What’s New for the 4th of February: Mostly Tolkien – The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books, films, and even some audio

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” – Thorin Oakenshield, to Fili and Kili, The Hobbit, Chapter 4, “Over Hill and Under Hill”

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Hello, you’re probably not expecting me. This is Gary, the GMR music editor. I’m filling in for Iain, who is … well, he seems to have gone walkabout. He was singing the praises of various malts in our last edition, which was followed shortly by this year’s Burns Night, when he seems to have sampled one that he particularly enjoyed. None of the staff is certain whether the dram in question originated in, well, the ‘real’ Scotland outside the gates of Kinrowan Estate, or the … other Scotland that’s across the invisible border that intersects with the Estate here and there. But the best guess is that we won’t see Iain again until he can bring back a bottle or better yet a barrel of the elixir for the Pub.

Be that as it may. This is the time of year — cold, wet, often stormy — when you’ll find staffers and whatever visitors have washed up on the Estate curled up beside one of our many fireplaces enjoying a dram, or a pint of something dark, as they read (or more likely re-read) their favorite work of J.R.R. Tolkien. As you might imagine, our Archives are replete with reviews of The Don’s works, and so I’ve asked a couple of The Annies to see what they could come up with. Unsurprisingly, they’ve rounded up enough for at least two editions. This time we’re focusing on the core works: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. Next time out the plan is to take a tour through the less well known works, the more recently published stuff, and perhaps some of the many books that’ve been written about Tolkien and his work … or maybe those will be left for yet a third. As I said, there’s a lot …

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Not a fan of Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Hobbit, I liked a recent new edition of the book with illustrations by Jemima Catlin. ‘It’s a perfect size for reading aloud, its illustrations just right to be seen when held up by the reader or the book is sturdy enough to be passed around. Those illustrations, as befits this rather gentle adventure tale, are humorous or mildly scary as appropriate. As a bonus, you can read it in just about the same amount of time that it would take you to watch all three installments of the overblown and misguided movie adaptation.’

Iain gives us the rundown on The Annotated Hobbit, with Douglas A. Anderson’s annotations added to the classic tale. ‘All in all, an amazing amount of information gets added to an already finely detailed tale. I must stress that I would not have wanted this to be my first encounter with The Hobbit, as the annotations are distracting, but I will cherish this valuable addition to me library!’

In her in-depth review Liz acknowledges that Tolkien’s The Silmarillion is a difficult read. ‘So why read The Silmarillion if it is difficult? The obvious answer, “because it is the backstory to The Lord of the Rings,” doesn’t do the book justice. The Silmarillion is way more than just a prequel. It can stand on its own as a work of art.’

Naomi wrote a delightful review of the book that started it all. ‘The Hobbit is a delightful tale for old and young alike; it is a tale to be shared, and a kick-start to the imagination of us lowly humans. Dare to dream, for look what treasures you may find; a dragon’s gold, a night spent in the company of elves, a meeting with royalty — there is so much to be experienced here in this single novel. Don’t deprive yourself of an incredible experience. Read it!’

Naomi also wrote a loving review of The Lord of the Rings trilogy of books, just a bit before they became an even bigger sensation than they were with the release of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations. She speaks for us all when she says: ‘Tolkien created an unparalleled masterpiece, and left a strong and undying legacy behind him, as witness the continued popularity of The Lord of the Rings, which has now been translated into both animated and live-action films.’

Rachel didn’t much care for the readings by Christopher Tolkien on The J.R.R. Tolkien Audio Collection CDs. However, she says, ‘J.R.R. Tolkien’s readings are a different matter. Most especially, his lively and very funny rendition of The Hobbit‘s “Riddles in the Dark” is an enormous treat, from his hissing, spluttering Gollum to his deadpan professorial asides concerning the difficulty of thinking of riddles when you’re sitting next to a slimy creature who wants to eat you.’

She did, however, have unqualified praise for the huge set of The Lord of the Rings audio version, read by Rob Inglis. ‘Even if you’ve read the books many times yourself, hearing them aloud is different. You are forced to listen to passages you might have otherwise skipped or hurried over, and many of them yield up unexpected treasures, a turn of phrase or simile that you never noticed before. We can never again read them for the first time, but this is the next best thing.’

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Grey took on the daunting project of reviewing all three of Peter Jackson’s LOTR films: The Fellowship of the Rings, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. This passage from the first of those reviews serves as her generl feeling about all: ‘As director and one of the writers of the screenplay, Peter Jackson worked very hard to remain faithful to Tolkien’s massive epic, while working within the restrictions of a limited number of screen hours. He has, over all, succeeded admirably. The movie flows smoothly, and the plot progression seems as inevitable as it does in Tolkien’s luminous prose. But, as closely watching fans will undoubtedly notice, Jackson did indeed make several changes to Tolkien’s story.’

Robert was ambivalent about the film adaptations Jackson did of The Hobbit, at least the first two installments that he reviewed: An Unexpected Journey, and The Desolation of Smaug. ‘I have to confess, I was not one of those wildly enthusiastic about Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Quite aside from the liberties he took with the story (which, if you’re trying to compress three lengthy novels into three films, are understandable in large part), I had reservations about some of the characterizations, the lack of support for some scenes, and the pacing. Those faults are not so much in evidence in The Hobbit, but they haven’t vanished, either.’

Going back a bit further, Sarah reviewed the animated Rankin-Bass production of The Hobbit when it came out on DVD. She didn’t like what she saw … or rather, heard. ‘The most disappointing thing about Rankin-Bass’ The Hobbit is that it didn’t have to be disappointing. The animation is fluid and lively, the character designs are expressive, and the backgrounds are a joy. The movie even holds true to the book in its shoreline. The only elements that don’t work at all are the soundtrack and script, but they manage to sink the entire thing.’

She liked Ralph Bakshi’s animated version of The Lord of the Rings better, especially the smaller moments. ‘Bilbo’s moment of Gollum-like ring fixation, Boromir’s low-key feuds with Aragorn, Galadriel’s self-mocking laugh when Frodo offers her the Ring; these added more character to the story than any number of spectacular fight scenes. Character development fan that I am, I’m willing to accept a badly-costumed Balrog in exchange for Sam’s frantic terror when he looks into the Mirror.’

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Cat dug into The Road Goes Ever On — A Song Cycle, in which composer Donald Swann put some of Tolkien’s poems to music, with Tolkien’s approval. ‘Now before you run out as a Tolkien fan and purchase the 2002 edition which was released only in Britain by Harper Collins (with a CD of the songs to boot!) be advised that this is mostly sheet music, something that even most of the regular members of the Neverending Session would find boring. Really boring. But if you’re interested in a relatively practical look at how some of Tolkien’s poetry is as song, this is the book for you.’

Kelly wrote a deep and deeply enlightening review of the full set of The Lord of the Rings film soundtrack recordings, in which he says, ‘ …these three scores reward repeated listening more than any other scores I have encountered in quite a few years. There’s a constant sense of discovery as one studies what Howard Shore has wrought, as one discovers more and more connecting tissue between all of those separate and distinct motifs.’

In new reviews, I enjoyed Tutupatu’s IV. ‘The debut album from Madrid-based Tutupatu is a blend of psychedelic krautrock, ambient synthesizer music, free jazz, and experimental noise. I’ve never really listened to krautrock before, and I’m still not sure it’s my thing, but the three out of this album’s five tracks that are more ambient than krautrock are beautiful and mesmerizing.’

I also review Ville Blomster (wild flowers) the debut studio album from Norway’s Liv Andrea Hauge Trio. ‘The trio’s members come by their obvious tight connections by dint of hard work. Only together a couple of years, they’ve spent most of the time playing together in live settings since they recorded their debut Live from St. Hanshaugen in Hauge’s living room only a couple of weeks after they got together.

