28 November 1999

Who says folksongs are good, clean fun? Not Brendan Foreman after reading Ed Cray's The Erotic Muse: American Bawdy Songs. Brendan -- who is taking a cold shower right now -- notes "if you are in the least offended by words like "cunt," "prick," "fuck," or "pubic," or the various sentences that usually contain these words, then do not read this book." For the rest of you, this is a must read!

And who says that the most popular teller of a tale got it right? Gregory Maguire's Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (reviewed by Marian McHugh) offers an alternative tale of what happened in Oz on that fateful day. For a very English take on folk motifs, check out Terry Pratchett's Hogfather, in which Death and Father Christmas play prominent roles. Rowan Inish -- back after a sabbatical from GMR to work on his next novel -- notes that Hogfather is "really Prachett's take on all things Christmas, here thinly disguised as "Hogswatchnight."

On a more serious note, Jack B. Merry examines several books on Robin Hood: J.C. Holt's Robin Hood, and Stephen Knight's Robin Hood: A Complete Study of the English Outlaw. Jack asserts that neither work proves to his satisfaction just when the Robin Hood legend first arose, nor do they demonstrate clearly that there was an actual outlaw named Robin Hood. But both books are worth checking out for their exhusative detailings of this legend.

We have an interesting selection of music reviews this week. First up is Chuck Lipsig's look at Jo Morrison's The Three Musics, an album she opines is "a fine recording." Another fine recording is Spiral Dance's Magick, an album about which Michael Hunter says: "Music with heart, soul and melody comes along too rarely and should therefore be embraced when it does present itself. And this is as good an example as you're likely to find." Next up is Richard Condon's review of June Tabor's A Quiet Eye, an album Richard notes is for die-hard fans only. Continuing in the English Traditions vein is The Rattlers' Weightless. Reviewer Michael Hunter comments "If [the album] were to cross the path of any folk-rock admirer, they would be more than happy with what they hear."

Sicilian music, like Sicilian food, is both tasty and exotic. Brendan Foreman, in his look at Taberna Mylaensis' L'anima du munnu, notes that "its music reflects these many guests and inhabitants of this island-- containing elements of Arabic harmony."

Slipping over the Atlantic Ocean to the States, we find Michael Jones' review of Tab Benoit's These Blues Are All Mine. Michael disclaims "Is this good? I'm still here, aren't I? Bad music makes me leave the room. Awful music makes the cats leave too. Both cats and I are still listening. And trust me, one of my cats sings the blues every time he goes to the vet. But he's no Tab Benoit. If he was, I'd sign him up..." Rebecca Swain has no problems with Catie Curtis' A Crash Course in Roses -- an album that she says is "the work of a mature woman, someone who has experienced life and can still hope."

There were two Excellence in Writing Award winners this edition: Brendan Foreman for the Erotic Muse review, and Jack B. Merry for his Robin Hood(s) review.  

21 November 1999

With great pleasure, I announce that April Gutierrez, one of our best staff writers and an excellent artistic designer, has agreed to become our Nordic Traditions Editor. The editorial staff of Folk Tales has wanted to spruce up our coverage of this area for some time now. The traditional music and culture of the Nordic region and its neighbors are close cousins to those of the Celtic realm -- Ireland, Scotland, et al; and they deserve much more attention than we've been able to give them.

With April on board as the editor of all things Nordic, she will be able to give much needed focus and vision to our coverage of this vital area of European traditional culture. And to celebrate this new position, April has submitted this excellent review of Wizard Women of the North.

All things Celtic is our predominant subject matter this edition. Debbie Skolnik leads off with her detailed look at Ellen Kushner's novel Thomas The Rhymer. Maddy Prior is quoted on the back cover of this paperback as saying this is a "book to introduce those who know nothing of the ballads to their rich and deep content ... and intrigue those already familiar with them." A very different novel is Morgan Llywelyn's 1916: A Novel of the Irish Rebellion. Reviewer Gary Whitehouse notes, "Overall, this is an interesting and engaging novel. It could hardly be otherwise, given the nature of the story itself." Gary also reviews two non-fiction examinations of the Easter Uprising and other Irish insurgencies: Thomas M. Coffey's Agony at Easter: The 1916 Irish Uprising, and Helen Litton's Irish Rebellions 1798 - 1916: An Illustrated History.

Lars Nilsson has turned in a look at two albums by Scottish group Deaf Shepherd: Ae Spark of Nature´s Fire and Synergy. He says that "from what they present on the CD they must be a great live-band." Jack B. Merry looks at the recorded output of Black 47, another great live band. Jack opines, "Black 47 is an Irish-American band that combines trad material, themes both personal and political, and throws in a rock 'n' roll-style energy -- the result being totally unique." Chuck Lipsig rounds out our Celtic reviews with a look at Welsh group Jac-y-Do's Bant a'r Cart CD.

