25 June 2000

Folk Tales has reviewers who are capable enough to look at groups from a historic perspective. Two omnibus reviews this time point this fact out rather nicely. First up is Jo Morrison's Excellence in Writing Award winning look at The Complete Linn Barnes in which she reviews all nine CDs that Linn, a Celtic lute player, has released. Jo says "...the duo's character and ambitions clearly change over the years, as evidenced by their musical selections and instrumental choices in their recordings. Growing from a couple of Renaissance lute players with limited appeal into a highly-varied pair of musicians who can play almost any style of music must have been a long and arduous path, but it has produced enjoyable results." And David Kidney, editor of The Ry Cooder Quarterly, reviews the output of that artist. He comments, "...The Ry Cooder Quarterly (The Rylander), which I publish, is in its third year and has subscribers around the world. The main thing that people talk to me about is the sound: Ry's mandolin and his guitar. The unmistakable funky feel of his music." Finishing off this section of looks at artists over a period of time is Chuck Lipsig's examination of three albums by The Men They Couldn't Hang: Night of a Thousand Candles, Silvertown, and The Domino Club. He comments "...[i]t is not unfair to say they had a very Pogue-like feel with hard-driving versions of traditional tunes, hard-edged punk voice, and a hard-left political angle..." Last edition, I reviewed Baby Fishlips, a release by Philip Odgers and Paul Simmonds, core members of TMTCH. Now read Chuck's review to see what he thinks of them in this band!

Jack B. Merry was a very busy lad this week as he turned in reviews of four Celtic CDs: The Mollys' Tidings of Comfort and Joy, Hamish Moore's Dannsa' Air An Drochaid, Poor Man's Fortune's Blow Hard, and The Nettles' self-titled debut recording. Over a pint of Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout at the Rathskeller, he noted that "...[s]ome of the best Celtic music out there is that released by the bands directly..." Kim Bates reviews Liam Clancy's Irish Troubadour, an album that has "...no bells and whistles, no jigs and reels here, just some classic songs in the Irish style, delivered simply and directly by one of the masters."

Brendan Foreman, who's on a busman's holiday this week, was lucky enough to get The Best of Inti-Illimani, a Green Linnet compilation of this veteran Chilean musical group. Brendan notes "[t]here is a great range of Latin music here from Peruvian tradition to the Creole sounds of the Caribbean, from sophisticated serenades to rowdy rumbas."

Kim Bates got to see Charles de Lint and Robert Sawyer when they did a joint reading in Toronto. She notes that, as she expected, "...Canadian authors de Lint and Sawyer drew a packed house ..." Kim will be doing an interview with Charles on the relationship between music and literature, and Chuck has an interview with him now in the editing stage.

Sliding over to the literary side of our enterprise, we start off with Naomi de Bruyn's look at two linked novels by Elizabeth Hand: Waking the Moon and its sequel, Black Light. Naomi comments, "[t]his is an explosive and intriguing tale of love, ancient ritual and religion, and self-sacrifice, a tale of the ultimate growth one can aspire to. I felt it dragged a bit at the beginning. The plot seemed unnecessarily circuitous. However, about halfway through it actually had me wondering what would happen next." Anther excellent fantasy, Mercedes Lackey's Brightly Burning, is reviewed by Michael M. Jones, who opines that "...this is easily one of Lackey's best books in years." The last piece of fiction reviewed this edition is Roger Zelazny and Jane Lindskold's Lord Demon. Patrick O'Donnell was more than slightly pleased with the novel; in fact, he says "[i]t's a shame this is to be 'the final classic from the incomparable master,' as the jacket states, but all good things must come to an end."

A very weird book is reviewed by Michael "Penguins" Jones: Paul Kirchner's Forgotten Fads and Fabulous Flops. Michael says of this book that "[t]his is a book composed solely of the most ridiculous fads to capture our attention, the most profound flops, the silliest patents, and the ideas that never got off the ground."

