O bards of rhyme and meter free,
My gratitude goes out to ye
For all your deathless lines -- ahem!
Let's see now... What is one of them?
-- Franklin Pierce Adams, from 'To a Vers Librist'

 30th of November, 2003

Hi, I'm Grey Walker. Can you be very quiet? I'd like to show you something. Come this way... Watch out for that hedgehog. That's Hamish. I have no idea what he's doing here in the hall. He's usually sleeping on a chair in the staff lounge. Or curled up in the lap of The Old Man while he reads in the Library.

Alright, we're almost there. It's just around this corner... here we are. The Editor in Chief's office. He refused to let anyone see it when we were giving the tour of the building a fortnight and odd days ago, but I've got his key, and he'll be down in the pub for the next hour at least. How did I get the key? Liath made me swear not to tell. Great elephants, the door's loud! Should have brought some WD-40 for the hinges...

Cat Eldridge, our current Chief, inherited this office when he took over Green Man from the previous Editor, who had been here for a very long time. The first thing he did was have the brownies clean out the space so that the oak floor boards could be re-sanded and sealed in true varnish. After that, the book shelves on the wall here by the door were cleaned and painted a dark green, as you can see. The shelves hold thousands of volumes that Cat and others have accumulated over the centuries. A full set of the first edition of The Child Ballads is in there somewhere, as well as the complete works of Charles de Lint and Charles Vess. There's a gaes that keeps any book from leaving this office unless the current Editor carries it out. Cool, no?

Take a look at that oak desk. Yes, you're right, it's actually in three parts. It's twenty feet long by a full six from front to back, but the desk top is carved from a single plank that the Chief claims was salvaged from Long John Silver's pirate ship. It certainly has interesting markings on it! The chair's simply one left from the bankruptcy sale of an old Victorian law firm -- even the leather seat's a hundred and fifty years old. No phone in this office -- Cat calls 'em 'infernal devices'.

He likes technology that looks cool. I know his computer looks like a NeXT work station, but it's actually a bleeding edge Macintosh computer. That flat screen monitor doubles as a television. Huge, isn't it? Yes, it really is two meters wide! And the sound system's part fey, part just really decent human design. He doesn't use all those CDs much anymore -- Liath indexed all the MP3s on his terabyte hard drive. She really spoils him.

Notice that globe on the stand. It looks like an 1890s globe, but it can change to be anytime you want... Handy when reading historic novels... We were figuring out where the Northumberland Republic is the other day.

Aren't the windows gorgeous? Leaded glass... What? Yes that's Oberon's Wood you can see through them. Sometimes when you look out, it's the City you see. Cat uses that couch over there to read and nap. Plenty of other chairs, too, so we can have a small staff meeting if need be -- although we usually meet down in the back room of the pub. You noticed the Charles Vess prints from Stardust over the couch, I see. Let's sit down for a minute and take a look at this week's reviews.

Cat Eldridge here. I requested this work for review from Harvill Press, a United Kingdom publisher, because I consider Alan Garner to be one of the most interesting mythopoeic writers currently among us. Certainly he is the equal of Charles de Lint, Terri Windling, and Robert Holdstock in terms of his use of language in creative ways. Now a good novel deserves a more than merely good reviewer which is why I had the publicist send his new novel, Thursbitch, directly to Stephen Hunt in Cornwall as he was the perfect reviewer for it.

I will now quote Stephen from his Excellence in Writing Award winning review at considerable length:

The press release that arrived with this novel describes it as: 'An exploration, through fiction, of an 18th century mystery that lives on in the valley of Thursbitch. John Turner, a packman, died in a storm in 1755, and was found with a woman's footprint in the snow beside him. His death leaves an emotional charge that Ian and Sal find affects their own relationship.'

'Ah' (think I), 'A mystery. I know what's coming here...'

Let's face it folks, we've all read books about 'old mysteries.' Stories where a couple of annoying busy-bodies (usually precociously 'smart' urban kids on rural vacation) wander out on the misty moors (for no particularly good reason), find themselves at the site of some ancient, folkloric mystery, get caught up in some spooky goings-on that resonate 'uncannily' with the past, solve the age-old puzzle, and make it back to their Aunt and Uncle's picturesque cottage in time for tea and buns.

So, this is going to be one of those, right?

Wrong. Fundamentally, spectacularly, completely wrong...

I have decided that this is the sole book review this outing as I want you now to go to Amazon UK and order this book now. (Well, after you read his full review.) Once you receive the book in the mail, settle in a comfortable chair with good lighting as you'll be there for a few hours!

'Doctor Miranda Grey,' explains Denise Dutton, 'is in trouble. One minute, she is a gifted psychiatrist working in a women's penitentiary, driving back to her beautiful home and adoring husband. The next, she is an inmate of the very penitentiary where she was on staff, blamed for the vicious murder of her husband, a crime she doesn't remember committing. All the evidence points to her, and every new revelation seems like further proof. On top of it all, she's seeing things, including the ghost of a colleague's dearly departed daughter.' A horror movie at this time of year? Why yes, and if you're overloaded on sugary holiday fare, Denise thinks you could do worse than Gothika.

One of our resident blues experts tells us 'The Blues is the umbrella title under which exists seven distinct films, by seven independent film-makers. Originally Martin Scorsese had planned to make a film outlining the history of this music, which he calls one of America's most unique and important art forms. That plan changed as the depth and intricacies of the music were uncovered. The work was shared among seven different directors, each of whom chose one aspect of the blues to celebrate.' David Kidney wins another Excellence in Writing Award for his tantalizing look at Martin Scorsese's The Blues.

I'm Reynard, I'll be doing commentary for the music reviews this week as Jack's in no shape to write this text. He was getting depressed at how many books he had for review that he hadn't written up, so he spent most of the week hidden away in his office writing more text than I am told by him bears remembering! So he decided to ease the headache he had by sampling permutations upon Irish coffee, some sans the coffee. After a night of doing so, he could play his fiddle very well and tell really bawdy stories, but wasn't much use to us as a writer. However, his stories are quite interesting. Right now, he's telling what he says is the real version of the Wife of Bath's tale in The Canterbury Tales...

Newfoundland-based Sharecroppers' Natural! CD is, according to Faith Cormier, of many styles: 'Does this variety of styles show the Sharecroppers' versatility, or that they were struggling to find a voice? Probably a little of both. Their later albums are somewhat more homogenous, but I also detect a hint of refusing to be locked into a category. You decide.'

Two releases from the late but hardly forgotten Jim Croce, Have You Heard: Jim Croce Live (DVD) and Home Recordings: Americana (CD) got the attention and approval of David Kidney: 'Jim Croce is one of those artists who slipped off the radar. Once highly thought of, a star in fact; gold records, number 1 hits, albums on the best-seller lists. Then mentioned in rock'n'roll death contests, and in the same breath as any number of one hit wonders. Two new releases from Shout Factory go a long way towards recovering Jim's credibility, and forcing us to reconsider his talent, and catalogue.'

Peter Massey says that Dan Oakenhead's Sky Geezer 'is is a studio-produced album and singer songwriter Dan plays guitar and also overlays the piano, synthesizer, percussion, harmonica and whistles himself on the various tracks. All the instrumentation is tastefully done and blends Dan's song arrangements very well.'

