7 January 2006 to 4 March 2006

4 March 2006

The idea of having a cup of coffee is usually better than the coffee.
- Andy Rooney

Two words: blood gas. I think I'll just fly away home.

Tudur Morgan explores Welsh musical territories on Naw Stryd Madryn. "Morgan is better known for contributing a clear acoustic sound to the music of such Welsh luminaries as Dafydd Iwan and Plethyn," says David Cox. On his first solo album, David adds, "Morgan's trademark smooth guitar sound (he uses Lowden and Taylor guitars) is in evidence, but on this record he contributes on some other instruments as well, namely bass and synth, as well as lead and backing vocals. He's a deceptively good acoustic guitarist."

The Veteran label makes available a "rustic, endearing collection of songs from Somerset, Cornwall and Devon" on Old Uncle Tom Cobleigh & All: Folk Songs Sung in the West Country, David informs us. "These are songs long remembered, and lovingly sung, by the geniune article: folksingers from the region who have guarded these songs -- some higly original and others less so -- in their memories for decades." Hoopla, David, for review #100!

Eric Bogle is taking good care of Other People's Children with this new recording. "After collecting most of his recordings over the years I thought that I had probably heard the best of Eric Bogle, but I was wrong," Nicky Rossiter says. "This CD arriving in the final month of the year is right up there as my album of 2005 -- a year in which I listened to some great releases from all quarters." Way-hey, Nicky, it's review #500!

Nunez is ready to Cry Mercy with rockin' folk with heart. "Linda Nunez is not only a great performer, but a glance at her credits reveals a writer of prolific output and enduring quality," Nicky says. "Like all good songs, they come from the fount of experience, whether good or bad. The songs speak to the hearts of listeners because of their source in real life."

Kingston Trio alum John Stewart celebrates The Day the River Sang with this new CD. "The Day the River Sang, the fourth Stewart release on the excellent independent folk label Appleseed, is less thematically consistent than its predecessor, Havana (2003), a brilliant, gloomy evocation of a Bush-era America in freefall," Jerome Clark says. "Stewart has always been a political writer and performer. ... Stewart's way of working at larger issues is so imbued with hints of private struggles that the boundaries between the political and the personal blur."

Big Leg Emma "is not a person, but a group of six talented musicians who offer a unique blend of music played with vigor and passion," John Lindermuth explains. "The band's latest album, The Color of Wind, borrows from bluegrass, country, folk, funk, reggae, roots rock and other styles to provide a mix that is entertaining and invigorating and will have you humming along, tapping your toes and wishing there were more than just 12 tracks."

Grayson Capps "has a way with words that, while littered with downhome images and references, are unmistakably the thoughts of an educated man," Jerome Clark opines. "At first introduction, the delights of If You Knew My Mind may not find you. Don't worry. They're bound to get there on second or third hearing."

Sakesho's CD We Want You to Say is "jazz at its best," Nicky Rossiter exclaims. "The roots are distinctly planted in the warm sands on the Caribbean shores, but the sounds are international and will bring a warm glow to many in the cold winters of the north or the wet hinterlands of Ireland and beyond. The rhythms on offer range from biguine through mazurka and on to ska."

The Great American Gypsies recall the days Before I Had a Red Tomato. "To say this is an album of ethnic music would be to simplify the repertoire," says John Lindermuth. "Before I Had a Red Tomato is a celebration of world music. While the selections here are primarily of Eastern European origin, there are also a few American and European standards, Greek, Italian and even an African song included."

Kaitlin Hahn had a grand time in Cape Breton, if you haven't already noticed, and she continues her report on Celtic Colours with this tasty round at the Celtic Pub. The show, which closed out the festival week for Kaitlin, featured performances by Beolach, Old Blind Dogs and Jennifer Roland.

Richard Kochli lays it on the line for country guitarist wannabes with Best in the West: Nashville Guitar. "This is one of the most comprehensive guitar tutoring books that I have seen in a long time," Nicky Rossiter says. "Almost every guitar style required of a top session musician is covered here, from finger-picking onwards."

David Rehak explores a bloody episode from 1892 and ponders, Did Lizzie Borden Axe for It? "It doesn't represent an attempt to prove that so-and-so did or did not commit the murders, nor does it delve deeply into the minutiae of all the evidence," Daniel Jolley reports from the scene of the crime. "It does, however, introduce you to a lot of ancillary yet quite interesting tidbits and speculations about the life of Lizzie Borden."

John Berendt "serves as our guide to the funhouse that is Venice" in The City of Falling Angels, staff newcomer Karen Trimbath reports. "The fun of reading this book lies in the melodramatic monologues and gestures of the Venetians and the Americans who love this city, all the while keeping in mind what one elderly count says to Berendt in the prologue: 'Everyone in Venice is acting. Everyone plays a role, and the role changes.'"

By the way, we have two new breakout sections in books: Ghost Stories & the Supernatural, formerly a subset under folklore, has proven popular enough to deserve its own page; and Biographies & Autobiographies, once loosely grouped under history, has overflowed its banks onto a separate page, too. Check them out, and enjoy!

Jack Dann and friends are hard at work in The Fiction Factory. "Each of the stories in this terrific collection is introduced by all of the authors involved in the story's creation. And, as much as the stories themselves, it is these introductions that make The Fiction Factory an outstanding book," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "They provide a window into the process by which a strange assortment of wild ideas became salable pieces of fiction."

David Morrell sneaks into a spooky locked building with Creepers. "From the outset of the book, you know things are not going to go quite according to plan, and things take several lethal and otherwise disturbing turns for the worse," says Paul de Bruijn. "Morrell once again shows how dangerous and outright nasty man can be, and in the process creates a dark thriller that will keep you glued to the pages until the end."

Nancy Holder may be Spirited, but this novel set in 1756 doesn't work. "Spirited attempts to be a romantic, historically set fairy-tale retelling," says Jennifer Mo. "What it is, though, is a tamed bodice-ripper with an incongruously tasteful cover. As such, it is unlikely to appeal to anyone who picks it up expecting an insightful exploration of 'Beauty & the Beast' or even a decent historical fantasy."

Alice Borchardt, sister of Anne Rice, sets loose "her own unforgettable characters" in The Silver Wolf, Stephen Richmond says. "Borchardt, like her sister, wordpaints in broad strokes across a silken canvas with vivid and seductive colors."

Sue Monk Kidd made new Rambles.NET reviewer Jessica Lux-Baumann cry over The Secret Life of Bees. How does The Mermaid Chair compare? "I was let down," Jessica says. "This is just kind of ho-hum, a woman with a blah life, trying to find herself, trying to figure out her place in her relationships. It never really grabbed me, and none of the characters were really convincing."

Michael Connelly provides yet another reason to distrust the legal system in The Lincoln Lawyer. "You may realize that not all lawyers are bad and that The Lincoln Lawyer is simply a story," says Wil Owen. "Still, the listener of this 10-CD audiobook will spend the first couple of hours learning to despise the main character's profession and those that practice it."

Tom Knapp is witness to the resurrection of Green Arrow in Kevin Smith's storyline, Quiver. "While my favorite run for Green Arrow remains the Mike Grell years," Tom says, "Smith's reinvention of the character was successful in many ways. Phil Hester's art is not what I'd have chosen for the series -- his characters tend towards the awkward and unattractive -- it moves the story along and gets us where we need to be. And, at the end of the day, we have Oliver Queen back where he belongs, ready for a new set of adventures."

Tom says fans of Lone Wolf & Cub "will love Stan Sakai's anthropomorphic spoof" in the fifth Usagi Yojimbo collection, Lone Goat & Kid. "For a samurai rabbit, Usagi gets around, starring in stories that are both serious and amusing," Tom says. "Sakai's characterization is spot-on, and I am eager to continue exploring Usagi's world."

Sarah Meador resists the urge to draw between the lines in Spiral-Bound: Top Secret Summer. Aaron Renier's "soft, cartoony art style and essentially innocent characters don't seem especially suited to a tense mystery," she says. However, "Spiral Bound is a mystery with a teenager's sense of drama, an adult perspective and enough excitement for the most discerning child."

Tom Knapp has a date with the Corpse Bride, "the latest in Tim Burton's parade of darkly gothic/comic stop-action films. The brash offspring of Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride obviously springs from the same fertile mind," Tom says. "It's a great story, and the movie is visually stunning. Burton and his team of model-makers and stop-action animators did a fantastic job giving these characters an astounding semblance of life."

Judy Lind sets the wayback machine for 1954 and a highly favored musical, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. "If the word "musical" conjures up a treacly mess of overstaged song and dance numbers that have scant relation to the plot, or even worse, a plot that is little more than an excuse to showcase some overblown song-and-dance talent, this movie might just change your mind," she says. "OK, so it's a corny plot, and if plot were all, there wouldnt be much to this movie -- but the characters are so delightful you can't help being charmed by them."

That's all for today here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back, we'll leave a light on for ya! (And please feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

25 February 2006

Smoking kills. If you're killed,
you've lost a very important part of your life.
- Brooke Shields

Florida was beautiful, sunny and warm. It's cold here, and there's old snow on the ground. Poo.

West of Eden raises questions of the Celtic/Scandinavian links in music with this latest album, Four. "Put on this album without knowing its roots and I defy you to identify the country of origin," Nicky Rossiter challenges. "Listening to their use of the English language, it is so easy to forget that this is not their first language. They put many a lyricist born and bred to English to shame."

