2 July 2000 to 22 October 2000

22 October 2000

Tom Knapp, still flushed with the excitement of his Celtic Colours experience in Cape Breton last week, begins his report on the experience with a review of Fiddlers Heaven, a show featuring the likes of Cape Breton native Buddy MacMaster and Irish fiddle wizard Sean McGuire. "Several hundred fans have memories of a magical moment in Judique when two titans came together in perfect harmony," Tom recalls.

Tom is also quite excited to have received an advance copy of Charles de Lint's upcoming collection, Triskell Tales: 22 Years of Chapbooks, which collects the author's short stories and poetry written for his wife and friends each year for Christmas. "I was fascinated to watch de Lint's craft as a writer develop from the early days to his current level of comfort and skill," Tom says. "As the years pass, the reoccurring characters mature into deeper, more believable individuals, and the stories themselves evolve from simple fantasies and fairy tales into richer, more profound narratives which stimulate the imagination with greater detail and emotion."

Back to music ... Rachel Jagt is thrilled with the latest release from popular Newfoundland band Great Big Sea. Their new live CD, Road Rage, is "a remarkably accurate representation of what it is like to be in the audience at a Great Big Sea show," Rachel says.

It's safe to say that Jamie O'Brien is extremely happy with the latest from Irish singer Niamh Parsons, too. In My Prime is "a thoroughly traditional album," O'Brien says, and Parsons "thoroughly transcends styles and really defies categorization."

Tom Knapp is back with another slice of the Maritimes: Songs of the Wooden Boat by a collection of Nova Scotian musicians. "While the music is sterling throughout, the album fails as a good introduction to Nova Scotia's rich musical tradition," Tom notes.

Meanwhile, don't forget to check out our new section, which is devoted entirely to music of the Maritimes!

John Cross warns listeners to "prepare to swoon" while spinning the new self-titled CD from Susana Seivane. Featuring Seivane on the Galician bagpipe, the album "is a prime example of the unfathomable depths of feeling, the richness and festivity of emotion which can be conveyed on the pipes," John says.

Paul de Bruijn likewise enjoys the Eastern sound stirred up by Shafqat Ali Khan in his self-titled release. Khan, Paul says, "skillfully blends old and new, mixing the traditional sounds of the music of his homeland with that of electric guitars, synthesizers and saxophones."

Laurie Thayer sampled John McCormick's folky Between Our Hearts and is pleased with the results. "McCormick has a warm, deep voice and a rippling guitar style," Laurie says. "Notes seem to flow from his fingers."

Timothy Keene is disappointed with Thirsty Desert by Bisia. "She works hard to project a spacey, new-age attitude so in vogue these days," Tim says, "yet just comes across as trying too hard."

Robert Buck wraps up the music section with his review of 8355 by Sandi Kay. The album is shorter than he'd like, Robert says, "yet there is not a bad song on the CD."

Donna Scanlon serves up some lucky #13 with the latest anthology from Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror. This 13th annual collection, Donna says, "is their best yet -- and if you're familiar with these annual anthologies, that's saying a lot."

Julie Bowerman just can't get enough British humorist Tom Holt. Today she shares one of Holt's latest, Snow White and the Seven Samurai. "Holt juggles the storylines with amazing dexterity, weaving them toward an explosively funny conclusion," Julie says. "Snow White and the Seven Samurai is one of the best of the Holt collection."

Tom Knapp turns to Irish lore for Morgan Llywelyn's short novel The Isles of the Blest. The story about Ireland's mysterious sidhe "is a bittersweet tale, with a great deal to say about the veracity of wishes that come true," Tom says.

We don't often have new entries for our audiobook/spoken word department, but Donna Scanlon pulls through today with Robert Mouland's Fireside Tales: Stories and Music from the Irish Tradition. The CD collection, Donna says, "is the perfect addition to the collection of anyone interested in Irish music and folklore and is well-suited to the entire family."

Sean Simpson adds the fleet-footed superhero Flash to our graphic novels collection; specifically, he reviews the Mark Waid run titled Terminal Velocity. "This story is, by far, my favorite of the entire Flash series," Sean says. "It's the most romantic, the most tense ... and the most rife with conflict and character development."

Janine Kauffman provides our first film review today: 1999's Brokedown Palace. "It's an odd cross between Dawson's Creek and Midnight Express that's even more long-winded and unbelievable to the point of insult than you might at first believe possible," Janine says.

Miles O'Dometer is back in the clean-up position with a review of October Sky, the true story of a child in the 1950s who risked everything to become a rocket scientist. "The Cold War inspired some pretty ludicrous scenarios on both sides of the Iron Curtain," Miles says. "It also inspired some great stories. October Sky is one of the best."

18 October 2000

We're back! The editor just spent an incredible week at the Celtic Colours International Festival in Cape Breton ... watch this space for reviews of some of the amazing music he saw there. (In the meantime, you can find all of our reviews of Cape Breton and other Maritimes musicians on our new Maritimes page.) But let's not dawdle -- we have plenty of new material for you to read!

Rachel Jagt is up first with a performance review. She gave us a glance at a CD by Sons of Maxwell earlier this month; now see what she has to say about the brothers live in Ottawa.

Next, Laurie Thayer brings us The Sounds of Iona from the band Iona. "The arrangements are new and different, the songs memorable and the singing fantastic," Laurie says.

Is it too soon to start thinking about the Christmas season? Most of the shopping malls don't seem to think so, and neither does Amanda Fisher. Amanda reviews Seamus Kennedy's seasonal album, Goodwill to Men. "Come Christmastime, I plan to play this often," she says. "It will go nicely with some of my Christmas standards, and it also will blend well with some of my Celtic CDs."

Julie Bowerman takes us away from Christmas and over to Spain for Puro Blazers by the Blazers. "The Blazers may have simple lyrics and an abundance of repetition, but I can imagine them filling a dance floor and keeping the party going into the morning," Julie says.

Laurie Thayer explores a rockier vein with Selia Qynn's The Moon & Me. Originally released in 1990, the CD was redone and re-released eight years later, Laurie notes, and "is a great CD for quiet times alone or to share with someone else."

Amanda Fisher returns to mark her 35th Rambles review with Guarana's recent self-titled release. "The focus is on percussion here, and incorporates African and Caribbean elements while retaining an overall South American sound," Amanda says. "People who like worldbeat, and especially Mickey Hart's Planet Drum work, will like this CD a lot."

Robert Buck was happy with Bonnie Leigh's folky new album Bridge of Flowers. "While the vocals on the CD are tight and quite serviceable, it is in the instrumentation that Bridge Of Flowers really shines," Robert says.

Amy Harlib continues to rack up points in the fiction section, today sharing her impressions of Anne Bishop's fantasy prequel, The Invisible Ring. Amy is enthralled by Bishop's "sublime skill as a writer, blending the darkly macabre with spine-tingling emotional intensity, mesmerizing magic, lush sensuality, and exciting action all set in a thoroughly detailed invented world of cultures in conflict based on ingeniously reversed genre cliches."

Donna Scanlon wraps up Tanya Huff's "Victory Nelson" series of Toronto-based vampire novels in Blood Debt. "Although it's sad to think there will be no more Vicki Nelson books, Huff makes a wise decision in bringing the series to a close, and she has chosen just the right place for it," Donna says. "This whole series stands up to the test of rereading."

Donna also has the second book the Kate Thompson trilogy beginning with Switchers. Midnight's Choice, Donna says, "lacks some of the taut power of Switchers and veers close to melodrama at times." However, she adds, the novel "sets the stage for the final book of the trilogy without being obvious."

Felonice Merriman found some issues of contention in Bridget Jones's Diary, but overall she found the new book from Helen Fielding to be very satisfying. The book, Felonice says, has "good points and funny moments that any woman can relate to."

Tom Knapp switches to non-fiction for Terry Deary's Horrible Histories: Ireland, a whimsical text he picked up on his recent trip to the Emerald Isle. "Although obviously written with a young audience in mind..., the book is at times startling in its frank depiction of brutal incidents over the centuries," Tom says. "By the time you've reached the end -- horrific incidents perpetrated on both sides during the Troubles in the 20th century -- you'll be riveted by the seriousness of the events being so humorously described."

Janine Kauffman opens our theater section with The Limey, a "mesmerizing mosaic of image and sound" directed by Steven Soderbergh. "Never a gratuitous moment in The Limey," Janine says, "but lots of gratification."

And, lastly for today, Tom Knapp returns with another in his ongoing James Bond retrospective. Today's feature is For Your Eyes Only, a high mark in the Roger Moore years. "Rather than hit us over the head again with plots to rule (or annihilate) the entire world, Eyes provides a more believable, realistic scenario which is a suspenseful pleasure to watch," Tom says. "This is Bond at his most basic, and it's nice to see him shine without the overuse of special effects."

That's all for today. We'll back this weekend with even more for your reading pleasure!

6 October 2000

The editor seems to be taking a lot of vacations at the end of the year, and this Rambles update preludes an excursion to Cape Breton for the Celtic Colours Festival. We hope this batch of reviews keeps you sated 'til his return!

It seems appropriate, given the editor's destination, that Rachel Jagt begins today's update with a recording she recently picked up in Halifax: Sailing on the Sea: An East Coast Compilation. "The list of contributors reads like a who's who of East Coast music," Rachel says, "and each track tells a different story of life in eastern Canada, one that is inextricably joined to the sea."

Amanda Fisher maintains the Celtic-Canadian theme with the Rogues' Live in Canada, Eh?. "This CD is a lot of fun," Amanda enthuses -- but she cautions listeners to remember that "it's for bagpipe fans only."

Laurie Thayer marks her 50th Rambles review with the Irish band Flook and Flatfish, the band's flute-heavy second CD. "Most people associate flute music with soft, peaceful sounds," says Laurie. "They'd be quite surprised to hear Flook. But what a wonderful surprise!"

J. Higgins-Rosebrook continues the flow with guitarist Gordon Bok's A Rogue's Gallery of Songs for 12-String. "Whatever he's doing, Bok is a storyteller. This Rogue's Gallery started out to be a CD to showcase his work with the 12-string guitar -- and it does -- but it ended up being something else as well," she says. "It's a collection of stories in song."

Rachel Jagt returns with a Canadian country-rock recording called The Neighbourhood by Sons of Maxwell. "As the final notes fade, you get the feeling that you've been part of something very special, if only for a short time," Rachel says.