Before he got sotted beyond redemption, Jack Merry did leave us a review of Changeling, a CD from 'Crucible [which] is Gavin Davenport (guitar), Helena Reynolds (fiddle and border pipes), and Richard and Jess Arrowsmith (melodeon and fiddle). They are also involved in morris, and two ceilidh bands -- Hekety and Jabadaw. Needless to say Green Man has reviewed both Hekety and Jabadaw, so even if I hadn't heard this group, I'd have guessed that they were very, very good. Having now heard them, I can say that indeed they are!'

Music From Vietnam is a five CD set that Caprice Records sent us recently. Big Earl Sellar, a writer well-versed in world music of all sorts, got them to review. He says that he applauds 'Caprice Records for releasing these discs, and allowing us listeners another note from our world's great musical traditions.'

Christopher White says that Malcolm Holcombe's alt country/americana CD Another Wisdom ' is a compelling piece of work. He has a voice with character and.... let's call it gravitas. His guitar playing is first-class. That said, Holcombe's greatest strength is the ability to craft songs with depth that should also be radio friendly.

I see you're looking at that piece on the wall. Cat's never hung anything else on that wall, and he says he never will. Pretty impressive, isn't it? Yes, it's a full-scale drawing by Maurice Sendak of his design for Tchaikovsky's ballet, 'The Nutcracker Suite' -- the one he did for the Northwest Pacific Ballet. Lovely... I heard someone on staff say that on a cold, snowy winter's night a few years ago, she saw the characters in it come to life! Whether that's true or not, certainly we hear music at odd times.

But I think I hear someone coming... We'd better go.

23rd of November, 2003

'Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

-- W. B. Yeats, from 'The Second Coming'

Jack Merry at your service. On this night, when there's a warm fire and candlelight inside this old building, and a cold, driving sleet falling outside, it's a perfect time to sit in the Library and listen to a tale being told. Storytellers are often found here -- not 'tall surprising given what Green Man does. Some rather well-known storytellers drop in briefly with a tale to tell, as did Charles de Lint when he gave us his brilliantly composed Oak King Speech. But others whom you know not at all have been known to spend years in residence here.

One of our storytellers is Stephen Hunt, who now offers us a tale from Cornwall, the lovely British region he now lives in. It took considerable effort to turn his attention away from his reading of Iain Banks' new book, Raw Spirit: in Search of the Perfect Dram, and coax him to tell us this tale! So help yourself to some of the single malt that Reynard's brought up from the Pub, as I think he's ready. . . .

'My home, Liskeard (often pronounced 'Lys Kerritt'), is a Cornish market town whose name, some say, means 'Kerrid's pool.' You'll have heard of the Cauldron of Ceridwen from the Welsh tales, no doubt, the magical vessel from whence the ancient Bards drew that most precious water -- inspiration. The small spring that flows in 'Ladye Park' is recognised nowadays as a Marian shrine. Other interpreters (scholars who can actually read 11th century Cornish), hold that the town's name is 'Lys Carruyt,' The Court of The Stag. Meanwhile, the town mural (in an attempt to reconcile the two versions), principally provides a fine demonstration of the skill of local government officials in the art of expediency -- it depicts a huge stag leaping the shrine.

'Liskeard is where this story begins. Not (perhaps sadly) in further attempts to unravel the threads of ancient mystery -- woven by our Celtic forebears into the complex, interlocking, repeated patterns of Goddess, Mother of Christ and Mythical Stag, but a story of three, nonetheless.

'The three wandered into the White Horse at about 9:30 pm with that mixture of bravado and apprehension peculiar to young, single men walking into a pub far from home. 'Emmett's' (tourists) muttered more than a few of the locals. 'Bloody rednecks,' said one of the three (very quietly, without moving his lips). This initial tension lasted all of about thirty seconds before conversations were struck-up, pool balls were racked and three dedicated lager drinkers were introduced to the unimaginable joy of Sharps Special Bitter by generous Cornishmen. The three, it transpired, had decided to depart London straight after work on Friday, rather than risking the snails-pace traffic jams crawling West on Saturday morning. Their destination was Newquay, and their stated mission was the pursuit of 'heavy surf, heavy music, heavy puff and heavy women!' Liskeard seemed to provide the best opportunity for cheap overnight accommodation before checking-in at their Bed & Breakfast hotel the following day.

'Anyhow, during the proceedings, a couple of boys (all Cornishmen are 'boys' until their mid-seventies) suggested that 'seeing as how the moor 'tisn't far,' the three should take advantage of the full moon, and try to get a sighting of the famous 'Beast of Bodmin Moor.' One of the three was familiar with the legends of these big cats and had even seen an exhibition about them in The Natural History Museum while on a school visit.

'That sounded like a far better idea than grabbing an early night in the Fountain Hotel to the three, and so it was that five minutes after closing time they found themselves rattling over cattle grids in the back of a Land Rover, heading out of town. 'This is St. Cleer' shouted the driver's pal (and self-appointed tour guide). 'There's a holy well just behind The Stag pub, there.' A little further, the driver slowed to give the three a clear view of a broken Celtic cross, inscribed in Latin. 'That's King Doniert's Stone. Poor bugger fell in the Fowey at Golitha and drowned in eight hundred and seventy five common era -- probably pissed!' Another right and left, and the vehicle skidded to a halt in the small car park in the village of Minions. 'There you go, boys,' said the driver. 'Go you ahead now -- mind how you go.'

'The three walked out along the track towards the circle of stones -- 'The Hurlers' the driver's mate had called 'em. 'Hey lads,' giggled one of the three, 'that bloody Cornish beer makes me want to hurl -- heeeuggghhh!' 'Shut up you div,' said another (shivering and suddenly acutely aware of why the locals all seemed to be wearing huge jumpers, thick coats and hats, rather than his own, rather more 'street-wise' urban clothes). 'This place gives me the bleedin' willies. What's that weird sound?' The three strained their ears in the direction of the strange, unearthly moaning cry coming from their left -- the direction of another stone circle, 'The Pipers.'

'The three (frozen in terror by thoughts of the beast, the stones, and the whole bloody issue) let out a collective scream as a voice spoke in the darkness...

'Listen to that old Radjel (fox) giving his missus a portion. You boys ready to go back to The Fountain?'

'And that, my friends, is the story of the three Emmetts in the pub. What did you expect? The three lads to disappear in the stone circle, only to emerge as old, wizened men the next day? That they'd get lost in the mist 'til the cock crowed the next morning, to herald their grisly deaths while the cap stone of The Cheesewring turned three times? What do you think we are down here, savages? !

'I suppose that the postscript to the story does have a bit of gruesomeness in it. The following night, in a Newquay nightclub, the one of the three who said that the Cornish beer made him sick made unwelcome advances towards the girlfriend of a burly fireman, on holiday from Aberystwyth, and received a punch in the mouth for his efforts. 'Have you no respect for the Lady?' he heard, before the blow struck. Meanwhile, Kerrid and the Stag smiled in their sleep, in a quiet market town.'

'If I had a coffee table,' says Rachel Manija Brown, 'it would rest there, serene in its natural habitat.' What's she talking about? The latest offering for Sandman fans, The Sandman: King of Dreams, by longtime Sandman editor Alisa Kwitney, with an introduction by Neil Gaiman himself. Rachel doesn't think this book is a necessity for everyone, but some of our readers must go out and get it immediately. Read her review to see if you're one of them.

Craig Clarke takes another look at a classic, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. You'll most likely agree with what Craig has to say about the merits of this book, so why the new review? Because what Craig is reviewing is an audio version, read by Bradbury himself!

