AmeriCeltic Reviews Celtic Creative Works, including Albums, Books, and Theater.
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Table of Contents
2019-01-30 Book: The Donegal Woman Reviewed by Celia Fábos-Becker
2018-08-30 Album: Hillside Avenue Reviewed by Celia Fábos-Becker and Tony Becker
2018-04-20 Album: Stark Raving Celtic Reviewed by Celia Fábos-Becker and Tony Becker
2018-04-13 Album: The Next Chapter Reviewed by Celia Fábos-Becker
2017-10-30 Album: The Deal Reviewed by Tony Becker
2017-10-26 Book: Wicked Deeds Reviewed by Cecilia Fábos-Becker
2016-10-28 Book: Three Legs of the Cauldron Reviewed by Cecilia Fábos-Becker
2016-01-01 Book: Survival of the Blood Reviewed by Cecilia Fábos-Becker
2016-01-16 Play: Swift Justice Reviewed by Tony Becker
Book Review: The Donegal Woman
(2017 reprint) Drumkeen Press, 2006, by John (Sean) Throne
The Dark Side of What Ireland, England and Germany Brought to the U.S.
by Cecilia Fábos-Becker 2019-01-30
Just before the start of the ‘Me Too’ movement, Irish author, John Throne decided it was time to reprint his 2006 novel, The Donegal Woman, about his late grandmother. The novel is fictionalized because he never actually knew his grandmother and she died young, leaving no written records or journals about herself. This novel is actually a very powerful, harrowing, emotion-and thought-provoking, true tale about what it was like to be a poor girl and woman in Ireland just before World War I (hardly ancient history) and even afterward for some years until women were given rights to vote, to own property collect their own wages, and more. This story is not unique to Ireland. Any family historian who significantly delves into the lives of women and girls in the U.S. sees that precisely the same things happened, all over the U.S., especially between the period of 1783-to the Civil War, ‘America’s Dark Age’ and beyond. In fact, it continues in parts of the U.S. to this day, more rural and small town areas of Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, the Carolinas, the deep South, Utah, even rural areas of California. It’s no surprise to any who have studied the cultures of those that emigrated, and who know what was the culture before emigration. The emigrants brought a lot of what they’d lived with before, to the newly created United States of America, and made it part of American culture, especially among the poor and lower socio-economic classes, and on the frontiers of the white European civilization and populace.. It was no wonder that often women and girls captured by some Native American tribes in frontier warfare chose not to go back to the white European culture.
In his preface, the author, John (Sean) Throne, explains that he changed the surnames of the subjects, saying that he didn’t think their names mattered any more. Since reading his book, I have communicated with him and, if we have one minor disagreement, it is that he should not have done so. It’s just my personal opinion, but I think changing their surnames misses an opportunity to discourage the evil deeds his book presents so powerfully from being recommitted, whether within a family or the country, and by anonymizing these long dead miscreants, it allows their descendants to think better of them than they should, rather than making them bad examples for the evils they truly perpetrated. Many years ago, the author of the partly tongue-in-cheek book Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun, had Attila say, ‘every Hun has his purpose, if only to be the example of how NOT to do something.’ It is applicable to all humans, not just the ancient Huns.
Worse, the attitudes and culture that abused so many women and girls, as shown in this book, were reinforced by a state-affiliated Church, a patriarchal Church, that had sold its original Leader’s ideals and goals for money and power and bent to might of arms. The Christian church, both Catholic and Protestant, reinforced attitudes and structures, that though abusive, had been in place since before the Christian church, under the ancient empires that had come to be, ever since men developed metallurgy and better weapons and had more leisure time to steal from one another and make war. Make no mistake in understanding that: all organized religions with buildings and power, especially those run by men, have used force of arms to maintain themselves as they see fit. In this book itself, the Church itself orders men to physically drag the girl away from one form of slavery to another, from one male master to another.
In the The Donegal Woman, as WWI looms, a 12 year old girl, Margaret, the only daughter of her Protestant parents, who also have several sons, is literally sold as a slave by her father to a wealthier Protestant man, under a loose, handshake–between men–system of ‘Fair agreements’, for wages to be paid to her father once every six months. Her father, though also Protestant, is poorer, and fond of drink, and not very imaginative about how to earn a better living among himself and his sons, or live within a budget. He tells his wife, who does all the household work for 5 individuals, makes their clothes by hand–no sewing machines, even–and tends the vegetable garden, including the potatoes, that largely sustain them, that she doesn’t need another female helper, the daughter is ‘just another mouth to feed.’
