What’s New for the 17th of April: Gods, goddesses and ghosts, Gaiman, Crumb and Sacco, June Millington, Celtic Harp, Catalan Jazz, Georgiann Choral Music, Slovenian post-rock, chocolate, and more

There are no happy endings. There are no endings, happy or otherwise. We all have our own stories which are just part of the one Story that binds both this world and Faerie. Sometimes we step into each others stories, perhaps just for a few minutes, perhaps for years – and then we step out of them again. But all the while, the Story just goes on.” ― Charles deLint’s Dreams Underfoot

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Food often has a story attached to it, as does the chili prepared by Mrs. Ware and her excellent staff for for the eventide meal tonight. The beef in it is sourced from High Meadow Farm, the other proteins are beans and corn grown here, the chilis gifted to us by The Coyotes, an all-woman Celtic band from Arizona who stayed and played here a Winter past, and the exquisite spicing is … well what goes into the spicing is known by Gus, our Estate Head Gardener, but otherwise it’ll remains a secret to everyone save our Head Cook.

The Sleeping Hedgehog for August of 1880 says a traveller from the Southwest USA showed the Head Cook of the time how to make this chili. It’s been made every winter since and is always quite popular among everyone here. We added grated cheddar cheese to it when a neighbouring farming estate started up a cheesery between the Wars and we traded honey and other farm products for it.

Now let’s see what we’ve got for you this Edition…

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Andrea looks at an Appalachian-set tale: ‘Ghost Riders is the latest novel in Sharyn McCrumb’s “Ballad Series.” Ghost Riders is different from the others in the series in that there is no mystery (in the “mystery novel” sense of the word) to be solved. In the other books, the storyline goes back and forth between past and present, the stories linked sometimes obviously and sometimes tenuously. Usually in the “modern” story there is a mystery which the story in the past fleshes out or provides with a new insight. In Ghost Riders there are two separate tales from the past and a storyline set in the present. The narratives set in the past are linked by a chance meeting but still remain separate tales. One of these stories has a direct influence on the present. There are various characters, past and present, whose lives intertwine briefly in interesting and occasionally surprising ways.’

April was fascinated by Marija Gimbutas’s The Living Goddesses, in which the Lithuanian American academic outlined her controversial theories about goddess worship in prehistoric Europe. ‘Gimbutas has chosen a mix of Neolithic and Indo-European cultures to demonstrate the growth, assimilation, and eventual decline (but persistence) of the goddess in religion,’ April says. ‘Well written, and easy to read despite the richness and breadth of the material, this text is invaluable as an introduction to both Gimbutas and study of Neolithic goddess worship.’

Cat looks at the urban legend retold yet again, of a ghost girl asking for a ride home on the anniversary of her death: ‘Seanan McGuire decided to tell her own ghost story in Sparrow Hill Road which, like her novel Indexing, was originally a series of short stories published through The Edge of Propinquity, starting in January of 2010 and ending in December of that year. It appears they’ve been somewhat revised for this telling of her ghostly narrator’s tale but I can’t say how much as I’ve not read the original versions.’

David reviewed one of many biographies of Frank Zappa, Kevin Courrier’s Dangerous Kitchen. ‘Courrier has provided an eminently readable volume that covers every aspect of Zappa’s life. He covers the albums one song at a time; he provides brief biographies of all the musicians who came and went through Zappa’s bands. He is respectful, but maintains enough distance that the reader can still make up his or her own mind about Zappa’s achievements.’

Donna turned in a comprehensive review of two books of ancient history in the Islamic world, Hugh Kennedy’s When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World, and Justin Marozzi’s Tamerlane. ‘In many respects, these books complement each other in helping the reader gain an understanding of Central Asia and the Middle East during the Middle Ages. Of the two, I would say without hesitation that When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World has a much more scholarly foundation.’

Iain was, perhaps not surprisingly, favorably impressed by a critical study of Patricia McKillip, Audrey Isabel Taylor‘s Patricia A. McKillip and the Art of Fantasy World-Building: ‘We’ve reviewed damn near every book that Patricia A. Mckillip has published over the many decades she’s been writing. Indeed the editing team is updating the special edition we did on her so that it can be republished this Autumn, as many of us here think of her as befitting the Autumn season. And so it is that I’m reviewing what I think is the first academic work devoted to her.’

Jennifer takes a look at a series she wishes she’d discovered sooner, namely Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s Night Calls series: ‘Once in a while I find out I’ve missed something important in the book world, some classic that’s been out forever that I somehow never noticed when it was first published, something that turns out to be wonderful. Then once in a very great while I find something I wish I’d read thirty years before it was ever published.’

Michael put a lot of work into an omnibus review of several of the early installments of Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos series. ‘Over the course of ten volumes now, Steven Brust has charted the career of Vlad Taltos, skipping back and forth out of sequence to give us his beginnings, his endings, his rise and fall within the Jhereg organization. We’ve followed his progress through life and death, war and peace, prosperity and exile. And we’ve truly grown to know this extraordinary man, in his own words, through his own voice.’

Robert has a look at one of a series that has become rather more than a mere series. In this case, it’s Kage Baker’s The Machine’s Child: ‘What Baker is doing is putting together an extended mega-novel with all of time and all of humanity as its focus. By this stage of the game, it’s become something on the order of Wagnerian opera, but accomplished with characters and relationships rather than with musical leitmotifs.’

Stephen says of an Alan Garner work ,which is definitely aimed at adults, 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.’

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Jack had mixed feelings about a DVD featuring a concert by one of his favorite bands, Little Feat: ‘ …if you’re looking for a showcase for technical state of the art in DVD production, this isn’t it, as the video sucks and even the audio could be better in places. But if you’re in for a look at one of the coolest bands performing in concert ever, Little Feat: Rockpalast Live more than earns its chops.’

Now here’s a classic for spring! Mia reviewed Francis Ford Coppola’s film adaptation of the 1947 stage musical Finian’s Rainbow, with Fred Astaire in his last leading role. ‘Finian’s Rainbow is a particularly tricky movie to review. Is it a lighthearted musical romance? Or is it something deeper?’ she ponders. ‘The sweeping indictment of racism is more than enough reason for me to enjoy the film. The performances are uneven but enjoyable.’

Mia says she was obsessed with unicorns in 1986 when Ridley Scott’s Legend debuted on the big screen: ‘And so, when Ridley Scott and Universal produced a movie that featured unicorns, not to mention Tom Cruise fresh from his breakthrough in Risky Business, I and zillions of other young girls lined up to see a film that would surely become a fantasy classic.’ Read her review to find out what she thought about it.

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April has some chocolate cups for us: ‘Founded by Paul Newman’s daughter Nell in 1993, and once a division of Newman’s Own, Newman’s Own Organics has been a separate company since 2001. Its focus is, unsurprisingly, on certified organic foods. The company provides a limited range of organic snacks, beverages, olive oil, vinegar and pet foods. Up for review are three of the five varieties of chocolate cup candy available: dark chocolate with peanut butter, milk chocolate with peanut butter and dark chocolate with peppermint.’

Marcel Desaulniers’ Celebrate With Chocolate really pleased Mia: ‘This is one of the most sensually exciting cookbooks that I’ve ever had the pleasure of adding to my collection. Aside from being an accomplished chef and restauranteur, Desaulniers is a very fine writer. Celebrate With Chocolate is not just a collection of recipes, it’s a good read.’

Robert got a treat this week — Chocolat Frey’s Chocobloc Dark 72% with Honey-Almond Nougat: ‘Chocolat Frey AG was founded in 1887, and is presently the number one chocolate in the Swiss retail market. Like all good chocolatiers these days, Frey is environmentally and socially conscious, which extends not only to its procurement of raw materials, but to its conservation-minded manufacturing and shipping.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1April recommends Neil Gaiman’s slim YA graphic novel Odd and the Frost Giants: ‘It’s a delightful treat, though, as Gaiman’s characterizations of the denizens of Norse mythology are sharp and witty (the Frost Giant’s dismayed opinion of the lovely Freya’s true personality is particularly amusing) and anyone who’s ever felt out of place will identify with Odd’s coming of age.’

David had nothing but praise for the special edition of Joe Sacco’s Palestine: ‘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, like 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.’

David also reports back on Kafka, a graphic presentation of that author’s life and works. ‘Kafka is a brief, but fairly concise look at the Czech writer’s life and work. Robert Crumb provides the illustrations while David Mairowitz tells the story in text. The text is well-informed and blends biography with Kafka’s literary work, placed in context. This is a clever and eminently workable format. Especially if you believe, as these collaborators do, that Kafka’s fictions were images of his own life.’

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Chuck goes on a journey with Celtic harpist Jo Morrison to explore The Three Musics. ‘There is an air of scholarship about The Three Musics. Morrison has set out to describe an aspect – or, perhaps, a triad of aspects – of Celtic music and has succeeded in doing so. She could have done more explaining the three types of music in the liner notes. Nevertheless, she has not let the lesson overmatch the music and has created a fine recording in doing so.’

Chuck also reviewed Jo Morrison’s next album A Waulking Tour of Scotland, and he liked it a lot. ‘Inspired (and how!) by a tour of Scotland that Morrison took with her husband, she again brings together many other musicians to join her for a track or several. She includes a number of songs, as well as tunes, mostly sung in Scots Gaelic. By the way, waulking was the process by which people would soften cloth, usually tweed, by pounding it on a table. The waulking songs, several of which are included on this CD, were often used to keep the work from becoming tedious.’

Deborah found a lot more than nostalgia in Snapshots, a new album from June Millington, one of the founders of the rock group Fanny. ‘The range of styles on Snapshots is so diverse, I got whiplash in the best possible way. From classic high multi-layered harmony (no autotune here!) to early 80s echoes of David Bowie in “Grace,” to the hard-won and well-earned rage rap of “Eyes In The Back Of Our Heads” (more on this one shortly) to the pure Millington honesty and feminism of “Girls Don’t Dream (The Big Lie),” she jumps with an energy that, at six years her junior, I can only envy.’

