A Kinrowan Estate story: Winter Talismans


2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AJack Merry ‘ere. I want to talk about a conversation I was havin’ in the Kitchen with other staffers about what their favourite food, beverage, or book was — whatever each used as a winter talisman of sorts to keep The Dark from coming too close.

Oh, don’t tell me you don’t have one! Mine is an old leather overcoat from some war best long forgotten — faded green in colour with fur lining, shearling lamb I think. Ugly as can be after years of very hard use, but oh so warm. It’s kept me warm buskin’ in St. Petersburg, served as a pillow under me head on the Trans-Siberian express as Bela sat nearby smokin’ his pipe, and has enough pockets to hold everything I need on the road save me fiddle. Bloody ‘ell, there’s just ‘nough room to tuck the fiddle case inside if need be. And need there has been, ‘pon occasion.

But me old coat, ragged as she may be ’bout the edges, is a damn sight less hard-worn than that what a couple t’other staffers offered up as wards against the chill of winter midnights. There were of course the predictables — the steaming-hot plate of shepherd’s pie; the bottle of single malt (heat of a different sort to me old shearling, but just as warming); even the worn, dog-eared pages of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. (‘And what of it?’ said that particular staffer, defensive-like — ‘reading always keeps off the cursed Dark, and if the chill still creeps into my bones, I solve the mathematics the Good Doctor hid within … nothing keeps a body half so warm as a good round of obscure mathematical equations…’)

And those were just the predictables, like I said. As the night (and the discussion, and the dozen or so bottles of stout) wore on, more unusual talismans were confessed to. One of our library staff — the shy one, the one you’d never suspect — pulled from her pocket a tiny stone reliquary, carved of agate. ‘A lock of hair from the Faery Saint’ was all she’d say. Two other staffers, more raucous now, deep in their cups, dredged up tiny reliquaries of their own. ‘The blessed toenail of St. Augustine,’ said one. ‘A rolled-up scrap from the hem of the gown of St. Beatrix,’ whispered another, and kissed the little cylinder of polished silver, then tucked it back into his sweater where it hung once more from the chain ’round his neck.

Stout moved to whiskey. Another couple o’ great logs were tossed ‘pon the fire, and though the mood’d grown of a moment serious, out of respect-like, it weren’t un-merry. What with the company of several Green Man cats, the fire, the mellow glow of good whiskey in me belly … understanding crept ‘pon me. Though me lovely old coat (bless ‘er!) had kept me warm and safe through many a drear moment; though we Green Man bunch had the combined, formidable powers of protection in our cozy kitchen of mathematics and good books and good food and good stout and the blessings of a dozen saints both human and fey — I wager there wasn’t a one of us at that moment who felt the least haunted by the dreads, nor bit by the cold. We had, after all, the greatest talisman ‘gainst the Dark, and that what keeps a body warmest of all on cold winter nights — good friends.

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What’s New for the 7th of February: Some trad music for your listening pleasure, Spiegelman’s Maus considered, lots of dark chocolate, two looks at Garner’s Owl Service and Other Creature Comforts

He wanted to run through the stacks, pick at the books, sample them one after the other, climb the stacks to their highest reaches and see what treasures were hidden there. ― Lavie Tidhar’s The Bookman

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Gus, our Estate Head Gardener, pointed out to me on a recent afternoon as I took a walk outside on a particularly brisk day that many of the owls that overwinter here have made their seasonal transition into the protected spaces we built generations back to harbour them when the Winter gets too cold for them to be outside.

I’ve always found our owls to be as fascinating as our corvids, though the owls are far more aloof than those birds are. And I’m certainly not the only one who does, as I found a long note in The Sleeping Hedgehog from 1845 in which Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Head Gardener here for many, many years during the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, wrote for the Estate inhabitants about the need to be respectful of the hollow trees and other places where the owls took residence for the Winter.

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AYou might be aware that we’re very fond of works of Roger Zelazny here and April has a look at a work about his longest work: ‘Roger Zelazny’s Amber series spans three decades, ten volumes, several short stories, a RPG, graphic novels and even a recent revival attempt (John Betancourt’s Dawn of Amber series). Packed into those original books and stories is a wealth of characters, settings, items and plots — far too much minutiae for any but the most die-hard fan to remember. And that’s where Krulik’s The Complete Amber Sourcebook comes in. The Sourcebook is not for someone who has not read the entire series, as spoilers are literally everywhere. Krulik assumes an audience already familiar with the core set of books.’

A first novel in a new series by Genevieve Cogman found favour with Cat: ‘The Invisible Library combines storylines I love: alternate Earths, steampunk, and libraries. That it is well-written comes as a pleasant surprise, as usually the stone soup approach to writing fiction results in indigestion from too much grit and too little real flavour. This is really tasty!’

Denise found two things to adore in Robert Michael “Bobb” Cotter’s Vampira and Her Daughters: Women Horror Movie Hosts from the 1950s into the Internet Era; female horror hosts, and a comprehensive guide to ’em.  “Cotter digs deep into the history of the horror host, and uncovers a wealth of knowledge about these hidden stars … And he does a bloody great job with it.” Happy haunting, horror hounds!

Elizabeth says of a Glen Cook novel that ‘Cruel Zinc Melodies has an interesting mystery, intriguing characters, and a truly original fantasy world that melds the magic and decadence of high epic fantasy with the grittier elements of ’40s detective novels. Glen Cook’s writing still has zing after twelve novels, so fans of the series should be well satisfied, and newer readers who enjoy this will have a large backlist to explore.’

I reviewed the audiobook edition of The Owl Service when it came out a decade back: ‘Listening to The Owl Service as told by Wayne Forester, who handles both the narration and voicing of each character amazingly well, one is impressed by his ability to handle both Welsh accents and the Welsh language, given the difficultly of that tongue, which make Gaelic look easy as peas to pronounce by comparison.’

A fantastic look at London is reviewed by Kestrall: ‘Don’t let the tentacles fool you — yes, China Miéville’s Kraken takes as its starting point a tentacular god of the deep reminiscent of the stories of H. P. Lovecraft, but then Miéville adds to it the baroque psychogeographies of Moore and Moorcock, the whimsy of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and American Gods, the surreal imagery of a Tim Powers novel, and a dizzying barrage of geeky pop culture references, not to mention what is probably the best use of a James T. Kirk action figure ever.’

I’m going to give you a second opinion on The Owl Service as Kim reviewed the novel: ‘This is a magical book, and the finest of Alan Garner’s young adult novels. Now, a lot of people associate magic with ethereal forces, great quests and spells and all that, and indeed spells can be found in several of Garner’s other books. The Owl Service reveals a different kind of magic, the kind that arises from the interaction of people with patterns, of desires that unwittingly mesh with the larger forces around us, harsh magic that people employ without knowing it.’

Lory tries out Farah Mendlesohn’s Rhetorics of Fantasy, an in-depth academic study of the fantasy genre, and discovers that academia and genre literature aren’t natural enemies after all: ‘Farah Mendlesohn takes fantasy seriously. Other scholars may tend to skip over the genre, or feel the need to explain or excuse their focus on popular fiction, but she takes for granted the worthiness of a body of literature which relies on the creation of ‘a sense of wonder.

In looking at The Time Quartet, Naomi has a confession to make: ‘As far as I am concerned, Madeleine L’Engle’s books should be required reading in all schools, as they open doors — not only in the imagination, but also in the academics, math and science especially. These wonderful tales could inspire the next Einstein to take the proper courses and feed his mind. I enjoyed the journeys that Mrs. L’Engle’s works took me on, and yet, I am saddened by the fact that I never read them as a child. I will rectify this mistake by introducing my own children to them posthaste!’

Robert says ‘We all have our personal lists, individual counterparts to those periodic lists of “most important,” “best,” or whatever the accolade of the moment might be. I have a personal list of “best fantasy series” that includes some works that might not be “great,” but several that I think arguably are. In the realm of modern heroic fantasy, in particular, I think anyone would be hard put to protest the inclusion of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Ftiz Leiber’s tales of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Michael Moorock’s great cycle of stories of The Eternal Champion, and Glen Cook’s Black Company.’ Read his review of The Chronicles of the Black Company to see why this is so.

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AApril says that ‘I can only speak for myself as a chocolate addict, but I loosely categorize chocolate into three general categories: cheap chocolate to be scarfed as needed, mid-grade chocolate that’s to be enjoyed more slowly . . . and then there’s the really good stuff, chocolate to be savored and hoarded and mourned when it is gone. My guilty pleasure, Reese’s, falls into the first category. Ritter Sport, Godiva and Ghirardelli fall into the second. And the third … well, it’s sparsely populated, but now includes, courtesy of Green Man Review, Amano dark chocolate bars.’