The girl is tiny but her father does not even bother to check what work she will be doing and how she will live at her employer’s home. She is turned out, and made to walk, unescorted, carrying a small napkin with some bread, and her only other dress, the several miles to the new owner, whom her father met at some town market or fair–hence the name for the agreements. When she arrives she finds she is to care for the pigs and clean out the pig pen from the pig waste mixed with kicked up mud, every few hours, and mix and haul their food to them in a bucket so large and heavy she cannot lift it, but has to drag it. Then the owner’s wife complains that by dragging it, the poor girl is damaging the bucket. There is no concern for the girl, just the bucket. Within a few months she is also caring for a cow and calf and milking the cow and hauling milk buckets.
Young Margaret is compelled to sleep in a dirty, unheated barn, on old coarse grain sacks and straw and handed her pieces of bread, and little else to eat, outside the back door of the master’s house. She has no means of bathing, no bed, no muckers to keep her feet clean. She has no means of washing her two dresses. She lives in filth, she sleeps in filth. She begins to smell like the animals she is tending and her masters will not even allow her to clean up once a week and go to church with them. Her father never comes to see her and how she fares. She is a slave, nothing more and she knows it, at the age of 12. She cannot leave, because then her father will not be paid and her father might beat her or turn her over to the workhouse, for disobedience. The agreement is for six months work, minimum, before pay, and to her father, not her. The Church tolerates the system, because it is the men who build the church buildings, and donate money to the support of the buildings and clergy.
Then, little Margaret starts to go through menses. The inevitable happens between master and slave in a system that has no protections for women and girls. The large brutal master rapes the 13 year old girl as she is trying to get a few hours sleep in the filthy barn, and beats her senseless at times, to keep her from screaming and being heard. The trauma of these experiences causes her to lose her voice, for years. She becomes pregnant, and finally that comes to the attention of the local church, who find this an embarrassment. The Church blames the girl, but decides the way to cover this up is marry her off to a much older local bachelor, as single males are also frowned upon. Procreation means more cheap workers for the wealthier larger land-owners, and more in Church donations from both the poor made to feel like they need to give, little as they can, and the wealthier landowner employers who are paying as little as they can for their labor.
The slow realization of these various characters, of how this rigid feudal socio-economic hierarchy abuses them, and how the Churches are such an integral part of the system, even help enforce it, are key elements of the book. The reactions are different among the characters. Their various reactions lead to growth, and spiritual, mental and emotional healing to some degree, within what she can control, for Margaret, as she transforms from girl into wife and mother, and stagnation and shrinking of her appointed husband.. He continues to go along with the status quo, in nearly every way, and pays bitterly, more and more over time, though he is very slow to realize this. Margaret finds ways to take control of her life as she can and finds some happiness along with the misery of a loveless, often abusive and neglectful marriage.
Although this a book about Protestants, two Catholics who befriend poor Margaret, state that such abuse was just as likely to happen among the poorer families in Catholic parishes and communities of rural Ireland. We are now learning, that, even after Ireland’s independence, much of this abuse continued, as De Valera and his supporters made Eire itself another theocratic state for several decades. The rights of women were only minimally allowed to develop. Additionally, as we now know from the headlines in the media resulting from recent investigations, that the Catholic Church in Ireland had another cruel way of dealing with unwanted pregnancies. Unwed, pregnant Catholic girls were usually forced to go to ‘Magdalene Houses’ run by nuns and others and sign away their children and never see them again at birth. Their families were not encouraged or allowed to keep and raise the children. Emer Martin’s recent book, The Cruelty Men, centers on this theme.
Under this system, the children of unwed mothers, no matter how they were conceived, were a shame upon the family and ‘good Catholic communities.’ Many hundreds, even thousands, of these poor little children, died of neglect and privations. There were mass graves with no markers, nothing to remember them, outside some of these orphanages. The mortality rate was much higher for children in these ‘homes’ than for children in families, even poor families with little sanitation and hygiene. The Catholic Church literally treated these poor babies and young children as though they were the sins, and murdered them, as surely as if they had strangled or smothered them and been seen to do it in public. It’s called infanticide and it is just as much murder as any other form of it, and it was institutional and practiced by the Catholic Church from one end of Ireland to the other. On his trip to Ireland last year, the Pope recently had to publicly apologize for these evils, but apologies are not enough, as both families and mothers who remember their stolen children, and the survivors who were the children themselves, have both bitterly and repeatedly stated.
