30 August 2008 to 11 October 2008

11 October 2008

They're our next-door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.
- Sarah Palin

Well, what do you think of the new look of our front page? Positive or negative, drop us an e-mail and let us know!

Priscilla Hernandez's Ancient Shadows: The Ghost & the Fairy "is really a two-in-one CD with two intertwined themes," says Laurie Thayer. "'The Ghost' is dark and -- at times -- slightly menacing, while 'The Fairy' is lighter and more melodic. Both are tied together by a strong thread of melancholy and Hernandez's clear soprano voice, which is rather reminiscent of Enya or Loreena McKennitt."

Wendy Ealey is finally Out of the Shower and into the studio. "There's no doubt Australian singer-songwriter Wendy Ealey can sing. She has a huge contralto and the technique to use it appropriately for whatever song she's singing at the moment, at a boom or whisper," says Michael Scott Cain. "The problem I have is with what she chooses to sing. ... I'm aware there are many people out there who respond to what a song is saying rather than the way it is said, and many of those people will like this CD -- but as far as the art of songwriting goes, good messages don't necessarily make good songs."

Kate Campbell is here to Save the Day. "A Nashville-based singer-songwriter whose voice and style are immediately recognizable if you're lucky enough to have encountered them before, she suffers little of the self-fascination of many in the tribe," Jerome Clark says. "If at heart a country-folk performer, she drops in elements of soul, gospel, rock and pop as appropriate."

Blind Corn Liquor Pickers are heading up the Appalachian Trail. "Let's start with an obvious truth, obvious truths being in rare supply when the subject is so elusive an entity as the Blind Corn Liquor Pickers. Which is to say that any band able to conceive, and then write plausibly, a song titled 'Intelligent Design' merits our awed regard," Jerome Clark says. "Yes, I suppose in its prime the Incredible String Band could have done the same, and it would be mystical and beautiful, too, and probably a sound-alike to the ISB's 16-minute epic "Creation" (Changing Horses, 1969). But the BCLP are funny about it, and -- at a crisp 3:38 -- a whole lot more succinct."

Petrella "has something special" on 100 Proof Woman, Virginia MacIsaac believes. "Instead of the Tina Turner/Aretha Franklin/Dolly Parton styles she showed us in Dreams of the Heartland, she's all Petrella in 100 Proof Woman, as her opening song attests. Even though she's mainly singing covers, she's put her own style on every song."

Luther Allison takes the blues Underground with a new release of an old recording. "Allison is one of those Chicago bluesmen who never quite got his due, who never reached the first pantheon, probably because he wasn't one of the Chess Records artists, making his major label albums instead for Motown, where he was the only blues artist on the label," says Michael Scott Cain. "On Underground we get his apprentice work. ... His playing and singing are assured and confident, as is the playing of his band, which includes the record's producer, Bobby Rush, on rhythm guitar. The problem, though, is there is less than 30 minutes of music and it sounds like the microphones were set up in one room, while the musicians played in another, down at the end of the hall."

Jay Geils, Gerry Beaudoin and the Kings of Strings join forces with Aaron Weinstein on this self-titled release of jazz and blues. "The guitar master from the original J. Geils Band playing with Gerry Beaudoin and Aaron Weinstein is the stuff dreams are made of," Virginia MacIsaac says. "Old and new come together and the strings are obviously king in this partnership."

Cubanismo sends Greetings from Havana for your introduction to Cuban music. "Cubanismo has a jazzy big-band sound, which is very danceable on every number," says Becky Kyle. "Their lively music is a combination of Latin and African influences. The best part is, with so much live work in between these CDs, this studio album has a strong live feel with lengthy, concert-style solos and the same kind of energy you'd get if you heard the band in person. ... If you want a Latin CD that will get you up and moving and bring a smile to your face, this very welcoming CD is all of that and more."

The Alexandria Kleztet plays music that is Close Enough for Klezmer. "This CD comes close enough, as its title suggests, although it adds a lot of swing and jazz inflections. Only two tracks are listed as traditional, but many of them sound as if they were," Dave Howell says. "On their third release, the Alexandria Kleztet shows they are among the best modern klezmer groups, not afraid to experiment but remaining true to the traditional sound and spirit of the music."

Corinne H. Smith just couldn't pass up the chance to see Peter Frampton perform live last month in Foxborough, Mass. "He may have come alive in 1975, but his popularity and musical career are far from over," she reports. "Recent insurance ad cameo notwithstanding, Peter Frampton seemed to have disappeared from the general public radar over the past several decades. In person, he demonstrates that he is still one of the best in the business. His performance this evening could easily have been billed as an advanced lesson in rock guitar technique."

David Anthony Durham begins The War with the Mein in Acacia. "To call it an epic would be something of an understatement: in mass-market paperback, the book weighs in at 753 pages," Laurie Thayer says. "Fortunately, Durham's narrative style is lively and engaging, otherwise, getting through such a lengthy novel -- and only book one of a trilogy, no less -- would be a trudge comparable to Aliver Akaran's hike across the desert in search of the mythical sorcerers of Acacia's past."

Holly Lisle turns The Ruby Key for the first volume of her Moon & Sun series. "As always, Lisle crafts a story with gem-like beauty and precision of phrase that will keep anyone from 9 to 90 reading late into the the night. Her writing is beautiful, almost poetry in itself," says Becky Kyle. "Yes, this is the first book of a trilogy, but Ruby Key stands alone enough that you will get a satisfactory conclusion. Lisle has cleverly built in a future for both Genna and Dan that will want us to read both of the future books -- and hope, like many other fantasy writers, Lisle will extend the trilogy to a longer series."

K.L. Going looks for answers in The Garden of Eve. "Going's story slides easily and satisfyingly through pain, hope and love to create a pleasantly believable and charming book," Whitney Mallenby says. "Eve is so easy to relate to that the fantasy elements of the story seem perfectly reasonable through her eyes. All the wonder of childhood is there, as the perfect backdrop for learning how to deal with growing up."

Raymond L. Atkins has a tale to tell with The Front Porch Prophet. "Down South where I grew up, if a group of three or more people got together anywhere for any reason, they'd start telling stories. It was and still is a tradition. It's a way of staying bonded, maintaining membership in the human community, and it can also be a friendly form of competition," says Michael Scott Cain. "Atkins shows every sign of growing up in the tradition and loving it. Reading The Front Porch Prophet is like gathering in the diner for breakfast with an old friend who loves nothing more than an appreciative chuckle as he spins lies and tall tales. He has constructed a loose plot to unify the novel, but his heart is in the stories he tells about a warped group of characters from Cherokee County, Ga."

Richard Russo heads to Maine for Empire Falls. "Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2002, Empire Falls features some of the best written dialogue I have ever come across," says Eric Hughes. "Richard Russo has a gift in creating believable conversations between people. I haven't gotten around to seeing HBO's miniseries based on this novel, but I'd assume Russo, who also penned the screenplay, merely lifted his own words for the adaptation. No need to rewrite or even touch up. It's that good."

Zombification, "with all of its accompanying putrescence and rotting grossness, is no game. At least, it wasn't until writer Keith Giffen got his hands on it," Tom Knapp says. Tag, he adds, is "a pretty cool concept that takes the usual sort of zombie tale in a new, unique direction. Giffen goes an extra step by giving us a protagonist that readers probably won't really like, although it's hard not to sympathize with the guy as bits of him start hitting the floor. Artwork -- some by Kody Chamberlain, the rest by Chee -- is dark and moody to suit the tale. And the ending ... well, it might just leave you hanging."

Laurell K. Hamilton's adaptation of her Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter novels into comics continues with Guilty Pleasures, Vol. 2. "Since the big cliffhanger from Vol. 1 was whether or not Anita Blake, vampire killer, was going to kiss some guy she didn't really want to kiss, I was in no huge hurry to pick up Vol. 2 to find out if she mashed lips or not," Tom confesses. "She did. But really, so what -- in a book about vampire murders and were-rats, was a kiss really the best hook to keep readers interested? Well, let's be fair -- the people enjoying this book are mostly the people who avidly read every Anita Blake novel that drips from author Laurell K. Hamilton's fingertips, and sure, they do tend to worry about Anita's sex life than all that other messy vampire-killing stuff, so I suppose the big faux kiss with vampire plaything Phillip is about as interesting as it gets."

There is No Quarter asked or offered when vampires and pirates play for keeps. "It's another masterful chapter in the ongoing Sea of Red series," Tom says. "One complaint is the art, however -- not so much the style, which nicely matches Salgood Sam's rough-edged style from the previous book. But where Sam used a rust-brown hue that reminded readers of dried blood, replacement artist/colorist Paul Harmon tints his pages, um, pink. Truthfully, pink just is not a color that says pirates to me, or vampires. And this ain't your subtle pink tones, either; we're talking bright shades of Pepto Bismol."

Alfonso Ortiz offers New Perspectives on the Pueblos for your consideration. "New Perspectives on the Pueblos stands out from the other books on the Pueblo Indians because of the thorough discussion of the ritual drama and clowns, as well as the way there are multiple essays on certain topics -- those areas that are under ongoing debate within the field of anthropology," says Alicia Karen Elkins. "This book contains essays from young anthropologists on a diverse range of topics, including linguistics, ethnomusicology, mythology, ecology, history, religion, acculturation and population. It is packed with useful information from the anthropological viewpoint and is scholarly in nature. But do not let this scare you away -- the book is totally readable and profoundly enjoyable."

