29 October 2000 to 4 February 2001

4 February 2001

What's the news in your part of the world? Pennsylvania's most famous whistlepigs, Punxsutawney Phil and Octorara Orphie (the latter of which is really a stuffed effigy on a stick), both did their bit for seasonal prognostication on Friday ... and both saw their shadows, signifying another six weeks of winter. Ugh. Well, at least we have plenty to read here at Rambles ... and at the bottom of today's edition, you'll find a Groundhog Day special!

Amanda Fisher begins our post-Groundhog Day update with a bit of Wales. Fernhill's Whilia "is a fascinating introduction to Welsh dance-song traditions," Amanda says. "I loved this album, and recommend it to those who love Celtic music; it's a different sound than the more usually encountered Irish and Scottish styles, and well worth hearing." (It's also worth noting that this marks Amanda's 60th review for Rambles!)

Donna Scanlon maintains the Celtic theme with the self-titled release from One Eyed Fiona. The album, Donna says, features "high-energy performances with good balance among the musicians and an overall cohesiveness to the selections and arrangements. Furthermore, the musicians sound as if they're having a grand time, and that's an important element as well."

Tom Knapp is next with the Celtic and European sounds of Broceliande's self-titled debut. "Vocally and instrumentally, the band is flawless and the arrangements are never dull," Tom says. "This is a keeper."

Chet Williamson has a pair of new Rounder releases to share: The Cowboy Tour and Deep River of Song: Big Brazos, each by various artists. There are some bright moments in The Cowboy Tour, Chet says, but "much of it struck me as tedious, both musically and verbally. ... As for Big Brazos, if you're interested in the true roots of folk, blues and R&B, or in the raw state of the human condition, this one is something you should hear."

Paul de Bruijn steps up to the plate with Breakaway's new bluegrass CD, Hold with Hope. "The music is great and so are the songs," Paul says. "Take the time to listen to these wizards weave their magic."

Audrey Clark is next with Candye Kane's bluesy, ballsy The Toughest Girl Alive. "The real attraction to this music is Kane's attitude; she's open and honest, and the music is infectious," Audrey says. "Even listeners who might normally be turned off by Kane's attitudes toward all things sexual shouldn't be able to resist the tempting grooves on these tunes."

Cheryl Turner dishes up a bowl of Hot Soup and Soup Happens. "Hot Soup serves up a hearty helping of songs, well-seasoned with humour and harmony and rich in variety," Cheryl says. "These three women are quite versatile with their material, have a knack for harmonizing, and come across to the listener as personable and fun."

Laurie Thayer continues our folk-rock set with Witchita duo Amy & Robin's CD Little Did I Know. "Described as 'neo-folk,' they have a singular sort of sound that seems to combine folk and pop with hints of classical singing," Laurie says. "They're well worth listening to."

Debbie Gayle Rose loves listening to Music for the Native Americans, originally scored as a television soundtrack by Robbie Robertson & the Red Road Ensemble. "The music is haunting and haunted," Debbie says. "Each song has its own independence, and yet, as a whole, the CD flows together like a river of music that carries you almost without notice from beginning to end."

Rachel Jagt shares her time with Jory Nash, Aengus Finnan and Joel Morelli in her review of their performance at C'est What in Toronto. "The relaxed format of the show, with the artists trading songs and stories, worked really well and showcased unique songwriting, instrumental, and vocal talents," Rachel says. "I look forward to seeing these artists again."

Tom Knapp shifts our focus from recorded music to printed songs -- Shanties from the Seven Seas by the late, great Stan Hugill. "Although the material is sometimes a trifle dry, Hugill's casual approach to his topic and his narrative style of writing keep it interesting to read and evoke a certain sadness for a way of life long gone," Tom says. "Shanties from the Seven Seas is a fascinating treasure and valuable resource for singers of songs from the sea."

Next, Donna Scanlon gets a little buggy with Sue Hubbell and Waiting for Aphrodite: Journeys In to the Time Before Bones. "Her subjects and locales range from the common to the exotic, from earthworms to sea sponges, from the coast of Maine to Belize," Donna says. "Hubbell's prose is graceful, lovely and lucid, and her insights and connections are clear and illuminating."

Donna also offers up our first fiction review of the day with the first volume in Joan Aiken's newly reprinted series, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. "Aiken's Wolves Chronicles rank with Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles and Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence for imaginative and timeless writing," Donna says.

Paul de Bruijn hits a double-header with his review of Orson Scott Card both old and new: the science fiction classic Ender's Game and Card's recent sequel Ender's Shadow. "Each story can be read on its own, but together the two books add much to each other," Paul says. "This story is well worth a second visit."

Amanda Fisher is less happy with James Schmerer's noirish Twisted Shadows. "Nothing in the book is described sufficiently to evoke it in the imagination," Amanda says, "and many things -- most especially the behaviors and reactions of the main characters -- are inexplicable without the humanizing effect of actors making them breathe."

Tom Knapp explores an alternate universe with Grant Morrison in Justice League of America: Earth 2. It's an alternate universe DC Comics had once gone to great lengths to erase, so Tom questions the wisdom of bringing it back. "With that complaint sharply registered," he says, "I'll add this note: it's a damn good story."

Elizabeth Badurina adds another one to our 'zine page with Pisces Rising. "If you're an artist (professional or hobbyist), and you need inspiration -- subscribe," Elizabeth says.

Janine Kauffman opens a triple feature in the Rambles cineplex today, so grab your popcorn and take a look at The Straight Story from director David Lynch. "As gentle as the rolling hills of Iowa where it was filmed, The Straight Story is a small, quiet gem in the midst of a summer blockbuster season," Janine says. "Every detail ... is a nod to the endurance of small towns, the foibles of the people we love."

Tom Knapp, who had plenty of time to watch and review movies while convalescing from carpal tunnel surgery last month, offers a double-slam of films today. First is the gripping Irish-American story of The Devil's Own with Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt. "The Devil's Own is a potent, powerful film which will likely leave viewers unsettled by the time the credits roll, but it's a movie worth watching," Tom says. "Anyone who thinks there are easy answers to the unending conflict in Ireland may gain a better perspective by the film's end -- but, global issues aside, this is a solid, emotional piece of storytelling."

As promised, Tom concludes our post-Groundhog Day update with a review of -- yes, you guessed it! -- the 1993 film Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. OK, folks, here's your chance to see the world-famous Punxsutawney Phil do his bit for Hollywood!

Just as a final aside, I should mention our two newest pages here at Rambles. Recently, we unveiled a section devoted to movie and various other soundtracks, giving some recognition to a category of music which is often overlooked. It's small, but we expect it to grow! Also, we added a page recently listing a variety of music-related videos, including taped concerts, stage musicals, musical movies, movies about musicians and films with a music-heavy theme. There's no rhyme nor reason to it, it's just something we thought would be fun to have ... so have a look and let us know what you think!

2 February 2001

Will the groundhog see his shadow...?

27 January 2001

We've got a lot of great material for you today, so let's dispense with the introduction and get on with it!

Tom Knapp gets things going with a video concert from the grand master of the Cape Breton fiddle, Buddy MacMaster. Buddy MacMaster in Concert provides selections from a variety of performances in Nova Scotia, with a variety of accompaniests and guests sharing his stage. "The sound of Buddy's clear, sweet style makes you wonder how many years it's been since he hit an incorrect note," Tom says. "It's exciting just to sit and watch him play, to watch his passive demeanour as his fingers flit effortlessly over the notes."

Tom continues the flow with a new revelation from Neil Anderson, the piper/singer who left Seven Nations to make his own way. Although Anderson's first post-7N release was a disappointment, Tom is happy to see much improvement in the recent Dante's Local. "This is peak material from Anderson, and those (myself included) who feared we'd heard his best work in the past will be gratified by his strong showing here," Tom says. "He blends Celtic tunes and instruments with rock and jazz elements with a great deal more success than was heard on Full Circle, and it reignites my interest in hearing where Anderson takes his music next."

Jo Morrison marks her 60th Rambles review with Tryst, the first solo recording by piper Iain MacInnes. "Overall, despite a couple of solos, this comes across as an ensemble recording, featuring the outstanding work of the guest musicians as prominently as MacInnes' piping," Jo says. "The result is a lush and memorable recording."

Cheryl Turner provides a taste of favorites from Maritime Canada with the Chris Norman Ensemble and The Flower of Port Williams. "The musicians in the ensemble all have a very smooth and expressive manner, which makes for light and relaxing listening," Cheryl says. "It was rather refreshing to be shown another perspective, especially by such capable musicians."

Next, Charlie Gebetsberger gives us a sample of Seamus Kennedy's work in By Popular Demand, Vol. 2. "After hearing the second volume, I'm driven to go out to buy the first," Charlie says. "If it's even half the fun of the second, then it's bound to be a great CD."

Tom Knapp is back with Nova Scotia's adopted son, the ill-fated Stan Rogers, and his live recording Home in Halifax. "Stan Rogers' contributions to folk music will never be forgotten," Tom notes. "While it's too late to see him perform these numbers as he intended, Home in Halifax is a perfect recording to let us know what we missed."

Amanda Fisher explores Past Lives with Mike Breen. "His strength is in storytelling, and his songs tell stories and evoke times in people's lives," Amanda says. "Past Lives is a introspective and intelligent album, and enjoyable to hear."

Audrey Clark finds a lot to like in Cindy Kalmenson's Let Me Out Here. "From the start, I was hooked by Kalmenson's sweet voice," Audrey says. "She moves easily from tender love songs to tongue-in-cheek country musings without sacrificing clarity or strength."

Laurie Thayer goes folk-rocky with Mae Robertson's Stone by Stone. The children's singer has produced "a pleasant CD" in her first release for adults, Laurie says. "The songs blur between folk, country and pop and should appeal to fans of all three genres."

Jade Falcon gives Tendencia Positiva (T+) a second chance with International AXE Dance Remixes for our worldbeat section. "As dance remixes go, this album is boring," Jade says.

Charlie Gebetsberger has another entry for our new soundtracks page: The Fifth Element by Eric Serra. The album, he says, is "a powerful blend of musical media which delivers its themes with great skill -- melodic at times, upbeat at others."

Donna Scanlon visits Sweet Land of Story in Pleasant DeSpain's collection of Thirty-Six American Tales to Tell. "The stories are brief, usually not more than four or five pages long, and are tightly and smoothly written. They're just right to read aloud around a campfire, at bedtime or in a classroom to supplement the curriculum," Donna says. "At the same time, there is plenty of room for interpretation for storytellers."

