Moving from friendship to romance can be tricky -- especially on the set of your own adult film. Zack and Miri Make a Porno, the latest film from Kevin Smith, divides itself, unevenly, between a sweet romance and laughs at making an adult film.

Platonic friends and roommates Zack (Seth Rogan) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) have a massive pile of bills and their power and water turned off. After their high school reunion, and talking with gay porn actor Brandon (Justin Long), the two friends decide to make their own porno, using the class mailing last as their first potential customers.

In almost no time Zack and Miri have assembled everything for their movie. Zack's fellow coffee server Delaney (Craig Robinson), a henpecked husband, is their producer. Apart from putting themselves in their film, Zack and Miri wind up with Bubbles (Traci Lords, going from infamous porn star to b-movie actress to big movie actress playing an adult entertainer), Barry (Ricky Mabe), Lester (Jason Mewes), and Stacey (Katie Morgan). Their cameraman is Deacon (Jeff Anderson), picked because he videotaped football games in high school.

The big question is how making the film will affect Zack and Miri -- especially since they're supposed to sleep with other, and then other people, in the film. Sadly, this will-they-or-won't-they romatic element is the weak point of the film. When it comes to romance, Kevin Smith directs the very capable Seth Rogan and Elizabeth Banks with zero subtlety. The actors look longingly when thinking of each other, and they look angry when imagining their "just a friend" gettin' it on with someone else.

Skipping the romance, Zack and Miri Make a Porno has plenty of laughs. Kevin Smith has said in interviews that this movie is largely based on making Clerks with no budget or professionals, and there are numerous times when we get the arduous process of filmmaking. (When Zack reassured Miri, "It's a movie. What could go wrong?" we know what'll happen next.) There's plenty of cheesy fun with the porno-within-the-movie being made, and the actors are willing to make themselves look and act ridiculous for comedy.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno is definitely an adult comedy -- plenty of male and female nudity, plus simulated sex -- and Kevin Smith follows the contunues blending gross-out humor with care for his characters. I'd have been happier if the romantic plot/subplot was handled with more subtlety, but I had a good time at Zack and Miri Make a Porno. (And stay through the credits for the real ending to the movie!)

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch



Bioology class was never like this! Bodies: The Exhibition provides information on human anatomy -- and as detailed a view as anyone who's not a medical professional will ever get into the varied external and internal parts of the human body.

Adopting the credo "to see is to know," Bodies: The Exhibition is a first-hand look at what's inside and outside us humans -- using actual human remains. The exhibit is divided into several categories -- Skeletal, Muscular, Nervous, Circulatory/Respiratory, Digestive, Fetal Development, Reproductive/Urinary, the Treated Body -- and there are plenty of cards with information on the general workings of the human systems and what specific organs do.

By the way, the word "bodies" in this exhibit is literal. The draw -- and attraction, and controversy -- of the exhibit is that everything on display is from actual people, from individual organs to the numerous standing constructs.
While this makes the exhibit harder for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, the result is a display that is completely, well, realistic. These remains are also used -- very well -- to illustrate how these systems work. Bodies are divided horizontally or vertically, cross-sections are visible, the brain and nervous system are spread out flat, one display even has one person's muscles leaning one, way, holding the hands of his skeleton leaning the other direction.

I haven't delved into the intricacies of the human mechanism since high school, but I found Bodies: The Exhibition fascinating. While there is certainly an element of sensationalism in the advertising for this exhibit, the combination of information and actual bodies results in a fascinating and informative look into what makes us tick (and move, and breathe, and think...)

Overall grade: A+
Reviewed by James Lynch



Ever been at a cafe or a Borders and heard some folks playing some classic-rock style music that isn't bad but doesn't really stay with you when they finish? That could describe You Are All My People by the band I'm Not Jim.

This album came about when novelist Jonathan Lethem and musician Walter Salas-Humara wrote an album in two days, then developed the music with producers Chris Maxwell and Phil Hernandez. Perhaps with a bit more time, You Are All My People might have become something more original.

The songs here tend towards the electric guitar-style of music. Synthesizers are part of others, and they feel like simple programmed patterns rather than clever music. Three spoken-word pieces aim for humor and fall flat. As for the rest of the lyrics, they neither bomb nor shine, using simple rhymes and odd images (a whole song about baseball pitchers quitting; "If you get the car stuck/you can call my towtruck").

