Are not all stories, all books — and indeed all of us — connected to something bigger? Always implying what came before and what might come after? The question is — what’s the value of the fragment you are encountering in the given moment? — Oral Melling, author of The Irish Fey Chronicles
Food often has a story attached to it, as does the chili prepared by Mrs. Ware and her excellent staff for for the eventide meal tonight. The beef in it is sourced from High Meadow Farm, the other proteins are beans and corn grown here, the chilis gifted to us by The Coyotes, an all-woman Celtic band from Arizona who stayed and played here a Winter past, and the exquisite spicing is … well what goes into the spicing is known by Gus, our Estate Head Gardener, but otherwise it’ll remains a secret to everyone save our Head Cook.
The Sleeping Hedgehog for August of 1880 says a traveller from the Southwest USA showed the Head Cook of the time how to make this chili. It’s been made every winter since and is always quite popular among everyone here. We added grated cheddar cheese to it when a neighbouring farming estate started up a cheesery between the Wars and we traded honey and other farm products for it.
Andrea looks at an Appalachian-set tale: ‘Ghost Riders is the latest novel in Sharyn McCrumb’s “Ballad Series.” Ghost Riders is different from the others in the series in that there is no mystery (in the “mystery novel” sense of the word) to be solved. In the other books, the storyline goes back and forth between past and present, the stories linked sometimes obviously and sometimes tenuously. Usually in the “modern” story there is a mystery which the story in the past fleshes out or provides with a new insight. In Ghost Riders there are two separate tales from the past and a storyline set in the present. The narratives set in the past are linked by a chance meeting but still remain separate tales. One of these stories has a direct influence on the present. There are various characters, past and present, whose lives intertwine briefly in interesting and occasionally surprising ways.’
Cat looks at the urban legend retold yet again, of a ghost girl asking for a ride home on the anniversary of her death: ‘Seanan McGuire decided to tell her own ghost story in Sparrow Hill Road which, like her novel Indexing, was originally a series of short stories published through The Edge of Propinquity, starting in January of 2010 and ending in December of that year. It appears they’ve been somewhat revised for this telling of her ghostly narrator’s tale but I can’t say how much as I’ve not read the original versions.’
Richard looks at an Ian MacDonald novel and has a cautionary note as his first words: ‘You will know whether you will love or hate Ares Express long before you have finished the first chapter. The litmus test is very simple: what is your reaction to the name of the main character. If you find Sweetness Octave Glorious-Honeybun Assim Engineer 12th to be painfully twee or flat-out incomprehensible, then you will hate this book.’
Robert finishes off our book reviews with a look at William Morris: Centenary Essays, edited by Peter Faulkner and Peter Preston: ‘Don’t ask me how to discuss a book of essays on the life and work of a figure who was surely among the last Renaissance men. William Morris was a poet and polemicist, artist and designer, politician and businessman, and was tremendously influential on the way we think about the objects in our lives, and I am hard put to give any sort of adequate discussion of the essays contained in this discussion.’
Sometimes one of the branches of that tree that’s our shared global culture doesn’t survive, as is the case with Fearless Chocolate, an artisanal chocolatier Donna reviewed that is no more: ‘Fearless makes and sells bars of organic chocolate made with raw, unroasted cacao prepared at low temperatures to preserve its naturally-occurring nutrients, minerals and anti-oxidants. The bars are also free from refined sugar, dairy, soy, gluten and genetically modified ingredients—they are sweetened with radapura, unrefined whole cane sugar.’
Gereg looks at an interesting book: ‘Where does your food come from? What elements of the landscape made their way into the flavour of your favourite maple syrup, or your apples? If you haven’t been asking yourself questions along these lines already, Rowan Jacobsen’s American Terroir will make you eager to start.’
Charles rightfully notes in the lead to his Together Through Life review that: ‘There’s a funny thing that happens whenever Dylan releases an album that the critics like (I think it averages out at one every three releases). When they fall all over themselves praising an album, as they did 2006’s Modern Times, you know it doesn’t matter what the next album is like, they’re not going to like it.’
Bloodline is the full-length followup CD to 2015’s extended-play release Shift and Shadow by an Arizona band called XIXA. Gary says ‘XIXA plays a uniquely Tucson take on the Peruvian music called chicha, a kind of psychedelic-rock version of cumbia.’
New York-based jazz trumpeter Ralph Alessi’s new album Quiver features a sympathetic quartet on mostly pensive music, Gary says. Influenced by the likes of Miles Davis and Kenny Wheeler, ‘Alessi’s sense of melody, his minimalism and his harmonic choices … all stand out on this release,’ he adds.
Aallotar is a duo making contemporary Finnish folk music. Its members are Finnish-American fiddler Sara Pajunen and Finnish accordionist Teija Niku. In his review of their album In Transit, Gary says, ‘Both of these vibrant musicians are educated in Finnish classical and folk traditions, and both have musical interests beyond the traditional that they have incorporated into this collection.’
Robert brings us a look at what he says is closer to the blues than anything else, Christos Govetas’ Pasatempo: ‘Blues is probably the closest analogue. Much of the inspiration for rebetika comes from the same places — jails, hash dens, the slums — and the themes are the same: love, heartbreak, drugs, betrayal and misfortune. Like the blues, this was a music of the lower classes, often displaced, usually unemployed, and finding their livelihoods and entertainments where they could.’
Robert then takes us halfway around the world, to Indonesia, where he examines Trance Gamelan in Bali: ‘”Trance” as denoting a specific type of music is pretty much a Western concept, although it recognizes the power of music to alter our mental state. In other traditions, music is not always, or even usually, a separate event — most peoples don’t have what we in the West would call “concerts.” ‘
Our usual What Not is a puppet or a tarot deck, but this time Reynard has a review of two action figures that inhabit his office space: ‘Well back in 2003, Stronghold Group released two characters based on the sort of people that inhabited the CBGB club, one being Maxx, a singer, and the the other being, Bad Apple, who is less clearly defined though he too could be a musician, a fan, and even perhaps a CGBG bouncer. One site claimed these are ‘extreme look-alikes of Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten’ but the manufacturer doesn’t say who they based on.’ Read his full review for a look at two fascinating characters!
So let’s have some lively music to finish out this edition. It’s a soundboard recording of Dervish at the Festate Chiasso in Switzerland nigh unto Summer Solstice in 2006 performing ‘Red Haired Mary’. You’ll be getting more cuts from that splendid concert as times goes by as the whole concert is a joy indeed.