2 April 2005 to 11 June 2005

11 June 2005

All of the animals, excepting man,
know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it.
- Samuel Butler

Tip of the week: If you have cause to cross a piranha-infested river, attempt to do so at night. Most species of piranha rest at night and, if startled awake, will flee rather than attack. Dawn is their most active time, so be careful! However, piranhas typically will not attack a human or large animal unless they are injured and bleeding -- although there are no guarantees in times when food is scarce.

The Scottish Power Pipe Band mixes the sounds of massed Scottish Highland pipes and drums with an A-list of top Celtic musicians on Cathcart. "Many readers will perhaps feel that massed Scottish Highland pipes and drums are best heard in an outdoor setting, so any producer has to get over that problem of recreating that magnificent, full-on 'live' feel in a studio recording," says Debbie Koritsas. "The results here are very successful, though the sound can get a bit overwhelming when compressed through your living room speakers instead of being allowed to fill the air naturally."

Moira Nelligan shares the wealth on I Give You Music. "I look forward to hearing another release at some point in the future," says Frank Blair, who hoped for more variety from this Irish fiddler from north Georgia. "My hope is that it will stretch the repertoire a bit, cover some new ground and show off an evolving talent. That being said, I Give You Music is currently in heavy rotation in my CD player and will probably remain there for quite a while."

The British folk scene owes a lot to its female singers and songwriters, a tradition celebrated with A Woman's Voice: First Person Singular. "This is a fantastic compilation that any lover of British folk music will enjoy, but is particularly appropriate for women given the theme of the album," says Jean Price. "Giving a snapshot of women's hopes and heartaches at all stages of life, the recording provides a wonderful and timeless collection of songs celebrating all that it is to be a woman and paying homage to the many women who have contributed to the folk tradition over the years."

Eric Andersen provides "both a tribute and a time machine taking us back to the generation that took us away from Sinatra and Doris Day" on The Street was Always There: Great American Song Series, Vol. 1, Nicky Rossiter says. "This album will transport you to a time when music was quiet, literate and meaningful. The spare production and warm voice complement the lyrics beautifully."

Stephen Cohen is "a man of many talents," Wil Owen proclaims, and he demonstrates those skills on Stephen & the Talk Talk Band. "He plays acoustic guitar, creates his own percussion instruments out of metals, woods and scrap material, plays bells, panpipes and kaen pipes, and creates interesting music," Wil says. "There is some intriguing material here." However, Wil warns, don't buy this one for the lyrics!

Mary McCaslin shares A Life & Time in this new re-release from Rounder. "Since she first surfaced in the changing American folk world of 1967, Mary McCaslin's distinctive voice has been raised in the service of a broad range of folk and popular music," says Gilbert Head. "Except for a period of relative professional inactivity in the early '80s, McCaslin has been one of a small handful of performers who have consistently moved forward, sometimes attempting reinvention, but always moved to share their musical gifts with others. Her somewhat idiosyncratic voice features interesting interval leaps and a distinctive quaver occasionally applied to grace notes, marking her distinctive vocal signature."

Bob Dylan helped bring the '80s to a close with Oh Mercy. "The 1980s was far from Dylan's greatest decade musically, but he made a strong statement of his continued genius and longevity with Oh Mercy," says Daniel Jolley. "Forget cover songs, forget famous guest musicians, forget everything but Dylan's unmatched songwriting ability, perceptive commentary on life and unique voice."

The Rolling Stones get a makeover on Exile on Blues Street, a recent compilation disc from the Telarc label. The Stones album, Charlie Ricci explains, has been "re-recorded by a crackerjack blues band along with a host of blues all-stars. ... Listening to this CD will make you appreciate their music in a way you didn't before."

Misty River is back with more folk/bluegrass music under the Willow. Paulette Isaacs calls it "a beautiful collection of five originals and nine other songs featuring new arrangements of bluegrass, Irish and more modern folk songs."

Jason Boland & the Stragglers are Somewhere in the Middle with this new country release. Jerome Clark says this appealing record is "crammed with solid songs and effectively realized performances. Boland, who wrote most of the cuts, handles themes both familiar and fresh with a pro's touch, and a nice but light-handed political subtext, pretty much the antithesis of the bloodthirsty nationalistic rants that have infested Nashville in the early decade of this wretched century."

String Planet, led by the husband-and-wife team of Novi Novog and Larry Tuttle, makes its recorded debut with this self-titled CD release. "Bouncy and pleasant, this CD should appeal to fans of smooth jazz and acoustic music," Dave Howell remarks.

Deuter features the sounds of Tibetan singing bowls on Tibet: Nada Himalaya 2. "The music Deuter produces here might be more appropriate for meditation than for casual listening, with its drawn out notes and non-Western ambience," Dave says. "Some even claim that the sounds of the bowls have healing powers. What you have here is perhaps the earliest form of ambient music."

The Young Elderz may be Children of Rastafari, but -- after an initial good impression -- their music doesn't hold up to scrutiny. "The group, in its promotional material, compares the music to Black Uhuru. I must respectfully disagree. I don't think the Young Elderz are up to Black Uhuru's level," Wil Owen says. "Chopping half the songs off this CD (all the male-dominated ones) would be a start at improving their sound. Maybe singing lessons would help. Expanding the topic to give the music a little variety would also be nice. Until then, I won't be recommending their music."

Louise Erdrich taps a vein for Original Fire: Selected & New Poems. "Right up front, these are not easy," says Robert Tilendis. "It is not a matter of Erdrich's diction, her erudition or her concerns with the formal values of poetry. It is really, and fundamentally, a matter of her experience and her vision. These are poems that demand of the reader total engagement in a world that to many of us is foreign and discomforting, sometimes cheerless, but that contains a very deep and compelling reality."

Thura Al-Windawi reveals another side of the story in Thura's Diary: My Life in Wartime Iraq. "The diary is very well written and is very descriptive of what went on around her and and her family," says Benet Exton. "Her thoughts and feelings are well expressed, providing an inside look from a civilian's point of view at what it was like to be in Baghdad during the Iraq War and afterwards."

Charles de Lint gives Tom Knapp cause for celebration with the release of three short tales, collected by Subterranean Press as The Hour Before Dawn & Two Other Stories from Newford. "Each, uniquely imagined, deals with second chances, mystical opportunities to rethink a bad turn in life," Tom says. "Framed within the familiar Newford settings and de Lint's Midas touch with characterization, these are pearls that are not to be missed."

L.A. Banks is on the track of The Hunted -- but this vampire series isn't living up to the hype. "Let's be honest from the start, this book is not about vampires, it's about Damali and Carlos having sex, always intense (for them, not us) and often quite violent," Tom reveals. "Far from titillating, their first lengthy (about 22 pages) love scene is tiresome and repetitive. Who knew unchained love and out-of-control lust could be so dull and -- worse yet -- funny?"

Mickey Zucker Reichert marks The Return of Nightfall in this long-awaited sequel. "The Return of Nightfall is a highly entertaining book," says Laurie Thayer. "Occasionally, an author who returns to a world after a long span away won't get characterizations and situations to quite match what they've previously written, but Reichert got it spot on."

Andrew Vachss keeps Two Trains Running in this major new novel. "Two Trains Running works brilliantly on all of its many levels, and is one of those books that repays rereading," Chet Williamson says. "It's a new American classic -- an intriguing story well-told, and a deeper rumination on how we got to where we are today."

Karen Hancock's third published novel -- Legends of the Guardian King, Book 2: The Shadow Within -- has already made her Daniel Jolley's favorite writer of both Christian fiction and fantasy. "I don't really want you to think of this book as Christian fiction, though; certainly, the foundation of the story is built upon Christian allegory, but you don't have to be a Christian in order to enjoy this rich, action-packed, emotionally poignant story," Dan says. "This is fantasy at its best, with extraordinarily compelling characters populating a vibrant, amazingly realistic environment -- and Hancock is a remarkably talented storyteller."

Daniel Jolley says Red Planet "is one of Robert Heinlein's most enjoyable, best-selling and important juvenile novels. It's hard to think of it as juvenile fiction, though, because it is a fantastically fun read that introduces thought-provoking ideas on sociological and otherwise adult subjects."

Ginger Turner and Shekhar Shimpi join the great Western stampede with Gold Mine! The California Gold Rush Story, a history book for young readers in graphic novel form. "While the story starts off in a straightforward enough manner, it takes a very awkward turn," says C. Nathan Coyle. "The narrative switches from spoken dialogue to the thought balloons of a mule! ... It's almost as if the writer or editor decided the story seemed too 'grown up' and decided to treat it like a '90s Disney movie."

Daniel Jolley spends some quality time with an American Beauty. "One thing this movie certainly has going for it is its shockingly original nature; no one had made a movie quite like this before," Dan says. "What strikes me as really quite amazing is the fact that, despite all the buzz about this movie, I still had little idea of what to expect once I finally watched it for myself."

Dan says The Others "is an absolutely incredible movie. Only too rarely does a movie come along that can absolutely stun you all at once with its implications. The ending of this movie absolutely caught me unawares, and in one single instant, before the movie even told me what was happening, a blow of shocking revelation hit me right in the stomach. ... Calling The Others a movie is doing it a disservice; it is a profound, unparalleled motion picture experience that you should not allow yourself to be deprived of."

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

4 June 2005

Living at risk is jumping off the cliff
and building your wings on the way down.
- Ray Bradbury

Did I say frog? I meant frogs! To go with the fishes and snails, of course.

The Scots-Irish trio Fine Friday is out Mowing the Machair on this album, on which "they've remained true to the spontaneous, improvisational feel of the session setting and have produced an imaginatively interpreted collection of traditional songs and tunes collected from the Celtic regions of Cape Breton, Brittany, Scotland and Ireland -- with a few cracking original tunes thrown in," says Debbie Koritsas. "This is an album that succeeds in capturing the spontaneity of a lively instrumental session."

Mindy Smith begs just One Moment More, and Debbie willingly grants it. "I was compelled to seek out this album after being smitten by Mindy Smith's superlative, attitude-laden performance of 'Jolene' on a British television broadcast of the Celtic Connections Festival," Debbie explains. "One Moment More is, quite simply, one of the most beautifully crafted, perfectly balanced albums of contemporary song I've bought in years."

Colcannon ruminates on its Journeys in this collection of Celtic folk. "This Australian-based band has produced some of the most sparkling contemporary folk music of recent years," says Nicky Rossiter. "The unique sound of Kat Kraus's voice combines with the excellent singing and playing of the other members, blending to produce musical magic."

Tori Amos certainly won't Crucify reviewer Daniel Jolley for this flattering review! "Unlike the vast majority of artists, Amos releases EPs containing wonderful, must-have songs not included on her albums, and this Crucify EP is her consummate EP offering," he says. "Some may buy this just to hear the actual words to 'Smells Like Teen Spirit,' but even the unsuspecting are almost guaranteed to find themselves wrapped up in Tori's musical web of beauty, grace and meaning."

