29 October 2004 to 8 January 2005

8 January 2005

In the beginning, there was nothing, which exploded.
- Terry Pratchett

I leave you to ponder the wisdom of Terry Pratchett's creation theory whilst reading the plethora of new reviews, compiled for your pleasure and education below. Cheers!

Englishmen Reg Hall and Mervyn Plunkett preserved a great deal of early English country music through their informal recordings in the 1950s and '60s. Now their work is available again through the recent release from Topic Records, aptly titled English Country Music. "This album presents English traditional music at its best," Jamie O'Brien comments. "It instigated a new wave of the genre, inspiring musicians to delve deeper into the style and introducing new audiences to the tradition."

Frank Harte takes a step back in time with Dublin Street Songs Through Dublin City. "This collection of 20 tracks will transport you to the streets of the 'fair city' in decades and centuries past," says Nicky Rossiter. "Listening to the CD you can imagine yourself standing on Sackville Street as the broadsheet sellers touted their wares as they came hot off the press."

Nollaig waxes Under a Pale Moon -- and passes Nicky's test for good music. "A CD is for listening pleasure, and this is pure pleasure," he says.

Bonnie Rideout plays Celtic Circles around a great number of Scottish fiddlers. "This album offers a banquet to be savored," says John Lindermuth. "If you're not familiar with her music, this is a succulent introduction."

Tricia Corrigan shows us A Different Kind of Beautiful. Corrigan, Nicky Rossiter says, "will have the listener entranced from the opening track."

Eleanor Shanley and Ivan Leparr share Another Day's Journey in a CD Nicky calls "the best of spiritually inspired music sung to perfection. ... The album has a very definite gospel and spiritual theme and feel, but any atheist who avoids it for that reason would be missing a musical experience."

Ben Harper shows his Diamonds on the Inside and impresses the heck out of Daniel Berlanga Ramos. "His music is beautiful and full of nuances and, at the same time, he is able to approach very different styles and be so cool about all of them that there's no remedy but to think he is superb," Daniel says.

The Hoodoo Papas believe their bluesy-folk CD is Past Due, but Gregg Thurlbeck disagrees. "This seems to be a band that would deliver the goods live, but which hasn't mastered the demands of the more precise, cleaner, less forgiving studio recording environment," he explains. "And when one chooses to record primarily in the stripped-down format of two guitars plus vocals, every weakness and flaw is going to be right out front on display."

The team at Heads Up produced Smooth Africa II: Exploring the Soul for a taste of African jazz. "It brings together African and American jazz artists for an encore performance drawing on the musical legacy of the emerging new South Africa," Carool Kersten explains.

Kristian Blak digs Scandinavian jazz from his Addeq. "Imitated sounds are blended into music, and that is only part of what is done," Paul de Bruijn says. "Blak's Addeq is an interesting CD, pulling from disparate musical traditions and producing a mostly unified sound."

Joe Houck doesn't break new ground on Dream. "Every thought, sound and style on every song has already been done by someone else, usually done much better," says Tracie Vida. "Dream is hokey, but surprisingly addictive and firmly on the guilty pleasures spectrum in terms of quality, like Xena or those late-night Christmas romance movies on Lifetime."

It's time to check into Hotel Palindrone for some Samo Riba and the sounds of Europe, Adolf Goriup insists. "Their repertoire includes music from all over the continent, brought forward with feeling and passion, four excellent musicians, who have created their own outstanding style."

Ralph E. Hayes shares a Long Drive Home with his guitar -- and us. "The best material, ideally suited to midnight rights on long, lonely roads, clusters to the beginning of this CD," Tom Schulte says. "Unfortunately, the rest of the album does not entirely bear out the promise of the first three tracks."

Kaitlin Hahn reports on the fun-filled frenzy of the World's Biggest Square Dance, the annual closer to the Celtic Colours festival in Cape Breton. "I knew it was going to be a fun night when I walked into the hockey arena and saw Burton MacIntyre behind the microphone, calling out the steps," she says. See where it went from there!

Dave Howell sits down for a chat with Stuart Eaglesham to talk about the music of Celtic rock band Wolfstone. Let's listen in on their conversation!

Joseph W. Campbell delves deeply into spirit, morality and folklore in The Flight of the Wild Gander: Explorations in the Mythological Dimension. "There are undoubtedly objections to many of his conclusions, some of which -- such as his analysis of the Judeo-Christian tradition -- will sit uncomfortably with advocates of other points of view," Robert Tilendis says. "However, The Flight of the Wild Gander is a tightly constructed and penetrating look at the meaning of religious experience as it has displayed itself throughout the history and prehistory of humanity.

Dallas Murphy recounts his vivid experiences while Rounding the Horn. "Since the opening of the Panama Canal there has been no need for seafarers to risk the hazards of the Horn, and so the windjammers are long gone," John Lindermuth says. "But, there always will be that sea-struck few who dare to experience 'the great and terrible things of the Ocean Sea.' If you're one of those or only an arm-chair adventurer, this book is worth the read."

James Hetley returns to the Summer Country with The Winter Oak. "The Winter Oak is a dark contemporary fantasy, intricately crafted and plotted down to the tiniest detail," Tom Knapp reveals. "The characters reveal themselves completely to readers, hiding nothing as Hetley digs deeply into their psyches and exposes their frailties and insecurities along with their strengths." And hoopla for Tom on the occasion of his 1,300th Rambles.NET review!!

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's famed vampire Saint-Germain makes the acquaintence of Katey Knapp through the Dark of the Sun. "Saint-Germain is wholly unlike any vampire whose story I've read," she says. "He is so completely realized, so fully defined, that he is far more believable even than many of the humans I've met."

Kevin Archer supplies a garden In Lieu of Heaven in this "metaphorical, deeply provocative novel," Daniel Jolley says. "I would recommend this novel to Christians and non-Christians alike. Living in such a chaotic world, it is healthy for the soul and healthy for one's peace of mind to search for eternal truths about man's purpose, both individually and collectively."

Mike Moscoe continues the Battletech/MechWarrior saga with Patriot's Stand. "If you like your battles by the book, or you lust to see battalions going head to head across a traditional battleground, you won't find much of that here," Daniel Jolley reports from the front lines, "but it seems to me that the most realistic of battles are never fought by the book."

Tom Knapp enjoyed a classic action-adventure yarn with Lazarus Jack, a new graphic novel from Dark Horse. "It's rollicking good fun that harkens back to a former age, much in the same way that the Indiana Jones movies did," Tom says. His only real complaint, he says, is its brevity....

Miles O'Dometer crawls down in the dungeons with Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban. "Prisoner pushes Potter into new ground, and very fertile ground," Miles says. "A remake it's not. A reimagining it is. And a great one."

Janine Kauffman spends some time with Young Adam. At some point in the film, she says, "the tension becomes unbearable. ... For all of this film's noirish aspects, it's just as much about the emotional torture we inflict on each other, about the disconnect that can be found when people find their normally placid selves doing evil."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back! (And feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

1 January 2005

Modern man lives increasingly in the future and neglects the present.
- Loren Eiseley

It's 2005! The year just past has been tumultuous, to say the least -- filled with some personal highs and, let's face it, some national and international lows. Here's wishing a great 2005 to everyone and, no matter how good or ill your 2004, may the coming year be better by far!

A uniquely Scottish slant on religious music is brought to life with Salm: Vol. 1, Gaelic Psalms from the Hebrides of Scotland. "The sound is like waves of music crashing against the walls of the church, washing the entire congregation in a sea of sound," Jo Morrison explains. "I have heard this art form on recording before, but never so beautifully done, or so widely represented on one recording."

The artists at Greentrax commemorate the Clydesdale on Gentle Giants. "This album resounds with history and social comment," says Nicky Rossiter. "It reminds us of the debt we owe to those leviathans of the land. Like so many important cogs in our past, they were invisible but essential."

Capercaillie is off To the Moon in a recording Robert Tilendis calls "a small package containing many, many treats. ... To the Moon is really a tour-de-force for Capercaillie: many moods, many modes, rich and complex and somehow straightforward and solidly grounded at the same time."

Jon Wood shares the studio with One to Five musicians, Pamela Dow explains, on this new recording by the English guitarist and songwriter. The album, she says, "is a glorious work of acoustic imagery and composition. His fingerpicking style touches a variety of formats that blend together and complement each other to perfection."

Furious Billy is essentially a one-man band that combines the elements of coffeehouse folk and angry punk, Tom Schulte explains. "Sissyfoot is all over the spectrum," he says.

Putumayo explores the global breadth of reggae with World Reggae. "This is an inspiring and exciting album yet with an attractively chilled and laidback atmosphere," says Andy Jurgis. "The liner notes are first-rate, with an informative introduction to each track that makes the listening all the more enjoyable."

Mars Lasar mixes music with nature on The Music of Olympic National Park. "In spite of the fact that I was exposed, in the early days of new age music, to a recording of Bach's Toccata & Fugue in D Minor scored for what sounded like a flock of panicked sparrows (from which I have never quite recovered), I have to admit that the nature sounds Lasar incorporates in this CD are not inappropriate," Robert Tilendis concedes.

