8 July 2006 to 26 August 2006

26 August 2006

My problems start when the smarter bears
and the dumber visitors intersect.
- Steve Thompson, wildlife biologist
at Yosemite National Park

My daughter begged and begged me to take her on a carnival ride, one of those spinny, up-and-downy sorts of contraptions, and now my head is all wubbly and I feel a strong need to re-examine some of that carnival food I ate....

Chris Sherburn and Denny Bartley want to tell us all about Last Night's Fun. "Sherburn is a phenomenal talent on the concertina, superbly accompanied by Bartley's rhythmic guitar playing," says Mike Wilson. "However, for me at least, it is Bartley's stunning voice that is the absolute jewel in the crown of this album, sharing similar intonation to John Spillane or the Waterboy's Mike Scott."

The Wailin' Jennys are lighting a Firecracker with their sound. "Equal parts pop-rock and folk-rock, Firecracker is an improvement on the band's decent but somewhat tentative-sounding 40 Days," Jerome Clark says. "Not all of it is to my taste, but all of it is capably done. I suspect, however, that the Jennys' music is more likely to find full appreciation among their young contemporaries."

Julie Collings makes her full-length musical debut on Flotsam. "I've been eagerly awaiting this woman's debut album for some time now, just like you did when you were a kid waiting for the sweetshop man to get the new jar of cola cubes," says Jo Overfield. "Altogether an experimental venture into the mind of Julie's music, Flotsam is poetic, moving, soulful and all recorded in her spare room."

Shane Scott is singing in his Gingerbread House. "Relationships and love are two themes that keep recurring in the songs," says Paul de Bruijn. "The music is solid and adds layers to many of the songs, and the sound falls under one of the many branches of folk-rock."

New Monsoon is on its way Downstream. "One way to describe New Monsoon is to say the band is the Allman Brothers with a world beat," says Sherrill Fulghum. "New Monsoon combines the traditional instruments found in a rock band, adds a banjo and Dobro, and combines them with a digeridoo ... and percussion instruments from India, Brazil and Latin countries to provide a sound that brings the world together as only music can."

Steve Mayone goes for a comfortable sound on Unfortunate Son. "The songs on Unfortunate Son sound familiar, especially if one has heard songs that came out of the folk scene in the 1960s and '70s," Paul de Bruijn explains. "This is not because Steve Mayone is covering music from then, but because his songs sound and feel similar to other songs from that era."

Lisa Bell believes It's All About Love. "Bell grew up singing jazz from the time she was 6 years old and worked for different musical projects in Kansas and Colorado before releasing her first solo album, Dare to Be, in 2002," Adolf Goriup says. "Bell's singing is divine and her soft voice goes very well with this chill-out sound, as well as with the more jazzy and bluesy songs."

Tjant jams with some Scandinavian jazz on this self-titled CD. "The ideal listener for this album is someone willing to take a little time to relax and soak up this music's many moods, says Jennifer Hanson. "If that sounds like you, check out Tjant."

Andre Feriante is traveling down Bohemian Boulevard for his newest recording. "The CD is a collection of contemporary and pure guitar music, a creative blend of different styles from classical to flamenco, from Brazilian samba to blues and further on," Adolf Goriup says. "Feriante is an excellent musician and composer and certainly a powerful and inspired guitarist."

Two scary movies, The Ring and The Ring Two, are remembered through the music of this combined soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, Henning Lohner and Martin Tillman. Jennifer Mo says the result is "a dense, eerie, melodic, but ultimately uneven score."

Cherish the Ladies is an iconic group of all-female Irish performers. Tom Knapp reviews the band's recent concert in Lancaster, Pa. "It was Ladies night at Long's Park, and the crowd was dancing 'til the moon went down," he says.

Clay S. Jenkinson looks at the future through the past with Becoming Jefferson's People: Re-inventing the American Republic in the 21st Century. "One of the more remarkable things about this series of essays/correspondence of Jefferson's is their immediacy and relevance to today's political and cultural happenings," Ann Flynt says. "If history repeats itself, then this book is a worthy volume to have on hand to read on nights when the news is too awful to contemplate."

The title says it all for Hillary Carlip's memoir, Queen of the Oddballs: & Other True Stories from a Life Unaccording to Plan. "Carlip is the first female drag queen, and I call her that in the most flattering and admiring way possible. She's witty, a terrific storyteller, and she's led a fascinating life," Jessica Lux-Baumann says. "It is any reviewer's nightmare, because what can we write to compete with the brilliance of the author's prose?"

Mervyn Peake invites us to celebrate the birth of Titus Groan in the land of Gormenghast. "This book is extremely hard to classify into a genre," says Chris McCallister. "There are strong elements of fantasy, as Gormenghast was created in the mind of Mervyn Peake, but there is nothing magical, otherworldly (as in alien) or supernatural here. There are small, quiet, slothlike elements of creeping terror and suspense, but it is not a true horror novel. It is a high, slow, semi-farcical drama, playing out in an unreal land populated by unreal characters who show elements of all-too-real flaws that we all know in small amounts."

Ellen Kindt McKenzie follows a well-worn path of fantasy cliches in The Golden Band of Eddris, Jennifer Mo warns. "It simply fails to stand out from the hundreds of other mediocre books written in the genre. I find that these books have several common faults, not the least of which is that they take themselves far too seriously."

Mercedes Lackey and Ellen Guon fail to pique our reviewer's interest with Knights of Ghosts & Shadows. "Urban fantasy is not my favorite genre, but I've seen it done much better," says Jennifer. "This novel, however, is insubstantial and unappealing."

E.R. Frank's protagonists are Wrecked in this young-adult novel. "The narration of Wrecked is told in a genuine teenaged voice, full of questions, full of frustration with parents and desperately seeking direction," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "It is especially important for anyone dealing with a family crisis or the accidental death of a family friend."

Jeffrey Deaver holds The Twelfth Card in this Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs thriller. "Being a Jeffrey Deaver novel, this is not a straightforward hounds-chase-the-fox hunt," Nicky Rossiter says. "There are twists and turns, sometimes so complicated they bring you full circle -- but they are always logical."

Tom Knapp shares a Crisis of Conscience with the top heroes of the DC Universe. "A lot of good material came out of DC Comics' recent Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis storylines," he says. "While I don't like a lot of what the company has done in the aftermath, this book, Crisis of Conscience, falls right between the two, and it captures perfectly the tensions that have built between superhero factions."

Tom makes the acquaintance of Lady Constantine, an 18th-century ancestor of the modern star of the Hellblazer series. "Lady Constantine, first published in 2003 as a four-book miniseries and collected in one volume in 2006, is a fast read, and the action on land, at sea and in other realms is agreeably violent and occasionally tense," he says. "Andy Diggle's solid plotting is enhanced by Goran Sudzuka's storybook art style, and combined they've produced a book deserving a sequel. Or a series of its own."

Wrapping up this week's graphic extravaganza, Tom goes back for a second round with The Ultimates and Gods & Monsters. "OK, let's just ratchet up the tension a bit more," he says. "The Ultimates series tends to run slow off the production line, but there's good reason to line up early for each book as it comes off the presses. Keep them coming, Marvel!"

Daniel Jolley seals his Doom with these kudos for a film adapted from a shoot-'em-up video game. "Obviously, I think Doom is an underrated movie," he says. "You expect a lot of big guns, monsters and gore -- and you get them. You get so much more, however, in terms of the storyline -- and that is why I find this film so impressive."

Miles O'Dometer runs The Longest Yard -- again. "Thirty-one years after his sleeper triumph in the prison-football hybrid hit The Longest Yard, Burt Reynolds returned to the big screen this year in, of all things, director Peter Segal's Longest Yard remake," Miles explains. "It might be interesting to know what went through Reynolds' mind as he watched (Adam) Sandler and Segal take the film that convinced people Reynolds could be much more than a macho muscleman in a very different direction."

Jen Kopf adds her thoughts on the film Sideways to an earlier review by Ben Latimer. Sideways, she says, "is an articulate, understated movie that busies itself with vintages and bouquets while, underneath it all, is a look at the painful loneliness life can afford. ... The mastery of Sideways is that, even in the midst of the hurt or anger, there's still a blossoming of hope."

Another edition of Rambles.NET grinds to a halt for this week. But hurry back, there will be more soon! (Or stick around and browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

20 August 2006

Sun illuminates only the eye of the man,
but shines into the eye and heart of the child.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

We're back, after a much-needed break and excursion through some of the exciting woodlands and coastal areas of New England. Sorry for the delay; here's this week's edition without further ado!

Some of the classical fiddlers from Kiltyclogher and environs in Northern Leitrim bring us all Within a Mile of Kilty. The setting, Gilbert Head explains, "for many years now has been the bubbling stewpot of a breed of traditional Irish fiddlers without superior. Among these storied names one finds the brothers Lennon: Ben, Charlie and Maurice; Seamus Quinn; Brian Rooney; and the late, lamented John Gordon."

