Welcome to the Samhain edition of Folk Tales. As always, we bring you the finest reviews of books, music, and live performances that you'll find anywhere.
Your must-read review this week is Grey Walker's perspicuous review of Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series. This series -- based upon the Welsh myth cycle called The Mabinogion, and the writings of Robert Graves -- is a cracking good read to be savored upon a cold midwinter's night. Not surprisingly, Grey garners an Excellence in Writing Award for this review! If you're interested in a great set of English folktales, look at April Gutierrez's appraisal of E. Nesbit's English Fairy Tales, a collection that April says will "not only bring back some fond memories, but introduce you to some unfamiliar but similarly endearing tales."
Our other work of fiction is Marian McHugh's review of Neil Gaiman's Day of the Dead: an Annotated Babylon 5 Script. Neil's a favorite of the GMR staff -- We have also reviewed his Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett); Neverwhere; and Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions, an anthology of short stories and other neat things.
Our music reviews this week cover a wide range of genres. On the Celtic Traditions front, Chuck Lipsig reviews the new Battlefield Band CD Leaving Friday Harbor, while Michael Hunter looks at the Australia-only release of Steeleye Span's A Rare Collection 1972-1996 which showcases this English group very nicely, and Jack B. Merry examines Still No Bagpipes, a release by the Swedish band of the same name -- an album firmly in both the English and Celtic traditions!
Meanwhile, Brendan Foreman begins his exploration of Central European music with a look at Gypsy Jazz, an album from Kalman Balogh and the Gypsy Cimbalom Band. This is truly great stuff, with more violinists than one dares count! And Lars Nilsson -- a member of the aforementioned Still No Bagpipes -- looks at Western Wall/The Tucson Sessions, an album by country music legends Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris that Lars says "will grow on you through repeated listenings and become a gentle friend of yours."
Wrapping up our music reviews are two looks at two singer-songwriters. Michael Jones opines that Pete Ham's Golder's Green is "a great album" and a "trip down memory lane, visiting to an era when music was magical and you made it or not on the power of performance, rather than the validity of music videos." On the other hand, Rebecca Swain says Paul Kahn's These Ears and Eyes is not the best CD she's ever heard.
Rounding out this edition are two live performance reviews -- one from each side of the Atlantic Ocean. Chris Woods wins an Excellence in Writing Award for his detailed look at a sort of reunion of the Incredible String Band as he reviews a concert by ISBers Robin Williamson and Clive Palmer. And Gary Whitehouse who reviewed Kelly Joe Phelps' Shine Eyed Mister Zen attended a concert by him at the Aladdin Theater in Gary's hometown of Portland, Oregon. Gary says " If Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil so he could play the guitar, Kelly Joe Phelps must have mortgaged off his own, and those of his children and grandchildren for several generations to come." Read the review to see why Kelly Joe Phelps is a true American musical genius.
All things Celtic remain the core of this magazine, which is demonstrated in the number of Celtic-related reviews this week. Our main emphasis as regards Celtim material is books this edition. First up is our review of Ciaran Carson's Last Night's Fun: In and Out of Time with Irish Music, a book described by Chuck Lipsig as "a book as enchanting as the music that inspired it." Chuck wins an Excellence in Writng Award for this review. Next up is Laurie Thayer's review of Nigel Pennick's The Sacred World of the Celts: An Illustrated Guide to Celtic Spirituality and Mythology. Laurie notes The Sacred World of the Celts " is a gorgeous book and I recommend it, but remember to take some of it with a grain of salt." Meanwhile, Rebecca Swain looks at two Celtic spirituality books: Stuart Piggott's The Druids and John Sharkey's Celtic Mysteries. Rebecca suggests "both books are interesting and informative and give insight into the culture of the mysterious Celts."
Chris Woods has written a superb review of Irish musician Paul Brady's Nobody Knows - The Best of Paul Brady. Chris has "no hesitation whatsoever about recommending this album to anyone wanting to explore Paul Brady's material. Indeed, anyone wanting to 'discover' a new artist to enjoy on the mainstream edge of the folk spectrum would be well advised to give this selection a listen."
