What’s New for the 8th of January: Pamela Dean’s favourite ballad, art from Meinrad Craighead, music from Kathryn Tickell and Jackson Browne & David Lindley, a toast by Hob Glading and other matters

To absent friends, lost loves, old gods, and the season of mists; and may each and every one of us always give the devil his due. — Hob Gadling, toasting upon Dream’s journey as told in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: Season of Mists

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I’m in the Kitchen enjoying a very late evening snack of hot cider and a just-baked apple and Riverrun cheddar cheese tart. The staff’s playing music by piper Kathryn Tickell and right now it’s the set of ‘The Magpie’, ‘Rothbury Road’ and ‘The Cold Shoulder’ which Memoria, our Library app, tells me was recorded at the Washington, D.C., Irish Folk Fest on the second of September, fourteen years ago.

I always enjoy Kinrowan Hall best when it’s at its quietest, which is why I’m oftimes down in the kitchen late in the evening, or walking outside just after dawn breaks. And now I see my mug needs refilling before I finish off this edition… So let’s see what I’ve got for you…

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Cat starts off our book reviews with a look at The Halting State, which he says ‘is the best near future thriller I’ve read since first encountering John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider nearly thirty years ago. Indeed I’m quite surprised that it’s being marketed as sf genre fiction and not as a mainstream novel! Like that novel, The Halting State is a clear and logical extrapolation of current technology pushed a mere decade into the future. And like Brunner’s novel (which deserves to be read by anyone who cares about what technology can do to a society), Stross’ novel presents a society both like and quite unlike our own.

Next he looks at Walter Jon Williams’s This Is Not a Game: ‘All of us in one manner or another are storytellers, so I found the idea of a novel that told the story of Dagmar, a woman who runs ARGs (augmented reality games) hence her being called the puppet master, to be very appealing. She runs these ARGs for Great Big Idea, a company founded by two of her University friends who were deep into role playing games where they were all in university.’ See what happens when the game merges with real world politics.

Crow Mother and the Dog God, a Retrospective gets an appreciative review by Grey: ‘Meinrad Craighead has spent her long life creating images and words in her search for the deepest sources of the divine. As the girl christened Charlene Marie Craighead, she spent her summers in North Little Rock, Arkansas, running with packs of dogs, digging holes and listening to the stories of her beloved grandmother, “Memaw.” When she took holy orders as a Benedictine nun in England, she was given the name Meinrad, in honor of St. Meinrad, one of her own ancestors. Leaving the convent fourteen years later, she came to her heart’s home in New Mexico, where she has lived with dog companions and human friends ever since. In all that time, she has never stopped drawing, painting and writing about the images she has discovered.’

Lory tries out Farah Mendlesohn’s Rhetorics of Fantasy, an in-depth academic study of the fantasy genre, and discovers that academia and genre literature aren’t natural enemies after all: ‘Farah Mendlesohn takes fantasy seriously. Other scholars may tend to skip over the genre, or feel the need to explain or excuse their focus on popular fiction, but she takes for granted the worthiness of a body of literature which relies on the creation of ‘a sense of wonder.

Robert takes a look at what he hopes is the beginning of a new fantasy series by Tanya Huff, The Enchantment Emporium: ‘It’s coming on May Day, and the Aunties are all baking pies in preparation for the ritual, when the news comes that Allie’s Gran is dead, by way of a letter from Gran herself. She’s left Allie her business in Calgary — a small business, she writes, that has become crucial to the local community. It’s not until Allie gets to Calgary that she begins to realize just what community Gran means. And it’s in Calgary that things start to get really weird.’

Happily, Robert got his hands on the next installment: ‘The Wild Ways is the second of Tanya Huff’s stories of the Gales, this time centering on Allie’s cousin Charlie — Charlotte Marie Gale, an itinerant musician and a Wild Power. Charlie is happily settled in Calgary with her Cousin Allie. . . . Well, maybe not so happily — Charlie’s used to wandering, which she usually does through the Wood, but she’ll settle for a plane or train when necessary.’