Tatiana makes some good points about a new recording from a world music ensemble called Hysterrae. ‘This debut self-titled album by Hysterrae is a captivating and innovative exploration of world music, blending the traditional with the contemporary. The collaborative effort of four acclaimed Italian and Iranian world music artists from different ethnic and musical backgrounds, along with the electronic music producer Emanuele Flandoli, results in a unique and mesmerizing listening experience.’

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The Russian World Music Chart for 2023 was recently released. This new effort was created just three years ago to publicize the excellent but overlooked contemporary and traditional folk music that’s currently being recorded throughout the vast lands of Russia and Siberia. To explain a little more about the topic, we also have a Q&A with Daryana Antipova and Tatiana Naryshkina, two members of the organization who are also GMR’s latest contributing reviewers.

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We don’t normally link to YouTube in our Coda, but I’m making an exception this time to present audio of Tolkien reading the chapter “Riddles in the Dark” from The Hobbit. It originally appeared on an LP and now is available on The J.R.R. Tolkien Audio Collection, which you’ll find reviewed above. So take whatever device you’re using and a cup of tea over by the fireplace and prepare to be enchanted: “Riddles in the Dark.”

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Stockpots

oak_leaf_fallen_colored2There’s always a need for a bowl of hot stockpot soup no matter what the hour, be it the Eventide meal or for a break from watching the ewes during lambing season all night long (a task I gratefully now leave to the much younger staff). A bowl of that exhilarating warmth along with a slice of just-baked bread slathered in butter does wonders for a cold, tired staff member.

The stockpots themselves are immense thirty-gallon affairs made of thick gauge copper. I’ve been told that these cost four hundred pounds thirty years ago and would easily be double that today. One always has either a chicken- or turkey-based concoction in it, the other has a similar one with beef and other stuff in it.

The chicken one usually has just vegetables in it (well aside from bacon ends for an added smokiness) with carrots, potatoes, onions, dried mushrooms and spicing as need be. However, Mrs. Ware, our Head Cook, has offered up everything from the same soup but with dumplings to curried chicken with rice and lentils, or on rare occasions, one of the Several Annies gets to cook a pot of whatever from their regional or national culture, such such as Swedish chicken and noodles.

Though we do raise our own chickens, we don’t raise beef. Instead we trade for it from one of the neighbouring farming Estates, say Riverrun or High Meadow. We buy it already butchered and frozen for later use though we do get a side aged and unfrozen for immediate use. We trade cider, ale and slots in our various apprentice programmes for it.

Our most common beef soup’s simply beef, bacon and vegetables with salt, pepper and garlic. That stockpot starts happening well before Samhain and doesn’t end ’til after Beltaine. If the Kitchen decides to do something different with beef, it goes into yet a third copper stockpot, so it doesn’t stop the main beef concoction from continuing.

The favourite one here is Gulyás, the Hungarian paprika-spiked beef soup that gets served up with a dark bread which may or may not be traditional. Béla, our resident Hungarian violinist, gets tears in his eyes when we serve it (and always with several bottles of Szekszárd, a full-bodied Hungarian red wine, to drink with it).

I don’t know about you, but I’m now ravenous so I’m heading down to see what’s in those stockpots. Care to join me?

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What’s New for the 21st of January: A (mostly) Robin Hood themed edition: Child ballads, scholarly tomes, young readers’ books, comics, movies, and TV series about the bandit of Sherwood; plus The Boy and the Heron, and more

After doing extensive research, I can definitely tell you that single malt whiskies are good to drink.― Iain Banks’ Raw Spirit

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I’ve got a whisky that I think you should try, it’s Toiteach which is a wonderfully peaty single malt from the Bunnahabhain brewery. Served neat with neither water nor ice is how we do it as there’s no single malts here that shouldn’t be appreciated that way. If you’re interested in knowing more about these whiskeys, take a look at the review by Stephen of the late Iain Bank‘s Raw Spirit: In Search of The Perfect Dram as I believe it’s simply the best look at single malts ever done.

Banks was also a SF writer of quite some note as can be seen here in Gary’s review of this novel: ‘As with all of Bank’s Culture novels, Surface Detail is richly imagined in addition to being intricately plotted. The characters’ actions sometimes surprise but never seem out of character. The settings are minutely described, and in such a way that I can almost always them see in my mind’s eye. There was a short section somewhere past the midpoint where I felt that the plot got bogged down for a while; other than that, I could hardly turn its nearly 650 pages fast enough.’

It’s our usually grey weather beginning to December here in the Scottish Highlands: rainy, cold and blustery winds to boot. Even the most diehard of Estate staff find going outside unless their duties require to do so not a great idea in the extreme.  Iain’s has been keeping to his hiding spot and I myself are spending time off duty in the Kitchen quite content to play tunes and nosh on whatever the staff there feels we should be eating such as blackberry cobbler.

So lets see what Editors found interesting with our usual mix of new materiel along with some older material from the Archives. We might even have something from the Sleeping Hedgehog, our inhouse newsletter for staff and visitors. So let’s get started…

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Francis Child collected an impressive number of English folk ballads, many of them obviously pagan in origin, so let’s look at the edition of them published by Loomis House fifteen years ago. Francis James Child’s The English and Scottish Popular Ballads includes some Robin Hood ballads, and as Jack notes: ‘A nice bonus is that they do include sixty ballad tunes drawn from Child’s original sources. (Child felt the words, not the music, were the ‘real’ ballad.)

Jack also reviewed a bunch of Robin Hood related books. We start with a couple of studies of The Robin Hood Myth: J.C. Holt’s Robin Hood, and Stephen Knight’s Robin Hood: A Complete Study of the English Outlaw. ‘Some hold Robin Hood to be a real man. But who was he? These two books take radically different approaches to answering that crucial question. Bear in mind that here are no actual records that might corroborate that Robin Hood was an actual person, but there are an immeasurable number of paintings, books, ballads, stories and other writings that would say he was.’

And another by one of those authors, Stephen Knight’s Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography, which Jack says ‘is an extended look at what Robin Hood has become in various guises, ranging from a nationalist rallying point (in 1555, the Scottish parliament banned all annual celebrations involving Robin, Little John, the Abbot of Unreason, or the Queen of the May, as plotters against the Scottish Crown were using them as the basis of a populist uprising) to his transformation by Disney into a cartoon fox in the 1973 Robin Hood feature, not to mention Daffy Duck playing him in a 1958 cartoon.’

Next up is a trio of books, James Goldman’s Robin and Marian, Robin McKinley’s The Outlaws of Sherwood, Richard Kluger’s The Sheriff of Nottingham, Jane Yolen edited Sherwood: A Collection of Original Robin Hood Stories. ‘These four books certainly suggest alternative ways of looking at the legend that help to strip away much of the romanticism that Howard Pyle gave it in his novel The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood.’

Jessica reviewed the script for a play written in faux-Elizabethan verse by Scott Lynch-Giddings, A Fancyfull Historie of That Most Notable & Fameous Outlaw Robyn Hood, which she found to be ‘a good old-fashioned romp through the life and times of “that most notable & fameous outlaw” Robin Hood.’

Laurie reviewed a pair of young reader’s books, Theresa Tomlinson’s The Forestwife and Child of the May, which tell the tale of the girl who becomes known as Maid Marian. ‘In The Forestwife Tomlinson gives us a strong Marian, not a weeping maid content to wait in a castle and be rescued. From organizing nuns and children to hunt deer in Sherwood to rescuing prisoners, Marian is as brave as any man. The story only lightly follows the traditional Robin Hood tales, but since the story is not really about Robin anyway, that doesn’t matter.’

Rebecca reviewed a couple of younger children’s books on the subject, Jane Louise Curry’s Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and Robin Hood in the Greenwood. ‘I believe these books will bring great enjoyment to children and will serve as an excellent grounding in the Robin Hood legend. From here young readers can go on to the multitude of other books written on this subject. Sherwood Forest is a big, beautiful, merry place. It’s never too soon to enter it.’

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Smoke in your whisky? Jennifer has a review of a rather interesting whiskey: Johnny Smoking Gun, a blended whiskey produced by Detroit’s Two James Distillery. Johnny Smoking Gun was insulted at great length and repeatedly by a vlogger somewhere, but she won’t link to it because she actually has nice things to say about this peculiarly delicious booze.