And Chuck Lipsig, our Celtic Editor, begins his monthly look at all things Celtic in in his new column ...And Reels? This column is a must for any serious fan of Celtic music and culture.
Brendan Foreman gives us a detailed look at Peter D. Goldsmith's Making People's Music: Moe Asch and Folkways Records. Asch made a name for himself recording such American legends as Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Mary Lou Williams, and Pete Seeger, and associating with (also often clashing with) ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, music promoter John Hammond, and American poet Langston Hughes. Check out this review to hear the full story of this remarkable book.
Jayme Lynn Blaschke treats us to another of his book folk interviews. Up this time is Kristine Kathryn Rusch, former editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (for which she won the Hugo Award for best editor in 1994), and well-known fantasy author.
Jazz is the most American of musical genres, and Brendan Foreman gives us a review of From Spirituals to Swing. This three-volume CD set is a re-issue of an earlier recording of a pair of concerts called "From Spirituals to Swing," at Carnegie Hall in 1938 and 1939. If you are interested in the Golden Age of Jazz, check out this review! Brendan also looks at the superb new CD from Jay Ungar and Molly Mason that's called Harvest Home: Music For All Seasons. He says "this is an amazing CD that manages not only to pay tribute to the rural style of life but the entire field of American traditional music as well."
Next up are reviews of two singer-songerwriter CDs: Jon Dee Graham's Summerland and Rod MacDonald's Into The Blue. Gary Whitehouse believes that Jon Dee Graham has written and recorded an album of mature, hopeful roots rock, whereas Rebecca thinks Rod MacDonald "has created quiet songs" worth seeking out.
Brendan Foreman has reviewed yet another of the Rough Guides to Music that the World Music Network has released: The Rough Guide to Brazil. Brendan notes this is "a remarkable CD whose richness and variety only comes with multiple listens." A review of Tsagaan Sar's White Moon (Traditional and Popular Music from Mongolia comes from Big Earl Sellar, one of two new staff members. (Big Earl is also our first reviewer from Canada.) He thinks "the gentle melodies, heart-felt singing, and other-worldliness of the music of this disc give it immediate appeal to anyone interested in seeing what other cultures create in their desire to sing the stories of their people." Richard Condon, our other new staffer, gives us a detailed look at the new Waterson-Carthy album Broken Ground, an album Richard adores. Richard gets a well-deserved Excellence in Writng Award for this review!
Rounding out this edition are two live performance reviews: Jeff Skolnik's look at BC & The Blues Crew at the Bluebird Blues Festival, and Colleen Campbell's incisive examination of the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Colleen garners an Excellence in Writng Award for this thoughtful look at a major folk festival.
If you listen very carefully, you'll hear the sound of bagpipes in the distance. That's the Dead Heroes of Culloden band ushering in our first two Master Reviewers to the Great Hall for their initiation ceremony. Seriously, we have created a new category of reviewers to honor those individuals who clearly have demonstrated that their ability to write well-written, thoughtful reviews in a timely manner, and who willingly take on extra work when we need them to do so. The other criteria is their ability to get along with Editors in the give-and-take process of getting an article ready for publication.
Our first two Master Reviewers meet these criteria with flying colors: Michael M. Jones and Gary Whitehouse. Gary Whitehouse, who has been with us but a short time, has turned out reviews so good that each is a joy to read. And Michael M. Jones has not only turned out reviews that are as good as Gary's, but he has also recently volunteered to join our behind-the-scenes editorial staff as a much-needed proofer.
The ability to write excellent reviews with such a short turn-around time is a distinguishing hallmark for attaining Master Reviewer status, in case anyone else wants to grab for the brass ring. But all of you are an extremely talented bunch of writers, and we're really proud to have you on the staff. We think we've got the best reviewers out there! Thanks to you all for your continued efforts on Folk Tales' behalf. As has been said so many times before -- we couldn't do it without each and every one of you! You all bring your unique viewpoints, knowledge, and talents to us and we are very grateful for them indeed.
