27 February 2000

Our first review this edition is Chuck Lipsig's detailed look at Harold Bloom's Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, a biography in which he says "...you definitely get the author's opinion." See his opinion of Harold Bloom!  A rose is just a rose, by any other name, and Chuck's latest Excellence in Writing Award is a rose just the same. Diane McDonough notes that the author's opinions figure heavily in D.J. Conway's The Mysterious, Magickal Cat.. She says "[it] is when Conway travels into the realm of the occult that the book loses all steam."

Our sole fiction review in this issue also involves the occult: Roger Zelazny's A Night In The Lonesome October.. Michael Jones opines this novel is "...[a] world of foggy danger, mystery, and Byzantine maneuverings. A world where Jack the Ripper is, believe it or not, the good guy, where his dog is the narrator, and where absolutely anything can happen." Quick, the Game's afoot!  For his insights, Michael walks home with an Excellence in Writing Award.

Lars Nilsson has added to our collection of Fairport Convention performance reviews with a look at their gig at The Arena in St Albans, UK. on the eighteenth of this month. Lars comments, "Going to a Fairport concert is like coming home. You know what the evening will bring -- good well-played songs, and loads of jokes and funny comments. Sometimes they are as much stand-up comedians as musicians."

Gary Whitehouse tackles a difficult subject in reviewing The Raga Guide, a detailed look at Indian ragas. He notes that he knew little about ragas but "....now I know a little bit more, thanks to this impressive book."

Jack B. Merry did not sit on a candlestick, nor did his band get lost in a blizzard, so he has two Celtic music reviews for us this edition. He comments, "It won't surprise you that Folk Tales gets a lot of Celtic music, but it may surprise you how good most of it is. Sturgeon's Law that 90% of all artistic endeavors are crap simply doesn't apply to the area of Celtic music. Oh, the Editor tells me that we do occasionally get a few really awful albums, but generally the quality is damn fine." The Iron Horse's self-titled debut album is one of these fine undertakings. " [i]f one was to compile a list of the ten best Celtic releases of the last decade, this album would be among them." And the JSD Band's Pastures of Plenty is an album which "very neatly combines Celtic traditional music with American traditional songs in a way that will please fans of both genres."

April Gutierrez looks at an odd album: Dragonship's The Rhymer and the Ravens. She says, "I wanted to like this 19 track cassette. Really I did. Why? First, it's a rock opera, and I've always been a sucker for rock operas. Two, it's based on (and named after) the first of a series of books -- written by band member Jodie Forrest -- in which the tale of Thomas the Rhymer becomes mingled with Norse mythology. A fascinating premise. Unfortunately, somewhere between the premise and the execution, something went awry." Read her review to see what went wrong!

Big Earl Sellar thinks Souls of Fire's Firedancing shows them to be a great band, and "[a]lthough they add a more modern twist to their music, this disc sounds rather like any early traditional recording compilation that you'll come across. And that's a compliment." David Kidney was likewise enthused about Toshi Reagon's The Righteous Ones, and notes that "I've been listening to The Righteous Ones on and off for a couple of months now, and every time I get a different feeling from it. The music is invigorating and funky. The singing is emotive and even glorious in parts."

More sacred music is what Big Earl looks at in his second review. Sacred Steel - Live! is "hard-driving Black Gospel at its raunchiest. Right from the opening number "God Is A Good God," House of God Crescent City member Darick Campbell not only lays down fierce, relentless lap work that would do David Lindley proud, his over-driven tone is one Sonny Rhodes would kill for." This review earns Big Earl an Excellence in Writing Award. More laid back is Traditional Fiddle Music of the Ozarks, an album about which reviewer Gary Whitehouse opines "Fiddle players, students and fans have reason to rejoice: Traditional Fiddle Music of the Ozarks is a treasure."  Our last Excellence in Writing Award goes to Gary for this review.

Michael Jones gets the last word with his latest Peregrine's Prerogative: A Fistful of Anthologies. Cue the spaghetti Western music ...

