13 May 2006 to 1 July 2006

1 July 2006

Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history,
is man's original virtue.
It is through disobedience and rebellion
that progress has been made.
- Oscar Wilde

The heavy storms and flooding in these parts seem to be over for now. The sun is nice, but the air is muggy. Would someone please come and mow my lawn??

Eamon Friel's Here is the River is the most beautiful and relaxing album of the year to date," Nicky Rossiter says. "Friel has a distinctive voice, but also a great and unique talent to write songs of meaning and emotion.

Alison O'Donnell and Isabel Ni Chuireain take Nicky on a flashback to the old Mellow Candle days with this new album, Mise agus Ise. "The joy of this album is the fact that you get expert playing and performing combined with well-thought-out lyrics, but they never lose sight of the humour in even the most poignant situation," he says. "The lush and powerful playing of Isabel complements Alison's vocals. It is only when we listen to an album like this that we realize the essential ingredients of a magic performance."

Wolfstone makes sure that every note can be heard on Live! Not Enough Shouting. "The drive and energy displayed by the band on stage come through in this live album, which was recorded in 2000 during a musical tour of their homeland of Scotland," says Sherrill Fulghum. "Even during the slow pieces, it feels like the band will break out into a fast-paced number at any moment. In other words, Not Enough Shouting is not a CD to put on when you're sitting down to relax."

Blue Stone is all ready to Breathe for the crowd. "You've heard this CD before," Dave Howell notes. "Not this particular one, but the combination of soft electronica and ethereal vocals, new age, with a Celtic bent in the mostly female singing. Fragments of chant, a la Enigma, make an appearance."

There's "a certain Leonard Cohen-esque quality to Frank Black's Honeycomb album," Gregg Thurlbeck opines. "As with Cohen, Black's vocals have a rough-edged, anti-musicality that calls attention to each song's lyric in a manner that a more polished voice would not. And the lyrics are, for the most part, up to the attention."

Greg Herriges produces "an album of amazing sounds" on It Plays Me, Nicky Rossiter says. "Some will have a familiar tone while others betray origins and inspiration from different cultures. The common thread is excellent performance and style."

Wes Tucker & the Skillets find Beauty in the Broken with this folk-rock (leaning towards rock-rock) release. "For new listeners, think folk-rock mixed with a little country twang along with a sprinkle of funk on select tracks," Wil Owen says. "The band has shown its versatility. They can rock. They can funk. And they can get folksy when the mood strikes."

Mike Stinson may be the Last Fool at the Bar, but that doesn't dissuade Jerome Clark from listening. "There is no question that Stinson is immersed in the masters -- George Jones, Ray Price, Lefty Frizzell -- but he doesn't, as so many do, imitate them," Jerome says. "His strangely froggy voice -- it's an endearing frogginess, be assured -- alone sets him in a class of his own."

The Crooked Jades believe the World's on Fire, and they may well be right. "The Jades -- the current generation -- have not lost their keen sense of the traditional. Far from it," Jerome says. "Now, however, the arrangements are, strictly speaking, untraditional. Or at least sort of untraditional. Or let me put it this way: What's going on is nothing like radical imposition; it's more like a working of the music from the inside out, with fresh and aged so seamlessly integrated into one common language that ... well, when I first heard it, I thought I must be dreaming it."

The Subdudes perform from Behind the Levee in "the magical place where laid-back R&B intersects with Cajun exuberance," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "The Subdudes concoct a brand of American music that aims to sooth the soul and move the feet."

The Rob Levit Trio follows an Uncertain Path to jazz excellence. "Uncertain Path is a hugely eclectic, wholly absorbing album of shifting moods and textures, where nuance and detail abound," Debbie Koritsas says. "This music will impress those who enjoy the likes of Pat Metheny, Michael Hedges and John McLaughlin. Levit is a virtuoso in his own right, worthy of having his name placed alongside musicians of this repute."

Enekk produces another album of Scandinavian folk-rock with Methan vit Naerkast Jorthini. "Vocalist Kari Sverrison sings the lyrics with intensity and meaning," says Jennifer Hanson. "Even if you don't speak Faroese, it's worth checking out for a sample of folk-rock mixed with world flavor."

John Williams is synonymous with movie music, and he lives up to his name on Memoirs of a Geisha. "While the violin and cello dominate, the accompanying flutes, drums and koto fill the music with layers that are actually more enjoyable without the film," Wil Owen says. "Even if you have never heard of John Williams, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman or Memoirs of a Geisha, if you enjoy classical sounding music with an Asian flair, I think you will be pleased with what you hear on this soundtrack."

Dave Eggers has written A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. "Overall, this book ... is a gem, filled with absolutely hilarious and raw moments," Jessica Lux-Baumann reveals. "Sometimes, though, Eggers goes into lengthy, bordering on boring, diatribes about certain subjects, and I wonder why those weren't edited down just a bit."

Jasper Fforde seeks a killer in the case of The Fourth Bear. "Combine a killer cookie on the run with a large, concussive cucumber, a missing journalist with golden hair and a fondness for porridge and bears, and a theme park recreating a bloody World War I offensive," and you have a pretty good idea where this latest episode in the annals of Detectives Jack Spratt and Mary Mary is going, Tom Knapp says. "Fforde is a modern wit without equal, spinning literary allusions with delightful dexterity and downright cleverness."

Justine Musk's novel Bloodangel "starts with a great hook, an opening scene full of sex, drugs and blood (the rock 'n' roll is to come a little later), followed by plenty more action," Jessica Lux-Baumann says. "Musk delivers vivid characterization of her human and otherworldly characters, delivering an action-packed apocalyptic story line full of self-discovery and empowerment. This was a thrill ride of a read."

Michelle Tea introduces us to Rose of No Man's Land for "an unforgettable night of underage alcohol, destruction, drugs, friendship, sexuality, love and tattoos," says Jessica. "Think of the whimsy and the magical alignment of lost souls that one might find in a Francesca Lia Block book. Toss in some dark twists a la Chuck Palahniuk or David Lynch. Bring in an innocent yet observant (and witty!) narrative voice like that in Speak or The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and you arrive at a hint of Rose of No Man's Land."

Carl Hiaasen may be a Basket Case, but his writing is a treat. Hiaasen, Tom Knapp says, "is peopling Florida with an outrageous array of characters one book at a time. While a murder investigation provides the core of Hiaasen's Basket Case plot, it underpins a remarkably clever wit, but subtle and direct, and a razor-sharp eye for good dialogue. Long after the mystery is solved, readers will remain enthralled to see how it all unfolds, who gets their comeuppance and who gets a happy, or at least not too horrible, ending."

Louise Simonson tackles the Justice League of America in her novel, The Gauntlet. "How delightful it might be if she were to take on the Amazing Amazon's monthly series! Not only are the characterizations apt and appropriate, her plot keeps the pages turning," Stephen Richmond says. "Better written than the loathsome Junie B. Jones series and a bit more sophisticated than the rudely humorous Captain Underpants, these belong in all library collections."

Tom Knapp says the Ultimate Spider-Man series takes a lighthearted turn after tragedy with Superstars. "After the highly charged and somewhat depressing events of Carnage, the Ultimate Spider-Man line needed some lighter arcs to brighten the mood," he explains. "Superstars is the perfect dose of relief to clear the air for Spider-Man and his readers alike."

Tom believes comics developed a conscience in 1970, with the publication of the first books in Dennis O'Neil's Green Lantern/Green Arrow storyline. Vol. 1 of the short-lived run is a reminder of those first, big-boy steps. "Let's be honest here, the stories from 1970-71 are not the most sophisticated we've seen," Tom says. "But the series remains a revolutionary step towards a new, mature attitude in 'funny books' that has improved with time. For that reason alone, these 'hard-travelling heroes' are worth a space on your bookshelf."

Michael Vance serves up a helpin' of Tales of the Terminal Diner, "an anthology of tales told over coffee at a restaurant located at the corner of Unreal and Real. ... These pithy stories cover the gamut of literary genres and styles of art, and more than one is likely to be your cup of tea."

Daniel Jolley goes Sky High with this film about a superhero high school. "I don't need to tell you how the story develops, as it's all pretty predictable stuff -- but I must say it is exceedingly entertaining, as well," he says. "This is a film that kids will love, teens will be able to identify with, and most adults will find very entertaining. The laughs are plentiful, the special effects are right on the money, and the emotional aspects of this coming of age story play extremely well."

Daniel believes this film to be a National Treasure -- despite Nicholas Cage's involvement. "I don't, as a general rule, like Cage very much, but I have to say he seemed to fit himself to the character perfectly and injected plenty of energy into the entire movie," he says. "I thought this was an immensely enjoyable film -- a little less than perfect in a couple of places, but well thought out and actually pretty believable."

