What’s New for the 26th of May: Taza Chocolate, June Tabor live (twice), music books, remembering a beloved Irish singer, a beloved Canadian singer, and more

Things are bound to get a whole lot worse before they can get any better. Let’s have a drink. — Robert Heinlein’s “Logic of Empire”


I’m Jill, one of many, many House Jacks and Jills here down the centuries. Some doubt that we really exist, and insist that we are but a story spun by tellers of tales very late at night in hopes of garnering one more pint, a few more coins and hopefully a warm bed. I’ve no doubt that I exist, but that proves nought, as I might be just part of that tale someone else is telling…

What is true, what is not, largely depends on what you wish to believe in. And what I’ve been thinking about lately is how easy it is for that which is not real to be taken for that which is. And how things refuse sometimes — or ofttimes — to fit into neat little categories. Like we Jacks and Jills, they defy easy definition. All I know for sure is that all of us are an aspect of the same narrative.

So books are stories of course, but so music in its own be it instrumental or spoken. An Irish reel such as “Toss the Feather” and “Banish Misfortune” The latter has  a long history  when the first version was written down from 1850 when Edward Cronin played it and it  was ltranscribed and then  published in a famous compendium of Irish tunes.

All of our food carries with a history with going back centuries, if millennia. The Babka is a sweet bread often made with chocolate. Its original name was baba which means “grandmother.” But as time went on bakers made smaller loaves, so they started calling it babka, meaning “little grandmother.” This dessert originated in Easter Europe in the 19th century within Jewish communities.

The first illustrated story?  Egyptologists have discovered the oldest copy of what is being called the world’s first illustrated book, a 4,000-year-old edition of the “Book of Two Ways,” an ancient Egyptian guide to the afterlife considered to be a forerunner to the “Book of the Dead.” Cool, eh?

I could go on and talk about puppets, tarot cards, children’s toys and other things we’ve reviewed over the decades, but I think I’ve made the point I wanted to which is everything has a story if you know where to look for it, so do so and you’ll be please for doing so.IMG_0272

Not surprisingly, we’ve reviewed a lot of biographies and autobiographies about both performers and bands. So let’s pull a few of  those reviews from the Archives…

Remember ‘Hotel California’ which The Eagles did? (This performance of it is from their concert at the LA Forum back in 1980.)  Well, David looks at what’s likely the definitive book on them and that circle of Southern California musicians: ‘Subtitled the true life adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and their many friends, Barney Hoskyns’ Hotel California is exactly that: a chronicle of the heady days of the singer-songwriter era, when songs became diary entries, and radio listeners learned more about the artists’ sex lives, drug use, and political interests than we had ever known before. Hoskyns captures them all, in all their egomaniacal glory!’

David says Julian Dawson’s and on piano… Nicky Hopkins: The Extraordinary Life of Rock’s Greatest Session Man is a great treat for readers: ‘Dawson has captured the man, the time, and the milieu very well. The life of a sixties (seventies, eighties, nineties) rock’n’roller is documented perfectly. The book reads easily, and the story is so engaging that time flies by.’

David also looks at Mark Brend’s biography of a late and very much missed rock ‘n’ roller: ‘Mark Brend has written the first biography of Lowell George, described in the sub-title as guitarist, songwriter and founder of Little Feat, but known by his fans (and that includes many of the musicians who worked with him) as “a real musician.” Yeah, he was the Rock and Roll Doctor but the self medication got to him and he passed away far too early, but he left behind a legacy of songs and music that live long afterward.’

Clay Eals’ Steve Goodman: Facing The Music, says Gary, is about someone whose lyrics you’ve likely heard: ‘Everybody knows one Steve Goodman song. The Chicago-born and -bred folksinger wrote “City of New Orleans,” the iconic ’70s song popularized by Arlo Guthrie. If that were the only thing he’d ever done, it would be enough, because it’s a great song, expressing universal truths in a tale set in a particular time and place. Its chorus of “Good morning, America, how are you? / Don’t you know me, I’m your native son,” perfectly captured the blend of confusion and optimism that reigned over the late 1960s and early 1970s in America, as a generation came of age that loved their country but felt alienated from some of its actions and beliefs.’

Howard Pollack’s Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man gets an insightful look by Gary: ‘Aaron Copland is the central figure in serious American music, and Howard Pollack has produced a biography worthy of the man. His treatment of Copland in more than 500 pages is reverential but never blindly worshipful, candid without being lurid, scholarly but rarely tedious.’

Jim Longhi’s Woody, Cisco & Me, says Rebecca, ‘is an entertaining account of three men’s adventures as mess-men in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II. The Woody in the title is Woody Guthrie, the famous folksinger and labor organizer. Cisco is Cisco Houston, Woody’s organizing partner, who also sang and acted in Hollywood. The story is told by Jim Longhi, an Italian-American friend of theirs who went on to become a lawyer.’

And now for something completely different: Robert takes a look at a biography of a Canadia-American composer who had a big influence on modern music, Carol J. Oja’s Colin McPhee: Composer in Two Worlds, which as a biography is somewhat problematic: ‘Oja has done a remarkable job of filling in the outlines of McPhee’s life from interviews and his papers, but I’m not sure I can really consider this a “biography” in any real sense – it is much more about the music than about the man, and valuable for that. McPhee was, after all, a problematical character: forward-looking, to be sure, but ultimately, more influential as a source than as an example.’

For the story according to the man himself, Robert turns to McPhee’s own memoir, A House in Bali: ‘Colin McPhee, a Canadian-American composer who had much more influence on American music than the body of his music might indicate . . . , left behind two books that were as influential, if not more so, than his compositions: Music in Bali . . . and A House in Bali, a charming and perspicacious memoir of his years in Bali in the 1930s.’


