31 December 1999

Hogmanay, the Scottish New Years celebration, is a time to look at what one has accomplished in the past, and to look forward to what one expects of the coming year. So it's indeed fitting that the final edition for 1999 of Folk Tales is on Hogmanay. We've established ourselves as one of the best folk e-zines, and we plan on getting even better in the coming year.

Two columns lead off this edition. Chuck "You Don't Have to be Celtic to Enjoy All Things Celtic" Lipsig, our Celtic Editor, defends Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger's Classic Scots Ballads, in the second installment of his column, ...And Reels.  As well, Michael Jones kicks off his new literary column, Peregrine's Prerogative, with a spirited introduction, regarding his own plans for the New Year and beyond..

Kim Bates offers an addition to our Cool Venues listing in her writeup of Keoghs Irish Pub, her favorite pub in her hometown of Toronto. She says the owners have made "community building seem effortless, and have built the relatively new (circa 1997) pub into a hub for celebrating Irish culture in North America. The bar and its patrons are friendly, and some of the session night regulars appear to be stalwarts of the local Irish music scene. This is no age ghetto either -- regulars range from pensioners to young, and often easy on the eyes, patrons in their 20s. The decor is tasteful and simple, not too dark, and the fireplace and kitchen add a bit of warmth, while the snug creates a spot for quiet conversation."

Speaking of Celtic music, we are pleased to offer Brendan Foreman's detailed look at a four-CD set from the Chieftains entitled From the beginning: The Chieftains 1 to 4. These are literally the first CDs they ever did, and Brendan thinks that "is indeed a testament to these remarkable artists that, rather than change their style to fit the supposed needs of the worldwide audience, this band just kept playing the music they loved until that worldwide audience changed to fit their style." Sadly, Jack B. Merry looks at a group that no longer exists as he looks at Mackeel's Plaid. Jack says "There is nothing terribly new in a creative sense here, but they play with great skill and a considerable level of enthusiasm. They were without a doubt a very good pub and festival band." Lars Nilsson finds something to be enthused  with in Robin Laing's Imaginary Lines. Lars comments that "I find it nice listening, in the background when driving or working, or with the headphones on when in a mellow mood."

Slipping over to the music reviews, we find Jack reviewing a number of Nordic CDs that he picked up when his band toured that region. Jack opines, "Despite not speaking a word of any Nordic language other than skøl, which seems to mean drink up now, I had a great time -- though I woke with a headache on more than one afternoon, after an all-night session of music making and drinking!" A much different type of music is covered by Brendan in his review of The Rough Guide to the Music of the Gypsies, an album that he notes "serves well as a record of both the span and the influence that the music of the Romany has played in Europe and the Middle East." Jo Morrison offers up another one of her excellent Rough Guide reviews in looking at The Rough Guide to World Roots. Finally, Gary Whitehouse looks at Marshall Crenshaw's No. 447 -- he says "No. 447 never quite takes off and rocks."

Jack also looks at two books by famed song hunter Alan Lomax: Brown Girl in the Ring: An Anthology of Song Games from the Eastern Caribbean, and Hard Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People. He comments that "Lomax collected more than just the recorded songs, he collected the cultural aspects of the songs. These two books cover two dramatically different communities: Caribbean children and adults in the early '60s, and American working -- and tragically not working -- people in the '30s."

Laurie Thayer gets the last review spot this edition with her look at Margaret Lane's biography The Tale of Beatrix Potter. Laurie believes that "The Tale of Beatrix Potter is fascinating both as a story and as a glimpse into the world of the privileged in the Victorian era."

26 December 1999

There is no edition today as our staff is on vacation. The next edition is our Hogmanay edition on Friday, the 31st of December, '99. Among the material being prepared for the next edition is Brendan Foreman's look at The Chieftains' Collection, a four CD set from Claddagh Records, a new ....And Reels Column from Chuck Lipsig, our Celtic Editor, and Peregrine's Prerogative, a new column for Michael Jones, our Managing Editor.