Audrey Clark was nearly rendered speechless -- not an easy feat! -- by her first impression of Divided Man by Brian Rudy & the Architects. "Not only does Rudy have evident talent for writing and arranging, but he's got a knack for pulling together the right performers to enhance his original work," Audrey says.

Amanda Fisher found a lot of diversity in Steve Earle's Transcendental Blues. "Transcendental Blues is ... one of the very best albums I've heard this year," Amanda says. "I recommend it unreservedly, particularly to people who like many kinds of music."

Ken Fasimpaur says there's much to like in Elaine Silver's Divine Favorites. The album, Ken says, "is an entertaining collection that occasionally rises to greatness."

Laurie Thayer is back (What? No. 51 so soon?) with Bryan Bowers' Friend for Life. Bowers, Laurie says, "can make the autoharp do amazing things. ... Clearly he is the master of his instrument."

Donna Scanlon found a worthy resource in Seth Rogovoy's The Essential Klezmer: A Music Lover's Guide to Jewish Roots and Soul Music. "Not only is Rogovoy thorough and organized, but his writing is lucid and crisp, inspiring enthusiasm and interest in the reader," Donna says. "For Rogovoy, klezmer rocks, klezmer swings, klezmer is It, and he conveys his passion convincingly."

Tom Knapp turns his attentions to folklore and a retelling of the Thomas the Rhymer tale. But Jodie Forrest's The Rhymer & the Ravens bears little resemblance to the legend, he says. "Even so, the book is an enjoyable read, filled with suspense, humor and cross-cultural lore."

Amy Harlib is next with a collection of SF tales in Punktown by Jeffrey Thomas. "Thomas has a very elegant, poetic style, evoking a phantasmagorical urban setting seething with life and activity as a parade of eccentric, vivid and memorable characters of all manners and types, from all strata of society -- artists and criminals, robots and clones -- pass through Punktown's dank and dangerous streets all bent on various weird personal quests," Amy says.

Robin Brenner wraps up today's fiction section with Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist. "The Intuitionist left me haunted by its vision of a world that so easily could have been our own," Robin says. "As in all great fantasy, it is just different enough to decisively and critically reflect our own society back at us and charges us to see ourselves in that difference. It is also a magnificently told, richly detailed thriller, easily read and cherished."

Janine Kauffman has gotten the film reviewer's bug, and she begins her tenure in that capacity with a look at The Red Violin. "It is a symphony of a movie, with each character playing the part he or she must play, each adding a suggestion of the final meaning, adding in Italian, or German or Chinese or French a bit more of its history and its tragedy," Janine says. "From 17th-century Italy, through an 18th-century Austrian monastery, 19th-century England and a 20th-century revolution, the violin grows undiminished in mystique."

Rambles newcomer Sean Simpson makes his debut with a review of Ghost in the Shell, an example of Japanese cyberpunk anime which, Sean says, "stands out from the pack of animated films, Japanese and American alike."

Miles O'Dometer brings us home with his review of This is My Father, about a burned-out teacher's search for his father in Ireland. The film, Miles says, is "a story within a story, or to be more accurate, a story within several stories. The problem is, the story works, the stories don't."

30 September 2000

Not to toot our own horn, but we thought it important to note that author, artist and editor Terri Windling has recommended Rambles in her newest anthology, the 13th annual collection of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. Rambles is still less than 2 years old, so we're particularly pleased and proud to be recognized and recommended by someone of Terri's caliber. Thanks, Terri!!

As editor, I have the privilege of working with one of the largest, most diverse and most dedicated groups of people to be found on the Internet. They've come together from around the globe to share their thoughts and feelings on music, fiction, folklore, film and other fields in the cultural arts arena. I defy anyone to show me a staff more thoughtful and hard-working -- and, I must point out, they do it all as volunteers, purely because each has a passion for the cultural arts. I am proud to work with every one of them, and I am grateful for their continued work and devotion to this, a true labor of love for all of us.

If you'd like to know more about the people who make Rambles happen, you can check them out here. Many have biographies for your perusal, a few even have pictures so you can put a face with their opinions, and all have a complete list of everything they've written for Rambles. Now, enough chatter -- you're here for more reviews!

Laurie Thayer enjoys the bagpipes, but she found the performance lacking in the new release Ceól Na Píoba - Piob Mhor. "It's very educational," Laurie says. "The only problem with this CD is that it's boring. The music seems to meander. The drones and the dissonances of the higher pipes against them is enough to give one a headache of truly classical proportions."

Charlie Gebetsberger is next with Half Alive in Edinburgh by Graeme E. Pearson and the Mutineers. Charlie doesn't have a lot to say about this one, but notes: "If old bar songs and traditional tunes are for you, then this would be a good album to add to your collection."

Lynne Remick is another new addition to the Rambles staff, and she begins her work here with a review of Lisa Lynne's Daughters of the Celtic Moon. "The soothing, yet tantalizing nature" of the music, Lynne says, make the album "a necessary potion for slowing down the modern world and losing oneself in a calm place of passion and inspiration."

Rachel Jagt helps to expand our new blues and soul section with her review of Newfoundlander Cory Tetford's Grace. "The sounds range from loud and boisterous to quiet and melancholy," Rachel says, "but on every track, Cory Tetford's trembling voice and get-lost-in-the-rhythm guitar playing sweep you away."

Wil Owen returns with his second Rambles review, this time focusing on the folk-rockin' world sound of Zuco 103 and Outro Lado. Although there are a few gems on the album, Wil says it falters because of the "late '80s random electronica noise."

Jade Falcon has a contribution for our fledgling new age section: Patrick Canavan and Alar Pahapill's Songs of the Earth. The duo, Jade says, "did an exquisite job creating this album," which tries to capture the sound of a planet's breathing....

Rambles newcomer Mark Gallo joins us today with a review of Beatin' the Heat by Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks. This re-invention of a '70s swing band -- with an impressive array of guest musicians, too -- "more than lives up to the hype," Mark says.

Robert Buck is back today with his review of Ivor Game's Happy Face. "I sincerely liked his rich voice, the pleasant melodies of some of the songs and the charming lyrics," Robert says. "However, there are things that keep me from recommending this as whole heartily as I might have liked."

Tom Knapp turns to the historical fiction of Nigel Tranter, who rights a wrong done by Shakespeare in his portrayal of ancient Scotland. Tranter's MacBeth the King "incorporates a wealth of historical detail," Tom says. "The white-knuckle battle scenes which dominate the final portion of the novel are thrilling, frustrating and ultimately tragic."

Donna Scanlon zips forward in time to the science fiction world of Katie Waitman and The Divided. "Waitman's language is rich and descriptive without bogging the story down, evoking the sights, sounds and even smells of the scenes," Donna says. "Unfortunately, Waitman relies a little too much on coincidence and chance to advance her plot, but otherwise, The Divided is a compelling and thought-provoking tale well worth investigating."

Amy Harlib concludes the fiction section with a duet of historical fantasy novels by Judith Merkle Riley titled A Vision of Light and In Pursuit of the Green Lion. "Riley's stories all feature spunky, smart heroines," Amy says, "who survive and achieve lives of fulfillment and a measure of happiness despite the horrendous oppression of the patriarchal societies (very realistically and accurately portrayed based of the author's extensive research) in which they live."

Our non-fiction page has some pretty eccentric stuff on it, but today we're sticking to the straight and narrow. Amy Harlib was moved to read Esther Williams' autobiography, Million Dollar Mermaid, and she found it good reading. The memoir, Amy says, treats Hollywood society with "respect, clear-eyed candor, and a refreshing frankness that leaves most other run-of-the-mill Hollywood memoirs floundering in its wake."

What Highlander fan hasn't been disappointed by the sequels which followed the landmark first film in the series? And what Highlander fan didn't have high hopes for the success of the latest installment, which brings the stars of the big and little screens together for a dual adventure? Well, Timothy Keene is here to tell you not to place too much faith in Highlander IV: Endgame, which continues the tradition of shoddy sequels....

Miles O'Dometer is in his usual clean-up position, rounding out today's update with his review of Office Space. The movie gets off to a good start but goes sour, Miles says. "Funny gags give out, delightful ironies turn sour and sap replaces wit as the plot ultimately winds down."

26 September 2000

It's another day, so let's get straight to the reason you're here: more reviews!

Tom Knapp absolutely loved Lalla Rookh's second album, Do You Want Kilts with That? ... but the band's first outing, Book One -- Tales and Tradition, impressed him a little less in comparison. It is "a good debut recording," Tom says. "It only pales slightly when compared" to Lalla Rookh's excellent follow-up.

Laurie Thayer has been writing at a feverish pitch lately, and our readers reap the benefits! First up from Laurie today is Kevin Rowsome's The Rowsome Tradition, which explores a family's roots in uilleann piping. "Kevin is obviously very accomplished with his instrument; his flying fingers never miss a note," Laurie says.

Dave Townsend makes his second Rambles appearance with a review of Connie Dover's latest, The Border of Heaven. "Dover's strength, along with her crystal clear, strong soprano voice, is her ability to find both familiar and less familiar Celtic and folk ballads and give then a fresh and timeless sound," Dave assures us.

Laurie is back with her second review for today, Rasa's Devotion. "It's amazing, sort of like Enya with an Indian accent," Laurie says. "Much of the music is slow and sinuous, evoking curls of incense, snake charmers or the slowest belly dance."

Amanda Fisher is next with Lama Gyurme & Jean-Philippe Rykiel's Rain of Blessings: Vajra Chants, which serves as "an accessible introduction to Tibetan Buddhist chants," Amanda says. "I find myself listening to this CD while I'm doing something physical in which a peaceful and meditative approach is beneficial."

Chet Williamson is back to bluegrass with Just Over in Heaven by Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver. Unfortunately, he said, it's not Lawson's best work. "The vocal blend is, as always, very good, but the instrumental work is fairly pedestrian," Chet says.

Paul de Bruijn was happier with Melodies/Improvisations, the latest from jazz/folk guitarist Dan Lambert. Lambert, Paul says, "continues to paint pictures, tell stories and evoke feelings using just a guitar."

J. Higgins-Rosebrook is our final music reviewer for today, popping in with Harvey Reid's In Person. "If you're already a Reid fan, this is a good CD to have as an overview of his work," she says. "If you're new to Reid, buy this CD and learn all about him as an artist and entertainer."

Here's Laurie Thayer again, back with her third review for the day! Switching to the printed word, Laurie introduces us to the latest anthology from Ellen Datlow, one of the most respected editors in the field of speculative fiction. Vanishing Acts focuses on the issue of endangered species, with stories ranging "from the good to the excellent," Laurie says.