That wraps up another edition of Rambles.NET. Hurry back! (Or stick around and browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

24 June 2006

Of all the strange "crimes" that human beings have legislated out of nothing, "blasphemy" is the most amazing, with "obscenity" and "indecent exposure" fighting it out for second and third place.
- Robert Heinlein

Home ... and no clear view of a moose to report, alas. But something was crashing through the forest that one, dark night, and the sight of two foxes romping in a clearing was worthy of note. Another holiday on the coast of Maine has passed successfully, with books and music and stories to share....

The Whistlebinkies have another go with Albannach. "Listening to the fresh sound of this album, I was amazed to realize that the Whistlebinkies started back in the heyday of pop legends like the Beatles in the 1960s," Nicky Rossiter says. "They revived the great instruments of Scottish traditional music, such as the bellow blown bagpipes and the small Scottish harp, and on their new recording Albannach these magical instruments give a wonderous depth and feeling to the music."

The Occasionals are just Down to the Hall with a disc of Scottish country-dance music. "It is a strong-willed person who can listen to a band like the Occasionals and not tap along," says Nicky. "This album is what music is about."

Shawn Prescott Haussler is Taking the Air on this Celtic music CD with a jazzy twist. "I really like this CD. Taking the Air does not have the spit and polish you might get out of fancy recording studios, but that does not diminish the appeal," Wil Owen says. "For me, the Celtic jazz might take a bit more time to grow on me. With Shawn's musical talent, however, I would be willing to give it further consideration."

Martin Carthy, a British folk legend who recorded with Steeleye Span, the Albion Band and more, first made his mark as a solo artist with Shearwater. "Shearwater was recorded in 1971, not long after he left Steeleye for the first time. It's a return to his basic folk roots," says Stefan Abley. "These songs sound right coming from his tongue, imbuing them with the proper amount of emotion and conviction."

Historic recordings from the early 1900s recapture the sound of these Blowers from the Balkans. "This, then, is an excellent introduction to the Balkan music of the first third of the 20th century, a period in which the oral traditions that had delivered these tunes to an increasingly modern world were still strong, and the cultures they served still vital," says Gilbert Head. "As such, these are musical windows into the lives of people who are now largely relegated to the past, though their vibrant music lives on, to be cherished and enjoyed for generations to come."

Eileen Laverty celebrates the Ground Beneath My Feet with her latest album. "The album has an organic feel throughout with great potential to reach out to a wider audience," Mike Wilson says. "Radio-friendly arrangements are peppered with the sounds of mandolin, accordion and dobro, with Eileen's beautiful, expressive vocals providing the linchpin of the recording."

Tim Easton has plenty of Ammunition for this new folk-rock release. "Ammunition is always engaging and enjoyable, and fear not -- as I feared when I first put it on the player -- Easton ain't one of them sensitive new-age saps," Jerome Clark opines. "He's tougher than that, and much too funny."

Angie Nussey mixes Paint & Turpentine on her 2004 folk-rock CD. Wil Owen likens Nussey to both Tom Waits and Dar Williams, and commends the singer's variety. "There are a couple songs that are so-so, but nothing I would purposely skip while listening to it," he says. "The CD won't make it in to my top 10 list for the year, but I've still enjoyed it for what it has to offer."

Watermelon Slim & the Workers take their sound to the Northern Blues label for this self-titled release. "Yet despite a new record deal and rave reviews Slim is bad-luck-blues through and through," says Gregg Thurlbeck. "Hard times seem to seep from the pores of every member of this tight ensemble. Producer Chris Wick has managed to capture all the wild energy Watermelon Slim has honed by playing the live blues circuit and has channeled it into a wonderfully crisp studio recording."

James Reams & the Barnstormers are singing through their Troubled Times. "Reams is a Brooklyn schoolteacher, but he grew up in southeastern Kentucky, and he sings like it, in a soulful, open-throated manner," Jerome Clark says. "Reams' band is out of the Flatt & Scruggs school, updated and given fresh life and -- dare I say? -- something of a political subtext. It is not hard to detect a certain unfashionable concern with social issues, in particular poverty, labor and the environment. None of this is in any way heavy-handed or preachy, but it's one more thing I like about this recording."

The Bluegrass Patriots spend their Springtime in the Rockies. "The CD is a collection of 14 traditional-style bluegrass tunes on love, loss, joy, sorrow and life in the mountains -- both the Rockies and Appalachians," Sherrill Fulghum says. "While at times some of the vocals leave a little to be desired, the voices lend themselves perfectly to the bluegrass style of music. And, in typical bluegrass tradition, even the lively tunes cannot hide the sadness in some of the songs."

KastningSiegfried's new release, Scalar Fields, is "a jazz album with new age inflections," Dave Howell says. "These are quiet, acoustic pieces that have some melody but still sound very formal. ... Unlike a lot of avant-garde music, none of this is jarring. However, there is little or no emotion here. The compositions are carefully constructed, but they tend to blend into each other."

Thomas Newman supplied the original music for the film Jarhead. "Newman is one of those prolific composer/conductors who seem to be releasing a new movie soundtrack every time you turn around," Wil Owen says. "I was, unfortunately, not as pleased with the Jarhead soundtrack as I might have wished. ... Some movie soundtracks can only be enjoyed while watching the film they support."

Corinne H. Smith joins the staff with her review of a recent performance featuring both Linda Ronstadt and America. "It was an evening of familiar faces and songs for 1970s fans and quite a treat for any music lover," Corinne remarks.

Yvonne Bornstein revisits a horrific past in Eleven Days of Hell: My True Story of Kidnapping, Terror, Torture & Historic FBI & KGB Rescue. "Yvonne is a survivor and an inspiration to women everywhere," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "She dug up a lot of information to provide context to her own personal (and painful) narrative. Thanks for sharing your story, Ms. Bornstein!"

Robert Rankin has a winning title but not much else in The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse, Tom Knapp moans. "Rankin, a British novelist, has been compared to fellow writer Terry Pratchett. Rankin apparently resents the comparison, if Internet sources are to be believed -- which is odd, since Pratchett is the one who should be seeking damages for defamation of character," Tom says. "Hollow Chocolate Bunnies reads like the first novel of a person who's seen a lot of very funny books and figures he can do just as well."

Elizabeth Ann Scarborough messes about with DNA in Cleopatra 7.2. "Obviously, this book isn't meant to be taken particularly seriously, but it doesn't manage to conjure up enough humor to function as farce either," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "It's like a laugh-track bolstered network sitcom, amusing at times, but essentially bland and safe. The relentless pace of the plot may keep the pages turning but it leaves no room for significant character development."

James David Jordan wants to share Something That Lasts in his first published novel. "The closest parallel to Jordan's novel is the plot of a Lifetime Original movie. Jordan has a great message, but it is packaged in a supremely melodramatic form," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "We have a preacher who commits adultery, followed by a public suicide in church, then a wife with a life-threatening illness, not to mention the son who almost dies trying to save his puppy in a raging storm, a near-deadly car crash, father-son estrangement and more."

Lynn Freed draws together a series of stories in The Curse of the Appropriate Man. "At its core, this collection ... is about the secret desires (or compulsions, if you prefer that terminology) of women," Jessica says. "The novel's beautiful cover and subtle prose are wrapped around a core content that is quite erotic and unconventional, in the manner of alternative lifestyles. It's nothing like the smarmy love stories I expected to read, so from that angle it was refreshing."

James Lincoln Collier gazes into The Empty Mirror for this young-adult novel from Bloomsbury Books. Valerie Frankel calls it "a spooky ghost story and an exciting thriller. ... This is a fast-paced, exciting read from beginning to end."

Gregory Maguire is momentarily Lost with his followup to Wicked. "Maguire has a very peculiar mind, yet is endlessly fascinating," Stephen Richmond opines. "Certainly not as taut as the earliers novels, this one does meander quite a bit and by the end, author, characters, plot and reader do seem quite lost. Perhaps that was the intent."

Tom Knapp meets a new kind of vampire in Bite Club: Die Now, Live Forever, in which the undead Del Toro family is running organized crime in Miami. "Die Now, Live Forever is an action-packed saga that will keep you guessing," Tom says. "New surprises await with every new revelation, and the series of events that unfolds near the end is shockingly twisted -- and impossible to predict."

Mark Allen takes a look at the Guardians of the Marvel Universe. "For a company known for churning out superhero material by the truckload (not that there's anything wrong with that), Guardians is a well-written, wonderfully drawn breath of fresh air with nary a super dude in sight," Mark says. "Guardians is recommended for those who enjoy science fiction, or just a well-told story that tugs at the ol' heart strings."

Daniel Jolley takes a second look at the Legends of the Isles, this time focusing on Merlin & Fairies. "To me, it would have made more sense to put the Merlin and King Arthur episodes of Legends of the Isles together, but instead we have Merlin paired with an episode on leprechauns and fairies," he says. "There is a similarity between these two episodes, however -- both become repetitive long before reaching their conclusion." Yay, Dan, that's review #250!!