And finally, we'd also like to especially commend April Gutierrez for her tireless behind-the-scenes work in both the Web site redesign and also volunteering to help us with the proofing, as well as continuing to write her own very fine reviews. Thanks, April -- for taking on these jobs cheerfully and speedily.
We're back... A week off to do the behind-the-scenes work needed to keep this the finest folk review magazine on the web doesn't mean that our writers slack off, which means that we've got our largest edition ever this week.
Let's start off with fiction. Marian McHugh reviews Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's Sirens and Other Daemon Lovers erotic anthology. Marian notes that "these anthologies are slowly reintroducing the short story to mainstream readers who are tiring of those epic trilogies and just enjoy a story that can be completed in one sitting. I highly recommend this anthology to all readers." A more classic example of fantasy fiction is reviewed by Rebecca Swain, our top-notch Book Editor, in her look at Ursula K. Leguin's The Earthsea Trilogy. Rebecca correctly notes "Earthsea is a place to be visited again and again to find hope for our real world." Rebecca wins an Excellence in Writing Award for this well-written review!
Our final fiction review is Michael Jones' look at Jane Yolen and Li Ming's Merlin and the Dragons -- suffice it to say that this review is so good that the Editor is sending Michael a poster of the cover art signed by Jane Yolen! Michael also wins an Excellence in Writing Award for this review!
April Gutierrez has blessed us with reviews of two Celtic folklore books: Jeffrey Gantz's Early Irish Myths and Sagas, and Ella Young's Celtic Wonder Tales. April notes that these are "two books, one focus, two complementary views."
Folk Tales has always been graced with reviewers who like music-related books. Jack B. Merry leads off with a look at The Literary Dead -- that long, strange trip it's been for those writers trying to capture the experience of the Grateful Dead on paper. All of the books here are recommended reads which is not the case with Craig Morrison's Go Cat Go! Rockabilly Music and Its Makers, a book Gary Whitehouse notes is "fatally flawed." Check out his review to see why. (Folk Tales takes pride in allowing its writers to say a poorly cooked haggis is something to be avoided at all costs. If it's poorly done, we'll tell you!) On the other hand, Brendan Foreman thinks Richard D. Smith's Bluegrass: An Informal Guide is "good for a beginner to have a place to start exploring a newly discovered music form."
Jack's band, The Dead Heroes of Culloden, isn't touring right now, and his Celtic Music concert series hasn't started up yet, so he's gracing us with more reviews than usual. In an odd addition to the English Traditions section, Jack has a detailed examination of Jethro Tull's Songs From The Wood, an album firmly grounded in the folkways of Britain! Lars Nelson has graced us with a review of David Hughes' This Other Eden , an album Lars hopes will take him from being a cult figure for Fairport Convention fans to an internationally respected writer, singer and guitar player. And this review will hopefully get David to buy him a pint the next time they meet!
Chuck Lipsig notes that writing about Boiled in Lead is difficult. He comments "The problem when writing about Boiled in Lead is how to describe them. Rock and Roll? Punk? Blues? Jazz? Traditional? Which tradition? They've done everything from Irish to Albanian to Vietnamese to American Traditional." Check out his comments in his The Essential Boiled in Lead article to how he unravels the complicated tale of this group. This article wins Chuck an Excellence in Writing Award.
Brendan Foreman has turned in a cracking good review of Custer LaRue's retrospective Ballads. LaRue, Brendan says "combines so well the emotion and power of the folk musician with the erudition and discipline of one who is classically trained."
As always, we have a number of Celtic music reviews. Jayme Lynn Blaschke treats us to a review of SixMileBridge's Across the Water, a nifty Texas group who Jayme expects will be picked up by a major label before too long. Patrick O'Donnell, our newest reviewer, believes Donald's Dog, an album by Irish group Kinnell that Patrick notes "Kinnell is certainly on the right road, and Donald's Dog leads the pack." Not so for A Retrospective 1974-1993, an anthology from Newfoundland group Figgy Duff. Chuck Lipsig, our Celtic Editor, thinks that, while there are some excellent tracks from early in the band's career, you should only listen to the entire CD if you have a morbid curiosity in observing artistic collapse.. On the other hand, Lars Nilsson thinks that Patrick Street's Live from Patrick Street is "an exciting album, well worth purchasing, both for the already converted and those interested in making a first acquaintance with one of the finest forces in Irish music today."
