27 September 2003 to 13 December 2003

13 December 2003

Superstition brings bad luck.
- Saul Gorn

The holidays draw swiftly closer but, alas, the snow that covered my hometown last weekend has already been swept away by rain. We'll see what the coming weeks bring! Meanwhile, Rambles has several new holiday reviews for your reading pleasure, as well as a holiday section with lots of music, book and movie suggestions for this festive time of year! Look for more next week, too. So, read on!

Deb Koritsas shares her impressions of a recent live performance by jazz singer Jacqui Dankworth & Band at the Wetherby Festival in Yorkshire, England. "It was obvious we were in for a superb evening," Deb insists.

Virginia MacIsaac takes us back to Celtic Colours with Celtic Women, a performance featuring Sian James, Liz and Yvonne Kane, Mairi MacInnes, Natalie MacMaster and Karine Polwart. Check it out!!

Jim Payne, front man for A Crowd of Bold Sharemen and founder of the Newfoundland recording label SingSong, spoke with Tom Knapp recently in the green room behind the Festival Club stage at Celtic Colours. Read his interview to learn Payne's hopes for the future of his island home and its musical identity.

Jo Morrison is coming over for the holidays with her Christmas Gifts: Holiday Music on Celtic Harp. "It all meshes together exquisitely," Tom says, "flowing from piece to mellow piece without pause or hesitation; left on repeat, this CD could play all evening and never grow tiresome."

Sue Richards and Maggie Sansone get Alanna Berger in the holiday mood with Merrily Greet the Time. "While the ancient Celtic people created many of these stories and songs to warm them during the shortening of the days and calm their fears during the longest nights, this delightful transformation from harvest time to the new year will definitely take the frazzle out of anyone's holiday season," she says. "Start early! Play often!"

Darby O'Gill's too-short Christmas Teaser will add "a number of essential elements -- fun, laughs, sentimentality and cynicism -- to any Christmas celebration," according to St. Nicky Rossiter.

The folks at Rounder offer Comfort & Joy: A Christmas Celtic Sojourn, and Donna Scanlon is giddy with holiday cheer. "There are oodles of CDs with Christmas themes out there, but Comfort & Joy is a true standout; every track is outstanding," she says. "If you only buy one Christmas CD this year, make it this one. It's that good!"

Reba McEntire sounds out some early holiday wishes in Merry Christmas to You, a classic country album reviewed by Peter Harris. "I've never come across a Christmas album quite like this -- before or since -- so it makes this one particularly special," he says. See why!

Folk Underground unearth Buried Things, and Tom says they're "one of the most entertaining new bands of 2003. ... This disc is perfect for music lovers everywhere, particularly those with a quirky state of mind."

Amadan takes a hasty approach with Sons of Liberty. The band has "musical talent to spare," says Tom. "They also have an addiction to speed, and that proves to be the fatal weakness."

The Killdares wow Sheree Morrow with their Live CD, which captures the Texas band's unique style of cutting-edge, "killer-keltic" sounds. "Just when you think it couldn't get any more intense, they turn it up another notch," Sheree says.

Tom Schulte takes a peep at Sinead O'Connor's last effort, She Who Dwells..., a CD that includes a variety of folk-pop covers and a few songs delivered neatly in Gaelic.

Faerd shares its brand of Scandinavian music from the Faroe Islands on this self-titled CD, and reviewer Jennifer Hanson gets straight to the point. "The word for this album is 'delightful,'" she says.

Andy Smythe serves up a selection of "pleasant, easy-on-the-ears and easy to enjoy contemporary folk" on his recent album Love Unspoken, says Jean Lewis. Read her review to get an idea of his poetic touch at songwriting.

Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem are Gambling Eden on their latest CD. "When I reviewed the group's first CD, I invited listeners to be ready to smile and dance around the living room," says Valerie Fasimpaur. "For your foray into the second collection, you can use the slower pieces to take contemplative breaks from your dancing. Sip tea, curl up with the dog and ponder your life and what this gifted group might come up with next. Aside from knowing that it will be excellent, your guess is as good as mine."

Paul Burch is a Fool for Love, and now Peter Harris is a fan. "If you enjoy traditional country with a modern edge, you will love this album," Peter says.

Ray Bonneville's new release, Roll It Down, is "a smooth and seductive collection that pulls the listener in immediately and never loses its grip," says Joy McKay. "An excellent Claptonesque blues guitarist with a friendly and engaging voice, Bonneville takes us on a series of enjoyable journeys."

Al Maniscalco could stand to expand his vibrato, Ron Bierman concedes, and More in My Heart "isn't entirely successful" as a jazz recording. "I too often have the feeling I'm hearing a jazz exercise," he says. "The notes fit, but there isn't enough letting-loose."

Howard Lyons takes listeners on a Spirit Walk in this album that pays homage to his roots. "Lyons has combined strong messages about Native American culture and history with some of the best of synthesized music on the market," says Alicia Karen Elkins. "This is contemporary Native American music that concentrates on giving thanks for our many blessings in life and honoring all life on Mother Earth."

Bruce Nunn reveals the secrets of Nova Scotia's past in History with a Twist: Unusual Stories from Mr. Nova Scotia Know-It-All. Tom says the book "is an entertaining look at a distinctive place and its distinguished people, and Nunn brings it all to life with local color and personable flair."

Mike Resnick revisits an old concept with his anthology of Women Writing Science Fiction as Men. "One has to applaud Mike Resnick's willingness to invest in newer authors," says Gregg Thurlbeck. "But it would be even more valuable to the science-fiction field if he took the time to do more than toss out story ideas and dole out checks."

Simon R. Green offers Something from the Nightside, a noirish fantasy with a lot of appeal. "Not only will it delight established readers, but it will surely win him new ones," Donna predicts.

Michael D. Warden begins his Pearlsong Refounding series with Gideon's Dawn. Dana Fletcher says the unlikeable hero makes the book hard to get into, but the story picks up midway.

Chris Bunch unleashes his band of spacefaring mercenaries on The Scoundrel Worlds. "Bunch writes a fast-paced and fascinating game of galactic cat-and-mouse, and to describe it simply as military science-fiction is to miss much of the finer features of his cast of complex characters and the plots within plots," reports Jenny Ivor.

T.D. Jakes gets inspirational with Cover Girls. "Religious or not, there's no way you could escape being touched by the small miracles and worthwhile sentiments portrayed in this exceptionally inspiring work of fiction," decides Lynne Remick.

Stein Riverton's 1909 novel is translated to English and a graphic format in The Iron Wagon by Jason -- and C. Nathan Coyle appreciates the work. "This is a riveting whodunit with wonderful visuals that perpetuate a mysterious and ominous mood, right up to the revelation of the killer," he says.

Tom is unhappy to note that Treasure Hunters is the last book currently available in Jeff Smith's Bone series. He's looking forward to the next one, however. "Smith has crafted a masterful story, one that has evolved exquisitely from its simple beginnings in this magical valley."

It would be "hard to imagine a more conflicted landscape than Ararat, Canadian director Atom Egoyan's examination of the alleged massacre of more than a million Armenians in eastern Turkey in 1915," Miles O'Dometer decides. "Ararat is rich in history, rich in art, rich in human conflict."

Janine Kauffman says Real Women Have Curves, as depicted in this film of decisions and family turmoil. "Real Women is a breath of fresh air for women who know that, no matter what they do, someone will think they should have done otherwise," she says.

That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!

6 December 2003

Without mysteries,
life would be very dull indeed.
What would be left to strive for
if everything were known?
- Charles de Lint

Whoo! As I write this, I recently got home from a lively gig, spent a few hours sorting and assigning the latest truckload of review materials (grist for future editions!) and watched the season's first significant snowfall start to turn my world white. It's been a busy day! So I'll give my fingers a rest and just let you get right to the show...!

Rachel Jagt gets us going today (and marks her 75th review for Rambles) with a report from a live show by the Undesirables at Hugh's Room in Toronto. Rachel explains why the band has "the most riveting stage presence I've seen in a long time."

Virginia MacIsaac takes over our coverage of Celtic Colours concert series with Close to the Floor, a Mabou showcase featuring Joel Chaisson, Kevin Dugas, Brenda Stubbert and Triskele.

Kimberley Fraser is the next featured artist in our green room series of interviews from Celtic Colours. Tom Knapp chats with Kimberley about her left-handed approach to tradition.

Heather Dale continues her exploration of Arthurian lore with May Queen. "Her passion for medieval history comes across in her brilliant storytelling abilities," says Dave Townsend. "If you like beautiful melodies, excellent storytelling and the legends of King Arthur, May Queen is in every way a great CD."

Carlos Nunez goes to Finisterre: The End of the Earth with an array of music drawn from Brittany and his native Galicia. "Nunez has a very original approach to the music, a full and powerful sound that adds many layers beyond what you'll see in a live performance," Tom Knapp says. "Often pigeonholed as a Galician piper, Nunez proves the lie to that presumption with this album. While he does play a variety of pipes, he shows himself to have a much broader range of musical talents -- and pipes are used sparingly, never overwhelming the overall context of the music."

Alison Vardy demonstrates mastery of her instrument on Island Suite: A Solo Harp Odyssey. "Alison Vardy's masterful strokes on Celtic and Paraguayan harps provide the listener with more than 70 minutes of spirited relaxation and refreshment -- music by which you can rejuvenate, soak in the tub or lull yourself to sleep," Lynne Remick explains.

