Review: Tim Powers: The Drawing of the Dark

The_Drawing_of_the_Dark_by_Tim_PowersWe’ve all had this experience, of reading a book as a teenager or young adult and coming away from it disappointed, if not confused. And then, for whatever reason, going back to it years later and discovering that it is, indeed, an amazing experience. That experience was shared by Richard Dansky on rereading Tim Powers’ The Drawing of the Dark.

After all, the advertising copy was full of portent and wonder, talking about how Merlin pulled a soldier out of time to war-torn Vienna. My juvenile mind spun all sorts of images from that, most of which involved scenarios right out of an 80s action movie and none of which bore the slightest resemblance to what’s in the book.

Well, he did read it again, with a much different reaction. Read his review to see why.

But I think it was the magical beer.

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Musical Musings: An Introduction to Ashley Hutchings

This is one in a series of posts looking at box sets and such for performers both known and somewhat more obscure that I think you’d enjoy knowing about.

burningbrightAshley Hutchings is an English bassist, vocalist, songwriter, arranger, band leader, writer and record producer. He more than anyone else created English folk rock in the Sixties, as he was a founding member of three of the most noteworthy English folk-rock bands in the history of the genre — Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and various permutations of the Albion Band — not to mention Morris On and Etchingham Steam Band, among myriad another bands and projects, including a particular favourite of mine, Street Cries, whose name describes it very well.

Such a personage deserves a biography, so not surprisingly he has one in two volumes, the first being Ashley Hutchings: The Guv’nor and the Rise of Folk Rock, which I highly recommended as it includes what is the best look at the creation of Steeleye Span, and volume two, Always Chasing Rainbows, which unfortunately only came out as a digital publication.

Of course, there is a superb five CD box set covering his career, Burning Bright, which our reviewer gushes about: ‘there is such a wealth of material gathered here, that to do it critical justice, one would have to spend half a year listening to the set, picking apart selections and considering things that didn’t make it, but suffice it to say…Burning Bright covers as much of Ashley Hutchings’ career as anyone possibly could. And after all, it’s simply a “celebration” of that career…not the final word…it’s a career that continues!’

May I pour you another pint while you read our reviews?

Review: Thompson: Family

cover artRemember Richard Thompson? Well, if you’re a regular visitor to this site, you should. (And if not, it’s easy to catch up — just to a search for “Richard Thompson” and you’re likely to get more reading material than you had counted on.)

Well, it seems that Richard, his ex-wife Linda, and various and assorted descendants and in-laws got together in a new group, called simply “Thompson,” and their new album, Family is the result.

So of course, Gary Whitehouse snapped it up, listened to it, and wrote a review, which you can read here.

So what are you waiting for?

Live Action: Joe Cormier: Informal Sessions

cormierWe have another review of a live recording from the Archives, this one of Joe Cormier’s Informal Sessions. Our reviewer notes:

At first the fiddle sounds a bit feeble, though melodic, like the wavering voice of a very old lady who still sings with the authority of the Methodist Church’s first soprano of 1937. It’s lulling, almost sedate. Then, just when you’re not looking, some weird Nova Scotian devil sneaks in. There’s fire in the kitchen, all right: fire on the roof, in the walls, in the bathtub.

Read our very lively review of this gem to get the full impact.

OR Melling on Charles de Lint

This comment in our ongoing series on Charles de Lint is from OR Melling, herself a Canadian and a writer of fantasy.

It’s difficult to review Charles de Lint without getting personal and panegyrical for, as is the case with most if not all of his readers, I feel as if I have had a close relationship with him and his characters for many years now. Like Rilke, who whispers his poetry into your ear, de Lint is felt as a presence throughout his work. It’s not just that he and his artist wife appear to show up as characters, most obviously in the Kelledys and Christy Riddell and Saskia, while more subtly in others; it’s that de Lint’s voice echoes through every aspect of his writing — dialogue, description, plot, theme — with the immanence of the hidden creator who is yet divined in the nature of his creation. And what a beautiful voice it is! Benign, thoughtful, wise, righteously angry, poetic, generous, just, moral (without being moralistic) and above all — strange to say for such a fey man writing such fey material – utterly human.

It was my sister, Rosemary, who first brought de Lint’s work into our family of obsessive readers. We were twelve in all, counting my parents, emigrants from Ireland to Canada, poor and hungry in the early years and with our own dark shadows; but we were and are also a tumultuous crew of writers, poets, dancers, musicians, and painters. “I think somebody told him about us,” my sister said to me. Moonheart was the first, and I can never go to Ottawa without looking hopefully here and there to catch sight of Tamson House. Now, books and books later, I am reading Widdershins, savouring every word and scene, while thinking to myself that his fairies are a lot scarier than mine. Thinking, too, that even more than the fairies, I love the Native spirits, the animal people and cousins.