Sonja Kristina tries on a new Mask on an album Nicky Rossiter finds hard to pin down. "This is an album of a new age where our entertainment moves beyond the simple song or even the single song," he says. "It is a progression from the 'concept' album. Here we have a story without discernable words accompanied by the DVD with images to conjure new worlds and feelings. It is impossible to categorize this album or to predict who will enjoy it most."

Boubacar Traore merges an African sound with delta blues on Kongo Magni. "Simply one of the best recordings of 2005, Kongo Magni is a fine new release from a singer-songwriter-guitarist who has been around and known at least in his native country for some time," says David Cox. "If John Hammond had grown up in West Africa, this is the kind of music he might be playing."

Daniel Cohen promises Real Ghosts, but his book is "pretty darn disappointing," says Daniel Jolley. "Don't let the title or the cover image fool you -- there's nothing remotely unsettling about anything in this book."

Basil Johnston tells the tale of Crazy Dave in this biography and history text that reads like a novel. "Specifically, he is writing here about his Uncle David, a mentally handicapped man living in Cape Croker during the early years of the 20th century," says David Cox. "A remarkable book, and Johnston's best, Crazy Dave tells the history of a people through the story of David."

Alan F. Troop does for dragons what Anne Rice (in her earlier years) did for vampires, Daniel Jolley says, by "recreating them in a rich, original, truly fascinating fashion. The Seadragon's Daughter is the third entry in the Dragon Delasangre series, and it greatly adds to the history and mythology that Troop is developing for the creatures who refer to themselves as People of the Blood. ... Troop seems to improve with every novel, and the introduction of no less than three new dragon races adds a surprising amount of depth to a series that could have begun drifting toward stagnancy by this point at the hands of a lesser writer."

Michael Crichton juggles a single Sphere in this novel Daniel says is far superior to the film. "This is a fast-paced thriller that definitely registers impressively on the suspense meter, particularly during the climactic late chapters," he says. "The ending is something of a letdown, but the story leading up to it is gripping and fascinating, and important clues and plot points are presented with much more subtlety and effectiveness than what you will find in the movie adaptation."

Cathy Hapka takes her characters from the screen to the page in Lost: Endangered Species. "The Lost book series' choice of zeroing in on what have so far been nameless, dialogueless characters on the island (despite only showing the stars on the book covers) -- who will in all likelihood never be worked into the actual show anyway -- is not a bad one on the face of it," says Gary Cramer. "But judging by the results of the first book, a bit more effort will be needed in future volumes to keep this series afloat."

James Patterson and Howard Roughan are sharing a Honeymoon. "I think there is some fluff in the novel that could easily be removed without detracting from the book. There were also some questions left unanswered (or perhaps I missed them) as well," Wil Owen says. "Overall, though, I enjoyed this tale at least as much, if not more, than any other Patterson audiobook I've listened to."

Sarah Meador looks for villains in Alex Robinson's Box Office Poison -- and finds none. "There are people with bad habits, people with unpleasant personalities, people who make mistakes so stupid it leaves you wondering how they manage to button their shirts in the morning. But they are still people, complicated and too rich to be thrown in the pit of comic book villains," she explains. "The art, the complexity of intertwinement lives, even Robinson's constant empathy for his characters, are gradual pleasures of the work, small things that build in the reading."

Stephen Richmond enjoys the "subtly wry humor and wit" of Amy Unbounded: Belondweg Blossoming by Rachel Hartman. "There are echoes of Dickens, Austen, even Chaucer here," Stephen says. "This is absolutely the book for those who shun and dismiss the graphic novel as a legitimate literary form -- minds will change!"

Tom Knapp was disappointed by the big-screen adaptation of Elektra, "which collapses under its own sense of weight and importance. While actress Jennifer Garner imparts a degree of gravity to her tortured assassin-cum-savior, director Rob Bowman fails to give the film a story or structure to support it," he explains. "Overall, the film strives to be dark and mysterious, yet it lacks a real mystery to conceal."

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

18 February 2006

Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts
and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.
- William Shakespeare

Florida, Florida, Florida bound!

Lasairfhiona lights a Flame of Wine with songs sung in English and Gaelic. "I believe I have found one of my favourite albums of 2006 already," Nicky Rossiter says. "This lady will go well beyond her native island with well-deserved airplay, but in the meantime you true music lovers may need to make that little extra effort to experience the sublime."

The Tullamore Celtic Band makes its debut with this collection of music on this self-titled CD. "This fun-loving band, based in Rochester, N.Y., takes its name from the Tullamore area of Ireland -- known for its culture (and fine Irish whiskey)," says Sherrill Fulghum. "The trio offers up a selection of familiar tunes -- but it isn't the same old stuff, because this time it comes with a twist."

The Barra Hospice Appeal is the beneficiary of Back to Barra, a compilation CD featuring Gaelic music from some of Scotland's best and brightest. "Back to Barra represents a wonderful collection of different music styles brought forward by some of the finest artists of the Hebrides," Adolf Goriup announces. Check out his review to see how to support a good cause and latch onto some mighty fine music.

Jen Chapin will make you want to Linger awhile longer when you hear her new CD. "Do yourself a favour and let yourself wallow in the lyrical intelligence and maturity of this woman's songwriting and charismatic vocal presence," Debbie Koritsas insists. "Chapin's songs invite her listener into a sensual, dazzlingly contemporary world, gritty with realism yet exuding artistic confidence, and screaming the word 'quality' at you. Lyrically powerful and intelligent, the whole recording shimmers with an urban folkiness, tinged with a bluesy, jazzy sophistication."

Joe Rohan works the country-blues on These Days. "With each track layering on new layers of complexity, Rohan's songs develop a magnetic pull," says Sarah Meador. "Each song becomes a little deeper, a little more complicated and a little more solid. ... Like a sweet romance with a melancholy ending in sight, it's hard to resist."

Jacqui Watson celebrates her Cocaine & Brandy Days on this country/folk blend from New Zealand. "Watson sings of the mundane things of life but she has the talent to give them a magical spark," Nicky Rossiter says. "Add to this the fact that all tracks come from Jacqui's pen and you realize you are hearing an artist who has a lot to say and great way of saying it."

The Wailin' Elroys take a drive through the country on Route 33. "The Athens, Ohio-based Wailin' Elroys recreate the rhythmic end of hillbilly fusion, restoring a nearly forgotten moment from a period that music historians are more likely to recall as the decade that gave birth to rock 'n' roll," Jerome Clark explains. "Route 33 may be unapologetically backward-looking, but if you like real hillbilly music, you'd be a sour human indeed to find much -- or, really, anything at all -- to complain about."

Acoustic Alchemy crosses the big waters for American/English and produces an international jazz sound rooted in acoustic guitars. "The musical influences range from reggae to Latin rhythms to Motown," Dave Townsend says. "Acoustic Alchemy has been giving us great music for the past 20 years, and if you enjoy great acoustic guitar playing and contemporary jazz, these guys continue to do it very well."

Epelde eta Larranaga puts the trikitixa (Basque diatonic accordion) and tambourine in the forefront for Agur. "It's full of joyful traditional dance music, mostly up-tempo," David Cox says. "If there is a downside, it's that some listeners who don't know the genre might find a bit of sameness among the tracks. And you've gotta like the diatonic accordion. Fortunately, I do."

Kaitlin Hahn pays another visit to Celtic Colours for The Young & the Restless, a concert in St. Peter's, Cape Breton, featuring All Fired Up, Kimberley Fraser, Colin Grant, Nuala Kennedy, Shona Kipling, Lochaber Students, Troy MacGillivray, Damien O'Kane, Tara Rankin and Adam Young.

Also this week, Michelle Doyle stops by the Center for Cultural Exchange in Portland, Maine, for the final stop on Liz Carroll and John Doyle's autumn 2005 tour. Be sure to check out both performance reviews!

Laurel Leff takes a closer look at a forgotten chapter of history on the home front in Buried by The Times: The Holocaust & America's Most Important Newspaper. "Leff shows -- in a meticulously researched 358 pages plus notes and references -- that the plight of the Jews in Germany and the occupied lands was not hot news," Nicky Rossiter says. "Stories that came from reliable sources in Europe did not make banner headlines. They did not even make the front page, below the fold. Reports that might have helped mobilize efforts and possibly save millions of lives began to appear in short, almost hidden, pieces on the inside pages."

Glenn Yeffeth pulls together a whopping collection of angles on the Slayer of Sunnydale in Seven Seasons of Buffy. "This isn't just a collection of accolades from the fans, nor is it a detailed summary of every plot and guest star," Tom Knapp says. "Seven Seasons is a more scholarly work, a series of essays written by science fiction and fantasy writers who want to share their thoughts, theories and conclusions about the show. Some essays are light-hearted and fun, while others are more serious in tone. All of them are very, very interesting."

Julie Hearn centers her story at the Sign of the Raven. "Sign of the Raven is a book that should strain credibility, but Julie Hearn writes with a hypnotic conviction in both her history and her characters," Sarah Meador says. "Sign of the Raven has fine-tuned character development, historical depth and the rare, realistic optimism that's earned by surviving troubles rather than avoiding them. All of this, and a Gorilla Woman."