Spaelimenninir brings together diverse influences -- primarily Scandinavian -- on Flod og Fjora. "Everyone involved brings some music from home along, so Swedish polskas, Faroese skjaldurs, Danish reinlenders and others sit side by side," says Jennifer Hanson. "What it all adds up to is one good North Atlantic kitchen party."

Michael Gulezian speaks the Language of the Flame with his acoustic guitar, and Jenny Ivor says he brings the instrument "to new levels, defying categorisation and inventing style."

Pete Seeger's long and fruitful career is celebrated with Seeds: The Songs of Pete Seeger, Vol. 3, by the man himself and numerous musical friends. "Even without that pedigree, history and respect, this CD would be worth tracking down," enthuses Nicky Rossiter. "Here on a double CD you get 45 tracks and, along with Seeger, you experience a panoply of folk greats, old and new, ranging from Tom Paxton through Janis Ian and Dick Gaughan to Natalie Merchant, to name but a few."

Rick Andersen leaves his dishwashing career behind to record Little Fish, and Nicky hopes this fledgling folk-rocker retires the dishpan for good.

Mike Nadolson is more convincing with his melancholy country songs than he is with country's more cheerful vein -- but Jenny says his album Quicksand will still hook listeners with its sound.

John Berry makes points with Jean Lewis with his Songs & Stories. "A Southern gentleman, his sense of fun is infectious and his love for his music (and for the music of others) is obvious," Jean says. "It's an intimate experience."

NorthernBlues Gospel Allstars are Saved! on this album of, what else, blues gospel. "Opening with a catchy, finger-snapping arrangement of 'Down by the Riverside' and closing with a harmonic chorus of 'We Shall Overcome,' the CD dishes it out in a very simple style, with some of the best gospel sounds you would ever want to find," reports Virginia.

Bembeya Jazz is back on track with Bembeya after a 15-year hiatus. "They have a big band, swing-type sound with heavy African and Cuban traditional influences," says Alicia Karen Elkins. "Every selection is superb."

Ron Bierman sends a postcard along with Greetings from the Isle of Klezbos, a klezmer CD from a talented band that "understands and respects the traditional in repertoire, instrumentation and style."

Yusa exposes us to contemporary Cuban music with a self-titled CD. "Those not sure what to expect from the modern Cuban music scene will find a strangely compelling album whose individuality stands out without comparisons," says Sarah Meador.

Willie & Lobo mark 20 years of musical collaboration with Manana, a world fusion with gypsy, Latin and other influences coloring the sound. The duo, says Carool Kersten, has produced "a very pleasant collection of compositions that are best appreciated in a hammock overlooking some tropical beach at sunset."

Richard Clayderman and Rahul Sharma share The Confluence, but Carool says the blending of easy-listening piano with Indian santoor music doesn't really work. "Whatever the merits of Sharma's original compositions, most of the tracks have been turned into bland studio remixes dominated by colorless electric keyboards and rhythm programming," Carool reports.

Patricia A. McKillip has another winner In the Forests of Serre. "The narrative moves like a dream-state, slowly and regally, with vivid and majestic images," says Donna Scanlon. "Yet McKillip avoids taking her tale too seriously and there are light moments, some almost slapstick, that keep the story from over weighting itself."

Elaine Bergstrom returns to her stylish world of almost-vampires with Nocturne, a novel that introduces Tom to the world of the Austra family. "Bergstrom isn't telling an action story here, she's creating fully realized lives for her characters," Tom says. "It's delicately drawn, at times funny, at times sensual, at times poignant."

Bret M. Funk makes new strides with a Sword of Honor, the second book of his Boundary's Fall series. "Funk does a better job of character development than many fantasy writers," notes Ron. "His heroes are less than perfect and his villains have plausible motivations."

Faye Kellerman's mystery novel Street Dreams gets the audio treatment with the help of Nancy "Jo" McKeon. Wil Owen says "the first six hours are somewhat engaging. ... The ending, unfortunately, left a bad taste in my mouth."

Linda Culp Dowling and Cecile Culp Mielenz attempt to sort it all out in Mentor Manager/Mentor Parent: How to Develop Responsible People & Build Successful Relationships at Work & at Home. Donna Scanlon says it's a "straightforward and practical method worth trying with an organization and/or a family."

John Ney Rieber continues to take young Tim Hunter and friends in unexpected directions in Transformations, the next book in the ongoing The Books of Magic series. "Tim's life is fast becoming a colorful, intricate tapestry of tales and a richly developed supporting cast," Tom says.

A paid killer can't stop killing in Button Man, a graphic novel by John Wagner and Arthur Ranson. "It could be considered one of the most engaging comic works of the last couple of decades," decides Mark Allen.

Miles O'Dometer says Love Liza "is, to say the least, an unusual film. ... It's a small film that makes an odd statement in small ways. It won't overwhelm you, but I guarantee it will be hard to forget."

Tom takes a new look at Volcano, a disaster film that was roundly panned in 1997 but is worth further consideration in light of more recent events. "Volcano may not rank high among disaster flicks, but in this case, the human drama gives it the edge it needs to warrant watching," he says.

That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!

29 November 2003

It has long been an axiom of mine
that the little things are infinitely the most important.
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

We hope all of our friends/readers from the States had a delightful Thanksgiving Day, filled with both family and the appropriate foodstuffs. Now, sit back, loosen your belt just a bit and dig into this week's edition of Rambles!

We start this edition with a chat with Cynthia MacLeod, a bundle of musical energy from Prince Edward Island. Tom Knapp got her perspective on East Coast fiddle music -- PEI vs. Cape Breton -- during an interview at Celtic Colours. Tune in for her perspective on borrowing music from the neighbors.

Cheryl Turner continues our live music coverage from Celtic Colours with Kitchen Racket, a lively Sydney Mines show featuring Bohola, Anna Massie and Jennifer Roland.

Just because we've been focusing primarily on Celtic Colours concerts lately doesn't mean there aren't still performances happening elsewhere in the world. Andy Jurgis takes us along to see Cara Dillon live in England's Pacific Arts Centre.

Emerald Rose gives a taste of their live show with Fire in the Head, a CD Gilbert Head enthusiastically endorses. "The sound is bright, clear and still edgy enough to give a solidly live feel to the set," he says. "Given how much enthusiasm they bring to their music, it should surprise nobody to learn that these fellows have become something of a legend in certain circles."

Ballycotton makes a place for Austria in the Celtic/world music scene with Mondland, an album that helps our Jerome Clark get over some old grudges about the war. "Transcending national, though not continental, borders, it fashions a pan-European sound not quite like any other that I've heard," he says. "The resulting fusion never sounds forced."

Johnny McEvoy is Going to California. "He is probably unknown to many lovers of good music outside the shores of the Emerald Isle, but that is their loss," says Nicky Rossiter. "With a gentle, easy rendition he hypnotises his audience, especially when performing his own compositions."

Bob McParland's new album may be Unresolved, but Jean Lewis says the theme is love, "the force of it, the transience of it and the loss of it."

Kris Delmhorst rescues Songs for a Hurricane. Dave Townsend says it is "a very good CD that combines songs with thoughtful lyrics and nice melodies with a pleasant voice that you could listen to all day."

For a rose of a different aroma, Gilbert lays it on the line with an expert analysis of Biff Rose and E-Stir Pa-Raid. "Rose seems to be a man who once had a pretty rose-colored view of humanity, but whose faith has somewhat curdled over time," Gil says. "As a bit of entertainment, there's no way that I could recommend E-Stir Pa-Raid, but as an interesting insight into the deconstruction of an artistic spirit, this is as fine a document as one might desire."

His death will likely launch an avalanche of tribute albums, but Northern Blues honored Johnny Cash while he was still alive with the recent collection, Johnny's Blues: A Tribute to Johnny Cash. "Opening with 'Train of Love' by Paul Reddick and on to the closing by Mavis Staples' version of the perennial 'Will the Circle be Unbroken,' this is a prize CD," says Nicky Rossiter. "This is fitting tribute to one aspect of a man of many sides."

Howard Lyons mixes a country sound with Native American roots on Hopes & Dreams. "There is a soaring and spiritual quality to the songs," says Virginia MacIsaac. "There's a dreamcatcher on the cover of the liner notes, and these songs, too, chase bad thoughts away."

Leon Seiter sings In the Shadow of a Honky Tonk, and Jerome says this album, which harkens back to the prime of country music, makes a poor first impression but grows on the listener over time.

Elvis Costello points due North and switches his attention to jazz. "Costello's lyrics, which have always been one of the main things that drew me to his music, are well served by the tone of this album," Gregg Thurlbeck decides.

Gypsophilia expands its musical repertoire with Free Inside, a CD that Tom says looks like lunch meat from the outside but includes a global buffet of music within.

Serah shares the fruits of a Late Harvest, a world music sound influenced by Africa and France, tempered by new age stylings and modified with a pop sensibility. Carool Kersten enjoys the album but says he "cannot shake of the impression that this album is somewhat lacking in inspiration."

The Georgian Contemporary Unit shares The View You Never Get on this experimental CD featuring guitar. "I don't believe that there are any hit singles hidden in here, but as a concept album it will attract more than a few followers," says Nicky.

The soundtrack to Johnny English finds favor with Lynne Remick. "Johnny English may be a comedic movie -- a spoof of the James Bond films -- but the music is seriously good and nothing to laugh about," she says.