Where to Buy
Both of John (Sean) Throne’s books can be viewed and ordered at Books.ie. They post anywhere. They are a small Irish/Dublin based book distributing company with Donegal roots. The launch of the recent book plus the reason for writing The Donegal Woman can be seen on YouTube by going to John Throne, or on the Blog with which John helps. Weknowwhatsup.blogspot.com This can also be seen at Books.ie
Both books, The Donegal Woman, and The Cruelty Men are topical and significant because the ‘Me Too’ movement has erupted out of continued, 21st century abuse of women working in many fields, including entertainment. It is significant because right now, because too many men in the U.S.–and their Churches–are not content with just doing everything they can to ban abortion, and cut food stamps (SNAP), milk and baby food and clothing for infants (WIC), and other support for poor families with too many children, as though children should be put to work as slaves as soon as they are born, before they can walk or speak. There are men in Congress, and men who vote for them in many parts of the U.S. who now want to also eliminate ‘Title IX’ protections for women and girls in schools as well as sports, and other fields–and to eliminate affordable birth or free birth control–not abortion–but birth control, for those who need it most and can afford it least. It’s literally an effort to return to just creating more poor workers, the cheapest labor, possible, and to heck with the quality of their lives, especially those of women and children. If all life is precious, and not just the life of a fetus’ still in their mothers’ wombs, then this is a shameful, complete hypocrisy. Yet, again, just as in 1912, so-called ‘fundamentalist’ Churches who claim to be ‘Christian,’ as well as many in the Islamic world, continue to support these attitudes, votes and practices. They have not changed; they are still the abusive, misogynistic human entities run by men that they have been since Rome, Greece, and Persia–even before Islam or Christianity came to be.
I recommend reading this book to all women, and to the men who truly care about their wives, sisters, mothers and and daughters and to to talk about it and learn from it. Ask yourselves this: was the old Europe, the old Ireland, of as late as 1912 to 1919 so great that this what you want the U.S. to return to, and become? If not, I have a few suggestions.
Vote against the attempts to return the entire nation to this culture and teach men and women that just bringing more workers into the world only means the employers can get away with paying less for labor, especially as more and more labor is being done by robots. Vote for more women, and men, who will actually fight for more rights and opportunities for women and children, and to protect them from abuse–and who have a track record of already doing so as much as they can. Help teach your sons, brothers, and other males it is THEIR responsibility also to control themselves, not solely the responsibility of females. Keep reminding them that Christ, and in fact, most of the greatest founders of what became religions, did NOT create the structure of churches and clergy, and set male power only or mostly in them, but human beings, that fallible human beings created and run the religions, and they are no better than any of the rest of us.
You can and should also write and vote for a statewide ‘initiative’ to amend the California Constitution to require that all girls get at least two or three years of self-defense training, like karate or judo, starting in kindergarten, and refresher courses every few years until high school graduation, and at least a couple of forms of weapons training by age 11 or 12–when most start menses. If you don’t live in an initiative state, then vote for state legislators who will make this law in your states. Remember, for the most part, the members of Congress who can help or harm women and children started, and continue begin their careers as state legislators. If you don’t insist that your local elected officials and state legislators treat women and children with respect and care, then why would you expect any better when they get to Congress? Also, teach females and males that drinking to excess and losing control over one’s self or finances is bad, at any age, and good nutrition makes them stronger. Teach them that all children, up to the age when they can hold a decent well paid job deserve protection, nurturing and care, not just the males, and not just when they are still in their mother’s wombs. There also must be opportunities for higher education and well paid jobs and careers for females as well as males. Finally, it is up to fathers as well as mothers, and the accepted, self-acclaimed religious authorities, to help protect and nurture children–and assist and care for their mothers.
Another thing shown by these books is that, being a mother, especially of pre-school age children, is a full time job all in itself, especially when also doing all the care of a home, gardening and, sewing a lot of clothing, and it’s all unpaid. The same is true for caring for a single pre-school child at the same time as an elderly parent with declining physical and mental capabilities–it is effectively caring for two children. If this is of value to men, then it is up to them to work, earn a decent amount to support themselves and their families and finance the the work of the wives and mothers, and yes, when those wives and mothers are ill, to also help care for them and the children, not just let fall down from exhaustion and illness and then die of neglect and ignorance, or rely on small children to know what to do for their mothers and care for them entirely–as well as each other. If your wives and children are important to you, if only as labor and potential labor, then shouldn’t you be caring for that labor and helping make it strong? Shouldn’t you understand what all is needed to survive and thrive and help to provide it? Ask yourselves this: What good are men to the human species if all they care about is themselves, as individuals, and their status in relation to other men, and their power over all that is deemed by males as inferior, which includes more than two-thirds of the human population? Last, but not least, don’t ever confuse God with the religious structures of men–and don’t let religion and social hierarchy become combined with government, law enforcement and criminal punishments.
In 1912, rural Ireland, wasn’t much different than Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and other Islamic theocratic states are today, especially for women and children, more than half of the human population. God didn’t create 3,000 years of abuse, violence, and exploitation, men did, and then have avoided and denied their responsibility for all the harm they have done and excusing themselves and blaming others–usually their victims–ever since, in all aspects of human life. Women, you need to start holding men responsible for their own actions, and the harm they create, including in all institutions they dominate and use to maintain power and abuse, business, government–and Churches. Remember little Margaret Wallace-Campbell, because if you don’t pay attention, care, and fight back, your own daughters, or grand-daughters, could be the next Margaret’s in the 21st or 22nd centuries.