Tanith Lee combines two fantasy yarns together in Dark Castle, White Horse. "Castle of Dark is a rather dark fantasy," Jennifer Mo reveals. "Prince on a White Horse is an almost frivolously light fantasy offering. ... I liked this better than Castle of Dark; it was just more fun to read."

Edward Bloor shares Story Time with his readers. "This darkly sparkling satire on the foibles of the American education system is not at all what we'd typically expect from a young-adult novel," Stephen Richmond says. "While brighter and somewhat less acidic than Lemony Snicket's unfortunate oeuvre, the characters herein soar not only in Peter Pan-esque bravado and elan, but also in smartly targeting right on its turgid mark."

Anne McCaffrey provides the backstory for Robinton, The Masterharper of Pern. "Characterization is always a prime focus and strength in this author's work, and McCaffrey's masterful technique is vibrantly displayed herein," says Stephen. "The plot never fails to engage and the reader keeps turning the pages, at times on the very edge of the readerly seat."

Arturo Perez-Reverte steps back to the 1600s in Captain Alatriste. "This fascinating tale starts out slowly, but it picks up speed like a train on a downgrade -- once the historical details are in place and the characters introduced," says Jean Marchand. "Suddenly, the train is zooming around hairpin curves and zipping through tunnels. ... It is more than a reader could hope for -- such suspense and a man who looks more like a hero with every chapter."

T. Ray Gordon, back in the 1940s, began writing a series of science-fiction manuscripts for live radio airplay. "Over the course of two decades he managed to create 72 original stories," says Wil Owen, after listening to Inhumanity Quest. "I listen to a lot of audiobooks and this book has the best, most consistent audio effects I think I've heard. Coupled with a soundtrack that emphasizes the emotional rollercoaster one would expect with the potential destruction of mankind, the audio experience is sometimes intense."

Sarah Meador seeks deeper meaning in the pages of Markus Mawil Witzel's Beach Safari, in which a bespectacled rabbit washes ashore and finds temporary refuge among three girls on holiday. "Between the watery echoes of the first and last pages, the bunny's time with the girls is nothing but a snapshot, a mostly wordless diversion from whatever larger journey awaits. There's nothing to suggest or even encourage speculation on a more intricate message," Sarah decides. "But a vacation doesn't need a deeper meaning to be fulfilling; sometimes it's fun to just kick back, watch the waves and let deeper questions sail off over the horizon."

The Ultimate Spider-Man series just keeps getting better, as Tom Knapp shows today with Double Trouble. "In this volume, the third collection of Ultimate Spider-Man books, Peter Parker begins building a rogues' gallery of recurring villains," Tom Knapp says. "Spider-Man has bad guys to beat, and no doubt he'll do it with style and an arsenal of quips and groaners. Let's go read it and see."

Mark Allen is catching up with Invincible: Family Matters. "Kirkman's story of a young man's desire to follow in his father's footsteps rings a poignant bell with a big fat hammer of superheroic fun!" he says. "Top all of this great characterization and story with stunningly action-oriented pencils and inks by Cory Walker, and you've got the hit everyone's been talking about."

Daniel Jolley haunts the vicinity with Casper. "You would think Casper would just be a silly little film only a child could possibly love," he says. "Surprisingly, though, it's actually a very entertaining film that even manages to produce a poignant moment or two in between scenes of regular hilarity."

Tom Knapp faces The Grudge in this stylish remake of a recent Japanese horror flick. "Director Takashi Shimizu relies very little on special effects, but the makeup, lighting effects and freakish body language of his actors ... are guaranteed to creep out most audiences," Tom says. "It's disquieting more than scary in most scenes, making great use of eerie noises and flashes of things partly or too quickly seen." (Tom reviewed this film without realizing, duh, that Dan had already done so. Since their viewpoints in this case are so markedly different, we decided to run them side by side and let you decide for yourselves.)

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

11 February 2006

Song writing is about getting the demon out of me. It's like being possessed. You try to go to sleep, but the song won't let you. So you have to get up and make it into something, and then you're allowed to sleep.
- John Lennon

The editor is far too busy turning old this week and cannot take precious moments to spend writing an introduction. He'll be back next week, if his fingers still work.

Heloise Love has a Song for the Mira to share. "Love has grown into an accomplished performer with an obvious love of great folk music," says Nicky Rossiter. "We are the beneficiaries of that heritage on this wonderful album of new and traditional songs."

Lydia McCauley follows the Scots-Irish connection to the Appalachians with ForeignLander. "Most of the songs are traditional, newly arranged by McCauley," Laurie Thayer says. "These songs are slow-tempoed, with lovely melodies sweetly sung. The accompaniments are simple and in no way overpower the singing."

Gretchen Witt makes a good first impression with her self-titled debut EP. "Witt has an impressive range in musical styles, which I believe will keep her interesting, and ahead of her game," Jo Overfield says. "She has the ability to compose strong, dramatic ballads as well as intricate acoustic pieces. For that rarity, Witt is worth watching."

Kate Bennett is Over the Moon on her debut recording. "Bennett's music reminds me of '70s folk-country and pop but with a more polished sound," Erika Rabideau says. "This CD is good for when I want to relax and connect to the natural world and life around me without having to actually go out into the woods or even leave my house -- I can just take a little journey in my mind from the living room."

Terry Brennan weathers Storms & Dreams with this blend of country and folk-rock stylings. "Brennan's voice is a classic country-western instrument," Robert Tilendis says. "It has an unschooled quality that adds an element of undeniable truth to his songs, apparent from the very first track. ... I like this one a lot, simply because it's good -- his material is first-rate, his voice is perfect for the material and the support is superb."

William Woods showcases his talents on the jazz piano with Every Part of Me. "This is an experience of jazz from a consummate performer accompanied by some great instrumentalists," Nicky Rossiter says. "If you like jazz, you will love this."

The William Eaton Ensemble makes Sparks & Embers of its music during a two-hour jam session released on two CDs. "In an age where overdubbing and mechanical engineering of music is the norm, Sparks & Embers is a stripped-down album of five talented musicians and their instruments," says Sherrill Fulghum. "No music was written ahead of time; this is the spontaneous result of accomplished musicians playing together, interacting and reacting to each other."

Alan Lomax and Diego Carpitella in 1954 captured a vanishing style of music in the Turin region of Italy. Much of that music is available now on Italian Treasury: Piemonte & Valle D'Aosta, from Rounder Records. "Here we have a peasant society rapidly changing into a modern, urban one, absorbing immigrants from the economically backward south of Italy, and also reflecting this rich heritage as a European crossroads," says David Cox. "The songs here are about the everyday life of the people of the region: marriage, the harvest emigration, a song to banish melancholy."

The Balkans get a thorough look-see through the World Music Network compilation disc, The Rough Guide to the Music of the Balkans. "The Balkans is a huge and diverse area of Europe where the music is very influnced by Rom (Gypsy), Turkish and Greek styles, but has a viewpoint of its own," says David. "Such countries as Bulgaria, Serbia-Montenegro, Albania, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are represented on this lively and energetic CD."

Erika Rabideau stretches back to April with her recollections of seeing David LaMotte perform live at the Six String Cafe & Music Hall in Cary, NC. Take a look to see what happened -- and who the real star of the evening turned out to be!

Marvin D. Hinten delves into the otherworld with The Keys to the Chronicles: Unlocking the Symbols of C.S. Lewis's Narnia. "The Keys to the Chronicles has all the greatness and flaws of any book written by any academic who profoundly loves his subject," says Carole McDonnell. "It is well researched and thorough. It is also full of citings and conversations about the works of other academics, which the average reader may not be interested in. ... Nevertheless, it is a good book that would interest any writer who wants to understand the workings of C.S. Lewis's mind."

Ron Chepesiuk maps the migrations of a people in The Scotch-Irish: From the North of Ireland to the Making of America. Benet Exton pitched in to soak up a little history and offer his impressions here.

Allen "Skip" Roth explains the events that led up to a Chainsaw's Justice -- and his own imprisonment in the aftermath. "This is not an easy book to read -- and not because of the writing or language, but because of the subject matter," Nicky Rossiter warns. "It is not a book to enjoy, but rather to be educated by. ... His story is one to send shivers through a caring society, but despite being a horrendous tale, it needed to be told and deserves to be read."

Richard Chizmar has brought five of horror's biggest writers together for Trick or Treat: A Collection of Halloween Novellas. "Now, I'm going to be honest," Gregg Winkler says. "If you're looking to Trick or Treat for sleepless nights of bone-chilling horror, you're going to be disappointed. But if you're looking for some very well-written stories with some spooky themes and mostly believable characters, then this collection is right for you."

Larita Arnold sails with The Fastest Ship into 19th-century historical -- and, to our reviewer's chagrin, romantic -- fiction. "Arnold has written a novel of romantic historical fiction that should appeal to a whole cross-section of readers," Daniel Jolley says. "Whether you come for the romance or the historical details surrounding the transition from wooden ships to iron-clad monsters, readers should enjoy Arnold's mixture of the two genres. This tale of romance on the high seas is certainly worth the price of the voyage."

Judith Tarr rides His Majesty's Elephant into this "exotic and unusual" YA fantasy, says Jennifer Mo. "However, it is on the slight side; one wishes Tarr had put a bit more detail into the setting and clarified the climactic magical battle," she says. "Nevertheless, it's a definite contrast to the all-too-common generic sword-and-sorcery tales pervading the shelves."