Tom Knapp examines an introspective Batman story in Batman: War on Crime, an oversized graphic novel by Paul Dini and Alex Ross. "The story and art are both a cut above the norm," Tom says, "and I hope Dini and Ross continue this series of collaborations for a good, long time."

Is Elizabeth Badurina a bad girl? Judge for yourself when you read her review of Cameron Tuttle's book, The Bad Girl's Guide to the Open Road. "This book is fantastic for any woman with an inner bad girl struggling to break free and hit the road," Elizabeth says. "Tuttle will pump that bad girl up, get her psyched and before you know it, you'll have a rented '57 Chevy on Route 66 looking for some kind of taboo voodoo with your road sisters."

Elizabeth reinforces her bad-girl image with a review of Joe Coomer's Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God. Coomer, Elizabeth says, "paints with a lyrical exactness a picture of these surroundings, these faces. It is a character-driven novel with a distinct and engaging plot that doesn't have to play second to the characters he's developed within that plot."

Donna Scanlon enjoys a Prodigal Summer with Barbara Kingsolver. "Kingsolver produces characters which appeal to the reader's heart and senses," Donna says.

Also in our fiction section, Donna reviews Van Reid's Mollie Peer: Or the Underground Adventure of the Moosepath League. The novel "is packed with colorful characters," Donna says, and is "a rich and rewarding read which serves to whet the reader's appetite for more from Reid and the Moosepath League."

Janine Kauffman opens the Rambles cineplex with a review of last year's John Cusack hit, High Fidelity. "Much of the film's story is told through the soundtrack, and even more comes through Cusack's conversational monologues with the camera," Janine says. "It's a nice balance, and a fine line to tread -- how to make the music part of the story instead of a blanket over it."

Tom Knapp closes down another edition with the big weather feature of last year, The Perfect Storm. The film, Tom says, "puts us in the heart of the storm for some of the most realistic and sensational weather effects ever seen on screen ... and let's be honest here, the real star of this film is the weather. Actors serve only to give the storm a human context. But what a ride -- the storm is so realistic you can feel the wind and water in your face, blinding your eyes, as the floor heaves and shakes beneath you."

By the way, Rambles will soon be making it easier for you to track down those hard-to-find Canadian music titles with our new affiliation with Sam the Record Man, one of Canada's largest music merchants! More details to come.

21 January 2001

Snow! Rain! Fog! (Wrist pain!) This is a mixed-up season in this part of the world, so we'll strive for a bit of normalcy here with another big weekend update. Enjoy!

Cheryl Turner is up first with Time and Tide by Filska, a young band from Scotland's Shetland Islands. "I recently heard Filska live, and they had some wonderful songs in their show, and so I was slightly disappointed that there were no vocal tracks on the album," Cheryl says. "However, the spirit with which the band plays, the originality of their arrangements and their pleasant harmonies more than make up for any shortcomings."

Jo Morrison is next with Catherine-Ann MacPhee's re-issued CD Cànan Nan Gáidheal (The Language of the Gael). "This is a thoroughly enjoyable and well-presented collection of Gaelic songs," Jo says. "MacPhee did a marvelous job choosing classic material and singing it in a meaningful and soulful way."

Chet Williamson wants to know why Harvey Reid isn't a global megastar, especially after hearing his work on the new album Guitar Voyages. "Needless to say," Chet says, "Guitar Voyages is the best acoustic guitar album I've heard in a loooong time."

Next, check out Amanda Fisher's review of Crow by Norine Braun. "There's seldom a sense of flow from one track to another, although the segues are not jarring either," Amanda notes. "When the individual songs are as good as these, though, this is a minor complaint. Both the vocals and the instrumentation have a spontaneity that is very pleasing, like the best sort of live performances."

Paul de Bruijn serves up some Resignation from Lori Amey. "This CD is a beautiful piece of work," Paul says. "Pick it up sometime and listen to snippets of letters that have been recorded in song."

In keeping with that folk-rock theme, Laurie Thayer presents a review of The Green Album by Francie Conway with The Works. The album, Laurie says, "is entertaining and upbeat. You might just find yourself bopping along with it."

Audrey Clark is less happy with Mark Despault's Natural Revelation. "It's not that Despault is a bad musician; his guitar playing is strong and his voice is pleasant," Audrey says. "It's just that there's nothing new here."

Amanda Fisher veers to the country stylings of Georgia Middleman in Endless Possibilities. The album is "an excellent debut album," Amanda says, with "definite pop elements" adding to the country flair.

Wil Owen finds a varied mix in the music of Penny Kerr and Conscious Contact. "Penny's strength lies in playing her various instruments," Wil says. "She can be quite plucky on the guitar and she can easily draw you in with her fiddle and keyboard playing. Her weakness is in her vocal range."

Some of our writers though it would be fun to start a "soundtracks" category in the music reviews section. I figured, hey, why not? It allows them to explore a broader range of styles without turning Rambles into another rock 'n' roll site. So here it is ... still fairly small, but I expect it to grow just as our many other sites have expanded over the past year. And, to give it a good start, we'll spotlight two new reviews written especially for the section: Stigmata by Crystal Kocher and Hans Zimmer & Lisa Gerrard's Gladiator by Charlie Gebetsberger.

Tom Knapp journeys into Ireland's mystic past for The Hunt for Diarmaid and Grainne by Liam MacUistin. "It's not a proud tale, and it's not the finest moment for one of Ireland's greatest heroes," Tom says. "But the story itself, filled with action, romance and magic, is a good one, and MacUistin has the storyteller's art down pat."

Donna Scanlon rides along with storyteller Donald Davis in Ride the Butterflies: Back to School with Donald Davis. "Davis's voice shines through the gently paced stories," Donna says. "Regardless of whether you have heard him tell stories, you can hear his delivery in the rhythm of his prose. He has an eye for telling and homely details which are universal and make the stories more meaningful."

Elizabeth Badurina turns to the spiritual side of things with Christina Baldwin's Life's Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest. "Life's Companion is a fantastic book for those who are stalled in their writing disciplines," Elizabeth says. "The prompts and commentary could prove invaluable for the daily writer who needs things to jump-start his or her creativity."

Tom Knapp steps into Callahan's Crosstime Saloon with Spider Robinson to celebrate the recent reprinting of these early short stories. "Some might describe these as 'feel-good' tales, because they invariably end on an upbeat note," Tom says. "So what? The world is not so grim that we need to expect bad things to be waiting around every corner and, I'll be the first to admit it, it's nice believing that somewhere in the world, there really is a place where everybody either knows your name or cares to try and find out."

Laurie Thayer next reviews Brightly Burning, the latest in Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar series. Laurie admits she was put off when she realized it was "another 'abused/maltreated child grows up to save the world' story. She's told that story one time too many. ... Then one evening, I picked it up to move it, opened it to take a peek and was instantly hooked."

Donna Scanlon wraps up Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy with The Amber Spyglass. With this trilogy, Donna says, Pullman "has created that rare and wonderful thing: a modern classic that will live on through generations."

Tom Knapp returns to the days when DC Comics changed everything with the release of a series titled Crisis on Infinite Earths, now re-released in hardback and trade paperback editions. "Fans can debate forever the pros and cons of subsequent decisions by DC writers and editors," Tom says. "But Crisis continues to stand apart, even 15 years after its original publication, as a strong, bold publishing move which did what comics were intended to do: tell a good story, filled with action, excitement and suspense."

Janine Kauffman opens a triple feature in the Rambles cineplex with Buena Vista Social Club, which celebrates the music of pre-Revolution Cuba. "Surf pounding the shore, lovers walking narrow streets, humble lives lived with dignity, all show up in the music and are celebrated on film," Janine says. "It's the smaller moments that make Buena Vista."

Elizabeth Badurina goes to Russia for Est/Ouest (East/West), set in the turbulent years following World War II. "The visuals are fantastic, but they can't carry an entire movie of this magnitude," Elizabeth says, "and the characters, even when all motives are revealed, aren't likable (or knowable) enough to make them carry the story, either."

Tom Knapp ends the section and the day with something a little unusual: the Imax 3-D feature T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous. "T-Rex is no Jurassic Park -- there's no blood and no one gets eaten," Tom says. "But it combines dinosaur history with nuggets of science, all wrapped up in an eye-popping package which should keep young viewers gaping through their oversized 3-D spectacles for the entire 46-minute production."

Oh, and there's this note for the record from our editor: "Physical therapy hurts!"

14 January 2001

Greetings! Our editor is still limited in his ability to use a computer, as his recovery from bilateral carpal tunnel surgery is ... well, folks, it hurts! But that won't stop us from getting this week's edition out as scheduled ... fortunately, most of this week's update was prepared in advance!

Tom Knapp staggers in for our first review of the day: Sailing Ships & Sailing Men by Nova Scotia's Evans & Doherty. "The men on this CD manage to sound like an entire crew with their performance," Tom says. The album "is a collection of 20 shanties joyfully, artfully presented for everyone to enjoy."

Heather Gregg is next with Getting Underway by the Michigan Irish band Hoolie. The duo has the energy of a live performance, Heather says, but the album is "lacking the polish of a professional recording."

Laurie Thayer is next with Lydia McCauley and her Sabbath Day's Journey, a folk album with influences from both the Celtic and Appalachian traditions. "McCauley's striking voice and rich sound will produce inevitable comparisons to Loreena McKennitt," Laurie says. "I know it will be staying in my CD player for a while."

Ken Fasimpaur finds a jazz and folk-rock mix in Suburbs of Eden by Debbie Andrews. The album, he says, "is a smooth and well-produced combination of strong female vocals, light jazz piano and a rock-inflected backing band."

Rachel Jagt serves up some Toronto folk-rock with Tory Cassis and Anywhere But Here. "It was sunny outside the first time I listened to this CD, and I was unimpressed," Rachel relates. "Then it started to rain; suddenly, it made sense."

Amanda Fisher is Touched By a Polka while listening to the latest album from Jimmy Sturr. "This is an excellent album, and not just for serious polka fans," Amanda says. "The consistent theme and the diverse styles make it interesting to listen to, and the musicianship is superb."

Chet Williamson finds a lot of musical influences filling the sound of Mollie O'Brien's Things I Gave Away. "You'll find only brief glimpses of the bluegrass/folk/Celtic diva that you may have come to know from her other albums," Chet says. "You'll find this album loaded with a blues sensibility, but it also branches out into jazz and pop as well, and yes, there's a touch of folk, too."

Michael Gasser hears a lot to like in Bill Passalaqua's Reckless Pedestrian. "Passalaqua is a man with a big heart, a big hat and a big love for Texas," Michael says. "And this is a very clever collection of songs and deep thoughts, that makes us wish for more, more, more."

