Book Review: The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe

Hi all!

It’s been a while since I was motivated by a new author to read an entire book in the space of only a few hours over a couple of days. But it’s always an unexpected joy when it happens. The magic of being transported not only to new places or times, but new ways of thinking, is impossible to ignore.

Let me start at the beginning, but from a different direction than you might expect. Thankfully I was born into a family that not only appreciates music, but likes to play and sing together or apart. My mother played piano before her hands were twisted by rheumatoid arthritis. My father still plays guitar – a twelve-string Fender acoustic – with an ability to pick rich melodies from those taut skinny wires. And my sister and I played saxophones, guitars, and piano (she more than I). Between the occasional rag on piano, jazz or concert band practice, and a million folk songs on guitar, there was live music at my house pretty much every day.

That childhood of music has served me well long into my adult years and I still play my guitar occasionally and sing with my daughters, my wife, and the rest of my family at the occasional gathering. More than that, I’m always listening to music new and old. And over time I’ve gained a perpetual soundtrack running through my head with a mix of tunes from musicals, bluegrass melodies, folks songs, rock bands, a cappella voices, jazz licks, movie soundtracks, and much much more.

Why the long reveal about my musical childhood? The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe shows an appreciation for a life of music I’ve rarely seen in fiction, let alone urban fantasy from a new author. And Bledsoe’s tale weaves the magic of ancient songs and lyrics seamlessly into a world both touched and untouched by modern sensibilities and dangers. Most of those involved in the story are from a group of folks known as “The Tufa” – a secretive group living in the Appalachians. Though the question “Who are the Tufa?” is asked multiple times and eventually answered, how the reader gets to the answer is more important than the destination…

The story is about Private Bronwyn Hyatt, her immediate family, and their extended relatives in Needsville, Tennessee. Bronwyn returns from Iraq after surviving a horrific attack and heroic rescue, but her wounds need healing both outside and in. And as she returns to some sense of normal as muscle and flesh knit in the home she grew up in, she realizes there’s more going on she’s going to have to deal with. Can she figure out what the “haint” (ghost) wants her to do so she can avoid its ill portents of a death in her family? Can she find her song and learn to play her mandolin again so she can learn her mother’s song? Can she rediscover herself in the context of Tufa ways?

And tied into all of this are other characters. Craig Chess, a Methodist preacher, is trying to make inroads into Bronwyn’s community instead finding a solid resistance to outsiders. Dwayne Glitterman, Bronwyn’s former flame and bad-boy on a path to ruin. And newspaper reporter Don Swayback, asked to get an interview with Bronwyn the war hero, who starts to discover deep personal connections to the people of the town of Needsville he never knew existed…

Alex Bledsoe’s rich, nearly poetic prose in The Hum and the Shiver captured me at page one and didn’t let me go to the end. If you are a fan of urban fantasy, this is a book you need to add to your list today. There are secrets ancient and wild waiting for you to discover, and I enjoyed every moment.

The Hum and the Shiver hits shelves September 27, 2011, and I can hardly wait to see what’s next in the series from Bledsoe. For more about Bledsoe, check out his website.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org. here.

–Fitz

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Music Review: Sarah Sample – Someday, Someday

Hi all…

Haunting, with a genuine feel impossible to fake, Sarah Sample strummed her way into my head. Americana and folk to me are among the last places to find songs and singers that not only capture the simple nature of American life, but are still about writing and performing music and connecting to audiences, not about the business of the cookie-cutter music industry.

Sample combines the best of country and folk with an expressive voice that makes you believe every word. She reminds me a bit of Brandi Carlile, who manages simple songs that are complex at the same time. Both offer simplicity with just a few instruments playing at the same time – yet there’s a layered approach, with poetry, rhythm, melody, and harmonies that unlocks the underlying meaning for the audience.

The Salt Lake Weekly called her 2007 debut – Never Close Enough – “the standard of comparison for other female folk singer/songwriters.” She followed that in 2009 with Born to Fly, which also received critical acclaim. Her talent has been recognized since 2006 by the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Cayamo Cruise, Storyhill, SistersFolk, FolksFest, Tucscon Folk Festival, and more. And now with Someday, Someday as her third album I think she’s guaranteed to win more fans and praise from the music community.

“Everytime I Go” has to be one of the most romantic songs I’ve heard for a while about new love. “Everytime I leave / Feel like I am free-falling, real slow / my stomach in the sky, in my heart a battle cry / yes, you have won me over…” From the opening chords strummed on an acoustic guitar to the light piano and harmonies, everything evokes that feeling we all want in a new love affair – the feeling that “nothing could keep my love from you…”

The duet of “Shadows of a Song” tells the story of the other side of that coin – chasing the “shadows” of a love that may have passed. “We tried so hard / to play all the right parts / our hands full of false starts / til the downbeat dragged us apart…” Love in a band, like any relationship where you love and work together, has to be tough. But the emotional toll of connecting to music night after night has to wear it frightfully thin. Though I usually don’t like steel guitar, it works here – drawing out each drumbeat and guitar strum mimicking the daily trudging through a relationship that just doesn’t work any more.

