Archives for the month of: January, 2012

Album Review: O, Devotion, Liz Green, 2011

  

Liz Green has a voice that you must hear to believe. The marvel of her voice is not in its power or her ability to hold a note. Rather, there is something antiquarian about it. It’s as if she swallowed a vintage phonograph. When she sings, a dusty and muffled voice emanates, as if from the tin horn of her internal gramaphone.

The result is absolutely mesmerizing. Listen to “Midnight Blues” and I’d wager you will want a second, third, and fourth listen, just to savour it. “French Singer,” seemingly accompanied by an ill-tuned player-piano, evokes a western saloon. And it is sublime.

As I write this, her sole full length album, “O, Devotion” is pending release in North America on Feb 7, 2012. However, it is already available in the UK and you can stream various songs on YouTube. A nice version of “Midnight Blues” can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVwCwTvrLx8&feature=related

If you find your musical centre of gravity in more conventional genres like R&B, Pop, or Rock, a dose of down-home blues/folk is a refreshing change. Ms. Green delivers on that account, pulling her wagon ’round and serenading you from a long-ago era.

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Book Review: The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman, 2010

This was a peculiar read – well written and easy to engage with the story and characters. Yet in the end I didn’t enjoy it because I felt the author didn’t want me to.

“The Imperfectionists” is a collection of vignettes of the lives of journalists, editors, and publishers of a Rome-based newspaper, based not so loosely on the International Herald Tribune. Rachman was an editor for that paper and manages wonderful detail to immerse the reader in the world of the international newsroom.

What Rachman also brings to the book, it seems, is some serious baggage. Each vignette, although nicely crafted, ends up punching the reader in the stomach with a burst of pathos or tragedy.

In each chapter, I found myself falling for his protagonist, cheering them on, and then watching them fall ‘splat’ into the cold, wet concrete of the Rachman’s  dark whimsy. Heck, he even has a dog murdered in one of the stories.

This is not to say that all stories should be happy. I’ve enjoyed many books with sad themes and failed characters (James Joyce, anyone?). But there is something relentlessly dark about this book that dulls the usual joy we get from reading.

Despite the gloom, Rachman’s is a very readable prose and his humor reminds me, at times, of Mordechai Richler. I’d like to read more from this author, but only after he’s had some therapy and accepted that the world can be a nice place, at least some of the time.

Book Review: The Sentimentalists, Johanna Skibsrud, 2009

My leisure reading is usually limited to holidays so in making my title selections, I often look to the literary awards for guidance. I’ve read a few Booker Prize winners and have not been disappointed. I thought the Giller Prize jury was similarly gifted in its judgement, based on excellent past-winners such as Mordechai Richler’s “Barney’s Version” and Vincent Lam’s “Bloodletting and other Miraculous Cures.”

2010’s Gilller Winner, however, has sullied their reputation forever. Skibsrud’s novel is hardly deserving of being called that. At best, it is a writing exercise that should have remained in her personal workbooks.

Promising to be a mystery of sorts, unravelling the hazy memory of a Vietnam war veteran as he descends into dementia in his daughter’s care, the book does not deliver; anything.

Instead, it scampers around the details of a derelict town, a now-broken family life once cherished, and never develops a through-line the reader cares about. Not even the characters are interesting enough for us to want them to succeed or fail or live or die.

It is not often that I have two regrets after reading a book. With “The Sentamentalists” mine were that I selected it and secondly,  that I finished it.