Donna Scanlon gets medieval with Favorite Medieval Tales by Mary Pope Osborne. "Osborne is an able writer, and overall her retellings are better than most," Donna says.

Tom Knapp is back with the next volume in the Love & Rockets collection of graphic novels: House of Raging Women by Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez. The fifth book in the series focuses on the connection between comics and professional wrestling -- and it works, even for non-wrestling fans.

Elizabeth Badurina takes a factual and visual look at the innocuous tea leaf in Tea: The Essence of the Leaf by Karl Petzke, Lessley Berry and Sara Slavin. The book boasts history, recipes and stunning photography, Elizabeth says, and "the prose is good for transporting you to a gentler place in your mind."

Moving to fiction, Donna Scanlon presents The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold by Francesca Lia Block. "Each story is a tiny multifaceted gem, sometimes surreal and obscure but filled with evocative language," Donna says. "Block successfully infuses each story with her own unique style, appealing to the senses and conveying rich imagery within her spare yet descriptive writing."

Donna continues with Richard Grant's Kaspian Lost. "In spite of the slow start, the novel moves along smoothly," Donna says. "Readers of Richard Grant's novels have come to expect something a little different, and Kaspian Lost certainly delivers."

Janine Kauffman starts our movie section off with Holy Smoke. "Holy Smoke isn't on my list of top five favorite movies. It might be in the top twenty, though. Even now, an hour or so after the ending, I'm still wondering why that is," Janine ponders. "It's one of those films that has something."

While you're in the H section of our movie index, take a look at Ronnie Lankford's examination of a Hollywood horror classic, The Hunchback of Notre Dame from 1939. "Emotions run deep," Ronnie says. "Charles Laughton plays Quasimodo with great depth and sensitivity, displaying the touching complexity of someone who craves human contact even from those who may do him harm."

Tom Knapp revisits the early days of filmmaker Kevin Smith's career with a review of his 1994 movie Clerks. "OK, let's be honest here. The acting isn't entirely sterling all the way through," Tom says. "But Clerks is a fun flick nonetheless. ... If nothing else, you can be grateful it's not your life on film."

Tom ends the day (and goes to give his aching hands a rest) with a rambling exploration of the world's witchiest city, Salem, Massachusetts. "Historians don't really know if there were any real witches in Salem, Mass., in 1692," Tom says. "But anyone who spends more than a few minutes in that quaint, coastal New England town today can tell you one thing for sure: there's witchery afoot in Salem now."

That's all for now ... check back with us soon for more!

6 January 2001

We're back, and it's a new millennium! We hope all of our readers (as well as those poor unfortunates who have not yet discovered Rambles) had a grand New Year's celebration, and we wish you all a fantastic 2001. Now, on with this week's new reviews!

Jo Morrison begins today's update with a pair of pipers from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia: Jamie MacInnis and Paul MacNeil join forces with a variety of Cape Breton musicians on Fosgail an Dorus. "This recording truly opens the door to Cape Breton piping music for the uninitiated," Jo says. "And it will serve as a fun and provocative pipe collection for those that are already familiar with the Cape Breton style."

Tom Knapp, on the other hand, was disappointed by the contents of Round Cape Horn, a collection of songs about the seafaring life. "I have enjoyed a fair number of archival recordings, but in this case it's merely tedious, evoking none of the spirit or passion of the sea," Tom says.

Heather Gregg crosses the sea to Scotland for Finlay MacNeill's Fonn is Furan (A Tune and Welcome), just reissued 18 years after its initial release. "MacNeill's quietly powerful voice make this collection notable," Heather says. "His a capella numbers are soothing and nearly hypnotic in their deliberate rhythm."

Wil Owen straddles the boundary between the Celtic and new age music genres for Brendan McCloud's On the Edge Of Time (Ancient Futures). Although the album stumbles in one spot, Wil says overall it succeeds admirably. "It took a little time for me to warm up to the way he electronically modulated his voice to consistently have an echo every time he sings," Wil says. "But in the end, I decided that this works with McCloud's overall design of bringing the past, present and future together in one setting."

Amanda Fisher goes to Trinidad with renowned ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax for the latest archives from Rounder called Caribbean Voyage: Trinidad: Carnival Roots. "The 28-track CD contains an assortment of music in various traditional styles, and some interviews and spoken pieces," Amanda says. "All are fascinating, and the music is infectious, too!"

Amanda also has a rockin' country entry today: Robert Lee Castleman's Crazy As Me. Although the album is somewhat overproduced, Amanda says Castleman's "rough but melodious voice is a perfect match for his usually bittersweet lyrics. I would love to see him perform live."

Rachel Jagt shares a taste of the blues with Colin James and Fuse. "Throughout the recording," Rachel says, "James showcases his versatility as a songwriter and guitarist -- he plays fast and slow, loud and soft, happy and sad, and he pulls together all of his influences into a well-balanced record."

Rachel also gets Balladesque with Toronto folk-rocker Alun Piggins. "It took some time for the songs to really make an impression on me," Rachel says, "which always means that they won't grow ordinary quickly either."

Donna Scanlon sits in on an Ontario folk festival with the album Rasputin's Folk Cafˇ Song Along 1999: Quick and Dirty Does It. "My one regret is that Lancaster, Pa., is a long way away from Ottawa, and I'm not likely to visit Rasputin's Folk Cafˇ in person any time soon," Donna says. "Until then, Quick and Dirty Does It does it for me."

Tom Knapp was thrilled to find a copy of An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures by Katharine Briggs. "This out-of-print, hard-to-find volume is high on the wishlist of many folklore fanatics," Tom says. "If we're lucky, a publisher will resurrect it soon."

Elizabeth Badurina gets laidback with Mike George in his self-help book Learn to Relax: A Practical Guide to Easing Tension and Conquering Stress. "The easy-to-follow instructions and beautiful, placid illustration makes a difficult subject seem somehow easier to tackle," Elizabeth says. "The advice given is solid, and can be used in a myriad situations -- giving you a tool that is worth the cover price."

Donna Scanlon goes post-apocalyptic with Sean McMullen in The Miocene Arrow. The book, Donna says, "is at once fast-paced and thoughtful, a testament to McMullen's skill and powerful imagination."

Conor O'Connor takes a look at Sarah Zettel's brand of science fiction in The Quiet Invasion. "To the seasoned SF reader, particularly one who likes hard scientific extrapolation and speculation, The Quiet Invasion delivers the goods," Conor says. "While the roller-coaster narrative is by necessity absent, the story does not lack interest and tension."

Janine Kauffman unlocks the Rambles cineplex for American Movie. "All you aspiring filmmakers, take note: Get thee to a video store and pick up a copy of American Movie," Janine says. "Watch it. Watch it again."

Tom Knapp continues his way through the Star Trek movie universe with No. 4 in the series, The Voyage Home. "Some have said the environmental message of The Voyage Home is a little heavy-handed; well, considering our global track record, we probably need a few more of 'em."

Elizabeth Badurina wraps up today's update with a new zine review. In the Kurt Cobain was Lactose Intolerant Conspiracy Zine, Elizabeth says, "the author puts the information about lactose intolerance out there in a comprehensive, personal-experience manner that actually sounds feasible by the time she's done presenting it."

By the way, are you disappointed that a lot of the excellent Canadian recordings we review here aren't available through Amazon and CDnow, to say nothing of most local music stores? Well, we'll be making it easier for you to find a lot of that excellent music with a new affiliate program from north of the border ... to be announced soon! In the meantime, the editor has to go rest his weary, surgically sliced hands. See ya next week!

29 December 2000

Happy New Year! (OK, we're slightly early ... but we've got millennium plans of our own to make! And yes, for those who are counting, this year marks the start of the real millennium. Last year was a trial run organized by mass-marketing consortiums and people who can't count!)

Tom Knapp starts the day with the Ceili Bandits, a lively pub band from Doolin, Ireland, whose album Hangin' at the Crossroads reminds him of some excellent sessions in County Clare. "The band works together with the ease of a well-oiled, well-practiced machine," Tom says.

Tom also lent an ear to Canadian guitar virtuoso Bob MacLean's CD Dancing on a String. The album, Tom says, "exhibits some of the amazing versatility and virtuosity a guitar is capable of -- in the hands of the right man, such as MacLean."

Sheree Morrow joins the staff today with her review of the latest album from Hadrian's Wall, Elbow Grease & Whiskey. Fans should beware of playing this CD in the car, Sheree says: "The temptation to jump out of the car and start dancing is just too great."

Donna Scanlon enjoys the worldbeat sounds of Borg & Vella's Colours of the Spirit. The album, Donna says, "features crisp meticulous musicianship and impeccably produced arrangements, resulting in a bracing musical experience."

Amanda Fisher gets grrly with Christine Lavin's newest CD, Getting In Touch With My Inner Bitch. "The songs include the mix of funny, serious and touching songs that is characteristic of Lavin's albums, and as usual it works very well," Amanda says. "Lavin is excellent at pacing albums and choosing and ordering the songs for the best effect."

Robert Buck is similarly pleased by In Progress, the freshman release from Robin Renee. "At every turn the listener will be surprised by the various influences contained in the songs," Robert says.

Debbie Gayle Rose shares those Fishin' Creek Blues with clawhammer artist and singer Dick Kimmel. "It is gratifying to listen over and over to sounds that owe their beauty to the love of the genre and medium," Debbie says in praise of Kimmel's recent bluegrass recording.

Laurie Thayer gives a thumbs-up to the folksy songs of singer, songwriter and children's entertainer Sue Trainor on In a Closeup. "If you like parody and comedy, try Sue Trainor," Laurie says. "You don't have to be a kid to like her!"

Cheryl Turner gives a live report on the Celtic Pianos segment of Celtic Colours, Cape Breton's annual autumn music festival. "Not only did those five pianists manage to keep me alert," Cheryl says, "it was all I could do to keep to my seat!"

Tom Knapp opens the Rambles library with an Irish flourish featuring renowned 16th-century piratess Granuaile, a.k.a. Grace O'Malley, as portrayed in Eleanor Fairburn's The White Seahorse. "It reads well, held my interest with ease, had a feeling of truth and made me want to learn more about the real Granuaile," Tom says. "All marks of success for a work of historical fiction."

Julie Bowerman rediscovers the joys of Lloyd Alexander by reading the newly reissued fantasy children's classic The Book of Three. The book, Julie says, "is fast-paced, broken into easy-to-read chapters full of castles, secret passageways and enchanted swords. The 1999 edition includes a handy pronunciation guide in the back for those read-aloud moments."