Donna Scanlon steps in next with the conclusion of Jane Yolen's Pit Dragon trilogy, A Sending of Dragons. The novel, Donna says, "is a fine finish to the trilogy, with characters displaying consistent growth and maturity involved in a compelling story."

Donna also got a start on the first volume of the new Kate Thompson trilogy, Switchers. "Thompson's plot is completely engrossing, and the characters ... are very well drawn and sympathetic," Donna says. "Know any hungry readers who have already finished the latest Harry Potter? Tell them to try Switchers."

Amanda Fisher wanted to enjoy Ken Carodine's SF-thriller All the Tea, but although the author shows promise, Amanda says he failed to follow through on his potential here. "None of the characters came alive for me," Amanda says, "either in their thought processes or in dialogue."

Amy Harlib usually reviews science fiction for us, but sometimes she wanders into other areas of the written word. Today's entry is fairly far afield: Ralph Lewin's Merde: Excursions in Scientific, Cultural and Socio-Historical Coprology. (In case that's unclear, it means a lot of information about poop.) "The resulting book is a highly unusual, fascinating and bizarrely entertaining reading experience packed with weird data and information the reader may always have wondered about -- but didn't quite know how to broach the subject," Amy says.

Sometimes movies can be great art, with deep meanings. But sometimes they're just good for escapist grins, and that's what Jade Falcon found with Eddie Murphy's Nutty Professor II: The Klumps. "OK, so it's not the fine art of cinema," Jade says. "It's not even the fine of anything ... but one thing this movie is, and that's hilariously funny."

Miles O'Dometer's contribution today is Finding Graceland, a 1998 film starring Harvey Keitel to play, if you can believe it, an aging Elvis Presley. I think I'll let Miles tell you the rest.

That's all for another day. See ya soon!

20 September 2000

The editor has returned from a glorious holiday in Ireland! Somehow, he notes for the record, the cold and rainy weather there was OK; the cold and rainy weather here just plain sucks. Is it perhaps possible that he's not entirely happy to have left Ireland, its gorgeous landscape, it ruins, its narrow roads, its plentiful sheep, its numerous pubs and its amazing music behind?

Well, the world continues to turn regardless. So here we are with a midweek update to keep you busy for a few days, beginning with several Celtic music releases.

Tom Knapp is a big fan of Irish independence, but he also is a strong believer in peace. That's why Spirit of '16's CD Out of the Ashes left a bad taste in his mouth despite a fine delivery of spirited songs. "While they may be a bit militant for my tastes, I can't quibble with their musicianship," Tom says. "They certainly have enthusiasm for their music, however misplaced the intent may be."

Rachel Jagt is next with her sophomore review: Live by a folk-rockin' Celt from Prince Edward Island, Lennie Gallant. "There are two key things that I look for in a live show: the quality of the performance on its own and the energy of the audience," Rachel says. "This recording is strong on both counts."

Jamie O'Brien takes a look at the Spanish side of Celtic music with the Asturian Mining Company's Patrimoniu. "Perhaps the beauty of this band is the clever mingling of distinct styles while retaining the character of a folk tradition," Jamie says, "something many bands attempt but not all succeed at."

Robert Buck joins the Rambles staff today with his review of Gerry O'Beirne's CD Half Moon Bay. O'Beirne, Robert says, "is a largely undiscovered treasure for anyone who likes the contemporary Irish folk music."

Laurie Thayer leaves Celtic music behind, moving to India to hear Chandrakant Sardeshmukh's Celebration 80th Birthday. The album takes some getting used to and may need a patient ear, but Laurie says it's worth the effort.

Laurie also has an offering for our new age section: Elaine Silver's Faerie Goddess. "Silver has a clear, soaring voice that she uses to add mystery or fun to her songs as is appropriate," Laurie says. "Faerie Goddess is at once praise, invocation and fun."

Amanda Fisher has high praise for Laura Love's CD Fourteen Days. "This album has immediately become a family favorite, and it stands with the very best of Love's previous CDs," Amanda says. "She's has such an amazing voice, and the arrangements and song choices are perfect for her extensive range."

Michael Gasser concludes the music portion of today's update with Kate Campbell's Rosaryville. "Even if you not really into singer-songwriters, this CD is a must," Michael says. "Kate Campbell is without doubt one of the most important folk/country artists of our time."

Tom Knapp opens the fiction section today with a side trip to Scotland with Nigel Tranter and Kenneth, the 9th-century king who united his country against their common foes. "If Scottish historical fiction grabs your interest, Tranter is the man to provide it," Tom says. "Kenneth is an excellent starting point in the nation's vivid past."

Julie Bowerman digs into a more humorous vein with Tom Holt's Faust Among Equals -- and finds herself in a well-populated Hell. "With a cast this large, it would seem difficult to keep the plot flowing, but Holt's clever writing and quick cuts among the scenes and players sizzle," Julie says.

Donna Scanlon switches to science fiction for Julie E. Czerneda's Ties of Power. "Once again, Czerneda spins a tale that engrosses the reader from start to finish," Donna says. "Her characters grow and develop, adding subtle dimension to their personalities, and she has a remarkable knack for conceiving of and describing alien cultures."

Amy Harlib is up next with a new twist on an old tale: Wild Angel by Pat Murphy "is faithful to the spirit of Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan tales and Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book Mowgli stories, with a hefty nod to Mark Twain, who is quoted in every epigraph for each chapter," Amy explains. The resulting yarn, she says, "a delightful cross-genre mix with elements of mystery, western and fantasy/adventure infused with a feminist sensibility."

Donna returns with a folklorist's delight: Margaret Read MacDonald's Shake-It-Up Tales! Stories to Sing, Dance, Drum, and Act Out. "MacDonald has done most of the work for you; all that remains for you is to pick up the book, choose a tale and start telling," Donna says.

Amy also is back with Natalie Angier's Woman: An Intimate Geography. The book is the author's "exploration of new theories of female anatomy, physiology, psychology, biology and various permutations of these topics across the life span," Amy says. "In gorgeous prose displaying high style and metaphor, wit and verve, Angier by turns is serious, angry, joyous and loving; at times didactic and hortatory; at other times confessional, the result being a book brimming in information."

Tom Knapp takes a look at another Hellblazer volume from DC's Vertigo line. Damnation's Flame, Tom says, joins writer Garth Ennis with three artists for tales of a magical war, a meeting of someday lovers and a reconciliation of friends.

Miles O'Dometer has another film double-header for us today. First is The Dreamlife of Angels, which Miles describes as "a highly original, multilayered treatise on the difficulty of communicating with and the need to be connected to other human beings."

Next from Miles is Tea with Mussolini, which "offers us a rare look at a little-known side of World War II -- an episode so rare it hasn't even been covered to death by The History Channel," Miles says. It is, he adds, "an offbeat film that viewers most likely will either love or hate. All I suggest is that you watch it -- carefully -- before you choose sides."

Rambles has been earning a fair share of attention lately for its design, content and presentation. Initially we were keeping this stuff on our main links page, but it's grown large enough to require a separate page. So if you're interested, here are our awards to date.

Also, some people who have been buying products from Amazon.com through our Rambles links have expressed concern over recent news reports about Amazon's policies on sharing customer information. I contacted Amazon directly about the matter, and here's what Amazon had to say.

That's it for another day! See you again this weekend!

8 September 2000

The editor is off to Ireland for a long week, but he wants to leave you with a hefty update before he goes. This will, he hopes, keep everyone occupied until his return!

We begin the day, as is our tradition, with a few selections of Celtic roots music. First is Tom Knapp's review of New Zealand teenager Hollie Smith, whose debut album Light from a Distant Shore should make a big splash in Celtic rock. "Smith is only 16 years old, but this is no Britney Spears clone, appealing to the seething teen masses with bubblegum lyrics and dance moves," Tom says. "Her voice is strong, dusky and sensual, and her performance appeals to a more mature class of listener. I expect to hear a lot more from her in the future."

Julie Bowerman expected to go crazy listening to Irish folksinger Seamus Kennedy's new kids' album, Gets on Everybody's Nerves. "I was pleasantly surprised not to be annoyed after all," Julie says. "ItÕs a fun collection of songs."

Patrick Derksen joins the Rambles staff today with a review of In Blue, the latest from Irish folk-rockers, The Corrs. "If there are any complaints, it's that the Corrs seem to be converting to pop-music more and more, and losing the Celtic sound that I loved so much in their first album," Patrick says. "But the good news is that they do 'pop' very well. This album has very layered sound, and the vocals are top-notch as usual."

Ken Fasimpaur, another new addition to our staff, helps expand our new age section with his review of avant-garde guitarist Buckethead's album Colma. "This is meditation with energy, contemplation with an edge, music out on the shifting margins between thought, feeling and action," Ken says. "Not quite calm enough for some new age listeners, not quite loud enough for some rock followers, and not quite intense enough for some guitar fanatics, Colma remains in a genre of its own, while becoming a wonderful example of the possibilities inherent in such new niches."

Donna Scanlon takes a trip to the mountains of Ecuador with Quichua Mashis, whose CD Tantanacui, "rocks." The album, Donna says, has "a fresh, appealing sound that effectively blends the traditional with the contemporary."

Chris Simmons gives us a taste of bluegrass with IIIrd Tyme Out's recent release, John & Mary. Although Chris thought the band might be getting stale, he says this album is "easily IIIrd Tyme Out's finest non-gospel release since their 1993 breakthrough, Grandpa's Mandolin."

Laurie Thayer had no expectations when she popped Baby Fishlips, a CD by Odgers & Simmonds (songwriters from The Men They Couldn't Hang), into her stereo. But she was pleased by what she heard. "This is a great CD," Laurie says, and -- with one exception -- "the songs are all lively and upbeat."

Paul de Bruijn provides our final music review with a.k.a. George and Two Tone Throwback. Although the folk-rock recording "may take a moment to get used to it, the music will pull you in if you let it," Paul says. "Two Tone Throwback is worth the time it may take to become accustomed to the sound."

We have a third new reviewer joining us today; Felonice Merriman switches our focus to fiction with Anne Rice's recent novel Vittorio the Vampire. For this tale, Felonice says, Rice "draws upon the works of Fra Filippo Lippi and Fra Angelico, the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, and the history of the de Medici family to paint a beautiful backdrop for this story."