Guy Gavriel Kay turns his pen to poetry in Beyond This Dark House, a collection Jenny Ivor enthusiastically endorses. "There are astounding, exquisite phrases, words of passion and extraordinary tenderness," she exclaims. "Treat yourself, buy the book and read them in entirety."

Terry Pratchett details a Monstrous Regiment -- and various Abominations unto Nuggan -- in his latest Discworld romp. "One might expect that after so many Discworld novels, there might be nothing left for Pratchett to mine, but one would expect incorrectly," reports Donna Scanlon. "Each book is better than the last, not only because it builds on the whole Discworld phenomenon but also because Pratchett fine-tunes his wit with each novel."

Milan Kundera "is one of the finest, most challenging and thought-provoking novelists writing today," says Debbie Koritsas. As evidence, she reviews Ignorance, a "superlative novel, an incredible exploration of the sadness and loneliness caused by its central characters' displacement from their homeland."

Steven Barnes continues his take on alternate history with Zulu Heart. "Barnes demonstrates a rare ability to share his moral and philosophical theories without turning the story into a morality play," notes Sarah Meador.

Walter Mosley confronts Fear Itself in an audiobook mystery that makes Jean Marchand want to to "write a truly gushy fan letter, which I think he would hate."

Max Allan Collins celebrates the fresh-faced models of the mid-20th century in Calendar Girl: Sweet & Sexy Pin-ups of the Postwar Era, an art book that collects sketches and paintings that once graced the walls of every auto mechanic and hardware store. Tom enjoys this flashback to a time when "sex symbols were about suggestion. More tantalizing than a show-all pictorial was the casual concealment, the subtle reveal -- more art than artifice."

The long story comes to an end in Bruce Wayne: Fugitive #3, and Mary Harvey says the saga had its high points, but still left her disappointed. "Batman and his legend have been better served than this overreaching melodrama," she says.

Tom zips back to 1938 and the Golden Age of Comics with Captain Gravity, a retro-superhero tale with ancient mysticism, Hollywood, archeologists and Nazis. "The story is fun and never asks readers to think too hard -- and it's entertaining to boot," Tom says. It also deals with racial issues that would have been taboo in the real Golden Age.

Michael Vance takes a gander at Fandom's Finest Comics, a highly recommended collection of some "diamonds in the rough."

Miles O'Dometer takes a look at The Man Who Wasn't There. "If you like the films of Fritz Lang or the novels of James M. Cain, if you enjoy watching obsessive actors play obsessive characters, if you can attune yourself to the rich vein of coal-black humor the Coen Brothers love to mine, The Man Who Wasn't There was made for you," he says.

Janine Kauffman, meanwhile, joins 8 Femmes for an "off-the-wall melange of theater, musical and period piece in which the murder-mystery plot is tossed out the window."

That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!

22 November 2003

Don't look to other people's stories; live your own.
- Charles de Lint

Last week we introduced you to three new members of our staff. Well, get your welcome wagon ready to roll again, as we have three more people joining us this week as well. Say hello and read their reviews -- they're joining the proudest, bestest staff of its type on the Web!

Tom Knapp once again begins the day with coverage of Celtic Colours, the superb Cape Breton festival week keep going on and on about in these pages. Two more shows are on tap for this edition: Tom sounds off on the Pipers' Ceilidh, featuring Carlos Nunez, Dermot Hyde of Pipeline, Cillian Vallely of Lunasa and Paul MacNeil; then he sings the praises of The Hills are Alive, with Bohola, Brenda Stubbert, Tommy Sands and Stephanie Wills. It's all available right here!

Tommy Sands, an influential singer-songwriter and social activist from County Down, talked with Tom about the importance of music in changing attitudes and realities in war-torn Northern Ireland. Read Tom's interview from the Festival Club green room and see what gives Sands hope in these troubled times.

Jean Emma Price joins our staff today with her review of Proterra, the latest from the 30-year-old tradition that is Runrig. "Though not always what would typically considered Celtic, their love of Scotland and its Highland and Island culture comes shining through," Jean says. "Any fan of Runrig will love this album and anyone not familiar with them should have a listen and find out what it's all about!"

Capercaillie continues to impress with its latest recording, Choice Language. "This entire album is full of modern music fused with Celtic tradition," says Erika Rabideau. "There is not one weak track and is a must-have for Capercaillie fans and lovers of great Celtic music."

The McCarrel Sisters are Wide Awake & Dreaming on this, their first recording. The trio is "one of the bright new stars out of Ontario's Celtic music scene," Tom Knapp says. "Considering that this is the McCarrels' first recording, I think we can expect great things from them in the future."

The Blarney Brothers serve up some great pub fun with A Fine Line Between Ambition & Delusion and Lager Than Life. "Both albums have a lot to recommend them and you're guaranteed to enjoy the majority of these songs," Tom says, "so grab a pint and raise your voice with these boys!"

Geraldine MacGowan sings 'Til the Morning Comes, "a CD that demonstrates well the subtle ranges of expression of MacGowan's husky voice," according to Donna Scanlon. "The CD is beautifully cohesive."

Kristian Blak and Yggdrasil climb the mythological Norse tree of life, Yggdrasil. Jennifer Hanson says their blend of Nordic and jazz sounds "is a long way from any traditional music, but then, an album with such a range of sources isn't looking to woo the purists anyway. This album is for those who like jazz as much as folk, and those who appreciate an original approach to music and myth."

Rebecca Hall spends a pleasant Sunday Afternoon with reviewer Sarah Meador, and Sarah says the folk artist is making a place for herself among the greats of folk tradition.

Singer-songwriter Rick Spreitzer makes his mark with Meanderthal -- but Wil Owen has a mixed reaction to the overall sound.

Nana Mouskouri's Ode to Joy is the sort of thing you'd hear "if Artemis had a voice and a recording contract," says Ann Flynt. "This CD is magic, and Nana Mouskouri is myth made real."

Cindy Lu turns to country music with Two Sides, but Jerome Clark says the album has more cliches than able songwriting. "The band is decent enough, the sound capably engineered and Cindy Lu can sing all right," Jerome notes. "Her talents, however, would find better expression elsewhere."

Steve Spurgin pays a visit to Tumbleweed Town, and Jenny Ivor is happy to tag along. This, she says, "is country music and singing at its best -- a bit of blues, a bit of slow love, a bit of angst and an enlivening dose of humour make this a real pleasure to listen to."

Dave Howell joins the Rambles clan with his review of The Live One by slide blues guitarist Dave Hole. His only complaint? "It actually sounds a bit too good for a live show, with perfectly balanced sound and an audience that is only audible a few times."

Geoffrey Keezer pays tribute to a jazz great -- with the help of a few friends -- on Sublime: Honoring the Music of Hank Jones. "The duo-piano album isn't seen in jazz all that much, but here's a CD that attempts to correct that omission and make us sorry for its absence," writes Chet Williamson. "Sublime is just that, a glorious return to classic twin-piano grandeur, and an involving exploration of the many facets of Hank Jones."

Gigi, an Ethiopian singer, sees her music reinvented by Bill Laswell on Illuminated Audio. Carool Kersten says the album evokes "extreme reactions" good and bad. In this case, Carool says, "the authenticity of Gigi's music has been sacrificed at the altar of Laswell's cult of musical innovation."

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan may be familiar to some for his work on various film scores, but Janice Snapp urges us to experience his Pakistani sound on Sufi Qawwalis. "The singing style is different from anything most westerners are familiar with, but if you listen with an open heart, you'll find it very moving," she says.

Debbie Koritsas joins us today with a look at The Poetry of R.S. Thomas. This volume, edited by Anthony Thwaite, explores the beautiful/brutal lines of Thomas's poetry. "You will be struck by their sheer honesty and directness, and you cannot fail to be moved by the devastating impact of his words," Debbie says.

Jessica Rydill makes her fantasy debut with Children of the Shaman. "There are some astonishing twists and turns in the plot," says Jenny, "and it is an enjoyable and refreshingly different read."

Yann Martel sets a boy adrift with a tiger in Life of Pi. "Martel tells a story so strange that you can hardly believe it is fiction," says Jean Marchand. "It seems chillingly real."

Chaz Brenchley continues his exploration of Outremer in the Tower of the King's Daughter. "Every character walks, talks, thinks and acts believably," says Dana Fletcher. "It is full of passages that yield gems on the periphery of awareness."

Ray Inzana's Johnny Jihad is a must-read for folks who like "dark, depressing tales that could easily be modern-day nonfiction," Wil decides.

Michael Vance takes a close look at The Eye Collection, which resurrects a superhero from the mid-1950s with a giant eyeball for a head. Despite the corniness of the premise, Michael says, "the Eye is delightful. He is also inventive, entertaining and neither brooding or introspective. This is adventure for the sake of adventure and fun."

Tom takes a dim view of Switch, a Batman/Joker vehicle from two top-notch DC talents. He asks, "Was this the winner of the 2003 Stupid Idea contest or what?"

Miles O'Dometer isn't Far From Heaven in this "unusual film, an artifice about artificiality, a genre piece -- a 1950s Technicolor domestic drama -- that goes far beyond what the domestic dramas of the 1950s could discuss." The movie, he notes, "is not always easy to watch."

Janine Kauffman goes Old School in a flick that's less Annie Hall, more Porky's or Animal House. She says this one is "all smart-alecky fun, aimed at those who aren't easily offended."