Faith J. Cormier has two reviews for us this week, the first of another novel set in the Deep, voudou-infested South, Corina's Way by Rod Davis. 'Corina's Way mixes spirituality, sex (there are a few sloppy-wet bits), commerce, politics, love, vengeance, music and redemption in a palo pot fit for any of the santos,' Faith says. '[U]p till the last page, Corina's Way is a very entertaining book.' What happens on the last page??? You know what we're going to say (repeat after me): 'Read the rest of the review to find out!' Faith also gives us an excellent overview of a book that, she says, 'should appeal to, and broaden the horizons of, those interested in American folk music.' Four Parts, No Waiting: A History of American Barbershop Harmony, by Gage Averill, is, well, just what the title says it is. But Faith wins an Excellence in Writing Award for tantalizing us with all the details that make this book a great one to have on your reference or music history shelf.

Kelly Sedinger also tantalizes us with the third in a bibliomania trilogy by Nicholas A. Basbanes, A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World. 'Much of the book reads like an elegy to all the books lost throughout the ages,' says Kelly, 'and a solemn reminder of all the books we have now that will soon join them.' Kelly wins an Excellence in Writing Award for a review that brings a lump to your throat. If the book he's reviewing is any more evocative, it must be wonderful indeed!

Wes Unruh is the fellow on staff who raises his hand (or, rather, pokes his head out of his office) whenever we've got a really thick, dense book up for review. And we're not complaining, because he reads them at an amazingly fast clip, comprehends them, and turns in reviews that are cogent, interesting and helpful. This week, Wes reviews the latest doozy of a novel by Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver: The Baroque Cycle, Volume One. He says, 'I enjoyed Quicksilver more for the historical details, character sketches of historical figures, and overall texture of the book than for its plot... The numerous quotes and occasional illustration from period literature, and the glyph of Mercury inlay that hides under the slipcover, are only the outer accoutrements of what is more of an event than a novel.' Sounds like something you might be putting on your night table for the next few months' bedtime reading...

'I love Christmas movies,' says Denise Dutton, 'and I'm usually not the least bit picky. Paint something red and green, stick a tree in someone's living room, and I'm glued to the screen. But when I heard that Will Ferrell was starring in Elf, the latest bid for my holiday attention, I was suspicious.' So did the first of this year's Yule-themed releases win her over? You'll have to read her review, but here's a hint... she did say that this film 'recharged [her] Christmas spirit.'

David Kidney takes a look at another new release, this one on the opposite end of the spectrum from the usual cheery romantic holiday fare. 'So,' explains David, 'you won't find any beautiful damsels in distress, their bodices heaving in anticipation of rescue. No... this is men. Men in dirty clothes, with bad teeth, and bits of their bodies shot off in battle. The below decks scenes are dark, dingy, claustrophobic. The on deck stuff is wide open, airy, you can feel the salt spray on your cheeks.' When you read David's Excellence in Writing Award winning review, you won't be able to get to the theater fast enough to see Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

Response regarding the Marrowbones' new album, A Taste of the Marrowbones (reviewed by Alistair Brown and with proceeds going to the British Heart Foundation), has been overwhelmingly positive. So much so that one half of the Marrowbones, our own Peter Massey, has written in to further explain -- and hopefully clear up -- some of the more pertinent details.

Clarelynn Rose, writing in about Lars Nilsson's view of her album, Elegant Tern, also has a few things to clarify regarding her influences.

Looking back over the Letters page, I can't help noticing that we just seem to be irking artists left and right with our reviews. The newest episode in this continuing saga concerns Steve Perry and the review written by Rachel Manija Brown of his book, Windowpane. According to Rachel, Mr. Perry's letter 'raises some interesting points on the ethics of criticism', which she takes the opportunity to address in her reply. We've never before considered giving a reviewer an Excellence in Writing Award for a response to a letter, but we're doing it this week. We really like what Rachel has to say, and how she says it.

Evidently not as satisfied as we were with the response received by Ms. Brown, Mr. Perry wrote to your friendly Letters Editor to continue his commentary. He also refers to a previous letter written by another peeved author and its response. Who was it? You're likely to recognize the name but you'll have to read his second letter to find out for sure. (Oh, the suspense!)

David Kidney's omnibus essay regarding American Western filmmaking is really striking a chord with the members of an online Bonanza discussion group -- especially with fans of actor Pernell Roberts. The latest letters to come pouring in with praise arrive from the nimble fingers of Monette Bebow-Reinhard and Gwynne Logan.

Elsewhere, Nancy McClernan, author/producer of Tam Lin, agreed with Scott Gianelli's assessment of the recent production; Georgina McAvinchey enjoyed Judith Gennett's look at Kevin Ferguson's Exotic Extremes CD so much she asked to post it on the album's review page; George Khoury had a few comments on Rebecca Scott's review of his book, The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore; and Courtney Reilly wrote in to ask for a citation of a reference in Craig Clarke's omnibus essay on film portrayals of Hamlet, the most famous Dane in literature (and here all along I thought it was Marmaduke).

Kim Bates had a busy October — this week she brings us an omnibus review of a group of great performances she took in. The shows ranged from the 'extravaganza of human and equine acrobatics' known as Cavalia to the Irish fiddling and guitar work of Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill. Kim had a great time at every show; her review shows just how much extra appreciation one gets from separate performances when seen in close succession. A review of this many (five in all) shows together really emphasizes the diversity of opportunities that the fan of Celtic music has in Toronto. Kim's 'adventures in music and dancing horses' are well worth a look. Read her review for more details on each of the acts she saw.

Jack Merry again. Come on in -- I'm just finishing up me notes on the music reviews this outing.

Tear It Up is from Keith Knight, a artist who gets high praise from Stephen Hunt: 'The word 'virtuoso' is one that tends to get bandied about by folks like me with something approaching reckless abandon, but in the case of finger style guitarist Keith Knight it's wholly appropriate.' Sounds promising to me!

David Kidney has an interesting tale to tell you. 'Bix Beiderbecke recorded for just over six and a half years, from January 1924 'til September 1930. He made an impression that has lasted for nearly a century. Louis Armstrong said of Bix, 'Just that name alone will make one stand up -- also their ears! And when he played -- why the ears did the same thing!' ... Geoff Muldaur, who is a favourite in the Green Man Pub has long wanted to pay tribute to the genius of Bix Beiderbecke. Deutsche Grammophon has given him the opportunity. Private Astronomy [subtitled a vision of the music of Bix Beiderbecke] is an album that seems to exist out of time. Beautifully recorded and wonderfully performed, this is some serious music here!' Not 'tall surprisingly, David gets an Excellence in Writing Award!

Peter Massey, in very few words, tells you why you should get Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies' The Parish Notices: 'If you are not already a fan of Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies, I urge you to get this album, and you soon will be. This is British contemporary folk music at its very best.'

Two CDs, Kyle Swager's The Other Side of Words and Wildest Dreams's Peace Planet, caused Patrick O'Donnell to be very poetic: 'Some say music is life. I disagree. I say life is music, ever-changing in its form and style. It can be a slow ballad one day, or a reel the next. It can be a challenging concerto or a short, sweet sonata. Hard rock, rap, jazz, the blues -- all are part of the daily dance. And what we do with the music we find is apply it to the appropriate point in our lives. There are days when I want to listen to folk, days when I want rock, and days that I just want something to fill the silence.'

