What’s New for the 22nd of January: music from De Danann, Nordic new age, Jazz music, cleaning the Kinrowan Hall under-eaves, a super-antihero, and other matters…

All things are known, but most things are forgotten. It takes a special magic to remember them. — Grandfather of Tallis in his Journal, from Robert Holdstock’s Lavondyss

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We’re really in the harshest part of Winter on this Scottish Estate, so the residents of Kinrowan Hall, save the staff of Gus, our Head Gardener, who have livestock and buildings to tend, are quite content to stay inside. There’s always something to stave off boredom, be it reading or needed Estate chores, at which everyone on this communitarian Estate lends a hand.

So it comes to pass that we’ve been cleaning out the under the eaves spaces and no, unlike Evenmere Hall, we didn’t precisely find a dragon there — though we did find the plans for a stonking big stone one. There was a lot of stuff to be moved or discarded as, The Steward has an intent to create more staff housing in part of it. The spaces are heated now to keep ice from building up on the slate roof, so extending plumbing and power will be no big deal.

What kind of stuff? A crate of botantical books that Gus claimed for his workshop; a model of Kinrowan Hall wonderfully detailed with real glass windows and tiny roof slates that will be displayed in the Library for everyone to see; maps of the Estate dating back centuries which went to our Steward; dark green glass pickling jars more than big enough for whole cabbages and which had something odd in them; hand written copies of The Sleeping Hedgehog from the mid-eighteenth century; a crate of whisky laid down centuries ago for later consumption and didn’t Reynard, our Pub Manager, claim that fast; and some seelie impression balls of Elven performances of Elizabethan music which the Winter Court left here very long ago; and so forth.

Now let’s see what I found for you this time…

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A novel gets a nod of approval from one of our Deborahs: ‘Fitcher’s Brides, by Gregory Frost, is one of the most recent additions to Terri Windling’s excellent brainchild, The Fairy Tale Series. As such, it shares shelf space with other such remarkable works as Briar Rose by Jane Yolen and Tam Lin by Pamela Dean. Fitcher’s Brides is, at its core, a retelling of Bluebeard, a cautionary fairy tale that warned against curiosity and temptation, for dark and potentially fatal secrets are hidden behind the locked doors of unknown husbands. While the original fairy tale seems to remove power from women in this regard, the version Frost here purports has a much more satisfying feminist slant to it.’

According to Denise, ‘Peter Dickinson takes the salamander of myth and gives it a new spin in The Tears of the Salamander. In 18th century Italy, young Alfredo is a promising singer in the church choir, and sings with the true love of one born to it. Soon though, he reaches the age where he must make a decision: to become a castrati and continue with the choir for his whole life, or to take his chances and hope his singing voice after puberty is as good as it had been before. As he weighs his decision, tragedy strikes. He is soon introduced to his Uncle Giorgio, a man whom he has never known and whom his father hated. Alfredo is whisked away to Sicily, where his uncle is the Master of the Mountain, a powerful man with the fire and fury of the mountain at his control.’

Eric looks at another book in Windling’s Fairy Tale Series: ‘In Briar Rose, Jane Yolen’s reinterpretation of the story of Sleeping Beauty, the reader is entertained in just this manner. Framed around Rebecca Berlin’s childhood memories of her grandmother’s repeated recital of Sleeping Beauty is a somber retelling of the myth with the Holocaust and the death camp of Chelmno as the setting. The book blends together two story lines in alternating chapters. In the odd-numbered chapters Rebecca’s grandmother tells her version of Sleeping Beauty repeatedly throughout the childhood of Rebecca and her two older sisters. The even-numbered chapters describe the adult Rebecca’s journey to discover the truth behind her grandmother’s claims that the story was real and that she was the princess in it. The two tracks run in parallel, with each segment told by Rebecca’s grandmother keeping pace with the discoveries Rebecca makes about the truth behind the tale.’

Richard and our Publisher were having a grumbling  session in the Pub recently over the rather shitty content of the seemingly infinite number of  collections by writers known and writers deservedly unknown, and anthologies that are likewise. Now read this review to see how this collection fared with him: ‘You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but sometimes you can get a pretty good hint as to where things are headed. So it is with Justin Gustainis’ collection The Devil Will Come: A Modern Collection of Devilish Fiction, the cover of which features a red-filtered Photoshop image of a business suited denizen of the Pit holding up what is presumably a contract. The image is striking, but not necessarily for the intended reasons.’