Gary enthusiastically reviews Albat Alawi Op.99, from the Tel Aviv-based DIY band El Khat. ‘On the majestic “Ma’afan” we hear a tin drum setting the rhythm, joined by a bowed violin played by guest musician Elad Levi, known as the foremost Jewish violinist of Andalusian music. Then the rest of the ensemble joins in, its string-and-horn melody reminiscent of a Turkish court orchestra to my ears. The production, the vocals, the whole attitude, however, reminds me of ’80s Southwestern punk rock – Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Black Flag.’

Gary reviews the unique album called The Liquified Throne of Simplicity from the Slovenian trio Širom, which he liked quite a bit. ‘One of the features I like best is its utterly organic nature. Listeners might assume that some of the sounds made by this trio are electronic or synthesized, and in fact I did so myself. But everything is done on acoustic instruments, some of them invented and handmade, plus some non-vocal singing by Ana and Samo. And as far as I can tell there’s not much or any double-tracking going on, although perhaps some looping.’

Gary was intrigued by an album entitled bit by bit from Toronto singer-songwriter Evan J Cartwright, who’s better known as a drummer for various indie bands. ‘To his circular lyrics and experimental arrangements Cartwright adds the element of musique concrete (which seems to have become quite a thing this year), nestling these songs amid field recordings of birdsong, church bells and other ambient sounds he’s collected over the past few years of touring. They’re not random, either, but play into the album’s overall theme and structure.’

‘Catalan jazz, combining the blues-based American idiom with flamenco, is having a moment, and Manel Fortià is in the thick of it,’ Gary says of Arrels, the new album from Manel Fortià & Libérica. ‘The result is an exciting update for both jazz and flamenco, at least the way Fortià’s ensemble Libérica does it, mixing flamenco, folk songs and free jazz.’

‘Iberi is a Georgian men’s choir led by Buba Murgulia, a former rugby player and lifelong singer,’ Gary says. ‘That’s the Georgia the country, which coincidentally is in a region that’s very much on everybody’s minds right now.’ He gives a glowing review to the polyphonic singing on Iberi’s new release called Supra.

Some albums by “various artists” are better than others. Gary says I Am The Resurrection: A Tribute to John Fahey, is one of the better ones. ‘On first listen, what struck me is that nearly all of these musicians used a full band to capture what Fahey did with just his guitar. This approach could open up Fahey’s music for some folks, particularly those who wouldn’t sit down and listen to a whole album of guitar instrumentals.’

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Our What Not is an action figure who’s definitely not a hero: ‘As I noted on my review of the Lady Thor figure in this series, ‘No, I don’t collect that many of these figures, despite it seeming that I might, given the number of reviews I’ve written concerning them. Right now I’ve less than a handful of them, largely because I don’t find most of them all that interesting and some that I do find interesting are way overpriced, such as the female stars for the Game of Thrones. Seriously, sixty to a hundred dollars for a five point five inch tall figure is simply crazy!’ But occasionally a figure is both interesting and reasonably priced as we have here in Man-Thing.’

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So let’s have some lively music to finish out this edition. It’s a soundboard recording of Dervish at the Festate Chiasso in Switzerland nigh unto Summer Solstice in 2006 performing ‘Red Haired Mary’. You’ll be getting more cuts from that splendid concert as times goes by as the whole concert is a joy indeed.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: The Sleeper Under The Hill (A Letter to Ceinwen)

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Dear Ceinwen,

As a fellow librarian interested in all things mythopoeic, you’ll find this interesting.

This is the month that I’ve got the Several Annies studying a myth in depth, this one being that of The Sleeper Under the Hill. They started off by studying the myth of the king under the mountain or the sleeping hero, as it’s a prominent motif in mythology that is found in many folktales and legends. Arthur of course was believed to be taken away to the Isle of Avalon to sleep until he was needed by the people of Britain. Now, not all sleepers are Good. Loki was bound with cold iron by Odin after he caused the death of Baldr. With the onset of Ragnarök, Loki is to slip free and fight alongside the forces of the jötnar against the gods.

Now all of this was fairly dry and I could see that the dear lasses were not that interested in the subject, even though they loved Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, so I decided to have Jack take them out to a barrow mound several hours distant here on the Estate. So they got their warm clothes on, waxed up the skis, and had the Kitchen staff pack them a hearty lunch. I figured the combination of Jack and outdoor exercise would do them good. Besides, I had a curling match that I didn’t want to miss!

Our barrow mound is a small one, barely thirty feet long, but obviously not a natural feature. No archaeologist has dug into it, nor are we willing to let them do so, so the reality of what it is will not be known. The stories of what it is are all that matters. And given a thousand years of storytellers here, you can well imagine how interesting those stories are.

So Jack had them build a warming fire which they sat around as he told them tales of a long-dead King who defended his people until the enemy struck him down, though his army won the battle, won that long forgotten war, and whose Merlin, not our Merlin, put him to sleep under this barrow mound to sleep with his sword ’til his people need him again. A king who will sleep forever, as his people vanished from history into legend and finally into myth a very long time ago.

Just before they journeyed back, he rosined up his bow, drew a long note on his fiddle, and played ‘A Lament for a Sleeping King’, a mournful tune.

I can’t say that they dove into their studies with any more enthusiasm after their trip out there, so we moved on to another subject, Medieval music, with Catherine, my wife, as their tutor, and that does interest them.

Cheers,

Iain

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What’s New for the 3rd of April: Music-related fantasy literature, speculative fiction manga series, all things Natalie MacMaster, some jazz-dub-world music, transcultural jazz and Spanish accordion music, dragon puppets, and of course chocolate

People used to say, don’t you object to the title? And I said, well there are two of us. I had problems with ‘ladies’ because it sounds like a public convenience. But which bit do you object to? Are you saying I’m thin? — Clarissa Dickson Wright of the Two Fat Ladies whose DVD the late Kage Baker who greatly admired them reviewed here.

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1I have noted before that the Library on this Scottish Estate is just a few hundred feet away from the Kitchen, which is why you’re clearly smelling bacon wrapped roast duck with apple and onion stuffing being baked right now. It’s quite mouth watering, isn’t it? They’ll be our evening repast be later tonight along with roasted sweet potatoes and warm apple tarts with fresh churned Madagascar vanilla ice cream.

It’s still morning here, so there’s nothing quite like a freshly brewed pot of tea to get me going. I should know as I need at least two large mugs of tea before I’m fully awake. Not black though as I’ve a generous splash of Riverrun cream in my tea.

I once knew a well-regarded folk musician who started each morning with much more than a dram of Kilbeggan Irish whiskey. Seemed to suit him well for the coming day as far as anyone could tell. He once offer me and I accepted some of that excellent whiskey.

So I’m up in my Library office, a pot of  Darjeeling second blush tea at hand, putting together this edition and watching the rain lash heavily outside the window. I’m playing a live performance by Altan with you hearing ‘A Bhean Udaí Thall’ from a concert in Phoenix nearly thirty years ago.

Want to see what I’ve got this week? Of course you do.

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April says that James Hamilton’s Arthur Rackham: a Life with Illustrations ‘has been gorgeously reproduced here as an oversized softcover editing…Hamilton’s book is an excellent glimpse into the painter’s life for both fans and those unfamiliar with Rackham’s own special brand of whimsy.

The Vernal Equinox plays a role in this next book, which Cat reviewed. ‘This is a great book for fantasy lovers, but it will probably be most appreciated by those with a musical background,’ he says of Gael Baudino’s Gossamer Axe, which he notes ‘is clearly written by a musician. Indeed, under her stage name of Gael Kathryns, Gael Baudino is a concert harpist who also teach workshops, composes, and regularly writes for the Folk Harp journal. Gossamer Axe was an early work of hers, but while it may appear rather roughly written at first glance, it is still definitely worth the read.

Cat’s review of Baudino’s Gossamer Axe referenced his earlier review of George R.R. Martin’s The Armageddon Rag, which makes sense as they’re both fantasy novels that incorporate music into the plot; Martin uses an imagined ’60s band called the Nazgul. ‘Rock ‘n’ roll music from the Rolling Stones to Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix infuses the book as it pervaded that tragic period in American history. The author’s use of lyrics from real songs of the ’60s as chapter headings emphatically conveys a chillingly accurate sense of the ’60s, and the music credits in fact run for two pages in the hardcover edition.’

Gereg looks at a novel by Larry Kirwan, founder of the Black 47 band: ‘Pour yourself a cold one; put on a few old Horslips albums — not the mythic ones, the edgy ones about Irishmen sailing to Americay; steel yourself to endure some self-pity time with an emigrant version of Holden Caulfield who ‘s had a few too many himself . . . and you’re ready to settle down to Rockin’ the Bronx. The soundtrack helps the book go down the smoother, and for sure the good beer won’t hurt.’

Lory looks at what sounds like a very interesting book given its subject matter, Mark I. West’s A Children’s Literature Tour of Great Britain, but really wasn’t ‘tall interesting. Read her review to see why this was so.

Marian looks at a trilogy by Jane Yolen that deserves to be a classic. First up is ‘The Books of Great Alta  which is the compilation of Yolen’s two books in the series,  Sister Light, Sister Dark and White Jenna. It is the story of the women of Dale, who worship Great Alta, the mother goddess and what happens to them for better or worse.’ If you’ve read these already, then do read Marian’s review of  the final volume, The One-Armed Queen, but otherwise do not as it has major spoilers about what happens in the first two novels.

