I authorised that a model be made of Kinrowan Hall complete with the new Library addition, so that all could see how it would look when built. It will be more than just a bog standard architectural model as it’ll be complete with a real slate roof, tiny leaded windows and such. The library itself will be a open space four stories tall and another two stories below with shelves between the leaded glass windows on three sides and a skylight as well — Steward Jenny Sturgeon in her journal, 15 September 1880
There is nothing quite like a freshly brewed pot of tea to get you going in the morning. I should know as I need at least two large mugs of tea before I’m fully awake. Not black though as I’ve a generous splash of Riverrun cream in my tea.
I once knew a well-regarded folk musician who started each morning with much more than a dram of Kilbeggan Irish whiskey. Seemed to suit him well for the coming day as far as anyone could tell.
So I’m up in my Library office, a pot of Darjeeling second blush tea at hand, putting together this edition and watching the snow fall rather heavily outside the window. I’m playing a live performance by Altan with you hearing ‘A Bhean Udaí Thall’ from a concert in Phoenix nearly thirty years ago.
Want to see what I’ve got this week? Of course you do.
The novel Gary looks at in this review is set in a richly imagined future India, Ian Mcdonald’s River of Gods. And it’s a bloody good read as well: ‘You can hold whole universes in your hand, between the covers. And as with those old faery tales, you need to pay attention to books like . They contain important truths, hidden inside entertaining stories.’
Kestrell looks into the future to review John Langan’s House of Windows. What does Kestrell have to say of this work of literary horror? Well, this might help — ‘House of Windows can be read on many levels — as a modern updating of the old-fashioned ghost story, as a commentary on the psychological ‘ghosts’ created by physical and emotional abuse, and as a perceptive reading of the overlapping of classic literature with supernatural fiction. Beneath all of these, however, runs the ongoing questions of why we read at all, why do words and stories possess such an irresistible attraction for us, and what these stories can reveal — or tragically fail to reveal-to us about our own lives and experiences.’
There is a very simple formula for determining whether a reader will like Dave Hutchinson’s Europe In Winter, the third book in his Europe cycle. Just ask the hypothetical reader if they like John LeCarre. If the answer is yes, then no time should be wasted in suggesting fervently that they give the Hutchinson a try, because they will almost certainly adore it.
Before there were superheroes, there were — well, the superheroes of an earlier age. Robert takes a look at a book about one of them, Alex Vernon’s On Tarzan: ‘Tarzan is one of those icons of popular culture that has taken on a resonance that runs from the personal to the mythic. One of the ironies that underlies Alex Vernon’s On Tarzan is that old question that I confront regularly: how much did Edgar Rice Burroughs put into that character, and how much have we provided?’
Reynard told me a few minutes ago that he asked Kathleen what her favourite libation was and she waxed nostalgic: ‘Nova Albion of blessed memory – a bright copper, richly hopped ale with an aftertaste of roses. But in the world of beers I can actually get my hands on … maybe Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale, full of fresh new Zealand hops. Or Lagunitas Censored Ale. Or even the venerable Bass Ale — served room temperature, of course. With straw floating on the top. I like hops…’
Gary reviews Querido Mundo by New York-based Latin rocker Ani Cordero. It’s a follow-up to her critically acclaimed solo debut Recordar, and Gary says it’s ‘an album full of political and love songs she wrote, addressing both current affairs and affairs of the heart.’
Robert got very enthusiastic about an album that’s — well, something different. (Big surprise.) He starts off his comments on Vieux Farka Touré’s debut album with some notes on traditions: ‘There were, in the middle of the last century, over 1,000 languages spoken in Africa, grouped into four large families, not counting creoles and pidgins (estimates have actually ranged as high as 3,000 altogether). This does actually have something to do with the debut album by Vieux Farka Touré: when one speaks of “African traditions,” it is well to remember that those 1,000 languages reflect as many cultures and subcultures, which means there is no such thing as “an African tradition.”’
The same might hold true for another part of the world, as Robert notes while discussing Afghanistan Untouched: ‘I have to admit to a certain feeling of helplessness when faced with a collection like Afghanistan Untouched: it is, much more than entertainment, an ethnographic document. . . . This is borne out by the substantial documentation included in the accompanying booklet, which includes an overview and sections discussing the role of musicians in the life of the various ethnic groups that make up the country and commentaries on the various selections presented.’
Sean looks at yet another of an apparently endless number of Clannad anthologies, A Magical Gathering: ‘For those unfamiliar with the full panorama of the Clannad sound archive, these two discs might come as a surprise, as they contrast the band’s acoustic roots with more recent, perhaps familiar work, which is all too often formulaic, elegiac and in the hands of their most successful scion, Enya, totally commercial.’
Our What Not this time is again a favourite tune as we asked a Winter Queen, the late Josepha Sherman, what hers was: ‘OK, my dear: I play the folk harp a wee bit (I’m sadly out of practice) and of the older songs, I like ‘Sumer is icumen in,’ ca. 1260 or so, by our old friend, Anonymous. I like it both for the melody and the words, which are cheerful and alive with the image of animals jumping about for the joy of it. It also makes for a cheerful round for several voices. For the earliest songs, though we don’t have the melodies, alas, I love some of the Ancient Egyptian love songs, which are downright modern — such as the one about the girl who sees her boyfriend and rushes out to meet him with half her hair still undone!’ She went on to note that ‘The Ancient Egyptians had our concept of romantic love, btw, clear in their songs. There’s even a sadly fragmentary one of a wife undressing her husband, who’s passed out after what was clearly too much drinking at a party, and how she loves him even so.’
So let’s finish out this week with some more music from Altan performing at Somerville Theater in Somerville, Massachusets on the 13th of February 1993. It’s ‘A Tune For Mairéad And Anna’ from their performance at the Folkadelphia Session, 7th of March, 2015.