The end of August can mean either nicely warm weather at this Scottish Estate, though if we’re less than fortunate, quite chilly evenings. This year’s the latter with the result that I’m writing this up with the fireplace crackling in our third floor quarters in Kinrowan Hall as it’s much too early for the central heating here to be turned on. Our cats, Kail and Fianna, are curled up before it, both purring loudly with Malicorne doing ‘Pierre De Grenoble’ on the sound system…
Gallowglass, a fellow Librarian, has been telling me in an email that the Library he manages for a travelling theatre company has acquired a series of broadsides advertising performances of plays in the post-Commonwealth era. Charles the Second was certainly good for the theatre trade! We’ve covered more than a bit of theatre here including looks at a Punch and Judy show, John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera and even a production of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.
David leads us off with an appreciative look at Taj Mahal: Autobiography of a Bluesman: ‘Taj Mahal is a national treasure. His record labels have all celebrated his legacy in recent months, offering a variety of anthologies and reissues. He continues to release new and varied music. This year he won a Grammy for his live album Shoutin’ In Key; he put out the second of his Hawaiian-influenced recordings on a small European label, and finally issued this book, Autobiography of a Bluesman. It isn’t perfect but it’s a darn good read, and a tribute to a major talent.’
Gary is charmed by Kevin McDermott’s Elephant House or, the Home of Edward Gorey: ‘One feels like a voyeur, peering at these photographs of the artist’s home, but emerges with, if not an understanding of his mind, at least an idea of what a wide-ranging and quirky soul he had. Complete with a Foreword by John Updike, Elephant House is a loving final chapter in the life of a popular yet enigmatic artist.’
An Ian Macdonald novel garners this comment from Grey: ‘Today, I picked up King of Morning, Queen of Day again just to refresh my memory before writing this review. After all, it doesn’t do to refer to a book’s main character as Jennifer if her name is actually Jessica. But my quick brush-up turned into a day-long marathon of fully-engaged, all-out reading. I’ve been on the edge of my seat, I’ve been moved to tears, I’ve laughed, I’ve marked passages that I want to quote.’
Michael tackles a book with a very difficult subject: ‘This has not been an easy book to review, for several reasons. First of all, we must consider the full title, and the subject matter: Weep Not For Me: Women, Ballads, and Infanticide in Early Modern Scotland. That’s right, Deborah Symonds, an Assistant Professor of History at Drake University, wrote a book detailing the intricate, often morbid relationships between the social situations of seventeenth through nineteenth-century Scotland, the way women were affected, how that led — all too often — to infanticide, and how such things were ultimately immortalized in ballads.’
The live action Jonah Hex was, to put it charitably, quite awful. Cat has a much better choice for in the animated Jonah Hex released by DC Showcase. A mere handful of minutes, the Joe Lansdale, a master of horror, it is, Cat says, everything one wants in a story about this scarred bounty hunter.
Reynard has travelled a lot, so trust him on this book: ‘Overall The World’s Best Street Food is an excellent full of yummy food, great recipes ( I’m not a cook by a long stretch so I cannot say how good they are, but I’ll report back later as the Estate Kitchen now has it and I’m sure they’ll test out many of these recipes.) The writing style is consistent over the many sections, a neat trick with multiple writers which I’ll attribute to superb editing, and the photos are most mouth watering. Highly recommended.’
We’re going to do something a little different with our Graphic Lit reviews today: we’re going to examine a classic illustrated children’s book that has made its way across media. We’ll start with Robert’s comments on the original, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are: ‘It happens every so often that I find myself asked to write a “review” of something that is so deeply imbedded in our culture and such an integral part of our collective experience that my first impulse is to run off and find a place to hide. In the case of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (another of those children’s classics that I somehow escaped reading when I was a child), it was daunting, at least a little, but it was also a lot of fun.’