Donna Scanlon next delves into some historical fiction with Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris's Queen's Own Fool: A Novel of Mary, Queen of Scots. It is, Donna says, a "shining example" of the genre.

Amanda Fisher is less impressed with Jane E. Hartman's Hatchet Harbor: A Maine Coast Adventure. "I am amazed," says Amanda, "that someone who has experience in writing -- who has had books accepted and published -- manages to ignore the basic rules of fiction writing so thoroughly."

Amy Harlib, one of our most productive book reviewers, today visits with the "grand dame of fantastic fiction," Andre Norton, for her recent novel Wind in the Stone. "This fantasy novel represents Norton in top form," Amy says, "rendering a classic struggle between good and evil with a refreshing cast of interesting characters, emotionally gripping situations, intriguing background and deftly crafted wordsmithing."

Amy also wanders into fields of non-fiction and spirituality with Tudor Parfitt's engaging text, The Thirteenth Gate: Travels Among the Lost Tribes of Israel. "This colorful, penetrating and utterly fascinating account, in which truth is stranger than fiction, stirs the readers imagination with its sensitive portrayal of people on the margins of Judaism and gives the question of who is a Jew whole new dimensions," Amy says.

Beth Derochea (who has been absent too long from these pages) returns today with a review of Selected Poems and Three Plays by William Butler Yeats and edited by M.L. Rosenthal. "For any person desiring a good standard of Yeats' work," says Beth, "this book is excellent."

Tom Knapp ventures outside the comics mainstream and into Kurt Busiek's Astro City. Tom read the first collection, Life in the Big City, "fresh and exciting, and ... as close to real as superhero stories can be."

Tom has been enjoying his retrospective of James Bond films (something, we're told, that "respectable" cultural arts magazines would never dare sully their hands with), but he was less happy about the time he spent watching the 1967 attempted spoof, Casino Royale, with David Niven, Peter Sellers and a host of others filling the shoes of 007. "Continuity is nonexistent and the plot is muddled at best," Tom says. "There are a few gems scattered here and there, but they're fairly rare."

Miles O'Dometer took a look at 1996's Lone Star, a film about a Texas range war which "can be a challenging film to watch. Not all the loose ends get tied up, and it's often at odds with itself over the nature of justice. But the music is great, the characters unpredictable and the action intriguing if not rapid-fire."

Miles also takes a look at an unusual collection of re-released movies: The Black Experience Collection, which includes films made primarily in the 1930s and '40s for black audiences. The series, Miles says, "takes us back to an age few of us can recall and offers us an unedited look at a time when an unconscionable wrong was perpetrated against an entire segment of our population. Better yet, it gives us an appreciation for the people who took that wrong and turned it into something that was oh so right."

That's it for Rambles today. See you back in a week, after the editor returns from his Irish holiday!

3 September 2000

Tom Knapp begins this muggy weekend's update with a refreshing CD from Irish accordion player Mary Staunton. Bright Early Mornings, Tom says, may have changed his mind about the accordion.

Jamie O'Brien is next with an unusual release from Cape Breton: The Tin Sandwich by harmonica player Tommy Basker. "His playing is perfect for both dancing and listening to: the rhythms and tempos trigger the urge to start tapping feet and swinging legs; and the melodies are infectious," Jamie says.

Our third Celtic music review today is from a new addition to the Rambles staff, the seemingly prolific Rachel Jagt. Today she makes her debut with Aengus Finnan's Fool's Gold. The lyrics, Rachel says, "are poetic and touching, and, as it turned out, form only the base of a well-rounded and thought-provoking debut from this Irish-born, Canadian-raised singer-songwriter. It's been a long time since I've been rendered breathless by a song, but it happened a few times the first time I listened to Aengus Finnan's Fool's Gold."

Also new to Rambles today is Dave Townsend, who gets his start with the folk-rockin' Survival by Stephanie Fix. "Stephanie's songs take the best elements of rock and folk music and combine them with intelligent, thoughtful lyrics, sung with a strong, confident-sounding alto voice," Dave says.

Chet Williamson turns to bluegrass with the Monroe Brothers and What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul? Although based on very early recordings, Chet says, "the music is so filled with energy and spontaneity that the flaws scarcely matter."

Next, J. Higgins-Rosebrook gets folky with Harvey Reid's Fruit on the Vine. "Reid's music is about as all-American as it gets," she says. "Blues, bluegrass, spirituals, Appalachian, Cajun, all stand out in his music, along with the sea and woods of northern New England where he has made his home for over 20 years."

Our final music review for today is from Paul de Bruijn, who heard jazzy Dr. Dan's Dan on the Moon, which Paul says is "one of those albums which grab you with the first note and don't let go until the last note fades away. Each song is a seamless whole, and each one is a joy to listen to."

Donna Scanlon turns to folklore and the telling of stories with Lorna MacDonald Czarnota and Medieval Tales That Kids Can Read & Tell. "The book has many strengths, with a brilliant range in the stories," Donna says. "Certainly, it is an excellent starting point for what could become a lifelong interest."

Charlie Gebetsberger explores history with Simon James' The World of the Celts. The book, Charlie says, "is an entertaining and informative read that does not over-intellectionalize or dump just straight facts, but informs and teaches in a more direct, everyday way."

Laurie Thayer leads off a trio of fiction reviews her take on the latest from Will Shetterly, the novel Chimera. "Chimera is the literary equivalent of genetic splicing between film noir and science fiction with great results," Laurie says. "The story is fast-paced and interesting and although the reader may be relatively sure where it's going to end up, there's no clear path for it to get there."

Donna Scanlon is next with Geraldine McCaughrean's The Stones are Hatching. "This is a spell-binding book, lyrically written with passages of breathtaking imagery and poetry," Donna says. "McCaughrean's handling of the folkloric elements is deft and chilling, edged with dark and mystery."

Amy Harlib handles the third, Jim Grimsley's new fantasy saga. "Kirith Kirin," Amy says, "a uniquely elegant and creative fantasy saga, dense and intricate in text, complete in one volume, is highly recommended to open-minded readers ready and willing to truly lose themselves in a wondrous, fantastic other world."

Amy also has a treat for us in the area of visual arts: Dick Jude's Fantasy Art Masters: The Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Artists Show How They Work. "Fantasy Art Masters offers an impressive range of the various styles, techniques and choices of subject matter available to be seen within the ever-growing realm of fantasy art," Amy says, "dramatically presenting evidence of the endless potential for new techniques made possible by technologies that advance almost hourly."

Miles O'Dometer will soon hang up his hat as a movie reviewer and return to his secluded goat farm for some peace and quiet, but he's not quite ready to turn his back on society yet. So let's enjoy him while we got 'im! Miles has two entries for us today, starting with 1999's EdTV. "Blessed with a funny idea and a great cast, director Ron Howard would seem to be on easy street with EdTV," Miles says. "But media examinations of media overkill are laced with land mines, and Howard steps on a few on his way to an otherwise satisfying and fitfully funny piece of social satire."

Things turn a little more serious with The General. It is both "a bleak and glorious portrait" of Dublin crook Martin Cahill, Miles says, and is told with "a cast of characters who can out-act most Academy Award-wining leads."

28 August 2000

There has been some demand for this, so we have complied. The music section now has a category for new age music. (Don't you hate it when people write "New Age" music as if there were a reason it had to be capitalized, but then they write "jazz," "folk" and other styles as if they were of lesser importance, for which small letters suffice?) It's not a huge section as of yet, but we expect to see if grow.

In fact, Crystal Kocher has a new entry already: Govinda's O Earthly Gods. "This is music for dark nights, for passion, for looking inside and embracing what you find," Crystal says. "This is the kind of music that can transform our mundane lives into something a little more exotic, if only for a short while."

Crystal also reviewed the latest Celtic/world traditions album from Kate Price. The Isle of Dreaming, Crystal says, "is a showcase for her ever-maturing sound, offering more depth and emotion than her previous releases."

Tom Knapp had a blast listening to Jerry Holland's The Fiddlesticks Collection, an album of Holland's Cape Breton-style tunes. "There's a lot to learn here for fiddlers interested in improving their art; there's more than enough to captivate fans of fiddle music," Tom says.

Kristy Tait was recently exposed to the music of Clannamore via the duo's live recording, Beer, Bawd & Ballads. Although it failed to capture the high energy of a live performance, Kristy says the album "provides a collection of great music, and features some really excellent pieces to sing or simply tap along to."

Jo Morrison found a lot to like on The Captain's Collection, a musical anthology of Scottish traditional tunes collected by Capt. Simon Fraser. "Instrumentation, fine performances and excellent arrangements make this recording worthy of its title," Jo says.

Stephanie Giamundo shares music from Hungary -- with a slight Celtic twist -- when she reviews Márta Sebestyén's album Kismet. "Purchasing Kismet was one of the smartest choices IÕve made," Stephanie says. "The music stands apart from the rest of my collection, and has opened me up to a new genre of wonderful music."

Chet Williamson makes a contribution to our new blues page with R.L. Burnside's My Black Name A-Ringin'. "You want authenticity, you got it," Chet says.

New Rambles writer Wil Owen exposes us to the folk-rock sounds of the British band Equation and the album Hazy Days. "If you have enjoyed groups like the Corrs or October Project, I think you would find this group a welcome addition to your collection," Wil suggests. "There is not a bad song on it."

Donna Scanlon browsed through Hugin the Bard's A Bard's Book of Pagan Songs: Stories and Music from the Celtic World, a book and CD set. "Overall, Hugin does a good job in retelling the stories, breaking them down into a simpler style but capturing the essence," Donna says.

Daina Savage shifts our attention to poetry with Sharon Olds and The Gold Cell. "Confessional in nature, her poetry is masterfully crafted," Daina says. "Beauty is the redeeming force in her poetry."

Julie Bowerman had her eyes opened a bit when she read Last Chance to See, a collaboration between British humorist Douglas Adams and zoologist Mark Carwardine. The book, which focuses on endangered species, "brilliantly brings the environmental situation to the readers, evoking gasps, laughter and tears," Julie says.

Chet Williamson, already a prolific music reviewer, expands his focus today with this look at the Andrew Vachss novel Dead and Gone. "The novel is filled with rich and enigmatic characters, dark and gritty settings, and terse, ice-cold prose," Chet says. "It is a stark, compassionate and strangely different novel by one of the most original and ferocious voices in American fiction."

J. Higgins-Rosebrook steps back in time to the world of Archimedes with Gillian Bradshaw's new historical novel The Sand-Reckoner. "I recommend the book to anyone interested in the ancient Greeks or in history in general," she says. "I recommend it further as a crafted work in terms of use of language."