The Rough Guide To The Music Of China is the latest release we've reviewed from World Music Network. (How many is that? Somewhere in excess of forty CDs so far.) Now keep in mind that Big Earl Sellar is one tough hombre as regards what he likes. So how did it fare? Rather well I'd say: 'Take an ancient tradition, allow it to rapidly meet the sounds from the rest of the world, and some really interesting things happen. The Rough Guide To The Music Of China illustrates this cultural collision with some amazing results. Since the sounds of Western rock are a fairly recent inclusion to the cultural diet of the Chinese, and since this is a nation fiercely proud of its own tradition, the breadth of this disc is rather stunning. The subtitle to this disc says it all: ancient traditions to Beijing punk!' Big Earl wins an Excellence in Writing Award for this superb review.

Tell You How I Feel and No Strings Attached are from Michael Kaeshammer. 'Michael Kaeshammer (pronounced case-hammer) is a young... 25 or so... German-Canadian (he moved to Canada at 19) piano player with what might be dubbed post-neo-retro trad jazz sensibilities. And exceptionally prodigious chops.' Read the rest of the review by Christopher White to get all the juicy details on these CDs!

Chris also liked this group: 'Sparklers & Bottlerockets, with fifteen radio friendly songs, clocks in at just under an hour. I suspect some GMR regulars might read 'radio friendly' as 'damning with faint praise' which is definitely not my intent. The San Francisco based Tijuana Strip Club essentially appears to be Randy Cordera (producer, words & music, vocals, guitars, synths, etc.), with able support, especially from Gary Myrick (co-producer & multi-instrumentalist). Sparklers & Bottlerockets offers a well produced, solidly professional, listening experience with the potential to appeal to a large and varied audience.'

Music from the Tea Lands, a compilation from Putumayo World Music, did not fare well in the hands of Gary Whitehouse. 'Putumayo comes up with some interesting compilations. Tea Lands is less successful than most. The concept is to present a variety of music from Asian lands and cultures, and it's not a bad one. But not all of the selections seem to fit the concept, and not all of them mesh with each other.' On the other hand, Gary did like another trio of albums put out by Putamayo, all with African or African-American themes: Mali to Memphis: An African-American Odyssey, 'a CD that compares and contrasts African-American blues with West African guitar-based music'; Louisiana Gumbo, '[which] is an apt title for [this] funky, multiflavored stew of a CD'; and The Oliver Mtukudzi Collection: The Tuku Years, a sampling of his work that 'should spur listeners to dig more deeply into Mtukudzi's catalog.'

Did you stay to natter with Stephen after his story in the Library? You did? V'good. Did he mention that he was a spot on musician? Prolly not. Do come down to the Pub -- he's playing with the Neverending Session tonight. And there's a possibility that later this evening he'll be doing a tasting of select whiskies -- he's been raving about that Iain Banks' Raw Spirit. Says it's Iain's very personal look at whisky in all its forms.

16th of November, 2003

'We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep...' -- from The Tempest by William Shakespeare

You up too? My old bones are aching far too much to sleep, so I thought I'd sit here in the kitchen, a dram of fine single malt in hand, and listen to the Neverending Session -- who for some reason are playing Icelandic fiddle tunes tonight -- while I ponder how each winter's just a bit harder to take. Oh, but the warm fire does feel rather good!

Why Icelandic fiddle tunes, you ask? I, too, was wondering. Even here, in a building that was practically built on music, they are an uncommon thing to hear. But Green Man staffers have been collecting music for so long that it's said we have a recording somewhere of a carnyx being played at the burial of a druid king -- a sound that will send a chill clear to your marrow! And Liath, our Archivist, claims that we have the only full recording of J.R.R. Tolkien singing the song that Gleowine, Theoden's minstrel, sang at his funeral. So though it's a bit odd, it's perhaps not wholly unexpected to find Icelandic fiddle tunes in the archives. It sounds as though they're just beginning 'Rimur Og Kvaedalog', a favorite of mine.

Cat Eldridge here. Over the past decade, we've reviewed in excess of thirteen thousand books, compact discs, live performances, videos, and other things that just don't fit neatly into those categories -- i.e. the trailer for the never actually made War for the Oaks film, and Brian Froud and Jessica Macbeth's The Faeries' Oracle. Some of these items were very good, many just average, and more than a few were terrible. It's an awful lot of material, all things considered -- more than one wants to really think about. But what makes a Featured Review? Damn if I know! All I know is that it's something that editors in each area decide you, the reader, should really take a look at. Sometimes it's the review itself, sometimes it's the material being reviewed. After over a decade of doing this, I'm still surprised by both what we review and the reviews themselves. As one editor said over tea recently, life at GMR ain't boring.

We decided this week, the editors and I, over a late afternoon snack of Greek baklava and really strong coffee, to feature but one review from each of our primary review areas this issue. Like the food we consumed at that repast, savor each of these reviews, as they are unique. How often does one, to give an example, find a a review of H.P. Lovecraft's work adapted for the stage? Or a look at children's book by an adult who considers the book from both an adult's and a child's perspective? How about the latest from Heather Dale, a Celtic artist whose first CD got rave reviews here? And let's not forget a film review of The Pirates of the Caribbean that actually pays attention to the film.

Our reviews section leads off with Lovecraft, as Rebecca Scott wondered what you get when H.P. Lovecraft's work is adapted for the stage. The Open Circle Theater answered that question with The Horror in the Theater: An H.P. Lovecraft Triptych of Terror. These three plays ('From Beyond', 'The Hunter of the Dark' and 'The Dunwich Horror') explore the dark unknown that surrounds us and the inner madness that bubbles to the surface when we touch that outer darkness. The differing subjects of each story created limitations for the medium, but Rebecca enjoyed the overall effort. She found that the actors (who were the same group for all three plays) set the ideal level of melodrama and were 'exactly right for Lovecraft' by not taking themselves too seriously. Mixing the same acting troupe with a separate director for each play produced a dramatic structure that held 'together nicely, despite the differences in directorial styles.' In proper triptych fashion, Rebecca divided the overall result into 'the Good, the Bad, and the Pleasantly Cheesy.' Read her review and see what strange dreams you're inspired to. You get bonus points if you can figure out what a trapezehedron looks like.

One of our strengths is that we review artists over the arc of their careers. Lenora Rose is the reviewer who got to review Heather Dale's May Queen, which, as she notes, 'is the direct follow-up to Heather Dale's The Trial of Lancelot, and like that disc, focuses on themes and images from the Arthurian legends. However, while the subject is the same, the approach is a complete departure.' And Lenora notes that Heather is indeed getting better as an artist: 'The more songs Heather adds to her Arthurian cycles, the more complicated each character becomes, and her version of the myth gains more depth than many novels covering the same ground. The more musical genres she draws from, the more the old stories seem to connect to the listeners.'

Another of our strengths as a review magazine is that we provide honest reviews, even if that means negative ones. Rachel Manija Brown in particular is noted for her honesty, but also for her thoughtful approach to every book she reviews. This week, Rachel looks at Alia Waking, a new young adult novel by Laura Williams McCaffrey. 'While it's become a truism that a good book for children should be equally enjoyable for adults, I don't think that's necessarily the case,' Rachel says. She then goes on to give her opinion of the book as an adult reader, but she also suggests the way she thinks a child might perceive the book -- very differently, in this case.

