Never argue with a librarian; they know too much.
It is, as all nights are on this Scottish Estate far from the light pollution of any city, a good night for star gazing if weather permits. I’ve got my gaggle of Several Annies, my always all female Library Apprentices (and yes I do know their names but I usually use this appellation) are getting a stars-related mythology lesson from Tamsin, our resident hedgewitch, on this crisp evening. And her owls are helping her out.
I listened for awhile but realized being warm was a far better option so I decided that I’d stitch together this edition in the Pub while ensconced in the Falstaff Chair near the fireplace with a generous pour, neat of course, of Talisker Storm whisky as the Neverending session backs a sweet sounding red-headed freckled coleen singing ‘Run Sister Sister’, a Red Clay Ramblers song with deep Appalachian roots.
I’ve been reading Sharon McCrumb’s Ghost Riders as I’m very fond of her use of supernatural elements with the Appalachian setting. I think it is the best of her Ballad novels.
Cat liked just about everything about John Clute’s The Darkening Garden: A Short Lexicon of Horror. ‘Keep in mind that unlike both the Encyclopedia of Fantasy and the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, where the entries therein were very much a group effort with myriad contributors, this is the effort of Clute alone. An effort matched by the superb work of Payseur & Schmidt in creating a reference work written in ink with legible type faces (Gill Sans and Adobe Caslon Pro to be precise) on good paper in a book with a decent binding.’
Cat also gave a strong review to From The Files of The Time Rangers by Richard Bowes. ‘From the cover illustration, which for me evoked memories of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow in the way it depicts a neo-Gernsbackian era that never was, to the use of Olympus as a living, real space, this is one very fun novel. No, not in the comic sense of a Pratchett or some of Gaiman’s work, such as Anansi Boys, but as a reading experience.’
Denise gives a rave to Kim Harrison’s For A Few Demons More, part of her Hollows series. ‘What separates this series, and For A Few Demons More in particular, is the fact that here, nothing is without price. There are no easy outs, no deux ex machina to pull anyone out of the fire at the last minute. You want to play with dark magic? It’ll cost you. Think you’re all powerful? Guess again. And when you get beat up, it hurts. Harrison lays the cards on the table in this story, but then she starts dealing from a different deck, leaving readers with no clear signposts to guide them along a predictable path. The end result is a book that straddles the fantasy and mystery genres easily, giving readers plenty of character and plot development – with a hint of possible secondary character romance, just for fun – during the ride.’
What’s it like to live with a comics artist? Faith tried to find out from Blake Bell, with mixed results. ‘I Have to Live With this Guy! is a fascinating biography of the relationships between fifteen couples. One or both partners in each couple is involved in the comics world. Along with the biographies, you get fascinating insights into North American culture since World War II in general, and more particularly into the comics. It’s enthralling, so long as you can get past the sloppy writing and editing.’
How about what happens when a literary critic takes on Agatha Christie? Faith read Earl F. Bargainnier’s book to find out. ‘The Gentle Art of Murder isn’t heavy academia or an easy way to find out “whodunit” in whichever of Christie’s works you haven’t read yet. It’s an accessible, unpatronizing, even-handed examination of one of the most popular authors in English of the 20th century.’
Kestrel reviewed a young adult fantasy book, part of a series. ‘Holly Black’s Ironside – along with the preceding books Tithe and Valiant – is highly recommended as an outstanding YA fantasy series which provides a powerful metaphor for young adulthood itself. Most of all, it is that rare and perfect thing, a great book with great characters whose problems you want to all come out right in the end.’
Sue Harrison’s Call Down the Stars is a storyteller’s dream: a story within a story within a story,’ says Patrick. ‘And if that’s not enough to get the gears in your mind spinning, it’s about – say it with me, now – storytellers.’
A selection of mysteries seems appropriate for the upcoming month, and Warner has an eclectic assortment to recommend.
Coming from a smaller press, Jodé Millman’s The Empty Kayak illustrates questions raised when a mystery involves influencers and loved ones of the investigator alike. With an odd mix of evidence and a personally invested detective, the tension feels quite real.
Lindsey Davis’s beloved series of mysteries in ancient Greece returns with Fatal Legacy. Flavia finds herself looking at the standards of her time and some oddities of marriages as she tries to determine her next steps. With new and old crimes to solve, she has to be especially careful.