Two musiclore books finish out this edition. First up is Francis Edward Abernathy and Dan Beaty's Singing Texas. Kim Bates comments that "Abernathy describes how the music of his native state crept into his consciousness while he was stationed away from home in the military. Despite his love of popular music, it just did not ease his homesickness the way the down-home ballads and hymns could. This realization has led to a life of playing music with friends, while supporting this habit with an academic position." And I've saved the very best for last: Clinton Heylin's bio, No More Sad Refrains: The Life and Times of Sandy Denny. Reviewer Chris Woods finishes out his review with this comment: "I suspect a number of Sandy Denny fans won't like this book. Some will be shocked and possibly won't want to believe all of it. Quite a few will be upset by what they read. Indeed, it's an upsetting and all too tragic story; anyone with feelings can't help but be affected by reading it. Nevertheless, if you are at all interested in Sandy you must read this book -- then go back and read it again!" Not at all surprisingly, Chris picks up an Excellence in Writing Award for this insightful review.

21 June 2000

Folk Tales has just broken the mark of 50,000+ unique readers per month. We've actually increased readership from barely 1500 a month to the present 50,000+ only because of having a great staff, superb technical support, and a very good reputation. Some zines *never* increase their initial limited readership, and they usually die off after a few years. It also doesn't hurt that we get amazing, truly amazing, support from the concerns whose product we review -- very often we often get product only days after it's requested! For example, the hardcopy version of The Chieftains, the authorized bio (which Kim just reviewed in the audiobook version) arrived this afternoon. It was requested by me via email -- I do every request by email these days -- on Monday afternoon!

18 June 2000

Folk Tales gets the most interesting items for review, and the two musiclore books this edition illustrate this point very nicely. First up is Bela Bartok and Albert B. Lord's Yugoslav Folk Music which reviewer Brendan Foreman notes "...this is an invaluable aid to the scholar of East European music. And it is also interesting to anyone just interested in the field. Be warned, though, it's a tough read but well worth it." Brendan garners an Excellence in Writing Award for this well-written look at an important work. And in their own way the Chieftains have added immeasurably to Irish traditional music. Kim Bates' review of the 4-CD audio version of John Glatt's The Chieftains, The authorized biography leads her to comment "...I enjoyed the book, and feel the interviews with band members alone are worth the price of the set, as is the extensive history of the band's background and early years."

I was very pleased by the arrival last week in the post of Jack Zipes's The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales. In the review, I commented "I'll admit that I'm a tough critic -- I know this subject far better than most folks -- and I still like The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales." I'm pleased to note that the Editors deemed this worthy of an Excellence in Writing Award.

Three very different works of fiction get reviewed this week. Naomi de Bruyn thought The Gutbucket Quest as co-authored by Piers Anthony and Ron Leming was a blues mystery with several interesting twists; our Snowqueen appropriately enough looked at a book involving reindeer: Meredith Ann Pierce's The Woman Who Loved Reindeer; and No'am Newman thought Carole Nelson Douglas' Cat in a Kiwi Con suffered from being part of a series.

Sawdust, beer, and twanging guitars... GMR gets more than just the best in traditional music of a Celtic and English nature: we also get stick-to-your shoe country music. David Kidney looks at three releases in the might-someday-be legendary Live at Billy Bob's Texas series with releases by John Conlee, Pat Green, and Merle Haggard. David notes " [t]hese are three in an ongoing series of live albums from Billy Bob's. They make up an anthology of what's good and bad about country music, but they show that, if you're looking for good playing, and earthy songs about real people, country is still the place to go." David picks up Excellence in Writing Award for this review. And Gary Whitehouse looks at Tish Hinojosa's Sign of Truth country -- ok, Mexican-American border -- influenced , an album that Gary says "is a pleasant, if not overly memorable, country/folk album."