There are a few above-average songs here, but most of You Are All My People is pretty routine.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch (I am Jim)

Jim Boggia, Misadventures in Stereo (Bluehammock, 2008)

Jim Boggia is a singer/songwriter/guitarist from Michigan, who currently lives in Philadelphia. Misadventures in Stereo is his third album. His style is very eclectic, mixing elements as diverse as pub rock, R&B, and sixties-style horns, and putting fun songs side-by-side with very serious ones.

Boggia likes to tell stories in his songs. As the title suggests, the ten songs on this album deal with misadventures of various sorts. Relationships end, people get much deserved come-uppances, and priceless LP collections get auctioned off on eBay. Boggia's breakup songs are often refreshingly amicable, distinguishing him from most other pop songwriters of either gender. On "Listening to NRBQ" and the single "On Your Birthday," for example, Boggia looks back with fondness at relationships from the fairly distant past. He also keeps an element of mystery in some of his songs. On the rocking opener "Johnnie's Going Down," it's not quite clear what Johnnie did to provoke people's wrath, or what was done to him in response. Similarly, on "Chalk One Up for Albert's Side," you never find out what the school nerd did to turn the tables on the jocks.

Most of Misadventures in Stereo is light-hearted, but Boggia end the album on a very somber note. "Three Weeks Shy" is about a soldier stationed in Baghdad who almost makes it to the end of his tour of duty. It's a very jarring ending, especially when a lady starts reading off a list of deceased soldiers, but the fact that the situation in Iraq is generating less news coverage without really improving much makes songs like this necessary.

All told, Misadventures in Stereo is a worthy offering from a relatively new performer with a decent amount of talent. "On Your Birthday" in particular is a keeper, although the whole album is worth a few listens. I'll be curious to hear more from Jim Boggia in the future.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott


Hallowen Party Photos!

Greetings, all! This past Saturday Scott and Donna hosted their annual Halloween costume party -- and it was truly awesome! Costumes were impressive, games were played (I enjoyed both Monty Python Fluxx and Apples to Apples, despite losing at both), and food was plentiful. I took a bunch of photos, and they can be seen at


(There are also pictures of my new, wonderful dog Bella, and my brother Sean, sister-in-law Natalie, and their kids Katie and Anne-Marie.)

Also, I went as a version of the Munchkin on the cover of the game Munchkin. This caused a bit of confusion -- Flavor Flav? Really? -- so here is the cover and my costume. (I couldn't get a giant hammer, but I am brandishing the Sword of Slaying Everything Except Squid. And yes, my chainsaw says Orc-B-Gone.)

James Lynch



If you're looking for a monster movie with family values and environmental warnings, check out The Host. This Korean horror movie (original title: Gwoemol) views the rampaging monster through the Park family's personal struggle with it.
Before the credits, an American scientist orders his South Korean colleague to dump bottles of formalehyde down the drain, despite the latter's warning that it will go into the Han River. After the credits we're at the Han River, so you know nothing good is going to happen.
It's a typical day for the Park family. Park Gang-Du (Kang-ho Sohn) is a sleepy, goofy guy asleep at the counter of the grocery store of his grandfather, Park Hie-Bong (Hie-bong Byeon). Gang-Du's schoolgirl daughter Park Hyun-seo (As-sung Ko) is excited to see their sister Park Nam-Joo (Du-na Bae) competing in archery in the Olympics. We also learn Gang-Du's brother Park Nam-il (Hae-il Park) is an unemployed student who's usually drunk.
Gang-Du is delivering food to someone on the beach when the people notice a dark shape in the water. Curiosity quickly turns to terror as the thing emerges: an enormous black creature that's like a salamander with six legs, a mouth that opens in four directions, and a long prehensile tail that lets it swing along the underside of bridges and sewers (not as silly as it sounds). The critter goes on a quick rampage, swatting some people aside and eating others, before vanishing in the Han River again -- with Hyun-seo caught in its giant tail.
No one outside the family believes Gang-Du's claim that his daughter is still alive. Worse, the word comes down that the creature is passing on a harmful infection to anyone who came in contact with it, leading to the Park family getting quarantined. For the rest of the film the Parks struggle against both the creature (to get Hyun-seo from her) and the government out to keep them isolated.
The Host is a bit more than a typical monster movie. There's some slapstick humor among the members of the Park family, and some typical scenes of heroism get turned into failure -- sometimes tragic -- from simple clumsiness. The acting is pretty good, as the Park family both squabbles and unites, often at the same time. The environmental message is a bit heavy handed, and the creature's behavior is often inconsistent: Why does it eat some people, crush others, and collect others? Still, The Host is an interesting horror movie: far from perfect, but still entertaining.
Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