Shepheard, Spiers & Watson have played together for many years, and They Smiled as We Cam In. "Shepheard, Spiers & Watson sing and accompany the traditional songs as they were and are performed by ordinary people," Adolf Goriup says. "They don't make sophisticated arrangements or use any technical tricks, they just make original and fine folk music from Scotland."

Sandy Denny's final album before her untimely death was 1977's Rendezvous, which has been newly remastered. "I have always found this the most difficult of Sandy's solo recordings," Mike Wilson says. "The arrangements are often intrusive and the pure, effortless voice that graced her previous work frequently sounds strained."

Dan Reeder is singing to his Sweetheart on his latest CD. "This is folk and blues at its most rustic, its most primitive," Tom Knapp says. "Sweetheart makes for particularly nice listening on a hot summer day, with the sun going down and air turning losing its afternoon edge. This music goes well with a big glass of lemonade or a frosty pint of lager -- and a rocking chair would not go amiss."

John Gorka can be found Writing in the Margins of his new CD. "Gorka pretty much defines the 'sensitive singer-songwriter,' at least as that occupation functions in the early 21st century," Jerome Clark opines. "Gorka, who endures, does know something about actual folk music, and his songs, in large part reliably introspective ruminations, are often set to mid-tempo melodies that could as easily harbor old-ballad lyrics. He boasts an ingratiating baritone voice and an artist's persona as -- what else? -- a yearning, gloomy romantic (albeit, when the occasion calls, a fine sense of humor). For what it is, if that's what you want, it's better than the bulk of the competition."

Dale Cockrell and Butch Baldessari had an idea and access to the talent to bring Happy Land: Musical Tributes to Laura Ingalls Wilder to life. "It's one thing to know that Pa sang 'Uncle Sam's Farm,' another to hear the lyrics, not just glowing with optimism but almost begging good Americans to travel west," says Sarah Meador. "Cockrell and Baldessari have done an amazing job of selecting performers to match the feeling of the Little House books."

The Del McCoury Band can be judged by The Company We Keep. "The Del McCoury Band looms as so large a presence on the bluegrass scene -- and beyond; it has attracted a listenership among mainstream-country and rock audiences ordinarily lukewarm or cold to the genre -- that its recording and performances seem all but reviewer-proof," Jerome Clark admits. "Company is a 'typical' McCoury recording, which is to say the inevitable outcome when experience, professionalism, taste and talent are up to the task at hand. Where the McCoury Band is concerned, failure in that regard is no longer -- if it was ever -- conceivable."

The Road Hammers are making their statement with this self-titled CD. "This is a mix of southern rock from north of the border, complete with some kickin' guitar parts and a little bluegrass thrown in for good measure," Sherrill Fulghum says. "The band's music is a salute to the men and women who are the lifeline of the country -- truckers."

Alice Coltrane resurrects the family's jazz traditions on Translinear Light. "Translinear Light maintains its brilliance throughout, both musically and emotionally," Chet Williamson says. "It's a remarkable comeback album, and makes us hunger for more from the fertile mind and spirit of Alice Coltrane."

Peter Ulrich is ready to Enter the Mysterium on this, his second solo recording after a stint with Dead Can Dance. "But, while his credentials encouraged the disc into my stereo, Ulrich can only ride the wave of past glories so far," Tom Knapp says. "To his credit, Ulrich brings his chops as DCD's percussionist to the new project, and the music certainly carries with it that outstanding signature sound. Unfortunately, he doesn't have either the vocal or songwriting skills of DCD's leading duo, Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard. And it's at this point that the inevitable comparison to Perry and Gerrard's work is more curse than blessing."

Linda Dela Cruz proves her title as Hawaii's Canary is secure with this archival recording from America's 50th state. "Her vocal range is a natural wonder," Jerome Clark says. "I expect to be listening to Hawaii's Canary for a long time to come. There is nothing ephemeral about songcraft on this level."

C.P. Lee gets to the meat of the matter on May 17, 1966, when Bob Dylan performed at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England. Like the Night (Revisited): Bob Dylan & the Road to the Manchester Free Trade Hall, "now in its second and greatly revised edition, fully documents not only that night but the events leading up to it, describing fully how and why Dylan's appearance on the stage that night with the Hawks (later to achieve their own well-deserved fame as The Band) had been a confrontation waiting to happen," Chet Williamson says. "The number of books about Dylan has seemed to increase exponentially in the past few years, but this volume belongs on every Bobcat's shelves."

Marilyn Church raises the bar with The Art of Justice: An Eyewitness View of Thirty Infamous Trials. "While it is most certainly artistic, the book is also about the American collective memory, the changing face of true crime coverage over the course of three decades, the meaning of celebrity and the indelible personal impressions of people who were present in these courtrooms as journalists and sketch artists," Jessica Lux-Baumann says. "This is truly a courtside seat to history, one that has the advantage of post-trial hindsight, so that stories can be told in full detail, with all the post-verdict developments."

Edward Lodi takes readers on a Nantucket Sleigh-Ride in this reference book for sea-minded blokes. "I don't normally review dictionaries, but when Nantucket Sleigh-Ride hove into view, I simply couldn't resist," Tom Knapp admits. "For anyone with an interest in nautical lifestyles or literature, Nantucket Sleigh-Ride is fun to keep close to hand and browse when time allows."

Jack Campbell tackles a 100-year-old war in space with The Lost Fleet: Dauntless. "This is an amazing piece of military science fiction writing, with a protagonist who is remarkable and memorable," says Chris McCallister. "Overall, this is just a plain good read, with memorable characters and scenes, and a writing style that is aimed at people who like to think and ponder while enjoying the action."

Tanith Lee opens the Claidi Journals with Wolf Tower. "Lee writes marvelous young-adult fantasies that are witty, imaginative, vibrant and thoroughly entertaining," says Jennifer Mo. "Wolf Tower is an excellent example of her many talents, including the rare ability to write in the perspective of a teenager -- and make it sound completely genuine and convincing."

Jon Fasman takes us inside The Geographer's Library for a simple investigation into a professor's death. "Forget that old chestnut, The DaVinci Code; this is the book to read for 2006," Nicky Rossiter says. "Throughout the 500-plus pages, there is always page-turning suspense. This book is great read."

Lisa Tucker sets her novel Once Upon a Day. "Tucker has written a story of a family history and interpersonal drama that will consume the reader from the first chapter," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "I usually juggle a few books at once, but this one made me drop all others, and stay up late at night, devouring the story."

James Patterson rides with The 5th Horseman for this tale -- which failed to impress our reviewer. "Do all of Patterson's book suffer from misinformation about police processes?" asks Jessica Lux-Baumann. On the other hand, she says, reader Carolyn McCormack "is so much more than a reader. She is an actress who got inside the head of main character Lindsay Boxer and owned the role."

Tom Knapp is dicing with Cats & Kings, and when he's done he'll tell you all the many reasons you should read this book. But why wait? If you want to know now, just click on the link and find out without further ado or delay. You know you want to.

Tom sees Dark Days ahead for vampires after reading this tale by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith. "Dark Days is a solid sequel to the landmark graphic novel, Thirty Days of Night," he says. "However, the story is far less interesting. While the vampires are every bit as bloody, horrible and downright messy as they were before, the story has lost its punch by moving from remote Barrow to thriving Los Angeles ... which is more the jurisdiction of Buffy, anyway."

Tom finds himself playing with Paper Dolls in the seventh volume of Y: The Last Man. "The story jumps across the globe -- and the timeline -- with reckless abandon," he says. "Paper Dolls provides more questions than answers, however, and if you're like me, you'll finish it even more eager for volume eight. The story is coming together like a vast, global puzzle, but the pieces obviously aren't all on the table."

Daniel Jolley is willing to listen to anything Lila Says. "Lila says a lot of things. Suggestive things. Explicit things. Things guaranteed to send the mind of a teenaged boy spinning," he remarks. "The movie opens with her talking about how beautiful and nigh perfect she is, which got me to thinking this is a character I would certainly dislike. That first impression, however, turned out to be quite wrong."

Tom Knapp moves Closer to an understanding of this dark movie. "The four central characters in Closer are not happy people and, with the possible exception of one, I doubt they ever will be," he says. "I'll risk spoiling the surprise enough to warn you this is not a happy-ending movie. If that bothers you, consider watching Pretty Woman instead."

Another edition of Rambles.NET grinds to a halt for this week. But hurry back, there will be more soon! (Or stick around and browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

12 August 2006

No matter how qualified or deserving we are, we will never reach a better life until we can imagine it for ourselves and allow ourselves to have it.
- Richard Bach

Happy birthday, Mom!

Note that next week's edition will be posted on Sunday, rather than late Friday. We apologize for the delay and hope you can stand the wait!

