Album Reviews 21/10/28

Lionlimb, Spiral Groove (Savant Records)

You know, much as I like albums like this, I’ve really about had it with bands/artists making their locations unknown. I know that’s a really curmudgeonly inside-baseball thing, but it really does hinder my critiquing process: How am I supposed to start writing a review without already hating your band for something or other? I think this dude’s from Brooklyn, because reasons, but I swear, for five cents I’d just take up this whole space ranting about unprofessionalism in indie music. Shame, too, because it’s really smooth, post-Pitchfork indie-pop-rock, a lot of times bordering on ’80s yacht rock a la Christopher Cross (especially on the title track). It’s not all stuff that wouldn’t disturb the canasta game at the retirement home, but it’s pretty close, like “Gone” has a mild chop-and-screw aesthetic to its organic, vinyl-begging loop. The musicianship is top drawer — you know who’d love this is fans who just discovered Steely Dan, something of that sort. A-

Marissa Nadler, The Path of the Clouds (Sacred Bones Records)

You’d probably like this record if you’re into Portishead but wouldn’t mind a little less electronic experimentation, not counting the black-metal Easter eggs that tend to show up in this Boston-born lady’s tuneage. Somewhat renowned as a guitarist, Nadler has been around for 20 years now and has the buddy list to prove it: experimental harpist Mary Lattimore and (somewhat appropriately) Cocteau Twins bassist Simon Raymonde are here, for two, and Seth Manchester (Lingua Ignota, Battles) mixed the LP, which launches with the languid “Bessie Did You Make It,” a pretty captivating “murder ballad” (that is to say, a slow song about, you know, a murder). We remain aloft for “The Path Of The Clouds,” something of an ode to famous robber/hijacker D.B. Cooper, at which point you might start feeling a little sleepy. But that’s when some spaghetti guitars come in to help fill out “Couldn’t Have Done The Killing,” and one can’t help but think of Mazzy Star. Thus it’s a bit overfocused but quite a good listen regardless. A-

PLAYLIST

• Oct. 29 means Halloween parties, baby, so remember to pick up some plague doctor beaks at Walgreens so we can do it up in style and win some “original costume” prizes! Man, I love me some Halloween, and the best part is that the 29th will bring with it some new music CDs, hopefully with monster themes or at least someone screaming like Herman Munster is trying to shake their hand. Oh forget it, Halloween rock music has only one song, “The Monster Mash,” and nothing will ever top it. If you’re new to American pop culture, 100 years ago Jacko tried to beat “Monster Mash” by turning into a werewolf or whatever on the MTV video for “Thriller,” but everyone was just like, “Ha ha, nice werewolf, Michael Jackson, you’ll never be as edgy as Prince, LOL.” Actually, Ozzy Osbourne wore pretty cool Michael Jackson-wolf makeup on the cover of Bark At The Moon, but even that wasn’t Halloween enough to unseat “Monster Mash” as the world’s only Halloween song, and so it goes on as the undisputed champion. Regardless, who knows, every day’s a new day, and maybe there’s a song on one of the stupid albums coming out this week, so let’s first take a listen to “Teardrinker,” the push single from Hushed And Grim, the new album from once not-all-bad pirate-metal band Mastodon! Maybe this will make a good Halloween song, I’ll check it out. Oops, no, this isn’t worthy of any recognition or special Halloween-song status, it just sounds like Coldplay with distorted guitars. Jeepers, they’ve gotten as bad as anyone could have ever imagined, like why didn’t someone warn me about this?

• Hmm, maybe Jerry Cantrell’s new album, Brighten, has something Halloweenish on it, you never know. After all, Cantrell was the guitarist for Alice in Chains back in the days when your GenX-er mom was going out on dates with your dad, when they’d sit at Howard Johnson’s and talk about how their lives were awful, and they were right, because everything was indeed awful. Not nearly as awful as nowadays, but definitely awful, because bands like Alice in Chains were on the radio all the time and all the girls were Courtney Love-style party crashers who went around with smeared lipstick, yelling at people for no reason whatsoever. It was pretty crazy, man, but you know what would be cool is my getting to the point here and giving a listen to the title track from this album. Jeez, it’s really dumb, like remember the other week I was talking about the David Duchovny album and how it sounded like bar-band rock from 1981 and it was really lame? Same for this, but what’s cool is Jerry looks like Garth from Wayne’s World now, like he’s trying to make Garth eyeglasses a thing. No, I’m serious, go look.

• If you’re a typical millennial, you’ll be glad to know that They Might Be Giants are back, with a new album called Book, not that that solves any of your problems, like unpaid internships or the planet turning into a spinning ball of molten fire more and more every day. But at least you will have new suburban skater-emo to listen to while you eat your mom’s chicken tendies, like the new-ish single “I Can’t Remember The Dream.” The riff is, in short, “Louie Louie” turned inside out, with the band’s trademark nerd-boy vocals. It’s an awkward incel opus; you’ll probably like it, although I don’t.

• Lastly we have edgy ’90s lady Tori Amos’s new album, Ocean To Ocean. The new single, “Speaking With Trees,” is pretty cool if you like Loreena McKennitt; it’s a delicately bouncy ren-fair tune whose Celtic-ish authenticity would be improved by some bagpipes or something, not that it’s my job to point out the obvious to rock stars.

RETRO PLAYLIST

Exactly 12 years ago, like every week, there were two focus albums examined in this space, including Slayer’s World Painted Blood. I reported it as being “heavy on the politico-socio-psycho outrage — I hate to posit that this is their Animal Boy, but age does bring with it a more unguarded, hence easily articulated, intolerance for stupidity, and they are definitely, you know, old. All fastballs save for the Samhain-inspired boil-and-bubble of ‘Human Strain.’”

Speaking of Slayer, to be honest, I’ve never been big into the thrash metal stuff that sprang from the cultural muck in the late 1980s. There were a few songs I liked here and there, but for the most part it always struck me as a lot of hamster-wheel spazzing signifying nothing. It was intended to appeal to punk rockers, but the punk crowd just sort of laughed at it, especially within the pages of the seminal punk fanzine Maximum Rock & Roll, which was on a mission to dissuade its readers from it. They wrote entire articles making fun of bands like Anthrax and Venom. What was, and largely still is, missing from thrash metal is “heaviness,” that is to say, melodic runs that instill dread or a sense of intense power in the listener. Black Sabbath used to be the gold standard for that, a mantle that’s been taken up by power metal superstars Metallica since the early ’90s. But there is a new king of heaviness these days, namely Swedish band Meshuggah. They use a bizarre sort of rhythmic speed to produce glissandos that aren’t simply riffage but wave-forms that make one think of Godzilla bending a thousand cable wires at once. I don’t even have to sell the band these days; we’ve seen plenty of bands just blatantly ripping off their sound, including an album from Boston wingnut-goddess Poppy, so if you’re liking that sound, you definitely want to check out Meshuggah’s ObZen LP. Comedian Bill Burr tried to describe it and said he literally couldn’t understand what the drummer was doing, if that’s enticing to you.

If you’re in a local band, now’s a great time to let me know about your EP, your single, whatever’s on your mind. Let me know how you’re holding yourself together without being able to play shows or jam with your homies. Send a recipe for keema matar. Message me on Twitter (@esaeger) or Facebook (eric.saeger.9).

At the Sofaplex 21/10/21

There’s Someone Inside Your House (TV-MA)

Sydney Park, Théodore Pellerin.

Based on a book, this Netflix high school horror film feels far more classic than its modern setting: There are some 1970s and 1980s slasher and YA vibes, some knowing (I think) Scream-ness and some spiritual and tonal similarities to Netflix’s recent Fear Street trilogy. High school students start dying in this Nebraska town but not only are their slayings gruesome, so are the secrets revealed before their deaths. A popular football player and his participation in the vicious beating of a fellow student; the goodie-goodie student president’s secret racist podcast. Quickly the teens become afraid not only for their lives but for their reputations as well.

Recent transfer Makani (Park) has so much to hide she has even changed her name. She is traumatized by the secret she thinks could lose her her new group of friends, which includes cool “outsider” kids like the outspoken Alex (Ashja Cooper) and the NASA-hopeful Darby (Jesse LaTourette). Ollie (Pellerin) is so outsider-y that even those kids think he’s a weirdo — making him an instant suspect for the popular kid murders. One of Makani’s tamer secrets is that she and Ollie are sort of together.

