What’s New for the 21st of August: A Firefly novel, our most criticised review, a pair of dark mangas, recreating Medieval English Ales, Balkan music history, ‘Excitable Boy’ in Bluegrass style, Emma Bull’s favourite tune, on blackberries and less tart matters…

“Stories,” he’d said, his voice low and almost husky, “we are made up of stories. And even the one’s that seem the most like lies can be our deepest hidden truths.” — Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose


We raise a lot of berries here from those who expect this on a Scottish Estate, such as cranberries, raspberries and blackberries, to the unusual such as Border strawberries that start out blood red and turn as white as bleached bone as they ripen. Right now, we’re harvesting plump, full-of-tart-goodness blackberries that will be used in making both wine and preserves.

My wee gram used to make them both, as her ancestors did as well, and as a bairn I could never understand why they liked either, but now I find both quite appealing. Mind you though, I still think the best use of blackberries is in fresh churned ice cream. Or maybe in American style muffins. Or with porridge and cream. Or just eaten warm straight off the brambles as I did as a child.

H’h. I just had a Library visitor ask me where the phrase ‘the long conversation’ came from. I know what it means but I have no idea where it started, so let’s turn to this edition while I’ll research the question for that patron…


Gary found a superb book on Balkan music: May It Fill Your Soul is a history and commentary on the massive changes in Bulgarian “folk” music that took place during the communist era, based on the experiences of Kostadin and Todora. The book is fairly well known among students of Balkan music and provides a different and much more detailed view than can be read in short articles, for example in The Rough Guide To World Music.’

Speaking of World Music, Kim looks at Richard O. Nidel’s World Music: The Basics: ‘Part of Routledge’s “The Basics” series, this book purports to give a survey of world music in an accessible, readable fashion. It largely succeeds, but may prove frustrating for those with more than a passing knowledge of any of the traditions it covers. Nidel’s text is readable, in that it is direct and simple. With very limited coverage of so many traditions, it needs to be.’

And now, dear readers, Mia gives you the review that brought us more hate mail than the next dozen or so reviews that drew complaints did combined: ‘When I read Fire Bringer  I had hopes for Mr. Clement-Davies future works.  The Sight was a huge disappointment. This book is a mess.’ Needless to say the lovers of this book were not  pleased what-so-ever, and they made sure we knew it.

William looks at a fantasy he really likes: ‘With a dark charm and grace no less endearing and seductive than the prince of darkness himself, To Reign in Hell, by Steven Brust, is a deliciously decadent voice leading you off the same tired, beaten path and into the wilderness of primal miracle and possibility. With a premise and daring vision that would have undoubtedly landed him on the Inquisitor’s table in an older time, the author of this descent into epic struggle manages with a deft and authoritative hand to slap an ancient myth in the face and force it on its head.’

Raspberry divider

This novel is what happens when a series, no matter how short-lived, becomes beloved by legions of viewers. Firefly was a one-season space opera created by Joss Whedon that was brilliant. Unfortunately the network didn’t think the ratings were good enough, so they killed it after a single season, though they wrapped it up in a movie called Serenity. Stephen Brust, a writer many of you will know, wrote My Own Kind of Freedom and Cat says it’s quite true to the series.


Mucking about the net one quiet afternoon, I chanced upon an interesting sounding article, Tofi Kerthjalfadsson’s Recreating Medieval English Ales, (a recreation of late 13th – 14th c. unhopped English ales). The author says that ‘These recipes are a modest attempt to recreate ales that are not only “period”, i.e. pre-17th century, but is actually medieval. These ales are based on newly available evidence from the late 13th and early 14th centuries.’ It’s an entertaining look at just what it takes to replicate these  ales.


Robert brings us some manga from the dark side. Let’s start with Kazuya Minekura’s Wild Adapter: ‘Kazuya Minekura is a well-known manga artist responsible for, among other things, Saiyuki and Araiso Private High School Student Council Executive Committee, which I have only seen in anime and which, believe it or not, is directly relevant to Wild Adapter, her newest manga series.’

It gets darker. See what Robert has to say about Aya Kanno’s Blank Slate: ‘Aya Kanno’s Blank Slate is the sort of thing that turns up in manga from time to time — a grim story peopled by some frightening characters, all wrapped in gorgeous drawing. I will say, however, that I didn’t expect to find something like this from Shojo Beat, an imprint focusing on teenage girls.’