Camille looked at three bars from Chocolove (orange peel, toffee almonds and raspberry) which she summed up thusly: ‘All in all, three delightful chocolate bars if one has a particularly sweet tooth. Pleasant finish and texture to each, and a variety of interesting flavors to choose from and dead poets to sample.’

Cat R. got the chance to sample a whole bunch of chocolate bars from Chuao Chocolatier: ‘Here in America we like our add-ins, ice cream and candy full of other candy, nuts, random sweets, and sometimes savories. Chuao (pronounced Chew-WOW) has a shelf-load of such, chocolate bars with all the goodies, created by Venezuelan chef Michael Antonorsi.’

Denise picks out something rather spicy for her yearly ‘Winter Chocolate Binge’ – Moser Roth Privat Chocolatiers’ Dark Chili Chocolate Bar. ‘[T]his bar is actually five smaller bars, each wrapped individually. It’s nice portion control, though this chocolate is tasty enough that stopping at one mini-bar will be a test of your willpower.’ Read her full review to find out why!

Chocolate at this time of year is one of the most sought after treats. So let’s let Kelly tell us about one she found: ‘By the register little chocolate squares beckoned. Labeled, somewhat exotically, ‘Xocolatl de David’, there were three sorts, but the one that caught my eye read “72% Ecuadorian Chocolate with Black Truffles and Sea Salt”. Not a chocolate truffle, mind you, but the kind of truffle pigs sniff out of the woods in Italy and France. I surrendered to impulse and bought one.’

Robert brings us a look at some fairly intense chocolates from Lindt’s Excellence line: ‘The latest treat to cross my desk was a package of chocolate bars from Swiss chocolatier Lindt & Sprüngli, who have been doing this since 1845. The line is billed as “Lindt Excellence” and comes packaged in elegant slim boxes. But enough of that — what does it taste like?’

He also looked at three chocolate squares from Ritter, the German chocolate company. (Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts; Rum, Trauben, Nuss (Rum, Raisins, Nuts); And Dark Chocolate with Marzipan). His answer to why he has less satisfied this outing than when he reviewed the first three Ritter squares is detailed by him.

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Gary takes a look at three volumes of graphic literature by world-renowned comics artist Art Spiegelman. They include the two-volume Maus which simultaneously tells the story of how Spiegelman’s father survived the Holocaust, and of how the artist extracted the story from his father 40 years later. Vol. I, My Father Bleeds History, ends with Vladek Spiegelman’s arrival at Auschwitz; Vol. II, And Here My Troubles Began, tells how he survives. The third work is MetaMaus, an exhaustive compilation in book and DVD form that takes you behind the scenes of Spiegelman’s creation of his masterpiece.

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2ABarb has a story to tell us in her review of Trio: ‘Väsen is Olov Johansson on 3-row chromatic nyckelharpa and kontrabasharpa, Mikael Marin on viola, 5-string viola, and pomposa, and Roger Tallroth on 12-string guitar and bosoki. Having had the opportunity over the last few years to immerse myself in many of Väsen’s recordings, see them perform live, and interview Olov Johansson, these musicians (unbeknownst to them) have become old friends.’

Brendan found much to like in the recording called Glory Be: ‘Finality Jack is a trio of instrumentalists based in Northamptonshire, England and named after an obscure 19th century English politician, Lord John Russell. Consisting of Tim Perkins on violin and bouzouki, Richard Leigh on violin and kantele (a nordic form of the violin), and Becky Price on accordion and keyboards, they play an intriguing mixture of English- and French-influenced instrumental music with a smattering of Eastern European polka in there as well. These may not be typical traditional dance tunes, but in their quiet way they all feel as exuberant and full-of-life as the Greek morris dancers on the cover of the CD.’

Blind Faith were an English blues band made up of Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood and Ric Grech. The band released their only studio album, Blind Faith, in August 1969. (There’s also Live Cream & Live Cream, Volume II.) Craig says about the deluxe version of Blind Faith that: ‘For collectors and rabid fans of the artists, this deluxe edition is probably worth the extra cash, given the expanded and informative liner notes and the extra 90 minutes of music.’ Now if were I betting, I’d say it was very good odds that  Live Cream & Live Cream, Volume II are where the extra material on it came from.

Gary first looks at the Escape Artists recording: ‘Vocal harmony has always played a leading role in country music. Today’s alternative  country and country folk music continues to draw on that tradition, as we see in this recording from The Dolly Ranchers. This Santa Fe, New Mexico based female quartet’s music revolves around the harmonies of two lead singers. Amy Bertucci usually takes the low parts and Sarah-Jane Moody the high. Moody also contributes Dylan-esque harmonica, rhythm guitar and hand percussion. Rounding out the quartet are Maria Fabulosa on bass and chief songwriter Marisa Anderson on guitar and banjo.’

He next tells us about Frixx, the 20th anniversary release from the Finnish folk septet known as Frigg. ‘Frigg plays like a well-oiled machine, but also demonstrates lots of personality. Solemn but never stuffy during the slow parts, frisky and witty on the fast songs, the arrangements always fitting and the recording superb.’

He tells that on their third CD, Après Faire le Boogie Woogie, ‘Louisiana’s Magnolia Sisters cooked up a winner that pays tribute to their Cajun and Creole musical roots with an attitude that’s thoroughly modern. The three original Sisters, Ann Savoy, Jane Vidrine and Lisa Trahan Reed, are joined by young fiddler and singer Anya Shoenegge, with drums and percussion supplied by “Mr. Sister” Kenny Alleman. Savoy, Vidrine and Reed all have deep ties to the music of southern Louisiana, and all as well are experts in various aspects of its folklore and culture.’

Folk singer Toshi Reagon’s Toshi also gets a nod from Gary. ‘Toshi is a fascinating, genre-busting record. Excellent production and musicianship, and most of all Reagon’s powerful but not overpowering vocals make this well worth listening to.’

Jo wrote a review of the Labyrinth recording by a band  created by Scots fiddler Alasdair Fraser: ‘All of the members in Skyedance are consummate musicians, who have honed their craft to excellence. It is pure pleasure to hear these six phenomenal performers work together with such precision and craftsmanship.’

Lars says Eilean mo Ghaoil: The Music of Arran ‘is the brainchild of Gillian Frame, fiddler and Arran native, and if the Arran tourist board doesn’t adopt it as its official soundtrack (assuming there is such an animal as an Arran tourist board) then they’re definitely missing a bet.’

Mike says ‘Stockholm 1313 Km is a greatest hits compilation of a fine Swedish folk band. The tunes are great out of the gate, and I actually became nostalgic upon hearing the fourth and fifth selections, “Pojkarna pa landsvagen” and “Hambomazurka efter Blomqvistarn,” respectively.’

Robert also brings us an album that is a favorite around here, String Sisters Live: ‘There seems to be something magical about the number “6” when you’re talking about fiddles. Maybe that many fiddlers reaches a kind of critical mass that sets off a chain reaction of some sort. At any rate, when the six fiddlers in question are six star-caliber women from across the Britanno-Nordic musical realm, what you wind up with is some really, really good music.’

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This issue’s What Not is brought to you by Jennifer, who discovered the NotJustBikes Youtube channel and found wonderful articulation for the dissatisfactions of growing up in the suburbs.

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So let’s finish off with some seasonally apt music from Nightnoise, to wit ‘White Snow’ which was performed at Teatro Calderón de la Barca, which is a theater in Valladolid, Spain, on the 23rd of April ’91. For more on this superb sort of Celtic band, go read our career retrospective here. Nightnoise had its origins in members of the Bothy Band and Skara Brae, august bands indeed, and included fiddler Johnny Cunningham for a while.

You can hear Skara Brea perform ‘Casadh Cam na Feadarnaigne’ off their reunion concert at Dunlewey Lakeside Centre seventeen years ago here. Nice, very nice indeed.

Speaking of the Bothy Band, let’s see if there’s any  Bothy Band whose Old Hag You Have Killed Me is one of best Irish trad albums ever done. Yes we’ve audio of them performing ‘Old Hag You Have Killed Me’ which we’ll share with you as it’s very splendid. No idea when it was done, though nearly fifty years ago is the most common guess, though there’s no idea where it was recorded for that matter. So here it is for your listening pleasure.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Porridge

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AEnglishman Dr. Samuel Johnson’s dictionary once slammed porridge by defining oats as ‘a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.’ Obviously he never had a good bowl of hot porridge with applesauce mixed in, which I have quite often once the weather turns cold here at this Scottish Estate.

