3 September 2005 to 29 October 2005

29 October 2005

Listen to them, the children of the night.
What music they make!
- Bram Stoker

Boo! Boo!! Booooooo!

Scared yet? Well, it's time for celebrating Halloweeen, Samhain and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), depending on your geography and inclination, and all three have elements of fright incorporated into their traditions. A big example here would be ghosts, and if you have any interest in the supernatural, check out our collection of books about ghosts and hauntings -- there are some fun and creepy things that deserve your attention! There is also a wide array of scary books and movies in our special Halloween directory!

Of course, most of the materials reviewed today aren't scary at all....

The music on Strange Coincidences in Specialty Tea Trading is habit forming, Nicky Rossiter says. "This CD will change your life. It will haunt you," he says. "It will send you out to the shops and the Internet. It will make you crave more of each of the artists showcased here and, with 17 tracks, that's a lot of craving."

Lisa Cameron finds herself at the End of Blue. "A treat for country-folk fans, End of Blue is the result of a chance meeting with multi-talented Canadian singer-songwriter J.P. Cormier," John Lindermuth explains. "Cameron has a beautiful dulcet voice backed up by accomplished guitar work."

John L. Handcox presents Songs, Poems & Stories of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union with this newly released collection. "The man's charisma certainly shines forth in his singing and speaking," Jerome Clark says. "Mark Allan Jackson puts this all together in loving fashion, preserving a record of one man's heroic involvement in the eternal struggle -- albeit one nearly comatose at this sorry moment in our national story -- for a just and decent society."

Jamie Anderson offers A Promise of Light with this new folk recording. "Anderson's voice is strong, yet gentle, and she uses it magnificently to express a wide range of emotions," Jean Price says. "She needs these vocal skills considering the emotional ground she covers in her songs. The arrangements are thoughtfully done and accentuate the tone of the lyrics. The album has a subtle spirituality about it, but it is calming and just enough to make one pause and think. Her lyrics are evocative and well written, adding to the pleasure of the album."

Roger Matura proves to be a bit of a Time Traveller on this new release from Ozella. "Relying on his own multi-instrumental performance and the assistance of several talented musicians, he sets out to tell of emotional encounters, the power of the past and the joys of the world behind a person's own eyes," Sarah Meador explains. "The theatrical moments, the unified peaceful whole of the album, create a bright still space in the mind, a space that begs to be filled with the story not quite provided. The gentle pressure of the music pushes away distractions with clear notes and summons up focus with the lure of its own forward progression."

Craig Dillingham feels like it's Almost Yesterday -- but that's not a bad thing. "Dillingham may not have made me a classic country convert, but he has convinced me that there are reasons folks enjoy this style of music," Wil Owen says. "His singing is perfect for this style."

James Talley is out for a Journey through America -- or Americana, rather. "Talley's songs have been recorded by a list that reads like a 'who's who' of great Americana music. He has had his share of hits with his own releases and now we get to hear a compilation of his magical musical offerings in a live setting over a couple of concerts in 2002," Nicky Rossiter says. "This is great album that gives us a variety of moods and insights while always entertaining."

Dan Treanor and Frankie Lee move with an African Wind. The blues tracks on offer are "powerful, driving and energetic," Carole McDonnell says. "These are the kind of songs that makes one want to pull off one's shoes and dance around the house."

Hiroshima "is, by far, my favorite jazz group, so if this review seems a little biased, you are wrong. It is very biased," Wil Owen admits. Still, he's got a lot to say about the band's latest release, Obon. "This is the band's 13th recording and, as usual, contains a wonderful blend of Eastern tradition within a Western genre."

Stephen Warbeck provides the music for the film Two Brothers. "It is a joy to the ear -- but I wonder just who such soundtrack releases are aimed at," Nicky Rossiter says.

Celtic Colours continues with Raising the Roof, a Boisdale, Cape Breton, concert featuring Joel Chiasson, Liz Doherty, Nuala Kennedy, Howie MacDonald, Dinny McLaughlin and Brian O'hEadra. The performance, Tom Knapp explains, was a bilingual experience for both the performers and the crowd.

Troy MacGillivray is one of three talented MacGillivray siblings who made frequent, memorable appearances on various Celtic Colours stages. Having previously interviewed fiddler Kendra and dancer Sabra, Tom sat down this time with Troy, who continually wows audiences on both fiddle and keyboards.

Andy Jurgis had the good fortune to attend Solfest in Cumbria, England, and he has good words for the music he experienced there. "I have every confidence Solfest will be able to retain its special charm and musical quality as it undoubtedly grows and develops in the future," he says.

Risa Duff checks in with her report of a performance by Sons & Daughters, Mother & the Addicts and The Alpha Western in Manchester, England. (The delay in posting this summer review should be blamed on the editor, not the writer; Risa was very timely with her exposition!)

Edmund S. Morgan takes a look at the early days of America in The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89. "Originally published in 1956 and revised in 1977, this book is probably familiar to a couple of generations of college students. This may well be the most accessible overview of the formative history of America," Daniel Jolley says. "This book is ideal for anyone just wanting to learn or review the pivotal events surrounding the creation of the United States without having to sift through scholarly criticisms and debates of important yet secondary aspects of the story."

Elizabeth Spires tackles the classics in I Am Arachne: Fifteen Greek & Roman Myths. "Spires' characterizations of these well-known archetypes are always on the mark," Stephen Richmond says. "I Am Arachne is entertaining and painlessly edifying."

Parke Godwin continues the Arthurian saga beyond Arthur's death in Beloved Exile, which focuses on the widowed queen. "Godwin's Guinevere is no shrinking violet, nor is she inclined to retire to a life of religious devotion (as so many Guineveres are prone to do)," Tom Knapp says. "She is every inch regal, strong, intelligent and resourceful, proud and ambitious in her own right, never afraid to bully those around her at need -- or even to cause the deaths of those who have wronged her."

Robert Buettner's first novel, Orphanage, "certainly deserves many of the accolades it has garnered," Daniel Jolley says. "The novel doesn't have the complex socio-political subtext of a Starship Troopers, but it does serve up one heck of a good military science fiction adventure."

Jerry R. Travis begins his new Alcamean Sword Scrolls series with Tales of the Dark Continent. The novel, Daniel reports, "is a surprisingly enjoyable fantasy novel boasting a number of truly engaging characters, a complex entanglement of conspiracies, plenty of gripping fight scenes, fabulous natural beasts, a wonderful mix of humor, drama and romance, and just a hint of magic."

Mark Misercola "gets almost everything about the comic industry wrong" in his novel, Death to the Centurion, Sarah Meador laments. "For all the problems here, Misercola's authorial instincts aren't entirely incorrect. There is enough drama and comedy in the comics industry to fill a decent novel. Until someone writes one, check out your local comic shop for a dose of the real thing."

Stephen Richmond isn't afraid of a Scary Godmother -- at least not when Jill Thompson handles the pens! "The story is hilariously witty, adequately outright funny for the youngsters, but more than sufficiently jovial for the eldsters," he says. "And parents -- NO, it is not TOO SCARY for your wee ones!"

The DC Universe was turned on its head with Identity Crisis. "This hardcover graphic novel compiles the seven issues of this subtly universe-changing miniseries, which explores with nerve-wracking rigor the paradox of superheroic secret identities," Stephen explains. "If you have a fondness for superheroes or have ever given the genre any thought at all, this is fine, thoughtful and scary reading."

Daniel Jolley quite enjoyed The Haunting. "I am a horror fan and a Shirley Jackson fan, so I am not judging this movie in an intellectual vacuum," he says. "While this movie is not really scary and does not reflect the much richer storyline of Jackson's original novel, it nonetheless strikes me as a surprisingly good, enjoyable movie, head and shoulders above most other films in the horror/suspense genre."

Next, Daniel goes for a stroll on a Night of the Living Dead. "It manages to create an atmosphere of rising fear while, at the same time, serving as a veritable study in the psychology of terror," he says. "It also has the perfect amount of humor that makes horror all the more enjoyable to me, and the truly classic ending of the film ranks among my favorite endings of all time."

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.)

22 October 2005

Before I begin speaking, there is something I would like to say.
- Saul Gorn

The realities of the world are intruding on my post-Celtic Colours bliss! And I'm still very tired. I think perhaps a little nap is in order. Of course, I've already read all of the reviews in this week's edition, so you go ahead and peruse the new offerings while I trundle off to bed....

Henry Marten's Ghost is High on Spirits with this recent release. "There are more polished Irish folk albums on the market," says Sarah Meador. "There are technically better singers, and perhaps even better musicians. But it would take a great deal of roving indeed to find a group or an album with more energy or more memorable character. Henry Martin's Ghost is good company, whose haunting conversation will keep you High on Spirits many a night."

