The lie wasn’t meant to be believed. It was just social grease, intended to keep wheels turning. — Aliette de Bodard’s Fireheart Tiger
Come in… Let me pour you a pint of Dark Hollow Ale, one of our Autumn offerings here in the Green Man Pub – I think you’ll like it. A brewer from Big Foot Country in the States who visited us collaborated with Bjorn, our Brewer, on it. He said that it reminds him of wood smoke, brightly coloured falling leaves and of the promise of an Autumn to be.
Yes, I’m playing music by the Grateful Dead and the various associated bands and solo performers as I like most of what they did and the Neverending Session’s off elsewhere this afternoon.
Iain, your usual host here, is doing a hands-on music lesson for the Several Annies, his Library Apprentices, of learning the grimmer side of Scottish ballads such as ‘The Cruel Sister’ as performed here by the Aberdeen based Old Blind Dogs over thirty years ago.
Cat leads off with Ann Scanlon’s The Pogues: The Lost Decade which he says she ‘has captured the Pogues from their very first days in early ’82 ’til a decade later when they released their only commercially successful album If I Should Fall From Grace With God, an album that really did sound like it was produced instead of being simply tossed togather. Ann’s clearly at ease with the band. And it’s clear she had the full cooperation of the band, their friends, and assorted never do well hanger-ons. This is a fuckin’ brillant work of ethnograpghy that catches the evolution of a band as no other book I’ve read has done.’
Next up is Clinton Heylin’s No More Sad Refrains: The Life and Times of Sandy Denny in which I had forgotten that our reviewer Chris does reference that zombie biography: ‘In some ways it’s apposite that a book written about an artist as emotionally charged and mercurial as Sandy Denny should itself have had a difficult and rocky genesis. Some people, myself included, were expecting a biography of Sandy written by Pam Winters to be issued by Helter Skelter last year. It’s not my place as a reviewer to pass judgment on the disagreements which caused that project to flounder, and led to Clinton Heylin writing this book. Nevertheless, I include these comments to clarify the situation for those readers who do not know the background, why a biography did not appear last year, and why the author of this book, Clinton Heylin, is perhaps not the same author that they may have expected. It also helps explain the rather unusual comments in Clinton Heylin’s acknowledgments. Maybe one day that full story will unfold, but I shall keep my thoughts and comments on the book in hand. ‘
Last Night’s Fub: 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.’
Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span are the of my fav British folk rock(ish) bands, so it’s apt that Lars has a review of Brian Hinton and Geoff Wall’s biography of Ashley Hutchings: The Guv’nor & the Rise of Folk Rock as he helped birth both of those groups: ‘To some of us the subject of this book is, if not God, at least the musical equivalent to the pope. Name a group you like and have followed over the years, and there is a fair chance that Mr. Hutchings was there to start it, or at least influence the starting of it. He is in one way or another responsible for a very large number of the records in my collection, and yes, we are certainly talking three figures, here.’
Scott Allen Nollen’s Jethro Tull: A History of the Band, 1968-2001 gets a superb look see by Kate: ‘Scott Allen Nollen has proven his devotion as a Tull fan in the countless miles travelled and the hours passed collecting details and interviewing band members and other associates. He has included nostalgic pictures of the band, some of which were borrowed from Ian Anderson, the often frenzied flautist who, despite some controversy, became the Fagin-like front man for the band. After ten long years of research, here is a comprehensive and entertaining story of the much misunderstood Jethro Tull. The authenticity is underlined by the thoughtful and honest foreword written by Ian Anderson himself.’
Lis says ‘Colin Harper and Trevor Hodgett’s Irish Folk, Trad And Blues: A Secret History is a sprawling, overcrowded, rush-hour subway car of a book that piles on more eccentric musicians, frenetic booze-ups and unscrupulous music industry types than my brain could keep track of. It is a collection of essays and previously published reviews and interviews that covers roughly thirty years of Irish, English and American music-making (from 1962 to 1998). The book explores the history of the English and Irish Folk Music Revivals of the 1960s, Van Morrison and Them, the Blues boom in Northern Ireland, Irish Rock, Irish Folk Music in the 1970s, The Irish Trad Revival, and the Folk Music Revival of the 1990s.’