Patrick also reviews Tarras' Rising CD -- an album that is, as Patrick notes, " a solid work by a solid band that promises great things in the future."
Have I noted lately that we have one of the finest Jazz reviewers I've ever had the pleasure to read in Danny Cohen? Check out his review of Mel Powell's The Best Things In Life to see why I believe that! This album was originally produced by jazz promoter John Hammond. Next week, be sure to check out our review of another Hammond venture, recordings of the legendary 1938 and 1939 Carnegie Hall concerts called From Spirituals to Swing.
Good things come in small packages, as Gary Whitehouse notes in reviewing Bocephus King's CD A small good thing. Bocephus King is a young roots-rocker from Vancouver, Canada, whom Gary believes show great promise.
Michael Jones thinks Julie Adams is -- and I quote at length from his review -- "...(a) voice is to die for. That's all I have to say about it. It's downright impressive just how easily she can switch from a country tempo to a jazz beat to a soulful croon, and make it sound completely natural. Julie Adams is the sort of vocalist who can write her own ticket in any style or manner she likes. Whether she's hitting the high notes or going low to sing that song just for the listener, she's never out of place and never manages to hit a bad note." Read the rest of his review of Julie Adams and the Rhino Boys' I Don't Mind Walking CD to see why he thinks she's so bloody good.
Another fine singer-songwriter is Deborah Holland. Rebecca Swain found her The Book of Survival CD to be "very enjoyable and well-performed." Likewise, April Gutierrez found Cry Cry Cry by Cry Cry Cry (ok, it's really Dar Williams, Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky) to be successful because it had "the wondrous voices of Williams, Shindell and Kaplansky, whether alone or in harmonious concert. Each and every song is beautifully sung, a needed reminder of the power of good, strong vocals in an age of heavy studio mixing."
The Rough Guide to the Music of Portugal (reviewed by Brendan Foreman) is "a beautiful surprise" well-worth seeking out for anyone with even a slight interest in world music.
I've been looking over the upcoming edition which will be our largest ever. I'm continually delighted how wide-ranging the interests of our reviewers are! For example, book reviews will include a comprehensive look at the Earthsea trilogy, reviews of books about Rockabilly and bluegrass music, and a look at The Literary Dead -- that long, strange trip it's been for those writers trying to capture the experience of the Grateful Dead on paper. Music reviews will include our usual overview of the best in Celtic music, and other reviews covering everything from the folk rock of Jethro Tull to the cool Jazz of Mel Powell. Check out the new edition on Sunday afternoon!
It must be the time of year that the record companies release a multitude of releases as we've had nearly fifty CDs arrive in the past week. Of course, all of it is good material, but let me single out some exceptionally noteworthy releases that crossed the desk here. Playing as I write these notes is otherworld, the new Lunasa CD. Lunasa is a cracking Irish band that is good enough for me to say that you should buy this CD now. The other Green Linnet release you should get now is the world's room, the new Old Blind Dogs CD that has a superb new vocalist in Jim Malcolm, and a piper by the name of Rory Campbell that ranks among the best. In addition, we got Celtic releases in this batch from Sandy Breachin, Cherish the Ladies, Deaf Shephherd, Eileen Ivers, Jonny Harie & Gavin Marwick, Loreena McKennitt, Llan de Cubel, Hamish Moore, Shooglenifty, Storm, and Robin Williamson.
That is not to say that other genres are not represented as well in this batch of CDs! I see releases from such performers as Peter Bellamy, Continental Drifters, Marshall Crenshaw, Darmadar, flk, Mickey Hart, Jydask Pa Naesen, John McCutcheon, Murmurii, nidi d'arac, Oysterband, Dick Powell, Rattlers, Red Clay Ramblers, Reptile Orchestra Band, Sorten Muld, Taberna Mylcensis, June Tabor, and Toshi Reagon. And we have collections of Balkan, Calypso, Celtic, Nordic, and Swing music awaiting review. You certainly can look forward to many fine reviews to read as this century wanes!
