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GlynLuke (York UK)
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No More Sad Refrains: The Anthology
No More Sad Refrains: The Anthology
Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Songs of a dreamer, 30 Mar. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is one of the best and most sensibly selected compilations of any artist I've ever come across.
I've loved the divine, bittersweet voice of Sandy Denny for decades, and have all her albums, under her name and either Fairport or her and her husband Trevor Lucas's own short-lived Fotheringay. But this selection was too mouth-watering not to acquire as well, and I'm very glad I did.
The beauty of this two-disc collection is that, luckily for us, it has omitted her occasional ill-judged cover versions of old Brenda Lee hits and Dylan songs, and included as many as possible of the lady's own compositions, many of which are the finest, most hauntingly lovely and moving songs ever written by an English woman (and no, I'm not exaggerating).
I could have perhaps done without Roger McGuinn's Ballad of Easy Rider, a not very inspired Fairport outtake, and it would have been nice to have included instead her gorgeous song Full Moon, with its clarinet solo from Acker Bilk, as well as one or two more from her first and last solo albums, not to mention the title track from Fairport's Rising For The Moon and Dave Swarbrick's White Dress, on both of which Sandy shines - but these are carpings, for what is here is mostly pure gold.
It's programmed chronologically (not always welcome, but a very good idea in this case) starting with five songs from her halcyon Fairport days, then four tracks from the solitary Fotheringay LP, followed by a whole lot of amazing songs taken from her four solo albums, and including on the way two fifties rock'n'roll covers by 'The Bunch' which go down painlessly (particularly as one is a duet with her friend the great Linda Thompson, nee Peters) and the occasional alternative demo take.
As an introduction to this unique singer and stunning songwriter, it could hardly be bettered. I can't imagine how startled a new listener to Sandy's music will be, and can only envy them that initial thrill. This really is a singer!
No use highlighting tracks. Nothing here is less than good, most of it is more than marvellous.
With an excellent booklet and well chosen photos (better than in the new, albeit superb biography) this is a compilation to live and die for.

Across the evening sky
All the birds are leaving
But how can they know
It's time for them to go...


Marc Chagall: Early Works from Russian Collections
Marc Chagall: Early Works from Russian Collections
by Evgenija Petrova
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars The man from Vitebsk, 29 Mar. 2015
Marc Zacharovich Chagall (born Moishe Segal) lived almost a hundred years, from July 1887 to March 1985.
He was born in the shtetl of Liozna near the attractive, bustling city of Vitebsk in the north-east of Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire, growing up in a large loving family of Hasidic Jews surrounded by the Jewish culture that so obviously informed his art all his life, even when in Paris or elsewhere.
I was happy and rather relieved to read the following words, on the first page of Susan Tumarkin Goodman's long opening chapter of this tie-in book from the 2001 exhibition at the Jewish Museum, New York of the painter's early works:

His anti-rational conception of painting led him to create not a sentimental, picturesque Vitebsk, but a phantasmogorical city, viewed through the filter of his mind.

An important point, since some see Chagall as either twee or sentimental. I never have, though I can see that the repeated motifs in his work can at times appear repetitive, or even tame.
This is a beautifully presented 100-page book outlining the earlier life of this charismatic and highly individual artist, with many clear reproductions of a good number of his paintings, alongside quite a few photographs, including views of Vitebsk, as well as Chagall and his family and friends.
Near the beginning of the book are a dozen pages or so devoted to his teacher Yehuda Pen (of whom I'd not heard) and some delightful examples of his work, which include typically realist 19th century Russian landscapes and some very fine portraits. (Yet one more Russian painter of the era who ought to be better known and documented.)
While there are certainly one or two 'favourites' necessarily missing among the Chagall works represented - eg. the poet reclining; the drinker with six fingers - what gives this book its allure are the many paintings that are rarely seen outside of Russia or Belarus. And what riches they are - all the more effective seen in a relatively sparing quantity.
The text is as much about the life as the work. It's good to read about Chagall's late 19th/early 20th century background and upbringing, and his marriage to the equally beautiful Bella (the sometimes almost Byronic-looking Chagall was outrageously handsome, often in an elfin way, like a less manic Harpo Marx!) and their daughter Ida. This is a cherishable book, with some of his most eloquent paintings along with well-chosen photos to further illustrate a remarkable and exceedingly long life.
By the way, don't let Amazon's blurred picture of the cover shown above put you off. The art itself, both inside and outside, looks splendid.