Chris McCallister flashes back to the end days for Star Trek: The Next Generation and its conclusion, All Good Things.... "In this series finale, they outdid themselves, and that's saying a lot," he says. "Star Trek: The Next Generation ended cleanly, clearly, with a darn good story and the entire cast showing us why we watched them all those years."

That concludes this edition of Rambles.NET. Come back soon! (Or stay awhile and browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

17 June 2006

People are very inclined to set moral standards for others.
- Elizabeth Drew

The crutch has been traded for a stylin' cane, and the Maine coast is callin'. Gotta run, there's moose and whales to be seen. See ya next week!

Jennifer Roland is grateful For Each New Day in which she can fiddle and dance. On her new CD, she proves it with a spot-on traditional flair. "My favorite tracks are those that portray a typical Cape Breton sound and use very basic instrumentation," says Kaitlin Hahn. "Overall, this album has a great variety of tunes and a lot of energy."

Paul Clayton relives a bygone era with Whaling & Sailing Songs from the Days of Moby Dick. "This re-release of a 1956 recording ... is characterized by very lean production in the audio, with Clayton's voice and guitar sufficing to tell the sea stories shared herein," says Gilbert Head. "This is a worthy addition to any collection of sailing sagas."

Ellika Frisell leaves pop and rock behind in favor of Nordic folk music on Prat/Talking. "The setting is spare, no question about it; it is to Frisell's credit that she can keep interest from flagging with a varied program of traditional dance tunes and some of her own compositions," says Jennifer Hanson. "Prat is a good example of contemporary Swedish folk fiddling; with its roots in the tradition, it reaches for different places."

Michael William Harrison and Linda King lead the way on a new recording For Kids of All Ages. "It is hard to ignore an album that features some of the best in the realm of folk, traditional and well-loved songs," Nicky Rossiter says. "It is even harder to ignore it if it features a kid's choir. If you add a pair of performers with an obvious love of the songs, it is irresistible. This is such an album. ... Buy this album. Buy it a few times, for you, for your children and for a local school."

Brian Gladstone believes it's A Time for New Beginnings. "From the opening chords of the opening track, any music lover should be captivated," Nicky Rossiter says. "Gladstone is a modern troubadour in his ability to write and sing stories that need to be told. ... The genius of Gladstone is that he can move so easily from the profound to the lighthearted."

The Wolf Trap National Center for the Performing Arts in Virginia is the source for a great deal of fine live music. Now, we can all listen from home with Raise the Roof: Live from the Barns at Wolf Trap. "The production values on the audio are exceptionally clean for live performances," notes Gilbert Head, who says the recording encourages listeners to "scurry forth and unearth fresh treasures from the newly discovered artists within this virtual concert." Wheee for Gil's 50th Rambles.NET review!

William Lee Ellis combines layers of his musical heritage for the blues album Conqueroo. "Though blues has a significant presence on Conqueroo, it is only one of the genre influences, among them African-American gospel, Protestant hymns, early rock 'n' roll and revival folk," Jerome Clark explains. "Because its power is not all on the surface, Conqueroo gets better every time you hear it."

Mark Brine reaches back to the roots of country on I'm Not Anyone: The Nashville Sessions. "Most of a half century has passed since Brine began playing, and his music has stayed rooted in that old-time country sound," Sarah Meador says. "His music is always graceful, a testament to the country music tradition and the people who created it."

Traditional mountain music is preserved for the ages on Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians. "This is one recording that has aged amazingly well," Jerome Clark says. "The reappearance of this splendid recording is reason for gratitude and celebration all around."

Lynn Jackson offers some Sweet Relief with this new release. "Singer-songwriter Lynn Jackson has a voice that could charm the birds out of the trees -- a honey-sweet, countryish vocal style that swaggers jauntily through her uptempo numbers and skulks beautifully across her slower, more laidback numbers," Sean Walsh says. "Her voice, by turns husky and angelic, reveals its ability to turn from fragile to robust in a few bars."

Len Guardino proves to be a solid -- but brief -- jazz singer and composter on Len Guardino. "Maybe his next release will contain a little bit more material and unconventional compositions," says Ester Eggert.

Patrick Doyle takes up the challenge of a Hogwarts score for Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire. "I have to believe that it would be a daunting task to take up a baton laid down by John Williams," says Gilbert Head. "Doyle has more than proven his chops in earlier film music projects. His inheritance of Williams' themes must have been a challenge, but Doyle was equal to the task at hand."

Bruce Edwards provides a companion to a classic with Further Up & Further In: Understanding C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe. However, says Jennifer Mo, it's not truly necessary. "The primary problem with Further Up & Further In is that it offers no compelling reason to read Edwards' book when one could be rereading Lewis's instead, to go 'further up and further in.' The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe is not a book that requires outside criticism, nor a full paraphrase, to be enjoyable or understandable," Jennifer says. "Whether in essays or novels, Lewis's writing is recognized for its clarity and concision. It's true that there is certainly greater depth to be explored in Lewis's world -- but, citing a fear of becoming too external, too intrusive, Edwards does little of it."

Carl Nomura describes a long, hard life in Sleeping on Potatoes: A Lumpy Adventure From Manzanar to the Corporate Tower. "This book will take you on an emotional rollercoaster," Wil Owen says. "You will feel sorry for Carl and his siblings as you read about their father. You will be incensed at the way Carl was treated because of ignorance and stupidity. You will laugh as Carl looks on life in amusing ways. Whether or not you agree with the philosophy he dispenses periodically in the book, you will be entertained." Woohoo! This is Wil's 250th Rambles.NET review!

John Scalzi continues his militaristic exploration of the future in Ghost Brigades, the sequel to Old Man's War. "While much of the novelty of the concepts found in Old Man's War is not here, there are new ideas introduced, a lot of action scenes, new characters and a very, very good story," says Chris McCallister. "It is darker, grittier and more intense than its predecessor, and I like it."

Kai Meyer reflects on The Water Mirror in this new young-adult fantasy. "Overall, the book feels more like the first part of a much longer book than a complete entry in a series, and at a mere 250 pages, everything feels a bit sketchy," Jennifer Mo notes for the record. "At the same time, it is primarily Kai Meyer's eye for startling, disturbing images and details that sets The Water Mirror apart from other such fantasies and makes it worth reading."

Mary Hooper scatters Petals in the Ashes in this young-adult novel set during the Great Plague and Great Fire of London in the 1660s. "From the taste of comfits and sugared violets to the horrors of the abandoned shops, all are brought into vivid relief within this tale," says Valerie Frankel. "The characters are warm and alive, making readers care about their struggle to find sweethearts in the midst of devastation and calamity."

Tim Dorsey downs an Orange Crush with gusto in this incredible political yarn. "Dorsey skewers Florida politics with a deft hand and a bipartisan disdain for the scoundrels and scallywags in office and the self-motivated hucksters who pull their strings," Tom Knapp says. "Some readers may find the characters painted with too broad a brush, but Dorsey's brazen caricatures and relentless satire had me in stitches." Celebrate with Tom as he marks 1,500 Rambles.NET reviews!

Margaret Atwood's novel Cat's Eye caught reviewer Jessica Lux-Baumann's eye by default. "I picked up Cat's Eye because I was so consumed by the characterization in Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride," she says. "Overall, this is a brilliant literary masterpiece, especially for any woman who experienced elementary and junior high school at the hands of a clique of girls. Highly recommended -- this is powerful stuff."

Tom Knapp watches with interest as Elektra slips into a Frenzy. "Elektra is one of the most conflicted characters in the Marvel playbook; it takes a lot of sympathetic development to get readers to care about a cold-hearted killer," Tom says. "It works in Frenzy surprisingly well, combining Elektra's strengths and rare vulnerabilities into a colorful package."

Michael Vance solves a mystery with Graphic Classics featuring Arthur Conan Doyle. "Artists Rick Geary, John W. Pierard and Nick Miller are standouts among a crowd of accomplished peers in this collection," Michael says. "Particularly fun is a story of romance and war, as told by Brigadier Gerard, one of Doyle's memorable characters."

Mark Allen goes on a secret mission for British Intelligence in Queen & Country: Declassified by Greg Rucka and Brian Hurtt. "If you're a fan of the TV show Alias or the movie Ronin, this book should be on your reading list," Mark says. "The story itself is not complicated, or even particularly complex; it's a fairly straightforward spy tale. It's Rucka's characterization that steals the show."

Tom Knapp sees his childhood reinvented with a shiny new Battlestar Galactica. "The made-for-cable series, which managed to outshine the more mainstream Star Trek: Voyager in ratings, made its initial splash in this mini-series that set a new tone for the series that followed," he says. "I have not yet seen the series that followed this excellent introduction, but I'm eager to do so now. With a strong concept, a daring execution and a talented cast, Battlestar Galactica is poised to be a science-fiction classic ... again."

Daniel Jolley enjoyed the hijinks of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, with reservations -- centered in part on the real-life shenanigans that went on during filming. "If you can get through the rather tedious first half hour or so, Mr. & Mrs. Smith finds its legs and makes for plenty of entertaining action and adventure," he says. "That first 30 minutes can be pretty rough, though, as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie really seem to sleepwalk through their roles."