The Whiskey Bards inspired reviewer Sarah Meador to write her review entirely in pirate lingo. Is she up to the task? Well, no. But she gave it a good go, nonetheless -- if you consider less than one full sentence to be a middlin' effort. Anyway, back to the Bards, and The Recruiter ... & Free Rum Ain't Free. "The Whiskey Bards may or may not be real pirates; but they are sure fearless enough," Sarah says. "The Bards' voices aren't bad, the songs are all terrible good fun to sing and they are obviously having great good fun singing them." Yaarr!

Dom Duff "is one of the most exciting and innovative musicians from Brittany," Adolf Goriup says, and he shows it with his new CD, Lagan. "If you love Breton music and are ready to open your ears to a new breathtaking and groundbreaking sound, you shouldn't miss this excellent CD full of traditional and modern styles, brought together to create a brilliant and unique combination."

Tim O'Brien is playing on Fiddler's Green with a new venture into the Celtic/bluegrass tradition. "It's another gem in O'Brien's crown," Chet Williamson says. "He's joined by a raft of sympathetic compatriots, and together they lay down a dozen fine tracks."

Bruce Coughlin & Tiller's Folly meld bluegrass stylings with a Scottish root for Buchan Bluegrass. "The roots run deep, and this album of 10 traditional and contemporary songs certainly proves to any doubters out there that Scotland has much more to offer than haggis, bagpipes and the game of golf," says Sherrill Fulghum. "Although Vancouver is far from the center of Celtic music, Tiller's Folly demonstrates that they have mastered the fine art of the Celtic music world."

Don Edwards begins Moonlight & Skies with a strike against him. "I despise 'My Blue Heaven' even more than I detest 'Danny Boy' so we are talking about -- let us be clear -- advanced distaste," Jerome Clark warns. "At the same time I like Don Edwards a lot, and I like this CD, just as I look with favor upon all of Edwards's recordings." You'll have to read the review to see how this one balanced out!

William Lee Ellis is looking for God's Tattoos. "Ellis's music starts from a base in country blues, then expands to embrace -- always with grace and nuance -- gospel songs, old hymns, revival folk, jazz and echoes of Japan and Brazil," says Jerome Clark. "Over time he has evolved from a folk-bluesman somewhat reminiscent of Paul Geremia to an explorer of a broader musical landscape, though Ellis retains a reassuringly steady and rooted sensibility."

Jeff Tuohy is Breaking Down the Silence with a CD that dances on the electric side of folk music. "The music on Breaking Down the Silence is often loud and always passionate," says Paul de Bruijn. "It is good and it is intense and it makes for wonderful listening."

David Francis is handing out a Fake Valentine this year. "The music on Fake Valentine is very good; the instrumentals are one of the strengths of the CD," Paul says. "David Francis's vocals, on the other hand, are uneven, and sometimes it seems he lets the song dictate how he tries to sing instead of working to the strengths of his singing."

Silver, Wood & Ivory is a duo performing an Autumn Air on a variety of flutes and keyboards. "I've never been a huge fan of flutes except for something like pennywhistles in Celtic music. Silver, Wood & Ivory has gone a long way to change my thinking," Bill Knapp says. "Their sparkling combination of the silver and wood of the flutes and the ivory of the keyboard is pure listening pleasure."

Daphne Walker, with Bill Wolfgramm & His Islanders, summons the sounds of the vacationers' Hawaii on Maori Brown Eyes: Melodies from Maoriland. "Full of luau-themed party tunes like 'Okey-Dokey Hut' and 'Lonely Little Kiwi,' it looks like the musical equivalent of a tourist's center, designed to show visitors what to expect without any surprises," says Sarah Meador, in her grass skirt and lei. "But when the first notes of Bill Wolfgramm's steel guitar on the title song send the sound and soul of South Pacific beaches rippling out over the waking world like a Hollywood dream sequence, it's clear why 49th State Records chose Maori Brown Eyes as one of its cultural ambassadors."

Tom Lenahan wasn't satisfied with the options available to him, so he invented a new kind of music, an American variation on Celtic rock. Tom Knapp had the opportunity to chat with Lenahan about the music played by his eponymous, Chicago-bred and New York-based band; read his interview to learn the details!

David McWilliams ushers The Pope's Children to the fore in this examination of modern Ireland. "The title of the book comes from his starting point, which is the Papal visit to Ireland and the baby boom that followed nine months later," Nicky Rossiter says. "He reminds us that these babies are the movers and shakers today. They are the people who are reaping the harvest of the Celtic Tiger, and it is demonstrating how they spend their money that gives us almost 300 pages of social comment that will delight anyone remotely interested in how Ireland ticks."

Carol Gnojewski and Davis Bromwell delve into ancient artistic traditions in Decadence: 300 Years of Japanese Fetish Art. "As exploitative as this collection may sound, it has a serious purpose, which is to not only offer an historical overview of these representations of the Yoshiwara, Japan's notorious prostitution and entertainment district of the Edo period, but also to show the sources behind much of the manga and anime that make up the current popular culture of Japan," Chet Williamson says. "Well bound and beautifully reproduced, this slim volume will fit in nicely with your collection of books on Eastern art and is bound to make unsuspecting browsers lift an eyebrow or three."

Lorraine Bracco gives a frank recollection of her time spent On the Couch on this audio memoir. "Bracco's memoir is read straight from the heart, in her raspy Brooklyn accent," Jessica Lux-Baumann says. "She owns these stories and reflections and tells them in a mesmerizing voice. While I was enjoying this audiobook, I often found myself pulling into the garage and sitting there for extended periods of time, unable to tear myself away from Bracco's captivating life story."

Terri Jentz investigates her own, 20-year-old assault in Strange Piece of Paradise. "Over the course of a decade, she traveled to Oregon repeatedly to chase down leads, interview police, talk to witnesses and reunite with her rescuers and the hospital staff who cared for her," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "In candid prose, Jentz describes the bureaucratic mistakes made in the investigation of her case..., as well as the 1977 public relations nightmare of talking about two girls who 'asked for it' by camping alone in an unapproved area, and the face of crime in the 1970s."

Elizabeth Garrett is off on The Sweet Trade with pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read. "Garrett has a fine voice for narration, and a keen sense of story," Tom Knapp says. "This one unfolds with a few surprises along the way, and leaves you with a conviction that the author knew her subjects in and out before starting to write."

Chris Kemp, Byron Merritt and Ken Jones show off even more of their Monterey Shorts with volume 2, titled More on the Line. "The authors featured in this collection -- members of a group called the Fiction Writers of the Monterey Peninsula -- have clearly been inspired by the rich history and geographic beauty of their region," says Karen Trimbath. "In what must be a sign of the group's closeness, a few of the stories contain shared worlds in which the main characters of one story become minor characters in another."

Eden Collinsworth's first novel, It Might Have Been What He Said, "is a work of fiction that undoubtedly has some basis in fact, since both author Collinsworth and main character Isabel are high-powered women in the New York publishing industry," Jessica Lux-Baumann says. "Assuming Collinsworth never actually tried to kill her husband, that's where the similarities stop."

Stephanie Grace Whitson's A Garden in Paris is "a gem of a story," Virginia MacIsaac proclaims. "No pat storyline, no characters made to formula, there is only a bright cast who tries to love, grow and understand the foibles, failings and feelings of each other."

Mark Allen is after the Runaways for their Escape to New York, the fifth volume in the Marvel Comics series. "Runaways tells the continuing story of a group of teenagers who are trying to learn about their superpowers and cope with their often-clashing personalities, both while on the run from good guys and bad," Mark says. "Written by Brian K. Vaughan, this is a work in which superheroics is secondary, the icing on the cake for superhero fans or an endurable aside for those who carry a torch for spandex-free tales. What takes front and center stage is characterization."

Tom Knapp feeds his Buffy habit with Pale Reflections. "As far as Buffy the Vampire Slayer stories go, nothing beats a good episode from the TV series," he says. "Failing that, the Dark Horse collection of graphic novels is a fair to middlin' substitute."

Chet Williamson relives a krazy year in history with Krazy & Ignatz: Necromancy by the Blue Bean Bush, 1933-34 by George Herriman. "There were several great geniuses in the early years of the comics, like Winsor McCay and E.C. Segar, but there was no one quirkier, stranger or more entertaining than George Herriman," Chet says. "The annotations are formidable, and the Herriman material utterly priceless. For those new to Krazy, this isn't the best place to start, but Herrimaniacs should find naught but utter delight in these pages."

It's time to spend some time in Elizabethtown, Daniel Jolley reflects -- if for no other reason than finding Kirsten Dunst there! "Elizabethtown does deal with some big themes -- life and death, success and failure -- and I think it all comes together wonderfully," he says. "I can't really understand why some viewers see the film as being less than the sum of its parts, as there is definitely meaning to be found in this unusual story."