Richard has an intriguing thriller for us: ‘The reference that gets used most often to describe Dave Hutchinson’s Europe in Autumn is John le Carre. Now the sequel, Europe At Midnight has arrived and the comparison is even more apt. Like le Carre, Hutchinson excels at telling stories of espionage through quiet, human moments, only later revealing how those seemingly innocuous passages affected the larger whole. And like le Carre, Hutchinson punctuates his narratives with moments of unexpected violence that are all the more shocking because they feel so unlikely.’

Steven Brust, a musician himself, brings us, in collaboration with Megan Lindholm, The Gypsy, which — well, as Robert puts it: ‘There are three brothers who have become separated. They are the Raven, the Owl, and the Dove. Or perhaps they are Raymond, Daniel, and Charlie. They are probably Baroly, Hollo, and Csucskari. One plays the fiddle, one plays tambourine, and one has a knife with a purpose.’ There’s a lot more to it, of course, so check it out.

He also has a review of Brokedown Palace by Brust: ‘This is a novel, with all the elements that make a novel what it is. I’ve said before that I think Brust is one of the master stylists working in fantasy today, and this one only confirms that opinion. Even though Brust is describing fantastic things, his mode is realist narrative, and a very clean and spare narrative it is, although more poetic than most of his work. While his characteristically sardonic humor and his flair for irony are readily apparent, there is a magical feel to it, in the sense of things that cannot be, and perhaps should not be, explained.’

A classic leads in for Warner: ‘Peter Benchley’s Jaws is well remembered as a bestselling novel, and even more so as a film directed by Stephen Spielberg. In the past few years this book has gained a new significance for many people, making it more than understandable that a press like Suntup would put out a delightful edition.’ Read his review to discover that this edition is chock full of interviews and other really cool stuff befitting its high end cost.

A novel that will make some uncomfortable is next: ‘Andrea Hairston’s Redwood and Wildfire is a fascinating and strange piece of historical fantasy. While the concept of a fantasy relating to the early twentieth century entertainment world is not unusual, nor is the portrayal of the situations of marginalized people, this book represents an excellent mixing of both concepts.’

A bit of crime is up  next for Warner: ‘Dervla McTiernan’s The Murder Rule is a dark, disturbing and twisting thriller. Touching upon real life organizations such as the Innocence Project, this volume deals with the difficulties of investigation in an unusual manner and quickly draws in the reader. Based loosely upon an actual case tied to Michigan, this volume revises the setting and adds unusual layers of intrigue for real or fictitious crime stories.

Next up is a beloved author who died far too early: ‘John M. Ford was a well respected author among the speculative fiction set of his time. He also died young at the age of 49 years, and the legal oddities surrounding much of his work meant that for over a decade it remained largely out of print. While the return of older works to print was greatly appreciated, in Aspects readers get a work that was unpublished and indeed unfinished at the time of his passing.’

Zina ends our book reviews with Charles de Lint’s What The Mouse Found and Other Stories: ‘Ah — two of my favorite things, paired in one slim volume. (Sorry, I’ve always wanted to use the phrase “slim volume” somewhere.) Fairy tales and Charles de Lint. The postman dropped the package through the door this afternoon. Just a bit later, here I am at my computer. I couldn’t not read it right away, could I?’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Mia gave a high recommendation for three classic films from Studio Ghibli by Hayao Miyazaki: My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Princess Mononoke. ‘Even those who do not generally watch anime should give the work of Studio Ghibli a try. These are all beautiful films made to engage the mind, heart, and spirit of the viewer.’

Rachael was similarly effusive about Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. ‘Visually, it’s an exquisitely detailed, painterly film. Miyazaki’s incomparable style encompasses everything from comedy to pathos, from heartbreakingly beautiful vistas to sequences of Hitchcockian suspense, from the very Japanese mask of the No-Face spirit to a lamp post that might have stepped out of a Disney version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. A number of images, like a train running on the surface of the ocean, are pure magic.’

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April has some chocolate cups for us: ‘Founded by Paul Newman’s daughter Nell in 1993, and once a division of Newman’s Own, Newman’s Own Organics has been a separate company since 2001. Its focus is, unsurprisingly, on certified organic foods. The company provides a limited range of organic snacks, beverages, olive oil, vinegar and pet foods. Up for review are three of the five varieties of chocolate cup candy available: dark chocolate with peanut butter, milk chocolate with peanut butter and dark chocolate with peppermint.’

Robert got a treat this week – Chocolat Frey’s Chocobloc Dark 72% with Honey-Almond Nougat: ‘Chocolat Frey AG was founded in 1887, and is presently the number one chocolate in the Swiss retail market. Like all good chocolatiers these days, Frey is environmentally and socially conscious, which extends not only to its procurement of raw materials, but to its conservation-minded manufacturing and shipping.’

A trio of Trader Joe’s chocolates, to wit Super Dark Chocolate, Trader Joe’s Super Dark Chocolate with Almonds and Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Truffle are says Robert socially conscious: ‘ In the case of Trader Joe’s Organic Chocolates, this also includes certification by both the USDA and Quality Assurance International, and since organic chocolate is the product of a fairly limited group of producers, its almost guaranteed that the growers are getting fair, and probably premium prices. So, how does all that social consciousness taste?’ Read his insightful review here.

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1‘Comics and graphic novels have always had an affinity for the bizarre, surreal, fantastic, and otherwise otherworldly, and manga is no exception,’ Robert says. ‘Although many titles – probably most – deal with the here and now, many series take place in future universes, alternate historical universes, and sometimes even fairly standard fantasy universes.’ His three-part deep-dive into speculative manga takes us into some dark fantasy series, some heroic fantasy series, and some science fiction titles.

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Gary found a lot to like in the jazz-dub-world music of the Boston-based band Club d’Elf. ‘Fans of the jazz rock fusion of Miles Davis and Frank Zappa, and anyone who likes North African music but isn’t a purist about it, will find a lot to like on this sprawling set. Club d’Elf’s You Never Know is utterly amazing on first listen and offers depths that infinitely reward close attention.

Gary says ‘transcultural jazz’ is a good description of the music on fiddler Coloma Bertran’s second album Principis. ‘The disc opens with the title track that after a dramatic fiddle-and-tympani intro kicks into a blazing Celtic reel, which is interrupted for a brief interlude of sunny West Coast jazz meandering. That’s not the only Celtic style tune here. The penultimate track “Poeta De L’asfalt” has a similar kind of blend of styles. This one mixes up an Ashley MacIsaac style Celtic rocker complete with huge drum sound, with some more of that West Coast style light jazz.’

Gary enjoyed the music on Harmònic, an album of accordion music by Spanish composer and performer Pere Romaní and his eponymous trio. ‘The 12 tracks on Harmònic are split between solo tunes and those with the trio. They’re all pretty much dance tunes of one kind or another. And really, just listening to this album makes me miss folk dancing!’

The last week of March brought the sad news of the unexpected passing of Jim Miller, founding member of the roots jam band Donna the Buffalo and the alt-country western swing band Western Centuries. Chris Woods wrote about Donna the Buffalo’s first album here and their second album here, Gary wrote about them here. Gary reviewed all three of Western Centuries releases: Weight of the World, Songs From the Deluge, and Call the Captain.

From the archives, some of our extensive coverage of Cape Breton fiddler, step-dancer and singer Natalie MacMaster:

Chuck was wowed by Natalie’s In My Hands. ‘There are, by my quick count, about 40 musicians who contribute to this CD. However, with the exception of “Get Me Through December,” this is Natalie MacMaster’s show. And it is an incredible show with MacMaster demonstrating why she is one of the top Celtic fiddlers going today.’

Yours Truly finds Natalie showing her abilities in a lot of styles, Gary says. ‘This disc is a very nice example of the whole range of MacMaster’s music, from straight traditional Cape Breton to contemporary Celtic to some flat-out rock ‘n’ reel. She is joined by a cast of some of the biggest names in contemporary Celtic music, as well as some less well known musicians from Cape Breton with some very Nova Scotia names like Chiasson and MacIsaac.’

We can’t help but include this archival review by Gary of a concert called ‘Close to the Floor‘ at Celtic Colours International Festival in 2002, which included some MacMaster family connections. ‘Accompanists for the evening were Andrea Beaton on fiddle and her mother, Betty Lou Beaton, on piano. Betty Lou is the sister of Cape Breton’s favorite fiddler, Buddy MacMaster, which would make Andrea the cousin of the highly popular fiddler and step-dancer, Natalie MacMaster — who had just married another fiddler, Donnel Leahy, the week before the festival began.’

Kim reviewed one of Natalie’s earliest U.S. releases, an instrumental affair titled My Roots are Showing. ‘MacMaster’s playing is technically superb and infectious. She excels on the fast sets of jigs, hornpipes and reels that make up most of the album. I enjoyed all the numbers on this recording, but I would have liked to see the pace slow down in a few more places to give the outstanding dance numbers more distinction. I particularly enjoyed the set entitled “The Balmoral Highlanders,” beginning with a pipe tune of that name, and a set of hornpipes and reels entitled “Captain Keeler.” ‘

Fit as a Fiddle is Natalie’s first gold record, selling over 50,000 copies in Canada alone,’ Naomi tells us. ‘It contains 13 tracks and a total of 44 tunes, the majority of which are traditional … There are a large assortment of strathspeys, reels, and jigs, with a couple of airs, a march, a hornpipe, and a waltz added in. Natalie’s fiddling is incredible, no matter what style she is playing, and the entire disc is enjoyable.’

Pat reviewed Cape Breton Tradition, a rare CD release of fiddle tunes by Natalie’s uncle Buddy MacMaster. ‘Recorded in the relaxed environment of pianist Gordon MacLean’s living room, with daughter Mary Elizabeth MacMaster MacInnis at the keyboard, it is an object lesson in how to bring dance music to the recorded environment and make it work. No flash, no overdubs, nothing that doesn’t belong where it is – great tone and a beautiful relaxed rhythm.’