Laurie Thayer is back with her review of a recent Diana Wynne Jones reissue, Witch Week. "Fans of Harry Potter will enjoy this older work," Laurie says, "and will most likely want to search out the other books in this series."

Donna Scanlon explores global folklore with Noodlehead Stories: World Tales Kids Can Read & Tell by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weis. "Not only is Noodlehead Tales perfect for its target audience of elementary and middle school students, it is an ideal resource for teachers, librarians and beginning storytellers," Donna says. "Even seasoned tellers might find a refreshing new story to add to their repertoires."

Donna also has a review of the memoir A Viking Voyage: In Which an Unlikely Crew of Adventurers Attempts an Epic Journey to the New World by W. Hodding Carter. "The anecdotal narrative is engaging, funny and very personal," Donna says. "No dry ship's log this -- Carter pulls out the stops as he recounts the crew's adventures and misadventures, on the sea and off." (Note: this is Donna's 250th Rambles review!)

Amy Harlib's name often pops up in our book review section, but today she appears instead in the Rambles cineplex. She recently watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the new action flick starring Michelle Yeoh. "The power and significance of family," Amy says, "gives depth and emotional power to this dazzlingly beautiful martial arts fantasy adventure set in Manchu period China."

And finally, Janine Kauffman tells us what it's like Being John Malkovich. The film, Janine says, "touches on who owns whose soul, rebirth and, not a little, on a culture in which so many people want so desperately to be a celebrity."

Next week's edition may be slightly delayed (but no, we're not taking the week off!) because the editor is undergoing carpal tunnel surgery on both hands and will be unable to use a keyboard for a few days afterwards. So please be patient and check back soon!

24 December 2000

Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ur!!! (That's Gaelic: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!)

It's Christmas Eve!! Here's wishing a joyous holiday to everyone out there, from all of us here at Rambles, the online cultural arts magazine which never rests! Meanwhile, here are some more fine reviews and articles to help carry you towards the new year.

Tom Knapp opens today's edition with a band of frenetic Scottish fiddlers called, appropriately enough, Blazin' Fiddles, and their new CD Fire On! "Clever arrangements, as well as their obvious talent, help Blazin' Fiddles to stand out in a market flooded with fiddlers from the various diverse subsets of Celtic music," Tom says.

Tom also spends some more time with Cape Breton fiddler Howie MacDonald. This time, he listens to Live ... and Lively, which doesn't have the comedic aspects of the last of MacDonald's CDs Tom reviewed. "It's just pure, unadulterated fiddling by a master of the craft," he says.

Rachel Jagt enjoys another look at the music of Stan Rogers in Stan Rogers -- A Matter of Heart: The Musical Revue. "The storytelling for which Rogers is renowned makes his songs ideally suited for the stage," Rachel says. "This time around, however, the producers of the show allowed the songs to be central, rather than relegating them to soundtrack status in a story of the artist's life, as has been the case in the past."

Don't look for the band Celtic Elvis in our Celtic music section. Reviewer Laurie Thayer notes the album Hard to Be Real is not the "mish-mash of Celtic style and Elvis Presley parody" one might expect. "Their lyrics can be both nasty and slightly off-color, but they're also wickedly funny," Laurie says.

Sticking with folk-rock, Laurie next reviews The Mortal Moon by Texas songwriter Marienne. "Marienne combines smooth, melodic tunes and evocative lyrics to create lush imagery," Laurie says. "Coupled with her smooth, throaty voice, this makes a good CD for candlelit dinners and dancing."

Amanda Fisher joins a Circle of Women for this listening experience and finds it satisfying musically as well as a spiritual journey. "This is an album that fills a specific but real need," Amanda says.

Amanda also journeys south to Louisiana for some Louisiana Gumbo, which she calls "an excellent collection of blues and R&B" with some funk and zydeco, too.

Timothy Keene did not spend a rotten afternoon listening to his one, its title notwithstanding. Blues for a Rotten Afternoon, a compilation of tunes from various artisits, "serves as a great introduction to some great blues," Tim says. "I would definitely rate this album a must-buy."

Donna Scanlon explores the earlier work of novelist Tanya Huff in Wizard of the Grove, an omnibus volume comprising Child of the Grove and The Last Wizard. "Both books are laced with humor, as if Huff refuses to take herself or the fantasy genre too seriously," Donna says. "There's not much new in terms of high fantasy in this duology, but Wizard of the Grove is very good for early novels, heralding the writer that Huff will become."

Donna likewise enjoyed Brent Monahan's The Jekyl Island Club: A Novel. "Not only is the novel an interesting look at the lives of the historical rich and famous, it is a complex and provocative mystery," Donna says.

J. Higgins-Rosebrook is enthralled by the writing of Wendell Berry and Jayber Crow. "Jayber Crow the book is not a textbook," she says, "although like so much of Berry's work there are many lessons contained within -- lessons about love, community, friendship and work that are as old as time and yet prophetic in the way parables are always prophetic."

Jaeza Riley joins the Rambles staff today with her review of Deborah Bergman's search for meaning in a skein of yarn in The Knitting Goddess. "Without the stories and personal interpretations this would be just a book of simple patterns. I would recommend it as such -- Deborah includes a variety of projects, good instructions and very nice illustrations," Jaeza says. "The stories, however, add an extra element of richness to this book."

Elizabeth Badurina delves into the field of design, which Robin Williams (no, not the actor) expands with his book, The Non-Designer's Design Book. "Far from being exclusively for beginners, it contains everything you'll need as your design progresses, for both print and the web," Elizabeth explains.

Elizabeth also offers a helping hand to would-be 'zine publishers with Zine Scene: The Do It Yourself Guide to Zines by Francesca Lia Block and Hillary Carlip. "You simply can't read it without wanting to jump up out of your comfy chair and start writing your own," Elizabeth says. "It peps you up, pushes you to let your voice be heard, and encourages you to use your creativity."

Tom Knapp returns to the world of Los Bros Hernandez with Love & Rockets #4: Tears from Heaven. "This is good storytelling," Tom says, "which in many ways makes the flash and splash of superheroics pale in comparison."

Robin Brenner begins our cinematic double-feature with a sci-fi classic: Blade Runner. "A different vision is hard enough to find in filmmaking," Robin says, "so immersing yourself in this kind of story may be just the thing to make you remember just why filmmaking and storytelling are so vital."

Janine Kauffman cleans up today with her review of the movie Mumford. "Mumford is a surprisingly charming movie -- not groundbreaking comedy, not a memorable romance, but a film that simply says everyone has foibles, and no one is completely transparent," Janine says. "It was sold as a movie about Mumford's professional "outing," but it's much more about the gently comedic town and the friendships a newcomer develops with its natives."

That's all for today, folks. See ya soon ... and have a grand Yuletide!

21 December 2000

Today is the winter solstice and, at sunset, marks the beginning of Chanukah. For those who celebrate either (or both) of these holidays, we wish you the very best of days!

17 December 2000

We have a lot of new stuff for you today, but with just a week left before the big December ho-ho-holiday, it seems appropriate to begin this edition with a few more Christmas specials!

Jo Morrison gets things going in the seasonal vein with Iain Mac Harg's latest bagpipe CD, A Celtic Christmas. "This CD has the feeling of a Christmas concert as performed by a collection of Celtic musicians, combining music of the season with some of the classic repertoire of the bagpipes," Jo explains.

Amanda Fisher (who has been a busy reviewer of late!) takes a look at Advent with Steven B. Eulberg's Hark, the Glad Sound! "It's beautiful and serene to hear, evoking the joy and anticipation of the Advent season," Amanda says.

Amanda also reports on Behold That Star! An American Song Quilt by Washington Revels. "I've liked this album more as I've listened to it more and read the notes," she says. "It's a fascinating musical snapshot of a location and time, and the performances are, without exception, excellent."

Lynne Remick continues the holiday portion of today's update with Bridget Ball and Christopher Shaw on the folksy Mountain Snow & Mistletoe. "If you want to stop by the mountain house of an old friend and sing along to Christmas carol with a glass of hot cider in your hand, then this could very well be the Christmas album for you," Lynne says.

Beth Derochea explores the historical and cultural aspects of the holidays with Dorothy Morrison in Yule: A Celebration of Light and Warmth. "Though the primary audience focus is for those who follow Earth-centered religions, it has plenty of information for anyone interested in holiday traditions," Beth says. "I enjoyed reading this book, and it gave me many ideas for celebrating with friends and family."

Beth concludes our holiday section with a look at what is probably the best-known classic of the season: Charles Dickens' landmark work, A Christmas Carol. Today is, in fact, the 157th anniversary of the book's publication. Why, Beth ponders, is it still worth reading today even though everyone knows the story?

Everyone always seems to work a little harder during the holidays -- stores stay open later, everyone works extra shifts, plus we all have to fit extra duties, such as shopping, decorating the house and baking (and eating!) Christmas cookies! We at Rambles are no exception; instead of kicking back and taking it easy, we're providing you with another big update in addition to the bonus edition earlier this week!

Jo Morrison is back with another Celtic music review, this time of Gaelic singer Mairi MacInnes and This Feeling Inside. "MacInnes uses her gentle and flexible voice to great effect on a wide variety of music," Jo says. "Her vocal talents are extraordinary, incorporating a wide range of notes, knowledge of English and Gaelic, and a depth of expression which I have seldom heard on Gaelic recordings."

Cheryl Turner is next with a Celtic band drawing members from around the world: Daimh, and Moidart to Mabou. "Although the band members have very different backgrounds and playing styles, together they are able to grab and hold the attention of the listener," Cheryl says. "This unique Celtic blend makes for great toe-tapping tunes, surely to be enjoyed by a wide and varied audience."

Gilbert Head explores Mexico with a variety of singers in Rosa de Castilla & Other Love Songs. "Give yourself a treat," Gilbert says, "and spend a happy hour with these voices of love from Old Mexico."

Chet Williamson is delighted with Sam Bush's new bluegrass CD, Ice Caps: Peaks of Telluride. "For over a quarter of a century, mandolinist extraordinaire Sam Bush has been making appearances at the Telluride, Colorado Bluegrass Festival, and this CD is crammed to the edges with his energetic and astonishing performances from the past ten years there," Chet says. "It's a killer of an album, from the saddled doggie on the front cover to the last note of music."

Dave Townsend says Kate Barclay drew from influences from Phish to Jewel in the making of Sunshine from Mars, but said the folk-rock artist "still has to find her niche as a songwriter. While her songs aren't bad, there are a bunch of singer-songwriters out there who are making music that is more interesting."

Ellen Rawson shares a report on a recent Steeleye Span performance in England. The band, Ellen says, "is just as fun, rollicking and effective as ever."