22 December 1999

Welcome to the Midwinter's Day edition of Folk Tales. As always, we have a wide-ranging variety of articles, ranging from book and music reviews, to indepth looks at live performances. There are four Excellence in Writing Awards this week: Brendan Foreman for his detailed examination of Balkans without Borders album; Debbie Skolnik for her review of Brian McNeill's No Gods album; Michael Jones for his incisive look at Jane Lindskold's mythopeic Changer novel; and Jack B. Merry for his Anglo-Celtic Folk Tales overview. Excellence in Writing Awards are voted on by the editorial staff of Cat Eldridge, Brenden Foreman, April Gutierrez, Debbie Skolnik, Michael Jones, Rebecca Swain, Chuck Lipsig, and Marian McHugh. A majority of those expessing an opinion each week must nominate an article in order for it to win an Award. Folk Tales is organized along the lines of a traditional print-based magazine, so no one individual dominates the editorial process. We think this works much better than undertakings where one person does everything -- and it keeps us from burning out. The result is a better magazine.

Our staff has developed an interest in Robin Hood, a situation reflected in two more Robin Hood fictions being reviewed this week. Laurie Thayer looks at two Theresa Tomlinson works: Child of the May and The Forestwife. Laurie says, "They are an excellent addition to the growing body of Robin Hood lore." Laurie also looks at another classic work of fiction: The King of Elfland's Daughter. And Michael Jones looks at Jane Lindskold's Changer, a novel Michael calls "the mythological version of the X-Files. Everything you know is true, yet, at the same time, everything you know is false."

Slipping over to the folklore area, Jack B. Merry has another one of his folklore overviews -- this time he looks at Anglo-Celtic Folk Tales. Jack comments "I am wearing my black Steeleye Span 30th Anniversary t-shirt as I write this extended look at folktales in the Anglo-Celtic tradition. The connection between that seminal English folk rock group and the Anglo-Celtic Tradition folktales is simple -- Steeleye Span, like many of the English groups of the late Sixties that electrified folk took their material from those folktales." If you enjoy groups like Steeleye Span, or a good yarn, take a look at this review. For a different set of Folk Tales, take a look at Michael Jones' review of an early '60s translation of The Grimms' German Folk Tales, a translation about which Michael suggests, "If you need a collection of Grimms' fairy tales, this one is as good as any, and better than most."

Michael has also taken a look at Susie J. Tanenbaum's Underground Harmonies, a study of musicians working in the sunways of New York City. And Michael stresses that the "next time you pass a musician on the street, or in the subways, stop and listen, at least for a minute. It's worth it."

Speaking of live music, we have two performance reviews this week. Lars Nilsson was lucky enough to see Dick Gaughan at the Cecil Sharp House, in London. Lars comments, "there on stage was Dick Gaughan, Scottish nationalist and campaigner for the People´s Republic of Scotland. But as Gaughan himself says, being pro-Scottish does not automatically mean anti-English. He has expressed this in his song, "Both Sides the Tweed" from Handful of Earth, chosen by fRoots, the magazine formerly known as Folk Roots, as the best folk album of the 80s. He told the audience that no other song had brought him such troubles. All the Scots branded him a traitor and all the English a Scottish nationalist." Read what else Lars has to say about this remarkable concert! Back in the Pacific Northwest, Gary White attended a concert by the Knitters. Gary notes this is "country in the spirit of original outlaws and rebels like Johnny Cash, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Rough, raw songs about drinking, loving, crying and praying." And would you believe that the Knitters are fronted by John Doe and Cervenkova of legendary punk band X? Read the review for the rest of the tale of this odd outing!

If you like your Blues straight up with a chaser, check out Jeff Skolnik's look at Best of: As It All Began,'64-'69, a collection of releases from John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. Jeff opines "It may be said of British Blues legend John Mayall that he was both chief architect and general foreman at the initial construction of the British Blues scene. His band, The Bluesbreakers, at one time or another had in its lineup nearly every one of the best Blues musicians in the U.K., including such luminaries as Eric Clapton, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Jack Bruce, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor, to name but a few of the many whose careers began backing up John Mayall in the London clubs of the Sixties. Even with an ever-changing line-up, the Bluesbreakers legacy remained surprisingly unified. They were always true to the style of the revered Chicago Blues originals of the Fifties with a clean, spare, yet hard guitar-driven sound, topped with Mayall's unmistakable wailing vocals. Their sound was and continues to be distinctive and unforgettable." I agree, as I've seen John at least three times, all in slightly sleazy, smoky bars. Read this review to see how John was in the early days.

