not the only Celtic style tune here. The penultimate track “Poeta De L’asfalt” has a similar kind of blend of styles. This one mixes up an Ashley MacIsaac style Celtic rocker complete with huge drum sound, with some more of that West Coast style light jazz.’
Gary enjoyed the music on Harmònic, an album of accordion music by Spanish composer and performer Pere Romaní and his eponymous trio. ‘The 12 tracks on Harmònic are split between solo tunes and those with the trio. They’re all pretty much dance tunes of one kind or another. And really, just listening to this album makes me miss folk dancing!’
The last week of March brought the sad news of the unexpected passing of Jim Miller, founding member of the roots jam band Donna the Buffalo and the alt-country western swing band Western Centuries. Chris Woods wrote about Donna the Buffalo’s first album here and their second album here, Gary wrote about them here. Gary reviewed all three of Western Centuries releases: Weight of the World, Songs From the Deluge, and Call the Captain.
From the archives, some of our extensive coverage of Cape Breton fiddler, step-dancer and singer Natalie MacMaster:
Chuck was wowed by Natalie’s In My Hands. ‘There are, by my quick count, about 40 musicians who contribute to this CD. However, with the exception of “Get Me Through December,” this is Natalie MacMaster’s show. And it is an incredible show with MacMaster demonstrating why she is one of the top Celtic fiddlers going today.’
Yours Truly finds Natalie showing her abilities in a lot of styles, Gary says. ‘This disc is a very nice example of the whole range of MacMaster’s music, from straight traditional Cape Breton to contemporary Celtic to some flat-out rock ‘n’ reel. She is joined by a cast of some of the biggest names in contemporary Celtic music, as well as some less well known musicians from Cape Breton with some very Nova Scotia names like Chiasson and MacIsaac.’
We can’t help but include this archival review by Gary of a concert called ‘Close to the Floor‘ at Celtic Colours International Festival in 2002, which included some MacMaster family connections. ‘Accompanists for the evening were Andrea Beaton on fiddle and her mother, Betty Lou Beaton, on piano. Betty Lou is the sister of Cape Breton’s favorite fiddler, Buddy MacMaster, which would make Andrea the cousin of the highly popular fiddler and step-dancer, Natalie MacMaster — who had just married another fiddler, Donnel Leahy, the week before the festival began.’
Kim reviewed one of Natalie’s earliest U.S. releases, an instrumental affair titled My Roots are Showing. ‘MacMaster’s playing is technically superb and infectious. She excels on the fast sets of jigs, hornpipes and reels that make up most of the album. I enjoyed all the numbers on this recording, but I would have liked to see the pace slow down in a few more places to give the outstanding dance numbers more distinction. I particularly enjoyed the set entitled “The Balmoral Highlanders,” beginning with a pipe tune of that name, and a set of hornpipes and reels entitled “Captain Keeler.” ‘
‘Fit as a Fiddle is Natalie’s first gold record, selling over 50,000 copies in Canada alone,’ Naomi tells us. ‘It contains 13 tracks and a total of 44 tunes, the majority of which are traditional … There are a large assortment of strathspeys, reels, and jigs, with a couple of airs, a march, a hornpipe, and a waltz added in. Natalie’s fiddling is incredible, no matter what style she is playing, and the entire disc is enjoyable.’
Pat reviewed Cape Breton Tradition, a rare CD release of fiddle tunes by Natalie’s uncle Buddy MacMaster. ‘Recorded in the relaxed environment of pianist Gordon MacLean’s living room, with daughter Mary Elizabeth MacMaster MacInnis at the keyboard, it is an object lesson in how to bring dance music to the recorded environment and make it work. No flash, no overdubs, nothing that doesn’t belong where it is – great tone and a beautiful relaxed rhythm.’
Rick was impressed with Natalie’s album Blueprint. ‘This collection of tunes is big in a lot of ways. It is big in sound, with a depth of tone that captures the essence of all of the instruments used (and believe me, she uses the entire range available to her). It is also a big step for the girl from Canada’s east coast to the world stage. She certainly has prepared herself well and is obviously ready to take her place at centre stage.’
What Not comes courtesy of Mia who looks at four of Folkmanis’s creations, to wit Blue Dragon, Green Dragon, Three Headed Dragon, and Phoenix and she says, ‘Oooooh, shiny! I have a box of dragons here! Folkmanis makes the best puppets ever, and their dragons are some of the finest of their puppets.’
If you visit me in the Library here, you’ll very often find me listening to Celtic music of some sort, and more than not, it’ll be a soundboard recording of a performance by a band I like as I prefer live performances. So it is this week with Nova Scotian band Rawlins Cross performing ‘McPherson’s Lament’ at The Cohn in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the 18th of April 2009.