Elizabeth Badurina's worldview was altered by reading Hannah Hinchman's A Trail Through Leaves: The Journal as a Path to Place. "There are few books out there that can alter the way you perceive the world -- one where, while reading it and being entertained by it, you can look up from its pages at the world around you and see the colors a little deeper, the movement a little more complex, the air a little sharper," Elizabeth explains. "A Trail Through Leaves is one such book."

Tom Knapp delves into the world of gothic writer William Hope Hodgson with a new graphic adaptation of his novel The House on the Borderland by Richard Corben and Simon Revelstroke. "The book seems to change slightly each time I read it," Tom says. "But it's worth reading if you don't mind being spooked next time you walk alone down a dark hall, or being left alone with your own dark thoughts."

Amanda Fisher marks her 50th review with a China Bayles mystery novel with a good title for the season: Mistletoe Man by Susan Wittig Albert. "I particularly liked the mistletoe lore that headed each chapter," Amanda says, "and while it does occur during the Christmas season, the plot is not strictly Christmas-related, making it a pleasurable read even in July (when the cold of the weather depicted might be welcome)."

Donna Scanlon explores elephant mythology with Barbara Gowdy's The White Bone. "The characterization is carefully developed," Donna says, "giving each elephant a unique personality and enabling the reader to become even more involved in the moving and poignant story."

Kristy Tait finds old fantasy alive and well in the new world in Kathryn Wesley's The 10th Kingdom, the novelization of the TV mini-series. "The beauty of this book ... lies in it's familiarity," Kristy says. "The whole thing reads like a fun set of inside jokes, which any reader who know fairy tales can be privy to."

It might sound like the title of a Christmas movie, but Three Kings isn't very festive. Janine Kauffman says this post-Gulf War story is "a provocative look at the bonds that form between soldiers, and also between soldiers and the civilians they're supposed to be protecting."

Tom Knapp never intended to watch the live-action cartoon The Flintstones: Viva Rock Vegas but was trapped with it on a transAtlantic flight. "Go figure," he says. "It was funny."

Tom ends this edition with a pair of interviews drawn from his archives. Both are with writers/scientists: real-life dinosaur hunter Robert Bakker and David Levy, who discovered one of the best-known celestial phenomenon in recent years.

That's it for today! Check back soon ... and have a grand holiday season!

13 December 2000

Ho-ho-ho-hello! Welcome back to Rambles for a bonus holiday update, consisting entirely of seasonal offerings! As if that's not enough, be sure to check back in this weekend for our regularly scheduled weekend edition.

Tom Knapp discovered a new holiday favorite when he spied Steve McDonald & Hollie Smith's seasonal collaboration, Winter in Scotland: a Highland Christmas. The pair, Tom says, "have put a new level of exultation in Christmas."

Tom also is impressed with the Celtic music debut of Disney singer Caroline Peyton. Celtic Christmas Spirit, he says, is "a great package you'll enjoy over and over again."

Julie Bowerman is equally happy with the holiday efforts of the Barra MacNeils from Cape Breton. "The Christmas Album begins with an intimate gathering, with a decidedly sacred feel to it, and then launches into a party as siblings Lucy, Stewart, Kyle and Sheumas MacNeil, along with a bunch of other MacNeils and sundry other fine musicians, get rolling," Julie says.

Amanda Fisher goes global for A Putumayo World Christmas. "This album would be a wonderful addition to anyone's library of Christmas music, combining as it does exciting version of standard tunes and interesting new ones from all over the world," Amanda says.

Amanda next joins up with Steven Schuch and the Night Heron Consort for A Celtic Celebration, Volume 2. "The sixteen instrumental tracks are each a delightful blend of modern, traditional and Celtic styles, accented by wonderfully eclectic choices of instruments that range from congas and fretless bass to gemshorn, bouzouki and uilleann pipes," Amanda says. "This sounds like quite a mix and it is -- and part of the delight is the way it has all been woven into an elegant, seamless and fascinating whole."

Tom Knapp goes across the ocean and back in time -- to the British Isles on Christmas Day, 1957 -- with Alan Lomax and a wide array of holiday revelers with the new release of Sing Christmas and the Turn of the Year. "Leapfrogging around the country, Lomax and his associates gave listeners a taste of Britain's multicultural celebrations, ranging from traditional pub sings to choral hymns and, yes, even the skiffle bands which were popular in the day," Tom says. "If you have a yen for Christmas Past, take this one home and send yourself back to 1957."

Next, Tom journeys northeast to the Canadian coast for An East Coast Christmas, a compilation CD by some of the best names in the region's music scene. "There's not a bad track on the album," Tom says. "If you want to get into the Christmas spirit, this is a great way to do it."

Beth Derochea unearths an old favorite, A Christmas Together, by John Denver and the Muppets. "For me, this is a favorite holiday album; one of the few that I can listen to regularly without being tempted to scream from overplaying," Beth reveals.

Amanda Fisher shares one of her Christmas favorites: Brave Combo's It's Christmas, Man! "It's one of the CDs that gets the most play in our house during Christmastime," Amanda says, "and I think almost anyone would appreciate the blend of musical styles into an unexpected and lively seasonal album."

Amanda also enjoys Suzanne McDermott's Out Under the Sky. "McDermott's unadorned voice and guitar make a simple and effective presentation of the well-chosen songs," she says.

Tom Knapp is disappointed in a new Christmas CD from Green Linnet, however. A Thistle & Shamrock Christmas Ceilidh provides a lot of great music from an array of excellent musicians but, unfortunately, it omits the Christmas part of the collection.

This update has been primarily about holiday music, but Amy Harlib slips in at the end with a look at Tinsel Town in Andy Lipschultz's How the Grinch Stole Hollywood, detailing the behind-the-scenes work which brought a Dr. Seuss classic to the big screen.

Donna Scanlon concludes our holiday edition with a quirky new book from writer Chet Williamson: Pennsylvania Dutch Night Before Christmas is a regional adaptation of Clement C. Moore's "A Visit From St. Nicholas," with illustrations by James Rice. "The text begs to be read aloud, and it reads well," Donna says.

If that doesn't satisfy your yen for Christmas, look for a few more holiday items in upcoming updates! Also, don't miss our big Dec. 10 edition below.

10 December 2000

The editor has returned from the wilds of New York and New England, just in time for your weekly update.

Tom Knapp begins the day with a little instructive musicianship via Peter Cooper's Complete Irish Fiddle Player. "Too often, words such as "complete" are bandied about in the titles of so-called comprehensive works, but their shortcomings are often all too apparent," Tom says. "That's not the case with this one, however; Cooper has packed a wealth of music and information into this release from Mel Bay."

Laurie Thayer goes to Scotland with Ishbel MacAskill and Essentially MacAskill, a largely Gaelic recording. "Her voice is itself a powerful instrument, more than versatile enough to express sorrow or joy as necessary," Laurie says. "Where she does have accompaniment, it is light, background sound and does not overpower her voice as happens with so many other singers."

Donna Scanlon finds a folk-rockier tinge to her Celtic music in Omens by Jack Hardy. "Hardy paints vivid, vibrant and specific images in tightly arranged songs that go straight to the heart," Donna says.

Jade Falcon was less impressed with the Latin American techno band Tendencia Positiva (T+). The album It's an International Thing "is little more than just a loop of techno music played over and over and over again," Jade says.

Timothy Keene, on the other hand, rather enjoys the re-emergence of Tish Hinojosa on the music scene. With her CD Sign of Truth, Tim says, "Hinojosa finds a new voice -- one of maturity, longing, sorrow and regret."

Rachel Jagt is moved by the "deeply personal songs" on Joy Eden Harrison's CD Unspoken. "This is a great record to talk you through a bad breakup, to give you renewed conviction -- whether you were the dumper or the dumpee."

Chet Williamson revisits the music of Hazel Dickens with her new release It's Hard to Tell the Singer from the Song. "As a writer and interpreter of pure country song, Hazel Dickens has no parallel," Chet says. "This is only one more jewel in the crown of this true queen of country."

Amanda Fisher says Sy Kopps crosses the line between blues/soul and jazz with his new album Berkeley Soul. "If you like a richer orchestration, you'll like this album a lot," Amanda says. "It's got great energy and pacing, and the song selections are well chosen."

Amanda also finds good music and a most unusual title -- Champagne Saturday (I Made Love to an Alien Last Night) -- in this new release from country singer George McClure. "This album was an eye-opener, and immediately struck me as both odd and wonderful," Amanda says.

Robert Buck expands our new age offerings with Amoeba's 1997 CD Watchful. The album, Robert says, provides "dark and dreamlike ambient music."

Ralph DiGennaro provides new insight into the music and spirit of Lucy Kaplansky in this recent interview, in which Kaplansky discusses her efforts to get her music -- solo, as well as with Richard Shindell and Dar Williams in Cry Cry Cry -- heard.

Elizabeth Badurina helps exercise our creative muscles by introducing us to Michael J. Gelb's book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. "The information in this book very well could lead you to a life that's closely in tune with the Renaissance men of old," Elizabeth says. "It can probably unlock a lot of the mysteries of creativity and creation, and you very well may be able to do a lot of things with a lot more skill and mindfulness than before you read the book."

Tom Knapp makes a wacky excursion into the graphic world with Evan Dorkin's twisted Elsewords tale, Superman & Batman: World's Funnest, in which a pair of misguided imps destroy the world over and over again. "World's Funnest isn't to be read with even a slight hint of seriousness -- but wow, what a fun book it is!" Tom says. "Credit to Dorkin for coming up with such a nifty idea!"

Donna Scanlon explores the realm of fairy tales with editors Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling in their latest anthology, A Wolf at the Door: and Other Retold Fairy Tales. The editors, Donna says, "have done a remarkable job with their selection and arrangement of material."

Donna also explores the Middle Ages with author Karen Cushman and Matilda Bone. Featuring "a unique and memorable heroine," the book is "a lively refreshing read with some meat on its bones," Donna says.

Amy Harlib travels to Vernor Vinge's sci-fi world in A Fire Upon the Deep, which won the Hugo award for science fiction. "This is science-fiction wonder -- intelligent, esthetic, moving, creative -- of the highest order and deep enough to set readers on fire for more," Amy exclaims.

Tom Knapp unlocks the Rambles cineplex for another in his series of James Bond reviews. Today's entry is the Roger Moore flick Octopussy. "The scene in which a troupe of outraged circus performers storming a castle is a visual treat," Tom says, "as is the sight of Bond attempting to find and defuse a nuclear bomb while disguised as a big-footed, sad-faced clown."