Fairport Unconventional was one of those astounding box sets Free Reed did. And I’m just looking at this tasty treat: ‘As amazing as the music lovingly collected in this box set is, the one hundred and seventy page book is in its own way even better. Shaped to fit the box set as you can see by the photo of the box set, it’s a full history of the band as written by Schofeld who’s very obviously a diehard fan as he amusingly with an introduction entitled ‘Fairport Convention: A recipe for success’ which includes this choice tidbit: ’11 lead guitarists, 11 lead vocalists, 6 fiddle players, 7 drummers, 5 keyboard players, 2 bass players’ which makes the band not all that different than any band that’s lasted thirty-five years such as the Breton fest noz bands.’
I also looked at Mark Cunningham’s Horslips: Tall Tales, The Official Biography: ‘Horslips were, and in many ways still are, the Irish equivalent of Steeleye Span and, to a lesser extent, Fairport Convention, as they blend English and Irish traditional material and a rock and roll sensibility into what was the first Irish folk rock group.’ Did they get what they deserved? Oh yes.’
Richard ends our English folk rock biographies by looking at Patrick Humphries’ Richard Thompson: The Biography: ‘Biographies of musicians are always dangerous propositions. Too many are tell-alls that insist on concentrating on lurid details and scandal, to the point where the reader forgets that the book is about a musician. Others go the other way, and are so slavishly and obviously creations of the PR machine that they’re essentially worthless as sources of fact. Books of both these sorts tend to cluster around hugely successful acts, and to clutter bookshelves right around holiday time.’ And let’s just say this this is decidedly not the biography this artist deserves.’
Lenora takes a nuanced look at a film not often thought of as nuanced, Pleasantville, starring Toby McGuire and Reese Witherspoon. ‘The theme of the piece is change – not progress, which suggests all change is for the better, all innovation immediately positive. Indeed, along with sex, art, and literature, there is prejudice and rioting. Rather, it puts forth a simple concept: the world changes, for good and ill, and people change with it – or against it. It most definitely takes the side of those people who work to embrace change, or at the least to accept it and face it unafraid.’
Some books on breakfast and brunch are up next, plus one on bacon…
Gus has our bacon book, which is Jennifer L.S. Pearsal’s Big Book of Bacon: ‘Yes bacon. We use a lot of bacon at this Scottish Estate. Bacon in cheddar and bacon rolls, bacon and tomatoes in eggs, bacon in beef stew for a little extra flavour. Even one enterprising Kitchen staffer even created ice cream with smoky bacon and chocolate as its flavour. It actually tasted rather good. Well you get the idea. So when I discovered this book in a pile of galleys sent to us, I decided to give it a review.’
Reynard says succinctly of Heather Arndt Anderson’s Breakfast: A History that ‘So if you’re really interested in all things breakfast down the centuries, Breakfast: A History is ideal for you and why this is so I’ll detail here.’
Next he looks at Joshua Samuel Brown’s The World’s Best Brunches: Where to Find Them and How to Make Them: ‘Sometime ago I review The World’s Best Street Food which is also from this publisher. It’s a superb book and this one is too. So let me detail this book and tell you why that is so. When I work the late shift at our pub, the Green Man Pub, I get done around three and not up until ten or so. That means my first meal of the day is really a late breakfast verging into a hearty lunch. So a book on brunches of an unusual nature definitely caught my eye.
And Alexandra Parsons’ A Proper Breakfast is ‘Yes, another breakfast book. I eat breakfast most every day as I work afternoon to early evening hours when possible in the Estate Pub which I manage. That means I get up around eight in the morning and eat breakfast with Ingrid, my wife. When I travel with her, we both look forward to eating breakfast in whatever locale we’re in. So I read breakfast books when I run across them. And this is a lovely, quiet gem of a book that covers a lot of ground in under a hundred pages.’
Stacy has a tasty one for us: Carrie Levin’s The Good Enough to Eat Breakfast Cookbook: ‘ Considering it’s the most important meal of the day, restaurant owner Carrie Levin teaches us what breakfast should be in her new book, The Good Enough to Eat Breakfast Cookbook. After over 20 years at New York’s famous restaurant Good Enough to Eat, Levin generously opens her kitchen and shares her personal tricks of the trade with the home cook.’