Album Review: Hillside Avenue
from Erica and Friends | Released 2018-08-30
By Celia Fábos-Becker and Tony Becker 2018-08-30
The brand new album, Hillside Avenue has been anticipated for some time, and now it is finally here!
For people who have had the pleasure of listening to Erica and Friends live, this album lives up to their best work. The pieces are familiar, their favorites; the arrangements are new but well-polished. Erica Hockett and her ensemble are perfectionists and the album is excellent all round! You will be happy to buy and enjoy it many times over.
Erica has always had a sweet, clear voice and on this excellent album, it is better than we have ever heard it before. As we listened to Hillside Avenue for the very first time last Thursday, August 30, 2018, we had just been watching Senator John McCain’s services in Arizona, and Senator Joe Biden’s stirring eulogy. We appreciated these lovely old ballads all the more for the context. Celia really was brought to tears by Erica’s rendition of Garden Valley and its remembrance of a ‘Gallant Laddie,’ and as she thought how appropriate it was in the context of the day.
On Bonny May and Game of all Fours, Lee Corbie-Wells joins Erica with her sultry contralto for two lovely and well balanced harmony treats. Here is a sample: Game of all Fours Sample Video
Troy Dillinger has a wonderful touch with his piano accordion and it added greatly to the upbeat pieces. The band’s Chris Hammond on guitar and Anne Bingham Goess on fiddle, and whistle, all comport themselves with skill and style for a full instrumental sound that accompanies song, jig and reel to perfection.
Erica grew up in the English Cotswolds listening to the English folk band Fairport Convention, and we were expecting at least one of their hits, but were very pleasantly surprised to hear Erica’s rendition of Farewell, Farewell, written by Richard Thompson and first released in 1969 by Fairport Convention.
Tony says, ‘I was an impressionable young college freshman when I first heard this song, and I don’t think I have ever heard it done better.’
We especially like the carefully crafted new arrangements for these traditional ballads, jigs and reels. These new settings will give even the most jaded traditional music aficionado’s something new and pleasing to hear.
Sound engineers, Margrit Eischler of Absolutely True Sound and Gawain Mathews of Gawain Mathews Music Studio (who also plays loads of instruments on the album) have done a fantastic job on this one. The mix is great – not too much compression or reverb, so the presence is just the way we like it – every word is audible, yet so are all the nuances of the acoustic accompaniment.
You can see and hear Erica and Friends live at the Scottish Games and Gathering in Pleasanton this coming weekend, Labor Day weekend, Saturday and Sunday, September 1st and 2nd, 2018, at the Alameda County Fairgrounds. They will have CD copies Hillside Avenue for sale as well, so you can keep enjoying their music. We’ll also gladly look forward to their future albums!
For more on Erica and Friends, check their Facebook Page here!
Review: Charmas New Album, Stark Raving Celtic
Enjoyable, Eclectic and now Available!
Instrumental madness, blue ballads, and comedy fuel this rare blend of Traditional Celtic and Modern Fusion Music
By Cecilia Fabos-Becker and Tony Becker Published 2018-04-20
In past 18 months, Santa Cruz collaborative Charmas has successfully used Kickstarter to fund their albums, Songs of the Sea, which proved to be a landmark collection, and now Stark Raving Celtic. Stark Raving Celtic features twenty Central California musicians, wielding an astonishing variety of folk-, rock-and percussion-instruments, who are give the album exceptional creative variety. The result can be heard on Charmas’ brand new album Stark Raving Celtic, which features original Celtic music and performances by 20 past and present members of Charmas as well as notable guest performers.
Stark Raving Celtic includes several lovely tune sets, but there are not many Scottish/Irish/Celtic bands who compose original songs about their life experiences in the traditional style, and although we liked all the tunes and songs well, for us, these four original songs stood out.
We’ve been to many Scottish Highland Games, and so we especially appreciated the humor and liveliness of The Highland Games Song, by Elise MacGregor Ferrell, and the extra vocal effects of the lads singing it. It should be the theme song of California Highland Games in general!
Speaking of Scottish Games, the bagpipes there can be overwhelming, but the bits of bagpipes that Elise plays in several tracks of Stark Raving Celtic fit pleasantly with the instrumental arrangements and medleys.
The Dreaming Tree, composed by Elise as a elegy for the authentic and tragic life story of ‘Kathleen of the Great White North’, is made all the more poignant by the distinctive voice of emerging star Lee Corbie-Wells. Keep your eyes and ears open for more from Lee.
Brains S.A., written by guitarist Jim Powell about an evening at a pub of that name in Cardiff, Wales, brought to mind a couple of memorable visits to a pub we used to know in St. Paul, Minnesota, as well as an old song by a long-ago favorite British group (‘The Inn of the George and Dragon’ by Herman’s Hermits). I couldn’t help but smile when Jim mentioned the Welsh dragon breathing fire down my back.
