8 September 2007 to 10 November 2007

10 November 2007

Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, can never bring about a reform.
- Susan B. Anthony

I would like to think I am far too mature to take joy in the utter humiliation of a 14-year-old boy. But let's face facts, people, he's been lording his Star Wars: Battlefront II superiority for far too long. And this week, in an evenly matched conquest of Galactic Conquest, he ate my space dust and wet his little stormtrooper suit. Long live the Rebellion! Bwahahaha!

William Pint and Felicia Dale mark CD No. 9 with The Set of the Sail. "I like to think that not much worth hearing in the way of rooted music gets past me, but I'm always proved wrong, and I am nearly always pleased to be so reminded of my obliviousness," Jerome Clark says. "Set happens to be one riveting, thrillingly accomplished recording."

Croft No. Five shares Talk of the Future in a Celtic recording immersed in electronica. "They use synthesizers and drum programming, and pump up the bass to dance music levels," Dave Howell says. "Purists may not like the heavy use of electronica production techniques used here. But if you are suffering from Celtic burnout from too much of the same thing, this CD lives up to its talk of the future, with an appealing mix of dance rhythms without overbearing beats and upbeat Celtic playing."

Paul & Storm don their Gumbo Pants for an album of comical songs. "Even if one doesn't appreciate their humor (which is difficult to imagine), Paul & Storm are adept musical entertainers with a comedic bent," says C. Nathan Coyle. "While comedy is obviously subjective, Paul & Storm's technical capability -- musically speaking -- cannot be denied. This isn't two funny guys with guitars strumming along to amusing little ditties. Instead, Gumbo Pants has great production values with an abundance of supporting instruments (as much as an orchestra in a few songs) and background vocals."

Lizzie West & the White Buffalo sings "of experience without artifice" on I Pledge Allegiance to Myself. "West sings the songs of life," Nicky Rossiter says. "As such they are filled with love, jealousy, fun and sometimes sadness. There is a realism about her lyrics and delivery that reminds me of the best of the late 20th-century urban folk movement."

John Wort Hannam wears his Two Bit Suit well. "His musical world is populated with farmers, miners and truckers -- salt-of-the-earth types -- coming up short in scope and vision but certainly not effort," Kevin McCarthy says. "Hannam matches his writing with vocals that are engaging -- a deep, inviting drawl. He has something to say and says it well."

Two Canadian musicians have released country CDs worth noting: Lynn Jackson's Restless Days and Carolyn Mark's Nothing is Free. Mark, says Jerome Clark, is "an assured, mature, plain-spoken vocalist who composes melodies that sort of sneak up on you as you're focused on the lyrics, which definitely grab your attention." Jackson, on the other hand, "sings in a high, whispery, romantic voice that seems in danger at any moment of floating off into the ether yet somehow stays anchored and controlled. Thus, even if she easily could, she never feels earnest or precious."

John Long finds his music in the Lost & Found. "For the most part there isn't anything fancy about what Long plays," Paul de Bruijn says. "But the way he plays the blues you don't much need fancy."

Elisabeth Lohninger says The Only Way Out is Up through jazz. "While this fare is not my normal preference, it is what I might expect to hear if I went to a jazz club or lounge," Wil Owen says. "The music is heavy on piano and saxophone backed by typical bass and drum brushing. The sound is sometimes improvisational in nature, and Elisabeth's vocals fit right in when she leaves the lyrics behind and trumpets out complementary (or maybe random, in some cases) vocalizations."

James Filkins plays a little acoustic guitar on Borderline Normal. "Filkins gets just about everything right," says Jennifer Mo. "There are no synthesisers or cheesy sound effects, just good, unadulterated guitar music and sound quality so sharp that it often seems like Filkins is playing in the same room. What is all the more surprising is that the tracks were recorded in his own home."

Celtic Colours continues rolling along with Virginia MacIsaac's report from the opening ceremonies and The Chieftains: the Cape Breton Connection. "We were enchanted by the performers who looked as if they enjoyed sharing every moment," she says. "We were enchanted by the shots of the stage chosen for the big screen. And we were enchanted by our own enthusiasm on a perfect autumn night as music flowed like wine on Cape Breton Island."

They don't come much odder -- or more talented with the making of a bodhran -- than Albert Alfonso, whom Tom Knapp dubbed the "bodhran swami" after their first few encounters. "Alfonso, for those who've never talked drums before, is one of the top bodhran makers in the United States," Tom says. "People describe his brass-fitted drums in hushed whispers. And here he was, telling me about his new line of instruments in the Green Room at the Celtic Colours Festival Club."

The McDades made a brief appearance a few weeks ago, when Tom and the band tried to define their sound in some larger, ultimately fruitless context. Now, Tom takes a look at the band in action in this Festival Club spotlight, when the quintet from Alberta "was completely rocking out on acoustic instruments, building an organic groove that flitted and flowed and ricocheted around the room. ... It was a little exhausting just to watch, and a lot exhilarating."

Poppy Z. Brite shares a brief selection of Antediluvian Tales that predate the Katrina era of New Orleans. "My sense of this being somewhat less than a fully satisfying collection of fiction is part of the conscious design of the book," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "But at a very slight 116 pages, including the introduction and an appendix that provides a chronological ordering of the Stubbs family stories, Antediluvian Tales, while well-written and featuring one real gem, is not exactly a bargain of a book."

Sean McMullen continues his Moonworlds Saga with Voidfarer. "The astute reader will recognize at once that Voidfarer is a fantasy retelling of H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds," Laurie Thayer says. "Don't let that put you off; even though McMullen follows Wells' story fairly closely, he puts his own spin on it, and the novel is immensely entertaining."

Vivian Vande Velde tackles "realistic" young-adult fiction with Remembering Raquel. "Vande Velde's latest is not a fantasy, a ghost story, a murder-mystery or a weepy teen tragedy. Not very much happens in it. Most characters appear for a mere handful of pages. The whole thing is well under 200 pages long," says Jennifer Mo. "Remembering Raquel shouldn't work -- but it does. Actually, this unsentimental but affecting look at a teenager's death puts the entire Lurlene McDaniel canon to shame."

J.L. Powers unveils The Confessional in this young-adult mystery. "All the action is revealed through interwoven stories told by seven main characters, all high-school friends. Details overlap, the story jumps ahead or behind, and important elements emerge or are omitted as the story progresses. It's a style well suited to the kaleidoscope of events surrounding this murder in a border town," Mark Bromberg says. However, he adds, "the fireworks fizzle at the end, for all the razzle-dazzle."

Shelly Fredman says there is No Such Thing as a Secret in her first Brandy Alexander mystery. "Oh, how I wish this book had gone through a traditional publishing house, one with an editor whose forte was dialogue and the use of quotation marks!" Corinne H. Smith laments. "Less lenient readers would toss a self-published book like this one aside after a few chapters. Nevertheless, I recommend No Such Thing as a Secret to mystery fans."

Craig Thompson has wrapped himself in Blankets that Mary Harvey, who was prepared to be skeptical, could not resist. "I honestly never thought I'd find myself in a book about a young man many years younger than I was, who was raised in an environment far to the right of my progressive, liberal upbringing," she says. "And yet the universality of Blankets shines through."

It's sad but true that Dracula may be his only significant literary achievement, but you can judge for yourself in Graphic Classics #7: Bram Stoker. "While the illustrated version of Dracula has an engaging story to tell, the majority of the remaining stories in this volume are predictable and tedious," says C. Nathan Coyle. "Dracula not only put Stoker on the literary map, it's the only thing keeping him there. And despite the great artwork, it's difficult to say if this volume is worth picking up."

The Buffy/Angel mythos continues in Spike vs. Dracula. "Writer Peter David got his hands on the characters and decided to sort out the whole bloody relationship between the two iconic vampires once and for all," Tom Knapp explains. "The art is inconsistent in this collection, and some of it's downright bad, but the writing is great, the story is funny and I bet if Joss Whedon had seen this in time, he'd have filmed it for us."

The second volume of Brian K. Vaughan's "excellent superhero/politican series Ex Machina continues with an excess of fine storytelling in Tag, Tom says. "Many writers might be content with a plot dealing with a psychokiller who's carving up dogs, kids and NSA agents, along with some subway graffiti that causes homicidal or suicidal tendencies in those who gaze too long at its intricate patterns. But no, Vaughan has a great deal more to explore in the human condition, and in this case his attention has focused on the issue of gay marriage."

Joan Druett follows In the Wake of Madness in this recounting of "The Murderous Voyage of the Whaleship Sharon," Tom Knapp says. "Drawing on news accounts, letters and journals from the time, Druett assembles a complete, complex tale that has eluded historians for nearly two centuries. ... Highly readable and educational, In the Wake of Madness is a gripping story that will satisfy students of that era and any fans of nautical lore."

Nevit O. Ergin translates The Forbidden Rumi for modern readers. "I was a bit skeptical. The thought passed through my mind: Oh, another Rumi book off the new age shelf, another book by the most popular poet to fill all the new age boutiques, blah blah blah. I was also skeptical because the cover mentions translations and commentary, and I wasn't looking forward much to the commentary, for Rumi has always done a fine job of speaking for himself quite loudly," Kevin Shlosberg says. "These fears were quickly dispelled."

Eric Hughes says Superbad doesn't entirely live up to its title. "Now, normally I don't fall for crude jokes and potty humor. I tend to immediately brush away that lowbrow, sophomoric type of comedy," he says. "This one is suffocatingly funny and had me -- and the entire theater -- laughing through the entire thing."

Is Candy a love story or a drug story? Or a love story about the love of drugs? Jessica Lux-Baumann has the answers in her review of a film she describes as "an unflinchingly honest look at a couple addicted to heroin. ... My cynical side wonders if the director believed that 'gorgeous people ruined by drugs' was enough of a premise for a movie and focused merely on scandalous scenes of drug use, rather than the film as a whole."

There's always more good stuff on the way! (Meanwhile, you can pass the time and take a peek at the plentiful archives of past editions, below.)

3 November 2007

They sicken of the calm, who know the storm.
- Dorothy Parker

A few weeks ago, I was basking in the fiddle heaven that is Cape Breton. Last night, I attended the first "concert" ever by a large group of fourth-grade string players, including my daughter, Molly, on violin. Believe me when I say that hour of open-string "songs," pinky plucking and basic bow exercises was every bit as exciting as any 10 fiddle masters. That's our future, people!

Rathkeltair "is a new Celtic band with a sound that is more contemporary than traditional," Dave Howell relates. "Everybody more or less alternates the band's own songs with traditional instrumentals. This works well, since their compositions are well written and often evoke older themes and feelings."

Smithfield Fair is Swept Away by the sounds of Argyle. "The album features a well balanced mixture of traditional Scottish songs, cover versions and a few self-crafted songs and instrumental tracks," Adolf Goriup says. "The tragic Highland Clearances of the 18th century helped the Scottish heritage to expand as far as to the American South (and even further on), and Smithfield Fair is a perfect example for authentic Scottish traditional music from the other side of the big water. Have I managed to wake your interest yet?"