The last word to Chagall himself:

'Why do I always paint Vitebsk? With these pictures I create my own reality for myself, I recreate my home.'


Bryter Layter [2012 Card Sleeve Edition]
Bryter Layter [2012 Card Sleeve Edition]
Price: £2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Brighten my northern sky, 26 Mar. 2015
I bought the late Nick Drake's original LPs as they came out in the early seventies, having been overwhelmed by the grave beauty of his debut Five Leaves Left, with songs like Way To Blue and Time Has Told Me small miracles of condensed songwriting of a very high order from this sad young man.
But it's his flavourful, more upbeat follow-up that I find myself playing more often these days. The orchestral arrangements by the very fine Robert Kirby (an unsung hero of the Nick Drake legend) are exactly right for the songs they adorn, and Nick's impressively subtle and articulate guitar work is still enough to the fore.
With three delightful, concise instrumentals, and seven superlative songs, this is a lovely album which seems to be suitable for any and all seasons, though I tend to think of it as summery, albeit in a bittersweet way. (Five Leaves Left, to indulge the analogy, was perhaps autumnal whereas the downbeat, valedictory Pink Moon was positively wintry.)
The thoughtful At the Chime of a City Clock is followed by the musically upbeat One of These Things First. Both are wonderful songs.
The unusual song Fly is a favourite of mine, while Poor Boy is almost a soul number, and all the more intriguing for it, with a great arrangement and with suitably soulful P.P. Arnold and Doris Troy singing on the catchy chorus.
The two very different Hazey Jane songs are vintage Drake, and Northern Sky is utterly beautiful.
He's something of a legend now, a golden boy who died far too young, leaving a legacy few could match (apart from Sandy Denny or Tim Buckley, both of whom were near contemporaries, both dying tragically young).
All three of his records, along with the compilation Made To Love Magic - if only for its gorgeous title track - are essential.

I never felt magic crazy as this
I never saw moons knew the meaning of the sea
I never heard emotion in the palm of my hand
Or felt sweet breezes in the top of a tree
But now you're here
Brighten my northern sky


By John D. MacDonald The Deep Blue Goodbye (1st Fawcett Crest Edition) [Paperback]
By John D. MacDonald The Deep Blue Goodbye (1st Fawcett Crest Edition) [Paperback]
by John D. MacDonald
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars McGee casts off, 26 Mar. 2015
This first of the justly celebrated Travis McGee novels by the insanely prolific John D. MacDonald is, like his books tend to be, a real page-turner.
'Trav' McGee lives on a comfortably spacious houseboat at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and is a semi-retired 'retriever' - he tries to get back for clients (who are often friends of friends) something that has been taken from them, be it money, jewels, or even their self-respect, as in this sleazy tale of sexual exploitation, greed, and an unremittingly evil man named Junior Allen.
Along the way he has dealings with various women, including two who have suffered at the hands of the grinning Allen, a purely wicked amoral monster who nevertheless remains a rather shadowy figure throughout, even when we finally meet him.
MacDonald had written, and went on to write, better books, but even at his less scintillating he's better than many a more famous thriller writer. (I prefer to call him that, since he's not strictly speaking a crime novelist.)
In Travis McGee he created a uniquely ambiguous anti-hero, a man living as freely as the law will allow in 60s/70s America (this book is from 1965) who lives by his own moral standards, something you can't help but infer the author attempted to do too. MacDonald - even more so in other novels in the series - is something of a armchair philosopher, taking every opportunity to rail against the mediocrity of contemporary life, even back in the early sixties. That his/Trav's musings are mostly justified saves them from intruding overmuch into the narrative.
Another Florida denizen and an admitted MacDonald buff into the bargain, as well as a similar champion of the environment, Carl Hiaasen, took up the baton laid down by his illustrious predecessor and ran with it, injecting regular bouts of uproarious humour into the crime thriller - but he heard it here first.

A seedy, seasick debut of a stunning series of books.