The Browne Sisters & George Cavanaugh are Ready for the Storm. "The Browne Sisters & George Cavanaugh may be from California, but their music is decidedly from across the eastern pond," Wil Owen says. "It doesn't matter if they are performing a traditional tune or doing their rendition of a more recent cover, Celtic influence is all over the piece. Ready for the Storm blends traditional and Celtic rock seamlessly."

Dale Rasmussen rides a Raven's Wing with "a wonderful seductive voice that is so well suited to his compositions," Nicky Rossiter says. "Each track on this album draws us deeper into the world of the writer and his thoughts. He is living proof that a song delivered in a simple, straightforward style can be every bit as epic as the many over-produced hits of the modern scene."

Billi & Patti explain the meanings of Love & Other Four Letter Words. "This is acoustic folk-rock with various influences from Billi & Patti, a duo with great talent," Nicky says. "Influences ranging from Dolly Parton to Jimi Hendrix are cited on the publicity, and this comes through on tracks that have a wonderful humanity and fellowship."

Ann-Marita is an independent singer-songwriter from Norway who produced her self-titled country-rock recording in Australia. "She demonstrates that folks who enjoy country music ought to look beyond the borders of the United States once in a while," Wil Owen reports. "I reckon you'll agree this is some mighty fine singin'."

Chas is working his blue harmonica to full effect on his debut self-titled CD. "This CD is great," Jean Price says. "The album flows along with mellow singing, edgy harmonies, stylish rhythm and vibrant horns. Although few tracks stand out, it is not due to a lack of quality, but more to an abundance."

Amethystium is a new-age band often compared to Delerium, Enigma, Deep Forest, Mythos and others, Wil Owen explains. "With the ability to transport listeners elsewhere, I might be remiss for not warning people to refrain from listening to Amethystium's third CD, Evermind, in the car. The music has the ability to draw you in such a way that you pay little attention to what else is going on around you."

Ladysmith Black Mambazo teams up with the English Chamber Orchestra for No Boundaries. "As different as African and European music are, the album proves that the two types of music can blend into a synergy that wakes up the senses and satisfies the spirit," says Barbara Spring. "It is a blessing."

Celtic Colours 2005 is over! But, while members of the Rambles.NET staff mourn the international festival's passing for another year, it's also time to celebrate the beginning of our coverage of the phenomenal Cape Breton event. Tom Knapp, one of several staff members at the festival this year, begins coverage with his report on the Whycocomagh Gathering, an event featuring the talents of folksinger David Francey, Nova Scotia musicians Kendra MacGillivray, Sabra MacGillivray and Troy MacGillivray, and the Quebecois band Le Vent du Nord.

While surrounded by so much musical talent, we can't help but take the opportunity to sit down and chat with the musicians who make it all possible. Hence our "green room" series of interviews, a Celtic Colours tradition dating back to 2002. First up this year is an amazing Irish flute player and Gaelic singer, Nuala Kennedy, who wowed the crowds all week at this year's festival.

Check back each week for more from this exciting event!

Winnie Czulinski gets into the heart of the matter in Drone On: The High History of Celtic Music. "This is a weird, wild, wonderful read," Nicky Rossiter says. "It is full of wonderous facts, but it also makes us wonder how many of the comic asides are true and how many false."

Nicholas Christopher showcases his art in Crossing the Equator: New & Selected Poems 1972-2004. "The selections in the book reflect the times in which the poet has tasted life in all its rich strangeness," says Barbara Spring. "Reading the book is like stepping into a phantasmagoria. Fresh, vivid images surprise and sometimes astonish."

N.K. Sandars brought an ancient tale to a modern audience with her rendition of The Epic of Gilgamesh. "Composed 1,500 years before Homer's epics, the story is one that modern readers can readily understand and appreciate," Daniel Jolley says. "Sandars does a remarkable job of putting the epic in its proper historical and literary perspective. ... Sandars' modern, narrative translation transforms the historically important epic into an eminently readable, quite enjoyable story."

Loren E. Pedersen describes a real world of violence in his book, The Soul Grows in Darkness. "Although these are the memoirs of Dr. Pedersen, readers will feel like it could have been a rite-of-passage for their own story," Risa Duff relates. "Each person will take something from Pedersen's life that he or she can identify with and utilize."

John Scalzi leads an Old Man's War in a science fiction novel about a second shot at life -- as a soldier in space. "The hero is likeable and his responsibilities grow more challenging as his courage and quick thinking catch the attention of senior officers," Ron Bierman says. "The novel comes to a satisfying conclusion, but there are more aliens to fight and an unusual love story that's barely off the ground. Plenty of room for a sequel, and I'll be one of those ready to buy."

Gordon van Gelder has culled top stories about the Red Planet for Fourth Planet from the Sun: Tales of Mars from the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. "Van Gelder arranges his collection with an eye towards that lasting balance," Sarah Meador says. "Whether Fourth Planet from the Sun is your first exposure to the stories within or an overdue visit to old favorites, it's a trip not to be missed."

Denise Little ponders the realities of The Magic Shop in this anthology of short stories. "There are 17 stories, most told from the point of view of the frequenters rather than the owners of magic shops, and mostly fairly predictable in a caveat emptor kind of a way," Jean Lewis says. "However, for the most part this collection is more mundane than magical, and the stories aren't especially memorable."

Clive Barker shows his imagination with Abarat. "As wild as it is, it is just as vivid -- and that is what makes Barker such a remarkable writer and illustrator," says Daniel Jolley. "Abarat is a wonderful story, but it is Barker's illustrations that really make it something special."

Billie Sue Mosiman takes her vampire tale further in Malachi's Moon. "I enjoyed this novel much more than its predecessor; the hows and whys (illogical as some of them may be) of vampire existence have already been explained, leaving more time for action and suspense," says Dan. "Malachi's Moon is a truly entertaining and enjoyable novel, a vampire tale featuring more than a few dashes of originality. Mosiman particularly excels in the creation and continuous development of unique and memorable characters."

Alice Hoffman relies on a Green Angel in this novel that, Stephen Richmond explains, "has appeal far beyond the angstful teen readers for whom it was likely written. ... This book is a sensual delight, a sweet and succulent literary morsel, a simple and lovely reading pleasure."

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have teamed up yet again with actor Rene Auberjonois for Brimstone, an audionovel featuring FBI Special Agent Pendergast. "As with all his prior cases, Pendergast will follow a trail you might not expect in his chase to find the killer," Wil Owen reveals. "My only question is, why hasn't this series been transformed into movies yet?"

Tom Knapp sets his sights on 1951, when a daily institution began appearing in America's funny pages. Fantagraphics is bringing it all back for everyone with Hank Ketcham's Complete Dennis the Menace, 1951-1952. "Fantagraphics has done a remarkable job with this book," Tom says. "It might not be wise to invite Dennis into your home, but The Complete Dennis the Menace deserves a place on your bookshelf."

Stephen Richmond shares a tale of Storybook Love with this, the third volume of Bill Willingham's Fables. "What a fun, rollicking romp through archetypes and the collective unconsciousness this is!" Stephen says. "This is simply just some of the best comics reading around, but as others have mentioned elsewhere, this isn't Disney and these aren't the sweet and sticky fairy story characters the unwitting might suspect."

Daniel Jolley settles in for adventure with Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. "I really don't know what else you could ask for in a summer box-office action film," he says. "Cradle of Life takes all of the components of the first film and improves upon them by leaps and bounds, goes out of its way to present stunts the viewer hasn't seen countless times before, adds depth to its main character, and features Angelina Jolie in all her glory."

Jack Myers relives his youth with The Omega Man. "Oh sure, years later I would learn all the reasons I was not supposed to like this movie," he says. On the other hand, he adds, "this movie was made before special effects, monster budgets and short attention spans had gutted Hollywood of its zest for life."

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.)

8 October 2005

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

You say hello, and we say goodbye! No, not for long, and certainly not forever -- but this week marks the beginning of Celtic Colours, and several members of the Rambles.NET staff are converging on Cape Breton to feast on fine music and amazing hospitality for the coming week. There won't be an update on Oct. 15, sadly, but we'll be back the following week with another big'n!

Michael McGoldrick blows the socks off Debbie Koritsas with the release of Wired. "McGoldrick is striding out confidently with Wired, yet there's no sign of a cocky, complacent swagger -- beneath his technical wizardry lies a deep understanding and respect for, and a seemingly insatiable desire to bring new sounds to, the Celtic tradition," Debbie says. "The results are astonishing -- this is essential listening."