Hayley Taylor "is a name that should start appearing soon on the rock/pop charts," Kevin Shlosberg says, even though her EP Waking places her in the company of such folk/pop singer-songwriters as Fiona Apple, Joan Osborne and Sarah MacLaughlin. "Taylor seems to have Apple's sensibilities, a similar voice and vocal range as Osborne, and lyrics as folky sweet and heartfelt as MacLauglin's," Kevin says.

Jefferson & Friends resurrect the protest song on The Baby & the Bathwater: New Songs for Peace & Justice. "This is certainly a passionate album from a writer with very strong feelings about the world today and the things being done in the names of the common man," Nicky Rossiter says. "From Katrina to Congress, Jefferson gives it with both barrels. In fact, he gives it so strongly, I doubt if we will hear a single track from this album on radio anytime soon. That is the tragedy of this collection."

Veteran Canadian pickers Harry Manx and Kevin Breit, "abundantly gifted multi-instrumentalists, bring a formidable array of talents to this, their second album as a duo," Jerome Clark opines. The CD in question is In Good We Trust, and you should read Jerome's review to learn more about it.

Todd Fritsch leaves a trail of Sawdust in the country music scene. "This artist is worth checking out for your country collection," Wil Owen says. "If there is one issue I have with Sawdust it is that, even though it is almost a double album, it is too short with only 17 tracks. When the last song trails off, I want more!"

Jeff Ball defines The Shape of Light on this new-age CD featuring the Native American flute. "This CD is also unusual because it includes other flautists: Peter Phippen on bansuri bamboo flute and Morgan Ball on high flute," Dave Howell notes. "The sounds of the other flutes are different enough to provide interesting harmony to Ball's playing."

Riccardo Tesi & Banditalia "appear as an inseparable, unified musical force" on Lune, David Cox remarks. "This is an upbeat, musically sound creation. One expects no less from this veteran ensemble, and Lune, on the whole, does not disappoint."

Peter Karp digs into Shadows & Cracks for his music. "The first thing you need to know about Peter Karp is that he's an original. He records for a blues label and certainly he's at home with the blues, but to label him a blues singer is like saying Muddy Waters was a guitar player: it's true but doesn't come close to describing the man or his music," Michael Scott Cain enthuses. "Come up with a better label to put Karp in, and he'll immediately do something to shatter it."

Greg Glassman carries his jazz Into the Wild, but our reviewer sees some problems in the final product. "It's certainly not that he lacks technique," Ron Bierman says. "There's never a flubbed note or chord change on even the fastest, most harmonically complex tunes. But, as in the more upbeat improvisations of the earlier album, there's not a lot that's striking, and too much that's repetitive in melodic and rhythmic phrasing."

Rosae takes jazz fans on The Incredible Journey, says Paul de Bruijn. "Rosae is the combination of Eva and Enrico Rosa, and with a variety of recorders and guitars they create some wonderfully textured music. ... The music that Rosae creates on The Incredible Journey is an intriguing blend of moods and styles. As much as it changes from moment to moment, the pieces still all fit together, within the pieces and as a greater whole."

And our coverage of Celtic Colours continues, starting off today with a little Girl Power from Marion Bridge. "It included extremely talented women from Cape Breton, Ireland and the United States, all of whom have traveled all over the world to share their skills with unsuspecting audiences who probably had no idea about the treat they were in for," says Kaitlin Hahn. Featured performers at the show included Karan Casey, Tracey Dares, Kimberley Fraser, Liz Knowles, Mary Jane Lamond, Wendy MacIsaac and Brenda Stubbert.

Tom Knapp continues his series of Festival Club spotlights with a look at emcee/performer Buddy MacDonald. "There's just something comforting about Buddy MacDonald up on stage," he says. "You know what you're in for, to a certain extent: a guitar in his lap, red sneakers perched on the sides of his stool, and his warm, friendly voice rolling over the room."

This week's Colour package ends with Tom's interview with Gwenan Gibbard, an ambassador for Welsh traditions. "While some folks might view the harp through a classical lens, Gwenan thrives on the lively, dance-oriented folk harp stylings," he says. "And it's been getting a great reception among the music-loving audiences at Celtic Colours."

Harry Turtledove's protagonist is Every Inch a King -- and a circus performer to boot. "Taking a page out of Voltaire's Candide, Turtledove's protagonist narrates his journey toward kingship amidst a sea of acerbic commentary on the world's diverse inhabitants," Whitney Mallenby says. "While it lacks both the biting clarity and the fast-paced balance of Voltaire's classic, Turtledove's novel makes up for it by being a much more mellow read."

Bob Harvey plays around with format in Me & You Too: Catalyst, which is billed as the "first FULL-COLOR novel" by publishers. "The color backgrounds were good, but the KaleidoScript ended up being a definite negative for me," Chris McCallister says. "It makes the novel into a novelty, but severely damages the reading experience."

Christine Amsden suffers a Touch of Fate in this novel of precognition. "The mystery portion of the story is a little weak, as throughout the book you know who the culprit is and the main characters' discovery of said culprit is lackluster at best," Cherise Everhard says. "The main story has potential, but it got lost in the scattered focus of characters and unresolved subplots. By the end of this book I just felt indifferent."

Christopher Paolini has gotten short shrift in many reviews of Eragon, Stephen Richmond complains. "I really feel the need to come to this book's defense," he says. "At its most essential, Eragon is a story about power. Those who have it, those who want it, those who feel entitled to take it and, sadly, those who abuse it."

Heroes and villains alike blow off some steam over a hot cuppa at Common Grounds. "The first collection from the ongoing Common Grounds series is written by originator Troy Hickman, with assists from various artists," Tom Knapp says. "And it's insightful and fun, really fun, in a way most comics never are."

Jason reinvents the zombie comic with The Living & the Dead. "Told in Norwegian artist Jason's trademark style -- stark black-and-white drawings, anthropomorphized characters, action almost entirely without dialogue -- the story imparts a great deal of thought and emotion, horror, humor and, yes, even romance," Tom says. "The story has some sense of urgency, but it unfolds at a relaxed pace -- and the expressiveness of Jason's characters is delightfully wrought."

The vampires return in 30 Days of Night: Three Tales by Steve Niles. "Three Tales continues the gorefest Niles started in Barrow as he creates and refines a vampire mythos that has nothing to do with the pale and elegant creatures of recent popular fiction," Tom says. "These guys don't sip, they rend, and even their unflagging thirst won't stop them from spilling gallons of blood in the process."

Princess Leia is The Heart of the Rebellion in the fourth volume of Star Wars Empire. "Those of us who were around for the early years of the Star Wars phenomenon can't get enough of Luke, Han and Leia," Tom says. "Leia often gets the short end of the stick when those two charismatic heroes are around, but The Heart of the Rebellion gives the princess the spotlight she deserves. I really enjoyed this book."

Simon (he just has the one name, apparently, much like Cher, Madonna and W) has a great deal to say in Dead Names: The Dark Story of the Necronomicon. Gary Cramer, in a wonderful rambling and excessively wordy examination of Simon's tome, decides just how successfully the message comes across to readers. "Darned if he doesn't triumph over his wont to obfuscation and deliver the righteous, clean prose of a true believer in the value and uniqueness of a project that seems to have brought him a bit of fame and a lot of tempest-in-a-teapot hassle," Gary says. "If his latest work helps those who have read the Necronomicon, whether as long ago as the '70s or as recently as the '00s, see it openly in a new light instead of just furtively under a blacklight, then Simon's efforts to bring the dead names of the many beside himself who played roles, knowingly or not, in the depth of its penetration into popular culture will be vindicated."

Director Bob Fosse made Star 80 in 1983, just over two years after the brutal murder of 1980 Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten at the hands of her husband, manager and wannabe-pimp Paul Sinder. "The film is a gritty look at a beautiful tragedy," Jessica Lux-Baumann says. "Modern viewers will be transported back two decades to the styles, colors and attitudes of the late 1970s."

Next, Miles O'Dometer slips on a pair of Kinky Boots, which Miles says "has been compared to The Full Monty -- no doubt by promoters who'd like to see it rake in as much money as The Full Monty did. ... But in the end, Kinky Boots is a touching film that's beautifully photographed, efficiently edited and, at times, screamingly funny. And it's about something real, human and important. Imagine that."

Our reviewing day ends with Barbara Bamberger Scott's look at Jerry Lee Lewis: Greatest Live Performances of the '50s, '60s & '70s. "This is 71 minutes of Jerry Lee on stage, even when he's off stage," she says. "You have to admire the incredible piano licks, the potent singing voice, the enormous kick-the-piano-stool and kneel-on-the-floor energy, and the almost sexual interplay with the fans. But it's harder to admire the private man with an ego the size of Louisiana."

More's coming! (Meanwhile, don't just sit there twiddling your mouse. Take a peek at the plentiful archives of past editions, below.)

27 October 2007

Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life.
The only completely consistent people are dead.
- Aldous Huxley

It's been just over a year since the tragic murders at an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster, Pa. Below, you'll find reviews of a memorial concert in remembrance of those slain and a book about the Amish spirit of forgiveness. There's plenty more to whet your appetite as well, including a second round of reviews from Celtic Colours. Enjoy!

A handful of up-and-coming artists, along with a few established ones, take A Leap in the Dark on this Gaelic compilation. "A Leap in the Dark is a decent Celtic collection," Wil Owen says. "The quality of the tracks ranges from mediocre to excellent. If you like a little variation while listening to music or you aren't familiar with any of these artists, this CD might be worth the purchase."

Cheryl Reid O'Hagan, a.k.a. Nova Scotia's Harp Lady, performs in The Darkest Midnight for this early recording. "The 14 tracks, mostly traditional clerical songs or carols, create a beautiful and meditative ambience," Adolf Goriup says. "O'Hagan has produced a wonderful collection of songs, and her devotion as performer, arranger and songwriter is certainly an inspiration for the listener. The choice of songs, O'Hagan's beautiful voice, the Celtic harp and the guest musicians make the CD something special."

Colleen Coadic does her Cape Breton origins proud with You Feel this Good, her fifth album. "Coadic is a great guitar player and she stresses that she only works with acoustic guitars," Adolf Goriup says. "She is an excellent singer and songwriter with a powerful voice, and she sings about life, love and the world of a young woman."

Eilen Jewell shares Letters from Sinners & Strangers in a folk recording that has our reviewer impressed. "Let me put it this way: Letters from Sinners & Strangers is excellent," Jerome Clark says. "Let's propose, on second thought, that it's better than that. Since I haven't heard every folk CD released by a new artist in 2007, I can't pretend to pronounce confidently that this is, objectively speaking, the top American album in that particular category. I can state, however, that it is the best one I have heard personally as of late September."

Tom Langford goes Acoustic for his latest release. "If you are familiar with any of Tom's CDs, you know his brand of folk-rock music is generally fleshed out with multiple instruments and even backup singers," Wil Owen says. "The style is a little more folk-rock vs. the folk sound found on Acoustic. Tom has a good voice, which goes well with both genres."