I’m sure “aw, this movie full of violent slashings is plucky and cute” is not necessarily what the movie was going for — but it is! I like these kids, with their mash of trying to do better, normal teen awfulness and earnestness. Without being Scream jokey, this movie has a sense of humor about itself and its characters and has affection for them too.

I Left My Homework in the Hamptons, by Blythe Grossberg

I Left My Homework in the Hamptons, by Blythe Grossberg (Hanover Square Press, 290 pages)

Earlier this year Netflix released a documentary on the college admissions scandal that was dubbed Operation Varsity Blues. If there were to be a prequel, it could be based on I Left My Homework in the Hamptons, a memoir that reveals the lengths to which the wealthy go to ensure that their children do well in high school.

Massachusetts native Blythe Grossberg is a learning specialist who spent nearly 20 years tutoring “the children of the one percent” in New York City, all the while tucking away unflattering anecdotes about her clients and their offspring. It is, in many ways, a story of “poor little rich kids.” Grossberg is sympathetic to the teens, not so much to their parents, some of whom seem to view children as a sort of designer accessory.

Grossberg, who now runs a tutoring company based in Boston, made up names and changed identifying details to create composite characters for the memoir. That seems justified for ethical reasons, if not legal ones, but it does drain the book of some of its power, knowing that Lily, Alex and Trevor, some of the students featured in the book, don’t actually exist, at least not exactly how they are depicted.

That said, maybe that’s a good thing.

Alex, for example, is among the teens portrayed here whose parents play a minimal role in his life. Their job is to make money and hire the tutors, drivers and housekeepers.

For much of the year Alex’s driver picks him up in a black Cadillac Escalade so he can play tennis before and after school. Practice doesn’t end until 7, and then his tutors (plural) await. “He spends far more time with his driver than with his parents, who often don’t come home until long after I’ve tutored Alex in writing,” Grossberg writes.

In addition to Grossberg, the teen has a Yale-educated tutor for math and science, and another tutor, who charges $800 an hour, to prepare him for the SAT. He also has a team of psychiatrists who help with his anxiety.

Although his days are packed with activities, there’s plenty that Alex doesn’t have to do. He doesn’t do homework on his own; that’s saved for tutoring time. His meals are prepared, his clothes washed and put away, his room cleaned, all by others.

Grossberg sees another of her students, Lily, a high school freshman, in between squash lessons and personal training, to which she is driven by the family’s housekeeper. There are few family dinners; in fact, there is no time for dinner at all — Lily eats sushi while she is tutored.

Grossberg works with 16-year-old Ben in the business center of the fancy hotel where he lives. “His parents live in a room nearby with a younger brother, but they are never home.” He eats mostly room service, his favorite a $27 burger on a ciabatta roll. “Bereft of parental supervision, Ben spends his days shuttling between his allergist and therapist and ordering room service. He often goes to school without the proper clothes because his parents forget to go shopping for him.”

While Grossberg at times works to defend the parents as hard-working and well-meaning, they don’t come off well in this book. They complain when she can’t come on the evening they request, or when their children receive Bs. When a grade is not to their liking, it’s either the teacher’s fault (the child is “a bit politically conservative” for this school) or Grossberg’s. Incredibly, some have to be dunned to pay Grossberg’s invoices, sometimes because an accounting firm handles all the family’s expenses.

Grossberg calls the teens “Gatsby’s children” and says they are the spiritual heirs of Fitzgeralds’s hero, who lived in luxury on Long Island. The Great Gatsby, of course, is required reading for most American high school students, and Grossberg’s charges read about Jay Gatsby and his friends with little self-awareness. In fact, they have little awareness of the world outside their world; as do their parents, who are incredulous when Grossberg tells them that she is not summering in the Hamptons. (Does anyone not in the 1 percent use “summer” as a verb?)

Essentially, this is a book not just about tutoring but about the outsourcing of parenting that can occur when enough disposable income is present. One night Grossberg had just gotten home to her family when a student’s mother called and asked if she would speak with her daughter, who was upset about a grade. Grossberg says she could tell from the background noise that the mother was at a restaurant. She called Sophie, who had gotten a B- on a test and was sobbing. She ranted for a while and then announced she had to go study for another test. “I realized she just needed to talk and her mother outsourced it to me,” Grossberg writes.

The same mother later appears in the book when her husband is under investigation for financial wrongdoing and is pictured on the front page of The New York Times. On Grossberg’s next visit, she worries about what to say, but needn’t have: The mother launches into a discussion about her unhappiness with the B+ her daughter has just received.

And on it goes, a car accident in book form that you can’t stop ogling even though you know this is all none of your business, not what’s going on in these children’s lives, nor in their parents’, nor in Grossberg’s. And here’s the thing: While Grossberg is sternly opposed to the lives that Gatsby’s children are leading and makes clear that neglect is one of the parents’ sins, she is collecting all these anecdotes by working long hours after her own teaching job, leaving her young son in the care of babysitters for six days a week. The circumstances are much different, and Grossberg repeatedly compares her impoverished lifestyle, replete with holes in her shoes, with those of her clients. And yet, on some level, both the rich and the (relatively) poor commit the same parenting sin.

Grossberg, the daughter of lawyers and married to an Ivy-League educated magazine editor, makes clear that she needs the money she earns tutoring, but she also lives in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. I found myself wondering why the couple didn’t just move somewhere cheaper, and devote more time to her son.

Ultimately she does move, back to Massachusetts, although by then her son is a teenager. She’s now president of a tutoring company that, from the looks of the website, still caters to the 1 percent. The poor we will always have with us, Jesus of Nazareth said, to which we can add, and they’ll do their homework by themselves. The rich will have help, and it makes for entertaining reading. As for the writing, people probably won’t hire Grossberg based on this book. B-


Book Notes

With William Shatner having formally gone to space the dawn of space tourism is officially here, and the publishing industry was ready for launch.

The most promising read for the general public is Christian Davenport’s The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos (PublicAffairs, 320 pages), but it’s three years old, making it practically ancient history in a rapidly changing field. Similarly, Rocket Billionaires: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and the New Space Raceby Tim Fernholz (Mariner, 304 pages) was published in 2018.

More recently, there are two choices. Liftoff by Eric Berger (William Morrow, 288 pages) is a narrower look at Musk and “the desperate early days that launched SpaceX.” There’s also Test Gods by Nicholas Schmidle (Henry Holt & Co., 352 pages) which looks at the third major player in space tourism, Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic.

Shatner, meanwhile, might want to update his autobiographyUp Till Now (Thomas Dunne Books, 358 pages). From his remarks after his return to Earth, it sounds like the flight he made was life-changing, and the memoir was published in 2008. But even more remarkable than going into space at age 90 is the number of books Shatner has written, to include science fiction, multiple memoirs and even a book about horses, published in 2017, The Spirit of the Horse (Thomas Dunne Books, 304 pages). By some accounts Shatner has published 22 books even while continuing to work as an actor, a remarkable second act. It’s a safe bet that a 23rd is already in the works.

Meanwhile humorist David Sedaris has published Round 2 of his diaries. A Carnival of Snackery (Little, Brown and Co., 576 pages) spans the years from 2003 to 2020 and is a followup to 2017’s Theft By Finding, which covered 1977 to 2002. Sedaris already written about many of the events recounted here, but this promises to be an even more unvarnished look, the original material, so to speak

Book Events

Author events

WENDY GORTON Author presents 50 Hikes with Kids: New England. Virtual event hosted by The Toadstool Bookshops of Peterborough, Nashua and Keene. Via Zoom. Sun., Oct. 24, 2 p.m. Visit toadbooks.com.

RAVI SHANKAR Author presents Correctional. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Wed., Oct. 27, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

CATHERYNNE M. VALENTE Author presents Comfort Me With Apples. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Fri., Oct. 29, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

KEN FOLLETT Author presents Never. Virtual event with author discussion and audience Q&A, hosted by The Music Hall in Portsmouth. Sun., Nov. 14, 1 p.m. Tickets cost $36 and include a book for in-person pickup at The Music Hall. Visit themusichall.org or call 436-2400.

Poetry

DOWN CELLAR POETRY SALON Poetry event series presented by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire. Monthly. First Sunday. Visit poetrysocietynh.wordpress.com.