Robert brings us a look at a couple of shorter works by Elizabeth Bear. Of Bone and Jewel Creatures he says: ‘Elizabeth Bear’s novella Bone and Jewel Creatures takes us to a bizarre fantasy world that Bear doesn’t describe so much as imply.’ That tendency is even more apparent in the sequel, Book of Iron: ‘Bear is one of those rare writers of fantasy for whom magic is not so much a device as an integral part of the story — part of its bones. It’s in the ambience, the milieu, and also part of the telling.’

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Robert ran across a rather unusual superhero, in Keith Giffen’s Lobo: 100 Page Spectacular: ‘Intended as a parody of Wolverine, this version was itself parodied. Lobo, “the last Czarnian,” is the embodiment of id — there seem to be no restraints on his behavior, particularly when it comes to violence (he credits himself with having wiped out the rest of his species as his “high school science project”), although he does live up to the letter of his agreements — but only the letter.’

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And, from super-antihero to regular old superheroes — a whole bunch of them, known collectively as The Avengers. Robert says ‘Take it as given that this one is fun, although it’s substantial enough that it can’t be passed off as mere escapism. (Although considering the state of the world, escapism certainly has its uses.)’

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Another Deborah looks at the latest release from Steven Graves: ‘With his seventh release, Captain Soul, Graves has taken a quantum leap forward into the world of orchestration. It’s a very good idea, and it solidifies some of the areas in his earlier presentation that needed just a little more production than he was giving them. His songs have grown with each album, and with this release, he’s given them a commensurate gloss and heft.’

Gary is enjoying the Stefan Aeby Trio’s latest release, To the Light. The Swiss pianist and his mates, he says, make music that ‘is atmospheric and yet focused, often weighty in theme but light in execution.’

Gary also reviews a new release from jazz guitarist John Abercrombie’s Quartet. The music on Up and Coming, he says, ’emphasizes subtle melodic elements and the breath-for-breath interplay between Abercrombie and pianist Marc Copland.’

Gary also has a look at, of all things, a vinyl seven-inch single from Anna & Elizabeth. This duo, who specialize in Appalachian ballads and old-time shadow theater, have also collaborated with Indonesian performers. On this record they sing two old-time songs, ‘Hop High’ and ‘Here In The Vineyard,’ in arrangements that include electronica, woodwinds and a harmonium, in addition to their fiddle, banjo and vocal harmonies.

Lars ends his review of Caught in the Convent this way: ‘I cannot praise the Dylan Project enough. They call themselves the tribute band Dylan deserves. And what can go wrong, five brilliant musicians picking their favourite songs from one of the best songwriters in the world, a man who has continously put on out new product for 55 years. Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in Dylan or British folk rock.’ Now read his entire review for an excellent look at the band and this recording.

Robert has some thoughts on three recordings by Faroese artist Kristian Blak: ‘To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t expected to like the music of Kristian Blak. It does fall, to a large extent, under the rubric “new age,” although much more in the progressive jazz camp than my most favored artists from that area. Blak is obviously open to other influences, and is, by all reports, a major force in the Faroese music scene.’

And, moving into another part of the Scandinavian world, Robert takes a look at Of Air from Anders Hagberg and Johannes Landgren: ‘Of Air is in many ways a refreshing album. Although it falls largely within the new age/world music rubric, it is a tighter, more thoughtful performance than is often the case in that genre.”

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Our What Not this time  is the question of what is your favourte Tolkien. Elizabeth Bear says it’s The Lord of the Rings. ‘Because I am predictable. No, seriously. If I were aiming for arty, I would say ‘Leaf By Niggle,’ but I think LotR is a stunning and massive accomplishment, beautifully written, and honestly it gets me right where I live. I’m not unaware of having some problems with it from a political standpoint, but the character arcs, the study of how war and evil change the world and everyone who comes in contact with them, even the defenders–that rings very true for me, as a story that needed to be told.’

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De Danann (originally Dé Danann and later, following a nasty legal fight,  two bands with slightly different spellings) has been one of my favourite bands as long as they’ve been around, so let’s  finish off this edition with them performing ‘Jenny Rocking The Cradle’. It’s from their performance at the Canal Street Tavern in Dayton, Ohio sometime in 1982. It’s an exceptionally great recording, so it’s most likely a recording off the soundboard, either by the engineer or someone allowed to tap into it.

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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