Dave Howell (and his helpful wife, Laura) report back on some of the doings at Celtic Classic, an annual music festival in Bethlehem, Pa. Read their review for details on King Chiaullee, Crasdant and Bretons & Co.

Gardner Dozois provides the best of the best in The Year's Best Science Fiction: 21st Annual Collection. "Of course, in any collection claiming to contain 'the best,' there will be selections with which you'll disagree," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "But overwhelmingly, the stories Dozois has chosen to represent the science fiction field for the year 2003 are terrific."

John Vornholt pays tribute to The Troll King. "Trolls, ogres, elves and fairies will find that they do indeed have some common ground and that differences do not necessarily equate to evil," Wil Owen relates. "I should also mention, since this is a book about trolls, that ugly is in the eye of the beholder." Woohoo, Wil! Congrats on review #200!

Martha Grimes cleans up after The Dirty Duck, a mystery novel set in Stratford-upon-Avon. "The picturesque scenery of the historic town and the everlasting memory of Shakespeare coupled with the buzzing tourist business create the background of the story," says Adolf Goriup. "Grimes describes the plot with much skill, gives the reader even more information than the investigation reveals without letting him know the outcome."

Tony Robinson (a.k.a., Baldrick of Black Adder fame) details The Worst Jobs in History. "Read this one over the Christmas break and you will be delighted to get back to the office, shop or factory in January, counting your lucky stars that you are not a chimney sweep, woad maker or rat catcher," Nicky Rossiter says.

Mark Allen flashes back with Mike Grell to revisit Jon Sable: Freelance. "A thoroughly realistic style, in the tradition of the likes of Neal Adams and Dick Giordano, coupled with a fine sense of detail and depth make this book nigh irresistible," Mark says. "Jon Sable: Freelance is recommended for those who enjoy action, adventure, political intrigue and James Bond-style hijinks."

Miles O'Dometer drifts down Mystic River, a movie that "seems to find no end to the depths of misery suffered by each of its protagonists. ... Mystic River won't work as a 'date flick,' unless of course you happen to be seeing a clinical psychologist. On the other hand, if you're one who likes to plumb the depths of the human soul, this is one long ride you'll never forget."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back!

24 December 2004

Ho ho ho!
- Kris Kringle

Many of us are engaging in some sort of holiday celebration this weekend, in many cases involving eggnog. So let's keep this short, shall we? We don't like to leave our readers with nothing new to peruse, so we have a handful of holiday and other fiddly bits to share with you all.

But first....

Margaret Fay Shaw, a remarkable woman, died earlier this month in Scotland. Before her death, she recounted her life in From the Alleghenies to the Hebrides: An Autobiography. "This autobiography charts life in the Scottish Hebridean Islands so beautifully -- and it completely lacks mawkish sentimentalism," Debbie Koritsas reveals. "If you're interested in the recent history of one of the most inaccessible corners of the British Isles, viewed through the insightful eyes of an American woman, this book will fascinate you. Shaw's autobiography is a wonderful testament to a life fulfilled."

It might be a little late for this year's celebration, but Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer's The Christmas Candle Book would be a perfect part of next year's holiday hoopla, says Sarah Meador. "Perhaps the best part of Trammer's book, given the season, is that these are poems best for sharing," she says. "They all sound well read aloud, and the pictures, though small, are clear and simple enough to see in a reading circle. There's ample choice here to read one a night, and variety enough to go through them all in one sitting without boredom."

Sandra Jones Cropsey's seasonal story, Tinker's Christmas, is a well-intentioned and "lovingly related fantasy of an elf with a mission," Katey Knapp says -- but unfortunately, "the storyline has been done, redone, overdone, since well before this go at it, and it was never super-compelling, even the first time round." Also, Katey notes, Barbara K. Mudd's illustrations are unusually angry in appearance. Still, she admits, the book's failings did not detract from her children's enjoyment of the tale.

Steve Eulberg marks the season with 'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime, which successfully brings traditional folk songs into the modern age. "Eulberg is a dulcimer -- mountain and hammered -- player and the musical director at the Lutheran Campus Ministry at the University of Colorado," Jerome Clark explains. "That's good news on two fronts: he's a very fine musician, and he means what he plays."

The Monks of Glenstal Abbey help listeners discover "the beauty and peace associated with the music and verses of Celtic poetry and Gregorian chant," Nicky Rossiter says. "Whether it is used to relax, to reach a spiritual plane or simply for musical enjoyment, you will not do better than this album," Biscantorat: Sound of the Spirit.

Miles O'Dometer is an ardent collector of holiday movies, but last year's Elf isn't destined to find a spot among his favorites -- despite a collection of fine talent among the cast. "For the most part, Elf is a tale of wasted talent," he says.

If you're still looking for ideas for next year's festivities, you'll find plenty of music, book and movie suggestions on our Yuletide page. Enjoy!

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Happy holidays, and ho-ho-hurry back!

18 December 2004

Lots of people think they're charitable
if they give away their old clothes and
things they don't want.
- Myrtle Reed

So, how about a few more holiday highlights from our holly-jolly Yuletide page? Certainly!

If it's music you're after, perhaps you'd enjoy The Christmas Album by Cape Breton's Barra MacNeils. Or try unwrapping A Christmas Present from the Albion Band (if you can find one, alas). Deborah Friou and Julia Lane offer Yuletide Treasure: A British Isles Winter Celebration. Or you could join Darby O'Gill on an Irish Christmas Rollick.

For some seasonal reading, crack open a copy of Eric Kimmel's Hershel & the Hanukkah Goblins, share Emma's Christmas with Irene Trivas or dig into Katherine Paterson's Angels & Other Strangers: Family Christmas Stories.

And now with this week's update....

The Dunedin Consort casts a Silhouette with music composed by Corrina Hewat. "This is a relatively short recording (under 30 minutes), but it's strikingly beautiful to listen to," says Debbie Koritsas. "Whatever Hewat's inspiration, this is beautiful music that acts as balm to the senses."

The Wexford Boys say it Seems Like Only Yesterday with this collection of Irish music. "The use of guitar and whistle on some over-familiar tunes makes this album a revelation and makes the listener look forward to future experimentation with the tradition by this talented duo," Nicky Rossiter says.

Joe Giltrap proves himself to be an Irish Charmer on this collection of mostly cover songs. "Giltrap has been on the music scene for a long time and that experience shows on this album giving new life to old standards and delight to even a casual listener," Nicky says.

Eric Tingstad & Nancy Rumbel get in the spirit with Peace on Earth: The Best of Tingstad & Rumbel Christmas. "Yes, the selection is rather obvious run-of-the-mill Christmas carols, but it's a pleasant kind of obvious," says C. Nathan Coyle. "Whether you're in a holiday mood or an any-day mood, The Best of Tingstad & Rumbel Christmas will provide a nice background sound and help make any day merry and bright."

The artists at Mint share "a lot of fun Christmas folk-pop" on It's a Team Mint Xmas, Vol. 2, Tom Schulte says. "However, the real rum in the eggnog here is that this compendium is a stocking stuffed with spiteful little ditties about the dark side of the holidays, loathing the very season itself and wanting to do something else."

Sticking with the holiday theme, Tom suggests listening to Benny & the Jets Band share a hearty Merry X-mas. The album is "full of sonic frolic," Tom says. Primarily a rock 'n' roll recording, it has hints of reggae, jazz and other tidbits to offer.

The Celebrated Renaissance Band serve up some Real Live American Music on an album partly recorded 30-plus years in the past, partly recorded just last year. "This is a fascinating release," Nicky Rossiter says. "The album is an excellent showcase of old music."

Otis Taylor plays the blues his way on Double V. "His songs are steeped in heartache, hard times and tragedy," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "But Taylor brings a raft of distinctive touches to his brand of blues."

Cheryl Turner serves up some Pianos du Jour for this week's helping of Celtic Colours coverage. "I highly recommended the piano concert as a must-see for fans of Celtic music with a Cape Breton flair," she says.

Andy Jurgis keeps the music rolling with his report on KT Tunstall performing live in Manchester. "The future is looking bright for this ultra talented musician performing songs across a range of genres from alt pop to the bluesy contemporary," Andy says.

Richard Barber drinks deeply of legend with The Holy Grail: Imagination & Belief. "From religious icon to chivalric symbol to secular goal, the Grail has stayed with us since its beginnings, buried at times but never truly forgotten," says David Roy. "It's been the spark of some very imaginative stories and strange conspiracy theories. This book takes you all along that winding path, on a journey of discovery that won't let you go."

Lynne Truss is a stickler for the rules, as she demonstrates in Eats, Shoots & Leaves. "For anyone who writes, whether it be book reviews, advertising copy or simply e-mails, this book is an essential guide to proper punctuation," says Gregg Thurlbeck. "How, you may be asking yourself, does a book with the subtitle The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation ever become a bestseller? The secret is Lynne Truss's wonderful sense of humor. She's passionate about punctuation, but she writes with a self-deprecating style that makes her mania positively endearing."

Larry O. Dean instructs the masses on Identity Theft for Dummies with this "poetic take on the world as it happens," Jenny Ivor says. "The poems are intelligent, witty and, like holograms, often present an intensely lifelike picture of two entirely different views."

