Live Action: Jez Lowe & The Bad Pennies: Northern Echoes: Live On The Tyne

jez loweNorthumbria is one of those places you don’t hear much about –unless, of course, you visit Sleeping Hedgehog or Green Man Review, in which case you know that Northumbria, like so many places, has its own rich musical heritage. Today’s live album, in a review from our Archives, features some of that heritage, in a concert by Jez Lowe & The Bad Pennies, in a release titled Northern Echoes: Live on the Tyne. And, as so often happens, those traditions are often called on to comment on current events:

Given that many of these songs were written under the shadow of Thatcher’s Britain in the 1980s, it’s no surprise that Lowe focuses on the plight of the hard-working proletariat and the strong sense of community that existed amongst the region’s industrial sprawl. Lowe also cannily conveys the distinct sense of pride and humour that is often demonstrated by the folk from this area.

Doesn’t sound like your basic protest songs, does it? To see what it’s really like, read the review.

Review: Charles de Lint: Newford Stories: Crow Girls

imageCharles de Lint has created a gallery of memorable characters in his fiction, ranging from nice, comfortable people we’d be happy to call friends to those who are much more (and sometimes frighteningly so) than they seem. Two of the most engaging are the Crow Girls, who serve as the focus of a collection of de Lint’s short fiction, Newford Stories: Crow Girls. As de Lint says:

This is how it was in the long ago: Everyone respected the crow girls. Didn’t matter where you were, walking the medicine lands or right here in this world with the roots and dirt underfoot. You could look up and call their names, and there they’d be looking back down at you, two pieces of magic perched high up in a forever tree, black feathers shining, dark eyes watching, heads cocked, listening.

Some people say Raven was older, and wiser, too, but the crow girls were kinder. Any mischief they got into never hurt anyone who didn’t deserve it.

Knew all the questions and most of the answers, always did. Never had rules, never told you what to do, but they would teach you how to find your own answers, if you asked nicely enough.

Read Cat Eldridge’s review to find out just what kind of mischief they can get into.

Theatre of the Mind: Ken MacLeod: The Star Fraction

imageGiven that science fiction, among its other attributes, is the literature of “What if?” it only stands to reason that dystopian futures play such a large role in many works in that genre. After all, if you take most trends in contemporary life to their logical conclusions, dystopias are more or less inescapable. Thus, Ken MacLeod’s The Star Fraction, which is about as dystopian as it gets. Just a taste:

But it’s even more fractured than that, as becomes apparent by a reference to North London being an area free from the security apparatus of the US / UN, which bans certain lines of research by anyone to the point of banning knowledge of what those lines are.

Add in a rash of “private security” companies — mercenaries with their fingers in all sorts of things — Trotskyites, anti-technologists, and just about every other kind of fringe group you can think of, and it’s quite a mix.

As to how it all comes together as an audiodrama — well, just read Cat Eldridge’s review.

Review: Nicholas Pileggi and Greg Walker: Vegas: The Entire Series

We have something a little out of the ordinary today — if there can be any such thing on a site that specializes in the out of the ordinary.

At any rate, Cat Eldridge takes a look at one of those unfortunately short-lived TV series, Vegas:

Vegas is set in Las Vegas in 1960, just a decade or so after the mob first settled on that city as a place to make gambling their new revenue source as they were trying to move away from drugs, prostitution, protection rackets and other traditional sources of revenue. Here the central story is the conflict between a rancher turned sheriff, Ralph Lamb (modeled on the real life person who was a consultant to this series) played by Dennis Quaid, and Vincent Savino, played by Michael Chiklis. In a city rife with corruption, the Sheriff can only trust Assistant DA Katherine O’Connell (Carrie-Anne Moss) — even the FBI is suspect.

Does that sound like fun? Las Vegas, the mob, and you can’t trust anyone. For Cat’s take on how it all comes together, read the review.

Review: Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn (editors): The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction

cambridge companion sf
Science fiction has a history. Of course, anything that exists in time has a history, but in the case of science fiction, it’s a history defined as much by perception as by actual events. You know the perception — “escapist literature” for geeky little boys — has undergone some transformations itself when you encounter a book such as The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction.

What editors Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn present us with is a handy, one-volume précis of scholarly thinking on the genre science fiction, and in a way on what I can only call the meta-genre of speculative fiction (a term first brought into prominence by writer and critic Judith Merril in the 1960s and ’70s which seems to me to be as convenient a designation as any other for that sprawling mode that encompasses science fiction, fantasy, their hybrids and offshoots).

Now, we’re somewhat past the point where the idea of “scholarly thinking” on science fiction is apt to be greeted with giggles, if not outright guffaws. What James and Mendlesohn have done is to lay out a nice outline of where that scholarly thinking is and how it got there.

For a closer look at how successful they’ve been, read the review.

Story: Some Favourite Meals

laden table
It’s always up to Mrs. Ware and her Estate Kitchen staff to decide what’s for our meals here. And everything they serve up is excellent, but there are some favourites which I’m going to discuss here.

A dish thought of as American has been a staple here for more than sixty years. That’s mac ‘n’ cheese but not the box derived staple of the American table from the Fifties onward, if not earlier. The mac ‘n’ cheese here is decidedly better — pasta that’s whole wheat, cheddar cheese from High Meadow Creamery, our own smoked pork sausage, and croutons made by the Kitchen specifically for topping baked dishes like this. Slowly baked for hours and then served in warm stoneware bowls so it doesn’t cool off too fast.

Beef stew is another staple here. The beef comes from Broomfield Hill Farm in exchange for smoked hams and such. Everything else save the pepper and salt comes from here — potatoes, onions, carrots, garlic, and even the cider used in it are from here. Served hot with whole wheat rolls and our own butter — yummm! Oh and hot cider is the drink of choice.