Tom Knapp sets sail with an eye for Moby Dick. "First broadcast as a three-part miniseries, this three-hour work condenses the story while retaining the dramatic pulse of the tale," he says. "Patrick Stewart is splendid as peg-legged Ahab, the architect of all the misery suffered aboard the Pequod; he suffers doubts and experiences rare moments of joy and tenderness, but at the root of soul he is possessed by thoughts of hate and revenge. And when he rails with passion against the demon whale, you can feel it in your bones."

Another edition of Rambles.NET grinds to a halt for this week. But hurry back, there will be more soon! (Or stick around and browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

5 August 2006

In spite of the cost of living, it's still popular.
- Kathleen Noris

They promised us a storm. A big storm, one that would sweep in and break the heat wave with the fury of the gods. Well, where is it, I ask you?? I see no storm, and it's still very hot in this part of the world....

Short Road Home brings to life the Celtic sounds of Athens, Ga., on this self-titled CD. "The 15-song set takes the listener through pretty traditional territory, featuring some pretty splendid instrumental and vocal work along the way," says Gilbert Head. "The road may indeed be short, but there is plenty to engage the traveler along the way, and as the name suggests, the end of the road brings one happily home."

Matt MacIsaac "has turned out a solid, strong and very traditional piping CD with his aptly named The Piping Album, Virginia MacIsaac says. "A strong selection of tunes shows the range and the strengths of this Cape Breton piper. ... If piping is your thing, this is a satisfying album to add to your collection."

Ronnie Drew reprises the good feelings of Irish folk music on The Humour is on Me Now. "Listening to these songs, we are reminded of the writing genius that permeates our music," says Nicky Rossiter. "The phrasing, the descriptions and the humour put many a modern writer to shame. Forget that they may have been overdone in the past. Listen as if you had never heard them before, and I bet you will be pleasantly surprised."

Jesse DeNatale is marching in the Soul Parade with music worth the attention paid. "The artist finds his voice in strong melodies and confidently crafted, sometimes elusive lyrics that conjure up vivid scenes and multiple perspectives," Jerome Clark says. "Because he isn't a kid, DeNatale is neither self-absorbed nor devoid of worthwhile things to say. From the evidence of the songs here, he possesses an unsentimental generosity of spirit, a melancholy kindness, the sorts of things that come with good heart, long experience and wry hope."

Ten years ago, the songs of Leonard Cohen were rejuvenated by various artists on Tower of Song. "Here we get a selection of his best work, as interpreted by a galaxy of stars," says Nicky Rossiter. "The magic of the album is the varied interpretations of songs we associate with the slow, almost depressing delivery of the writer."

Hull-House Revival sends a Letter from America for fans of folk songs both old and new. "Hull-House Revival, a trio from western New York, sings folk songs celebrating the lives of ordinary people," says Sherrill Fulghum. "The album is uncluttered with extra instruments and electronic meddling."

Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat's Starvation Box: The Best of Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat has it all, Sherrill says: "a little southern rock, a little zydeco, a little rock-a-billy and, of course, Jim Suhler's specialty: plenty of rockin' blues. ... If the blues is about feeling bad; then Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat will make you feel good to feel bad."

Leon Redbone may just be Whistling in the Wind, but William Kates says the CD shows Redbone "doing what he does best, old-time jazz/blues/folk/pop music that sounds like it's from the 1920s through the 1940s. ... Redbone could justifiably be considered a national treasure, and Whistling in the Wind would be a worthy addition to record collections of many genres."

Kevin Brunkhorst and Paul Tynan's CD Digital/Spiritual is "a slow-paced, contemplative type of jazz album that has a bit of darkness about it," says C. Nathan Coyle. "While parts and pieces make for great background music, this is not something to casually play unless the intended mood/activity is introspection."

Tom Knapp gets into the Classical Spirit with this CD from The Brave. "Classical Spirit is not for the classic music snob," he says. "But for those whose tastes stretch from Ludwig von Beethoven to Hildegard von Bingen and from Jean Michel Jarre to Enigma, there's a whole lot here to like."

Southern Culture on the Skids (SCOTS for short) makes its living both Doublewide & Live. "Bands like this were born to play live in sweaty beer joints with crowded dance floors, with alarming numbers of tattoos in evidence all around," Jerome Clark says. "Southern culture on the skids, indeed. All the way down, be assured, it's good, dirty fun and very, very funny."

Joyce Glasner explores the history of Canada's Pirates & Privateers in this, the 100th volume of the Amazing Stories series of history books from Altitude Publishing (which, by the way, plants twice as many trees as are needed for the production of each of its books). "Being an avid reader of books on this topic, there is much here I've seen before," Tom Knapp says. "It's to Glasner's credit that much of this material was also new to me, and her presentation is both informative and entertaining."

Edrick Thay strives for the supernatural in Haunted Cemeteries: True Tales from Beyond the Grave. "This is a cozy little read, 200 pages, softcover, very factual, not eerie or spookily enhanced," says Virginia MacIsaac. "Its tone is conversational and fits an oral storytelling tradition that is lost in so many cities. Most of the stories give you enough information to go digging around yourself. Or perhaps you'll look twice at that cemetery down the road: so many interesting people have their lives marked there."

Kelly McCullough has an intricate plot weaving through WebMage, Chris McCallister says. "In pace and strangeness, it reminds me of The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy. In concepts, it reminds me of Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality. What genres are included here? How about: science fiction, cyberpunk, fantasy, modernized mythology, adventure and a bit of romance and mystery. ... This is a wild, fun ride. It is perfect reading for any time."

Dana Stabenow asked for tales of murder in either a fantasy or science fiction setting, and a host of talented authors, including such well-known names as Simon R. Green, Charlaine Harris, Anne Perry and Anne Bishop, responded. The result is Powers of Detection: Stories of Mystery & Fantasy. "There is not a bad story in the lot, although a few are rather predictable and borderline pedantic," Daniel Jolley says. "Overall, I think Powers of Detection will prove more interesting to fantasy fans than anyone else."

C.D. White takes the American Revolution to sea in The Broken Sword. "The Broken Sword seems likely to be the first in a series, which I can only hope will follow Capt. Cunningham and the Norfolk Gold through the war," Tom Knapp says. "Author Charles White quite obviously has a seaman's working knowledge of ships and sailing, and his view of life on the Gold and the tactics she uses are interesting, colorful and educational, too."

John Dicke has woven a very good legal mystery-drama in Proof Evident, Chris McCallister says. "Dicke has created a very intricate plot, and he is a very good storyteller, giving us a pace that neither drags nor rushes, and most of his characters are quite credible."

Lynn Austin shines A Light to My Path in a Civil War novel "that's full of heart-felt moments," says Virginia MacIsaac. "Austin has a niche, and if you enjoy soft love stories set in true, historical settings that take place during this era, you'll enjoy this author and this book."

Tom Knapp puts up his nickel to see Billy the Kid's Old-Timey Oddities. "Billy the Kid's Old-Timey Oddities is a hoot and a holler, a fun, yet vaguely disturbing book that blends Old West attitudes and gunslingin' with Old World atmosphere and a varied bag of macabre, malformed grotesqueries," he says. "The story leads readers through a twisted tale filled with tentacles, decapitations, manacles, syringes, blood and other fluids."

Tom is feeling a little Irresponsible after writing his review of Ultimate Spider-Man #7. "What is this, you ask, some kind of spandex soap opera? Well, sure. Brian Michael Bendis, the genius writer behind the series, knows that superheroes are people, too," Tom says. "And teenage superheroes in particular have mixed-up emotions and hormones, and everything about them is all pathos and passion. This is Peter Parker's life, people. If you don't want to read about it, bub, pick up a copy of Wolverine instead."

Tom wraps up today's graphic triad with Gods & Mortals, the post-Crisis reboot of Wonder Woman, newly repacked for the 21st century. "'After helping Marv Wolfman reduce Wonder Woman to a blob of mud in Crisis on Infinite Earths, writer/artist George Perez set out in 1987 to recreate the iconic heroine from scratch," Tom explains. "The revamp also included major changes to Diana's supporting cast, particularly Air Force pilot Steve Trevor, and a redesign to Olympus that looks like M.C. Escher had a hand in its design."

Jen Kopf is sharing space with the King of the Corner. "For much of Peter Riegert's directoral debut, King of the Corner doesn't explore much plot that hasn't already become cliche in other films," she says. "It's in the last half-hour of the movie, when Leo has to come to terms with the death of a father he didn't really know, to really face his teetering marriage and to find the right hold on his daughter -- somewhere between protecting her and letting her grow -- that Riegert's film, and Riegert, shine."

The big-screen sequel to Firefly finds a fan in Daniel Jolley, who never saw any episodes of the short-lived Fox network series to begin with. "That means I came on board the Serenity with basically no knowledge at all about the series or the characters," he confesses. Even so, he says, "Serenity is a remarkable movie -- nay, concept -- in many ways."