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Straying from the theme for a new release, Gary reviewed Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron. ‘In the end, despite its 124-minute run time, it’s a simple tale. Like most of Miyazaki’s films, it’s a coming of age story. This time, a child comes to terms with mortality and with the violence and malice that are present in every human being, including himself. He learns that each generation must pass into and out of this world through its own door. And that the world and its systems built by our ancestors are made of weak and fallible materials, and each generation needs to try to create it anew with better stuff.’

Cat reviewed the DVD release of the Robin of Sherwood series. ‘Richard Carpenter claims that he wanted to reclaim the true Robin Hood from all the falsehoods that had been added to him over the past millennia. That in itself may be a falsehood, as no one knows for certain how the legend came to be. Be that as it might be, Carpenter certainly created a world as stunningly real as that of Holdstock, creator of the Ryhope Wood series, in that saga of another Wood beyond time itself.’

I just had to include the lovely review that Kage Baker wrote for us of Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits: The Criterion Edition, which includes an encounter with Robin Hood. ‘Time Bandits is a classic magical adventure story in the mold of E. Nesbit’s books, but with an updated edge and a sharper sense of humor. Unlike most candy-coated parables handed out to kids, it tells no lies and ends in a brutal and surprisingly exhilarating way.’

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Robert had mixed feelings about Tony Lee, Sam Hart, Artur Fujita’s graphic novel Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood. ‘Anyone telling a story as well-known as this one is facing some built-in constraints, not the least of which is that we know there’s a happy ending, and it’s to Lee’s credit that he makes the telling as absorbing as he does.’

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In new music, Gary reviews the self-titled debut album by the Mallorcan folk rock band Toc de Crida. ‘Toc de Crida sounds kind of like your favorite Celtic folk rock band just returned from a long holiday in Mallorca. In fact that’s where they’re from, the Spanish island in the warm, sunny Mediterranean. On their debut self-titled album they fuse the traditional music of Mallorca with modern and folk sounds and instruments of Northern Europe, North Africa, Brazil, around the Mediterranean, and the Iberian peninsula’s Valencia, Catalonia, and Basque country.’

Gary also reviews a new album from Catalonian composer, singer, and clarinetist Carola Ortiz. ‘Cantareras is a stunning exploration of the women’s oral tradition of the Iberian Peninsula by the multi-talented Ortiz, who has taken the simple songs originally sung by the women who fetched water from the springs and rivers for their community’s cisterns and transformed them into rich vessels of modern, jazzy electro-folk.’

‘Stretching jazz in different directions is a common goal of the members of the Marthe Lea Band, and this Norway-based quintet certainly does just that on its sophomore date Herlighetens Vei,’ Gary says of another new release. ‘With sounds and influences as wide-ranging as Ugandan and Ethiopian instruments and beats, European classical music, American jazz and rock, and of course Nordic motifs, this disc follows strongly on the path of the band’s 2021 debut, the critically regarded Asura.’

Also in new music, Tatiana reviews Égből, Fényből by the Hungarian women’s ensemble Napfonat, whose previous two albums were a capella. ‘The band takes the ancient beauty of folk songs and Christmas carols and dresses them up in a new way, enriched with instruments as well, this time, which creates a truly unique atmosphere under the Christmas tree. Yeah, I know it’s a little bit late, but … Christmas carols and albums never get old.’

From the archives, Gary notes that many Child Ballads are about Robin Hood. Anaïs Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer’s Child Ballads album doesn’t contain any of them, but it’s still an excellent album, he said. ‘These are deceptively simple songs to listen to, but they are complex and difficult arrangements, which Mitchell and Hamer perform admirably. The apparently ease with which they play and sing them belies what must have been a lot of hard work, study and rehearsal.’

In addition to singing a song or two about Robin Hood, Steeleye Span had something of his outlaw spirit, Peter Massey claimed in his lengthy Career Retrospective of the band spanning 1970-2000. ‘The band’s intention was not to be a rock band, but to be traditional musicians working with electric instruments. This brought them a lot of undue criticism from the self appointed “folk police” who decided what we should hear and what we should or should not like! Thankfully the band took no notice and went on to produce some of the most innovative folk music of the century.’

Michael turned in a similarly in-depth review of the various artists’ collection titled John Barleycorn Reborn: Dark Brittanica, which includes at least one Robin song. ‘Although Venereum Arvum’s take on ‘Child 101: Willie and Earl Richard’s Daughter’ is an electronic remix of their song on disc 2, it was the “flower mix” here that made me realise that after a few listens, it’s the sort of song you feel you’ve known forever. With the birth of Robin Hood as its topic, the song’s arrangement combines male and female vocals with an appropriately ethereal backing.’

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Mia leads this review of this stellar item this way:  ‘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?’

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I think a bit of rather lively music in the form of ‘Red Barn Stomp’ to show us out this edition will do very nicely. Recorded sometime in June of 1990 in Minneapolis by the Oysterband with June Tabor joining them there as well. The lads were on tour in support of their Little Rock to Leipzig album, where you can find another version of this tune.

Ian Tefler, a band member, tells us that the name of this piece was chosen to sound trad. It features John Tefler calling the tune and very neatly incorporates the actually trad tune, ‘The Cornish Six-Hand Reel’ in it as well.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Irish coffee

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Let me tell the tale of Irish coffee while I fix you one.

It is said the very first Irish coffee was invented by Joseph Sheridan, a barkeep at an airbase located in Foynes, a small town in the West of Ireland.

The story goes that this drink was the result of  a group of American passengers back in the Forties disembarked from a Pan Am flight on a miserable evening like the one we’re having. Sheridan added a generous measure of whiskey to the coffee to warm the shivering passengers. The story since told is that one of the passengers asked if they were being served Brazilian coffee, Sheridan told them it was Irish coffee.

Now this doesn’t explain the commonly accepted Irish coffee recipe that calls for fresh brewed coffee, a tablespoon of brown sugar, a generous dollop of Irish whiskey, and a tablespoon of lightly whipped heavy cream. I always ask the drinker which way they prefer their Irish coffee as more than a few like it sans the cream and sugar. Others shudder at the idea of skipping these ingredients. It’s the punter’s choice as always, as one staffer wrote in the Pub journal one night: ‘It’s all Irish whiskey all the time for me, honestly! Irish coffee, especially, tends to be my drink of choice: there’s just something glorious about quality coffee, heavy cream, and a generous bit of sweet, golden Irish sunshine. Er, not to wax poetic or anything.’

I use a dark roast, preferably Kona if I can get it, or even Jamaican Blue Mountain when that blessed bean is available. The whiskey, Irish of course, is one of the good single malts, usually Connemara, which is a peat-smoked single-malt whiskey from the Cooley Distillery. If you insist, I’ll put sugar and cream in, but I think it’s better with just coffee and whiskey.

Here’s your Irish coffee.

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What’s New for the 7th of January: Robert Holdstock and other easonally appropriate books, jazz in winter, real and not-real beer, a poor comic book, cold weather music, and Gary’s music pics of 2023

 

If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased. ― attributed to Katharine Hepburn

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Traditional Central European and Jewish comfort foods are common here in Kinrowan Hall. Mrs. Ware, our Head Cook, says ‘It’s not the sexiest cuisine in the world, but it’s so satisfying and perfect for this time of year. When Rebekah, our Jerusalem born and raised Several Annie, decided to join our kitchen family, her knowledge of Jewish food was a decided blessing.’ And that’s how I came to be sipping on a most delightful cardamon spiced coffee along with some chocolate rugelach on this rather cold morning.

It’s not something I’d eat in hotter, more humid weather but the weather is becoming ideal for such edible delights. I’ve even been looking forward to lox, onions and cheese in scrambled eggs for breakfast – the lox is from the salmon in the river that runs through this Scottish Estate.

