30 January 2000

Rebecca Swain finishes off her look at Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea trilogy, errr, tetralogy with a review of Tehanu. She says "[al]though this book, as with the others in the series, has been classified as a children's/young adult book, make no mistake: this is a mature book about grown-up subjects, and it is a beautiful ending to the Earthsea saga." And she really likes Jane Yolen's Once Upon a Bedtime Story, a CD of Jane reading -- with sound effects, accents, and music -- eleven selections from her 1997 book Once Upon a Bedtime Story.

Big Earl Sellar was not happy with The Occasionals' Live from The Music Hall, Aberdeen CD. He thought that they were "extremely talented musicians, a great choice of songs, and no guts, no fire, no passion." Read his review to see why he thought this. But Jack B. Merry was happy with the music he listened to in compiling A Celtic Omnibus, as it was great music for a cold winter's day.

And Brendan Foreman said of Finality Jack's English Traditions album Glory Be that he wished "...that [every] musical experiment was as nice on the ears as this one..." Fortunately for the Greek album Women of Rembetica, he thought it was very good indeed. Obviously he's developed a taste for good music in all its infinite forms! Big Earl's second review keeps us on the other side of the Atlantic as he looks Ostinat Expressen's Vals Til En Prinsesse, a Nordic release he thinks is "one of the catchiest releases" he's heard lately. Debbie Skolnik rounds out our reviews from outside of North America with a look at Steeleye Span's Steeleye Span In Concert, selections from two concerts they did. She says "If you love this band and especially if you were not able to see them perform live, go out and get a copy!"

Swinging over to North America, Big Earl looks at Stompin' Tom Connors' Move Along With Stompin' Tom. Tom Connors "....is to the Canadian folk scene what Woody Guthrie is to the American..." Gary Whitehouse tells us that Lenora's Ghost, a fave venue of his, has closed down for good, which is a loss for roots rock fans. He is of the conviction that Holy Modal Rounders are not having Too Much Fun! on their new release. Jo Morrison looks at One Moment of Grace, the fourth release from Canadian group Night Sun. Jo says there is "something on this recording for everybody."

Rebecca comments "The lyrics are intelligent, the singing expressive without being melodramatic, and the subject matter will be of interest to maturing young women..." on Catie Curtis' self-titlled album. Rebecca Swain's look at James Lee Stanley's Freelance Human Being is well worth checking as she thinks this "... is imaginative, thought-provoking, and pleasant to listen to ...." Our last album is Julian Dawson's Spark, an album Debbie Skolnik thinks will appeal to fans of Marshall Crenshaw and Squeeze.

Michael Jones gets the last word with the latest installment of his Peregrine's Prerogative column, which this time looks at comic books. Really. Truly. Read it to see why this area of artistic endeavor is part of the GMR universe.

Continuing a trend of outstanding work by our GMR staff, no less than six reviews were selected to recieve the coveted Excellence In Writing Award, an honor which, once you save up enough of them, can be traded in for a free cup of coffee.  The winners are, thusly, Big Earl for his Stompin' Tom Connors review, Brendan for his look at the Women of Rembetica, Debbie for her Steeleye Span work, Jack for his Celtic omnibus, Jo Morrison for her One Moment of Grace commentary, and finally Rebecca for her review of Tehanu!  Go and see why we consider these worth singling out.

23 January 2000

Welsh myth, particularly The Mabinogion, has been a rich motherlode for fiction writers. Read Kim Bates's detailed look at how Welsh myth has been used by writers such as Lloyd Alexander and Evangeline Walton. In the same article, she also examines Patrick Ford's translation of The Mabinogi, and John Layard and Anne S. Bosch's A Celtic Quest: Sexuality and Soul in Individuation.

Laurie Thayer looks at Gregory Maguire's Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, an unusual look at the age-old tale of Cinderella.

Michael Jones's latest installment of Peregrine's Prerogative is about his recent trip to Boston, the Arisia con, and lusting after books. A new column starts this week entitled Speakers' Corner. It's named after the infamous Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park, London, a space where people at odds with society have ranted and raved for centuries. (And your Editor needs a place to rant...) Anything is fair game here as long as it's germane to GMR. First up is my look on the State of GMR after 18 months as a digital-only publication.