Three Celtic CDs get reviewed this week. First up is Chuck Lipsig's look at John Doan's Wayfarer, an album Chuck says "is evocative and relaxing without compelling sleep. A more lively album is No Gods by Brian McNeill, founding member of the Battlefield Band. Reviewer Debbie Skolnik says "I highly recommend this album -- each time I listen to it, there's something new to find in it, which gives it staying power in my CD player." Our last Celtic album is flautist Chris Norman's Portraits, an album about which Jo Morrison says, "the music is elegant, vital, and delightful."

On the World Music front, Brendan Foreman continues his exploration of Central European music with a review of Balkans without Borders, a CD done to benefit the independent emergency relief organization Doctors Without Borders. Patrick O'Donnell reviews Habib Koite and Bamada's Muso Ko. He says "This isn't Hemingway's Africa." And Big Earl Sellar continues his exploration of Calypso music with a look at The Rough Guide to Calypso and Soca, an album Big Earl claims: "if you want a good hour of dance music with a Caribbean flavour, The Rough Guide to Calypso and Soca is a good start."

Two English tradion albums get reviewed this week: a new album from Fairport Convention, The Wood & The Wire, and a classic album from Steeleye Span,Please To See The King. Michael Hunter, editor of the Aussie-based Fairport zine Fiddlestix, says "although the album is not groundbreaking, it will certainly please the band's legion of fans to at least a healthy degree." And No'am newman says about the Steeleye Span album that he "would recommend this disk to anyone who is interested in traditional English music."

Two Cajun related albums are next on the review list: Dirk Powell's Hand Me Down and David Doucet's 1957: Solo Cajun Guitar, both reviewed by Gary Whitehouse. Powell plays accordion and fiddle in the Cajun band Balfa Toujours, and Gary says this album shows Dirk at his very best. Likewise, David Doucet's 1957 album "is a sterling collection of songs, made even stronger by the dynamic tension Doucet has wrought between melody and rhythm."

Any album that has a cover of Charlie Daniels's song "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" is worth checking out -- particularly one that likes the Devil better than his protaganist! Read Rebecca Swain's review of Ray Wylie Hubbard's Crusade of the Restless Knights to get the rest of the story about this recording. And Big Earl looks at Trout Fishing In America's Closer To The Truth, an album he says of "I really like this disc; it's got broad musical appeal, fantastic vocals, a ton of humour and line after line of great lyrics."

Ok, we promised you no lists of Christmas-themed music, as we're sure you've had more than enough of that by now, but we do have Lars Nillson's review of Ann Sofie von Otter's superb album Home for Christmas. Lars says he enjoyed this as much as he did Maddy Prior's Tapestry of Carols -- high praise indeed from him!

22 December 1999

Just a quick reminder that our publishing schedule for the next three editions is as follows: Midwinters Day, Wednesday, the 22nd of December; Hogmanay, Friday, the 31st of December; and Sunday, the 9th of January. There's lots of great reviews coming up, and we promise you that there will no junky movie reviews or tacky lists of Christmas-related music. You deserve better than that from us!

15 December 1999

The good folk at Musikfolk just sent us their list of new arrivals this week: Clannad, Clannad; Clannad, Clannad 2; The Yetties, Come to the Yetties' Barn Dance; and The Mrs Ackroyd Band, Tubular Dogs. And Brendan Foreman will be reviewing The Chieftains' Collection, a four CD set from Claddagh Records that arrived here this week.