Rebecca Swain looks -- or rather listens -- to an audio book: Tom Mula's Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol. Rebecca opens her review by commenting "I love being read to. I love sprawling in a chair or on my bed, closing my eyes, and letting someone else create a world for me without any effort on my part. This audio recording did not disappoint me. I enjoyed it immensely." Another interesting literary effort is Michael Hunter's Fiddlestix, a Fairport Convention fanzine. Debbie Skolnik interviews him on its past, present, and future.

Jack returns with another omnibus review, this time of The Morrigan, an English folk rock group that he says plays "music for the Wild Hunt -- wild, exuberant, and a bit scary."

Rebecca offers us a look at Peter Gallway's Redemption, a CD she thinks has songs that "are accessible and interesting, providing a glimpse into one creative man's mind and heart." Brendan Foreman looks at a wilder form of music in his review of the Greek group The Athenians and their CD Greek Songs, Dances and Rembetiko. Brendan believes "This CD is a great place to start exploring a lively, passionate musical tradition which combines many of the best aspects of both European and Middle-Eastern music."

Well-deserved Excellence in Writing Awards go this edition to April Gutierrez, Gary Whitehouse, and Debbie Skolnik!

14 November 1999

Folk Tales was honored this week with the endorsement of the Celtic Artists' Network: "The Celtic Artists' Network wholeheartedly endorses Folk Tales as among the finest, most intelligent, useful, and objective folk/acoustic/Celtic e-zines on the web. The music reviews are invariably witty, sensitive, and informative, and, as a gathering-place for all sorts of useful folk/Celtic information of all kinds, few sites are as valuable as Folk Tales. FT is creating its own Celtic network on the WWW. -- Jeff Feingold, founder, Celtic Artists' Network"

Jack B. Merry leads off our Celtic Traditions reviews this edition with a look at everything that the Scottish group the Old Blind Dogs has done. The Old Blind Dogs is one of the new wave of Scottish groups that have combined traditional material with an unconventional style of playing. All told, they have had three different lineups and seven CDs -- all superb. Another impressive group is Solas. New staffer Kim Bates gives us a look at their The Words that Remain CD. She says this album "is a great disc for those days when you need to feel supported in feeling sad or discontented, without whipping yourself in to a frenzy of self-pity or misdirected angst." Patrick O'Donnell rounds out our Celtic reviews with Jimmy Young's Pipeworks, an album which, he says, is "a must for any proper Celtic collection."

(Jack will be doing an omnibus review of Black 47, a group not known for their traditional approach to Celtic music, for the next edition of Folk Tales.)

Over in the English Traditions reviews are two very different albums: Wake the Vaulted Echoes: A Celebration of Peter Bellamy, and Elizabeth's Music. Lahri Bond notes, "On one hand, Bellamy appeared to be the stereotypical English floor singer, one hand glued firmly to his ear, while belting out songs in a loud, vibrato-fueled, semi-mono-tonal voice. On the other hand, he was a bold innovator, an imaginative interpreter of traditional and literary material and a tireless researcher. While some of Bellamy's more essential work has finally been reissued on CD, who would have thought that such a treasure trove of rare material would ever see the digital light of day?" (And a hearty welcome to Lahri who joins us as a writer this week. Lahri is the designer of our Greenmen, and artistic director for Dirty Linen.) On the other hand, Brendan notes that Elizabeth's Music is firmly rooted -- in the Elizabethan era! He says this this CD is "a thoroughly entertaining body of work that reveals more surprises with each additional listen."

Big Earl Sellar, a diehard fan of the NRBQ group, reviews the Rounder release Negro Work Songs and Calls. This Alan Lomax production is "a treasurable document indeed." On a slightly different note, Gary Whitehouse looks at Allons en Louisiane -- a combination music and culture CD from Rounder that has songs and video on it. Gary opines that Cajun is some of the most vibrant and soulful music ever produced in North America, and many of the musicians who make it are members of musical family dynasties going back several generations. "These facts leap out from this sterling collection of music and folklore compiled and produced by Rounder's Scott Billington. What a delightful collection it is!"

Two book reviews of a musical nature were turned in this week: Karl Neuenfeldt's The Didjeridu: From Arnhem Land to Internet, and Theodore Levin's The Hundred Thousand Fools of God. Lahri Bond says of this look at the didjeridu that it is a "surprisingly enjoyable tome on Australia's number-one instrument." And Elizabeth Stewart says of the latter book, which looks at roots music in Asia, "The Hundred Thousand Fools of God leaves me with only one wish: that other musicologists of Levin's diligence, insight, and humor would pursue similar projects throughout the world."

Our sole fiction review this edition is Rebecca Swain's look at Nicola Griffith and Stephen Pagel's collection of gay and lesbian fantasy tales, Bending the Landscape: Fantasy. Rebecca notes "that almost everyone will like something in this book."

Two live performance reviews finish out this edition: Rebecca Swain looks at Saffire -- Uppity Blues Women, and Colleen Campbell sings the praises of Susan Werner.

There were five Excellence in Writing Award winners this edition: Jack for his Old Blind Dogs omnibus review; Colleen for her review of the Susan Werner concert; Elizabeth for her Hundred Thousand Fools of God review; Lahri for his Peter Bellamy review; and Gary for his Allons en Louisiane review.  