Rowan Inish offers up a scathing look at Patrick Humphries's Richard Thompson: The Biography. Rowan notes "Even writers are allowed to like music, after all. However, too many books about cult artists are written by those who are already in the cult, and who want very, very much for the reader to join them. Richard Thompson: The Biography falls neatly into that trap. It's clear from page one that the author really, really likes Thompson's music, and he wants you to really, really like it too."

A publicist for a record company that doesn't do Celtic CDs told me that the Celtic sector of the music market was going cold. Hah! Just this week saw more than a dozen Celtic CDs arrive for review! And here's our latest batch of Celtic CD reviews.

Jack B. Merry leads off with a Pogues omnibus, a band that managed to offend BBC suits, traditional Irish music lovers, and fans of punk music. Read his review to see why he thinks they were appropriately named! Big Earl Sellar reviews Iberian Garden, Volumes I & II, another release by Altramar. (See his previous review of their Crossroads of the Celts.) Meanwhile Patrick O'Donnell says of the Chieftains Collection:The Very Best of the Claddagh Years, "although this album is a trip to the past, the Chieftains sound as fresh, as new and as inspiring as a "samhradh" day." Also warm as a breeze on a summer day is the music of Shooglenifty, a Scottish band with a unique approach to trad material. Chuck Lipsig really likes their two albums, A Whisky Kiss and Venus in Tweeds. Jo Morrison, a reviewer who is so good that's she's scary at times, delivers a trio of superb reviews. Carol Thompson's The Faerie Isles is "an excellent introduction to [her] work for the uninitiated." She also looks at not one, but two Rough Guides, both concerning Irish music: The Rough Guide: Irish Music and The Rough Guide: Irish Folk.

An average week here sees some fifteen to twenty albums arrive for review, so it's not surprising that we get much more than Celtic music. Gary Whitehouse found a corker in Guy Clark's bluegrass album Cold Dog Soup -- an album Gary thinks is superb enough that "It's enough to make you wish he was your favorite uncle, singing these songs to you on your front porch as the sun goes down." Likewise Rebecca Swain felt David Mallet's Ambition was "an enjoyable album." No'am Newman reviews FLK's Re Noir. They are a six-piece folk rock group hailing from the Friuli region in northeast Italy. No'am says this is a rhythm-based album, and a great listen.

Kim Bates, who led off this edition, finishes it out with a look at Ensemble Galilei's The Mystic and the Muse, a CD she says "should appeal to both classical and folk music audiences."

We have a wealth of Excellence in Writing Awards for this week, denoting those reviews that stand out head and shoulders above the rest of an admittedly fine crop.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to pay special attention to Big Earl Sellars' Altramar review, Chuck Lipsig's look at Shooglenifty, Laurie's look at Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Rowan's brutally honest Richard Thomas biography review, and Kim Bates' impressive look at The Mabinogion.

16 January 2000

Once upon a time, there was only the Celtic folk... No, not really, but so much of our Western culture is enamoured with all things Celtic that FT always has lots of Celtic-related reviews. Our Snowqueen, errr, Rebecca Swain, leads off our Celtic coverage with a look at T. H. White's The Once and Future King, a trilogy that the Snowqueen says is an enormously influential novel as well as a book by which other tellings of the legend are judged.She wins an Excellence in Writing Award for this review. On the non-fiction side of literature, Jack B. Merry looks at Kath Filmer-Davies' Fantasy Fiction and Welsh Myth: Tales of Belonging, a work which he thinks is a good look at Welsh myth and the role it has played in fantasy literature, but which he feels does not prove its thesis that Welsh myth is universal in nature.

Three Celtic CDs get reviewed this week with the most unusual being Altrama's Crossroads of the Celts. Big Earl Sellar notes, "Altramar's approach is to balance evenly between "modern" Celtic music and the Northern European Medieval tradition, and the results are fantastic." Big Earl gleans an Excellence in Writing Award for this well-written review. Equally worth-hearing according to Brendan Foreman is A Real Irish Christmas, a tasty album that "will make a great soundtrack for the entire winter season." Brendan also looks at Llan de Cubel's IV, an album he wasn't as enthusiatic about, since he's unconvinced that it's really Celtic music at all.

