17 January 2009
Here's what's new at Rambles.NET, your best source on the Internet for
roots and traditional music, fiction, folklore and movie reviews!
Go to http://www.rambles.net to access the new edition and much, much
more! (Our archives contain more than 12,000 reviews, interviews and
other bits of excitement.) See you there!
April Verch drifts a little further from her Celtic-Canadian roots of
her earlier recordings with Steal the Blue. "Blue gives one -- well,
me -- the impression of being two albums, one for devotees of Celtic-
and French-Canadian-flavored fiddle music, the other, where Verch
sings (with technical perfection) in an atmospheric little-girl's
soprano, for lovers of Alison Krauss's brand of acoustic country and
bluegrass-pop," Jerome Clark says. "Verch is one more gifted young
woman, raised on bluegrass, folk and country, who's heading down the
acoustic-pop route pioneered by Krauss. If you want to travel with
her, it's your bus fare. I expect that you'll enjoy the ride and the
The Darbuki Kings go questing for a Middle-Eastern sound with Lawrence
of Suburbia. "There are many groups that sample world music, including
that of the Middle East, but these guys stand out," Dave Howell says.
"Most such projects create slow, meditative electronica. The 13 tracks
here are lively with complex percussion. Real percussion like tablas,
not irritating, fake sounding 'beats.' A few synths here and there add
flavor to the strings and drums."
Sleepy John Estes is taking the blues On 80 Highway. "Don't let the
copyright date fool you. On 80 Highway was recorded in 1973 just prior
to Sleepy John's tour of Japan," says Michael Scott Cain. "Not that
the recording date makes much difference; there is a consistency to
Estes' work that makes it all sound as if had been recorded about
three days after Ralph Peer's first trip to Bristol in search of
Magic Slim & the Teardrops offer up a selection of Midnight Blues. "If
the blues is basic transportation, Magic Slim is the Concord. The man
drives, pushes, slams ahead with a thrust that propels him almost
beyond the sound barrier," Michael says. "Even when he plays the
standard blues riffs, you know it's Magic Slim who is playing them."
Melvin Smith snaps a Portrait of gospel jazz. "The sound here is
mainstream, but it never descends into the blandness of smooth jazz.
The Berklee College-educated Smith produced the CD himself, and
although it is never jarring, he does not smooth out his soprano and
tenor sax too much," Dave Howell says. "Smith's solos are intricate
and cerebral, yet there is an uplifting feel to the whole CD.
Everything is done for a purpose, without noodling or slackness. If
this is what gospel jazz is like, you can count me as a believer."
Sandy Kastel reinterprets some jazz standards for This Time Around.
"There are some great arrangements here. Nothing radically different,
as Sandy Kastel is a Vegas-styled entertainer ('Viva Las Vegas' is
included here). But on many of the 15 tracks she is backed by a big
band, something you don't hear much anymore," Dave says. "Ten brass
horns, eight woodwinds and a number of strings add a lot of power. It
reminds you of some of the great Sinatra sessions."
It's never too early in the season to warn you against a bad choice
for holiday music. Christina Aguilera's My Kind of Christmas is one
such selection to avoid. "Aguilera fills the album with mediocre pop
stylings, some of which are at least covers of classic Christmas
songs," Tom Knapp warns. "But her efforts here fail to ignite even a
spark of holiday spirit; rather, she dampens any real sense of
Christmas joy with her anemic, blues-inflected warblings and trendy
Brian Lumley offers more Cthulhu mythos-inspired tales -- and other
stuff, too -- in Haggopian & Other Stories: Best Mythos Tales, Volume
II. "Subterranean Press's first collection of Lumley's vivid takes on
Lovecraftian lore (The Taint & Other Stories) featured novellas in
which there was room for more plot, more characterization and more
dread to be layered into the scenes of stygian horror than we get much
of in this gathering of 24 short stories. Depending on your tolerance
for the sort of plots that tend to dominate mythos outings (the kind
with lots of overwrought narration and dialogue that sounds straight
out of Hammer bodice-rippers leading up to few truly happy endings and
many sticky ones), this may be a good thing or a bad thing," Gary
Cramer says. "As was the case in Taint, some of the best oddities in
this collection highlight Lumley's penchant for ichthyology, deep-sea
mysteries and dank seaside settings."