Andy Thornton makes a good appearance as a Sunflower Girl. "Thornton shows great potential as a writer and performer, but my single criticism would be that most of his tracks take a little too long to ignite," Nicky Rossiter says. "Nice introductory music is all very well, but if you delay too long you could lose your listeners."

Elvin Bishop is Booty Bumping with the blues. "Ever since his days in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Elvin Bishop has been one of the most enjoyable guitar players around," says Michael Scott Cain. "His stuff rocks, stomps and thoroughly burns down the barnyard."

Jeff Bisch ignites his 40-Watt Stars on an album that is mostly country, with a little jazz and blues in the dressing. "40-Watt Stars is a quiet album, the songs build on you with repeated listens," Paul de Bruijn says. "When the imagery of the songs builds on itself (such as in 'Daddy Swing Me Higher') you get some of the best songs on the album."

Tom Gavornik packs a lot of jazz into Soul Cry. "Almost all of the tracks are instrumental soundscapes, and the music on the one song in the set would be another if it dropped the lyrics," Paul says. "Soul Cry is about the music, the emotions and images that notes can convey."

Bob James mixes jazz with the Angels of Shanghai for a Far Eastern sound. "The jazz found on Angels of Shanghai is a smooth blend of standard Western jazz with Chinese elements," Wil Owen says. "In many respects, the music might be what would happen if you took a Chinese version of the Japanese-flavored jazz band Hiroshima and let Yanni lead it. At the very least, the music can be categorized in the same genres as those two."

Mallem Abdenbi El Gadari takes westerners into the realms of ethnomusicology and cultural anthropology with Gnawa Bambara. "The music on this album is not pop stuff; you won't hear it on a Middle Eastern jukebox or radio," Michael Scott Cain explains. "Instead, it is a part of a religious service. It's stated goal is to reconcile the listeners with the possessor spirits of the Sufi practices. Think of it as trance music that accompanies ceremonial dances."

Virginia MacIsaac begins this week's Celtic Colours coverage with Kinfolk, a show in Inverness, Cape Breton, that featured more relatives than you can shake a fiddlestick at. "The venue -- with stained-glass windows, afternoon sunlight streaming in behind the players, the alcove decorated with coloured leaves and wide pews with the slanted seating -- made this an especially wonderful show," Virginia says. "The music may not have been heavy on dance tunes, but it was light and lively mixed with sweetly played waltzes, and delivered by lots of local talent with lots of kinship in the mix."

Tom Knapp gives credit where credit is due to Cape Breton fiddler Andrea Beaton in his second Festival Club spotlight. "I love Andrea Beaton," he says. "Let me explain why. Although, if you've heard -- or, better yet, seen -- her play, my reasons are obvious."

Speaking of Cape Breton fiddlers, Tom had a chance to sit down and chat with an impressive new face on the scene, Rachel Davis. "Rachel is a vibrant young player, and her face displays both an intense concentration and a fierce joy when she plays," Tom says. "She has an adorable, infectious smile -- and explosion of cheekbones -- and at times I thought she might bounce clear out of her chair." For Rachel's thoughts on the music, check out the interview in full!

On another subject entirely, Tom recently attended the Nickel Mines Reflection Concert, featuring Carol Ann Weaver, Rebecca Campbell and Frances Miller in a performance marking the tragedy of the murder of five young Amish girls at the Nickel Mines one-room schoolhouse. "The tragedy, sorrow and forgiveness that defined the aftermath of the Nickel Mines school shootings were reflected Sunday in music," Tom says. Read more about it in his touching review. (And see below a review by Katie Knapp of a recent book about the shooting and the culture of forgiveness that sustained the Amish community afterwards.)

Stan Swanson relates The Misadventures of Hobart Hucklebuck for young readers. "Swanson has crafted a colorful and fun adventure tale and, despite being a children's book (and my childhood is decades behind me), I found it strangely compelling," Chris McCallister says. "After the first quarter of the book, where the foundations are laid and the characters are introduced, I couldn't put the darn thing down! While this tale is not as complex, convoluted or compelling as a Harry Potter story, it was certainly fulfilling and satisfying enough for the younger children who might find the Potter books intriguing, but one step too dark or sophisticated."

Donna Jo Napoli recounts a silent piece of history in Hush. "This is the gritty survival story of a historical princess who is kidnapped and forced into slavery. The setting is Ireland, 900 AD, and the princess is Melkorka, beautiful 15-year-old daughter of the king of Downpatrick," says Jennifer Mo. "Plot-wise, I would have appreciated a bit more resolution, but that's realism for you. There's no doubt that this is a strong, emotionally resonant work that reflects Napoli's considerable strengths as a writer."

Joan Aiken concludes Felix Brooke's saga in The Teeth of the Gale. "Originally published between 1977 and 1988, Aiken's Felix Brooke adventures, while not flawless, are imaginative and compelling reads that bridge the gap between children's and young adult fiction," Jennifer says. "It's great to have them back in print."

Some time ago, one of our reviewers filed his thoughts on Brian Keene's City of the Dead, a novel that turned out to be part of a series. Tom Knapp, who later reviewed the first book in the series, The Rising, now offers his thoughts on the sequel. "Keene's City of the Dead suffers from Deep Space Nine syndrome, an ailment that omits the former excitement of 'boldly going' somewhere and, instead, boldly sits still and waits for something to happen," Tom warns.

Erin McCarthy continues Vegas Vampires with Bled Dry. "The third book in the Vegas Vampires series is easily the best of the bunch," Cherise Everhard exclaims. "I loved the first two books, but this one blew me away. From page one I was completely engrossed, on page two I had my first big laugh and that set the pace for a fantastic read."

Martha Wells takes our heroes from the small screen to the printed page in Stargate Atlantis: Reliquary. "Wells follows a very neat premise having to do with technology making mental sounds and corrupted technology pushing the sensitive toward madness," Gloria Oliver says. "Atlantean knowledge is abused and others made to pay."

A second-tier character gets his props in The Blue Beetle Companion. "One of the things this book proves is that history, even that of a character who is a standout favorite of very few fans, can be interesting," Mark Allen says. "Readers will be duly entertained as they are literarily regaled with tales of the fascinating real-life characters who, in one way or another, had a hand in the character's four-color life."

The most interesting aspect of Outlander, a volume from the ongoing Dark Horse Star Wars collection, is the presence of a Jedi among the enigmatic sandpeople of Tatooine, Tom Knapp says. "The plot is fantastic, with a lot of new exposition on the backgrounds of Ki-Adi-Mundi, Aurra Sing and, of course, the Tusken culture."

Tom tunes in for a gameshow, superhero style, in Ultimate Spider-Man #16, a.k.a. Deadpool. "It's a strange, sad truth for a Marvel Comics reader, but I don't like the X-Men. Uncanny, New, Ultimate or otherwise, I just cannot work up the interest to read about those characters any more," Tom says. "Except, oddly, when Brian Michael Bendis is writing them for Ultimate Spider-Man. Then, somehow, the X-team is fresh, new and 10 times more fun than usual. And that takes some doing."

John L. Ruth explores a society without grudges in Forgiveness: A Legacy of the West Nickel Mines Amish School, referencing the day in October 2006 when five girls were murdered by a gunman in their school. "Thinking about it, I can't see how their parents go on. I don't think I could," Katie Knapp says. "But John L. Ruth, who is a Mennonite minister, explains that these parents have a tool that I just don't. Forgiveness is ingrained in their culture until it is part of the fabric of their souls."

Jessica Lux-Baumann says Mike Judge's Idiocracy "is a silly but brilliant social satire that was crushed by the studio system. ... Don't let this lack of studio support prevent you from picking up this great title on DVD, however."

Daniel Jolley, meanwhile, is preparing to make The Descent. "Truth be told, this film does take a while to really get going, and some of the story elements could have been presented more effectively," he says. "When it gets going, though, The Descent easily attains not-to-be-missed status, and on top of all the incredible special effects, oppressive atmosphere and grievous bloodletting (made with a pretty limited budget, by the way), one of the most important plot points of the story is actually brought home in an impressively subtle manner. Are you kidding me? Blood, gore, a claustrophobic atmosphere like you wouldn't believe -- and subtlety?"

More's coming! (Meanwhile, don't just sit there twiddling your mouse. Take a peek at the plentiful archives of past editions, below.)

20 October 2007

Have another drink and just listen to the music.
- Charles de Lint

We're back! Did ya miss us?

Tullamore takes its stand with Wild & Wicked Youth. "With release of its third album, Tullamore, a Kansas City, Mo., trio, steps to the forefront and is sure to be noticed," John Lindermuth says. "Celtic music loyalists should have no complaint with Tullamore's interpretation of the eight traditional selections on this album. And the other four offerings are a compatible fit."

Fynesound makes its Celtic debut with Almost Home. "Fynesound plays traditional music from the 18th century, when the combination of fiddle and cello was very popular," Adolf Goriup says. "Their playing together is virtuoso."

The Watersons mark the holidays early with Sound, Sound Your Instruments of Joy, a new remaster of a 1977 classic recording. "Even the seasoned folk listener -- at least the one who, like me, missed this in its first, vinyl incarnation -- will find much that feels wondrously new," Jerome Clark says. "On the other hand, the Watersons could sing just about anything, sacred or secular, and they would transport me to some realm of musical heaven. Talk about your instruments of joy."

Mike Alviano throws open his pack for The Vagabond Songs. "The music on The Vagabond Songs has a quiet edge that runs from song to song," says Paul de Bruijn. "Sometimes it comes to sorrow, other times it comes to hope. Mike Alviano's voice rides the same edge and the sound that results from this tie the songs together."

Sean Watkins has his Blinders On for this departure from Nickel Creek. "One imagines Watkins is often seen to be in the shadow of his charismatic bandmate, Chris Thile, but with Blinders On Watkins has crafted an interesting collection with broad appeal -- faultless musicianship, contemporary arrangements and several moments of engaging quirkiness," Mike Wilson reports.

Janine Gilbert-Carter has A Song for You, if you're listening. "Gilbert-Carter has a voice as big as a Georgetown townhouse," says Michael Scott Cain. "Trained as a gospel singer, and still active in that genre, she has shifted more of her activities toward the jazz field. It's a good move; she has the chops for it."

Popa Chubby, the blues-rocker from New York City, pays tribute to the catalogue of Jimi Hendrix, giving us his take on a total of 22 Hendrix songs on Electric Chubbyland, Vols. 1-2, Michael Scott Cain says. "It's just Chubby's voice and guitar and a rhythm section doing Hendrix song after Hendrix song, more than two hours of them in all. You have never heard such a relentless wah-wah pedal assault."

What would a Basque Planet sound like? David Cox wonders, as did a group of musicians represented on this CD. "There's a huge difference between the world of contemporary music we might associate with Spain, and the alternative selection we hear on Basque Planet," David says. "This collection is just a small sampling of the many artists from Euskal Herria -- the Basque Country. It's not even necessarily the best work of all artists included, but it does give some idea what a Basque Planet might sound like."

