Interlibrary loans are a wonder of the world and a
glory of civilization. ― Jo Walton’s Among Others
What’s that? A Maypole going up in the courtyard in front of the Green Man Pub? There can be no surer sign that summer’s ‘acumin’in!’ It looks like the denizens of the pub’s Neverending Session may be lured outside, along with staff members tucked away in offices in the most unlikely places.
Yes, spring has burst out all over, and some of the folks around here seem to be feeling the effects of the impending May Day. Who was that slipping into Oberon’s Wood just now? Well, spring is as good an excuse as any, I suppose.
We’ve got spring greens in our salad, and some of the winter vegetables roasting on the grill, along with some tender lamb steaks, braised with mint and garlic. Are we starting early? I suppose, but this is the Green Man Staff, after all.
So pull up a chair, fill your plate, get Reynard to pour you a pint, and feast your eyes on this week’s set of reviews.
Gary may or may not have had an assist from caffeine when he zipped through Dave Eggers’ The Monk of Mokha. Either way, he says it is ‘a solid and entertaining book of reportage about the life so far of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, an American of Yemeni descent who has made it his mission to return Yemeni coffee to its former place of prominence in the world.’
Liz says Colin Harper and Trevor Hodgett’s Irish Folk, Trad And Blues ‘ is a sprawling, overcrowded, rush-hour subway car of a book that piles on more eccentric musicians, frenetic booze-ups and unscrupulous music industry types than my brain could keep track of. It is a collection of essays and previously published reviews and interviews that covers roughly thirty years of Irish, English and American music-making (from 1962 to 1998). The book explores the history of the English and Irish Folk Music Revivals of the 1960s, Van Morrison and Them, the Blues boom in Northern Ireland, Irish Rock, Irish Folk Music in the 1970s, The Irish Trad Revival, and the Folk Music Revival of the 1990s.’
Remember Jack Vance? Robert’s been digging around in the Archives again and came up with something — well, it’s not by Jack Vance, it’s sort of about Jack Vance: a tribute volume, Songs of the Dying Earth, featuring a host of science fiction’s luminaries: ‘Anyone who doubts the pervasive and ongoing influence of Jack Vance need only look at the table of contents to this tribute volume. Many of the contributors are legends themselves (Glen Cook, Neil Gaiman, Tanith Lee, Robert Silverberg); others are some of the clearest and strongest voices of newer generations (Kage Baker, Jeff VanderMeer); and the influence seems to span the English-speaking world, from Britain (Matthew Hughes, Liz Williams) to Australia (Terry Dowling). And that’s not even half of them.”
Robert has some thoughts on a book about another legendary figure in science fiction, not a writer but an editor: Gary Westfahl’s Hugo Gernsback and the Century of Science Fiction: ‘Hugo Gernsback occupies a unique role in the history of science fiction, but exactly what that role is at present has generated a fair amount of controversy. He has been depicted as the visionary creator of a new genre of forward-looking fiction, and equally as a high-handed editor who thought nothing of rewriting his contributors’ stories to fit his ideas.”
Skip rounds out our book reviews with this audiobook: ‘In Return to Inverness Fulton has eschewed not only the Eastern mysticism of his first tale in favor of Wicca and neo-pagan lore but also the annoying habit of constantly thrusting these metaphysical ideas in the listeners’ ears.’ See what else his review has to say about this Meatball Fulton 30-year anniversary celebration of the first Jack Flanders audio adventure.
Cat R. reviews lakriti (Finnish fruit licorice) and finds it very sweet: ‘There is certainly both a determined sweetness and solidity to this Finnish candy (lakritsi in Finnish). The label tells me this is called “black gold” in Finland but a cursory scan of search engine results failed to corroborate this. It is an enigmatic candy that, despite the name, has no black licorice taste to it.’
April has a warm response to the first volume of what looks to be an intriguing comics series, Air: Letters from Lost Countries: ‘Blythe is not your typical airline attendant. Sure, she’s blonde, pretty and personable, playing into every conceivable stereotype there is. But Blythe is much more than that. For starters, she’s acrophobic, surviving each flight only through the wonders of modern pharmaceuticals. Then there’s the attractive, mysterious passenger she’s fallen in love with, who may or may not be a terrorist.’
‘We humans are wanderers,’ Gary says in his review of Albanian singer Elina Duni’s new solo recording. ‘Elina Duni with Partir continues the long tradition of assuaging, through song, the pain that comes with leaving, exile, and parting.’
Nik Bärtsch is back with a new recording with his ensemble Ronin, titled Awase. Gary says, ‘The Swiss composer and pianist makes what I think of as “iterative jazz” and which Bärtsch calls “ritual groove music.” ‘
Kim notes that ‘This is the album that got the Hedningarna phenomenon going, a richly textured, darkly fascinating instrumental album by the “core” trio of Björn Tollin (frame drum, string drum, hurdy-gurdy, moraharpa), Anders Norudde (fiddle, hardanger fiddle, moraharpa, swedish bagpipe, bowed harp, jews harp, wooden and pvc bass flutes) and Hållbus Totte Mattsson (lute, baroque guitar, hurdy gurdy).‘
Maddy Prior’s Arthur The King draws this note from No’am: ‘This disk tries primarily to separate the fact from the fiction. “The historical Arthur is a highly controversial figure. Theories abound as to his region of activity and his ancestry.” are the first two sentences in the well written sleeve notes. Arthur also tries to provide in music a feeling of what it was like to have been alive in time of Arthur. ‘
Our Belgian based Richard starts off his review of Smoke and Strong Whisky this way: ‘Everyone knows Christy Moore, a central figure in the Irish folk revival of the 1960s and indirectly a significant contributor to the English folk revival that paralleled it. We know of his work with Moving Hearts and we are familiar with his earlier role in the highly influential Planxty, in both of which his path crossed with those of several other leading traditionally-inclined Irish musicians. The cross-fertilization of the Planxty years produced a series of solo and collective ventures by Moore that have built on and developed Irish folk and folk-derived music down to the present day.’ Now read his review to why this is not the Christy Moore you’d expect to be performing!
He also has a goodie for us: ‘Richard Thompson is often described as a cult figure, a description that Thompson himself defines as meaning that he does not have hit records and, as a result, does not make a fortune from his art. Even adepts of the cult who have all of his officially issued recordings will find things to rejoice at in Watching the Dark (hereinafter WtD.) It is also a marvelous introduction to Thompson’s career for anyone unfamiliar with his work.’
One of our favorite Twitter accounts to follow is that of one Jamie Woodward, professor of georgaphy at the University of Manchester. He tweets as The Ice Age (@Jamie_Woodward), and his missives range from the profound to the whimsical – and sometimes they’re both at once. A recent thread has concerned new evidence that the extinctions of large mammals during the last Ice Age was linked to human activity. And an ongoing series consists of photos of artworks created by humans during the Ice Age. Cave art, of course, but also small works in antler and mammoth ivory, including this delightful little 40,000-year-old hedgehog.
For our Coda this week we have a song that seems to be very popular among Nordic musicians. Some sources cite it as ‘traditional’ and imply that it was first written down by Gjermund Haugen, others say it it was composed by Haugen. Whatever. It’s an appealing tune, and we offer first a version by Annbjørg Lien (who recorded it on her first album, Felefeber) on hardanger fiddle, with Bjørn Ole Rasch on keyboards. And you can follow that up with a version by the Danish String Quartet, from their album Last Leaf.