Meanwhile I’ve been organising the reading groups, which always gear up as the weather gets colder, with of course the usual Norse language study group, ones devoted to works by McKillip, Tolkien, Sayers, Holdstock and Wynne Jones. There  was a Harry Potter group but her transphobic remarks awhile back got her informally banned here, as our staff is definitely leftist in their political persuasion.

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Cat reviewed The Bone Forest, a story collection by Robert Holdstock that predates the tales in his beloved Ryhope Wood series. ‘ “The Bone Forest,” the title story of this collection, is the true beginning to the Ryhope Wood series, Well, sort of,’ he says. ‘Narrative cycles, be they written, spoken, or sung, by their very nature do not allow for true beginnings or ending. The tragedy that is the preordained fate of all who enter Ryhope Wood has no ending. So where does the ongoing tragedy that is these families’ entanglement with Ryhope Wood, particularly the Huxleys, start?’

He also reviewed the first two books of Holdstock’s Merlin Codex, Celtika and The Iron Grail. ‘If you have the time to read carefully, holding lots of details in your head, you’ll find much to enjoy here. This Merlin is quite unlike any other Merlin you’ll encounter, as he has a depth, a reality to him, lacking in most Merlin portrayals. Holdstock really has made Merlin his own, and Merlin as a character is much better off for it.’

Gary reviewed Craig Morrison’s Go Cat Go!, which he says is a flawed book about rockabilly music. ‘It is one of the most vibrant and durable musical styles ever to be born in America, but it’s more popular in Europe than in its homeland. It’s difficult to define, but everybody knows it when they hear it. And it wasn’t recognized as a distinct genre until after it had nearly died out and been revived.’

Jack came up with a massive omnibus review of books dealing with British folk lore, fairy tales, and legends. Of one of them by Nina Auerbach, he says, ‘Forbidden Journeys: Fairy Tales and Fantasies by Victorian Women Writers is an interesting look at how different Victorian women writers were in terms of what they created. The editors note rightfully that Victorian women were less likely to idealize childhood, as their own childhoods were often less than perfect, so their fiction tended to be much darker than that of their male counterparts.’

Jack also reviewed a big stack of books about the history and folklore surrounding our celebration of Christmas (I know, I know, but Christmas isn’t officially over until the last decorated tree comes down…). A scan of the titles reviewed include When Santa Was a Shaman, Dickens’ Christmas, All Silver and No Brass: An Irish Christmas, Christmas in Scandinavia, and, I kid you not, A Righte Merrie Christmasse!!! (Exclamation points are the publisher’s, not mine.)

Jo Morrison warns readers of weak or uncertain faith away from reading The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas, by John Matthews with contributions from Caitlin Matthews. ‘The book itself is a work of art, filled with lavish illustrations ranging from paintings you might see in an art gallery to contemporary photography, and everything in between. Divided into seven basic sections, the book discusses some of the most significant symbols of the season, one in each of the first five chapters. Starting with the current associations of these symbols, the chapters soon branch off in many directions, exploring the probable roots from which these traditions stemmed, be those roots Norse, Greek, or pagan.’

Richard also reviewed a Robert Holdstock book, an earlier work called Unknown Regions, which he gave a mixed review. ‘Even when Holdstock does stumble, as he does with Unknown Regions, he gives you something interesting. A trifle next to the Ryhope books, Unknown Regions still provides much of interest. And if it ultimately fails to satisfy, that’s in part because this reader, at least, expects such great things from each and every Holdstock novel that something that’s merely good is below the bar.’

Robert brought us a review of a fascinating book about the intertwined lives of the people and animals of Siberia: ‘In its southern reaches it was the site of one of the most significant events of animal domestication in human prehistory, and one that is little-known in the West: the domestication of the reindeer. This phenomenon, and the lives of the people who live with their herds, are the focus of Piers Vitebsky’s The Reindeer People.’

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If you’re among those attempting an alcohol-free January, Denise has a review that may be of interest: BrewDog’s Punk AF Non-alcoholic beer. ‘I have to say that Punk AF could fool a serious beer drinker if you put it in her glass and said nothing but “hey, here ya go.” This beer (beer-ish?) ain’t your momma’s O’Doul’s.’

As an antidote if one is needed. we offer Chris’s review of Garrett Oliver’s book The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food. ‘I greatly enjoyed the introduction with its overview of beer; what beer is, the basics of brewing, a view of beer and brewing through the ages and the setting forth of Oliver’s basic premise, namely that for any meal one can find appropriate beer(s) to accompany the food. I also particularly enjoyed a number of chapters in the second section dealing with specific brewing traditions (e.g., Lambic, Wheat, British). The book is well written, informative and engaging. My one negative comment is that The Brewmaster’s Table is at times a tad too earnest and dry for its own good.’

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Camille warms our wintry souls with her review a DVD of a couple of winter jazz concerts that are more than a half-century old now, Duke Ellington At The Cote D’azur With Ella Fitzgerald And Joan Miro, and Duke: The Last Jam Session. ‘… in a kind of gritty, sepia-tinted black and white, Duke Ellington’s Orchestra plays in all their sweet fullness. If you love this music, watch live footage of the stuff. Watch the facial expressions, the raw emotion, the individual responses of various members of the orchestra as they listen to their fellow musicians play. Watch Ellington pounding out on his keyboard or counting aloud to the band during such numbers as “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be” and “La Plus Belle Africaine” and the Shakespeare-inspired “Such Sweet Thunder.” All of this serves only to intensify the appreciation for this music’s complexity and virtually assures longevity in future listenings.’

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Camille was dissatisfied with DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, even though, or perhaps because, it ticked off all the necessary clichés … er, elements of a superhero comic. ‘ …[Y]ou’ve got a Multiverse on the brink of collapse. You’ve got your Villain, and your multitude of Heroes, and even your One Last Hope for Humanity. Everything is meticulously and lovingly rendered in eye-stabbing hues, from every gravity-defying globe of a breast to every pointy torpedo of another breast to every chiseled cleft and pout of heroic jaw and lip and chin. Nearly any randomly selected page opens onto at least one explosion or jagged slash of lightning; manly bulges abound, and there are plenty closeups of tears and blood coursing across agonized expressions.’

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In new music, Gary put together a review of his favorite albums of 2023. ‘My music coverage for Green Man Review focuses mainly on jazz, World roots, and Americana. And that matches the music I listen to personally as well, pretty much in that order. I’ve found that the lines between those three “genres” are pretty blurry, though, as we’ll see.’

From the Archives, Asher got a big kick out of a record called ain’t being treated right by Texas band the Burtschi Brothers. ‘This is a 16-track omnibus CD of Burtschi experience and development. Many of these songs are field-tested live performance hits like “you hold the whiskey, i’ll hold the money,” “just out of reach,” and “casting my shadow” that wowed audiences at multi-band outdoor concerts, openings for blockbuster acts, and venues frequented by cutting-edge college music devotees.’

‘It’s a great pleasure to begin the a new year with an album of Irish music that is filled with stellar arrangements, tunes and songs that don’t pop up on every second disc, fine musicianship and a one of those famous Irish tenor voices singing the traditional style,’ Kim says. What’s she so enthusiastic about? Why, Danú’s stellar album Think Before You Think.

An upbeat album that Gary likes to start the year with is by a Cape Breton Island duo, Mary Jane Lamond & Wendy MacIsaac’s Seinn – and he’s been doing so for a good 10 years now. ‘Really, there’s hardly a less-than-stellar moment on this album. Both Lamond and MacIsaac bring this music forth from deep in their souls, and they and their collaborators bring a great sense of fun and passion to it that comes across at every turn.’

Lars spent a long time listening to The Bushburys’ Trying to Catch the Sun before he felt up to reviewing it. ‘Though they are an English group you can easily detect American influences on the record. Sometimes they come close to country, sometimes the songs sound like Woody Guthrie and there are one or two songs that could easily have been written by early Paul Simon. The instrumentation varies, always with a very strong emphasis on the acoustic, including lots of acoustic guitar, some banjo, accordion and a drummer who is more of a percussionist than a drummer. But in spite of the changes you always recognize the sound as the Bushburys.’