That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!

15 November 2003

Drawing on my fine command of language, I said nothing.
- Robert Benchley

Bob Benchley says it so well, I feel little need to say more! After all, we're the best around at what we do, period. So read some reviews! (And say hello to several new members of the staff along the way!)

We'll start this edition again with more performance reviews from Celtic Colours, an excellent international showcase held each year in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Two shows are spotlighted this week: The Homecoming, featuring Beolach, Dirk Powell, Christine Balfa & Courtney Granger and La Swing du Suete, reviewed by Cheryl Turner, and Kelly's Dream, featuring Kimberley Fraser, Lunasa and Tim O'Brien with John Doyle, reviewed by Tom Knapp. Read all about 'em right here!

Tom also has another interview from the green room at Celtic Colours' Festival Club. This week, he talks with Alberta's Shannon Johnson of the McDades for insight into the way her Celtic traditions mesh with her brothers' jazzier styles.

The McDades prove they're For Reel on their debut recording, which approaches Celtic music with a jazz attitude. "With more and more Celtic musicians entering the field these days, the mark of a good band depends on more than just the ability to play well," Tom Knapp remarks. "The ability to arrange music distinctively is vital -- and I like these arrangements and their playing quite a lot!"

ClanTerra founds the calm in the Eye of the Hurricane, an album that startled Sarah Meador with its subtlety. "I was braced and ready to be shaken," she says, but "ClanTerra has captured that fragile moment of peace, and the energy surrounding it."

Iarla O'Lionaird, best known as a member of the Afro Celt Sound System, shows off his more traditional sean-nos side with The Seven Steps to Mercy. "This is a CD that needs not just to be listened to, but experienced," says Erika Rabideau, the latest addition to the Rambles writing staff.

Andy Jurgis also joins the staff today with a detailed look at Spiorad Beatha: The Spirit of Life by Scots-Gaelic singer Maggie MacInnes. "The overwhelming impression of the album is of exciting innovation and huge achievement," Andy says. "This is a Gaelic song album that will be difficult to better."

Shoormal gets Migrant on this new CD of Scottish folk music which, Nicky Rossiter exclaims, "does a great service for a living tradition."

Trout Fishing in America shoots for InFinity and beyond with this child-oriented folk album. "InFinity is happy without being saccharine, packed with songs that capture the essence of childhood without being condescending or winking at the grownups over the heads of the children," remarks Donna Scanlon.

Deanna Knight basks in the Shadow of a Star, a musical veteran with a folksy/jazzy flair. "This is the kind of music that hypnotizes its listener," warns Sheree Morrow. "You simply drift away."

Joe LaMay & Sherri Reese pay a visit to Maryville in this, the first recording from this New York bluegrass duo. "Maryville will have you laughing, crying and singing along," says another Rambles newcomer, Sherrill Fulghum.

Chet Williamson expounds on The Art of Old-Time Mountain Music, a recent compilation disc from Rounder's Heritage series. "Art over authenticity for me any day, and when you can get both as you do here, so much the better," Chet says.

Rick Neeley & the Store Keepers (John Cavalier and Marc Edelstein) offer a tasty selection of General Merchandise with their musical mix of guitar, banjo and acoustic bass, according to Nicky Rossiter. See how this trio performs in his opinion (compared to an earlier critique by another writer).

Harry Manx & Kevin Breit celebrate a Jubilee of folksy blues. Gregg Thurlbeck ranks a portion of the album very high indeed -- and another part is less impressive. See what makes and what breaks this CD for Gregg in our second point/counterpoint of the day!

The Porcupine Singers perform Traditional Lakota Songs, and Alicia Karen Elkins decides they have a winner. "This is a magnificent classic of traditional Native Americana," she says. "I love it and would recommend it to anybody with an interest in Native American or indigenous music."

Putumayo submits a compilation disc celebrating the music of the French Caribbean, and Wil Owen finds the trip a memorable one. "If you do not have the money for a refreshing vacation in the French Caribbean, perhaps you can let Putumayo take you on a more affordable 'musical cruise' of the islands Martinique, Haiti and Guadeloupe," he says. "The French Caribbean groove is infectious."

The African music scene is celebrated with a Festival in the Desert. Carool Kersten discusses the music, as well as the climate that allowed this recording to be made. The CD, he says, "can rightly be included in the annals of great music from Northwest Africa."

Julie Henigan teaches a variation for guitarists in DADGAD Tuning. "It is by no means definitive, nor in all fairness does it try to be," says Paul de Bruijn. "It simply sets out to give people a starting point."

Tony DiTerlizzi & Holly Black are back with Lucinda's Secret, the third book of The Spiderwick Chronicles. Tom says the pair has "stamped the The Spiderwick Chronicles with a grim sense of reality and genuine danger, but never in a way that should frighten young readers. ... Genuine dialogue, clear plotlines and believable characters -- including the unbelievable ones -- make this a treasure."

Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer correspond via the lengthily titled (and newly reprinted) Sorcery & Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot: Being the Correspondence of Two Young Ladies of Quality Regarding Various Magical Scandals in London & the Country. "The story is just beautifully written," Donna writes. "The characters are convincing, the writing lively and the letters mesh into a remarkably smooth narrative."

Michael Moorcock compiles The Lives & Times of Jerry Cornelius: Stories of the Comic Apocalypse. Ron Bierman says the anthology "benefits from Moorcock's clever black humor and command of language, and many will like the ultra-liberal worldview. But many won't."

Spain Rodriguez failed to carry off his graphic adaptation of the William Lindsay Gresham novel Nightmare Alley, Chet reports. "There's an unfortunate flatness and a tiring narrative consistency to the art," he explains.

Tim Hunter continues through The Books of Magic in Reckonings, the next volume in John Ney Rieber's excellent series. His girlfriend's in Hell and a fat blue demon has designs on his future -- but Tom says Tim's story "keeps growing as a fascinating, multilayered mythology for modern times."

Michael Vance provides a footnoted analysis of Another Suburban Romance, a new graphic novel from the pen of Alan Moore. (I'll just let him explain it.)

Miles O'Dometer carves open a Pumpkin to reveal the innards of this movie starring Christina Ricci. "Pumpkin has its problems," he admits. "And yet the film works, often when you're not expecting it to, and not in ways you're expecting it to go."

Janine Kauffman joins the pursuit for Catch Me If You Can. She calls the Leonardo DiCaprio/Tom Hanks vehicle "a quick-moving, entertaining couple of hours."

That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!

8 November 2003

Nobody cares if you can't dance well.
Just get up and dance.
- Dave Barry

Indian summer (in this part of the world, anyway) has put a nice cap on autumn. But now that cooler weather is prevailing, it's time to retreat inside, grab a mug of hot tea or cocoa, and snuggle up with your computer and a new edition of reviews. Enjoy!

Our coverage of Celtic Colours picks up momentum with two featured reviews this week. Cheryl Turner chimes in with her impressions of Home I'll Be, a Big Pond concert by Tracey Dares-MacNeil, Lunasa, Howie MacDonald and Gordie Sampson. Tom Knapp has his own tale to tell about Bards & Ballads, a songfest with Dave Gunning, Sian James, Tim O'Brien, Karine Polwart, Gordie Sampson and Tommy Sands. Read both reviews here!

Tom Knapp had a chance to sit down with Dermot Hyde, the piper with Irish duo Pipeline, in the green room behind the Festival Club stage at Celtic Colours. Read his interview to see Hyde's thoughts on the state of modern Irish piping -- and the important of being heard.

Patrick Street is a major street in Cork and a major influence in the world of Celtic music. Street Life is an excellent addition to the supergroup's discography, says Nicky Rossiter. "This is a very valuable addition to any Irish music collection."

Barleyjuice "has the relaxed, very casual flair of a highly polished pub band," Tom says after spinning the group's self-titled debut CD. "There are excellent production values here, too, so don't expect the rough edges of a live pub show."

Kathleen Keane, perhaps best known for her time as the fiddler with Gaelic Storm, shows diverse talents on her self-titled CD. "I expected amazing fiddling and got so much more," Tom admits. "Now the only question is what she will tackle -- and master -- next."

The McKrells mix it up a bit in Better Days, a CD blending Celtic and bluegrass styles. Chris Simmons says the album should appeal to fans of both genres.

Biruta Ozolina shares the music of Latvia on Sirdsgriezi (Heart Solstice). "This is one of those albums that sneaks up on you rather than grabbing you by the throat," says Jennifer Hanson. "This music entices the listener into another realm and its enchantment is difficult to shake off."

Melissa Gibson draws on the traditions of Mary Chapin Carpenter and Joni Mitchell with her new release, Welcome to Stay. Nicky says this album of original songs is top drawer! Congrats, Nicky, on review #250!

Todd Snider's live recording, Near Truths & Hotel Rooms, is an adequate snapshot of a show but, says Jerome Clark, "you won't listen to this one more than once."

Bryan Masters is Thundar, the Boy Giant, and Sarah Meador says the CD is the perfect tool for knocking other music out of your head. "Avoiding simple lyrical schemes and one-note stories, Masters manages to capture the more intriguing, less well-defined moments of life," she says. Congrats, Sarah, on review #150!

Adrian Rose catches Tom Knapp's eye in Nothing But Pearls, a musical postcard from a New Orleans jazz club. "Adrian sings from her timeless core, sultry and flirtatious with a slice of heartbreak, equal parts Clara Bow and Macy Gray," Tom says.