Robert had the happy opportunity to sample another offering from Taza Chocolate, this time their Coconut Almond bar: ‘[T]his is one I can recommend for those times when you just have to have a little bit of chocolate — more than two bites verges on overwhelming, even for a confirmed chocoholic like me.’


Mattie brings us a film that memorializes the music of Irish singer Sean McCarthy late of Listowel, County Kerry. ‘Since his death in 1990 McCarthy has been honored there with the Sean McCarthy Memorial Weekend, which has been going from strength to strength since it started in 1991, and includes a trek through Killocrim bog, which he so loved. The “Weekend” has secured the immortality of his work within his community, but now it has been copper fastened for a wider audience by The Songs of Sean McCarthy, a video of 15 of his 160 songs sung by his friend and fellow Kerry-person Peggy Sweeney. The video covers a wide range of emotions, feelings and levels of consciousness, just as his songs did.


Sometimes the companion work to an awesome series is every bit as good as that series, as Cat tells us here: ‘The Art of The Mouse Guard is nearly three hundred and seventy pages of awesomeness and it’s packed with artworks such as sketches, pen and ink illustrations, and painted art. Let’s not overlook the photos of miniature sets of interiors and buildings that were used as references. Yes miniature sets of interiors and buildings were built by David Peterson to help him visualise the unique reality that his mice exist in.’


From the archives, Asher reviewed Aliens Alive, a live offering from Norwegian hardanger fiddler Annbjørg Lien. ‘This is a CD for fans: live cuts from the 2001 Norwegian tour; all of her other albums are represented, and there’s even some new material. Though Lien’s hardanger is the centerpiece, the band’s sonic integrity is due in part to including Väsen guitarist Roger Tallroth, as well as Norwegian guitar virtuoso Rolf Kristensen, keyboardist Bjørn Ole Rasch (of Bukkene Bruse), Hans Fredrik Jacobsen providing flutes, bagpipes, clarinet and oud, and Rune Arnesen and Per Hillestad driving percussion.’

David approved of a retrospective collection of the songs of Danny O’Keefe. ‘You probably remember Danny O’Keefe, if you know the name at all, as the performer of the all-time classic tune “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues.” I think I have heard this song done by more pub singers than any other. And it still sounds good. This collection is subtitled “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues.” One guesses that it’s there so prospective buyers will think, “Oh! I know that one!” But Danny O’Keefe has a lot more great songs, and Raven has selected a choice bunch for this collection.’

David was very much in favor of the Gordon Lightfoot Songbook box set. ‘A proper retrospective would deal with each of Lightfoot’s albums in turn, but the good people at Warner Archives/Rhino have created such a marvelous compilation in the four-disc Songbook that anyone interested in his career can simply dip into his life-work through this anthology. Released in 1999, Songbook is a model box-set.’

He also reviewed Beautiful, a compilation and homage by various Canadian musicians. ‘A group of (mainly) Canadian artists began work on a tribute album which would honour his lifework as a writer and singer of songs, and as a model for a couple of generations of musicians from the Great White North. Beautiful is the resulting labour of love, and it’s a winner from start to finish.’

Gary also got on the Lightfoot bandwagon, reviewing one of his all-time favorites, Don Quixote, which he’s owned since it was released in 1972. ‘I probably listened to it nearly exclusively for several weeks, and to this day as we near its 50th anniversary I can still sing along with every song and even sing most of them without the record going. It’s one of the classic albums of the era that I play most often even today.’

Michelle wrote up a lovely omnibus review of some early albums by Beth Nielsen Chapman including her debut self-titled album, You Hold the Key, Sand and Water, and Deeper Still. ‘Though sweet and controlled, Chapman’s voice isn’t particularly striking. Nor are her melodies easy to sing along with. It’s her words, emphasized by restrained, stately arrangements, which make her so extraordinary. They’re not sophisticated, witty rhymes, but intensely personal, heartfelt observations about love and loss.’


We’re not sure who wrote this Folkmanis review as our What Not this time, as that information does seem to have gone walkabout: Folkmanis has gained an excellent reputation in recent decades for its overwhelming array of puppets. The plushies range from eerily lifelike to utterly fantastical. Right now I’m holding the Sea Serpent Stage Puppet in my hand. Well, okay, I’m wearing it on my hand. . . is that so wrong?’


If there’s any voice that match the cool, strong feel of Grace Slick, it’d be in my not so humble opinion that of June Tabor, whom I’ve heard live and that we’ve reviewed many a time, including this review of An Echo Of Hooves. Now imagine that she performed Slick’s ‘White Rabbit’ with quite possibly the finest English folk rock band ever in the form of the Oysterband which has been reviewed here many, many times, including Ragged Kingdom which is their second second album with Taborr, the first being Freedom and Rain some thirty years ago.

Well you don’t need to imagine it happening as it did and you can hear ‘White Rabbit’ as performed by her and the Oysterband at City Varieties in Leeds on a November night some years back.

Diverse Voices

Diverse Voices is our catch-all for writers and other staffers who did but a few reviews or other writings for us. They are credited at the beginning of the actual writing if we know who they are which we don't always. It also includes material by writers that first appeared in the Sleeping Hedgehog, our in-house newsletter for staff and readers here. Some material is drawn from Folk Tales, Mostly Folk and Roots & Branches, three other publications we've done.

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About Diverse Voices

Diverse Voices is our catch-all for writers and other staffers who did but a few reviews or other writings for us. They are credited at the beginning of the actual writing if we know who they are which we don't always. It also includes material by writers that first appeared in the Sleeping Hedgehog, our in-house newsletter for staff and readers here. Some material is drawn from Folk Tales, Mostly Folk and Roots & Branches, three other publications we've done.
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