Porridge is quintessentially Scottish, with its roots in the simple fare of crofters, the tenant farmers. Since those beginnings centuries ago, it has spread as a result of Scottish emigration to kitchens way beyond those folk. And in the past years, it has become a cool thing to eat among the culinary taste makers always looking for something old made new once again.

Now most of you might think of porridge as something relatively plain that’s served hot with milk. Well it can be but there are ways to make it quite interesting. And so I wondered what our porridge fans did to jazz it up. Not that all of them did so — Mackenzie likes his every time just with some unsweetened applesauce and warm milk.

So what did I find for interesting porridges? How about finely chopped smoked bacon and cheddar added in? Or perhaps with strawberries and cream? I’m fond of just warm milk and honey, but my wife, Ingrid, likes hers with blueberry preserves.

Finch, my Assistant Pub Manager, says she once ate it with our Estate smoked salmon and Riverrun stilton as a very early morning meal while helping Gus, our Estate Gardener, by taking a turn watching the ewes during spring lambing. She said it was quite filling, along with strongly brewed Darjeeling tea.

So what’s your favourite way to have porridge?

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What’s New for the 24th of January: Live music from Lúnasa in Australia, Taco Tapes’ Trad is Rad, Robert’s Visit to the Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, Alastair Reynolds’ The Prefect audiobook, Tom Baker’s Birthday, Jennifer Stevenson’s Lasagna and Other Neat Stuff

Or is anyone’s identity a matter of fragments held together by convenient or useful narrative, that in ordinary circumstances never reveals itself as a fiction? Or is it really a fiction? ― Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice

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No, it’s not that cold but it’s definitely nasty enough that I passed on my morning ramble on the Estate, as once again there’s a stiff wind along with a freezing drizzle — not what I would want to walk or ski in. So I settled in for a quiet day of reading, Patricia McKillip’s Solstice Wood being my novel of the day, and answering correspondence (my fellow librarians and book lovers still like physical letters as much as I do), as Ingrid, our  Steward, took my apprentices for the day for them to delve into what a Steward does.

So first, breakfast. I always drink tea as I never developed a taste for coffee no matter how good it was. So it was lapsong soochong, a loose leaf first blush smoked black tea from Sri Lanka that Ingrid got for me, bless her. With a splash of whole cream of course. And a rare surprise too — scrambled eggs and apple fritters served with thick cut twice smoked bacon, using apple wood only, and yet more apples in the form of cinnamon and nutmeg infused apple sauce. There was even mulled cider for those wanting even more apples in their breakfast fare! Thus fortified, I turned to writing up this edition …

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2ACat has one of his favourite audiobooks for us: ‘I’m assuming that you know about Dune, so I’ll not detail it here. Did you watch Farscape? If you did, you’ll remember that everyone save the US astronaut thrown into that weird setting spoke with a variety of Australian accents? Well welcome to the Macmillan Audio full cast adaptation of the Hugo Award winning novel where everyone has a British accent. Snark by me notwithstanding, this is a superb production well worth worth the time to listen to it.’

Cat delves into an another audiobook this edition, giving a listen to Alastair Reynolds’ The Prefect. ‘Reynolds is among the best writers of sf I’ve had the pleasure to encounter … John Lee, who narrates, is perhaps my favorite male narrator.’ But does this combination make for an engaging listen?  Tune in to Cat’s review and see!

Gary tells us about Albert Glinsky’s Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage, the biography of the man who invented one of the world’s weirdest musical instruments. ‘Its inventor was a strange man, and the tale of his life is a microcosm of Russia during the 20th century, through revolution, purges, gulags, Cold War, perestroika and post-Soviet reconstruction.’

Rebecca has some thoughts on one of the less classifiable works we’ve run across, Alan Moore’s Voice of the Fire: ‘A leg is wounded. A boy, or a hog, or a man, or a woman, is offered in burnt sacrifice. An enormous black dog which is not a dog points the way. A severed head watches. A fire burns on a hilltop. The images whirl, kaleidoscopic, through a dozen stories, through the landscape of Northampton. They fill me, and the words fill me, and I feel pregnant with them. Not, perhaps, a conventional way to discuss a book I’m reviewing. But it’s not a conventional book.’

Robert’s been rummaging in the Library, and ran across a couple of books of note. First, from Elizabeth Bear, a science-fiction-cum-diplomatic thriller. (Yes, there is such a thing.): ‘Elizabeth Bear has put me in an odd position: I read Blood and Iron, loved it, found it rich, stimulating — altogether an extraordinary book. I’ve now read Carnival, and find myself without much to say.’

And then he found a collection of Bear’s stories: ‘Stories are like a painter’s drawings or a composer’s piano studies: they can range from sketches, bare hints of ideas working themselves out, to polished, elegant miniatures, fully realized. Take, for example, the stories presented in Elizabeth Bear’s The Chains That You Refuse. (You can hear her reading ‘The Chains That You Refuse’  here.)

Stephen says of an Alan Garner work that ‘These are only the questions which I find myself considering today. When I read Thursbitch again (and I will), they may be different, as they may be for you, when you read this book. The reasons for this are that Thursbitch is a book that casts the reader as an enthralled participant, rather than a passive recipient. It is, to repeat, a mystery. It may unsettle you (if not actually give you nightmares), but you’ll love it unequivocally nonetheless.’

Warner starts off with a mystery for us: ‘Waiting for the Night Songs  is easy to recommend for anyone who enjoys character base stories, or a good mystery that comes in a form other than the traditional whodunit. Julie Carrick Dalton has produced an impressive debut, and readers should look forward to more.’

He has a bit of rather lurid true crime for us: ‘Michael Cannell’s A Brotherhood Betrayed: The Man Behind The Rise And Fall Of Murder Inc. is a good read for someone interested in mid Twentieth Century crime, particularly that centered out of New York. By including rumors and innuendo, as well as those who spread them, it successfully gives the reader an inkling of just how easy it is to become unsecured with such a mottled and in complete set of facts.’

Let us speak of Jennifer Stevenson, and so Wes finishes our book reviews off with one of her entertaining novels: ‘A storm’s a’brewing, the women restless, the men conflicted, and there are the strangest foxes you’ve ever seen running wild along the bucking river. Trash Sex Magic isn’t just a lurid, sexually charged magical romp. Complex characters drive an organic plot, elegantly woven of mythic resonance and familial metaphors.’

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AJust another lasagna recipe from Jennifer, this time, the no-boil version. With Pinkwater (The Afterlife Diet) we must agree that certain foods are wonderful, and we could eat them for a solid month. This recipe has so much sausage, ricotta, garlic, and wine that it cannot but please a true lasagna addict. Plus, you don’t have to futz with the noodles.

Gary tried some chocolate that he liked, Equal Exchange’s Organic Very Dark, which he notes has just a few ingredients. ‘I like a short list of ingredients in a chocolate, the same way I like music reduced to a few elements: a jazz trio, say, or a couple of singers accompanying themselves on acoustic guitar and fiddle.’

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2ATom Baker turned eighty seven this week so let’s look at Cat’s review of  a Doctor Who adventure beloved by many fans of the series: ‘The Talons of Weng Chiang featured Tom Baker, one of the most liked of all the actors who’ve played The Doctor, and Leela, the archetypal savage that British Empire both adored and despised, played by Louise Jameson. That it is set during the Victorian Era is something that British have been fond of setting dramas in, well, since a few years after the era ended. Doctor Who has had stories set in this era myriad times.’

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AWarner has a look at a classic strip: ‘Chester Gould’s The Complete Dick Tracy Voume 28: 1974 to 1976 represents the second to last collection by the original creator of the comic strip. This volume is well into the era when Gould was known for injecting his politics at times in downright annoying fashion. It is also a volume with a number of well-remembered stories, and which illustrates the large supporting cast Dick Tracy often brought with him.’

He also looks at a contemporary work: ‘Joe Hill and Martin Simmonds’ Dying is Easy is a strange bit of comic noir. A wonderfully illustrated piece of graphic fiction, the story follows cop turned down-and-out comedian Syd Homes. It is an interesting setup, and one that would lend itself to darkly comic moments.’

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AGary has some new music from an outfit called Taco Tapes, a recording called Trad is Rad. ‘The guys in Taco Tapes know their way around traditional American music, and it shows, whether they’re cranking out an instrumental dance tune, or singing their take on an old old song, or writing one of their own.’

A new live album by Swedish Americana player Daniel Norgren pleased Gary: ‘Until I can once again join fellow music lovers in front of a stage occupied by musicians pouring out their hearts and dazzling with their instrumental and vocal techniques, I’m going to frequently put on Daniel Norgren Live and let it console and uplift me.’