The Cottars are, despite their youth, On Fire. "You have to hear this CD to believe that the four people featured have a combined age younger than many of our revered performers," Nicky Rossiter says. "Alongside wonderful vocal abilities the Cottars display serious musical ability as well as the confidence and nerve to experiment. This is never at the expense of the music."

Claire Mann and Aaron Jones reveal their Secret Orders on this debut CD. "Claire is a highly talented and well-established fiddle and flute player, sought after as a performer as well as a traditional music tutor. Aaron has earned a great reputation as a 10-string bouzouki player, guitarist and bass player," Adolf Goriup explains. "Both are very good singers as well, and their playing together is simply perfect."

Freeland Barbour prepares for Winter's Journey. Debbie Koritsas calls the new recording "an ambient collection of tunes composed by Barbour, exquisitely and consummately played on a Bosendorfer 275 Concert Grand piano. It's an immeasurably relaxing recording, a million miles away from the lively, rousing music of his band career."

Bob Michel invites us along to The Oysterman's Ball. "Michel is an old-fashioned storyteller. He's also a poet, singer, songwriter and musician," John Lindermuth says. "That combination of talents makes his new CD ... a jewel for those of us who like what began back in the 1960s and became defined as roots music."

Slaid Cleaves, a folk singer who transplanted himself from Maine to Texas, is back again with Wishbones. "Like Bruce Springsteen in his folksinger guise, Cleaves' songs tend to be mid-tempo, sung in a quietly intimate voice," Jerome Clark says. "Cleaves is smart and likable, a modest sort who writes decent, earnest songs set to spare, threadbare melodies."

Jane Eamon admits to being from A Different Place with this new CD. "Eamon has an enchanting voice -- emotive, powerful, melodic, with a savory depth lingering at the edge of every word," Sarah Meador says. "Eamon knows her way around her instruments, too. Harmonica or guitar, she matches their voices to her own, blending them for a sound deeply human and more than mortal."

Beth Wood, a folksinger from Texas, "combines her roots with her training to produce a superb collection of songs and performances on Marigolds," Nicky Rossiter says. "Over the course of 13 tracks, Wood will bring you through many conditions of modern life, but the emphasis is more on celebration."

James Apollo grabs you immediately with the intimacy of Good Grief. "Good Grief is haunting and edgy and a breath of fresh air from the sonorous falsetto that seems to be dominating the charts now from certain male singer-songwriters," Risa Duff reports. "Don't expect it to be a comfortable CD, though. Life is not comfortable and neither is James Apollo. This is a gem." As a bonus, Risa also chatted with Apollo about his work.

Janiva Magness rocks out to the blues on Bury Him at the Crossroads. "I found much to laud and little to criticize in this album," says John Lindermuth. "It's all good music. But, it would be less good without Janiva." (Through a filing error, this CD was previously reviewed by Jerome Clark; now you can enjoy both reviews to see how their opinions compare and contrast!)

Andy Cummings brings the Big Island to the fore on Andy Cummings & His Hawaiian Serenaders, a new retrospective on the Wandering Troubador's music. "His repertoire alternated between, and sometimes fused, indigenous and pop styles, which he fashioned into a seamless whole," Jerome Clark says. "The band's clean, swooping harmonies create little sonic universes of their own. As with the best Hawaiian music, the sounds are intoxicatingly romantic and intensely emotional, evoking erotic desire and love of landscape as if they were one and the same."

Rob Grainer's soundtrack to the film The Omega Man still captivates new reviewer Jack Myers more than a quarter-century after its release! "When you can pick every instrument out of an orchestra, it can be a very exhilarating experience and your enjoyment grows tenfold," Jack says. "That skill will be richly rewarded by this soundtrack's retro-modern feel, cocktail-hour swanky sound, combined with baroque melodies and a recurrent them of the medieval that permeates the whole thing, even its solidly modern moments."

Debbie Koritsas spent an unforgettable evening in Glasgow with Karen Matheson (best known as the voice of Capercaillie) and the Scottish Ensemble. Check out Debbie's review of the concert to see what made it such a memorable experience!

Meanwhile, Kaitlin Hahn continues her coverage of Milwaukee's far-famed Irish Fest. Day 3, she notes, began with a 5K run....

Finally for today, Risa Duff takes us along to the Audley End House for a performance by Jamie Cullum and Nerina Pallot. "Jamie Cullum is confusing," Risa begins. Read her review to learn why!

Oh, don't forget, our comprehensive coverage of Celtic Colours begins soon. Don't miss it!

Jilali el Koudia preserves the oral traditions of Morocco in the aptly titled Moroccan Folk Tales. "He mourns the passing of an oral tradition that's being taken over by TV and film, and so he's recorded these stories for posterity -- or at least for those of us who can't sit in the halqa at a Marrakesh marketplace and hear them firsthand," says Jean Lewis. "As I read, I wished I knew more about other traditions. I wanted to see where there were overlaps, where we had common interests."

Frederick Allen spotlights a grim period in American history in A Decent Orderly Lynching: The Montana Vigilantes. "Allen brings to life the mining camps of gold-rush Montana, recreating all aspects of society there on the remote frontier," says Daniel Jolley. "He offers penetrating assessments of the men at the heart of this story, those on both sides of the hanging rope, drawing a sharp distinction between the early, honorable activities of brave men determined to establish order in their lawless region and the excesses of those who continued to pursue vigilante justice after Montana's new territorial government had been established. Through it all, he maintains an objective air, making his own judgments based on the evidence in hand -- and his research efforts were impressive, to say the least."

Brian James Shanley details his views on the Muslim mindset in Manhattan Massacre. "This book is not politically correct," Benet Exton warns. "Shanley argues that the news media and the secular world are blinding people to the truth about Islam. He says secular and Christian leaders should not make peace with Muslims because they are not trustworthy."

Alma Alexander writes an "elegant, dreamlike epic set in a China-inspired fantasy world," Sarah Meador says, in The Secrets of Jin-Shei. "A deeply female, deeply human story, it covers the life of evil sorcerers, the rise and fall of dynasties, natural disasters, wars from within and without, always through a focus on the nine women who choose to be bound to each other through the voluntary sisterhood of Jin-Shei."

Donna Jo Napoli is hardly Bound by convention in this retelling of the Cinderella tale set in Ming dynasty China. "There are no magic wands or pumpkin coaches, and happily ever after happens only in, well, fairy tales," says Jennifer Mo, who joins us for the first time today. "Bound is no longer quite a romance, in either form or content, but it is a deeply thoughtful retelling that reads as though a slipper were finally returning to its proper owner; that this was the way it really happened."

Maxine McArthur delves into a Japanese murder-mystery -- with robots, no less -- in Less Than Human. "The near-future Japanese setting is interesting; since I tend to read fantasy, the break from pseudo-medieval European settings was refreshing," Laurie Thayer says. "Though the outcome of the novel was slightly predictable, it was nevertheless an exciting, enjoyable story."

Lee Denning springs a Monkey Trap in this first of three novels. "The plot is potentially a good one," Ron Bierman says. "Unfortunately, writing mechanics get in the way. Plot tensions aren't maintained as well as they might be. The main twist, which is related to the 'trap' of the title, isn't a big surprise when it finally arrives."

Bernard Cornwell travels more than 4,000 years back in time for Stonehenge: 2000 B.C.. "Cornwell includes a lot of creative pagan mythology here and the influence of such scholars as Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung can readily be discerned in his writing," says Stephen Richmond. "But don't be misled; this is still an action-packed page-turner as are all of Cornwell's books."

Malcolm Archibald has Whales for the Wizard in the shipping-intensive town of Dundee, Scotland, in 1860. "Although deaths and other misdeeds aplenty are involved in this winner of the 2005 Dundee Book Prize, the author cannot seem to decide if he's writing a thriller, a psychodrama, a Dickensian good-will-out/romance or what exactly," says new Rambles.NET reviewer Gary Cramer. "To the extent that this keeps readers jaded by the predictability offered by all too much of today's genre fiction interested in turning the pages, all the better. But to the extent that the resolution fails to satisfyingly close the plot threads strung out from too much dabbling in too many genres, all the worse."

Regis Schilken's new mystery novel, The Oculi Incident, "has a little bit of everything: missing persons, multiple murders, mental disorders, miracles, extortion, deception and devils," Gregg Winkler says. "With such a buffet of excitement, why does this book leave me with such an unsatisfied appetite?"

Robert A. Heinlein's The Past Through Tomorrow collects the author's complete Future History series. "The Past Through Tomorrow serves as a wonderfully useful map to the writing of Robert Heinlein," Daniel Jolley says. "Not only does it contain the most important of his early short stories, it also sets the stage and provides the background material for Heinlein's later novels featuring the likes of the remarkable Lazarus Long."