Bud Harris "doesn't say anything new" in Sacred Selfishness: A Guide to Living a Life of Substance, Tracie Vida reveals. "His premise that our materialistic and success-driven society leads to shallow lives is as old as pop psychology itself. But Harris says it all so well, in such comforting tones and accessible language, that you just might look at your life in a warm new light after you read his book."

Robert Asprin and Peter J. Heck agree there's No Phule Like an Old Phule as they take their brand of humor into outerspace. "With many a pun, a few missteps and a lot of misunderstanding, quite a bit takes place in just over 300 pages," Wil Owen says. "The plots are light, but the chuckles are many."

Lee Driver creates "compelling characters and a terrible plot" in the supernatural mystery novel, The Unseen, Tracie Vida says. "Driver would have done better to write a romance novel rather than a mystery, since the most intriguing part of the novel is a burgeoning love affair and not a series of murder/robberies with ghostly overtones," she says.

Lynn Flewelling continues the Nightrunners series with Traitor's Moon. "It is a far more serious book" than its predecessors in the series, Robert Tilendis reports. "By the same token, it is more problematic and perhaps not quite so successful."

Mary Renault gets a lift from The Charioteer. "Those of us who read a lot find ourselves sometimes forgetting what a truly excellent novel feels like," says Robert. "Most of what we encounter is of a middle level, enjoyable but not exceptional, although any particular work may have one or two strong points that awaken enthusiasm. And then one reads a novel that is brilliant: elegantly crafted, flawlessly realized, subtle, sharp, with a kind of depth and power that transports it to that level we call 'genius.' The Charioteer hits that level."

Tom Knapp says the new Dark Horse collection Crush "has all of the ingredients for a teen horror drama. ... The story by Jason Hall is tight and fast-moving, perfect for the high-action threshold of your average teen, and there's enough whimsy built in to keep the plot from spiraling into darkness. Sean Murphy's art is clean and kinetic, borrowing elements of manga without looking like a Japanese import."

Miles O'Dometer shares a burger and fries with Morgan Spurlock during Super Size Me, a documentary that delves into the all-McDonald's diet. "Spurlock has taken a serious issue and personalized it to the point where it's hard to ignore," Miles says between bites. "This may not be the last word on the subject -- we've only just begun to face the fat -- but it's bound to be one of the biggest."

Janine Kauffman takes a tip from the Girl With a Pearl Earring, a film based on a painting by 17th-century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. "Vermeer's slants of light are lushly reproduced by director of photography Eduardo Serra, and the production is meticulously designed, down to Delft's canals," Janine says. "It all gives (Scarlett) Johansson and (Colin) Firth the glow of authenticity, capping off a pair of understated performances that fidget under the restraints of propriety."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back!

11 December 2004

All the world is queer save me and thee;
and sometimes I think thee a little queer.
- Quaker saying

Since the holidays are rolling towards us at hyperspeed, we thought we'd start this week's update with a few highlights from our ho-ho-happenin' Yuletide blitz. Need some music? How about ringing in the season in style with The Bells of Dublin, a classic disc by the Chieftains! Christine Lavin & the Mistletones bundles up by the fire for The Runaway Christmas Tree: Favorite Holiday Songs & Bedtime Stories. Irish singer Seamus Kennedy keeps a good thought with Goodwill to Men. For something a little quieter, try Jo Morrison's Christmas Gifts: Holiday Music on Celtic Harp. Perhaps you'd care to share a drumstick with the Arrogant Worms as they slice up their Christmas Turkey!

For a little light holiday reading, pick up a copy of Chet Williamson's Pennsylvania Dutch Night Before Christmas. Or, fracture your festivities with Christopher Moore's The Stupidest Angel.

And now with this week's update ... which begins with a bit of seasonal music from Ireland!

The recording artists of Green Linnet records mark the holiday season with Cold Blow These Winter Winds. "This is a lovely album and an attractive alternative to the millions of other Christmas albums on sale," says Nicky Rossiter, "but it could be so addictive that many will play Christmas songs in July."

Shona Kipling and Damien O'Kane "make music that crosses borders" on Pure Chance, Nicky says. "The 10 tracks on offer here move through reels, jigs and waltzes with an ease and professionalism that belies the young age of the artists."

Simon Fox goes Night Fishing with a little Celtic guitar music. "Fox is one of the guitarists who comes centre stage and reminds us of the magic of that piece of wood with metal and strings," says Nicky. "This collection of 14 tracks cannot fail to capture your ear, heart and imagination."

Old Blind Dogs gets high marks from Sheree Morrow with The Gab o' Mey. "I, like so many before me and since, fell hard and fast for this incredibly talented group of Scottish musicians before seeing them in the flesh or hearing them live," she recalls. "Anything the Dogs choose to play becomes, for the audience, an auditory feast."

Simon Mayor and Hilary James revive some Lullabies with Mandolin. "Lullabies often are neglected in our society," says Nicky Rossiter. "Everyone sees them as little nonsense songs sung from tone-deaf fathers to beautiful contralto in nurseries. Thanks to this album we may rescue some of the greatest bits of music for generations to come. These lullabies cannot be wasted on the babies."

Mark Brine highlights his best work on Fortunes. "It is a fascinating collection showing a talent in full flight," says Nicky. "If you like Americana, good lyrics and great delivery, this should be on your list."

Eric Westbury earns a black mark with Burnt Tongues & Blue Truths. "Westbury's fine voice delivers his lyrics with surprising clarity, but the words can be overridden by the music on a casual hearing," says Sarah Meador. "But a little focus makes the lyrics ring clear, and the lyrics are a solid disappointment."

Guy Davis shares his country-blues Legacy on his seventh CD release. "This collection of blues classics and original material is by far his very best work to date," says Pamela Dow. "Davis delivers genuine authenticity and deep understanding of the genre on each of the album's 15 tracks; his growth as an artist clearly shines from start to finish."

Bobby Bare Jr.'s Young Criminal's Starvation League do alt-country right, Tom Schulte says, delivering an album "as refreshing and entertaining as that label once promised" with From the End of Your Leash. "With horns and other rock tricks, this album has a crisp Memphis blend to it," he says.

Rounder Records offers only the finest on Bluegrass #1s: A Collection of Chart-Topping Songs. "This album will be a hit regardless of any reviews," Nicky Rossiter predicts. "Take 18 top tracks by as many top acts in the genre and you cannot help but strike gold. This is value in spades as you get Alison Krauss, the Rice Brothers, Del McCrory and a host of others in a double album of pure bluegrass joy."

Steve Hancoff revisits Duke Ellington via the solo guitar on The Single Petal of a Rose. "Hancoff has gotten right into Ellington's works and reincarnated them from the inside out as elegant guitar pieces," Tom Schulte says.

Run makes a Nordic splash with a self-titled CD featuring "jazz-inflected settings and a female vocalist with an often intimate style," Jennifer Hanson explains. "The ideal of a woman at the microphone in a smoky jazz club is alive and well in the Faroe Islands."

Tom Knapp has another report from Cape Breton. This time, it's the Bards & Ballads performance in Wagmatcook that caught his eye. Take a look at his report on the evening, which featured songs by David Francey, James Keelaghan, Dougie MacLean, Rita MacNeil and Gordie Sampson.

Debbie Koritsas was jamming along with the Warsaw Village Band at the National Centre for Early Music in York, England. Read her report this "absolute blast of a gig!"

Alt-blues duo the White Stripes comes under journalist Martin Roach's lens in The White Stripes: Morphing the Blues. "In the end we get the context that gave birth to the White Stripes as if explained by visiting aliens trying to understand it all," Tom Schulte says. "Roach does go far to explain -- if not ponder -- much of the group's symbolism and the equivocal, guarded relationship between Meg and Jack White."

Txillardegi (a.k.a., Jose Luis Alvarez Emparantza) details Basque history in Euskal Herria en el Horizonte (Basque Homeland on the Horizon). "This book raises many questions worth considering," says David Cox. "There may be no answers, but Txillardegi at least makes a compelling case for re-thinking both history and our political boundaries."

Robyn and Tony DiTocco recast a popular Greek myth in modern times with The Hero Perseus. Tom Knapp enjoys the basic plot of this young-adult fantasy, but wishes the DiToccos had a bit more restraint when comparing themselves to other YA writers. The book, Tom says, "is a much more successful young-adult fantasy novel if you ignore the anti-Harry Potter hype of its publicity campaign."

Philip Kerr hangs out with The Second Angel in this SF-thriller that, Gregg Thurlbeck is lacking in its execution. "I found The Second Angel frustrating," Gregg said. "It's a 'fast-paced, sophisticated thriller' that desperately needed some restraint in terms of its SF trappings."

Mary Renault serves The Last of the Wine in this historical novel "about honor, duty, the horrors of war and its human cost, and the smallness and greatness of men," Robert Tilendis reports. "This book is about the loss of the moral compass in a time of shifting standards, a time when gaining and holding power take precedence over morality -- one of Renault's perennial themes, which appears over and over in her works."