Chris McCallister takes a ride on The Water Horse -- and be sure, this is not your granddad's pony. Angus, a boy living along Loch Ness during World War II, has befriended the Loch Ness Monster. "It is a real tribute to the special effects team that they could take computer-generated graphics and a set of models and give us a magical beast that is noble, powerful, vulnerable, playful, thoroughly bonded with Angus and highly expressive," Chris says. "I was especially impressed that, while the water horse grows rapidly, and does change as he grows, Crusoe remains Crusoe throughout the film. Plus, I never felt the interactions between Crusoe and the human actors were anything but realistic-looking."

Alicia Karen Elkins, on the other hand, supplies a watery tale of revenge in Orca. "Orca is an outstanding film. This is one well-written story and every role was cast and played ideally," Karen says. "The whale, too, is amazing. The whale tricks and stunts are beyond description: aerial flips and twists, tail waves and slaps, fin waves and straight upward jumps. He is poetry in motion."

There's SO much more on the way! (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions, below.)

4 October 2008

In America, anybody can be president. That's one of the risks you take.
- Adlai Stevenson

What a world, what a world! Can you see Russia from your house?

Music? You want music? We got music!

Siobhán O'Brien wants to share with our readers the Songs I Grew Up To. "It's a little startling, at first, to listen to a CD by an Irish singer/songwriter titled Songs I Grew Up To and hear so many songs by American artists being sung. But music is a global language and folk songs travel, especially during the years that Siobhán O'Brien was growing up," Laurie Thayer says. "Songs I Grew Up To is a fascinating look at the tunes that helped form a musician, and not at all unpleasing to listen to."

Johnny Duhan heads To the Light with his latest recording. "This is the third album of the work of Johnny Duhan I have reviewed in as many years, and each one shows a more matured writer and performer," Nicky Rossiter says. "Following The Voyage and Just Another Town, this album provides a rich vein of music and song that will not only be enjoyed by the casual or the dedicated listener, but will also provide material for other singers just like the earlier albums did."

Shauna Burns shares Every Thought with her fans. "The piano is Shauna Burns' instrument, and she drives it as if it's an extension of herself," Virginia MacIsaac says. "The music she composes and plays is very pleasurable on this album. Her lyrics are a little bit zany, but together she takes one on a musical journey over mountains, down to the valleys, up into the clouds and into the mind of a girl who doesn't want a frilly dress."

Dana and Susan Robinson get a twice-over by Jerome Clark for 2005's Native Soil and 2008's 'Round My Door. "The North Carolina-based Dana and Susan Robinson deal in full-bodied traditional and tradition-inflected music," he says. "Hearing them, one thinks -- as the best neo-traditionalists always encourage us to do -- how nearly inexhaustible a resource folk music is. To keep from growing stale, it needs only the right performers and performances. Here it's the Robinsons doing it up right. For that, they deserve our gratitude and our attention."

Jamie Byrd keeps things quiet in her Garden of Days. "San Francisco artist Jamie Byrd is one of the most solemn singer-songwriters you'll encounter," says Michael Scott Cain. "Most of her songs are ballads, sung softly, sincerely and very tastefully. At no time does she cut loose, let the sheer joy of making music burst through. No, she is way too polite for any outburst like that. At no time does she allow humor to slip into a song. She is far too serious to entertain lighthearted moments."

The Buckerettes appear at first to be "a feminine answer to the venerable Riders in the Sky" with their debut CD, The Buckerettes, Jerome Clark says. "While the Riders play basically to the Grand Ole Opry audience, the Buckerettes' is the broader cultural perspective of the hipster or, more to the point, of the liberal-arts major who falls in love with American roots music. The Buckerettes have integrated a range of grounded genres into a cohesive and tuneful language with plenty of accents, including (most obviously) 1930s/'40s country, plus vintage pop, folk, swing and gospel."

Donny H couldn't afford an entire last name, apparently, but his music still deserves a Listen. "The fact that Donny H. hasn't been in the business for a lifetime doesn't detract one bit from the quality found in his music. Even though the songs are written by others, he interprets and provides each one with a strong Donny vibe," Virginia MacIsaac says. "Listen is a pleasure-full country recording, worth listening to in appreciation of this kind of young, new talent that keeps country music and the Nashville scene growing and constantly capturing new listeners."

Ged Brockie enjoys The Last View from Mary's Place with this jazz offering. "There are excellent examples of Brockie's talent here for the taking. Some are absolutely riveting and then there are a couple I'd send over to the elevator operator," Virginia says. "Overall, there were more sets that I enjoyed, so Last View from Mary's Place gets a thumbs up."

Karl Latham finds Resonance with fans of groovy jazz, says Dave Howell. "Most of the 10 tracks are covers, and this CD seems aimed toward the mainstream market, but it avoids the dreaded swamp of smooth jazz," he comments. "Resonance is mainstream without being bland and sounds modern without being avant-garde. It should resonate with many listeners."

Popa Chubby is making his Deliveries After Dark. "When I reviewed Popa Chubby's two-disc salute to Jimi Hendrix, I had to conclude that the set was simply too much Hendrix; I felt Popa Chubby sort of got lost in there. My overall assessment was that I was more looking forward to the next CD, where I hoped we'd get more Chubby and less Hendrix," says Michael Scott Cain. "Well, that disc is here. I feel justified."

The Darbuki Kings produce an authentic sound in Doumtekastan. "The Darbuki Kings are two guys named Robin Adnan Anders and Antonio Albarran, using the nom de plumes Adnan and Antone Darbuki. I assume the mustaches, beards and ethnic clothing they wear on the cover are also fake," Dave Howell remarks. "The music, however, has an authentic feel. ... The various stringed instruments and hand percussion suggest that you are sitting in front of a campfire, watching dancers and listening to the rich musical heritage of Doumtekastan. So what if it is not a real country?"

Jonathan Edwards headlined a recent performance in Athol, Mass., and Corinne Smith was there from start to finish. "A warm summer night in New England -- even with a few squadrons of invading mosquitoes present -- is an unparalleled choice for an outdoor concert and for fine music provided by veteran performers," Corinne says. "The series also encourages nearby talent. Three local opening acts provided a variety of entertainment before Edwards took the stage."

Book?! Of course we have books!

Nicholas Prata's Kerebos is a "gruesomely brilliant work of military fantasy," Chris McCallister reports. "When I read the last pages, my jaw dropped, and I re-read it twice to make sure I had read it right," he says. "I have read shocking endings before, but they usually come off as forced, artificial, unforeseeable, smacking of deus ex machina. What is truly amazing about the astounding ending of Kerebos is, once I had digested and pondered it for a few minutes, it not only made perfect sense, but was basically inevitable. I cannot now figure out how I did not foresee it. To me, the combination of being completely shocking and making perfect sense makes the ending of Kerebos perfect."

Stephenie Meyer falls further into Twilight with the New Moon. "Whereas the debut story in Stephenie Meyer's hit vampire book series, Twilight, was about finding true love, the followup is about losing true love, or put another way, coping with the loss," says Eric Hughes. "Though Meyer quickly lays down the premise of her novel in just the first few chapters, it isn't until page, uh, 300 that I finally got interested. (The book is just over 560 pages, so about halfway through.) Yes, it's irritatingly slow and regrettably not that captivating, either."

Vanora Bennett paints a Portrait of an Unknown Woman, which opens early in 1527 with the arrival of painter Hans Holbein at the home of the Thomas More family. "The novel is set against the turbulent backdrop of the Protestant Reformation and framed by Holbein's two very different portraits of the More family, done five years apart," Laurie Thayer says. "Portrait of an Unknown Woman is not a sweeping historical epic, but the story of how politics, religion and secrets influence one family's lives." Damn, Laurie! That's review #300!

Louis L'Amour pokes around in the beliefs, folklore and mythology of the Quiche Maya in The Haunted Mesa. "Mix Stephen King, Tony Hillerman and The Twilight Zone and you might be getting close to the tone and style of this freaky novel," Alicia Karen Elkins says. "I read this book with mixed feelings and walked away from it with the same outlook. It is a good book, but it falls far short of a Tony Hillerman tale for weaving a mystery around Native American folklore and the southwest desert. I honestly believe it made the bestseller list based upon L'Amour's previous works -- his reputation made the sales and not the story contained in this particular book. If this had been his first or second novel, we likely would not have heard much more from him."

Xena returns from the dead -- and not in a good way -- in Dark Xena. "Unlike Contest of Pantheons, the first collected volume of Dynamite's ongoing Xena, Warrior Princess series, Dark Xena has a pretty good story to tell," Tom Knapp says. "The story by John Layman is good, and it feels true to the feel of the series. Art by Noah Salonga is also good, although you get the feeling he's seen photos of the costumes used in the series, but not the actors who wore them."