12 December 1999

We have two live performance reviews that are so good that you'll think you were there! The first, complete with photos, is Chris Woods' review of the last Oysterband Gig of the Millennium! Chris says: " I have never heard the Oysterband do a bad gig, and this one was easily up to their usual high standard." Chris garners an Excellence in Writing Award for this review which is both well-written and well-illustrated.. And Colleen Campbell says of the Moxy Fruvous concert that "there's nothing quite like a good Fruvous show, and there's nothing quite like singing fervently with a theater full of people to a favorite song."

There are two new books in the Music Books section this edition -- one for fans of live music, one for fans of recorded music. Jack B. Merry believes Barry Foy's Field Guide to the Irish Music Session is "Everything you ever wanted to know about Irish session music but didn't know you needed to ask." Just make sure your Guinness is properly served, so you can drink while listening to live Irish music! Jack garners an Excellence in Writing Award for this review. And Gary Whitehouse has found the perfect book for fans of Country music in all its varied forms: MusicHound Country: The Essential Album Guide. Gary opines "This is a very thorough, well-researched, readable, and useful reference book. If you're a music junkie like me, and you like anything that could conceivably be called country music, you could probably spend many happy hours thumbing through MusicHound Country."

Jack also turned in an omnibus review of books devoted to Scottish Folk Tales. Jack notes: "Being a fiddler with the Dead Heroes of Culloden band means -- not unsurprisingly -- that I have an abiding interest in Scottish folktales. I've selected a few of my many volumes to detail here. All of these would make fine reading on a cold winter's evening, but each has its own charm that makes all of them worth seeking out."

Segueing into Celtic music, we have two excellent reviews this week. Chuck Lipsig -- who will have another ...And Reels column soon -- looks at Natalie MacMaster's In My Hands, an album that he claims "is an incredible show with MacMaster demonstrating why she is one of the top Celtic fiddlers going today." And Jo Morrison looks at a whole CD of various women Gaelic folk artists in her review of an album titled -- surprise -- Gaelic Women. She found this album "a wonderful overview of Gaelic song as sung by women." Jo garners an Excellence in Writing Award for this superb review.

Chris returns with a review of the Blue Horses Dragons Milk and Coal CD. He says this CD "is the best yet, and to my mind, it's up there with the likes of Oysterband and The Men They Couldn't Hang for both its musicianship and its blend of traditional and new." And our Nordic Traditions Editor, April Gutierrez, reviews Mark II by Sorten Muld, a Nordic band she notes of "There's a danger of losing the traditional sound to the very modern music, but I think the band deftly walks a tightrope between the two, and will continue to do so. Sorten Muld are definitely a band to watch for in the next century: an elegant bridge between the past and the future." April amasses an Excellence in Writing Award for this review.

About a year ago, Brendan reviewed the book American Pop from Minstrel to Mojo: On Record 1893 to 1957, Allen Lowe's amazing examination of the origins and nature of American popular music. Now he reviews American Pop: An Audio History, the nine CD set that was designed around that book. Brendan notes: "For the interested student of American music or even the armchair historian, this set of rare yet quite listenable singles is absolutely essential." Not surprisingly, Brendan wins an Excellence in Writing Award for this superb review.

Calypso is not named after the Greek deity of that name, but rather is a corruption of the West Africa word kaiso, a cry of encourgement or satisfacation. And Big Earl Sellers' review of Calypso After Midnight and Calypso At Midnight shows that there's lots to be satisfied about in these CDs! As Big Earl says "just be prepared not to sit still." And Big Earl finishes our review off this edition with a thumbs down for Walela's Unbearable Love. Big Early comments "I really don't want to be so negative about this CD. But I know what I like, and what I would recommend to others. Unbearable Love is not one of those CDs."

10 December 1999

Martin Hayes and guitarist Dennis Cahill are currently on tour in support of their new release Live in Seattle, recorded in Martin's hometown at the Tractor Tavern. The duo recently returned to the venue for two sold-out shows in celebration of the album's release. This November, they play Chicago, New York and the London Jazz Festival, and then head to Edinburgh for the Shoots & Roots Festival and Dublin's famed Vicar Street. See the Green Linnet gig guide page for them for details of where they are touring!