Miles O'Dometer is in for a Crash of Oscar-worthy proportions. "If Crash demonstrates anything, it's that the melting pot this nation purports to be is about to boil over," he says. "(Director Peter) Haggis goes far past our inability to communicate and touches on something deeper, darker: how people use their failure -- or unwillingness -- to communicate to further their own selfish ends." (Be sure to compare Miles' review to Daniel's, which was posted earlier this year.)

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

29 July 2006

Things sweet to taste prove in digestion sour.
- William Shakespeare

I miss you, Katie! Ah, the wife and kids are off on vacation without me. Sob!

Dave Gibb is a Scottish folksinger who sings of Blood & Flame. "A solid and engaging guitarist, whether finger-picking or strumming hard to percussive, folk-rock effect, Gibb is also a very capable singer equally at ease with traditional material ... and with appealing, tradition-inflected original songs," Jerome Clark says. "Gibb is the sole player here, though there is enough overdubbing that you'll have to seek out the small print to learn that."

The British Computer Association of the Blind is the benefactor of Missing Persians File: Guide Cats for the Blind, Vol. 2, a fundraising CD from the fertile mind of Les Barker. "Barker is one of the better poets of the absurd still writing today, and once again he turns that amazing talent to helping others," says Nicky Rossiter. "Seek out this album if you have a funny bone, if you want to help others, if you love language or if you just like to hear something different."

Rod Clements may be an Odd Man Out despite years of performing. "His forte appears to have been in the blues genre and he gravitated to the folk clubs that blossomed in the 1960s," Nicky Rossiter says. "His folk and blues credentials are still in the foreground on this album, with a set of songs that are well written and expertly played, but each with a bite that is the signature of good writing."

Marc Doiron believes his Time is Precious as he shares his songs with a pop-country feel and a hint of blues. "Doiron's songwriting style is the storytelling vein, in some ways similar to that of female singer-songwriter Jewel," says Sherrill Fulghum. "In many of the songs on Time is Precious, Marc's faith comes through, but it is never intrusive or overbearing. His feelings shine through without pushing and preaching."

Jan Smith takes the lead on 29 Dances. "Smith's low-keyed approach to Appalachian-flavored country-pop is not, I'm sure, going to overwhelm you, but chances are it will grow on you," Jerome Clark says. "The unflashy appeal and precision of her material will not shout out of the speakers; they will wait for you to find them."

Nashville may be the capital of country music, but look for something a little different on the Night Train to Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues 1945-1970, Vol. 2. "Night Train to Nashville is a two-disc set, mixing well-known hits with rarities," Sean Walsh says. "Filled with reality and life, this is pure artistry."

Karmyn Tyler gets down and jazzy on her eponymous debut album a treat. "The Texan has a voice full of power," says Sean Walsh, "and her awesome delivery makes this a very enjoyable record."

Doc Powell's music is Cool Like That. "The listener will soon understand that Cool Like That is not an album one has to intensively focus on -- you can listen to it after a hard day at work and Powell will not tire you out," Ester Eggert says. "However, if you're looking for excitement, then -- except for the title tune and perhaps one or two more tracks -- you've come to the wrong place. Still, you have to give him credit for all those catchy grooves!"

Les Yeux Noirs has a bowful of hot tChorba with Gypsy, Yiddish and French ingredients. "Les Yeux Noirs creates many different moods in the 14 songs, which add up to about an hour of music," Dave Howell reports. "This is a fine CD of a type of music not heard often enough in the U.S."

William Kates says the soundtrack for The Village, by James Newton Howard, "totally succeeds in providing just the right mood for each scene, helping significantly to create the ominous atmosphere that Shyamalan's movies are known for. ... As a stand-alone CD, however, there's not much actual music that works outside the context of the movie."

William S. Crooker sails with the Pirates of the North Atlantic in this book that defies the tropical image of piracy and focuses instead on the deeds occurring in chillier climes. "The chapters devoted to each pirate or pirate story are short but informative and entertaining," Tom Knapp says. "Anyone who's tired of reading the same old stories on the same old pirates should pick up a copy of Crooker's book and sail into new, much colder waters."

Julia Scheeres recalls her upbringing in Jesus Land: A Memoir. "One couldn't dream up the strangeness, the hypocrisy and the wrong done in the name of religion that pervaded Julia Scheeres' childhood," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "This is not an angry or bitter book. Julia tells it like it is."

Carol Olivieri Schulte delivers some Ghosts on the Coast of Maine. "Schulte has a comfortable narrative style, the amiable voice of someone who believes what she's writing to the Nth degree. Indeed, several stories will lead you to believe Schulte considers herself especially sensitive to supernatural matters, uniquely suited to the task of finding, collecting and publishing ghostly tales," Tom Knapp says. "Whether or not that suspicion is true, Schulte is certainly adept at sharing her stories openly, conversationally, as if chatting over a hot cup of tea."

After "seven previous novels totaling thousands of pages, two intergalactic revolutions, the deaths of billions of people across a vast spectrum of home worlds, the apocalyptic threat of two all-but-unstoppable alien forces, and heaven only knows how many humorous remarks by a succession of over-the-top characters," Simon R. Green wraps up the Deathstalker saga with Deathstalker Coda, Daniel Jolley reports. "Green's ability to keep so many characters and so much history straight across such an extensive, action-packed series is an achievement in and of itself, as is his remarkable ability to keep the story moving at a brisk pace with nary a moment to rest along the way."

Lloyd Alexander concludes the Vesper Holly series with The Xanadu Adventure. "Although The Xanadu Adventure isn't one of Alexander's best novels, lacking the emotional resonance of The Gawgon & the Boy and the unpredictability of The Rope Trick, it's still a fine, intelligent adventure story told in Alexander's typically quirky, wise way," says Jennifer Mo. "As a series ending, it is less satisfying -- though part of that disappointment could be because there won't be any more Vesper Holly books."

Tim Dorsey unleashes a suburban storm in Triggerfish Twist, set in Tampa, Fla. "Dorsey, an author of some note, is my latest discovery and a wonderful addition to my must-read list," Tom Knapp says. "The spiritual cousin of fellow Florida writer Carl Hiaasen, Dorsey is hilarious and inventive. This is the perfect time to visit his little corner of Florida."

Vivian Vande Velde's short stories are often quite good, and the three in Once Upon a Test: Three Light Tales of Love are no exception," says Jennifer Mo. "These stories are clever, amusing and exactly as they are described -- light tales of love -- but they are not as singularly brilliant as some of Vande Velde's other short stories are."

Cetywa Powell edits 33 stories for Underground Voices. "Most are fairly short, lasting just a few pages, but all stories touch on some powerful subjects, ranging from memories of war combat to stalking to abortion to torture to alcoholism to generally-frowned-upon sexual practices," says Jessica Lux-Baumann." Only pick this one up if you have an open mind and enjoy living vicariously through alternative lifestyles."

Elmore Leonard rattles the cage of an ex-Secret Service agent in LaBrava. "I'm not sure I liked anyone in this story, but the story at least is told well," says Chris McCallister. "Overall, I enjoyed this story -- and it would make a good movie."

Tom Knapp realizes Mystique is Drop Dead Gorgeous, but can she carry a book on her own? "The story plays a little loosely with Mystique's abilities," Tom says. "But, overlooking Mystique's power boost, the story itself is interesting, exciting and, every now and again, tense."

Tom finds himself pleasantly surprised by the light-hearted tone of Jason's Meow, Baby!. "After the wrenching sadness of his earlier books, Meow, Baby! is a refreshing demonstration of Jason's versatility," Tom says. "I already knew he had depth; it's nice to know he has breadth as well."

And finally today, Tom rejoins The Ultimates for a little Homeland Security. "The Ultimates series lasted only 13 issues, but this volume shows exactly how Marvel has brought fun and excitement back to the comics," he says. "If you're reading anything by Marvel these days, the Ultimate line is the place to be."

Daniel Jolley finds Aeon Flux more entertaining than he expected, yet less satisfying than he hoped. "With special effects and action superseding characterization, Aeon Flux makes for a fast-paced futuristic trip to the 25th century," he says. "There's a definite 'cool' factor to the whole thing, what with all sorts of ingenious futuristic gizmos and Charlize Theron's nifty little outfit, and the story, which is not exactly straightforward, does tie everything together in the end."

Daniel jumps aboard The Polar Express for a little Christmas in July! "It's a wonderful story about the spirit of Christmas and the importance of giving," he says. "The incredible animation of the film may always be the first thing people speak of, but in the end it really does come down to the story. It is not what you see, it's what you feel -- these are the memories that will linger."

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

22 July 2006

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

The bodhran workshop went well, a new ankle brace makes walking easier, it's my dad's birthday (happy!), my niece is turning into quite the kick-a$$ Irish fiddler and some really excellent review materials have been showing up at our door. On the other hand, it's been really hot.