Mike Resnick blends American frontier heroes with Greek mythology, Saxon lore and science fiction for Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future. "Myth-building is something that we rarely think about: myths, after all, are old stories that don't mean much to us these days, unless we spend a lot of time in alternate universes," says Robert. "And then someone like Mike Resnick comes along and builds a story before our eyes, a story that is wide and deep and sometimes a little scary, and we start to understand how myths are made."

Humphrey Bogart is on the loose in Scotland -- or is he? You'll find out in The Bogie Man: Chinatoon, by writers Alan Grant and John Wagner and artist Robin Smith. "The Bogie Man is a top-notch adventure, the likes of which many comic readers have probably never seen," says Mark Allen. "Something about the guy being a nut, yet possessing the savvy to handle himself in such a pinch, is extremely satisfying."

Miles O'Dometer gets a little hot under the collar along with Michael Moore's anti-Bush film, Fahrenheit 9/11. "For all its faults, Fahrenheit 9/11 delivers the sweeping indictment Moore promised," Miles reports. "In clip after clip, one administration official after another is made to look absurd when his or her words are followed by scenes -- many of them much too graphic -- of what's really going on in Iraq."

Janine Kauffman rides the Rivers & Tides for this 2001 documentary on environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy's work "creating ephemeral art with objects he finds in nature," she says. "Filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer has created a tribute to an artist whose love of the earth and love of the beauty it already holds inform everything he creates. Lovers both of art and nature should take notice."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back!

4 December 2004

If you don't control your mind, someone else will.
- John Allston

Feeling the holiday spirit? Well, while it's too early to start thinking Yulish thoughts in October, despite what the world's store managers would have you believe, the post-Thanksgiving season (U.S., not Canada, for all you calendar-watchers out there) is the right time to bend your thoughts to Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, New Year's Eve, Hogmanay and, of course, the Solstice itself. For some folks, it takes a mega-shopping spree to get in the spirit, while others just need a wee sprig of mistletoe and the right person to dangle it over. But a lot of people like to get in the mood with a good holiday-oriented book, CD or movie. If you're one of them, check out our holiday bonanza page of suitably themed reviews. Enjoy!

Allan Henderson's Estd. 1976 is "one of the best Scottish albums of the year," Andy Jurgis says, and "one of the finest Celtic music albums I have ever heard. ... All 12 tracks are a remarkable achievement."

The artists of Scotland's Footstompin' label are well represented on Glorious Scotland, Debbie Koritsas says. "Don't be deceived by this album's stereotypical title or the sun-drenched, thistle-lined loch photograph adorning its cover!" she says. "The CD contains superb examples of the music of a whole raft of the label's artists."

Steeleye Span was still at the top of its game with 1997's Sails of Silver, Nicky Rossiter says. "This album is an explosion of folk," he says. "It will bring tears to the eyes of the old folkies -- not in despair but in joy as they relive that magical time. It will widen the eyes of anyone who has not experienced the folk-rock phenomenon."

Carla Ulbrich shares her brand of Sick Humor on her latest album of comedic folk. "For 10 songs, you get to hear about her experiences with everything from specialists to prescriptions to being a hospital number instead of a patient with a name," says Wil Owen. "The term 'sick' in the CD title is apt considering the amount of toilet humor on this CD."

Shelley Campbell gets a little bit country on Blue Ridge Reveille. "There's a compelling quality to her voice that keeps your attention tuned and she has a comfort level with the music that seems like such a good fit," says Virginia MacIsaac. "I have no qualms at all about recommending this album for some pleasant and well-done sensual and appealing country music."

Habib Koite & Bamada strut their stuff on Foly! Live Around the World. "Drawing on almost 10 years of composing and performing, Foly! provides an excellent overview of this Malian superstar," says Carool Kersten.

It's A Father & Son Reunion when The Braguinha Meets the Ukulele. "This lovely little CD, which sounds like it was made in somebody's living room, is not only a fun listen, it's also a fascinating sidebar to music history," says John Bird. This, he notes, is "the first known recording of the ukulele in performance with its Portuguese predecessors, the braguinha and rajao."

The Reggae Cowboys blend influences on Stone Ranger, and Karen Elkins says one track on this CD knocked a Chuck Berry classic right out of her sights. "These guys are great," she says, "and I expect to see them moving into the spotlight in the coming years."

Reviewer Wil Owen finds some Inner Balance from a hectic life with this compilation disc from the New Earth label. "If you could use a break from the tensions of every day life, then you should consider Inner Balance," he says. "The music on this CD ranges from Celtic to Native American to Indian and beyond."

Deuter's two-year-old CD Like the Wind in the Trees has been re-released on the New Earth label. Check out Virginia MacIsaac's review of the disc, where she notes that "subtle and soothing tracks work like fingers of a whispery breeze combing your hair, like a baby's silk skin against your cheek, or a drop of morning rain running down your arm."

Cheryl Turner takes another stab at the wide array of Celtic Colours offerings this year; unfortunately, she was a little less pleased with the lineup at The Next Generation. See why the annual spotlight on young musicians was lacking in her comprehensive review!

Ron Bierman also reports in this week on the Labor Day Weekend Jazz Concert in Mackinac Island, Michigan. Guess who impressed Ron the most?

Bruce Dean believes You Can Be a Ukulele Chord Genius. "This book doesn't get into specific songs at all, or strumming techniques," John Bird explains. "It simply walks you through a process that drastically increases the number of chords you can play and, more importantly, helps you understand completely how chords are built and named, so you can become so familiar with your fretboard that you can put together new chords and play them in a variety of positions, as the occasion requires."

J.E. Neale digs deeply into the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth I in this classic biography. "This may sound dry," says Robert Tilendis. "In Neale's hands, it is anything but. His narrative is so fluent, in fact, that the history of Elizabeth's life reads as a grand adventure, with plots, counterplots, deeds of derring do, heart-stopping danger, the glittering life of the court, all encompassed in an amazingly clear and level-headed story of politics at home and abroad, the building of a nation, and a ruler who is to many the defnition of the English Renaissance."

Ann Depas-Orange and Robert C. Evans edited a collection of essays on The Birthday of Myself: Martha Moulsworth, Renaissance Poet. "If you're willing to put your college-cap back on, you will learn a lot about Renaissance history," Tracie Vida says, "from numerology to women's role in Renaissance society (not as restrictive as we think -- or more, depending on which essay you read), to the real, lived importance of religion to the people of this era."

Nicholas and Micah Sparks collaborate on the memoir Three Weeks with My Brother, which Wil Owen reviews in its audio form. "The first thought that came to mind was 'Wow! This is the best Sparks book I've run across!'" Wil says. "Now, before you run out and get yourself a copy, you might want to read further to find out why I enjoyed this audiobook as much as I did, as well as why my opinion might cause you to skip this particular offering."

Lewis Richmond shares his philosophies in A Whole Life's Work: Living Passionately, Growing Spiritually. "The aim is to appeal to all readers, not just those who practice the same religion as he does," Wil Owen says. "While he borrows a lot from his Buddhist background, Richmond focuses on spiritual growth vs. religious convictions in improving one's working life."

P. Orin Zack navigates The Shoals of Time with some difficulty. "The start has potential, but the plot soon zooms beyond what even fantasy fans are likely to accept without raised eyebrows," says Ron Bierman. "You need to be alert to know which personality is doing the talking in which body." Woohoo, Ron, for review #50!

Eric Van Lustbader continues The Pearl Saga with Mistress of the Pearl. "The author has a knack for writing fighting sequences that maintain your attention," Wil Owen says. "However, I would start at the beginning of the saga. The dust jacket suggests that one can jump right in with book 3. I strongly disagree."

Matthew Hughes shows off his "characteristic wit and wonderful ideas" in the sci-fi novel Black Brillion, David Roy enthuses. "Black Brillion is a short book that's packed with good stuff."

Lynn Flewelling begins her Nightrunners series with Luck in the Shadows and Stalking Darkness. "Flewelling's universe building is idiosyncratic enough to be interesting in its own right," says Robert Tilendis. "Her handling of character is adroit in terms of her ability to draw real people and allow them to grow within the story."

The Maggie and Hopey stories, originally written and illustrated by Jaime Hernandez for Love & Rockets, have been collected in an impressive new hardback edition titled Locas. "The post-punk pair of mixed-up bisexual lovers and the incredible cast of characters who surround them are the center of an incredible rich, highly detailed storyline," Tom Knapp says. "While I'd read these stories in previous Love & Rockets collections, the full scope and complexity of it all becomes clearer in a single, hard-to-put-down package."

Janine Kauffman served up Pieces of April with her Thanksgiving feast, and she wants to share the leftovers. "It's by turns gentle and savage, kind of like a family in the midst of turmoil, and it's not too much of a spoiler to note that the ending is a happy one, at least as much as it can be," says Janine. "That's OK to know; it's the journey there that could move you to tears."

Miles O'Dometer has a run-in with some Mean Girls -- and doesn't seem to mind. "Mean Girls is a well-cast, well-acted film with lots of leave-no-prisoners dialogue and plenty of scenes that make you glad you're not back in high school," he says. "And if it's hard to say you really care for any of these characters, it certainly is fun to watch them work."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back!