George Pelecanos is visiting Drama City for his latest audionovel. "I have to admit that I had the same issue with this book as I have had with Pelecanos' prior work," Wil Owen says. "It starts out awful slow. I was listening to the third of five CDs before the book engaged my attention. If you have that kind of patience, and the end justifies the journey, then you might actually enjoy this one."

Jill Thompson picks up and runs with a pair of characters from Neil Gaiman's acclaimed Sandman series in The Dead Boy Detectives. "While it's a manga-style story through and through, it's still very readable and enjoyable, and shouldn't present any problems for American readers at all," says Mary Harvey. "The characters are drawn in wide-eyed, wide-mouthed glory, and the puns and wisecracks so endemic to manga stories are scattered like comic landmines throughout the terrain of a very lighthearted, yet entertaining story. Underneath the sarcasm and the jokes is a fairly absorbing mystery, and underneath that, of course, is the usual biting observation of popular culture."

Sarah Meador enjoys the latest work from Kiyohiko Azuma, titled Yotsuba&! Vol. 1. "The first volume follows Yotsuba's adventures with moving, rain, manners, cicadas and everything she can uncover along the way," Sarah says. "But describing what Yotsuba is about is as effective as saying Winnie the Pooh is about a boy and his stuffed animals. Yostuba's world is one of soft curves and open smiles, drawn with a light, inviting touch."

Daniel Jolley's opinion is right on time, even though it's for 28 Days Later. "I had heard good things about 28 Days Later, so I expected to enjoy a thrilling movie experience," he says. "What I discovered was a movie with a lot of problems."

Dan says Outbreak "is one of the best, most absorbing, most impressive films I've seen in a long, long time. It is based on a threat more frightening than nuclear war, stars some of the best actors and actresses Hollywood has to offer, features tons of heart-pumping, exhilarating action and falls squarely in the category of 'blew me away.'"

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.)

1 October 2005

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces,
I would still plant my apple tree.
- Martin Luther

Brian Roebuck sings A Song for Luke and remembers Luke Kelly, the pivotal Dubliners singer. "Sadly, Kelly died at the height of his popularity and probably years before he reached the peak of his performance," Nicky Rossiter says. "From this inspiration we get an excellent album of songs associated with Luke Kelly, sung with an obvious love of the man and the music."

There's a lot of Irish talent on offer at the Ruby Sessions, Nicky says. "It is one of those albums that will appeal to many people but may be difficult to find," he says. "These performers need to be heard and it is up to true music lovers to seek them out."

Fire in the Glen is ready to Let the Wind Blow High with this new release. "It's a fine collection of mainly Irish tunes and songs reinterpreted for the duo format," says Debbie Koritsas. "If you love your music to give you that live, spontaneous sound, yet remain very faithful to the tradition, this one is for you!"

NeidFyre (a.k.a. Melissa "Gryphon" Ginsberg) takes us back to the Renaissance on Duck Feet Waddling. Tom Knapp worries that a singer posing as a band might disappoint some listeners, but nonetheless admires the singer's vocals. "Ginsberg has a powerful voice, which she displays to great effect on songs that will certainly be very familiar to anyone who has ever stepped inside the gates of any of the many Renaissance fairs dotting the country," he says.

Redbird is what happens when Kris Delmhorst, Jeffrey Foucault and Peter Mulvey team up to play in a hotel, and Redbird is what happens when they get into a studio -- or, in this case, a living room with a microphone. "It's easy to compare this collaboration to the Cry Cry Cry CD with Richard Shindell, Lucy Kaplansky and Dar Williams, as another example of the enjoyable result of when three talented musicians get together and record some of their favorite songs," Dave Townsend says. "Redbird is a great product of three people who share a love of Americana music along with being good musicians and songwriters, and that makes Redbird a very good CD."

Kate McDonnell knows Where the Mangoes Are. "One of her unique talents is her self-taught guitar playing, which is strung for a right-handed player -- but she plays left-handed, upside down and backwards," Dave notes. "McDonnell is a fine example of an artist who is both a very good musician with a beautiful voice, and a very talented songwriter who writes good melodies and intelligent lyrics that you want to pay attention to."

The Allman Brothers Band is playing Live at the Beacon Theatre, and Gilbert Head was there via DVD. "After all these years, it remains true that nobody does what the Allman Brothers Band does nearly as well," he says, "and that is reason enough to add this selection to their canon."

Ann Rabson is In a Family Way for some "classic female blues," Carole McDonnell announces. "Many of the lyrics are not only quite singable but so succinct one could easily lift them from the song."

Stan Swiniarski visits Mexico for this "optimistic album, cheerful in lyrics and tune," Sarah Meador relates. "Mexico is devoted to doing what country does best, telling the story of everyday moments with sincerity that makes them something more."

Erik Pekkari's Gubbstot "is an international album that proves the universality of good tunes," Nicky Rossiter says. "There is something magical about the tunes and performances here. It will transport you to those Scandinavian long houses where couples in beautifully embroidered finery danced gracefully on cold winter nights."

Bruno Coulais supplies the music for The Chorus (Les Choristes). "The orchestral elements on Les Choristes leap out on the ear with all the spiritual force of a Gregorian chant," Carole McDonnell remarks. "Add the gorgeously celestial voices and the sound is almost retro-nostalgic in its musical depiction of goodness and purity. It is all so sweet and poetic."

Celtic Colours is only a few weeks away! With that in mind, let's cap off our coverage of last year's event with a review of the opening gala, which Erika Rabideau was lucky enough to attend. "There was an air of excitement...," she begins.

Norma Lorre Goodrich sets out to uncover The Holy Grail, but Daniel Jolley thinks she missed her mark. "Goodrich employs a writing style even more idiosyncratic and unwieldy than my own," he says. "Maybe an expert in mediaeval literature would find this book much more stimulating and relevant than I did."

Allen W. Trelease "makes a monumental effort to describe the Reconstruction-era Klan" with White Terror: The Ku Klux Klan Conspiracy & Southern Reconstruction, Daniel says. "This academic work is invaluable in that it is the best and only source of all major Klan activity from the end of the War for Southern Independence to the end of Radical Reconstruction. ... Sadly, Trelease fails to take advantage of his unique position, in which he could have written a scholarly, enlightening portrait of the many facets of Klan activities and Klan members."

David Gerrold toys with the short-story motif in Alternate Gerrolds. "He is one of those authors I was sure could never produce something less than excellent," Robert Tilendis says. "So, the stories are inventive, unexpected and well told, but I'm not at all sure that they should have appeared together in this collection."

Sarah Micklem begins a new fantasy trilogy with Firethorn. "High fantasy can often feel as though it is lost in the mists of the past," Laurie Thayer says. "Firethorn's crude language, however, gives it an earthy immediacy but also can make it difficult reading in this age of political correctness. This is an engrossing, powerful story, but not a comfortable one."

Carol Berg lost Robert with Guardians of the Keep, the second book in Berg's The Bridge of D'Arnath series. "After wading through this volume of the series, I have to say it suffers seriously from 'fat book' syndrome: a case of many more words than story," he explains. "I didn't find the style all that captivating, that I was willing to read page after page of misery and grit." Say hey, Robert, and congratulations on Rambles.NET review No. 50!

Wen Spencer's novel Dog Warrior is "both original and entertaining," Ron Bierman says. "She does it the old-fashioned way, with likeable characters, good writing and an attention to realistic detail that makes the reader more willing to accept the story's fantastic elements. Spencer's use of the latter technique had me thinking of Stephen King -- not too shabby a model for writers in the genre."

Joolz Denby exposes the murderer Billie Morgan in this "brilliantly paced morality tale set among the mean streets and even meaner housing estates of Bradford," new Rambles.NET writer Sean Walsh reveals. "Ultimately, Billie Morgan is as taut and as finely wrought as a Greek tragedy. Denby's Dickensian world, filled with a cast of perfectly drawn characters ... is the backdrop for a powerful, cautionary tale that unfolds with a delicious, sensitive mastery."

New Rambles.NET team member Stephen Richmond lingers In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe. "This work takes the graphic novel genre to greater heights," Stephen says. "This belongs in every public library collection for young adults and in any collection of American literary history."

John Kantz and Chris Reid instruct us How Not to Draw Manga. "Presented as a guidebook in comic style, How Not to Draw Manga covers the six types of characters every manga uses, the importance of clothing and the keys to accurate research, all with tongue firmly bitten off in cheek," Sarah Meador explains. "The image of a leather-clad hero fighting off zombies from the back of his flying whale deserves all the room it can grab."