The Moody Blues, Days of Future Passed (Deram/Decca, 1967)

When The Moody Blues released Days of Future Passed in late 1967, they completed a remarkable transition. Days may have introduced the band's classic line-up and set the tone for everything they did afterward, but it was not actually their first album. The original Moodies line-up consisted of Denny Laine on guitar, Clint Warwick on bass, Ray Thomas on flute, Mike Pinder on keyboards, and Graeme Edge on drums. They recorded one album and had a major international hit with "Go Now," sung by Laine. But Laine and Warwick soon left (Laine would resurface in the seventies backing up Paul McCartney in Wings), and the rest of the band brought in guitarist Justin Hayward and bassist John Lodge to take their places. They tried for a short time to be the same pop/blues combo they had been, but that style clearly wasn't working for them anymore. It was the mid-sixties, and things were changing. The Moody Blues decided a re-invention was in order.

The changes started with Mike Pinder purchasing a mellotron. An awkward keyboard that played tape recordings of other instruments when a key was pressed, the mellotron lost its standing to the far more flexible and portable synthesizer by the mid seventies. Its distinctive sound had a big impact on the psychedelic era, though, and nobody made more use of it than The Moody Blues. The band completely overhauled their live set, replacing the old set list with a song cycle based on the course of a day. Hayward, Lodge, Pinder, and Thomas each wrote two songs for it. A huge opportunity then presented itself to the band when their record label Decca wanted to test out its new stereo recording system by combining a rock band with an orchestra. The band convinced Decca to let them record their live show, and then passed the tapes on to conductor Peter Knight to arrange a score around each of the songs, which was then performed by the London Festival Orchestra.

The final pieces of the puzzle were fitted into place by drummer Graeme Edge. He felt that there was room for him to contribute something at the very beginning and very end of the album, and proceeded to write down lyrics. He originally intended for his bandmates to set his words to music, but producer Tony Clarke convinced him to leave his lyrics as they were, and simply recite them as poetry.

So Days of Future Passed is a rock concept album, complete with its own orchestral score and a little bit of poetry thrown in for good measure. The idea may sound crazy now, but no idea sounded too crazy in 1967. Young people were experimenting with everything and challenging all the old ways of looking at things, and the music followed suit. It wouldn't be too hard to dismiss much of the music of the time as drug-induced self-indulgence, but you could also argue that it was the most creative period in the first half-century of rock music. The Moody Blues embodied both extremes of the era. They could bog themselves down sometimes with ponderous New Age ramblings, but they could also make some really good music -- often at the same time. The most "out there" song on Days, for example, is the Ray Thomas-penned "Twilight Time," whose mostly monotonic melody evokes an Eastern chant. It's the kind of rock song that probably couldn't have been made in any other era, and yet it still works forty years later, and does not sound dated to me at all.

On Days and ever since, though, The Moody Blues' biggest asset has been the singing and songwriting of Justin Hayward. His two songs on Days of Future Passed were the album's two singles. "Forever Afternoon (Tuesday)" exemplifies Hayward's folksy, melodic style, while also showcasing Pinder's mellotron. And of course, the song for which The Moody Blues are best known is the album's last song, "Nights in White Satin." Its haunting melody and emotional chorus have made it an enduring classic.

Otherwise, the remaining songs on Days hold up at least decently forty years later. The orchestral interludes sound like a novelty today, but they do tie the songs together well and certainly don't get in the album's way. You'd probably need to be at least a little bit interested in the sixties to appreciate Days of Future Passed, but it definitely ranks high among the list of albums from that era that are worth searching out.