Hiroshima revisits its brand of seamless world fusion on The Bridge. Wil Owen, a long-time fan, says it's "nice to know that this band still knows how to put out great jazz." Congrats, Wil, on review #150!

Mike Marshall and Chris Thile, both mandolin giants, leap Into the Cauldron, an album Chet Williamson says "will have fans of both (musicians) deliriously happy at the outcome."

Deana Carter has fallen off the radar for some country music fans. Peter Harris says her holiday album, Father Christmas, should win back some true believers. "It will never sell in huge quantities, but its simplicity is refreshing," he says.

James Cohen explores the Latin blues on the High Side of Lowdown. His guitar playing, says Virginia MacIsaac, is "exciting but also fun, mysterious, joyous, skillful, creative and simply amazing."

Ray Abshire & Friends share some Cajun tunes For Old Times Sake. "Either as an introduction to Cajun music or as another album for one's Louisiana collection, I think this CD is a pretty good find," Will opines. "The only things For Old Times Sake is missing is a washboard and a mess of boiled crawdads!"

This Canyon Records collection explores Yaqui Ritual & Festive Music. Alicia Karen Elkins says it's a CD that will "have you on your feet, moving with the beat and clapping your hands."

Monsters don't have to be evil, according to story editors Brian M. Thomsen and Martin H. Greenberg. "The Repentant collects clever horror stories -- with a twist," says Tom. "Kudos to these authors and editors for taking a new look at hackneyed creatures of evil!"

C.J. Cherryh flies back to her ongoing science-fiction universe in Explorer. "Her construction of worlds, characters and cultures is complex and convincing," notes Donna Scanlon.

Katie Macalister's novel Men in Kilts is "riotously funny," says DeborahAnne MacGillivray. "She gives her readers of real slice of Scotland and has done her research well into the ups and down of sheep farming."

Carolyn Parkhurst's first novel (and audiobook) The Dogs of Babel "is chock-full of little mysteries to titillate the reader into following this author's line of thought," says Jean Marchand. "If the end-purpose is to enlist sympathy for dogs, and I doubt that, it succeeds. How wonderful that dogs demand so little from us!"

Tom, usually a fan of the Vertigo line, takes a dim view of the story in Witchcraft, a story of female victimization in the guise of female empowerment. " James Robinson's story "is sexism of a different color," he says.

Tom also doesn't like Gothic, a Batman collection that takes the hero "into places even he shouldn't go."

Michael Vance says the Generic Trade Paperback "is parody of the industry that creates and merchandises, and the fans that sustain, superhero comic books." Unlike others in the field, he says, "this one is funny."

Janine Kauffman dips into a Possession of a literary kind in this film starring Gwyneth Paltrow. "Possession bears a lot of flash and more than a little heat, but a plot shrunken and jumbled from its novel namesake," Janine laments.

The 1993 film Leprechaun isn't a lighthearted romp about fanciful sprites, Dan Jolley reports -- although there is a pot of gold. "In the world of horror movies, Leprechaun is mediocrity personified," he says.

That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!

1 November 2003

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
- Berthold Auerbach

Here's hoping everyone is having a great weekend, marked of course by a happy Halloween and the turning of the year that is Samhain. Winter is on its way, so let's enjoy this season while it lasts. Cheers!

The crying shame of Celtic Colours, according to Tom Knapp, "is the number of excellent performances you must miss. With so many great choices scattered across the island each evening and only one pair of ears to deploy, there are some very hard choices to make during the week-long event." His decision was easy, however, when he learned that the Men of the Deeps were a part of the lineup for Heavenly Voices, a midweek performance in Whitney Pier.

Wendy MacIsaac is a talented solo fiddler and also shares the stage with Beoloch, one of the hottest ensembles in Cape Breton today. Tom had a chat with Wendy in the green room behind the Festival Club stage at Celtic Colours, where they discussed her future -- and the strange turn her career almost took.

If that's not enough, Wendy MacIsaac supplies more great music from the Maritimes with her newly released album, Timeline. "You expect fine fiddling from MacIsaac, and it's here in spades," says Tom. "MacIsaac, a strong and emotional fiddler, captures the freshness of a live performance with her studio work."

Eileen Ivers & Immigrant Soul explore further into their hybrid Celtic/world sound with this self-titled CD. "Ivers and Immigrant Soul stir up a terrific musical stew," says Jennifer Hanson. "This album doesn't want to let go of my CD player, and it will probably treat your CD player the same way."

Jennifer Clarke Skromeda exhibits grand vocal talents on The Great Silkie: Tales of the Celts. "A lot of singers would shy away from so many unadorned vocals, but Jennifer doesn't mind the exposure -- in fact, she excels at it," Tom says.

And Did Those Feet shares a Hymn for a Glad Tomorrow. Nicky Rossiter says the music has "echoes of Enya ... but these have a much clearer vocal quality and lyrics."

Mara Freeman's Celtic Spirit Meditations are "an acquired taste," says Nicky. But "if you want an escape from the big city sprawl or the stress of financial worries, indulge yourself with this CD."

Norwegian fiddler Annbjorg Lien "creates amazing alien landscapes with her music" on her CD Aliens Alive, Tom says. "It's an aural sensation that must be experienced again and again."

Kaki King says Everybody Loves You. Paul de Bruijn says listening to this folk guitarist "is absolutely delightful and the CD always ends too soon."

The Steve Riley Band is Miles from Nowhere, but Nicky tracked them down for a good session of contemporary folk music. "The tracks have meaning and depth," Nicky says.

The Crooked Jades unleash The Unfortunate Rake, Vol. 2: Yellow Mercury. "Even with the occasional misstep, the Jades are never boring, which is more than one can say for many of their contemporaries," says Jerome Clark. "One doesn't doubt for a moment that with their appealingly innovative approach the Jades do their part to keep old music as old as they can make it."

Steven Pile stays Overnight, and C. Nathan Coyle admires his way with a country song. "Good music, good lyrics, a good voice," he says. "This all equals a good album."

Tab Benoit shares The Sea Saint Sessions in this blues package assembled in, where else, New Orleans. "The CD isn't perfect, but you can't enjoy blues without some rough edges," says Virginia MacIsaac. "Pretty much all of the CD ... gives a feel of steamy Louisiana and spicy Cajun roots."

Terry Gibbs pays his respects to a late, great jazz artist with From Me to You: A Tribute to Lionel Hampton. "I believe Lionel Hampton would have enjoyed this affectionate, sometimes poignant but mostly swinging tribute," says Ron Bierman. "I know I did and I strongly recommend it to lovers of fine middle-of-the road jazz."

Richard Cochrane takes a gander at two recent jazz offerings: Lines Burnt in Light by Evan Parker, as well as the self-titled CD from John Butcher and Gerry Hemmingway. "Evan Parker and John Butcher are, put simply, two of the very finest saxophonists of their respective generations," Richard notes.

Wil Owen explores the Latin sound with New Latin Xpress, a compilation disc that's "a perfect CD for anyone trying to get a broader listen to the sounds of Latin music popular throughout the world today. A lot of styles are covered, yet the selections are such that the CD does not come across as disjointed."

William Horncloud is the featured singer on Traditional Lakota Songs, a collection of music from Canyon Records. "Horncloud has a beautiful voice with awesome range and tonal quality at all levels," says Alicia Karen Elkins. "Although the Northern Plains style is not my favorite, this man has a way of performing that just draws the listener into his song and projects them into the Lakota culture."

Wil says the soundtrack to Final Solution piqued his interest in the film. What caught his ear? Read on!

Two of Neil Gaiman's stories are adapted as radio plays, and Tom is tuned into the show. Snow Glass Apples and Murder Mysteries are "spun by Gaiman into a pair of deeply thoughtful, edgy and ultimately disturbing fables that dissect the quality of justice and the nature of one's perspective," Tom says. "Combined with high-quality dramatizations and narration, these are stories you'll want to hear over and over again -- you'll find something marvelous and new each time you do."

A fire, a rescued fiddle and a grisly murder are the elements that open Mulengro, a classic fantasy horror novel by Charles de Lint that's been reissued for the 21st century. Tom handles the review, noting that de Lint "exhibits his usual mastery of characterization and rich story development" in a tale that "will keep readers turning pages from the edge of their seats."

Marvin Kaye has compiled The Vampire Sextette, a collection of stories that finds favor with Nicky. "I thoroughly enjoyed this romp in the vampire chronicles and I am sure there are many, many people out there who will devour this blood feast," he says.

Nick Sagan's Idlewild is "an entertaining and suspenseful science-fiction novel," says Ron. "In spite of some overly familiar plot elements, it holds interest all the way."

Sarah Meador casts her eye on the first chapter of The Victorian series from Penny-Farthing, Self-Realization. "There is, somewhere, a great story in The Victorian," she concedes. "But by the end of the novel, I didn't care enough to try and find it."

The mood turns dark in Ghost Circles, book seven in Jeff Smith's Bone series. "Although Smith still uses subtle humor to lighten the tone, Ghost Circles is definitely more grim, more gritty than his earlier work," Tom notes.

Eve Gilbert bares her soul in Tits, Ass & Real Estate, new from Fantagraphics. "The distorted figures, the discontinuity, the confusing lettering and the incongruities offer the reader the slightest insight into madness and depravity," notes C. Nathan Coyle. "Tits, Ass & Real Estate is a troubling story with brutal honesty that will not be enjoyed, but should be appreciated."