Last up today is Janine Kauffman with Tumbleweeds. "Tumbleweeds starts as a sort of mother-daughter road movie, and one that we've seen before," Janine says. As it progresses, however, the film "takes on a depth that covers up some of the shallowness spilling around its edges."

Elizabeth Badurina also has a new zine review for us: Skatedork #4, which changed Elizabeth's opinion on a much-maligned pastime.

Check back later this week for a special edition with several new Christmas reviews!

1 December 2000

This week's update is a little early because the editor is taking a week to lose himself in the northern wilderness. We'll be back a little late next weekend for the same reason (depending just how lost he gets!) but don't fear, there will be an update next week as well. (This despite another online magazine's recent claim that our reviews are "lousy" because we post too many updates. Can ya believe it? Sounds like someone needs a little nap.)

Tom Knapp opens today's update with something a little different: a review of a place. Ceol is the Traditional Irish Music Center in Dublin, Ireland, and Tom was amazed at its presentation. "Not only is the placed packed with information and fascinating cultural and historical tidbits -- it's got buckets of personality to boot," he says. "The designers also had a wicked sense of presentation, making my too-few hours at Ceol a true delight."

Laurie Thayer is up next with a pair of Celtic CDs. First is Seamus Kennedy's 1995 recording, Seamus Kennedy in Concert, which Laurie says is "an excellent introduction" to Kennedy's unique performance style.

Also, Laurie gives a report on the compilation CD Celtic Mist from 1998. "If you're used to the raucous arrangements of bands like Gaelic Storm or Brother (to name a couple of examples) or the traditional sounds of Tommy Makem or the Irish Rovers, Celtic Mist will be disappointing," Laurie says. "If you're looking for something to help you drift off to sleep, however, it's perfect."

Gilbert Head follows with Here Comes the Skelly by Michael Snow, a native of Liverpool who explored various folk and singer-songwriter veins before returning here to his Celtic musical roots. "Snow's voice is all rough and edgy, perfect for the conceit of the disc," Gil says, "and the talent (both writing and performance) brought to the table on this project is formidable."

Gil leans more towards country with Claire Lynch and Lovelight. The album, Gil says, "offers a gentle hour's diversion from the helter-skelter of the outside world."

Donna Scanlon visits Labrador with the Northern Harmony Choir and Under the Labrador Sky. "The songs recall the joys and trials of life in Labrador, particularly in its past, and there is a charming old-fashioned feel about the CD," Donna says. "The music is soothing and pleasant with interesting and well-performed harmonies."

Amanda Fisher gave a few spins to Sacred Memories of the Future by Cybertribe and found its blend of native Australian Aboriginal instruments with chanting and synthesizer sounds to be "pleasant but mostly unexceptional."

Our first Selia Qynn review was filed under folk-rock, but writer Ken Fasimpaur thinks her newer release, Charmed Existence, fits better in jazz. "It's an interesting and well-constructed stylistic palette, well-suited to Qynn's intimate and nuanced voice, which is capable of both power and restraint," Ken says. "Qynn handles both lead and backing vocals, and displays a strong vocal gift with both."

Chet Williamson is ready to ring in the Christmas season with Mary McCandless and her new CD, Mary Christmas -- a Yuletide interpretation Chet says falls somewhere between folk-rock and jazz. "The selection of songs is an appealing mix of traditional and new, and the variety is mirrored in McCandless's extraordinary voice, which extends from a pure soprano to a rich contralto," Chet says.

Audrey Clark marks her 75th Rambles review with Kate Long's sometimes-quirky CD bigollady. The first thing that caught Audrey's attention, she recalls, was Long's "interesting voice -- a deep, rich force making its way from my speakers. However, there's here plenty to enjoy beyond her voice."

Ralph DiGennaro shares his impressions of an intimate Louise Taylor performance. "I have sat close to some extremely talented musicians in my years of writing about music and going to concerts," Ralph says, "but never have I seen someone so skilled and adept at blending voice and guitar playing with such grace and articulation as Taylor."

Tom Knapp gets into the Christmas spirit early with his look at The Red Wings of Christmas, a child's yarn written by Wesley Eure of Land of the Lost and Days of Our Lives fame, and illustrated by Ronald Pailillo, better known as Horshack on Welcome Back, Kotter. "The large, colorfully illustrated book is not for beginning readers," Tom says. "Its 172 pages are packed with text, which may daunt the younger set. But anyone up to the level of The Bobbsey Twins or Nancy Drew should have no trouble with Red Wings, which would also make a nice installment series for reading aloud."

Donna Scanlon takes a trip to the African Congo with Barbara Kingsolver and The Poisonwood Bible. "Kingsolver's compelling narrative is remarkably subtle in its complexity," Donna says. "She brings alive the sights, sounds, smells and textures of Africa, and the reader becomes utterly absorbed."

Amy Harlib is impressed with Steve Aylett's Atom, which does not provide much "depth of character, intense emotional subtlety or intricate background descriptions." However, Amy says, "Atom is wild and crazy and funny, replete with satirical allusions to much of contemporary and current pop-cultural trends -- all extrapolated to the mind-stretching max."

Rambles newcomer Jennifer Judice says Daniel Quinn's Ishmael is a spiritual lesson wrapped in a fictional tale. "You will find yourself drawn into the imagery almost immediately," Jenn says, "discovering new perspectives on old questions, shedding light on unexplained mysteries that have become so ingrained in our culture that we have just accepted them as truth -- all of this hitting home on personal levels that will be both enlightening and disturbing."

Elizabeth Badurina was stunned when she first read The Journey is the Destination: The Journals of Dan Eldon, a posthumous collection of a photojournalist's work. "Words have been written on some of the pages -- others are strictly visual. It's an insight into the chaotic, creative mind that Eldon posessed -- and chronicles both his adventures and his personal evolution," Elizabeth says. "If intensity frightens you, the journals of Dan Eldon will scare you to death."

Amy Harlib has been providing some interesting material for our non-fiction section lately, and today is no exception: Norman Brosterman's Out of Time: Designs for the Twentieth Century Future. The book provides an old view of what our world would look like now. The package, Amy says, has "a cumulative effect of gee-whiz, gosh-wow exuberance."

Sean Simpson takes a look at a classic in modern comic literature: DC's The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. "It is the Citizen Kane of the medium of illustrated fiction and of the superhero genre, a story that provides a yardstick by which all future works will be judged," Sean says.

Janine Kauffman reviews The Muse in today's movie section. "When (director Albert) Brooks concentrates on his gentle sendup of Hollywood's fleeting fame, it's an affectionate satire of a glitzy business," Janine says.

Tom Knapp continues his Star Trek retrospective with a review of No. 3 in the series, The Search for Spock. "Don't sell this one short," Tom says. "It's not the best in the series, but it still fills a vital place in the ongoing story."

It's been a while since we've opened up the 'zines section of Rambles, but with Elizabeth Badurina's welcome return to active duty, that's about to change! Our first addition is Frustration #1, which Elizabeth says was created with an eye for art.

Daina Savage ends the day by dusting off an interview she did with Weird Al Yankovic, the polka/parody fiend, back when his single "Amish Paradise" was churning up some ire in Pennsylvania Dutch country. "Obviously it's not accurate, that's where the humor comes from," Al explains. Tom Knapp follows with a handful of interviews with various authors, which he's pulled from his private archives to share. Look for his interviews with anthropologist Kenneth Good, ecologist Stuart Pimm, Black Panther Bobby Seale, actor Wesley Eure and feminist Betty Friedan on the author chats page.

25 November 2000

Is everyone still stuffed from the holiday? Well, try digesting over another tasty selection of Rambles reviews! Go ahead, dig in!

Tom Knapp begins our post-feast revelry with a pair of CDs for our massive Celtic traditions section. First is a little something from the Maritimes: fiddler and funnyman Howie MacDonald's recreation of a Cape Breton ceilidh in The Dance Last Night. "For dancers, this is an amazing collection which will keep your feet stomping through the night, slowing down only occasionally to give them a rest (or to snuggle close to a dancing partner)," Tom says. "But even couch-bound ceilidh fans will enjoy the energetic performance as well as the "you are there" dancehall ambience."

Next, Tom moves west to Minneapolis to meet up with the Tim Malloys, an unusual Celtic quartet featuring Adam Stemple from Boiled in Lead. Their CD If You Were Walking, Tom says, "is tight and highly varied, ranging from very traditional to rockin'."

Rachel Jagt switches gears only slightly, introducing Tear the House Down by the Newfoundland band The Fables. The CD, Rachel says, "is a good first record and could be a great stepping stone for this band. It will be interesting to hear where they go next."

Cheryl Turner, a newcomer to our pages, makes her Rambles debut in the same general neighborhood. She reviews the latest from the Barra MacNeils, a Cape Breton sibling band. Racket in the Attic, Cheryl says, "has a 'homey' feel to it, which seems difficult to achieve when working with large production companies, and highlights their unique style that fans have come to love."

Another new writer today is Maria Cherry, who tackles Celtic Mouth Music by a variety of singers. In all 37 tracks, Maria says, "you can hear and feel the strong rhythm that enables mouth music to be used for dancing; sometimes, the sound goes straight into your feet."

The third and final addition to the Rambles crew today is Judy Krueger (herself a musician, whose work will be featured here soon. She debuts with Mark Humphreys' folksy Songs at the Moon. " didn't find an unlikable song anywhere in the fourteen tracks" on this live recording, Judy says.

Amanda Fisher enjoys the folk-rockin' sound of Bruce Wozny's Sleeping Dogs. "The twelve songs were written over the course of 13 years, and I wish he'd dated them; it would be interesting to see how his songwriting has developed over the years," Amanda says. "The songs span quite a range of songwriting sophistication, and I would have enjoyed comparing these levels with the songs' creation dates."

Amanda goes country with Bob Grez and Still a Cowboy. "If you're a country fan who isn't pleased with the way country and pop have started to sound like each other, try Bob Grez; you'll like his traditional sound," she says.

J. Higgins-Rosebrook has a double-header today: first, a rambling about her encounter with renowned Russian musician Boris Grebenshchikov, and second, a review of Grebenshchikov's CD Legendi Russkaga Roka with the band Akvarium. Jacque and her crew of sibling reviewers agreed the album is a winner "as far as range and listening enjoyment."

Elizabeth Badurina, after far too long a hiatus from Rambles, returns with a pile of upcoming reviews. Today she brings us The Rough Guide to Jazz: The Essential Companion to Artists & Albums by Ian Carr, Digby Fairweather and Brian Priestley. Elizabeth says the book is "a fantastic introduction to the complicated and sometimes intimidating world of jazz music and musicians."