The first volume of Tomo is I Was an Eighth-Grade Ninja by writers Andrew Simmons and Rob Corley and artist Ariel Padilla. "Simmons and Corley craft a wish-fulfillment type of story that, besides being perfectly suited for the youngsters, could also be a guilty pleasure for adults," Mark Allen says. "Padilla's art has a light-hearted flair for action and drama while, not surprisingly, having a strong manga influence."

Vine Deloria Jr. rebuts his own family's history in Singing for a Spirit: A Portrait of the Dakota Sioux. "The first half of this book has several dry parts that left me thinking if I were a member of the family I might enjoy this, but it really does not have mass-market appeal. Less would have been better in this case," says Karen Elkins. "The second half of the book is fine. It is an interesting look at the life and culture of the Sioux."

Bobby Delgado unlocks the mysteries of Gangs, Prison, Parole & the Politics Behind Them. "Literary crime, both fiction and nonfiction, has an endless fascination. Of the many prison memoirs available, this is not the best written I've read, but it is one of the most compelling," Dave Howell says. "Nearly all of the book takes place in prison, where Delgado has spent most of his life. His many stays in solitary and his resistance make for compelling reading."

Woohoo! Movies!

Becky Kyle gets a peek into reservation life in Skins. "The story is told with stark detail and empathy by Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals), who is also a Native American -- as are most of the cast and crew," she says. "I think the love and effort every person put into this film clearly shows."

Karen Elkins flashes back to a classic with Dances With Wolves. "Dances With Wolves is a rare production. It lined the cast with Native Americans -- real ones, not Hollywood mimics," she says. "It showed a side of the natives that had not previously been seen in a feature film. It revealed a side of the United States government that most Americans prefer to forget. It documented a culture that has been shoved to the wayside and ignored. And it still makes me cry every time I watch it."

There's SO much more on the way! (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions, below.)

27 September 2008

The one serious conviction that a man should have is that nothing is to be taken too seriously.
- Nicholas Murray Butler

Gan Bua is playing Live at Martyrs. "Gan Bua has fairly young players, but they are firmly in the traditional side of Irish music," Dave Howell says. "Even though it is live, this is a fairly restrained CD. The musicianship is solid, however. It is recommended for those who like their Celtic on the traditional side."

Jenny Goodspeed is waiting Under the Ash Tree with her songs. "The sound is acoustic folk-pop, the lyrics mostly revolving around relationships," Laurie Thayer says. "Under the Ash Tree is a lovely debut, and good things are sure to follow."

Emily Maguire is a musician "who's passionate about both Bach and Bob Marley," John Lindermuth reveals -- and she struts her stuff on Keep Walking. "Maguire is another of those classically trained artists who has chosen to bring her skills across genres with a high degree of success," John says. "Her voice is soft and warm, though it can raise a few octaves when the passion warrants. There are elements of Paula Cole and Dido in her singing. Her voice may remind you of some other singers, but there's nothing derivative about her music."

Jerome Clark takes a look at two recent releases in today's edition: Bob Ryan's The Spirit of Andy Devine and Danny Schmidt's Little Grey Sheep. "Schmidt reminds even the skeptical among us that you can still create decent self-composed songs with simple folk-like melodies and interesting lyrics. Much to my surprise, I hear little I don't like, and I don't mean that as the stingy praise it sounds like. Schmidt is pretty good, and he's given us a set of solid, worthwhile songs that you'll want to hear more than once," Jerome says. "Arizona-based singer-songwriter Bob Ryan's influences in The Spirit of Andy Devine are as much pop and rock as folk. Unlike Schmidt's work, nothing suggests any particular awareness of traditional music even though some of the songs are set in rural landscapes where most folk songs come from. Ryan's most full-bodied songs observe the closing of the West's wide-open spaces. If these are laments, they are clear-eyed ones."

Webb Wilder & the Beatnecks are Born to be Wilder. "Webb Wilder is one big blast of rockabilly. A man who steadfastly refuses to conform to trends and fashions, Wilder insists on going his own way, even if -- or, especially if -- that way leads straight to the past. It's almost as though he's too tangled in his own roots to move out of them," says Michael Scott Cain. "Not that anyone would want him to. Wilder is to American rockabilly what Rockpile was to British rock: a sound rooted in and devoted to yesterday that is in its development thoroughly today."

The Mercy Brothers are off on a Strange Adventure. "A sticker on the CD calls this hillbilly blues, which is as good a name as any. You might call it country blues, but folk rather than the Delta slide/Robert Johnson type," Dave Howell says. "This is not a strange adventure, but it gives a fresh sound to the folk blues, which is a good venture."

On the subject of the blues, take a peek down in today's movie section for a DVD review of Little Arthur Duncan performing Live at Rosa's Blues Lounge.

The Bauls of Bengal makes themselves heard on this self-titled CD. "The Bauls take their beliefs from many sources, including Hinduism and Sufism," Dave explains. "Their music is different than other Indian forms, concentrating on vocals, usually by one but sometimes with alternating singers. The lyrics, not in English, are notable for spiritual feeling."

Rachael Sage takes the stage with Jess Gardham and Rachel Taylor-Beales for a gig at the Green Note in London, and Ellen Rawson is there for the action. Read her review to get the details, from Sage's jetlag to her "secret set."

The legendary Jack o' the Lantern of R. Scott Taylor's novel Stingy Jack "may have been more interested in taking than giving, but the author obviously wishes to offer his readers a great deal. As well as tackling the history of the Irish prankster who fooled the devil, Stingy Jack follows the story of a young, modern-day thief named Adam Beesler at a major life crossroads. Romance, murder, sex and mystery are all included, and it's apparent the author wished to frame his characters in words as ambitious as they are," Whitney Mallenby says. "Unfortunately, what this adds up to is a 300-plus-page mass of incomprehensibility."

Elizabeth Bear further explores the Promethean Age with a pair of new novels: Ink & Steel and Hell & Earth. "Bear's research is exemplary," Ellen Rawson says. "She admits, in the acknowledgements at the end of Hell & Earth, to taking some liberties with certain items, such as the chronology of Shakespeare's plays, but she is to be commended for not only her research but also for the period feel of her settings and her graceful writing style. She's done her best to bring Early Modern English sounds to a Modern English audience, reproducing the ambience of the period side-by-side with her gripping storyline."

Michael Scott Cain pulls no punches here: "Mystery and suspense writer Lawrence Block once said there was a huge readership in this country who didn't care about anything but plot. Literary style? Depth of characterization? Narrative tension? Not for these readers. They crave story. Nothing else," he says. "I believe most of these people are reading Michael Palmer. In The First Patient he gives us, with little grace of style, paper-thin characters propelling a formula plot."

Nick Hornby falls A Long Way Down in a novel that just doesn't impress reviewer Eric Hughes too much. "Every now and again the plot is entertaining. Some characters I liked, others I didn't. And I find myself at the end of the novel completely unchanged, in that I hardly learned anything I didn't already know before, and therefore my daily routine and everything about me will basically remain the same," he says. "Already, I have escaped into another piece of Brit lit -- for the curious, Ian McEwan's Saturday -- and surely within a month or so memories of Hornby's stab at suicidal dark humor will be just about gone, if not completely."

It takes a Hunter's Moon to fully tell this father-son tale from Boom! Entertainment. "Some sequences of the story seem like they were cut and pasted from a standard small town/out-in-the-woods action flick screenplay, but are still nail-bitingly tense and enjoyable," says C. Nathan Coyle. "This story seems so realistic and possible in no small part to Dalibor Talajic and Sebastian Cardoso, who provide excellent linework throughout the series, showing a mastery of facial expressions and body language."

Hi-ho! The Lone Ranger is back in a new but familiar way. "The Lone Ranger is reborn in a book that brings the old story alive once more. Written by Brett Matthews and illustrated by Sergio Cariello for the still-young Dynamite Entertainment line of comics, this first volume of the series reintroduces the characters in ways that are as familiar as old saddle leather, as fresh a prairie breeze," Tom Knapp says. "Matthews' story is faithful to the original, but it sparks with originality. Cariello's art is moody, dusty and dry, suiting the story to a tee. Together, they take a story that could have seemed tired, recycled or just plain overdone and make it shine with new life."

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her brooding vampire lover Angel are reunited in Past Lives, a "big event" crossover book that fails to deliver the big event. "The concept is that Angel, in Los Angeles, faces a crisis so great that it draws Buffy and her team of Sunnydale scoobies to L.A. to lend a hand," Tom says. "Problem here is, the storyline in Past Lives just isn't thrilling enough to justify the big guns. ... The art's pretty good and the story's not bad. But if they're going to promise us something big, they need to deliver."

The Graphics Classics series got its start here, with Edgar Allan Poe. "The drama and perhaps unparalleled eeriness of Edgar Allan Poe's stories provide a veritable pantheon of possibilities for these artists' imaginations," says Whitney Mallenby. "However, while this comic-like form may help attract new audiences or aid younger readers to get through Poe's complex works, they are just as capable of detracting from these tales. While Poe's words translate well into images at the literal level, actually seeing this level on display could easily prevent many readers from taking into account any deeper levels of meaning."