SLAM FREE OR DIE Series of open mic nights for poets and spoken-word artists. Stark Tavern, 500 N. Commercial St., Manchester. Weekly. Thursday, doors open and sign-ups beginning at 7 p.m., open mic at 8 p.m. The series also features several poetry slams every month. Events are open to all ages. Cover charge of $3 to $5 at the door, which can be paid with cash or by Venmo. Visit facebook.com/slamfreeordie, e-mail slamfreeordie@gmail.com or call 858-3286.

Book Clubs

BOOKERY Online. Monthly. Third Thursday, 6 p.m. Bookstore based in Manchester. Visit bookerymht.com or call 836-6600.

GIBSON’S BOOKSTORE Online, via Zoom. Monthly. First Monday, 5:30 p.m. Bookstore based in Concord. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com/gibsons-book-club-2020-2021 or call 224-0562.

GOFFSTOWN PUBLIC LIBRARY 2 High St., Goffstown. Monthly. Third Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. Call 497-2102, email elizabethw@goffstownlibrary.com or visit goffstownlibrary.com

NASHUA PUBLIC LIBRARY Online. Monthly. Second Friday, 3 p.m. Call 589-4611, email information@nashualibrary.org or visit nashualibrary.org.

Album Reviews 21/10/21

Jim Snidero, Strings (Savant Records)

Ha ha, the other week Kenny G got in a meme war with Pat Metheny, if you didn’t hear. Pop-jazz guitarist Metheny attacked the hilariously trite sax player for — I don’t know, something about he didn’t like him, and it went on from there. It was sort of like one of the Osmond brothers dissing the Brady Bunch Band, but the real takeaway is that listenable/commercial/accessible jazz isn’t something that’s worth dissing, even if it’s Kenny G. Take for example this album from alto sax guy Snidero, a recording that just welcomed its 20th anniversary with a CD re-release and first-time issuance in online digital formats. It’s a very clean, often gently swooping thing, with Snidero’s sax/piano/bass/drums band backed by six-odd guys on strings, all hammering out tunes that sound 1950s-ish, 1970s-ish and Leonard Bernstein-ish by turns. It’s a treasure, but the backstory is the thing here: The band was set to record the album in Brooklyn on 9/11, and some of them got stuck in traffic when the attacks happened. A+

Gone To Color, Gone To Color (self-released)

Well this one’s a keeper if you’re a Massive Attack/Zero 7 type of fan. Here you have an experimental rock/electronic-based pair of guys, a duo that originally formed in Cincinnati and are “currently coexisting in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.,” i.e. they collaborate remotely, a setup that’s allowed them to bring in some pretty impressive names, not that these exquisite beats really need any salvaging. Right off the top you have Luyas singer Jesse Stein floating her soprano all over the joint in a beachy joint (“The 606”) that might make you think of Massive Attack’s Martina Topley-Bird, and then, whoa, speak of the devil, Topley-Bird shows up next on the more snappy but still chilly “Dissolved.” “Redok” is a gorgeous-weird-gorgeous walk in the clouds, and then, who but Clinic singer Ade Blackburn pops in for the highly syncopated “Illusions.” You should see the list of contributors: Wilco’s Pat Sansone, Guster’s Luke Reynolds, Liars singer Angus Andrew — I’m left with who the heck even are these guys? Jeez Louise is this awesome. A+

PLAYLIST

• If you’re marking your calendar, Oct. 22 isn’t a holiday, because it’s the day after my birthday. However, it is a big day for some bands and ‘artistes’, as they have new albums coming out, and I will talk about them now, starting with San Francisco-based rock band Deerhoof, whose new album, Actually You Can, will be at the stores in a matter of hours, in case your little brother hasn’t used his elite hacker skills to pirate it for you already. As usual I have confused this boring indie band with all the other boring indie bands that have the word “deer” in their names, like Deerhunter and Deerfield, although Deerfield is actually kind of non-horrible if you like garage-country music, and who doesn’t. But anyway, Deerhoof, everyone. You know them from such forgettable Pavement-like garbage as “Fresh Born,” which — OK, you don’t know that one? OK, how about — oh, let’s just forget it, if you hate music, you’ll love Deerhoof, let’s leave it at that and try to get through this exercise in one piece. Their new single “Scarcity Is Manufactured” is already out there, so let’s check it out, whattaya say. Hmm, one part is like 1970s-era Yes but with Yoko Ono singing. I have no idea why anyone would want to listen to that, but that’s what it is, and I had no hand in its creation.

• In looking at Fun House, the new album from one-woman-band Hand Habits, I figured I’d try something different: get in touch with the artist (Meg Duffy) and have her write this little bit, so she could tell you herself whether or not this new album is awesome. But weirdly enough, she doesn’t go on her Twitter very much, and I wasn’t going to try to contact her on her very busy Facebook, so I guess I’ll have to do this myself. The single, “No Difference,” isn’t bad, like, imagine if the Beach Boys were actually just a girl and a few of her friends but nevertheless they still made mindless but catchy pop songs and sang “ba ba ba” a lot. I have no idea who would seriously love this, but that means nothing these days, literally nothing.

• Holy crow, look, guys, it’s arena-pop sarcophagus-mummy Elton John, with a new album, The Lockdown Sessions, comin’ right up! As a seasoned newspaper reporter and former CIA double agent, I have deduced that the album’s title refers to a bunch of songs Elton recorded while the country was totally closed down owing to the coronabug. I further predict that guests on this album will include someone old, like Paul McCartney; someone young and boring but inexplicably popular, like Ed Sheeran; and some rising star who’s edgy, like any singer you’ve never heard of. Whatever, barf barf barf, the first single is a collaboration with singer/model Dua Lipa. It is a PNAU-remixed version of the old mummy-radio song “Cold Heart.” Ha ha, the video is a Teletubbies-like cartoon and it’s wicked stupid and lame. The remix is uneventful, not much different than the original snooze-rock version that won a dentist-office poll as being the worst part of going to the dentist, this by a 90-percent margin. Congrats, Elton, for being the stuff of nightmares!

• Finally, let’s look at Blue Bannisters, the new record from Lana Del Rey, who’s really only mesmerizing to you because she’d never date you in a million years unless you’re a professional unicorn polo player. Here’s a single, “Arcadia.” I’m sure this will basically be Goldfrapp but shrinkwrapped, let’s go: It’s a piano gloom ballad, with bad singing that certain people will say is good because otherwise they wouldn’t get paid. She’s quickly turning into a meme, you notice?

If you’re in a local band, now’s a great time to let me know about your EP, your single, whatever’s on your mind. Let me know how you’re holding yourself together without being able to play shows or jam with your homies. Send a recipe for keema matar. Message me on Twitter (@esaeger) or Facebook (eric.saeger.9).

Chasing Eden, A Book of Seekers by Howard Mansfield

Chasing Eden, A Book of Seekers by Howard Mansfield (Bauhan Publishing, 216 pages)

Sy Montgomery and Howard Mansfield, who live in Hancock, are the first couple of nonfiction in New Hampshire, really in all of New England.

Montgomery is a naturalist known for her books on animals and the people who love them, to include an octopus at the New England Aquarium (Soul of an Octopus) and a Wilbur-like pig that she raised (The Good, Good Pig). Her latest, The Hummingbird’s Gift (Atria, 96 pages), introduced Brenda Sherburn, a California woman who rescues and rehabilitates hummingbirds.

Less prolific as a writer but equally engaging is her husband, Mansfield, whose books cover a wider range of topics. His body of work includes a book entirely about sheds (and, of course, simply called Sheds), a collection of essays called Summer Over Autumn, and books about landmarks (The Bones of the Earth) and the strong lure of our homes (Dwelling in Possibility). Mansfield plumbs history to tell obscure stories, while exploring our attachment to places and things. His latest is Chasing Eden, A Book of Seekers, released by Peterborough’s Bauhan Publishing. He pivots here to study people: the strange and stubborn characters of American history who took advantage of the Founding Fathers’ urging to pursue happiness, even when to the rest of the world they might look a little bit crazy.

“We are all a little wild here with numberless projects of social reform,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote to a friend in 1840, and Mansfield uses the quote to explain the restless searching of Americans in the 19th century. Of course, it didn’t end with the new century. “Our agitation has not ceased; it has taken different forms,” Mansfield writes, noting that at any given time 500,000 people are on planes. The world is full of “tourists, travelers, voyagers, sojourners, pilgrims.” Some of us are traveling for work or family obligations, yes. But others, he argues, are looking for more existential things; we are seeking to reclaim our own personal Eden.