20 February 2000  

Gary Whitehouse says the central character of Salman Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet is the music. Read his review to see why I, your Editor, think Rushdie has created one of the greatest novels about music ever written. Gary wins an Excellence in Writing Award for this thoughtful, well-crafted review.

Brendan Foreman had one of the greatest experiences a Music Editor of an arts review journal can hope for: he attended the Folk Alliance's Annual Conference! Naturally I was pleased by this comment: "In fact, I was very pleasantly surprised at how enthusiastic many of the record company reps became when I mentioned that I was from Folk Tales and that I actually knew Cat Eldridge!"

I take pride in the fact that we will warn you when a recording is less than outstanding. Big Earl Sellar looks at two Jackalope (aka R. Carlos Nakai and Larry M. Yanez) recordings that were more than a bit dated: Jackalope and Weavings In a similar vein, Rowan Inish thinks Lindisfarne Live is not very good at all. (Remember to always read these reviews: you'll develop an even greater appreciation of the really good stuff!) 

Not that there isn't great music for you to hunt down! Chuck Lipsig thinks Great Big Sea's Rant and Roar is quite splendid. Chuck says "...Rant and Roar, is a solid, upbeat CD that belongs in anyone's collection of Rock 'n' Reel." A particularly interesting musical niche is Celtic music with pagan tones. Diane McDonough looks at Green Crown's Washed in her Blood, a CD that fits in that niche very nicely. She notes "The music is lyrical, sung in a manner reminiscent of traditional Celtic ballads, accompanied by eclectic instrumental arrangements inspired by the participatory energy of contemporary paganism."

Gary continues his look at Western Swing music with a look at two albums by Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant: Stratosphere Boogie: The Flaming Guitars of Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant , and Swingin' on the Strings : The Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant Collection, Volume 2. Gary comments "...Western swing is a hybrid of country and jazz; and if Wills was its king, then Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant were the crown princes." Gary garners a second an Excellence in Writing Award for ths review which continues his explrations in examining Swing music.

Big Earl thinks Mamadou Diabate's Tunga will tickle your musical fancy. This CD, he says, is "...an adventure, a wonderful collision of African and Western styles beautifully recorded and performed."

Brendan Foreman, our resident Eastern European expert, looks at Muzsikas's The Bartok Album. He notes ".... that many people were quite familiar with Bartok's classical compositions while being quite ignorant of the Hungarian folk musical traditions that inspired much of those compositions. In fact, Bartok was completely entranced by the traditional music of his people and became one of the first people to take full advantage of the advent of mobile recording technology in the beginning of the twentieth century and set out on many field-recording tours of Eastern Europe from the 1900's to the 1930's..." (And look for Brendan's forthcoming review of Bela Bartok's Yugoslav Folk Music. This four-volume work is the most substantial and thorough analysis of Yugoslav folk music ever to be published in the English language.) Brendan picks up an Excellence in Writing Award for this review.

Only one addition to music lore book reviews graces our pages this time: John Loesberg's Traditional Folksongs & Ballads of Scotland, Vols. 1-3. Debbie Skolnik comments that "[t]hese paperback books are perfect for anyone who loves these songs and wants to sing and/or play them, which is what I did shortly after getting the books."

Big Earl returns with a look at the future of music distribution. See his Datapanik in The Year Zero commentary in Speaker's Corner where only the finest raving is permitted.

Michael Jones gets the last word with his latest installent of Peregrine's Prerogative. This time he looks at felines, both those in his life and those in literary settings.

13 February 2000  

Roger Zelazny once said, "It's damn hard to tell the dancers from the dance." That's my way of saying that great reviews result from both superior product and great writers! And this week is no exception.