Tom Knapp suffers the tortures of Hell to bring you this review of Constantine. "The movie tries to be mystical and oblique, but settles for muttered, hard-to-hear dialogue and murky, hard-to-see scenes," Tom complains. "Once again, Hollywood has sacrificed the strength of an existing story, discarding stacks of good material and using only the name to suck in the fans. In the end, Constantine has a couple of good special effects and an endless succession of letdowns."

Tom also goes The Whole Ten Yards, and finds it lacking. "The plot is fairly nonexistent, but revolves mostly around hostages, revenge and a whole lot of money in a bank account somewhere," he says. "Otherwise, there's some gunfights and chases and people hitting each other. For extra good measure, there's some flatulence and homosexual paranoia. Willis flashes his taut butt muscles. And there's Perry, falling down." Confused? Read the review! (For Tom, this was not a good week for movies!)

Daniel Jolley stumbles into a few Lost Souls and an incredible movie. "Anyone watching this film without at least some background in Antichrist theorizing may struggle a little bit early on," he says. "It is the plot and not special effects that drives this somber film, giving it a level of intelligence far above that found in many a sensationalist film on this fascinating topic. Lost Souls may not entertain you, but it will certainly engage your mind."

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.)

24 September 2005

When a man wants to murder a tiger, it's called sport;
when the tiger wants to murder him it's called ferocity.
- George Bernard Shaw

Alan Bell unleashes The Definitive Collection on the world. "Forty years of experience condensed into 16 tracks is a wonderful feat and a marvelous album," Nicky Rossiter says. "Bell is a consummate writer and performer whose love of not just music but of people and places comes across powerfully on this release."

Gavin Whelan bucks the trend with this self-titled CD. "In these days of very heavily, sometimes over-produced records and hordes of big-name guest appearances, it is great to see a traditional music player getting down to the roots," Nicky Rossiter says. "The tin whistle is a musical instrument that is all too often overlooked when we think of music. Yet it is an instrument that is relatively inexpensive and easily portable, and if you listen to Gavin Whelan you will realize it can be a magical item." (Be sure to read Andy Jurgis's review of this album last year, too!)

Terry Kitchen reminds us that That's How It Used to Be. "Kitchen is a lyric-oriented songwriter who chooses interesting subjects and explores them almost as a short-story writer would," says Joy McKay. "That's How It Used to Be offers valuable perspective on the struggles and triumphs of regular folk."

Clarelynn Rose makes it real on Meadow Run. "Can music make visualisations of nature?" Nicky Rossiter asks. "Based on this album, the answer is an emphatic yes. From the evocative titles, the beautiful CD packaging with its marvelous wildlife pictures to the tracks themselves, we are on a journey to the real land."

Bascom Lamar Lunsford was "the Minstrel of the Appalachians," Daniel Jolley recalls, and that's reason enough to give a spin to Ballads, Banjo Tunes & Sacred Songs of Western North Carolina. "This music is so pure and historically important, it seems a shame that Lunsford's entire 'memory collection' of tunes is not available in a box set," Dan says. "Lunsford recorded these songs so that they would never be forgotten, and I for one would love the chance to listen to every single recording Lunsford ever made."

Mark Elliott travels a back-country American Road. "There is a feeling of authenticity about the writing and delivery on these tracks," Nicky Rossiter says. "This is a collection of excellent songs that will be an asset to any record collection, and with a little luck and a lot of justice they should become much better known."

Paul Reddick shares "deeply personal stuff" on Villanelle, Carole McDonnell says. "Angsty lyrics of longing and restlessness abound. Those who love rural blues and who are willing to ride on Reddick's subdued stream of country-blues restlessness will have a good time listening to these songs, which -- although drenched in melancholy -- are nevertheless free from easy cliches."

Through the efforts of Indian ethno-musicologist Deben Bhattaracharya in 1978, we have The Sounds of the Western Sahara: Mauritania to enjoy now. "The music on this album reflects the cultural diversity of this region," says Carool Kersten. "The songs on this CD are rendered in the Hasaniya dialect of Arabic, the vernacular spoken by the tribes inhabiting this corner of the Sahara desert. But the compositions are mostly based on patterns derived from classical Arabic poetry."

Mychael Danna's soundtrack to Vanity Fair has Robert Tilendis wanting to see the movie. "Right up front, this music is a delight," he says. "I haven't seen the movie -- or even read the book -- but the score is captivating."

Kaitlin Hahn shares the second day events from Irish Fest '05 in Milwaukee, which featured the likes of the Liz Carroll, John Doyle, Frogwater, .357 Stringband and a really big spider. Check it out!

Kaitlin also had the chance to sit down and chat recently with Joanie Madden, co-founder of Cherish the Ladies. Find out what they've been up to in this new interview!

Mark Grimsley follows the Union Army in And Keep Moving On: The Virginia Campaign, May-June 1864. "Grimsley provides a look into this campaign from both Grant's and Lee's perspectives," Benet Exton informs. "Grimsley's book, part of the University of Nebraska Press series, Great Campaigns of the Civil War, is a good addition to any Civil War collection. It is well documented and well written."

A.S. Mott hides under the covers with a few good Scary Movies. The book, Tom Knapp says, "is a marvelous love note to the genre -- a delightful introduction to the frightening, gory and macabre on the big screen, a detailed analysis of the art form and its key players, and a premeditated stab at a body of work that has provided the world with more nightmares and thrillingly unpleasant sensations than any other."

Nancy Roberts presents Haunted Houses: Chilling Tales from 19 American Homes. "Few of these stories will make your blood run cold, and Roberts eloquently expresses her belief that many spirits return for reasons far removed from any violent circumstances of their deaths or thirsts for revenge," Daniel Jolley opines, "but there is a definite level of creepiness in some of the tales recorded in this impressive little book that will have you checking the shadows in the corners from time to time."

Kevin Guilfoile "brings out the dark side" in his first novel, Cast of Shadows, Ron Bierman explains. "It has all the right ingredients -- good writing, characters who are believably human and a plot that would work as a movie," Ron says. "Guilfoile's first published novel won't be his last."

Having reviewed the book, Ron was curious to learn more from the writer. Find out what makes Kevin Guilfoile tick in Ron's interview, casting shadows.

Lucius Shepard opens A Handbook of American Prayer with this dark, contemporary fantasy. "I admire Shepard's writing," Ron Bierman says. "Words are chosen with the care and originality Bach used on the notes of a fugue. ... With Shepard you could forget the characters and plot and read just for the pleasure of encountering unusual images."

Jim Butcher continues the Dresden Files with Blood Rites and Dead Beat, two volumes much to Robert Tilendis's liking. "Butcher has developed into a very, very good writer, and the series has grown up," Robert says. "Harry Dresden is a lovable character, and a real hero: he may not always be on top of things, but he's not an underdog, he's a powerful, if somewhat ingenuous, magician with enough vulnerability to make you want to take him home and feed him."

Nancy McKenzie pays her respects to The Child Queen in an Arthurian novel told from Guinevere's point of view. "The Child Queen is an engaging reimagination of the familiar tale," Tom Knapp says. "The development of their characters is rich, detailed and realistic, and they're a pleasure to know."

Stephen King returns to 'Salem's Lot in Daniel Jolley's look back on a classic. "If anyone out there has yet to read Stephen King, I would recommend reading this novel as your introduction to his work," Dan says. "The blood and gore is there, as it should be, but most of the horror is below the surface, always present and ready to spring out whenever King's imagination bids it to do so. It is a wonderful reading experience."

James Siegel takes a Detour for his latest audio-novel. "He likes to throw his audience off with curves you probably won't see coming," Wil Owen says. "There are a lot of disgusting scenes that really made me squeamish, but there were several spots that hit me emotionally. I had to keep reminding myself that this was a novel."

C. Nathan Coyle rides up on the Escalator with Brandon Graham. "An evening of spray-painting, sumo heroes, alien porn rings or views from a balcony -- these stories are snippets of life, ranging from our reality to surreality," Nathan says. "Graham does a great job with the short form."

Sarah Meador makes a stop in Akira Toriyama's Sandland. "Those who only know Toriyama's name from the Dragonball series may be surprised by the humor and subtlety of Sandland," she says. "There are a few fight scenes, with Toriyama's trademark energy blasts and superhuman fighters. But there's also a strong focus on the cost of conflict, and real victories gained by work and communication, not just dramatic combat."

Wanna read an in-depth analysis of the new film Pride & Prejudice? Well, Debbie Koritsas is your gal! "Director Joe Wright challenges every preconception with this stunning, stylish adaptation of Jane Austen's much-loved novel of manners," she says. "This is a beautiful adaptation of one of the loveliest novels ever written in the English language."