Odetta is "still going strong as a tornado," Jerome Clark opines, and she proves it when Odetta Sings Ballads & Blues. "If you don't know it's coming, Odetta's big, booming voice may throw you, even scare you if you are of a nervous disposition," Jerome says. "Seriously, everybody: this is gorgeous and essential stuff, the music of the true vine. It will enrich your life."

The Locust Mountain Boys go Back in Time with Family & Friends for this new bluegrass recording. "This is the sort of record best characterized as solid, as opposed to, say, inspiring," says Jerome. "The LMBs put forth a younger, smoother version of the Stanley Brothers mountain sound. As it stands, they're a decent regional band, with -- if they have the ambition and apply themselves -- a shot down the road at a larger bluegrass audience and a bigger name. They have the instrumental chops, and they can sing."

Mac Traynham dips deeply into the old Southern sound on I'm Going That Way. "Besides being an exceptional interpreter and an awesomely able fiddler and banjo player, he lays claim to something like encyclopedic knowledge of the music, with a keen grasp of its history and of the men and women who carried it on," Jerome says. "In every regard Mac Traynham and label Copper Creek have done themselves -- and a magnificent musical tradition -- proud."

Steve Reich dabbles in jazz, classical and ambient sounds on "Four Organs" & "Phase Patterns", a recent re-release of two performances from 1970. "Although the music will appeal to a limited audience, these are historic performances of two seminal works," says Ron Bierman.

Martin Caidin discusses Ghosts of the Air: True Stories of Aerial Hauntings in this fascinating book. "This is a book that should appeal greatly to those interested in the paranormal as well as those captivated by aviation," says Daniel Jolley. "The author writes in an engaging, personalized manner, and he bends over backward to defend the stories he relates as well as the integrity of his contributors. He does not try to explain the unexplainable; he merely presents each tale the way it happened, often using the very words of the person involved."

William C. Harris gets it wrong, in Dan's view, with North Carolina & the Coming of the Civil War. "Personally, I think it does more harm than good," Dan says. "There are many contradictions in the text, often between one sentence and the next. The author uses pejorative terms to describe the pro-secessionists. ... My main objection to the book is the author's stated belief that slavery alone led to the state's secession. The events, ideas and actions leading up to the War Between the States are varied and complex; this is especially the case in North Carolina."

Gawdat Gabra provides the history in Coptic Monasteries: Egypt's Monastic Art & Architecture. "Gabra provides an interesting look at the monasteries that have survived," Benet Exton reports. "The book is easy and fascinating to read, and the illustrations and maps are good."

Jasper Fforde cracks the case in The Big Over Easy, the first book in a new series featuring Jack Spratt, Mary Mary and the Nursery Crimes Division of the Reading Police Department. "Fforde wields the obvious potential for humor with a deft hand, at times hammering blatant puns home with careless abandon, at others injecting a more subtle wit into the prose," Tom Knapp says. "Humor aside, the mystery is also a puzzler, with Spratt dismissing the more flamboyant displays of his publicity-happy peers and buckling down into some good, solid investigation as the body count grows and the list of suspects dwindles."

John Varley's work is collected and celebrated in The John Varley Reader: 30 Years of Short Fiction. "Varley's stories are, to a great extent, the reason I love to read," says Gregg Thurlbeck. "Bradbury's quietly poetic style, Zelazny's surrealism, Le Guin's socio-political thought experiments -- each breathed life into reading for me. But Varley's stories did something more. While not as stylistically inventive as the others, Varley's fiction was bold, clever, youthful, sexy."

Theodore Judson presents a future history in Fitzpatrick's War. "By the end of the tale there is a desperate urge to find other materials that confront the snide footnotes' view of the world," Sarah Meador relates. "But of course there is only this one bit of material, a tantalizing glimpse into a society far in the future from us and far from utopian."

John Richard Lindermuth provides an introduction to Schlussel's Woman in this tale of historical fiction. "Lindermuth has a quirky, adjective-heavy writing style that may be off-putting at first," says Dave Howell. "But once you get used to it, Lindermuth's writing can be easily understood, and he keeps the action moving. He evokes the flowery writing styles of the past without making the reader wade through unnecessary verbiage."

Robert A. Heinlein is unquestionably a Citizen of the Galaxy. The book, first published in 1957, "is probably Heinlein's most mature juvenile novel and is certainly one of his most inspirational," Daniel Jolley reports. "It contains a sweeping indictment of slavery and provides a stirring message about citizenship and civic responsibility."

Tom Knapp is captivated by Jason's latest graphic novel, Why Are You Doing This? "The Norwegian writer and artist -- who, like Madonna, Cher, Bert and Ernie, goes by a single name -- supplies a bittersweet tale about being in the wrong place, making the wrong turn and being mistaken for the wrong man," Tom says. "Sometimes, bad things happen to good people, and justice is not a guarantee. This story -- Jason's first full-color graphic novel -- will tear a little at your heart."

Tom sees a whole new side of Superman in the Elseworlds story Red Son. "Red Son is a triumph of the Elseworlds series, providing readers with a strong, believable variation on the standard DC world," Tom says. "It's stories like this that make Elseworlds such a pleasure to collect and read."

Tom Knapp celebrates a return of greatness with Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. "Could George Lucas recapture the wonder of the original Star Wars?" Tom asks. "Well, no. It's been done. Lucas in 2005 certainly didn't break new ground or redefine the nature of special effects the way he did back in 1977. OK, but did Revenge of the Sith make up for two movies full of missteps? Did it atone for giving us Ewoks and Jar-Jar Binks? Did it bring back the storytelling and filmmaking qualities of The Empire Strikes Back? Hoo, yeah."

Daniel Jolley tries The Ring on for size, and finds it a perfect fit. "As much as I love the horror genre, I will admit that only rarely has such a film aspired -- let alone attained -- the artistic plateau upon which The Ring proudly sits," he says. "The movie is an artistic masterpiece, a film whose amazing textures and tones invite multiple viewings and a never-ending search for further insight into its darkly beautiful truth."

Next, Dan passes a night in 1958's House on Haunted Hill. "Just imagine, a haunted house movie that is actually scary," he says. "A movie such as this belongs in black and white, and the whole mood is appropriately creepy. The director left almost nothing out: creaking doors, apparitions, secret rooms, screams (almost so many they become annoying), skeletons, thunder and lightning, organ music, moments of total darkness, a pit of acid and, last but not least, the inimitable Vincent Price in a role he was born to play."

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

28 May 2005

If one is lucky,
a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities.
- Maya Angelou

Yes! Oh my god! It's a FROG!

Brolum gives Debbie Koritsas a multifaceted "wow" with The Fair Face I Never Saw. "The sheer flair of the instrumental tracks, and Kathleen Graham's stunning Gaelic vocals make me wonder if this young, very exciting band has the sort of potential to become the new Capercaillie," she says. "Then I listen to Andy Webster's richly Scots-accented vocals, and find myself making mental comparisons to Malinky."

Paul Dooley supplies the ancient Welsh sounds with Music from the Robert ap Huw Manuscript, Vol. I. "What Dooley plays here is unusual to our ears. It sounds as much classical as Celtic, but with a simpler structure," Dave Howell explains. "Much more than just a historical document, this CD should be enjoyed by all lovers of Celtic music."

Irish songwriter Mickey MacConnell is singing with Peter Pan & Me on this re-issued CD. "The album is a well-balanced mixture of the comic and sad, but it's always thought-provoking," Nicky Rossiter says. "The production is simple but all the more effective for it."

The Stationary Willberries play their Folk & Blues on this new CD from the Isle of Man. "The musical roots of the band are widespread, and their take on folk and blues is a rich and pleasurable listen, incorporating songs by Bob Dylan and Paul Simon alongside traditional folk songs ... and Manx folk," says Jenny Ivor. "I enjoyed the eclectic mix, the infectious rhythms and the blend of instruments."

Bob Dylan is Down in the Groove for this 1990 CD that holds a special place in Daniel Jolley's collection. "Down in the Groove is a special album for me because this was the first Bob Dylan CD I ever bought," Dan explains. "Certainly, it's not one of his better albums, typifying the Dylan doldrums of the early 1980s, but it does have a few bright spots amid its many faults."

Ian Tyson brings us Songs from the Gravel Road, always a cause for celebration, according to Jerome Clark. Unfortunately, it's not entirely satisfying. "As I listen to Songs, I find myself reflecting that I'd like this album better if it were somebody else's," he explains. "The problem is that Tyson is so good that he sets a high expectation bar, and this doesn't reach it. Still, it is a marvel that at 71 years, fighting heartache that even younger men struggle to endure, he still sings clearly and affectingly, and he still can write the good song and, more often than most, the exceptional one, too. If this is less than a wholly successful effort, it's only because we know what Tyson is capable of. On the other hand, even a spotty Tyson recording is to be preferred -- infinitely -- to no Tyson recording at all."

Oreka TX's CD Quercus Endorphina "is probably the first recording to feature the Basque percussion instrument known as the txalaparta," David Cox asserts. "While it is interesting to hear this instrument up front in the mix, in all its glory, Oreka TX makes more impact as part of a larger ensemble."

Natalie MacMaster -- the pride of Nova Scotia -- recently came to play in Harrisburg, Pa., and Jamie O'Brien was there. Read his views of the experience in this enthusiastic performance review.

Barry Vann is Rediscovering the South's Celtic Heritage in this slim volume packed with history and folklore. "Vann puts forth the idea that the unique culture of the upland southern United States is due to the influence of Scots-Irish and German settlers (groups he unfortunately lumps together as 'Celtic')," says Laurie Thayer. "It does sometimes seem as though Vann is attempting to give a linguistic and socio-economic history to lay people without getting too technical, and is perhaps trying to use general rather than precise terms."

Samuel W. Hankins describes his days in the Confederate Army in Simple Story of a Soldier: Life & Service in the 2d Mississippi Infantry, newly published by the University of Alabama Press. "This is a very short book, 76 pages, but what it provides is a primary source of a soldier's life in the Confederate Army," Benet Exton says. "Hankins is very descriptive about his surroundings and what is happening around and to him."

Sarvananda Bluestone digs into the sleeping subconscious with The World Dream Book. "One of the things I truly like about the book is that it asks its readers to be open and use their imagination -- something that has atrophied as many of us have grown older," says Wil Owen. "I also like how he disagrees with the many other dream interpretation books on the market. He points out that the symbols in dreams are extremely personal. What is a good omen to one individual might be evil for the next. No one but the dreamer can honestly interpret what they see in a dream."

George Alec Effinger comes to us Live! From Planet Earth in this collection of short science-fiction "impersonations." As Gregg Thurlbeck explains, "Of the 20 stories and two poems contained in this posthumous collection, nearly half are written in another author's voice. And the impersonations are extraordinary. ... Effinger, who passed away in 2002, was an immensely talented and terribly unfortunate writer."