Mike reviewed two releases by Dan Newton and his Café Accordion Orchestra, On Holiday: A Musical Cruise; and La Vie Musette. ‘Here are two CDs that had this reviewer reaching for the escargot and absinthe. The Café Accordion Orchestra has preserved a style of squeezebox playing that richly deserves remembering for its historically pervasive folk character.’

Patrick had nothing but good things to say about Nua Teorainn, a compilation of music by some of the best artists on the Green Linnet label. ‘The 15 full-length tracks on this sampler CD give a taste of each artist that leaves you hungering for more. From the commanding voice of rising star Niamh Parsons on the lovely traditional ballad “Fear a Bhata” to the mahogany-mellowed sound of veterans Kila on their avante garde “Tine Lasta,” this CD showcases some of Green Linnet’s best and brightest.’

‘The first time I became aware of The Bushwackers was over 30 years ago, when I had a telephone call from a friend who told me he was going to make a Lager-phone,’ says Peter in his review of the 30th anniversary edition of that band’s Australian Songbook. Who are the Bushwackers and what’s a Lager-phone? Read his review to find out.

Peter also reviewed The Bushwackers’ 25th Jubilee, a live recording from Australia Day 1996. ‘What a concert it must have been; the album boasts 16 tracks of the favourite songs from the band featuring their specially invited guests, some of whom have been members of the Bushwackers at some time or other over the years.’

Sean reviewed an album of excellent Irish music titled Cairde that was compiled to benefit a Dublin hospital. ‘Unlike a number of compilation albums I could name, this collection has been self selected by the musicians; consequently it does not suffer from the over commercialised complaint of many of this type that are swiftly made up from a trawl through a company back catalogue to get the most bucks for the least recording effort. What we get here is an album of 22 high quality recordings, technically excellent without the dead hand of over arrangement or the tweaking and twiddling so often meted out on “re-mastered” compos — it’s a virtual Macy’s shop window for the variety of top flight recording studios in Ireland.’

Stephen isn’t alone among Green Man reviewers who greatly enjoy the music of fiddler Bonnie Rideout. ‘Rideout’s particular forte is the performance of the slow laments and song airs which comprise the majority of the music on Scottish Reflections. Her exquisite tone and wonderfully controlled bowing (legacies of her classical training?), combined with her emotional empathy for these tunes, has resulted in some wonderful recordings.’

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What not

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Coda

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A Kinrowan Estate story: New Years Eve

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Time is never called in my recurring dream of pubs. — Ciaran Carson in Last Night’s Fun: In and Out of Time with Irish Music

It is a hundred different late evenings in the deep of a hundred different winters in a hundred different cities.

What little light we’ve had today is fading from the lowering clouds, the wind blowing ever more bitterly cold. The few birds left scavenging the sidewalks in the late afternoon gloom sound small and worried as they speak in tiny, short notes. Even fewer people, muffled and featureless in scarves pulled high and hats pulled low, move quickly through the streets on their way to somewhere warm. Everywhere there are grey shadows and deeper shadows growing together into dark. Rain and snow and sleet fall in intermittent spurts, adding a baffling reflective quality to the deepening, developing night.

Frozen moments of different winters layer themselves into the same winter, the same dark, the same gloom, the same scurry for warmer spaces, like one of those flip books with the sketches slightly off-kilter.

Inside the pubs, the bars, the common rooms, it is that same moment of afternoon moving into night, too early for just-laid fires in the clamorous grate to have any effect at all on the loneliness of the room. You’re still waiting for the space to be warmed by others like you, your footsteps clunking noisily over wooden floors with no company but the ghosts of other feet stomping over the planks. The people have not yet arrived to make the room alive, they’re heading home to get ready for the evening to come, they’re at the shops laying on provisions for dinner, they’re trapped in the Tube, the buses, in the cars, in the trains, but you can’t see them, you’re still waiting for the session to come together, the musicians still somewhere out in the cold, with only the potentiality of the session to come.

The winter solstice has come and gone, and the nights are supposedly getting shorter while the days lengthen, but the dark comes far too early for real comfort, making the days feel stunted, aborted.

You hold cold fingers out to the infant fire, to the hundreds of fires that came before and will come after, the coal, the wood, the peat, piled up in a lumpy pyramid in the grate, thin young flames licking up in quick flicks and leaps; the fireplace, the stove, the firebox actually seeming colder than before the fire was lit, in that strange, backward way of the swept fireplace and a new fire.

You tacitly volunteer to feed the new fire, adding some coal, a piece or two of peat, as the voices of the bar staff echo around the empty room as they slice the lemons, stack the glasses, and check the inventory.

Perhaps not quite empty, there’s almost always that regular who seems to magically appear without coming through any doors, sometimes more than one, sitting at the bar, lines sagging down beside his mouth, facing down a glass of amber liquid between his cupped hands, quiet words for the guy next to him or to the bartender as he clanks the bottles into place for the evening.

And in a hundred potential moments, you are dimly aware of the session gathered in the corner around the table, already playing in full spate; you’ve never heard Jim Donohue’s played that fast or that drive-y before, god that big-boned fiddler and that tall narrow piper are cranking through it, mighty and mighty again.

And in a hundred moments the musicians are still trailing into the pub, trickling in like drops of water gathering themselves into a puddle, instrument cases slung over shoulders or dangling down their backs, eyeing the spot they want to sit in, stopping off at the bar for a drink in the case of early arrivals, or coming over to put the goods down in a chair in the case of later, claiming a space for their own before stopping for their drink.

In a hundred quietened rooms, the pretty singer the men have been eyeing all evening has been called on for a song, and she sways as she sings of the wee girl with a dark and roving eye and bad company and love betrayed and love found and wars fought and won and lost, young men dying for love or war or the right or the wrong or for nothing at all, and maids with agricultural jobs and love on their minds losing garters to soldiers, to craftsmen, to shepherds, in unlikely circumstance; and for a hundred potential moments it’s all true and as likely as anything else that happens to anyone.

A hundred moments flash over and under each other, shifting without even the blink of an eye, and you choose the one you want and move into the moment, the space, the place where you need to be.

And, in this moment and in this time, there you are, here along with us.

And the fire leaps and crackles, as we play the tunes in the warm and crowded room, as the music shifts from reel to jig to reel to polka, from good to wreckingly horrible to brilliant, from the hotshots to the beginners to the lot of us. We toast to the new year and the cycles that bring us together and tear us apart, and to the publican and to each other, here in a hundred moments at the Neverending Session, at the Pub on the Edge, the Green Man Pub under Reynard’s watchful eye, in the kitchens of the Green Man’s building, in corners of hallways, as we launch into another set of tunes.

Outside, the night is black and unbelievably cold, the wind biting at noses and fingers, and Samhain’s ever-present ravens are croaking as they huddle under dripping, icy trees. Inside, at this moment and in this time, we are together, and warm, and happy (or, at the very least, content as only someone forgetting unhappiness for the space of a night can be).

Best wishes to you in the New Year. May it bring you peace and warmth and happiness and music. Stay with us a while.

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What’s New for the 24th of December: The Heist; Seasonal music and books; The Polar Express; winter ales; and Christmas Revels

Wassail! wassail! all over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink unto thee.

First stanza of the ‘Gloucestershire Wassail’
carol, which dates back to the Middle Ages

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If Reynard didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him. So said Iain while enjoying a rather spectacular Boxing Day Stout. He went to say that ‘He’s a singular force, and we’re lucky to have him. He showed up here at Christmas time with a travelling kit and pulled a concertina from that bag and started playing. Bloody good he was.’

What endeared him was not his music but that he noticed we were decidedly short-handed behind the bar and said he had more than a bit of experience tending bar. So the staff said ‘Sure, come help us.’ He worked ten hours from early evening to the wee hours. Smiling, not looking harried and pleasant as well. Made sure everyone was treated right too, a neat ability as we were slammed by having a wedding that afternoon.