Ham, cheese and vegetable tarts. Everything for these little goodies is from here. they’re packed to take along when Estate staff aren’t going to make it in for supper or lunch. During the summer, the Kitchen staff packs them in a cloth bag along with a thermos of chai tea and dried fruit-studded cookies.

Need I say that the Kitchen makes a rather tasty locally sourced smoked sausage, sauerkraut, and potato dish? Sounds simple, but it’s not so easy to cook everything so nothing is either undercooked or over cooked. And spicing is a delicate thing — fresh ground pepper, garlic and a bit of cayenne are all it takes to make it perfect.

So do join us for an eventide meal sometime — you won’t go away disappointed!

Review: Leonard Bernstein: Mass

bernstein mass
Yesterday, as you’ll remember, O Faithful Reader, we looked at an overview of the music of Leonard Bernstein. Now we have a closer look at a major work, Bernstein’s Mass. It was quite a controversial piece at its premiere, but now that the controversy has died down a bit, it offers some intriguing insights on the nature of ritual, drama, worship, and theater:

When we think about the interface between ritual, spectacle, and worship, the Mass makes a lot of sense. The spectacle involved in worship is quite deliberate: it is meant to fill the senses with the glory of God. Think, for example, about the origins of the Western theater tradition in the Greek festival of Dionysos. It’s not something that’s limited to the West, either — anyone acquainted with the arts of non-Western cultures cannot miss the multimedia character of their celebrations and the fundamental role that religious observance plays in them.

I am reminded of the gamelan of Indonesia, which can equally partake of religious ritual and theater performance, or the multi-media character of American Indian music/dance/ritual. To see how Bernstein’s work brings together these elements in Western music, read the review.

Beginnings: Jon Courtenay Grimwood: The Arabesk Trilogy

arabesk trilogyThe beginning of this trilogy:

6th July

The sound of fountains came in stereo. A deep splash from the courtyard below and a lighter trickle from the next room, where open arches cut in a wall overlooking the courtyard had marble balustrades stretched between matching pillars.

It was that kind of house.

Old, historic, near-derelict in places.

“Ambient temp eighty-one Fahrenheit, humidity sixty-two per cent…” The American spoke clearly, reading the data from the face of his watch, then glanced through a smashed window to what little he could see of the sky outside.

“Passing cloud, no direct sunlight.”

Dropping clumsily onto one knee, Felix Abrinsky touched the marble floor with nicotine-stained fingers, confirming to himself that this statement was correct. The tiles were warm but not hot. No latent heat had been stored up from that morning’s sunshine to radiate back into the afternoon air.

Bizarrely, it took Felix less effort to stand than it had done to kneel, though he needed to pause to catch his breath all the same. And the silver-ringed hand that came up to wipe sweat from his forehead only succeeded in smearing grease across his scalp and down his thinning ponytail.

Police regulations demanded he wear a face mask, surgical gloves and — in his case — a sweatband to stop himself from accidentally polluting biological evidence. But Felix was Chief of Detectives and so far as he was concerned that meant he could approach the crime scene how he liked, which was loose, casual and lateral. Not to mention semi-drunk. All the virtues that first got him thrown out of the police in Los Angeles.

Our review is here.

Review: Leonard Bernstein: The Original Jacket Collection: Bernstein Conducts Bernstein

bernstein conducts bernsteinEveryone has heard of Leonard Bernstein, in one way or another: as the composer of West Side Story, or as the music director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, or as a television personality. We ran across a review in our Archives of a collection that shows us why, in large part, that is the case: The Original Jacket Collection: Bernstein Conducts Bernstein. To give you a hint:

Composers these days tend to work in either popular or serious music. (That wasn’t always the case: remember that Mozart’s
Magic Flute was the eighteenth-century equivalent of a Broadway show. The boundaries were blurrier then.) This is not hard and fast, by any means: one need only think of the film scores produced by such figures as Sergei Prokofiev, Aaron Copland, and Phillip Glass, or the piano concertos and opera of George Gershwin. But by and large, reputations are achieved in one area or the other. Bernstein straddled the boundary between vernacular and high culture, creating everything from Broadway musicals to symphonies, with stops all along the way.

This turned out to be a revealing set of recordings on that score. (Sorry — that one just sort of slipped in there.) To find out just how much so, read the review.

From the Letters Bag: If You Want to Quote Us. . . .

From: Bob Hay
Subject: Toils Obscure
Date: October 12, 2004


Thank you so much for listening to our CD and for your review in the Green Man Review.

Your perspective is very interesting to me. I learned most of these songs from sheet music. After playing and humming a melody numerous times, I then choose the accompanying chords that seem the most natural to me. The one thing that astounds me with every new song I learn is how the words almost sing themselves — always pausing and emphasizing in just the right places. We have learned a dozen or so songs since this CD was made and hope to have a more evolved and mature CD made in the future.

We will proudly add your review to our printed press kit. May we also post it on our Web site?

Thanks again, Bob Hay

Peter Massey replies:

Hi Bob,

Thank you for your email and kind words, I am glad you liked the review. Since writing the review, I have had the chance to play the album to many ‘folkies’ and, as I suspected, the reaction has been mixed, but on the whole very good and most liked what they heard.

Fine by me if you want to publish the review on your press kit and on your Web site. If you do this, all that Green Man Review ask is that you include a link back to site.

All the best for the future, Regards, Peter Massey.

(Please note the full copyright/reprint requirements for Green Man Review in the “Legal Notices” section of our “About” page; for Sleeping Hedgehog, go to the “Contact” page and submit your request there.)