Celtic Colours is over! Yes, it's sad, but true. Tom Knapp and a team of Rambles.NET writers have a lot to report on this amazing week of music from Cape Breton and the world ... and Tom kicks it all off today with a trilogy of stories for your entertainment.

First up is a review of an amazing show from midweek in the nine-day series. The New Tunemakers, he reports, "started with a four-day incarceration. ... The New Tunemakers, as the Mabou concert was wisely named, was just that -- a spotlight on 10 young music composers, who'd just spent the past few days working in close quarters to compose, arrange and rehearse music of their own devising."

Troy MacGillivray is an amazing performer from Antigonish, and he provided Tom with a much-needed fiddling fix on Tom's first night in Cape Breton. Check out the experience in this Festival Club spotlight.

To round out this first day of coverage from Celtic Colours, Tom has a somewhat quirky interview with members of the Alberta band, the McDades, who try to define just what the heck it is they do for a living, with only moderate success. Read it, and see if you can figure it out!

Check back next week for more from Tom, as well as reviewers Katie Knapp, Kaitlin Hahn and Virginia MacIsaac!

Harry Turtledove pledges allegiance to The Disunited States of America in his latest "Crosstime Traffic" novel. "The Disunited States of America may be part of a series, but it stands alone," Wil Owen says. "I think the writing style is aimed at teenagers, as it seemed a little basic to me. The idea is intriguing." Whoop it up, Wil! That's review #300!

Jackie Kessler's ex-succubus heroine Jezebel takes The Road to Hell to save her lover, Paul, from eternal torment. "Kessler has a lot of fresh ideas, and Hell itself should tremble as she begins rearranging the infernal furniture," Tom Knapp says. "That, much more than Jesse's questionable devotion to Paul, made The Road to Hell a solid read. And certain character developments, particularly the holier-than-everyone angel thrust into the unwelcome role of seductress, are sheer brilliance."

D. Mikels chronicles a post-apocalyptic world in The Reckoning. "The story flows fast and furious, and the writing is of the caliber that you don't want to put it down -- eager to get to the next level of action, fear or discovery," Cherise Everhard says. "Mikels takes you on a creative ride between the past and the present; he gives you a realistic feel of the emotions and responses the characters convey in the face of adversity."

T.L. Hines says The Dead Whisper On in this faith-based thriller. "I was extremely impressed with T.L. Hines' debut novel, Waking Lazarus," Chris McCallister says. "Because of that, my expectations were high for his second novel, The Dead Whisper On. I was not disappointed."

Brandilyn Collins reveals a Stain of Guilt in the second book of her Hidden Faces mystery series. "Although this book was a good read, I have to say I knew the end right from the beginning," Renee Harmon says. "It didn't have me guessing at all, nor wondering how it was all going to turn out. My spine didn't tingle and I didn't feel the need, as I usually do, to read something that startled me over and over again. I liked the storyline, and the characters were believable, but there was never any suspense."

The Freshmen are back for round two in Fundamentals of Fear. "Fundamentals of Fear is a vast improvement over the previous book," Tom Knapp says. "Faced with a relentless foe who wants their secrets, the team tackles issues of power, responsibility, romance, heartbreak, suicide and -- most touchingly -- the death of an innocent bystander."

The star of Ant: Days Like These is a small girl who dreams of a big future -- in more ways than one. "While it's not uncharacteristic for a young child to dream of superpowers, I suspect it's the mostly male creative team -- led by plotters Mario Gully, Sean O'Reilly and Ken F. Levin -- who decided Hanna's future self would be tremendously stacked and would be entirely nude under her skin-tight ant costume," Tom says. "Suffice it to say, I don't think these guys did a very good job getting inside the head of their main character."

Buffy the Vampire Slayer takes A Stake to the Heart in this well-meaning but ultimately unsuccessful prequel tale. "Frankly, I wasn't always sure exactly why certain twists occurred, or why some plot developments were simply ignored or forgotten a page or two later," Tom says. "The art, though, is good: Cliff Richards handles the basic pages, while Brian Horton glosses up some panels with a vivid, painterly touch."

Kevin Huizenga creates "an incredibly detailed and rich world without ever once managing to come off as overstuffed or overdone, probably due to its unabashed sweetness and unapologetic sentimentality," in Curses, says Mary Harvey. "Each tale is filled with mystery and a sense of suspense that doesn't let go at the end."

Neil Hanson exposes The Custom of the Sea in this "shocking true tale of shipwreck, murder and the last taboo" set in 1884. "The Custom of the Sea is a rather macabre yet fascinating tale of human survival and legal chicanery," says Daniel Jolley. "The book begins somewhat slowly, as the author devotes a significant amount of time to the lives and duties of men aboard ship. The story of the destructive storm they encounter and their ordeal at sea is, of course, quite gripping. The second half of the book covers their arrest and trial, and while this part of the story necessarily lacks some of the human drama that has come before it, the miscarriage of justice described by the author increasingly raises one's hackles as the book nears its end."

Gabe G. Kubichek is ready to help you make your fortune with Gold & Where You Find It. "Because of its unique qualities -- it doesn't tarnish, corrode or rust -- we have equated it with wealth since the days of King Midas," John R. Lindermuth says. "Even many who will never actually venture into the wilderness in search of it have dreamt about it, or fantasized as they read books or watched films about treasure and treasure hunting. Gabe Kubichek's book provides another such opportunity."

Athena reveals the Ghosts of Seattle for believes and nonbelievers alike. "Told in a wry and sprightly first-person style, Ghosts of Seattle is a travel book with a paranormal twist," Mark Bromberg says. "She takes her topic just seriously enough to be enthusiastic about it, and writes a fun and unique guidebook."

Miles O'Dometer is looking for real-life stories in the North Country. "North Country is based on the Laura Leedy/Clara Bingham book Class Action: The Story of Lois Jensen & the Landmark Case that Changed Sexual Harassment Law, a title nearly as long as some books," he explains. "What follows is a no-holds-barred look at all the ways in which not-too-enlightened males can find to harass their female co-workers, starting with rude comments and come-ons and moving on to unwelcome presents in lockers and graffiti that falls far short of the standards of acceptable art. ... Inspiring it is, but true it doesn't ring. Too bad. This is a story that needs to be told. And believed."

Jessica Lux-Baumann settles in for a movie with Cocaine Cowboys. It is, she says, "an aptly titled two-hour-long documentary about the cocaine economy that built modern-day Miami, covering the flashiest crimes and personalities in the cocaine explosion of the 1980s. ... This isn't a socio-political look at the drug trade; rather, it is a down-and-dirty Wild West story, complete with a Godmother who could give Scarface a run for his money."

More's coming! (Meanwhile, don't just sit there twiddling your mouse. Take a peek at the plentiful archives of past editions, below.)

6 October 2007

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
- Berthold Auerbach

Good fortune takes us to Cape Breton this week for the fantabulous Celtic Colours, an international music festival that cannot be beat. You'll be able to enjoy reviews from the week-long series of showcase performances in this space, beginning shortly -- but the bad news is, no update for you loyal readers next weekend. To help ease the pain, we've tossed a few extras in the pile this week, so get reading! (While you browse the pages here, you really should consider throwing a few Cape Breton fiddle tunes onto the stereo to get you in the proper mood.)

Oisin McAuley is Far from the Hills of Donegal for his self-produced debut solo album. "Not only does it portray the traditional Irish music he grew up with, it includes many other styles that have influenced his playing throughout his life, including a bit of jazz and classical," says Kaitlin Hahn. "I have no complaints about this album, whatsoever. If you are looking for a new Irish fiddle album to add to your library, I highly recommend this one!"

Celtic Woman takes fans on A New Journey this year. "I feel like I have been waiting for this CD forever," Cherise Everhard says. "I am not in the least disappointed. It contains a great selection of songs and some of the most beautiful voices in music today."

Tommy Fleming is an artist "who seems to have the uncanny knack of picking just the right songs to strike a chord in his listeners," Nicky Rossiter says. A Life Like Mine is worth owning, he adds, "for the single track 'Lakes on Ponchartrain.' I know, you have this by Christy Moore, Ry Cooder or a dozen other artists who do great work on the beautiful song, but Fleming gives it another dimension. Maybe it's his diction and depth, but listening to this and some other familiar tracks I find myself appreciating the lyrics as never before."

Thea Gilmore presents an album of covers on Loft Music. "It's a refreshing collection, containing innovative interpretations of a range of songs, taking in pop, folk and blues along the way," Mike Wilson says. "Gilmore has crafted an eclectic collection that is a real pleasure to listen to -- interpreting each song with due reverence and sensitivity. With a voice as sensuous as Gilmore's, one imagines this album of covers will have made 10 songwriters very happy indeed."

Linda Draper has this Keepsake to offer. "I've said it before and I'll say it again -- Linda Draper is a poetess," John Lindermuth says. "I wouldn't give up a single track on this album. I love them all."

Siobhan Quinn and Michael Bowers share their songs with Dreamers, Lovers & Outlaws. "They bring us the best in contemporary folk music, and through their arrangements and performances they will mesmerize you," Nicky Rossiter says. "This is an album of surprises -- all pleasant."

Walt Wilkins & the Mystiqueros have unearthed some Diamonds in the Sun. "Country-rock is undergoing something of a resurgence," Jerome Clark muses. "Probably it never went entirely out of fashion in Texas, which likes its old-fashioned guitar rock with some honkytonk flourishes in the form of drinkin' lyrics and steel guitars. No surprise, Wilkins' outfit proves to be more Burritos and Poco than Merle Haggard and George Jones."

Audrey Auld Mezera sings of Lost Men & Angry Girls on her latest release. "What do you get when you transplant a singer-songwriter from Down Under to Northern California? A CD that sounds like it was released in Nashville. Duh!!!" Wil Owen exclaims. "Audrey may originally be from Australia, but believe me when I say that this CD is better than a lot I've heard on the country scene."

Tab Benoit and Louisiana's LeRoux exploit the Power of the Pontchartrain for some slammin' blues. "These guys fit together like pistons in an engine," Michael Scott Cain says. "Too many times, the star forces the band into the role of accompanists, a rhythm section to provide a bottom for him while he stands center-stage. ... Benoit and Louisiana's LeRoux come together like a band that's been doing 300 club dates a year for the past decade; their playing is sharp, precise, but at the same time loose and spontaneous-sounding and always, always, wonderful."

April Hall sings the music of Pamela Hines on a recording titled, appropriately enough, Hall Sings Hines. "The program includes a wide range of styles influenced by the southern blues, as well as by Latin rhythms and the typical urban jazz feeling," Adolf Goriup says. "The nine songs on the CD create a wonderful atmosphere, and once you've listened to them you wish to push the replay button to discover more of the musical details that make these compositions so extraordinary."