April has a choice recording for us: ‘As an integral part of the band Frifot (with Ale Moller and Per Gudmundson) and the Nordan project (with Ale Moller and others), as well as numerous other side projects, Lena Willemark has been a fixture on the Swedish folk scene since the late 1970s. Windogur, a set of ten original compositions commissioned by the city of Stockholm (in its role of Cultural Capital of Europe ’98), was first performed live as part of a series of concerts entitled “Ladies Next,” and only later translated to CD.’

Gary found a lot to like in Angel Olson’s sophomore release Half Way Home from a few years back. ‘In a world full of cutesy and waif-like vocals from female singers in all genres, Olson’s decidedly non-angelic style immediately telegraphs her seriousness. Her husky warble is unadorned, the perfect instrument for delivering her nakedly honest and emotional lyrics.’

Gary reviewed Mosaïk by the Francophone Canadian group Vishtèn, which he says ‘could maybe be described as progressive Acadian, in much the way that I think of Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys as progressive Cajun.’ How progressive? To their tradition-based music they’ve added modern trappings including electric guitar and even an old-school Moog synthesizer!

We were talking about world music earlier. Well, Robert brought Mahmoud Fadl’s Drummers of the Nile in Town: Cairosonic to our attention: ‘Mahmoud Fadl is a well known percussionist and advocate of the music of Nubia, that region in southern Egypt largely forgotten in the contemporary world. Raised in Assuan and Cairo, he is today based in Berlin, not coincidentally a traditional center of study on Nubian culture and history.’

And just in case you can’t get enough of music from other traditions, Robert brings us the beginning of a major series on the Gamelan of Central Java: ‘A few pointers on listening to Javanese music. As I’ve noted, by Western standards the tones in Javanese music are not precisely predictable. Javanese music, along with that of many other non-Western cultures, develops horizontally, so that significance is a matter of sequence rather than chord. And the development is circular rather than linear, so that to a Western ear, it may seem formless.’ Got that? Enjoy.

Tim rounds our our music review with a look at the Rocky River Bush Band’s Sea Boots And Swags: ‘The title gives a good sense of what can be heard on this disc. The selections mostly have to with the sea (including four traditional shanties), with a couple of Australian bush songs thrown in, and rounded off with a few jigs and polkas.’

Raspberry divider

Our What Not this time comes courtesy of a note by Emma Bull in The Sleeping Hedgehog from some twenty years or so ago about what was her favourite tune and decided it was worth sharing again, so here it is: ‘Right now that would be ‘Twa Bonnie Maidens.’ It’s so lovely and hopeful and soaring, exulting over Flora MacDonald helping Prince Charlie escape to the Isle of Skye. Yet it’s got a wistful strain, too, at the end, as if the singer knows Charlie won’t be coming back from France, whatever the song says: There’s a wind in the tree, and a ship on the sea / To me hi, bonnie maidens, me twa bonnie maids / By the sea mullet’s nest I will watch o’er the main / And you’re dearly welcome to Skye again.’


Gary here. You and I would probably never think of playing Warren Zevon’s “Excitable Boy” as a bluegrass song. That’s why someone like John McEuen, who did think of it, has had a 50-year career as a groundbreaking roots musician, and you and I are just fans and listeners. McEuen is about to release a new album on which he is joined by some of the top names in American roots music. Not that he’s ever done anything else, but this is a special group, mostly featuring folks he’s known for a long time but not recorded with. Folks like Jay Ungar, David Bromberg (both of whom are on the “Excitable Boy” single along with Matt Cartsonis, who was a mainstay of Zevon’s touring band and who has also made his name scoring TV shows), John Cowan, Steve Martin, John Carter Cash … you get the idea. They’re all on the upcoming Made in Brooklyn.

I’ll be reviewing the album shortly. But in the meantime, see what you think of this ballad of a teenaged psychopath, performed in laconic bluegrass style by John McEuen and friends. I know this section generally features a live performance, but this one (and the whole album) was recorded live in studio using some special microphones, in just one take. Here’s “Excitable Boy.”

About Iain Nicholas Mackenzie

I’m the Librarian for the Kinrowan Estate. I do love fresh brewed teas, curling, English mysteries and will often be playing Scandinavian or Celtic  music here in the Library.

I’m a violinist too, so you’ll me playing in various contradance band such as Chasing Fireflies and Mouse in the Cupboard as well as backing my wife Catherine up on yearly Christmas season tours in the Nordic countries.

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