Rick was impressed with Natalie’s album Blueprint. ‘This collection of tunes is big in a lot of ways. It is big in sound, with a depth of tone that captures the essence of all of the instruments used (and believe me, she uses the entire range available to her). It is also a big step for the girl from Canada’s east coast to the world stage. She certainly has prepared herself well and is obviously ready to take her place at centre stage.’

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What Not comes courtesy of Mia who looks at four of Folkmanis’s creations, to wit Blue Dragon, Green Dragon, Three Headed Dragon, and Phoenix and she says, ‘Oooooh, shiny! I have a box of dragons here! Folkmanis makes the best puppets ever, and their dragons are some of the finest of their puppets.’

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If you visit me in the Library here,  you’ll very often find me listening to Celtic music of some sort, and more than not, it’ll be a soundboard recording of a performance by a band I like as I prefer live performances. So it is this week with Nova Scotian band Rawlins Cross performing ‘McPherson’s Lament’ at The Cohn in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the 18th of April 2009.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Breakfast for the Neverending Seesion players 

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Oatmeal drizzled with cream, rotund pork sausages sizzling with fat, eggs both simple and fancy, bread thick with butter and strawberry jam, scones with clotted cream, calves liver, bacon, lobscouse, crispbreads, tea, coffee, Turkish coffee…

At some point you stop playing and decide to get a breath of fresh air; there’re no windows in the Pub, you see, and, after Reynard goes to bed, the only light comes from the fireplace in winter after the candles burn down, guttering in brief spouts to smoke and dark, though he often leaves the gas lamps burning in other seasons — he used to try letting the musos sit and play in the dark, legend has it, but supposedly a few clumsy feet tripped somehow into the bar and several bottles were broken or at least emptied, so he started leaving lights.

Orange and grapefruit and cranberry and pomegranate juices, sausage patties steaming up fragrantly like a wish to the gods, sliced melons and fruit gleaming like jewels, mushrooms and onions sizzling in butter, buns and breads studded with berries and dusted with sugar…

You open the door, and, hey presto, there’s light. Damn. You’ve done it again, or perhaps rather the Neverending Session has done it for you again, you’ve gone and played through the night ’til the daylight, and now that you’ve seen the light of the sun creeping up into the sky, your body can’t make up its mind if it’s more tired or more hungry.

Crisp and golden potatoes, fried with onions and lots of pepper, omelettes stuffed with sour cream and spinach or asparagus or studded with bright squares of peppers, perfectly crisp toast ready to cut into soldiers to be dipped into that egg, and did I mention coffee?

Luckily, this is the Neverending Session, so this is Kinrowan Hall, and that means that any musician still able to stand and heigh themselves to the kitchen hall will find Mrs. Ware’s staff, crisply aproned and bright-eyed at an ungodly hour, serving a body all the breakfast it can eat before that body, now happily full, decides it’s had enough, and sleep becomes less of an option and more of a consequence…

Oatmeal drizzled with cream, fat pork sausages sizzling with fat, eggs both simple and fancy, bread thick with butter and strawberry jam, scones with clotted cream, calves liver, bacon, lobscouse, crispbreads, tea, coffee, Turkish coffee…

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What’s New for the 20th of March: Lots of Brian McNeill music, more UK TV, roots music from the US and Spain, some European jazz, Kim Stanley Robinson on the moon, Roger Zelazny, China Miéville, rowdy Americana, some boozy things, and more

Every good fiddler has a distinctive sound. No matter how many play the same tune, each can’t help but play it differently. Some might use an up stroke where another would a down. One might bow a series of quick single notes where another would play them all with one long draw of the bow. Some might play a double stop where others would a single string. If the listener’s ear was good enough, she could tell the difference. But you had to know the tunes, and the players, for the differences were minute. — Fiaina in Charles de Lint’s Drink Down the Moon

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Candlemas is well past which means Spring’s here. We marked Candlemas here not as a Church celebration but rather as the time when the days are noticeably longer. We’ve got a Several Annie by the name of Astrid, from Sweden, who initiated the present Estate residents into the tradition of St. Lucia’s Day.

Its been an unusually rough winter here with Gus, our Estate Head Gardener, suffering several broken ribs when one of our draft horses pinned him up against a stone wall. Not the horse’s fault, as he was startled by an owl swooping toward him. And our Head Cook, Mrs. Ware, has been away for a month as her daughter took ill and the grandchildren needed looking after. And the Pandemic has still kept us isolated from the rest of the world though hopefully that’s ending soon.

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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.’

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.

Cat leads off a review in this way: ‘If you started listening to audiobooks over the past ten or so years, considered yourself to be extremely lucky as you’re living in a true Golden Age where narration, production, and ease of useless is extremely good. But long ago, none of that was something you could take as a given as it most decidedly wasn’t.’ Now read his review of Roger Zelazny’s Isle of Dead to see if this older audiobook transcended these limitations.

Gary first takes a deep dive into Ancestral Night, the first volume in Elizabeth Bear’s White Space series. ‘I love a good space opera and Ancestral Night is a very good one. Bear mentions both C.J. Cherryh and Iain Banks in her Acknowledgments, and I definitely see traces of both those space opera forbears in this book’s themes and accoutrements.’

Gary reviews one of Kim Stanley Robinson’s most recent books, Red Moon, a near future SF tale set entirely on the Moon and in China. ‘Red Moon is a compelling novel, which you can say about many of Kim Stanley Robinson’s books. This book gives you a lot to think about when pondering the near future, especially what it might mean for life on Earth – politically, socially and economically – to have working colonies on the Moon.’

Grey likes this novel a lot: ‘Charles de Lint’s Medicine Road stands nicely on its own as a complete story, but longtime readers of de Lint will find the story enriched by former characters, bringing the flavor of their pasts with them: Laurel and Bess, obviously, but also Bettina from Forests of the Heart. De Lint also draws on imagery and myth from Terri Windling’s lovely novel, The Wood Wife, incorporating it into his own Arizonan landscape. It’s a delight to meet the “aunts and uncles” again, to feel their watching presence from the saguaro and other ancient rooted beings here.’

Iain 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.’

The Ides of Octember: A Pictorial Biblography of Roger Zelazny is, Iain notes, ‘a bibliography which was prepared as part of The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, a six volume undertaking, of which you’ll find the first volume, Threshold, reviewed here.’ Read his review on this bibliography which only diehard Zelazny fans or libraries with a strong  sf emphasis should consider buying, so quite naturally we have a copy.

Joel has a review of China Miéville intertwined cities as told in his Hugo winning The City & The City novel: ‘With acknowledgments to writers as diverse as Chandler, Kafka, and Kubin (to say nothing of Orwell), I don’t need to tell you this won’t be your typical detective story. But given this is Miéville, would you have really expected a typical anything?’

Lars has a review of Brian Hinton and Geoff Wall’s biography of Ashley Hutchings: The Guv’nor & the Rise of Folk Rock as Ashley helped birth both of those groups: ‘To some of us the subject of this book is, if not God, at least the musical equivalent to the pope. Name a group you like and have followed over the years, and there is a fair chance that Mr. Hutchings was there to start it, or at least influence the starting of it. He is in one way or another responsible for a very large number of the records in my collection, and yes, we are certainly talking three figures, here.’

Lenora gives an incisive review of Black Is the Colour of My True-love’s Heart, an Ellis Peters novel: ‘Originally published in 1967, ‘this is a book of music, of silence, of words; it has love, hate, and all their analogues. Myths and facts combine to wrap the storyline in a heavy cloak of authenticity. This is a story of high passion and cool deliberation; it dances through the morals and minds of another age and gives the reader a wide window into the world of folk music and ballad-singers.’

Robert says of Kate Wilhelm’s Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop  that ‘I was prepared to like this book just because of the publisher’s name — and, of course, the fact that it is by Kate Wilhelm, one of science fiction’s legends: aside from the quality of her stories, in the 1950s and 60s she was one of the two or three women of note in a field dominated by men. Being a writer-working-on-being-a-novelist, I am particularly drawn to books about the craft of writing, and to have one about the Clarion Writers’ Workshop drop into my lap was an unlooked-for gift.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1We have a couple of archival book reviews to accompany this week’s featured music selections from the catalog of Irish fiddler Brian McNeill – who’s also a published and popular author! What did our reviewers think of his early efforts? Well … first up, Cat reviews McNeill’s The Busker. ‘The bottom line is that I believe The Busker is a poorly written novel, but The Busker And The Devil’s Only Daughter CD that is the companion to this novel is a brilliant piece of music that one should hear if one loves Scottish folk music.’

Next, Deb took a crack at To Answer The Peacock, because she loved the companion CD. ‘I really, really wanted to be able to give this book the same unqualified praise that I’ve lavished on McNeill’s music; unfortunately, I cannot do that. Despite my reservations, however, I found the book interesting, since it’s set in places I have yet to go but would like to visit someday.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Cat binged on the U.K. television series A Mind to Kill, Series One, which is set and filmed in Wales. What’d he think? ‘A brilliant show, well-acted with an intelligent story and an engaged and talented cast, filmed on location. Perfect. I look forward to seeing the second series when Acorn releases it!’

What did Cat think about the U.K. television series Bonekickers? Funny you should ask. ‘It’s amazing how horrible it is given it came from the creators of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, two must-see shows. The storyline, which has a cliched Excalibur premise, is badly told and requires a leap of faith that even I who regularly read British fantasy couldn’t make; the dialogue is bad enough to make me want to rewrite it on the fly; and let’s not mention the back story that simply doesn’t hold together at all.