Sancto Ianne evades categorizing with Mo Siente. "It is hard to know how to define or pigeonhole this record, the third release from the rootsy Italian ensemble Sancto Ianne, but it doesn't matter. This is one of the best bands in the business and this 10-song CD is the complete package," David Cox says. "Too dynamic to be folk, way too rootsy to be pop, too rooted in its own locality to be anything called 'world music,' this CD is one of the best of many amazing records I have heard recently from Italy."

Stay tuned ... Celtic Colours coverage is about to begin!

Meanwhile, be sure to check out our Ramblings page, a loosely defined collection of thoughts, observations, essays and remembrances on a variety of subjects -- now with extra vitamins!.

Oh, and while we have your attention, the Living Fables -- an acoustic folk/country trio from southcentral Pennsylvania -- held a house party this weekend to mark the release of their new CD. Although a review is still pending, Tom Knapp urges folk fans to check out the band's website to hear some songs in advance.

Andrew Vachss brings Burke back for another run in Terminal. "Unlike other series, this one keeps getting better and better, with characters growing and changing and acquiring new perspectives while maintaining the qualities that make them living, breathing people rather than fictional constructs," Chet Williamson says. "Those who have read Vachss's previous Burke novels will find this one a more than worthy successor, and for those who haven't yet made the acquaintance of this unrelenting, frightening and compelling character, there's no better time to start."

Lorelei Shannon dresses her story in Rags & Old Iron, with a satisfying result. "Shannon magically whisks your mind away on a journey so full of twists, turns and excitement it makes you want to finish the book in one day," Renee Harmon says. "It's magnificent how you can visualize her characters and want to jump inside the book and put your 2 cents worth in to help."

Georgette Heyer accompanies An Infamous Army to Waterloo. "Every piece of background surrounding the military and its illustrious leader's work falls strikingly into place during the epic battle scenes, elevating detailed descriptions into a powerful and moving portrayal of Napoleon's final defeat," says Whitney Mallenby. "Undoubtedly tough on those who lack memory or are easily confused, An Infamous Army is a thorough and vivid rendering of 'love, war, Wellington and Waterloo.'"

Catherine Fisher unearths a legend in Darkhenge. "Fisher cooks up an enticing, if not entirely successful, mixture of Welsh mythology, archaeology and contemporary family drama in this young adult fantasy," says Jennifer Mo. "Fisher writes vividly and knowledgeably about her many subjects, but the book's characters, while often interesting and sometimes intriguing, seem to lack any profound emotional connection with each other -- a connection that proves absolutely vital to the book's central plot."

Rachel Caine is back with the Morganville Vampires for the Dead Girl's Dance. "High tension is the name of the game," says Gloria Oliver. "Fast paced, filled with twists and turns, Dead Girl's Dance is a fascinating, enjoyable read."

Carlton Mellick III finds an afterlife in Punk Land, where his protagonist struggles to make sense of it all. "As I read this book, I kept wanting to either autoclave it, incinerate it or read it all the way to the end. I chose the most painful option," Chris McCallister says. "In all fairness, I found this to be a creative, original tale, and the author does know how to spin a compelling yarn."

James Richard Larson is after doing The Right Thing in this novel about a novel -- or, rather, a novelist who kills herself shortly before being published, and her occult efforts to do so. "On one hand, this is a very fast-paced thriller, with an array of interesting characters," Chris says. "Overall, The Right Thing is a good, creepy tale of horror that moves rapidly, albeit a bit disjointedly. I am glad that I had a chance to read this entertaining story."

James Siegel reveals the Deceit in this recent audio-thriller. "Siegel uses his usual techniques of misrepresentation and misdirection to keep you guessing in this thriller," Wil Owen says. "Characters reveal clues as they have seen them. Personal interpretations can be misleading. I was almost done with the book before I realized what the cover-up was about -- yet, the puzzle pieces were given throughout the story."

Boba Fett is a Man with a Mission in this collection of one-shot stories from Dark Horse. "In all four tales, he goes up against tall odds and comes out, of course, on top," Tom Knapp says. "That said, Man with a Mission seemed to me like a fairly uninspired piece of work. The stories are nice, certainly providing a heapin' helpin' of Boba for anyone with a hankering for more. But they don't really add much dimension to the character."

Tom dons The Hood for some unusual super-powered action. "The Hood, written by Brian K. Vaughan and pencilled by Kyle Hotz, is an atypical comic, to say the least," he says. "And Marvel's use of its MAX adult-themed imprint gives Vaughan some freedom to play in this stand-alone collection."

The Bomb Queen is back for more in Jimmie Robinson's Dirty Bomb. "I know there's a market out there for nude comics, primarily among the adolescent set, but Jimmie needs to work on his storytelling if he wants to hook a more mature reading audience," Tom grouses. "Of course, as long as preteens have plenty of cash to spend, quality will probably remain a non-issue."

Tony Judt shows his strengths and weaknesses in Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. "This 800-odd page tome sets out to be the history of postwar Europe. Scholarly but readable, with useful and brief foonotes, it cruises along for about half its length doing just that," says David Cox. "But, about halfway through, this author loses it. Instead of simply telling us what happened in Europe, he beings to preach about it."

Alan Alda shares some Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself for readers' edification. "Things I Overheard is a bright, well-paced mix of Alda's speeches, mostly to college graduating classes, juxtaposed with events from his long life," says Barbara Bamberger Scott. "The book is peppered with stories both hilarious and tender, about Alda's aspirations, some of his failures and his encounters with daughters and grandchildren."

Barry Kane sees Fairy Houses ... Everywhere in this colorful tome. "This charming little picture book contains more than 50 colorful examples of handmade fairy homes," Cherise Everhard twitters with a gleam in her eye. "These little homes are so inviting any fairy would be happy to live in one."

Jessica Lux-Baumann is bully for Bully, which is based on a true high school crime. "The question of ultimate responsibility for the crime is answered only in the court sentences, not by the filmmaker," she says. "This is a great discussion piece -- does bullying invite crimes of self-defense?"

Daniel Jolley is less thrilled with The Night Listener. "I have to admit I was a little disappointed by this movie," he says. "I was expecting a tense, psychological thriller (Robin Williams has more than proved his ability to deliver along these lines before), but for whatever reason The Night Listener never truly captured my imagination."

More's coming! (Meanwhile, don't just sit there twiddling your mouse. Take a peek at the plentiful archives of past editions, below.)

29 September 2007

Indifference is the strongest force in the universe.
It makes everything it touches meaningless.
Love and hate don't stand a chance against it.
- Joan Vinge

This weekend, we play at the Falmouth Goat Races, at which we've become something of a house (OK, truck bed) band. Next weekend ... Celtic Colours bound!

The Pyrates Royale mark their 21st year with a little Black Jack. "I'm not sure if this is a boast or a confession, but I've heard and reviewed more than my share of pirate bands," Tom Knapp says. "Heck, I like pirate music, and I've performed my fair portion over the years. To date, none has rivaled the Pyrates Royale for sheer musicality and extreme cleverness. The band, although it has changed membership a bit over the years, has remained consistently bluff and hearty and perhaps a little intoxicated as it keeps the nautical traditions of the bold captain, the jolly jack tar and the drunken sailor alive and well."

House Red comes Uncorked with a lively recording of Celtic dance tunes. "To say that House Red is a tight trio of musicians is to sell them short," Tom says. "To mention how well they sizzle on an instrumental set of tunes is to tell only half the story. To say that they punch up this selection of traditional and original music with phenomenal energy and skill is to show an utter lack of the proper superlatives."

The Fraser Fifield Trio offers up a Slow Stream of Celtic jazz. "Frazer Fifield's current release is a must for everyone who loves inspired folk music fused with other styles," Adolf Goriup says. "He and his two co-musicians have recorded a wonderful album with exceptional compositions."

British guitarist Andreas Hagiioannu is playing Far & Wide. "Playing with a trio that includes Dick Griffin on bass and Alan Savage on drums, the guitarist composed all of the material on the CD; his tunes are playful and accessible, with long loping lines and sweet unexpected turns," Michael Scott Cain says. "The tunes and the playing are melodic, lacking the challenge of hard bop but avoiding the simplicity and vagueness of light jazz."

The Falkner Evans Trio is Climbing the Gates to share their music. "Climbing the Gates works on two levels," Michael explains. "First, it is nice background music, leading me to believe that Evans has spent a lot of time playing lounges, where the music is used to support drinks and conversation without intruding. Second, though, it is subtle and complex. Beneath its accessible surface, the album has a complexity and depth that only becomes noticeable with an attentive listening."

Janubia speaks a Mother Tongue of her own devising on this inspired CD. "The 10 songs on the CD are a well-balanced mixture of melancholic ballads and rhythmic dance songs," Adolf Goriup says. "The recording, the musicians as well as the singing are excellent and well worth exploring."

The legacy of John Jacob Niles is recalled with The Ballads. "His high-pitched voice and strangulated delivery are not for the faint of heart," warns Barbara Bamberger Scott. "For listening for its own sake, I was unable to enjoy Niles' delivery. Niles has many fans and I'm sure his reputation will not suffer greatly from my disapprobation, so I will simply say, 'caveat emptor'."

The Incredible String Band pays homages to The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter in this rerelease of a '60s psychedelic-folk classic. "Like the rest of Mike Heron and Robin Williamson's work at this late date, The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter is beyond being an acquired taste, often evoking an immediate personal and emotional response. Fans of British folk should give it a try, though," Mark Bromberg says. "It may not ultimately be your cup of tea, but it's genuinely unlike any other accoustic music you've ever heard."

Jason Vigil has a Heart Gone Sober to share. "With 10 tracks lasting just under 40 minutes, Jason belts his heart out on this self-produced CD," Wil Owen says. "Vigil is one of the better singer-songwriters I've enjoyed in the past year."

Fitzgerald & Beach perform acoustic blues on Pilot Me. "The playing is wonderful throughout, but the singing is weak," says Michael Scott Cain. "Would it be cruel to ask for an instrumental CD?"

The Lucky Tomblin Band comes to us Red Hot from Blue Rock with a little honkytonk swing from Texas. "Your problem, and mine, is that you don't hear this sort of thing on commercial 'country' radio these days, except perhaps in the softly romantic form in which George Strait has trafficked for years," Jerome Clark complains. "This sort of music really is meant to be performed and heard live in a beer joint with a good hardwood dance floor, but this outfit also happens to be a bunch of seasoned pros who know their way around a recording studio."

Anita Amirrezvani put almost a decade of research and writing into The Blood of Flowers, "a novel about life in 17th-century Iran, a world shrouded in mystery and oddness for most of us, a world we know only by cliche," says Michael Scott Cain. "The Blood of Flowers rips those cliches apart, showing us a vibrant, real world that, even though the action takes place 400 years ago, is as fresh and contemporary as a Target superstore."

MaryJanice Davidson's latest heroine is Sleeping with the Fishes. "Fred is not your typical mermaid. She is a little rude, sarcastic, she definitely doesn't sing and she is laugh-out-loud funny. She works at an aquarium and swims in saltwater pools because she hates seaweed," Cherise Everhard says. "I think this is going to be a great new and unique series, and I look forward to the next books."