Chris Simmons got an advance preview of Tim Powers' new novel Declare. The book, Chris says, is "Powers' wildly successful attempt to combine a John LeCarré-style spy novel with his own inimitable mix of fantasy and horror."

Tom Knapp doesn't review many Marvel publications for our graphic novels section, primarily because Marvel doesn't crank them out the way DC and some of their competitors do. Marvel prefers collected editions -- and here's one worth reading. Fantastic Four: Heroes Reborn gives a new start to Marvel's classic superhero team with excellent results.

Timothy Keene saw the Japanese attempt to reclaim their monster from Hollywood in the new Godzilla 2000. "The sad thing about this movie is that while movie-making technology has progressed to never-before-seen heights, the majority of the technology behind the latest Godzilla flick hasn't changed much," Tim says. However, "this movie does a splendid job of reminding everyone who the real King of Monsters is."

Miles O'Dometer has an Affliction, and it is good. The film, Miles says, is "hauntingly beautiful ... as much a tone poem as a narrative." Unfortunately, he adds, Affliction is "a powerful film with bravura performances and an important message that just can't seem to say what's on its mind."

25 August 2000

Because of the incredible amount of overlap between the two genres and general confusion among readers and writers alike, the music previously categorized under "British traditions" has been merged with the "Celtic traditions" section here at Rambles. Please find those reviews filed here.

23 August 2000

The editor has returned from his wilderness excursion and, tired though he be, has put together another big and bang-up addition to Rambles. We apologize for the slight delay in this update ... but at least we didn't take a whole week off, right?

Tom Knapp brings this back into focus with his review of Lalla Rookh's new album, Do You Want Kilts with That? This Celtic band from Colorado "is more than the sum of its parts," Tom says. "All five band members have good, strong voices, and each is an accomplished musician. Their arrangements are well-conceived, and the few original tunes on the album had me hoping for more. Combined, they make up a band you should be sure to hear."

Jo Morrison is next with Debateable Lands by Kathryn Tickell, a piper drawing on the roots of northern England and Scotland. "It is through the combination of excellent instrumental performances and superb arrangement choices that this collection of tunes shines," Jo says.

Crystal Kocher travels the world with Sam Cardon and Kurt Bestor for Innovators, a musical biography of some of history's unsung heroes. "The stories behind the music are as intriguing and fascinating as the music itself," Crystal says. "The music is heroic, uplifting, full of grief and of joy -- a perfect companion for the stories."

Chet Williamson gave a listen to Bruce Molsky's old-timey recording Poor Man's Troubles and came away partly satisfied. "This is some of the best old-time music you're likely to hear, and the singing, if not superb, is more than acceptable," Chet says. However, "the lack of variety can become tiresome."

Michael Gasser goes a folk-rockier route with Kenny Meeks and Tell My Angel. "Meeks is a master of tasteful arrangements, who knows where to put his licks to the best effect possible," Michael says. "He doesn't go for the cheap thrills, still he gets what he wants: a steaming mix of soul, country and rock. His abilities on several guitars, the mandola and the harmonica are also noteworthy."

Paul de Bruijn is back with another look at jazz guitarist Dan Lambert. Lambert's CD Plaids, Paul says, "continues to enthrall and enchant, pulling you in with the first note and not letting you go until the last note has faded away."

Kevin McCarthy has today's final CD review: Tom Flannery's Songs About a Train. "Flannery has a lot to say about the merits of the unspectacular, small-town life and the interwoven lives of the inhabitants, and he does it well here," Kevin says. "His voice and delivery often seem understated, but this effectively draws the listener in to the lyrics and content of each song."

Tom Knapp stumbled onto a chance to see Black 47 perform at the Connecticut Irish Festival in North Haven, and it was a chance he couldn't pass up. It was a lively, fun-filled show despite numerous technical difficulties, Tom says. "What could have been a disaster was overcome by the band's persistence and the crowd's unflappable enthusiasm."

Bree Delian had the good fortune to interview Irish fiddler Martin Hayes. Read what Hayes has to say about his art and "expressing the pure, unbridled joy of music."

Audrey Clark enjoys good fiction for young adults, and so she was delighted to find Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat. The book "reads like a series of connected short stories, almost like snapshots," Audrey says. "It's Weetzie's attitude, ultimately -- a charming combination of youthful innocence and faith together with wisdom street-girl know-how -- that makes Weetzie Bat a novel I'll come back to again."

Next, Donna Scanlon revisits the writing of Graham Joyce. Joyce's first novel, Dreamside, has just been released in the U.S., and Donna says she "found it as gripping as I have his other novels."

Kristy Tait was looking forward to reading Such a Pretty Face, a collection of short stories about "plus-sized characters" in fantasy and science fiction settings. But the book, edited by Lee Martindale, only partly hit its mark. "As a collection of stories, Such a Pretty Face pulls together some well-written and entertaining stories," Kristy says. "As a collection of stories about people of size, it often feels forced and contrived."

Conor O'Connor wraps up the fiction section with Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky. The science fiction novel, Conor says, is "a great long rib-roaring read, with enough subtleties and depth ... to mark it as exceptional, making it a perfect companion for lazy summer days."

Audrey Clark found an audio tribute to Beat icon Jack Kerouac in Kerouac: kicks joy darkness, in which Kerouac's poems and essays are recorded by various well-known artists. "I humbly propose that this recording would have pleased Kerouac: a collection of artists from different backgrounds and mediums, converging to experiment with sound, language, and meaning, which was ultimately what Kerouac was all about," Audrey says.

Daina Savage sticks with poetry for Marge Piercy's What Are Big Girls Made Of? "Piercy is acutely aware of her own body, exulting in fecundity in poems like 'Belly Good,' as well as celebrating the larger body of the world that surrounds her," Daina says. "She writes passionately of what it is to be woman, what it is to be human."

Julie Bowerman learned a whole lot about pigs in Gay Balliet's Lowell: the True Story of an Existential Pig, the latest addition to our non-fiction page. "If you're just looking for a page-turner about pigs, skip the first three quarters of this one," Julie says. "The extensive dialogue is stilted, integrating paragraph-long diatribes against incapable pet owners and the terrible suffering that results."

Tom Knapp opens the movie section with another in his series of James Bond reviews. Today's entry is Moonraker, a low point in the Roger Moore years. "Moonraker was a poor attempt to cash in on the science fiction craze which followed the 1977 release of Star Wars," Tom says. "But Bond isn't Han Solo, and scenes of him lasering the "Death Satellites" above the Earth's atmosphere is just too far over the top, even for a Bond film."

And, lastly, Miles O'Dometer closes the day with his review of Cookie's Fortune, in which murder and suicide make for a confusing investigation in an antebellum cotton town. "Cookie's Fortune has something to say about family, but it falls at least a foot short of deep," Miles says. "(Director Robert) Altman's sense of humor, however, is right on the mark."

12 August 2000

The editor is off to the wilderness for a week, but we don't like to leave our readers without anything to pass the time while he's gone. So here's another jumbo update to keep you busy!

Tom Knapp recently reviewed the first Dervish album, The Boys of Sligo. Now he's back with the band's first real splash, the album which introduced singer Cathy Jordan to the world, Harmony Hill. "Mix the songs with some of the best instrumental sets ever burned onto a disc, and you've got an album worth playing time and time again," Tom says. "And remember ... the band only gets better from here."

While Tom has your attention, he'd also like to share with you an Irish singer and jokester named Seamus Kennedy. The album, Let the Music Take You Home, is a lot of fun, Tom says, and "Kennedy's voice is perfect for his witty style of performance."

Perhaps you remember Timothy Keene's recent, vitriolic review of Aionios II. Well, the husband-and-wife team didn't rest with just a single album, and this time it's Jade Falcon's turn at bat. She wasn't any fonder of the duo's CD A Mystical Experience. "All I've experienced," Jade says," is slight pain and boredom."

Chet Williamson was a whole lot happier with a pair of recent re-releases ... and we'll use Chet's pleasure as the means to introduce a new music section to Rambles. Branching off from our folk traditions section is a new area devoted to blues and soul, and that's where you'll find Chet's reviews of Don't Mistreat a Fool by David "Honeyboy" Edwards and Little Brother Montgomery's
No Special Rider. "Adelphi/Genes is performing a real service for blues fans, re-releasing great old blues sessions on CD, and these two are a real treat, giving us a shot of both acoustic guitar and piano blues that's hard to beat," Chet says.

That's not all, we've also added a new country music section as well! There has been enough demand, from both Rambles writers and country musicians, that we could no longer refuse ... so take a look! It's fairly small now, but we expect it to grow rapidly.

Two new sections, and a new writer, too! Meet Ronnie D. Lankford Jr., whose first Rambles review is the jazz album Swing Guitar Masterpieces, 1938-1957 by Oscar Alemán. "All of Alemán's solos ebb and flow with a subtle but complex progression," Ronnie says. "This collection is highly recommended for lovers of swing jazz or anyone who appreciates excellent guitar playing."

Michael Gasser is next with folksinger Steve Brooks' Bulletproof. "When poignancy, humour, humanity and poetic licences were handed out, he must have been on the receiving end for a considerable amount of time," Michael says, "because he possesses all these qualities in almost alarming dimensions."

Michael also has a review of the self-titled release from Rockwell Church. "If your taste didn't get stuck in the '70s, but you still somehow miss the great harmonies of that time, then you should go to the nearest record dealer and ask for Rockwell Church," Michael says of this folk-rock CD. "You'll find impeccable singing and a modern approach to pop and folk."

Tom Knapp recently saw Seven Nations live -- and was surprised to come away disappointed. Read why Tom feels the band has lost its edge.

Folklore fans will enjoy today's review from Donna Scanlon: More Ready-to-Tell Tales From Around the World, edited by David Holt and Bill Mooney. "Not everyone who picks up this title has dreams of becoming a professional storyteller," Donna says, "but surely everyone can benefit by learning to tell a good story well."

Laurie Thayer kicks off our fiction section today with an early fantasy novel by Charles de Lint, The Harp of the Grey Rose. It is a good fantasy yarn, Laurie says, but is "neither ground-shaking nor trail-blazing," and it demonstrates why de Lint found his niche in urban, not high, fantasy realms.