There are various ways to judge the value of a body of work. The literary establishment — all those fusty, musty old men — concentrate on the mastery of language. They seem to care more for form and less for the content of a book. Hence the literary ideal is more often than not a beautiful corpus, all dressed up and with nothing to say. Then there is bestselling popular fiction which demands that a book be a carnival ride, all thrills and chills and spills while you are reading it, and promptly forgotten as soon as you are finished.

Yes, I love beautiful language. De Lint has it. Yes, I love excitement in a book and want to care what happens next. De Lint provides that. But more than this, oh so much more than this, I want a book that brings with it a call to the heart and mind and, even better still, a message for my soul. I want a book that can change me, that can make me a better person or strengthen what is already best in me, that can help me through a bad time, that reminds me life is wonderful as well as terrible. A book that, as the author himself says, sheds light in the darkness. This is what makes a work truly valuable. And, yes, all this is de Lint.

Review: The Complete Ritchie Valens

valensDavid Kidney starts off his review of this DVD with a challenge:

Tell me all you know about Richie Valens! …umh… “La Bamba” right?… Airplane crash… and that’s about it!

And for most people I think that is about it. (I remember getting the news about the plane crash — I was in eighth grade, and some of my classmates were literally in tears.)

But there’s a lot more to the story, and you should check out David’s review to see how much there is to know.

Review: Sally M. Keehn: Gnat Stokes And The Foggy Bottom Swamp Queen

gnat-stokesIt’s the last half of October, and that means the year is sliding into sleep. Call it Halloween, All Hallows, Samhain, what you will, it’s the time of year when spirits wander abroad and strange things can happen.

So, to sort of ease you into the holiday, we have a review from our Archives of what looks to be a blend of the Tam Lin story, a bit of Appalachian folklore, and the story of a doughty heroine, Sally M. Keehn’s Gnat Stokes and the Foggy Bottom Swamp Queen.

Put together a twelve-year-old orphan, a message from a man missing for seven years, and an evil witch, and — well, read the review for the “and.”

Story: Pumpkin Spice Ale

Quite some time ago, it was suggested to Bjorn, our Estate Brewmaster, that an ale that was enhanced by the spices used in pumpkin pie, as the American brewers had been doing for some decades, would make a good Fall ale. Now I’ll admit that Bjorn was rather doubtful about the idea, but agreed to give it a try.

So he contacted brewers he respected, consulted beer journals, and devised his idea of what might work.  That was the start of a two decade project. As he said more that once, nothing worth doing right can be done quickly. And this was definitely something he wanted to get really right.

And then he made small batches, half kegs, of his ideas made liquid. Some were good, some were, he agreed, awful. Some were served fresh, some were aged a decade in barrels used for whiskey aging. The final version used roasted pumpkin and a delicate touch with nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and allspice. He admitted that roasting the pumpkin added tremendous depth of character to the ale. And it got named Maggie’s Smashed Pumpkin Ale as she’s one of our resident corvids who loves to destroy pumpkins!

Literary Quote: Holly Black on the Bordertown Series

I was a college student when I read the Bordertown books for the first time, and they cracked wide open my sense of what you could do in fantasy. Reading about Bordertown was the first time I saw people like me in speculative fiction. Messed-up kids, making messed-up choices. I couldn’t be a magician’s apprentice or a pig keeper who might or might not be a king’s son or a princess with a prophecy hanging over my head. But I could, maybe, somehow, be part of a community of artists who loved magic.

It was more than the idea of folklore mixed with contemporary life that compelled me. I was also drawn in by the idea that all these writers knew one another. They were friends. Even their characters were friends! They wrote stories together and left clever references to each other in their work. And that created in me a longing for something I didn’t even know I could have. I could someday be a writer and have writer friends and we could tell stories together.

From Holly Black’s introduction to the Welcome to Bordertown anthology which was edited by Ellen Kushner and Holly Black.

Review: Christopher Frayling: Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone

westernsFrom our Archives, we have David Kidney’s review of a serious study of spaghetti westerns. Truly. It’s Christopher Frayling’s Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone, and according to David:

It is a solid, dense book, which seeks to trace the social, political, cultural and artistic background to these films and provide a framework by which we can understand their importance. More than that, it’s a fascinating study of a group of films which took a dying genre, and breathed new life into it, and caused American filmmakers to revisit and revitalize the “old west” in ways they had never imagined.

As for the influence, I have one thing for you: Clint Eastwood.

Read David’s review to see how it all connects.