Jonny Hardie’s Tumble, composed by Elise for Old Blind Dogs fiddler Jonny Hardie, was a lovely tribute and a rollicking tune, made exceptional by the wonderful, rich tenor-baritone voice of lead vocalist Aaron Clegg. Aaron is among the best we’ve heard. His natural, strong voice is accompanied by emotion, especially humor, you can feel, and his excellent enunciation stands out over the accompanying instruments.
We can heartily recommend Stark Raving Celtic to anyone as an enjoyable, eclectic experience.
To hear samples of any the Stark Raving Celtic tracks, click on this CDBaby Player link, Charmas Stark Raving Celtic Player, and scroll down to select that Track.
Check the Music Players for all Charmas recorded Celtic music on their website at https://charmasband.com/charmas-full-band-for-stage-showsfestivals
Charmas performs traditional and modern Celtic ballads, drinking songs, sea chanteys, comedy songs, instrumental dance music, and Celtic rock. For more info. and Charmas audio samples check
Review: The Next Chapter by Connla
Northern Ireland’s Must See band
By Cecilia Fabos-Becker – Published 2018-04-13
Connla is a new, young Northern Irish band, which has been called ‘the best new trad band’ from Northern Ireland but is much more than that. It is gaining recognition in the U.S., with rave reviews from such entities as the ‘Chicago Irish American News,’ as well as winning awards in Ireland. It is comprised of four young people from Derry and Armagh; Ciara McCafferty (vocals), Ciaran Carlin (Flute/Whistles) and Paul Starrett (Guitar) Emer Mallon (Harp) and Conor Mallon (Uilleann Pipes/Whistles). Connla was described as a ‘must see’ group by ‘Songlines Magazine,’ a magazine out of the UK that covers world-wide music and has taken over awards presentation from the defunct BBC music awards.
We listen to a few dozen new album’s by various, very good, groups every year, and recently listented to Connla’s newest album, The Next Chapter just released last Friday. A few of these really stand out to us, and this is one of them — even better than Connla’s 2016 album, River’s Waiting.
Although the band considers itself ‘trad,’ it has a generally modern presentation that is refreshing. Connla’s music also includes touches of Jazz, Pop, a fair amount of Latin or Spanish influence, especially in pieces where guitar dominates, and even Americana. The song ‘Julie‘ about a U.S. Civil War period relationship between mistress and a long-time slave while the Union soldiers are approaching, is unforgettable. Both album’s have an interesting mix of modern and traditional ballads, and traditionals and more modern instrumental music. The instrumentalism is excellent. I really enjoyed the guitar-dominated pieces. It is so seldom one hears virtuoso melody guitar.
‘SS Baychimo‘ was truly special. It reminded me of some fine classical performances of Spanish music like ‘Recuerdos del Alhambra,’ or ‘Romanza.’ and a good reminder of how many Irish went to the Spanish speaking countries after 1641. Wow!
Ciara McCafferty’s voice easily rivals the best of Nashville female singers. It is young, sweet and strong. The ballads she sings tell stirring, poignant tales that catch your attention also.
If I have one complaint, it is that Ciara would enunciate her consonants and the mix better balance her voice when she’s dropping the volume for dramatic effect. Sometimes she’s crystal clear, even above the instruments, and other times, the ends of words disappear a bit, especially when her voice is dropping while the instrumental music is swelling, as in the very end of ‘Julie.’ Over time, I’m certain this will only improve.
Connla is touring the western U.S. in September and will be featured at the KVMR Celtic festival on September 29 and 30 in Grass Valley (east of Sacramento off Highways 49 and 20). In the preceding week, they will be in the Bay area (in Berkeley) and we hope to find them a gig in the South Bay area as well. AmeriCeltic readers should get out and listen to them, where and when they can! They are well worth the prices of the tickets! We’ll publish all their dates and places as they develop closer to their tour. Meantime, we can recommend their album as a lovely diversion during our long bay area commutes.
For more on Connla, check their website, www.connlamusic.com, or Facebook Page www.facebook.com/connlamusic, or watch their Promotional Video.
Album Review: Wake the Dead The Deal
More Tie-Dye melded Celtic music than ever!
By Tony Becker 2017-10-30
Wake The Dead is a cadre of multi-talented musicians lead by Danny Carnahan that has been moshing Hunter/Garcia’s malleable and durable songs with traditional Celtic jigs and reels for better than three decades. On this latest album, The Deal, they add songs from the Youngbloods, Buffalo Springfield, Bob Dylan, the Beatles and more.
The performances, by Maureen Brennan, Celtic harp, Cindy Browne, double bass, Danny Carnahan, vocals, octave mandolin, guitar, fiddle, Kevin Carr, fiddle, uilleann pipes, pennywhistle, Sylvia Herold, vocals, guitar, Paul Kotapish, vocals, mandolin, guitar, jaw harp, Brian Rice, hand percussion, are all wonderful, but then every one of these are masters of their art.