Despite hosting the party mentioned in his new Peregrine's Prerogative column, Michael Jones was a busy writer this week. He leads off with a look at the album Iguana Iguana by the Reptile Palace Orchestra band. Michael comments that "[t]here is just something mind-bogglingly unreal about the Reptile Palace Orchestra. Unreal, surreal, and captivating. I can honestly say that I've never heard anything quite like them before. And I've listened to a wide range of styles, thanks to Folk Tales." Read his review to see why this was so. On a more traditional note, he looks at Oysterband's This Is The Voice EP, his introduction to this group. Not surprisingly, he liked them! He finishes out this edition with an examination of C'mon, from the Celtic band Rook. He says "[w]ould I recommend Rook? Oh, in a heartbeat. They're a rare cut above the best, one I thoroughly enjoyed, and one I'll listen to again quite happily in the future." Michael wins not one, but two, Excellence in Writing Awards for his two music reviews.

Rebecca Swain's review of Jonathan Carroll's novel The Marriage of Sticks will have you rushing out to read this fantasy, and her in-depth look at Leslie Alcock's Arthur's Britain will have you delving into some aspects of the Authurian legend. If you need a break from suggestions for your reading pleasure, look at her review of Catie Curtis's Truth From Lies, an early album of hers that Ryko has just re-released. Rebecca notes this CD should appeal "mostly to women."

As the Editor of this magazine, I'm particularly pleased with the outstanding Nordic Tradition reviews that April Gutierrez has been turning in. She has two this week: R7, the debut album from Rosenberg 7, and Seleniko, another album from veteran group Värttinä. If you've a fondness for traditional Nordic vocalists, April says to check out R7; if you like your music with masses of instruments and singers, read her review of Seleniko.

Jack B. Merry has been very, very happy with the many music lore books that have come into Folk Tales, which is why he has another omnibus review this edition. Check out his reviews of Barry Jean Ancelet's Cajun and Creole Music Makers, Allen Forte's The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era: 1924-1950, Philip Gura and James Bollman's American's Instrument: The Banjo in the Nineteenth Century, William Bernard McCarthy's The Ballad Matrix, and Charles Pierce's Polly Peachum and The Beggar's Opera. Jack promises another omnibus is being worked on this very moment!

Five staffers contributed one review apiece. Debbie Skolnik discovered that Robert Johnson is still alive in Greg Kihn's most cool novel Mojo Hand. However, Rowan Inish thought Callahan's Legacy by Spider Robinson wasted a very good concept. The latter review wins Rowan an Excellence in Writing Award.

Laurie Thayer was really impressed by Meredith Ann Pierce's The Darkangel Trilogy ! Meanwhile, Chuck Lipsig found Rowan's Grandfather's Horse enjoyable. He says Rowan "has a wealth of musical experience and a lot of enthusiasm that makes Grandfather's Horse a more than adequate CD that could be the start of something special." Lars Nilsson gets the last word with his look at Julian Dawson's Under the Sun, an album he thinks "is well sung, well played and well produced; but it fails to grab hold of me in spite of numerous rounds in my CD player." Read his review to see if you agree.

Next week: reviews of Vogon poetry. No, just kidding!

10 February 2000  

Brendan Foreman, our Music Editor, is busy collecting CDs at the Folk Alliance annual meeting in Cleveland this week. And I expect he'll have some interesting tales to tell all of us when he gets the time to write them up. Brendan will also be reviewing an amazing release from the SUNY Press: Bela Bartok's four volume Folk Songs of Yugoslavia which arrived this week. Look for a lot of music lore reviews over the coming months as we've had literally dozens of review copies arrive here in the past few weeks!

06 February 2000

I, your humble Editor, lead off with a look at the various folk zines, printed and digital, that wait your reading. You do rely on more than just Folk Tales for your folk music information, don't you? (We're good, but not that good!) Well, if you don't know about the wide range of other excellent folk music magazines, here's your chance to discover the creme de le creme of them. The other column this week is the latest installent of Peregrine's Prerogative in which Michael Jones casts a askance eye at anthologies.