Stephen King unearths some real horror in Pet Sematary. "If you only read one Stephen King novel, this is the one to get," says Judy Lind. "It's a great read, well written and, above all, it's scary as hell. You won't find any of the overblown verbiage that cluttered his later books. This book is what great horror writing is all about."

Robert Heinlein outdid himself with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Chris McCallister says. "This book is fast, fun reading, and yet there is a richness that is not always present in Heinlein's writing," Chris says. "Contrast this with Methuselah's Children, which impresses me as a quickie that Heinlein wrote to satisfy the market and his publisher. Heinlein put thought into The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and it will make you think."

Dave King isn't looking for laughs in The Ha-Ha. "Unfortunately, there was definitely something lacking," Wil Owen says. "I never felt entirely engaged even though I wanted to care. At best, this novel helped pass the time on my workday commutes."

Sean Howe compiled the essays that laud (or lambaste) the sequential arts industry in Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers: Writers on Comics. "Like all forms of art, comics thrive on passion, from creators and readers alike," says Sarah Meador. "Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers proves that ingredient is plentiful on both sides of the page."

Impressed by the movie, Daniel Jolley seeks the genesis of Sin City through the graphic novel, The Hard Goodbye. "In a sense, if you've seen the movie, you've seen the graphic novel -- yet there is more depth and atmosphere on these pages than any movie can reproduce," he says. "The book is filled with stereotypical characters who defy their stereotypes, unabashedly bold, striking black-and-white artwork and a dark, noir-ish atmosphere that completely draws you in not only to the story but also to the city itself."

Tom Knapp thinks Batgirl just might have a Death Wish in this collection. "Cassandra Cain has had a tough road convincing some Batgirl fans that she's a suitable successor to Barbara Gordon," he says. "The caliber of writing and art combined in Death Wish should go some way in that direction."

Judy Lind enjoys the simple mayhem behind Kill Bill, Vol. 1. "Slice' em and dice 'em and serve 'em up raw," she says. "Well, it's a hoot to watch. Kill Bill may not be very deep, but it's fun."

Daniel Jolley is headed for a Crash. "Sure, Sandra Bullock annoyed the heck out of me every second she was on the screen, but the movie works -- powerfully and effectively," he says. "The secret would seem to be a complete disregard for political correctness. If you want to say something about racism, you can't dance around the issue, and thankfully the writer of this film knew that."

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

4 February 2006

Reality, however utopian, is something from which people
feel the need of taking pretty frequent holidays.
- Aldous Huxley

Darn that whistlepig!

Jez Lowe & the Bad Pennies are back with Tenterhooks (The Art Edition). "Jez Lowe is one of the best singer-songwriters working on the scene today," says Nicky Rossiter. "His songs are many and varied but his roots are firmly in the coal-mining traditions of Great Britain -- and from that black gold comes this gem."

Sam Steele recorded authentic English folk songs from 1959 to 1962. Now, the Veteran label has released those recordings on a CD titled Heel & Toe. "The sound quality, though not great, could have been a lot worse, given the portable recording technology available to the layman of the period," Jerome Clark says. "If not so crisp as the field tapings Alan Lomax was making at the same time, it is still entirely listenable."

The Possum Trot Orchestra puts forth "an original sound that integrates, in proportions that vary from song to song, folk and pop approaches," Jerome says after spinning their self-titled CD. "As an effort to fashion a kind of creative roots sound for the early 21st century, this CD succeeds almost against expectations. There's enough depth to it to repay many listenings ... and it boasts a distinctive sound and a point of view that is appealingly its own."

Crow Greenspun reveals his New York-based songs on Blood & Decision. "Despite the slightly jarring variety of genres on offer, I enjoyed this CD," Nicky Rossiter says. "The story-songs have a power that could produce some hits if they had a wider audience."

Tom Mank and Sera Jane Smolen study the Souls of Birds on this album of voices, guitar and cello. "You may only get nine tracks here but you get more than a fair share of good music well played and lyrics well written," Nicky says. "Tom Mank and Sera Jane Smolen produce some beautiful sweet sounds together."

Michael Jerome Browne & the Twin Rivers String Band prove themselves to be "a Canadian national treasure," although the music on this self-titled CD originates mostly from the southern United States, John Bird exclaims. "The album is clearly Browne's tour de force," John says. "All in all, this is one of my favourite CDs these days, in which Browne delivers the variety he promises in his definition of string band music."

Belinda Underwood is Uncurling into a jazz artist of note. "Belinda Underwood's musical ability is beyond doubt; having taken lessons in violin and harp, she eventually settled on the upright bass as her favored musical companion," Nicky Rossiter says. "With more than a dozen tracks, many from her own pen, she displays a talent far beyond her years."

Knút Háberg Eysturstein makes his debut with Havsglóð -- and just trying saying that sentence five times fast! "I'll take it on faith that he goes beyond the traditions of contemporary Faroese music, but I found that Eysturstein's music doesn't really sound all that different from a number of American singer-songwriters -- until one listens closely," says Robert Tilendis. "Quite aside from the fact that some songs are done in Faroese, there are contrasts, tonalities, rhythms that aren't quite what one expected. I'm sure the combination of electronics, synthesizers, acoustic instruments and vocals is not unique to Eysturstein..., but I've not heard anyone else who sounds like him."

Julie Fowlis is staying true to her Hebridean roots, as is handily proven by her interview with Debbie Koritsas. "Julie Fowlis had an incredibly successful 2005," Debbie says. "It seems incredible to note that Julie has only been in the public eye for about 18 months." Read more in Debbie's complete review!

William D. and Marilyn Carlson Webber detect A Rustle of Angels in modern society. "Along with Billy Graham's book on angels, this is probably the second best book I have read on the subject," says Daniel Jolley. "A Rustle of Angels is an honest, enlightening, ultimately inspirational book that should really have a place on the shelves of anyone interested in the subject."

Michela Wrong is certain I Didn't Do It for You in this history of the African nation of Eritrea. "Wrong fills in all the blanks on this amazing story backed by solid research and many hours of interviews," says David Cox. "It's a fascinating read about an obscure, but not unimportant, part of the globe."

Donald B. Dewar offers a modern-day spin on a classic yarn with Jack's Dad & the Beanstalk. "Much of the stuff of legends is derived from actual facts, and it is interesting to see how the story of Jack & the Beanstalk could have developed, through exaggeration, from events that are easily explainable -- even Jack's climb up the beanstalk to the house of a giant with a magic harp and a goose that lays golden eggs," Daniel Jolley says. "As interesting as it is entertaining, Jack's Dad & the Beanstalk is a novel that parents, teenagers and children can enjoy separately or together."

David Rose begins his Viking Sagas with the tale of Godiva, the famous lady best known for riding bareback (and bare everything else) through Coventry. "Rose, in his first novel, plays fast and loose with the bare facts to create a Godiva who is wise, bold and selflessly charitable," Tom Knapp says. "The story he tells, which is woven thoroughly into the story of Danish leader Canute's conquest and rule of England, is interesting -- it was, at times, hard to put down -- but it is not entirely satisfying."

Al Sarrantonio carves up the pumpkins for a Hallows Eve celebration. "This novel stands alone, although I sense that a familiarity with the earlier books would have helped to understand certain aspects of the plot," Tom says. "Still, despite some minor hitches, Hallows Eve succeeds by providing a creepy location, sinister forces at work and a population of innocent and not-so-innocent characters to weave into the story."

Aiden Beaverson uncovers The Hidden Arrow of Maether -- but Jennifer Mo says this YA fantasy is ordinary. "There's nothing seriously the matter with Arrow, and at the same time, nothing to make it stand out from dozens of similar fantasies," she says. "If you don't mind spending an hour on a predictable but certainly readable fantasy, by all means, read it."

Harper Lee only did it once, but she did it well. "What do you do when you sit down to write a book and you get it absolutely perfect the first time? Unfortunately, you never write another one," Judy Lind explains. "How could Harper Lee have possibly followed this up? Anything she wrote after To Kill a Mockingbird would have been anticlimax. So on the strength of one book, Harper Lee will be forever remembered for writing one of the greatest novels of contemporary American literature."

Matthew S. Field captures a poignant mood with Father Like a Tree, "a wonderfully told, beautifully illustrated book that grew from the most innocent of origins: a 'tell me a story, Daddy' moment," Daniel Jolley says. "Books like this encourage parent-child interaction and help instill a sense of the joy of reading in the little tykes."

Tim Green seeks an Exact Revenge in this thrilling novel that owes at least a tip of the hat to The Count of Monte Cristo. "He writes decent thrillers," Wil Owen opines. "This one seems to be on par with his other novels, although the emotional drain is way more intense. If you don't mind that and a new twist on a previously told tale doesn't bother you, this is an audiobook to check out."

Robin is A Hero Reborn in this miniseries providing a look at the early days of Tim Drake. "Writers Alan Grant and Chuck Dixon pull out all the stops, both doing some of the best writing of their careers," Mark Allen says. "Now, while the previous statement could be considered mere opinion, what has to be admitted as fact is that they established a strong character that continues to enjoy success and solid fan support in his own series to this day. That doesn't happen without strong characterization."

