Irish folk is probably the biggest influence musically that I’ve ever had. My mother’s Irish. And when I was very young, both my brothers were very into traditional music, English and Irish. They were always playing music, so I was always brought up with it. — attributed to Enya (Eithne Pádraigín Ní Bhraonáin), source uncertain
It appears that the truly shite winter weather we’ve been having here in Scotland has finally ended. There’s been a restive feel to the Estate for some time now as we got more snow, more bitter weather than we’ve gotten in many, many years. I’ve got the windows here in the Library open to give the place a good airing out and I’m pleased to say that there’s not a soul here this afternoon, so I’m playing through the live recordings that the Infinite Jukebox, our media server, has of Clannad in their early years when they were pretty much a trad Irish band.
Oh and we’ve been remiss not to welcome Cat Rambo, noted sf writer and SFWA President whose site is here, to our staff as our newest reviewer. You’ll see her latest review for us in the book reviews section below, and she’s even got chocolate from us to consume and review.
We’ve got a fat edition chock full of tasty reviews and live music for you too, so let’s get started. If you’ve got any questions, I’ll be in my office, where I’m working on the soon-to-be-available-for-reading Sleeping Hedgehog website.
That Cat has something for us that’s more than ordinarily timely: ‘Reckoning 2: Creative Writing on Environmental Justice is solid in weight and content. The stories, poetry, essays, and art deal with the world around us and our ethics in dealing with it. This refined focus sharpens the magazine’s impact, I think, and makes it something that tries to evoke change through its art rather than the shallow comfort afforded by something whose theme was simply “Nature”.’
A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files got this note from Richard: ‘Generally speaking, the supernatural western rests roughly at the heart of Joe Lansdale’s run on Jonah Hex. You can shift it a little toward Briscoe County here, a little toward the Deadlands RPG there, but really, the metaphor’s pretty solidly set. Until, of course, something comes along like Gemma Files’ A Book of Tongues, which takes the traditional supernatural western, sizes it up, and then calmly shoots it in the back of the head.’
Robert has a look at an extraordinary novel that might — or might not — be ‘cyberpunk’ — Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End: ‘I’m not sure that Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End counts as cyberpunk, although it might seem like it at first glance. The “cyber” part is there in full measure. Vinge envisions a world in the not-so-distant future in which clothes are the means of Internet access and most of “reality” is virtual. The “punk” part is somewhat lacking, however: this is, by and large, a supremely middle-class novel, without the dark-edge, seamy underbelly feeling one gets from a William Gibson.’
Next, Robert’s take on two poetry collections by Catherynne M. Valente, Apocrypha and A Guide to Folktales in Fragile Dialects: ‘I remind myself that Valente is still a young writer. That is not a dismissal, but an expectation: she certainly has talent, no doubt on that score, but it’s rather like hearing Mozart’s early symphonies –- there’s no way of knowing that young musician will eventually compose something as overwhelming as the Requiem, and in the meantime you’ve heard Bach’s Mass in B Minor and Haydn’s Creation. Moving into that territory, already occupied by some formidable people, requires not only power but finesse.’
Robert has another tasty treat from Lindt chocolatiers: Lindt’s Excellence Dark Chocolate with Caramel and Sea Salt: ‘We are no strangers here to Lindt chocolates, and it’s generally a happy association — on our part, at least. The latest example of Lindt’s chocolates to cross my desk is a new flavor in their “Excellence” line — dark chocolate with caramel and sea salt.’
Gary takes an extensive look at three publications that marked the 25th anniversary of Maus, Art Spiegelman’s groundbreaking graphic novel about his family’s experiences in the Holocaust. They included the original books, Vol. 1, My Father Bleeds History and Vol. 2, And Here My Troubles Began; and a hardcover volume called MetaMaus, about the making of the original works.
Our Editor Cat finds balm for the soul in The Quiet Room, a new release from Americana duo Jay Ungar & Molly Mason. The album, which came out of a time of personal hardship, contains both new material and some of the best of their extensive back-catalog. ‘Everything here, new and old, I hope will delight you as much as it does me,’ Cat says.
Gary reviews Time is Everything, the debut recording by Vivian Leva. ‘The young country-folk singer-songwriter is rapidly becoming someone you need to know about, so you can say “Heck, I’ve liked her since her first album way back in 2018!” ‘
‘This band really swings,’ Gary says of Birch Pereira & the Gin Joints. He’ll tell you all about their new album, Western Soul, in his review.
Our What Not this time is one of the best new music podcasts of the past year. ‘Cocaine & Rhinestones’ bills itself as ‘a podcast about the history of country music made in the 20th century, and the people who gave it to us.’ The first season of 14 episodes recently concluded with a superb look at the highly influential pedal steel guitarist Ralph Mooney. But we’re also partial to the three separate episodes inspired by ‘Harper Valley PTA,’ and the one about ‘Ode To Billy Joe,’ one of the greatest American ballads of the past 50 years. The Cocaine & Rhinestones website has links to all of the stories and a host of other resources.
Once upon a time and place, Enya was a founding member of Clannad and there are live recordings of the band from that period. She has never toured as a solo artist so, alas, there are no live recordings of her doing her own work.
So here are two of Clannad’s early pieces, with first up being ‘The Two Sisters’ from a performance in Köln, Germany, in 1977. This is a variant of the better known ‘Cruel Sister’ which is a Child Ballad covered by myriad bands. Pay attention to the lyrics at the end as they tell the gruesome ending the murderous sister comes to. It’s an ending worthy of the original Grimm Tales!
The second piece by them is ‘Down By The Sally Gardens’, which was performed in Bremen, Germany, in 1980 in what might have well have been one of Enya’s last performances with the band. The lyrics to the latter come from that well-known Irish poet William Butler Yeats.