In three sections — one on freedom, one on peace, one on God — Mansfeld introduces a disparate band of Eden-chasers, from a disheveled, smelly group of zealots known as the “Vermont Pilgrims” to the Tennessee abolitionist dubbed “the accidental Moses” to the better-known (and presumably better-smelling) Pilgrims who famously dined with the Wampanoag tribe and unknowingly gave us Thanksgiving (and Black Friday sales).

It was a daunting task, to gather these unconnected acorns of history and find the common, exhilarating theme, but Mansfield does so masterfully, and with each chapter, leaves the reader wondering, how did I not know that before?

How did I not know about the Mummyjums, the religious sect that did not believe in changing their clothes or bathing but somehow managed to poach followers from other small cults as they traveled around the country? (“The mayor of Cincinnati, concerned about the spread of smallpox, asked that they camp a mile from the city,” Mansfield writes.)

How did I not know about the Black doctor, Albert Johnston, who practiced for much of his life in New Hampshire, by “passing” for white, until his racial background was revealed when he tried to join the Navy just before the U.S. joined World War II? The story will make your blood boil, especially when the Navy sends a letter suggesting he join the war effort as a fireman or carpenter.

And how did I not know that iconic “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington” bumper stickers have been around since the 1930s and that then they were “a badge of honor in an era when radiators overheated on the way up and brakes overheated on the way down.” And that people from all over the world write and request new stickers when theirs wear out.

But for all of Mt. Washington’s fame, the time people spend at the summit reveals something a bit disturbing about our Eden-chasing. Mansfield interviewed Howie Wemyss, general manager of the auto road, who told him that the average stay at the top is 45 minutes.

“That’s a lot for an American,” Mansfield replied. Especially for the site of the “world’s worst weather.”

The staff has tried promotions designed to coax visitors into staying a while longer, even just an hour. But then people ask, Wemyss said, “Do we have to stay an hour?”

Eden, apparently, has a short shelf life, even when people spend hours or days to get to it. But Mansfield doesn’t dwell on this. Instead, he peels back these and other hidden bits of American history in his easy-going, what’s-the-hurry style that probes every corner of a story Chasing Eden is a thoroughly New England book, even when it ventures outside the region, perfect for fall evenings by a fire. A


Book Notes

The 1993 movie Hocus Pocus, against all odds, has become a Halloween cult classic, and a sequel is being filmed for Disney+ in Massachusetts.

So I know you’re thinking: But is there a cookbook?

Amazingly enough, there is. The Unofficial Hocus Pocus Cookbook (Ulysses Press, 144 pages) by Bridget Thoreson is a testament to American capitalism. It appears to be heavy on the pumpkin recipes, seasonal treats (squash ravioli and baked apples) and clever titles (“I Smell Scrod!” and “Blood of Owl Soup”).

“This book is a celebration of Hocus Pocus, its characters, and of course, its big musical number for no apparent reason,” Thoreson writes. As they say, if you like this kind of thing, you will love this sort of thing.

As for other seasonal fare, there’s not much new out except for Witches, Then and Now (Centennial Books, 192 pages), edited by Shari Goldhagen, which looks to be a thin history of witch lore.

Dolly Alderton’s Ghosts (Fig Tree, 336 pages) looked promising, until the synopsis revealed there’s nothing spooky about it. It’s a novel about a thirty-something food writer who gets ghosted by a man who said he wanted to marry her.

For an actual ghost story revisit 2020’s The Regrets (Little, Brown & Co., 304 pages), which is a strikingly original novel by Amy Bonnaffons about a man who dies in an accident but is sent back to Earth because he is deemed “insufficiently dead.” He’s given a list of instructions, all supposed to keep him from incurring regrets. “Ghost falls in love with a human” has been done, but rarely as hauntingly as this.

Finally, 2018 gave us What October Brings: A Lovecraftian Celebration of Halloween (Celaeno Press, 332 pages), a satisfying collection of stories and verse about the spooky season from the pen of the late H.P. Lovecraft.

Lovecraft was a New Englander who wrote science fiction and horror that didn’t become widely popular until after his death at age 46 in 1937. His work is now cult classic, like Hocus Pocus, but also beautiful: “The palette of Fall roars against the dark hills, the trees still clothed in finery, hanging on, perhaps, for the ball, the festival, All Hallow’s Eve.”

It’s a paperback, but still a great coffee-table book for the season.

Book Events

Author events

HOWARD MANSFIELD Author presents Chasing Eden: A Book of Seekers. Thurs., Oct. 14, 6:30 p.m. Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord). Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

R.A. SALVATORE AND ERIKA LEWIS Authors present The Color of Dragons. Tues., Oct. 19, 6:30 p.m. Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord). Tickets cost $5. Space is limited, and registration is required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

WENDY GORTON Author presents 50 Hikes with Kids: New England. Virtual event hosted by The Toadstool Bookshops of Peterborough, Nashua and Keene. Via Zoom. Sun., Oct. 24, 2 p.m. Visit toadbooks.com.

RAVI SHANKAR Author presents Correctional. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Wed., Oct. 27, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

CATHERYNNE M. VALENTE Author presents Comfort Me With Apples. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Fri., Oct. 29, 7 p.m. Via Zoom. Registration required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

KEN FOLLETT Author presents Never. Virtual event with author discussion and audience Q&A, hosted by The Music Hall in Portsmouth. Sun., Nov. 14, 1 p.m. Tickets cost $36 and include a book for in-person pickup at The Music Hall. Visit themusichall.org or call 436-2400.

Poetry

DOWN CELLAR POETRY SALON Poetry event series presented by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire. Monthly. First Sunday. Visit poetrysocietynh.wordpress.com.

SLAM FREE OR DIE Series of open mic nights for poets and spoken-word artists. Stark Tavern, 500 N. Commercial St., Manchester. Weekly. Thursday, doors open and sign-ups beginning at 7 p.m., open mic at 8 p.m. The series also features several poetry slams every month. Events are open to all ages. Cover charge of $3 to $5 at the door, which can be paid with cash or by Venmo. Visit facebook.com/slamfreeordie, e-mail slamfreeordie@gmail.com or call 858-3286.

Book Clubs

BOOKERY Online. Monthly. Third Thursday, 6 p.m. Bookstore based in Manchester. Visit bookerymht.com or call 836-6600.

GIBSON’S BOOKSTORE Online, via Zoom. Monthly. First Monday, 5:30 p.m. Bookstore based in Concord. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com/gibsons-book-club-2020-2021 or call 224-0562.

GOFFSTOWN PUBLIC LIBRARY 2 High St., Goffstown. Monthly. Third Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. Call 497-2102, email elizabethw@goffstownlibrary.com or visit goffstownlibrary.com

NASHUA PUBLIC LIBRARY Online. Monthly. Second Friday, 3 p.m. Call 589-4611, email information@nashualibrary.org or visit nashualibrary.org.

Album Reviews 21/10/14

Shakespeare & the Blues, Rhapsodic (Nouveau Electric Records)

This was presented to me as an example of avant trip-hop; I really didn’t hear much in the way of traditional trip-hop until “Wanton Phrases,” the third song on this full-length from a New Orleans trio comprising Cassie Watson Francillon on concert harp, Cam Smith on drums and electronics and Bryan Webre (Lost Bayou Ramblers and Michot’s Melody Makers) on bass and electronics. Anyway, that song is more of a Portishead trip, which was what I’d expected the whole set to be, but that’s where the “avant” comes in. These folks are big on jazz and start off the album with a bright, showery and very busy shoegaze-ish joint called “Past Is Prologue,” then proceed to reinvent early-years Yes with “Emerald Glowing Figure.” None of these people sing, which is usually a red flag to me, but there’s no denying that they have great chemistry and can concoct accordingly. “The Mechanics Of Distance” is really good, almost an organic idea of Aughts dubstep, Francillon’s harp fleshing it out to terrific effect. A+

Spencer Cullum, Coin Collection (Full Time Hobby Records)

This burgeoning pedal-steel legend is a semi-obscure commodity only because, you know, he’s a pedal steel guitarist. But he’s been around the block quite a bit, contributing to records from Deer Tick, Kesha, Miranda Lambert, Dolly Parton and of course his own duo, Steelism. Cullum has free rein to do whatever in this album, and that’s basically what you get, a lot of whatever. I’d been led to expect some prog-rock, and there’s a little of that, but this guy is more into krautrock and park-bench folk, so the stretch of antique techno that shows up on “Dieterich Buxtehude” (and thus thankfully provides a very welcome break from the mostly Beatles-in-Norwegian-Wood-mode self-indulgence) is missed the minute it’s gone. He’s got a girl singer who sucks, if that appeals to you, which it might of course; in other words what you get here is Sufjan Stevens with a few random attempts at Kraftwerk, some dissonant boy-girl duetting and, you know, some cool but not terribly complicated pedal steel runs. Enjoy, or whatnot. B