Sometimes a mystery involves family history not of an ancient sort but more recent. Joanne Leedom’s Burning Distance is one such example. When a girl’s father dies under odd circumstances it pushes her life in odd directions even as her romance blooms with a young man in ways that will change the course of her life.
Lighter subject matter or heavy, the Matter of Britain is known the world over. In Jean Luc Bannalec’s The King Arthur Case this trend continues with a look into a modern day setting with the seventh of the Brittany Mysteries. Commissaire Dupin finds himself taking a trip only to encounter yet another murder.
Sometimes being a fan fo a genre can lead one into false expectations. A.F. Carter’s The Yards sounds like a classic mystery set near London and dealing with the police. This instead deals with a woman solving crime in the Midwest. A small town named Baxter with dying industry and falling population has little hope when death rears its head.
Next, a mystery novel that plays on people’s fears disease as well as their loves of dogs and children. As Peter James returns to his Grace series with Stop Them Dead, a book set in the 2021 stretch of the pandemic shows some of the darker sides of the push toward pets at the time. As multiple incidents spin out of control, the problems a disease new or old can cause become apparent.
As a final oddity there is Truman Capote’s likely final work. “Another Day in Paradise” looks at crime almost from the side, Focusing instead on the life of a woman who is the victim in a couple of events while simultaneously living in privilege.
The Johnny Cash TV Show had great music and performances, Gary says in his review of the DVD showcasing some of the best bits. ‘The Best Of The Johnny Cash TV Show is also a great time capsule into things like fashion and TV production. Powder-blue suits and miniskirts abound, as do pompadours on the men and beehives on the women – Loretta Lynn wears a black wig that’s truly hideous. Some of the sets look like they came from Laugh-In or Hee-Haw.’
Jennifer reviews Nordi by Fazer Finnish chocolate bars, and then, in keeping with her theme of more fat more carbs she did for the recent Pandemic lockdown, feeds us Chorizo Empanadas, and shares a recipe modification that didn’t win. Don’t worry.
You get from here the version of Chewy Grains and Sausage Casserole that works, as well as the blow-by-blow on what went wrong with the innovation.
David reviewed a special edition of Palestine, Joe Sacco’s groundbreaking work of comics journalism. ‘Bound in hard cover, with a colour plate on the front cover and embossed gold titles, the book just feels rich. It is solidly put together, with the original nine isues of the comic all joined, plus a wealth of support material including Sacco’s rough sketches, some photographs used as source material, and some additional text to fill it all out. I can’t imagine that it would be possible to assemble a more complete edition.’
Barb clearly enjoyed a CD from The Poozies: ‘The songs and tunes on Changed Days, Same Roots come from Sweden, Ireland, Poland, England, Scotland . . . did I get it all? They weave these traditional and contemporary pieces into a cohesive, beautiful whole with superb musicianship and singing. I love the textures they create with the harps, fiddle, and accordion. Each instrument is clearly present because of the differences in their timbres.’
David gives an overview of Johnny Cash’s lengthy career in his review of his final studio album American IV: The Man Comes Around, which he said ‘ … is a potent conclusion to a life’s work. It commences with Johnny reading a passage from Revelation sounding like a haunted preacher and then that acoustic guitar and a tale of the end times. That fundamentalist bent is still alive. “Hurt” comes next, and while Nine Inch Nails might have been talking about heroin, Cash makes this song about life!’
David got into some bluegrass music with two albums by Rhonda Vincent, Back Home Again, and The Storm Still Rages. ‘Back Home Again’ begins strongly with “Lonesome Wind Blues,” which sets a high benchmark for the music to follow. Marc Pruett sets the tempo on banjo and is joined by Ron Stewart’s fiddling and Rhonda’s own superlative mandolin work. Guitarist Bryan Sutton (who impressed this reviewer so much on the Dolly Parton bluegrass albums) is a feature performer on these albums and is just as impressive here as he was with Dolly. Rhonda sang backup on The Grass Is Blue so Back Home Again has a sense of deja vu to it.’