Tom Knapp is Lost in Paradise with Gen 13. "For all that Gen 13 is more about cheesecake than champions, the writers generally tend to entertain, and Lost in Paradise is no exception," he says. "It's a pleasant romp in a tropical setting, and the storyline -- though certainly not breaking new ground -- is fun to read. And sometimes, that's all you really need to look for in a comic book, after all."

Michael Vance has issues with The X-Files: Volume 1. "Almost everyone remembers The X-Files television show, of course. Its twisting plots and foreboding, dark atmosphere are still being imitated by other TV dramas today," Michael says. "Unlike you, the Topps artists in these issues forgot the dark, ominous setting. In fact, they forgot what Mulder and Scully looked like from panel to panel."

Chris McCallister, one of the newest additions to the Rambles.NET team, got an early peek at Bambi II and shares his thoughts with the masses. "I expected to be disappointed, but really wasn't," he says. But, he asks, "does Bambi II match the original? It does not. Bambi is a moment of movie magic that still stands as some of the most beautiful animation ever done, with a powerful story."

Daniel Jolley finds himself Bewitched by this recent remake of the classic TV sitcom. "Even though I'm still struggling with the concept of Will Ferrell getting the opportunity to romance Nicole Kidman onscreen -- and being paid buckets full of money, to boot -- I do have to say that I enjoyed Bewitched more than I thought I would," he says. "I'm not saying there is anything at all substantial to the film, though, because there isn't. It's complete fluff -- but it's funny fluff."

Tom Knapp waves goodbye to Mary Martin and settles down with a Peter Pan he can believe in -- the 2003 remake that has everything going for it. "Peter Pan puts the magic back in the story, but it doesn't shy away from the sharp edges and dark corners of life, either," he says. "The movie is a celebration of joyful living, but it's a little sad, too -- it's not that Peter doesn't want to grow up, he doesn't want to want to grow up. And his inability to come to terms with his own inner desire for a home and parents is both tender and touching."

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

28 January 2006

Reality, however utopian, is something from which people
feel the need of taking pretty frequent holidays.
- Aldous Huxley

Sorry, no time for jibber-jabber. This new chess program is hard! So, you know where the reviews are. (Down there!) You go read them, while I try to save my rook from that sneaky horsey!

The Black Irish Band takes The Long Way to Tipperary with an album Nicky Rossiter calls "a great album with which to open your personal concert at home." The band, he notes, alternates "between Irish and American traditional fare, with the odd Canadian song included."

Pat Kelleher sings Songs of the Sea for this collection of maritime folk. "Kelleher has an obvious affinity for the sea and its songs," Nicky says, "and if you listen to this offering you will want to get on those oilskins and sou'wester to feel the wind and smell the salt air."

Yvonne Lyon proves to be Fearless with her release of this collection of original songs. "Lyrically intimate, her tunes are full of memorable hooks," says Debbie Koritsas. "Listening, I was reminded strongly of Sarah McLachlan -- it was no surprise to know that McLachlan and Shawn Colvin are big influences on Lyon."

Debbie Adshade comes out of Canada and Into Thunder for her latest recording. The CD, John R. Lindermuth says, "shows a richness and maturity with the blending of an eclectic range of musical categories and styles. ... She seeks a wider creative freedom for herself here in these 13 original compositions, which incorporate jazz and blues flavorings."

Sonja Kristina earns the description of "sensual, soulful and enigmatic" from reviewer Nicky Rossiter, who is impressed by the acid rocker's shift into jazz on Cri De Couer. "The 14 tracks are basically laidback, hypnotic jazz as only an accomplished singer can deliver," he says. "This is a chill out, low lights and snifter of brandy album best appreciated with intimate company or in solitude."

The Blind Corn Liquor Pickers make their mark with their new CD, Anywhere Else? "BCLP is basically a bluegrass outfit, and every one of the four members has his bluegrass chops down and is at home and ease in the genre," Jerome Clark reports. "Maybe that's why the approach works so well; if they didn't have the basics in their grasp, they couldn't go beyond them in their surprising lyrics and genially off-center philosophy. Call them bluegrass postmodernists if you must."

Ensemble Burler explores the Kosh-Agash area of Kazakhstan on Vol. I. "Using only traditional instruments -- mainly the dombra, a two- or three-stringed lute-like instrument with a long neck -- the trio of singers and musicians maintains the methods and peculiarities handed down over time when performing," says Sherrill Fulghum. "The lyrical melodies of the songs are a nice contrast to the lack of a melody line in the instrumentals ... due to the limited availability of notes."

Kaitlin Hahn recently had a chance to sit down and talk with Cape Breton guitarist Derrick Cameron. Read her interview to learn more about his work with wife Melody and the Mabou Musical Mentorship Program.

Erika Rabideau chimes in with a report from Celtic Colours. This one, the Fucadairean Coimheach Rioghail (Fierce Royal Milling Singers) in Johnstown, Cape Breton, boasted a mix of music, Gaelic singing and a traditional milling frolic.

Michelle Doyle had a blast last year when the David Munnelly Band came to play in Newmarket, NH. "We'd heard this band was wild, but our first impression upon entering the Stone Church during the belated sound check was that the lads looked rather sedate. Sleepy, even," Michelle recalls. "Two seconds later we were blown away by the first notes from the Mayo box player and his talented band." The editor apologies for not posting this review much sooner.

John D. Barrow falls short of his lofty goal with The Infinite Book: A Short Guide to the Boundless, Timeless & Endless. "Barrow can't seem to decide whether he's writing a history of the scientists and mathematicians whose contemplations on infinity have shaped current science, or if this book should be a history of the concept of infinity and its impact on religious thought, culture and philosophy," Gregg Thurlbeck pronounces. "Either one might have made a compelling book. In attempting to consolidate both of these approaches Barrow manages to do neither of them justice."

Candice Millard charts a course down The River of Doubt with a book detailing former President Teddy Roosevelt's adventures in 1913. "Millard has done an excellent job in telling this story, which has an absorbing cast of characters -- not the least of which is Theodore Roosevelt," John R. Lindermuth says. "The hardships brought out the best in this great man who never shirked sharing the work and even his rations with those who trusted his leadership on the journey."

Charles de Lint sends a Christmas card to everyone in Triskell Tales 2. "While only one of the seven tales has a direct connection to the holiday season, they are still Charles de Lint's Christmas present to all his loyal readers," Tom Knapp says. "While Triskell Tales 2 won't get the kind of wide distribution most of his novels and short-story collections receive, it's worth tracking down to read and enjoy, snuggled someplace warm with your own hob, crow or loved one perched by your side."

H.R. Howland unearths the cliches of horror writing with Ashes, Gary Cramer opines. "Here's a contemporary horror novel that seemed bound and determined to confront me with nearly all of my pet peeves about this genre: pages of unimportant details devoted to the life stories of minor characters who will be summarily killed at the end of the chapter; the overuse of rambling, italicized monologues to peek into characters' heads; a series of shocking and obviously unnatural deaths that attracts little or no attention from the outside world; subplots that go absolutely nowhere after veritable chapters worth of foreshadowing ... I could go on, but won't."

Twm Miall penned a Celtic Catcher in the Rye when he wrote Cyw Haul, David Cox asserts. "Among the most gifted novelists writing in Wales today is the Meirionydd native Twm Miall," David says. "The story is written in a spicy, colloquial Welsh, and the attitudes and atmosphere of a depressed small town are captured well."

Lemony Snicket launched A Series of Unfortunate Events with The Bad Beginning in 1999. "The book that started it all is still fresh years, tears and more tomes later," says Stephen Richmond. "For wordplay, unflinchingly intelligent prose and subtle, entirely anti-pedantic morality, nothing compares to this amazing little book and its siblings."

Joseph A. Citro doesn't fill his writing with blood and guts, but it still can be found in The Gore. "Citro combines a bit of New England folklore with elements of mystery and superstition. Is something unnatural, or even supernatural, at work here?" Tom Knapp says. "We don't know, at least not 'til the end, and Citro keeps readers guessing, but without revealing all of the clues until he's ready."

Monica Furlong pays a visit to Robin's Country, but Jennifer Mo isn't impressed. "While all the traditional people are present, almost all of them are given very little character to work with," she says. "Even Robin and Marian are mere caricatures, given just enough information to give them personality beyond the legends."

Elizabeth Kostova failed to impress reviewer Stephen Richmond with her hardcover novel The Historian -- but he changed his mind after hearing the audiobook version. "Over a period of about two weeks for the 10 CDs involved, my daily commute of about 45 minutes each way was enlivened by Kostova's rich prose and terse, if methodical pacing, further enriched by the delightful cast of readers," he says. "This was great entertainment and made the miles go by."

Michael Vance walks The Lone & Level Sands for this new, biblical-based book. "Lewis pens a wonderfully entertaining tale of a proud, dignified and noble ruler who loves his family and nation, at odds with a man who is driven by sincere conviction," Michael says. "The latter will be familiar to those acquainted with the book of Exodus. The former is a fresh take on a king of long ago, but could be imagined true without clashing with Biblical material."

Tom Knapp jumps into the post-movie Star Wars craze with Dark Empire II -- but this graphic novel proved a bad place to start. "First, the art is terrible. Luke, Han and Leia never look like Luke, Han and Leia," Tom says. "Implied motion is static. Postures are awkward. And the color palette seems to have been limited to the extent that numerous pages are almost monochromatic; with the exception of a few details, everything is greenish on one page, orangeish on another, and so on." And that doesn't even touch on the dialogue....