Teresa Pijoan tells her people's stories in White Wolf Woman & Other Native American Transformation Myths. "This book contains 37 stories from a diverse group of tribes," says Alicia Karen Elkins. "If you are developing a program of stories, this is a solid reference. If you are looking for an entertaining read, you have found it and need look no farther. If you are studying folklore, this book includes stories from 25 different tribes. ... I am not going to list the 37 stories, but will assure you that there is not a bad one in the bunch."

Bill Myers is afraid of the dark, which he claims in The Dark Side of the Supernatural is home to a festering pool of demons waiting to snatch you away from hearth and home. "Reading The Dark Side..., you get the feeling that anything Myers does not understand or disapproves of is the work of demons," says Michael Scott Cain. "Interestingly enough, Myers continually claims that demons are very real and driven by Satan to take us over through every device from the Ouija board through channeling to meditation and yoga. However, he also continually says that if we accept God, we have nothing to fear from them. But if we have nothing to fear from them, why write a book designed to scare the hell out of impressionable young people?"

Jamie James describes the excitement and perils of Joe Slowinski's life in The Snake Charmer. "Slowinski's fascination with the animal world, particularly snakes, began as a child in the Midwest and led him to a career as one of the major figures in international herpetology before the age of 40. It also led to premature death as the result of a bite from one of the world's most venomous snakes," John Lindermuth says. "The narrative makes clear Slowinski was a brilliant and dedicated scientist -- the discoverer of several new species, the creator of a major scientific collaboration between the California Academy of Sciences, the Smithsonian and a Burmese governmental agency and he was influential as an essayist on evolutionary relationships. It is also clear he had an arrogant macho streak that often made him careless of his own safety and that of others around him. It was not the first time he incurred a poisonous snakebite, and James records a number of incidents that illustrate a reckless propensity toward danger."

Jen Kopf examines the life of Edith Piaf in director Olivier Dahan's La Vie en Rose (a.k.a. La Mome). "There are some performers who are so searingly identified with a song, with an era, always identified with the same image or two, that casual fans and even aficionados may feel certain that what they know is true," Jen says. "It's an unrelenting story, and Dahan, who wrote the script with Isabelle Sobelman, does little to lighten the load that his Piaf, actor Marion Cotillard, must carry. ... Not always easy to watch, but impossible to turn off, La Vie en Rose probably takes a little license with the truth. But Piaf herself apparently was known for taking charge of her own story. Thanks to Cotillard and a fantastic supporting cast, Dahan's is a worthy tribute."

By the way, that was review #200 for Jen, who is a regular fixture in our movie section. Woohoo, Jen!

Little Arthur Duncan, a fixture on the Chicago blues scene, comes to you Live at Rosa's Blues Lounge. "He is best experienced live -- and this DVD is an opportunity to do just that," says Michael Scott Cain. "From all of his years in the business, Arthur seems to have learned that singing the blues and playing the mouth harp isn't enough; you have to be an entertainer, too. He sings, dances around, smiles, mugs for the ladies and blows fine harp solos."

There's SO much more on the way! (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions, below.)

20 September 2008

Instead of watching the telly and cowering behind locked doors, we'd be better off among people who know one another and enjoy singsongs in pubs. I am always persuaded by this argument.
- Roger Ebert

It's been a day of mowing the lawn, rehearsing the band and getting ready for a BIG community yard sale. I wish to take a nap. But first, we have reviews to share!

Louis Ledford "is a storyteller who presents his tales in music," John Lindermuth says in his review of Adios King. "These are intimate tales, told from the heart and backed by beautiful instrumentals. They are tales of hard times and simple desires made difficult. Ledford's voice and style are reminiscent of early Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. Listening to his music is like sitting on the porch on a summer eve and hearing an old friend recount stories from his life and that of other friends."

Watermelon Sugar offers up a little Something to Savor. "Watermelon Sugar is a folk duo bonded in friendship that began in Pennsylvania and has endured for 20 years. On this, their second album, Louise Bendall and Hypathia Kingsley are polished but not pretentious. In fact, they sound exactly like two good chums who have gotten together on the back porch just to jam and have fun," says John. "Listening to the interchange of them singing and playing is pleasant. And if that isn't enough for you, maybe you're just too jaded with all the commercial hype out there."

Bob Frank steps up to the plate with Red Neck, Blue Collar. "Bob Frank is not to be confused with Bob Franke (rhymes with 'hanky'), the Massachusetts-based singer-songwriter who's been working the folk circuit for many years. Frank (rhymes with 'Hank') has had a lower profile. I have the faintest recall of an album he recorded for Vanguard in 1972. I may have even had it in my collection once, and that's as much as I can tell you," Jerome Clark says. "I wish, though, that it were still there because -- so I infer from the evidence of his new disc -- I would probably enjoy the reacquainting. Frank's current release, on the always impressive, roots-oriented Memphis International label, is a good one."

Redd Volkaert -- born in Canada, now of Austin, Texas -- is not exactly a household name except among practitioners of downhome electric-guitar sounds and non-musicians like me who make it a point to pay attention. In those quarters he's revered," Jerome Clark notes. "Brimming with Southwestern flavors, Reddhead serves up a tasty stew. It's suitable for dances and parties, of course, but if you don't happen to be at either at the moment, you can put it on the player and give hard-working ears an aural feast."

Louie Bellson and Clark Terry launch the Louie & Clark Expedition 2 for jazz fans everywhere. "Louie Bellson and Clark Terry are not only veterans of the big-band era, they are just about, in themselves, the history of modern jazz," says Michael Scott Cain. "For this CD, they've put together a 19-piece big band that crosses the generations, featuring several oldtimers as well as a handful of up-and-coming future stars, to play a set that spans the jazz generations -- the music simultaneously harkens back to the swing days but sounds fresh and modern."

The Piers Lawrence Quartet shares a few Stolen Moments with the jazz fan. "Piers Lawrence, a New York City guitar player who has done everything from Broadway pit bands to touring and recording with soul great Wilson Picket, says it has always been his dream to make a straight-ahead quartet album. Now, with the help of Chuck Fowler on piano, Jim Hankins on bass and Sir Earl Grice on drums, he has done it," Michael Scott Cain reports. "The result is a light-hearted album with soulful melodies and harmonies that strike your ear as fresh and new."

LeonVest, just to be clear, is a band and not a person. "Are you looking for mellow?" John Lindermuth asks. "If so, So Blue might be just the ticket for those solitary moments when you want to just chill or listen to some pleasant music while coping with issues or mourning a loss. I'm not saying it's all sad music. But it is mellow. California mellow, if you know what I mean."

Tango Negro Trio makes an Argentinian splash on this self-titled CD. "Named after a famous tango song, this trio is a project of Juan Carlos Caceres that moves tango forward by exploring its history. Tango will be at least somewhat familiar to most Westerners with its relaxed elegance, which lets you picture well-dressed couples dancing to it," Dave Howell says. "This is a fine CD for both new and established listeners of tango."

The Askew Sisters performed a while back in Guildford, England, and Ellen Rawson shares her recollections here. "The night may have begun on a stressful note due to problems with Southwest Trains," Ellen says, "but it progressed into a fun evening, leaving no doubt that English traditional folk music is in good hands with its younger artists. Winners of the 2005 New Roots award, the Askew Sisters' skills and breadth of knowledge belie their young ages."

Lynn Veach Sadler expounds on tales Not Dreamt of in Your Philosophy. "Not Dreamt of in Your Philosophy is a kaleidoscope of short stories, each very different from the last, a veritable smorgasbord of delicious yarns. The author has a fertile imagination indeed," says Barbara Spring. "Draw up a log and gather around the campfire, for there be magic in these tales as told by a fantastic storyteller. Magic, myth, poetry and histories, fact interwoven with fantasy -- it all takes the readers on a ride into the fantastic as seen by horses, cats, trolls and other uncanny creatures. There is a dreamlike quality to these poetic stories filled with allusions to real people and entirely fabricated events and characters. If you have a taste for tall tales of the fantastic, you will enjoy this book."

Rafael Abalos focuses on the Knights Templar in his young-adult novel, Grimpow: The Invisible Road. "The morals behind Abalos's story become clear without being heavy-handed, the turns of phrase penned by the translator are well-chosen and easy to follow, the pacing offers a pleasantly fast read, and the eventual conclusions are complex, stimulating and optimistic without confusing or oversimplifying things for its young-adult audience," Whitney Mallenby says. "The various components of the story are summarized rather often, and several emotional transitions occur abruptly or have no follow-through. Yet overall, this novel delivers by providing all the action fit for adventures, as well as the puzzles expected of a mystery, in this thoroughly imaginative tale conveying a very important message."

Vicki Pettersson continues her zodiac-inspired battle between the Dark and Light in Touch of Twilight. "A big issue with these novels is how interconnected they are. You can read this third book without reading the first two, but you may struggle more than you have to," says Becky Kyle. "The action is interesting and author Vicki Pettersson knows how to throw you a curve; these books are going to fascinate fans of urban fantasy, romance and comic books. But I probably will not continue on with the fourth book in this series because they simply are not holding my attention as strongly as serial fiction should."