Marvin Kaye compiled the works found in The Dragon Quintet. "These dragons defy classification as intelligent being or beast, fable or mortal; and their sense of good and evil is about as relevant as the morality of a cat, or a hurricane, depending on the author," says Sarah Meador. "It's a richer, more nuanced and vitally convincing take on the grand old creatures. With no direct homage to the portrayals of the ages, The Dragon Quintet leaves a convincing sensation that here indeed there be dragons, in the fiery flesh and iron fantasy."

Caroline Coleman O'Neill is all about Loving Soren in this historical novel about philosopher and poet Soren Kierkegaard, as told from the point of view of his fiancee, Regina Olsen. "I loved how O'Neill developed Regina's character; Regina is a deep woman, who morphs from a child into a mature woman over the course of 292 pages," says Melissa Kowalewski. "Her descriptions of Copenhagen and the West Indies teleported me there while I sat on my couch, with my glass of wine, reading this beautiful novel."

Douglas Adams has a bite at The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, which begins where The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy left off. "Nobody crams as much comedy per page as Douglas Adams. While The Restaurant at the End of the Universe isn't quite as amazing as its predecessor, that is only because its predecessor was so amazingly original and different from everything that came before it," says Daniel Jolley. "The satire Adams employs, often quite subtle, is as brilliant as always; anyone who reads this book will laugh, but only some will realize that he or she is really laughing at himself and the absurdity of human life that Adams is playing on." Congrats, Dan, for marking your 100th Rambles.NET review -- hoopla!

Anne Rice conducts an Interview with the Vampire in this, the first of her popular vampire series of novels. "Never before had the moral, spiritual and philosophical nature of the vampire been explored in such depth as that found in this exquisitely beautiful novel," Daniel says, "and that is one of the primary reasons why it rivals Stoker in terms of its beauty and resonates with an emotionally hypnotic power that is unmatched in the long tradition of vampire literature."

Robert A. Heinlein's Glory Road "followed closely on the heels of Stranger in a Strange Land, but it is a much different book," Daniel relates. "Written in 1962, this is Heinlein's only full-fledged fantasy novel, and that in itself makes it an interesting read. Heinlein was definitely writing for an adult audience by this point in his career, and he boasted that this novel had enough sex in it to cause heart failure among those who had complained about Stranger. By today's standards, the adult relationships included here are barely noticeable, implied certainly but never described at all."

Sarah Meador supplies a moving review of Joe Sacco's Palestine. "Just look, for a moment, without considering the political rights or wrongs of the situation," Sarah says. "Sacco's artistic style makes it easy: here are extravagant backgrounds to lead the eye, strange and hypnotic layouts. And here, alongside the twisting narrative captions, are caricatures, faces held somewhere between a cartoonish universal and the hard angles of reality, compelling in anger or grief or confusion."

Tom Knapp revisits another chapter in Nightwing's development as a solo character in Rough Justice. "Writer Chuck Dixon has peopled Bludhaven with numerous possibilities for development -- future lovers, perhaps, as well as future foes and potential allies," Tom says. "You have to love the gangster hierarchy. Plus, Dick finally gets a lair, and a car."

Ben Latimer is looking at Alexander Payne's latest film Sideways. "Sideways will undoubtedly appeal largely to a niche audience of the pretentious wine-drinking middle-class (which perhaps explains why this movie was so critically acclaimed)," he says. "This is pretty ironic because anyone who pays attention to the film will realise that it actually parodies this type of person."

Daniel Jolley books passage on a Ghost Ship. "Maybe there's nothing too original or groundbreaking about the type of horror it has to offer, but that doesn't mean it's not effective and entertaining," he says. "Certainly, believability is a weakness in a few spots, and I'm still trying to figure out how a couple of 'facts' could have been even remotely possible, but the film does create an eerie atmosphere and doesn't mind spilling a little blood in pursuit of its ends."

Filmmaker Wes Craven lets out a little Scream with this, the first in a trilogy of campy horror. "Scream provided the horror genre with a significant shot in the arm when it was released in 1996," Daniel explains. "This movie was a whole bunch of horror films all rolled into one, yet it was also quite original and unlike what had come before. Along with the undeniable creepiness and suspenseful nature of the wonderfully complex plot, Scream brilliantly incorporated pop culture and humor. It paid homage to its antecedents."

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

21 May 2005

Where everyone thinks alike, no one thinks at all.
- Albert Einstein

Our family has been down sick all week with a pesky little virus. Our throats are sore, and our lovely sundeck is collapsing under its own weight. I need a good cheering up, so I'm going to read these lovely reviews.

Melody and Derrick Cameron are sure to be found When There's Music. "If you're looking for a lot of fancy studio work and funky arrangements of tunes, this is not for you," says Kaitlin Hahn. "However, if you want a simple, polished, traditional Cape Breton sound, I highly recommend this album."

The Woods Band brings us Music from the Four Corners of Hell -- or, more accurately, from the folk tradition of Ireland. "The album takes a mixture of old and new work," says Nicky Rossiter. "It gives vibrant new life to the old material that many have grown tired of. The self-composed material is fresh but still dipped deeply in the tradition. The style is a sort of toned-down Pogues, allowing the lyrics to waft through to great effect."

The Wildlife Album draws together a number of talented artists in support of nature. "On this CD, the vast majority of the tracks were not released before and most are connected directly with wildlife and nature," says Nicky. "In addition to these 21 great tracks in many genres, you will have a beautifully packaged and presented album with a lovely painting of what I was going to say are penguins but I now know to be great auks -- thanks to this release."

Mando Saenz explores the bounds of Watertown with some melancholic folk, Wil Owen says. "The vocals on Watertown are pleasant, yet a little guttural at times," Wil says. "The raspy sound aids the prevailing feeling of sadness Mando emits on the slower songs."

Jimmy LaFave promotes the Austin sound on Blue Nightfall. "No mistake, Blue Nightfall is listenable and pleasurable, with a cozily nourish quality that projects visions of twilight desert skies and brooding souls on lonely highways onto the listener's psychic movie screen," Jerome Clark says. "The problem with Jimmy LaFave is Van Morrison. Most of the songs here -- they're all LaFave originals -- sound like Morrison's slower tunes with different arrangements."

Charlie Waller and the Country Gentlemen sing Songs of the American Spirit on the last album to be assembled during Waller's lifetime. "As such, it would be nice to report that it's a perfect culmination of a sterling career in bluegrass," Chet Williamson says. "Unfortunately, though Waller's voice was still fairly strong and distinctive, this is not the best album Waller & the Country Gents ever recorded. Of course, it's hard to top in any event the early work of the Waller-Duffey-Adcock-Gray lineup, but the nationalistic theme of this CD may initially stick a craw in the throat of those bluegrass fans who don't necessarily believe that their home country is perfect in every way."

Country music singer Sara Evans leaves reviewer Daniel Jolley nearly speechless with No Place That Far. "It is a joy to hear lyrics that are not only discernible but also so emotional and powerful," Dan says. "Whether it is fast or slow, each song seems to really mean something and to actually affect me in some way."

Rachel Page intends to Chase the Blues with this reissue of a 1994 release. "She has a lovely voice, light and pleasant to listen to; her lyrics are intelligent, thoughtful and far-reaching; and the musicianship on the album is top quality," Jenny Ivor says. "Page writes and sings and plays -- and does everything to a degree of excellence often missing on independent productions."

Gianmarc Manzione had the good fortune to see Richard Thompson in concert in West Palm Beach, Florida, last month. Says Gianmarc: "Even the feeling of a Richard Thompson ticket in my hand does not prepare me for what awaits. After an usher escorted me to a seat in the second row right in front of center stage -- so close to the man himself that I could almost touch his guitar as he sang -- I set my eyes on a stage equipped with nothing but a single wooden stool, an empty guitar rack and one microphone standing in the dim light of the theater. This would not just be a Richard Thompson show; this would be the man himself alone with nothing but an acoustic guitar to accompany him. This would be a dream." Read his review for more details!

Sara Lorimer gets down on the distaff side of reiving with Booty: Girl Pirates on the High Seas. "Booty is not an in-depth reference book on piracy; rather, it's a storm-tossed whirlwind of a look at a dozen exciting examples of a grim trade that proves more gender-neutral than many people believe," Tom Knapp says. "Anyone who has ever enjoyed the romantic notion of piracy will want it, as will those who like the idea of women who boldly took their equal rights at the point of a cutlass."

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich sheds an illuminating light with Good Wives: Image & Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750. "Ulrich does a great job in proving that these women's lives were far from static and submissive, a fact long lines of historians have never realized or have ignored," Daniel Jolley proclaims. "While the lack of primary source material makes it impossible to know the true aspects of these pioneer New England women, Good Wives offers a sweeping yet individualized picture of an important part of colonial society in all its aspects, a society in which the boundaries of men and women did sometimes blur within the individual household."

Stephen A. Channing describes one of the falling dominos that led to the Civil War with Crisis of Fear: Secession in South Carolina. "Channing implies that Southern culture differed from that of the North to such a degree that secession was inevitable," Dan notes in his succinct review, "and he contends that slavery was at the core of the mindset that animated the War Between the States."

Pete Hamill expounds on his home in Downtown: My Manhattan. "Despite the often negative image NYC has, Pete is like most residents -- there is no place he would rather live," Wil Owen says. "Listening to the six-hour audiobook version of Downtown, which Pete also narrates, you can hear a hint of pride as he describes not only the history of the city, but also parts of his own life."

Connie Willis says it's an Inside Job, and Katey Knapp is on the case. "Willis has an excellent sort of offbeat humor paired with an unerring sense of timing," Katey says. "It seems impossible for her to write a bad story, and in keeping with that tradition, Inside Job is a fun and entertaining read."

Elisabeth Vonarburg has Dreams of the Sea in this new science-fiction release. Unfortunately, reviewer and SF novice George Schaefer found it a difficult journey. "Trying to distinguish between dream and reality was a challenge, but not understanding all the terminology made it tedious," George explains. "Another flaw I found was that I never really got the notion of humanity that I get from writers like Heinlein and Sturgeon. They used science as a means to advance humanity; there was always a strong humanist undertow to their work."

David Macfarlane ponders a Summer Gone in this Giller Prize-nominated novel. "Considering the number of events the story chronicles and their import to the protagonist's life, this is, for the most part, an uneventful tale," Gregg Thurlbeck reveals. "Until we reach the final page of the second to last chapter...."

Daniel Jolley continues his retrospective of Robert A. Heinlein's career. "While Double Star did win the Hugo Award for the best science fiction novel of 1956, I would not call it one of Heinlein's most important works, nor would I rate it as highly as a good number of his other novels," Dan says. "It's a great story, but it strikes me as rather peculiar."