Mick Moloney has just been awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment of the Arts. Celebrated as a musician, performer, teacher, scholar and archivist, Mick has appeared on numerous Green Linnet recordings, and was a co-founder of Greenfields of America. He has also been a mentor to some of the biggest names in American Irish music, including Seamus Egan, Joanie Madden and Eileen Ivers.

I'm listening to Blowzabella's Pingha Frenzy right now. Let's see... A hurdy gurdy? Yes. Bagpipes? Of course, both English and Flemish... Hmmm... Yes, that means not just one, but two bagpipers. What else? Oh, how 'bout violins, a bassoon, a viola d'amore, a melodeon, a button accordion, saxes (both alto and soprano), a alto recorder, a button accordion, whistles, flutes, and lots of percussion.... Bloody good stuff -- We've reviewed their releases Blowzabella Wall of Sound and Bobbityshooty, and will be reviewing several other albums by them. Their inprint recordings can ordered from Musikfolk.

My last note concerns a tale in the collection Horns of Elfland which we will have a review of in a forthcoming edition. The story is "Solstice" by Jennifer Stevenson. It is simply the best telling of a truly magical musical jam that I've ever read. "Why music and magic?" Kushner writes in her introduction to this tale, "Well, besides the fact that all of us love them both a lot, around the world and through the ages people have believed that music is full of power, and that magic needs music." The book is out of print, but worth searching down in your favourite used book store! Another magical tale for the season now under way is Jane Yolen's The Wild Hunt. As I noted last year : The dualities of good v. evil, light v. dark, male v. female... All are ancient, deeply held aspects of the Winter/Summer folklore in Northern cultures where there is a true difference between the Winter and Summer seasons. Jo Morrison has written an insightful review of The Wild Hunt, a Jane Yolen novel that makes our Annual Staff List of Great Books & Music." Jo Morrison also reviewed for us John Matthews & Caitlin Matthews' The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas.

08 December 1999

The Yule season is well upon us, so Folk Tales will be publishing three issues instead of four over the next four weeks. We will publish on the following dates: Festival of Saint Corentin, Sunday, the 12th of December; Midwinters Day, Tuesday, the 22nd of December; and Hogmanay, Friday, the 31st of December. This will allow our hard-working staff a slight breather.

I am happy to announce that starting next week, our online music vendor will be Musikfolk. Please note that Folk Tales is not taking a percentage of any sales that Musikfolk does because of this partnership. We are doing this solely to make it easier for our readers to purchase the CDs they want. Our talented staff takes no compensation other than the CDs themselves for its work, nor does our web host charge us for its services. Therefore it costs very little in terms of hard cash to keep this enterprise going. We feel taking kickbacks for CDs sold taints the review process by making it more difficult to do honest reviews.

I want to make a plug for a product that is slightly outside our reviewing area. Visible Ink Press, publishers of such music guides as MusicHound Swing!; MusicHound Country; MusicHound Blues; and MusicHound Folk, has published the best movie guide I've ever seen: VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever 2000. Good summaries of over 24,000 movies, great indexes of who's who in the movies, and a cool attitude make it a must for the film fan. Check it out!

05 December 1999

My, oh my, do we have a fat issue for you this week!

Sean Stewart's Galveston , according to Rebecca Swain, "is an engrossing, well-written novel" that she highly recommends to lovers of urban fantasy. Galveston is another of Stewart's books set in a hot, hurricane-ridden Texas city. In 2004 something goes horribly wrong at Mardi Gras; a flood of magic sweeps across the island, destroying technology and cutting Galveston off from the mainland. And then the fun begins... Rebecca wins an well-deserved Excellence in Writing Award for this review!

On a lighter note, Jane Louise Curry has written two short Robin Hood novels that Rebecca enjoyed: Robin Hood and his Merry Men and Robin Hood in the Greenwood. Rebecca says "I believe these books will bring great enjoyment to children and will serve as an excellent grounding in the Robin Hood legend." Rebecca -- a very busy writer this time! -- also tackled Guy Gavriel Kay's The Lions of Al-Rassan, a novel she says "may attract both fantasy readers and lovers of historical fiction. However, both groups may be disappointed. The people who will enjoy the novel the most are those who come to it with no preconceived ideas, but simply want a good read with action and romance."