The Duke of Burgundy DVD
The Duke of Burgundy DVD
Dvd ~ Sidse Babett Knudsen
Price: £10.25

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The lepidopterist & the cleaning lady, 25 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Duke of Burgundy DVD (DVD)
I dithered over my star rating, in truth wanting to give it seven out of ten if I'd been able. It is such a rare and, in its deadpan yet lush way, an admirable film (with nods to Bergman, Greenaway, and one or two other directors of obsession and eroticism).
It takes a while to get going, but when it does it exerts a fascination that only abates occasionally, when writer-director Strickland almost seems as if he's run out of ideas. It's then we are shown arty, admittedly beautiful montages of swarms of brownish butterflies, or simply one flitting across the screen - or a caterpillar or two to vary things.
The butterfly 'Institute' the two central women attend remains a mystery to me. I simply could not see the relevance or interest, symbolically or dramatically, of these semi-serious scenes.
The problem with making a resolutely 'art film' about an unorthodox relationship - in this case a lesbian one, with one woman the dominatrix, the younger one submissive - is that you run the risk of distancing the viewer emotionally from what is going on and what the characters are feeling if you introduce so many allusory elements into the script and visuals, as Strickland does here. These women are lovers, experiencing real pain, longing, lust, frustration, impatience, and sadness. The games they play are portrayed with a pleasingly droll restraint, and such sexuality that is shown is done honestly and with gentle eroticism. But the overlaying of so much knowing frippery - all those bloody butterflies - and ponderousness when the inspiration ebbs, does the story, such as it is, few favours.
Still worth seeing, I'd say, if only for Sidse Babett Knudsen (fresh from Borgen) as the reluctant dominatrix Cynthia. She's quite brilliant, with her slightest expression speaking volumes. What humour there is - and at times it is genuinely funny - comes mainly from her, and she has a lovely line in dry comedy. Italian actress Chiara D'Anna plays the insistently submissive Evelyn with just the right amount of impudence and petulance. Just who is really in charge here...?
The distinctively evocative soundtrack is by alternative pop duo Cat's Eyes.
It was filmed in Hungary, and having lived there I'd love to know where the house and gardens are where the action takes place. The film looks superb, and my criticisms are not for the attempt to make a genuinely unusual film, but more a sense of frustration at what to me seems to be to have been missed along the way.
This British director makes fascinating films - I enjoyed 2009's Katalin Varga set in Romania - and I applaud this one up to a point, but give only two cheers.

{Four days later: can't get images of the film out of my mind, always a good sign. Rating remains, but recommended all the same.}


Whatever Works [DVD] [2010]
Whatever Works [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Larry David
Offered by A ENTERTAINMENT
Price: £18.40

4.0 out of 5 stars It works, 25 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Whatever Works [DVD] [2010] (DVD)
The revelation for me in this 2009 film from Woody Allen is the winning Evan Rachel Wood, brilliant and totally natural as Melody, a southern gal adrift in New York, fleeing from a broken home, who gets involved with misanthropic quantum physics boffin and self-styled genius Boris, played at full throttle by a very funny Larry David (not a man I've always find amusing).
Boris/Larry has some great lines, mostly about the relative failings of the rest of the human race, but at heart he has a kind of dispassionate compassion. He talks to us, the audience, in a cinematic conceit Allen has used before, and which works well here. There are a few raggedly edges which could have done with more thought, and once again we are asked to believe a drop-dead pretty young woman would fall for a much older grouchy slob - but this is mostly a startlingly underrated late Woody movie, with enough good lines to keep this viewer laughing. Larry David delivers them with a kind of relaxed relish, and is far more effective than Allen himself would have been in the role - and less creepy too.
Another welcome bonus is that hardly anyone in this tautly-scripted film talks in 'Woody-speak': the stuttery half-formed words and phrases, the pseudo-naturalistic verbal tics Allen himself invariably uses.
Apart from Evan Rachel Wood, there's a wonderful performance from the glorious Patricia Clarkson as Wood's mother, who metamorphoses before our eyes from pious deserted southern housewife to sexually adventurous and free-spirited Greenwich Village artist. She's great in the role, as she was in Allen's follow-up film Vicky Cristina Barcelona. What an actress.
It's not classic Woody like Annie Hall or Hannah and Her Sisters, nor is it as completely satisfying as Radio Days (for me his best film) or The Purple Rose of Cairo, but there's so much to love about it, that - hey, it works!