Khaled Hosseini has more still to write. "Upon completing Khaled Hosseini's 2003 debut novel, The Kite Runner, I arrived under the sneaking suspicion that Hosseini had accidentally completed the very error that so many authors -- not just in fiction writing, but also in other media -- make of their careers: they produce their greatest work first. And though they may remain partially in the spotlight for some time afterwards, or in fact for the majority of their careers, the generally accepted belief remains that they put their all into the debut, and just couldn't save enough creative juices for even better future projects," Eric Hughes states. "When I finished Hosseini's followup, the 2007 tear-jerker A Thousand Splendid Suns, I stood very much corrected. His sophomore effort is simply better -- a fantastic achievement."

Michael Chabon is back for more with the Wonder Boys. "Unlike The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and The Yiddish Policemen's Union, both of which are acclaimed novels by Michael Chabon, Wonder Boys is neither epic -- that title assuredly belongs to the 600-plus page behemoth Kavalier & Clay -- nor does it forcibly strangle its readers along for a twist-infested storyline that is bursting at the seams with countless, colorful characters -- that, of course, would be The Yiddish Policemen's Union," Eric recounts. "Wonder Boys is certainly my favorite of the young Michael Chabon, and I look forward to seeing what else he has in store for readers in his next release."

The too-brief Sea of Red series from Image gets its start in No Grave But the Sea. "Sea of Red takes two thrilling genres of adventure fiction -- pirates and vampires -- and crunches them together in a book drawn in the rust-brown hues of dried blood," Tom Knapp says. "Graphically violent, No Grave But the Sea is an excellent start to the series. Now that it's in front of me, I kind of wonder why I haven't seen much 'vampirate' fiction before today."

Green Arrow and Black Canary take a winding Road to the Altar in this pre-wedding collection. "The relationship between Green Arrow and Black Canary (Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance in their civvies) is one of the great comic-book romances. Far surpassing Clark Kent and Lois Lane in interest and rivaling the untapped potential of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, it is possibly exceeded only by the dynamic Marvel duo of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson -- a match made in Heaven but recently sundered here on Earth, making it all rather moot," Tom says. "All in all, Road to the Altar is a satisfying collection, filled with humor and grit, pathos and, of course, superhero love. Green Arrow and Black Canary fans should not, of course, miss it."

We all remember Xena, Warrior Princess, right? Well, her transition to the funny pages is off to a bumpy start in Contest of Pantheons. "Let's face it, the weak plots and cheesy special effects weren't what drew the majority of viewers to their televisions each week. It was cleavage on parade, hot girls in leather and carrying swords, heavily dosed with slapstick violence and a strong undercurrent of forbidden romance that made Xena more successful than its testosterone-driven counterpart, Hercules, the Legendary Journeys," Tom says. "Unfortunately, those qualities don't translate well to the printed page."

Doris Shannon Garst does a disservice to a Native American hero with The Picture Story & Biography of Red Cloud, says Alicia Karen Elkins. "This book is a piece of rubbish! It is sad to think how many of my early classmates believed every word of this," she laments. "I can picture them still, running around the playground slapping their mouths with their hands and talking about scalping the cowboys. It was effective propaganda!"

Walter Lord, whose classic book A Night to Remember is considered by many to be the definitive work on the tragedy of the Titanic, revisits the subject in The Night Lives On. "There's more, always more, to dredge up about history's most infamous nautical disaster, and in The Night Lives On, published a good 30 years later, Lord answers some of the many unanswered questions about the ship, its voyage, its crew and passengers, and other events surrounding the event and its aftermath," Tom Knapp says. "The detail packed into this book is astonishing, and the amount of research that went into it is daunting to consider. In his extremely readable narrative, Lord picks apart many of the mysteries and legends that surround the Titanic, from the music the band played on the deck as she sank to the suitability of her celebrated captain, Edward J. Smith, to command a liner of Titanic's size. Even more fascinating, perhaps, is the blow-by-blow description of the responses of the two closest ships, Carpathia, which mounted a heroic rescue effort, and Californian, which stood by even as its officers watched Titanic's distress rockets and did nothing to assist her until the following morning."

Gina McCabe opens a can of worms about child molestation in What If I Tell? "Victims of abuse are trapped between two worlds, one ordering them to let go of the past, the other insisting they lick their wounds," Renee Harmon says. "Understanding that when there's no resolution, it's an uphill struggle for someone to freely move on with their lives, Gina dared to confront the darkness in her life and those responsible for it. Her book What If I Tell? expresses all the hurt, shame and anguish that goes with a life that should have been free from perverted hands."

Alicia Karen Elkins harkens back to the day when Billy Jack shocked a nation. "Billy Jack will always be considered the 'American activism classic' movie," she says. "It is also the 'cheap drama movie' that left egg on the faces of many Hollywood directors and media critics and changed an entire country with its message. If you do not own it, order a copy at the first possible moment. No movie collection is complete without this classic."

Jen Kopf, meanwhile, urges us to Look Both Ways. "We spend our lives concentrating on the accidents that could kill us -- train wrecks, car accidents, shark attacks -- and very little time being aware of the chance events that have saved us," she says. "The characters in Look Both Ways are certainly aware of the way life and death can blindside us. What's a little harder for them is getting past paying attention to how people die to pay more attention to life going on around them. ... It's surprisingly funny, romantic in the true sense and, in its own way, death-defying."

There's SO much more on the way! (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions, below.)

13 September 2008

I don't believe that life is supposed to make you feel good, or make you feel miserable either.
Life is just supposed to make you feel.
- Gloria Naylor

Well, wise words from Gloria Naylor aside, my allergies are acting up today and I wish I could feel less blecchy. C'mon, life, throw me a bone here!

Unni Lovlid presents music that is "dark, frigid, minimalist, mysterious, haunting" on Rite. "This music might reflect how you imagine Unni Lovlid's home country of Norway," Dave Howell says. "Some listeners will not like it, but for those with a taste for innovative folk music, this 37-minute CD will be compelling and beautiful."

Balval modernizes Gypsy (more properly called Roma) and Eastern European music on Blizzard Boheme. "There are many bands that modernize old world forms of music, but few do it as well as Balval," Dave Howell says. "Blizzard Boheme shows how rich the heritage of Roma and Eastern European music is, adding a modern sensibility without losing any of its emotion or meaning."

Tom May "has been a man of many parts on the American folk scene," Jerome Clark says. "Though hardly a profound recording and perhaps not for everybody, Blue Roads, Red Wine started to grow on me around the second or third hearing. Its straightforward style has the virtue of communicating an earnest, unforced friendliness as well as a becoming lack of pretense. May has no interest in morbidly self-absorbed material; thus, many of the songs are set in specific geographical landscapes, just as real -- which is to say traditional -- folk songs often are. May is enchanted with the sights, scents and people of the world around him, and that makes him a good traveling companion. He also knows a decent melody whether he composed it or not."

Peggy Seeger is back for more on Bring Me Home. "The words used to describe Peggy Seeger's music have not changed very much over the years: traditional, political, involved, haunting, dependable, stable. Her approach and her sensibilities do not differ much from recording to recording. Whether she takes on a set of recently composed, politically oriented protest songs or, as here, a collection of traditional material, she is first and always Peggy Seeger," says Michael Scott Cain. "If you're looking for cutting-edge, fresh, singer-songwriter material, you're not going to find it here. In fact, if you're looking for fresh singer-songwriter material, you really have no business listening to Peggy Seeger anyway. If, on the other hand, you want to hear a master old-school folk musician doing songs that are close to her heart in a way that only she can, Bring Me Home is made for you."

Miche Fambro offers an assortment of Cafe Vignettes on this collection of spoken stories and songs. "These accounts have a common element: raw honesty," says C. Nathan Coyle. "Fambro isn't the self-deprecating type so much as truly sharing what his life as a musican has been like. He is in the situation of not being an uber-successful musician, yet he's doing well enough to put out an album. That middle/grey area allows for a narrative perspective that isn't as easy to find as you might think."

Tracy Nelson promises bluegrass fans You'll Never Be a Stranger at My Door. "Like her contemporary Maria Muldaur, also a superior practitioner of blues, r&b and country who got her start during the 1960s folk revival, Tracy Nelson has been around so long that it's easy to take her unflagging excellence for granted. That oversight is easily fixed whenever you hear her. The pleasure that follows from that experience leads you to wonder why it took you so long to get back to it," Jerome Clark says. "There's no flash or histrionics here, and no envelopes are pushed. Instead, it's solid craftsmanship and professionalism all the way through. Stranger's delights are quiet ones, but Nelson's measured voice delivers them splendidly."

Bob Brozman sings those Post-Industrial Blues, an album rooted in country blues, "though that doesn't constrain much of the movement, which prowls the world for odd rhythms, beats, tunings and notes," Jerome says. "Post-Industrial Blues may not appeal to more narrow-minded listeners who don't want their folk music to stray too far from source models, but the title ought to give anyone who worries about such things fair warning. If not everything on this disc appeals to me in equal measure, that's a matter of personal taste which makes no claim to higher universal insight. A superior musician with broad experience and freewheeling imagination, Brozman may be pointing us toward the sound of roots-revival music in the years to come. Meantime, this is an always interesting, sometimes inspiring recording."

