Review: Neil Gaiman: Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I think we can give you the best idea of this history-cum-biography (can a phenomenon have a biography?) by quoting from the review:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the most remarkable, certainly the most successful book ever to come out of the great publishing companies of Ursa Minor. It is about the size of a paperback book, but looks more like a large pocket calculator, having upon its face over a hundred flat press-buttons and a screen about four inches square… It comes in a durable plastic cover, upon which the words DON’T PANIC are printed in large, friendly letters. This is not its story.

Sounds like Douglas Adams, doesn’t it? Read the review to get the full story.

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From the Letters Bag: The Fire

This exchange pretty much speaks for itself.

From: John McCormick
Subject: Tim Hoke’s review of Western Island and Between Our Hearts
Date: September 4, 2002

Hello Tim,

Thanks for listening to my CDs and reviewing them for Green Man. It was a pleasure to meet you at Eagle Creek.

Would you like to hear my new CD, Live At The Freight? It is more energetic than the other studio recordings, and I think it represents my sound better than those. I will be pleased to mail you the new CD.

Back to your review… I am always happy to hear of my part in “putting one’s kids down.” And I am glad to report that I have soundtracked many births. Sounds rather dull, doesn’t it? But when is acoustic music much otherwise? The best times for me have been in the live communication between artist (transformer) and audience.

I wish the CDs were more full of fire. The fire is here, but without bass and drums it is hard to record it. Maybe some bass and drums next time.

Thanks, Tim.

All the best, John

Tim Hoke replies:

Sure, I’d like to hear your new CD. GMR has instituted a new policy, though, where they request two copies of a CD, and one gets archived. You can either send one to me and one to the Music Editor, or send both to me, and I’ll send one copy on to her. Whichever suits.

I don’t think that acoustic music is dull, by definition. I’ve been pleased to find music that will calm my kids down, and I’ve had much success with fingerstyle guitarists. In addition to your recordings, my kids seem to like Martin Simpson and John Renbourn.

Having heard you live, I agree that the fire is there.

Essay: Vera Nazarian on Peter S. Beagle

From the Archives, written by, as you might guess, Vera Nazarian.

My favorite, beloved book by Peter S. Beagle is The Last Unicorn which I’ve read in school, probably during study hall, in the magical silence of the school library, surrounded by the rustle of pages turned and thoughts plunged into a waking dream.

I think that Peter S. Beagle ‘owns’ unicorns in the same way that Anne McCaffrey owns dragons or J.R.R Tolkien owns elves. Before experiencing this book I’ve never felt the true profundity of what a unicorn stands for, or the impossible sorrow of being the last of its kind, imprisoned in a circus cage. Endangered species illustrated by a fantastic creature, what a concept! School boards should take heed when teaching kids that science unit.

Before unicorns put on the sad mantle of traditional fantasy cliché, they were one of the grand archetypes. Regardless of their affiliation, dragons stood for ultimate power, while unicorns — they were of course ultimate truth, whether you believed in such a thing, or not. Unicorns make you believe, make you suspend your own prejudice or worldview for just a moment. And no other portrayal of unicorns has ever hit home so hard, and none ever will, I think, as The Last Unicorn . Beagle’s is the classic unicorn, evoking gentle nostalgia, and that rare and genuine sense of wonder.

Review: Joan Baez: And A Voice To Sing With

It’s Labor Day here in the States, and so I thought I’d dig through the Archives to see what I could find in honor of the day. Oddly enough, anything we might have relating to the labor movement or the music it engendered is most likely buried under the moniker “americana,” which, as you well know, could be almost anything.

However, I did find a memoir from one of the key voices of a direct descendant of the labor movement, the anti-war, civil rights protest movement of the 1960s and ’70s, And A Voice To Sing With, from Joan Baez. It gets, as they say, “close up and personal.” Read the review to find out just how much so.