That concludes this edition of Rambles.NET. Come back soon! (Or stay awhile and browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

10 June 2006

There is no more honorable thing any of us can do with our lives than to work to put part of the world off-limits to the activities of human beings.
- Dave Foreman

In the wake of a broken ankle, physical therapy hurts. Don't let anyone tell ya different!

Dick Gaughan's latest CD release is Lucky for Some. "Gaughan is probably the epitome of Scottish contemporary folk," Nicky Rossiter says. "His voice may not be the most melodic, but his writing and performing are superb. Listing his influences as ranging from Karl Marx to Robert Burns and John Lennon, you can imagine the general trend of his music and also the eclectic mixture of sentiments and sounds."

Mystic Harmony is prepared to Kindle a Flame with this presentation of three-way vocal harmonies. "I was caught off guard by Mystic Harmony's three beautiful voices and, as a lover of Celtic music, I instantly knew I had a CD treasure in my possession," Wil Owen says. "When these three harmonize, it will almost bring tears to your eyes."

Sandy Denny sophmore solo album, Sandy, "has probably gained iconic status, courtesy of the David Bailey photograph that adorns the cover," Mike Wilson says. "One can't help but be fixated by Sandy's steely gaze, perfectly framed by her cascading auburn hair." The 1972 release has been remastered and reissued in 2005, with bonus materials.

Folkrum is engaged in Some Antics on the band's recent CD. "The Oregon-based roots-rock band is accomplished in both writing and delivery," Nicky Rossiter says. "I have just said the album title out loud and I wonder if it is coincidence that it sounds like 'semantics,' or if it's a clue to the clever lyrics in some of the tracks."

Aztec Two-Step recalls the Days of Horses with this, the band's 12th folk-rockin' release. "Aztec Two-Step has been around for more than three decades. While they may not be the world's best-known folk-rock band, they apparently have quite the following," Wil Owen says. "The instrumentation is better than the vocals, I think, but you may disagree. Check them out and see for yourself."

Guy Davis is back with more on Skunkmello. "Skunkmello, Davis's most accomplished recording to date, doesn't deal in deep blues, but it does deliver convincing, melodic blues as well as other tradition-based music, sung in the relaxed tones of a Piedmont songster and in an assortment of settings," Jerome Clark says. "A musical time-traveler, Davis -- whose enthusiasms begin with post-war electric blues and head resolutely backward from there into a lost age of banjo tunes, jug bands, rags, hobo rambles and the like -- ranges through the decades with supreme assurance."

Buck Page, a founder of the original Riders of the Purple Sage and one of the last surviving members of the first-generation western music era, gets sentimental on his first solo album, Right Place to Start. "Even if one were so inclined (and why would one want to be?), I can't imagine how one could find anything to dislike about Right Place to Start," Jerome says. "Its ambitions are modest, and it lays no claims to anything other than what it is: a happy reminder of another time far removed from ours, and of a music that beautifully dreamed of a West that never was."

Bad Dog gets into the music with some Oldtime Blah Blah Blah. "Surely all four members of Bad Dog would agree that vocals are not their forte," Sarah Meador says. "But who cares, with their fine playing? ... They don't do anything startling, or push their instruments to do anything unexpected. They just play, and play together, with a consistent strength and fluidity most performers are pressed to keep through even one song."

Jason Whitton shows himself a Thriftstore Cowboy with this new country CD. "Whitton hails from Texas and quotes Garth Brooks' 'The Dance' as his inspiration to consider a career in music and songwriting," Nicky Rossiter says. "Whitton admittedly has a more laidback style than his source of inspiration, and it works very well on this selection of primarily self-penned tracks."

Jessica Lux-Baumann dominates the next pack of reviews with her thoughts on these books.

John Crawford comes clean in The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq. "I highly recommend these first-person essays about Iraq. Crawford has no agenda," Jessica says. "He is a man, a student, a husband and a soldier. He experienced things in Iraq that need to be told."

Alice Sebold shares an intensely personal story in Lucky: A Memoir. "Alice has done the world a service by telling this story, by offering the inside look from a victim's point of view," Jessica says. "This is an important read for all mature teenagers and all college-age girls."

Mary Roach aims a clinical eye at death in Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. "A lot of modern afterlife science was left out," Jessica complains. "My complaints on the subject matter aside, Roach does make the reading a fun journey. I love her wit and conversational tone."

Paul Collins goes aloft with The Skyborn in this recent science-fiction novel. "The strengths of the book are its action sequences, the different ideologies described and the relationships between the characters," says Chris McCallister. "However, there are many more flaws than strengths."

Michael Buckley tackles old and new ground in the realm of young-adult fantasy in The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy-Tale Detectives, Book 1. "Despite having action, humor and plot, The Fairy Tale Detectives falls short of being really charming," says Jennifer Mo. "Part of the problem is that the characters are colorful in a two-dimensional, cartoony way, and it's hard to really like or know any of them. ... Still, The Fairy Tale Detectives is a quick read, and a reasonably entertaining one."

Jonathan Stroud concludes the Bartimaeus trilogy with Ptolemy's Gate. "Stroud's writing remains as crisp, clear and fast-paced as in the first two books," Chris McCallister says. "There is humor, magic, intrigue and character development, and moral issues are addressed."

John A. Senneff brings science fiction and spirituality together in this young-adult novel, The Apastron Reports: Quest for Life. "The format is just a little too pat, the characters a little too faithful, and the plot quickly lost any edginess it had at the beginning," Virginia MacIsaac laments. "As an adventure story, it lacks that imminent sense of danger, though it does have moments of wonder and awe."

Janice Ward Parrish recalls The Sweet Smell of a Chinaberry Tree in this look back at integration. "The torrid and troubled times of the late 1950s and '60s brought us definitive moments," Risa Duff says. "The Sweet Smell of a Chinaberry Tree tackles several other issues as well as integration, including coming of age, class struggle and romance. ... The novel uses metaphor for loss of innocence and the demise of childhood."

Richard Melo gets ecologically active in Jokerman 8. "Melo's book is one that has a generation-spanning audience," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "The characters are children of the 1960s, but many of their ideals are still held by today's young activists. It's certainly not for everyone, but pick this up if you have an open mind or want to remember a time when you cared more about saving the world than your own personal gain."

Carl Hiaasen does a little Strip Tease for his readers with this dip into exotic dancing, Florida politics and the sugar industry. "While in some ways a suspenseful thriller and, in others, a family drama, the story at the same time is innately funny," Tom Knapp says. "It all fits into a single yarn, tightly woven and colorfully devised."

T. Ray Gordon's science fiction vision is revisited for a new generation in Strawberry Automatic. "While some of the lines are a little dramatic and perhaps dated, the general story sounds like it was recently written," Wil Owen says. "This CD also has some of the best use of audio effects I've heard in an audiobook."

Tom Knapp hears the Ring of Truth in the fifth volume of Y: The Last Man. "It's been quite some time since a new series has drawn me in so fully as Y: The Last Man has done," he says. "A creative idea mixed with plenty of action, strong characterization and, let's face it, a world full of women -- what, do you think I'd rather be reading an Archie book?"

Tom meets Old Friends, New Enemies in this Birds of Prey collection by Chuck Dixon. "Dixon packs this book with tons of adventure while, at the same time, fleshing out the protagonists' characters nicely," Tom says. "The BoP series would not keep Dixon for long, but the foundations he laid here would give future writers plenty to build upon."

Chris McCallister flashes back to 1941 with the "Big Top Edition" of Walt Disney's Dumbo. "In watching Dumbo, I was struck by how we have changed," he says. "The story is basically sweet and naive, and I wonder if today's children will find it attractive. It does not have as much action or suspense as many of today's animated pieces have. What it does have, however, is a lot of heart."

Daniel Jolley points the finger at a traveling salesman in Werewolf Hunter: Legend of Romasanta. This one, he says, "isn't your typical werewolf movie, as it focuses more on the man inside the wolf than the wolf inside the man. ... Werewolf Hunter is a darned good film that really stands apart from other entries in the werewolf genre."

That concludes this edition of Rambles.NET. Come back soon! (Or stay awhile and browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

3 June 2006

I don't feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them.
There were great numbers of people who needed new land,
and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.
- John Wayne

The bulky green cast is gone, but the bulky black boot has taken its place. Just call me hop-along, and git along to the reviews down below!

Mary Jane Lamond unearths a treasure of traditional music for Storas. "It's a delightful all-Gaelic collection of dance tunes, songs of occupation, puirt a beul, love songs and laments," Debbie Koritsas says. "Lamond has recorded a beautiful album that breathes new life into the songs of her ancestors."

Beolach, a young Cape Breton supergroup, is back for more musical hoopla. "Beolach is equally as adept in the recording studio as they are in their performances on stage, as their latest CD, Variations, clearly proves," says Kaitlin Hahn. "The CD portrays an amazing amount of energy and liveliness that grasps the ear from the first track to the last."