POur food and drink section this time is just  a recommendation of a whiskey tasting blogspot which is described this way: ‘SmokyBeast is penned by a whisky-loving wife and husband team in New York City. We sit down every Sunday night after our daughter goes to bed, and crack open a well-earned reward: a bottle of dark, smoky, and delicious whisky. Here are some of our favorites, and some lessons we’ve learned along the way.’ Need I say more? I think not.

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While many considered last year one of the worst on record (Rest in Peace, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, and so many more), Denise reviewed a record that shows things could be much worse. People Take Warning!: Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs, 1913-1938 gives voice to the fact that the start of the 20th Century was no picnic either.

The Guardian said of Kathryn Tickell, the great Northumbrian piper and fiddler, that her live show features  ‘… tunes played at times hauntingly with fingers blurring as they flick up and down the chanter or over the fiddle neck. Each set of tunes is separated by stories about friends and places all told quietly, ramblingly and with a gentle wryness. Her act is gripping, funny and moving.’ Ed certainly agrees, as his review of Debateable Lands, her eighth album, is glowing.

Gillian Welch’s Boots No. 1, the Official Revival Bootleg is an enjoyable look back at Welch’s first record Revival on its twentieth anniversary. Gary says it’s ‘a two-disc set of alternate versions, outtakes and demos from that album’s recording sessions. I’d rather have a new Gillian Welch release, but speaking as a fan, it’ll do for now.’

On the Off Beat is one of American fiddler Liz Carroll’s releases of Irish tunes. Gary says most of the music is made by a trio of Carroll, Graham on guitar and Trevor Hutchinson on bass.  She’s also joined on several tunes by Winifred Horan (Solas) on fiddle, Natalie Haas on cello and Catriona McKay on harp. Altogether, he says, it is ‘another excellent set of fiddle tunes from Liz Carroll.’

Robert has a look at fiddlers focusing on Scottish tunes, to wit, Blazin’ Fiddles’ Live album: ‘When our Editor and Publisher (also known as “the Chief”) first broached the idea of my reviewing a Blazin’ Fiddles release, I was hesitant. “A whole orchestra?” said I. “Of fiddles?” (Well, that’s what he said it was.) Somehow I knew it wasn’t going to be Henry Mancini.’

Robert finishes off our music reviews with another recording  of — well, it’s not exactly fiddling, and certainly not traditional: ‘I remarked once upon a time that Morton Feldman’s music fills space. Listening to the sections of The Viola In My Life, I realize that Feldman does rather more than fill space: he shapes it, gives it duration and form, brings a dimensionality into music that is all too rare (one thinks of Bach, perhaps Alban Berg, maybe John Luther Adams, but vanishingly few others who bring that kinesthetic sensibility into the realm of sound).’

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Our What Not comes courtesy of Pamela Dean, who was asked what her favourite ballad was: ‘As I went through all the Child ballads when I was trying to think of a frame for Juniper, Gentian, & Rosemary, and the only other remotely feminist ballad I could find was ‘Riddles Wisely Expounded,’ which is not nearly as active for the young woman as ‘Tam Lin’ is. Well, there is the one where a young woman ransoms her guy and says, ‘The blood had flowed upon the green afore I lost my laddie,’ which is nice, but all she does is take all her money and hand it over.’

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I discovered something delightfully unexpected on the Infinite Jukebox where we have digital copies of the music that has found its way to us. I was looking for a certain reel when the search I was doing returned Jackson Browne and David Lindley doing ‘The Reel Of The Hanged Man’. It’s from a concert at The Main Point in Bryn Mawr, a small city in Pennsylvania. It’s from the FM broadcast, no radio station noted, by them in 1975. It’s a damn fine reel with I assume Lindley on violin.

About Iain Nicholas Mackenzie

I'm the Librarian for the Kinrowan Estate. I do love fresh brewed teas, curling, English mysteries and will often be playing Scandinavian or Celtic  music here in the Library here in Kinrowan Hall if the Neverending Session is elsewhere. I'm a violinist too, so you'll me playing in various contradance band such as Chasing Fireflies and Mouse in the Cupboard as well as backing my wife Catherine up on yearly Christmas season tours in the Nordic countries.
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