Gary reviews Fall Like Rain, the first solo album by Justin Moses, an in demand, award winning bluegrass session player. ‘Moses is a prodigious talent in many, many ways: he can play seemingly anything with strings, and not just play it but play it brilliantly.’

Gary brings word of a collection of folk songs from one of the far-flung regions in the vast nation of China. ‘These aren’t field recordings — as far as I can tell, none in the series are — but are professionally recorded in a studio or auditorium with a certain amount of lofty reverb in the vocals. All in all, Folk Songs of the Uzbeks & Tatars of China, as with the others in the series, is a valuable addition to the World music catalog.’

And Gary also brings word of a set of ballads by Swiss trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti and his all-star ensemble: ‘All in all, Lost Within You is a delightful and soothing way to kick off 2021.

Ahhh Clannad, that sort of Celtic group with New Age pretensions as well as jazzy riffs. Well it wasn’t so always, as Jayme notes in reviewing their debut recording called simply Clannad: ‘The surprise is that this album probably doesn’t sound like what the casual Clannad fan expects at all. Every band must start someplace; and Clannad, like most every other Celtic band before and since, started with a repertoire of traditional covers.’

Jo says that Telyn is for all  ‘those interested in the Welsh tradition should check out Llio Rhydderch, who studied and toured with the fabled Nansi Richards. For the uninitiated, an explanation is in order. The Welsh have a drastically different style of playing, largely due to the nature of the music itself. Their music is ornamented through theme and variation, a more classical style, rather than through the sort of ornamentation heard in Scottish and Irish music.’

Lars has a look at the latest release that Arc Music sent us, The Ultimate Guide to Welsh Music: ‘Cerys Matthews of Catatonia fame, and also an author and a readio presenter, has tackled the task of giving us an overviewof Welsh folk music and I must say she has done a brilliant job. Two CDs packed with music, in total 48 tracks with 48 different acts, clocking in at two hours and 36 minutes, complete with extensive liner notes presenting every artist or group taking part. The oldest recording are from the 1940s, the newest from 2015.’

Patrick likes Changeling’s The Hidden World: ‘This married duo’s music is nothing short of — sorry, Batman and Robin — dynamic. It’s an old approach, if you will, to old and new music. But that isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s what sets this album apart from the countless other Celtic CDs released this year. Changeling has found a way to dig down into the roots of folk and unearth some old treasures that likely haven’t been heard in generations.’

Robert brings us several selections of music for strings. The firsti s Blazin’ Fiddles Live: ‘When our Editor and Publisher (also known as “the Chief”) first broached the idea of my reviewing a Blazin’ Fiddles release, I was hesitant. “A whole orchestra?” said I. “Of fiddles?” (Well, that’s what he said it was.) Somehow I knew it wasn’t going to be Henry Mancini.’

Next is a pair of albums from cellist Angela East: ‘Angela East is the cellist for Red Priest, the baroque chamber ensemble noted for its innovative approach and flamboyant public style. In the two recordings presented here, East has gone solo, pretty much, and brought this approach to the smaller-scale works of Johann Sebastian Bach and other baroque masters.’

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Robert has another treat for a family outing — the ‘stuffed animals’ at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History: ‘When I was a small boy, my father would periodically take me up to the Field Museum. I was always eager to see the “stuffed animals”, which formed a large part of the Museum’s public displays. Well, they’re still there, in a somewhat different arrangement than I remember, but still interesting.’ (Be sure to check first to be sure the Museum is open — the pandemic is playing hob with Chicago’s major attractions). ‘

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2ASo let’s have some music by Lúnasa to see us out, some tunes from their Melbourne concert thirty years ago which author and musician Paul Brandon provided us. I cannot tell you anything more than that as he didn’t provide any additional information to me, but you really don’t need that anyway to enjoy them, do you?

Now Paul is an amazing author so I’ll send you off to read the review of Swim the Moon, his first novel, and if you go thisway,  you can read the first chapter of his second novel, The Wild Reel. And he’s a damn fine musician as well as you can hear here.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Of Puppets and Their Masters (A Letter to Anna)

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Dear Anna,

I was lusting after a wee dram of Laphroig very late one night as I wasn’t sleeping well so I got dressed, left my sweet wife sleeping, and made my way to the Pub. As you know, it never closes, though other than the handful of Neverending Sessions musos, it’s rather quiet in the dead of the night hours. So I was quite surprised to see a fair number of folk there!

I was even more surprised to have The Old Man tending bar and he pointed to a storyteller cloaked in fall colours sitting in the Falstaff Chair near the Fireplace.

She was maybe fifty years old with deep green eyes and long red hair; no ornamentation could be seen and shadows lay deep around her. I saw that there were deep lines on her face, maybe from the sun, maybe from whatever life had tossed at her. Then I noticed she had a bagful of hand puppets: queens, knights, kings, dragons, and Queen Mab only knew what else was in there.

Her voice matched her clothing — like old oak leaves rustling in the wind. I listened carefully and discovered her tale was one of knights unjustly slain, kingdoms lost from sheer stupidity, and justified regicide turned to ashes in the mouth. The story I admit sounded like a combination of something written by William Shakespeare and G.R R. Martin, but her telling was so moving that it mattered nought what the source material was, as her voice and her puppets made it come alive. When her Queen puppet stabbed her King puppet, it seemed as though blood dripped from his back. Her Ghost really looked like it was semi-transparent and was truly chilling.

I sipped my dram of Laphroig and appreciated the sheer artistry of her show. Then the weirdest thing happened — she went lifeless, all animation gone from her, and she fell slowly to the floor. Out of the deep shadows behind the massive chair, a woman looking much like the puppet that The Storyteller had been stepped out and bowed deeply. As all of us looked on stunned at what happened, both she and her puppets disappeared when The Old Man briefly blinked the Pub lights.

All that was left was a handful of oak leaves swirling in the air in front of her chair.

The Old Man refused to answer any questions; Reynard the next day just smiled and went back to making Irish Coffee for a Pub patron, and Jack when I cornered him in The Library claimed that I’d obviously been too sleepy to see what really happened. I know they know what happened but I’ll be deviled if I know why it’s a secret.

Your puzzled friend, Iain

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What’s New for the 10th of January: On Hobbits in print and on film, An unusual Inn, Jabberwock puppets, Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate, Classical Music and Other Winter Comforts

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. — J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit

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I’ve been listening to the Andy Serkis dramatisation of The Hobbit these past few days, as it seems a wonderful thing to do as I work in the Library while a not so gentle snow falls outside. I’ve read it often enough that I know it by heart so I don’t really need to pay that close attention to it as I can really absorb the story by oysmosis as I work here in the Estate Library. I really should write a review up of it as it is most decidedly deserves one.

So do you care to join me for elevenses? We’ve a tendency here at the Kinrowan Estate to snack a lot as it’s easy to do with our own ever so good Kitchen. And I oh so do like a late morning repast in the Winter of hot chocolate or maybe something stronger like hot butterscotch with a healthy splash of rum and something tasty, say that lovely dark chocolate rugelach made by Rebekah, my former Several Annie who now works in the Kitchen.

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2ACat states that ‘I don’t normally purchase a collection for just one story but the community over at File 770 was saying in a discussion of AIs that Naomi Kritzer’s Hugo Award-winning ‘Cat Pictures Please’ was a story that the folks there who hadn’t read it should really read, so I went to iBooks and purchased Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories. Yes, they were right — you really should go read it, as it’s a unique take on what happens when an AI decides it’s concerned about us and wants to make us feel better. What it wants in exchange for making us feel better is — well, it likes cats. Her newest novel, Catfishing on CatNet, involves this AI and a group of young adults. I can’t wait to read it!’

Cat followed his own advice above and wrote up a review of the audiobook of The Hobbit narrated by Andy Serkis: ‘That Serkis is a more than merely a capable voice actor is on full display in the very first chapter when poor Bilbo is just hoping for quiet time with a pipe and of course something to eat and has no idea that Gandalf has marked his door, thereby inviting every dwarf to his hobbit hole to eat, drink and plot adventure.’

Eric has a cozy of sorts for us: ‘Adding a new dimension to a real figure adds a kick to historical fiction. The key is to cast the person plausibly, if the historical feel of the fiction is to be kept. The role doesn’t have to be something that the person actually would have done, just something that the character can fall naturally into as the book progresses. In The Queene’s Christmas, Karen Harper strives to graft the role of detective onto the Queen. Somewhat difficult to swallow at times, but the overall effort is a good one.’