Overall grade: A

reviewed by Scott

The original video for "Nights in White Satin"



When a game has a version of itself based on a licensed property, it's important that it do something related to that property and not just use the name and images from it. For example, the Lord of the Rings version of Risk adapted its rules quite nicely to match the action of the story, while there are untold versions of Monopoly that only change the names and artwork to match their new subject but keep everything else the same. The simple-yet-everchanging card game Fluxx has had several new versions, from Zombie Fluxx to Christian Fluxx to Stoner Fluxx, and now they've adapted the British comedy troupe Monty Python with their latest release, Monty Python Fluxx. I'm happy to report that this latest game from Looney Labs beautifully combines the silly humor of Monty Python with the rapidly fluxtuating gameplay of Fluxx.

The rules are simple. At the start of the game, each player draws a card and plays a card. There are five types of cards: Keepers, which represent items or ideas; Goals, which let you win, most often by requiring you to have two Keepers; Rules, which affect all players and can make you play more cards, draw more cards, or limit what you can have in play; Actions, which let you do anything from trash an opponent's Keeper to draw and play more cards; and Creepers, which are like Keepers but get played immediately, don't count against your draws or plays, and get replaced immediately.

But this game wouldn't be called Monty Python Fluxx without Monty Python, and the six comedians appear in both the cards and gameplay. Almost all the cards are drawings and quotes from Monty Python's Flying Circus and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Rather than simply redo Fluxx with new names, the Python mythos directly affects gameplay. For example, here Creepers (such as the Spanish Inquisition or Grim Reaper) keep you from winning if you have them -- except for certain Goals which require them! The card "What Is Your Quote?" lets you play up to three cards depending on how many lines of Monty Python you can quote, and "I Want To Sing!" lets you draw an extra card by singing a Monty Python song -- and another card if it's a song that hasn't been sung yet this game. You can discard the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch to blow up a Creeper, or wield Excalibur to send a Creeper to an opponent.

Like the original Fluxx, this game relies more on luck than strategy: The order in which you play cards does matter (I love when I can play a rule making everyone discard their hand down to one card when it's not their turn, then getting rid of the rule before my turn ends), but it's hard to plan on meeting a Goal when they change so quickly. With that in mind, Monty Python Fluxx is a fun, fast, easy game that's ideal for any Monty Python fan. Fetchez la vache!

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch


ONLY BY THE NIGHT by Kings of Leon

It's nice to be surprised by music. The Kings of Leon album Only by the Night is a rock album that delivers strong music from start to finish.

The sonic opening songs "Closer" and "Crawl" might make one expect nothing but loud electric guitars, but the Kings of Leon effortlessly move from romantic songs ("Use Somebody") to mellow melodies ("Manhattan"). Lead singer Caleb Followhill has a voice that isn't always smooth but is earnest and filled with passion -- everything Nickleback's lead singer isn't. Caleb's brothers Nathan and Jared, and his cousin Matthew, make up the rest of the band, matching vocals with excellent instrumentation.

If you're looking for a rock album that isn't either typical classic rock or generic top 40, pick up Only by the Night. Kings of Leon have made a great album with a really original sound.

Overall grade: A

Reviewed by James Lynch


Carolina Liar, Coming To Terms (Atlantic, 2008)

Chad Wolf grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, but he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a pop singer-songwriter. As he was shopping his demos around, he teamed up with a group of musicians from Sweden who had also found their way to California. Carolina Liar consists of Wolf on vocals, Jim Almgren Gandara and Rickard Göransson on guitars, Johan Carlsson on keyboards, Erik Hääger on bass, and Max Grahn on drums. Coming to Terms is the band's debut.

On first listen, it might be easy to dismiss the opening song and single "I'm Not Over" as formulaic power pop, but it's the kind of song that winds up lodging itself inside your brain and staying there. I was hoping the rest of the album would be similarly effective. Unfortunately, for the most part that isn't true. Other than "California Bound," none of the other songs are catchy enough to make up for not being particularly creative or imaginative.

On Coming to Terms, Chad Wolf and Carolina Liar show enough promise to suggest they could make their share of hits. But this album just didn't have enough consistency to hold my interest, and I can't recommend it as a whole. There are two songs worth downloading, but the rest of it is dispensable.