Talking Horns are Born to Be Horn for the jazz fan. "This German quartet is difficult to classify. There are 21(!) tracks on Born to be Horn, consisting of pieces that are three to four minutes long interspersed with shorter ones of one or two minutes, totaling more than an hour," Dave Howell says. "There have been many classic crossover CDs, but few if any have so many ideas and clever arrangements. You won't mourn buying Born to be Horn."

We've held back a few snippets from Celtic Colours last year so that we can build up some excitement for this year's festival. Here, with a look back at 2007, is Kaitlin Hahn's review of Louisbourg Crossroads, a show featuring Tracey Dares, David Francey, Kimberley Fraser and the Prince Edward Island band Vishten. "Of all the venues I have been to throughout the festival, this was the most unique," Kaitlin begins. Read on!

Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel Treasure Island still endures after more than a century on the shelves, and it remains a must-read for the modern fan of piracy. "Stevenson, who would go on to write such classics as The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, Kidnapped and The Master of Ballantrae, wrote much of this book to entertain his stepson, writing an average of a chapter a day," Tom Knapp says. "One can tell throughout that the sickly author was having a ball telling the tale, and it's equally fun to read."

Jennifer Cody Epstein details the life of post-impressionist artist Pan Yuliang in The Painter from Shanghai. "Exactly how faithful the book is to Yulaing's life, I can't say because, in an author's note, Epstein declares the book to be a work of the imagination that attempts to stay true to the broad strokes of Yulaing's life. The characters, events and places presented in the book, she says, are impressionistic portraits," Michael Scott Cain says. "Parts of the book are brilliant; individual scenes within it catch you up and make you feel you are living within the characters. But too much of the development is lost in the attempt to give the story an additional few layers of significance. There is a fine book sitting inside The Painter from Shanghai, a fine 250-page book inside a novel that is 400 pages long."

John Grange gets his due from the days of pulp mysteries in Super-Detective Flip Book: Legion of Robots/Murder's Migrants. "Written originally for kids and adults who moved their lips when reading, it is not to be taken seriously. However, once you put aside your sense of logic and your critical intelligence, it is a lot of fun," deduces Michael. "Throw your literary standards aside, slum a little and have yourself a ball with Super-Detective."

Carlos Ruiz Zafon blends fiction genres in The Shadow of the Wind (La Sombra del Viento). "For some authors, the challenge to perfect such an eclectic mixture is daunting and assuredly becomes a recipe for disaster," says Eric Hughes. "Though for Carlos Ruiz Zafon, he convincingly stands up to the task, penning a fantastic, page-turning novel that kept my interest peaked throughout the duration of the story, a feat I haven't run into since Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code about five years ago."

Maria Murnane gets a little wacky, romantically speaking, in Perfect on Paper: The (Mis) Adventures of Waverly Bryson. "Waverly is not without faults, and the reader gets to see her make mistakes, get laughed at, laugh at herself, learn and grow," Cherise Everhard says. "All the while, the author makes sure you don't want to set the book down, ever. The dates she goes on are hilariously horrifying and, unfortunately, some are hauntingly familiar. Ladies, I challenge you not to find at least one of your former dates in this book."

The cliffhanger ending of the pop TV series Angel continues in Angel: After the Fall, a new comic-book series helmed by Joss Whedon himself, along with writer Brian Lynch and artist Franco Urru. "Urru certainly isn't my favorite artist out there, but the characters are all recognizable from the series (Hallelujah!) and he moves the action along neatly from page to page," Tom Knapp says. "Coupled with Whedon's plotting and Lynch's writing, After the Fall is a darkly humorous continuation of the TV series that should please a great many fans."

Simon Dark goes to pieces in What Simon Does, a story birthed from the fertile mind of 30 Days of Night creator Steve Niles. "Wearing a boyish patchwork mask and a Freddy Krueger sweater, the character is a good bit darker and more mysterious than your average comic-book hero," Tom says. "Simon Dark is certainly an unusual book, and it's certainly nice to see Niles branching out from his usual fare of vampires and zombies. Art by Scott Hampton is appealingly unsettling."

The book of Genesis is expanded in The Lost Books of Eve. "Volume one of The Lost Books of Eve is a slim collection that gets the story off to a solid and intriguing start," Tom says. "It is interesting to see how writer/artist Josh Howard weaves his tale through the framework of Genesis without crossing any controversial biblical lines. Even a final conversation between God and Lucifer in the garden is handled in an intelligent manner that shouldn't ruffle anyone's theological feathers."

Peter Parker learns the burden that comes With Great Power in this new Spider-Man tale. "What is appealing about this story is that writer David Lapham makes Peter relatable to today's teen," Mark Allen says. "The art of Tony Harris is also exceptional. Harris's work is not easily mistaken for that of anyone else. He is highly stylized, incredibly skilled in characterization and one of the best storytellers in comics today."

In Once Blind: The Life of John Newton, Kay Marshall Strom delves into the life of the man who wrote "Amazing Grace." "Strom traces the life of Newton from childhood until his death, from his early years as a blasphemous and foul-mouthed sailor to his years as the captain of a slave ship to his fight for the abolition of slavery in England," Donna Scanlon says. "Strom has a flair for storytelling and characterization, and she doesn't sugarcoat her subject at all; in fact, some of the scenes border on lurid. The slant is toward portraying Newton's eventual conversion to evangelical Christianity after an incredible string of narrow escapes from death, and one would think he'd have gotten the message a bit earlier."

Susan Hazen-Hammond produces a self-help manual for women via Native American folklore in Spider Woman's Web: Traditional Native American Tales About Women's Power. "Although the author gathered the stories from various Native Americans, she has retold the stories in her own words," Alicia Karen Elkins says. "She seems skilled at translating oral stories into written ones, but her true gift lies in the analysis of the stories. She locates and illuminates the essence of the story and the motivations of the characters."

Susan Overfield reminds us that dogs still don't read books in Saturday Dogs ... & the owners they trained. "There are, she asserts, two things to keep in mind when training a dog: the changes that humans have made to the environment -- changes that humans have adapted to, but dogs haven't -- and the reactions of each individual dog," Laurie Thayer says. "Dogs, she says, still think and react much the way they have always done for thousands of years, and humans must understand this if they intend to work with dogs."

Jen Kopf is off on a road trip with Little Miss Sunshine. "Oh, what a fun road trip to California it promises to be," she says. "It's like Little Miss Sunshine dropped from the heavens -- if you're the kind of person who likes movies with a skewed attitude, if a little profanity won't shake you up and if you love watching movies that manage to be offensive while saying something important while still making you laugh. Screenwriter Michael Arndt -- with his first swing, no less -- has managed to meld disillusionment, resentment, death and a little well-timed Rick James ("Super Freak") into a strange, hilariously heartwarming tale of staying true to yourself and your family."

Michael Scott Cain discovers just how much Girls Rock in this documentary about budding musicians. "The film takes a look at a rock 'n' roll camp for girls in Portland, Oregon, where ... they form bands, learn instruments, write songs and perform a concert -- all in the space of a week," he says. "By the time the film ends in a blazing rock concert in front of 700 people, you're thrilled to have been given a look into the world these girls have come to know and saddened that you have to say goodbye to them now."

There's SO much more on the way! (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions, below.)

6 September 2008

He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word.
The power of sound has always been greater than the power of sense.
- Joseph Conrad

Darrell Scott sings Modern Hymns on his new release from Appleseed. "Though Darrell Scott doesn't make the point, the dozen songs he covers on Modern Hymns underscore how much the 1960s folk revival altered songwriting," Jerome Clark says. "Unlike other forms of popular music, folk in its traditional sense is about everything that people could ever put into a song -- in other words, not just about love won or lost, pop music's perennials. When revival performers started writing their own material, using old ballad forms as the template, and turning them to modern themes, songs got a whole lot more nuanced and complicated."

Paul Kaplan undertakes The Folk Process with this new CD. "A presence on the East Coast folk scene since the late 1960s, Paul Kaplan is a carrier of the Pete Seeger style -- or is that a tradition by now? Since Seeger has lost his (literal) voice, singers like Kaplan are left to keep politicized yet audience-friendly, folk-inspired music alive," Jerome says. "On the whole I prefer folk music with a rougher, unsentimental edge -- in other words, from an earlier stage of the folk process than the one Kaplan boarded. Even so, his CD has its charms. It's a gentle reminder of how the music got to those of us who didn't grow up in the traditional cultures that created it. And if you can fight war and injustice with good melodies, as Seeger did and Kaplan does, where's the complaint?"

David & Steve Gordon get percussive on Earth Drum: The 25th Anniversary Collection, Vol. 1. "There's a key difference between Native American music that gets filed in the world section and Native American music that gets filed in new age. As long as you don't mind that David and Steve Gordon's Earth Drum falls squarely in the latter category, it's an engaging showcase of 25 years of rhythm and melody," Jennifer Mo reports. "Although the CD is too multicultural to be Native American music and too new-agey to have wide appeal, Earth Drum is perfect for people who do yoga and breathing exercises. You know who you are."