Stephen King goes back to the beginning with Carrie. "I think the basic premise of this story appeals to many people because Carrie is, in many ways, the ultimate underdog, a girl terrorized by an insanely religious mother, victimized and persecuted by her peers, and alienated from the world around her," Dan says. "While I much prefer the style of King's later works, especially in terms of getting inside a character, King still infuses Carrie's world with realism and believability, proving that he can create masterful atmosphere and mood with any number of literary tools."

Mary Harvey brushes up on the history between Batman and The Man Who Laughs, a.k.a. the Joker. It is, Mary says, "destined to be a classic. ... If you only buy one Batman graphic novel this year, this should be it."

Sarah Meador goes adventuring with the Hopeless Savages. "Jen Van Meter's sometimes hectic storytelling is given a helping structure by Christine Norrie and Chynna Clugston-Major in their turns at the art chores," Sarah says. "While alternating art styles for a single story can often be jarring, they're used here to good effect."

Daniel Jolley was disappointed by The Grudge despite an innate fondness for Sarah Michelle Gellar. "I've watched a lot of horror movies," he says, "and The Grudge just didn't strike me as very scary at all -- it's creepy enough on occasion to make some viewers jump, but I didn't find anything actually hair-raising about any of it -- unless you think Japanese women and little boys wearing black mascara in Tammy Faye proportions is scary."

For those of us who grew up in the '80s, there's always time for a little John Hughes and Molly Ringwald. This week, Dan takes us back to 1984 for Sixteen Candles. "I love to rewatch Molly's movies every so often in order to capture some of those feelings of lovelorn giddiness that seemed to disappear in my 20s," Dan says. "I'm not sure that the present generation of young men and women will connect as strongly to this movie or to Molly Ringwald as I did, but I am sure they can at least get some great entertainment value out of it."

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

14 May 2005

If your body is really weird,
try showing it to people in the streets for money.
- Douglas Adams

Our fearless editor is zipping off to a gig in some faraway place, so there's no time for chatter! Have a great week, folks, and enjoy this new assortment of reviews!!

Jean Price makes it simple and clear: "If you like piping at all, you need this album. It is chock-full of some of the most amazing piping you are ever likely to hear." She's referring to The Gathering: Great Celtic Pipers, a compilation disc released by ARC Music. Check it out!

Jim Reid is making music with Yont the Tay. "As the title implies, Jim Reid is dyed-in-the-wool Scot, and some of the lyrics may need subtitles," says Nicky Rossiter. "But even if you cannot follow each word, you will live these songs that are sung from the heart."

Mozaik is coming to us Live from the Powerhouse with this recent CD release. "It's hard not to have some basic expectations of a band that includes two of the genres most influential figures -- Andy Irvine ... and Donal Lunny," says new Rambles.NET writer Frank Blair. "I highly recommend Live from the Powerhouse to anyone, especially those who want to appreciate how close and natural fitting the American, Irish and Balkan traditions really are."

Joseph Topping works in the acoustic singer-songwriter tradition of Northern England, as demonstrated on his latest CD, Take Me Home. "Topping's acoustic set-up allows the listener to concentrate on his singing, which is mostly about love -- both positive and negative in about equal measures," says Andy Jurgis. "This is an assured and powerfully emotional album."

Maura O'Connell, formerly a singer with the Irish group DeDannan, continues her solo career with the release of Nashville-inflected Don't I Know. "The album has an air of melancholy about it, with many of the songs dealing with the less savory aspects of life such as aging, dying, lost friendship and the ever-relevant broken hearts and lost loves," Jean Price says. "Her voice is an amazing instrument and she uses it with passion and power."

Iron & Wine (a.k.a. Sam Beam) releases a collection of "quiet, hypnotic songs" as Woman King. "Woman King marks a move toward a richer, more layered production style," says Gregg Thurlbeck. "There's a new emphasis on percussion and electric instrumentation, but fans of Beam's earlier material will certainly not be put off. The studio work does nothing to mask Beam's ethereal, wispy vocal delivery on these new songs."

Tori Amos caused some Little Earthquakes with the release of her first CD, which Daniel Jolley opines is also her best. "As much talent and innovation as she has shown in the years since this album was released, she has yet to achieve again the well-nigh perfection of her initial offering," he says. "These songs utilize beautiful music, raw emotion and lyrical poetry to address a wide array of issues, ranging from rape to relationships to religion."

W.C. Spencer is a prominent Blues Explorer. "A headliner in the Big Muddy Blues Festival for several years running, W.C. Spencer has been touring and playing his own inimitable style of blues for many years, and in Blues Explorer he shows his smooth versatility in displaying 12 differing blues styles, all presented with consummate skill and a delight to the listener," says Jenny Ivor. "The album slides from sounding a true dyed-in-the-wool classic to sounding electrifyingly innovative."

Daniel Jolley flashes back to the '80s with The Wedding Singer soundtrack. What makes it so appealing? Ask Dan!

The thoughts and experiences of an immigrant soldier are revealed in My Life in the Irish Brigade: The Civil War Memoirs of Private William McCarter, 116th Pennsylvania Infantry, written by William McCarter and edited by Kevin E. O'Brien. "McCarter was very eloquent in his writing," says Benet Exton. "He goes into great and very readable details about skirmishes and everyday army life in the Irish Brigade."

Evit Kejbo Nosrep believes Judaism, Christianity & Islam are Wrong, and sets out to prove it in this book. "This is a short and straightforward book that quotes extensively from the holy scriptures, but I would argue that it suffers from a number of weaknesses," Daniel Jolley reports. "Pondering the types of questions the author poses can actually strengthens one's own religious faith, and that is what -- in my opinion as a Christian -- makes this book a valuable read."

Sheriff David Reichert recounts his time spent Chasing the Devil in this audiobook about the "Green River Killer." Says Wil Owen, "Entertainment and reality are often very different. ... Viewing the crimes through the eyes of the investigator isn't as exciting, yet the horror has more staying power than fiction."

Alan Moore speaks with the Voice of the Fire in this breakout novel that stands alone, without Moore's usual artists, inkers and colorists. "The fantastic history of Northampton told through heartbeat moments of human lives through their eras, Voice of the Fire may give Moore a chance to stretch his writer's muscles, but it's unlikely to bring him a much wider audience," Sarah Meador reports. "Moore is clearly out to enjoy himself first of all, and makes some daring plays with what could be straightforward biographies."

Jason Hightman introduces The Saint of Dragons in this new, young-adult fantasy. "It seems that dragons cause most of the misery in the world and the St. George family has been hunting and destroying them for centuries," Laurie Thayer explains. "Aldric and Simon's adventures fighting dragons are the exciting part of the novel, but it is the relationship between father and son that forms the core of the story."

Emily Drake gains a fan in Laurie with her latest in The Magickers series, The Gate of Bones. "My esteemed colleagues who reviewed the previous books don't seem to have cared for them, but I believe that the target audience (young adults) most likely would enjoy this book," she says. However, she adds, "I don't recommend starting the series here. While the story isn't difficult to pick up, there are clearly carry-overs from the other books that would make reading them in order a much richer experience."

Sean Williams and Shane Dix reveal the Heirs of the Earth in this SF mystery. "Showing uncommon honesty, Heirs of the Earth provides no complete, certain answers to the central mystery of the series," says Sarah Meador. "Sean Williams and Shane Dix turn away from the often comforting rules of fiction, forcing the real and sometimes intolerable uncertainty of survival on their heroes and their readers. It's not an easy book to read but it's much harder to ignore."

Robert A. Heinlein invades distant worlds with Starship Troopers. "For me, Starship Troopers is all the proof you need in order to name Robert Heinlein science fiction's greatest writer," Daniel Jolley says. "Heinlein tells a fascinating story, and he makes you think, whether you want to or not. Few are the writers who can claim such lofty credentials."

Sarah Meador has a few words for folks who dare not enjoy The Goon: Rough Stuff, an unusual comic by Eric Powell. "It's goofy stuff, to be sure, but that goofiness is a weapon," Sarah explains. "Powell is one of the comedians who knows a good jester can say anything and still get a laugh. And so this is a comic that can move from a genuinely poignant flashback to the devil in a Hawaiian shirt with no cognitive dissonance, a world where the villain can be a stylish vampire, a giant monkey-man or a gangster willing to use children as bulletproof vests. Powell can hit home, all right, but he'll have you laughing so hard you won't notice he's connected for a good 10 minutes."

Tom Knapp is exposed to The Power of Shazam in this new look at Captain Marvel's mysterious origins. "OK, sure, Captain Marvel is Superman in red, with a lightning bolt instead of an 'S' on his chest and roots in Egyptian mysticism instead of alien science," Tom says. "And, yes, he's pretty hokey. But in the world of comics, maybe it's not so bad to have a wholesome, drink-your-milk kind of superhero, one who never curses or kills or kisses icky girls."

Tom Knapp goes traveling with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- the new movie version, that is. This big-budget version, he says, "is great when it sticks to the book. When it wanders astray -- and it quite frequently does -- it feels like the writing or directing team felt they could do Adams one better. They were wrong."

Daniel Jolley is left Without a Paddle -- but a lot of laughs -- by the end of this film. "It's certainly the adventure of a lifetime, complete with a whitewater washout, a very close encounter with a bear, a meeting with two modern-day flower children living high up in a tree, the aforementioned hostile locals and a very grizzly Burt Reynolds," he says. "Without a Paddle isn't really a cinematic trip you want to take twice, but it does make for a pretty entertaining 90-minute diversion from real life."

Daniel proves to be an Apt Pupil after watching this obsessive horror film. "I have always regarded Apt Pupil as one of Stephen King's greatest and most compelling pieces of fiction. The film adaptation was a long time coming," he says. "The message of Apt Pupil speaks to everyone, not just horror fans, providing a very real warning about the dangers of obsession. Evil can be borne anywhere, even in the heart of Middle America."

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

7 May 2005

Anything over four hundred is basically just lots.
- Tom Holt

Here's a big howdy to all the mothers out there who deserve special attention this weekend. Don't forget, all you mother's sons and daughters! (I hear Fire in the Glen CDs make great Mother's Day presents!) But first, take a gander at this week's selections, below. Cheers!

Tanya Brody invites Sirens & Lovers to join her on her latest album, which Jean Price describes as "a lovely collection of original and traditional songs in a style resembling that of Loreena McKennitt. Her arrangements and her original compositions are both inspired and fun to listen to. The traditional songs have a definite Renaissance flavour to them, which is not surprising since she began singing and continues to sing at various fairs throughout the United States."

Mickey MacConnell demonstrates his Joined Up Writing on this album of great Irish songs. "From the opening flute sound to the final chord on track 11, this album will entrance you ... unless you're powered by a heart of stone," Nicky Rossiter promises. "MacConnell has a gift for making an epic song from the everyday events of everyday lives, and the transformation of those people by events."