Overall grade: C

reviewed by Scott

"I'm Not Over"

Vilma Timonen Quartet, VTQ (Texicali, 2007)

I've had the distinct pleasure of meeting the Finnish kantele player Vilma Timonen during two different editions of the Maine Kantele Institute. I can personally vouch for her not only being a top notch musician and instructor, but a very likable person as well. Timonen, among many other projects, fronts a quartet consisting of herself on kantele, fellow MKI instructor Topi Korhonen on guitar, Ape Anttila on bass, and Mikko Hassinen on drums. On the CD VTQ, she and her group combine traditional Finnish kantele music with jazzy experimentation and impressionism. Other than some wordless vocalizing on a handful of tracks, the album is entirely instrumental.

VTQ actually reminds me a lot of another CD I've reviewed by somebody I know personally, namely Vjola: World on Four Strings by the New York violist Ljova. Both albums combine straightforward, traditional and folk-inspired pieces with original compositions of a much more challenging nature. Having only a very limited exposure to impressionism and the darker, harder-edged side of jazz, I found portions of both albums very hard to judge. That being said, there are tracks on both albums that are very easy to like. In the case of VTQ, the album is really strong at the beginning, with the first three tracks all being fun and lively. On the mellower side, the penultimate track "Lumi" features some really nice interplay between the kantele and guitar.

While the darker, edgier tracks on the album might not work for everybody, VTQ does reflect a very high degree of musicianship and creativity from Timonen and her quartet. People with broad, adventurous musical tastes should find more than enough to like about this album.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott

part of a live performance of "Carelian"



With so much attention going to AMC's series Mad Men, it was gratifying to see Bryan Cranston (best known for playing Hal, the father, on Malcolm in the Middle) win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama for the series Breaking Bad. This darkly comic series is held together by Cranston in the starring role of Walter White.

Poor Walter. As he turns fifty, he teaches high school chemistry in New Mexico to students who don't care. Supporting his pregnant wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) and disabled teen son Walter White Jr. (R.J. Mittle), Walter supplements his income with a humiliating job at a car wash. His cool brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) is a D.E.A. agent whose crystal meth bust is shown on tv during Walter's birthday party. Oh yes, and Walter just found out he has terminal lung cancer.

So what's a guy to do? Walter decides that he has to raise enough money to secure his family after he's gone. And so, through a series of encounters and coincidence, Walter hooks up with former student and current crystal meth dealer Jesse Dupree (Aaron Paul) and spends all his money on an RV -- from which he'll cook crystal meth for Jesse to sell.

Unfortunately, nothing works for Walter. By the end of the first episode the RV has crashed in the desert, sirens are getting closer, there's a dead body, and Walter is in his underwear brandishing a pistol. And things get worse from there.

Breaking Bad is as much comedy as drama. Walter is a modern-day Job who can't ever seem to catch a break, but there is plenty of twisted comedy here, from Hal's attempts to reinvent himself as a professional criminal to the absolutely wrong was to dispose of a body with acid. The supporting cast is solid, but like the show Dexter this revolves around the star -- and Bryan Cranston delivers. He manages to handle the comedy and tragedy adroitly, making us almost root for Walter while seeing how he manages to make the wrong choices over and over.

Breaking Bad is certainly dark, and its free interplay between depressing drama and black humor may be a bit bleak for everyone. If you can handle that, I highly recommend checking out Breaking Bad. It's funny, it's tragic, and it's very original.

Overall grade: B+

Reviewed by James Lynch



There are zombies -- and they have apartments! Well, not exactly, but the movie Quarantine (a remake of Spanish horror film [Rec] ) sets its action in a sealed apartment complex.

Reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman Scott (Steve Harris) are shooting a late-night feature on a local firehouse in Los Angeles. After pretty routine interviews with firefighters and their usual calls, a 911 call sends the reporters and firefighters to an apartment building where a tenant has been screaming. The firefighters, two police officers, and Angela and Scott investigate, and the old lady soon tears into the firefighters. Whatever affected (infected?) the old lady is passed by bites, and anyone bitten becomes mindless, full of rage, incredibly strong and fast, and cannibalistic. That's only the start of the problems.

Wisely, the firefighters call for assistance. What they get, however, is quarantined in the building: All entrances are barricaded and sealed, communications are cut, and snipers are more that ready to take down anyone trying to leave.

Alas, this is a pretty superficial horror movie. We don't learn much about any of the characters, and they can be reduced to one-sentence archetypes rather than people whose survival matters to us. Shooting the whole movie from the first-person perspective of the video camera is sometimes suspenseful (as when the camera is the sole source of light), but nothing is done creatively with the concept. And by the end the movie becomes a series of attacks, screams, and chases. Quarantine isn't a bad movie, but nor is it an impressive or creative one -- just more zombies chasing folks.