The tracks are likewise incredible. Note how these classic songs are carefully paired with Celtic traditional tunes like a fine wine with a great entree!
1. Cumberland Blues (Hunter/Garcia/Lesh) / Mind the Gap (Carnahan)
2. New Speedway Boogie (Hunter/Garcia) / Frieze Britches (trad.)
3. White Room (Jack Bruce/Pete Brown) / The Congress Reel (trad.)
4. Box of Rain (Hunter/Lesh; © Ice-Nine Publishing)
5. Eyes of the World (Hunter/Garcia) / Reel à Jules Verret (trad.)
6. Waiting For Snow (Julie King) / Darkness Darkness (Jesse Colin Young) / Reel Mattawa (Eric Favreau)
7. Deal (Hunter/Garcia) / Tom Billy’s Jig (trad) / Sheepskin and Beeswax (trad.)
8. Just Like a Woman (Bob Dylan)
9. Bluebird (Stephen Stills) / Pinch of Snuff (trad)
10. Dark Star (Hunter/Garcia/Hart/Kreutzmann/Lesh/McKernan/Weir) / Maids of Michelstown (trad.) / And Your Bird Can Sing (Lennon/McCartney)
11. Brokedown Palace (Hunter/Garcia)
Surprisingly, my personal favorite is Bob Dylan’s Just like a Woman, because of the sensitive treatment given by vocalist Sylvia Herhold, but overall it’s another great album and a MUST for any 60’s folk-rock fan.
Another great track is the first, where the rollicking country-bluegrass-rock fusion number, Cumberland Blues by Garcia and Lesh is paired with Mind the Gap, an original tune by Danny Carnahan, and together, they blend beautifully into a classic old-time anthem.
There is plenty of variety here to please almost any traditional music fan, probably including you.
You can listen to samples at www.wakethedead.org/product/deal/ and purchase a download right from the site.
Book Review: Wicked Deeds by Heather Graham, 2017
A Hallowe’en / Samhain Mystery
by Cecilia Fábos-Becker 2017-10-26
To many who have grown up with a love of both the Celtic traditional ghost stories, CSI, murder mysteries in general where law enforcement is actually involved in solving them, and romance, Heather Graham Pozzessere is a well known romantic occult mystery writer. Her novel settings are familiar older cities and areas of the U.S.–where else would the best ghosts be? Her female characters are as strong as the males, and she covers a wide range of old fables, legends and historical events. She is known for her characters solving a mystery within a mystery, the past influencing the present. A strong theme is that human nature doesn’t change very much across the centuries and genetics can and does sometimes play a role in perception and behavior, sometimes in surprising ways.
I’ve always enjoyed her stories, especially in autumn and winter, when, as the Celts and other Europeans believed, the increase in darkness is accompanied by a weakening in the veils between the worlds of the living and spirits, and even eras of time. These beliefs are so old and powerful, even the Christian churches acknowledged them, and incorporated them with commemoration of the dead at “All Hallow’s Eve” and the following two festival days, “All Saints Day” and “All Souls Day.”
Her stories are well written in the classical sense: heroic protagonists, strong villains and conflict, and a resolution of the conflicts, and criminals brought to justice as most people would like to see in real life, at the end. She also explains motive, much better than many writers, even for the mentally ill. She goes into their fantasies and twisted logic with almost surgical precision and then shows how they can live among us, compartmentalize, and not be suspected until they commit horrible crimes. She shows us the other side of the usual statement by friends and relatives of a murderer, “we never suspected a thing; he/she was always a nice person, a good boy/girl, in our neighborhood.”
This year, Ms. Graham has outdone her self, though and come up with one of the best, classic tradition murder mysteries of all, Wicked Deeds set in the beloved city of the father of both horror stories and murder mystery-detective stories, Baltimore, and featuring none other than the father of both genres himself, Edgar Allan Poe. A new restaurant dedicated to Mr. Poe has opened and the Poe Society itself meets there. There is even a gift shop with kitschy souvenirs like bobble-headed ravens. Two new members of an elite FBI unit called the “Krewe of Hunters” who combine modern forensics, old fashioned Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle style investigation, and an ability to communicate with ghosts, who love being FINALLY noticed and able to participate in on-going living lives, have decided to have a honeymoon in Baltimore, and to try out this new restaurant with great preliminary reviews. Where else would FBI agents who work with ghosts go, especially in late summer or early autumn in the waning seasonal light, for a honeymoon? They’ve picked a poor time, of course, as someone seems to have taken offense at the restaurant and the Poe Society, and has begun murdering writers in modern variants of the old Poe themes in his better-known horror stories. Poe’s ghost knows about this, is indignant and wants it stopped. Poe’s own death was a mystery and his reputation was heavily damaged by a jealous rival afterward. His instincts say that at the bottom of the mystery, history is trying to repeat itself, but he also can’t remember most of his own last days. So the Krewe, this time, is solving two mysteries: the modern imitator of fictional horror, and Poe’s death itself.