Gary was favorably impressed with S. Frederick Starr’s biography of an American composer and musician who was once world famous but now is remembered by only a few: ‘Louis Moreau Gottschalk was a pioneer of American music, one of our first truly national celebrities and a beloved citizen of the Western Hemisphere. Frederick Starr’s 1995 biography is a work of sweeping scholarship, all the more impressive for its lucid and engaging style.’

Jessica exclaims ‘I love this book. Usually in a review I attempt to be both fair and balanced, but you, dear reader, should know beforehand that Tooth and Claw is a book of the kind I want to buy all my friends who might enjoy it their very own copy, so they can experience the complete joy of reading it (straight to a gossip session about the characters), and because I don’t want to risk losing my own copy. If there was a fire and I could only save twenty of my books, Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw would probably make the cut.’

Jo shares with you this review she wrote for Folk Tales, the predecessor of GMR, a 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.’

A Britain that never was catches the interest of Lory: ‘Jo Walton has a knack for genre fiction with a twist. In the World Fantasy Award-winning Tooth and Claw, she gave us a Victorian family saga — complete with siblings squabbling over an inheritance, the woes of the unwed daughters of the house, and the very important question of What Hat to Wear — with a cast of dragons, literally red in tooth and claw. Now in Farthing, her material is the mid-century British country house murder mystery. The story is told in alternate chapters through the eyes of Lucy Kahn, a reluctant visitor to the family estate of Farthing, and over the shoulder of Inspector Carmichael, who has been sent from Scotland Yard to investigate the death of one of the other guests.’

Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Five Poems has Mia remembering things past: ‘Are the Christmases we imagine that we remember really the Christmases we had? Was there always snow; did we really go caroling in the crisp night air; did we sit down together in the warmth of our loving families to bright and tantalizing feasts of turkey and dressing and three different kinds of pie; did we truly have gifts wrapped in shining paper and ribbon piled halfway to the ceiling around the glimmering, glistening, twinkling Christmas tree? Or have we seen too many films and television shows and simply assimilated their Dickensian pictures of Christmas into our own fading recollections?’

An (un)novel set in a future Tel Aviv caught the eye of Richard: ‘Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station is barely a novel, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Instead, it’s a loosely connected series of stories featuring a rotating cast of characters, and the gently ramshackle DIY nature of the narrative structure matches up perfectly with the DIY, maker-centric vision of the world that Central Station presents.’

Warner has the latest offering from one of our favorite authors: ‘The reprinting of works by a beloved author is always a difficult matter. Library of America’s volume of Ursula K. Le Guin novels Annals of the Western Shore represents an excellent reprint of some of the later works of one of America’s great fantasists.’

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2ASometimes a lot of chocolate is A Good Thing indeed and so fortunately Robert a very good option for us: ‘For the confirmed chocoholic, Trader Joe’s has come up with a real treat: Pound Plus Chocolates. It really is a pound plus — 17.6 ounces (500 g), to be exact — and it’s quite reasonably priced — one might even say “cheap”, at only $4.99 for a nice hefty bar.’

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2ASpeaking of The Hobbit, Robert reviewed Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: ‘I saw Peter Jackson’s first installment on his trilogy of The Hobbit twice, and, strangely enough, An Unexpected Journey was better the second time. Fortunately, I haven’t read The Hobbit in years, so I wasn’t having to pull myself back from what should have happened to what was actually happening.’ He later saw the second Hobbit film: ‘Inevitably, I found myself catching the first local showing of Peter Jackson’s latest entry into his J. R. R. Tolkien sweepstakes, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. It was better than I expected.’

Naturally we also reviewed The Lord of The Rings films that actually preceded those films. Grey reviewed all three and it’s best that I not spoil the wonderful treat that you’ve got waiting for in reading her illuminating reviews, so I’m just going to send you to The Fellowship of Ring review here, The Two Towers review here and The Return of The King review thisaway.  Suffice it to say that she wasn’t disappointed in any of them!

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2ALike The Hobbit, I find the Guard Mouse series to be comforting. So let’s look as April reviews the first volume of that series by David Petersen: ‘The year is 1152, treachery is afoot, and the Mouse Guard, defenders of all mice, must suss out the traitor in their midst before the Guard is destroyed. So goes the basic plot of Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, a graphic novel collection of Petersen’s award-winning comic. And just so there’s no confusion, Mouse Guard isn’t a nickname or colloquialism — the protagonists really are mice, the small, furry rodent kind.’
2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AMellowosity, the debut CD from the Scottish band the Peatbog Faeries, is wonderfully misleading in its packaging, says Adam. ‘A quick glance at the credits on the back reveals a synthesizer alongside all the usual traditional instruments (bodhran, fiddle, whistles, pipes, etc.). So this is another Corrs-type band, blending traditional Celtic songs with pop beats, right? Wrong. What we have here is the most innovative (and sneaky) jazz album to emerge since Cassandra Wilson made her debut. But it’s also the trickiest new age album to emerge in years. And it’s got some amazing rock ‘n’ reel moments, too. In the guise of a traditional performance, this Scottish band has developed a truly unique sound.’

Brendan looks at an offering from Dervish, an oh so excellent Irish group I’ve seen many a time. He says that ‘like most retrospective recordings are meant to do, decade showcases some of the best that Dervish has to offer. The instrumental work — the usual suspects of jigs, reels, hornpipes, and waltzes — here is about as good as it gets from the opening track of reels, “The Kilavill Set” to closing track, “Jim Coleman’s.”’

Chris really, really liked Peatbog Faeries’ Faerie Stories: ‘It has been a couple of years since their first Mellowosity album; and while it would have been nice to have had the next album sooner, this one certainly makes up for the wait. I’m tempted to simply say “If you like Shooglenifty, Afro Celt and similar trance/dance/atmospheric/new age instrumental roots bands then get a copy of this, it’s every bit as good” and stop writing now! Okay, I won’t. I’ll say a little more about it, but basically that’s the message.’

From the Archives, Gary reviews a longtime favorite disc of instrumental music from the Andes: The trio Tahuantinsuyo, which translates as ‘The Four Corners of the World,’ recorded these tracks in 1978. It is apparently a compilation of at least two different sessions; about half of the 12 tracks are straight studio recordings, and the other half include vocal and percussion contributions from several people in the background.’

Gary has a tale about the long and twisted history of the song ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe,’ including a link to a review he wrote here way back in 2001, and a new, dark version of the song by ‘Swedish gothic garage blues singer and guitarist Bror Gunnar Jansson’ whose video of it was released this year.

Between 1934 and 1937 father and son folklorists John and Alan Lomax recorded Cajun and Creole musicians in Louisiana, as part of a national project for the Library of Congress. Gary reviews a two-disc collection of those recordings, of which he says, ‘This is a priceless collection of outstanding American roots music.’

Kim says happily ‘Lemonade and Buns, Kila’s latest offering, continues the wild instrumentals and hypnotic vocals that made Tog e Go Bog e such a delight. Melodies on the uilleann pipe sound as if they were lifted from a session, lured away from the safety of indoors into the night by a fairy lover with djembe and a rain stick. Then the saxophone takes over, and the music conveys the ease and warmth of the tropics, where we can really surrender to the need to dance. Vocal numbers are frenzied, with simple melodies that become a part of the texture of bass, percussion, and wailing middle eastern influences that blend with Irish tunes and insist on dancing — or why else would this music exist?’

Lars has a tasty bit of Welsh music for us: ‘I have always had a weak spot for Welsh music. It may not be as instantly catching as Irish or Scottish music, but once you start to dig into it, is equally rewarding. For those new to the music on this path, Ffynnon’s Celtic Music from Wales is as good a place as any to start. They are a little less traditional in their approach than groups like Calennig or Ar Log, but are a fine way to start developing a taste for what could be considered as the little sister of Celtic music. Full Welsh lyrics with English translations add to the experience.’

Robert has a tasty piece of Classical music for us: ‘There are certain artists whose work becomes an inextricable part of one’s life, whether it be a writer, a painter, or a composer. One develops a sense of the work, sometimes to the point where it all becomes one great work. Brahms is one of those artists in my life — my first experience with Brahms was a scratchy, hand-me-down 78 rpm of the great Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in D Minor, when I was about eight or nine — I fell in love. I’ve heard more Brahms than I can sometimes remember until a phrase drifts past and I think, “I know that one.” And sometimes, no matter how well I think I know the artist or a particular piece, I run across a new interpretation that opens new doors for me.’