Adam Lipkin, a too-rare visitor to these pages, today gives us a Laurell K. Hamilton novel not set in the world of the Nike-clad vampire slayer, Anita Blake. Hamilton begins a new series with A Kiss of Shadows, a book of sweaty-palmed modern fantasy. "Hamilton has grown into her own as a writer, and in spite of the occasional bump in the road..., she has put together a first-rate novel that toes the line between fantasy and erotica."

Audrey Clark turns to fiction for young adults with Suzanne Fisher Staples' Shiva's Fire. "Staples presents a well-researched view of Indian culture," Audrey says. "Her descriptions of the characters and settings employ a strong, clear use of language; Indian life is seen in its entirety, without overkill on descriptions or definitions. The end result is an evocative image of a country about which most young readers only have a general knowledge."

Debbie Gayle Rose provides our dose of poetry for today with C.E. Amestoy's Making Millennium. "These poems sing," Debbie says. "They are excellently written and emotionally moving."

Miles O'Dometer has two movie reviews for us today. First is Little Voice, about a "psychotically shy songbird" with a voice beyond compare. The movie, Miles says, "is a sweet film, hysterical at times, at other times thoughtful or even scary."

Finally for this week, Miles offers his review of Down in the Delta, the directorial debut of poet Maya Angelou. "Though she sometimes falls back on the visual cliche, and skeptics might think she's put a little too much sap in the family tree, Angelou has put her poet's eyes, ears and sensibilities to good use here," Miles says. "Her film is as sensuous as it is sensitive."

6 August 2000

Ziya Reynolds is delighted by the very non-traditional Celtic stylings on the debut CD Swagger by the Celtic punk band Flogging Molly. "If you like Irish folk give Flogging Molly a try -- they may just surprise you," Ziya says. "If you like punk, the same statement applies; these guys can thrash with the best."

Tom Knapp is next with classical/Celtic violinist David Davidson and his new CD Celtic Fantasy. "I'm too much of a purist to truly enjoy repeated playings of this CD," Tom admits. "However, if you enjoy new age music or modern approaches to classical, this one has a place on your shelf."

John Cross switches gears with Margot Leverett's The Art of the Klezmer Clarinet. "The music is jubilant, human, danceable or soulful, woeful and sorrowful," John says, "like a loon on a lake at sunset, or a mourning dove's plaintive moan outside your window at the country house."

Julie Bowerman wasn't sure what to expect from the Hong Kong Dragon Club. What she found on the CD Take Out was jazz with a flavor of Chinese instrumentation. "The unusual but beautifully harmonic sounds of the traditional Chinese instruments work well in the jazz format," Julie says. "I would love to see them played."

Laurie Thayer had a taste of Derek Swain's country-folk album Simple Things. She describes it as "a nice, simple CD, with pleasant melodies."

MTV is certainly no great stronghold for folk music, but it did generate some interesting variations on a theme when it convinced top-notch musicians to unplug their equipment and play acoustically. Dan Ford takes a look at the product of one of these records -- specifically, 10,000 Maniacs and MTV Unplugged. It is, Dan says, "a well-made album that brought the Natalie Merchant era, for the Maniacs at least, to a graceful close."

Tom Knapp recently had a chance to chat with Dan Stacey, the fiddler who helped to redefine the sound of Seven Nations. Find out how a Canadian fiddler and stepdancer made a place for himself in the world of bagpipe rock.

Tom also reviewed a recent performance by the energetic Canadian band Enter the Haggis. Read what made hearing this "lively, fun and infectious band" such a treat!

Daina Savage recalls the power of poetry put forth by Maya Angelou in her write-up of a talk we call singing, swaying and shouting. "Words flicked from her fingertips, curled around her hips, tapped out their own rhythms in the click, stomp and scuff of her feet," Daina recalls.

Audrey Clark found a ton of material -- music, fiction, poetry and more -- on Bob MacKenzie's release Assume Nothing. Audrey says the package "may seem amateurish in production" but "there's a very professional dedication to the energy and variety that live performance offers."

Audrey also was moved by the powerful tale in Laurie Halse Anderson's novel Speak. "Speak is an eloquent first novel which marks Laurie Halse Anderson's place as an important new voice in young adult literature."

Amy Harlib provides a dose of science fiction with John Meaney's second novel, Paradox. "Meaney sustains suspense with his skillful writing, right up until the satisfying end while leaving hints for sequels to come which readers will crave," Amy says. "This book should not be missed by serious aficionados of SF literature."

Donna Scanlon returns to the world of "Victory" Nelson with the fourth in Tanya Huff's vampire series, Blood Pact. Fans of the series may be caught off guard by the ending.

Debbie Gayle Rose explores a facet of Wicca with True Magick by Amber K. "Amber K's book should be the first one read on the subject and then reread again and again," Debbie says. "Very few books are as solidly written and as valuable as this one."

Miles O'Dometer is back with his review of the film Fly Away Home, which teams "an orphaned teen with a whole gaggle of orphaned geese." It is "strictly formula film-making," Miles says, and yet it's "bound to delight the senses again and again."

The day ends with another addition to the James Bond review; Tom Knapp takes a look at the third Roger Moore film in the series, The Spy Who Loved Me. "This ranks as the best Bond of the Moore years," Tom says, "and one of the high points in the entire series."

31 July 2000

The summer is flying by, and July is coming to a close. In case you didn't visit Rambles in the past few days, be sure to read beyond today's update for all the new material added to our site on July 26!

Tom Knapp was inspired by attending a recent Dervish concert to go back and review his Dervish collection -- a must-have set of CDs for any Irish music fan. Today, he goes back to the beginning with The Boys of Sligo, the band's first album from the days before Cathy Jordan joined their ranks. "Discounting the very noticeable absence of Jordan's sterling vocals, The Boys of Sligo successfully shows a band at the beginnings of greatness," Tom says.

Tom also had a treat listening to Full Circle, a new release of old recordings by Cape Breton fiddler Bill Lamey. "All in all, it's a great package for anyone with an interest in Cape Breton music," Tom says. "It's very easy to overlook the failings of the primitive recordings and get lost in the feeling of the moment -- an important musical tradition being kept alive and spreading through the enthusiasm and dedication of one of its early masters."

Donna Scanlon squeaks into today's update with a pair of East Indian CDs which manage to be "soothing without being dull or soporific." Check out the rest of her review on In Tune With You and Just in Time ... Just for You! by Raj Rangayan and Utpal Mazumdar.

Kristy Tait is next with the folky Joyce Woodson album Capistrano Girl. "Woodson holds this album together with her voice, which is just beautiful," Kristy says. "The overall feeling of this album is a nostalgic and personal one, which feels very sincere, straightforward and genuine."

Paul de Bruijn approaches the jazzier side of folk with Dan Lambert's The Clearing. "Lambert's guitar-playing is spectacular," Paul says. "Somehow, Dan Lambert managed to create poems using music for words."

J. Higgins-Rosebrook gets back to the basics with 1960s folksinger Shawn Phillips, whose album I'm a Loner has been re-released. "For a solid nostalgia hit or if you are curious about coffeehouse singers way back when, I recommend this CD to you."

Debbie Gayle Rose goes to a rockabilly end of the spectrum with Tommy Conwell and the Little Kings on Sho' Gone Crazy. "It is not often that a CD comes along with every song a winner and played with such skill and obvious love of the genre," Debbie says.

Tom Knapp gets a lesson in a new style of fiddling from Mary Ann Harbar in Mel Bay's Gypsy Violin. The tunebook and CD set, Tom says, "is a great place to learn the technique."

Laurie Thayer (who deserves our best wishes for her upcoming wedding!) leads off the fiction section with Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana. "Kay's great strength lies in his characterization," says Laurie. "He does not tell simple stories, but reveals tales as vastly detailed and intricately woven as Celtic knotwork."

Next, Audrey Clark takes a look at Chocolat by Joanne Harris. "Chocolat is a delicious little novel, full of many flavors; Joanne Harris has created a beautiful, moving story that you shouldn't pass over."

Ziya Reynolds is back with her review of Midori Snyder's western fantasy, The Flight of Michael McBride. Snyder, Ziya says, "has written a moving story of a boy's self-discovery as well as a rollicking, and occasionally frightening, adventure filled with cowboys, fairy horses, ancient tales and the dust of the trail."

Daina Savage has today's poetry addition: Mary Oliver's American Primitive. Oliver "wakes us to the wonders of the world," Daina says. "Her poetry is an invitation to amazement, a way to find something startling and stunning in the commonplace."

We have two new theater releases for your consumption today. First, Timothy Keene takes a look at the new Shaft, starring Samuel L. Jackson. Unfortunately, Tim says, the new Shaft doesn't entirely measure up to its 1971 precursor.

Julie Bowerman (with the aid of her son, Kyle) reviewed the new children's film Thomas and the Magic Railroad. "It's not too intricate for the younger fans to follow and it's complex enough to keep the adults awake," Julie says.

And, back in the video archives, Tom Knapp continues on his Bond retrospective. Up today is Timothy Dalton's second (and final) outing as Bond, in Licence to Kill. Although Dalton isn't a great Bond, the storyline here is tense and riveting, Tom says. "Don't let Dalton's participation scare you away -- this is one for the books."

26 July 2000

Donna Scanlon leads off our midweek update with a review of the second release from Ian Melrose, Between the Sighs. "Melrose's interpretations reflect thoughtful selection and skillful, evocative execution" of his Celtic-themed music, Donna says.

Julie Bowerman isn't too pleased that she wandered afield with Wild Mountain Thyme. The band's 1998 album Of Moose & Men begins with a series of tunes Julie says are "quite pretty," but when they try to get funny, "they lose control of the music. The vocals are shouted, the harmonies jar."

Tom Knapp flashes back to 1994 with Dead Can Dance's live CD, Toward the Within. "Have you heard Dead Can Dance before? Toward the Within may surprise you," Tom says. "If you haven't heard them ... what are you waiting for?"

Chet Williamson marks his 50th Rambles review with this enthusiastic piece on Silent Ground by the bluegrass band Front Range. "It's such a pleasure to find a bluegrass album with a traditional sound, yet which exudes a feeling of freshness and a sense of never-heard-it-before," Chet says.

Tim O'Laughlin provides a doubleshot of jazzy, folky Josh White Jr. with his review of Jazz, Ballads & Blues, White's 1986 recording with jazz violinist Robin Batteau, and House of the Rising Son, his 1999 tribute to his father, guitar legend Josh White Sr. "Both of these CDs are treasures," Tim says. "I cannot recommend them more highly."