Only one Celtic album get reviewed this edition, but don't worry as we've got dozens of Celtic CDs going out to reviewers this week. That album is Full Gael, the self-titled debut from Full Gael. Reviewer Chuck Lipsig comments "I hope somebody pulls "Black is the Color" for some sort of collection, because that is one of the most incredible performance of that song I've heard. Unfortunately one standout track does not make a CD, and there's nothing else to seriously recommend Full Gael." Likewise Big Earl Sellar -- who's in search of a good latte this week -- thought Randy Armstrong's soundtrack to the PBS series Dinner On The Diner was "a rather bland set, holding excitement for the very uninitiated World Music novice only." I, on the other hand, was quite taken by the oddly titled Baby Fishlips, a release by Philip Odgers and Paul Simmonds' of The Men They Couldn't Hang illustriousness. I said in my review "[i]f you haven't yet heard The Men They Couldn't Hang, this is a more than fair introduction to them. Buy Baby Fishlips and then go get every TMTCH CD you can lay your hands on." And the Live album I reviewed by the Red Clay Ramblers was a sheer delight. I noted "the bottom line is that Live is the next best thing to seeing the Red Clay Ramblers live which is why I suspect it's called Live. Go buy it, wait for the summer heat to kick in, grab your dancing partner, and take a turn around the floor. I defy you to keep your feet from dancing and your hands from clapping!"

Not surprisingly, the GMR staff loves going to concerts. Fortunately for you, they also like writing them up as reviews. Chris Woods, newly appointed GMR English Music Editor, attended a concert by Les Barker and the Mrs. Ackroyd Band.. He wisely noted in his Excellence in Writing Award winning review that "Going to see Les Barker can be an uncomfortable experience. In an intellectual sense the puns and wordplay are sometimes so awful it's painful, while in a physical sense your muscles can become very sore from laughing so much. I suppose you could say that Les Barker is to folk music what Monty Python are to serious social debate. Be warned, this man can be seriously funny!" And Ed Dale was equally enthused by Brenga Astur, a band that "hails from Madrid, but their music is from the Asturias part of northwestern Spain. Asturias, along with Galicia and Catalonia, comprise the Celtic parts of Spain. The name translates as "the soul of Asturias," and it fits. The sound is decidedly Celtic, similar to traditional music of Brittany with a large dose of Scotland."

Michael M. Jones gets the coda piece with his latest Peregrine's Prerogative column. I haven't read it yet but it's rumored -- gasp! -- that he's talking about books!

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that David, Editor of the best newsletter on Ry Cooder, will be doing a retrospective of that influential artist next edition. Now I'm off in search of tea, breakfast, and a cat to stroke. May you find good reading and interesting listening in this week's edition!

11 June 2000

The Chieftains' From the beginning: The Chieftains 1 to 4, a four-CD set from Claddagh, is being released as separate CDs starting this month. The first two CDs are out now. (A lucky Folk Tales staffer got these CDs as a bonus for their work this week!) Don't miss these rather tasty and historically important releases. Speaking of the Chieftains, Kim Bates is working on a review of the 4-CD audio version of their authorized biography. Expect the review here next week!

And now for the reviews this week. First up are five book reviews, beginning with Michael M. Jones' look at Mardi Gras Madness, a short story collection edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Russell Davis. Our reviewer notes, "Mardi Gras is more than you think, and in Mardi Gras Madness, eleven authors take you on a terrifying, intriguing tour of what really happens when the lights are dim and the parades pass through the streets." Marian McHugh turns in a damn fine review of Jane Yolen's The One-Armed Queen, the third book in Yolen's Great Alta series. Marian says, "As with the other books in the Great Alta series Yolen not only provides a story but also the history, myths, legends and songs of the people of the Dales." [Look for the ethnomusicologist named after the editor of this august magazine!]

Snow Queen, errr, our Book Editor Rebecca Swain, has an insightful commentary of Sean Stewart's Nobody's Son, a young adult fantasy about which she notes, "When I started reading this book I thought it was going to be a typical quest novel, and I hoped Stewart had a twist up his sleeve to make his story different from the dozens of other quest novels out there. He did." She wins an Excellence in Writing Award for this well-crafted review. A piece of dance history comes in this week: Allison Thompson's Lighting the Fire, the tale of Elsie J. Oxenham, The Abbey Girls, and the English Folk Dance Revival. Reviewer Gary Whitehouse opines, "Allison Thompson, a Pennsylvania-based writer, musician and dancer, has written a sharp little booklet that adds an interesting bit to the history of English country dance and its American cousin, contra dance." (We reviewed her contra dance CD, Waltzing in the Trees, last week.) Naomi de Bruyn wraps up our book reviews with a look at Patricia A. McKillip's The Tower at Stony Wood, which is about "Three towers, three different stories..."