27 November 2004

To live a creative life,
we must lose our fear of being wrong.
- Joseph Chilton Pearce

We hope all of our fellow Thanksgiving (U.S.) celebrants had a grand feast and some quality family time! This weekend used to signal the official start of the yuletide season; of course, our friends in marketing and retail now launch that season back before Halloween. Well, let's all try to enjoy it anyway, whatever holidays you may celebrate in the coming month! And now ... reviews!

Mary Smith (a.k.a., Mairi Nic a' Ghobhainn) compiles a beautiful collection of Scottish songs titled Sgiath Airgid, says Debbie Koritsas. "The fact that she's selected little known, but very beautiful songs will strike many listeners -- she's enriched the store of Gaelic songs available commercially in releasing this collection, and her vocal clarity does much to enhance the original songs' beauty."

The Crimson Pirates aren't quite up to snuff on Putrid & Disgusting, their third recording. "The album has plenty of good, fun music," local pirate expert Tom Knapp proclaims. "But I know the Crimson Pirates can do better."

ARC Music takes a crack at the Celts with Gaelic Ireland, a compilation disc Adolf Goriup says features "authentic and high-quality material. ... If you are eager to find more about the traditional music of Gaelic Ireland, I highly recommend this CD."

Fraser Fifield taps the Honest Water for a mind-stopping blend of Celtic and jazz music. "Fifield composed all the tunes on this fine album (and how beautifully lyrical they are!) and plays an amazing range of instruments," says Debbie Koritsas. "Some of these compositions have real 'wow' factor -- the tunes are fantastic and full of irresistible vibe -- and Fifield knows how to make great use of musical repetition."

James Gordon lays down some solid Canadian folk music on Endomusia. "This album is an excellent investment," Nicky Rossiter says. "James Gordon is the voice and writing talent to bring folk music back to the world just as Dylan and his contemporaries in the 1960s stirred us to think with music."

Ellis Paul and Vance Gilbert put years of shared experience on the folk circuit to work on their first recorded collaboration, Side of the Road. "Together they have produced a very ear-friendly record that is a total pleasure from start to finish," William Kates reports.

Jethro Tull's classic album Broadsword & the Beast furnished the soundtrack for many of our editor's youthful D&D-playing days back in the heady '80s. Now Debbie Koritsas provides a review of this folk-soaked concept album, which she calls "a highly recommended blast from the past!"

T.J. Sullivan shares The Adventures of Thelonious James for those in the mood for the blues. "Many of the themes are standard for the blues, but Sullivan manages to put his own stamp on them," says George Schaefer. "He also displays a sense of humor in the songs, a quality that helps make the blues more powerful."

The "criminally forgotten gospel guitarist" Sister Rosetta Tharpe is remembered in Shout, Sister Shout: A Tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Tom Schulte wants to be sure you know about it. "This is an excellent collection of material dynamically delivered and running the spectrum from the spiritual ... to secular," he says.

Cynthia Hart visits Lemuria and Atlantis on Let Me Make the Music in Your Life. Unfortunately, her vocal style isn't to Wil Owen's taste. Read his review to learn why!

Airto Moreira touts the merits of Brazilian percussion and jazz on Life After That. "One of the great things about writing for Rambles.NET, is the opportunity it provides to check out new music such as this," says William Kates. "This recording has the capacity to instantly transport you to the streets of Brazil without having to actually travel any further than your nearest CD player."

The Jony Iliev Band tackle the gypsy music tradition of Bulgaria with Ma Maren Ma. "Together with his accompanying troupe of musicians, this gypsy bard gives the listener a glimpse of an ancient tradition that seems strangely in tune with our times," says Carool Kersten.

Takolo, Pirritx eta Porrotx is an "exuberant trio of Basque clowns," David Cox says. "This dancing, singing, storytelling trio is a major phenomenon in the Basque country." For more explanation of the band's performance, read David's review of their latest CD, Poxpolin Marisorgin.

Katey Knapp isn't really a big Disney fan ... but Disney Channel Hits gets high marks even so. "It was exactly what I expected, the general candy-sweet pop drivel that makes my brain slowly turn to goosh," she says. "Of course, it makes my 6-year-old daughter into an empowered, self-assured rock star on the rise." And look, there's more!

Cheryl Turner picks up the chain of Celtic Colours coverage this week with Winston's Home, a Dingwall performance in memory of the late Cape Breton fiddler Winston Scotty Fitzgerald. And what a display of musicians it was!

Ellen Robson and Dianne Halicki hit the road for Haunted Highway: The Spirits of Route 66. "Even if you don't plan to travel farther than your nearest pumpkin patch, you'll still find some fun in this charming collection of America's haunted history," says Tracie Vida.

Mike Flanagan takes an unusual perspective on pivotal moments in the past with It's About Time: How Long History Took. "It's an interesting little book, although for the life of me I can't imagine how it would be useful," Tom Knapp admits. "After all, how often do you need to know which was longer, the Qing Dynasty or the Renaissance? (Answer: the Renaissance, by five years.)"

Simon Brown unlocks the Keys of Power with Fire & Sword. "If there is one fantasy writer who, in my opinion, is not getting the attention he is due, it is Simon Brown," says Daniel Jolley. "Fire & Sword, the second novel in the Keys of Power series, not only advances the storyline begun in Inheritance in impressive style, it transforms it into an heroic tragedy of epic proportions."

J. Steven York's novel Fortress of Lies restores Daniel's faith in the Battletech/MechWarrior series of books. "Those still unhappy with the changes the Mechwarrior: Dark Age sagas have wrought to the original Battletech universe cannot help but warm up to new efforts such as this one," he says. "It also boasts some compelling, complex characters."

Jonathan Strahan fills a much-needed gap in science fiction anthologies with Best Short Novels 2004, Gregg Thurlbeck opines. "Hats off to the Science Fiction Book Club for stepping into the breach and publishing a handsome hardcover collection focused solely on the year's best science fiction novellas," he says.

Patrick O'Brian sends Captain Jack Aubrey on The Ionian Mission to negotiate a peaceful resolution among volatile allies. "Diplomacy, of course, is not Aubrey's strongest suit," Tom Knapp says. "There's shipboard poetry, too. Take that as you will."

Jason's graphic novel Hey, Wait... is no fluffy-bunny story despite the anthropomorphic nature of its characters. "Read Hey, Wait... carefully, and in one sitting," Tom Knapp advises. "Set the book down slowly and think about it for a while. Breathe, and swallow -- you may have a lump in your throat. Then read it again."

Stan Sakai's graphic novel collection, Usagi Yojimbo: The Ronin, has just been reprinted by Fantagraphics. That seemed like a fine reason to us to take another look at Mark Allen's review of the samurai rabbit tale from last year. Enjoy!

Miles O'Dometer considers the state of televised news with Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism. "There's more to Outfoxed than a series of talking heads," Miles relates. "Outfoxed also uses a simple but time-tested technique: taking people's words and matching -- or, in this case, mismatching -- them with their deeds."

Janine Kauffman tells us all about A Foreign Affair, a movie also called 2 Brothers & a Bride. "What makes A Foreign Affair more interesting than the usual "strangers abroad" fare is the use of real 'romance tour' clients and prospective Russian brides as extras," Janine Kauffman says. "They get a chance to tell their stories and explain their choices, and what they have to say illuminates the movie."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back!

20 November 2004

We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation afraid of its people.
- John F. Kennedy

As the fiddler in an Irish band, I can say with complete assurance that there's a particular kind of pride that goes along with doing a good show. That is completely unlike the sort of pride I'm feeling now, which is that of an uncle who just watched his fiddling niece kick butt at her first professional gig with a band fronted by a guy who's been a friend of mine since, like, dinosaurs. Is this the same little niece whose diapers I changed? Who I sang to sleep a time or two, and who somehow grew up enough to be in college?? When did I blink?!

Jenny & Martin Schaub fly their Kite High on this album of "more Irish than the Irish" tracks by a Swedish duo. "Whether performing as West of Eden or Jenny and Martin Schaub, this duo must be destined for wider audiences," says Nicky Rossiter. "Get in on the ground floor and add this to your collection."

Alasdair Fraser, Muriel Johnstone & Natalie Haas resurrect the spirit of Robbie Burns on Legacy of the Scottish Fiddle, Vol. 2. "Over 21 tracks we are treated to a cornucopia of airs and dance tunes from Scotland of the late 1700s," says Nicky. "These are the tunes that were being played and danced and courted to when America was gaining its independence, France was proclaiming fraternity and equality, and Ireland was having a bloody insurrection."

The Dubliners gets the proper exposure nearly 40 years after the fact with the newly reissued Finnegan Wakes. "With 20 tracks, impromptu Irish wit and fantastic performances, this is a classic and we are blessed to have it available on CD," Nicky says. "Any aspiring folksinger could do well to get this, base a play list on it and give the hearty soul back to folk."

Kaitlin Hahn's debut CD, Nice to Meet You, "is a testament to Kaitlin's developing skill as a Celtic-Canadian fiddler," says Tom Knapp. "Already an excellent performer, she shows promise to become even better."

Keri Shore has released an album of heartfelt indie folk-rock, Finally. "The plaintive lyrics and elegant vocals of this album seem to have been born from great pain," says new writer Carole McDonnell. "Keri Shore is a singer-songwriter whose voice is rich, evocative and textured."