Folk Tales has three books of a musical nature reviewed this edition with Chris Woods' look at George Berger's Dance Before the Storm: The Official Story of the Levellers being the leadoff review. Chris gleans an Excellence in Writing Award for this well-written review. He notes "What a pleasant surprise, a musical biography which I actively enjoyed reading!" Jack is back with a look at two books 'bout coal miners, or colliers as they are known in the U.K., George Korson's Coal Dust on the Fiddle: Songs and Stories of the Bitiminous Industry and A.L. Lloyd's Come all ye bold miners: Ballads & Songs of the Coalfields. Jack comments that these books are invaluable for understanding the lives of men engaged in one of the most dangerous occupations on this earth -- and the songs are amazing too!

Michael Jones' op-ed column Peregrine's Prerogative #3 tackles the matter of just what is urban fantasy. Read his column to see if you agree with his definition.

Leading off the non-Celtic music reviews this edition are a look at a bonnie bunch of English Tradition CDs. Jack finishes his look at Blowzabella, the quintessential Whitechapel-based English dance band. He says, "Bonus points to the first person who gets the connection between White Chapel and the name of the band. And don't groan too loud when you do." Jack garners an Excellence in Writing Award for this review.

Michael Hunter waxes enthusiatically about Alistair Hulett & Dave Swarbrick's The Cold Grey Light Of Dawn, an album that he says reflects "[t]wo well-respected musicians coming together to record songs of social and political significance." Michael picks up an Excellence in Writing Award for this well-written review. Richard Condon has only great things to say about Roy Harris' Live at the Lion.

Gideon Freudmann's Hologram Crackers is the one of the best cello albums ever made, but Gary Whitehouse notes that saying "Freudmann plays the cello is akin to saying that Jimi Hendrix played the guitar." Befitting the now very cold temperatures here in the North Country, April Gutierrez looks at two Nordic CDs: Ensemble Polaris' Midnight Sun: Traditional Nordic Melodies, which has a worldbeat feel to it, and Triakel's Triakel, a darkly cheerful album which is apt given their name means means "sweet, black licorice" in the Jamtland dialect of Sweden.

Brendan wraps up this edition with at three albums that cover the traditional and medieval music of Spain: La Rondinella's Sephardic Journey: Spain and the Spanish Jews, Sarban's Ballads of the Sephardic Jews, and Sonus' Echoes of Spain. He notes "These three Dorian releases are excellent records of the both Spanish medieval sound during its glory days as well as the huge influence that this music would have on European and Arabic music for many centuries afterwards." This review garners our last Excellence in Writing Award for this well-written review.

09 January 2000

Gee, one expects it to be quiet in the post-holiday period, doesn't one? No, one doesn't if you're dealing with what your Editor considers to be the best writing staff in the cultural review e-zine business, as we have our largest edition ever this week. This is our way of starting off the year 2000 in style!

Michael Jones, who picks Charles de Lint's Dreams Underfoot as one of his Top Ten fantasy books in Peregrine's Prerogative #2, and who wins one of the Excellence in Writing Awards this week for his review, says of this collection that "this is the book I'd gleefully hand anyone as an introduction" to Charles de Lint. And do check Peregrine's Prerogative to see the other books that made his list. Not on his list, but a must readers for lovers of music and magic is The Horns of Elfland, a collection edited by Ellen Kushner and friends.  Jeannine Gerhmann notes that you should "Go get a copy and read it with some of your favourite music on the CD player." She also wins an Excellence in Writing Award for her insights into this anthology.  And Rebecca Swain got a review copy for GMR of Alan Garner's Elidor, from Harcourt Brace & Company, that was so good that she ended up reading and reviewing it herself! Just to make it three for three, Rebecca wins the third of four Excellence In Writing Awards for the week.

Two very different folklore reviews have been added this edition. Marian McHugh believes of William Butler Yeats' Mythologies "that there is much interesting and useful information presented in Mythologies. However, if you are looking for a light read of mythology there are many other anthologies available that will provide a much easier read." And Chuck Lipsig opines that Jack Zipes' Creative Storytelling: Building Community, Changing Lives is "a solid book for those with special interest in education or fairy tales."