Kim Bates filled in for Brendan Foreman as Music Editor for the past two weeks. She did a superb job! She was responsible for getting a total of twenty-seven CD reviews in to GMR this edition. Brendan had time enough away from his editing duties to turn in a very nice omnibus "of the artists who are using aspects of country and bluegrass in their music, while not necessarily staying confined within one genre."

Not surprisingly, we get lots of Celtic CDs from every place that Celtic musicians exist. This week was a typical week with artists from the USA, Australia, Ireland, Scotland, and other far flung places getting reviewed. Jo Morrison, a crack musician herself, starts off with a look at Baltimore Consort's The Mad Buckgoat: Ancient Music of Ireland , an album she says is a "fascinating and varied collection." Chuck Lipsig hated the first track of Beyond the Pale's Angel on the 7th Stair, as it was rather awful, but "after that mess of a first track, this CD turns into something special." Kim had no problems at all with Hyn, Carreg Lafar's second CD, nor did Brendan find anything to object to in Jonny Hardie and Gavin Marwick's The Blue Lamp. Keeping up the streak of excellent albums is Bruce Molsky's Poor Man's Troubles. Reviewer Tim Hoke tells this anecdote: "'How many times do you need to listen to that before you write your review?' my wife asked. I mumbled something about 'careful listening' and 'analysis' that probably didn't fool anyone. The truth is that I was enjoying listening to this recording too much to stop and write about it."

Kim returns with an Excellence in Writing Award winning look at two Mollys CDs, Only a Story and Wankin' Out West. She says, "The Mollys signature style is created from Nancy McCallion's songwriting and bright country vocals, along with the occasional harmonica and penny whistle; Catherine Zavala's dark and dramatic vocals, mandolin, and occasional fiddle; Kevin Schramm's piano and button accordions, bouzouki, guitar, banjo, and vocals; Dan Sorenson's bass and vocals, and Gary Mackender's percussion and vocals. They have a wild, raucous -- but never sloppy -- sound, with effective use of the bouzouki, mandolin, fiddle, banjo, slide guitar and (especially) accordion on top of the folk rock base of guitar, bass and percussion. The Mollys don't just use these instruments to add colour, but also a sense of place and time."

Chuck's second review is of Irish musician Tomas O Canainn's The "Pennyburn Piper" Presents Uilleann Pipes -- a nifty piping album worth seeking. Likewise No'am Newman found Scottish musician Gibb Todd's Connected interesting listening if a tad laidback. Tim gets the final Celtic review with In the Home Of My Ancestors and My Mother's Country by Aussie performers Gavin O'Loghlen & Cotters Bequest. Tim notes, "I have to admit that at first listen I didn't care for these discs. At second listen, I began to warm toward them. By the third listen, I found them pleasant, but not riveting."

Now for something completely different -- real beer-and-sawdust-on-the-floor country music. Big Earl Sellar garners an Excellence in Writing Award for his look at Eddy Raven's Live At Billy Bob's Texas Presents Eddy Raven. He notes "...modern artists could learn a thing or two from Eddy Raven about how to actually create a country song." Next up is the Tarbox Ramblers' self-titled debut album, an album about which Gary comments, "A lot of bands make what is called "roots rock," but Boston's Tarbox Ramblers are so close to their roots that if you gave them a good shake, bits of dirt and loam and I don't know what-all would probably come flying off. Their debut CD on Rounder is a thick, dark Gothic stew that'll stick to your ribs and still have you coming back for seconds."