Tom wanders the streets of a Crooked Little Town in this recent excursion with Catwoman. "Still in her new garb and bearing a new attitude towards crime -- she's against it, when innocents in her community, Gotham's working-class East End, are the victims -- Selina Kyle takes to the streets and rooftops as the city's newest champion," Tom explains. "By this point in the series, it's clear Catwoman's new costume is a hit with the readers, as is her toned-down sexuality, her amped-up romance with Batman and her new outlook on life."

Jenny Lind joins our staff with a Fresh look at a too-often ignored film. "Fresh suffered from abominable distribution when it was first released in 1994, which prevented it from being much better known," she explains. "I hadn't even heard of this film until I caught it on cable TV one night a few months ago. Since then I've seen it four times, and each time I come away awed."

Daniel Jolley scans the New York City skyline for King Kong -- but it's not the 1933 classic version nor the 2005 remake who bellows his rage at the city. This is the much-debated 1976 version starring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange. "This film is not in the same league as the 1933 original (it's not even close), but it is worth seeing," Dan says. "Kong is a unique monster character whose story always manages to touch the heart, even in an overblown, frankly weird adaptation such as this one. Plus, it's unintentionally amusing -- especially in terms of the not so special effects."

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

21 January 2006

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

Wow, that was some Very Good Salmon! Wait, my apologies, that was probably rude of me to mention without bringing enough to share with everyone, and since I et it all up ... well, tough. Sorry!

Pale, Stout & Amber lives up to its name with its self-titled CD. "Whether playing lively instrumentals or belting out 'General Guinness,' this band has a fervour, matched by ample ability, to raise old songs and tunes to their former glory," Nicky Rossiter says.

Michael William Harrison enjoys his First Time 'Round with "a wonderful blend of both the familiar and slightly less familiar from a singer who obviously loves what he does," Nicky says. "This may be his first time around, but I look forward to the return journey." (Not realizing Tom Knapp had reviewed this disc back in 2003, Nicky adds a second opinion.)

Flatpicking guitarist Roger Lasley exhibits fine performance and composition skills on three CDs, What Cheer Road, Duck & Let the Wave Go By and Dinner on the Ground. "The caliber of Lasley's playing and compositional skills should be sufficient to get him a berth on a small independent label, but no one ever said life is fair," Chet Williamson says. "Perhaps he's better off producing himself, writing and playing the things he wants to, and reaching an audience who enjoys work created without the fetterings of commercial claptrap."

Simon Mayor and Hilary James perform some Children's Favourites for your listening pleasure. "This is classy music in all senses for young people -- and not so young -- to gain an appreciation of good music as played without the aid of technological safety nets," Nicky Rossiter says. "Over 29 tracks, they use humour, familiarity and most of all musical ability to draw children into the world of sound. From this album, young people will be educated not only in music but in the topics of a wider world."

Marcel Gagnon has been Captured by this folk-rock release. "While the content of some of the songs on Captured might be difficult for some to handle at times, the music that Marcel Gagnon and the others have formed makes it easier to continue on to the next track," says Paul de Bruijn. "So when, if, you listen to this CD, let it remind you that yes, there is pain and sorrow, but there is also love and laughter as well."

Mark Hummel shows the range of blues harmonica on Blowin' My Horn. "Hummel brings out a wide variety of tones from his harps, with warbles, wah-wahs and overblowing," Dave Howell opines. "If you are a blues fan, you can't help but be captured right on the first cut."

Rod Clements is on his Stamping Ground for an Americana-inflected country/folk sound from the U.K. "This is a great album of new songs," Nicky Rossiter says. "It may be jumping between two stools -- folk and country -- but it does it well. I would love to hear him concentrate on the folk side on a new album."

Jason Miles explores the jazz themes of Miles Davis on the aptly titled Miles to Miles. "To say Miles to Miles is good jazz seems to be missing part of the music; it is good music that has jazz at its heart," Paul de Bruijn says. "Jason Miles has created something wonderful here, and it is a good listening experience."

Debbie Koritsas takes us along to The Gathering, a celebration of traditional Irish music and arts in Yorkshire, England. Debbie says this "excellent new arts festival" was a resounding success.

Douglas Gresham gets personal in his memories of his stepfather in Jack's Life: The Life Story of C.S. Lewis. "Jack's Life (and yes, the nickname is explained), is a fascinating story and nicely embroiders the bare facts" of Lewis's biography, Laurie Thayer explains. But, "while Jack's Life is a warm, loving portrait of Gresham's stepfather, it would have been better served had he chosen a different style in which to write it."

Jennifer Crusie compiles essays on the subject of three (or four) TV witches in Totally Charmed: Demons, Whitelighters & the Power of Three. "The funny thing is, being a non-member of the Charmed fanverse, I expected to get bored with the book and quickly hand it off to another reviewer," Tom Knapp says. "But no, instead I found myself enjoying these deep, analytical explorations of a show I rarely watched. The hypotheses made and the arguments supporting them are interesting, and often quite fun."

Diarmuid O'Neill gathers a variety of insights on Rebuilding the Celtic Languages, and asks what can be done to restore these languages to everyday use, David Cox says. "This somewhat academic account is full of interesting facts, stats, maps and lessons for language activists," he adds. "It's a great reference for Celts of all nations and others interested in restoring their language to full community use."

L.A. Meyer sets sail with Jacky Faber Under the Jolly Roger, and Tom Knapp for one is happy to see Jacky back at sea. "Under the Jolly Roger includes plenty of action at sea and intrigue on board, as well as the kind of heady, high-spirited character development that has proved a hallmark of Meyer's work," Tom says. "Jacky Faber is well on her way to painting her name in line with such famous (or infamous) lady sailors as Anne Bonney, Mary Read and Grace O'Malley, and literary naval heroes like Horatio Hornblower and Captain Jack Aubrey."

Chris Bunch proves to be a Dragonmaster in this, the first book of a fantasy trilogy. "As always, Bunch has created a solid universe and a good adventure story," says Robert Tilendis. However, he adds, "this is somewhat of a problematic book. Even considering that it is the first volume of a trilogy, it is somewhat sparse. Except for the sex, violence and profanity, it could be a young adult fantasy; it is fairly direct, characters are well developed but lack depth, and the plot is fairly predictable. Bunch's other books cast in the same mold, such as his Last Legion series, have been richer and more detailed."

Kate Constable begins her Chanters of Tremaris trilogy with The Singer of All Songs. "The Singer of All Songs has so much potential that it is frustrating that it doesn't realize it to the fullest," says Jennifer Mo. "Constable's clear prose is capable of a brilliance and beauty that it only periodically delivers. Her characters are similarly uneven."

Gail Carson Levine revisits Cinderella territory with Ella Enchanted. "Levine is a charming writer with a whimsical sense of humor," says Stephen Richmond. "This will not fail to tantalize and delight fans of Donna Jo Napoli, Robin McKinley and even the Harry Potter crowd."

Alan Dean Foster, a highly successful writer, flops with To the Vanishing Point, Daniel Jolley believes. "In all honesty, I found this book to be badly written and less than compelling," he explains. "The story itself is weak enough without being cursed with such bad characterization and dialogue. I was unable to like a single character, and I could not help but wince during several sections as I watched these puppetlike characters go about their mission."

Bill and Cindy Paul novelize the Western roots of their family in Shadow of an Indian Star. "I definitely became quite enthralled with this book, and I immediately researched the Paul family afterwards and couldn't help but think it would make an excellent screenplay," says Jo Overfield. "Shadow of an Indian Star is an epic true tale that I would recommend to anyone with a vivid imagination."

Robert Tilendis goes on holiday with Adventure Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 12. "One of the things that fascinates me most about comics (or 'graphic novels' if we are to adopt the slightly more dignified term) is the interface between word and image, which is something that makes its appearance in high art from time to time," Robert says. "It is an area that comic books mastered a long time ago, and this volume is a good example of the ways in which they have done it. By all relevant criteria, this is good stuff, even if I don't always agree with the artistic decisions."

Stephen Richmond doesn't really see the point to Twentieth Century Eightball. "While there's considerable variety in artistic style and tone and even a whole bunch of characters, the whole muddle is desperately derivative and often pretty tasteless," he explains. "As an art school librarian, I have seen just way too much of the rankest of amateurs, grappling with their pencils, trying to find something fresh, and to express it in their own voice. Why Fantagraphics decided to reward such a contention with a $19 trade paperback collection is simply quite beyond my comprehension."

Tom Knapp enjoys the partnership of two DC heroes in Nightwing/Huntress, written by Devin Grayson. "Devin Grayson clearly enjoyed writing the story, from forensics to foreplay, and he carries it off in laudable style," he says. "The interplay between Nightwing and Huntress -- and I'm talking about dialogue here, folks -- is handled well, accurately portraying an evolution through various levels of trust, distrust, affection and more."

Tom Knapp goes adventuring in a quest to find King Kong -- and is eager to see how Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson handled this 72-year-old gorilla. "Kong is as legendary in his way as hobbits and elves, and Jackson has treated that legend with the respect it deserves," Tom says. "This epic remake is destined to be a classic." Stay tuned for Daniel Jolley's review of the 1976 version!