We like comics here, so if there’s one we don’t like we’ll tell you, as Richard does with Divine Right: The Adventures of Max Faraday, a title from Wildstorm. The problem, he says, is “…in addition to its tired origins, Divine Right is also heir to some of Wildstorm’s worst excesses. Hypersexualized character concepts? Check. Creepy brother-sister incest implications? Check. Gratuitous head explosions, skimpy costumes, and obfuscatory growly macho dialogue? Check, check and check. And of course, mandatory crossover throwdown between every superteam available. Wearily, finally, check.
Big Earl was about as excited as he gets about the South Asian music on Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma’s Sampradaya. ‘Since this program is divided into three tracks, each over 20 minutes long, it’s really difficult to choose highlights. The closing track “Teen Taal” contains some breathtaking playing, with fascinating pauses, call-and-response work, and some insanely fast playing by Sharma. His touch is exquisite, with hard hammering mixed with delicate strums, and some utterly fantastic work with harmonics – notes played from node points on the string, resulting in high-pitched, bell-like tones.’
Chuck gives a good description of a disc he reviewed: ‘Imagine, if you will, a singer, backed by guitar, bass and other instruments, performing something between blues, quiet jazz, and folk. Maybe it’s a smoky bar or a coffee house – any place where music is played for a small crowd. Now, imagine that place is in Scotland, just outside Glasgow. I don’t really know if Andy Shanks and Jim Russell’s Diamonds in the Night is performed in that type of setting (except it was recorded near Glasgow), but it feels like that type of music – close, intimate, and personal.’
Faith found the music on Good Intentions, an album by New York-based Irish group Shilelah Law, to be competent and enjoyable. ‘Decent – yes, that would be my verdict on this album. It doesn’t exactly have a unifying theme, but it does a competent job on a variety of songs, both traditional and original. It’s fun, enjoyable light listening.’
Faith also reviewed three CDs by the Newfoundland band The Sharecroppers: Natural, This New Founde Lande, and Home, Boys! She found a lot of stylistic variety on all of them, as she notes in her review of Natural: ‘Does this variety of styles show the Sharecroppers’ versatility, or that they were struggling to find a voice? Probably a little of both. Their later albums are somewhat more homogenous, but I also detect a hint of refusing to be locked into a category. You decide.’
Gary penned a short tribute to Jimmy Buffett, who died Sept. 1. ‘I’m not a real Parrot Head, as the Buffett fanatics call themselves. I stopped following him in the mid-80s, when he started getting played on country music television and became a cultural phenomenon. But for a few years there in the late ’70s and early ’80s I listened to Jimmy Buffett as much as I did to The Beatles and Linda Ronstadt and a few other favorites.’
Gary gives a glowing review to the new recording from The Handsome Family. ‘I’ve reviewed my share of pandemic-inspired albums, but Hollow does as well as any of them at capturing the sense of dislocation, surrealism, and existential dread that we’ve all stared in the face for the past three-plus years. Partly because this is where the songwriting and domestic duo of Brett and Rennie Sparks have lived since forever: A world where nature can go from cuddly to threatening in the blink of an eye, where the world and the cosmos loom like Poe’s Pendulum in our psyches, and where every house (and airport, and motel, and convenience store) is haunted.’
Gary got a lot out of pianist Carsten Dahl’s The Solo Songs of Keith Jarrett. ‘Danish pianist Carsten Dahl joins with his trio of bassist Nils Bo Davidsen and drummer Stefan Pasborg, plus virtuoso trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg and saxophonist Fredrik Lundin and members of Ensemble Midtvest to explore some of Jarrett’s most iconic songs, many of which he was known to toss off as encores.’