Your Editor notes that Folk Tales has a natural interest in books that touch upon the musical experience. Five reviews in this week's edition cover releases new and old in this genre. First up is Lahri Bond's scathing look at a not very well-written bio of Joni Mitchell called Paved Paradise. Lahri says that "a biography like this can fall dangerously close to the realm of fanzine style hero worship" and that this one does. Another book that gets ripped to shreds is Martin Melhuish's Celtic Tides: Traditional Music in a New Age, which Brendan Foreman notes is "...plagued by sloppiness and an irritatingly glib writing voice" and "...lacks real substance.." A book worth seeking, however, is Fintan Vallely's The Companion to Irish Traditional Music, a book about which Jack B. Merry says, "there may be a better guide to Irish traditional music but I haven't seen it." However, he thinks Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger's Travellers' Songs From England and Scotland is a lovely book, but misnamed, as but a scant handful of the songs therein are about the Travellers. Lahri finished out this quintet of reviews with a look at Michael Brander's Scottish & Border Battles & Ballads, a collection he thinks "is an excellent beginner's volume, for in true Scottish tradition, the glories of the past are best told, not in dry academic terms, but by singing them proudly and lustily.

Over in the non-fiction section, we have Lahri's examination of Hy Bender's The Sandman Companion, the guide to everything you wanted to know about this Neil Gaiman undertaking. Lahri also looks at Ray Watkinson's William Morris As Designer -- a bio of a designer who was part of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement. Two men, two very different artistic sensabilities!

There's only one live performance review, but oh, it's a great one: Fairport Goes Dutch is Koen Hottentot's indepth look at the before, during, and after sides of two Fairport concerts in Holland. Koen says these concerts were "one of the most bizarre Fairport gigs in recent years. Half the audience demanded their money back. The other half went home very, very content." Read his review to see why!

Sliding over to Mulligan's Irish Music Bar for a few hours, we grab a Guinness and drink a wee bit of it before looking at the impressive crop of music reviews. Jo Morrison listened to Eileen Ivers' Crossing the Bridge which she says is "this album should be on the shelf of anyone interested in Irish or world music." The fourth and final Excellence In Writing Award goes to Jo for this review. Jayme Blascke thought Wolf Loescher's Holy Grail was every bit as good as his work with his former band SixMileBridge.  Lars Nilsson recommends Donnie Munro's On the West Side "to those with a love of Scotland or early Runrig music." For those of you not in the know, Donnie Munro was the lead vocalist of Runrig, until the Scottish independence movement become his driving interest.

David Kidney looks at five bluegrass albums: Blue Ridge's Common Ground, Mose Scarlett, Jackie Washington, and Ken Whiteley's We'll Meet Again, Dudley Connell and Don Rigsby's Meet Me By The Moonlight, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver's Winding Thorough Life, and Dolly Parton's (yes, that Dolly Parton) The Grass Is Blue. And surprisingly, David thinks the Dolly Parton CD is the finest of the lot!

A Mulligan's stew of reviews wraps up this edition. Jo thinks that the Baltimore Consort's The Ladyes Delight "is the pop music of its time; the music any budding musician would have been playing in his spare time. This is the music of jams and backyard gatherings, whether for dancing, singing, or pure fun. The music on this recording was gathered from original sources, dating from the mid-1500s, and tells us much of the passions and interests of the people of this era, from the light and sprightly melodies to the open, interwoven arrangements. It was a world of stateliness, but perhaps of simple relaxation as well."

Gary Whitehouse notes, about The Continental Drifters' Vermilion, "Neither The Continental Drifters nor Vermilion are trendy or hip in any way. In fact, some of the lyrics and sentiments would be downright corny if they didn't spring from such a well of experience. These are folks who have been through the wringer of the music business, and now they're making music their way, for themselves and whoever wants to listen." And he says that Stephen Bruton's Nothing But the Truth is, compared to Vermillion, "a pretty lightweight record." For a very different listening experience, read April Gutierrez's review of Jydsk På Næsen's Blod på Tanden. April says of this Nordic CD that "fans of traditional dance tunes may likely find this a pleasant CD." Our last review is of Cris Williamson and Tret Fure's Radio Quiet. Michael Jones says of this CD that "I'm going to have to give this one a thumbs up, especially if you happen to like feminist/healing independent/alternative music."


01 January 2000

Bliadhna mhath ur! Slainte mhath, sonas agus beartas! (Happy New Year! Good health, happiness & wealth!) Please note that we return to our weekly publishing schedule as of the 9th of January. I'd like to thank the more than 250,000 folks who have read our magazine during the past year. And of course, this undertaking would not be possible without the best staff on the net!