Saturday, August 11, 2007

Since my blog has "and some bluegrass" in the sub-title, I should probably post occasionally about the concerts I see. Last night was a triple bill at the Freight and Salvage.

The first band up was Berkeley's own Bluegrass Revolution.
This band isn't my cup of tea - theie set could only be loosely categorized as bluegrass but that wasn't the real problem. It seemed like the whole band was playing as hard as they could 100% of the time. Not only does that get boring after a song or two, it doesn't actually sound that good. One of the secrets of bluegrass and acoustic swing is that to play fast and intense sounding music well, the musician actually has to be very relaxed and in control. Bluegrass Revolution is a pretty new band and I think they will get somewhat better with time but I also think they need to step back, listen to themselves and think about what they are trying to do.

On the other hand, the second band Belle Monroe and Her Brewgrass Boys, clearly knows what they are trying to do and they do a good job. Their repertoire was mostly unfamiliar to me - no bluegrass standards that I had heard of and a lot of original songs - but their execution was quite good and they have a very nice band dynamic. I liked their set quite a bit.

The headlines were Mighty Crows. I might be biased since I've known all of them for years and I jam with some of them regularly but I think the audiences agree that they are one of the best of the local bluegrass bands, particularly if you are looking for traditional bluegrass. They focus on singing pieces to take advantage of their powerhouse vocals but do a few nice instrumentals that show off the fiddler as well. If you like traditional bluegrass in the SF Bay Area, look for them at some local venues and local festivals.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I'm not a fan of short stories in general - I much prefer novels where there is more space to develop characters and tell complex stories. But last month I saw a story on BoingBoing about the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction giving away a copy of their Sept 2007 issue to anyone who was willing to blog about it. Since it was free, I decided to check it out. I sent off an email, got my issue in the mail about a week later and just got around to reading it.

Even though I don't like short stories that much, I did enjoy reading this issue of F&SF. Many, many years ago I briefly had a subscription to Analog and at the time I preferred that to F&SF. I don't know if the magazine has changed or my tastes.

Unexpectedly, a number of the stories were slightly or mostly comedic -- including a trivia contest amongst the god and an interplanetary ambassador who suspects he hasn't been told the truth about his mission -- but I also enjoyed the more dramatic ones, particularly a post-apocalyptic story written without the use of periods! I don't know if that is usual for this magazine or just this particular issue. I also liked the non-fiction sections and added a few books in the book review section to my "to read" list.

The short story market is not as extensive as it once was so if you are a short story fan and are looking for a fix, I recommend this magazine. Particularly if you are looking for some slight, light hearted stories.

Amazon Link: Fantasy & Science Fiction

Monday, August 06, 2007

Last night I finished The Shadow in the North by Philip Pullman, the second of three books he has written about Sally Lockhart, plucky Victorian heroine. I wrote about the first book, The Ruby in the Smoke, here.

In the first book, Sally was trying to find out what had happened to her father and stumbled into some friendships and a mystery involving opium and a jewel from the Far East. In this book, she is established as a financial consultant and gets drawn into another mystery when one of her clients loses all her money in a suspicious failure of a shipping line.

Those descriptions sound like something out of Nancy Drew but the Sally Lockhart books are a lot deeper, and darker, than that. Pullman uses a fairly accurate Victorian setting and he doesn't shy away from the poorer parts of that society. With that comes the real chance of death by misadventure or, possibly worse to some of the characters, being shamed in public.

I'm enjoying these books more than I enjoyed Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. I enjoyed those books but they didn't grab me the way these ones are - if I can find the time I will probably go back and re-read that trilogy, maybe around when the movie for the first book, The Golden Compass, comes out.

Since I also recently read the last Harry Potter book, it is interesting comparing him to J.K. Rowling. Pullman is clearly the better writer - there is really no comparison between the writing in any of the His Dark Materials books and any of the Harry Potter books. Rowling's writing often seems very simple and un-evocative in comparison. On the other hand, I found the Harry Potter books much more compelling and engaging than His Dark Materials. When I re-read them, I will have to do some more thinking to see where that is coming from - does Rowling simply create more interesting characters and situations or is something else going on?

Amazon Link:The Shadow in the North