One Stormy Night (Red Fox picture books)
One Stormy Night (Red Fox picture books)
by Ruth Brown
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars 'One stormy night, the wind was howling...', 24 Mar. 2015
...and we see a small, fluffily white dog hurtling through the countryside...
My sole fellow reviewer-collector is quite right, this short little book is a jewel, a wonderfully illustrated, haunting tale - told in a very few words, for mainly young children - with some of the most evocative pictures I've ever come across in such a modest children's book.
The dog, the cat, horse, barn owl, and blackbird are all drawn in just enough loving detail, while the forbidding country mansion and stone church couldn't look more authentic.
Ruth Brown, as both author and illustrator of this unusual little book, is to be congratulated on both counts: a rare mingling of sparse effective storytelling with pictorial atmosphere.
This is supposed to be a gift for a young family member, but not until I've flicked through it a few more times...

A lovely little mini-masterpiece.


Cape Fear
Cape Fear
by John D. MacDonald
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The American Dream: a rude awakening, 20 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Cape Fear (Paperback)
Many of the best US post-war crime thriller writers highlighted the paranoia of those years, leading as they did into the looser fifties and supposedly more carefree sixties. And most of them too displayed a healthily laconic scepticism for both, whether in the hardboiled poeticisms of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe series, the high-octane Lew Archer novels of the great Ross Macdonald, or an edge-of-the-seat nail-biter like this small masterpiece from John D. of the clan MacDonald (though they weren't related).
For the novel, Cape Fear is a daft title. It may have worked for the two films based on what was originally called The Executioners (made in 1962 & '91) but nowhere in this tense, taut novel is the place mentioned. In fact it's not obvious (to a non-American) in which state we are, since we're only told the family live in Essex County, of which there are several in the US. I think MacDonald means the one in Florida - where so many of his books are set, and where he himself settled. Incidentally, I envy you if you're reading this without having seen either film: both have their moments, and the '62 version with Peck and Mitchum is excellent on its own terms, but the source novel is snappier, more concise, giving less overt physical prominence to the psychopathic Max Cady, who invades the lives of the central nuclear family, allowing him to 'prowl' the story, so to speak, making his malign presence felt throughout, while the author concentrates on the family itself, with its mounting fears. The family is Sam & Carol, their two young sons Jamie & Bucky, pubescent daughter Nancy, and dog Marilyn. Don't forget the dog!
Cady is a man 'from the Hill Country' that Sam, long ago during his war service in Melbourne, caught raping a woman, and whose testimony at Cady's trial got him sent down for a long stretch. Now Cady's been released, and is out for revenge...
I almost literally couldn't put the book down (despite its many tedious typos). I'd just emerged from a much longer and more intricate MacDonald novel, so this was a breeze by comparison, but only in its length. If you don't know the story, it'll grab you by the first chapter and not let go till the end.
Like so many crime novelists, John D. was something of a philosopher as well as a writer, but in this book he keeps the philosophising to a minimum, or integrates it into the realistic dialogue between Sam and Carol. This latter is one of the beauties of the book, their banter being so recognisably the way some happily married couples talk and tease with each other, with that faux-gallant edge that can be both amusing and erotic. This author is drily effective when writing about men, women, and men with women. He was no male chauvinist, though naturally he had one or two of the mild sexisms of his age, but no more than most, and a lot less than a Hemingway or a Mailer, say.
MacDonald was keenly, soberly aware of both sides of the fabled American Dream, and while he seconds the right of US citizens to pursue 'Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness' he also realises the fragility of such concepts when faced with the harsh, sometimes irrational, realities of everyday life. One of those harsh, irrational realities is comin' after a good man and his family - like an enraged wild animal, or like a man 'from the Hill Country'.

A tremendous, nerve-jangling thriller.