Of course, we've read reviews about The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. But most of the ones I read lacked any commentary on how this film fits into the long history of pirate films. Not our review! Just consider this leadoff from Denise Dutton: 'Yo ho, yo ho, the pirate's life for me. From Errol Flynn sailing the high seas to Cary Elwes saving Buttercup in The Princess Bride, pirates have been about action, adventure and romance. Unfortunately, with movies like Cutthroat Island, the genre seemed to die a painful and lasting death. Then Walt Disney Pictures decided to take a chance on resuscitating the genre with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Creating a movie based on a theme park ride doesn't exactly scream Oscar, but it's not that kind of film. Pirate movies are about thrills and spectacle, and this big budget flick certainly delivers the goods.' Though I haven't seen Pirates of the Caribbean yet and wasn't planning to, this review convinced me to do so!

Before you head back to your warm bed, you might want to take a look at this announcement, which I found lying on the table here in the kitchen. It seems to be for an intriguing-looking conference:

Mythic Journeys: Be astonished, be transformed. The journey will be amazing.

The world is hungry for meaning. We all long for the sacred, for the divine, for healing.

Story and ritual are powerful tools for promoting cross-culture tolerance, mental health, and peaceful coexistence -- and for teaching character curriculum, now required in many school systems.

Our rich cultural heritage of myth, story, and ritual scatters breadcrumbs that guide us through the dark forests of life. Their archetypal patterns hide clues for finding meaning in an increasingly dangerous world and provide metaphors for inspiring art, poetry, conflict resolution, mental well-being, and personal growth.

Mythic Journeys is a conference and performance festival inspired by the legacy of Joseph Campbell that will explore how myth lives and inspires us today through psychology, literature, scholarship, fantasy, performance, and more. Mythic Journeys is the beginning of a dialogue and a cultural movement that will have far reaching impact.

Meet more than one hundred of the best minds working to keep myth alive, including:
* Psychologists James Hillman, Marion Woodman, and Jean Shinoda Bolen, philosopher Sam Keen
* Poets Robert Bly, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Coleman Barks
* Novelists Joyce Carol Oates, Charles de Lint, Guy Gavriel Kay, Jane Yolen, Robert Holdstock, and Terri Windling
* Artists Charles Vess, Brian and Wendy Froud, and Alan Lee
* Business leaders, including Scott Livengood, CEO of Krispy Kreme
* Scholars Alan Dundes, Houston Smith, and Elaine Pagels
* Writers Marina Warner, Phil Cousineau, and John and Caitlín Matthews

In addition to conversations, you'll experience theatre productions, music, dance, and even the world premier of a major new rock opera. Plus, you can participate in in-depth workshops on everything from using myth in your own writing, business, poetry, art, music, and schools to mask masking and shamanic drumming.

Mythic Journeys is presented in association with our partners, the Joseph Campbell Foundation, Emory University's Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life, the Georgia State University Department of Religious Studies, the Endicott Studio for the Mythic Arts, the Atlanta Jung Society, Journey Into Wholeness, and Parabola magazine.

Mythic Journeys takes place June 5 and 6, 2004, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia. A special in-depth pre-conference will be held on June 3 and 4, 2004. Admission to the pre-conference is strictly limited to 250; however, approximately 3,000 tickets are available for the main conference. A special discounted rate is available through December 1, 2004.

Register now! For information, please visit the conference Web site or call 404-832-4127.


9th of November, 2003

'There are many people -- happy people, it usually appears -- whose thoughts at Christmas always turn to books. The notion of a Christmas tree with no books under it is repugnant and unnatural to them.' -- Robertson Davies

Cat Eldridge
here. Do join me! Put your rain gear over by the fireplace to dry out. I love the smell of damp wool, but it looks to be as soaked as your boots are!

I've been sitting in the Library watching the Neverending Session play something they call 'The Seelie Court Pavane', a lovely piece that feels fitting to the hard rain falling outside, but I came down to the Kitchen to get something warm to drink. Let's each have a cup of this dark chocolate cocoa with a splash of rum... Ahhh, that'll chase the cold out of your bones in a hurry!

There is no doubt, as you might have already guessed, that many of us reviewing for Green Man love books. Really love books. Even covet them with the greed of the pre-reformed Scrooge. And looking back through the list of books that I've read so far this year, I was very much surprised by how many were truly great. My 'best of' list was, within a few hours of sitting down to compile it, far too big. Was it really such a great year? Or have my standards slipped? I think not. So I'm going to list for you some of the more outstanding reads for me...

Perhaps the highlight of the year was reading James Stoddard's Evenmere novels, The High House and The False House, in their very limited edition releases. As I noted in my review, a truly well-crafted book is a pleasure to read, and these certainly are. Neil Gaiman's Snow Glass Apples, which Biting Dog Press sent us, was also an impressive work of book crafting, as was a book that Pomegranate Press just sent for review -- Susan Seddon Boulet: A Retrospective. You'll remember her as the artist who did the artwork for the American edition of Terri Winding's The Wood Wife, a book I reread this year.

Now it's also true that it's the text that is the heart of a tale, not the final design around it, so no amount of book-making craft makes up for a poorly written story. I read not one but two Charles de Lint works before they were published this year -- Spirits in The Wires -- which has come out (his best Newford novel to date) -- and Medicine Road, a novel set in the Desert Southwest which anyone who loved The Wood Wife must read, but which won't be out for a few months yet. Both show a writer at the top of his writing craft. I also enjoyed his two new collections released this year, Tapping the Dream Tree and Waifs and Strays, both of which have some of his finest short fiction. You can see the truly amazing Charles Vess artwork for the cover of Tapping the Dream Tree on our main index page -- just hit refresh if it doesn't come up first in our art gallery there. Another outstanding book by de Lint was A Circle of Cats, a short tale involving some of the cast of characters that are in Seven Wild Sisters and Medicine Road. And like those books, it also has artwork by Charles Vess!

(We've now reviewed more of de Lint's works than anyone else, period. That's not surprising, given how many of our staff love his fiction!)

Waifs and Strays was released by Viking, which also has an amazing imprint called Firebird Books, edited by Sharyn November, the editor for this collection. And that brings us to Firebirds: An Anthology of Original Fantasy and Science Fiction. It's edited by Sharyn -- need I say more? All I'll say is that all lovers of Emma Bull's The War for the Oaks should read Delia Sherman's 'Cotillion', which is in this anthology. It's a short story that left me hoping that a novel was to be written in the same setting. The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm is coming out next summer from Sharyn's YA line at Viking, edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow, and illustrated by Charles Vess. It should be another good read!

Two collections of stories set in interesting realities caught my attention this year: Kage Baker's Black Projects, White Knights is set in The Company universe of chocolate addicted time traveling immortal cyborgs, but George Effinger's Budayeen Nights is a universe centered in Budayeen, a wall Arabic city some years in the future. Both are from Golden Gryphon Press -- a publisher of books that are pleasing to the mind and to the eye as well! I'll be writing a review of Budayeen Nights shortly.

Yes, it is true that we don't review most science fiction here -- for such reviews, I recommend Sci-fi Weekly -- but we do get sent a lot of it from the publishers anyway. That means I get to sample novels and collections I otherwise wouldn't even think of reading. So I had high hopes for Willam Gibson's new novel, Pattern Recognition, but I put it down after fifty pages, as it failed to grab my attention at all. On the other hand, Broken Angels, the sequel to Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon, combines hard SF, archaeology (industrial), and a form of immortality into a fast paced, hard edged novel. The same applies to Chris Moriarty's Spin State, which is also a mystery of sorts. Charles Stross, on the other hand, has written a novel that takes us way beyond the technological singularity in Singularity Sky, the first of a series that I'll look forward to reading! All of these are reviewed in Sci-fi Weekly.

I nearly forgot that I read and enjoyed Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, a particularly interesting spin on the Disney mythos.

