English autumn mornings are often like mornings nowhere else in the world. The air is cold. The floorboards are cold. It is perhaps this coldness which sharpens the tang of the hot cup of tea. Outside, steps on the gravel crunch a little more loudly than a month ago because of the very slight frost. ― John Berger’s A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor
The ground underfoot outside of Kinrowan Hall has taken on the crunchy sound and feel that it gets after the frost has set nicely into the soil. It’s a sure sign that Winter will soon be upon us with the first biting cold, but I and the Irish wolfhounds needed a good walk, so I ate a hearty breakfast, packed a thermos of tea, dressed warmly and set off for a walk to the Standing Stones and back.
What’s that lovely music I’m playing? It’s the Gjermund Larsen Trio’s ‘Midnattsang’ which was recorded at the Førde Traditional and World Music Festival two years ago. I tend to play a lot of Nordic trad music in the Winter. And I really don’t do conventional Christmas music sticking pretty much to Nordic trad music and classical groups like Les Witches.
Now let’s see what we’ve got in store for you this edition. I’m sure there’ll be books, music and even chocolate that’ll make fine gifts to give this holiday season…
Ursula Le Guin is by any measure one of the best living writers and Cat has a look at something truly awesome that just got printed by Saga Press, which is The Selected Short Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin: ‘The Found and the Lost is a complete collection of all thirteen of her novellas, while The Unreal and the Real, being published for the first time in a single, hardcover volume, brings together thirty-nine of her best-regarded short stories.’
Gary has some thoughts about Wayward Heroes, the 1952 book by Halldór Laxness recently published in an English translation for the first time. ‘Halldór Laxness is, of course, Iceland’s greatest and best-known writer and the island’s only Nobel Laureate,’ Gary says. Wayward Heroes is the mock-heroic tale of two ‘sworn brothers’ who wish to return to the days of Iceland’s epic sagas. ‘Everyone who prizes great story-telling owes it to themselves to read Wayward Heroes and other Laxness titles,’ he concludes.
Robert looks at two related novels by Elizabeth Bear. Of By the Mountain Bound he says: ‘By the Mountain Bound is a prequel to All the Windwracked Stars, and takes quite a different cast. It is a pure fantasy, with none of the science-fiction aspects of the latter book, and leads one to think about possibilities such as “What if Euripides had been a Norse skald?”
And next, of course, is All the Windwracked Stars: ‘Take an event that we know from mythology, although it might have really happened. Let’s call it Ragnarok, just to give ourselves a point of reference, the final war when the Children of Light fought their brothers and sisters, the Tarnished Ones, and only three survived. . . .’
You may remember Garth Ennis’ landmark series Preacher. Well, for our graphic offering today we have a collection of Glenn Fabry’s covers, Preacher: Dead or Alive: ‘You’re an artist, and you’ve been given a very unusual task. Create eye-catching, evocative comic book covers, month in and month out for a new series. The main characters include a hitwoman, a vampire, a preacher possessed by the Word of God, an unstoppable killing machine fueled by divine wrath and mortal hate, a conspiracy to take over the world, and God Himself.’
April says that ‘I can only speak for myself as a chocolate addict, but I loosely categorize chocolate into three general categories: cheap chocolate to be scarfed as needed, mid-grade chocolate that’s to be enjoyed more slowly . . . and then there’s the really good stuff, chocolate to be savored and hoarded and mourned when it is gone. My guilty pleasure, Reese’s, falls into the first category. Ritter Sport, Godiva and Ghirardelli fall into the second. And the third … well, it’s sparsely populated, but now includes, courtesy of Green Man Review, Amano dark chocolate bars.’
Camille looked at three bars from Chocolove (orange peel, toffee almonds and raspberry) which she summed up thusly: ‘All in all, three delightful chocolate bars if one has a particularly sweet tooth. Pleasant finish and texture to each, and a variety of interesting flavors to choose from and dead poets to sample.’
Robert got the chore (right) of reviewing three Green & Black’s bars — Organic Milk Chocolate, Organic Maya Gold and Organic Bittersweet Dark Chocolate and he has this crucial note about the company: ‘The provenance of the name, “Green & Black’s,” should be obvious: organic chocolate with a dark, rich color and flavor.’
Cat has a choice recording for us from the B-52s: ‘If you’re a fan of the band, you’ll definitely want Live! 8.24.1979, because official live recordings of this band are scarce. The liner notes are both informative and entertaining — kudos to Real Gone Music for these. Oh and ‘Rock Lobster’ is wonderful played live!’
Who else but Deb should have the honour of reviewing this recording: ‘I’m just on my third listen to Steeleye Span’s Dodgy Bastards. This latest offering from a band I’ve loved since their earliest albums is a mixed bag. Fortunately, the contents are largely on the side of excellence. There is very little here that doesn’t work for me, but what doesn’t work for me really doesn’t.’
The musical style known as sevdah is sometimes called ‘the blues of the Balkans’. Gary says Damar, the latest recording by Amira Medunjanin, perfectly fits the description of sevdah as ‘songs of secret love and sublimated melancholy’. He notes that her songs feature non-sevdah-style arrangements that include elements of jazz, flamenco, and even Japanese music, and says, ‘This album’s intimate production heightens the impression that Amira is pouring out her heart’s deepest sorrows to you alone.’
Jack has a tasty bit of seasonal music for us: ‘Ahhh, Nordic traditional music. There’s no better to listen to on a cold, snowy day when a good book beckons and there’s no place one has to be. Hambo in the Snow certainly has now made my list of Nordic music for a winter’s day. And I must say that Garrison Keillor has good taste in music! Hambo in the Snow is from a trio of Minnesota Nordic musicians that have, according to the liner notes, performed on Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion.’
Robert takes a look at three collections of (more or less) traditional Scandinavian music: ‘ Now, “traditional” in music can mean a lot of things — ethnographic recordings of Appalachian grannies singing songs they learned as children, work songs and spirituals turned into political anthems, real traditional songs cleaned and neatly pressed for a contemporary audience, sometimes to the point where they don’t have a lot to do with their origins, and songs that may have been traditional once upon a time, or at least in a “traditional” vein, but that not only acknowledge influences from around the world, but happily assimilate them. As far as I’m concerned, these are all legitimate forms of “traditional” music, although I suspect the Appalachian grannies are going appeal mostly to anthropologists.’
There is a connection between that last set of reviews and Robert’s next offering, although it may not seem plausible. Robert says of Tummel’s Payback Time: ‘Be advised that this disc does not in any way fall under the category of Nordic roots. No chance. This collection is very much “anything goes.”’
Our What Not this time is Jack on his favourite reading place, which befitting him, is our Pub: ‘The overstuffed chair near the fire’s close enough to the Neverending Session to drown out conversation from the bar proper so I can read while listening to the music, there’s always a cat or two sleeping near the fire to keep me company, and one can’t beat the company when I want to put aside reading for a bit of conversation and a pint of something tasty!’
Gillian Welch, one of the leading lights of Americana music, just released an official ‘bootleg’ record of demos and outtakes from her first album Revival. Sit here by the fire with Jack and listen to this unofficial bootleg of Welch and Dave Rawlings singing the chillingly sad ‘Snowin On Raton’ by the late great Townes Van Zandt.