Miles O'Dometer knows The Score in this flick about a safecracker out on one final job. "This is that rare film in which, for no identifiable reason, you can't help but root for the bad guys, even when it looks like they're about to do each other in," Miles says.

Janine Kauffman heralds the wit of Margaret Cho, who lays it all out in I'm the One That I Want. "Not completely fitting in anywhere, Cho's forged a strong identity, with even the most lewd humor melded with intelligence," Janine says.

That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!

25 October 2003

This music crept by me upon the waters,
allaying both their fury, and my passion, with its sweet air.
- William Shakespeare

Celtic Colours, the annual international music festival in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, is fast becoming one of the world's best Celtic and folk music gatherings. No one brings you more comprehensive coverage of the event than Rambles, which, over the next few months, will be posting performance reviews, as well as interviews with many of the artists involved. It starts today with Tom Knapp's review of the Whycocomagh Gathering, featuring A Crowd of Bold Sharemen, John Ferguson, Buddy MacDonald and Carlos Nunez. Stay tuned, there's plenty more concert coverage to come!

Tom also took the opportunity to chat with some of the musicians who performed there. Today, he shares his time with Patricia Murray, a dazzling singer-songwriter -- in both the traditional Gaelic and modern traditions -- from Prince Edward Island. Murray has a pair of ambitious -- and very dissimilar -- projects in the works; read Tom's interview to see what she's up to now!

Natterjack says it's time to Hop 2 It, and Tom gives this Vermont band credit for the leap. "There is a wonderful, relaxed feel to this band that I really enjoy," he says.

The Men They Couldn't Hang spin a few Celtic punk tunes on The Cherry Red Jukebox. "After a six-year recording hiatus, the band is back in record stores with an often energetic but rather uneven collection of 11 new tracks," says Gregg Thurlbeck. "The Men They Couldn't Hang still have some life in them."

Nicky Rossiter has high praise for Celtic Spirit, a new compilation disc from Lochshore. "The music is magic," he says, succinctly.

The Irish flute takes center stage on The Moneymusk by Hammy Hamilton. Valerie Frankel lauds the blend of old and new tunes, as well as the quality performance.

The Baltimore Consort plays the greatest hits in La Rocque 'n' Roll: Popular Music of Renaissance France. A careful investigation of this music, muses Sarah Meador, "reveals a certain tension, a passionate drive barely held in by the formal arrangements of the time."

Katy Pfaffl makes a strong first impression, Tom says, and her self-titled album "is packed with songs that are honest, open and memorable. ... Pfaffl's spirited singing drips emotion."

Gordon Downie, front man for the Tragically Hip, demonstrates his singer-songwriter skills with Battle of the Nudes. It "is not an easy album," Gregg concedes.

Dan Jolley is a long-time James Taylor fan. Here, he explains why Taylor's Greatest Hits is a quick route to a peaceful state of mind.

Raffi gets remade in Country Goes Raffi, a compilation disc from Rounder that found favor with Paul de Bruijn. "While there are a few songs that don't quite work, the bulk of this CD more than makes up for that," Paul says. "This is a treat for young and old alike."

The Bluegrass Diamonds share Some of Our Favorites, Hopefully Yours. "These guys fit into the category of accomplished bluegrass musicians, but they don't stop there," enthuses Virginia MacIsaac. "It appears they can take any style of country song and stamp it with their brand."

Althea Rene shares her Chocolate Rush with any jazz fan willing to listen. "The music is soothing and warm; it just drifts around you and very rarely does much more than that," says Paul. "It is good, but the feel of the music tends to repeat from piece to piece."

The Takla collective has its roots in Takla Makan, a 1997 jazz recording by Falascone, Monico & Locatelli. Richard Cochrane flashes back to the beginning.

Eric Fiedor's brand of fast-moving blues-rock caught Sarah's attention with Last Will & Testament. "A chorus of guitars fuse into one layered sound, supported with a confident bass and smoothed by some slick keyboarding," Sarah describes.

Wil Owen cheers the release of another Putumayo compilation, African Groove. "The 12 songs presented here dare you to sit in your seat," he says. "The tribal rhythms mixed with the modern styles of hip-hop and electronica transcend across cultural boundaries regardless if you understand the lyrics or not."

Riley Lee's new age album Music for Zen Meditation "spins drifting melodies that fill a room with silence as much as sound," Valerie explains. "It offers centeredness, oneness and mystery."

Nina Kiriki Hoffman grabs for A Fistful of Sky. "Hoffman works magic in her novel, creating vivid realistic characters and meshing them with a credible and carefully constructed plot," says Donna Scanlon. "The plot is remarkably swift-paced, drawing you in on the first page and holding you until the last."

If The Galactic Seven, the new sci-fi novel by M.H. Wilson, were a TV series, "the spaceship would be a spray-painted cardboard box, lasers would be made of flashbulbs and the majority of aliens would look like humans combined with whatever the prop department had on hand," Sarah opines. "I love shows like that."

Emily Drake's The Magickers hits volume 3 with The Dragon Guard -- but Lynne Remick says the work is too derivative of the Harry Potter series without sharing its strengths.

Tom flashes back to the initial issues of Legends of the Dark Knight, collected for Batman fans as Shaman. "The story, writen by Dennis O'Neil, shows a Batman not yet secure in his abilities and coming to terms with his new identity," Tom says. "It bodes well for the future of the series -- a future that, to date, has unfolded rather well."

Tim Hunter continues to grow in Summonings, the next collection of The Books of Magic. "John Ney Rieber, who followed in Neil Gaiman's footsteps and turned Tim's story into an ongoing series, has definitely found his footing with the characters and their world," Tom says.

Despite its unlikely title, Pinky & Stinky earns kudos from Mark Allen. It's particularly good for young readers, he says. "Of course, it's also recommended for the young at heart."

Janine Kauffman gets some Pootie Tang in this movie that, alas, falls short of expectations. "Oh, I wanted to love this movie," she laments.

There's an unusual love connection being made in 2002's Tadpole. Miles O'Dometer lauds the film for its "erudite dialogue, well-staged setpieces and gentle, loving portraits of a tiny group of people trying to do their best with very delicate, and sometimes hysterically funny, situations."

That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!

10 October 2003

Alice came to a fork in the road. "Which road do I take?" she asked.
"Where do you want to go?" responded the Cheshire cat.
"I don't know," Alice answered.
"Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter."
- Lewis Carroll

Dare we say it, but Rambles has rarely taken a week off during its eventful span of existence so far. But occasionally needs must dictate slight adjustments to our schedule and, because a few members of the staff (including the editor) are off to Nova Scotia for the coming week to savor (and report on) the Celtic Colours festival in Cape Breton, we've decided to pump up this edition with extra special bonus reviews that will, we hope, tide you all through to the following week. We'll return soon with many good tidings!

Teada debuts with a self-titled album "full of lively Irish traditional music and vibrant vocals," according to Lynne Remick. "Teada comes onto the scene like a much needed fresh breeze."

Tom MacDonald is a Celtic Tenor, and Virginia MacIsaac gives high marks to this newcomer from the Canadian Maritimes. "MacDonald gives us a chance to rediscover old Irish and Scottish songs in a style that is robust and dramatic," she says.

Abby Newton's Crossing to Scotland "is a slow, sweet collection," says Valerie Frankel. But this album of Scottish tunes is unusual, she notes, because it spotlights the cello!

Christy Moore made a convert out of new Rambles scribe Ryan O'Sullivan with Collection, Part II. Read his review to see how the Irish music legend snagged Ryan's attention!

Steve Tilston demonstrates 30 years of folk music experience on Such & Such. Nicky Rossiter calls it "a collection of songs that will lighten the heart and give food for thought by turns."

John Hasbrouck serves up a big scoop of Ice Cream, an album Jenny Ivor says is a double dip of mixed merits. "While applauding the variety of guitars he cherishes in his collection and his unquestioned ability to play them, I don't find Hasbrouck's rather thin, understated vocal style to my taste," she explains.

Alex Peterson pets the Mexican Dog on his recent folk album which, Sarah Meador explains, "is full of the low drama and fine souls that can be met in any of the slower paths through life."

Terry Penney is Missing Marshville in this country-folk release from Newfoundland. "Although the songs on this record represent various musical styles, they are tied together by catchy lyrics and solid musicianship," says Rachel Jagt.

Michelle Nixon & Drive prove their bluegrass mettle on It's My Turn. "If you like basic bluegrass, this record will ingratiate itself with you so fast that, before you know it, it will feel like an old friend," explains Jerome Clark. "Nixon, who is not flashy, is just damn good."

Kyle Dawkins presents a mixed bag on Conasauga. "The music is either very good -- or so monotonous, repetitious and boring as to become background noise at best," notes Wil Owen.

Jim & Jesse recorded their last album as a duo shortly before Jim McReynolds' death at the end of 2002. Their classic bluegrass sound is immortalized on 'Tis Sweet to Be Remembered, and Chet Williamson says "this final farewell is an effective one. ... It's an evanescent farewell to Jim, but, fortunately, not to the act itself, which will continue as Jesse McReynolds and the Virginia Boys."