Our Pub Manager at the time was from the Border area that Reynard was from and it turned out that they had friends in common, so she hired him on the spot: he’s worked his way up over the past thirty years to Pub Manager. Now we think that he’s in his Fifties, and has been married to Ingrid, our Estonian born Estate Steward, for a decade now. He’d worked at a few Pubs previously, largely those being owned by friends but admitted that he spent more time observing how a good Pub worked than actually working in them.

Good bloke to have here.

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Just three book reviews this time, all of seasonal works. Oh, but what works they are!

Let’s start off with a look at Charles de Lint’s Newford Stories: The Crow Girls. Of all the immortal shapeshifting being that inhabit the Newford stories, the most charming at least for me are Maida and Zia, the two crow girls, who look like pinkish teenagers all in black naturally. After you read Cat’s review, you can experience them first hand in A Crow Girls Christmas written by (obviously) Charles de Lint and charmingly illustrated by his wife, MaryAnn Harris.

Grey says ‘When I was a teenager I often repeated these lines to myself as a kind of charm. It wasn’t that I expected them to make something happen; the words were a “happening” in and of themselves, and just saying them put me into the middle of it. They were a door into Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising cycle, one of the most compelling stories I had ever read. The story compels me to this day, and I continue to re-read it every few years.’

Jo has this review she wrote for Folk Tales, the predecessor of GMR a very long time ago: ‘Folk legend merges with Jane Yolen’s creative world to create a work of pure magic in The Wild Hunt, which should be destined to become a classic in the world of children’s literature. Pitting the forces of light and dark against one another is a common theme, but it is rare for those forces to acknowledge the other as essential to their own existence, as done in this delightful tale. Yolen’s use of time and words have woven a masterpiece from the ancient threads of an old tale together with the modern threads of something totally new and different. The resulting tapestry is beautiful to behold.’

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It’s no secret that Denise adores dark beers. And while the warmer months may make the body happy, her taste-buds sneer at all the light beers those months have on offer. So when things start to get cool, she starts to anticipate all the porters, stouts, Scotch ales, and holiday selections brew masters inevitably hold for the chillier parts of the year.

This year, as Yule approaches and thoughts turn to fireplaces and friends, why not take a peek at her thoughts on few of this season’s offerings? There’s Egg Nog Ale and Holiday Milk Stout from Flying Dog Brewery, and Shiner’s Texas Warmer for folks who are more worried about sixty degree temps rather than minus sixteen.

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Richard looks at what is a now a best beloved film for many here: ‘For those who haven’t seen the filmed version of the play (and shame on you if you haven’t, stop reading right now and go watch the bloody thing), The Lion In Winter details one rather dysfunctional family’s Christmas gathering in France. Of course, the family is that of Henry II of England (including Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionhearted and the future King John, among others); the invited guest is Philip Capet of France, and the holiday gathering takes place at Henry’s castle of Chinon.’

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Christopher has, though it’s no surprise, a glowing review of a beloved holiday favorite. ‘Perhaps it’s the season, or the utter magic of Van Allsburg’s talents, whatever the reasons, the Twentieth Anniversary Edition of The Polar Express appears luxurious and incandescent.’

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In new music, Gary turned in a year-end omnibus review of some very good World Roots releases from Spain, Scandinavia, and South America that came out in the past few weeks. This worthy crop of music includes Sigrid Moldestad’s Breim, Alba Careta and Henrio’s Càntut, Johanna Juhola’s A Brighter Future, Madera Viva Trío’s Senderos, and Los Ruphay’s The Three Seasons Of The Andes.

Gary also covered a new release by the electro-acoustic Norwegian duo Njaalos Ljom titled simply 2. Traditional music played on acoustic instruments with elements of electronics and noise is one of my sweet spots, and Naaljos Ljom hits the bullseye with 2. It honors the old tunes that express the soul of certain parts of Norway going back a century or more, and brings them to a modern audience in a package that they may find more familiar and appealing than the old scratchy archival recordings. In that way, they’re definitely taking part in the age old folk process.

From the archives, Chuck reviewed a Celtic-flavoured CD of winter music: ‘On Midwinter Night’s Dream, Boys of the Lough include Aly Bain (fiddle), Cathal McConnell (flute, whistles, song), Dave Richardson (concertina, mandolin, cittern, accordion), and Christy O’Leary (uilleann pipes, whistles, song). They call on Christmas and winter traditions of Ireland, Scotland, Shetland, and Sweden to put together a fine CD.

As a listening treat, Gary brought us a video from the first pandemic Christmas, in 2020. Frode Haltli and his Avant Folk ensemble, joined by singer Helga Myhr, gathered (with social distancing) to record “St. Morten,” a traditional Norwegian version of “The Twelve Days Of Christmas,” in a little church near Haltli’s home in Svartskog. We wouldn’t mind if this became regular holiday listening.

Jayme was fascinated but not entirely won over by an esoteric recording, Donal Hinely’s Midwinter Carols: Fourteen Selections on Glass Harmonica. ‘This is, I would say, the perfect CD to have playing in the background during a Christmas party or holiday gathering. It’s unpretentious and familiar on some deep level, but the look of fascinated confusion on listeners’ faces once they realize they’re listening to something unworldly may turn out to be the real treat for the host.’

Kim lovingly reviewed some of her personal favorite holiday CDs including Ensemble Galilei’s A Winter’s Night: Christmas in the Great Hall; St. Agnes Fountain’s Acoustic Carols for Christmas, and Comfort & Joy; various artists’ Oh Christmas Tree: A Bluegrass Collection for the Holidays. ‘My personal holiday tastes run to the traditional and instumental, and I prefer those that refer to the religious or seasonal aspects of the seasons; I loathe those lounge singer holiday albums that go on about Santa bringing diamonds, or snowmen officiating weddings. Give me a holiday album that doesn’t pander to the frenzy, something soothing and instrumental, I say.’

Peter found plenty of good music in Broceliande’s album Sir Christèmas. ‘For me, a Christian living in the Northern Hemisphere, it is a time of the year pervaded with a feeling of good will to all men and which brightens up your spirits, in an otherwise cold and dreary winter. Broceliande are four people from California, (where Christmas can be a little bit warmer) but they have chosen songs, carols and tunes from England, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany and America.’

‘Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 8 (The “Christmas” Concerto) has long been one of my favorite baroque works,’ Robert said in his review of this work and Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons on a disc by an ensemble known as Red Priest. Of the Christmas Concerto, he says, ‘In places the music registers so much differently than what I’ve been used to that it took me a moment to realize that this delightful piece of music was indeed the old warhorse I’ve loved all these years.’

Robert also wrote about a brief song by Claude Debussy that, sadly, is all too appropriate for these times, more than 100 years after he wrote it: “Noel des Enfants Qui N’ont Plus De Maisons” (“Christmas Carol for Homeless Children“) on soprano Carmen Balthrop’s CD The Art of Christmas, Vol. 1. ‘It’s a strange, disturbing (and possibly disturbed) thing — Debussy wrote it in 1915 during World War I as a plea for vengeance, a prayer from the French children that the Germans should have no Christmas.’

Scott had mixed feelings about Enya’s And Winter Came…, which he said mostly has little to distinguish it from the singer’s other albums. ‘On And Winter Came… the two standout songs are “Trains and Winter Rains” (the leadoff single) and “My! My! Time Flies!” The latter song features the album’s one guest performer, guitarist Pat Farrell, and has an uncharacteristically lively tempo with quirky lyrics making reference to people as diverse as Isaac Newton and The Beatles. It’s a rare example of Enya letting her guard down a bit and audibly having fun with a particular song, and she should do songs like it more often.’

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I know that theThe Winter Solstice just passed, but let’s still have our annual story about that sacred event, Jennifer Stevenson’s ‘Solstice’ about a small-time rocker — well, listen to it as told by the author to find out what happens to her on that night, or if you prefer to read it, you can do so here.

