My grandmother didn’t teach me Appalachian ballads on our back porch and I had no banjo-strummin’ pappy to sing to me in the cradle. I didn’t attend tent revivals. I never saw or heard a chain gang, or worked in a coal mine. I didn’t grow up a tenant farmer and I never lost a lover to the sea. But the songs of the people who lived these lives and spoke of them through their music moved me and intrigued me as a child and that fascination has stayed with me to this day. I recognize the abandoned lover, the repentant sinner and the poor farmer cheated by his greedy landlord and I sympathize with their yearning for better times, for justice in this world and peace beyond the grave. — Natalie Merchant in an email to her mailing list, 1999
Well Catherine and I had a fine time doing ten days worth of intimate concerts in the Baltic states. Most were house concerts for audiences of twenty to thirty with only one being in a true concert in a Union Hall. Mind you, there was a grim undertone in those nations as to what Putin might do next but everyone not sympathetic to him was living life as best they could…
Of course we just got back to the political chaos followed by the Leave vote prevailing, even though we Scots voted overwhelmingly against exiting the EU and the SNP’s talking about a second independence referendum for Scotland so we can stay in the EU after Great Britain leaves.
So I’m sitting down in my hidden office to stitch together this edition. Hmmm… Let’s put on some music on my iPod so only I can hear it, which means I’ll be left alone. Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s Concert Program will do…
Grey asked Anwir to review Midori Snyder’s hannah’s garden and he was delighted to do so: ‘Well, I must say I was quite surprised when our Lady Grey asked me to write a review for this charming magazine. I am here as an observer for my Lady of the Winter Court, and I had not anticipated such an honour. Still, the dear lady promised me a new tale of the Summer and Winter Courts… ‘Twould have been churlish to deny her at any rate, and with such an enticement set before me, too. Imagine my delight at the discovery that the charming little novel she sent me by way of the brownies was by none other than Midori Snyder, a lovely lady quite well known to Us in the Lands of Faerie.’
Kelly looks at a fascinating work of obsession, err, love called The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana: ‘To the casual reader or observer, it sometimes may seem that the twentieth century was the time of real blossoming in terms of the Fantastic in literature: after all, that’s when science fiction really came into its own, and when a certain Don of Oxford penned a tale about hobbits and gold rings. But the more rigorous student of the Fantastic knows that Fantasy, as well as those tropes that eventually spun away to become science fiction, are far older than just a hundred years. The literature of the fantastic stretches back as far as Homer, after all, and likely even before that.’
Hannu Rajaniemi’s Collected Fiction was an interesting read for Richard: ‘To read Hannu Rajaniemi’s Collected Fiction is to get thrown immediately into the deep end. There are no warmup stories here, no simpler pieces to ease the reader into Rajaniemi’s voice and style. Instead, the very first story bombards the reader with the technical language of a highly wired, gloriously convoluted future. It’s sink or swim; either you’re along for the ride or you’re hopelessly lost.’
Robert has a look at a collection that offers some intriguing insights into the world of fantasy and science fiction: ‘Voices of Vision is a collection of Blaschke’s interviews with editors, writers, and, as he calls them, “comic book creators” in science fiction and fantasy. The result is a look at a group of artists (and yes, that includes the editors, most of whom are writers themselves and who bring that sensibility to their work as editors) as varied as the twin genres themselves.’
Robert was digging around in his DVDs and came across a couple that are worth noting. The first is Nabari, a tale of mysterious powers resident in a boy who has no idea what’s going on: ‘The anime series Nabari is based on the manga series Nabari no Ou by Yuhki Kamatani. It’s one of those series with a lot of comedy and very serious undertones. In broad outline, the story is rather simple: Rokujo Miharu is a school boy who contains within himself the most powerful secret art of the ninja, the Shinrabansho. Miharu would literally be able to change the world if he could use it, but he can’t — and he doesn’t want to.’