Barebones & Wildflowers came and went too quickly, Tom Knapp laments, but he still has Days Will Go By to remember them by. "Sometimes, it's not so much about the new ways in which things are done; it's about the comfortable old ways they're done with talent and enthusiasm. Barebones & Wildflowers has both in abundance," he says. "The heart of this band -- Steve Palmer and Rachel Handman -- is a remarkably gifted duo that slips original songs into their repertoire like most people slip on comfortable shoes."

Andrew Eversole unleashes his Creature. "Eversole was born in Harlem, Ky., but it took moving to North Carolina to get him playing mountain music. His influences don't stop there, though. Most of the music on Creature was written by Eversole, with a few exceptions," says Becky Kyle. "If you are a traditional bluegrass fan, listen to the cuts and pick the ones that you're going to like for purchase. For those of us who like different, I suspect like me you are going to enjoy the whole CD."

Michael Hill brings the holidays up early on My Blue Christmas. "He covers all bases with a mix of secular and religious melodies," Corinne Smith says. "My Blue Christmas is an entertaining holiday album that has as its strength not the title track(s), but the church songs. ... This will be a nice pre-season gift for the religious music fan."

Tom Knapp went out to see Bobby Lee Rodgers & the CodeTalkers perform recently, and he brings us this report on their musical doings. "Stage hijinks aside, Rodgers and his band filled the park with a muscular brand of jazz-inflected progressive rock that had people swaying in their seats or dancing at the foot of the stage for just over two hours Sunday evening," he says.

Charles de Lint raises new questions with Old Man Crow. "Is he a man dreaming he's a crow? Or a crow dreaming he's a man?" Tom Knapp asks. "Where Charles de Lint is concerned, you know the answer will never be so simple. ... Mythic fiction, a branch of urban fantasy defined and refined largely through de Lint's series of Newford tales, deals with a great deal of otherworldly concepts and lore-soaked themes, and Old Man Crow is no different. But even as ancient gods and spirits tread the Earth, de Lint keeps his focus on the very human side of things, and it's that quality that makes his stories so hard to ignore or forget."

Stephenie Meyer begins a new series with Twilight. "Did I ever think I would ever read vampire fiction? No. A definitive no. An even better question: Did I think I would ever read vampire fiction and, in the end, love that I gave it a shot? Another definitive no," Eric Hughes says. "Yet Twilight, the first in a series of novels by Stephenie Meyer, convinced me that I have, at least up to this point, cheated myself from a quality subset of fiction, similar to my first experience with fantasy in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Twilight is a captivating, fun read."

Paul Levine writes by Trial & Error in the fourth volume of Solomon vs. Lord. "Similar in vein to novelist Carl Hiaasen's environmental thrillers, Levine's Trial & Error is about the search for both those responsible for trying to steal trained dolphins, as well as their motives for doing so," Eric says. "Though I didn't find Levine's writing to be as funny as an author like Hiaasen, Trial & Error still stands as a worthy addition to humor fiction's canon."

Bill Pronzini "scores on character development, credibility, plot twists and the tone of writing" in his novel Nightshades, Chris McCallister says. "This was my first experience with a book by Bill Pronzini, and I was not accustomed to his writing. Early in the book, I wondered if Pronzini was trying to resurrect Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe character. But Pronzini put me at ease with this suspicion of being derivative when he had his protagonist say he was trying to do a Marlowe tough-guy imitation, only to have the facade ruined when he can't contain a big sneeze at a very critical moment in his attempt to intimidate a possible informant."

Georgette Heyer swaps twins in her historical novel, False Colours. "Heyer's blend of believable characters and absurd circumstances carries False Colours off in fine style," Whitney Mallenby says. "The plot is rather predictable, but the attention to detail and careful pacing elevate this cozy story into a truly charming novel. It may not keep you on the edge of your seat, but it's an engaging comfort read that will keep you soothed and amused for hours."

Traci L. Slatton's Immortal "has every reason to be a fascinating novel: it's set in the colorful city of Florence at the height of its power, it includes appearances by several of Italy's most famous historical figures and its narrator owns a mysteriously long life and an excessively passionate nature," says Whitney. However, she adds, "Immortal is Slatton's debut novel, and it shows. She is afraid to portray the historical figures as anything other than the famous personages they are remembered as, even when she's supposed to be writing them as children. She is afraid to write romance, so Luca finds himself instantly possessed of a predestined love that appears briefly at the tail end of the book, in spite of a huge amount of buildup. She is afraid to tackle a logical approach to her own mystery, so everything is discovered by accident or coincidence."

Mary Harvey says Elk's Run "was somewhat handicapped during its initial serial publishing phase when it suffered from the usual economics that plague the comic-book publishing industry. Hot potatoed from one place to the next, it dropped out of sight completely when one company folded. Seven Harvey award nominations later, Elk's Run has resurfaced in its entirety in graphic novel format, complete with more than 100 pages of material not seen in the original run. ... Elk's Run's true strength is in fact the action, which is truly dazzling. One sequence snowballs into another, the tension ratcheted up tightly with each escalation in violence."

The new graphic novel Shmobots is "a cute idea that kind of, sort of works," Tom Knapp opines. "Imagine a world where robots have been designed that will take over the mundane and dangerous but necessary tasks that keep society running. Now imagine a world where government bureaucracy and low-bid contracts have produced a multitude of faulty 'bots that are lazy, incompetent and surly. ... Against all odds, the concept works -- at least, it's entertaining on its most basic levels. The three 'bots and their boy are comic relief of the slapstick-and-sadsack variety, but I can't help but think the idea had more potential than writer Adam Rifkin drew from it. Maybe next time he'll delve a little deeper into the possibilities."

Tom also marvels at Death of a Goblin, the 19th volume of Ultimate Spider-Man. "There's a reason why, even as the mainstream Spider-Man titles flounder for direction, the Ultimate Spider-Man line continues to be fresh, interesting and fun," Tom says. "It's Brian Michael Bendis, the writer who knows how to write stories that make sense, all the while building characters that pull you into their lives. While grownup Peter over at the House of Ideas is becoming a sadsack figure who's easier to pity than admire, teenage Peter here in the Ultimate universe is a Spider-Man -- and a person -- we can respect."

It's not always easy to get an even break when falsely accused of wrongdoings, as two gentlemen learned here.

Richard Zacks reveals the truth behind the legend in The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd. "In the grand pirating tradition, few names are more notorious than that of Captain Kidd, who -- as we all know -- plundered the Seven Seas mercilessly, stealing and murdering and leaving behind countless chests of buried treasure that are still being sought today. Or -- not. Kidd, it turns out, got a bum rap," Tom Knapp says. "With meticulous research and a lively style of writing, Zacks paints a portrait of Kidd as a tragic and misunderstood hero. ... This well-written tale is a fascinating look at one of maritime history's most notorious figures. Zacks sets the legends straight and presents Kidd as he likely was, not the way history -- along with countless treasure-hunters -- remembers him."

Joy Mannette is in search of Elusive Justice: Beyond the Marshall Inquiry, which explores the case in 1971 when the son of the Grand Chief of the Mi'kmaq Nation was wrongly accused -- and convicted -- of murder. "This book contains five essays about the impact of this situation and the analysis and interpretation by both, natives and non-natives," says Alicia Karen Elkins. "The unanimous agreement is that the inquiry was a sham and there has been, and continues to be, a miscarriage of justice. Basically, the bottom line is that for the Mi'kmaq people, there is no justice in Canada."

What movies are on tap for a little down time this weekend? Let's ask Jen and Miles what they recommend!

Jen Kopf throws open the cinema this week with a review of The Illusionist, starring Edward Norton, Rufus Sewell and Jessica Biel. "Based on the short story 'Eisenheim the Illusionist' by Steven Millhouser, Neil Burger's 2006 film is the dangerous, seductive story of a dangerous, seductive time," she says. "Even if you happen to figure out the 'how' and the 'why,' The Illusionist is still a ravishing look at the fine line between innocence and murder, beween just and unjust punishment."

And now showing on the second screen is Ladies in Lavendar, directed by Charles Dance. "At some points, all tales of tension great and small must come to an end, and Dance's ending is a rather unsatisfying one. Given all we're set up for, we expect to be tossed off a cliff; instead, we simply tumble down a Cornish hillside," Miles O'Dometer laments. "On top of that, Dance resorts to a series of camera tricks -- front to rear focus shifts, for example -- and a clever double dissolve to keep our interest in the final scenes. But camera tricks are not what Lavender is about. Lavender is a tale of repressed sexuality and of sexuality that ought to be repressed. It's a strikingly original film that deserves a strikingly original ending."

There's SO much more on the way! (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions, below.)

30 August 2008

A little nonsense now and then is cherished by the wisest man.
- Roald Dahl

Where the heck did summer go? It's rainy AND chilly today. This is NOT the kind of waterpark day I'd been hoping for!!!

Great Big Sea coasts along on Fortune's Favour with the band's latest release. "If you were expecting another foray into Newfoundland's treasure trove of traditional music, you will be disappointed by Great Big Sea's ninth studio album," Anne Tenaglia says. "Rather than use the tried-and-true formula of half original and half traditional songs that had given them success for Up, Play and Turn, GBS has given us an album of 12 original songs. ... In fact, it is the antithesis of their last studio CD, The Hard & the Easy, but plays much better than Something Beautiful, their last foray into the pop world. This disc may win over some people who disliked Something Beautiful."