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AOur What Not this week is an Inn with a long and honored history in literature, but the one Camille reviews for us is quite real, so  listen up as she introduces us to the Circa 1894 B&B in rural Ontario: ‘The place accurately bills itself as a getaway. And with three guest rooms and delightfully accommodating hosts, my (much-needed) getaway lasted just over a week.’ Go read her delightful review for all the lovely details on this B&B.
2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AI’ve been thinking of the joys of Scottish trad music as of late, so it’s fitting that our music coda on this Sunday morning is ‘The Ginger Grouse Jigs’ by Skerryvore, who performed this tune at the Shetland Folk Festival some eight years ago. It’s a bit of lively music to keep you until we see you again in a fortnight.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Bonfires

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2ANothing warms my heart and body as much as a bonfire does. Oh I know that I could be inside with my wife Bree enjoying the warmth of the fireplaces in our Cottage , but I love, particularly as Autumn gives way to Winter, being outside when a roaring bonfire’s been built.

We build bonfires often in the courtyard here at the Kinrowan Estate. Sometimes we have lively contradances deep into the night with bloody big mugs of hot chocolate, spiced cider or tea to aid in keeping everyone warm, and sometimes the Neverending Session treats those who care to come out in the cold to music by fire and moonlight. There’s something rather amazing to hear those musos play long into the night with the stars overhead.

Now building a proper bonfire is not something most folks know how to do. They think just throwing anything wooden into a pile and lighting is all there is to it.  And we won’t even dwell on the idiots who use petrol to ignite their bonfires which is a sure way to get someone hurt badly.

A proper bonfire first of all needs a pit, preferably made out of stone. Ours is twelve feet across and three feet deep — need I say that it’s set a safe distance from anything that could catch fire? The wood for the bonfire should be a mix of softwoods like spruce and pine for both its quick burning and its lovely crackling sound; the hardwoods we use are maple, apple and oak as they’ll burn a long time.

Our fire pit has a three foot wide flat lip — perfect for sitting on as the fire dies down. As the courtyard has a nice stone tile surface perfect for dancing (at least ’til it gets really cold); we often use the bonfire as a light source for those dances. And we’ve actually roasted whole pigs in the pit — really good eating that makes!

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What’s New for the 27th of December: Boxing Day has come and gone!

 Jerold took down a big, heavy book from the third shelf and read it for about an hour without quite making out the point of it … The man, the horse, the hounds, and the tree person were all part of this Wild Hunt, though who or what they were hunting was never made clear in the book.— Jane Yolen’s The Wild Hunt

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I smelled something terribly enticing in the hallway out of our Kitchen. It was quite enough in the Pub that I been listening to the BBC production of Frank Herbert’s Dune and handed Pub duties over to Finch and got myself down there for the eventide meal which was lamb kebabs seasoned with fennel, cumin, garlic and chili. Given the Pandemic and no events on the Estate,  it turned out we had slaughtered the extra lambs as demand was down in a major way and we froze the meat for use this Winter season as lamb freezes very well being high in fat and doesn’t dry out.  It was served up with rice, steamed veggies and the best yeasted whole wheat rolls I’ve had.

We had ice cream for desert: a cardamom and ginger one, another intensely dark chocolate and peanut butter in nature, and a strawberry one made with the very last berries of the late Summer growing season that got frozen for later use. I sampled all three and can say that Mrs. Ware and her ever so talented Kitchen staff outdid themselves!

So let’s head over to this edition and see what we’ve got for  you this afternoon.

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2ACat says in his review that “I’ve got a lot of audiobooks in my Audible library as it’s been my primary source for such matters for many years now, so sometimes I forget if I’ve listened to one of them. This is how I came to be listening recently to Lavie Tidhar’s The Great Game, a genre stretching thriller that’s set, I think, at the end of the Nineteenth Century in an alternate universe that’s a riff off various literary works in our universe. Think Allan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as an apt comparison. It was a wonderful listen.’

He also found a lot to like in Seanan McGuire’s Indexing books: ‘I’m re-listening right now to one of those things that Seanan McGuire does so ever well: she takes a familiar story and make it fresh. … I first read it as novels when they came out some six years ago and then listened to it a few years later. Now being home confined due to three knee surgeries, I’m doing a lot of audiobooks and this was a series I wanted to revisit while working on other things.’

Gary highly recommends All Systems Red and the other books in Martha Wells’s series ‘The Murderbot Diaries.’ ‘The book is packed with action almost from the first page. It doesn’t waste a lot of words and time on explanations, just gives you the information you need and trusts you to know what to do with it. It’s also very funny, due to Murderbot’s dry, self-deprecating, highly ironic sense of humor.’

Iain found a book recently that he finds much to like in: ‘It’s fitting that Dreams and Wishes: Essays on Writing for Children should appear today, as the mail today also held the one-volume edition of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series. Yes, I could’ve borrowed the first edition copies in the Green Man library, but preferred a less valuable one for reading purposes — I’d hate to spill hot chocolate on those volumes! So I got a really cheap (less than ten dollars!) one-volume hardcover edition that I’ll be reading this winter. And that leads me very nicely into why Susan Cooper is really, really cool! Which is why, if you are a fan of Susan Cooper, you have to read this book. Dreams and Wishes is a collection of essays, starting with the Newbery Award acceptance speech in 1976 (‘Seeing Around Corners’), and other goodies.’

Jo has this review she wrote for Folk Tales, the predecessor of GMR a 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.’

Richard has a bit of pulp fir us: ‘It’s clear from the first page the identity of the audience No Hero is intended for. The setup is familiar: a British secret agency comprised entirely of misfits, holding back an existential threat to the entire world while being kneecapped at the budget. Fans of Torchwood, Primeval and Charles Stross’ Laundry series are squarely in author Jonathan Wood’s sights as he lays out the story of Kurt Russell-obsessed cop Arthur Wallace.l

Richard has a book of Appalachian lore for us: ‘Manly Wade Wellman’s stories of Silver John are like snatches of a familiar song: you find them in the most fascinating places, but good luck finding the whole tune in one place when you want to. While the Silver John tales are relentlessly anthologized (at least, by anthology editors with good taste), finding the actual novels and collections of stories featuring Wellman’s wandering guitarist are rarer than hen’s teeth. Finding a Silver John novel, like After Dark, is cause for a discerning reader to rejoice. Alas that such causes for rejoicing are few and far between these days.’

Robert starts off a review I think is perfect for a reading as it was the author’s Birthday this week this way: ‘I’ve long followed Charles de Lint’s writing, starting with, if I remember correctly, Moonheart way back when, and I’ve been as close as I ever come to being a fan for years. (I even got my hands on some early stories, somehow.) So when I was asked to do a review of The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, I said, “Yes. I haven’t had a chance to read de Lint in a while.” ’

Warner first has a mystery  of an unusual nature for us: ‘Anthony Horowitz’s  Moonflower Murders is the second book in the Susan Ryeland series, and like its predecessor it is a nested mystery with two novels within the covers. One is the mystery Susan is solving, and the other a book by the fictitious and posthumous Alan Conway, following his detective Atticus Pünd. It is an unusual approach for a mystery novel, but impressive for the eccentricity.’

He also looks at a work from an author that you all will recognize: ‘Shirley Jackson’s Four Novels of the 1940s & 1950s is a collection by the Library of America of the authors four novels The Road Through the Wall, Hangsaman. the Bird’s Nest, and The Sundial. While these are not Jackson’s best known work, they are as always gripping and fascinating looks into the darknesses of human society. The fact they represent Jackson’s earliest novels also lends to seeing the development of a famed writer, amd that they are novels from a woman remembered for a short story makes them all the more fascinating.’

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AIn case you missed it, Gary told us about a yummy summertime treat and how you can go about making it yourself. His melon-berry-cucumber summer salad is sure to remind you of the warm, languid days of high summer.

Jennifer provides a colossally rich boozy chocolate trifle for those potlucks with thirty to a hundred guests. Or, if you are locked down, for your immediate household. If you happen to be chocoholic alcoholics.

I’ve been looking for an article I remember being in The Sleeping Hedgehog on eggnog on how it came to be a tradition here maybe forty years back but I can’t find it. What  I do have is Jennifer’s recipe for eggnog for Stay Home Egg Nog Fluff as she calls it so you can try it out in your drink making.