Good fiction takes many forms, including so-called comics. Neil Gaiman and Yoshitaka Amano, The Sandman: The Dream Hunters (reviewed by April Gutierrez) is, according to her "A simple tale indeed. But lovely in the rendering, both in prose and in picture. Gaiman, as he notes in his afterward, did considerable research for the story and so we get an enchanting glimpse into the world of Japanese folklore."

Jack B. Merry has gotten enough Yule season cheer to do a review of a number of seasonal books: John Ashston's A Righte Merrie Chriftmaffe; John Chandler's A Country House Christmas; Henry Glassie's All Silver and No Brass: An Irish Christmas Mumming; John Hudson's Dickens' Christmas; Clement Miles' Christmas Customs and Traditions: Their History and Significance; and Tony von Renterghem's When Santa Was a Shaman. Jack notes that "{there} are old books and there are books that are thoroughly modern; there are books about celebrating the holiday in good cheer, and books determined to deconstruct the meaning of it."

Ronald C. Finucane's Miracles and Pilgrims: Popular Beliefs in Medieval England is reviewed by Laurie Thayer, who says "Imagine that the year is 1175 and you suffer the same unexplained pain. The village cunning woman has been unable to relieve it and you cannot afford a physician. But there have been stories floating around for the last few years about miraculous cures at the tomb of Thomas Becket. Desperate, you scrape together enough money for the journey, kiss your wife, and set off on the long trip to Canterbury, hoping against hope that the saint's holy relics will be the answer to your pain." Read this review and see why you'll be glad we have aspirin!

Our sole live performance review this week is of Waterson-Carthy. New staffer David Kidney partook of Waterson-Carthy at the Brantford Folk Club on November 19th of this year in Brantford, Ontario, Canada. He says "it was a magical, musical evening." 

On the recorded music side, we first have Gary Whitehouse's magnum opus on the three CD series Swing West!, a look at country music. He says: "Country music and Nashville are synonymous, right? Wrong. Since the late 1940s, California, particularly Bakersfield, has been the breeding ground for its own strain of country music that stands outside of the mainstream flowing from Nashville." This is the stuff that all fans should know about! And Gary also examines Fiddle Tunes for Banjo, a re-issued album from 1981 that features the work of Tony Trischka, Bill Keith, and Bela Fleck. Gary notes that it is "an interesting historical piece, showcasing the beginnings of Fleck's popular jazz/bluegrass fusion, and it has some worthwhile music in its own right." Gary garners an Excellence in Writing Award for this superb review!

Lars Nillson looks at One and All - the best of Cherish the Ladies, an album about which Lars says "If you are looking for something Irish for your CD player look no further." Likewise, you can hardly go wrong by picking up Nordic Roots 2, an album our Nordic Editor April Gutierrez believes is "a fine, fine sampler -- at a great price, no less. Hopefully, people will sit up and take notice -- and take advantage of Northside's deep catalog of CDs by these artists." (Folk Tales is committed to greatly expanding our coverage of Nordic music over the next few months.)

Alula Records always has interesting releases and Brendan Foreman certainly believes Kepa Junkera's Bilbao 00:00h is no exception! Junkera, a Basque accordion player, has gathered some of the world's most recognized folk and traditional musicians, taught them some Basque music, and recorded the jam session that ensued. The result not only celebrates Junkera's musical heritage and its place within Iberian traditions but melds the various styles -- Irish, Swedish, French, Spanish, among others -- into probably as close to a pan-European sound as possible.

Two CDs from singer-songwriters finish out this edition -- Bob Snider's Caterwaul & Doggerel and Bruce Cockburn's Breakfast in New Orleans Dinner In Timbuktu. The former CD is reviewed by Big Earl Sellar, who says "Do yourself a favour, get some Bob Snider into your collection." And Chris Woods notes Cockburn's new CD is "a great album, as one would expect from such a top class songwriter and musician as Cockburn." Chris wins his second Excellence in Writing Award for this review!