Jo Morrison touches on an area we explore all too rarely here at Rambles -- the spoken word. Jo recently took some time with Scottish Traditional Tales, a CD recorded by nine Scottish storytellers which Jo calls "a gold mine for fans of traditional tales or Scottish lore."

Donna Scanlon unlocks the fiction department for her reading of Pat Murphy's There and Back Again: by Max Merriwell, a "space opera which is also a loving tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and gives more than a nod to Lewis Carroll." Donna says the book "is sure to delight any reader possessing senses of humor and wonder."

Amy Harlib takes us from outer space to a novel by Lindsey Davis combining history and mystery. Two for the Lions, Amy says, "offers satisfying suspense, humor, fiendishly clever plotting and delightfully eccentric characters all springing to life in their colorfully rendered milieu -- Imperial Rome given vibrant life even as the hero goes in pursuit of a deadly foe."

Julie Bowerman acted on a trusted friend's recommendation when she picked up and read Bill Richardson's Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast. "She has affirmed her exquisite taste," Julie says, "and this slim volume introduced me to myriad characters who also share my love of books."

Beth Derochea attends to spiritual matters with Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions by Starhawk, Diane Baker and Anne Hill. "This is an excellent idea book and workbook for those who want to live their spirituality every day," Beth says, "rather than relegating it to special occasions and holidays."

Tom Knapp revisits Love & Rockets (the graphic novel series, not the rock band) for the third installment from Los Bros Hernandez: Las Mujeres Perdidas. "Their stories are intriguing," Tom says, "their characters seem real, full of flaws like the rest of us, and the science-fiction twist on their world is enough to keep things from ever spiralling down into the humdrum or mundane."

Daina Savage makes a too-rare appearance on our poetry review page, bring James Hoch's Holler along for the ride. "In his writing, light is central," Daina says. "It is illuminating. It offers hope in a dark world."

Janine Kauffman offers up Heart and Souls for our movie section today. This tale of second chances is "corny in places (OK, really corny)," Janine says, but in the hands of a talented cast, "the humor is never far from the surface."

Tom Knapp closes the Rambles cineplex and ends another update for the week with the second in a series of Star Trek motion pictures. The Wrath of Khan, Tom says, "isn't just another spectacle where spaceships shoot a lot and blow up real good. The tension and conflict between Kirk, Khan and their respective crews makes this a winner with real staying power."

22 November 2000

Turkey 'n' stuffin'! Mashed potatoes 'n' pumpkin pie! Here's wishing all of our readers from the U.S. (as well as anyone else who cares to celebrate) a happy Thanksgiving from the cast and crew at Rambles ... and, never fear, we're not taking the holidays off. Check back this weekend for a massive update!

18 November 2000

Tom Knapp marks his 500th submission to Rambles with something a little unique: a combination concert and session recorded by Irish supergroup Dervish and released last year as The Midsummer's Night Session. "If you've any love for Irish music and genuine pub atmosphere, The Midsummer's Night Session is a video you'll treasure and watch repeatedly," Tom says. "Invite in a few friends and a case of Guinness and you'll feel like a part of the party."

Never one to rest, Tom keeps up the pace with a review of the 1999 double-CD from the famed Irish band Wolfe Tones (not to be confused with Wolfstone). Live Alive Oh!, Tom says, provides music that "is mostly light-hearted, designed for singing and clapping along." However, he notes, "there's a large slice of steel in most of the tunes, edged and biting England's continued presence in Northern Ireland."

Charlie Gebetsberger gave a listen to Rod Paterson's Up to Date and says the album -- actually a collection of tracks from two earlier releases -- provides plenty of "toe-tapping Scottish easy-listening."

Charlie also reports on Kat Eggleston's Outside of Eden, which blends Celtic and folk roots. "This album is more like a musical story time, ripe with great melodies and good lyrics," Charlie says.

Laurie Thayer is next with Barby Holder's Haunt Me Forever. Although Laurie was impressed by Holder's live performance, she says the CD "is simply not a good showcase for Holder's talents."

Next, Laurie goes with the more worldly beat of Ekova's Heaven's Dust. "They bring together a variety of musical traditions, producing a fascinating blend that can include Celtic and Iranian sounds mixed up with Egyptian and Indian motifs," Laurie says. "One might think from the description that Ekova's music is wildly undisciplined and unrecognizable as music, but all the disparate threads come together and it works."

Tom Knapp returns with the more European-tinged sounds of Blackmore's Night and Under a Violet Moon. "Blackmore's Night has filled the CD with less familiar traditionals and several very good original pieces," Tom says. "Even the traditionals are cunningly arranged to elicit a fresh sound, with just enough modern influences to set the band apart from the crowd."

Chet Williamson is always on the lookout for good, solid bluegrass, and he's found some on Talkin' to Myself by the Lonesome River Band. "Here's a bluegrass band that started off great and just keeps getting better," Chet says. "Every member is a superb instrumentalist."

Amanda Fisher wraps up today's CD reviews with Somerville Live from Vance Gilbert. "This album has confirmed my desire to see Gilbert perform," Amanda says. "The combination of light and friendly commentary leavens the serious and sometimes heartbreaking songs, but does not detract from their impact; a tricky balance to achieve, and one Gilbert does beautifully."

Ralph DiGennaro joins the Rambles staff today with an interview with famed folk singer Richard Shindell. See what the songwriter, solo performer and member of Cry Cry Cry has to say!

Amy Harlib found an interesting persective on history when she picked up Phyllis Pray Bober's Art, Culture & Cuisine: Ancient and Medieval Gastronomy. "With an abiding passion for her subject matter and refreshing wit," Amy says, "Bober confirms what every cook and appreciator of fine food instinctively knows: cuisine and dining's place is at the nexus of cultural, religious and social endeavors fundamental to not only Western, but to ALL civilizations."

Julie Bowerman has another of Tom Holt's hilarious fantasies for us today. The theological spoof Only Human, Julie says, "is Holt in fine form -- observant, insightful and quite funny."

Next, Donna Scanlon revisits editor Esther Friesner's politically incorrect fantasy world with The Chick is in the Mail. "As with the previous collections, the 15 stories and 1 poem ... demonstrate a vivid range of imagination and interpretation," Donna says.

Donna also has a report on Dan Keding's audio interpretation of Allan B. Chinen's book Beyond the Hero: Classic Stories of Men in Search of Soul. "Keding's storytelling is captivating. He narrates in a crisp, straightforward manner, adding expression without overdoing it," Donna says. Also, she adds, "Readers of Chinen's book will be well-served by this tape."

Back in the comics world, Sean Simpson takes us on a sprint through Mark Waid's Flash collection, Born to Run. "In it," Sean says, "we gain a real sense of both Waid as a writer and (Wally West) as a character."

Tom Knapp begins a retrospective of the long-running series of Star Trek films with the first appearance of the starship Enterprise on the big screen, the unimaginatively titled Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The film, Tom says, "has clearly been exceeded by successive Star Trek television shows and films. ... But this was a long-awaited reintroduction of friends thought to be gone forever."

It's with great regret that we bid our final farewell to Miles O'Dometer, who has decided to retire from writing and return to his solitary goat farm, where he plans to go back to making cheese in the time-honored manner of his ancestors. Today, he gives us his 181st and final review, focusing on four recently re-released films from W.C. Fields in the 1930s: Million Dollar Legs, You're Telling Me, It's a Gift and You Can't Cheat an Honest Man.

12 November 2000

Tom Knapp launches today's update with Sailors Story, a ship-shaped CD from Canada's Sons of Maxwell. "These are all songs I've heard done before, and sometimes done better," Tom says. "But Sons of Maxwell can boast excellent vocals and, in most cases, fine traditional arrangements."

Julie Bowerman continues the Celtic theme with Beyond the Pale's self-titled CD. "Beyond the Pale's debut CD proves these musicians aren't afraid to take risks and move beyond the traditional," Julie says. "The vocals are solid, the music is full, the writing is ready for a wider audience."

Rachel Jagt turns to a folkier side of Celtic music with Into June's The Lost Lyric. "If you like piping, you'll probably enjoy these songs," Rachel says. "I'm more interested in hearing what the band can do lyrically with a little practice and some time."

Rachel also explores One If By Hand by folk band Sons of the Never Wrong. Band members, Rachel says, "have a lot of talent between the three of them -- and a quirky sense of humour and outlook on life that will only serve to make their songwriting and performing a bright spot on the horizon of American folk music."

Lynne Remick provides us with another look at Celtic/new age artist Lisa Lynne and Seasons of the Soul. The album, Lynne says, "cultivates the Celtic spirit and harvests it through enchanting melodies that hum from the strings of her Celtic harp."

Wil Owen turns to the sounds of Brazil with Amazonica, directed by Miguel Kertsman. Although the sound quality is not great, Wil says he appreciates the "musical tapestry" of cultural sounds.

Chet Williamson goes jazzy with Ronnie Earl and Healing Time. "If you're in a blues-induced funk because you haven't heard any great blues/jazz lately," Chet says, "Ronnie Earl has the remedy."

Audrey Clark enjoys the folk-rock stylings of Patti Witten's Land of Souvenirs. "In a voice that brings to mind Joni Mitchell, Witten inflects her tunes with a disarming mixture of soft-spoken fragility and raw, throaty seductiveness," Audrey says.

Over in the fiction department, Donna Scanlon concludes Kate Thompson's trilogy with Wild Blood. "Wild Blood stands well enough alone, but it's likely that you'll get more out of it by reading the whole trilogy," Donna says. "Pick it up and settle yourself in for an entertaining and satisfying read."

Amy Harlib explores contemporary fantasy with Peter S. Beagle and A Dance for Emilia. "The book's combination of intense emotions, colorful descriptions of people and places, permeated throughout with an oddly poignant yet beautiful mood, makes the inclusion of the eerie and the uncanny convincing, especially at the tale's bittersweet yet satisfying conclusion," Amy says. "This charmingly unconventional example of the ghost story subgenre of fantasy is perfect as a gift to oneself and especially to a special friend, for Beagle offers not only an entertaining, brief, supernaturally-tinged yarn, but also something more."

Conor O'Connor leans towards science fiction in Jamil Nasir's Distance Haze. "The exposition of the scientific ideas," Conor says, "along with the description of their incorporation into the melting pot that is his mind and personality, make this a powerful work of SF."

Beth Derochea is a little late for Halloween, but what the hey, we'll slip this one in anyway. Silver Ravenwolf provides a host of seasonal information in Halloween Customs, Spells & Recipes, a book Beth calls "is a fun and unique look at a holiday that celebrates both the solemn and the silly."