Liz reviewed Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, which she says combines elements of fairy tales and SF. ‘The film sets a plucky little robot, David, on a hero’s journey. During the course of David’s quest, the film examines the nature of humanity. What does it mean to be human? Is it having the right DNA? The ability to feel emotions? The ability to dream and imagine? The ability to die?’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1So let’s start off with American whisky. Gary looks at a detailed history of that drink: ‘I realize that movie Westerns are no longer the cultural touchstone they were for my generation, but I’m sure many of you have no trouble remembering a movie scene in which a cowboy walks into a saloon, orders a whiskey and the barkeep pours him one from a clear glass quart-size bottle. Maybe the cowboy even says “I’ll take the bottle” and heads for a table. Sorry, but it probably didn’t happen that way. Like so many other historical details, the makers of Westerns probably got that one wrong, or so implies Reid Mitenbuler in his lucid book Bourbon Empire.’

Next up is more whisky. The late Iain Banks, best known for his Culture novels such as The Hydrogen Sonata and Surface Detail, decided to ask his publisher for money to sample the smaller whiskey distilleries in Scotland. The resulting book, Raw Spirit: In Search of The Perfect Dram was given a rave review by our Cornish-based Michael, who aptly notes that ‘This review was written over Hogmanay, 2003, under the influence of Ardbeg and Glenmorangie Port-Wood Finish, both of which, I’m delighted to report, meet with the approval of Mr Banks.’

Something boozy gets reviewed by Robert now to finish off this section: ‘Trader Joe’s Assortment of Boozy Little Chocolate Truffles seems to be a seasonal item, which is possibly why they’re not listed on the Trader Joe’s website, which in turn is why I’m not able to provide any background information. Trader Joe’s, of course, is the national grocery chain that’s hip, fun, and offers a lot of things you can’t find elsewhere, with an emphasis on natural ingredients, all offered under the “Trader Joe’s” brand.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1It’s not exactly a graphic novel, but April applauds Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman as ‘a thorough examination of Gaiman’s body of work. Actually, thorough is an understatement; Wagner, Golden and Bissette have compiled 500 plus pages of information about Gaiman, his diverse output and its impact. Prince of Stories is both a treasure trove for fans and a bibliography extraordinaire up to and including 2008’s Graveyard Book.’

Richard says Camelot 3000 was a comics ‘landmark’ in the 1980s and remains so today. ‘The first finite run “maxi-series” DC published, it explored territory that, in the early ’80s, was not common ground for any mainstream comic book: gender roles and sexuality, the morality of treatment of prisoners and the ultimate self-sacrifice. All of this was wrapped up in a rollicking science fantasy tale of King Arthur and his knights coming back to save Earth from an alien invasion secretly sponsored by the dread Morgan Le Fay.’

Richard says the GraphicAudio presentation of Batman: The Stone King has some problems. ‘It would be foolish to think that there’s no way to do a good audio play of Batman material. After all, of all of the major comic book heroes, he has the most in common with The Shadow, and Lamont Cranston certainly ruled the airwaves for long enough. But The Stone King is a graphic novel trying to be a novel trying to be an audiobook of a radio play, and as such, it’s best skipped.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1‘This is such a joyous album,’ Gary says of Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves’ second album Hurricane Clarice. ‘By which I mean that few things give me more joy than to see and hear each new generation mastering traditional music and making it their own. Allison de Groot and Tatiana Hargreaves bring their family traditions and history, the art and literature that inspires them and everything else in their young lives to this music, and continue the tradition of making the old new with each generation.’

‘How much more is there left to lose?’ Gary says, ‘That’s a good summary of the spirit of this eponymous album born of the fortuitous conjoining of two of the greatest underground bands on the globe – alt-country outliers Freakwater and U.K. punk cum Americana rabble rousers Mekons. If you’re spoiling for a good bit of pro-union, pro-worker, pro-environment musical mayhem, you’re in the right place with Freakons.’

Gary instantly recognized the sound of Stefan Aeby Trio’s Fairy Circus, but he says the music seems a bit less “graceful” than past excursions. ‘The third track, for instance, is called ” The Wolves Are Waiting” and it can’t help but remind me of the unsettled feeling I live with constantly due to the war currently going on in this German and Swiss trio’s back yard, as it were.’

‘It’s a lovely album with a strong Mediterranean vibe, alternately sunny and melancholy – and sometimes both at once,’ Gary says of Almalé’s Hixa Mía. ‘It’s a sound based in ancient music – medieval, Renaissance and baroque – but with a host of modern influences, all kept close to their roots. No pernicious dancehall beats creep in here.’

From the archives, our extensive coverage of Scottish fiddler Brian McNeill:

Everyone loves McNeill’s liner notes including Cat, who reviewed his collaboration with Tom McDonagh, Horses for Courses. ‘I can’t possibly tell the story of the tunes and songs on the CD as well as Brian does in his two page essay in the liner notes. (He notes Horses for Courses is in part inspired by a disasterous race, the English Grand National, when everything went wrong!)’

Cat was quite pleased with an album by a Danish group with a nifty name, which McNeill had a hand in as well. ‘I consider Brian McNeill to be one of the finest musicians ever. And now it turns out that he’s a truly great producer too! Bothwell, the second CD by Danish group Drones & Bellows was produced by Brian and bears more than a passing resemblence to many albums he was released under his own appellation.’

Deb Skolnik discovered McNeill as a solo artist with his CD No Gods, and she found it much to her liking from the get-go. ‘Skirling bagpipes and a full horn section at a furious pace preface the vocals to the title song (also the first track on the album), which debunks the “all the ridiculous, over-romanticised baggage of Scottish history.” What good are the “heroes” like Bonnie Prince Charlie, asks McNeill, when so many of the present-day Scots still live a hand-to-mouth existence?’

Deb reviewed a McNeill CD that is a companion to his first novel: ‘… McNeill is not only an accomplished musician and songwriter, he is an author too, and The Busker And The Devil’s Only Daughter is the companion CD to the first of his two novels about Alex Fraser, a busker. (The other novel is titled To Answer The Peacock.) The liner notes are a story about McNeill and Fraser, written as if Fraser is more than a fictional construct. Who knows? Perhaps he is …’

Deb says she doesn’t usually care for all-instrumental albums unless they’re classical, but she makes an eception for McNeill’s To Answer The Peacock. ‘McNeill’s relationship with his music is so personal and so honest, it sometimes feels like eavesdropping into his soul to listen to him play. But since he’s recorded these for us to hear, I guess he doesn’t mind. McNeill coaxes warm, rich tones the color of rosin out of his fiddle, and he plays with such honesty and emotion that it is impossible not to be moved when you listen to this album.’

Deb also reviewed McNeill’s The Back o’ the North Wind, a concept album of sorts. ‘Subtitled “Tales of the Scots in America,” this fine collection of songs and tunes is inspired by Scots men and women, some you probably have heard of, and some you likely have not, all of whom found their way to North America. Some wound up in Canada, some wound up in the United States but all have been immortalized in music by McNeill, on this CD and in a stage show based on it (or perhaps it’s the other way round).’

Donna provides us with an omnibus review of some of McNeill’s more recent recordings including The Baltic tae Byzantium, The Crew o’ the Copenhagen (with Drones & Bellows), and The Road Never Questions. ‘I would be hard pressed to tell you which of these would be your best bet if you had to pick one, I would say you can’t go wrong with any.  This is the kind of quality Scottish music for which Brian McNeill has long been known and revered.’

 

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Our What Not comes courtesy of Pamela Dean, who was asked what her favourite ballad was: ‘As I went through all the Child ballads when I was trying to think of a frame for Juniper, Gentian, & Rosemary, and the only other remotely feminist ballad I could find was ‘Riddles Wisely Expounded,’ which is not nearly as active for the young woman as ‘Tam Lin’ is. Well, there is the one where a young woman ransoms her guy and says, ‘The blood had flowed upon the green afore I lost my laddie,’ which is nice, but all she does is take all her money and hand it over.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Let’s go out with some music from Brian McNeill performing “Trains and My Grandfather” performed at  the Music Star in Norderstedt, German on the eleventh of November, 2016. The song was recorded on No Gods.

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A Kinrowan Estate Tale: A Restless Queen

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It was late at night when the green-cloaked storyteller told her tale. ‘ “Turning and turning in the widening gyre,” ‘ she said softly, quoting Yeats, ‘ “The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; The center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

‘The Queen knew that all was lost — her kingdom, her people, even her gods were gone. Nothing had survived in a war that ended with the Queen and her opposite, the King, fighting each other on a battlefield of bones, of blood, of the smell of chaos itself.’

She went on, ‘Though they cut each other deep, oftimes to very bone, neither could die as their mutual hate kept them from dying. And the land itself died just a bit more with each blow that landed from their swords.’ She took a deep drink of our Autumn ale and continued, ‘Eventually the king dealt a blow from his broadsword that cleaved her left arm off. That didn’t kill her, but she cried for mercy and he granted it, so long as she left the Kingdom never to return. She did, and like a restless spirit, wanders the land looking for peace.’

She finished her drink and with her only arm fastened her cloak tightly about her before she left us wondering how history becomes legend and legend gives way to myth and eventually drifts through our lives like fog.

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What’s New for the 6th of March: lots of Ian McDonald, Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, new Norwegian and Belgian music, The Men They Couldn’t Hang, and of course chocolate

That had been a little more than forty years past. Fatma was born into the world al-Jahiz left behind: a world transformed by magic and the supernatural.  ― P. Djèlí Clark’s A Dead Djinn in Cairo

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Cat says for some time he’s been looking forward to a full length novel in P. Djèlí Clark’s Dead Djinn series set in an early 1900s alternative Cairo where magic has returned to the world. It’s now here in A Master of Djinn, which Cat enjoyed on audio. ‘Now let me be clear that this is a pulp story with a heroine who has her own sidekick and truly deliciously evil antagonists. The story starts fast, gets faster and never slows down.’