Tony Gilkyson "delivers a worthy assemblage of self-penned songs and covers on Goodbye Guitar," Jerome Clark says. "Never less than ear-catching, the material gets the sort of sharp production it deserves from Charlie McGovern and Don Heffington, who split the difference between folk and rock, connecting the two with hillbilly fiddle and steel sounds, plus -- where appropriate -- chunking dance-floor rhythms."

The Arrogant Worms color themselves Beige for their newest comic gem. "The Arrogant Worms manage to produce songs that will amuse on first hearing, but will keep you coming back because they are equally well written and performed," Nicky Rossiter says. "The album is definitely not politically correct, so if you are easily offended you have been warned. ... You will find this album hilarious if you have a broad sense of humour."

Hamell on Trial -- essentially acoustic punk/folk-rocker Ed Hamell -- gets paternal on Songs for Parents Who Enjoy Drugs. "Songs for Parents Who Enjoy Drugs is a classic of irreverent humour, caustic political observation and a portrait of the reality of parenthood in today's world," Sean Walsh says. "Ed Hamell is a modern-day amalgam of Bill Hicks and Hunter S. Thompson, a punk-folk poet with an eye for seeing things as they are and an ability to tell it like it is."

Marley's Ghost is Spooked by its West Coast folk/country sound. "Spooked has the sound of an old-time string band wedded to a 19th-century village brass ensemble." Jerome Clark opines. "At least ostensibly, none of this has anything to do with present time, but the humor, which is abundant, is sly, at points even seditious, and thoroughly modern. This is a band that loves to pull rugs from under unsuspecting feet."

The Wilders are ready to Throw Down with a timeless sort of bluegrass. "As a general rule, the Kansas City-based Wilders are exhilarating on stage, less so on disc," Jerome says. "This time around, however, they had the good sense to engage the production services of the well-regarded old-time musician Dirk Powell, who lets breathe free a band that deliriously fuses mountain fiddle tunes, honkytonk laments and traditional bluegrass. ... The Wilders are a fairly young bunch, but you'd swear that they'd been at this since 1950 at least."

Big Blue Hearts is rockin' out country on Here Come Those Dreams Again. "There is no hiding the fact that this CD was written for mass marketing," Wil Owen says. "Easy lyrics. Simple tune. Nice on the ears. And guess what? It works. I'm liking it."

Fintan Murphy stretches Slender Toward the Sky with this new book of Irish poetry. "Mixing the comic and the poignant in an expert fashion, Fintan has produced a book that can be read as pure poetry, a set of rhyming short stories or brief pieces of history and nostalgia," Nicky Rossiter says. "Dip into it at leisure, savour the sounds and, whether you laugh or cry -- at the appropriate poem, I hope -- you will feel all the better for the experience."

Jane Goodall describes her natural, philosophical and spiritual growth in Reason For Hope: A Spiritual Journey. "Jane's appeal to consider how one's actions impact not only other humans, but also other animals and nature in general, is very positive," Wil Owen says. "She is not a militant environmentalist. She feels that if she can help open up humanities' eyes to what we are doing to the world in an approachable manner, she can gain more converts on how we can improve conditions than she could if she shouted her convictions in people's faces."

Dee Brown penned a classic more than 30 years ago with Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. "While traditionally one has read this history looking west, author Dee Brown invites the reader to read this book looking east, from the point of view of the native inhabitants, the First Nations. This is the story of the Cheyenne, Sioux, Navaho, Apache, Modocs and Nez Perces, among many others," David Cox explains. "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee stands today as one of the great popular histories of America."

Kathy Passero and Beth Efran "expose" the inside of MTV's popular "dramatic series" with Laguna Beach -- The Real Orange County: Life Inside the Bubble. "If you watch the MTV series Laguna Beach as a guilty pleasure and want that kind of heavy-hitting back-stabbing action on paper, you might be a little disappointed," Jessica Lux-Baumann says. "Any serious fan will enjoy learning the backstories of the real kids of Orange County, but otherwise the book Life Inside the Bubble is a little lacking."

Christopher Moore's latest novel, A Dirty Job, got two reviewers excited about sharing their thoughts. "With A Dirty Job, Moore is in top form with satirical wit and social commentary wrapped up in a novel," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. The 'eating cheese' scene alone is a beautiful testament to living life to its fullest." Tom Knapp adds: "Moore is America's answer to Douglas Adams, Tom Holt and Terry Pratchett, proof that a writer needn't be British to write consistently hilarious books. He is California's twisted genius, similar in style to Florida's Carl Hiaasen and Tim Dorsey but deliciously soused in modern fantasy."

Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker get a little weird in their horror novel House. "The characters, and readers, keep thinking they've just about figured out what's going on, and then we all find out that it's bigger and stranger yet," Chris McCallister says. "Many things are not what they appear to be, and new layers of the story keep emerging."

Elizabeth Cunningham blurs history and mythology in The Passion of Mary Magdalen. "The book is a work of fiction that associates Celtic druid mythology and the Egyptian goddess Isis with Mary Magdalen of the New Testament, causing a confusion of goddesses," says Barbara Spring. "If you are a Christian interested in Mary Magdalen, you might find the book offensive. If you were looking for the sacred feminine in this book, you may be disappointed. I certainly was."

Cutter Mallet is Chasing India in a novel that pretends to be a romance but is really an action movie. "The story starts out fast, picks up speed and, to Mallet's great credit, never wastes time trying to be something other than what it is," Sarah Meador says. "If you're a veteran hater of the modern romantic genre, don't be fooled. Chasing India is an outright cool story in a rather weak disguise."

Joseph Yakel pens The Legend of Juggin Joe for a bit of new hillbilly lore. "The Legend of Juggin Joe is difficult to get into with first read," Jo Overfield says. However, she adds, "Overall, Yakel has produced a bold, unique book that explores a handful of themes in a 124-paged, light-hearted way. To its credit, I've never read anything quite like it. Dang!"

Michael Cadnum tells his story In a Dark Wood, and Robin Hood and his erstwhile foe, the Sheriff of Nottingham, may never be the same. "What In a Dark Wood has are subtleties, textures, shades," says Jennifer Mo. "It explores in depth the characters of the traditional legend, reducing both hero and villain from their overblown stereotypes to what they would have been: men."

Tom Knapp rethinks his perception of the Ultimate Spider-Man line with the Carnage storyline. "Carnage hurt the first time I read it, and the impact withstood additional readings. I'm not sure if I should hate writer Brian Michael Bendis for this dramatic turn of events or thank him for solid, effective storytelling," Tom says. "I think I'll go for the latter -- in part because I don't think I want Bendis mad at me, ever."

Michael Vance cautions readers that folks of a certain political slant probably won't enjoy reading Drawing the Line. "Drawing the Line reprints lots of artwork from and interviews with four 'famous' cartoonists: Jules Feiffer, David Levine, Edward Sorel and Ralph Steadmen," Michael says. "The overriding impression left a reader is that these men don't like their lives. These acerbic, politically far-Left interviews will irritate or even anger people who hold different beliefs. Nevertheless, Drawing the Line is highly recommended for its in-depth investigation of the artistic styles and the social and political beliefs of these accomplished cartoonists."

Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past: Combray finds new life as a graphic novel by Stephane Heuet and Nantier Beall. "Heuet has quite adroitly whittled the story away to the essence," says Stephen Richmond. "This can hopefully serve as an introduction to the masterwork; at very least, it will acquaint more with what may indeed be the greatest novel of the 20th century."

Jen Kopf makes her Millions with director Danny Boyle. "If you've seen Boyle's Trainspotting, you may be forgiven for feeling a note of dread creep in: Combining children with money and the mean guys who want their loot back can lead to no good," she says. "Yet Boyle, along with screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce, have created a magical little film."

Daniel Jolley enjoys a pint of a Strange Brew in this classic Canadian farce. "Unless you're a complete hoser, you can't help but love Strange Brew, one of the funniest dumb movies ever made," he says. "Of course, anyone who likes to put on intellectual airs will snub this movie to his dying breath, but we all know he's secretly laughing inside. This is just pure, unadulterated comedy, and it really is a beauty way to go."

Stefan Abley joins the Rambles.NET team with a review of the 1984 film, The Hit, directed by Stephen Frears. "The film is not without its weak points, but I found them easy to overlook," he says. "There are good performances from the entire cast. And it is almost mesmerizing watching the internal conflict, friction and sadness between them. ... This film goes beyond what you would normally expect from a gangster film, making it worth checking out."

That concludes this edition of Rambles.NET. Come back soon! (Or stay awhile and browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

27 May 2006

Religion has two faces. On one hand, it inspires us to seek the light. On the other hand, it hands us simple answers and blankets of dogma to help us hide from the dark.
- Rev. Webster "Kit" Howell

It's hard enough to give a lively Irish music performance with a broken ankle. For an energetic fiddler, the urge to begin enthusiastically tapping one's foot along with the beat is too hard to resist. But, believe me, the pain shooting through a recently snapped bone is a very speedy and effective reminder!