Sea Of Love [DVD] [1990]
Sea Of Love [DVD] [1990]
Dvd ~ Al Pacino
Price: £4.20

5.0 out of 5 stars Copping off, 18 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Sea Of Love [DVD] [1990] (DVD)
Al Pacino hadn't made a film for four years, so this was a kind of comeback, and he hasn't looked back since.
What a comeback. And what a cast along with him: Ellen Barkin at her most knockout gorgeous, mighty John Goodman as an affable sidekick, with Michael Rooker and Richard Jenkins both superb, and even a pre-West Wing John Spencer in a small role.
Al was 49 when he made this, and he looks at least ten years younger. Barkin was a still young-looking 35. Their chemistry (in both senses) is, luckily, palpable, with Al in his sexiest role to date and Ellen burning up the screen.
It's a good if flimsy plot too, though the film is as much if not more about Pacino's booze-reliant cop Frank (why are so many US film characters called Frank?) and his sensual but brittle relationship with Barkin's possible murder suspect, Helen. Al acts his big heart out and looks like he's glad to be back on the set.
This was the fresh beginning of Pacino's ongoing rise to be arguably America's greatest living film actor, whereas Barkin fell off the radar after a while, which is our sad loss, as she's always been one of the most watchable and attractively offbeat actresses around.
Richard Price's screenplay is characteristically excellent and Harold Becker directs with moody flair.
Tom Waits sings the title song over the closing credits, and it feels like the cherry on a richly satisfying cake.

One of the most entertaining cop movies of its era, and a great romance too.


A Deadly Shade of Gold (Travis McGee Mysteries)
A Deadly Shade of Gold (Travis McGee Mysteries)
by John D. MacDonald
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Mr Mcgee, 18 Mar. 2015
If Dashiell Hammett virtually originated the dry, hardboiled genre of American crime thrillers, and Raymond Chandler gave it its poetry, it was two MacDonalds who took up the baton and really ran with it - Ross and John D. - both being more prolific and perhaps more ambitious too. Later, such great entertainers as Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen updated the genre to our own times, the latter (who introduces this book in loving tribute) still going strong.
This was the first John D. I read, and I certainly plunged in at the deep end. It's a lengthy novel, over 400 pages of rich prose which is often a tad overwritten, with the narrator's/author's own opinions and prejudices on show on every other page for all too see (something I believe he keeps more in check in the other books in the series.)
Oddly enough, this didn't really bother me too much. MacDonald was writing in the mid-sixties, when the disastrous Vietnam adventure had got underway, Commie-baiting was still a national pastime (still is) and the US was, at least in the author's view, 'dumbing down' to use a phrase he wouldn't have known but would have all too well understood.
There's an intriguing passage in the middle of this book where he excoriates those men of the huntin' & shootin' persuasion and even names, among others, Hemingway (who had then only been dead four years) who one infers he didn't rate too highly, as man or (perhaps) writer. This didn't surprise me, since where Hemingway was cheese-paringly monkish with words, MacDonald is anything but. This is a writer who knows the language is there to be used, in all its garish neon munificence. (He's got me at it, too.)
I had a ball reading this fifth in the Travis McGee series. His 'hero' is a good man to spend a lot of time with, and is one of the more thoughtful, though least sentimental of crime protagonists. He enjoys all the good things in life - and that definitely includes women, choosy as he tries - and sometimes fails - to be.
He prefers to keep life simple if and when he can, but being a freelance meddler in others' problems this proves difficult. McGee's losses are without doubt the readers' gains.
The plot? You must be crazy. Read the book to find that out: it's worth it, trust me, and I've got several others in the series lined up, waiting to be gulped down.
I can't wait.
The setting starts off in Florida, with a long interlude in Mexico, and a couple of forays into California. You get the feeling both narrator and hero are happier back in Florida, bit the trips further afield are fruitful, if dangerous.
The sex is bracingly explicit for 1965, and the violence often suitably vile, though never lingered over or exploited. The characters - and it's a heavily populated book - are expertly drawn, and colourfully Chandleresque. He's good at both men and women, having not too much of the male chauvinism of the times.
MacDonald's big bugbear is the environment. You get a lot about it, how we are exploiting it and ruining it - and this was fifty years ago. His prescience is both impressive and depressing.

Not quite a classic, a little overwritten and wordy at times (he's not scared of adjectives) but hugely recommended nonetheless. One of the great crime thriller writers of the twentieth century, no doubt about it.


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