It has a number of twists, turns, and surprises and many of Poe’s stories show up in interesting, unexpected ways. There is a major stunning insight about the importance of perception and how jealousy can become insanity. You will never dismiss jealousy lightly again after reading this novel. It’s the best Hallowe’en novel I’ve read in a long time, and a real tribute to the father of the two genres of horror and detective stories.
So, after you’ve handed out the treats to all the modern little ghouls, ghosts and goblins, treat yourself to a sold read of this book. Make yourself a nice hot cup of blood-red mulled wine, settle in a comfy bed with plump pillows in a darkened bedroom, lit only by your favorite old-fashioned hurricane lamp casting a soft golden glow. Then the shadows darken and grow, and perhaps a raven flaps its wings, as it passes your window in the moonlight and moves to another nearby tree outside before perching and watching what happens next…
Book Review ‘Survival of the Blood’ by Beth Bristow
Reviewed 2016-01-01 by Cecilia L. Fabos-Becker
Published by Archway Publishing, Bloomington, Indiana, 2015.
First of all, recognizing that we have a growing, sophisticated subscribership to this newsletter, we want to let readers know that we did accept an ad for this book but I also warned the author that we would be doing an independent review to meet our organization’s own standards.
I am very happy to say I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in good historical drama. When I first began college I had two majors: drama, as well as history, and then later switched to history and anthropology. I remember one thing well from those drama classes, as well as some excellent advanced high school English classes. It is common to all successful dramas, be they be plays or films, and likewise fiction books. The characters need to be well described. There must also be a conflict, with a clear protagonist and clear antagonist and the very best of fiction shows flawed tragic characters who are a mixture of good and either evil or at least self-destructive misguided judgment or delusion.
This book has all of that. It has well defined characters in an extended family, men as well as women. It has the conflict of Culloden, which was a tragedy as well as disaster for the Highland Scots. It has the inner conflicts of the men who had to decide whether to fight for the Stuart prince, Charles Edward Stuart, who was raised speaking Italian and French and grew up in archaic French and Italian royal and noble courts, or German speaking Hanover kings in London.
“Bonnie Prince Charlie” promised them a better future for Scotland. Alternatively, they could continue to suffer under a heavy taxload and other restrictions of the Hanovers, who now ruled both England and Scotland under the Act of Union, which even though it was a classic definition of a ‘shotgun marriage,’ had been voted by the Scottish parliament also in hopes for a better economic future for Scotland.
There is also romance and a vivid description of life as it was for the lower gentry and many ordinary highlanders in these turbulent times, amid a harsh environment.
The author made several trips to Scotland and did a lot of research, especially into the events of Culloden and the characters of the two men who were demanding loyalty and blood of the Highlanders, Bonnie Prince Charlie, and William Augustus of Hanover, Duke of Cumberland, usually known as ‘Butcher Cumberland.’
All in all, this is a meaty satisfying read and will hold your attention. It will also make you look forward to a sequel to find out what happens next to the surviving characters, particularly the children.
You can find this book on Amazon.com here http://www.amazon.com/Survival-Blood-Beth-Bristow/dp/1480821438. Enjoy!
Book Review: Three Legs of the Cauldron
New Dalriada Celtic novel by Ron Cherry
By Cecilia L. Fábos-Becker Published 2016-10-28
California Mystery writer R.L.Cherry has a new, first historical novel, Three Legs of the Cauldron, set in the late 6th Century Celtic Kingdom of Dal Riata. Dal Riata spanned the North Channel, holding lands on both sides in North East Ireland, as well as Western Scotland and the Isles.
As the title hints, the story is a morality tale about Truth, Honor, and Duty, including several of the famous historical figures of that place and time. It tells of the coming of age of a young warrior as he and his two brothers grow to become men and leaders. In particular, the action follows the youngest brother, Connaire as both his character and a relationship with his next older brother, Cathal grow and strengthen. They and their extended family struggle to find their place in a new land and form new alliances amid a melee of betrayals, battles, and feuds.
This book has vivid descriptions of warrior women, brehons, druids and the Christian Irish monks of Ione. There is excellent detail on the warrior training of Connaire by Scathach, a real historical female character on the Isle of Skye who trained legendary warriors in early Irish and Scottish history.
There are other details which give a sense of place and articles, such as the description of the ‘curragh’ boats used to cross from Ireland to Scotland. While the action moves quickly, in some cases the descriptive writing is sparse, and one sometimes wonders where the children and their mothers are hiding and why Connaire is so easily lead astray. Three Legs of the Cauldron won’t dissapoint most male readers and even some female readers in the romantic encounters.