The second series is no less substantial — Toshifumi Takizawa’s Akira Kurosawa’s Samurai 7 is, in fact, very substantial: ‘In spite of the title, this is not exactly Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. It is, rather, an anime adaptation of the classic film, set in a dystopian future that contrasts the rural simplicity of the peasantry with a steampunk version of big city life in a universe in which not only the machinery but some of the people are put together from spare parts.’
A musician visiting here from America some years back told me of the Holy Trinity of summer for him: baseball, beer and brats. (He was from Milwaukee, which explained the latter.) So it’s apt that we’ve Kelly looking at a related book: ‘[E]ven with my recent development of my palate to include dark ales and porters and bitters and IPAs (but not quite stouts; I just can’t get into those), I never really knew the difference between a lager and an ale until I read Ken Wells’s book Travels with Barley: A Journey Through Beer Culture in America.‘
Ready for some Batman? Robert brings us a look at yet another reboot, Batman: Arkham City: ‘Splashed across the bottom of the dust jacket to Arkham City is “The lead-in to the highly anticipated video game!” Let that be a warning.’ Indeed.
Robert had a better reaction to Batman: Streets of Gotham: Hush Money: ‘Streets of Gotham: Hush Money is another installment in the Batman Reborn series (or should I call it a “universe”?), and another in which Tommy Elliott, the villain Hush and Bruce Wayne’s good friend and bitter enemy, plays a large role.’
Big Earl really likes Plommon’s Sah!: ‘It’s interesting how the current interest in reviving older traditions has been embraced by younger people throughout the world. Plommon is a group of five young women from Sweden playing traditional songs within a neotraditional context; namely a touch of recorder and harmonium here and there, but primarily working as a five piece fiddle ensemble. Sah! is a disc of rich cultural heritage performed lovingly and in deference to the tradition.’
From the Beginning: The Chieftains 1 to 4 gets looked at by Brendan: ‘The Chieftains were one of the first modern Celtic music bands. Although completely traditional in material and instrumentation (even to point of eschewing any guitar or piano), they were one of the first bands to present Irish music to an international audience as a serious craft, whose still-quite-living tradition demanded serious attention. Paddy Moloney — then a founding member of the influential (and much larger) Irish group Ceoltoiri Chualann — formed the band in the early Sixties as a compact ensemble of Irish musicians showcasing purely Irish stylings.’
Donna looks at the newest recordings from one of the best Scottish musicians ever: ‘Now in his early sixties, Scottish folk musician Brian McNeill has been performing traditional and writing traditionally-inspired music since the late 1960s, when he co-founded the Battlefield Band. Two of these three CDs are representative of some of his more recent work. The third, The Road Never Questions, is a compilation of his work from earlier recordings.’
Gary (and a lot of other reviewers) loved Anna & Elizabeth’s 2014 self-titled album. Now their 2012 debut recording Sun to Sun, which had gone out of print, has been remastered and reissued, to feed the demand for more music from this talented duo. Read the review to see what he thinks about it.
Robert has something a little out of the ordinary for us (which is not much of a surprise): Balinese gamelan, courtesy of Çudamani: The Seven-Tone Gamelan Orchestra from the Village of Pengosekan, Bali: ‘Implicit in the subtitle of this CD is a bit of information that is important in Balinese gamelan music: most orchestras come from particular villages, working in the traditions of those villages. They also compete for honors, reflecting glory not only on themselves, but their home towns.’ A gamelan tournament? you ask. Read the review.
Terri Windling, author of The Wood Wife, had a charming essay back in May on a favourite subject around the Kinrowan Estate, as our in-house journal’s aptly named The Sleeping Hedgehog: ‘It’s Hedgehog Awareness Week, sponsored by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. I adore hedgehogs…’, so she shares some of her favourite hedgie photos and gives us a look at them in myth and folklore down the centuries. You can read it here.
Since our quote this time is by Natalie Merchant, I’m giving you for your listening pleasure a 10,000 Maniacs song, to be precise ‘Hey Jack Kerouac’ as performed at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, England on the 31st of July 1988.