Tevin Hearn (of Barenaked Ladies fame) turns on a Night Light for some quirky material. The album, says Tom Schulte, "is full of off-beat, humorous arrangements, but the lyrical content is much more introspective and even dark."

Patti Ecker & Friends sing to the Prairieland with "merry tones and fun lyrics," Tracie Vida says. "And while children will love her theatrical solo presentation of the standards, adults will appreciate the more serious fare, as well as the surprising depth and sophistication her dramatic voice receives when she has backup singers."

Donovan is back and singing jazzy folk (folky jazz?) in the Beat Cafe. "Beat Cafe diverges from the material of the 1960s when Donovan was at his peak, and many fans from that time will be disappointed by this release," Nicky Rossiter notes. "His fans will enjoy having him back and anyone who likes a jazz flavour to their music could do worse than checking it out. "

Deacon John revisits a 1940s style of music called "jump blues" on a recording titled, aptly enough, Deacon John's Jump Blues. "Deacon John's Jump Blues manages to remember and honor a different time without taking itself too seriously," Ron Bierman proclaims.

Jimmy Sturr & His Orchestra ramp up the energy for Let's Polka 'Round. "Extra description seems superfluous," says Sarah Meador. "But for those not lured in by the bare promise of a polka album, it's worth noting that Sturr and his orchestra deliver their tunes with a casual good cheer well suited to an actual dance floor. There are no grand flourishes or self-absorbed musical tricks that might encourage a listener to pause and focus on the band."

Raj Rangayyan and Utpal Mazumdar have some music to share -- If You Have the Time. "This is really an excellent piece of work, for which the artists have chosen to stay close to the authentic sound," says Carool Kersten. "Uncontaminated by any noticeable electronic enhancement, the rustic sound of Raj's bamboo flute and the crispy dry beat of Utpal's drums seem designed to carry the listener into some timeless realm, which is also reflected by the primordial titles of some of the compositions."

Rey Crespo y Su demonstrates a Latin fire on Salsa Conga Loca. "Rey Crespo y Su creates passionate music that ranges in style and mood," says Paul de Bruijn, "and while it may have the odd rough patch, those are few and far outweighed by how good the music is at other times."

Virginia MacIsaac has another peek into the wonderful world of Celtic Colours! This week, we examine Passing the Bow, a fiddle extravaganza featuring Andrea Beaton, Betty Lou Beaton, Kinnon Beaton, Beolach, Marion Dewar, Isaac Fraser, Robbie Fraser, Jerry Holland and the renowned Buddy MacMaster!

Tom Knapp is also still sharing some insights garnered from interviews with musicians in the Green Room at the event's nightly Festival Club. This week, see what members of the Scottish quintet Harem Scarem have to say about their traditional sound, and why they're not pop on purpose.

James Riordan enters a harsh environment in The Sun Maiden & the Crescent Moon: Siberian Folk Tales. "Riordan's translations are fluent and entertaining, and really do serve to give a sense of the worldview of the Siberian peoples and that kind of everyday magic that is a feature of folktales from around the world," says Robert Tilendis.

Rosa Maria Artal tackles touchy political issues in Spain with 11M-14M Onda Expansiva, which delves into the terrorist bombing on March 11, 2003. "11M-14M Onda Expansiva is a good overview of three days that changed Spain, written simply and directly, if limited in scope," says David Cox. "Since it focuses more on media reports than on actual people, it lacks the historical perspective of more than a month, and so far, it is available in Spanish only."

S.E. Hinton pays a visit to Hawkes Harbor for a horror novel that steps outside her usual realm of young adult fiction. "Hinton has always known how to use the rough trappings of immature fantasies to strike at enduring truths," says Sarah Meador. "Using the tight pacing of her young adult fiction and a quietly complex understanding of human behavior, she here delivers an unexpected dark pleasure from a writer many may think they can predict."

N.M. Browne puts a new twist on an old theme in Hunted. "Following the development of these engaging characters is a pleasure," says Laurie Thayer.

Audrey Niffenegger makes a successful slide into science fiction with The Time Traveler's Wife, which Gregg Thurlbeck calls "a work of art, an engaging, emotionally powerful book written with commitment to and compassion for the characters. And it does this without sacrificing plot. Overall, it is an impressive achievement, and one can only hope that Audrey Niffenegger will continue to produce fiction of this caliber in the future."

David L. Howells continues his tale of restless spirits with Vanessa: Mended Harps. "The series has weaknesses, but in a strange way those weaknesses are also some of the books' greatest strengths," says Daniel Jolley. "Howells' writing makes you so familiar with all of these characters that you would be disappointed if they actually behaved any differently."

Pulitzer Prize-winner Herman Wouk's A Hole in Texas is "fluff compared to the weighty works he has penned in the past," says Wil Owen. "But, being a Dallas resident, I started listening to the audiobook version of A Hole in Texas with, perhaps, larger than normal expectations."

It's not too late to jump on the Inu-Yasha story-train! "Volume 18 earns a review separate from the rest of the series because this is where all the careful build up and slow growth of the characters pays off," says Sarah Meador. Still, she says, readers who skipped the previous 17 books are "missing out on a lot of plot and some fine monsters, and the careful dance of characterization that makes this volume so painfully strong."

Janine Kauffman says Steve Martin's latest "pop" role is Cheaper by the Dozen. "It's a relatively harmless way to spend a little under two hours, and it's a heartwarming movie you can watch with the kids," says Janine. "I just hoped for more."

Miles O'Dometer combs his hair and sets off for Mulletville. "Mulletville is a rather congenial movie, especially given that the film within the film was supposedly made out of spite," he says. "The performances are all adequate or more, not something you can always say about low-budget independent films."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back!

13 November 2004

Patriotism is the willingness to kill
and be killed for trivial reasons.
- Bertrand Russell

Just getting over a week-long sick (ugh!) so I'm going to type this up and fall back into bed. Don't worry, I didn't sneeze on these reviews!

Julia Fordham is "totally in the zone" on That's Life, says William Kates. "What really makes this music great is that once you become familiar with the songs they ingrain on your consciousness and sound better and better with each successive listen."

Joe Crookston will Fall Down as the Rain for this new folk recording. "Crookston has produced a great album here," says Nicky Rossiter. "The lyrics are thoughtful, the tunes varied and interesting and the delivery rings through."

The art of the protest is the focus on Protest: Songs of Struggle & Resistance from Around the World, which takes a global look at the theme, says Tom Schulte.

This 5-Man Trio doesn't sweat the small stuff when it comes to calculations. You Do the Math is an album on which "the eclectic randomness is a very enjoyable experience," says C. Nathan Coyle. "If you don't know what kind of music you're in the mood for, you're probably in the mood for You Do the Math."

John & the Sisters benefit from the musicianship and production gifts of Kevin Breit on this self-titled CD. "John, by the way, is vocalist John Dickie," Gregg Thurlbeck explains. "He and Breit head up a tight, bluesy combo whose ability to record live-off-the-floor results from having played together for more than 350 gigs over the past seven years. Only a truly symbiotic group of musicians can record this way and deliver the goods with the sort of relaxed, raw energy heard on the album's best tracks."

Jason Shain sings "New York Country" songs on Sooner or Later. "Shain had an uphill battle to win me over," says Wil Owen. "Fortunately, after listening to Sooner or Later a few times, I can say it isn't bad. But the reason I like the CD is the band that backs Shain up."

Todd Snider eyes the East Nashville Skyline for a CD "that will draw you in and hold your attention to the final line and chord," Nicky Rossiter says. "In the best tradition, his stories are about life and are not afraid to use humour as easily as drama."

Joseba Tapia and his band perform songs from Quebec in Basque. "During the period these songs were written, Quebec's Quiet Revolution was underway," says David Cox. "Most are either overt or allegorical calls for self-determination -- stories that concern struggles for justice and respect. The songs, written between 1956 and 1983, work remarkably well in a Basque setting."

Leon Palad & Kilo Munoz provide the Essential Tango. The two San Francisco tenors "have been working hard to popularize the tango in North America with an act that presents some of the finer moments of that South American art form," David says. "There is not a discordant note in this passionate, clear music, which invokes the darkened drawing rooms of a time gone by."

Virginia MacIsaac steps in with this week's installment from Celtic Colours: Celtic Women, featuring Winnie & Pat Chafe, Dochas, Corrina Hewat, Rona Lightfoot, Rita MacNeil and Anna Massie in concert in Port Hawkesbury, Cape Breton.

Kaitlin Hahn joins the Rambles.NET family today with her impressions of one of the more popular Celtic Colours bonus activities, the Intermediate & Advanced Cape Breton Fiddle Workshop with famed fiddler Buddy MacMaster.

Tom Knapp concludes this week's Celtic Colours triumvirate with a Green Room interview with Julie Fowlis, Eilidh MacLeod and Jenna Reid, all members of the young Scottish anti-pop girl band Dochas.

Mark Yakes provides exactly what he promises in the title on his CD Poems & Music, Vol. 1. "Yakes' poetry is witty, often ironic, sometimes silly, occasionally very silly, and always captivating. His piece about a bill to outlaw the letter 'g' is so tongue-in-cheek, it's a wonder he can speak, but he still ends it with a particularly apt observation," says Jenny Ivor. "Interspersed with the poems are some great tunes."