Joe Giltrap and Tom Paxton make short work of their collaboration, The Bravest. "The three tracks here all deal with death and destruction in varying degrees, but the whole is an uplifting experience," Nicky relates.

The Duhks blend Celtic, country, folk and bluegrass on their self-titled CD from Winnipeg, Manitoba. "I am thinking if Alison Krauss had been born as fraternal twins in Ireland, we could have had the Duhks much sooner," says Tom Schulte. "As it is, we are glad to have this Canadian group now."

The Malvinas provide the Love, Hope & Transportation. "The musicianship is excellent -- always tuneful, tasteful and spirited -- and the voices are likeable and unpretentious," says Joy McKay. "The Malvinas are exactly the kind of company you'd want for a drive across the continent and Love, Hope & Transportation is an enjoyable ride all the way through."

CANO explores French-Canadian folk-pop on the classic Tous dans l'meme Bateau. "While a few arrangements now sound dated, Rachel Paiement's voice, Wasyl Kohut's violin and David C. Burt's electric guitar stand out, as does Andre's lyric writing," says David Cox. "The record promised more good things to come, and more was delivered."

The Nashville Bluegrass Band "is alive and well and healthy after 20 years," says Chet Williamson, "and this CD celebrating their two decades together is one of their best, incorporating traditional bluegrass and old-time songs and tunes while having one foot firmly planted in the present." The subject at hand is the new Sugar Hill release Twenty Year Blues -- be sure to check out Chet's full review!

Cyril Lance is coming to us Live from the Outskirts with this new collection of blues. Carole McDonnell spun the disc and comes back with a report on this excellent package.

The Unseen Guest is Out There for an album that blends guitars and tablas, piano and mridangam, and Irish and Indian musicians. "Though you'll hear hints of the familiar, the music they make is unusual, primarily because of the blending of traditional Indian instruments with Western structure," John Lindermuth reveals. "It's exotic and pleasant, music you'll want to come back to time after time."

Radůza brings folk music from the Czech Republic with Při Mnĕ Stůj (Stand By Me). "Characteristically, the songs have considerable gusto, although occasionally the singing does become a little forced," says Andy Jurgis. "Although this is an album to be enjoyed especially by people who enjoy the piano accordion, the distinctive singing and songwriting will ensure that the album has wider appeal, too."

Earnest Gouge explores Native American legends in Totkv Mocvse/New Fire: Creek Folktales. "Aside from its value as a work of Muskogee literature, Totkv Mocvse offers in this translation what seems to be the genuine 'feel' of the Creek story -- the rhythms and repeated phrases almost give a sense of a narrative half spoken, half chanted, while the unadorned presentation imparts immediacy within a larger context," says Robert Tilendis. "The addition of the thoughtful and very informative introduction and the equally illuminating prefaces to each story, often pointing out parallels with other tribes and nations, make this volume a must for anyone with an interest in Native American folklore.

Paul Andrew Hutton delves into the historical context of an iconic American hero/villain in The Custer Reader. "The Custer Reader gathers first-person narratives, essays, photographs and even a bit of fiction to help us sort out insights into the life and legend of this controversial historical figure," John Lindermuth says. "Whether seen as the victim of the Little Big Horn, the villain of the Washita massacre or, simply, another romantic character of the Wild West, there's something more to learn about Custer in the pages of this book."

Cyril A. Reilly & Renee Travis Reilly offer An Irish Blessing. Benet Exton says the book combines breathtaking photos with a new blessing written in a traditional Irish style -- perfect for a gift or special occasion.

Steven Harper displays his Trickster tendencies with the third novel in The Silent Empire series. "I devoured Trickster in less than a day, finding it gripping stuff, entertaining, exciting and suspenseful," says Jenny Ivor, "with solid and believable characters and sufficient backfill from the forward and the author throughout the story that I did not miss out on any nuance or emotion due to being new to the series."

A notable lack among our science fiction reviews is the work of the talented Robert A. Heinlein. Daniel Jolley tackles the problem with his usual insight and skill, beginning today with The Puppet Masters, first published in 1951. "This is not sociological science fiction, yet there is much in that vein to draw one's eye," Dan says. "Certainly, a Cold War influence can be felt in these pages, especially early on when it seems all but impossible to tell who is an enemy and who is not."

Simon Brown concludes his Keys of Power trilogy with Sovereign, Daniel notes, "and I have to say it is one of the most intense, absorbing fantasy series I have ever read, evolving from an entertaining but seemingly pedestrian fantasy adventure about an exiled prince into a shockingly dark tale that left me wondering up through the very last page just how things could possibly turn out in the end. ... I only wish this series could have been expanded to some degree."

Gordon Van Gelder collects some of the best from Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine for In Lands That Never Were: Tales of Swords & Sorcery. "This collection combines famous authors with new voices, the hack-and-slash of Conan with the mysticism of magic," says Valerie Frankel. "Some stories mock the cliches and subvert them, while others invented the traditional styles decades before. This is a strong, well thought-out collection with the best of action and sorcery."

Rich Shapero tackles drugs and the Alaskan wilderness in his novel Wild Animus. "The book is supposed to deal with the issue of how far he should go or if it is possible to go too far in pursuit of enlightenment," George Schaefer says. "The lack of character development makes it hard to really be all that concerned either way. The characters were more interesting before they left Seattle to take on the wild. It is hard to really grasp the tragedy of this maddened pursuit."

Nelson DeMille explores the explosion of TWA Flight 800 in his audio-novel Night Fall. "By this time, we have probably decided what the truth is and won't be swayed by someone else's argument," says Wil Owen. "Still, Night Fall is definitely an entertaining look at what might have happened. ... For those conspiracy theorists types out there, this book will be right up your alley."

Chet Williamson revels in the re-release of The Complete Crumb Comics, Vol. 5, which recalls his younger days "in all their profane, obscene, sexist, politically incorrect and utterly delightful glory." If you're curious about the golden age of underground comics," Chet says, "I can think of no better place to start than this volume. ... You'll find explicit violence, explicit sex, a positive view of drug use and ever so much more. You may gasp, you may laugh, you may be very offended, but this is the stuff that I grew up on. I loved it then, and I love it still."

Michael Vance has a whimsical reaction to Flaming Carrot: Man of Mystery. "For the uninitiated, Flaming Carrot Comics is about, well, this guy in a six-foot-long carrot mask who, er, uh, well, heehee, gosh, he's K-RAZY MAN!! ... Yep, there is no one like Flaming Carrot."

Daniel Jolley takes a look at The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- not the glossy remake currently on the big screen, but the 1982 version filmed on a shoe-string budget. "You have to love the campy, cheap feel to the whole production because it really seems to fit Douglas Adams so well," Dan says. "As a young teenager accidentally discovering this series on PBS, its effect on me was significant, opening up a whole new world of science fiction and comedy before my very eyes. I doubt that the series can have such a profound effect on anyone in today's more modern world, and I fear that many will see the cheap special effects and dismiss the show out of hand."

Tune in next week for Tom Knapp's review of the new Hollywood version.

Daniel also pays a visit to The Amityville Horror -- the 1979 version, that is. "Certainly, this movie deserves a place in the collection of all horror lovers, but it is far from epitomizing the best of the genre," he says. "I am sure it proved much scarier for original audiences back in 1979 than it does for we blood-and-gore inured veterans of such macabre moviemaking today, especially since an air of 'truth' surrounded the events back then."

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

30 April 2005

We could stand a little more wide-eyed innocence in the world.
- Charles de Lint

Thunder boomers on the way, I'm told. Cool!

Samantha Robichaud lives up to the title of her fourth CD, Vivacious. Although primarily known for her Celtic fiddling, "the lively, high-energy tunes that fill the CD traverse a variety of styles, from the Latin-inflected 'Espagnol' to the straight-forward 'Three Men on a White Horse,'" Celeste Miller notes. "No doubt, we will be hearing more from this multi-talented musician in the future."

Jock Tamson's Bairns retired in 1983, returned in 1995 and, this year, released another new album, aptly titled Rare. "The wait is worth it," says Nicky Rossiter. "Again we get a mixture of top-class instrumentals combined with some beautiful songs."

The Joel Rafael Band pays tribute to an essential American songwriter on Woodyboye: Songs of Woody Guthrie (And Tales Worth Telling), Volume II. "Rafael, otherwise a folk-based singer-songwriter (a vocation Guthrie virtually invented), sensibly seeks out mostly little-known pieces you are unlikely to have encountered elsewhere," Jerome Clark says. "These are all first-rate songs. Possessed of a warm and rich voice, Rafael delivers them in a charmingly straightforward manner."

Mac MacLeod shares a lifetime's experience in The Incredible Musical Odyssey of the Original Hurdy Gurdy Man. "Who is Mac MacLeod? This 20-track anthology answers that question and a few more mysteries of the 1960s music scene," says new Rambles.NET writer Andrew Morris. "This eclectic collection has something for everyone, not to mention an important piece of the musical jigsaw that defined that period in time."

Paul Iwancio shares his Open Heart Stories on this, his first full-length CD. Carole McDonnell says the selection "will either turn off the cynic or make the idealist feel she has found music that speaks to her soul -- idealism and heartfelt stories about free spirits who have been wounded by life, love or society. ... Listeners of this album will have to decide what to do with these honest slices of the musician's heart."

Lisa Hindmarsh, Ernie Hawkins and Rodan Weikert provide the vocals on Moonlit River: Songs by Fred Moolten. "The lyrics, all written by Moolten, are original, poetic and touching; happy or sorrowful, they each have a certain poignancy which makes them memorable," says Jenny Ivor. "This is a lovely CD, and tempts the listener to hear more from all the featured talents."

Crooked Still will Hop High with this debut release of bluegrass chops. "One of the joys of a new group is the new outlook and new angle on the music," says Nicky Rossiter. "Crooked Still is a group to note and to watch out for. They have a wonderful youthful vitality that will bring new life to old tunes but always with respect for the tradition."

Kristian Blak chose his environment carefully for Klaemint, another in his series of CDs celebrating Scandinavian jazz. "An elementally strange piece, Klaemint borders on a novelty item because the whole thing was recorded in cave or grotto in the Faroe Islands, and it takes some time to become accustomed to it," Virginia MacIsaac says. "Those interested in the environmental aspect, the natural history feature and in listening to some truly innovative sounds will probably find this recording quite amazing."

Ensemble Mzetamze presents the traditional songs of Georgian women in Vol. II of its music. "Georgia (the former Soviet Republic located in the Caucusus) is known for a style of singing, often polyphony, that is among the most exotic of folk musics available to us today," David Cox explains. "This is an in-depth exploration of a country's music -- not only for folklorists but for all music lovers who wish to have their ears opened."

Tom Knapp takes yet another look at Celtic Colours 2004 with his review of The Hills are Alive, a memorable performance in Ingonish, Cape Breton, by James Keelaghan, Daniel Lapp and Buddy MacDonald.