Review: Brass Monkey: Flame of Fire

As long as we’re talking about Martin Carthy (and we were, just this morning), we thought it would nice to share another treasure from the Archives, to wit, a review by David Kidney of Brass Monkey’s Flame of Fire.

I think this time I’ll give you the endgame: David concludes his remarks thusly:

I have never heard an album Martin Carthy was involved with that didn’t yield treasures. Brass Monkey is no exception. Musical, danceable, foot-tappable, it harkens back to the past to make one appreciate the long history of folk music.

Of course, there’s more to the review than that, and if you’re as demanding as I think you are, you’ll want to read the whole thing to get the rationale.

Musical Musings: An Introduction to Martin Carthy

This is one in a series of posts about performers and groups in which I recommend a single recording, usually but not always, a box set for a particular band or performer.

I saw Waterson: Carthy Them some fifteen years back and it was an amazing night indeed. Created more than thirty years by Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy, it’s an amazing group by any standard you care to apply to English folk music.

(It now includes their daughter, singer and fiddle player Eliza Carthy, and melodeon player Saul Rose).

(On the wall in my office is the framed set list from that night that Norma wrote down for me after the encore as a piece of notepad paper. It’s one of many, many similar items that I’ve collected over the years.)

At the heart of that group is Martin Carthy, who has been, in addition to this group, a member of Blue Murder, The Watersons, Steeleye Span, Albion Country Band, Brass Monkey, and The Imagined Village. (His time in Steeleye was the same period that Ashley Hutchins was involved!) As one of the best guitarists you’ll ever have the pleasure to hear, he has helped create the sound of much of what we think of as modern English folk music.

If you haven’t heard of him, I’m going to recommend The Carthy Chronicles and an album with his frequent collaborator Dave Swarbrick, Both Ears and The Tail, both with which are covered in one sterling review.

Shall I pour you a pint while read the review? Thought so.

Review: Hilary Rushmer: Celtic Sunrise

I suspect one of the objections many people have to the term “Celtic music” is no more than its identification with New Age music. Although New Age draws on a lot of sources, from folk to jazz to non-Western modes and idioms, there were a number of artists in the genre who drew heavily on the traditions of Irish and Scottish music. All too often, alas, the result was best characterized as “easy listening.”

However, such was not always the case. Take, for example, Irish harpist Hilary Rushmer and her album Celtic Sunrise. If you read our review, you’ll see it’s not what you feared.

Live Action: Scots Women Live from Celtic Connections 2001

Another treasure from the Archives, another live recording, and another real treat. I’ll let our reviewer set the stage, so to speak:

About the only requirement for enjoying this performance from the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall is that you leave your expectations for market-slanted slickness at the door. This is the kind of local music that brings with it the scent of the wind over the heath and peat, the tang of the salt from the sea. The concert showcases traditional music as interpreted by Scottish women from a wide variety of backgrounds.

There you have it: A two-disc set of the real thing. Read our reviewer’s reaction to Scots Women Live from Celtic Connections 2001.

Review: Duhks: Migrations

Yep — yet another highly enthusiastic review of Duhks, that Canadian band that does “Americana music,” this time Migrations.

Our reviewer notes:

The Duhks are a five-piece band hailing from Canada, combining traditional instrumentation with some lively, contemporary arrangements. The band have an enviable live reputation, and Migrations captures this essence perfectly.

So — live energy without a live performance. Nice trick, isn’t it? Read the review for some revealing details.

Essay: Charles de Lint on Peter S. Beagle

Someone’s been at the Archives again, and unearthed a whole slew of essays about Peter S. Beagle. Now, you’ll remember that we recently ran an essay on Charles de Lint, so it only seems reasonable to start the Beagle group with one by de Lint — the godfather of contemporary fantasy on one of the masterworks in the genre. What could be better?

And he also has a few words to say about rereading old favorites, which, as I can attest from my own experience, can be fraught, as they say.

Of course, the burning question is, “Does Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place hold up?” Well, why don’t you read de Lint’s commentary to find out?