Crystal Kocher, a prodigal reviewer, returns to us with her thoughts on Meet Joe Black, which she likens in many ways to a classic film from Hollywood's heyday. "The set design is breathtaking to see and the actors are completely engaged in interacting with each other and not a green screen," she says. "The story itself follows a number of plots and leads to an ending that delivers on its promise rather than taking the easy way out."

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.)

17 September 2005

How unimportant we must seem to a tree.
- Morgan Llywelyn

I hope everyone is having a spendid, lovely day! Me, I gotta go hang a shelf and mow the lawn. (Snarl.)

Patricia Murray explores the Gaelic traditions of her homeland on Failt Eilein a' Phrionnsa (Welcome to Prince Edward Island). "It is just this sort of emotion, power and artistic dedication that will make the language thrive again and keep PEI's music moving into the forefront of Celtic tradition," Tom Knapp says.

Jim Tozier performs on a Celtic Guitar, and the tunes "show him to be a highly skilled acoustic guitar player," says Carole McDonnell. "Each stroke shows the sure and steady hand of a master."

Secret Garden puts a Dreamcatcher to good use as an introduction of its music to Asian audiences -- and, if you haven't heard them yet, the rest of the world, too. "Their mix of new age and classical sounds with more traditional Irish and Norwegian elements has proved popular all around the world," says Jean Price. "Despite its new-age categorization, Secret Garden's music has a bit more of an edge to it and is in no way bland or sterile."

Nicky Rossiter says The Time Has Come for folksinger Billy O'Dwyer to have a wider audience. "Although based in rural County Tipperary, Ireland, his vision is international," Nicky says. "In the 10 songs on this CD, O'Dwyer packs in more good music and thoughtful lyrics than many double albums. It may take a bit of effort to get, but make the effort; it will be well worth it."

Ilene Adar attempts to Quiet the Storm with a new collection of songs. "All of the songs aim high, seeking to make sense of the human condition from a personal yet universal perspective," says Joy McKay. "In general they succeed -- perhaps not because of technical perfection or stylishness but because of careful craftsmanship combined with uncommon honesty."

Chris Elliott is hitching his wagon to a Satellite UFO Jet Plane or Star. "In keeping with the CD's title, Elliott's lyrics are often quirky and provocative," Joy reveals. "He takes on big subjects without seeming to take himself too seriously, which makes the CD a refreshing listen."

Kate MacLeod & the Pancakes serve up a tasty Breakfast for folk music lovers. "MacLeod is one of those musicians so skilled her performance seems effortless," John Lindermuth says. "Breakfast is such a delightful mix of folk-rock and pop that I can hardly wait for Lunch to be served."

The Oriskany Strings play Mostly Gospel on this new, independent release. "When they say 'old-time,' they mean it," says C. Nathan Coyle. "Not only does their litany of musical instruments include two banjos (bluegrass and clawhammer), but they also have an autoharp and an honest-to-goodness washtub bass."

Tab Benoit has a Fever for the Bayou. "Benoit cooks up a spicy blend of the blues liberally flavored with the Cajun sounds of the Louisiana bayou," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "The result is hot, sweaty and loose."

Dave's True Story gets to the heart of jazz/pop with Nature. "Listening to Dave's True Story is a natural thing, like breathing," says Joy McKay. "The New York trio has a knack for smooth, instantly accessible melodies and snappy ideas: a pleasing blend of jazz and pop influences that's almost impossible not to like."

Pedro Luis Ferrer reinvents the music of Cuba on Rustico. "The 13 tracks in this rich and diverse assortment of original songs in Spanish, Pedro Luis Ferrer's native tongue, are a celebration of ethnicity, working class culture and revolutionary politics," Carole McDonnell says. "The songs sound wonderfully traditional and are enjoyable to the untrained Anglo ear. But those who understand the various strains that make up Cuban music will probably enjoy Ferrer's album better because they will see how wonderfully he reinvents his native music, even as he departs from it."

Augustina Poirier joins our staff today in a big way: a report on the Stan Rogers Festival, lovingly called "StanFest" by many, in Canso, Nova Scotia. "If 32 hours of music and song over a three-day time span is your escape fantasy, then the Stan Rogers Festival is the answer to your prayers," Augustina says. "Fashioned to honour the memory of a powerful singer-songwriter and to bolster the faltering economy of a coastal Nova Scotia town, the festival has been a success from the word go."

Celtic Colours draws ever nearer, and to help relax those beset with anticipation, we are offering several new write-ups from last year's event. (Last year's coverage of CC'04 is always available for your perusal right here.) Today, we have an evening of music and an afternoon of hooking to occupy your time!

First, Erika Rabideau provides a report from Songs of the Exiles, a performance in Albert Bridge featuring Dochas, Jeff MacDonald, the Mira Gaelic Choir, Christine Primrose and Brian O'hEadhra. "I knew this would be a night I'd remember for the rest of my life," Erika recalls.

Next, Katey Knapp recounts her afternoon with a gathering of hookers -- rug hookers, that is, who keep a Cape Breton tradition alive and well. Katey attended the festival's hooked rug workshop and learned how to hook with the best of them. "The craft is in fact addictive, and thankfully forgiving," she says.

Toby Mac and Michael Tait take a look at U.S. history through the veil of religion in Under God. The authors, Carole McDonnell opines, "have come up with an information-filled book that is conversational and academic -- and definitely faith-building. Many young college students will identify with the authors and Christian students will have a handy tool with which to challenge mocking professors who don't know the spiritual facts of American history. This book is highly recommended."

Sue Ellen Cooper is putting on airs with The Red Hat Society: Fun & Friendship After 50. "This official audiobook of the RHS describes the beginning of their 'disorganization' and how to join the fun. The idea is to let the little girl inside back out," Wil Owen says. "While I won't be joining the Red Hat Society -- even though there is no steadfast rule against males joining -- I found this book very amusing. Attitude has a lot to do with how people age."

Parke Godwin unleashes the Firelord in a brutally realistic exploration of Arthur's world. "Some elements of the familiar tale are presented here in the best light I've yet seen," Tom Knapp says. "Battle scenes are laden with tense details and elaborate strategies that place readers right in the midst of the action, lances couched and horses thundering over the field of combat."

Alton Gansky dives into a new mystery series with The Incumbent. "Whodunnit is not obvious unless you're paying very, very close attention -- and even then, you might be fooled by the red herring," Laurie Thayer reveals.

Anne Rice unearths The Queen of the Damned in this third volume of her The Vampire Chronicles. "Rice is to be commended for vastly expanding her vampire universe and having her characters deeply examine their lives and their purposes on Earth, but I just could not fully connect with this novel," says Daniel Jolley. "Still, it is an essential book for Rice fans, as it offers up loads of information about the vampires who roam the world of her creation and explains the very origins of vampirism itself."

Our Robert A. Heinlein retrospective continues with Waldo & Magic Inc.. "Here's something a little different from Heinlein: two extended stories from the early 1940s that incorporate significant helpings of fantasy," Daniel informs. However, he says, "both stories fall below Heinlein's normal standards."

Magnus Mills lauds The Restraint of Beasts in this deceptively simple novel. "Mills writes in simple English," says John Lindermuth. "Hemingway would applaud his stark and plain style. Yet, there are things going on just beneath the surface that will grasp your imagination and have this simple story haunting your mind for days after you read the last page."

This is not your father's Space Ghost ... nor is it the Cartoon Network's late-night lampoon of the character, either. "Be warned: there is nothing light or carefree about this Space Ghost at all," Mary Harvey reveals. "This re-imagining is as dark as it gets, and yet it succeeds beautifully."

Carole McDonnell takes a graphic look at a key historical figure in Abraham Lincoln: The Civil War President. The book, she says, "is a deftly written and cleanly drawn graphic novel that entertains and educates. ... This is a worthy effort that'll give kids a great introduction to the subject."

Daniel Jolley cuts a deal with The Merchant of Venice. "I really must read Shakespeare's play now because I do want to clear up, if I can, some of the ambiguities I am left with after watching the film," he says. "The central story surrounding Shylock, Antonio and the bond is very powerful, but those subplots and my difficulty understanding some of the often-whispered dialogue did impede my enjoyment of this particular film as a whole."

Daniel pays tribute to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as directed (and starring) Kenneth Branagh. "While it does take a few liberties with Shelley's classic novel, it does a wonderful job of capturing the essence of the original story, specifically the humanity of the creature," he says. "While a little over-the-top at times and surprisingly gory, this film forcefully echoes Shelley's philosophical, moral and ethical questions, and by so doing redefines the creature in its original image."

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.)