Scatterbrain is the third collection of essays and fiction from Larry Niven with N-Space and Playgrounds of the Mind being published some years ago. Scatterbrain is not as good as these two were, primarily because there's a lot less material in it. Nonetheless the Known Space novella titled 'Procustes' is superb, as is the piece on autograph etiquette. And 'Smut Talk', an ever-so-rare Draco's Tavern tale, is a welcome appetizer from Niven's forthcoming collection of Draco's Tavern tales.

Another Sharyn, Sharyn McCrumb to be exact, has been a favorite author of mine for more years than I care to admit. Her early Ballad novels were a bit weaker in execution than I liked, but her writing craft has become quite superb. Her latest Ballad novel, Ghost Riders, should be read by anyone with an interest in magic realism and the strange tale of the American Civil War which still haunts the Southern Appalachian Mountains to this day. Highly recommended! Not magic realism, but still worth recommending for your reading pleasure if you like history as fiction, is Sharon Kay Penman's Dragon's Lair, the third of her Justin de Quincy mysteries, which are set during the reign of King John. Both John and John's mother, Eleanor, are also characters in these novels.

Silly but fun is the Thursday Next series that Jasper Fforde is doing. Time travel, dodos, pregnant heroines with erased husbands, metafictions -- it's all here in a well-realized Britain that never was. I couldn't wait for the U.S. release of the third novel, so I bought The Well of Lost Plots, from Amazon UK. If you haven't read these novels, you are in for a literary treat!

Our featured book review this week is of Lyra's Oxford, the most recent addition to Philip Pullman's highly-celebrated His Dark Materials world. Reviewer Jack Merry makes a thorough examination of the chapbook itself and its accompanying artifacts, including the audio version, narrated by the author himself. Jack has mixed opinions about the lot, so read his Excellence in Writing Award-winning review before you go out and buy this much-touted set.

Our featured CD review is one that you who are members of your local Morality League should skip! Craig Clarke explains why this is so in his Excellence in Writing Award-winning review: 'Sex sells, and I suppose it was time that someone in the classical music industry figured that out. Female violinists generally get the focus of this attention, so it should have been no surprise when Lara St. John appeared wearing only her violin on the cover of her debut album Bach: Works for Violin Solo. Ever since, she has been the Vargas girl of unconventional violin work, a reputation she has worked to nurture with each successive disc (and cover photo -- she looks positively orgasmic on Bach: The Concerto Album.) Never has Bach been so well-represented by pulchritude and the six-foot, self-proclaimed 'Junoesque' violinist is unabashed in her defense of it. But while her appearance may sell an album or two, her talent is what will get it played continually, and Lara St. John is certainly proficient in that department.' Still here? Well, I suppose you can now go read his review of her new album, re: Bach.

Craig Clarke ably demonstrates the reviewing ability that recently earned his promotion to Senior Writer in this week's Excellence in Writing Award-winning book review. It's a rollicking review of what sounds like an equally rollicking piece of metafiction, Never Mind the Pollacks by Neal Pollack. 'Even with all his attention to detail, and while creating a compulsively readable and ferociously quotable book -- I smell a cult forming! -- Never Mind the Pollacks is still, at its core, simply a novelty,' says Craig. 'There is nothing here to make you think, nothing challenging, nothing even that stays with you after you've left it to go about your own mundane life... This isn't necessarily a complaint.' Tantalized? Good. Go read the rest of the review.

Have you still got your Hallowe'en Jack O' Lantern sitting on your front stoop? If so, you'll want to read Christine Doiron's review of a newly published picture book by famous children's author Margaret Wise Brown, The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin. Christine used to work as a seller of children's books, and sold umpteen jillion copies of Goodnight Moon. She's also the parent of a three-year-old, whom she shamelessly uses as a test subject for her reviews, so her opinion on this book is well-informed! Christine also reviews for us this week a 'horror' book for the very youngest among us, Creepy Things Are Scaring Me by Jerome and Jarrett Pumphrey, illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger. Of this picture book, Christine says, 'The artwork is relatively simple, but the expressions on the faces of the mother, her child, and in particular each of the 'creepy things' are really wonderful.' Christine earns an Excellence in Writing Award for this pair of superb picture book reviews.

'The claim that 'insert noun here' changed the course of history is a recurring theme in popular history books these days,' says Eric Eller. 'The often overly narrow themes can trivialize these books, cheapening their arguments.' But Eric is favorably impressed by Crowded with Genius, in which James Buchan attempts to show that the Edinburgh of the 18th century contributed indelibly to the intellectual development of the Western World. 'The links between 18th century Edinburgh and the modern age, through Smith, Hume, Burns, Black, and others, are shown with an overwhelming volume of evidence. The reader can't help but agree with Buchan that the modern world couldn't have come to its present state without the influence of Edinburgh.'

April Gutierrez happily continues her reviews of the Dark Tower series by Stephen King, now being re-issued by Viking. This week she reviews The Wastelands: The Dark Tower III. 'King's writing is, as in the previous volumes, wonderfuly descriptive and crisp,' she says. But... 'King closes the book infuriatingly (for there were several years between its last page and the ensuing volume!) with a compromise...'

Liz Milner, free at last from her extensive wanderings in Middle-earth, reviews an altered fairy tale by Gregory Maguire, a novel entitled Mirror, Mirror. Can you guess which fairy tale Maguire is playing with this time? Of course you can! But can you guess the twist he chooses to make to the familiar story line? Go on, guess. And then read Liz's review to see if you're right.

Kelly Sedinger says, 'Low Red Moon is what I like to call an 'atmospheric horror story'. It is quite unnerving, but [Caitlin R.] Kiernan achieves the effect not through a lot of gore and 'things going bump in the night' (although there is a fair amount of each), but by constantly developing an impending sense of doom. The entire novel feels like a study on the emotion of disquiet, which eventually gives way to urgency as the pages go by.' We almost hated to pull this quotation from Kelly's review, because it would be wonderful to discover for yourself, but it's such a good one! Read the rest of his review, and you'll agree that we had to give him an Excellence in Writing Award. It's the sort of review that makes us (and we read and edit dozens of reviews every week) want to go out and buy the book immediately -- even those of us who usually avoid horror fiction.

'At first glance,' new reviewer Daniel Wood tells us, 'Mark Steven Johnson's Daredevil and Wim Wenders' Wings Of Desire appear to be polar opposites: one is a trashy comic book superhero adaptation with Ben Affleck in skin-tight leather, the other is a modern classic of art-house cinema that uses angels to illustrate the finer points of humanity.' Do these films in fact have anything in common? Well, Daniel did manage to combine reviews of both into a fine omnibus which earns him an Excellence in Writing Award for his first GMR film review!

Gary Whitehouse says that 'Terry Gilliam has wanted to make a film of Cervantes' Don Quixote for at least 10 years, and in the summer of 2002 he finally got his chance. Plagued by the specter of one of the biggest debacles in recent film history, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, he was finally able to put together European financing for a low-budget treatment of the film, to be shot on location in Spain. Documentarians Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe were filming the action, for a 'making-of' feature that would eventually be included in the DVD. So they were there, from the early production meetings until the end, as the project disintegrated in slow-motion agony.' Read Gary's review to find out more about the end result, Lost in La Mancha.

Author Lillian Stewart Carl wrote in to thank reviewer Matthew Scott Winslow for his appreciative look at her novel, Lucifer's Crown, and to relate a surprising experience that happened to her at the World Fantasy Awards...involving Martin Greenberg. Is there fodder here for some juicy gossip, or am I just pulling your chain for my own amusement? You'll have to read to find out.