Bob Mitchell's new novel Match Made in Heaven covers some theological ground between God and golf, as protagonist Elliot Goodman plays a round for his life. "An added twist has Elliot golfing against 18 of history's famous persons, from Joan of Arc to John Lennon, from Marilyn Monroe to Leonardo Da Vinci," Jim Curtiss says. "In the course of this golf round, each of Elliot's foes reminds him of life's essential philosophical lessons. Yet ... the book's follow-through is not that of a seasoned pro but that of a weekend-warrior. Yes, there are bright spots, but there are dubbed shots as well."

Stephen R. Pastore imagines a world in which World War II took a dramatically different turn in Never on These Shores. "This book will seem short at less than 300 pages. Many of the threads are not concluded. The book just ends," Wil Owen frets. "Fortunately, the author has revealed that Never on These Shores is the first of three volumes. Let us just hope the next two novels are as good as this one!"

Richard Sellers visits the future in this audio adaptation of T. Ray Gordon's radio play Tears of the Tin God. "In some respects, this tale is even better than the first two Sellers adapted to CD," Wil says. "For the most part, the acting is excellent. Unfortunately -- or fortunately, if you like this old style of radio play -- the writing is a little dated."

Two cultures clash in Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness, a joint venture from Marvel Comics and Dynamite Entertainment. "Well, you just had to know that the Marvel Zombies -- undead variations on Marvel's standard superhero theme, all conveniently set in a parallel universe that is exactly like the usual Marvel Universe in nearly every way ... except for the fact that Captain America is called Colonel America and, well, all the major heroes have turned into zombies and are eating everyone else -- are too good to lie fallow for long," Tom Knapp says. "Enter Ash Williams, the cult-classic zombie fighter from the Evil Dead/Army of Darkness series of films."

The mayor of New York City is also the world's only superhero in The First Hundred Days, the first volume of Brian K. Vaughan's Ex Machina. "Much more than a story about powers and colorful costumes, it's a story about people in difficult times," Tom says. "Vaughan has proven time and again how well he can write that kind of story, and it's frosting on the cake that he comes up with such inventive settings in which to stage them. Ex Machina is a very human story with a twist, but it's the people, more than the superhero twist, that will make me pick up the second volume."

Aquaman is all wet in The Waterbearer, Tom concludes. "Aquaman always seemed to me a character of unfulfilled potential," he says. "The Waterbearer strips most of that potential away from the character and gives him a brand new slate of less interesting material to work with. This book has not convinced me to give him any more of a chance."

Terence Winch writes of Irish Musicians/American Friends in a collection of poems ranging "from those about people he knew to experiences of playing music," Nicky Rossiter says. "Like all poetry there will be favourites and others that fail to move you but might affect another. On balance I found more moving, interesting and dry humour offerings here than in many other such books."

Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin share Mortensen's experiences in Pakistan over Three Cups of Tea. "This remarkably well-told report of how a dedicated individual is making changes in the least accessible and most hardened society on Earth is not just a wonderful read -- it's truly inspirational," says Joan L. Cannon. "One man's pragmatic and compassionate approach to the evils of terrorism is long overdue."

Michael Carroll's book, Awake at Work: 35 Practical Buddhist Principles for Discovering Clarity & Balance in the Midst of Work's Chaos, "cultivates mindfulness on the job via 35 slogans (or principles) designed to provide natural wisdom, openness and poise in the workplace," Jessica Lux-Baumann says. "The slogans are presented as much more than simple maxims. Each chapter is a well-formed essay with historical perspective, practical modern-day applications and the benefits of each principle."

Miles O'Dometer ponders the parallels between Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud and Gromit in his review of Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit. "Ultimately," he says, "what makes Were-Rabbit work is what's made Wallace & Gromit films work for the past 15 years: Mr. Expressive, Gromit himself. Keep your eye on that pup's eyes. Knighted or not, the dog can act."

Jessica Lux-Baumann, meanwhile, takes a close look at The Chumscrubber, which she calls "a brilliant portrayal of suburban dysfunction that deserves a place alongside American Beauty, Edward Scissorhands and The Squid & the Whale. ... The dialogue, imagery and themes of this movie all complement the first-rate acting. Prepare to have your jaw drop as you watch."

They all come together for Fats & Friends, a performance recorded in New Orleans featuring Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and Ray Charles. "It doesn't get better than this," says Barbara Spring. "It's a rare event and their pleasure in jamming with each other is spontaneous and joyful. Each plays in his distinct style and together they create a terrific synergy."

More's coming! (Meanwhile, don't just sit there twiddling your mouse. Take a peek at the plentiful archives of past editions, below.)

22 September 2007

All too often, American companies try to solve their design problems
with lawyers, rather than scientists and engineers.
- Roger Stern

Farewell, Marlowe.

Hugh Morrison is happy to play the button accordion Under a Texas Skye. "It's an instrument that requires concentration, dexterity and a true love of some complex and lively tunes," says Barbara Bamberger Scott. "The button accordion just wants to play jigs and reels, and in Morrison's hands it does so with timeless skill."

Cady Finlayson is steaming hot on Irish Coffee. "Finlayson plays a crisp fiddle, clean and precise and oh-so rich in tone. She plays with a casual confidence, and her music lights up a room when it's playing," Tom Knapp says. "She plays with both head and heart, and the music she makes is a glowing example of good Celtic fiddling. Check her out, and soon."

The Independence Suite is a selection of "Traditional Music from Ireland, Scotland & Cape Breton," and Mike Wilson has praise for the work -- although he notes "there is an undeniable bias towards Irish music -- 12 out of the 15 tracks! This isn't a bad thing, given the quality of what has been included, but maybe not what the title of the album would lead you to expect."

Faerd draws together the sounds of many places in Logbok. "The CD includes five songs and six instrumental tracks, traditional material as well as two self-crafted tunes," Adolf Goriup says. "The recording features beautiful tunes and songs from the far north of Europe to the southern hemisphere, brought forward by gifted musicians who have managed to produce a melting pot of traditional music."

On Over the Hills, Lucy Kaplansky "sings of life, love, joy and sadness, but she does it all with a style that cannot be replicated," Nicky Rossiter says. "She draws us into her life and her history in a way that few singer/songwriters can. Listening to the songs, you feel as if she is chatting with you on the telephone and sharing all but with a beautiful musical backing."

A folk standby gets his props on The Gift: A Tribute to Ian Tyson. "There is only one Ian Tyson, and that Ian Tyson is as good a songwriter as the folk revival -- or Canada itself -- has produced, and a cowboy poet to rival the great Charles Badger Clark," Jerome Clark says. "Tyson's weathered baritone is so distinctive that not only his songs but his performances of them have a way of putting themselves inside one's head and staying there. Many artists (among them Neil Young, Bobby Bare, Judy Collins, Johnny Cash) have covered his songs, some more successfully than others, of course, but nobody has ever done a Tyson song better than its creator."

Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem "are all over the map stylistically" as they celebrate their Big Old Life. "Is the result unfocused? Oh, yeah," says Michael Scott Cain. "Is that a problem? No, not really. ... They all sound as if they're having a pretty good time. So will you, listening to it."

Seldom Scene is Scenechronized in its music. "The sheer technical excellence of the band -- widely judged among the most accomplished and influential bluegrass assemblies ever -- through its various incarnations has kept its sound from growing stale," Jerome Clark says. "The music both honors tradition (even the most conservative bluegrass fans like what the Scene does) and takes it to fresh places where it always makes itself contentedly, if unexpectedly, at home."

The Women of Africa get the spotlight on this offering from Putumayo. "Traditional music in Africa has always been connected with female chanting; no matter if they sang lullabies for their children or if they chanted while doing their daily labors, they expressed their joy by celebrating," Adolf Goriup says. "Women of Africa is a brilliant collection of songs from all over the continent brought forward by some of its best female singers."

La Balteuband describes its compositions as "a blend of jazz and elements of Argentine music," Dave Howell says. "There are some Latin rhythms, and this CD does have breezy and light moments like those associated with South American music. Still, it does not sound like Latin jazz or tango. ... This CD should appeal to a wide variety of listeners with its many imaginative melodic excursions."

The Complete Porgy & Bess, recorded in 1956 and released in 2005, gets a look by new Rambles.NET addition Mark Bromberg. "Here is DuBose Heyward's libretto and the full Gershwin score, performed by an array of singers and musicians from some kind of hothouse jazz producer's dream," Mark says. "If you can wrap your mind around Mel Torme as Porgy, then you will no doubt find the narration by Al 'Jazzbo' Collins -- hipster raconteur and the voice of radio's 'The Purple Grotto' -- absolutely right for this tale of sex, drugs and murder in Charleston's (fictional) Catfish Row."

Christopher Moore makes his feelings plain in You Suck, a sequel to his vampire love story Bloodsucking Fiends. "You Suck has not replaced Fiends as my favorite Moore novel, but it had me laugh-out-loud howling more times than I can count," Tom Knapp says. "That said, You Suck pales in comparison to Fiends because most of the book lurches along without much in the way of the plot."

Charlaine Harris takes a darker turn with All Together Dead. "In this, the seventh book of the Southern Vampire series, author Charlaine Harris gets serious," Cherise Everhard states. "This book had a different feel to me. It wasn't as 'light' as the previous books; however, the content was just as enjoyable."

Andre Norton and Jean Rabe want us to Return to Quag Keep, but Laurie Thayer says she didn't want to go there in the first place. "In 1978, Andre Norton wrote Quag Keep, a dreadful little Dungeons & Dragons-based novel that certainly needed no sequel. Return to Quag Keep is that sequel," she says. "The novel ends in an open manner that indicates the possibility of another sequel, but honestly, I won't hold my breath in anticipation, nor will I revisit Quag Keep in the future."

Joan Aiken continues The Felix Brooke Trilogy with Bridle the Wind. "Aiken's second book starring her plucky young hero picks up shortly after the events of Go Saddle the Sea," says Jennifer Mo. "This being an Aiken book, there are plenty of narrow escapes, treachery, unlikely coincidences and colorful characters along the way."

The Batman gets a bad turn in his Broken City, despite the work of 100 Bullets dream team Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso. "Azzarello seems to be trying to channel Frank Miller for inspiration, but this Batman is just thuggish, more brawn than brain, and more than a little sadistic," Tom says. "Risso, at least, knows how to draw a Batman story, so the art makes up for some of the story's failings. Some, but not all."

Vampire hunter Anita Blake -- the ubiqutious creation of author Laurell K. Hamilton -- comes to life in comic-book form in Guilty Pleasures, Vol. 1. "But, while I could no longer force myself to slog through Hamilton's increasingly long and sexually-driven books, I had high hopes for the new graphic adaptation by Marvel Comics. With the text whittled down to its essentials, filtered through the pen of an adaptor and enhanced by colorful visuals, the story might find a better voice," Tom Knapp says. "Unfortunately not. While adaptors Stacie Ritchie and Jess Ruffner have retained the essence of the original text, the resulting tale is cluttered, rushed and often confusing."