David gives us a comprehensive look at David Rea, a performer "...in the direct lineage of Ramblin' Jack. He was on, full tilt, telling stories, talking blues, Robert Johnson blues, Jimmie Rodgers tunes, originals that were so authentic you couldn't tell them apart from the old songs..." Read his detailed look at this artist!

Our Snow Queen returns with a nifty review of Cheryl Wheeler and Half a Book by -- go ahead, guess who -- Cheryl Wheeler. She gently suggests, "I have it on good authority that Cheryl Wheeler's live shows are fantastic. The background she gives for her songs, and her humorous anecdotes, put the audience in a receptive mood and give the songs added depth and resonance. So perhaps the best way to approach Wheeler's music is to attend a concert, then buy her albums."

Ghazal's Moon Rise Over the Silk Road is, according to Big Earl, "... a brilliant idea for a recording: considering the pan cultural world music market, how about an unexpected meeting? A recording of an Indian musician playing with an Iranian one? Ghazal captures that meeting, although it really doesn't work as well as it should." And Michael Jones gets the final review slot with his must-read examination of Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Beethoven's Last Night. He says, "Normally, Iwouldn't review something so rock-influenced for Folk Tales, but frankly, its take on classical music is special enough, and its value as something you just don't see enough of is great enough, that I convinced my editor to accept it." (Editor's note: his arm twisting was very persausive.... But he still owes Jack B. Merry a fifth of Glenmorangle for finding that elusive Charles de Lint chapbook!)

Don't forget to read Michael's Peregrine's Prerogative this week to see what he's been reading -- his whole life!

If you see our missing penguins, please don't hurt them -- They really are as cute and harmless as they look.... Just keep your fingers out of their mouths!

04 June 2000

Welcome to the Green Man! We have changed the name of Folk Tales to Green Man: Roots & Branches of Music and Literature, to more accurately reflect what we do, as we don't do just folk. [If you are one of our thirty-five thousand monthly readers, don't worry about forgetting the new url -- anyone accessing the old location for the next sixty days will automatically be transferred to our new location! But do bookmark it soon!] So why did we change our name? These are our reasons:

1) It gets rid of the f-word, which has been a problem for some CD and book companies. ("Our product isn't folk!") Not that The Folk Tales don't get a lot of product -- I have a pile of sixty CDs and a few dozen books on my desk awaiting a reviewer claiming them!

2) The domain www.greenmanreview.com is actually easier for folks to remember than greenmanreview.com -- the hyphen has been a royal pain in the arse.

3) Thematically, the name works better -- more Celtic without being explicitly so. (Nearly 50% of our material is Celtic in nature.)

4) It matches our ever-evolving Green Man motif.

5) It sounds very cool.

And now for the first edition of Green Man: Roots & Branches of Music and Literature!

Michael Jones leads off our book reviews with a look at Isaac Asimov's Azazel , a short story collection concerning, as Michael puts it, "...a two-millimeter-high demon, possessed of powers beyond our comprehension, but seemingly still a 'nobody' in his own home plane of existence. As a result, he occasionally can be convinced to help people." More otherworldly beings populate Charles de Lint's Buffalo Man, a short tale that Marian McHugh notes "...reads as an extension to the events that were portrayed in de Lint's novel, Someplace to be Flying. There is, yet again, the strong presence of the corbae in the form of the Crow Girls as well as Lucius, the raven, who is once more participating in the world rather than living the life of a recluse as he did in Someplace to be Flying."

Naomi de Bruyn found Christopher Fowler's dark fantasy Disturbia to be "...so disturbing in fact, that it may keep you up all night reading."

More horror is in the offing in Thomas J. Strauch's Whispered From The Grave. William Simmons notes "...the fourteen [ghost] tales in this anthology are both entertaining and thoughtful, achieving their power to disturb and amaze courtesy of the fine authors who place their cold hand in yours, make you comfortable, and then leave you alone in very, very dark places." This review wins an Excellence in Writing Award from our Editorial staff.

Marian is back with an examination of Jane Yolen's Not One Damsel In Distress. Marian quotes Yolen as saying, "This book is for you {girls} because in it are folktales about heroes -- regular sword-wielding, spear-throwing, villain-stomping, rescuing-type heroes who also happen to be females."