Review of Tom McEnery Play: Swift Justice
by Cecilia Fábos-Becker
The message of ‘Swift Justice‘ is very powerful and timely. Because of its unique history, word of this gripping new play by local Irish American legend Tom McEnery has already spread and the premier run by The Tabard Theatre Company at Theatre on San Pedro Square in San Jose is sold out. Still, there is a waiting list and if you can get on the waiting list, we recommend that you DO SO, or hope that it will have another round in another area theater, or goes nationwide.
First, here is a little background. The play is based on a real, controversial incident in San Jose, CA: The last public lynching in California. In 1933, during the darkest days of the Great Depression two white men, one of Irish and one of Scots-Irish descent, kidnapped and murdered the city’s most popular young man, the heir to the area’s largest department store, Brooke Hart.
The author of the play, Tom McEnery, is a former San Jose mayor, whose father, John McEnery, was a minor participant in, and eye-witness to, most of the related events.
Lynching, by itself, is a term rooted in the Irish, Scots and Scots-Irish tradition of men taking the law, justice or redress of unfairness into their own hands. The term ‘Lynching’ derives from an Irish American. During the American Revolution, Charles William Lynch and his men rounded up Tories in southwestern Virginia and meted out punishment to them on their own. The resulting hanging, shooting, etc. was often a result of “lynching” but it is not the act of lynching. (check the wiki on Charles William Lynch)
Here is good, engaging play with a very moving story and powerful, timely message as important today as it was in the 1930’s. This would be an excellent topic for a Broadway drama, or on Public Television. Who knows? Maybe some day, someone in Hollywood will turn it into a four star film. Does anyone have contact with Leonard Di Caprio, or Stephen Spielberg???
The story develops in a very powerful, moving interplay of logos, ethos and pathos in the most public way possible in 1933. It is clear the playwright put most of his attention in to the last third of the first act and the second act where the events depicted deserve this focus.
The strongest, most involved, characters develop throughout the play, as they do in all truly good stories. The best characters as both written and acted in the play are in order of performance: the villain, John Holmes; the person who was most often an intermediary and changed his life career after these events, Rabbi Karesh; and the father of the victim Alexander (Alex) Hart. San Jose Police Chief J.N. Black is very believable and complex. The victim, Brooke Hart, is very likable and sympathetic, though a little more direct action for him, as well as for his father would have been helpful to keep the presentation engaging.
Of the three females roles played by two actresses, the role of the daughter, Miriam Hart, Brooke’s sister is especially poignant. The playwright did well in showing a loving, playful relationship between the sister and brother.
The first act does what it should; it shows the clear differences between the protagonists and the antagonists and why we should care about the fate of the victim and his family. If there are any faults, it’s that the first two-thirds of the first act is not quite believable in the depiction of saintliness of the Hart family. The family, was, in fact, very good hearted and involved with their community, but the direct involvement in charitable actions, emphasis actions, could have been stronger. For instance, the father could have directly spoken to the unemployed persons waiting in line for a soup kitchen, offering them jobs himself, instead of directing someone else to do so. Also a couple of lines for the character of Alex Hart to explain why he couldn’t bring himself to go, in person, to try to calm the mob would have been good. His very evident grief probably would have been seen more than his words would be heard, but that doesn’t come out, and this omission weakens the character slightly. The mother character could have been developed more, especially her relationship with her oldest son. It makes her devastating grief a little harder to understand in later parts of the play. These are minor flaws, though.
In production and direction, a few more props that fit the historical period and help illustrate it would have better established the context. The play relied mostly on costume to set the period and people in the audience were asking among themselves in the intermission, “when did these events take place” because it wasn’t as clear in the first act as in the second act where the dialogue set the place and time more clearly. I would have liked to see the plain bar stools replaced by a small settee and a Windsor chair and an old-fashioned floor lamp, which all could have been toted in and out with about the same amount of effort as the bar stools. Also, period telephones on a little tall telephone table for at least the recipients of the calls would have helped. Instead of the unchanging red and black striped backdrop and stage, some projections of scenery to evoke the home, a department store, the jail, etc. would have set place and time better. There just wasn’t quite enough to help the audience see the events where and when they actually occurred. Last, is a minor detail on costuming, but one which most audience females immediately spot. Neither lady had a handkerchief on her, and no pocket for one. Every female over the age of 50 knows that NO LADY was ever without a real, cloth, often lace edged, handkerchief and a pocket for it. The gentlemen also had pocket handkerchiefs, in their suit-coat breast pockets. (I realize I’m dating myself with that comment, but it was the reality, and a visible detail of the age that also showed in what class people were, in a society that had more class distinctions.)
Still, none of the above diminishes the overall entertainment value here. We highly recommend this to anyone interested in drama that illustrates the human condition.