Eric Eller's review of Jane Yolen's Briar Rose is going to be used to help teach Year 12 Australians the finer points of the book, says Christine Rutherford. (And Eric thought his school years were behind him...)

Robin Frederick wrote in to expand on a point No'am Newman made while reviewing her CD, Water Falls Down. Find out more about her relationship with singer-songwriter Nick Drake and why she is finally getting the proverbial credit where credit is due.

S. Parker is glad she has found someone who loves the music of 'this musical wonder called Pina' as much as she does--reviewer Scott Gianelli! Find out why most of her family shares her enthusiasm--with one unfortunate exception.

And Mike Madigan of the Sharecroppers liked Faith J. Cormier's review of their album Home, Boys! so much, he wrote in twice!

Scott Gianelli brings us the first of two reviews of plays this week. He had the chance to see a production of Tam Lin at the Producers Club in New York City. Billed as a romantic Halloween comedy, Tam Lin is the story of a mortal man entrapped by the queen of Faerie and the struggle that he and his mortal lover face to get free of the Faerie Queen's grasp. Scott's overall assessment is that if the director's intent was 'to present the legend as a Shakespearean comedy, she generally succeeds.' Situation-based humor was its most successful element, but the dialog seemed forced and the performance needed some more polishing. Read his review for more details.

Michael M. Jones earns a well-deserved Excellence in Writing Award for his review of Seven Nations's performance at the Coffee Pot in Roanoke, Virginia. Michael is overflowing with his praise for 'the unusual blend of Celtic, rock, pop, thrash, traditional, and eclectic that is Seven Nations.' Seven Nations put on a rousing, high-energy show that kept Michael moving. 'I don't think I stopped moving, whether it was toe-tapping, head-bobbing, or outright clapping and hollering, the entire time they were on stage' - a reaction that the whole audience shared. Read Michael's review to see why you absolutely shouldn't pass up the opportunity to see Seven Nations if they ever come through your town.

Christopher White brings us the second look at a play this week. He gets an Excellence in Writing Award for his review of the unusual Proof put on by the Portland Stage Company in Portland, Maine. Proof tells the story of a brilliant (but mad) mathematician and his two daughters. One shares his gifts (and possibly his madness) while the other is firmly grounded in the here and now. How entertaining could this be? It was 'a triumph, well deserving of the prolonged standing ovation bestowed by the opening night audience. Every aspect of the production was superbly crafted to bring David Auburn's award-winning script to life.' Read Christopher's review and keep an eye out for the film adaptation of this multiple-award-winning play.

Jack Merry at your service. What a lovely time of year to stay inside so one can catch up on what's new for books and music. Of course, I've been busy with the usual evening dances that Danse Macabre does once the weather turns cold, so I've been doing my reading of new works and listening to new music in the afternoons. Our staffers have likewise been busy, so we have a goodly number of CD reviews this outing, so let's get started...

Green Man attracts musicians like an open keg of Dragons Breath XXX Stout in the Green Man Pub attracts, err, the same musicians. So it's no surprise to this musician that one musician here (Alistair Brown) ends up reviewing the work of another musician here (Peter Massey along with his musical partner, Gordon Morris). Their new CD is great says Alastair: 'Now here's a good deal: over an hour's worth of good music for the price of a stamp, and an opportunity to do a good deed into the bargain. Yes, the CD A Taste of the Marrowbones is yours for the asking. If you like it, and you will, then any sum you pay is donated to the British Heart Foundation.'

Arsis Hand Bell Ensemble's CD made Eric Eller very, very happy in a manner he didn't anticipate: 'Hand bells have always meant one thing to me -- Christmas. How limited my concept was -- the Arsis Hand Bell Ensemble sets this conception clearly as the narrow, provincial perspective it is with Awake, my heart!. This collection of Estonian folk songs has an ethereal, haunting quality that no other instrumental arrangement could deliver. The hand bells offer up a pure sound that appears simplistic on the surface. But only on the surface -- an uncomplicated presentation is the perfect disguise. Smoothly interlocking tones weave a complex undercurrent of rich, beautiful music.' His review is so @#$% good that it receives an Excellence in Writing Award!

Judith Gennett has an opening line that will either make you read her review now or run screaming out the door:' LOUD music heavy on the electricity and light on the swishy keyboards! Many say this is the paragon of country music!' Still here? So now go read her review of Frogholler's Railings, Scott Gibson's Make Ready, and One Bar Town's Say Me A Rosary!

Michael Hunter found the fusion of Celtic and Nordic traditions of the band called Stone Circle quite appealing: 'There are so many CDs of instrumental traditional music available, why would someone go out of their way for this one (which is probably what you would have to do, unless you manage to attend one of their performances)? All I can tell you is the old cliché -- you won't be disappointed. The music suits the band, the band complements the music. They like each other! There is a certain feeling the listener is left with when the CD finishes, a kind of subtle upliftedness. If that concept appeals, so will Voyage North.'

Loudon Wainwright III's new CD is called So Damn Happy. David Kidney quotes Wainwright as saying 'Hopefully those listening to this CD will be able to pick up on that chemistry.' David goes on to say, ' Spike and I listened to it a few times, and while it's not the kind of music Spike really enjoys... I heard him laughing a few times as Wainwright spun his topical, humorous tales. He rolled over from his usual place on the big leather couch... and queried, 'Who the @#$% is this again?' It's Loudon Wainwright III, renaissance man! That's who!'

Peter Massey wants to clarify something: 'Six Strings North of the Border -- the border in this case is the Canadian/American one, not, on first glance at the title, (as a lot of folks on this side of the pond might suppose) the Scottish border, but not to worry. Err -- I thought I would clear that up straight away.' Now Peter, is the CD any good? Oh, yes: 'So there you have it, a superb album of acoustic music. I must hand a bouquet to Bill Garrett who collated and produced it. You can keep playing it over and over again and never get bored with it. As I said early on in this review, I have not heard Volume 1, but surely it can't be better than this -- or can it? Get a copy of this album -- you won't be disappointed.'

Lars Nilsson, a great lover of English folk music, says 'Bob Fox has made two of my favourite albums from the last half decade, the brilliant Dreams Never Leave You, backed by members of Fairport Convention, and as a member of the Hush, a jazzy outfit performing songs from Northumbria and around there.' Read his review to find out if Fox's Borrowed Moments lived up to expectations! On the other hand, Elegant Tern by Clarelynn Rose and Red Wine by Gilbert Isbin are acoustic guitar albums that did not excite Lars: ' neither of these records will make messieurs Renbourn, Bensusan nor Simpson lose any sleep.'

I did mention that Lars likes Scottish trad music, didn't I? If not, here's proof of that: 'Do you like dancing? To be precise, do you like Scottish country dancing? Fancy organizing a dance yourself and need some music? Well, look no further. Scottish in Salem's A Tribute to Sally Dee is just like a ceilidh.... And what does it sound like? Well, imagine a traditional Scottish dance band, fronted by accordion, played here by Tom Pixton, and fiddle, Lissa Schneckenburger, with the usual rolling drums in the background playing to a dance on a Saturday night and you get the picture.'

Roots Quartet's Somerset Sisters worked rather well for Kelly Sedinger: ' I've come to love Celtic and British folk music for many reasons. Two of the biggest ones are that I love the vocal harmonies and stylings so often found in the genre; and that I enjoy the variations in subject matter one finds in the songs, where tragic ballads exist side-by-side with comical, and often ribald, songs of wordplay and verbal trickery. Both of these factors are evident on this album.'