Marian McHugh follows up her review of Randy Lee Eickhoff's The Feast with a look at The Raid, another dramatic retelling of an Irish epic tale. She says that "The Raid is a good, clear translation of the original Tain." These old Celtic legends are the basis of Midori Snyder's The Flight of Michael McBride, a novel reviewer Michael J. Jones says is "is one of those books I hold out as an example not just of urban fantasy done right, but of urban fantasy done right in an unexpected setting." Michael also reviews Karen Elizabeth Gordon's Paris Out of Hand: A Wayward Guide, a look at "a phantom Paris, a wildly imaginative, impossible city that exists only in our minds, and in this faux guidebook..." Michael finishes his hat trick with a look at Jane Lindskold's Legends Walking, a sequel to Lindskold's previous book, Changer. Both novels involve are a race of immortal beings, possessed of powers far beyond the ken of mortal man. He says "[t]his is an excellent book. It's urban fantasy at its best..."

Only one folklore review this time, but it's a hell of a good read: Jayme Lynn Blaschke contemplates Miriam Van Scott's The Encyclopedia of Hell. Jayme says ""[an] accurate description of the book would be a "Hellish Primer" because really, that's what this is...." Over in the books of a musical nature, you will find David Kidney's review of Ken Brooks' Tom Waits: Blue Valentine, a biography which the reviewer says isn't the full length critical biography that Waits deserves. The last nonfiction book this edition is Betsy Hearne's Choosing Books for Children: A Commonsense Guide, a guide Marian thinks is "is an extremely useful tool for those adults who do not read much themselves or never read much as a child, for the parent with the reluctant reader, or for that poor aunt or uncle who wishes to pass on to their nieces and nephews the joy of reading but does not know the current authors and trends."

The sole live performance review this edition is by Kim Bates who looks a concert by Weavermania, a group the replicates the concert experience one might have gotten at a Weavers performance. She says "....the show, with its enthusiastic audience participation, were refreshing and a reminder that this tradition is alive and well..."

Ah, where would GMR be without the weekly measure of Celtic music reviews? Rebecca Swain, our very own Snowqueen, leads off with a look at Ceili Rain, the self-titled debut album from (surprise) Ceili Rain. The Snowqueen comments that she liked "this Christian Celtic album very much. It is cheerful, enthusiastic, and well-crafted." Likewise finding favorable review was Ann Gray's Shouting at Magpipes, an album Jo Morrison thought was "....refreshing to see top-caliber pipers taking the bagpipe to new horizons." Kim Bates was equally enthused about two albums by accordinist Sharon Shannon: Out the Gap and Spellbound: the Best of Sharon Shannon. She opines " [b]oth CDs are enjoyable..." Meanwhile Chuck Lipsig considers the matter of Jock Tamson's Bairns compilation CD A' Jock Tamson's Bairns. Chuck says "A Lasses Fashion is deservedly acknowledged as one of the greatest recordings of traditional Scots music. The self-titled album, on the other hand, is an uneven affair of a group that did not quite mesh yet." Wrapping up the Celtic coverage is Richard Condon's review of Jennifer and Hazel Wrigley's Mither o'the Sea, an album he notes is "a CD that will appeal to anyone who enjoys good fiddling with its feet firmly rooted in the legacy of the tradition and its eyes set just as firmly on the horizons of both space and time."

Ah, the Meat Puppets, a traditional folk group everyone should know about. Ok, they don't sound like a GMR sort of group, but Gary Whitehouse makes a convincing argument in his review of their You Love Me EP. Read it to see if you agree!

Michael Jones gets the last word with his review of Alison Krauss' Forget About It, a bluegrass album that might enthuse you more than it did him.

As always, GMR has a few reviews that our editorial staff deemed worthy of receiving the coveted Excellence in Writing Award. It may not be the Nobel Peace Prize, but it's still an honor nonetheless. This week, the Award goes to Jayme for his review of the Encyclopedia of Hell, to Kim for Weavermania, to Richard Condon for Mither o'the Sea, and Michael Jones for his reviews of Paris Out of Hand, -and- for The Flight of Michael McBride!  That's right, five Awards, four people. If you read no other reviews this week, read these.