10 September 2005

How happy are the wild birds,
they can go where they will,
now to the sea, now to the mountain,
and come home without rebuke.
- 17th century Welsh epigram

Hello! Today marks the debut of a long-overdue feature at Rambles.NET -- a search function! Powered by Google, one of the most respected search engines on the 'Net, it will allow you to find specific references unique to this site. Our new search feature is accessible from the front page -- or by following this link. Cheers!

Fiddlers Bid stands Naked & Bare on the band's latest release. "Fiddlers Bid is a top-class exponent of the rich fiddle tradition of the Shetlands, and through slow sets and fast they will mesmerise you," Nicky Rossiter says. "Four top-class fiddlers front a band that also features piano, bass, guitar and harp to fill your room with the spirit not just of those wild and wonderful islands but also a cross section of new sounds."

Anna Massie is in Glad Company with the release of her superb debut CD, Tom Knapp says. "This disc is a powerful collection of tracks, mostly instrumental, many of or borrowing heavily from the Scottish tradition, and nearly all of them spotlighting just how good a guitar can sound in the hands of a master performer," he adds. "Powerful and vibrant, Anna's playing will carry you through 12 tracks to the end, where you invariably will reach quickly for the replay button to hear it again. She's that good."

Colcannon celebrates the roots of Australian independence with The Eureka Suite. "This is living history, loving music and an essential asset to any collection," Nicky Rossiter says. "Listen to it for the songs, the stories or the feeling of history. Then remember your own ordinary men and women who fought whatever fight to make your life better."

Fans of the Celtic harp should not miss Morning Aire, an early release from Sue Richards. "Her playing is delicate and light, but does not fall into the strangely aligned new age category that Celtic music seems to have grown," says Jean Price. "The music does not float and flow and breeze about, but is vivid, strong and vibrant. Richards deserves a lot of credit for creating this album."

Chris Murphy blends numerous styles of music on Juniper. Demonstrating his abilities with a variety of bluegrass, Cajun, Celtic, rock and blues-inspired violin music, Murphy nails his position as Wil Owen's third favorite violinist. Read why!

Rosie Brown watches Clocks & Clouds with an album "that sweeps you gently along with its rapturous, chilled flow," says Debbie Koritsas. "Brown's sensual vocals lull you into submission as the subtlest grooves envelop your senses. These are beautifully crafted, laidback songs, though it's not all ease and comfort."

The Wyrd Sisters share a Raw Voice and prove themselves "a collective of wonderfully expressive singers and musicians from Winnipeg, Manitoba," Gregg Thurlbeck enthuses. "The combination of three lead vocalists stepping by turns to center stage before returning to the sidelines to support the next songwriter makes for a more diverse recording than any of the three could likely have managed on her own."

Bob Dylan's "more than deserving resurgence in recent years traces its birth back, in my opinion, to this incredible live performance," says Daniel Jolley. "This album has it all, mixing old and new music that more than satisfies longtime fans like myself while still appealing to the younger generation." What's Dan talking about? MTV Unplugged, which "provided the medium for Dylan to prove his genius and longevity" to a younger generation.

Blues fans, pay attenion! "A rising star has emerged high above the musical horizon with a dazzling display of talent, shining like a beacon in the night," Pamela Dow says. "Bittersweet, the latest recording from singer-songwriter Susan Angeletti, illuminates the soulful purity of the blues and the hard driving intensity of rock 'n' roll with unbridled passion and heartfelt emotion. Angeletti's no-nonsense, high-voltage performance style, continues captivating blues enthusiasts as well as the rock 'n' roll faithful all across the country."

David Lovett and "his formidable group of friends are here to haul us all Five Miles from Town and give us a good time, whether we're ready or not," Sarah Meador announces. "A heel-kicking, toe-tapping, downright companionable good time, Five Miles From Town is the most fun you'll ever have alone at a dance."

Pete Schlegel "is a man who knows what he's doing. Playing honky-tonk pop country with solid hooks and no complications, he puts a new edge on the old saws of true love, lost love and hard drink," Sarah says. "Blues or bluegrass, every song has a kick, a swinging attitude that keeps the whole album moving through even the slowest spots. Mixed with Schlegel's strong country voice and some powerful guitar work, Strong Stuff could knock even an old honky-tonker back a step or two."

Valerian shares Intimations of Sorrow on this indie-rock album from Finland. "The band offers a polished performance with raw vitality and original lyrics; sounding faintly familiar, they nonetheless have a place all of their own in the roots-rock scene," Jenny Ivor explains.

Kaitlin Hahn spent a few days at the far-famed Irish Fest in Milwaukee. Join her now for her report on Day One of the mid-August event.

While she was there, Kaitlin had the good fortune to sit down and chat with Oisin McAuley, fiddler for the wildly popular Irish band Danu. Check out the results of their conversation!

Remember all our coverage of Celtic Colours in 2004? We do! It's one of our favorite events all year. And it's coming up again, very soon -- so we decided this time to save a few tidbits from last fall and share them with you now. If you haven't made plans to go this year (or next), we hope this kindles your interest! (Comprehensive of Celtic Colours '04 begins here.)

A festival like Celtic Colours doesn't come together by itself. The primary folks responsible for this incredible event are Max MacDonald and Joella Foulds, whose brainchild it was and who put the legwork into making it a reality. Tom Knapp sat down with Max and Joella for a pleasant chat about the way it came to be -- and where it's going, too.

Tom also shares some memories from Festival Club 2004, the place to be for all of the best goings-on!

Look for more from Celtic Colours '04 in upcoming weeks -- and get ready for a big splash of festival coverage following Celtic Colours 2005!

There isn't much time, if you want to celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day properly! Pick up a copy of Well Blow Me Down! A Guy's Guide to Talking Like a Pirate, written by self-made sea dogs John Baur and Mark Summers, and do the holiday up right. "Well Blow Me Down! is a funny, silly book by two silly, funny men who had nothing to do so they created a modern phenomenon," Tom Knapp explains.

T.H. Breen hangs with some Puritans & Adventurers in this study of colonial America in the 17th century. "Breen's thesis hinges around a notion of change and persistence, not only between the two colonies but among sections within each colony," Daniel Jolley reports. "He does a wonderful job comparing and contrasting the Virginia and Massachusetts colonies, explaining how the two areas developed so differently from one another and yet eventually came together in the pursuit of an America independent of Britain."

Abdelrahman Munif sets a standard for Arab fiction in Cities of Salt. "This story is beautifully told and completely from an Arab point of view," David Cox remarks. "At times it borders on 'magic realism' where fantastic things were 'said to have happened.' It is also a classic critique of colonialism, and of the colonized, with both its rebels and its collaborators coming to life in these pages."

Nancy Springer tweaks an old legend with Rowan Hood: Outlaw Girl of Sherwood Forest. "While this is by no means a pivotal addition to the legend -- nor will it replace the standard tales of Robin, Will, Tuck and Little John -- it is a fresh take that gives young readers a female protagonist they can admire and enjoy," Tom Knapp says. "Adult readers may find this book a little light for their tastes, but it's a quick read and interesting enough to hold the attention of anyone with a passion for Robin Hood fiction and folklore."

Randall N. Bills doesn't spin an interesting yarn in this new installment in the Battletech/Mechwarrior saga, Hunters of the Deep, Daniel Jolley says. "Bills is something of an expert when it comes to Battletech technology and hardware, which makes it all the more disappointing that there is so little actual Mechwarrior action in this novel," he says. "I can't help but feel that Hunters of the Deep represents the Mechwarrior Dark Age series at its least appealing."

Joe Haldeman chronicles The Forever War in a book that won the Hugo and Nebula awards. "I have to say that it's an incredible read," says Dan, a new fan. "It's not exceedingly long, but it is packed full of all kinds of ideas and strikes me as quite visionary for the time in which it was written, which was the early 1970s."

Tim Green recounts The First 48 on this new audio-novel. "While the book was an enjoyable thriller, overall, I wonder if my anticipation colored the experience a bit," says Wil Owen. "I just didn't find it up to par with Tim's previous work, nitpicking at places where the editor missed some small detail when I should have simply been caught up in the story."

Fredrik Stromberg is along for the ride when The Comics Go to Hell. This compact tome "is a clever and surprisingly complete tour of the Devil's varied career in sequential storytelling," Sarah Meador reports from the front lines. "Brief enough to read for entertainment, but deep enough to prompt serous discussion, The Comics Go to Hell is a good thing in a small square package."

William Kates enjoys the "refreshingly unguarded first film" by performance artist Miranda July, titled Me & You & Everyone We Know. "The film is not so much a traditional linear story; it's more like a glimpse into a moment in the lives of some slightly flawed, occasionally damaged and basically unusual characters whose efforts to fight the basic entropy of life and find some basis for happiness are chronicled by July's unobtrusive camera," he says.