09 November 1999

The 1999 World Fantasy Awards were presented Sunday, Nov. 7, at the World Fantasy Convention in Providence, R.I. The winners and categories include -- Life Achievement: Hugh B. Cave; Best Novel: The Antelope Wife by Louise Erdrich; Best Novella: "The Summer Isles" by Ian R. MacLeod (Asimov's Oct./Nov. 1998); Best Short Fiction: "The Specialist's Hat" by Kelly Link (Event Horizon, Nov. 15, 1998); Best Anthology: Dreaming Down-Under edited by Jack Dann and Janeen Webb; Best Collection: Black Glass by Karen Joy Fowler; Best Artist: Charles Vess; Special Award, Professional: Jim Turner (for Golden Gryphon Press); and Special Award, Non-professional: Richard Chizmar (for Cemetery Dance Publications). The awards are given annually for the best works of fantasy published during the previous calendar year.

Michael Jones, our Managing Editor, who attended the World Fantasy Convention, will be doing a complete report of the Convention for Folk Tales when he recovers from too much caffine and not enough sleep during his Convention weekend. In addition, he interviewed Terri Windling there, so look for that interview in the near future! We've also got interviews in process for Jane Yolen, Emma Bull, Ellen Kushner, Will Shetterly, and Sean Stewart!

07 November 1999

Music reviews are our main focus this edition, with Celtic music leading off as usual. First up is an EP -- yes, an EP. There are only 5 tracks on Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill's Live in Seattle EP, but with the humongous second track, there are more than 45 minutes of music! Chuck Lipsig notes this release should "be considered a classic recording of Irish fiddle music." Jayme Lynn Blaschke believes that Unabridged by SixMileBridge -- see his review of their first album Across the Water -- is a truly great album, and those "unfamiliar with SixMileBridge will likely find it quite enthralling as well, and an excellent introduction to a talented, fast-rising band." Jayme garners an Excellence in Writing Award for this well-written review. Gary Whitehouse finishes out our Celtic reviews with a look at Voices of Celtic Women -- a Shanachie Records release which is part of their Holding Up Half the Sky series. Gary says that this CD is "a good introduction to some of the many artists performing in this genre."

Gary also looks at two other CDs in the Holding Up Half the Sky series: Voices of African Women and Voices of Asian Women. Suffice it to say that these are essential listening if you are interested in an overview of world music from the perspective of women artists.

Gary wins our third Excellence in Writing Award for this look at three CDs in the Holding Up Half the Sky series.

Remember Leadbelly, one of the best blues artists ever? Big Earl Sellar casts an eye at Bridging Leadbelly, an album that consists largely of tracks culled from an unreleased session recorded for the BBC, from October 10th, 1938. Big Earl suggests that newcomers to the music of Leadbelly will be more appreciative of this release than those who already know the artist.

I'm playing Tiger Moth as I write these notes and it reminds me of the Central European music that Brendan Foreman looks at in this issue -- the Okros Emsemble's Transylvanian Village Music. Brendan believes "this music is rough, complex, and extraordinarily beautiful."

Falcon Ridge Folk Festival is oe of the best summer folk music festivals held in North America, and Falcon Ridge Folk Festival: Main Stage Live will give you a true appreciation of the artists that perform there. Meredith Tarr notes "Main Stage Live beautifully showcases just why the festival is such a success, and why it has come to have a special place in the hearts of so many people." Rebecca Swain finishes out our reviews this week with a glance at Anne Hills and Michael Smith's Paradise Lost & Found album, a recording that "is a very satisfying duet album featuring two of the most popular singer-songwriters of the past few years."

Two very different book finish out this edition -- an urban fantasy and an autobiography of a very well-known folk artist. Charles de Lint's Jack of greenmanreview is an Ottawa-based urban fantasy that draws upon the Celtic myths for its inspiration. Diane McDonough wins an Excellence in Writing Award for her well-written review of this fantasy. And new staffer David Kidney looks at Richie Havens' autobiography They Can't Hide Us Anymore. David says " after reading his book, I feel like I know him just a bit better."

05 November 1999

If you haven't looked at our review of musically-related books lately, do check that section out. We have over fifty books reviewed ranging from tune books such as The Fiddler's Fakebook to a comprehensive look at Francis James Child's English and Scottish Popular Ballads. Another section you might wish to look at if you're looking for some fine reading for a cold winter's night is our fiction section which has a large number of reviews that aid you in your quest for just the right book to read. Now all you need to find is a comfortable chair, a cat for your lap, and a roaring fireplace!

Terri Windling is in Providence for the World Fantasy Convention right now, but her site, Endicott Studio, has several recent articles that you should read: The Music of Faery looks at music suitable for the fey ones, and Feline Folklore looks at a creature near and dear to the hearts of many GMR staff! (Your Editor shares a household with seven catkin.) The other article GMR recommends is The Road That Has No End: Tales of the Traveling People -- the best essay I've ever seen on Gypsies ( also known as Tinkers, "Travelers, or Rom) I've ever read.