The Fallen Angel isn't quite prepared To Serve in Heaven, as this collection from IDW shows. "With the shift of Peter David's Fallen Angel from DC Comics, where she was quite possibly a new incarnation of former Supergirl Linda Lee Danvers, to IDW, a new origin story was required," Tom explains. "To Serve in Heaven is less action-packed than the DC collections, but this is a vital transition book that defines the central character once and for all and sets up a new foundation for the ongoing series."

The demonic Sith gets some backstory in Darth Maul, a Star Wars tale written by Ron Marz and illustrated by Jan Duursema. "Darth Maul blows into Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in one piece and leaves in two. Otherwise, very little is known about this demonic-looking Sith who helped launch the rise of the Empire," Tom says, wrapping up his graphic novel quartet for today. "I am not a diehard Maul fan, in part because the character was so underdeveloped in the movie. This book makes me appreciate the character a whole lot more."

N.T. Wright addresses a recent religious controversy in Judas & the Gospel of Jesus. "I don't suppose there has been a time since the printing of the Guttenberg Bible that there has been so much media speculation, faction, fiction and fact printed about the Bible and the Gospels," Nicky Rossiter says. "Despite initial forebodings, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It has just the right amount of scholarship -- not too deep but far from frivolous. It reads at times like a good whodunit and at others like today's headline news."

Pamela K. Kinney explores Haunted Richmond with a wary eye. "The stories in Kinney's book range from tales of the famous people who have lived and visited in Richmond to stories of prisoners, soldiers and ordinary people caught up in tragic circumstances," says Barbara Bamberger Scott. "The Southern setting adds a dash of intrigue and romance to the notion of ghosties and ghoulies. You can take it all with a grain of salt or simply sit back and enjoy the well organized book that Kinney has put together, full of screams, dreams and things going bump and scrape in the night."

Cherise Everhard can sometimes be spotted Running with Scissors in her backyard. "If you think your family is nuts, they'll seem like the poster children for mental and emotional health after watching this film!" she exclaims. "This was a good movie and I really enjoyed it, but it did make me think people should have to pass a series of tests in order to procreate and raise children. Yikes!"

Miles O'Dometer zips back to 1675, or thereabouts, with The Libertine. "The Libertine is a challenging story to bring to the screen. Set in the late 17th century, The Libertine, based on a play by Stephen Jeffreys, reads much like a Restoration drama," Miles says. "It fills a niche we hardly even knew we had. That alone makes it worth a good hard look."

Jessica Lux-Baumann urges readers to avoid this film, Because I Said So. "How can a movie get this many elements wrong?" she asks. "I went with a female friend to see Because I Said So in the theaters because I figured I could handle a slightly silly romantic comedy, and I was willing to overlook minor flaws to get a few good laughs. I had to look long and hard to find redeeming qualities to the movie."

More's on the way! (Meanwhile, take a peek at the archives of past editions, below.)

15 September 2007

The world has achieved brilliance without conscience.
Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.
- Omar Bradley

A sleep study? Wah! This never turns out well....

Alison McMorland and Geordie McIntyre join together on White Wings for "14 gems of Scottish music," Nicky Rossiter says. "This collection of excellent songs beautifully sung is more than simply a music album. It is a social history telling various stories that affected lives not only in far away lands or centuries but within living memory and as such it deserves to be sought out, played and, most importantly, listened to closely."

Seamus Walshe demonstrates his prowess on the Clare Accordion. "The music is upbeat, the usual jigs and reels, some you've never heard and all played flawlessly by an accordionist in the finest old traditional manner, as evidenced by his origins in Clare, a venue renowned for its Irish musical heritage," John Cross says. "Here you have trad at its finest, yet most typical. While the musicianship is superb, to mention it again -- virtually flawless -- the music itself is not what lovers of 'Celtic' music might like. If you are drawn to today's wonderful, but somewhat less than authentic folk revival syntheses and crossovers, you might find Walshe's CD somewhat undramatic."

Maria Muldaur is Naughty Bawdy & Blue in her latest collection of blues. "Naughty Bawdy & Blue is the third in a series of Stony Plain recordings on which Muldaur revisits early blues," Jerome Clark says. "She was good back then (when she was a member of the Even Dozen Jug Band, then the Jim Kweskin Jug Band), and we may safely presume she will just keep getting better and better until the processes of time and biology to which we are all subject silence a wonderful voice at last."

Richard Shindell, late of New York City, now of Buenos Aires, is "an exceptional singer, possessed of a strong ear- and spirit-friendly baritone," Jerome says. "He's certainly an exceptional singer, possessed of a strong ear- and spirit-friendly baritone. He also possesses a formidable intelligence, evident in the sprawling literary narratives he writes and sets to ballad-like melodies. It's all intense and demanding, however, and not necessarily for the casual listener. While a very serious recording, South of Delia feels a bit more human-sized."

Eliza Gilkyson is in Your Town Tonight with some songs worth hearing. "Your Town Tonight -- markedly more engaging than your average live recording -- has a particular warmth and immediacy that testify to Gilkyson's performing skills and personal charisma," Jerome says. "If you're looking for a place to start with this exceptional folk-rock singer-songwriter, it's here. ... I speak, naturally, only for myself when I say that I'd rather listen to her than to Lucinda Williams. And I like Lucinda Williams."

David Ross Macdonald takes a break from The Waifs for some Knuckled Brass & Bone. "Macdonald reveals himself to be an alarmingly accomplished guitarist and composer of majestically fine songs," Mike Wilson says. "Knuckled Brass & Bone, his third solo release, is a stunning showcase for his extraordinary talents."

Gordon Lightfoot makes his legacy plain on his Complete Greatest Hits. "While it's easy today to write Gordon Lightfoot off as a constant presence on easy listening and 'lite rock' radio stations, his songs can be hard to forget," Tom Knapp remarks. "There are a few songs this collection overlooks, and one or two that could have been dropped, but overall it's an excellent retrospective of a storied music career."

Folk and bluegrass fans should Look Out! for the Hackensaw Boys. "The Charlottesville, Virginia-based Hackensaw Boys are a high-energy string band whose approach fuses the sound of old-time mountain music with jittery rockabilly and punk-rock rhythms," Jerome Clark says. "God bless 'em. Bands like the Hackensaws are good for everybody."

Lee Westwood demonstrates some excellent guitar work on To Sleep: Farewell Songs. "It may not be an album that jumps out at you, unless you are a great fan of good guitar music and composition for that instrument, but the tracks are worthy of more than a cursory listen," Nicky Rossiter says.

Musicians are Making Music Matter at Falling Mountain. "Like most compilations, there are always some tracks that are not as good as the rest. That is the case here," Wil Owen says. "Fortunately, there are more tracks to listen to than skip. The bad thing about compilations (and again, this is true with this collection) is they can be dangerous to your wallet. You will undoubtedly end up acquiring some of these artists' solo work. Consider yourself warned."

Guy Mendilow presents an unusual sound on Live. "Mendilow specializes in rearranging obscure folk songs from different parts of the world, especially from Israel, where he once lived," Dave Howell explains. "Adapting the music to a Western acoustic setting helps listeners to appreciate the beauty of the melodies. He sings them in their original languages."

Tingstad & Rumbel bring Comfort & Joy to the holiday season -- which is coming up faster than you can imagine. "The duo is among the pioneers of new age music -- Rumble developed her chops playing in the Paul Winter Consort back in the 1980s, so she knows the music can be melodic and tasteful but still display tension, bite and substance," says Michael Cain. "The songs on this CD retain new-age overtones, but they never descend into the type of treacle that so often characterizes this genre."

Paul Levinson hops through the centuries with The Plot to Save Socrates. "The Plot to Save Socrates is an extremely engaging, entertaining story," says Laurie Thayer. "Time travel narratives often get murky and confusing as time loops around time and paradox piles on top of paradox, but Levinson manages to avoid the stickiness of time travel for the most part, giving us a story that is easy to follow."

Erin McCarthy has Bit the Jackpot in the second book in Vegas Vampires. "This is a great followup to the first novel. As usual, McCarthy gives you a fast-paced story with wonderful characters," Cherise Everhard says. "There are many moments that will have you laughing hard -- as well as some very hot sex scenes, and a little action thrown in."

Naomi Novik mounts the Throne of Jade once the Chinese have come to demand their stolen dragon back. "As with His Majesty's Dragon, Naomi Novik continues weaving a wonderful world mired in our historical past, but integrated with dragons as a norm," says Gloria Oliver. "It was a lot of fun watching her show us the clashing of two distinct cultures, not only on the human but also dragon level."

Tracy Chevalier takes readers back to the 15th century in The Lady & the Unicorn. "Chevalier's astute sense of balance masterfully combines the lives of several characters to shape one world, laid out like a tapestry for her audience to explore," says Rambles.NET newcomer Whitney Mallenby. "A master of subtlety, Chevalier manages to weave her tales thoroughly and neatly together, while still allowing her readers to reach their own conclusion about their overall meaning."

The Civil War storyline over at Marvel focuses heavily on the actions of Captain America, making this volume of the series a vital -- if not absolutely necessary -- element of the overal picture. "While the big battles took place in other volumes, Civil War: Captain America takes a closer, more personal look at the impact on the man, as well as his longtime lover, Sharon Carter, who as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. is charged with bringing Captain America to ground," Tom Knapp says. "There's a little less action here than in some chapters of the saga, but it doesn't really seem to be missing while you're reading it."

There's more from writer/artist Kyle Baker's stretchy hero Plastic Man in Rubber Bandits. "It doesn't always make sense, and plotting isn't necessarily Baker's strongest suit, but this book is less about logic than it is about making with the funny," Tom says. "But never mind, because the story -- which involves everyone from John Wilkes Booth to a middle-class vampire to a goth orphan to a single-minded librarian -- is funny, goofy and downright hilarious. That's all it strives to be, and it does a good job at it."

The other side of the story is told with The Imperial Perspective, third in the Star Wars Empire series. "I really enjoyed this collection because it's not the standard take on the Empire vs. the Rebel Alliance," Tom says. "It's easy to roll with the Lucas model, in which good is good and bad is bad and oh-no-we-can't-allow-Han-to-shoot-first, but I prefer stories with a few more layers to ponder. The Imperial Perspective provides them."

Jonathan Aitken explores the history of the writer of an extremely famous song in John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace. "There can be no more 'amazing' story than that of the writing of 'Amazing Grace,' considered by some to be America's national hymn," says Barbara Bamberger Scott. "Yet it was written by an Englishman who never knew of its fame, but likely wouldn't have been surprised at its climb to popularity given the many other 'divine coincidences' that led to its composition."

Lionel Dahmer tells A Father's Story that couldn't have been easy to share. "Lionel Dahmer's memoir is the story of the dark journey of a father who was faced with the grisly reality of one of America's most notorious serial murder, mutilation, rape, necrophilia and cannibalism cases," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "Lionel was a father who had to grapple not with losing his son to these unspeakable horrors, but with the fact that his son was the perpetrator."