It seems inevitable that any book with that degree of popularity will wind up as a movie. Richard takes a look at how that panned out: ‘First things first. The movie version of Where The Wild Things Are, directed by Spike Jonze from a script by Jonze and “staggering genius” Dave Eggers and soundtracked by hipster goddess Karen O, is not an exact, faithful translation of the beloved children’s book to the screen.’
And, as often as not, if there’s a film script, someone will come up with a novelization. Robert has some thoughts on Dave Eggers’ version: ‘The Wild Things is Dave Eggers’ foray into the universe of Maurice Sendak, a novelization based on Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and Eggers’ own collaboration with Spike Jonze on the screenplay for the film of the same title. It’s a mixed bag.’
Brendan looks at The Blue Lamp: ‘Jonny Hardie and Gavin Marwick are best known as the fiddlers for Old Blind Dogs and Iron Horse, respectively. On this CD, the follow-up to another KRL release, Up in the Air, they join forces with a handful of guest musicians to showcase an excellent array of Celtic and Celtic-influenced music, not to mention a few stray pieces here and there.’
An album brings back fond memories for Gary: ‘It’s hard to believe that, as I write this, it’s been just over 10 years since I experienced the music of Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island in its own environment, at the International Celtic Colours Festival in 2002. I wasn’t then and I’m not now any kind of authority on Celtic music, but I know what moves my soul and my feet. This gorgeous album Seinn by Mary Jane Lamond & Wendy MacIsaac transported me back to the community halls and concert venues, the vibrant autumn landscape, the tart maritime air and the hospitality of Cape Breton.’
Cesaria Évora was the most beloved singer from Cape Verde when she died in 2011 at the age of 70. Mae Carinhosa came out in 2013. Gary says, ‘This posthumous release gathers a baker’s dozen tracks she recorded over her career but which never ended up on any of her 11 studio albums. It serves as a perfect summation of that career and her seemingly effortless ability to illuminate these soft and bittersweet songs in Portuguese.’
Gary also liked Sam Amidon’s Bright Sunny South, a collection of traditional and contemporary folk and folk-rock songs. ‘It’s simply a top-notch recording in all respects: highly original but respectful of tradition, creative and personal without being pretentious or precious.’
The album Court the Storm by the intriguingly named Portland, Oregon, band Y La Bamba, is ‘rhythmically, melodically and lyrically rich,’ Gary says. ‘Its songs, whether in English or Spanish, are immediately entertaining in all of those ways, and also offer intriguing depth that rewards the patient and demanding listener.’
Robert continues his exploration of the Gamelan of Central Java with a look at some of the classical traditions in Indonesian music: ‘This part of the series surveying Central Javanese gamelan released by Felmay focuses on court music, the karawitan produced by the resident ensembles of the royal courts, the kraton.’
And, what may seem to be a very different kind of music, Robert brings us a look at a recording of Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel and Why Patterns?: ‘The spiritual as an impulse for art is an idea that is at once obvious and, in these times, often so tenuous as to be misssed completely, although even in our materialistic, expansionist, “growth-oriented” contemporary culture, our greatest efforts seem rooted in communion with something we can’t quite describe.’
What Not this time is about Jane Austen, who was an devoted dancer, and extended scenes set in the ballroom are intrinsic aspects of all of her novels. Alison Thompson, noted musician, dancer and writer, wrote an article called ‘The Felicities of Rapid Motion; Jane Austen in the Ballroom’ which was printed in Persuasions , Winter 2000. Persuasions is the online journal of the Jane Austen Society of North America.
We’ve got these reviews of works by her, Dancing Through Time: Western Social Dance in Literature, 1400-1918, Lighting the Fire: Elsie J. Oxenham, The Abbey Girls, and the English Folk Dance Revival and The Blind Harper Dances: Modern English Country Dances set to airs by Turlough O’Carolan.
Our music this week is from Karine Polwart, a musician from Edinburgh who’s comfortable in a number of genres ranging from Scots trad to pop. ‘Where the Smoke Blows’ and ‘Resolution Road’ are from her concert in Bremen, Germany on the 16th of July 2006.