Speaking of Dan, he pays a visit to Sin City -- and raves in particular about the extras on the DVD. "It's always a thrill to see a movie get the DVD treatment it deserves," he raves. "If you're a Sin City fan, you'll want to just take a day off and indulge yourself in this ultimate Sin City experience -- and it will take you the better part of a day to watch and go through everything this little box holds."

This bird has flown, but Daniel fears they'll keep trotting out the empty cage anyway. So is there any reason to see The Crow: Wicked Prayer? "Maybe a halfway impressive Crow could have salvaged something from this movie, but I doubt it," Dan says. "I just don't see Crow enthusiasts (or anyone else, for that matter) getting anything out of this movie at all."

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

14 January 2006

At first, I only laughed at myself.
Then I noticed that life itself is amusing.
I've been in a generally good mood ever since.
- Marilyn vos Savant

Did everyone get through Friday the 13th OK??? For all of our triskaidekaphobic readers out there who fear lingering effects of the day, please rest assured we have removed all sharp edges from the review pages listed below.

Give Way is Inspired by the muse of music. "Give Way consists of four sisters all under the age of 19 years, but this set of 11 tracks would be the pride of a dragoon of artists from all corners of the world aged up to 110," Nicky Rossiter says. "This album showcases the group to great effect as performers and on some tracks as composers."

Lorraine Garland and Malena Teves were drawn together by their association with Neil Gaiman and their mutual fondness for dead things. Now, as Lorraine a' Malena, they share their musical delights on Mirror Mirror. "So, just how well do these two ladies sing together? Let me put it this way," Tom Knapp says. "They sound, alternatively and sometimes simultaneously, like the sort of women who might seduce you by candlelight or soothe your fevered brow with moist cloths and kisses, who might join you in hearty gales of laughter or suck the jelly from your eyeballs in some arcane ritual to gain mastery over your soul. They're untamed and dangerous, both witches and warriors in spirit. Oh, hell, just take my word for it, they sing real good."

The Lorraine a' Malena CD got Tom to thinking about Lorraine's last CD, Get Y'er Hands Off 'Me Booty with Folk Underground. Had he already reviewed it? No! Well, it's time. "The band's first CD was an exploration of gothic folk. Now, Folk Underground goes renaissance with Get Y'er Hands Off 'Me Booty, the sort of album that requires musicians to dress like pirates and wenches while performing on bare wooden stages with the smell of turkey legs in the air," he says. "The songs are largely familiar to those who sail Celtic waters, but Folk Underground doesn't usually do them like other folks do."

Charlie Parr is up with the Rooster on his latest CD. "He doesn't sound a whole lot like anybody else you'd encounter these days, though his vocals sometimes have the gravelly rasp of a Tom Waits or a young Dave Van Ronk," Jerome Clark says. "An intense performer, Parr wastes no energy bothering to try to prettify his sound for those seeking sweet, unthreatening entertainment. He demands -- and commands -- attention."

Magic Car raises some Family Matters on this new folk CD. "The voice of Magic Car's Hazel Atkinson has the rare ability to seduce and haunt you as she weaves her way through a song telling a story," Nicky Rossiter says. "This is an album that will delight, captivate and entrance anyone with a heart and soul, plus an ear for good music well played."

Gas Money will perform for free drinks and 22 Dollars, a fact the Philadelphia-area band celebrates with this blue-collar country CD. "None of these guys is exactly a master of his instrument, which is fine by me, because the sound comes out likably loose and ragged, even a little goofy, in some ways reminiscent -- minus the earnest blues and r&b accents -- of the prehistoric Rolling Stones," Jerome Clark reports. "The lyrics are straightforward, the familiar rooted themes of some of America's most enduring music: drinkin' in a bar, listenin' to country music, nursin' heartaches, feelin' pissed off, ridin' freight trains."

Gurf Morlix is ready to Cut 'n Shoot for a CD that is "pure truck drivin', cryin' in your beer, woe is me country music," Charlie Ricci opines. "Cut 'n Shoot may be too country for mainstream country music fans. ... This CD is for a very select group of listeners who will enjoy it very much."

Written Prisms combine hip-hop with jazz for a unique musical blend. "Written Prisms has taken a spectrum of different sounds and brought them together to a cohesive whole on Ellipsis," says Paul de Bruijn. "The various connecting themes that run through the CD help bring this about. These are good musicians who have crafted some fine music."

Charlie Gillett compiled the music for Sound of the World, drawing on his BBC radio expertise to bring a wide range of music together. "There are some delightfully quirky tracks here, which will surprise listeners used to the conservative world collections like Putumayo's," Dave Howell says.

Reporting from Celtic Colours this week, Kaitlin Hahn shares her thoughts on Songs, Tunes & Stories in Bras d'Or. The exciting lineup featured David Francey, Brenda Stubbert, Kimberley Fraser, Darrell Keigan, Joe Derrane and the Boston Edge.

Arthur Peacocke and Ann Pederson explore The Music of Creation -- but Robert Tilendis thinks they got off track. "One must, I think, accept a great deal in terms of the authors' assertions on theology, although I find myself forced to question some of those assertions," he explains. "I think the book must be taken as a metaphor, and a greatly extended one, but in that context, the discussion seems slightly off-point. All told, I found The Music of Creation somewhat of a disappointment. The reasoning seems fuzzy, with a number of conclusions that just left me scratching my head, and a real lack of discussion of the connection between making music and contemporary Christian thought."

Benjamin Hoff gets philosophical while explaining The Tao of Pooh. "Hoff avoids diminishing his message by dumbing it down," Tom Knapp says. "While much of the slim book is written in the childlike prose of a Pooh story, it is still surprisingly deep, thought-provoking and grown-up at its root. By book's end, readers should have a fairly solid understanding of basic Taoist principles and how they relate to contemporary life."

Rob Thurman finds beasties hiding in the shadows of a New York City Nightlife. "Nightlife is a damn fine book, an excellent first effort from this author," Tom Knapp says. "Thurman keeps you guessing for a good, long while, revealing hints and shreds of the story with a wicked grin until the grim picture begins to form."

Kage Baker passes time with The Children of the Company in this century-hopping sequel to previous Company books. It also left Robert Tilendis uneasy by its end. "It's a disturbing book," he says. "Even though it's not one that I can say I enjoyed, I have to say that it most definitely is an excellent example of science fiction, pulling in all the possibilities that mode has for sharp satire and broad social commentary."

Brian Freeman rained terror from the skies in Blue November Storms. Gregg Winkler says the horror novella is very good -- but too short to accomplish its goals. "At somewhere around 30,000 words, the reader just does not have enough leg room to stretch out and get comfortable with many aspects of the story," he states. "Freeman does, however, firmly plant his story in a believable setting, keeping the majority of the novella on the roof of the cabin in the woods. This simple setting creates a very decent background with very little description and also creates a wonderful feeling of isolation."

John Morressy gets down to business with The Juggler. "From the compelling first chapter in which a capricious king orders a juggler's hand cut off, to the last, quietly triumphant page, The Juggler is a dark, meticulously detailed, compulsively readable medieval fantasy," says Jennifer Mo.

David Whitewolf is ambitious -- but sloppy -- with Aunt Puff & Missing Minerva. "Not only is author David Whitewolf chock to the brim with creative concepts and fun, he's a competent storyteller and has a firm grasp of plot, pacing and other narrative tricks essential to good stories," Stephen Richmond proclaims. "I'd love to see what a talented editor might do with this talented author."

George Pelecanos foments a Hard Revolution in this, which Ron Bierman says "is one of his best novels. ... If you haven't read Pelecanos, this is a good place to start. After reading it, you'll be looking for his previous novels and maybe even watching The Wire, the HBO series about Baltimore law enforcement that won him an Emmy nomination. Whether in print or on TV, George Pelecanos gets my highest recommendation."

Paul Levine unleashes high-powered courtroom drama with Solomon vs. Lord. Jean Marchand says the book is "a raucous and amusing tale with dialogue reminiscent of the banter between Kate and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. ... There are humorous situations and well-drawn characters, as well as an easy flow of action. Twists and surprises season the mix."

Tom Knapp reads Return of the Jedi with a difference -- part of the Star Wars Infinites series where a single variation in the story has big ramifications. "In this case, rescues, warnings and attacks go very differently than intended, causing the destruction of one popular character and the permanent blinding of another," he says. "Still, in the greater cause of the Rebellion, the final outcome -- a powerful new ally -- might be worth those sacrifices."

Tom is on a Learning Curve with the Ultimate Spider-Man in this collection of stories about the young superhero. "Brian Michael Bendis has proven himself over and over again as the man to be writing this book, and he vividly captures the attitude of a young, untrained hero -- and inexperienced teenager to boot," Tom says. "Artist Mark Bagley gives the story a brilliant sense of real motion, emotion and life."

Stephen Richmond seeks Salvation with volume 7 of the Preacher arc. "Writing such complex characters at this level of sophistication is no easy feat, but Garth Ennis does so masterfully," Stephen says. "Steve Dillon's art perfectly catches the nuances of the characters and their setting. This is truly a virtuoso performance and truly a grand reading experience."