PLAYLIST

• All ahead flank, ye swabs, to Oct. 15, when we will spy new albums coming straight at us from somewhere on the starboard side, and some of you will ignore everything I say and actually purchase some of these albums, which will get you keel-hauled for disobeying my direct orders to avoid them like radioactive whales! No, I’m kidding, if that money’s burning a hole in your pocket, please spend it on rock ’n’ roll albums instead of shoving it in a big coffee can in your basement or donating it to the homeless, because buying bad albums is your constitutional right. You even have the right to be a little rascal and buy Coldplay’s new album, Music Of The Spheres, and there’s nothing I can do about it, but I’ll go through the dutiful motions regardless and go listen to the trailer. Ah, how cute, it steals from Flock Of Seagulls, and Gary Glitter and LMFAO. This is so awful, but I will blame it on their producer, Max Martin, who has been spread super-thin for years now, writing literally half the Billboard hits that the other two or three go-to guys didn’t (Katy Perry stuff, The Weeknd stuff, Taylor Swift stuff, all of it) (no, I’m not kidding, music is hopelessly commercialized, and the big record companies believe the public is too stupid to appreciate tunes that weren’t written by a small handful of songwriting hacks). This is all wrong in so many ways that I’m almost left speechless, but the punchline is that this is some sort of concept album, because the guys “wanted to create their own solar system” and put that into music. Are you with me so far? Do you understand how bad this is for music and art? No? OK, then, carry on.

• Ha ha ha ha, I can’t believe it, it’s my ancient nemesis, The Darkness, with some stupid new album! The only reason these British numskulls ever got a record contract in the first place was that some record company executive became convinced by The Darkness’ manager that after several years of awful Strokes clone bands, what the public needed was a really bad Led Zeppelin imitation, which is exactly what The Darkness is. But somehow, even though we critics tried to stop you, people bought their albums, and things rapidly snowballed out of control, and the next thing you knew we had something even worse than The Darkness: Wolfmother! But we are here on business, specifically the new Darkness album Motorheart, so let’s get this out of the way as quickly as we can, by listening to the title track! Lol, lol, holy moley, I can’t stand it, first it sounds exactly like Spinal Tap, then Dillinger Escape Plan for 10 seconds, and then comes some horrible, lame riff, and the guy sings in this really stupid high-pitched falsetto. You have to hear this, it’s literally the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.

• Wait, a new album from old hippy-Latin-rock band Santana? Let me see if Carlos Santana is even still alive, because this could just be a tribute thing, like the Count Basie Orchestra, stand by. Huh, yes, he is. He’s only 74; I thought he was a lot older, because he literally played at the first Woodstock festival, back when electricity came from dinosaurs running on treadmills. The new full-length is Blessings And Miracles, and its single, “Move,” is basically a retrofitted version of his 1999 hit “Smooth.” It’s OK I suppose.

• We’ll finish all this nonsense with Lately, the new LP from Nashville country-folk-rock singer Lilly Hiatt! If this sounds exactly like Sheryl Crow we’re done for the day. Nope, just boring and kind of amateurish, so we’re still done.

If you’re in a local band, now’s a great time to let me know about your EP, your single, whatever’s on your mind. Let me know how you’re holding yourself together without being able to play shows or jam with your homies. Send a recipe for keema matar. Message me on Twitter (@esaeger) or Facebook (eric.saeger.9).

The Coldest Case: A Bruno, Chief of Police Novel, by Martin Walker

The Coldest Case: A Bruno, Chief of Police Novel, by Martin Walker (Knopf, 316 pages)

I do love cozy mysteries. I love the wit, the lack of gratuitous violence, and often the underlying area of expertise that each series includes — like mysteries centered around the experiences of a White House chef or an embroidery shop owner or someone who owns a bakery. Cozies follow a predictable pattern; the “detective” is often reluctantly drawn into a murder that they must then solve. They’re usually written with good dialogue and a protagonist who frequently questions his or her ability to succeed. Of course, all good cozies also teach you about the protagonist’s hobby or business.

Cozies are what I turn to when I need a break from reading the heavier political books that are out there. I think of them as a palate cleanser, sort of like watching an episode of Murder, She Wrote between episodes of Dateline.

I wasn’t familiar with the Bruno, Chief of Police series, written by Martin Walker, and when I picked up book No. 16 (!), The Coldest Case, without having read any of the other ones, I had some doubts. Would I be missing too much backstory with the characters?

Turns out I didn’t need to worry. The Coldest Case is a compelling murder mystery that is solved by a modern-day Renaissance man, Police Chief Bruno, who seems to know a little about a lot of things. In this story Bruno has been haunted by a 30-year-old cold case in which a body was found in the woods near St. Denis, France.

After visiting a museum exhibition, Bruno gets the idea to “recreate facial structure” over the victim’s skull in the hopes that it will lead to identification. To do this he calls in an expert who can sculpt the face. While the facial reconstruction is being done, newly obtained DNA evidence links the murder victim to a French special forces soldier who died in action.

Now the unsolved murder mystery also becomes a tangled web of family secrets. The murdered man turns out to be the dead soldier’s father. The mother is also dead and had kept her secret from both her husband and her family. It turns out solving the cold case is going to need a great deal of diplomacy.

In doing the investigation Bruno moves from the Bergerac vineyards to old Communist Party strongholds in Paris and their links to the Soviet bloc. It’s an exciting and intelligent read filled with historical facts that move at a steady pace.

There is a small weak spot in this book. Bruno’s relationship with his long-term girlfriend Isabelle sets off some alarms (I couldn’t really see what he sees in her) but as this is the 16th book I’m sure there is history that I am unaware of. Their relationship wasn’t a deal-breaker for the book; it just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Bruno is so accomplished and Isabelle seems so, well, childish. Still, the overall storytelling makes up for this small bumpy patch.

And as in all good cozies you learn things along the way, like about the breeding of basset hounds, the care of riding horses, gardening, and of course, this taking place in the Perigord region of southern France, the glorious food that is prepared and eaten. Not only do you get the pleasure of solving a mystery but you also get to learn about French culture and topics that you probably never knew you’d be interested in.

“‘Good for you, and your priorities are the right ones,’ the mayor said, nodding his approval and trying to put her at ease. ‘But we can’t let you come to the Perigord without enjoying the sights and the food, so you can understand why we’re all so devoted to this region.’”

That right there seems to be the additional reason for this book. The first reason is, of course, the murder mystery and the telling of a fine story, but the second and equally important reason is to share the beauty and culture of a little slice of French heaven on earth.

This is one of those books, like Under the Tuscan Sun, that will make you put the region in which it takes place on your bucket list to visit. Martin does an excellent job of describing the scenery, meals, culture, and people of Perigord. Reading this book is like taking a tiny vacation in the middle of your workweek.

Although this was my first Bruno, Chief of Police novel, it will not be my last. Enjoyable, entertaining and educational — a winning combination. A

Wendy E. N. Thomas


Book Notes

Call up Kate Bowler’s new book, No Cure For Being Human, and Amazon informs that it’s the No. 1 bestseller in the category of colorectal cancer, which seems a dubious honor that the author may not want.

Amazon categories are like that. You might think you’re writing in a genre of inspiration or faith, but the company likes that label “bestseller” and will scuttle around on the algorithm floor until it finds a category that fits.

At this stage of life, I have zero interest in colorectal cancer and hope that continues. But I have but a lot of interest in Bowler, who was a relatively obscure professor at Duke Divinity School until she got sick and started writing about it. Her illness revealed a master wordsmith, and her first book about her experience with cancer, Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved(Random House, 208 pages), was warm and witty, yet a ferociously blunt take on getting a devastating diagnosis as a young mother.

No Cure for Being Human (Random House, 224 pages) continues in that vein, and its opening pages suggest that Bower’s sense of humor has gotten even sharper throughout her years of treatment.