Flook finds a musical Haven in its latest release. "Dazzling the listener with an array of often searingly beautiful tunes, it's an album that leaves you breathless in its wake!" Debbie Koritsas says. "The tunes are delicious, weaving sinuously, seducing and captivating."

June Tabor sings At the Wood's Heart for her latest release. "If you have any taste for well-crafted, emotionally complex and intensely affecting music -- in any genre -- this recording ought to be in your collection," Jerome Clark opines. "Tabor's voice is a distinctive, dark contralto, not like anybody else's in folk music, the production -- as always -- a sophisticated minimalism with jazz and classical touches. Not really much like anything from tradition, though Tabor's repertoire consists mostly of old lyric songs and ballads, as often as not in obscure variants unearthed in the course of Tabor's archaeological digs in arcane texts and field recordings."

Sandy Denny launched her solo career in 1971 with The North Star Grassman & the Ravens. Reviewer Mike Wilson takes a look at the 2005 reissue of that album. "The expectations set by Sandy's previous work with her band Fotheringay, and the involvement of ex-Fairport Convention colleague (Richard) Thompson can ultimately lead you to be disappointed with this album, in particular the inconsistency of style," he says. "However, Sandy's writing is as ever strong, and this particular album probably benefits most from the remastering applied to all her solo work."

Paul Kaplan is still singing After the Fire -- an album Sarah Meador says is "something of a schizophrenic listening experience. ... Somber or silly, After the Fire is always good. More than just pleasant to listen to, Kaplan's unstressed vocals turn every song into a confidence, a friendly conversation to help put the day into perspective."

The Boundary Water Boys meet at the Acoustic Crossroads for a recording that "combines a little of everything from traditional folk and bluegrass to Christian rock and gospel," John Lindermuth says. "This album truly is a melting pot of musical styles, offering something for every taste."

Gary Bennett explores the Human Condition in a retro-country sort of way. "Most of the rest of the CD is devoted to a bare-bones acoustic-electric vision of country, fusing elements of both alternative and mainstream without falling into either genre," says reviewer Jerome Clark. "The lyrics, which are personal and straightforward, are not terribly ambitious but ... not stupid, either."

Shane Warner is Absolutely prepared to unleash his New Zealand country sound on Nashville. "I like the man's style as he delivers a great combination of the upbeat and jaunty story-songs that are ideally suited to his voice and his very able backing musicians and singers," says Nicky Rossiter. "If you like your country music with a New Zealander's flair, this disc is worth the investment."

Paul Oscher is Down in the Delta with some fine blues credentials. "If you love the deep, gruff, no-quarter-asked-or-given stuff, Down in the Delta is as advertised: what Mississippi Fred McDowell ... liked to call the straight and natch'l blues," Jerome Clark says. "It's recorded right, too: live, no overdubs."

Nelson Rangell "skillfully plays music that is suitable for dimly lit rooms, candles and perhaps some wine" on My American Songbook, Vol. 1, Ester Eggert says. "I wouldn't recommend it for fervent jazz fans, but if you want a recording for a romantic evening, then this is certainly the one."

Barbara Markay delves into Hindu mysticism in her new age recording, Shambhala Dance. "There is much to delight in her most recent work," John Cross says. "While the sum total lacks focus and is somewhat scattered in terms of achieving her stated artistic conceptual theme, it isn't as if it doesn't achieve something. ... The album is imminently listenable."

C. Nathan Coyle joins a Disney sing-along with Lady & the Tramp & Friends. "Lady & the Tramp & Friends might as well have been titled 'Unnoticed Disney Gems.' There are plenty of Disney songs that get all the attention, but these songs are deserving of notice as well," he says. "Longtime (and perhaps long-lived) Disney fans will find value in this compilation album."

Josh Kilmer-Purcell gets highly personal in his autobiographical book, I Am Not Myself These Days: A Memoir. "We have sex, drugs and club music, mixed up with a love story that got me in the gut by the end of the book ... what more could you need? Josh tops this all off with a hilarious and over-the-top narrative voice," Jessica Lux-Baumann reveals. "When depressed, he fantasizes about being in a Lifetime movie, so he drinks vodka in bed and walks around the apartment alone making declarations about a marriage, mortgage or the kids."

Margaret Hawkins examines life in an Irish asylum in Restless Spirit. "This is a story that needed to be told, not just for the immediate family involved but also for the hundreds of people who suffered similar fates in asylums, orphanages and other institutions," Nicky Rossiter says. "It is a lesson to us that, despite all our current tribulations, we are better off than we were 99 years ago in Wexford."

Gary A. Wilson leapfrogs war into the future in The Triangle. " not a usual reader of military- or science-fiction, but something about the description of this book intrigued me," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "For anyone seeking fast-paced action, intrigue and double-crosses, this is your book. It isn't without its flaws, however."

Christopher Paolini gets a firm talking to for his recent novel Eldest. "Paolini's first book, Eragon, was highly derivative and unoriginal, but I still liked it," Chris McCallister says. "In Eldest, there is no originality, and very little action. ... Eldest is bloated, inflated and laden with endless descriptions of characters, characters' dress, facial gestures, buildings, languages, customs, rituals, history, traditions and other minutiae. Nothing happens."

Chris Dolley gets to the heart of the universes in Resonance. "Resonance has already gained a bit of notoriety. It is the first book published from Baen Books' electronic slush pile, and it has received high praise," Robert Tilendis says. "It is, after all is said, an exceptional first novel, although I don't know that I'm unreservedly enthusiastic."

Matilde Asensi exposes The Last Cato in this novel about secret societies and the hidden inner workings of the Catholic church. "Conspiracy theories are a lot of fun, especially if they date back hundreds of years," Theo deRoth says. "To Matilde Asensi's credit, she did it before one Dan Brown wrote a book involving a certain code and a certain renaissance artist whom I'm sure I need not name and to which The Last Cato will doubtless be compared."

Stephen King writes for Different Seasons in this collection of shorter works. "For all those who doubt the fact that Stephen King is one of the all-time great masters at the craft of writing, there is Different Seasons," Daniel Jolley states. "If nothing else, the doubters should at least acknowledge King's important contribution to reviving the lost art of the novella. ... This book is a perfect introduction for those yet to experience King for themselves -- these are, for the most part, mainstream works of fiction that reveal a master storyteller at work."

Michael Vance takes a trip back in time for He Done Her Wrong, a Milt Gross classic first published in 1930 and reissued for a modern audience by Fantagraphics. "He Done Her Wrong is frantic and wildly creative in its style," Michael says. "Gross's barbwire art leaps off his paper stage with only a passing nod at perspective or anatomy because it's too busy running. It's also funny, although you won't laugh out loud. That seems somehow appropriate for a silent film on paper."

However, Michael appears not to be a very big fan of Blab!, Vol. 15. "BLAB! is a collection of one- to eight-page vignettes focusing on abstract, comics-based art with only a taste of prose," he says. "If you prefer art over counter-cultural comment, and art that is post-modernistic, surrealistic, cubistic or 'just-splatters-of-color-istic,' this is the time for you to jump up and down for joy."

Tom Knapp is back with Elektra in Everything Old is New Again. "It doesn't matter how good the story is; in a graphic novel, even the best writer relies on the art to convey much of the story to the readers," he says. "Greg Rucka's Elektra arc Everything Old is New Again demonstrates this handily by switching artists midstream and derailing Rucka's efforts."

Daniel Jolley revisits Cinderella in Ella Enchanted. "Of course, Ella Enchanted isn't your traditional fairy tale, even though all of the important elements are there," he says. "Ella Enchanted succeeds admirably in delivering a new twist on a universally known story of good vs. evil. I wouldn't rank it up there with Ever After, but it's definitely one of the better Cinderella adaptations I've seen."

Next, Daniel explores the Legends of the Isles with a focus on Robin Hood & King Arthur. "For my money, this volume is the best one in the Legends of the Isles series," he says. "That's largely due to the subject matter, of course, yet the presentation of each story is of really great quality. The primary focus is not on the legends of these men, two of the most heralded heroes in history and literature; rather, it is a search for the history behind the legends, an attempt to answer the question of whether Robin Hood and King Arthur actually existed."

Chris McCallister says The Shootist is the perfect film with which to end John Wayne's career. "What is right about this film? Everything. Wayne shows his true acting ability here, and some of the dialogue is absolutely perfect," Chris says. "This is a Western, a character study and a tribute to one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. This is a great movie."