Daniel Jolley would love to conquer the world with Alexander, but he fears Oliver Stone's watered-down version just doesn't have enough oomph to get the job done. "Stone does a great disservice to Alexander the Great, passing him off as a dandy with little strategic genius and even less control over men who supposedly loved and respected him enough to fight and die for him thousands of miles from home," Dan says. "Stone's characterization of Alexander is just plain weird -- and that's the whole problem with this movie."

Jen Kopf calls for a Time Out to absorb this film, which was originally released as L'Emploi du temps. "Not every thriller has to have chases and breathless suspense," she says. "Sometimes, the very act of getting through life can provide all the thriller-style tension we can handle."

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

7 January 2006

In the fiddler's house, all are dancers.
- French proverb

It's a new year, and that means changes. Rambles.NET is constantly growing and, as interest dictates, we sometimes create new areas to feature certain items. To start 2006 with a bang, we're unveiling three new categories, each broken out from the general non-fiction book section. The first features books on science, while the second spotlights linguistics and other language matters. The largest of the new categories focuses on pop culture: books on movies, TV and other books. Take a look and let us know what you think!

Great Big Sea is "back to its roots and its glory with The Hard & the Easy, Tom Knapp exclaims. "Forgoing (at least for now) their excursion into video-friendly pop, the Newfoundland band has released an all-acoustic CD taken entirely from the province's rich music tradition. The result is extraordinary."

Catriona McKay and Chris Stout are a musical force to be reckoned with, Nicky Rossiter says. "Laebrack is a tour de force of the best of Scottish playing on harp and fiddle. The tunes may not be too familiar, but given even a casual listen to these two musicians, you cannot help but be hooked by the professional playing allied to an evident love of music."

The Black Irish Band lauds nature and spirit with its concept album, From the Forest. "It celebrates the great American outdoors, especially the forests and those who risk life and limb fighting fires in the wilds," Nicky says. "You do not need to have experienced those wilderness areas to enjoy this album, but if you have been there it gives you that added thrill."

Lindsay Mac orchestrates a Small Revolution with a debut CD featuring expressive vocals and cello in a jazzy folk-pop blend. "With one exception, the songs here are originals, and Lindsay crafts stories and moods that are both entertaining and sophisticated," Tom Knapp says. "This is good stuff, addictive even, and it reveals the bright star of a new talent on the horizon. With a debut album this strong, I can only imagine how Lindsay's music will evolve by the next one. I'll be waiting eagerly to hear the results."

Kim Carnes, once famous for her "Bettie Davis Eyes," has turned to Chasin' Wild Trains. "The perceptive quality of Carnes' writing strikes the listener on every track," Nicky Rossiter says. "She taps into our lives -- the lives of the ordinary person -- with uncanny insights."

Andy Northrup uses Cardboard Logic to get his point across. "Northrup is one of those wonderful writers who makes beautiful music, tells true stories and I am sure enthralls his live audiences but needs that wider listenership that his songs deserve so much," Nicky says. "Do your bit. Seek out this album, buy it, enjoy it and, if you have any clout with radio stations, get it played."

Andy Smythe enjoys the Last Throes of Summer through his songs. "The compositions come straight from the singer and are all the better for this," says Nicky. "Smythe has an ear for words and a knack for writing well about the ordinary things of life."

Canadian country/bluegrass singer Angela Harris gets back to her Roots. "She writes about stuff, everyday stuff -- a dad kissing his daughter, small towns, ego, opinions, the wisdom of her mom," Jane Eamon says. "It's stuff we can all relate to. But she also handles global situations with the same skill, making the universal, personal and attainable."

Dead Men's Hollow is a collection of four women and two men from the D.C. area, but their CD Forever True leads reviewer Jerome Clark in a direction he didn't want to go. "Dead Men's Hollow is, I guess, supposed to be an old-time string band," he says, "but it sounds like -- and I'm sure is -- an earnest enterprise put together by well-meaning and no doubt perfectly likable individuals who know little about the string-band tradition or the rough mountain music that preceded it, but who nonetheless, on hearing some artists and recordings, imagined they got the idea."

Tonic demonstrates the gift of swing on Vintage Vocals. "This vocal quartet does more than just cover swing/lounge material," Dave Howell says. "Their nine-piece backing band and a few guest musicians expertly play original swing orchestra arrangements, instead of imitating the usual Louis Jordan-style combo. ... Best of all, the originals written by members of the quartet stand equally with the covers, instead of being thinly veiled rip-offs of old swing tunes."

Kuljit Bhamra and Shan Chana greet the Himalaya Dawn with an album that impressed the heck out of reviewer Debbie Koritsas! "Its shimmering vibrancy and innovation brings a whole new energy to Bhangra music," she explains. "The result? A heady and intoxicating fusion of East and West -- the Asian musicians living and working in the United Kingdom are producing music of breathtaking quality. Pump the volume up loud, and your senses are assailed by an electrifying Asian soundscape of pounding drums, Indian violins, flutes, vocal samples and superb programming."

The music of Pride & Prejudice has satisfied reviewer Jennifer Mo. "In the end, the soundtrack probably doesn't transcend its original role as background music, but it is beautifully evocative, atmospheric and understated background music that is as appropriate to almost any quiet, solitary pastime as it is -- or so I imagine -- to the film," she says.

Adolf Goriup attended the Oriental & Flamenco Gypsy Festival in Zurich and filed this report: "The musical journey led from the north of Africa through Andalusia in Spain and passed through Switzerland down to the far Orient and was spiced with breathtaking dance shows and an awe-inspiring fakir performance." See more by clicking the link!

Ellen Steiber delves into gem lore in her fantasy novel, A Rumor of Gems. "Although she has written numerous short stories and young adult books, A Rumor of Gems is Steiber's first fantasy novel for adults. And it's a winner," says Laurie Thayer. "Steiber's use of gem lore to further the story is inspired and obviously painstakingly researched."

S.L. Viehl expands her Bio Rescue series with Afterburn. "This is a satisfying story all the way around, with great characters and plenty of action," Laurie notes. "While it might be helpful to have read other books in the series, it is not necessary. However, now that I've read Afterburn, I'll be looking for the others."

A.S. Mott appeals to the monochromatic set with Gothic Ghost Stories: Tales of Intrigue & Fantasy from Beyond the Grave. "Gothic Ghost Stories may be a little simplistic for adult audiences. The thrills are less sharp than an episode of The Twilight Zone, and most dedicated readers will have seen enough reworked fairy tales to put Mott's collection at a disadvantage," Sarah Meador says. "But then, Gothic Ghost Stories isn't for such established, easy-spirited adults. From the dedication, Mott clearly directs his work "to all the girls in black dresses and white makeup who no one understands." For all those Goth girls, Gothic Ghost Stories may be a sympathetic voice as well as a good read."

K.M. Briggs breathed new life into an old story with her novelization of Kate Crackernuts. "There is a fair amount to admire in this ambitious amalgamation of history, fantasy, fairy tale and ballad, from the meticulous historical detail of 17th-century Scotland to the audibly authentic Scottish and Yorkshire dialects," says Jennifer Mo. "A number of scenes and images are extremely memorable, and Briggs' prose is graceful, if a trifle chilly."

Linda A. Lavid, with her mystery novel Paloma, "has created a story that is as much about the relationship between two people as it is about the plot to kill one of them," says Paul de Bruijn. "It may be a lazy-day read, but those can be quite fun at times -- and this one is."

Aida Hudson and Susan-Ann Cooper explore Windows & Words: A Look at Canadian Children's Literature in English. "I expected that this book would be of use to aspiring writers for children, or that it would talk about children and their enjoyment of certain literature," Virginia MacIsaac complains. "For the most part, however, there is little studied connection to the term 'children' at all."

Tom Knapp hears inevitable Sounds of Violence in this Green Arrow tale by Kevin Smith. "Sounds of Violence is a taut, thrilling superhero drama, the kind that keeps you turning pages as fast as you can," Tom says. "It's the kind of story that makes you wish Smith was a more frequent (and more reliable) writer in the comics field."

The saga of Kevin Matchstick, Arthur Pendragon born again, continues in Matt Wagner's series Mage: The Hero Defined. "The Hero Defined is a more polished tale than its predecessor," Tom says. "The story is more serious, but at the same time shows more wit. The characters are at times a bit more exaggerated and over the top, but they also seem more solid, more real. ... The book is a lot of fun to read, and the world Wagner has created seems to have endless potential for expansion and exploration."

Mark Allen takes the Northwest Passage to enjoy Scott Chantler's highly entertaining and somewhat experimental comics project. "Northwest Passage, with it's better-than-average characterization, great story pacing and magnificent art work, is just the change I'm looking for," Mark says.

Tom Knapp enjoyed author Neil Gaiman's debut as a short film director on A Short Film About John Bolton. "A Short Film About John Bolton is filmed like a documentary, and at first you'll believe it really is," Tom says. "After watching the stylish, 30-minute film, it's useful to watch it again, this time with the commentary feature on. ... If the half-hour film isn't sufficient inducement to pick up the DVD, Gaiman fans will be pleased with the inclusion of Neil Gaiman, Live at the Aladdin among the DVD's special features."

Jen Kopf takes a dip in Ocean's Twelve, but she says the film has "too many plots, some outlandish story requirements and the feeling that (director Steven Soderburgh) packed in just a few too many cameos that have the movie bursting at the seams. ... When the final reckoning comes, you'll find yourself wishing you'd just watched Ocean's Eleven all over again."

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