James Bradley focuses our attention on a handful of pilots and crewmen shot down over the island of Chichi Jima in the Pacific theater of World War II in Flyboys: A True Story of Courage. "The main focus of the book is on eight U.S. military flyboys and some of their Japanese counterparts," Wil Owen says. "Flyboys is an engaging book or, for the purposes of this review, audiobook."

Jessica Lux-Baumann takes a trip to the bottom with Sherrybaby, a film starring Maggie Gyllenhaal. "Gyllenhaal expertly captures the spirit of a woman who desires change and desperately wants to be a good mother, but for whom motherhood and stability do not come naturally," Jessica says. "Sherrybaby proves once again that Maggie Gyllenhaal is one of the most outstanding actors of her generation."

Daniel Jolley spends some movie time in Dreamland. "This is an odd sort of film -- simplistic yet profound, sad yet somehow uplifting. There's a slight edge of surreality to the whole story, but the characters couldn't be more human," he says. "Dreamland left me feeling a bit odd and slightly out of sorts, but in a good way. It's as if I expected some kind of enlightenment to break through the clouds in the final moments, and the fact that this didn't happen strikes me as somehow profound."

More's on the way! (Meanwhile, take a peek at the archives of past editions, below.)

8 September 2007

I've got God's shoulder to cry on. And I cry a lot. I do a lot of crying in this job. I'll bet I've shed more tears than you can count, as president. I'll shed some tomorrow.
- George W. Bush

Robin Laing has just One for the Road on "yet another fantastic CD of songs for, about and sounding like good malt whisky," Nicky Rossiter says. "Laing manages to bring romance into an album of songs about the amber nectar. ... Even if you are teetotaler, give this album a spin. It will intoxicate you with sounds and visions."

The artists from Maggie's Music get together for Celtic Tapestry: Contemporary & Traditional Celtic Songs. "Tapestry's music, from a range of artists (Bonnie Rideout, Sue Richards, Al Petteway, et al.) signed to Sansone's imprint, is first-rate, purely acoustic and devoid of the gimmicks -- such as (groan) swirling synth sounds -- that a few years ago were getting 'Celtic' records dropped into the new age bins," Jerome Clark says. "If you love this sort of thing (and my own appreciation of Irish traditional music feels pretty much bottomless), it's well worth picking up."

Jerome has quite a lot to say about Pete Seeger in his review of Sowing the Seeds: The 10th Anniversary -- and by its end, you just might wonder how many hands Jerome has to count on. "This two-disc retrospective/celebration is largely, not entirely, a hymnbook serving the Church of Seeger," he says. "The liner notes are replete with Seeger photos, quotes and affirmations, the discs with Seeger performances and songs, or others' versions of same. If that's what you're looking for, you've got it, brothers and sisters, in spades."

Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams are serving up Flapjacks from the Sky. "Full marks must be given for the names of the band and the album," Nicky Rossiter says. "This is highly imaginative stuff that mixes a whole gamut of styles and yet manages to work."

Sara Gazarek lends a jazzy feel to 13 songs by contemporary composers including Paul McCartney, Billy Joel and Gillian Welch on Return to You. "That is a welcome change from the older Great American Songbook, which has been consulted over and over in the recordings of many new female jazz singers," Dave Howell remarks. "This well-polished CD has received a lot of attention and could put Gazarek near the popularity of Norah Jones and Diana Krall."

Jemima James has an interesting family tree -- but that's not what makes Michael Scott Cain rave about her blues CD, Book Me Back in Your Dreams. "What is interesting -- remarkable, actually -- about Jemima James is her voice, a big, throaty and husky instrument that sounds as though it has been roughened by hard living," he says. "Put her plaintive voice against a background of acoustic guitars, a moaning harmonica and a piano, as happens here, and you've got something that immediately strikes you as the truth."

Diane Arkenstone evokes the sounds of Enigma on Aquaria: A Liquid Blue Trancescape. "I can't shake the feeling that you could release this album with Enigma on the cover, rather than Arkenstone, and no one could tell the difference," Tom Knapp says. "It has the same lush soundscapes, the repetitive loops and breathy vocals that made Enigma sound so unique. Unfortunately, it's not so unique when someone else has done it, and done it well, already."

Hilary Field and Patrice O'Neill resurrect the lullaby for adults on Siente: Night Songs from Around the World. "There are 13 lullabies on this quiet, intimate CD; most hail from various parts of Europe, though a few come from more exotic locales such as Indonesia, Mexico and Brazil," says Jennifer Mo. "My main caveat about wholeheartedly recommending Siente, however, concerns the vocals."

Todd Fritsch managed to wow Wil Owen with this self-titled release. "I'm very picky about the country CDs I play now," he says. "This CD has made it in to my music rotation after the first listen."

Kate Elliott launches her Crossroads series with Spirit Gate. "It displays all of Elliott's celebrated talent for world-building, with ancient and dusty mythology underlying a vibrant society slipping into decay," says Laurie Thayer. "It is to be hoped that the sequel is not too far off."

Charlaine Harris has her heroine juggling supernatural suitors in Definitely Dead, book six of the Sookie Stackhouse saga. "This was one of my favorite books in the series, and I enjoyed it immensely," Cherise Everhard says. "It was a quick read and for me helped tie up a few loose ends and unanswered questions from previous novels."

Regis Schilken sets his action-mystery novel on The Island Off Stony Point. But despite a promising premise, it doesn't come together, according to Eric Hughes. "As I quietly scanned over the final sentences in Schilken's brief 216-page drama, I realized the novel I assumed would have me on the edge of my seat failed to move me from the back of my chair," he says. "Sorry, Reg, but in many ways Stony Point felt like the how-to guide on how not to write a novel."

Steve Berman doesn't get the fit he's looking for in Vintage: A Ghost Story. "Our hero (he doesn't seem to have a name) sees dead people. No, he's not Haley Joel Osment from The Sixth Sense, but he might as well be an older, gay version of that character who didn't discover his attractiveness to shades of strangers until he had run away from his intolerant parents to live with his aunt in Unnamed Charming Town, USA," says Gary Cramer. "First-time novelist Steve Berman stitches together a bit of modern goth teen attitude here with a swatch of decades-old maybe-murder-mystery there, mixing and mating patterns that never quite match and scarcely seem likely to thrill today's savvier teen readers."

Tom Morrisey finds inspiration In High Places. "In High Places is a solid summer read," says Kim O'Brien, a new addition to the Rambles.NET team. "The plot is creative, the romance is sweet and Pat's recollections of mountain ascents make an amateur climber like myself want to get out there and climb! ... It's impossible to ignore the religious undertones of the tale; however, Morrisey introduces Pat to religion without getting too preachy."

Tilly Bagshawe is hankerin' for a Showdown, and Wil Owen takes a look at the audionovel for your entertainment. "Showdown is a very light romance novel," he says. "You know pretty early on the two main characters are going to get together in the end. You know that whatever obstacles are thrown in the mix will be overcome. And you know those who do despicable things will get what they deserve. So, for a light audiobook, it isn't bad."

Peter David's Fallen Angel is back for round two in Down to Earth. "Down to Earth is the second collection from Fallen Angel's brief run at DC, and it sets the title character, a.k.a. Lee, up as one of the most complex and interesting in the comics field," Tom Knapp says. "Sadly, DC cancelled this series far too soon. While I'm happy to see it continue under another roof, I can't help but wonder how things would have gone had David -- and Lee -- stayed put."

You know you're in trouble, Tom says, "when the hero of the story is named Jonathan Fierce. I mean, c'mon, people just don't have names like that, unless they're major characters in a comic book written by someone with an unsubtle imagination." So how is Fierce, otherwise? "Cliches aside, this book never manages to become engaging. Conflicts are resolved too quickly, characters enter and exit without making much of a dent on your awareness, and Fierce himself manages to make it through the book without ever seeming real, or even very interesting."

Spike manages to reopen a few Old Wounds in this lost episode of Angel. "Writer Scott Tipton has a good handle on these characters," Tom says, "and Fernando Goni's art is quality stuff; although his postures are sometimes awkward and his heads don't always fit bodies exactly the way they should, he definitely has mastered the faces and expressions of Angel's cast."

Mark Allen takes a gander at The Power of Iron Man in this classic Marvel collection. "Written by David Michilinie, Tony Stark is taken through his paces by a mysterious assailant behind the scenes, as he faces several different villains, as well as multiple manipulations of his armor, once with fatal results," Mark says. "Add to this Stark's personal struggle with alcoholism, a subject not tackled seriously in comics to that point, and you have one of Michilinie's greatest accomplishments in the comics industry."

T.C.F. Hopkins covers the beginning of recorded history in Egypt to the late 17th century in Empires, Wars, & Battles, subtitled "The Middle East from Antiquity to the Rise of the New World." "A book of about 250 pages cannot be much more than a summary of such wide-ranging history," Dave Howell says. "Hopkins takes a 'macro' approach, not dealing much with everyday lives, instead focusing on the various conflicts and empires. There were many. The litany of war, disease and palace intrigues shows that there is a long history of Middle East upheaval."

Diane Tobin, Gary A. Tobin and Scott Rubin make their case in In Every Tongue: The Racial & Ethnic Diversity of the Jewish People. "In Every Tongue is a fascinating look at both the changing face of Judaism and the history of Jewish peoples around the world," says Laurie Thayer. "I'm not sure I -- white, Anglo-Saxon, pagan -- am the target audience for this book, but I found it very interesting and certainly eye-opening and recommend it."

James Andrew Mitchell offers up his Body & Soul in this collection of black-and-white photographs. "Readers, particularly photographers, will enjoy Mitchell's reflections on the technical aspects of each shoot at the end," Tom Knapp says. "But everyone with an eye for beauty should find a connection in this brilliant work of art."

Amy Sedaris is your modern Ms. Manners with I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. "I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence is an oversized, full-color entertainment book full of humor, practical etiquette advice, recipes, decorating ideas and pure charm from Sedaris," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "Sedaris has written a coffeetable book that can be read cover-to-cover for educational purposes and then placed in the living room for a quick laugh any time."

Eric Hughes takes a chance on the big-screen adaptation of a TV hit with The Simpsons Movie. "As expected, The Simpsons Movie felt very much like an extended TV episode," he says. "It's not hilarious, but not a total bore, either. I didn't laugh too hard, nor that often, really. But in the end, I felt satisfied given the 87-minute film's ample supply of intelligent humor."

Jessica Lux-Baumann spends a little time with an American Psycho. "The release of American Psycho in 2000 was accompanied by many an outraged editorial about the gore-fest nature and loathsome treatment of women in the script," she says. "It created a sensation, and although most editorialists got it completely wrong, I do applaud them for creating a buzz around this outstanding film."

More's on the way! (Meanwhile, take a peek at the archives of past editions, below.)