Tommy Emmanuel gets instructional with Fingerstyle Guitar Method. "The book and CD give a good look at the Tommy Emmanuel style and sound," says Virginia MacIsaac. "Good exercises and several useful demonstrations are a big part of the package."

Geoffrey Perret delves into historical detail in Lincoln's War: The Untold Story of America's Greatest President as Commander in Chief. "Lincoln's War is a great read," says Benet Exton. "It is a very lively history of one of America's most beloved presidents and how he functioned as commander-in-chief, even to the point of exploring uncharted waters in his post. Lincoln set an example for his successors."

Carol Birch celebrates a baseball hero with her audiobook, Lou Gehrig: The Story of a Great Man. "Depending upon your perspective, Carol Birch's Lou Gehrig would be a decent acquisition if you are a fan of old baseball legends, a lover of good storytelling regardless of the subject, or a little kid," Wil Owen explains. "Those knowledgeable with baseball will surely forgive Carol as she explains baseball terms like RBI and Triple Crown. She has a wide audience and has to make sure she can connect with all of them. I think she can."

Joyce Meyer goes In Pursuit of Peace with her new audiobook. "In short, my opinion is that In Pursuit of Peace will predominantly appeal to a niche market -- Christians and those seeking the Christian god," Wil says. "However, for those of you who like good advice, regardless where it comes from, and can take from it what you will while filtering out what does not pertain to you, this book might be useful. Joyce has already helped me find a little peace."

Lisa Smedman takes The Apparition Trail to 1880s Canada, where surviving native tribes are calling on supernatural forces to defend their lands. The book is Smedman's first novel, Sarah Meador notes, "and it has a few beginner's stumbles. ... But such first-time jitters soon fade, and while The Apparition Trail may not be the greatest novel Smedman will ever write, it is a good, clean story, told with a friendly eye for character and steady pacing that lingers and hurries in almost all the right places."

Curt Benjamin concludes his thrilling Seven Brothers trilogy with The Gates of Heaven, Daniel Jolley reports. "It may sound like typical fantasy fare, with a young slave who is really a prince leading a struggle to reclaim the kingdom of his father, but the setting makes this book and this series something special," Daniel says. "Benjamin has created such a rich and exotic world that the reader hates to bid it goodbye."

Catherine Fisher tracks a Snow-walker "in a glorious three-part adventure," Valerie Frankel proclaims. "Each adventure combines action with dazzling sorcery, creating an original frozen world from the classic elements of Celtic and especially Norse folklore."

Mary Harvey pages through Creatures of the Night, featuring two stories written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Michael Zulli. "Gaiman has a gift for making the ordinary fantastic," says Mary. "Gaiman's charm as a storyteller lies in the delivery as much as the content." Also, she adds, "The book is worth having for Zulli's illustrations alone." Kudos, Mary, for Rambles.NET review #50!

Tom Knapp digs into Nightwing's past in the DC collection Ties That Bind. "Nightwing, like Batman, is at his best as an urban vigilante and detective," Tom observes. "Globetrotting stories that set him against despots in other countries don't work nearly so well, and the links that a modern racial purging have to the old Grayson murder is stretching things too far. Much better is a subplot involving a beautiful young socialite, a kidnapping gone badly and an abusive, alcoholic father -- but this storyline gets too little ink."

Miles O'Dometer passes time with Liam, an Irish Catholic boy growing up in Protestant English Liverpool in 1930. "Liam is a small film that says great things, and its last image is guaranteed to make a lasting impression," Miles says. "It's the anti-blockbuster, a most worthy antidote for cinema buffs suffering from those summer-film blues."

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

23 April 2005

If enough people think of a thing
and work hard enough at it,
I guess it's pretty nearly bound to happen,
wind and weather permitting.
- Laura Ingalls Wilder

Who has time to chat? There's plants to be planting! (You want specifics? Well, this week there's forsythia, a butterfly bush, creeping phlox, sunflowers, poppies, black-eyed susans and a lovely new rose bush.) So, brush that dirt off your hands, enjoy today's collection of reviews and then git back out into that garden!

The roots of fiddle music are laid bare on Raw Fiddle, a collection of 49 reissued songs and tunes taken from old 78s and chosen by the respected ethnodiscographer Dick Spottswood. "Unless you grew up in a culture where these particular styles of fiddling and singing were a part of your life (or you happen to be an ethnomusicologist), you will be hearing something you've had little to no exposure to before," says Jerome Clark. "If you're like me, you'll be making a point to hear more. There are lots of good old-time reissues on the market, but none quite like this one."

Jed Marum is Miles from Home with his latest CD release. "One of the joys of a new Jed Marum album is the surprise twists and turns that his stories take," says Nicky Rossiter. "This is another gem of storytelling, beautiful music and a real feeling for history."

Elliott Smith is remembered with the posthumous release of From a Basement on the Hill. "For the most part, From a Basement on the Hill is a dark, brooding work, full of raw emotion and deceptively cheerful melodies," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "This isn't an album that will lift a listener's spirits. Instead, it's a glimpse into the troubled soul of a gifted musician, a last look at the transcendent art that can be built from the depths of despair."

Sheri Kling will Let It Unfold through her music. Jenny Ivor calls it "a wonderful album brimming full of insightful experiences, love, caring and sharing, and the words enrich the tunes as the music enlivens the lyrics. ... Her voice is rich and velvety, pleasant to listen to, and she balances the ballads and the rolling foot-tapping numbers."

Jeffrey Foucault is Stripping Cane for fans of Americana. "When it comes to up-and-coming artists who combine folk and blues, Jeffrey Foucault is about as good as it gets," says Dave Townsend. "Foucault is quickly establishing himself as an artist to pay attention to, with very impressive songwriting that include good melodies and beautiful lyrics that tell great stories. Combined with great guitar playing, that makes this an exceptionally good CD."

Billy Jones is a Prime Suspect for the Blues, and his debut album boasts "classy, chill-out, down and dirty new blues with a hint of jazz-funk and a taste of soul," Jenny Ivor says. "Jones sets a whole new standard for modern blues."

Burrito Deluxe is a band, not a lunch-time order, but they're serving up The Whole Enchilada just the same. "Most of the 13 songs on this album are love songs, and many have stories to tell -- stories about relationships, money, the road, death and, of course, love," says Carole McDonnell. "The narrators of these stories usually have a positive, optimistic view -- which certainly won me over. I'm not really patient with the whinier kind of country music."

Cecilio Rodriguez has a Sweet Surprise for fans of "treacly romantic songs," Jerome Clark warns. "If your tastes run in that direction, as opposed to away as fast as they can run, maybe you'll like this. Otherwise, it'll sound like a Hawaiian variant of the annoying soft rock you hear burbling in the background while you're looking over the produce at the supermarket."

Kaitlin Hahn shares a memorable experience -- a Natalie MacMaster concert -- with all of us lucky readers. Join them in Milwaukee for a wonderful time!

Fiona Johnson and her band may GiveWay, but they won't give up! Tom Knapp interviewed the talented Scottish fiddler and eldest of the Johnson sisters in the Green Room at the Celtic Colours festival in Cape Breton; now he shares the story with you.

John Bierhorst dips into the treasury of Latin American Folktales -- but Sarah Meador thinks he should have focused more on Latin America and less on Latin American adaptations of European lore. "Faced with a sadly underexplored body of folklore and myth, Bierhorst chooses to fill the main part of his book with translated fairy tales and reworked Old World hearth stories," Sarah says. "The small collection of rare Latin American folktales here only makes it clear how much more depth the genre possesses. Latin America's answer to the Grimm Brothers still awaits creation."

Zecharia Sitchin leads a personal tour of places important to his theories in The Earth Chronicles Expeditions: Journeys to the Mythical Past. "This particular book is primarily aimed at Sitchin's true believers and biggest fans, which makes the narrative somewhat problematic for those unfamiliar with Sitchin's work," Dan Jolley observes. "Having argued the merits of his radical ideas in previous books, he tends to treat his theories as facts here -- and, while some of the discoveries he made on the research tours discussed here shaped his original thinking, on occasion he seemed to go looking for things that would support conclusions he had already drawn."

Alice McGill provides the text, Chris K. Soentpiet supplies the illustrations for Molly Bannaky, the tale of a free-spirited 17th-century woman who embodied gender and racial equality long before those terms were fashionable. "McGill's narrative is simple, straightforward and easy for young ears to understand," Tom Knapp says. "Her interpretation of the true story is stripped of many details, yet it provides readers with good insights into the life and times of Molly Bannaky. ... But this book is a good example where it seems that the artist's name should be given top billing over the writer's."

L.A. Banks continues to chronicle the adventures of vampire huntress Damali Richards in The Awakening. "Banks has created an alternate world with potential, and her African-American heroine can stand toe-to-toe with Buffy, Blake, Blade or any number of modern vampire nemeses," Tom Knapp says. "But her story needs more action, less exposition and a big bad foe who's a little less of a pushover."

S.L. Viehl initiates a Bio Rescue in this new SF novel. "But there's nothing new here," Sarah Meador complains. "Bio Rescue offers nothing fresh to the longtime reader, no shock or feeling that Viehl is stretching her writer's muscles. ... With several books under her belt, Viehl should have the confidence to strike out for new waters. This is a comfortable revisit to an old friend's home, not an adventure."

Seth Kantner's Ordinary Wolves "is a moving tale I was reluctant to see end," John Lindermuth says. "Kantner is Alaska born and bred and his personal experiences show his understanding of this land and its people. I look forward to reading more from him."

Jonathan and Faye Kellerman expose a Double Homicide in this audiobook, but Wil Owen isn't too impressed. "I should point out that I am unsure if one story was written by Jonathan and the other by Faye or if they truly collaborated on them both. Either way, I don't think it really matters," he says. "After listening to Double Homicide, I have no desire to seek out their prior releases."

Sarah Meador offers high praise for Akiko, Vol. 4: The Story Tree, by Mark Crilley. "The Story Tree is an excellent starting point for new readers to the Akiko story," she says. "Free of ongoing plots and lengthy backstory entanglements, it offers Crilley's wonderfully strange characters a chance to romp about the alien world of Earth while sharing tales of adventure from worlds far away in space and scientific theory."

Jen Kopf offers high praise for The Incredibles. "It's all Pixar at its best, with its usual mix of jaw-dropping animation and a quirky look at tiny details," Jen says. "Plus, The Incredibles boasts some of the most imaginative action sequences in recent movies, with more than a nod to James Bond and the Pink Panther-esque scores of Henry Mancini."

Miles O'Dometer grapples with issues surrounding a modern young Virgin and a question of immaculate conception. "Unfortunately, as in many indies, fascinating concepts and inspired performances often get undone by unavoidable shortcomings," he says. "The film's low, low budget and 21-day shooting schedule take their toll."