Audrey Clark was dazzled by Eric Anderson's You Can't Relive the Past. The album, Audrey says, "moves Anderson another step forward in creating his own musical history."

Paul de Bruijn goes country-folk-rocky with the Wilkinsons' Here and Now. "This is one fine CD, and even if you don't like country you should give it a try," Paul says. "Some of the songs are quite touching, others are fun, but they are all good."

Tom Knapp returns to Arthurian tales with King & Raven by Cary James -- where we learn that a peasant's point of view is very different from the perspective of a king, queen or knight. "It's not always a pleasant or easy view to take," Tom says, "but it carries a ring of authenticity."

Audrey Clark brings poetry back to Rambles after a long absence. Today, she addresses Tony Crunk's Living in the Resurrection. Crunk, Audrey says, "moves through these poems with the ease of one long-acquainted with the craft, never failing to offer up to the light the things he has discovered along the way."

Audrey also shares her impressions of Jane Yolen's updated fairy tale Briar Rose. Focusing on the cold brutality of the Holocaust in Poland, the book "speaks with unflinching and brutal honesty. It tells the truth -- as much as fiction can," Audrey says. "Yet that truth reveals one much deeper -- the ability of people and stories to overcome and endure."

Laurie Thayer seemed to devour The Tower at Stony Wood, the latest novel from Patricia A. McKillip. "McKillip here weaves her own tapestry of war and revenge, peace and magic and the contentment that comes of finding one's own place in the world," Laurie says. "As with all of McKillip's books, you'll want to savor every word, especially as she packs so much into so few."

Donna Scanlon read Jan Siegel's Prospero's Children, the start of a trilogy rooted in tales of Atlantis. "Siegel's narrative is engrossing, taut with suspense and tension," Donna says. "Her command and control of language is remarkable."

Tom Knapp celebrates Christmas in July with Marvel. It's Ant-Man's Big Christmas; "There are no great moral lessons here, and the various solutions used to transform an extended family of holiday Scrooges are no match for Dickens' time-warping ghosts," Tom says, "but it's a witty and clever seasonal romp nonetheless."

Miles O'Dometer has the day off today; instead, we have two new movie features to share. First, Tom Knapp gives his views on the comic-book adaptation X-Men. "X-Men manages to avoid many of the stereotypes attached to 'comic-book' movies," Tom says. "The special effects are convincing, but never exceed the importance of the story and its issues of bigotry and hatred."

Timothy Keene turned in a surprise bonus review of the new X-Men film. We don't usually duplicate efforts, but since he applauds the film for entirely different reasons, you can read his opinions here.

Donna Scanlon ends our double-feature with her review of the popular claymation adventure, Chicken Run. "There's action, adventure, humor and romance -- indeed, something for everyone," Donna says. "If you're one of the eleven people who hasn't seen this movie yet -- make it part of your plan for the week now."

And, last up for today, we have Julie Bowerman's rambling, Epiphany upon the road less traveled. You won't look at wrong turns the same way again!

21 July 2000

It's a beautiful day, but thunderboomers are in the forecast. Sounds like time for a Rambles update!

Tom Knapp found hits and misses in Helter's Celtic, the latest recording from Cape Breton fiddler Ashley MacIsaac. "MacIsaac continues to push the boundaries of music, and it's nice to hear that he's retaining some aspects of his Cape Breton traditions in even his wildest explorations," Tom says. However, MacIsaac stretches his vocal cords on several tracks and, Tom notes, "as a singer, he makes a great fiddler."

Tom also has the self-titled release from the Prodigals. "If you need one good reason to buy this album, you'll find it on track two: 'Ballybay.' This lively, rap-like and, yes, traditional song tells the tale of a one-legged woman, her courtships, marriage, widowhood and such," Tom says. "Trust me, you'll love it!"

Chet Williamson gives us a bluegrass flair with Alan Bibey's In the Blue Room. It's a good album but not without flaws, Chet says. "Though there are moments of brilliance, the whole never quite gels the way that bluegrass at its best should do, especially in the vocal tracks."

There's some real hatred here in Timothy Keene's review of Aionios II by the husband-and-wife duo Aionios. "To be honest, I can't recommend this CD to anyone," Tim says. "In fact, the only people who should seek this CD out are people with revenge on their minds or parents who want to punish their children for doing something really, REALLY bad."

Donna Scanlon seemed to enjoy the majority of Steve Lacey's CD Habits of a Lifetime (Better Late Than Never). "Lacey's guitar playing and musical composition are his strengths; the poetry of his lyrics sometimes needs work and his choices of songs should be compatible with his voice to be most effective," she explains.

Paul de Bruijn says Mike Dekle's folk-rockin' album Finely Tuned "has a few rough spots, but for the most part it shines and gives the listener a heck of a good folk album."

Richard Cochrane goes jazzy with Bonehouse's album Click. The duo, he says, has "a nice knack of changing the music's direction quickly and with apparent ease, cutting a loud passage to a whisper, or allowing a drone-based section to become suddenly pointillistic."

Tom Knapp had a chance to chat with Ellen Irmisch, the driving force behind Toronto's Scottish dance sensation, the Tartan Terrors. Check out what Ellen has to say!

Tom delved into the culture of modern Ireland with Fintan O'Toole's collection of contemporary essays, The Ex-Isle of Erin. "O'Toole shines a bright light on many of Ireland's accomplishments in the past century, but he also pulls no punches -- he'll honestly discuss the various failings, too."

Donna Scanlon was happy to read Spindle's End, the latest by fantasy author Robin McKinley. "McKinley's novel sprawls but does not drag; she spins her tale with an eye to just the right details to enhance and build the story in careful, cohesive layers," Donna says. "Her writing is lively, often humorous and tongue-in-cheek as she tweaks fairy tale conventions to suit her tale."

Next, Conor O'Connor takes us to the science fiction section for George Turner's Down There in Darkness. Conor appreciates the complexity of the book's plot and lauds the "manner in which it explores the depths of the human mind."

Audrey Clark is back with another Tom Robbins novel; this time, she takes us into his world of Skinny Legs and All. "Robbins has a true gift for making the surreal real, for uncovering all the strange nuances of human existence and making us laugh at ourselves in the process," Audrey says. "Equally disarming, provocative and laugh-out-loud funny, Tom Robbins proves once again that he knows what is important and isn't afraid to point it out."

It's Christmas in July when Miles O'Dometer turns his attention to a holiday classic: The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. "Tired of Christmas movies that are overrun with angels, sugarcoated with cliches or too weighed down with woe to do you or the characters any good?" Miles asks. "This year treat yourself to one of the few holiday flicks television hasn't found a way to ruin, that rare American classic that really deserves the name classic."

Tom Knapp pays tribute to the last of the "official" James Bond movies starring Sean Connery: Diamonds are Forever. "Of course, Bond beats the bad guy, saves the world and ends the movie with the best-looking girl. Not a bad way for Connery to end an exceptional run."

13 July 2000

Anyone who doesn't already know that a new Harry Potter book is on the shelves has spent the past few months humming quietly to himself under a rock somewhere in the Alaskan tundra. But is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth book in the popular series by J.K. Rowling, up to snuff? Donna Scanlon has the answer. "When this much excitement and attention surrounds a book, the risk for disappointment runs high, but Rowling doesn't let her readers down," Donna says. "I couldn't put it down once I started."

Now, if the Harry Potter hoopla has calmed down enough, we have more reviews of a non-Potter nature. Tom Knapp is up next with a trio of Celtic CDs for your inspection, starting with fiddler Jerry Holland's exciting album of Cape Breton-style music, Fiddler's Choice. "Holland isn't just keeping traditions alive with new arrangements of old material," Tom says. "He's helping to refresh the tradition by infusing it with new classics."

Jo Morrion is one of our excellent reviewers, but she's also a fine musician. Tom has the pleasure of unveiling her second CD, A Waulking Tour of Scotland. "The whole album is pregnant with sights and flavors of an entire country," Tom says. "The excellent harping holds it all together; the arrangements with a broad assortment of voices and instruments -- particularly several outstanding duets -- make this a musical travelogue from Scotland you'll want to experience time and time again."

Tom's final Celtic music review today is from the Irish band Solas. Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers is one of several albums featuring singer Karan Casey, and it helps establish Solas as "a musical force to be rated among the top of its class."

Beth Derochea makes a welcome return to Rambles with her review of Spiritchaser by the worldly duo Dead Can Dance. "The songs on Spiritchaser blend into each other, sounding out different themes and cultures in yet another musical exploration by Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard," Beth explains.

Donna Scanlon, still recovering from her marathon sprint through Harry Potter, slowed down long enough to give a listen to A Big Surprise by Hilary James and Simon Mayor. Written with children in mind, "the songs and sketches do not condescend and are well-written musically with thoughtful and clever lyrics."

Next, Amanda Fisher has the folk-rockin' album Vibratile by John Kribs for our consideration. Although one track soured the experience for her, Amanda says the overall package is a good one. "Kribs' use of poetic imagery and metaphor transforms the songs into a way of coming to terms with the bleaker parts of life, not wallowing in them."

Kevin McCarthy pays tribute to a complilation album commemorating a fallen singer: Treasures Left Behind: Remembering Kate Wolf. "This CD, although containing just a portion of Wolf's collection of songs, also demonstrates the brilliance of Wolf's songwriting," Kevin says. "She was a superb songwriter, able to capture and put into words and music so many of the thoughts, feelings and experiences of the human spectrum."

Audrey Clark opens the Rambles library with her review of Tim Powers' The Drawing of the Dark, an urban fantasy classic recently reissued by Del Rey to Audrey's delight. Although rooted in fantasy, she says, the "political and historical aspects of the novel create a stunning backdrop against which the drama unfolds."

Donna Scanlon is up again with Terry Pratchett's Wings, the third in his Bromeliad Trilogy. "The plot moves swiftly and is rather linear -- things seem to fall into place rather quickly, but on the whole, it is an enjoyable romp," Donna says.

Julie Bowerman was touched by Wally Lamb's I Know This Much Is True. "This isn't escapist fiction; it's better, drawing the reader into a convoluted web of twins, fatherhood, love and mental instability, and then demanding emotional involvement," Julie says.

Amy Harlib has today's final fiction review: Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells. Wells, Amy says, "succeeds yet again in producing a wholly original, brilliant conception sure to cement her reputation as one of the finest writers in the field."

Tom Knapp's excursion into the graphic arts today takes him into the world of DC's Realworlds; specifically, this time, the Justice League of America. In this installment, a group of childhood friends are reunited through their long-lost love of superheroes. "It's a touching story, more amusing than action-packed," Tom reports.