Mary Sue Twohy offers her Songs to Hang on Stars. "Twohy's writing concerns the creation of exquisite, delicately beautiful songs that ache into being through her fine, soft, soprano voice," Sean Walsh says. "Her writing and singing, as examples of contemporary folk, are as good as any out there."

Mike Campbell is a fair-to-middlin' singer and guitarist, C. Nathan Coyle says after spinning Mars Outback a few times. "The real strength of Mars Outback, what sets it above other folk/singer-songwriter albums, is his mastery of storytelling," he says. "Being a master of storytelling is not an easy quality to define; it has to do with more than just a commanding voice or a great story to tell. It's a combination of the two as well as a mysterious, intangible third quality that gets your attention."

Paul O'Brien's "gentle delivery seems at odds with the picture of the artist featured on the cover" of Sacred Lines, Nicky Rossiter says. "This is a CD you want to go on and on."

The album Vote in November: Anti-Theft Device was timely when released in 2004, but is somewhat out of date in 2006. So, should we consign it to the remainder rack? "Its interest to the average listener is now dependent on the musical quality of the songs themselves," Sarah Meador says. "That quality is surprisingly high."

Brigitte DeMeyer opens a "sophisticated country-pop vein" with Something After All, Jerome Clark says. "If ever the adjective 'smoky' applied, it surely does here," he opines. "If Joni Mitchell's early influences had been mainstream Nashville rather than revival folk, those first albums might have sounded something like this."

Ndidi Onukwulu nearly eluded our reviewer's attention, but No, I Never was hard to ignore. "This British-Columbia-born singer began at an early age, singing in talent shows before eventually leaving her home for New York City to cut her teeth on the open-mic circuit. She's experimented with different kinds of music including hip-hop, rock and electronic before settling back to her first great love: the blues," says Stefan Abley. "Her lyrics evoke heavy imagery, often having a deep personal edge to them."

Craig Chaquico checks his watch at Midnight Noon and cuts loose with a "sweet jazz guitar tone that falls somewhere between acoustic and electric," William Kates says. "You'd never know from the sound of his solo work that during the 1970s and '80s, Craig Chaquico played to arena and stadium audiences as the lead guitarist of Jefferson Starship. ... The sound is reminiscent of Acoustic Alchemy, though this music is far from strictly acoustic."

Bernard Woma, Mark Stone and Kofi Ameyaw are In Concert with a global blend. "Woma plays the gyil, a close relative to the marimba used by the Dagara people of Ghana for funerals, ceremonies and other gatherings," Dave Howell explains. "This is a CD that should not be missed by anyone who is interested in African traditional music."

David Lanz and Gary Stroutsos evoke a Spirit Romance in this collaboration on a musical landscape, Stephen Richmond opines. "The result is fervently transcendent and soul-sating in much the same way the chants of Hildegarde of Bingen and the Gyuto Monks, the poetry of St. John the Divine and Rumi, and the sacred architecture of Chartres and Bangkok are," he says. "This is an entirely relaxing, mind-quieting, spirit-awakening experience."

Mike Wilson had the chance to attend a performance by Frances Black in Manchester, England in June. How was it? "It was obvious from Frances's banter between songs that she is experiencing a particularly happy and fulfilling life at the moment, and this resulted in those present benefiting from a thoroughly enjoyable, heartfelt performance from a consummate artist," he says. Read more about her show!

Natasha Sajé shares her latest poetry in Bend. "The poems in Bend are rich with references to other writers, from Ben Jonson to Ludwig Wittgenstein, as Sajé takes their words and, as often as not, turns them inside out to examine them against her own impressions of the moment," says Robert Tilendis. "Sajé's poetry seems to tread a path somewhere between Jorie Graham and Wislawa Szymborska, reaching for Graham's deep meanings while maintaining Szymborska's sense of unreality imposed on the mundane world. It's not necessarily an untenable position, but based on the work collected in Bend, she's not there yet."

Cennard Davies details the modern state of The Welsh Language. "Welsh is considered Britain's oldest living language, since it pre-dates both English and Scots Gaelic, Britain's other native languages, both imported about 1,500 years ago," says David Cox. "This is an interesting introduction to the language for those who do not know much about it, but are interested in finding out more."

Glenn Yeffeth examines the significance of cop TV with What Would Sipowicz Do? Race, Rights & Redemption in NYPD Blue. "NYPD BLUE went off the air several years ago, but its resonance and tough beauty live on in reruns on various cable outlets," Ann Flynt says. "What Would Sipowicz Do? is a series of essays compiled and edited by Yeffeth. ... Each is well worth reading."

Curt Benjamin "firmly establishes a place for himself among the best writers working in the fantasy genre today" with the release of Lords of Grass & Thunder, Daniel Jolley says. "While many a fantasy writer basically churns out new versions of old stories..., Benjamin continues to blaze his own unique trail of creativity and originality."

Jeff VanderMeer pays a visit to a City of Saints & Madmen, and Theo deRoth comes along to see the sights. "It's a brush with the unknown, but with a growing, often menacing, sense of self-consciousness," Theo says. "City of Saints & Madmen is a wonderful, beautiful, terrifying book, combining Borges and Ellison with Gaiman and Peake. If I were to recommend it as highly as I would like to, I would be ostracized from this site for unfounded hyperbole."

SF Said joins forces with Dave McKean for Varjak Paw -- and yes, it's a story about a talking cat. "Part action tale, part coming-of-age story, part comic book and part tribute to Eastern philosophy, Varjak Paw is an intriguing and mostly successful combination of elements," says Jennifer Mo. "Said's writing is zippy, highly readable and idiosyncratic, perfectly complemented by McKean's atmospheric and deceptively simple, scratchy illustrations throughout. Actually, the pictures are so integral to the story that it's hard to imagine the text without the images."

Diana L. Paxson continues an ancient tale in Ancestors of Avalon, a prequel to Marion Zimmer Bradley's renowned The Mists of Avalon. "From sorrow through joy, this book tests the characters' spirits, pitting their old way of life against the new until the characters must transform into the people who someday will make up Arthur and his knights," Valerie Frankel says. "This is a spellbinding story that will carry away readers' hearts."

Wendy Loggia drops the slipper with her novelization of Ever After: A Cinderella Story, says Jennifer Mo. "Loggia is clearly not an overly creative or skilled author, and the prose is laughable at times," she insists.

Emma Donoghue dons a fitting Life Mask with "a book to lose yourself in," Nicky Rossiter says. "The characters are well drawn and the atmosphere of London in the late 18th century is so lifelike you will smell the streets."

Nanci Kincaid writes "in a grand tradition that includes Flannery O'Connor, Truman Capote, Carson McCullers, Clyde Edgerton, Lee Smith, Donna Tartt and T.R. Pearson," Stephen Richmond says after reading As Hot as It Was, You Ought to Thank Me. "This fresh-faced novel, full of wry, twisty-gut humor, brilliantly evokes the best and darkest Southern Gothic."

Tom Knapp makes the acquaintance of Thessaly, Witch for Hire in this new volume from The Sandman Presents. "One of the more enigmatic characters in the unfathomable world that is Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, Thessaly has also become one of the most endearing," Tom says. "Bill Willingham, creator of the Fables series, has taken Gaiman's lead and run with the character, and her development here is spot on. Shawn McManus has illustrated the book with a fable-like gloss that makes even the most disgusting bits -- vomiting frogs, stuffing eyeballs in jars, you know the sort of thing -- look innocent as pink bunnies."

Mark Allen studies a legend in The Art of John Romita. "As a fan of comics and a student of the history of the medium, books about its creators are always a draw for me," he says. "Readers will enjoy this informative work, which also happens to be chock-full of wonderful artwork and even contains Romita's favorite Spider-Man story that he and Stan Lee ever produced."

Miles O'Dometer enjoys a flashback to the 1930s with Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical. "Who would have imagined the 1936 anti-drug film Reefer Madness would become a movie musical?" he asks. "A must-see movie it's not, but a should-see film it is, especially if you've ever seen the original -- or been forced to sit through a propaganda film of similar ilk and accuracy. It's a high school assembly film -- but just the way you'd always wished they'd be."

William Kates slices us all a piece of Cake to share. "Cake is so well written, cast and acted that it deserved better than to be released straight to DVD," he says. "Cake seems formulaic at first -- think equal parts Just Shoot Me and Down With Love -- but the writing is smart and funny and continually surpasses all expectations."

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

15 July 2006

She knew this music -- knew it down
to the very core of her being -- but she had never heard it before.
Unfamiliar, it had still always been there inside her, waiting to be woken.
- Charles de Lint

How the hell did I let myself get talked into teaching a bodhran workshop?! I'm not even sure how I learned to do it. I can't teach this! Oh, man, the students are going to be so surprised....