Bob Fox is up next with The Blast. "British folk veteran Bob Fox comes out of the generation that produced Martin Carthy, Archie Fisher, John Tams, Nic Jones and others whose music is rooted deeply in the native soil. That means that the attempts to infuse American forms -- old-time, rural blues or Bob Dylan -- are refreshingly infrequent," Jerome Clark informs. "The English-Scottish ballad is where it all starts, and from there it goes to the guitar, not a traditional instrument but one these revival masters have adapted in all sorts of interesting ways to music originally performed by unaccompanied voice or by fiddles or pipes."

Paula Sinclair & Uncle Tumbleweed ride The Good Horse through this collection of folk music and poetry. "If the lyrics of The Good Horse seem scattered and from a multitude of sources, don't worry: it's intentional," says C. Nathan Coyle. "Paula Sinclair wrote the music of this album specifically for the writings of her favorite poets, including William Stafford, Dorianne Laux, Joseph Miller, Debbie West and Jarold Ramsey. And in the case of The Good Horse, poetry is offered in a delightful musical manner in this two-disc set."

James LaRue recalls earlier days with Banjo Jimmy Playing Songs to Remember. "If you don't like old-timey banjo music, you have my permission to stop reading now," Bill Knapp says. "Banjo Jimmy Playing Songs to Remember is a sing-along, toe-tappin' treat that takes his audience back to its youth -- a time of county fairs and concerts in the park on summer evenings."

Sonate Calabresi opens a world of Italian bagpipes on I Suoni del Pollino. "The originator of this recording project, Walter Astorino, plays a type of guitar called the chitarra battente, while Francesco Rusciano and Pietro Adduci play many types of bagpipes and occasionally sing. All three also handle percussion," Dave Howell says. "These 13 tracks are hard to get used to, but they become more accessible after repeated listenings. It is a wonderful recording for those who are willing to embrace the offbeat but entrancing music."

The Hearts of Space label releases a collection of new age and Native American music titled Prophecy 2: A Hearts of Space Native American Collection. "Prophecy 2 is a well-chosen sampler of contemporary Native American music that nimbly avoids the worst excesses of new age," says Jennifer Mo. "With a few brief exceptions, the 12 selections on Prophecy 2 are tasteful, atmospheric and accessible to someone without any prior knowledge of Native American music or appreciation of new age."

L.A. Meyer continues the saga of Bloody Jack Faber in My Bonny Light Horseman. "The irrepressible Jacky is a darling character who will make you laugh, sigh, shed a tear and loudly cheer at every turn of her misadventures," Tom Knapp says. "Jacky Faber is a charming, refreshing character who appeals to young and old readers alike. Meyer, who is already at work on the next book in the series, has set a high standard for himself -- one I have no doubt he will match or exceed."

Francis T. Perry Williams hooked reviewer Alicia Karen Elkins with Pollen & the Ring of Harmony. "I was immediately drawn into the book and could not stop reading it until I finished the final page. I was left wondering if there would be a sequel or a movie; this book is too magnificent to not have a followup. It carries a vital message that our world needs to hear," Karen says. "If you read my reviews, you know that I am not a fan of science fiction and prefer not to read about aliens unless they have vampires or werewolves among them. So when I promise you that Pollen & the Ring of Harmony is one of the best books I have read in recent months, you can believe me. This book is first-rate entertainment."

Vicki Pettersson continues her Sign of the Zodiac series with a Taste of Night. The first book, Scent of Shadows, "didn't quite live up to its press. I sincerely hoped that Pettersson's writing would mature as she continued to develop her novels," Becky Kyle remarks. "I probably should have wished for a winning lottery ticket at the same time, because clearly that was my day to get what I wished for. Taste of Night fulfills the promise I hoped for in Scent and then some."

Sarah Felix Burns shares "one heartbreaking and life-altering moment after another" in her novel Jackfish, The Vanishing Village, says Cherise Everhard. "Clemance is a complex protagonist with emotional and physical scars. She's not a warm and fuzzy heroine, but still I cared for her, tremendously, and those in her life," Cherise remarks. "It took me about 20 minutes to read the last page because my eyes were a constant pool of tears. It is hard to describe a book that makes you feel so many things, but by the end I felt like every emotion has been explored; all I can say is I loved the journey that Sarah Felix Burns took me on. Jackfish is vivid, poignant and extraordinary storytelling."

Caroline B. Cooney casts her Diamonds in the Shadow in a tale of African refugees. "Cooney does an excellent job of portraying the community that welcomes the refugees," says Donna Scanlon. "While the generosity and effort put forth cannot be denied, Cooney is up front about depicting some of the things that can hamper such a sponsorship, however unintentional. Mrs. Finch tends to infantilize the refugees, doing things for them and keeping them from learning to do things for themselves. Mopsy, Jared's sixth-grader sister, treats the silent and withdrawn daughter Alake more like a pet than a human being. Both characters mean well, but end up hindering when they want to help."

Mitch Albom shifts into inspirational fiction with a pair of short novels, The Five People You Meet in Heaven and For One More Day. "Readers of Five People and For One More Day will still discover a lot to like here," Eric Hughes comments. "Those familiar with Albom's style and prose in his debut will certainly find themselves in good company, as the author's experience with words -- both in newspaper and in novels -- is again clear. But even though both stories share similar uplifting qualities, I didn't find either one to be as compelling (or tearjerking) as Tuesdays With Morrie."

Steve Niles goes from zombies to alien creatures in Giant Monster. "Niles, the creative mind behind 30 Days of Night, tries again to do something innovative with the monster genre and, this time, fails. Giant Monster is a pointless bit of fluff that does little more than waste a little of your time," Tom Knapp says. "It's a popcorn movie in book form, but the popcorn's a little stale, the buttery topping a little too thick. Once you're done reading, you're not really sure why you started."

The bungled Dr. Psycho storyline, "in which former prosecutor Kate Spencer finds herself defending a deranged master criminal, comes mercifully to an end" in Manhunter #4: Unleashed, Tom says. "The Manhunter series is perpetually in danger of cancellation, and -- as much as I like this character -- I can see why. There are a few too many missteps in plotting to make this the cutting-edge book it should be; (series creator Marc) Andreyko needs to figure out who Kate Spencer really is before he continues trying to tell her story."

Frederick Peeters shares "an interesting story most people would be grateful not to have to share" in Blue Pills: A Positive Love Story. "The woman he loves and her 3-year-old son are living with HIV," Mary Harvey says. "And his graphic representation of that relationship ... is exactly what its title claims. Though AIDS remains taboo in this modern world, the message that resonates within is simple but true: what sees us through the worst of anything is love."

Louis Haber discusses Black Pioneers of Science & Invention in this must-read text. "After reading about the contributions these incredible people made to this country, I feel strongly that this book should be required reading for all educational systems," Renee Harmon says. "During Black History Month, no presentation, speech or acknowledgment should be considered just or complete until this book is recognized. Living in an era when everything we desire is at our fingertips, we cannot possibly relate to the barriers these extraordinary people came up against. Slavery, injustice and racism could have dimmed their light, but did not. They had a vision and the world needed their accomplishments."

Hugh A. Dempsey focuses on Native American history with Red Crow: Warrior Chief. "It reads more like a work of fiction than most biographies," says Karen Elkins. "Of course, Red Crow was the type of leader who created engaging stories. He was a colorful character, a mover and a shaker who has been virtually overlooked by historians as they focused on the more visible characters and leaders."

Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards expound upon The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing. "By no means forget that an author has feelings, but don't praise a book that doesn't work just to spare them. At the same time, be fair; there's no need to be unnecessarily harsh," Laurie Thayer notes. "Fortunately for readers -- and reviewers -- The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing is both easy to read and full of useful advice. ... And if you're already an accomplished reviewer, it makes a handy reference and refresher."

Jen Kopf reveals the world of The Prestige. "In the world of magic, the 'prestige' is that final over-the-top astonishment, the little extra a magician gives his illusion when you're already on your feet applauding," she says. "In the 2006 movie by that name, director Christopher Nolan gives us a film that's constantly taking one more twist, making one more confounding move. ... It is its own prestige, and even though you might need multiple viewings to get your "aha" moments, The Prestige certainly can withstand that much scrutiny. It's a beautifully filmed examination of show business in Victorian England, and it picks apart the relationship of two magician friends who soon tumble to competition and then to deadly serious rivalry."

Miles O'Dometer ventures inside the Inner Sanctum for a series of six Universal films starring Lon Chaney Jr. from the 1940s: Calling Dr. Death, Weird Woman, Dead Man's Eyes, The Frozen Ghost, Strange Confession and Pillow of Death. "OK, Academy Award efforts they're not. They were made on very low budgets, and the acting -- well, when Chaney is the top of your line, that says something right there. The scripts rely heavily on internal monologue to capture the lead's ever-present self-doubt and, as in the radio show, almost every 'scary' moment is punctuated by some cheesy organ music," Miles says. "But sometimes ghouls just want to have fun, and art it's not, but fun it is."

There's SO much more on the way! (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions, below.)