That concludes this edition of Rambles.NET. Come back soon! (Or stay awhile and browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

20 May 2006

Nature, in her blind thirst for life,
has filled every possible cranny of the rotting earth
with some sort of fantastic creature.
- Joseph Wood Krutch

Scotland's Steve Byrne earns the attention of two reviewers with his Songs From Home. "On this CD you can experience the joys, sorrows and wild beauty of the geographical area as Byrne puts the songs and poems of his native area on the world stage," says Nicky Rossiter. Adds Debbie Koritsas, "Songs From Home is a very beautifully crafted album of songs featuring one of Scotland's finest traditional male vocalists -- it's a true, honest voice that constantly betrays Steve's eastern lowland roots."

Christie Hennessy has his Stories for Sale on this new release. "Hennessy's voice offers an almost quivering fragility and tenderness that is rare in male vocalists," new reviewer Mike Wilson asserts. "Christie displays a talent for making the ordinary appear extraordinary by employing references to the everyday, sometimes to the almost mundane."

Maeve harps on Celtic music with this self-titled release. "Light, airy and just a little spooky like the Fair Folk themselves, this eponymous work by a group of Nova Scotian Celtic harpers is a delight with a fleeting frisson of sinister eroticism," says Stephen Richmond. "The harps of Maeve are golden, glorious, fabulously gliding through the expected jigs and ballads."

Kevin Collins drifts From an Island to an Island on this musical DVD connecting Ireland and Newfoundland. Collins, Nicky Rossiter notes, "is a native Newfoundlander with Irish roots, but his accent is a hybrid of Newfoundland and Wexford, Ireland, from which his grandparents left over a century ago. ... I look forward -- as a Wexfordman -- to see a bit more of Newfoundland on the next release and maybe some more about the history of Ireland that led to the emigration."

Ethan Miller and Kate Boverman get political with If All the Land Would Rise. "If you pine for the New Left politics of 1969 -- that is, the year New Left politics imploded -- you will want to add this album to your collection," Jerome Clark opines. "The rest of you -- or maybe all of you; it's pretty hard to look back fondly to what passed for radical discourse in 1969 -- will shake your heads, I suspect, and you will turn to anybody within hearing distance (if anybody else is within hearing distance at that point) to remark that this is the sort of thing that gives protest songs a bad name."

Mark Berube's Suspicious Fish "is funny, smart, elegant and thoughtful," Sarah Meador says. "Suspicious Fish is an album built to satisfy the music snob and the casual listener, one that can tickle the inner comedian and the inner intellectual. It is in fact just possible that Suspicious Fish can be all albums to all people. It's guaranteed to be a lot of fun for just about everyone."

Musicians aid the animals with Live in Hope: The Wildlife Album 2. "Support a great cause, get an amazing range of songs and experience the tops in contemporary music, all at a reasonable price -- how could you go wrong?" Nicky Rossiter asks. "Where else will you get to enjoy Karine Polwart, Shaun Davey, Janet Holmes, Richard Thomson, Jethro Tull and samples of the phenomenal Anne Briggs, plus a myriad of other performers on one CD?"

Rebecca Cole is ready to Bloom after this too-short CD. "Bloom includes a trio of tunes from an earlier album and five new originals, all of which are delivered with energy and warmth," John Lindermuth says. "Cole has a warm, sultry voice and belts out a song with feeling."

The Lucky Tomblin Band is In a Honky-Tonk Mood -- and so is Jerome Clark. "This is social music, meant for dance halls and bars but entertaining nonetheless in any circumstance or environment," he says. "Bristling with infectious, like-they-used-to shuffle beats, In a Honky-Tonk Mood is a 43-minute excursion into honkytonk heaven."

The journey is too short on Old Crow Medicine Show's promotional EP Wagon Wheel, Nicky Rossiter says. "These people have a love of the many and varied tunes and styles that comes across to great effect on this CD, and one can only imagine the energy and vitality of their live performances."

Lauren Sheehan blends the blues with country/folk on Two Wings. "Sheehan doesn't sing songs of eternal devotion or sparkling moments of infatuation," Sarah Meador says. "Her favored music is low and blue, stories of hard-luck men and lonely women, spirituals singing of patience in this world and hope for the next. She just happens to be one of the most romantic singers ever to pick up American music."

Risa Duff recently took in a show featuring Sam Brown and Michael Rattray at the Waterside Arts Theatre in Manchester, England. "If anything, Sam has become more confident than ever, fusing her performance with more comedy and anecdotes that would even make Jo Brown proud," Risa reports. "Sam also is not averse to speaking what's on her mind, so if you are a bit sensitive about any gigtime expletives, then Sam is not your girl. She most certainly is mine, though!"

John Pilger examines the stories behind the headlines with Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism & Its Triumphs. "It is a sad fact that in the modern world of 24-hour news and the Internet, the race to be first with the story can leave something to be desired in the area of background, substantiation and proof," Nicky Rossiter says. "Because of this we need books like this where we find a collection of articles and stories that have immense public interest but are written after days, weeks, even years of research and reflection."

Charles de Lint strides Widdershins around two beloved Newford characters in this new novel of rich mythic fiction. "It's no disappointment," Tom Knapp says. "There is bold, realistic and sometimes idealistic character development along the way, including both romance and heartache, and the story -- presented from various points of view -- leaps from its pages and comes to life in the very air around you. ... I've praised de Lint's writing in the past, but I've run out of superlatives for Widdershins."

Al Sarrantonio unleashes the dark contents of his imagination with Hornets & Others. "Sarrantonio is most famous as a horror writer, but many of his best stories aim to twist the brain instead of freezing the blood," Sarah Meador says. "With 17 stories in just over 200 pages, Hornets never wastes space on such ephemerals as building suspense or extravagant descriptions. That unhesitating pace condenses stories to their essence."

Keith Donohue marks his writing debut with The Stolen Child, and Daniel Jolley thinks it's cause to celebrate. "Donohue may be a new name on the literary scene, but he's a master storyteller and a true maestro of the written word," Daniel says. "Much like the fabled music of the wee folks, his writing mesmerizes and transports you to a completely magical realm that feels somehow strangely familiar, and you emerge from the final page as a changeling of sorts yourself, forever altered on a deeply personal level."

Lorna Freeman is among The King's Own with this new novel. "I struggled with this book, in the beginning, because it bore many resemblances to other fantasy novels I've read," Chris McCallister says. "As The King's Own progresses, though, its originality begins to shine through these somewhat formulaic resemblances, but the initial similarities require some patience to wade through."

Diana Wynne Jones dons a Dogsbody for this science-fiction novel that may or may not be written for younger readers. "Very bright young children will be fine with it, while other young children will struggle," says Chris. "Older children, adolescents and adults will enjoy much of the story, but find some of the writing to be almost condescending. ... Despite the varying pace and the varying reading-level of the writing, I enjoyed Dogsbody. The author appears to understand dogs and love them, and that permeates the work and adds real depth to the story."

W. Dale Cramer reconstructs a life in Levi's Will. "Cramer has given us a wondrous gift of prose in this introspective fictional biography," Chris says. "Adeptly shifting back and forth between two timelines..., we get to ride along as Will ponders such weighty issues as the meaning of life, differences between rituals and relationships, differences between religion, faith, beliefs and values, the tendency for people to parent their own children differently from how they were raised (despite vowing to do otherwise) and how to live with, and grow beyond, one's own mistakes."

Tom Knapp trails along with the Catwoman on her search for answers When in Rome. "When in Rome is a sleek and sexy Catwoman as envisioned by the hit team of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale," Tom says. "Loeb's writing is more noirish and character-driven than the average superhero comic; he doesn't shy away from a little mayhem here and there, but it's not the central motivation of his work. He quite obviously finds layers of personality much more interesting, and often a meaty source of conflict."

Tom learns the Safeword in the fourth volume of Y: The Last Man, which "goes off in unexpected directions. ... Safeword is a violent chapter in the saga, but it's well worth reading. I really want to see where this series goes next."

Michael Vance takes a peek at the works of Rafael Sabatini in this recent collection from the Graphic Classics series. "Sabatini wrote high adventure, supernatural tales and other genre stories in novels, short stories and poetry, eight of which are adapted here," Michael says. "They are all deserving of praise."

Daniel Jolley enthusiastically joins the March of the Penguins. "It's no surprise that life on the Antarctic continent is a rather harsh affair, but it's amazing to see just how hard life truly is for the emperor penguin," he says. "As amazing as it sounds, you have to see it to truly appreciate it."

Chris McCallister dips into the lives of alleycat racers in the documentary Red Light Go. "The cinematography of this DVD is great, taking the viewer right there with the racers -- during races, during their 'day jobs' and during social gatherings," he says. "The documentary makes two things clear: there is little regard for the safety of pedestrians and motorists, and winning the races has as much to do with being loud and pushy at the checkpoints as it does with being fast."

Jen Kopf follows a quest in Broken Flowers. "Bill Murray is the best observer in the movies," she says. "In Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers, Murray is essentially given one task: to observe, to watch the people from his past and to watch his own life unfold."