Not food per se, but worth noting here anyways, Kathleen has an online journal where she talks about her late sister Kage, author of the acclaimed SF series The Company. Here is her entry which which has her reminiscing about Kage during the Christmas season. And here’s a review of one of her collection, The Best of Kage Baker, which will give you a great introduction to her fiction.
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Richard looks at what is a now a best beloved 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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Walt Kelley’s Pogo: Through the Wild Blue Wonder, Volume One,1949–1950 is, says Cat, a collection of  the greatest strip ever done: ‘Walt Kelley (1913 to 1973) conceived, wrote, and illustrated what many including myself consider the greatest strip of all time, Pogo. Some claim that Doonesbury is the modern Pogo but I consider that strip a pale shadow compared to Pogo. It was not as long run as Doonesbury which ran for a remarkable forty three years before it essentially ended its run but Pogo ran for nearly twenty years starting in nineteen forty-eight.’

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Jay Ungar and Molly Mason’s Harvest Home: Music For All Seasons is to the liking of Brendan, who says, ‘With their 1999 release Harvest Home, they have given themselves a new challenge. Arranging a set of tunes from the broad variety of American rural music traditions, designed to celebrate the seasons and labor of farm life, they also decided to try their hand at incorporating these folk themes (both original and traditional) into an orchestral piece called “The Harvest Home Suite.” The result is a beautiful, surprising complex CD which showcases the many rural traditions of the United States while, just as Ungar and Mason hoped, giving all of these pieces a new energy.’

Cat has a look at a recording from Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelly and Charlie Pilzer’s Hambo in the Barn: ‘Back in the twentieth century, a lot of Scandinavians relocated from Sweden and the surrounding countries to the upper Midwest where they became farmers and shopkeepers for the most part.  Naturally they brought both their instruments and their music with them. Not surprisingly, this music has persisted to this day which is why this lovely CD exists.’

He also looks at The Little Country based on the compositions in the de Lint novel Grey reviewed above: ‘Zahatar is more akin to a classical music ensemble than it is to a folk group, and their arrangements of de Lint’s The Little Country compositions very much reflect that. It’s a lively but dignified approach to his songs, more closely akin to what you’d hear if you were listening to any classical music ensemble than to, say, a contradance band. The band describes itself as ‘a band made up of classically trained musicians who also have fun exploring other musical styles. We arrange all of our own music, pulling themes from the Celtic tradition, Chinese and Spanish folk melodies, bluegrass, pop/rock, film soundtracks, ragtime, the Classical era, and even composing original pieces!’’

‘This was an amazing year for creativity of all sorts, not least in roots music,’ Gary says. For proof, check out this list of his favorite Americana and roots music of 2020.

Gary says the Norwegian band Lumen Drones’ Umbra pushes a lot of his musical buttons: ‘Hardanger fiddle? Check. Folk-based experimental music? Check. Nordic music? Check. And of course the big one, right there in the name: drones, drones, drones!’

2020 was a year of good music, but it was also a year when we lost many musicians to the pandemic. One of the best was John Prine. Gary looks back at his 2018 masterpiece, The Tree of Forgiveness.

Kim looks at the Nordic Roots collections that Northside did, all three volumes to be precise: There’s a pleasing dissonance in Nordic traditions, often a restraint that hints of something without ever going there, that’s found much more in Nordic music than is often the case with music from the Irish and Celtic traditions.’ We recommend you read her review for why this set is a must listen for anyone interested in this music!

Lars has a choice bit of Celtic music for us: ‘Calennig has been around for many years. I first came across them in the mid-80s but lost contact.  A Gower Garland  marks my return to one of the best Welsh groups around. Calennig is a duo. Mick Tems, who is also a keen reporter of the Welsh folk music scene, plays accordion and keyboards and does most of the lead singing. Patricia Carron-Smith plays concertina and spoons and sings as well.’

We mentioned the ‘Britanno-Nordic complex’.  Yes, we did. Robert has a review of a great example of that, a live recording from the String Sisters: ‘There seems to be something magical about the number “6” when you’re talking about fiddles. Maybe that many fiddlers reaches a kind of critical mass that sets off a chain reaction of some sort. At any rate, when the six fiddlers in question are six star-caliber women from across the Britanno-Nordic musical realm, what you wind up with is some really, really good music.’ You can hear them perform The Champagne Jig Goes To Columbia/ Pat & Al’s Jig. And you can watch the the whole concert here.

I’m going to finish our music reviews off with Christmas Revels at Sanders Theater which was written by Vonnie, a longtime writer who died of cancer at much too young an age. A diehard fan of the Oysterband of which she provided several recording reviews for us, she also loved the Revels. She’ll be much missed here.

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What Not this issue comes to you from Jennifer, who shamelessly promotes Book View Café’s annual year-end 50%-off sale and a rare chance to get three first-in-series full length novels under one cover, and half price off their bargain price. Learn about the world’s oldest, largest, most prestigious author-owned publishing collective, from one of its founders.

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Sometime ago a writer by the name of Elizabeth Bear did a great favour for us and narrated a story of hers, ‘The Chains That You Refuse’. When doing some cleaning up of our media server, the Infinite Jukebox,  I found it again, so it is thisaway for you to enjoy! Please do not repost it without the express permission of the author.

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A Story: Jennifer Stevenson’s ‘Solstice’

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We all tell stories and Jennifer Stevenson tells a great one in ‘Solstice’ which Grey reviews for us here: ‘The reader somehow senses that everything Dawn sees, each action she takes, even her name, has a deeper significance. She’s not just playing for a great party, she’s playing to keep a shrinking, fading man alive on the longest night. And if it’s an over-the-top, splendid bash that keeps the sun alive for another year, well, human beings believed that for a very long time. Maybe this story will help us remember some of what we’ve forgotten.’

You can hear the author splendidly reading  ‘Solstice’ here. You can read the story thisaway.  If you can find a copy, it was originally published in Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman and Donald G. Keller’s The Horns of Elfland.

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What’s New for the 13th of December: An Appalachian Mystery, a Most Unusual Fox, Chicago’s Own Wizard for Hire, Iceland, a Family Christmas, Boiled in Lead, Fairport, and much, much more

Such a quintessentially human thing, to express sorrow through apology. ― Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

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Ahhh, that heavenly smell is the fresh baked lussekatter, a Swedish traditional bun, that I’m having with cardamom spiced coffee for a snack on this Winter afternoon. I’d be out for my daily walk before the persistent sleet and icy rain along with a driving wind made even the Estate Irish Wolf Hounds decide that staying in was the right thing to do and they like rough weather!

So I’ve got on well-worn jeans, soft boots and a Boiled in Lead t-shirt that I got twenty odd years ago at a concert in Minneapolis as I sit down to do this edition.  So you’ll definitely be getting an introduction to that group this time and a few related goodies as well.

With generally no visitors allowed on the Estate due to the Pandemic, it has become a much more low-key scene around the Green Man Pub, and the Neverending Session is quite small and leans towards Nordic, Breton and Celtic trad music which is something the Estate staff is quite fond of. Now let’s see what  we’ve have selected for you this time…

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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.

He was also very enthusiastic about a new novel from Lavie Tidhar, Unholy Land, and with good reason: ‘Now we have this novel, which was nominated for a John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best SF Novel,  a Locus Award for Best SF novel, a Sidewise Award for Alternate History and a Dragon Award for Best Alternate History Novel, which is a very impressive showing indeed. What we have here is an alternate history story that is also a chilling police thriller.’

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.’

Jack looks at a book he eagerly devoured: ‘Some books are just too good not to review as soon as they arrive. Such is the case with Tales from Earthsea, five mostly new tales of Earthsea, the delightful universe created by LeGuin more than 30 years ago.’

Joel says ‘Evil alien monsters, space battles, cybernetic humans . . . this might seem, at first glance, to be classic space opera. But it’s so much more than that. Neil Asher’s future history is a product of its technology: human augmentation; artificial intelligence; faster-than-light travel. The implications of these developments — socially, politically, morally — make his universe what it is. There’s much to plumb here, and I don’t see this series running out of steam anytime soon. Prador Moon makes another worthy addition. Recommended.’

Are you looking for a good Autumnal read? Well Richard  has one for you in Robert Holdstock’s Ryhope Wood series: ‘Simply put, the Ryhope cycle is one of the most important fantasy series of the past two decades, at least. While other exemplars of the genre tell stories, Holdstock tells stories of storytelling, and yet manages to make them as exciting and engrossing as the most acrobatic bit of literary swordplay. His characters are multifaceted jewels, showing different aspects depending on whose tale they are cast in.’

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.

Robert looks at Steven Brust and Megan Lindholm’s The Gypsy, which has been in his ‘peripheral vision for some time, and was brought front and center by Boiled in Lead’s CD Songs from The Gypsy. I’ve sort of put off Brust’s collaborations, of which this is one, although I can see that I’ve got to catch up on them.’ He goes on to say that he found this Hungarian folklore-tinged novel to be terrific, a comment I wholeheartedly agree with! Did I mention there’s a Boiled in Lead album, Songs from The Gypsy, for it? There is and Robert has the review here.