Daniel Jolley takes The Stand to testify in favor of this Stephen King adaptation. "This six-hour miniseries is fantastic, due largely to King's hands-on overseeing of what can be called 'his baby,'" Dan says. "This was a massive undertaking, and it yielded a final product just about as good as it could possibly be. The obvious truth is, though, that even this monumental film pales in comparison to the novel."

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.)

3 September 2005

I've always thought that the underpopulated
countries in Africa are vastly underpolluted.
- Lawrence Summers, chief economist of the World Bank,
explaining why the United States should export toxic waste to Third World Countries

Our thoughts this week are with those who have suffered and are still suffering the devastation wrought by Katrina. If you can help, please do.

The Love Hall Tryst sings Songs of Misfortune. "There is no particular reason the Love Hall Tryst should sound like the Young Tradition, the Watersons, Waterson:Carthy or the Voice Squad, but that's how many of us are used to hearing English folk-harmony singing," Jerome Clark reports. "The four Trysts -- two men, two women -- lack the vocal depth of the just-mentioned. Still, they do all right."

Tony O'Connell and Andy Morrow "have paired up to record a truly enjoyable album," Heather Lewin-Tiarks, the latest addition to our writing team, says. "Their self-titled CD is a well-balanced blend of virtuosity and musical maturity. ... Highly recommended for traditional musicians looking to learn tunes, this is a must for Irish trad enthusiasts."

The Scottish Guitar Quartet makes its Landmarks known in this gem of a new release. "This quartet will enthrall the listener, particularly those who have never heard their music," says Ann Flynt. "Although I have never been to Scotland, I feel a certain kinship with its varied musical forms, its history and culture."

The McCabes perform in the Dark Before the Dawn. "Often old-timey, sometimes Irish and always instrumentally sound, their latest album ... is definitely worth a listen," says Katie De Jong. "The instrumental sets, which blend modern and traditional instrumentation and are dubbed with cute-but-cheesy titles like 'Reely Funky' and 'Reely Jammin',' are undisputably the best numbers on this album."

Kevin Collins "has a wonderful voice that projects a love of the lyrics and the sentiments he delivers," says Nicky Rossiter. For proof, he offers two recent Irish-country recording projects, This is My Home and Jump In & Swim. "Collins gives us a wide range of songs all sung with love and affection that will lift your heart even if you do not have a drop of Irish blood," Nicky says. "He has a knack for writing nice, seductively simple songs that we can all believe we can sing."

Eddy Lawrence "reaches Inside My Secret Pocket and pulls out an album and a half of spine-thrilling, blood-pumping folk-rock," says Sarah Meador. "Relationships on the skids make an appearance, along with cheating, selfish lovers, uncertain new friends and some good old-fashioned self-loathing. All are handled with refreshing energy and unusual insight."

Chuck Brodsky's voice "has an unassuming, conversational quality to it -- slightly rough-edged but soft and warm," says Joy McKay. "From the start of Color Came One Day, his sixth recording in 10 years, one senses the presence of a sensitive friend. ... This is an excellent album from a fine songwriter."

Andrew Smith reaches Escape Velocity with this new CD. "Smith takes us on a journey of wordless musical expression, telling evocative, authentic stories with percussive, exotic instrumentals," says Jane Eamon, another new member of the team. "I was struck by the intensity and diversity of musical moods Smith was able to convey."

Jackie Frost blurs the lines between country and folk music on Calliope. Carole McDonnell approves of the result. How much, you ask? "This is a great album to score a love affair to!" she replies.

James Leva marks a separation of musical talents with 'Til I Know. "It is easy to hear this as a 'divorce album' in the vein of Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks and Richard Thompson's Hand of Kindness," Jerome Clark concludes. "Leva's writing (he composed nearly everything here) is better than I remembered it; or, more likely, it's improved because he appears less focused on penning Nashville hits and more on actually saying something."

Blues artist Jimmy Thackery skirts the edges of tragedy on Healin' Ground, Carole McDonnell says. "Resolve and healing are on hand everywhere."

Hugh Masekela holds a Revival with South African influences informing his jazz style. Unfortunately, Gregg Thurlbeck says, "the album begins a slow slide back into mediocrity. ... The result is an album that wants to be dangerous, that wants to break down barriers, that wants to inspire and uplift but which, with a couple of exceptions, succeeds only at being dull, safe and forgettable."

As presumptuous as it may seem to claim to have captured the best music of an entire continent on a single CD, Gregg opines, "The Best of Africa is a strong and reasonably diverse collection with many of the most influential African pop musicians of the latter part of the 20th century represented. ... Let's just hope that Universal Music realizes that they've short-changed the continent and will remedy the situation with another couple of equally strong collections of African music."

When Suzanne Vega performed with Nerina Pallot at the Anvil in Basingstoke, Engand, Ellen Rawson couldn't stay away. She tells us all about it in her concert review!

Mitchell Fink touches a nerve with Never Forget: An Oral History of September 11, 2001. Daniel Jolley calls the book "by far the most personal and emotionally compelling book I have read about the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I honestly think every American should read this book -- now more than ever. ... So many of those people showed great bravery and humanity, and it's really uplifting to read about those 'little' but powerful stories that you never heard about on the news."

Edward Lodi expounds on things ghostly in The Haunted Violin: True New England Ghost Stories. "Lodi's third collection of ghost stories from New England ... is a pleasant trip to the locations he describes," Tom Knapp says. "Lodi has a laidback, affable manner to his tales, even as he relates the spooky goings-on in houses and bogs, graveyards, inns and even a public library."

Eric Garcia presents us with a pair of mysteries -- and some undercover dinosaurs -- in his new omnibus publication of Anonymous Rex and Casual Rex. "The book is written in first person, in the classic style of ye olde detective mysteries from the golden age of Dashiell Hammett and Sam Spade," says Daniel Jolley. "And make no mistake -- aside from the unique dinosaur angle and the constant showcase of sarcastic wit and genuinely funny writing, Garcia knows how to construct and tell a good mystery."

Celia Rees concludes the saga of early American settler Mary Newbury in Sorceress, which follows the young girl's path from Puritan settlement to Indian village, and beyond. "Those who enjoyed Witch Child will also be pleased to learn the fates, both good and bad, of various characters from that book," Tom Knapp says. "Sorceress is a delightful book, an excellent sequel and further proof that Rees is one of the top writers of young-adult historical fiction working today. I recommend both books highly."

Joseph Boyden makes his fiction debut on a Three Day Road. Its essence, says Gregg Thurlbeck, "is captured with remarkable precision and brevity in a single sentence 50 pages from the completion of the story. 'We all fight on two fronts, the one facing the enemy, the one facing what we do to the enemy.' Everything else in this terrific book is an expansion on this central notion."

Walter Mosley is looking for The Man in My Basement. "Mosley writes so well that it looks easy," Jean Marchand says. "There is never a misplaced word or a contradiction -- just smooth, effortless, elegant prose all the way. He gives us something to think about as we sit on our porches unable to sleep."

Alice Hoffman delivers a hard message in The Ice Queen. "This novel has a positive message -- live life to its fullest because you never know when it will end -- wrapped in a negative presentation," Wil Owen says. "The Ice Queen harps on life as sadness, life as unfulfilling, life as pain. ... So, if you get motivated through negative vibes, this novel just might be for you."

Tom Knapp follows a different path from Yavin in Star Wars Infinities: A New Hope, which posits a story in which Luke Skywalker failed to destroy the Death Star and the Rebel Alliance was beaten. "Chris Warner has written an exciting what if version of the popular movie that started it all," Tom says. "With no more movies in the works to keep fans interested, it's ideas such as this that will help keep the Star Wars franchise strong."

Tom Knapp feels let down by The Brothers Grimm. "With a clever idea for a plot, a strong cast and director Terry Gilliam at the helm, The Brothers Grimm should have been an obvious winner," he says. "Unfortunately, Gilliam dropped the ball on this one, forcing clever twists and visual effects into the film without direction or cohesion."

Daniel Jolley is back for the final installment in Scream 3. "The Scream trilogy brought fresh new blood (in copious amounts) to the horror film genre," he says. "Scream 2 was something of a step backwards from the first movie, but Scream 3 marked a turn back in the right direction. Fortunately, Wes Craven knew when to stop."

Next, Dan sets the wayback machine for 1985 and The Breakfast Club. "The Breakfast Club is probably the archetypal movie of the 1980s, at least that of the youth in America. It is an indelible part of cultural history and remains as fresh and brash as ever today," he says. "This is a great movie and one that appealed directly to young people."

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.)