Tom Knapp returns to the world of Los Bros Hernandez and Love & Rockets. Volume 2, Chelo's Burden, is "a riveting read, compressed life in a microscope for everyone to see."

Tom shifts to the long-ago for Erik the Viking, a hilarious film from the mind of Monty Python alumnus Terry Jones. "The movie, despite some serious themes, is without question one of the best fantasy comedies you'll find on the market," Tom says.

Felonice Merriman is very impressed with the new movie Pay It Forward. "I won't spoil the ending but it will leave you in tears," Felonice says. "It may also make you wonder what kind of world we live in and maybe even inspire you to do something good for one person -- if not all of mankind."

By the way, you may recall us mentioning a few worthy "click" charities, such as the Hunger Site and Save the Rainforest. Well, a new one has been added to our list; you can find it with the others on our links page. The Ecology Fund allows you to support several environmental causes from one page, including the Amazon Basin, the Sierra Madre forest and the Patagonian Coastal Reserve. You'll also find a list of similar "click" charities at Quick Donations. Remember, it costs you nothing and takes only seconds a day to help out these worthy causes!

5 November 2000

Tom Knapp is back with his third and final review from the Celtic Colours festival in Cape Breton. This time, he spotlights the Christmas Island Ceilidh, a milling frolic and concert featuring Scotland's Flora MacNeil and Maggie MacInnes. "It was a very special night in Christmas Island," Tom says, "where the joy of simple working songs were kept alive by people from both sides of the ocean, in a performance which drew audience members back to their beloved roots."

Jo Morrison gives an enthusiastic thumbs-up to On the Road to Lisdoonvarna, the debut album from the Pennsylvania duo Fire in the Glen (comprising John Varner and Rambles' own Tom Knapp). "Fire in the Glen manages to capture all of the spirited fire of an Irish pub," Jo says, "with a wide list of familiar Irish tunes and the vigor and gusto you would expect from such an environment."

Rachel Jagt goes to Nova Scotia for singer-songwriter Dave Gunning's second CD, Caught Between Shadows. "Gunning has a gentleness, a tenderness, that should make him difficult to listen to -- but the emotion in his voice, the real honesty of the songs, makes you sit up and take notice," Rachel says.

Sticking with the Nova Scotian theme, Rachel also has good words to say about the 1995 live album Remembering Stan Rogers: An East Coast Tribute, featuring a host of top performers from the Maritimes. "The sound quality is fantastic," Rachel says, "and all of the performers are enjoying themselves."

Tom Knapp recently heard an album by a bunch of Texan pirate-wannabees called the Bilge Pumps. Their album, We Don't Know, shows a great deal of potential but is poorly executed, Tom says. "I hope the Bilge Pumps keep working to hone their sound -- with effort, they could be a very effective ensemble."

Donna Scanlon finds an emotional listening experience in Ghetto Tango: Wartime Yiddish Theater by Adrienne Cooper and Zalman Mlotek. "Much more than living history, Ghetto Tango is a testament to the strength and resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity," Donna says, "and it is impossible to imagine any listener remaining unmoved."

Laurie Thayer turns to folky new age music with Unborn Star by Piyali. The singer's voice, Laurie says, "is dusky and strong like a torch singer's, but her songs aren't necessarily about love, requited or otherwise."

Chet Williamson mixes folk and bluegrass music in Jones & Leva's Vertie's Dream. "Hearing them is like returning to the past, or being in a slightly skewed present in which the old songs and ancient tones are the musical norm," Chet says. "This is haunting and powerful music, and you owe it to yourself to hear it."

Amanda Fisher goes a rockier route with Donna the Buffalo and Positive Friction. "I strongly recommend this album, especially to people fond of powerful and skillful songwriting, and those interested in the many ways diverse musical elements can be forged into new forms," Amanda says.

Laurie Thayer presents a blend of fiction and Irish folklore in her review of Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest. "Even if you know the story of the six swans," Laurie says, "Daughter of the Forest will keep you turning pages until there are no more, and leave you anxiously awaiting the next installment in the Sevenwaters Trilogy."

Donna Scanlon is back with her review of Newbery winner Lois Lowry's futuristic novel Gathering Blue. "Cautionary and compelling, Gathering Blue is a book that speaks to readers on many levels and could well earn Lois Lowry another Newbery honor," Donna says.

Amy Harlib tackles the young and young at heart with The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders. "The bizarre imagery and unconventional storytelling make this parable about selfishness, community and economy the perfect antidote to cloying Disney drivel," Amy says.

Sean Simpson is up next with James O'Barr's original collection of The Crow. The comic, Sean says, is "a powerful, moving and intense work of modern gothic literature, steeped in tradition yet unmistakeably now. O'Barr's dialogue and asides mesh perfectly with his artwork."

Janine Kauffman opens the Rambles cineplex with a review of An Ideal Husband. "In a classic scene of miscues and misunderstandings, doors open and close, the right people are turned away and the wrong people overhear conversations," Janine says. "Everything should quicken, the energy should become frantic. But the film stays laid back."

Miles O'Dometer nears the end of his reign as Rambles' main movie reviewer, but not before commenting on The Winner, which "continues the social satire of (director Alex) Cox's Repo Man, showing slow-on-the-draw people caught up in events they couldn't comprehend on their best days, assuming they have any."

29 October 2000

We can't forget that this is Halloween/Samhain weekend -- I'm sure I speak for everyone here at Rambles when I say BOO! ... or, rather, hope you're having a good time! Just as a reminder, we've collected a lot of our 'ookiest reviews on our Halloween for people in the mood for some seasonal fun.

Also, while we're speaking of reminders -- don't forget to turn your clocks back this weekend! (Ah ... can't beat that extra hour of sleep....)

Another week has passed, and Rambles is pleased to offer another taste of the amazing Celtic Colours event in Cape Breton. In this update, Tom Knapp reviews the Guitar Summit, featuring J.P. Cormier, Dave MacIsaac, Bob MacLean and Scott Macmillan. "While a guitar quartet may not be the norm in music circles, these masterful performers certainly succeeded in bringing their instrument to the forefront of this crowd's attention," Tom says.

Laurie Thayer begins the first of three reviews today with Seamus Kennedy's lively, funny Live! CD. Kennedy, Laurie says, "not only has a gift for music, but a gift for making people laugh. When he combines the two, it's sheer delight."

Jo Morrison is very impressed by the quality of singers on Orain Nan Gaidheal (The Song of the Gael), a compilation of Gaelic songs recorded live in Edinburgh. "Singers rarely accomplish the perfection in live performance that they crave for recordings, but these songs are beautifully and artistically sung, without a bum track on the album," Jo says.

Tom Knapp enjoys the rough, in-person touches of Unabridged, the live CD from SixMileBridge. The album's "glitches and goofs add to the live feel, reminding those of us fortunate enough to have seen 6MB live that, hey, these guys are fun," Tom says. "And there's some fine music here, too."

Ken Fasimpaur was initially surprised by the diversity of styles to be found on Bones, from Susan McKeown and The Chanting House, but he's happy with the album's eclectic nature. The CD "strays from near pop to classical folk to introspective singer-songwriter territory, mixing emotional and lyrical tones from an unusual palette that includes the traditional and the personal," Ken says. "The transitions are sometimes jarring, and not every object assembled is a priceless gem, but what's here is worth hearing."

Laurie Thayer is back with her second review for today, spotlighting Third Planet's self-titled CD with music from Italy, Algeria, Iraq and India. "Their music seamlessly combines each of their heritages and adds a few more traditions besides," Laurie says.

Chet Williamson (see note at the end of today's update) gets back to bluegrass with Jack Tottles' The Bluegrass Sound. "If you're a bluegrass fan and want to introduce a friend to this wonderful music, I can't imagine a better way to do it than with this CD," Chet says. "Jack Tottle is a singer, songwriter and mandolin player, a real triple threat, and he's joined here by a whole major constellation of bluegrass stars."

Laurie Thayer completes her triple-header for today with David Elias's Lost in the Green. "Elias's slightly reedy voice has more personality than some more polished singers," Laurie notes.

Amanda Fisher concludes the music portion of today's update with The Ghost of Will Harbut by Wishing Chair. "Musically, this is an excellent album, and the songwriting is superb," Amanda says with unrestrained enthusiasm.

Donna Scanlon has a pair of book reviews today, starting with Van Reid's delightful first novel, Cordelia Underwood, or, The Marvelous Beginnings of the Moosepath League. The story, Donna says, "is a refreshing read, sweet without being cloying, intelligent without being arch. The best news is that for Van Reid, it's only the beginning of the marvelous adventures of the Moosepath League!"

Donna is equally pleased with Barbara Gowdy's quirky Mister Sandman. "Gowdy grabs your attention and refuses to let go, her complex artistry of plot and characterization pulling you from page to page," Donna says.

Adam Lipkin was suitably impressed with Peter Crowther's new horror anthology, Taps and Sighs. Crowther, Adam says, "has assembled a host of top-notch authors to reinvent the ghost story, and for the most part, he has succeeded."

Tom Knapp delves into the bizarre history and popular folklore of a real Irish witch in Edmund Lenihan's In Search of Biddy Early. "Whether or not you choose to believe the stories about Biddy and the "magic" bottle which provided her with insight into the future and mysterious cures for a wide variety of ailments, you'll likely enjoy the plain, blunt speech of the people telling their tales in a rough country dialect faithfully transcribed by Lenihan," Tom says.

The planned relaunch of the Love & Rockets series by Los Bros Hernandez inspired Tom Knapp to go back to the beginning and the first volume of Love & Rockets material, Music for Mechanics. The collection, Tom says, "presents something of a jumble, but the stories taken individually are for the most part engrossing, and the larger whole of the series will keep you coming back. In some ways it's a soap opera, involving you deeply in the daily lives of some interesting, very real characters."

Janine Kauffman finds Julia Sweeney's film of her one-woman Broadway show, God Said "Ha!", to be lacking in vim. "This one needs that spark, that shared experience with other people, in a dark theater, to really make the material shine," Janine says.

Miles O'Dometer has something a little unusual for us today: HBO's Don King: Only in America. The film, Miles says, "has a lot to say about Don King, a lot to say about boxing and a lot to say about America. More importantly, it says all of that literately and compactly."

Finally, please join us in wishing author and Rambles reviewer Chet Williamson well. In defiance of all logic and reason, he seems to have acquired the habit of separating his eyes from his head. This, we have learned from experts on the subject, is considered bad for the vision, and we strongly encourage Chet to stop doing this at once.