For an entirely different kind of suffering, though still viewed with humor, check out How to Suffer Outside (Mountaineers Books, 224 pages), Diana Helmuth’s original take on the well-worn topic of hiking and backpacking. “Someday, at some point in your life (if it hasn’t happened already), you’re going to see something misshapen,” she writes, continuing, “This is the best time to put everything in a backpack and leave.” Which is pretty much what Cheryl Strayed did in Wild, but Helmuth puts a more practical take on the subject, writing more in the style of Jen Sincero’s “badass” series. If you need inspiration to join the leaf-peeping hordes, this breezy paperback might help.

Finally, every now and then you come across a book that withered on the vine but should have been a bestseller simply because of its title. To wit: Naked Came the Leaf Peeper, a 2011 novel by Brian Lee Knopp and Linda Marie Barrett (Renaissance Bookfarm, 212 pages). It’s a collaborative novel, meaning 12 different authors contributed to it. A book by committee: What could go wrong? But long past-due kudos for the title.

Jennifer Graham

Book Events

Author events

JORDAN MORRIS Comedy writer and podcaster discusses his podcast, Bubble. Virtual event presented by The Bookery in Manchester via Zoom. Fri., Oct. 8, 2 p.m. Visit facebook.com/bookerymht.

MELANIE MOYER AND CHARLIE J. ESKEW Virtual author conversation presented by Toadstool Bookshops of Nashua, Peterborough and Keene. Sat., Oct. 9, 11 a.m. Visit toadbooks.com.

DIANNE TOLLIVER Author presents Life Everyone Has a Story. Barnes & Noble (1741 S. Willow St., Manchester, barnesandnoble.com). Sat., Oct. 9, 10 a.m.

ARCHER MAYOR Author presents Marked Man. Virtual event by Toadstool Bookshops of Nashua, Peterborough and Keene. Tues., Oct. 12, 6 p.m. Visit toadbooks.com.

HOWARD MANSFIELD Author presents Chasing Eden: A Book of Seekers. Thurs., Oct. 14, 6:30 p.m. Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord). Visit gibsonsbookstore.com.

R.A. SALVATORE AND ERIKA LEWIS Authors present The Color of Dragons. Tues., Oct. 19, 6:30 p.m. Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord). Tickets cost $5. Space is limited, and registration is required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com.

Poetry

DOWN CELLAR POETRY SALON Poetry event series presented by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire. Monthly. First Sunday. Visit poetrysocietynh.wordpress.com.

SLAM FREE OR DIE Series of open mic nights for poets and spoken-word artists. Stark Tavern, 500 N. Commercial St., Manchester. Weekly. Thursday, doors open and sign-ups beginning at 7 p.m., open mic at 8 p.m. The series also features several poetry slams every month. Events are open to all ages. Cover charge of $3 to $5 at the door, which can be paid with cash or by Venmo. Visit facebook.com/slamfreeordie, e-mail slamfreeordie@gmail.com or call 858-3286.

Book Clubs

BOOKERY Online. Monthly. Third Thursday, 6 p.m. Bookstore based in Manchester. Visit bookerymht.com or call 836-6600.

GIBSON’S BOOKSTORE Online, via Zoom. Monthly. First Monday, 5:30 p.m. Bookstore based in Concord. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com/gibsons-book-club-2020-2021 or call 224-0562.

TO SHARE BREWING CO. 720 Union St., Manchester. Monthly. Second Thursday, 6 p.m. RSVP required. Visit tosharebrewing.com or call 836-6947.

GOFFSTOWN PUBLIC LIBRARY 2 High St., Goffstown. Monthly. Third Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. Call 497-2102, email elizabethw@goffstownlibrary.com or visit goffstownlibrary.com

BELKNAP MILL Online. Monthly. Last Wednesday, 6 p.m. Based in Laconia. Email bookclub@belknapmill.org.

NASHUA PUBLIC LIBRARY Online. Monthly. Second Friday, 3 p.m. Call 589-4611, email information@nashualibrary.org or visit nashualibrary.org.

Album Reviews 21/10/07

Crisix, The Pizza EP – Full Movie (Based on a true story) (Listenable Records)

Since the 1980s-underground days, Spain has been a top source of thrash metal, even if the output isn’t as consistently funny as Brazil’s, not to mention Chile’s. But these four guys are interested less in professional decorum than in instant relatability, and they get extra points for making this EP into a movie (speaking of that, what with lockdowns and whatnot, every band should be doing exactly that, a four-song video EP, rather than spending their hard-earned money on recording an extra six to 10 songs that are mostly filler). Musically this isn’t anything more innovative than a mashup of Meshuggah and Dillinger Escape Plan, with the singer spending most of his time practicing his above-average drunken-pirate roar. So, right, nothing all that new, but the tunes did sit well with me. The videos are pretty funny, a fantasy chronicling of the guitarist’s past life as a pizza delivery guy; at one point the guys remake the kitchen scene from Jurassic Park (“Raptors In The Kitchen”) and it’s hilarious. A

Crown Lands, White Buffalo (Spinefarm Records)

My first tweet after this thing landed in my lap still stands: Who the flark are these guys? I bit on this one for two reasons: (1) I don’t think I’ve written up a single Spinefarm Records release, despite 90 million of them being pitched to me; and (2) this band was said to be a prog band. I assumed this would be cheap and stupid, but holy crow, a lot of this stuff is a cross between late ’70s Rush and Led Zeppelin III. Yeah, the singer sounds like Geddy Lee sometimes and Robert Plant at others, but — wait for it, you’re gonna die, I swear — this is just two guys. Big sound, though, nothing like what I expected from a record label that seems to deal mainly with black-metal bands whose logos are written in impossible-to-read font. Anyway, the drummer plays tabla and bongos when they’re unplugged, which is deeply organic of course, but when the guy jumps back on the drums he pulls off a pretty decent Neil Peart. If you’re into revival-arena-rock, you simply must hear this stuff. A+

PLAYLIST

• The next general-release date for music albums and assorted rock ’n’ roll whatnots is Oct. 8, so let’s just dive into this pool of fail by starting with Good Morning It’s Now Tomorrow, the new album from Matt Maltese, an English singer-songwriter whose style “blends elements from indie-pop, indie-rock and chamber-pop,” in other words: he’s still trying to figure out what he’s doing, despite the fact that he’s already put out two albums, two EPs and a bunch of singles. No, I kid Matt Maltese, it’s not like chamber-pop isn’t just another way of saying shoegaze, an essential building block of all “indie-pop and indie-rock,” and whatever, he’s kind of popular in the U.K., which means he could basically put out a recording of himself and his dog eating boxes of cereal and all that’d happen is New Music Express would call it “essential listening.” OK, I’ve procrastinated enough, it’s time for me to drag myself kicking and screaming to YouTube to listen to this human’s new single, “Shoe.” Huh, in the video he’s buried up to his neck in sand, which I can relate to, as I am always buried up to my neck in bad albums. Oh how cute, it’s kind of like Beck meets Sufjan Stevens, but with no good music. Lol, you should hear his falsetto high notes. This is terrible, please toss this in the trash and bring me something edible, waiter.

• Next we have punk-protest-folk-whatever guy Billy Bragg, with his latest, The Million Things That Never Happened. Bragg’s most notable, sort-of-recent-ish moment came in 1998, when Woody Guthrie’s daughter asked Bragg to take some of Woody’s unrecorded lyrics and make music out of them, so naturally, instead of doing it himself, he collaborated with Wilco and Natalie Merchant and turned it into a giant cluster of people who weren’t good fits for the project, which released the albums Mermaid Avenue in 1998 and Mermaid Avenue Vol. II in 2000. Am I missing anything? Wait, ha ha, one time, when Bragg was in edgy-protest-music-dude mode, he dissed famous Popeye The Sailor lookalike Phil Collins for not being an actual political activist rock star guy: “Phil Collins might write a song about the homeless, but if he doesn’t have the action to go with it, he’s just exploiting that for a subject.” In other words, Bragg discovered grifting, and that makes him important, because, as everyone knows, rock ’n’ roll celebrities would totally save the world if people would just let them, am I right? So the single, “Ten Mysterious Photos That Can’t Be Explained,” is jangly and kinda dumb, like unplugged Clash but with an even higher level of blockhead-Cockney accent (think Ian Drury’s “Sex And Drugs And Rock & Roll” but boring and pointless). We all set here?

