Now as the last broad oak leaf falls, we beg: consider this — there’s some who have no coin to save for turkey, wine or gifts. No children’s laughter round the fire, no family left to know. So lend a warm and a helping hand, say Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow. As holly pricks and ivy clings, your fate is none too clear. — Jethro Tull’s ‘Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow’
Now where I was? Ahhhh, having a pint of Dark Hollow Stout while enjoying this fine October evening — first frosts and earthy leaf-mould and the bitter tang of wood smoke, and the smell of the winter yet to come – while thinking of what there is for Halloween songs…
I’m now watching with rather great amusement the Mouse in The Wainscotting musicians — over pints of Autumn Ale, a libation with a rather earthy taste — debate what dance tunes they are going to play on All Hallows Eve in the Courtyard where the bonfire will be lit for that most sacred of nights in the Celtic Year. A great deal of thought goes into the set list on the part of the musicians and the caller.
Their list of possible dances so far includes ‘All Saint’s Day’ right after ‘All Hallow’s Eve’, ‘The Black Hag’, ‘The Booship’, ‘The Discorporation’, ‘Draper’s Graveyard’, ‘Gathering Pumpkins’, ‘Ghoul in the Wall’, and ‘Jack O’Lantern’s Health’. Gus chimed up that’d be appropriate to do ‘ The November Reel’ as a coda after the dance concluded. It was composed by Keona Mundy of Cleia, a brilliant band whose recording he recently heard.
Some cultures, and the Celtic ones in particular, consider the barriers between this world and the next to be so thin that we perceive things we shouldn’t. We Scots call it The Sight and I’ve got some ghost stories for you in which encounters between ghostly presences and those still living don’t quite go well. So let’s lead off this edition with some appropriate book reviews…
Andrea looks at an Appalachian set tale for you: ‘Ghost Rider 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.’
Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas’ Haunted Legends anthology, says Gereg, is ‘something of a paradox: As a collection I found this volume kind of weak, but there are a lot of very fine stories in it. So many, in fact, that on going back over the anthology a second time, I wondered why I’d thought it was weak in the first place. As a reader, I’d probably just leave it at that; but as reviewer, I feel I owe it to my adoring public to tell you precisely why I feel the overall effect is weak. So I dove back into the book for a third time. Such travails are how I earn my fabulously high salary here.’
A woman who sees ghosts is the central character in a novel that Kathleen reviews for us: ‘Cherie Priest is a first time novelist. However, she writes with ease and a deceptive power, like the flow of the Tennessee River through her home city of Chattanooga. Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a Southern Gothic with a hint of hard boiled mystery: there’s grit in the magnolia honey and in the heroine as well.’
Possibly the earliest example of the American ghost story gets reviewed by Kestrell: ‘It is difficult to think of an American ghost story more well-known than that of Washington Irving’s short story ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’. Though Irving’s original sources for the stories may have been local folklore based on the same stories which the Grimm Brothers would collect and publish back in the Old World, Irving’s tale would emerge as one of America’s first and most familiar stories until, like the best stories, it seeped into the American consciousness the way well water rises from some hidden source deep underground.’
And one of my favourite literary treats with ghostly presences for Autumn evening nights is reviewed by Robert: ‘Peter S. Beagle’s Tamsin first saw the light of day as a story idea for a Disney animated feature. Disney never followed through. Beagle did, finally, for which I think we can all be grateful.’
Gus, our Estate Head Gardener, has a tale to tell: ‘Now that I’ve shown you our potato patch, let’s head off to the pumpkin patch. They’re just about to harvested and it’s an impressive sight to see them in the field now that the leaves and vines have withered away.’ Read the rest of this Autumn tale here. Oh I should note Mars. Ware, our Head Cook, is making individual pumpkin pies this afternoon!
We have, for graphic lit, what Robert calls a ‘historical fantasy’ from the age of the Shoguns: ‘Basilisk is Masaki Segawa’s manga adaptation of Futaro Yamada’s 1958 historical novel The Kouga Ninja Scrolls. It counts mostly as “historical fantasy,” and as rendered in the manga version, the story line is fairly spare while the “surround,” the visual component, is very rich.’
A very different sort of story is next. Robert offers his observations on Humayoun Ibrahim’s adaptation of Jack Vance’s classic story, ‘The Moon Moth’: ‘At risk of dating myself, I remember Jack Vance’s “The Moon Moth” from its first publication in Galaxy magazine. . . . It’s always been one of my favorites among Vance’s stories, although perhaps the golden glow of memory has made it more than it was.’
Gary says ‘When you listen to an album and you can’t tell which are originals and which are classic country covers, that’s a good sign.’ He’s speaking of Innocent Road by Portland, Oregon, musicians Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms, which is packed with covers of classic country songs and originals by Klauder.
Singer and songwriter Chris Porter, an Alabama native lately of Austin, Texas, died in a horrific crash in North Carolina on the 19th of October. The bass player in his band, Porter & the Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, also died, and the drummer was seriously injured. (More details in the Austin306 blog here.) Gary reviewed one of Porter’s recordings in 2012, the band Some Dark Holler’s self-titled EP. It seems like an appropriate time to revisit that review, with condolences to Porter’s family and friends.
John went to see a legend among Irish bands: ‘Ending the Irish leg of their 2005 European Tour, Thin Lizzy arrived in Limerick to play at the University of Limerick Concert Hall to a capacity house. During the halcyon days of the 1970’s and 1980’s, Thin Lizzy were regular visitors to Limerick during their many Irish tours. For this re-constituted line up, this was their second time in the University of Limerick Concert Hall, as they played here before on their 2003 ‘Global Chaos’ tour.’
Robert has a look at a new release from ECM, Steve Reich’s The ECM Recordings: ‘It was with some misgivings that I undertook to review this collection of the music of Steve Reich. . . . It’s not that I don’t like the music, or don’t have any sympathy for it: I first encountered Reich’s music in the late 1970s-early 1980s at concerts sponsored by Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, which also introduced me to the music of Philip Glass. It’s rather that the works of both composers at that time were what I call “hard-core serial minimalism,” a sort of take-no-hostages approach that was strict, tight, and much easier to watch in performance than listen to on recordings: at least in a concert you could watch the musicians.’
And in a similar vein (truly), Robert brings us the another volume of the Gamelan of Central Java: ‘“Sindhen” refers to the solo part in a gamelan, usually sung by a woman pesindhen (soloist). In this collection, part of the extensive series produced by John Noise Manis on the gamelan of Central Java, we are presented with two innovative vocal works with an instrumental piece in between.’
Our What Not comes courtesy of Chuck who looks at an Irish song commonly known as ‘Johnny Cock’ or ‘Johnny O’Braidslea’: ‘One of the fascinating things about folk music is the variety that one song or tune can produce. Niggling purism aside, there has never been one folk style. That’s even more true these days with musicians fusing traditional folk to jazz, rock, Latin, and whatever other style they happen to like. So what I’m going to do in And Reels is to take a song or a tune and see how different performers, as well as different sources, treat it.’
As the foliage turns color and the days grow shorter, the thoughts of some turn to the hunt. We leave you with this fine rendition of ‘Hunting Song’, a cryptic traditional song by Pentangle, from a BBC recording in 1970. The original song, of course, was the opening track on Pentangle’s third album, 1969’s Basket of Light, their best selling and some would say the pinnacle of their career.