Drawing Down The Moon: The Art of Charles Vess is is an exhibition catalogue for a show that should’ve been for someone who’s illustrated such works as Seven Wild Sisters and The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, a favourite of mine. Let’s have Charles explain why I believe this: ‘All you need to do is flip through the book to realize that when it comes to traditional fairy, folk tale and fantasy art, there are few artists who do it better than Vess.’

Chuck notes that ‘I figure this much: Ian McDonald’s Desolation Road starts with a green man crossing the desert, so this has to be the perfect book for Green Man Review. OK, the book calls him a “greenperson,” and the desert is on a Mars of the future, transformed by mankind’s effort, but you get the idea. Trailing this greenperson is Dr. Alimantando. He comes to a place along a railroad, where, almost accidentally, he settles and starts the community that he names Desolation Road. Soon after, more people begin arriving and, in short order, the community becomes a village, a city, a war zone and a ghost-town — all within 23 Martian years. That’s the story.’

Gary says the Istanbul of Ian McDonald’s near-future novel The Dervish House is rather like what our own world could be very soon: ‘…hotter, more crowded, with an even starker divide between rich and poor, and teeming with technology. … It’s also brimming with Anatolian spirits that sometimes seem indistinguishable from the effects of nano-technology.’

The novel Gary looks at in this review is set in a richly imagined future India, Ian Mcdonald’s River of Gods. And it’s a bloody good read as well: ‘You can hold whole universes in your hand, between the covers. And as with those old faery tales, you need to pay attention to books like River of Gods. They contain important truths, hidden inside entertaining stories.’

Gary found the latest book by Kim Stanley Robinson to be thought-provoking and hard to put down. He says Robinson is ” …a curious creature who loves strenuous minimalist backpacking in the High Sierra and attending scientific conferences and symposia that most mortals would find stultifyingly dull. He often combines aspects of those things in his fiction, and he does so again very effectively in The Ministry for the Future.’

Another Ian Macdonald novel garners this comment from Grey: ‘Today, I picked up King of Morning, Queen of Day again just to refresh my memory before writing this review. After all, it doesn’t do to refer to a book’s main character as Jennifer if her name is actually Jessica. But my quick brush-up turned into a day-long marathon of fully-engaged, all-out reading. I’ve been on the edge of my seat, I’ve been moved to tears, I’ve laughed, I’ve marked passages that I want to quote.’

Kestrell reviewed a nonfiction book about detective fiction in the mid-20th Century: ‘Making the Detective Story American is relatively clear and concise (excluding the index, the book totals under two hundred and twenty pages), with most of the work accessible to the general reader, although an interest in the cultural critics and literary lions of the early twentieth century is helpful.

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

Next we have A.A. Milne’s The Red House Mystery, a classic English manor house novel that gets a looked by Lory: ‘The story is not really a “whodunit” — the “who” is pretty clear from the outset — the question is “how” and, even more, “why” he did it, and Milne keeps us guessing until the end. The plausibility of the solution is not one that would hold up to heavy scrutiny, but the pleasure lies not in the verisimilitude of the puzzle but in the ingenuity of its construction and unravelling, and the witty repartee among the characters.’

Down the decades, we’ve reviewed most everything Patricia McKillip has published, so it’s only fitting that we finish off this time with a review by Richard of her latest book: ‘With Dreams of Distant Shores, Patricia A. McKillip delivers something that is not quite your typical short story collection. While the point of entry is a series of shorter pieces, the collection builds to and is anchored by the lengthy novella “Something Rich and Strange”, with an essay on writing high fantasy orthogonal to the usual tropes. The book then ends with appreciation of McKillip’s work (and the stories in the collection) by Peter S. Beagle, an elegant coda to a warm, thought-provoking collection.’

Richard finishes off our reviews with at an Ian MacDonald novel which is set in the same reality as Desolation Road  and has a cautionary note as his first words: ‘You will know whether you will love or hate Ares Express long before you have finished the first chapter. The litmus test is very simple: what is your reaction to the name of the main character. If you find Sweetness Octave Glorious-Honeybun Assim Engineer 12th to be painfully twee or flat-out incomprehensible, then you will hate this book.’

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David was moved by Los Zafiros: Music From the Edge of Time, a documentary that traced the history of a long-lost Cuban singing group. ‘Los Zafiros was filmed beautifully by Thomas Ackerman, the island of Cuba providing a perfect setting for the cinematographer’s art. Producer and director Lorenzo DeStefano did a marvelous job in balancing the archival with the new, and the whole team has created a stunning work of art. It stands as a brilliant tribute to an extraordinary group of musicians, to an exotic and exciting country, to an era that existed on the edge of time.’

Donna provides a comprehensive review of a BBC multiseason drama: ‘The House of Eliott was the creative child of Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh, who also created Upstairs, Downstairs. Like its long-running and acclaimed predecessor, The House of Eliott portrays a particular period in British history with a lot of attention to relationships between people of different social classes.’

Sarah highly recommends a blast from the past, Ralph Bakshi’s animated fantasy Wizards. ‘In the end, Wizards is a cult film. Like other cult films, it’s not necessarily perfect, but it is always energetic. The small budget is often grievously obvious, and the plot is simplistic at best, but Eleanor shows more personality in five minutes than the average Disney heroine in an entire movie. If you need your fantasy sleek and pretty, this probably isn’t the film for you.’

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April starts our chocolate review off with a look at three tasty bars: ‘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.’

Carletti’s Jakobsen Coffee Time chocolate collection pleased Denise: ‘Danish chocolates?Don’t mind if I do! Especially when the package itself gives me a great excuse to indulge. Coffee time? Yes please! And while these chocolates would go great with coffee, I had mine with a stout, and then a mug of green tea. I was pleased.’

Robert has a single source chocolate for us: ‘Lolli & Pops Madagascar Sambirano comes in a flat 2-ounce bar, with a lightly incised pattern and company logo on the front, but no scoring deep enough to break the bar into bit-size pieces. It’s certainly worth sampling — if you can find it. Apparently Lolli & Pops, which has been largely a boutique confectioner with outlets in shopping malls, has been forced to closed a number of stores. So, happy hunting.’

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April enjoyed Kazu Kibuishi’s Flight Explorer: Volume 1, a spinoff of his children’s anthology Flight. ‘Overall, Flight Explorer is well-drawn and is poignant, action-packed and humorous by turns. While some of the stories are clearly geared for children, some of the stories, such as those by Kazu, Parker and Hamaker, will likely appeal to readers of all ages …’

Richard found the first installment of John Ridley’s The American Way didn’t quite live up to its potential. Still, it’s an intriguing concept: ‘The American Way is set against the backdrop of an alternate Sixties, when a government program to create superheroes for propaganda purposes (the uninspiringly named Civil Defense Corps) starts hitting its first inevitable hiccups.’

Robert lost his ambivalence toward Alan Moore’s work with his The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Century: 1910. ‘Frankly, the plot, while layered and complex enough to be interesting in itself, is probably the least interesting part of this story. Most of the fun is making the connections between the story and the characters who show up in it.’

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Gary reviews Janus, the latest offering from Annbjørg Lien, the highly esteemed Norwegian Hardanger fiddler. ‘This album was inspired by her relationship with Setesdal, a valley in the Agder district of southern Norway that is known as the cradle of Norwegian folk traditions. She looks back at this inspiring tradition and forward as she undertakes to update the traditions through her own creative lens. Musically it’s a mix of traditional tunes, traditional style music with modern arrangements and instrumentation, and some singer-songwriter folk that leans toward Americana.’

Gary also reports back on an eclectic album of sea songs and shanties arranged as solo electric guitar explorations, Shane Parish’s Liverpool. ‘These densely layered and looped recordings in many ways capture the wildness of the sea and the anxiety that must constantly haunt the human hearts of those who work upon it, particularly in fragile wooden craft, doing incredibly hard labor in harsh, uncomfortable conditions.’

Gary reviews the new music on Linde by the Norwegian trio Slagr, who play cello, hardanger fiddle, vibes and glass harp, also called tuned water glasses. ‘With strong ties to folk motifs, structures like European chamber music, and a colorful sound palette that evokes the cold north as well as the the equatorial regions that give us gamelan and marimba music, Slagr’s music is a timeless antidote to our fixation on immediate gratification and scattered attention.’

Gary reviews a re-release of an influential album of Irish folk music, Andy Irvine & Paul Brady’s self-titled record from 1976. ‘From the first strains of the opening track “Plains Of Kildare” it’s clear that this is a special record. Dónal Lunny’s bouzouki, Andy Irvine’s mandolin and Paul Brady’s guitar lay down a rhythmic bed over which Irvine’s sturdy tenor vocals take turns with Kevin Burke’s fiddle in this very Irish reworking of the tale of the racehorse Stewball.’

Gary also reviews what he says is an album of calming music from Belgian guitarist Ruben Machtelinckx and Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen. ‘A Short Story apparently is the result of the first meeting between these two musicians. Guitar and trumpet isn’t a very common pairing, and the two use their extraordinary collaborative skills to great effect on a dozen tracks – all succinct, with only one coming in over 4 minutes. No pyrotechnics, no guitar shredding or fancy fretwork, just quiet, focused experiments in tones, textures and colors.’

Our archives contain a wealth of reviews of the hard-hitting English folk-rock band The Men They Couldn’t Hang, so we’ve put together a sampler.

Cat, in his review of two discs of Demos & Rarities and one EP, addresses the comparisons between TMTCH and the Pogues: ‘If I had to pick out one difference between the Pogues (whom I dearly love) and The Men They Couldn’t Hang, it is that the latter did not fall to the excesses of drink and other substances that the former did, to their considerable ruin. Like the Oysterband, they are one of those rare bands that one wishes there were more of – quite decent blokes who can write great music, play their instruments without too much ego, and make lovely recordings.’