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

16 April 2005

The most wasted of all days
is one without laughter.
- E.E. Cummings

The Rambles.NET main office has undergone a piscatorial makeover! Let us introduce you to our fishy friends.

First, in the partitioned betta tank on the editor's desk, we have red Alexander and blue Ozymandius. Alas, the noble snail Caesar has gone the way of, well, Caesar. Beware the ides of April! Mere inches away, in the red tank formerly a domain for mollies, we now have the black swordtail Nero, the orange platy Julius and the snail Antony; Augustus and Cleo have passed on to the great fishbowl in the sky.

And, lastly, in our newly forested aquarium, we say a big hello to goldfish Hawkeye, Honeycutt, Trapper and Houlihan, snails Felix and Oscar, and Archie, our algae eater. (The latter was nearly dubbed W; he's a bottom-feeder, after all.)

The lot of them are still outweighed and outtoothed by our staff dog, the aged but frisky Morgan, and our staff cats, Puck and Marlowe.

Now that you've met the house mascots, it's time for today's pack of reviews. Enjoy!

Jules Bitter leads us in a Druid Dance with this "uplifting album celebrating the Celtic music tradition," Andy Jurgis says. "Sit back and let the Celtic spirit inspire you!"

Stan Rogers surely would have proven to be Canada's greatest folksinger, had he survived past his 33rd year, David Cox suggests. "Produced shortly after Rogers's 1983 death, From Fresh Water was his strongest album from both a thematic and a songwriting perspective since his classic debut, Fogarty's Cove," David says. "Rogers' fans sometimes neglect this album, with its now-dated arrangements, but its seven or eight strongest tracks stand with his best work, well worth hearing."

Juliana Hatfield follows up her recent best-of collection and various side projects with her latest studio offering, In Exile Deo. The album, says William Kates, "provides more evidence that Hatfield is one of our finest songwriters, clearly on par with Aimee Mann, Elvis Costello and the like. Combine the pop craftsmanship of the songs with Hatfield's appealing vocals and her consummate skill as a guitarist, and you have a triple-threat artist who is highly regarded by way too small a circle of fans. If there's any justice, this record should help change that."

Tangle Eye puts a new spin on some old material with Alan Lomax's Southern Journey Remixed. "Their choice of source material is a challenge in itself, since few people have ever heard Alan Lomax's Southern Journey recordings and called for improvement," says Sarah Meador. "But with love for the source material and the tradition behind it, old and new make some fantastic music together."

David Jacobs-Strain has an Ocean or a Teardrop to offer on this disc of new blues. "Ocean or a Teardrop leaves no doubt that this young man is a talent to watch or, as on this disc, to listen to for its better moments," says Jerome Clark. "One hopes that next time Jacobs-Strain doesn't sound as if he's trying much harder than he needs to."

Carol McComb supplies a Little Bit of Heaven with this country-folk offering. "The musicianship on the album is crisp and the tunes are entertaining," Jean Lewis says. "The lyrics are pretty much standard fare for the type, not overly cliched, but not overly original either. Still, it's an enjoyable album that's well-produced and easy to listen to."

Raj Rangayan pays homage to romance -- with a definite Indian slant -- on Listen, Honey ... A Melodious Love Story. "The overall feeling is one of peace," says Sarah Meador. "Listen, Honey captures an easy, natural love, the sort of everyday miracle event usually ignored by the arts."

The Makapuu Sand Band unleashes the Winds of Waimanalo on this disc, which was originally released as an LP in 1978 and is back as a new CD from Cord. "It is easy to tell why the Makapuu Sand Band's Winds of Waimanal would be re-released," says Paul de Bruijn. "The songs on this CD are enjoyable and there is a wide range in content, with songs sung in both English and Hawaiian. There may not always be flow from song to song, but the music keeps going and whirls you along."

You'll get a two-disc compilation of 34 songs from 28 countries on World 2004. "The musical styles range from Latin American to African to Middle Eastern to European," Wil Owen explains. "Most have a modern sound, but the styles range from pop to reggae to flamenco to jazz, blues and beyond. Many of the tracks blend various styles in a fusion of sounds from multiple continents."

Adolf Goriup takes us to another crackin' good show, this time to see Brid Ni Mhaoileoin at the KIFF in Aarau, Switzerland. "This was the first time I saw Brid Ni Mhaoileoin live on stage, and I was captivated by her performance," he says. "She is a highly talented singer who will certainly make her mark in the traditional music scene."

Mick Hanly begs you to Wish Me Well in this accounting of his musical career. "Hanly was born midway through the 20th century and his story as told here is a social history of the second half of the century," says Nicky Rossiter. "Therefore, his story of short trousers, the Christian Brothers, the scholarships to secondary school and the discovery of 'Love Me Do' by the Beatles will resonate with many in all parts of Ireland."

Ladislau G. Hajos takes on a family legacy with Search for Love: A Biography of the Famous Hungarian Artist Gyorgy Ruzicskay. "Writing this short book was clearly a labour of love," says Andy Jurgis. "Unfortunately, the book's quality suffers from not being written by a professional author."

Bill Sloan recalls those who were Given Up for Dead on Wake Island, where fewer than 1,000 U.S. Marines and civilian contractors faced Japanese forces shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. "With powerful prose and words from the men who served there (and even a few from the invaders), Sloan tells us the story of these men and what they went through," says Dave Roy. "The book is riveting, relatively easy to read and quite thorough."

Umberto Eco discourses On Literature in this collection of 18 essays. "These 18 essays cover a broad range of literary interests. Some are culled from speeches he gave at various conferences," says George Schaefer. "He covers writers who influenced him and deals with his own writing techniques. Much of the interest in this book will lie in how much a reader is already familiar with literature."

Kim Stanley Robinson touches on global warming in the SF drama Forty Signs of Rain. "Forty Signs of Rain succeeds because it's a novel about intriguing people," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "Robinson balances the fact that these particular people are working passionately to rescue the planet from ecological collapse with a focus on the day-to-day concerns of their private lives. He breathes life into the issues by anchoring them to complex, multi-layered characters."

Loren L. Coleman continues the Mechwarrior: Dark Age series (a.k.a. Battletech) with Blood of the Isle. "Coleman is the preeminent writer in the Battletech universe," says Daniel Jolley. "Not only does he give fans what they want -- plenty of rip-roaring BattleMech action out on the killing fields -- he also ties the story he is telling into the big picture."

Billie Letts strives to Shoot the Moon with this audiobook murder-mystery. Narrator Lou Diamond Phillips "does a superb job of switching accents, genders, ethnicity and age as he speaks for at least a dozen characters over the course of six hours," says Wil Owen. "In fact, I would have to say that after Rene Auberjonois, Lou is perhaps one of the best audiobook readers I've come across (and I listen to a lot of audiobooks)."

Mark Allen recommends Bo Hampton's adaptation of Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. "Hampton's mastery of his craft lends him the enviable ability to render some of the most emotive characters ever enjoyed in comics, while bringing them all together in a richly-illustrated world that goes from beautiful to unpleasant, and downright monstrous, as needed," Mark says.

Jen Kopf explains How to Draw a Bunny in this documentary about artist Ray Johnson's life and death. "Johnson, for all his mystery, never separated art from life," Jen explains. "He considered his entire life -- and his suicide, several friends say -- as the ultimate performance piece." Woohoo, Jen, that's review #150!

Miles O'Dometer bats a few innings with Mr. 3000, starring Bernie Mac as fictional heavy hitter Stan Ross and his bid for the Baseball Hall of Fame. "Mr. 3,000 ends up exactly -- or almost exactly -- where you would expect it to," Miles says. "Good stuff, yes. Hall of Fame, no."

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

9 April 2005

The birds I heard today, which, fortunately, did not come within the scope
of my science, sang as freshly as if it had been the first morning of creation.
- Henry David Thoreau

Ii'm enjoying the wonders of spring (and a new perspective from my front porch). Isn't that enough of a reason to smile?

Denya LeVine is "Cape Cod's foremost Irish fiddler," John Cross says. Need proof? Check out Shadow of a Rose, he says, noting LeVine is "equally at home playing jigs and reels or good old hippie songs with political themes. Throw in a few klezmer melodies and you've got a CD that's somewhat of a chowder, fit for a cold night on the outermost tip of the Cape."

June Star sings of a Sugarbird on this friendly new release. "All of the songs, even the 'OK' ones, are very accessible and affable," says C. Nathan Coyle. "One reason for this could be the common themes of all the songs -- love and loss -- to which anyone can relate."

Doug Mitchell is willing to Count the Stars for some good country music. "Count the Stars is a solid CD and a pleasant listen," says Paul de Bruijn. "It quietly builds on itself, track upon track, and the songs flow well from one to the next."

The Superstitions delivers the blues on their new release, Leave All Blades & Pistols at the Door. "This is a very enjoyable disc," opines George Schaefer. "The trio has good chemistry with each other, and they convey the blues in an authentic manner that still manages to maintain its freshness. This is well worthwhile for fans of the blues to seek out."

Mahmoud Fadl puts out "an infectious collection of festive Arab-African music" with The Drummers of the Nile in Town: CairoSonic," says Carool Kersten. "Mahmoud's music merges the dual influences of his ancestral Nubia and adopted domicile," he explains. "It also betrays the distinct character of the peasant music of the 'Sa'id' or Upper Egypt, which borders on his homeland."

Joseba Tapia revisits a period of history with Agur Intxorta Maite (Basque Songs from the Spanish Civil War). "Tapia is a multi-talented and prolific Basque artist. Not only is he a brilliant self-taught accordion player but he can sing a bit, too," says David Cox. "But what I like best about Tapia, who turns up so often in the music of the Basque country, is his ability to take a great project idea and put it to music."

The World of Gypsies, Vol. III focuses on Gypsy swing, "and it demonstrates the wide range of variety that can be found within this specific niche of the music world," Karen Elkins explains. "This is the best sampler of such variety that I have found in the Gypsy realm."

Walt Disney sets a high level of expectations with Superstar Hits: The Ultimate Collection of Movie Hits. "The thing about this album is that it's far from the 'ultimate collection' of songs from Disney's movies," says C. Nathan Coyle. "Instead of focusing on quality songs, it seems like Disney is focusing on the performers of these songs -- the 'superstar' instead of the song."

Adolf Goriup visited the Rathus Schuur in Baar, Switzerland, to take in a gig with the Battlefield Band. Adolf calls it a "brilliant" show and supplies the details. Check it out!

Ben Latimer joins the staff with this review of Scottish blues sensation KT Tunstall. For a peek into the big doings in Manchester, England, last month, be sure to read Ben's observations!

John Robert Brown provides A Concise History of Jazz. "Brown knows his stuff," says Ron Bierman. "All of the elements were in place for an interesting and educational book -- but Brown has attempted to be concise without leaving anything out. While the result is at times useful and intriguing, it's unlikely to appeal to a general audience."