Hey! Everyone's talking about pirates these days, right? Well, be sure to check out our rum-soaked special pirate page for a hearty array of piratey movies, books and music, as well as other snippets of nautical delight. Yaaarr!

Tim O'Riordan & Natural Gas turn a more serious eye on their music for Come Here I Wantcha. "I am delighted to report that Tim O'Riordan and the boys have talent in abundance," Nicky Rossiter says. There are two funny songs for the band's comedy fans, Nicky notes. "But it is on the other, more serious tracks that Natural Gas will attract new fans."

Circulus wins some sort of prize for titling with The Lick on the Tip of an Envelope Yet to be Sent. "I prayed for this band, this album, to be good. A curious album title, photographs of the members dressed in medieval attire whilst standing within a circle of fire or submerged in a reedy pond, and the promise of the sounds of cittern, saz, harmonium, Moog, crumhorn and the unidentified rausch pfiffer, made me want to love this band immediately," says new Rambles.NET staffer Sophie Parkes. "But, having to put these exciting delicacies firmly at the back of my mind, it would be the music that mattered...."

Bryan Field has a Way with music -- but Wil Owen says it's not always up to par. "The instrumentation is fine. The melodies are pleasant. It is the vocals that sometime falter," he explains. "Still, since I can easily skip the few tracks that are not up to the level of the majority, I will keep listening to Way."

Bob Cheevers roams from Texas to Tennessee on this new recording. "One gets the sense that Nashville-based singer-songwriter Bob Cheevers must be good company even when he's put down his acoustic guitar and is simply talking," Jerome Clark says. "He's a natural storyteller with a good eye and an affection, sometimes a tad on the sentimental side, for people."

Abigail Washburn sings the Song of the Traveling Daughter for "a heartfelt, vivid reinvention of old-time Appalachian music, bent to Washburn's 21st-century sensibility," Jerome opines. "She manages to betray neither tradition nor herself. This is fusion music in the finest sense of the phrase and the practice."

The Bluff City Backsliders do the blues Memphis style. "Attempts to revive the jug-band tradition fail more often than succeed, the effort seldom more than well-scrubbed, too well-intentioned imitations of the originals," Jerome says. A happy exception, however, "is this self-titled disc, released on the tiny but always satisfying Yellow Dog label out of Memphis. Though issued four years ago, it's still available, and it's worth seeking out."

Phishbacher supplies "a blast from fusion jazz past" with Infinity Ltd., Dave Howell says. "Generally, Infinity Ltd. makes the days of fusion sound better than they actually were. A lot of stuff from back then was irritating and self-indulgent. This CD, on the other hand, has the advantage of modern production (expertly done by Fischbacher) and well thought-out arrangements."

Michael Church's recordings bring the sounds of central Asia close with Songs from the Steppes: Kazakh Music Today. "Lively and lyrical. Sacred and profound," Stephen Richmond says. "Songs from the Steppes: Kazakh Music Today is an absolute pleasure for the ears."

Jim Brickman dips into a very deep musical well for The Disney Songbook. "The vocals here are great and certainly add to the variety of the album, but Brickman's solo piano never ceases to delight, enchant and enrapture," Stephen Richmond says. "This is a must for fans and will please anyone who enjoys pleasantly evocative piano music."

When Karen Matheson performed at the International Roots Music Festival in Kendal, England, this spring, Andy Jurgis was there. Here are his recollections of the event.

Carmen Bin Ladin tells the story of her notorious brother-in-law in Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia. "Carmen's insights into the lives of the people of Saudi Arabia from the time when she married and moved there are profound," says Nicky Rossiter. "Such stories should be required reading, because we never know enough about people who may become enemies or allies. All too often we are content to accept the peripheral items that filter down through newscasts."

Bernard Cooper considers the eccentricity of families in The Bill from My Father: A Memoir. "Cooper clearly agonized about his portrayal of his father -- how do you talk about a flawed, angry, sarcastic and eccentric man in a positive light, without demonizing him?" Jessica Lux-Baumann asks. "Well, Mr. Cooper, if no one has said it to you yet, let me say it loud and clear: your love for your father shone throughout your prose, even as he billed you for $2 million dollars, even as he sued all your family members, even as he wrote you off for minor offenses. As I reader, I came to love and respect your father, with all his quirks included."

Charles Gant and Greg Lewis believe they can help you to End Your Addiction Now. "The authors are compassionate people and their book is definitely non-judgmental," says Carole McDonnell. "On one hand, this is a good balance to all the books that equate addiction with moral failure or societal problems. And yet, by focusing so much on the nutritional and biochemical aspects of addiction -- and not really exploring what brought people to their drugs of choice -- the book comes off as a bit one-sided."

Kazuo Ishiguro may have left a lot of the science out of science fiction, but that didn't stop our reviewer from enjoying the novel Never Let Me Go. "There isn't a lot of science in here, and while that might be a detractor for some people, I consider it a plus," Jessica Lux-Baumann says. "This is a beautiful story, and for the entire first half, the reader is caught up in a novel about childhood and adolescence in an idyllic boarding school, with only brief references to the science of cloning."

L.A. Meyer brings his young nautical heroine Jacky Faber back to Boston in 1805 for another round of adventures In the Belly of the Bloodhound. "Cracking open a Jacky Faber novel is like taking that first breath of sea air after a long, stuffy car ride," Tom Knapp says. "There's a hint of fish and tar on the wind, a fiddle tune in your ear and you can almost feel the deck rocking beneath your feet. It's refreshing, and it fills you with excitement for what's to come."

C.J. Sansom lights a Dark Fire with this historical mystery, set in 16th-century London. "It's a complex and entertaining plot, and the accurately described political maneuvering of Henry's court is a fascinating backdrop," says Ron Bierman. "The bubbling London setting is equally entertaining. London, at the time, was far from the civilized environment some of us may picture. Cruelty, social injustice and crime were common, all aggravated by an intense class consciousness rivaling the caste system of India."

Peter Straub dug deeply into a jazz man's nightmare in his novella, Pork Pie Hat. "To date, I had read only one other work by Peter Straub, his eerie and unforgettable Floating Dragon. Pork Pie Hat shows the same mastery of character development, setting description, realistic narrative and nearly-unreal events," says Chris McCallister. "This novella is a tale well-told, of events both strange and terrifyingly real. It is a ghost story, but not about ghosts-who-are-dead-people, but about how memories can haunt and affect one's entire life."

Jackie French Koller follows a trail of cliches with A Wizard Named Nell. "Colorful, brisk, easy to follow and featuring a brave young heroine of just 11 years of age, A Wizard Named Nell has qualities that may recommend it to very young fantasy readers," says Jennifer Mo. "However, reduced down to basics, it is the tale of a princess on a quest to save her world from an all powerful Dark Lord -- a tale that is very familiar and has been told, rather better, many times before."

Craig Moodie sends A Sailor's Valentine to anyone who has ever loved the sea and the fisherman's trade. "The stories sail onward through personal crises with friends, lovers and the ocean itself," Tom Knapp says. "The line that holds them together is Moodie's narrative voice. His stories are simple, but artful; the color of his words paints clear and lifelike pictures of his subjects and their lives. Read A Sailor's Valentine and you'll taste the spray of sea and rain."

Will Elder shows himself to be The Mad Playboy of Art with this Fantagraphics release. "This comprehensive sampling of the work of zany master cartoonist Will Elder is simply magnificent. It is so because of the size, format and quality of reproduction of this 391-page trade paperback that reprints this artist's groundbreaking and influential work from the early 1930s to the present," says Michael Vance. "But this retrospective is simply magnificent for one primary reason. There is no cartoonist, living or dead, better than wacky Will Elder."

Tom Knapp keeps an eye on gender relations in Y: The Last Man, #6: Girl on Girl, which follows the adventures of Yorick after every other male on Earth is killed. "Girl on Girl is in many ways a transitional book, but writer Brian K. Vaughan keeps the action taut and the characters fully fleshed throughout," Tom says. "OK, Brian, where's book #7?"

The heroine of Josh Howard's comic series is Dead@17 -- but an early demise doesn't stop her from whacking zombies with an axe. "This initial, brief run of the series doesn't win awards for robust character development," Tom remarks. "But it serves up a fun set of teen scoobies and some solid potential for future plot development. And, let's not forget, Howard draws cute, mangaesque barely legals in scanty attire and carrying weapons. Hey, the man knows his audience."

Stefan Abley takes a leap with The Bird People in China, a film from prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike. "Miike is infamous for his violent Yakuza films, and for his twisted and bizarre sense of humor that would give the MPAA heart attacks," Stefan says. "I've found it to be one of the most pleasant movies I've seen this year. It serves as a reminder that explosive special effects, bloated budgets and (most ironically considering the director's reputation) blood and gore are not necessary to make a fulfilling movie."