The Tony Trischka Band seals a New Deal with their latest album. "Once again Tony Trischka blurs the lines between several different genres of music, coming down heavily on the jazz side, and to great effect," says Chet. "The musicianship is impeccable and the compositions are nearly always compelling."

Don't let Ruby Fradkin's youth fool you, says Sarah, who thoroughly enjoyed her debut CD, Warmin' Up with Ragtime Ruby. "If Fradkin's age shows at all, it's in the precision and sharpness of her playing," Sarah says.

FJQ "plays a wholly modern-sounding take on high-energy free jazz," Richard Cochrane announces. On the band's self-titled CD, he says, "they sound nothing but completely contemporary."

Andy Collins offers his Lake St. Serenade to blues fans everywhere. "I liked this very much on first listen and even more after I read through the lyrics in the booklet," says Virginia. "There really is something special going on here."

Simirillion spins a story Of Unicorns & Jasmine: A Lover's Tale. Valerie says the music "is sweet and peaceful, then turbulent, then triumphant -- a joy to listen to."

The Klezmatics win a new convert in Paul de Bruijn with Rise Up! Shteyt Oyf! "At times the songs make you want to dance like a whirlwind, at others you just want to let the music wrap itself around you," Paul says. "The passion in the music ties the album together."

The sounds of West Africa come forth in The Rough Guide to Highlife. "What is impressive is that the disc hangs together so well," notes Jennifer Hanson, "even though it covers music from different eras and different countries."

Canyon spotlights the Native Music of Northwest Mexico: Tarahumara, Warihio & Mayo in this collection of live recordings by three regional tribes. Alicia Karen Elkins calls the CD "a rare opportunity to join in their festivities and embrace their culture."

Jane Yolen has done it again with Sword of the Rightful King, a new look at an old legend. "Yolen renders the figures of Arthurian legend into living breathing human beings, well-rounded and complex, while scrupulously returning to the root of legend," says Donna Scanlon. "Yolen keeps it moving, switching points of view to heighten the suspense and keeping the various threads so tightly woven that the reader is genuinely surprised at some of the developments."

Lyda Morehouse continues to redefine her future Earth in Messiah Node, a novel Jean Marchand found riveting. "I will plan on reading this book again, because of the way I sped through it," she says. "I laughed uneasily, I laughed aloud, I found myself caught up in a plot that reminded me of Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett."

Caitlin R. Kiernan is "one of the rising stars of horror," says Daniel Jolley, but a dearth of likeable characters in Low Red Moon "makes this otherwise compelling read something to be endured as well as enjoyed."

Leah R. Cutter unfolds the story of the Paper Mage in this novel set in the age of China's Tang Dynasty. Dana Fletcher enjoyed Cutter's debut, noting that the book focuses less on action and more on the internal struggles of a woman defying tradition.

The Guin Saga is headed for the century mark, one of the most massive series undertakings in fiction! Sarah applauds the move, noting that book one in the series, The Leopard Mask, newly reprinted for an English-reading audience, "ends with the most audacious cliffhanger I've seen an author attempt. And it ends far too soon."

Wen Spencer outlines some Bitter Waters in his latest science-fiction mystery. "The tension builds nicely with some last-minute heroics to save the day," says Paul.

Donald Davis shares A Room of My Own in this storytelling CD from August House. Jena Ball has three criteria for success; see how Davis meets them in her review!

The Celtic label is again misused, Laurie Thayer states, in Guardians of the Celtic Way: The Path to Arthurian Fulfillment by Jill Kelly. "What there is is a confused hodgepodge of Christian terminology, misused Celtic terminology and fluffy, new age feel-goodism," Laurie sighs.

The story of expatriated fairyland characters continues in Fables: Animal Farm, written by Bill Willingham. "Once again, Willingham demonstrates why Fables is one of the hottest new titles on the block," Tom Knapp says. "The characters, while very different from those we remember from our childhood, fit well within the confines of logical character development. And the stories are deucedly clever and gripping to boot."

Rick Geary unveils The Beast of Chicago, the latest in his series of Victorian Murder graphic novels. "There's nothing to worry the squeamish here; the horror is described in the narrative while the artwork leaves those details to the reader's imagination," Tom notes. "I applaud the overall presentation and the dry approach that avoids sensationalism -- an all-too-easy angle to take when the subject matter is so ripe for exploitation."

The plot thickens -- and, in some areas, becomes wildly unsupportable, in the second volume of Bruce Wayne: Fugitive. "On one hand, the writing is truly some of the best, with loads of action, excellent character description and a very dramatic cliffhanger of an ending," says Mary Harvey. "On the other, the story is by now collapsing under the weight of too many expectations."

Michael Vance gives full warning: "Stand back, I'm going to gush." The subject? Alan Moore's Supreme: The Return.

Sarah has a Hickee and she wants everyone to see it. "Anyone should be able to find at least a few favorites in such a diverse collection," Sarah says of this new release from Alternative Comics. "Buy it for the art, buy it for the humor and especially buy it to keep these lunatics off the street."

Napoleon might not be who he says he is in The Emperor's New Clothes, a recent film starring Ian Holm. "It's a flight of fancy on the conflict between love and glory, and it asks whether it's more courageous to fight for what you had or to be truly happy with what you have," Janine Kauffman reports.

Crime prevention is on trial in Minority Report, a futuristic film starring Tom Cruise. "Minority Report is many things: a cop flick, a sci-fi fantasy, a mystery, a morality play, a chase film, a thinking-fan's thriller," says Miles O'Dometer. "Like the very best cinema, it's image-driven, but never to the point where it loses touch with the moral and personal conflicts on which it's founded. In a way, it's a cyberspace Chinatown set in a much upgraded Metropolis."

Tom has nothing good to say about Very Bad Things, a movie that lives up to its name. "It is, in the final analysis, simply an uninspired, mean-spirited piece of work," he says.

Alicia greets the Daughters of Satan in this witchy movie starring a young Tom Selleck. "It is a weird movie that leaves you with a few unanswered questions," Alicia says. "The level of suspense is extreme all the way through."

That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!

4 October 2003

Touch magic, pass it on.
- Jane Yolen

Feedback on our new look has been overwhelmingly positive! If you're just seeing it for the first time, please drop us a line and tell us what you think. Now, here are this week's reviews!

The Tannahill Weavers work their band of Scottish Alchemy on this recent recording, which Jo Morrison says is "nothing if not familiar. But oh, what a fine and glorious familiar it is."

The Welsh group Plethyn remakes a bit of history with Goreuon Plethyn (Best of Plethyn). "This recording is unlike many compilations in that they actually went back and re-recorded 11 of the 18 tracks, smoothing out the rough edges in the originals," says David Cox. "All in all, it's a good introduction to a standout Welsh folk group that deserves to be remembered and celebrated."

Nancy McCallion & the Mollys make themselves heard on Trouble, which blends a Celtic flair with Tex-Mex traditions. Nicky Rossiter lauds the band's "grit and emotion."

Gabriel Yacoub gives a "polished and professional performance," often in French, on Les Choses Les Plus Simples (The Simple Things We Said), Donna Scanlon reports. "Yacoub brings a sense of elegance to all the songs as well as emotional resonance that extends beyond any language barrier."

The Feathermerchants are Unarmed Against the Dark on this new album that straddles the line between folk and rock music. Wil Owen encourages Rambles readers to broaden their horizons with this excellent band!

Colleen Sexton shares her Greatest Find, an album Dave Townsend says combines a "pleasing, passionate voice and good songwriting."

David Goodrich's second album, Accidentals of the West, is a collection of instrumental folk tunes "that rely heavily on stringed instruments," Wil explains. Wil says this is the perfect CD for those quiet Sunday mornings.

Rednex puts a new face on bluegrass with Sex & Violins, a recording Alicia Karen Elkins says "has long been one of my favorite CDs for dancing."

Michael Stacey performs country-pop songs After the Storm; Jenny Ivor says he has a good sound that needs polish. "Not bad, but not different or demanding enough to make me want to hear more," she relates.

Kazuhiro Inaba brings Japanese sensibilities to the country/bluegrass milieu with Teardrop on a Rose. "This is an eye-opening album of great grace," Chet Williamson opines, "a musical island of meditation conducted by a Zen master in a cowboy hat."

Sarah Meador says The Rough Guide to Hungarian Music "has been assembled not just with a fine ear for music, but with a fine appreciation for tradition and influence. The chosen songs are linked together to create an audible map of the country, with suggestions of the migration routes of various influences."

Eric Casillas didn't make Creation Chant just another recording of ancient traditions, Alicia says. Rather, the album "is an astounding collection of traditional native chants propelled into the new century by accompaniment with an extreme diversification of percussion and set to a rhythm that is a combination of Native American and West African tribal."

Doc Powell pays tribute to a bygone era of jazz at 97th & Columbus, where he got his start in the field. "This is a jazz collection to die for!" Alicia relates. "Doc Powell's performance is outstanding, and the addition of so many superstars from the industry makes this a superb CD and a real value for the price."

Sarah Swersey's flute sings like a Nightingale in her new album of lullabies, which Lynne Remick says may be "too melancholy" for children -- but "the sounds of Swersey prove to be soothing, relaxing, pensive melodies for adults."

Gwynfor Evans details The Fight for Welsh Freedom in this brief volume of history that David Cox calls "a good starting point" for the Welsh scholar.

David J. Schow provides his own undead creepshow with Zombie Jam. Sarah offers high praise for the collection. "You need this book," she says. "Just don't read it before dinner."