And “One Mistake” tells more of the story of two lovers drifting apart. “I felt you / I felt you pull away / … I saw it / I saw your eyes stray / one false move / and I cut the tie / and you are floating away…” The backing vocals again bring in some gorgeously textured harmonies along with the string bass. But it’s the lightness of the arrangement to me that suggests that the singer is ready to let go until you get to the end… “cause I’m never gonna let you go.” It’s the push and pull that tests each relationship from time to time somehow boiled down into a song…

But don’t think for a second that they’re all depressing songs… “Staying Behind” takes things in a rock direction – cutting loose for a time. “I’m done trading time for nothing / I want to stand alone…” Upbeat, you can feel the change coming… With the bit of banjo and drums picking and beating us forward to a new phase of life, the vocals layer and you know it’s going to be ok.

Check out Sarah’s website and get all the latest details about her tour and albums at SarahSample.com. And definitely check out Someday, Someday if you love Americana and folk. Her career is in full swing and I can’t wait to see what else she has up her sleeve for the future.

–Fitz

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Music Review: She Remains the Same – Andrew Ripp

Hi there…

A little over a year ago I wrote about Andrew Ripp’s debut album – Fifty Miles to Chicago – and absolutely loved it. The beauty of a debut album of that caliber was its honesty. You could tell with each note and word that he believed passionately about his music. So when I had an opportunity to give his sophomore album a listen, I jumped on the chance. Though sometimes new artists will suffer from the “sophomore slump” as they go from the album they had years to produce and hone from the pressure of the music industry pushing them to roll out the next record, occasionally you’ll find an artist so at home with their style and sound that their sophomore album sounds more like they’ve been doing this for years…

She Remains the Same keeps the honesty of that debut album but offers so much more to fans. Ripp continues to surprise, with an album that dives deeper into his own personal truths. From the bluegrass rock feel of “Growing Old Too Young” to the acoustic folk ballad “Forever After Love,” there’s something here for everyone.

As I listened from beginning to end, I was struck by the shared themes turned on their head… Where Fifty Miles to Chicago was more about having fun and finding your path while you enjoy the journey, She Remains the Same focuses on arriving at a destination and dealing with settling down a bit. The truths found by each of us finding a place to call home…

“Savior”‘s message provides an interesting counterpoint to “Dresden Wine” on the last album. We go from “I don’t want to be your savior / I can’t be the one to hold you down…” as a powerful piano ballad to “I found my savior…” and “I found my Jesus on a city street / he gave me freedom through a trash can beat…” with a strong rock/blues guitar song that absolutely rocks as my favorite song on the album. The message is clear – “Don’t worry ’bout me… ‘Cause I know where I’m going when I’m gone…” He’s found his way and it’s awesome.

Savior – Andrew Ripp by SidewaysMedia

The song “Rider” is another favorite. This one is less upbeat, but all about lessons learned. The Rider in this case is riding down the line trying to find something… “And I did all my time seeking gold / But this line that I’ve drawn / Is long and taking its toll…” In the end, the goal he’s been seeking on the road is where he’s always been – “Been looking for freedom / When freedom’s been here all along…” And with this message, there’s a driving bass and guitar like the dotted lines of the highway, backed with Ripp’s vocals in minor keys. Like with “Dresden Wine” – there’s a passion here and you can tell it’s personal.

And you can tell that Ripp has found a home in Nashville with a few of these tracks. From the slow, guitar-fueled ballad of “She Don’t Lie” – telling the story of how everything around him is dead, dying, or a lie, but his girl remains the same and doesn’t lie… “I’m breaking at the seams / And my American dream is dead and gone / (But it’s alright cuz) / She don’t lie…”

Then “The Good I’ll Do” focuses on losing the girl… “I touched your heart and turned it black / You swear that it ain’t coming back / But I’m made of more than what I lack…” Broken promises, hope gone up in flames, the girl is gone – but someday he’ll prove he’s worth the trouble.

There’s a spiritual quality to this album as well, as though his time on the road made him find something deeper to draw on. “You Will Find Me” would feel as home in church as on a stage. “When you come thirsty / when the well’s dry / when your soul’s dirty / I am by your side…” With a bit of guitar and steady beat on a single drum in the background, the piano and Ripp’s voice drive this one with a positive message. You are never really alone. And that’s an important thing to remember on the road just as much as it is at home.

If you’re looking for a rock album with a heart, check out She Remains the Same on iTunes or at your favorite retailer. Andrew Ripp may have left Chicago, but he’s continuing to bring his fans a great variety and sharing more of himself in the process.

For more information about Ripp or for a current tour schedule, check out his site – AndrewRipp.com.

This review first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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