Phyllis Strupp tackles a spiritual life with The Richest of Fare: Seeking Spiritual Security in the Sonoran Desert. "Strupp undoubtedly succeeds in explaining why the desert has been a place of inspiration for many great religious leaders," says Dave Howell. However, he notes, "this is not a work of theology. Strupp gives the reader photographs and written observations of nature instead of religious arguments."

William F. Nolan celebrates 50 years of writing with the release of Wild Galaxy: Selected Science Fiction Stories. "In the introduction to Wild Galaxy, Nolan describes his fiction as falling into two categories, 'serious and far out,'" says Gregg Thurlbeck. "But there's another way of bisecting this collection: stories that have something to say, and shallow entertainments in which Nolan seemingly makes up the rules as he goes along."

David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer celebrate SF with Year's Best SF 9. "Of the 20 stories included in David Hartwell's and Kathryn Cramer's ninth annual celebration of science fiction, only four also pop up in Gardner Dozois's The Year's Best Science Fiction: 21st Annual Collection," Gregg discovers. "And while the Dozois book is, in my estimation, the better of the two anthologies, the 16 unduplicated stories in Year's Best SF 9 make this book well worth the cover price. In fact, any true fan of science fiction will want to experience the broader picture of SF in 2003 that one gets by reading both books."

Dee Sullivan didn't make a fan of Tracie Vida with her novel Deadly Behavior. "Sullivan delivers a dud with this poorly plotted, thinly conceptualized and insultingly ridiculous book," Tracie says. "I have nothing against religious novels, but they are not to everyone's taste. Then again, neither are books with hideous characterization, ludicrous plots and embarrassing cliches."

William Wise entertains the children with Christopher Mouse: The Tale of a Small Traveler. "Read this book aloud to children and talk about it," Jean Marchand urges. "Talk about the storyline, the characters, the illustrations by Patrick Benson and the wonderful vocabulary William Wise uses in the book."

Walter Mosley takes us back to the Los Angeles race riots of 1965 in Little Scarlet, a murder-mystery now out on audiobook. "Mosley has another great book," says Wil Owen. "With (narrator) Michael Boatman's help, you too will experience the feelings of fear, hate and loathing that accompanied this turbulent time in history. The story may be a work of fiction, but you will feel like this could very easily be a true bit of Los Angeles' past."

Mark Allen swings with the Batman on his Gotham Adventures. "Don't let the 'Kids WB' logo fool you; what we have here is Batman at his finest," Mark says. "There's a lot to be said for a style that can attract children and adults alike."

Today, the Rambles.NET cineplex is showing a pair of classics that deserve another look. Grab some popcorn and enjoy the flicks!

Jen Kopf revisits The Philadelphia Story, filmed in 1940 and newly released on DVD this year. "It's a classic George Cukor film filled with great comic timing and a storyline that's indivisible from its time and, yet, thoroughly applicable and entertaining today," Jen remarks. "It's one of Cukor's greatest, and that's saying a lot."

Ben Latimer is back with a review of Easy Rider. "Championed by many as the most influential film ever funded by a Hollywood studio, Easy Rider is indeed a landmark movie and is often cited as the statement of a generation," Ben says. "It has the feel of a documentary that hits a little too close to home and one of the all-time most disturbing finales."

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

2 April 2005

Most people can't think,
most of the remainder won't think,
the small fraction who do think
mostly can't do it very well.
- Robert Heinlein

It is with great sadness that we read of the passing of Sean Maguire, a true giant among giants in the Irish fiddling world. The 77-year-old master will be sorely missed. Tom Knapp recalls seeing Maguire (often spelled "McGuire") perform solo and with Maritimes master fiddler Buddy MacMaster at Fiddlers' Heaven during his first visit to the Celtic Colours festival in Cape Breton in 2000. He also remembers how Maguire, still unrecognized the previous night while on his first visit backstage at the Festival Club that year, blew away members of the extraordinary ensemble Blazin' Fiddles, who at Fiddlers' Heaven the next day yielded headliner status to Maguire, whom they acknowledged as the superior player. Cheers, Sean!

Will Noble and John Cocking relax with a few songs and a few pints on Yon Green Banks. "Having listened to a fair amount of English folk music over the years, I was pleased to learn that for all that has passed through my ears, these would be fresh to my hearing," Jerome Clark exclaims. "The jolly erotic ballad "Lish Young Buy-A-Broom" is familiar from the revival recordings by Clannad and Tim Hart & Maddy Prior, but that's about it; most of the rest weren't even names to me before I played the CD -- to which, I might add, I have returned frequently and happily since that initial venture."

Roger McGuinn travels through time for this Limited Edition. "If you've ever wondered what it would sound like if the Byrds at the height of their powers had recorded the Beatles, look no further," says William Kates. "Similar to the Byrds' Bob Dylan interpretations, this Beatles cover is definitive. Unfortunately, the first track is so good that despite the overall quality of this album, the rest of the tracks suffer somewhat by comparison."

The Rusticators are Talking with the Dead on their latest CD release. "The sound of the Rusticators is an eclectic combination of many genres from pop to traditional, but the result can best be described as 'great,'" says Nicky Rossiter. "The lyrics are well written and on most tracks are messages to anyone living in the modern world."

Julie Collings presents "acoustic music at its most effective" on her self-titled debut EP, says Jo Overfield. "Here is a musician who relies on the strength of her gentle vocals and the incredible way she plays her guitar."

Charlie Robison shares the Good Times of an alt.country nature. "This CD, which I put on with minimal expectations, proved to be a pleasant surprise," says Jerome Clark. "Good Times is a solid, intelligent excursion into mostly, though not entirely, cliche-free Texas alt.country. It's the sort of material that feels but doesn't particularly sound like either traditional or modern country, yet isn't exactly rock or folk either. All of these influences seem seamlessly woven together to create something new." Woohoo, it's Jerome's 50th review for Rambles.NET!!

The varied musicians of the Silver Wave label join forces for Many Blessings: A Native American Celebration. "Many Blessings, a compilation of songs by Native American musicians, is a wonderful introduction to classic chants and to traditionally influenced modern Native American songs," Carole McDonnell explains.

Ken Emerson shares some Hawaiian Tangos, Hulas & Blues with his new CD. "One song, 'Moonshadows on Coconut Grove,' celebrates the hotel where Elvis sang 'The Hawaiian Wedding Song' in the film Blue Hawaii," Dave Howell reveals. "Songs like that killed many people's desire to hear more of the islands' music. Now with Ken Emerson and his friends, it is time to return."

Boris Grebenshikov is a Russian Songwriter. "Grebenshikov has recorded 70 or so CDs since his days as an underground rock star with his band Aquarium," says Dave. "He may be Russia's best-known singer, and has also achieved fame as a poet. With such a career, no one CD can completely introduce him to Western audiences."

Shafqat Ali Khan has Sufi Songs to share from his South Asian tradition. "Sufi Songs leaves the listener with an excellent impression of the musical caliber of Shafqat Ali Khan," Carool Kersten relates. "Not only is this Pakistani singer a superb vocalist, but he can also rightly claim the quality of being an artistic pioneer -- not afraid to explore the possibilities of blending various music traditions together."

Tom Schulte takes a peek at Cool Summer, Vol. 3, a DVD featuring the work of vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and singer Flora Purim.

Adolf Goriup invites us to join him for a performance by Otto Lechner at the Moods in Zurich, Switzerland. "If you listen to Otto Lechner's music you will forget all you've heard about accordion music before," Adolf says. "His music is innovative, amazingly witty and full of surprises."

Also today, Debbie Koritsas goes back to Celtic Connections for her third day's impressions of the event. "And that's my Celtic Connections Festival over for another year," she concludes. "Back down to earth after some ridiculously late nights, good craic and truly excellent and inspiring music!"

L.A. Banks launches a new vampire series with Minion, a book that owes some undeniable traits to a certain blond vampire slayer who once chased fiends across my TV screen. "Despite all the similarities, Minion manages to create a distinct vampire mythos in the first book of Banks' Vampire Huntress series of tales," says vampire enthusiast Tom Knapp. "Banks has unquestionably hooked my interest -- let's face it, I like Buffy -- so I'll be back to see where the story takes us from here."

Elizabeth A. Lynn unlocks a Dragon's Treasure, a novel Robert Tilendis says "displays her growing virtuosity as a writer and is, like her other novels, poetic, understated and tough. ... Lynn has a distinct talent for sketching in details in such a way as to paint a vivid picture with the most frugal means."

Marion Zimmer Bradley plots To Save a World in this new omnibus edition of two early novels and a short story from her Darkover canon. "In Darkover, Bradley created a world that gives a lot of room for arguing political and social philosophy, from race relations through sexuality to environmental issues and the horrors of war (which she quite often links together)," says Robert. "The two novels included in this omnibus are solidly situated in the canon, and for those who might not be familiar with the series, could serve as a good introduction to a fascinating universe."

Kristen Heitzmann writes in The Still of Night, and produces a "gripping novel ... (that) had me hooked from the first paragraph," Jenny Ivor says. "I thoroughly enjoyed this story, harrowing though it is in places, and it was interesting for this devotee of myth and magic to read about the mystical and magical aspects of Christianity. While the core theme of the book is faith, the author is not heavy-handed with it, and her writing is skilled and emotive, the story is neither too fantastical, morbid nor overly romantic and anyone who enjoys a good, multi-layered plot will surely enjoy this novel."

Teleri Bevan describes her Years on Air in this autobiographical account of "her struggles and those of the Welsh BBC for national autonomy and respect. ... It's the story of struggle for respect, for women in the workforce, for Wales as a nation."

Superman gets a British makeover in True Brit, an Elseworlds tale employing the talents of (among others) John Cleese and John Byrne. "There's an effective message at the heart of this outwardly quiet and decent comedy," says Mary Harvey. "Rich in sentiment and a loyalty to an England before Rupert Murdoch got his hands in its press, this 'what-if' -- which runs a bit long in some spots -- nonetheless sparkles with old-school wit and quite decent plot twists."

Jen Kopf enjoys the "off-kilter humor of Will Ferrell" in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. "If you're offended by innuendo, 1970s-style macho humor, potty jokes and free use of the male anatomy as a descriptive device, then Anchorman should stay on the shelf," she says. "But if you're happy to hear that all those traits above are not only the core of Anchorman, but are used more inventively than usual, then loosen the buttons on your wide-lapeled leisure suit and head back to a time when TV news anchors all were men, scotch was the drink of choice and ambitious women didn't have a glass ceiling -- they were simply locked out of the station altogether."

Miles O'Dometer tosses some pigskin under the Friday Night Lights. "Friday Night Lights has its moments, and it raises serious questions in a way few sports films do," he says. "But does it add up to a Radio or Remember the Titans? Sadly, the lights go out too soon."

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