Cecilia Dart-Thornton continues The Bitterbynde series with The Battle of Evernight. Laurie Thayer says the author "uses lush, lyrical prose to present a world haunted by supernatural creatures. ... She mines folklore and fairy tales, weaving those ancient stories into her own."

James P. Blaylock is In for a Penny in this collection of six stories. Ron Bierman praises the work -- but questions the steep price tag on this deluxe hardcover edition.

Mindy L. Klasky produces volume 4 of her ongoing fantasy series with The Glasswrights' Test. Jean Marchand says young adult readers "are the perfect audience to watch Rani mature after she passes the many tests fate has in store for her."

J.F. Freedman begins Fallen Idols in a set of Mayan ruins and ends in California. Jean says this suspenseful yarn about families includes "vivid scenes and good conversations."

Neil Gaiman revisits the world of The Sandman in his long-awaited graphic novel Endless Nights, which collects seven short stories, each illustrated by a different artist. "These short stories expand on the abstract mythologies of the Endless without needing or even trying to top what came before," says Tom Knapp. "They further our understanding of Gaiman's enigmatic characters without laying them bare to utter comprehension. They whet our appetites for more to come."

Michael Vance defies the opinions of the world's largest comics convention in France and disses Speed Abater, a graphic novel set aboard an obsolete sea vessel. "If this review seems harsh," he adds, "real potential deserves real guidance, and Speed Abater, even with flaws, is more than worth a read."

Michael bounces back to look at the early days of the original rubber-faced hero in The Plastic Man Archives, Vol. 1 by Jack Cole. "Every reprinted story is a romp into a world of wild, visual whimsy," Michael says.

Shakespeare's Macbeth gets a new coat of paint in Scotland, Pa., a film that translates the ancient days of Scotland to the modern world of fast-food management. "It's an idea worthy of Monty Python, but played in a much lower key at considerably lower volume," opines Miles O'Dometer.

Janine Kauffman says Diamond Men is a "buddies-on-the-road movie, with anti-buddies. ... It's about loss, and taking your lumps, and searching for a little companionship, a little affection."

That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!

27 September 2003

If you think you're too small to be effective,
you have never been in bed with a mosquito.

- Bette Reese

Rambles has a bright and shiny new look! The changes to our front page retain a touch of the familiar while improving the layout and decreasing load time. We think it looks pretty good! Please drop us a line and let us know what you think of the new design; for good or ill, we want to know your thoughts! Meanwhile, here are this week's reviews!!

Darby O'Gill (a band, not a person) is Waitin' for a Ride, and Sarah Meador is hopping onboard for some great Irish fun. See why Sarah's miffed, however, about the whole squirrel issue.

Oisin Mac Diarmada dusts off his fiddle for Ar an Bhfidil. Valerie Frankel says the album says this collection of upbeat melodies is "perfect" for Irish fiddle lovers.

The Brobdingnagian Bards share their Memories of Middle Earth, an album of music inspired by the Tolkien classics. It's not a perfect interpretation, says Wil Owen, but "this CD is really quite excellent."

Victoria Parks plucks a Wild English Rose, and Wil applauds her second recording. "She is a strong songwriter and better than average singer," he notes.

Chris Knight is "a singer-songwriter to watch," Donna Scanlon says after listening to A Pretty Good Guy. "Knight's rough-edged voice is like a hybrid of early Bruce Springsteen and John Cougar Mellencamp, and it's perfect for his songs, a gritty series of slices of life," Donna says. "Knight is a powerful songwriter; his poetry is lean and edgy and he has a great ear for matching music and language."

Greg Meckes had an epiphany involving a cricket, which led to his acoustic guitar CD Moments of Clarity, Part I. "Melodies pour in a series of liquid eddies and ripples from the instrument," says Jena Ball. But a lack of direction hinders the sound.

Arthur Davenport is a puzzle to Jenny Ivor, who has a hard time making up her mind about Reality Bends. "Loathe it or love it, you are impelled to listen to his words," she notes. "His is a truly individualistic style, in that it defies any one categorisation."

Chris Brashear and Peter McLaughlin have done all right by Jerome Clark. "As I was hearing it for the first time, the sheer, unexpected loveliness of Canyoneers rather startled me," Jerome explains. "This is, let us say, a formidable recording."

Aubrey Haynie makes a big splash in his field with The Bluegrass Fiddle Album. "Haynie is an extraordinary fiddler, with great chops and a wealth of musical imagination," says Chet Williamson. "I'd conclude by saying that all these tunes play to his strengths, but he just doesn't seem to have any weaknesses! This one's a must for any fan of bluegrass instrumentals."

The New Christy Minstrels went through many different incarnations during their folk-pop heyday in the 1960s. Two holiday recordings, with very different lineups, are combined in Christmas with the New Christy Minstrels: Complete! -- and Peter Harris says "there has never been anything like them."

Doyle Bramhall pays a visit to Fitchburg Street. "It's not just a re-hash of the blues songs from his childhood; the recording honors the music that he loves while letting him add his own style," explains C. Nathan Coyle.

Molly Johnson sings Another Day, and Gregg Thurlbeck says she's due a little acclaim for the effort! After several less-than-successful outings with various bands, Johnson's "reinvention as a jazz standards seductress is proving to be considerably more studio-friendly," Gregg says.

Richard Cochrane strikes up the band with the London Improvisors Orchestra and Proceedings. "Finding ways to make improv work in large groups is a challenge we rise to the way some people want to climb mountains or land on Mars," Richard says. "And some of the results are promising."

The Honolulu-based duo Pali makes its mark on traditional and contemporary Hawaiian music with its self-titled CD. Jamie O'Brien said the two musicians "understand and love the music they're playing. You'd be hard pressed to ignore it."

English folklorist David Fanshawe captured the sounds of a region when he recorded Music of the Nile: The Original African Sanctus Journey. This recording, says David Cox, "is a fascinating, unadorned audio tour of the many cultures along the Nile. ... But this CD gives us more that just ethnology: it is great music. The rhythms are superb and infectious, the voices are clear and strong. The recording quality is excellent."

Putumayo prepares a comfy global pillow with Dreamland: World Lullabies & Soothing Songs. Valerie says this "is a bedtime collection not to miss."

Stephen Taylor returns from the dead to form Mechanica Monsoon and release Fall into a Pill. "Every song is a grim, desperate look at a mechanized world with almost as much culture shock as you'd expect from a reanimated corpse," Sarah warns.

Ian Whitcomb & His Bungalow Boys unleash The Cat's Meow: Ukulele Favorites from the Roaring Twenties, a CD and tunebook combo that Jamie finds delightful. Read his detailed review!

Dawn Baumann Brunke speaks in Animal Voices: Telepathic Communication in the Web of Life. Alicia says the book will force skeptics to take a new look at the world.

Nina Kiriki Hoffman calls Tom back to her world with The Thread That Binds the Bones, a "full-blown family reunion" for Hoffman's magical kin. "Hoffman's modern mythos, set in the American northwest, leaves room for endless expansion and development," Tom says. "This, her first novel dealing with that world, is an excellent introduction to the makeup, mindset and politics of this powerful, secretive family."

Mike DiCerto shares some Milky Way Marmalade in this science-fiction novel that Paul de Bruijn says "could have been a much better book if DiCerto had kept to a cleaner storyline."

John Stiles makes his writing debut with The Insolent Boy. "This isn't a book that you 'enjoy,' although it is quite funny in places," says Donna. "It is mostly a book that makes you think about action and consequences and the circular nature of our lives."

Robert Crais unveils The Last Detective in a new novel that fulfilled all of Jean Lewis's expectations. "It's a simple enough plot and, although I'm usually the last to know, it wasn't too hard to work out who was responsible for the kidnapping," she says. "That didn't matter though because it's not important whodunnit. That's not what the book is all about."

The story of mage-in-training Tim Hunter continues in Bindings, the first book in The Books of Magic series without creator Neil Gaiman at the helm. "In a perfect world, Gaiman would continue writing an endless array of titles; barring that miracle, this series at least seems to be in very good hands," Tom says.

Selina Kyle is dead and Dick Grayson is hard on the case in Nine Lives, an Elseworlds tale. "This is the best Elseworlds story yet written and a must read for anyone, Batman fan or not," says Mary Harvey. "Anyone who loves pulp fiction or hard-boiled detective novels will enjoy this book."

The story of Old Man's Cave is a bit more slowly paced than previous volumes in Jeff Smith's Bone series. But the exposition is vital to the plot, Tom says. "And to keep readers engrossed, Smith kicks up the pace quite a bit towards the end of this volume, when armies skirmish, secret identities are exposed and fates hang in the balance." Editor's note: Jeff Smith just mailed us a copy of upcoming issue #52 with a note that, while the series has been on brief hiatus, publication resumes this month. The series will conclude early next year.

Janine Kauffman talks About a Boy, a movie based on a questionable premise. "But where About a Boy is on more solid ground is as a comedy about an emotionally undeveloped person coming of age," she says. "Hugh Grant has had ample opportunity to find the right balance of suavity and vulnerability as Will, and as a comedian, he's hit his stride.

Dan Jolley says Austin Powers in Goldmember is "certainly a funny movie, featuring several of the most classic scenes from the Austin Powers series, it is ultimately something of a disappointment."

That's all for another day here at Rambles. Cheers!