Bob Dylan tells his story in "his addictive memoir," Chronicles, Vol. 1, says Gianmarc Manzione. "Sure, we all have our memories: reflections and scraps of personal truth passed on to whomever happens to trundle through our lives. But there is only one Bob Dylan, and no amount of age or learning changes that. Flooding over with an encyclopedic understanding for blues, folk, country and rock history as well as an illuminating excavation of Dylan's rich reading life, opening Chronicles is like opening a university in the palm of your hand."

Ellen Robson gets spooky in Haunted Arizona: The Ghosts of the Grand Canyon State. "Once known as the Wild West, Arizona has its share of restless and mischievous spirits," says Barbara Spring. "Some will tweak your toe as you lie in bed while others will visit you in dreams."

The use of history in fiction is placed under the microscope in Novel History: Historians & Novelists Confront America's Past, edited by Mark C. Carnes. "Anyone who reads and enjoys historical novels should find this book fascinating," says Laurie Thayer.

Simon R. Green reveals his Agents of Light & Darkness. "This is a very quick read, and it is constantly entertaining," says Daniel Jolley. "Black humor abounds, moral truths are addressed in the most unusual of manners, friends and enemies interact in increasingly unexpected ways, and the ending does not disappoint, actually adding much to an already exciting and highly compelling story."

Mary Lancaster dips into a tumultuous period of British history in The Endless Exile. "Lancaster has an easy voice, quickly pulling you into the saga," says DeborahAnne MacGillivray. "She strongly evokes the senses, to make you 'see' the story as it unfolds."

Jen Black waves The Banners of Alba in this tale of old Scotland. "A talented writer with a true vision, she quickly draws the reader into her absorbing tale of power, greed, betrayal and one man's vision of the future for his troubled kingdom," says DeborahAnne. "It's marvelous storytelling at its best."

Patricia Sprinkle wonders When Will the Dead Lady Sing? "Sprinkle mixes southern charm with southern quirkiness, stirs in a light romance as sweetener, and serves a mystery as refreshing and fun as a glass of sweet tea in August," says Tracie Vida. "Kick back on the porch-swing and while away a lazy afternoon with this light charmer."

Michael Connelly's novel The Narrows, revolves around former LAPD detective Harry Bosch. "Connelly (a former journalist) has a great series going," says Wil Owen, after listening to the new audiobook. "The writing style keeps the audience reading/listening. The characterizations make the audience care."

Sarah Meador finds something a little bit different in the Hsu & Chan tale, Too Much Adventure. "They face real danger and occasional dismemberment with the same oddly formal calm they bring to a day in the foreign food market," she says. "Watching their end results of their calamitous adventures, it's easy to see where they attained their phlegmatic attitude. When a hell dimension of eternal darkness and pain features a vending machine, it makes the universe in general seem less threatening."

Janine Kauffman goes on 50 First Dates with Adam Sandler. "Sandler, as confirmed bachelor Henry Roth, plays his scenes with Drew Barrymore with a loopy grace," she says. "And Barrymore herself, as a young woman who has no short-term memory, has picked a role that plays to her strengths."

Miles O'Dometer unleashes a Monster -- with which Charlize Theron captured a lion's share of last year's movie awards. "But Monster is more than a tour de force for its leading actress," he says. Rather, Miles explains, it's "a 109-minute nightmare, beautifully photographed and superbly edited. Scene after scene hangs in the imagination long after it's gone...."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back!

7 November 2004

Professionally and personally, it's inappropriate to live your life trying to define it in terms of success or failure. If I had kids, I wouldn't want to raise them to think they had somehow failed. A different kind of vocabulary needs to apply to such things. Not to excuse mistakes, but to not bash yourself up for the rest of your life.
- Kenneth Branagh

I'm stunned beyond words, a feeling no doubt shared by nearly half of us here in the States (to say nothing of rest of the world). So let's dispense with the witty repartee and just go straight to the good stuff, eh?

Lyrica is a U.S.-based trio; The Crystal Spring/Y Ffynnon Risial is "a well-crafted and melodic interpretation of some well-known English and Welsh tunes," says David Cox. "This soft-edged CD should be picked up by every craft shop in Wales (England, too!) as an introduction to the music of those neighboring nations."

David Munnelly, the new "Bullet from Belmullett," has music to share, By Heck. "His accordion playing could be described as magical, he gets such excellent sounds from the box," says Nicky Rossiter. "Through 14 tracks he brings us a wide range of styles and traditions with the common thread of quality and love of the music."

The 1996 recording All My Winding Journeys "is just as relevant today as it was when Colum Sands first sang his songs of life, love and war," Nicky says. "Part the great Sands Family, he is one of the best writers and performers on the Irish scene today."

Redshell earned a new fan with its self-titled release. "It would have been hard to claim that something was missing from Ray Greiche's Everything's Fine, a good, solid performance with a collection of appealing songs," Sarah Meador recalls. "But now it seems there were a few things lacking, and they were the members of Redshell."

This one hits you Where We Live; the benefit album for Earthjustice "is admirable in intent and has a few highlights, some unexpected," says David Cox. "The songs -- some trite, some poignant -- come in all shapes and styles. The music celebrates solidarity, activism and standing up for one's beliefs."

CC Railroad checks into the Black Horse Motel for a bit of "urban folk," Nicky Rossiter says. "This group certainly marries the energy of modern city living to music of the heart. This is a group with a great future as performers but also as writers."

Daisy DeBolt "provides two very different performances and experiences" on Just Mountain Songs, Paul de Bruijn says. "The first set of songs give you a feel for what the music will be like. The second set of songs are likely autobiographical. The CD can take a few spins to fully appreciate."

Ramsey Lewis and Nancy Wilson join forces on 2002's Meant to Be and 2003's Simple Pleasures. "These two discs offer masterful piano jazz and jazz/pop vocal music performed by old friends who so enjoy playing and singing this music that the joy literally pours forth from the speakers," says William Kates. "Both provide an excellent showcase for these performers to do what they do best, and they do make it sound easy."

The Incombustible Men make the ukulele "integral to the old-time flavour of this great CD," John Bird says. "Set broadly in the Memphis jug-band tradition of blues, hokum and early jazz, Lou Ow is the first release by a brand-new trio from Winnipeg, Canada."

Pinetop Perkins is still a Ladies Man, Tom Schulte reports. The legendary blues pianist "gets several talented women to back him, a different one on nearly every track of this upbeat, swinging blues album," he says.

Luke Guy Reed has No Hat on this CD that proves even an Isle of Wight native can be a downhome country boy. "His convincing, sincere and heartfelt sound is evocative of Canada's country gentleman, Tommy Hunter," says Virginia MacIsaac. "Both men's voices create a range of mood values that are highly entertaining and popular with fans."

Wolfe Bros. take us along on some Old Roads & New Journeys. "They take old tunes and make them new without losing the eternal spirit of the genre," says Nicky Rossiter. "Their choice of material is uncanny."

Carool Kersten says Music from Vietnam #5: Minorities from the Central Highlands & Coast might be of more interest "to documentalists and researchers of traditional music." Still, he says, "the listener should also realize that he or she is witness to a rapidly disappearing aspect of mankind's cultural diversity."

Our Celtic Colours coverage continues (say that five times fast!) with Tom Knapp's report on Wind on the Water, a Bras d'Or performance featuring Buddy MacDonald, Anna Massie, Troy MacGillivray and Le Vent du Nord.

While you're there, check out Tom's interview with renowned Cape Breton dancers Burton MacIntyre and Sabra MacGillivray on the thriving island tradition.

Richard J. Moll's passion for the subject is clear, Laurie Thayer concedes, but in Before Malory: Reading Arthur in Late Medieval England, he buries his knowledge under too many layers of academia. "It is clearly not intended for the lay reader," she says.

Kim Cool found ghosts, which makes Ghost Stories of Sarasota much more interesting than her previous collection, Tom Knapp proclaims. "You won't read Ghost Stories of Sarasota with a shudder and a chill, nor will it give you sleepless nights afterwards," he says. "But the book is a fun, entertaining look at a community's haunts; Cool provides a peek into a different kind of Florida retirement!"

Several writers take a look at native issues in Nation to Nation: Aboriginal Sovereignty & the Future of Canada. "The book offers insight into how many people feel about the struggle and the need for education on the subject," says George Schaefer. "I don't see these issues being resolved easily, but it is good to know that many people are working together to find mutually beneficial solutions."

Mary Hoffman returns to her alternate Renaissance Italy with Stravaganza: City of Stars. "City of Stars lives up to the promise of its predecessor," says Laurie Thayer. "Filled with engaging characters, the story is well-paced and enjoyable."

Noel-Anne Brennan follows the succession of Saiditin in The Blood of the Land. "Brennan has created an interesting and unique setting," Laurie says. "To readers used to the traditions of pseudo-medieval-European fantasy, where women wear skirts, are oppressed and are the heroines only when they're bucking the establishment, Saeditin can at times be a little confusing."