• Speaking of bands that don’t exactly know what they’re doing, look folks, it’s Toronto jazz-hip-hop-techno incels BadBadNotGood, with a new album, called Talk Memory! They’ve collaborated with the likes of Mick Jenkins, Kendrick Lamar and Ghostface Killah, and have also won or been in the running for snobby awards like Liberas, Junos and Polarises, but now my interest is piqued and I’ll stop the resumé riffing and go listen to the single, “Sending Signals.” Wow, this is nerdy, some proggy riffing led by the bass player, an eloquent but unlistenable mash of notes. Have fun with this, America.

• Let’s close with All Day Gentle Hold, the new LP from upstate-ish New York-based synthpop Porches. “Lately,” the single, is kind of like if Soft Moon had a decent sound engineer, and if that totally loses you, be thankful; there’s no need to bother with this.

RETRO PLAYLIST

Ten years back we go, when the new albums included Ashes & Fire from somewhat likeable Neil Young wannabe Ryan Adams, who back then was suffering from Ménière’s Disease, an ear problem that affects hearing and balance. At that point, fans thought Adams was done; he’d quit music a couple of years previous and married Mandy Moore. “The first few songs,” I said, trying to stay awake, “are slow folk-rock and/or Dave Matthews-ish, and they are not horrible, altogether sort of like Amos Lee’s last album.”

Another thing that happened that week was a show in New Hampshire, at the Flying Monkey in Plymouth. You remember live shows, right? No? Well, you do remember ’80s fashion-techno dude Howard Jones, right? Also no? Well, he was the one coming to the Flying Monkey. “He sang a song called ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ during the Reagan era,” I reminded you, “not knowing that things were going to get a whole lot worse.” Mind you, I said that in 2010. If I had known the 2020s were going to be this bad, I would have long moved to Iceland by 2011.

Per usual, there were two focus albums to discuss. The one I was actually psyched to hear was HanDover from darkwave overlords Skinny Puppy. Turned out it was basically a solo album from singer Nivek Ogre. It was OK, I though: “It’s sick, yes, but not completely off-putting, even while ‘Icktums’ explores what VNV Nation might sound like if they used hospital machines to make their sound.”

The other spotlight LP that week was one I’ve mentioned a million times, laptop-jazz ninja Mocean Worker’s Candygram For Mowo, which adeptly combined 1930s-’40s swing with underground hip-hop. I’ll say it again, this is an incredible party record, if anyone has a party ever again.

If you’re in a local band, now’s a great time to let me know about your EP, your single, whatever’s on your mind. Let me know how you’re holding yourself together without being able to play shows or jam with your homies. Send a recipe for keema matar. Message me on Twitter (@esaeger) or Facebook (eric.saeger.9).

Harrow, by Joy Williams

Harrow, by Joy Williams (Knopf, 224 pages)

The literary genre of science fiction is so yesterday. What’s hot today is climate fiction, colloquially known as cli-fi. It’s a niche within a niche: dystopian drama specific to climate change — the villain, of course, being us.

Into this mauldin sea falls the latest novel by Joy Williams, best known for The Quick and The Dead and The Changeling. Harrow is her first book in 20 years, and it simultaneously feels as though she labored over it every hour of the past two decades, and also as if it sprang fully formed from her forehead yesterday. It’s that fresh and topical, that beautifully crafted.

It’s also, let’s be clear, a very strange story.

The narrator, Khristen, was raised by a mother with a tenuous grip on reality. The mother was convinced that Khristen had died briefly when she was a baby and was returned to life with an extraordinary purpose. This vague mission was drilled into Khristen throughout a childhood growing up in a climate-cursed world where there is an insatiable demand for houseboats with fireplaces and hot tubs, where zoos have been washed away, where ordinary things like oranges are memories, and where meteor showers contain no actual meteors, but accumulated space junk.

“Life never seemed more unreal than when I was with my mother,” Khristen muses at one point, showing that Williams intends to speak to the human condition at all times, not just in this future hellscape. And a hellscape it truly is: “The land was bright with raging fires ringed by sportsmen shooting the crazed creatures trying to escape the flames.” But at times, there are oases of normalcy: a bowling alley here, a birthday party there, although a birthday party where a child’s cake is frosted with the grotesque image of the 19th-century painting “Saturn Devouring His Son.”

After the boarding school she was attending shuts down unexpectedly, Khristen wanders through this world like a nomad, because that’s what people do when an apocalypse comes. “The people I saw didn’t seem to be traveling. They were milling, like little flies after a rain,” she observes. In this world, insects, rocks, even flowers “were aware of nothing but hope’s absence. Something definitely had gone wrong. Even the dead were dismayed.”

She briefly befriends a professor who once rescued horses used for research; the horses are long gone, perhaps everywhere. Then at his recommendation she travels to a resort where her mother might have gone for a conference, the last time she’d communicated with her. There, however, she finds a group of elderly people, all with terminal illnesses, who had not succumbed to the despair paralyzing the rest of the world but instead were energized by their final quest: to avenge nature. They are carrying out what amounts to random acts of revenge largely unnoticed because, “Certainly no one expected the old to be difficult.”

“The elderly were encouraged to depart life and they obliged with little protests and surprisingly few regrets. It had not been foreseen that some would turn on the very institutions that had made them the last beneficiaries of what was enshrined as progress.”

It’s a wickedly smart turn of events, that a handful of old people, whom the young blame for the dystopia around them, turn into eco-terrorists, given the generational warfare sparking throughout the book. (In one scene, a mother and daughter traveling by train pass the Rio Grande River, or what’s left of it, and the daughter says accusingly, “You haven’t left us anything!” to which the mother replies “I didn’t drain the Rio Grande, my dear.”)

But these terrorists, who all suffer some sort of terminal condition, are not especially effective; they mostly dream of killing herbicide representatives or taking out an expedition of trophy-hunters without actually doing it. They, like the rest, are basically milling like flies, vehicles for Williams’ perverse imagination and mind-bending turns of phrase.

Not much happens in this novel, not in the way that stuff happens, say, in an Avengers film, and it slows even further in the third section, as the characters mature. But Harrow is entertainment at its finest, while also at its worst: Should we really be entertained by climate catastrophes? Making jokes at the expense of polar bears?

“Tell me,” says the mother sparring with her daughter on the train. “When was the last time you read a good book by a polar bear?”

Therein lies the quandary at the heart of the climate debate, rarely engaged: Was it worth all of this — the rising seas, the killer storms, the 6th extinction — so human beings could ascend to their peak? And is it over, that peak, and if so, when was it? Williams has no answers to these or any of the questions that Harrow poses, but it’s a disarming piece of cli-fi, erudite and droll, and only mildly depressing. A


Book Notes

I’d never thought of CNN in terms of anything but breaking news until people started telling me about the show Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy.

The series, which debuted in February, follows the actor as he eats his way through Italy, and it’s been renewed for a second season. Of course, then, there had to be a book, which comes out next week. Taste: My Life Through Food (Gallery, 304 pages) is already showing up on bestseller lists in advance of its release. It’s a memoir of Tucci’s life, though, with much reminiscing about meals. If it’s recipes you want, go 2015’s The Tucci Table (Orion, 256 pages), written with Felicity Blunt, or 2012’s The Tucci Cookbook (Gallery, 400 pages).

Also out next week, and mentioned solely for the bright light of its title, is I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins (Riverhead, 304 pages). It’s about a writer with postpartum depression who leaves her husband and newborn and explores her psyche in the Mojave Desert. She’s written one other novel and a short-story collection but has already won a handful of literary prizes to include the Dylan Thomas Prize.

Meanwhile, readers of the sports blog Deadspin may remember a columnist by the name of Drew Magary. His storytelling skills are put to the test in The Night the Lights Went Out (Harmony, 288 pages), which is a chronicle of a traumatic brain injury he suffered when he fell and smashed his head on a cement floor. Apparently, somehow he has managed to make this both poignant and funny (the funny part only possible because he has recovered 95 percent of his brain function). If nothing else, it will remind us to watch where we’re going. It’s out Oct. 12.

And finally, New Hampshire author Howard Mansfield has a new book coming out in October. Chasing Eden, A Book of Seekers (Bauhan Publishing, 216 pages) is a season-appropriate, New England-centric reflection on Americans in pursuit of their happiness. Among them: a group of 19th-century painters looking for inspiration in the White Mountains and a quirky group known as the “Vermont pilgrims” who “never changed their clothes, bathed, or cut their hair.”

Thankfully, another group of pilgrims looms larger in the national memory, and Mansfield covers them, too. Look for Chasing Eden in paperback Oct. 12.

