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 DVD Review: Unwigged & Unplugged: An Evening with Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer

Hi!

What can I say about Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer that hasn’t been said? These three comedian/musicians have been making people laugh and playing music together in some way or another since Spinal Tap made its first appearance in 1979. And in 1984, when the mockumentary This is Spinal Tap was released, they were forever imprinted on the cosmic consciousness as rock gods Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins, and Derek Smalls.

Since then, the trio have appeared in multiple Chrisopher Guest-directed films such as Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000), For Your Consideration (2006), and A Mighty Wind (2003). The DVD features performances from the soundtracks of This Is Spinal Tap, Break Like The Wind (1992) (the second Spinal Tap album), and the A Mighty Wind soundtrack where the trio played as The Folksmen.

[amazon-product]B002G1X2WE[/amazon-product]What makes this performance so special is that they are playing all of these songs with acoustic instruments or a capella. The trio appears as themselves, not as their characters, and have a great time reminiscing as they play. They are joined by CJ Vanston (who helped them on their latest Spinal Tap project – Back from the Dead (2009)), Annette O’Toole (Michael McKean’s wife who appeared in A Mighty Wind, and Judith Owen (wife of Harry Shearer and a singer-songwriter with her own career).

All three are great comedians who have had wonderful movie and TV careers. Guest played Count Rugen in one of my favorite movies – The Princess Bride. My first exposure to McKean was as Lenny (of Lenny & Squiggy fame) on Laverne and Shirley. And Shearer of course has done voices on The Simpsons forever, including Mr. Burns, Waylon Smithers, Ned Flanders, Principle Skinner, and many more…

But then you add in their musical abilities and these guys can rock. Earlier this year I had an opportunity to review the first release from the Beyman Bros – Memories of Summer as a Child – of which Guest was a part of as well as David Nichtern and CJ Vanston. This was an amazing album for me first because it was great instrumental music which bridged Americana, bluegrass, and jazz genres and second because it showed the world just how great a musician Guest really is.

And now, in the 25th anniversary of the film This is Spinal Tap, these three amazing men are getting together to share their love of comedy and music with their fans. The stars and planets must all be aligning somehow, for this is truly a great show.

Just to hear them play some of the Spinal Tap tunes that previously were only played on extremely amplified (i.e. turned up to 11) instruments on acoustic guitars was great. Everything from “Hell Hole,” “Bitch School,” “Big Bottom,” and “Sex Farm” to “The Good Book Song” and “A Kiss At the End of the Rainbow” – they ranged far and wide through their large repertoire. And to bookend the concert between two verses of the a capella “Celtic Blues” worked beautifully to pull everything together.

All in all the group plays about 30 different songs from their time together. The concert footage is crisp and well shot, the concert sounds great, and by the end you feel like you really wanted to be there to see it all live.

If you like music from This is Spinal Tap or A Mighty Wind, you’ll love Unwigged & Unplugged: An Evening with Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer. Be sure to look for it at your favorite retailer when it’s released on September 1, 2009. For more about the DVD, check out the website Unwigged.com.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this DVD and others from the trio at Amazon below!

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Music Review: Matt York – Mine

Hey all…

I have to admit that before this album, I hadn’t heard of Matt York. Then I heard the first track of Mine and had to hear more. “Death Came a Knockin'” is most definitely a gospel tune, but it captured my soul immediately. There was a purity to it that drew me back to the rest of Mine. Was I disappointed? I have to admit I was a little disappointed.

If the rest of the album included more gospel-style tunes like “Death Came a Knockin'” I probably wouldn’t be disappointed at all… but the rest of the album hits me like Lenny Kravitz going Motown, which didn’t always work for me.

That said, I think York has crafted a good album. It’s pretty low-key musically, with a pretty consistent pulse. The album landscape has a few hills and valleys, but the only stand-out song for me was the first one. After that, I do have a couple of favorites — “Lucky Man” speaks to me of a man in a committed relationship who feels lucky to be with the one he’s with; and “It’s All Fire” just has a lovely melody with some beautiful harmonies along with the guitar.

York toured for three years and nearly 750 shows for his first record Under the Streetlights, working his way across North America, Japan, and Australia. He even released a DVD in March 2008 of some of his concert footage (filmed by Dan Ramirez, who also worked with the Dave Matthews Band and O.A.R.). At the end of the tour, York was feeling the effects of the road, but decided to work on his sophomore record rather than taking a break.

He teamed up with Brad Stella and Joel Parisien to create the tracks for what eventually became Mine over the next few months. York grew up listening to Motown and gospel and wanted to go back to that feel for this album. He and his new five-piece band will most likely be on tour again later in the year to showcase Mine.

Overall Mine was a good album, just not what I expected after hearing the first track. If you are a fan of the Motown sound, I’d definitely recommend Mine as something to check out!

Track listing:
1. Death Came A Knockin’
2. Tomorrow
3. Let Me Go
4. Someday
5. Give Me Love
6. Those Days
7. Lucky Man
8. Hard Days
9. Mine
10. It’s All Fire
11. Now And Then

Definitely an album worth checking out!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick it up at your local retailer or Amazon:

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