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Our coda isn’t a musical selection this time. Up to her passing a decade or so back from cancer, Vonnie was a frequent attendee of the Christmas Revels at the Sanders Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Here’s her lead in to the one she saw fifteen years ago: ‘The Christmas Revels is a special event, an annual tradition on par with performances of the Nutcracker, only tailored to lovers of folk traditions. After 42 years, it has accreted tradition of its own, which helps audience members to feel like part of the holiday community — which is the point of the Revels. The culture on which the performance focuses changes from year to year but the basic shape of the performance — and its professionalism — remains constant.’

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A Kinriowan Estate story: A Package from Budapest

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Nicholas Winter, the Global News Service correspondent who’s a friend of many folks here, just sent Bela and others lovers of Hungarian food a very tasty shipment of food and spirits from Budapest! The lucky soul got to spend December in that city which really knows hope to celebrate the season in good fashion.

In his letter with this shipment which I’ll detail shortly, he noted that he hadn’t been there for the Christmas season since the Wall came down and it’s certainly been an amazing recovery for that city from the dark days of Communist Party rule. He was there to review, among other things, the Budapest concert by Chasing Fireflies, a band that includes small piper Finn, my wife Ingrid on violin, and, in her first professional concert, violinist Svetlana, Ingrid’s sister from the Ukraine who’s now resident here.

(There was a small group of us from the Kinrowan Estate who went over for a week after Christmas as that’s actually the best time as the tourists are gone. my wife Catherine speaks Hungarian as she did her postgrad work in music history here. And that’s very handy there.)

I suspect my wife helped in choosing the contents as she’s the expert at finding the best of anything wanted. Winter’s admitted to me that shopping is not his favourite thing to do, but he’ll happily tag along and pick up the tab if someone else is doing the decision making. It’s a good thing that his bank account is flush.

There was a case of properly aged barack palinka, the apricot brandy every Hungarian loves; lots of lekvar, a preserve made of plums; smoked garlic infused Kolbasz sausage; several rashers of Kolozsvari bacon; large strings of dried whole paprika peppers; Egri Bikaver, a full bodied red wine; and even Csokoldetorta, a chocolate cake favoured in this season.

There was enoughszaloncukor chocolate to decorate the fir tree in the Great Hall in traditional Hungarian style and have enough left over to enjoy.

There was, for the Estate knitters, wool from the Hungarian Racka sheep, both white and black. Of course it was fleeces as its best prepared by those who would be knitting with it. The shouts of joy from them were indeed enough to me me smile.

Now you and I should make our way quickly down to the kitchen for afternoon tea. There’s fresh baked turos lepeny (Hungarian yeast bread with cheese topping) out of the brick ovens Which hoes well withe lekvar.

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What’s New for the 10th of December: A mixed bag of seasonal and other Nordic, Celtic, and British music; omni reviews of late-in-the-year music

Books. Cats. Life is good.T.S. Eliot

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Yes, this Estate has cats, some very special cats. That story is told over here. And they start settling in very nicely about now, as they really don’t like the cold, wet and windy weather we get starting this time of year. So they stay close to the kitchen (naturally), the Library with its enclosed but ever so warm fireplace and other places they favour until the weather turns much more agreeable.

(It also has some very unusual foxes. The foxes are the smallest known foxes  and they usually gathered together as a group. However, they keep themselves warm by hiding inside tea cups when the weather is cold. Or so claims Reynard. I’ve never actually seen one, nor has anyone else here on this Estate, but he swears by his story. With a twinkle in his deep green eyes. And he looks like a fox with his red hair and wiry build.)

In the meantime, would you like some nutmeg spiced eggnog and some of those just out of the oven iced gingerbread squares? This time of year, which is to say all Winter, we try to keep treats around the Estate for both staff and guests to indulge in as they wish.

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Cat had high hopes for Philip DePoy’s The Devil’s Hearth as he has ‘a special fondness for mystery series set in the Appalachian Mountains, even though there aren’t a lot of good ones and a lot of not so great ones. Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballads series had some memorable outings, particularly among the later novels, and one which was outstanding, Ghost Riders.’ Read his review to see if DePoy lived up to his expectations.

Gary takes a look at three recently published books: The Anguish of Snails by Barre Toelken; Myths of Native America, edited by Tim McNeese; and When Brer Rabbit Meets Coyote, edited by Jonathan Brennan. If you’re interested in furthering your knowledge and understanding of the folklore and folkways of American Indians, you’ll want to see what Gary has to say about these three books.

Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas’ Haunted Legends, says Gereg, is ‘something of a paradox:  As a collection I found this volume kind of weak, but there are a lot of very fine stories in it.  So many, in fact, that on going back over the anthology a second time, I wondered why I’d thought it was weak in the first place.  As a reader, I’d probably just leave it at that; but as  reviewer, I feel I owe it to my adoring public to tell you precisely why I feel the overall effect is weak.  So I dove back into the book for a third time. Such travails are how I earn my fabulously high salary here.’

Charles de Lint’s Yarrow: An Autumn Tale gets a loving look by Grey: ‘Cat Midhir has stopped dreaming. People assure her that it isn’t possible, that she just doesn’t remember her dreams, but Cat knows they’re wrong. Where her dreams have been, there is only heaviness and loss. For Cat, this loss means more than it would to most of us, because she is that rarest of all dreamers, a person who returns to the same dream every time she sleeps. In her dream world live her truest friends and her only source of inspiration for the books and stories that have won her acclaim in her waking life…’

Kim found a book that was more than merely good: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Buffalo Gals. This novella, she says, takes the reader ‘..into the magical world Gal, or Myra as she is known in some circles, experiences after being injured in a plane crash and then rescued by Coyote. Boulet’s work draws us into the world Gal sees with her new eye, a multilayered field of vision that bridges the nature and the appearance of things so beautifully communicated in Le Guin’s story. It has earned a place next to my treasured “children’s” books — the selfishness of an adult who finds some things too beautiful to actually let the wee wilds grub them up.’

We’ve noted before that not all of everything that comes in for review finds favour with us. Such is the fate of a novel by Kim Antieau which Mia reviews for us: ‘Coyote Cowgirl has all of the necessary ingredients to be a great book; unfortunately, like the cinnamon flavored scrambled eggs in one scene, there are other extra ingredients that spoil the recipe. It’s not horrible; even more reprehensible: it’s mediocre.’

(One reader wrote us to that he ‘was relieved, after reading Mia’s review of this novel, not to be the only one ‘crazy’ enough to find the book unsatisfying.)

Robert’s review of 9Tail Fox whittles down the general genre label and gets to the heart of the story. ‘The book cover claims that Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s 9Tail Fox is ‘A novel of science fiction.’ Considering what science fiction has become over the past generation, that could well be valid — with some qualifications. I’m going to call it ‘slipstream’ in honor of its genre-bending tendencies and let it go at that.’ Ahh, but is it any good? Robert’s review lets you know.

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?’

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We asked a number of folk we know this question; Is it a bowl of your mother’s fish chowder Or a warm doughnut dusted with powdered sugar? Comfort food is as individual as each of us. We here at Green Man Review are interested in your story! And here is Deborah Grabien‘s reply:

Well, it’s an odd thing: as a cook, I think all food is comfort food.

No, I’m not being difficult. It’s just that I love to cook, and I don’t cook anything I don’t also love to eat, unless I’m cooking for a large crowd. The whole thing about food is that — like air and water — it’s one of the great imperatives. Sex is brilliant, but you can go without it your entire life with no ill effects, and in fact, many do. Try going without food, air or water, though, and you’re in serious trouble.