Warner leads off with the ablest entry in a long-running urban fantasy series: ‘The wonderful surprise announcement of Jim Butcher’s Battle Ground, the latest in the long-running Dresden Files series, was a wonderful surprise earlier in 2020. The newest volume, continuing quickly on from Peace Talks a few months ago, and the fact that volume ended on quite a cliffhanger only heightened the desire for Battle Ground. The published volume is a stunning book which alters the setting noticeably, and moves the narrative forward in unexpected ways.’

He has a bit of horror for us: ‘Joan Samson‘s The Auctioneer is the brilliant product of Joan Samson’s mind, a career and life cut terribly short. It is a story that depicts how the fear of change can lead to the worst kind. About a small community filled with fear of outsiders managing to destroy themselves and fail to notice the risks they truly face. It it’s an easy novel to recommend both to the horror and literary crowd, and the new Suntup edition promises to be gorgeous.’

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Joseph got to review Anthony Bourdain’s special edition programme of a visit to Iceland: ‘my favorite bar differs greatly from Iceland. In the winter, it gets more than four hours of day light. It does not serve smoked puffin, roasted sheep’s head, rotten shark, or sheep’s testicle loaf. And there is a distinct shortage of Viking related stories. But in No Reservations: Iceland Special Edition, Iceland fails not for being Iceland. It fails because Bourdain begins under the weather and ends with a hangover.’

Stacy has a tasty offering for us as well: ‘Filled with over 150 recipes, Patricia Wells’  The Paris Cookbook has something for everyone, from the beginning cook to the most skilled chef. Whether you want to spend a day creating a classic French feast or simply to add a Parisian accent to an upcoming meal, restaurant critic and author Patricia Wells makes it easy to add French flare to your cooking. Loaded with both classic and contemporary dishes, The Paris Cookbook deserves a spot on any foodie’s kitchen shelf. Clearly written with a wide range of courses and choices, what sets Wells latest book apart is its ability to transport the reader right to the streets of Paris.’

Denise has the perfect ending to a walk in the brisk weather: ‘I love books. I love music. I absolutely adore beer. And when the cool breezes start to blow, I need hot chocolate. It’s a requirement around here. So when I got some “TJ’s” cocoa in the mail, I rushed to my kitchen to brew up a pot of hot water. I really liked what happened next.’

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Richard looks at what is a now a “best beloved”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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Cat says ‘I’m not going to give anything away but will note that if you like Doctor Who, I think you’ll like Jodi Houser’s Doctor Who: A Tale of Two Time Lords, Vol. 1: A Little Help From My Friends. Her Doctors  are believable and the story is told very very well with the artwork good enough to carry her story excellently.’oak_leaf_fallen_colored2

As I promised, we’ve got a look at the music of Boiled in Lead. First, Cat has them live: ‘I’ve heard Boiled in Lead in person but one time, and that was twenty years ago when they played in a field one late summer. Lovely they were, and their live sound carries over very well to being recorded.The Well Below EP is an excellent look at them live with some rare material not recorded elsewhere. ’

Cat leads off our music reviews with a look at a recording from Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelly and Charlie Pilzer’s Hambo in the Barn: ‘Back in the twentieth century, a lot of Scandinavians relocated from Sweden and the surrounding countries to the upper Midwest where they became farmers and shopkeepers for the most part.  Naturally they brought both their instruments and their music with them. Not surprisingly, this music has persisted to this day which is why this lovely CD exists.’

Chuck looks at the first decade of Boiled of Lead: ‘The problem when writing about Boiled in Lead is how to describe them. Rock and Roll? Punk? Blues? Jazz? Traditional? Which tradition? They’ve done everything from Irish to Albanian to Vietnamese to American Traditional. Indeed, there have been few constants with the band. They’ve had three different lead singers and the same number of fiddlers. They’ve had dozens of musicians and singers backing them up on various tracks. About the only consistencies, besides their name and eclectic nature, have been Drew Miller on bass and the fact that the band has been based in Minneapolis.Part of the reason for Boiled in Lead’s variety is that they’ve gone through three distinct phases: one for each of the lead vocalists they’ve had. With Jane Dauphin in the lead (Boiled in Lead and Hotheads), the band primarily performed rocked-up Celtic tunes. With Todd Menton taking over the lead, the group played music from a large variety of ethnic traditions along with bizarre punkish side trips. The most recent version, with Adam Stemple at the head, has taken the band to a more blues-rock and American roots style.’

He also looks at Venus in Tweeds and A Whisky Kiss: ‘ Shooglenifty is far from the only band to put traditional and traditional style Celtic tunes over a rocked-up backing. However, they are one of the tightest and most inventive bands playing that fusion style. Based in Scotland, these are the only two CDs the band has put out so far, except for a live recording. However, their Web site indicates that they’re still active, having played venues as far flung as Malaysia, Cuba, and Chicago last year. As I said, “Farewell to Nigg” left me wanting more. Here’s hoping that they fulfil that wish very soon.’

Gary found some holiday music he likes, no mean feat for our resident Grinch. It is called Joyeux Noël, Bon Chrismeusse: A Holiday EP From South Louisiana. ‘This six-track EP puts a Cajun and Creole spin on some Christmas classics and tosses in some South Louisiana originals with a holiday theme, all done up in Acadian French with mostly traditional instruments.

Gary also found a tasty bit of winter holiday music from Norwegian accordionist Frode Haltli and his Avant Folk ensemble. They recently gathered to record “St. Morten,” a traditional Norwegian version of “The Twelve Days Of Christmas,” in a little church near Haltli’s home in Svartskog.

Gary continues his year-end list-making. This time around he shares with us some of his favorite jazz and experimental music of 2020.

Gary really likes this album of unaccompanied vocal music from the singers in the English big band The Unthanks. ‘Let me tell you, the first time I put Diversions Vol. 5 on the player, my hair stood on end and didn’t lay down again until these 13 songs were done, some three-quarters of an hour later.’

Gary has a tale about the long and twisted history of the song “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” including a link to a review he wrote here way back in 2001, and a new, dark version of the song by ‘Swedish gothic garage blues singer and guitarist Bror Gunnar Jansson’ whose video of it was released this year.

The Pandemic has killed almost a year’s worth of in-person music festivals, so I thought I share two reviews of the Cropredy Festival, the annual Fairport Convention led outing in August, which of course didn’t happen this year.

First is John’s look at the Festival: ”What We Did On Our Holidays’ was the title of Fairport Convention’s second album for Island records in 1969. To paraphrase said title a little, what I did this year on my holidays was go to Cropredy in Oxfordshire for ‘Fairport’s Cropredy Convention’. But it wasn’t for the first time. In fact this was my eighth trip to Cropredy in the last ten years. So I am by no means a ‘Cropredy Virgin’. While it was familiar this year, it was also different, and exciting for reasons that will be revealed in the course of this review.’

Lars has our other look: ‘The 2017 festival was something special, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the band. Every living past member had been invited to take part, and the tickets sold out two months in advance. Even the weather seemed to celebrate. There were a total of 40 minutes of light rain during the whole event, in spite of it having poured down earlier that week, and it was an enjoyable 20 degrees Centigrade with spots of sun every now and then. Perfect for good music and a few pints.’

Speaking of Fairport Convention, the group has had many a boxset in its over fifty-year existence and David looks at one of them in our final commentary this time, Fairport unCconventional: ‘Eleven lead singers, eleven lead guitarists, six fiddlers, seven drummers, five keyboard players, two bass players, four CDs, one 172 page book, a Family Tree from Pete Frame, a poster by Koen Hottentot, a history of Cropredy, some interesting loose papers and ads, a postcard for a 5th CD and a program from Martin Carthy’s birthday celebration! Whew! Does Free Reed know how to throw a party? Until further notice this box is the anthology of the year! Don’t miss it!’

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If you happen to be in Chicago, Robert has come up with a nice holiday outing for the family. The Field Museum is not very crowded these days, and do check the website to be sure it’s open — the pandemic is playing hob with the city’s attractions, but, all else being equal, take the kids to see the Museum’s exhibit, “What Is an Animal?”

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So let’s have some sweet sounding Celtic music to see us out on this cold, hairy morning. I think that the Irish trad group Altan’s ‘A Tune For Mairéad And Anna’ recorded at Folkadelphia Session some five years ago will do very nicely. Go ahead and listen to it as I’m off now to to have a slice of warm gingerbread with vanilla ice cream.

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