Chuck Lipsig finishes out our book reviews with a look at a book he's coveted for years: Ewan McColl's edited collection, Folk Songs and Ballads of Scotland. He notes Folk Songs and Ballads of Scotland "...belongs in the collection of anyone with a strong interest in Celtic music."

Speaking of things Celtic, Michael Hunter has an interview with Maddy Prior, an artist whose material on her new album Ravenchild is both more Celtic and more pagan.

Ravenchild will be reviewed here shortly -- Park Records just made promotional copies available in the States! As Michael notes, "And so the long and changing career of Maddy Prior continues with as much momentum as ever. Along with her solo work, she still performs occasionally with the Carnival Band and with ex-members of Steeleye in various combinations, so the pace of her life is probably only slightly less hectic than when she was a full time member of the band. It's been a long and influential career that shows no signs of slowing down, for which a great many people are very grateful!"

Michael's exceptionally well-crafted interview gets him an Excellence in Writing Award!

Peregrine's Prerogative this time involves what might be accurately termed the fundamental obsession of Michael M. Jones: books, books, and more books.

Are you looking for music to listen to? This week you'll find 27 albums reviewed that may well tickle your fancy! Lahri Bond leads off with a June Tabor omnibus in which he looks at all of her albums. (Yes, all.) And Brendan Foreman has a Sugar Hill omnibus -- Sugar Hill being one of the premiere bluegrass labels of all time. He notes, "...the parcel of bluegrass CDs -- all released within the past year -- that my Editor just sent is living proof of it. These are all professional artists who have managed to stake out a living by playing a music that they love, not one that is necessarily guaranteed to sell. Furthermore, these artists are pushing the form into new realms..."

I would be remiss not to thank Vanguard for sending Big Mama Thornton's The Complete Vanguard Recordings . Reviewer David Kidney observes that this 3-CD set "...features her two officially released Vanguard albums in their entirety plus a third unreleased album which was only discovered in the archives when plans were made to release the first two! We should rejoice that they found these recordings for they cap off a tremendous listening experience." Divid garners an Excellence in Writing Award for this superb review.

Four Celtic CDs are next up. The worst of the lot is, according to Patrick O'Donnell, Celtic Roots' Haunting Irish Airs , about which he says "...there's some fine artists out there, but there's plenty of crud that will be relegated to the bargain bin. This slightly new-agey release falls somewhere in between." On the other hand, Jo Morrison has nothing but praise for Ceól Na Píoba - Píob Mhór. As she says, "{It} has often been said that piobaireachd [classic bagpipe music] is not for everyone, but if it was presented as elegantly and beautifully as it is presented on this recording, that feeling might not hold true for long." This review is good enough for an Excellence in Writing Award.

No'am Newman found Scottish artist Iain MacInnes' Tryst to be to his liking, as did Gary Whitehouse as regards Cape Breton fiddler Bill Lamey's Full Circle.

Not Celtic but with deep roots in it is American contradance music. Gary was very much impressed with Amarillis' Waltzing in the Trees. He says it "...is a delightful record that brings lively contra dance music into your home." The founder of the Portland Folk Club, out of which Green Man Review: Roots & Branches of Music and Literature evolved, was Charlie Ipcar, son of noted author Dahlov Ipcar. I think Charlie, a member of sea chantey group Roll & Go, would have been impressed with Starboard List's Songs of the Tall Ships and Cruising Round Yarmouth, as Jo certainly was!

Chuck Lipsig found Adam Stemple's 3 Solid Blows to the Head to be "...a pleasantly melancholy, if somewhat uneven CD." And Michael, ace Peregrine's Prerogative columnist, had this to say about Peter Case's Flying Saucer Blues "...in all honesty, after many repeated listenings, and a genuine attempt to truly grasp this CD, I've come to the conclusion that, while it's a rather nice effort, with some stand-out lyrics, catchy tunes, and some good points, it doesn't quite work for me on all levels."