Book Events

Author events

ARCHER MAYOR Author presents Marked Man. Mon., Oct. 4, 6:45 p.m. Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord). Visit gibsonsbookstore.com.

JORDAN MORRIS Comedy writer and podcaster discusses his podcast, Bubble. Virtual event presented by The Bookery in Manchester via Zoom. Fri., Oct. 8, 2 p.m. Visit facebook.com/bookerymht.

MELANIE MOYER AND CHARLIE J. ESKEW Virtual author conversation presented by Toadstool Bookshops of Nashua, Peterborough and Keene. Sat., Oct. 9, 11 a.m. Visit toadbooks.com.

DIANNE TOLLIVER Author presents Life Everyone Has a Story. Barnes & Noble (1741 S. Willow St., Manchester, barnesandnoble.com). Sat., Oct. 9, 10 a.m.

ARCHER MAYOR Author presents Marked Man. Virtual event by Toadstool Bookshops of Nashua, Peterborough and Keene. Tues., Oct. 12, 6 p.m. Visit toadbooks.com.

HOWARD MANSFIELD Author presents Chasing Eden: A Book of Seekers. Thurs., Oct. 14, 6:30 p.m. Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord). Visit gibsonsbookstore.com.

R.A. SALVATORE AND ERIKA LEWIS Authors present The Color of Dragons. Tues., Oct. 19, 6:30 p.m. Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord). Tickets cost $5. Space is limited, and registration is required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com.

Poetry

DOWN CELLAR POETRY SALON Poetry event series presented by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire. Monthly. First Sunday. Visit poetrysocietynh.wordpress.com.

SLAM FREE OR DIE Series of open mic nights for poets and spoken-word artists. Stark Tavern, 500 N. Commercial St., Manchester. Weekly. Thursday, doors open and sign-ups beginning at 7 p.m., open mic at 8 p.m. The series also features several poetry slams every month. Events are open to all ages. Cover charge of $3 to $5 at the door, which can be paid with cash or by Venmo. Visit facebook.com/slamfreeordie, e-mail slamfreeordie@gmail.com or call 858-3286.

Book Clubs

BOOKERY Online. Monthly. Third Thursday, 6 p.m. Bookstore based in Manchester. Visit bookerymht.com or call 836-6600.

GIBSON’S BOOKSTORE Online, via Zoom. Monthly. First Monday, 5:30 p.m. Bookstore based in Concord. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com/gibsons-book-club-2020-2021 or call 224-0562.

TO SHARE BREWING CO. 720 Union St., Manchester. Monthly. Second Thursday, 6 p.m. RSVP required. Visit tosharebrewing.com or call 836-6947.

GOFFSTOWN PUBLIC LIBRARY 2 High St., Goffstown. Monthly. Third Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. Call 497-2102, email elizabethw@goffstownlibrary.com or visit goffstownlibrary.com

BELKNAP MILL Online. Monthly. Last Wednesday, 6 p.m. Based in Laconia. Email bookclub@belknapmill.org.

NASHUA PUBLIC LIBRARY Online. Monthly. Second Friday, 3 p.m. Call 589-4611, email information@nashualibrary.org or visit nashualibrary.org.

Album Reviews 21/09/30

Ian Jones, The Evergreens (Thin Silver Records)

The other week I took a trip up north, to maraud (I don’t just simply “browse”) an estate sale. Tired of all the CDs in my car, I tried to find a radio station. Something popped up, a really good rock-ish song, on a Christian rock station, WANH 88.3 FM in Meredith. I was awed by the tuneage, because none of it was bad (Brandon Lake’s “Come Out Of That Grave,” an epic mix of Kings of Leon/Killers, was really good). I say all this because mellow rock can be OK even if your taste in rock tends to be bad for you, like mine. So I submit this EP, made by a Seattle songwriter with a gift for evoking mellow-mode Eagles and things like that. It’s quite inviting, especially when Jones trots out his Conor Oberst imitation in the strummy “Liars Criminals Beggars and Thieves.” A

Aakash Mittal, Nocturne (self-released)

In India, Calcutta is now known as Kolkata. It’s not a place I’d picture as being particularly still, especially at night, and that exact vibe — or at least its musical sounds — is what saxophonist Mittal attempts to capture on this album. His accomplices in the trio are guitarist Miles Okazaki and percussionist Rajna Swaminathan, who plays the instruments that bring the greatest degree of realism, the mridangam and kanjira. The setting may be an Indian city of 4.5 million residents, but the volume raises and lowers itself to incoherent buzzings like any other hyperactive metropolis. My impression is that it’s mostly improvisational (“Nocturne III” being an obvious exception; there was definitely quite a bit of planning there), aiming for feel more than melody, but the latter can indeed be found here and there. Matter of fact, if your workday involves some subway time, you could be listening to a lot less interesting things. A

PLAYLIST

• It’s a new week of music releases, all coming out on Oct. 1, for your musical pleasure and/or disappointment! Looking at the formidable list of new albums, my attention — such as it is these days — was immediately drawn to True Love, the fourth album from Texas-based pop duo Hovvdy! I’ve never heard of these people, and in fact the only reason I even got into the weeds with them was that they use two v’s in their name, like Pitchfork-beloved rock band Wavves. No, I know Hovvdy is stylizing the two-v thing in a different way, but I like how they’re doing it more than the way Wavves does it. See how music-critiquing works, folks? Whatever, I shall endeavor to see if this is at all interesting henceforth, as the title track is available for advance order (you wish, Hovvdy) or pirate-listening right now, on my computer! Huh, this sounds like Ben Kweller except listenable, sort of an Americana vibe, Simon & Garfunkel-ish, like a non-annoying Radiohead doing a chill-down. I can deal with this more or less.

• Any band that was once drunk enough to name their band Illuminati Hotties has my unwavering support, which will totally remain unwavering until I hear some bad music from them, which I’m fully prepared for, as I have a handy barf-bag right next to my badass-looking gamer chair, right here! Wikipedia, which is always on the cutting edge of super-hip words, tells me the band is “a vehicle for the songwriting of producer, mixer, and audio engineer Sarah Tudzin.” Well, that’s certainly less obfuscatory than saying “get ready for some cool grooves from a super-weird chick,” which is what you actually get here, on the band’s new album, Let Me Do One More! There is a single, called “Mmmoooaaaaayaya,” and it starts out with a Primus riff reminiscent of the guitar theme from South Park, and in the video Sarah comes out wearing nothing but a black sports bra. It’s pretty cool, and then she starts making fun of stupid men who try to pick up girls by using stupid pickup lines or whatnot, and then it gets louder, and pea soup starts falling from somewhere up above, and soon enough Sarah’s making fun of the Democratic National Committee while getting pea soup all over her. Is it edgy? Yes, but it does not solve world peace, so in my expert opinion it is simply a rock ’n’ roll song, not the answer to mankind’s prayers.

• Hoo boy, what could possibly be next. Whoa, wait, look, it’s industrial-metal band Ministry, one of the few bands on this planet I can actually stand, and they have a new album, Moral Hygiene, coming to your music store, if those even exist anymore! Ha ha, remember when Ministry released the song “Antifa” a couple of years ago, and it made people angry? What’s that? No, not the time people got angry over all those millions of other things, this was a different thing. Let’s just drop it and go watch the video for their new song, “Good Trouble,” shall we? Ha ha, it’s so badass, look, there’s their singer, Papa Al Satan, with American flag sunglasses, and random video clips of riots and burning stuff. The tune is a mega-heavy grinding cacophony of metallic mayhem, it’s awesome, haven’t these guys broken up like five times now?

• Finally we have million-year-old prog-rock band Yes, with their newest LP, The Quest! Given that bass player and bandleader Chris Squire died a few years ago, I don’t think any band should call itself Yes, but whatever, sort-of-original guitarist Steve Howe is here, as is Geoff Downes and Alan White, but, spoiler, Jon Anderson still hates everybody and isn’t here. Starter single “The Ice Bridge” is pretty much like Rush gone New Age. Pretty silly, probably some leftover nonsense from their Close To The Edge album, but you might like it.

If you’re in a local band, now’s a great time to let me know about your EP, your single, whatever’s on your mind. Let me know how you’re holding yourself together without being able to play shows or jam with your homies. Send a recipe for keema matar. Message me on Twitter (@esaeger) or Facebook (eric.saeger.9).

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