David Almond explores childhood relationships with a touch of
metaphysics and a coming-of-age story in Clay. "This retelling of the
golem legend combined with a hint of Frankenstein is set in the north
country of England where Almond grew up, and his affection for it
shows in the descriptions of family and places," says Donna Scanlon.
"The narrative, told in first person by Davie, seems almost hushed, as
if he were revealing a secret to the reader, and Davie seems like a
person trapped in a nightmare. He is the only person who can wake
himself. This is reflected in the thoughtful, gentle pace of the book
and the shift from past tense to present tense in the third part of
Allison Whittenberg says Life is Fine in this young-adult novel about
Samara Tuttle and the world of poetry that changed her life.
"Whittenberg's story is simply told and is powerful in its simplicity.
Samara's response to the new chain of events in her life is like
someone waking from an intense and bad dream," Donna says. "Samara
tells the story in first person. She is an honest narrator who does
not embellish her situation, and she adds a healthy dose of self-
analysis to the story. The reader sympathizes with her easily,
especially at her lowest points. At the same time, she doesn't drown
in self-pity, and as her strength emerges, so does her personality."
Neil Gaiman joins forces with artist Michael Zulli to transform the
short story The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch into
a graphic novel. "Zulli's art 'reads' very well in this macabre gem,
but it does seem to be missing its usual flair," Mary Harvey worries.
"His usually detailed work is very stripped down here, more
serviceable than singular, nowhere near as intense as he normally is.
It's very clear, done in fine lines with beautifully washed-out
colors, and the layout is quite good, reflecting the action exactly as
it appears in the prose version of the story. It is not, however, the
cerebral, imaginative artwork I have come to expect of him."
Tom Knapp turns a thumb's down on Paul Jenkins' Jekyll & Hyde, a new
graphic novel featuring the Batman. "What could have been a
fascinating psychological thriller suffers in part because the concept
has been overdone. Batman has addressed his own 'dark side' more times
than Robin has used the word 'holy' in a sentence. Jenkins has merely
taken yet another path to a very hackneyed destination," he says. "As
for Two-Face, the dichotomy between his scarred and unscarred sides
has been defined and redefined so often, it's hard to consider him the
same villain from story to story. Now we're asked to consider, not
just a second personality, but the "ghost" personality of someone --
you'll figure out very quickly who -- in Dent's past who now inhabits
his consciousness and makes him do bad things ... usually over
Harvey's milquetoast protests."
Tom also takes a look at the first volume of the Tomb Raider series,
Saga of the Medusa Mask. "Indiana Jones totally rocks. Lara Croft is a
pale imitation who uses pistols instead of a whip and, instead of a
trademark fedora, has really large boobs," he explains. "The art by
Andy Park is immensely good. The story by Dan Jurgens isn't bad -- my
only complaint is the sudden and dramatic twist at the end that builds
on too many cliches and really doesn't make a whole lot of sense."
Johanna R.M. Lyback is resurrected in this old collection of Indian
Legends. "I want to make it perfectly clear that this is a great book,
especially when used for its only viable purpose -- to examine the
mindset of the 1920s and the attitudes toward Native Americans. It is
an interesting and vibrantly entertaining read. The artwork, far past
being mere illustrations, is an optical feast that will enchant you.
It is easy to become caught up in the art and lose all track of time,"
Karen Elkins says. "However, I must point out that many of these
legends have absolutely nothing to do with Native Americans."
Miles O'Dometer revisits the late 1960s in Talk to Me, a film
biography about Ralph Waldo "Petie" Greene: an ex-con who was to
become a Washington, D.C.-area DJ, TV host, standup comic and, most
importantly, a community activist and voice of the unheard. "There are
some incredibly moving scenes, such as the one in which Greene has to
announce the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Within minutes,
the city is ablaze, and people start looking at Greene to do something
about it. And he does -- with a little help from, of all people, James
Brown," Miles says. "There are also some -- make that many --
hysterically funny moments. ... But the truth isn't always pretty, and
Talk to Me goes to great lengths to tell the whole story of a man who
was thinking just about as far outside the box as you can. At a time
when so many films are barely watchable, this one's rewatchable. In
fact, I recommend it."
You think we're done? Hardly!! Come back for more next week.
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