We seem to be in an age when everything is based on competition. I used to watch the Food Network for a chance at recipes I didn’t have, ideas, fusion for things I hadn’t come across. Now it’s all about pitting cooks against each other. And that, for me, is 180 degrees from what cookery is supposed to be for. I can’t watch it anymore. “Challenge” this, “Worst” that, “Best” whatever. What are these people talking about? It’s food.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a big pot of bolognese bubbling away on the 150 BTU simmer burner, or a bowl of warm peas straight from the garden drizzled with butter and sea salt, or a slab of cinnamon savarin, or fresh pineapple carved off the heart and chilled in its own juice. A bowl of cereal, a cup of cocoa, an apple, a burrito: it’s all comfort food. Why would I cook it, or eat it, if it did anything other than please me?

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In honor of the 40th anniversary of the release of the classic film A Christmas Story, we pried Tim’s review of it out of the archives. Check out the review for news of a celebration in Indiana next weekend! Says Tim: ‘Based on stories by Jean Shepherd, A Christmas Story is the tale of 9-year-old Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), growing up in fictional Hohman, Indiana (Hohman is a street in Shepherd’s hometown of Hammond, Indiana). The year is 1940. Christmas is approaching, and Ralphie wants a special Christmas present — an Official Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle (“with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time”).’

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Nathan enjoyed the comic book of children’s stories, It Was a Dark and Silly Night, edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly. ‘Comprised of twelve stories and printed on high gloss paper using vivid but never glaring colours, the book put me in mind of the British comics of my childhood. The kind of comics that featured characters such as Dennis the Menace, Desperate Dan and the Bash Street Kids. So anyone who is looking for a more American style, full of muscular super people in swimming costumes, should look elsewhere.’

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In new music this time, Gary turned in an omnibus review of jazz music that was released late in the year, including three archival sets and two CDs of new music: Ahmad Jamal’s Emerald City Nights, Cal Tjader’s Catch The Groove, Chet Baker’s Blue Room, Lafayette Gilchrist’s Undaunted, and Espen Berg’s Water Fabric. ‘The end of every year brings a flurry of music releases that’s hard to keep up with. To the usual year-end releases designed to appeal to holiday gift buyers has now been added the new tradition of archival sets being released for the Black Friday version of Record Store Day.’

From the archives, Barb greatly enjoyed Frå Folk Te’ Folk, a disc of Norwegian folk music. ‘Knut Kjøk and Dag Gården have released a polished recording that speaks to their traditions and modern folk music simultaneously. There is much emotion and soul, and their arrangements are superb. These musicians are well matched as a duo and I look forward to more of their music.’

Gary had unqualified praise for Lado’s Preveliku Radost Navišćujem Vama (Christmas Songs and Carols of Dalmatia). ‘This music is an uplifting experience for music lovers of all countries and creeds. If you enjoy sacred music, or if you like Balkan singing, Christmas Songs and Carols of Dalmatia is worth seeking out.’

Jayme was surprised by a Celtic music CD, Clandestine’s The Ale Is Dear. ‘Clandestine, amazingly, is a three-piece contemporary celtic band sporting guitar, fiddle and bagpipes that predates the Riverdance mania. And it’s based in Houston, too, not a city one would expect to be a hotbed of Celtic music. Unlikely roots, to be sure, but it works for Clandestine, a band that cut its teeth busking Renaissance festivals. Somehow, they manage to avoid having the bagpipes dominate the other instruments, and this balance of power results in a sound that’s as fresh as it is lively.

Lars gives a mixed review to two seasonal CDs, Johnny Coppin’s Keep the Flame, and Laurie Lee & Johnny Coppin’s Edge of Day, the latter of which is partly spoken word. ‘I must say the idea behind the record appeals more to me than the record itself. I have listened a few times, but very little sticks in my head. Every time I have played Keep the Flame I feel like going back to listen to it again; I do not get that feeling with Edge of Day. But then again, I have never been very hooked on spoken words on records, so maybe I am the wrong person to pass judgment.’o

Lars also reported in on an album by a new group, The Hush, featuring Bob Fox. ‘All in all Dark to the Sky is a good effort from a newly formed group. It may not grab you instantly, but slowly grow on you with repeated listenings. Sometimes the arrangements are a bit over-soft, but the highlights are far more common than the tracks that get programmed away.’

‘Cleveland-area musician Craig Markley showcases the emerging vocal talent of his daughter Kara in this self-produced offering for the holiday season,’ says Lory of Craig and Kara Markley’s Once Upon a Winter Moon. ‘There’s nothing wildly original here, but the arrangements are well-crafted and pleasant to listen to. The two original instrumentals, “Lady With the Silver Thread” (by Craig) and “Tinuviel” (by Kara) are cut from the same cloth, fitting in seamlessly with the more traditional melodies.’

Mike was ecstatic over a box set from Free Reed entitled MidWinter: A Celebration of the Folk Music and Traditions of Christmas and the Turning of the Year. ‘MidWinter provides an ideal soundtrack for those of us who are growing increasingly weary of what the season brings in this day and age. It is exactly the meaningful connection back to tradition that will warm the heart and soul throughout those long, cold winter nights. Now then, where’s my mulled wine?’

Peter had mixed feelings about singer-songwriter Tony Reidy’s The Coldest Day in Winter. ‘Tony’s lyrics are quite good. The album has a nice cover and inset booklet containing all the lyrics, but for entertainment value the tunes leave a little to be desired. Tony may not be the best singer I have heard, but he sings from the heart and soul, which I think is more important in folk music.’

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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. ’

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Reynard recently recently reviewed the Horslips authorised biography, Horslips: Tall Tales, The Official Biography, so let’s give you a WNEW FM broadcast recording of them performing their ‘Trouble (With a Capital T)’ at The Bottom Line, NYC, on the 26th of November, 1979.

Because I’m very fond of the newish wave of Scottish band that started up some thirty year 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.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Hrafnfreistuor (A Letter to Anna)

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Dear Anna,

Did I tell you that Local 564 of the Ancient and Venerable Guild of St. Nicholas, which represents Santas, Santa’s helpers, department store elves, tree trimmers, candle lighters, professional gift wrappers, goose stuffers, roast chestnut vendors, plum pudding makers, sleigh drivers, carolers for hire, bell ringers, and related trades is here on their summer retreat? Local 564 covers all of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Border Counties of England so thy’ve been coming here for generations now.

The Several Annies from Europe are fascinated by their round bellies, wire-frame spectacles, and white beards which are quite real. One of them remarked that they were more jolly versions of Hrafnfreistuor, whom they find scary at times. Now in their defence, Hrafnfreistuor is built along the line of a mountain king in some dark story that a storyteller would describe in a tale late at night.

He’s been here far longer that I’ve been here and he ‘rents’ one of the guest rooms that we have here. No idea what he did once upon a time before he came to be here but now he spends hour upon hour drinking ale, the darker the better he claims, and writing in his leather bound journal with the embossed Yggdrasil on its cover. Though not someone who plays an instrument, he has a fine singing voice and can sing bloody well in English, Gaelic, Old Norse, and, not at all surprisingly, Icelandic. His is a deep voice, like thunder rolling in on a summer night.

He is more than a bit skilled at hedge witchery, a skill I admire. We’ve had long, rambling conversations while walking the Estate smoking our briar pipes about the proper juniper berries to make a good gin, which flowers make the best honey to use in mead, why birch bark is good brewed for a headache from too much ale and too little sleep, and why that tree should never be cut ever. It was uncanny to watch the Estate resident ravens follow him on all our walks over the past several decades.

He also assists my lads in cutting the winter firewood and he’s quite a sight with an axe! His personal axe must weight forty pounds and he can fell a tree of considerable girth in a few swift cuts. He also helped rebuild the dam on the mill pond — watching him pick up hundredweight stones and fit them just so is a sight to behold.

One summer, we hosted some Scottish revival games and he tossed the caber one-hand nearly fifty feet beyond anyone else could with two hands. And that night, he hosted a night of drinking, singing Scottish songs old when Bonnie Prince Charlie turned tail and ran, and telling stories of battles lost and love won.

So I told the apprehensive Several Annies that though he may look fierce, he’s a gentle giant. Iain’s only concern is that none of them take a shine to him as that’s not a path we want to tread down. That way lies a broken heart and possibly worse.

Affectionately Gus

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