First up this edition is an Excellence in Editing Award to Debbie Skolnik and Rebecca Swain for their work behind the scenes in making sure we have the best proofed magazine bar none. Thanks for your hard work Debbie and Rebecca!
Effective this morning, Folk Tales has a search engine allowing you to find exactly what you want to in this magazine. Dale Darling at Digilogic was the designer of this superb search engine.
As usual we have excellent reviews of Celtic material this time. (Watch for our end of the year edition that will feature a wrap-up of the best Celtic releases of the year. That edition will also feature a comprehensive examination of the seminal multiple CD release, The Songs of Robert Burns.) Our first Excellence in Writing Award goes to Chuck Lipsig and Jack B. Merry for their review of Francis James Child's English and Scottish Popular Ballads, the source of ballads such as "Tam Lin" and "Twa Corbies". Read their review to see why you should hunt down this elusive item! Laurie Thayer has reviewed for us Breanda'n Breathnach's Folk Music and Dances of Ireland, a book she thinks "is not recommended for the newcomer to the field of Irish traditional music; novices would find it extremely intimidating. Experts, on the other hand, would probably find the wealth of information included herein very helpful." Last up in the Celtic book review department is James G. Leyburn's The Scotch-Irish: A Social History, a publication that Rebecca Swain observes is for "anyone of Scotch-Irish descent interested in the real history of this group... ...a must-read."
If you'd rather listen than read, we have a cracking good review by No'am Newman of Kevin Burke's In Concert, an album that attempts to capture the feel of a live session. On the other hand, Michael Jones explores the Celtic nature of Kathryn Tickell and Friends' The Northumberland Collection. Michael wins an Excellence in Writing Award for his examination of the CD which draws from both Scottish and English traditions -- appropriate enough given the border-straddling nature of the Northumberland region!
One of the strengths of Folk Tales is we don't simply throw a review up and leave it there. Because of that policy, Grey Walker has garnered an Excellence in Writing Award for her revamped review of The Little Country, a Charles de Lint novel that the author dedicated to "...all those traditional musicians who, wittingly or unwittingly, but with great good skill, still seek to recapture that first music." This lovely novel is set in Cornwall, and Billy Pigg, an actual Northumbrian piper, serves as the inspiration for the protaganist!
Moving to non-Celtic material, we have reviews of several excellent albums. Gary Whitehouse leads off with his review of Little Sue's Crow. Gary says she's putting her heart and soul into every song, and it's a big heart. Brendan Foreman looks at Billy Joe Shaver's Electric Shaver, a collection of "often dark, sometimes viciously hard-rocking juke-box songs that Billy Joe Shaver and his son, Eddie, collaborate on. Brendan wins an Excellence in Writing Award for this superbly written review! Gary returns for another round with his look at Fernando, a Portland, Oregon roots rock band, that rocks out on their CD Old Man Motel. Gary says that "rumor has it that the guys in suits from the big record companies have been looking into Fernando and like what they see." Catch out them as they sound as this recording to hear how they sound now.
We finish out with two very different CDs being reviewed: Brendan Foreman reviews The Music of Nubenegra, a look at the various artist that the Nubenegra label has put out --Afro-cuban pop to Gypsy jazz to traditional Sudanese music; and April Gutierrez looks at Pathways and Dawns, an album by Peter Ulrich, former Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil percussionist. April thinks she was "lucky enough to stumble across something as eclectic -- yet accessible -- as this little gem."
Next edition is shaping up to be a fairly sizable one -- the lead review will be a detailed examination of Francis James Child's edited collection of ballads, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, more commonly known as the Child Ballads. Jack B. Merry and Chuck Lipsig, our Celtic Editor, have collaborated on a review that shows why the Child Ballads are meaningful to lovers of both folk music and fantasy fiction. Of course, we will have our usual review of music and books that you should check out including some very interesting Celtic material. (Hint: Scotch is not always a drink. Some not terribly intelligent writers think it's only a drink.)