Miles O'Dometer ushers in another Rambles movie spotlight with his review of Big Night, which takes you behind the doors of a restaurant where the chef "is such a stickler for excellent cuisine that he refuses to cook anything people are likely to order." Miles says the film "is low-key, well-acted and sumptuously filmed. It succeeds as both a look at a time and a tribute to an art form."

Tom Knapp returns to the Sean Connery years of the James Bond series, this time watching the 1967 film You Only Live Twice. "Few films could successfully combine space wars and ninjas, but this one manages to pull it off," Tom says. "This is not the best Bond by far, but it's still a fun romp in the international spy biz ... and it still has Connery in the key role. You can't go too far wrong as long as that's the case."

8 July 2000

Jo Morrison launches another action-packed Rambles update with Adam McNaughtan's The Words That I Used to Know. "It's surprising how much variety can be presented, when only one voice is heard throughout the recording," Jo says. "This two-CD collection of songs gives a great overview of Scottish culture, both old and modern."

Tom Knapp, who so enjoyed Paddy Tutty's 1998 album In the Greenwood, recently stepped back in time to her 1992 release Prairie Druid. "An overall excellent album, there are several stand-out numbers," Tom says, with sources in Celtic, British, European, Canadian and American music traditions.

Tom found a more raucous Celtic sound when he listened to Brother's pipe-heavy music on Pipe Dreams. "Great pipers, hard rockers, stunning vocalists -- Brother manages to provide it all," Tom says. "Give 'em a listen and hear what they can do."

Last week, Tom was a bit startled by the pop sounds which dominated Eliza Carthy's album Red. So he was even more surprised when he slipped its companion album, Rice, into his stereo. "The sweet, strong voice is the same, but it's bent towards British traditional ballads instead of dance-floor pop," Tom says. "Her fiddle, largely employed for ornamental purposes on Red, is now let loose to play unfettered by distracting electronics."

Timothy Keene liked the jazz and worldbeat sounds of the Peter Smith Quartet on Caliente & Cool. "This is not music that reaches out and slaps your eardrums with harsh, brassy notes," Tim says. "Instead, it soothes you into a relaxing ride along many different tracks."

Jade Falcon is up next with Shadow Dance by Rayburn Blake and Sharon Xu. Jade says the album "combines Asian music with Western musical elements to create a wonderful blend of sounds."

Audrey Clark revisits the music of Jory Nash with his latest release, Tangle with the Ghost. "Much of what made Nash's first CD so enjoyable has been honed and polished," Audrey says. "I look forward to seeing what's next in store for his listeners."

Michael Gasser sees hit potential in the folk-pop sounds of Meredith LeVande's debut CD Through the Clouds. "A small, somewhat rough gem" is what Michael calls it. "She should be able to make her way onto the airwaves with some of the material and people would start to listen up."

Did you ever wonder how people handled the end of the first millennium? They certainly weren't worried about Y2K bugs, but writers Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger provide the rest of the answers in The Year 1000, which focuses on life in Britain at that time. "Lacey and Danziger present the people of England, circa 1000, with compassion and respect, detailing the potential joys and horrors of their lives with equal care," says reviewer Tom Knapp. "History buffs and anglophiles will find this a must-read, and it will engage the interest of even the more casual reader."

Donna Scanlon appears with a double shot of book reviews for today. First up is Jane Yolen's Heart's Blood, the second book in the Pit Dragon trilogy. The story, Donna says, "is gripping and suspenseful and uncompromisingly realistic."

Donna also gives us Scott Westerfield's Fine Prey. "The pace is breakneck, punctuated with bursts of sharp vivid imagery and a keen sense of language and rhythm," Donna says. "Westerfield writes with economy and a clear crisp style, pushing the envelope of imagination in pursuit of his dazzling ideas."

Amy Harlib also has a pair of book reviews for us, starting with Xina Marie Uhl's Necropolis. "In a highly skilled, spare, pithy and lean prose style, the author manages to depict a complex multicultural, pre-industrial civilization," Amy says, "with colorful customs, institutions, markets, temples, belief systems, a long history, literature, mysterious magic users, etc."

Amy's second review is of The Gilda Stories, an African-American vampire story by Jewelle Gomez. The author, Amy says, "deserves the highest praise for producing this book, beautifully written in gorgeous, poetic, emotionally intense prose that dares to be unique -- a lesbian, feminist vampire novel, character-driven yet full of exciting events."

Audrey Clark was charmed by Steven Millhauser's novella Enchanted Night, which "uncovers the midnight yearnings of a variety of people in a small town on the Long Island Sound. ... Written as a series of titled vignettes, the numerous threads of Enchanted Night come together to form a story of Romantic proportions with Gothic undertones; the climax is subtle and nuances, yet it resonates deeply long after the story is finished."

Miles O'Dometer unlocks the Rambles cineplex for a showing of The Children of Heaven. A few nitpicks aside, Miles says, "Children of Heaven is a rare treat, a first-class look at life in the Third World and more: a reminder of how difficult life can be for those who have but one basket with one egg in it -- and how resourceful those without resources have to be."

Tom Knapp spotlights the second film in today's double-feature: the latest in the James Bond series, The World is Not Enough starring Pierce Brosnan. "The story lags along the way, but it's a nice change to see a different side of Bond," Tom says. "Brosnan plays the character similarly to Timothy Dalton's take on Bond in Licence to Kill, and it works well for this story."

2 July 2000

Chet Williamson opens up today's update with the self-titled debut by the central Pennsylvania Irish band, Irishtown Road. "Though Irishtown Road may not necessarily have the best solo fiddling or harping or singing you've ever heard, the group is very much the sum of its parts, and those parts add up to a mighty whole indeed," Chet reports. "Filled with a fine spirit, excellent writing and rousing performances, I recommend Irishtown Road and Irishtown Road highly to any Celtic music fanciers."

Bree Delian, our new Australian reviewer, returns with her second story for Rambles with this review of the new self-titled album by Senan's Haggart. "This CD does not stick to known formulas," Bree says. "The tunes themselves are a constantly evolving soundscape, allowing the listener to experience subtle musical nuances at a sensual, languorous pace, departing from the high-speed delivery of much contemporary Celtic music."

Tom Knapp turns to Britain for the first of a paired set of CDs from Eliza Carthy -- each showing a very different side of Carthy's musical personality. Today's feature is Red, the rockier of the two. "On Red, Carthy shows herself to be an alternative pop girl with a traditional heart, who (on this album, at least) resists the temptation to let too much of that heart show through," Tom decides. "It's a shame, really -- a slightly stronger traditional presence would have really helped her songs to stand out."

Amanda Fisher has been listening to Let's Go! by Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas -- which Amanda describes as "a wonderful CD. While keeping a solid zydeco feel, they incorporate other musical traditions into the mix -- most notably several styles of blues, and some reggae -- as well as adding significant lyrics to the tradition on several songs, an expansion of the often perfunctory lyrics often typical of the form."

Donna Scanlon has a folky offering from Tamarack founder James Gordon: Pipe Street Dreams. "Gordon avoids the self-consciousness of many singer-songwriters; every song makes a connection with the listener and each is unique," Donna says. "The lyrics sparkle with good poetry and vivid imagery, and the arrangements fit the lyrics perfectly."

Chet Williamson is back with a second music review for today: Scene It All by the bluegrass band Seldom Scene. "If this were any other group, Scene It All would be a good, solid bluegrass album, filled with masterful picking and fine vocal harmonies, with a few decent tunes, a few misfires, and the rest somewhere in a semi-enjoyable limbo," Chet says. "Unfortunately, this is a Seldom Scene album, and one has certain expectations as a result."

Paul de Bruijn is up next with the folk-rock album Full Moon by the Marcia Guderian Trio. "It takes more than interesting lyrics, good music and singing to make good songs," Paul says. "Unfortunately Full Moon proves that by having the elements without the whole package."

Have you seen the new hit movie Chicken Run yet? Why not? Are you curious about the warped minds and process which went into its production? So was Amy Harlib -- and she found the answers in Brian Sibley's Chicken Run: Hatching the Movie. The book, Amy says, is a "splendid volume which film buffs, chicken fans, animation enthusiasts and anyone curious about the creative process involved in producing a stop-motion animated movie will treasure. It's the next best thing to being there every day contructing and playing with model chickens for three years!"

Audrey Clark takes us into fiction with Tom Robbins' Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas. If the title isn't enough to make you read it, take Audrey's word: Robbins, she says, "demonstrates his flair for creating ordinary people in extraordinary situations ... (and) has a knack for deftly weaving in explanations of arcane mythological beings."

Conor O'Connor returns to the world of Dune with Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson in Dune: House Atreides. "The original novel (by the late Frank Herbert) is a hard act to follow," Conor says. "However, Herbert and Anderson's attempt has delivered a story heavy with machiavellian plots and counterplots which result in action and the testing of loyalties across the vast reaches of the Known Universe."

Donna Scanlon takes us into realms spiritual with Mary Rose O'Reilley's awkwardly titled book, The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd. "O'Reilley tells her spiritual autobiography in a series of brief essay-like chapters," Donna says. "She writes with honesty, humor and humility, and she never minces words."

Tom Knapp stepped unprepared into the Elseworlds buffoonery of Batman: Lobo, which brings the alien assassin into the Dark Knight's realm. "It's an action-packed book filled with mindless mayhem and the brutal deaths of just about everyone in the Batman universe," Tom says, "so it's an irresistable read!"

Miles O'Dometer treats us to Another Day in Paradise, a film about "sex, thugs and rock 'n' roll among a crowd that's old enough to know better, but doesn't." The movie, Miles says, "has been compared to everything from Drugstore Cowboy to Bonnie and Clyde, though it lacks the narrative ferocity of the former and the quirky humor of the latter."

Lastly today, Tom Knapp continues his James Bond retrospective. Today's feature is The Living Daylights, the first of a pair of Bond films starring Timothy Dalton. "Despite many claims to the contrary, it's not a bad film," Tom says. "But Dalton is a bad Bond."

Sadly, it has come to our attention that the editor of an older, but not wiser, online review magazine has launched a new volley of attacks on Rambles. While we are flattered at his attention and his concern that Rambles exceeds his own efforts, we grow weary at his presumption that his own success can only come through attacking others and by making ridiculous claims about his own popularity. We rely on our readers to know quality and sincerity when they see it, and we thank them for continuing to read Rambles.