Gary also enjoyed the oddly titled recording Are You Sure You Three Guys Know What You’re Doing?, by Mike Jones, Penn Jillette and Jeff Hamilton. ‘What it is, is a collection of stone cold classic jazz, the kind you’ll hear in a supper club or a small dark basement space. Three guys having a great time working out on these standards and the occasional original that’s very much in the standard vein. Such a program! It opens with the Gershwins’ “S’Wonderful,” works through “Watch What Happens,” “On Green Dolphin Street,” “Perdido” and more before winding up with Jones’s original “Blues For Burns.” ‘
Gary was surprised by a recording from the late pianist Mulgrew Miller, who joins his short list of pianists he’ll tolerate in a solo setting. ‘This is entirely on the strength of this new release, Solo In Barcelona. from Miller, who died much too young in 2013. I was a bit reluctant to dive into this one, but a few words from Ron Carter about how much he loved and missed his friend Mulgrew Miller, on the recent documentary Finding the Right Notes, persuaded me to give it a try. I’m glad.’
Gary reviewed a new live release by a leading jazz quartet. ‘Mark Turner is a highly respected saxophonist with countless credits to his name as a leader and player in others’ ensembles. This is his first live release as a leader, and he chose to do it in the most storied jazz venue on the planet, the Village Vanguard. It’s a great place for Turner and his mates to be heard in peak form.’
John was ambivalent about the music on the Shine Cherries’ self-titled recording. ‘Shine Cherries are a trio from Albuquerque, New Mexico and are kindred spirits with the more well-known Handsome Family. Both groups play Americana filtered through a rock music sensibility. But whereas The Handsome Family take existential despair head-on and make a post-modern lemonade, Shine Cherries are more self-effacing as they tend to approach the melancholic more cautiously.’
Our correspondent Down Under, Michael Hunter, interviewed Adrienne Piggott and Nick Carter of the pagan folk rock band Spiral Dance. In his introduction regarding the rarity of such music, Michael said, ‘It’s true that Spiral Dance stand out, and it’s true the reason is the originality of their music. But sadly, it is as rare here as anywhere else. Myth and legend in music are never likely to make a lasting impression on the mainstream of society but, of course, that’s not the point. It still speaks to a great number of people on a deep, almost intangible level and the music this band produces does it better than most.’
Kim reviewed a couple of Sharon Shannon’s early solo records, which she liked quite a lot. ‘Both Out the Gap and Spellbound include numbers with fiddle replacing accordion, avoiding repetition in arrangement. Both CDs are enjoyable, although if I had to choose I would probably opt for Spellbound, because it contains about half of the same tunes, and I like the new tunes on it better than the remaining tunes from Out the Gap.
No’am found that Mike Asquino’s She Believes In Me wasn’t quite what he expected from a singer songwriter, but that doesn’t mean he liked it much. ‘Whilst the disc does have a warm and immediate style, there is very little variation in the dynamics. I’ve been listening to it with continuous play, and find it difficult to tell when the disc starts again. Two exceptions are the comparatively dramatic “Phone Calls And Memories,” and the stone country rock of “Old Friends And Fine Wine”. Another song that escapes the formula is “American Cowboy,” which is much more country than pop, and as such immediately causes my hackles to raise. But I’m sure that Asquino’s middle aged American audience will lap it up.’
Pat found a few shortcomings in Shebeen’s The Pebbled Shore. ‘Track four is an attempt at “The Foxchase,” perhaps the most demanding piece in the uilleann piping repertoire, where the player reproduces the sounds of the hunt from joyful gathering of the hounds to the fox’s unfortunate death; but here the end product sounds something more like a chipmunk on acid let loose in a cage of canaries.’
Our What Not this outing is a Folkmanis Mouse with Cheese puppet that got overlooked when it came so Reynard gives it a review now: ‘I’ve no idea when it came in for review, nor do I know how it ended up in the room off the Estate Kitchen that houses the centuries-old collection of cookbooks, restaurant menus and other culinary related material, but I just noticed a very adorable white mouse puppet holding a wedge of cheese in its paws there. Somebody had placed it in a white teacup on the middle of the large table so I really couldn’t overlook it. ’
So let’s finish out this week with ‘The Two Sisters’ by Clannad, taken from a concert in Köln, Germany over forty years ago. This is one of the lesser known variants of the Child Ballad more commonly known as ‘The Cruel Sister’, so yes a variant on the song above. Pay attention to the lyrics at the end as they tell the gruesome end that the murderous sister deservedly comes to. It’s an ending worthy of the original Grimm Tales, and is noted in other folk ballads as well.