Elizabeth Brundage evokes shock, anger, love and despair in The Doctor's Wife, says Nicole van Zanten. "The novel is beautifully written and compelling."

Patrick O'Brian details The Fortune of War in the next Aubrey/Maturin novel. "There's treachery, assault, murder, a daring escape, courage and nobility at sea, romance -- and a sea battle that will make your heart swell with pride for Britain's once-great navy," Tom Knapp says. "O'Brian writes historical fiction as easily as some folks might write their grocery lists."

Miles O'Dometer deconstructs Alias Betty, which is "-- on the surface, at least -- the story of Betty Fisher (Sandrine Kiberlain), as its French title, Betty Fisher et autres histoires, makes perfectly clear. But Betty's story is really just one of several. ... Making it all plausible is an ensemble of actors and actresses who are convincing from the outset and only get better as their stories unravel." Hoopla, Miles! That's movie review #250!

The Taliban makes its presence known in the movie Osama, which refers -- not to that Osama, mind you, but to a young girl in the Taliban's male-dominated world. "Osama is full of nightmarish, foreboding scenes of power run amok," Janine Kauffman says, "but it's the sounds, too, that will catch your breath: the hush of scissors cutting off Osama's braids as she sleeps, the padding of a disabled child's feet as he stumbles down the hospital's hallway, abandoned in a rush to evacuate."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back!

29 October 2004

The Oct. 30 edition has been posted a day early because ... we're finally moving! Yes, Rambles.NET has a new address! No, our website URL remains the same (Rambles.NET must, after all, be found at rambles.net -- it's only proper) but our mailing address has changed. Please address all packages (review materials, miscellaneous accolades, bottles of Irish whiskey, etc.) to our attention c/o Tom Knapp, editor, 1609 Ridgeview Ave., Lancaster PA 17603 USA. Woohoo!

30 October 2004

There were monstrous shapes in the mist. The stench of old graves dug open and corpse breath haunted the air. Childhood night terrors came to life: a Pandora's box of horrors and fears; specters of death and pestilence....
- Charles de Lint


Pretty scary, eh? Well, of course -- it's the eve of Halloween, or Samhain if you prefer, and the veil between worlds is thin. The dead walk, the dark fey creep forth from their hidden places, and small children dress up like ghouls, zombies, witches, Britney Spears and George W. Bush (shudder) to frighten the living daylights out of us and help themselves to our candy. Sounds like a perfect time for a new batch of reviews! (If you're in the mood for Halloweeny-themed books or movies, check out this batch first!)

Sean Tyrrell shares a selection of his work on Man for Galway: The Best of Sean Tyrrell. Two reviewers, Nicky Rossiter and Robert Tilendis, disagree on its merits. Read why!

Tim Dennehy opens The Blue Green Door into "a web of traditional and original songs," Nicky says. "He has a hypnotic sound that can make any song sound great, but he has a head start here as the songs are brilliant right from the beginning."

The compilation disc Celtic Graces "was made for those of us who love contemporary Irish music and are interested in where it came from, but are too young to have experienced much of it first hand," Jean Price asserts. "Captured here at its best, by the best, this album is an invaluable resource for those new to Irish music. It is also fantastic to just listen to and enjoy."

Darden Smith "offers a lovely collection of songs" on Circo, Nicky Rossiter says. "Smith is a voice and a writer to watch."

Colleen Geraghty crosses Deep Ravines to bring a new voice to Rambles.NET readers. "Her voice is crystal clear, diction excellent and delivery hard to improve," says Nicky. "Her songs are well crafted and delivered with emotion."

ARC's The Very Best of Japanese Music "lives up to its name," Chet Williamson reports from the field. "Here is music in the grand tradition of Japan, with its textures and sounds perfectly intact. Anyone wishing to make the acquaintance of this highly rewarding music is well advised to start here."

Mikel Laboa's recent CD 60ak + 2 shows his "key contribution to the post-fascist restoration of Basque culture," David Cox asserts. "Laboa continues to record music, but this is a thorough retrospective of his classic, most influential songs."

Lhasa takes us along for a ride on The Living Road. "Lhasa's powerful voice conveys a wealth of feeling and passion, and the instrumentation shows a strong Mexican influence, with trumpet and guitar featured prominently," says Adolf Goriup. "Lhasa may be little known to a wide audience, but her refreshing melange of musical styles sets her apart from the mass of singers we are confronted with today."

Bruce Molsky sets a new standard with his latest release, Jerome Clark opines. "Bruce Molsky is as good as they come, and Contented Must Be is as good an album as he's ever done. Because they're all well worth hearing, he's beating his own stiff competition."

The Larry Stephenson Band solves a Clinch Mountain Mystery with this CD celebrating 15 years of bluegrass music. "So many great musicians and such cohesiveness," Virginia MacIsaac enthuses. "The sound is like pure, clear spring water that comes bubbling down, cleansed in the rocky heights under the hot rays of sky-blue sunshine."

The Peter Malick Group makes good use of several lead female vocalists -- including a slightly pre-fame Norah Jones -- on Chance & Circumstance. "Whether Malick has a visionary ability to spot developing talent (as the structure of this CD would like you to think) or if he's really just an opportunist trying to ride the coattails of Jones's extraordinary success -- or maybe a little of both -- two things are clear: Malick is all about showcasing new female singer-songwriters, and he has produced one immensely enjoyable record," says William Kates.

Tommy Castro, Jimmy Hall and Lloyd Jones are Triple Trouble in the blues line. "Castro, Hall and Jones have the talent to be a killer combo but seem to lack the patience to fully realize their potential," says Gregg Thurlbeck. "A little time working out stronger vocal arrangements and crafting a couple of songs as a team would have benefited this disc mightily."

We don't usually review classical music. Nothing against the art, but it's not a section we've developed here. But when a jazz musician tries his hand at classical music in the company of two other fine musicians, we're willing to make an exception. Alas, Katey Knapp tells us, the efforts of Wynton Marsalis, Yo Yo Ma and Cho-Liang Lin are wasted on Haydn: Three Favorite Concertos. Read her review to see why.

Celtic Colours is still in the spotlight! This week, we feature a performance by the Cape Breton Fiddlers' Association, which Tom Knapp saw at a concert at the Gaelic College in St. Ann's.

While he was there, Tom also took the opportunity to interview Benoit Bourque of Le Vent du Nord, a Quebecois band that made quite a splash at Colours with its lively French-Canadian sound. See what Benoit had to say!

Also today, Debbie Koritsas shares the news from a recent performance by KT Tunstall & Band at the Faversham in Leeds, England. Don't miss it!

Barb & J.C. Hendee expose the Thief of Lives in a dynamic fantasy vampire novel, Daniel Jolley reveals. "The vampire-hunting action is just as exciting as it was in Dhampir, but Thief of Lives adds a new mixture of potentially noxious potions to the pot," he says. "You get plenty of plot and subplot for your money."

S.L. Farrell returns to The Cloudmages in Mage of Clouds. "Like the preceding book, Mage of Clouds is hard to put down," says Laurie Thayer. "The story is intense and enthralling."

Louise Marley digs into anthropological science fiction in The Child Goddess. "I wish I had started The Child Goddess on a Saturday, so that I could have spent all day reading it," Laurie laments, "but alas, I read it during the week, when I was constantly interrupted by such mundane things as work."

Lawrence Block spies a Burglar on the Prowl. "I'd give the plot away but there are so many twists I wasn't following it as much as being dragged along by it to the last few chapters," says Jean Lewis. "I found it to be a fun if totally unrealistic and thus totally undemanding tale, yet the characters that Block draws with great skill are entertaining enough to hold the attention."

James Patterson and Andrew Gross take things to the 3rd Degree in this new audiobook featuring the reading skills of Carolyn McCormick. This book, third in a series, involves the Women's Murder Club of San Francisco. "One thing I like about author James Patterson is that he keeps multiple storylines running concurrently," notes Wil Owen. "I have yet to tire of his characters because he has not allowed me, as a reader, to burn out due to narrow focus."

Robert W. Norris tells his story and teaches English, too, with The Many Roads to Japan: A Search For Identity. "This is a quick read for someone conversant with written English and retains the reader's interest in the progression from despair through hope and to eventual contentment and success of a man who finds himself and makes a new and fulfilling life for himself in a foreign country," says Jenny Ivor.

Miles O'Dometer flips on the Radio for "a fascinating film based, we are told, on a true story and designed to teach a lesson that's brought home perhaps a little too clearly at times. ... From its very opening -- a shot through autumn trees and a wizened female voice telling us of what fall is all about in Anderson (football, of course) -- Radio is imbued with the spirit of To Kill a Mockingbird, another southern tale of a mentally retarded man (and prejudiced townsfolk) that speaks to us of the possibility of victory over social disconnection."

Janine Kauffman enjoys the aging process in Babi leto (Autumn Spring). "Getting old can be a spirit-depleting slog downhill, an endless series of insults, ricocheting from failing health to empty wallet and back to children who have no gratitude," she says. "That's what makes Fanda such a riveting character: In the face of all this, Fanda's refusing to grow up, to act even a fraction of his seven-plus decades on earth, seems like a most inspired rebellion."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back!