David overcame his initial misgivings about Paula Frazer’s A Place Where I Know, a collection of home recorded demos. ‘Okay, the first time I listened to it, it grated on my nerves, and sometimes … especially when she emits those high-pitched long-held notes, my spine tingles. But there’s some really intriguing stuff going on here. Frazer’s main influence seems to be Ennio Morricone! Soundtracks to Italian westerns. Big landscapes, filled with intimate, subtle music. Twanging electric guitars, noodled electric keyboards, over top of the acoustics and the overdubbed harmonies encase the image-heavy lyrics in a spooky package.’
Next David reviews a late-career offering from Chris Whitley, Hotel Vast Horizon. ‘The Dobros and National guitars are marvelous instruments … and Whitley’s unique open tunings allow a spectrum of voicings and riffs that echo influences from blues, jazz and world music. Not limited by western scales, Whitley is not afraid to use dissonance and any other sounds he can strain from the six strings and the spun-steel plate. This is music to play loud, and yet it is essentially quiet in approach. But volume allows a fuller appreciation of the sound of the instruments.’
Gary found something special about a new Scandinavian jazz album. ‘It’s not often that a musician, especially a jazz musician, reveals as much about themselves as Jesper Thorn does in conjunction with his new project Dragør. The Danish bassist and composer has previously released two critically acclaimed and well received albums, Big Bodies of Water in 2016 and especially Boy, which came out in the difficult first year of Covid, in November 2020. Both revealed him as the creator of deeply personal, introspective music in which he works out more or less in public his innermost conflicts and feelings.’
Gary also reviews a new release from one of his favorite jazz guitarists. ‘Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel returns with the same trio that recorded the critically acclaimed Angular Blues, for another outing that seamlessly blends folk, classical and jazz. Drawing on the quieter aspects of the repertoires of bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade, Dance of the Elders is atmospheric, textured, sometimes playful and always finely nuanced.
Eclectic improvizers from Netherlands and a Persian singer of ancient poetry? Yes, Gary says. ‘The Netherlands-based Rembrandt Trio is led by jazz keyboard player Rembrandt Frerichs, with Tony Overwater (double bass and violone) and Vinsent Planjer (drums and percussion). They have collaborated before with Iranian musicians on instrumental projects. This time out they’re working with the highly respected singer Mohammad Motamedi, a gifted improviser and student of Persian poetry both secular and spiritual.’
Gary gleefully enjoyed a couple of offerings from English low-fi country punk singer Muleskinner Jones. ‘His latest effort, Death Row Hoedown, is not quite a full-length CD with nine tracks clocking in at just shy of a half-hour. After a raucous intro track, the title song “Death Row Hoedown” sets the scene with lots of electric guitar and growling, yodelling vocals about various grisly methods of execution.’
In Music Commentary, Gary has good words for one of his favorite music podcasts, Discord & Rhyme, which reviewed two Beach Boys albums on the occasion of their 125th episode. ‘They made me seriously re-evaluate my thoughts and feelings about the Beach Boys, and I came away with greater respect for their career as a whole, even some of the later albums that I’d never heard of and that hardly made a dent on the charts. That’s the mark of a good music podcast.’
Our What Not this time is about the Folkmanis Puppets of an Autumnal Nature, or at least that’s how Cat defined them. They were the ones Cat asked Folkmanis specifically to send and then he handed off to various staff members for review. So here’s the review of these wonderful puppets.
The Worm in Apple puppet gets reviewed by Robert: ‘One of the more unusual items to cross my desk from Folkmanis is their Worm in Apple Puppet. It’s a nice, big apple — not shiny, since it’s made of plush, but it is very appealing — unless you count the small green worm peeping out of a hole in the side.’
Next up Denise looks at the the Chipmunk in Watermelon puppet. While she’s as entranced as ever by this company’s creations, there’s one quibble. ‘Mine looks as if he’s suffering from agoraphobia. Exo-karpoúzi-phobia, maybe?’ Read her review to find out what’s going on…
Autumn for me is when I start craving the sound of certain performers, one of which is Kathryn Tickell. She to me is one of the more interesting sounding of the Northumberland performers that risen up in the past thirty years in the years since Billy Pigg was active.
So let’s listen in to her performing ‘The Magpie’, ‘Rothbury Road’ and ‘The Cold Shoulder’ which is from an outstanding soundboard recording of a performance at the Washington D.C. Irish Folk Fest from the 2nd of September, fifteen years ago.