Daniel Jolley explores the stories of two famous men of Ireland's past, Saint Patrick & Brendan, in this volume of the Legends of the Isles video series. "Knowing little about the actual life of the first and next to nothing about the latter, I found this 52-minute video extremely informative and interesting," he says. "Not only does it tell the stories of two incredible men, it also provides the reader with a small window into the ancient culture of the Irish."

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

8 July 2006

What nearly all medicine boils down to is:
leave the human body alone and comfortable,
and in time it'll sort itself out.
- Tom Holt

What a week it's been, with fireworks, shuttlecraft and nuclear test missiles all flying through the air at once. What a world, eh?

Peter Horan and Gerry Harrington find that Fortune Favours the Merry in this recording evoked by their musical muse. "In the course of their 17-song set, their ongoing debt to and reverence for the music of Irish fiddle master Michael Coleman is regularly invoked," says Gilbert Head. "The program weaves its way through a diverse selection of jigs, reels and hornpipes, with a polka and an air added to leaven the mix."

Phamie Gow's Dancing Hands set the music aflame on her latest album. "Gow is an accomplished harpist, accordionist and pianist from Scotland, and her infectious, melodious original compositions make for wonderful listening," Debbie Koritsas says. "Dancing Hands will have strong appeal for those who enjoy traditional instrumentation in a modern setting, and who simply love to hear great tunes, immaculately played."

Bob Hay & the Jolly Beggars make their Toils Obscure in this homage to Robert Burns. "In this their first offering, Bob Hay & the Jolly Beggars have suggested that they have plenty more to say on the subject of Bobbie Burns," says Gilbert Head. "I await the next chapter eagerly."

Ken Kolodner provides the material for hammered dulcimer enthusiasts with Walking Stones: A Celtic Sojourn. "Walking Stones is a delightful collection of 31 traditional Celtic tunes not only from Ireland, but also Scotland, Quebec, the Shetlands, Canada and America," Sherrill Fulghum pronounces. "Although it is hard to keep still, Walking Stones is a nice CD for sitting back to relax -- with or without the pint -- or for a gathering." (Also be sure to read Jamie O'Brien's detailed review of this CD along with its companion book.)

Sandy Denny's third album, Like an Old Fashioned Waltz, was remastered and re-released in 2005. "The album opens with the majestic Sandy Denny classic 'Solo,' which is quite probably the best song she ever wrote," Mike Wilson says. "This superb quality is maintained across the nine tracks that make up the original 1973 release. ... The arrangements, featuring lush string accompaniment, are consistently well matched to the material and never distract from the beauty of Sandy's exquisite writing."

Don McLean -- he's that guy who sang "American Pie," right? Well, yes, but he's done much more than that, and he proves it with Rearview Mirror: An American Musical Journey. "Though wildly uneven, it should be applauded for its willingness to take on the material and celebrated for its best moments," says Gilbert Head. "Fans should own the album, but those who think of McLean as merely the one-trick pony of the acoustic singer/songwriter set should give this a listen as well. It is the work of a man who loves music, and those who make it."

Eric Anders has More Regrets to share with this rock/folk-rock CD. "Although this CD truly fits more closely with the alternative genre and really only showcases a few folk-rock tunes, I still feel it is a good album worth mentioning here," Wil Owen says. "More Regrets is not the usual fare you see reviewed on Rambles.NET. However, good music is good music."

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan make a splash with Ramblin' Man, says new Rambles.NET reviewer Beth Chaunce. "Lanegan's weathered baritone singing is complemented by Isobel's sexy angelic whispering," she says. "Ramblin' Man is so soft and loving and mellow it almost wraps itself around your soul like an old, favorite quilt."

Matt Belzer makes some Connections with this outside-the-norm jazz recording. "In a scene where smooth jazz seems to be taking over everything else, it is a welcome change to find a CD release with variety and imagination anchored by fine musicianship," Dave Howell opines.

Mark Lemhouse is manning a bluesy stand at The Great American Yard Sale. "The Great American Yard Style spans a range of styles sufficiently expansive that it may take you awhile, as it did me, to get a handle on what Lemhouse is up to," Jerome Clark says. "Not the sort of artist who knows one thing and contents himself with variations on it, he explores sounds based in multiple strains of rural American music, fusing them in unexpected ways."

Dan Treanor & African Wind show no Mercy with this recording of "Afrosippi blues," or "a combination of African and blues, with other influences added along the way," Dave Howell says. "The rich, expressive vocals of Rex Peoples make a big contribution to the CD's success. Peoples sounds like a native African singer, and he can capture subtle blues inflections. His rich, powerful voice also has a gospel feel."

Nathan Larson takes the movie out of the equation for Filmmusik. "The 22 tracks here showcase Larson at his best: understated but emotional, evocative with manipulation," says Sarah Meador. "But without the movies the tracks are designed for, they soon fade into background music."

Andy Jurgis invites us all along to see Risa Hall and James Apollo perform in concert at The Met in Bury, England. "It was an enjoyable night of Americana all round," he says. And a big shout out to Andy for review #50!

Michael Scott Cain joins the Rambles.NET team with a close look at folk trio Red Molly. His interview, with members Abbie Gardner, Laurie MacAllister and Carolann Solebello, gives readers a peek at the roots of this new band. Take a look and see!

Linda Carroll gives voice to a family heritage in Her Mother's Daughter: A Memoir of the Mother I Never Knew & of My Daughter, Courtney Love. "Carroll is an amazing woman, with a beautiful and talented brood of children," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "She embodies the ideals of free-thinkers of a generation ago, having gone through several husbands, lived on communes, tried out alternate (and questionably cult-like) spirituality, adopted children, run a self-sustaining farm in New Zealand and finally settled down for a suburban life with her husband of 17 years. Read this book about mothers and daughters and reflect on your own experiences."

Paulo J. Reyes tackles the growing fear of bio-terrorism in his novel Sledgehammer. "Sledgehammer has all the ingredients of a great read," says Nicky Rossiter. "It is bang up to date. The topic is hot. Readers cannot get enough rollercoaster thriller novels. The author, Paulo J. Reyes, is an expert in his field and appears to have a genuine love of his subject. ... Unfortunately, the book appears to lack a decisive editor."

Elisabeth Hyde cuts to the quick with The Abortionist's Daughter. "This is modern literary fiction at its best, with reflections on a marriage between two high-profile professionals, on the trials of raising a special needs child, on raising a teenaged daughter and, of course, on the ethics of abortion," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "This is a thoroughly engrossing novel."

Stephen Dobyns may be Eating Naked, but his stories satisfied our reviewer. "Dobyns has written a collection of stories that breaks the bar," says Jessica. "This is an unforgettable collection of well-crafted stories. Don't miss it!"

Wendy Wasserstein embodied the Elements of Style in her final novel, with "all the elements of social climbing, shopping, sex and marital trouble that one would expect from pink chick-lit set in New York City, but Wasserstein has created something much greater than a fluffy novel," Jessica says. "This is social commentary, a satire full of situational and dramatic irony."

Mercedes Lackey earned a new fan with The Firebird. "It proved to be a wonderful introduction to her unique attention to detail and readability," says Jennifer Mo. "One of Lackey's greatest talents is embellishing, and the many descriptions in The Firebird add to the charm and semi-believable fairy tale background."

Tom Knapp hops aboard with The Ultimates for Super-Human. "Like Marvel's Ultimate remakes of Spider-Man and the X-Men, the Ultimates have significant differences from the mainstream Avengers on whom they are modeled," Tom says. "The franchise, which has been growing stale, has a fresh start to build upon."

Mark Allen salutes Tokyopop's Avatar: The Last Airbender, a book "with a 'Disney meets Japanese animation' look about it. ... Based on the Nickelodeon animated program, the tale itself is captivating, primarily due to writer Michael Dante DiMartino's charming characters and simple, straightforward, yet intriguing storyline."

Jan Kauffman lets her candy fixation run wild with Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. "The music: Not as good as the Anthony Newley stuff in the original," she reports. "The kids: Perhaps not quite as annoying as the whiners in 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, but still may reach that level of notoriety after repeated viewings. Willy Wonka himself: Just weird. Not hyperactive weird like Gene Wilder, but more germophobic, I-loathe-children odd in the hands of Johnny Depp."

Tom Knapp scales the walls of Troy to see this film -- and comes back with some good news, some bad news and a small wooden horse from the Trojan gift shop. "Troy is not a movie for Homeric purists," he says. "It's a costumed romp and little more. But, at that level, it's an entertaining romp that gives the flavor, if not the scope or substance, of Homer's epic."

Chris McCallister fears for the Earth after watching Chicken Little. "The story is pretty off-the-wall, but is fun to watch and lends itself to lots of action and interaction," he says. "Is this a good, fun film for younger children and for families with young children? I think it is. Will it appeal to teenagers? Probably not. Will parents find anything objectionable in it? I highly doubt it." (Also be sure to peruse Daniel Jolley's review of this film.)

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