Cat reviews three rare CDs from some side projects of The Men They Couldn’t Hang: two live recordings by Odgers & Simmonds and Liberty Cage’s Sleep of the Just. ‘Over the years, I’ve collected some twenty TMTCH CDs, both full-length and EPs, in their full-band mode and in the form of these side projects. All are great, all are worth the considerable hassle it would take to acquire them these days.

Cat also reviewed a ‘solo’ project by Phil ‘Swill’ Odgers, Doh, Ray, Me-Me-Me-Me-Me. ‘Swill does all the music and arrangements on this recording — something that he does very, very well. The ‘stripped down’ sound here allows everything to be heard perfectly — every word of the lyrics, the flawless playing of instruments by the musicians, and the considerable vocal talents of Swill, which make for one of the best listening experiences I’ve had in a long, long time.

Chuck reviews three albums that trace the early evolution of The Men They Couldn’t Hang: Night of a Thousand Candles, Silvertown, and The Domino Club. ‘These three albums do not comprise the entire oeuvre of The Men They Couldn’t Hang. What they do show is a band that changed in five years from a punk-folk to a more traditional rock ‘n’ roll style. All three are solid productions, with Silvertown standing out as the best of this bunch.’

Gary reviewed Cherry Red Jukebox. ‘Since reuniting in 1996 after a five-year hiatus, The Men They Couldn’t Hang have proven that rock isn’t just a young men’s game or a freak-show Rolling Stones-style circus. Mature fellows with some real life experience have something to say, and they can still by god rawk when they say it. So hold that lighter high and sing along with ’em.’

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

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Let’s have something warm and sprightly for our music this time. Hmmm… ‘Kashmir’ by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant will do nicely! It was recorded  apparently thirty three years ago, possibly at Glastonbury but I wouldn’t bet the farm on how truthful that is. It’s definitely a lovely take by them on this Moroccan influenced work.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Porridge

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Englishman Dr. Samuel Johnson’s dictionary once slammed porridge, 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 as I have it 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 of the remote Highlands. Since those beginnings centuries ago, it has spread as a result of Scottish emigration to kitchens way beyond the Highlands. 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 liked 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.

Iain says he once ate it with smoked salmon and Gouda as a four a.m. meal while helping Gus, our Estate Gardener, watching the ewes during spring lambing. He said was quite filling and went nicely with strongly brewed Darjeeling tea.

So what’s your favourite way to have porridge?

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What’s New for 20th of February: Bill Willingham’s Fables, world music guides, blues, jazz, British and Eurasian music, Joni Mitchell reading Yeats, radio plays, and of course chocolate

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

W.B. Yeats’ “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”

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So what’s that libation with the lovely aroma that I’m drinking with my breakfast of a just baked cinnamon bun? That’s Glögg (pronounced glug), the Swedish version of mulled wine. Yeah mulled wine for breakfast. (I am not an alcoholic. Really I’m not.  But then I’d say that, wouldn’t I?)  Glögg is made of fortified wine and spiced with citrus, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and ginger. It’s been simmering all morning long up in the Estate Kitchen, which is a level up and some hundred feet from here.

Breakfast was waiting for me as I came up the stairs to the Kitchen. Canadian bacon sizzling in its pan, cheddar buttermilk biscuits warm in their basket, eggs ready to be cooked however I want them and coffee standing ready to poured. Mind you it was noon when I sort of graced the Kitchen staff with my presence but it’d been a long night as we’re hosting a curling tournament and they do love to drink so I assisted Finch, my associate Pub manager, and we all worked late into the night.

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Walter Jon Williams’ Deep State gets a review by Cat as he notes Dagmar Shaw is once again in trouble in this series: ‘So now she finds herself trying to keep Great Big Idea, the ARG running company, afloat. Not an uneasy task given she’s an über geek, not an über money person. All of which explains how she ends up in yet another unstable country, Turkey this time, running an ARG just as those Generals decide to throw out those democratically elected leaders, a situation that has played itself out before in that both young and very old state.’

Last Night’s Fun: In and Out of Time with Irish Music pleased Chuck who tells us what’s about: ‘Ciaran Carson is an Irish poet and musician, who has, in Last Night’s Fun, put together a series of writings, each inspired by a traditional tune. In most cases, these are short essays. For others, he has written poetry or put together sets of quotations. Occasionally the subjects in consecutive chapters are directly related, but that is most likely happenstance.’

Looking for a guide to essential jazz or Latin music? David reviewed the Rough Guides books on those topics in their 100 Essential CDs series: ‘Books like this can be read front to back or they can be dipped into – flip here, scan there. They can be used as shopping lists (and they are small enough to fit into your pocket) when you browse the CD racks. They can be used to spark discussion and debate. Start your own list. You may not be the expert these authors are, but you know what you like.’

Gary says the Istanbul of Ian McDonald’s near-future novel The Dervish House is rather like what our own world could be very soon: ‘…hotter, more crowded, with an even starker divide between rich and poor, and teeming with technology. … It’s also brimming with Anatolian spirits that sometimes seem indistinguishable from the effects of nano-technology.’

Gary reviews a new science fiction release, Gareth L. Powell’s Stars and Bones. ‘British SF author Powell has begun a new series called Continuance with the action-packed <i>Stars and Bones</i>. It’s packed not just with action but with some intriguing ideas. Powell has created a universe, an FTL travel concept, and a timeline for Earth and its people that are unique among space operas, which is no mean feat.’

Jack does a thorough omnibus review of some printed guides to folk and world music, and tosses in some words about a humongous opera reference book. Regarding the folk and world guides, he says: ‘I recommend you take your spare halfpennies and buy both of the musicHound guides. Skip the two volumes of The Rough Guide to World Music unless you’re seriously into studying world music from a genre or regional basis. But do buy these volumes if you are seriously interested in knowing everything there is about traditional and sometimes not so traditional world music, as these are the best general overviews of the subject on the market today.’

Judith recommends Gail Holst-Warhaft’s Road To Rembetika to anyone wanting to learn about the history of this Greek folk music. The most striking property of Road To Rembetika is not that Holst gives a respectable history of rembetika, but that she does so with the passion and quirky writing style of an Australian woman enraptured with the Mediterranean, suspended between two worlds. Dr. Holst is an adjunct professor in Classics at Cornell, and, though her prose is adequately scholarly, you could imagine her writing travel articles about cafės in southern France.

Kim says a book called World Music: The Basics by Richard O. Nidel is pretty good, as far as it goes: ‘It would make a great gift for a young person with a love of music but no idea where to begin learning about it. It might also stimulate their interest in history and politics, which are so inextricably linked with so much of the music covered in this volume. Older readers accustomed to more sophisticated prose and even a smattering of world history or strong opinions on some of the regions covered here will be frustrated, but it is unlikely the book was written for them anyway! The Basics is just that, and succeeds partly because its ambitions are modest.’

Paul says ‘Greta Kelly’s The Seventh Queen completes her duology, with an often traditional fantasy narrative, once again putting its titular heroine into a Deadly Decadent Court, but with her life on the line, as well as her Kingdom.’

Reynard has a look at Harry Long’s The Waltons Guide to Irish Music: ‘The subtitle of this book is “A Comprehensive A-Z Guide to Irish and Celtic Music in All Its Forms” and for once this is an accurate statement. It is indeed an indispensable guide to Irish music in all its varied facets.’

Robert notes that the Ottoman Empire included a dizzying array of peoples and traditions, which necessarily led to a less-than-monolithic culture, as outlined in Suraiya Faroqhi’s Subjects of the Sultan: ‘In many ways it is a dizzying survey: Faroqhi’s coverage is extensive, the very richness of the subject is somewhat daunting, and the fascinating sidebars she explores almost lead to severe input overload — but I didn’t care. (She even devotes a section to cooking and dinner parties, and how many “cultural histories” do that?)’

A more historic and political perspective is found in a pair of books, Suraiya Faroqhi’s The Ottoman Empire and the World Around It and Handan Nezir Akmeşe’s The Birth of Modern Turkey: The Ottoman Military and the March to World War I. Says Robert: ‘The Ottoman Empire and its successor, modern Turkey, have time and again played an important role in European politics, and yet there are vanishingly few sources in English to bring us the viewpoint of the Turks themselves, or, indeed, to focus on the Anatolian peninsula as other than an adjunct to the doings of European states. Addressing that lack is one of the aims of two recent histories.’

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April has some chocolate cups for us: ‘Founded by Paul Newman’s daughter Nell in 1993, and once a division of Newman’s Own, Newman’s Own Organics has been a separate company since 2001. Its focus is, unsurprisingly, on certified organic foods. The company provides a limited range of organic snacks, beverages, olive oil, vinegar and pet foods. Up for review are three of the five varieties of chocolate cup candy available: dark chocolate with peanut butter, milk chocolate with peanut butter and dark chocolate with peppermint.’

Carletti’s Jakobsen Coffee Time chocolate collection pleased Denise: ‘ Danish chocolates? Don’t mind if I do! Especially when the package itself gives me a great excuse to indulge. Coffee time? Yes please! And while these chocolates would go great with coffee, I had mine with a stout, and then a mug of green tea. I was pleased.’  Read her detailed reviews for all the sweet notes.

A trio of Trader Joe’s chocolates, to wit Super Dark Chocolate, Super Dark Chocolate with Almonds and Dark Chocolate Truffle are, says Robert, socially conscious: ‘ In the case of Trader Joe’s Organic Chocolates, this also includes certification by both the USDA and Quality Assurance International, and since organic chocolate is the product of a fairly limited group of producers, its almost guaranteed that the growers are getting fair, and probably premium prices. So, how does all that social consciousness taste?’ Read his review here.