Brasileiro, Festa Brasil, An Afro-Portuguese Odyssey, Salsa Around The World, and Brazilian Groove are all Putumayo World Music that arrived recently for review. Now understand that Compilation discs are, in me opinion, always an iffy proposition and it appears that Big Earl Sellar who reviews these agrees with me: 'I don't know if I can recommend anyone rushing out to by all these discs in one go. Festa Brasil and Salsa Around The World are good places to start, but any of these discs are fine on their own. Taken as a series, with the repetition of the same artists and sounds, it's hard to discern any memorable pieces. I wish Putumayo would concentrate more on releases by artists and not on these compilations, but hey, I guess as long as the music is heard, that's the best one can hope for.'

Odd stuff drifts into the mailroom here at our offices. Sometimes very odd stuff indeed! Tien-Shan-Suisse Express / Paleo Festival Nyon 2002 is one of these items. Mike Stiles notes of this offering to the Reviewing Deities: 'This is one of those CDs that I review with trepidation, lest I not render it the proper justice. It's a product of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation in response to the United Nation's declaration of 2002 as the International Year of Mountains. The project brought together 20 musicians from Switzerland and Central Asia for recording at The Paleo Festival at Nyon, Switzerland's largest outdoor fest. The result is one of the year's best collaborative fusions to be found in the World Music genre.'

Barb Truex has a goodie for us: 'Väsen is Olov Johansson on 3-row chromatic nyckelharpa and kontrabasharpa, Mikael Marin on viola, 5-string viola, and pomposa, and Roger Tallroth on 12-string guitar and bosoki. Having had the opportunity over the last few years to immerse myself in many of Väsen's recordings, see them perform live, and interview Olov Johansson, these musicians (unbeknownst to them) have become old friends. Just recently they were guests on A Prairie Home Companion and my ears perked up, I got all excited and rushed to turn up the radio. Hey, Väsen is on with Garrison Keillor! This is so cool! So I'm happy to be able to tell you about this album entitled Trio.'

Gary Whitehouse comments: 'The musical term 'swing' encompasses a big territory, as these two very different discs, Suzy Bogguss' Swing! and Jay Ungar & Molly Mason's Relax Your Mind, demonstrate.' Read his review to see what he means!

Gary in his intro remarks to Howe Home's The Listener and The Band of Blacky Ranchette's Still Lookin' Good to Me notes: 'Howe Gelb is one of the most prolific of American independent recording artists. He's based in Tucson, Arizona, although he now spends about half of his time in Denmark, where his wife is from. Recording under his own name, or as the leading force behind groups such as Giant Sand, OP8, and the Band of Blacky Ranchette, Gelb churns out a near-continuous stream of off-beat and fascinating music. It's Western-influenced, jazz-inflected rock, deceptively low-key but fairly bursting with musical and lyrical ideas, and the tunes are the kind that worm their way into your consciousness and settle in for a long stay. This year, Gelb has put out two winning discs under different names. He is backed by a rotating cast of supporting players, some of whom appear on both discs.' Sounds interesting, doesn't it?

Spike Winch is a major Stones fan. How major? Just read these words: ' While Dave was in Ireland this past summer, reconnecting with his muse, me and his seventeen-year-old son stayed home and went to see the Rolling Stones at their huge outdoor SARS Concert in Toronto. Matt preferred AC/DC; myself, I only went to see that preenin' #$%^in' little weasel Mick doin' 'is bloody Tina Turner impression all over the stage. I was a bit surprised then to find out that they 'ad a bit of life in them after all. I was only a wee sprig livin' in the orphanage when I heard the Rolling Stones first LP. Or it might have even been before me Mom dropped me there. But somebody was definitely playing 'Well, I'm a king bee bayubay buzzin' around yer hive...' an' the sound of stingin' guitars, rock solid drums, thumpin' bass, an' a real South Mississippi via South London accent singin' the blooze gave me an idea... I had to get a guitar. I knew from the day I heard that... however spriggish I was, that guitar playin' and singin' in me own voice was in my future.'

Go savour Spike's &^%$#! Excellence in Writing Award winning review of these Stones' albums: England's Newest Hitmakers, Hot Rocks, Got Live if You Want It, Their Satanic Majesties Request, Beggar's Banquet, Let It Bleed, Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!, Sticky Fingers, and More Hot Rocks: Big Hits and Fazed Cookies.

That's it for this outing. If you're looking for me, I'll be in the Robert Graves Reading Room reading one of the advanced reading copies of Seduced By Moonlight that just came in. This is the third Merry Gentry novel by Laurell K. Hamilton, and it should be as interesting as the first two were! Now excuse me while I get a mug of that cocoa everyone's been raving 'bout..

My current reading is the second volume of Robert Holdstock's Celktika series, The Iron Grail, which is a maddeningly complex tale. Also sitting on the couch in my office is The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Sixteenth Annual Collection (edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling), the 'Solstice' chapbook by Jennifer Stevenson that we just printed, James Lee Burke's new Dave Robicheaux novel, Last Car to Elysian Fields, the newest Repairman Jack novel from F. Paul Wilson, Gateways, and I've got the first volumes of Holly Black's Spiderwick Chronicles sitting here too. (Thanks to Holly for signing them!) Rounding out the current reading list is Alan Garner's new novel, Thursbitch, which Stephen Hunt is reviewing.

Now shall we go to hear Ymyl Danheddog do a concert of medieval Welsh music? No, you don't need your boots -- it's just down the stairs in the Great Hall. And who wants boots when one's dancing?

2nd of November, 2003

Traditionally, the oak king was a sacrifice, given half a year, or seven years, of the high life, then summarily cut down to make way for his heir. That being the case, I don't know quite what to make of having the appellation handed to me when I still have much I hope to accomplish in the time I have left to me.

So rather than accept tradition, I'll do what I often do in my books when a piece of folklore I want to use doesn't quite fit into the particular context of how I want to use it: I reinvent it.

Here I've taken a stanza from an older poem of mine called 'The Calendar of the Trees' and expanded it to six for a longer exploration of the ideas of oaks, autumn, and mystery.

Be well and live full lives.

Oak am I and I       burn green in midsummer.
I speak in smoke       hill to hill and
wave to wave to       court the summer storms;
my roots run as deep       as my boughs reach high.

Oak am I and I       open the door into the green world
when autumn gathers       the cloak of winter
and draws its white folds       across the summer hills;
my sap quickens       the dreaming king in his barrow.

Oak am I and I       bear witness to the salmon
sleeping in the shadows       pooled beneath my boughs.
I am the ravensong       and the harp of the red wolves;
my seeds wake the drum       of the white stag's hooves.

Oak am I and I       court the autumn mother,
her skin tattooed with       the patterns of the harvest,
her eyes the dark of       the welcoming night;
my boughs weave the promise       that she will return.

Oak am I and I       walk when the moon walks.
My stride takes me       on the back of the west wind
to where the dreams of men       mingle in the green world;
my mystery is the riddle       from which all riddles spring.

Oak am I and I       bid you welcome and well-met.
In the hazards and perils       that challenge our lives,
when summer wakes       when summer sleeps,
I charge you with the care       of these lands and each other.

Charles de Lint
Ottawa, Canada
October 8, 2003

All rights reserved by Charles de Lint. No reproduction
in any form whatsoever may be made of this writing in
part or in whole.

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Updated 30 November 03, 02:55 GMT (MN)