That concludes this edition of Rambles.NET. Come back soon! (Or stay awhile and browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

13 May 2006

When you break rules, break 'em good and hard.
- Terry Pratchett

We're still dealing with the woes associated with a broken ankle in the Rambles.NET home office -- but the good news is, a lively furball named Casey is joining the team! Those who wrote to express sympathy when we lost Morgan can rest assured -- she is not being replaced, and she never will be. However, we are gladly opening our hearts to someone new.

Frank Maher & the Mahers Bahers have a Mahervelous good time with this CD. "Rather than show off his range or make a statement about the role of the accordion in modern music, Maher spends the whole album just having fun," Sarah Meador says. "Anyone who can resist the urge to immediately replay the whole thing from the first reel has a stronger constitution than I."

Tom Paxton performs Live in the UK, and it's a concert recording not to be missed. "Paxton has been a beloved American institution for so long that it's easy to overlook him," Jerome Clark says. "The tunes are simple but catchy, the lyrics either satirical or meditative or celebratory, the politics those not of a fire-eating ideologue but of an honest, decent liberal. On that last point alone, the world sure could use a whole lot more Tom Paxtons."

Swill & the Swaggerband stretch their vocal cords a bit before Doh, Ray, Me-Me-Me-Me-Me -- and hope their fans will snap it up to support their future music. Buying this EP, Gregg Thurlbeck explains, will help finance the band's next full-length CD and will earn buyers a place of thanks on the liner. "Doh, Ray, Me-Me-Me-Me-Me does what it's designed to do: it whets the appetite for Swill's coming release," he says, "providing listeners with an intriguing glimpse at where he's headed musically as he and his Swaggerband continue to explore the British traditions of folk music."

Wayne Potash targets a young folk audience on Don't Forget the Donut. "Potash performs 19 of the most memorable melodies in American music with bright, understated guitar playing and a friendly vocal delivery that positively begs the audience to sing along," Sarah Meador says. "And sing along they do." Let's all sing along with Sarah as she marks her 300th Rambles.NET review!

Krista Detor is pretty laidback when it comes to her Mudshow. "If it were not for the strength of the lyrics, this collection would be in danger of lulling you into such a feeling of well being that you might lose all sense of time and place," Nicky Rossiter says. "This is poetry set to music, and like all good poems the sentiments are universal and personal at the same time."

We may be heading into spring, but that's no reason to forget a Winter with Mandolins with Simon Mayor. "This self-taught musician could be an inspiration to us all," Nicky says. "His love of music that inspired this voyage of musical discovery is obvious on all his recordings, and never more so than on this release. He is not afraid to experiment and to alter tunes but he always retains the respect due to the composition."

Bob Campbell plants his unpretentious Ditchflowers in good soil. "It could be just a few good friends getting together to play songs they like for their own enjoyment," John Lindermuth says. "Not a thing wrong with that. The best part is, they've invited us to listen in. And it's a pleasant experience."

Alecia Nugent "is one more of the emerging female artists in a genre defined almost entirely by males for most of its history," Jerome Clark states. Her new CD A Little Girl ... A Big Four-Lane, he says, underscores "the generally nontraditional character of Nugent's approach."

James Hand "is a hard-core honkytonk artist who sounds a whole lot more like Hank Williams than like Ray Price," Jerome explains. "The Truth Will Set You Free is a good album, and Hand is a good writer and vocalist, even if one just about entirely defined by his influences. I have sometimes wondered if pure honkytonk, which barely survives in current Nashville (and then in watered-down form), will one day become a genre of its own."

Paul Thorn wonders Are You With Me? -- but Charlie Ricci, a fan, is not. "Paul Thorn's music used to be so passionate," he laments. "Hammer & Nail, his debut, and 2002's Mission Temple Fireworks Stand are terrific CDs that combine roots rock, blues, sad balladry, great hooks and intelligent songwriting. Unfortunately, Thorn's latest ... disappoints -- especially because I wanted to love it so much."

C. Nathan Coyle attends this High School Musical with intentionally low expectations. "So, is High School Musical a bit heavy on the saccharine? Yes, but not to the point of being treacly," he says. "This album is a step above bubble-gum pop and achieves more than most made-for-TV musicals do. Don't be surprised if you're unexpectedly humming a tune or two from this album."

Wislawa Szymborska's poetry "joins the transcendant with the mundane in a way that no other poet quite seems to manage," Robert Tilendis says after reading a new translation of her collection, Monologue of a Dog. "She incorporates a particular brand of subversive, surrealist humor into her words that forces a reevaluation of what we see around us."

Marilyn Ferguson shares her philosophy in Aquarius Now. "There's certainly nothing wrong with the concept that Humanity (with a capital H) needs to let go of its conquering warrior mindset," says Stephen Richmond. "Ferguson advocates replacing that way-less-than-successful paradigm with the kinder, gentler, tree-hugging idea that we (Humanity, again with the big H), along with all other living beings, are tour companions on this huge vacation package called Life (with a capital L, or at least I'd assume so). And yet, the book seems quite soulless."

Patricia McKillip departs a bit from her norm with Solstice Wood, says Jennifer Mo. "It is both one of her rare contemporary fantasies -- her first since Something Rich & Strange -- and a sequel of sorts (a response? a companion?) to her Tam Lin retelling published 10 years earlier, Winter Rose," Jennifer explains. "In its lyricism, somnambulistic imagery and negligible plot, however, Solstice Wood is pretty typical McKillip, for better or worse."

Carl Hiaasen takes a Skinny Dip in the dwindling Florida Everglades with a nearly murdered heiress, her scoundrel husband, a retired island bum and a Minnesota cop. "Bottom line, I thoroughly enjoyed this Skinny Dip in Hiaasen's imagination and am eager to read more from this clever and talented writer," says Tom Knapp, who compares Hiaasen favorably to Christopher Moore. "It looks like he's been fairly prolific in recent years, so I expect I won't have to wait too long."

Douglas Coupland plays off a well-known theme in his novel Eleanor Rigby. "The story could very well be an extension or extrapolation of the life of the song's title character," Chris McCallister says. "Liz Dunn is not ordinary or mundane, but is immersed in the idea that she is less than those things. She repeatedly tells the reader that she is overweight, plain, invisible in a crowd, detached, empty and chronically, hopelessly lonely."

Randy Ingermanson shares his Double Vision in this gem of a science-laden mystery book. "Ingermanson's skill puts you right in the middle of the story," Virginia MacIsaac says. "Watching the characters relate is like watching quick, fierce volleys of a professional tennis match. Sometimes you're right on the court, dodging balls."

Paul Levine's battling trial lawyers from Solomon vs. Lord are at it again in Deep Blue Alibi, Jean Marchand says. "Deep Blue Alibi is a witty novel about murder and money in the Florida Keys," she says. "The action never stops."

Tom Knapp enjoys a long-overdue Homecoming with the Black Widow. "In the years between the fall of the Nazis and the rise of al-Qaeda, the most popular and feared bad guys in popular fiction were the Soviets. The word alone is enough to conjure images of oppression, nuclear paranoia, power-hungry generals and, best of all, Cold War spies," Tom says. "Marvel Comics writer Richard K. Morgan revives the thrilling days of the superspy in Homecoming, a spotlight miniseries featuring the enchanting Natasha Romanova. ... The art by Bill Sienkiewicz and Gorlan Parlov is moody, depicting Natasha as a believable mix of soft curves and hard edges, equally comfortable in the guises of ruthless killer and compassionate savior."

While he's at it, Tom also continues to fly with DC's Birds of Prey. "Of Like Minds marks some big changes" for this group of heroes, he says. "This -- more than the JLA or JSA -- is the DC team to be watching."

Tom says the Marvel Comics assassin Elektra is Relentless in this series of tales that show her at her most forbidding and deadly. "Elektra is a killer, and don't you forget it," he says. "Relentless discards the trappings of forbidden love and latent heroism, giving us the assassin at her core. It's nice to see it done right -- even if you're not always sure you should be rooting for her."

Daniel Jolley admires the Valiant efforts of these World War II-era pigeons. "I don't really understand the lukewarm reaction to this film, as I found Valiant to be an excellent animated feature," he says. "The story is both interesting and compelling, the voice actors do a great job, there's plenty of comedy from start to finish, and I thought the animation itself was quite good."

Jen Kopf says Junebug is "a small gem of a movie that doesn't overreach its small-town roots. ... As screenwriter Angus MacLachlan and director Phil Morrison prove, a small town, examined in all its details, is no less rich, maddening, suffocating or inspiring than the big city. And what makes it fascinating is that those details, so well-known to the people who live there that they don't notice them, are what push Junebug past the 'Golden Boy Returns Home' genre."

Chris McCallister joins Quigley Down Under for a violent Western flick from Australia. "The scenery is stunning, and the cinematography reminds me of True Grit, where the struggles between men are juxtaposed against the vast, harsh and stunning beauty of the Australian Outback," Chris McCallister says. "There are no slow spots in the story, although there are quieter interludes."

That concludes this edition of Rambles.NET. Come back soon! (Or stay awhile and browse the archives of our past editions, below.)