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A rummage through the archives turned up a trove of writings about Bill Willingham’s splendid Fables graphic novel series:

We begin with April’s thorough look at Fables Volumes 3, 4, and 5, Storybook Love, March of the Wooden Soldiers, and The Mean Seasons: ‘Willingham continues to produce witty, sharp dialog and compelling characters as he guides the story ever closer to an inevitable clash with The Adversary. It’s very handy that as the cast of characters grows, each volume includes pages at the beginning with pictures and brief bios of the key players. And while the art varies from story to story, in both style and quality, it remains consistently serviceable for the story. I can offer no higher praise than to say that the instant I finished The Mean Seasons, I went online looking for Volume 6: Homelands, to devour, which was not available for another six months or so (much to my dismay).’

April reviews two more volumes of  Fables, Volume 6: Homelands, and Volume 7: Arabian Nights (and Days). ‘Though not as compelling as earlier volumes, Arabian Nights still has significant details that further the overall story and reveal teasing hints about various characters.’

Next she reviews a slightly different volume of the Fables series, Sons of Empire: ‘In this ninth installment in the ongoing Fables series, Bill Willingham is back in top form, delivering solid character development and intriguing plot in spades. A mix of multi-part and one-shot stories, Sons of Empire introduces new characters and provides insight into the lives of others while driving the over-arching story forward.’

April makes a startling claim for another of Willingham’s Fables volumes: ‘When a series is as consistently excellent as Fables, it can be extremely difficult to decide which is the finest issue or volume. However, The Good Prince, the tenth volume, certainly makes a strong case for itself as the best of the best.’

Regarding Willingham’s twelfth volume of Fables, The Dark Ages, April says: ‘Willingham proves in this arc that there’s not only life still in his marvelous creation, but a whole new realm of possibilities. The writing and art remain top-notch and the story as riveting. It remains to be seen what will become of the new, if not necessarily improved, Fabletown; the overcrowded Farm; the splintering Empire and everyone involved. No doubt the ride will be bumpy for all involved, but worth every bruise!’

Finally, April was disappointed with a volume that combined threads from three series within the larger Fables universe: ‘The Great Fables Crossover takes place entirely within the Fables universe, pulling together characters and plot threads from the Fables, Jack of Fables and The Literals series. … The Great Fables Crossover is mildly entertaining, a diversion from the larger Fables’ story, but best enjoyed by enthusiasts who have read the related series.’

Richard reviewed a couple of volumes in Willingham’s Fables offshoot series Jack of Fables: The (Nearly) Great Escape, and Jack of Hearts. ‘Jack is cocky, brash, self-centered to the point of obnoxiousness, and just good enough to pull it off. Depending on how that sort of protagonist rubs you, that means any book detailing his adventures is either a) a hoot and a holler or b) an exercise in grinding away your irreplaceable tooth enamel as the smartass – who no doubt bears an uncanny resemblance to someone you really, really hated in elementary school – gets away with murder because he’s so damn charming.’

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Big Earl reviewed three discs of Mongolian music from the Swiss label Face Music: ‘This is sort of a full circle review for yours truly. My first review (my “audition,” if you will) for Green Man was Tsagaan Sar’s White Moon, a disc of music from Mongolia. And now I have some more glorious Mongolian discs to share with you, courtesy of the fine folks at Face Music. I recommend you hunt these discs out, even if your listening tastes aren’t especially esoteric, as you will find some of the most incredible music produced on this planet.’

Big Earl was less enthusiastic about four CDs of music from former Soviet lands. ‘These four discs are marred by an almost too clinical style. While these are musical styles that are often celebratory and jovial, the performances are almost uniformly stiff, stoic and a bit severe. Whatever reverence these artists have for the music they are performing is overshadowed by the overly formal workouts these songs get.’

Cat really liked a very oddly titled CD by an oddly titled group, Swill’s Doh, Ray, Me-Me-Me-Me-Me: ‘I eagerly look forward to seeing what certain artists will do next. Swill, one of the founders of The Men They Couldn’t Hang, is one of those artists. Nothing Swill has done has ever been less than superb, and Doh, Ray, Me-Me-Me-Me-Me is certainly no exception! My only complaint is that it is a mere seven cuts long, as it’s the EP of an album still to be released! Damn!’

Charles rhapsodized over the massive box set from Topic Records, Three Score & Ten: A Voice to the People: 70 Years of the Oldest Independent Record Label in Great Britain. ‘I can’t think of a better introduction to the music of the British Isles than this collection. The only down side I see is that, if you don’t already have the original albums from which these sample tracks were culled, you’re going to want to go out and track down many of the full albums. And that will hurt your wallet. But your ears and your heart, they will thank you for it.’

David compares and contrasts three blues CDs: Michael Jerome Browne’s Michael Jerome Browne, Ruthie Foster’s Runaway Soul, and various artists’ Shout, Sister, Shout!: A Tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe. ‘Three CDs, each coming from that part of our musical geography known as the blues. The fan, the next generation, the descendents, the originator. Only three chords … but stir in a heaping helping of soul and you’ve really got something. Take your pick: there’s something worthwhile on each of these CDs.’

Gary was ‘smitten’ with an album entitled Hárr by Benedicte Maurseth. ‘It’s doubly true that Benedicte Maurseth is a Hardanger fiddler. She plays the hardanger fiddle, and she is from the western Norwegian district of Hardanger. Her latest album Hárr is an homage to the wildlife and mountain people of her home region, where she has spent a lot of time hiking in the subarctic landscape of Maurset in Eidfjord, near Hardangervidda National Park.’

Gary reviews Song Dust, a jazz trio album by Norwegian trumpeter Karl Strømme. ‘An easy comparison to Strømme is Chet Baker, in both his often airy tonal quality and his phrasing and material. He emphasizes that here with the opening track, the standard “Nature Boy,” which he presents quite naturally and freely, with only minor embellishments from bass and guitar behind his trumpet lines. But elsewhere he follows his own path, particularly in his penchant for playing trumpet and synth lines simultaneously.’

Gary has many nice things to say about an album called Good Time Music from Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra, a New York jazz ensemble: ‘This album, the second installment in the four album set called Community Music from Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra, has its roots all over America. From Levon Helms’ Midnight Rambles in Woodstock, N.Y., to the streets and clubs of New Orleans, to the R&B, blues and jazz of Ray Charles, and of course the Big Apple jazz community, it’s all there in the pot.’

Gary reviewed several discs that collect traditional music of Central Asia plus one from Armenia. ‘Many parts of Asia have only recently been opened to the West. Many of these lands have for much of the past several centuries been under the sway of huge empires – the Ottomans, Tsarist Russia, the Mongols, ancient and modern China, the Soviet Union. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the beginnings of the opening of China, we’re seeing and hearing new sights and sounds from these lands. This collection of CDs dips a proverbial toe into those waters.’

Patrick revels in the funk of Dr. John’s Creole Moon. ‘His bourbon growl gives his music a distinct flavor that says, instantly, “Dr. John.” And no bad aftertaste, either. It’s smooth like sandpaper, soft like steel wool. And piano? He’s one of the few who plays a piano the way it should be played: with a vengeance. No tickling the ivories here.’

Richard reviewed The Rough Guide to Chicago Blues, which took him back to his earlier days as a young music fan. ‘Suddenly there we were, white kids growing up in post-World War Two England, steeped in the music of Chicago’s Southside, pestering record stores for obscure recordings by Black musicians destined initially for the North American “race” market; i.e., the relatively prosperous (anyway, prosperous enough to buy records) urban African Americans whose music this was, and many of whom lived in Chicago.’

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This week’s What Not comes from Jennifer, who has adored ZBS Media‘s crazy, musical, funny, melodramatic radio plays for decades. All their stuff is full of rich zen conundrums illustrated with fart-o-matic subtlety, and also with kindness and charm and silliness. ZBS revels in the best traditions of old-timey radio plays, in those days before tee-vee. Give ’em a listen!

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In August twenty four years ago, Joni Mitchell did something unusual — she covered “‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’ word for word. No idea why, but it is quite brilliant. It was recorded at Max Yasgur’s Farm in Bethel, New York. Yes, the place where Woodstock had taken place.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Central European creature comforts

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Jack Merry here. If you’ve got a bit of time to spare, I could use your help! Remember me mentioning a couple of weeks ago that the fellow violinists in the Huddled Masses Violin Ensemble (at their reunion somewhere in central Europe) insisted on giving Bela, our resident Balkan violinist, lots of ‘creature comforts’? And that he shipped them back here via the Orient Express? Well, they arrived en masse this week… It took the porters at the station hours to load them onto the delivery van and bring them to our offices. Large crates with scribbling in languages long forgotten, casks of ale from breweries once thought mythical, and other goodies that made the kitchen staff literally weep with joy. But now it’s time to inventory all of it, so grab the clipboard and pen over there and I’ll start telling you what we got…

Besides Barack pálinka, a Hungarian apricot brandy, here’s two crates of Velkopopovicky kozel, a wonderful award-winning Czech beer that goes well with the Czech traditional eventide meal of roasted pork, cabbage and dumplings. Bela raved about it. Ahhh, nice — note that several bottles of a Lithuanian vodka (Baalta) are here too. And I see some very good Retsiona over here.

Moving on from libations… Looks like this box was carefully packed to avoid jarring the contents in transit. What’s here? Cooking chocolate. And not just any cooking chocolate, but French Le Noir Gastronomie, a bittersweet chocolate that our baker will use in making cheesecake! Speaking of cheese, I see several large jars of a traditional Hungarian Liptauer cheese spread. Yummm! Hmmm… Smell the garlic? That’s from the Hungarian kolbasz in this basket — heavy on garlic and paprika. Look, even better: kovbasa, spicy Ukranian sausage patties! Those should be good… perhaps in a hearty soup.

We’d better sample the Velkopopovicky kozel… And I thought there was more lekvar, but I don’t see it…

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