Overall grade: C

Reviewed by James Lynch


Nordic Roots Festival 2008, Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis MN, Sept. 26-28 2008

The last weekend in September marked a milestone in the appreciation of world music in the United States. The Nordic Roots Festival convened for the tenth consecutive year at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis, and once again fans of New Nordic Folk music traveled from across the country to attend. Most of the people attending the Festival were already aware that the 2008 edition would be significant for another reason -- this year would be the last with an all-Nordic format. I can't really object to the decision, honestly. The genre of New Nordic Folk has a handful of guaranteed draws, namely the Finnish band Värttinä and the Swedish groups Väsen, Hoven Droven, Hedningarna, and Garmarna. Last year, the Festival couldn't get any of the obvious headliners. Given all the expenses and difficulties that go into putting the Festival on, there were a distressing number of empty seats even for the night shows. So I don't really think preserving the status quo was sustainable over the long haul. This year, though, the Festival succeeded in getting Väsen, Hedningarna, and Hoven Droven to headline the night shows. That combination, plus the knowledge that the Festival would change after this year, resulted in a record number of festival passes being sold in advance.

Annbjørg Lien with her quartet

Friday night's show commenced with Norwegian fiddler Annbjørg Lien leading a performance of her most recent project, titled Waltz with Me. I've already discussed the CD here, so I'll refer you to that if you want to know details about the music. Lien's quartet for the evening included two Americans, Bruce Molsky (fiddles, banjo, guitar, vocals) and Tristan Clarridge (cello), along with veteran Swedish fiddler Mats Edén (fiddles). The performance was solid, if somewhat predictable given my familiarity with the CD. While Lien has performed at the Festival several times, this was the first time she actually sang, doing the parts that a guest vocalist did on the album. You could tell that she doesn't have as much confidence in her voice as she does in her hardanger fiddle playing, but she handled herself well enough.


Always a sublimely good live act, Väsen took the stage shortly afterwards and didn't disappoint. Olav Johannson (nyckelharpa), Mikael Marin (viola), and Roger Tallroth (12-string guitar) are superior musicians who just have this special chemistry together. They made a point of acknowledging not only Rob Simonds, the founder of NorthSide Records and driving force behind the Festival, but also the Festival audience for their unyielding loyalty and affectionate support. "We all talk about you back home," they said. Several other performers would make similar statements over the course of the weekend.

Saturday began with a pair of workshops, the first of which was held by members of the band Frigg. The tune they taught was "Vankarin Polska," which I had already learned when I was in Maine in August. I could still use the practice, though, and then they invited everybody at the workshop to come onstage and play the tune with them during their Sunday afternoon set. Well now, this weekend just got more interesting. I also sat in on Annbjørg Lien's hardanger fiddle workshop; I don't play the instrument myself but I know several people who do, and I had my digital recorder with me.


The Saturday afternoon show featured Triakel, a Swedish trio featuring Garmarna's Emma Härdelin (vocals), Hoven Droven's Kjell-Erik Eriksson (fiddle), and Janne Strömstedt (harmonium). Hardelin and Eriksson may take some rather big liberties with the tradition in their more famous other bands, but Triakel is about as traditional as New Nordic Folk gets. This is common with Scandinavian folk musicians, especially the younger ones; they tend to have multiple projects going on, some of which are firmly rooted in the tradition, and some leave plenty of room for experimentation. Triakel's set consisted of traditional songs from their home region of Jämtland, with subject matter ranging from the humorous to the quite dark. They might not be as exciting as some of the other groups, but their combination of professionalism and charm was pleasing nonetheless.


The lone newcomer in this year's Festival was a Swedish trio called Detectivbyrån. My friends Mai and Pam bumped into them on the way from the airport to the hotel on Thursday, and assured me they were really nice guys. Indeed, one of them came over to us as they were setting up their gear before the Saturday night show, and asked if we could take pictures for them on his brand new camera. I got several shots for them over the course of their show, and I also filmed their opening tune. I'm kind of hoping it shows up on YouTube at some point. With a glockenspiel, accordion, drums, and some synthesizers, they weren't folky in the same way that the rest of the bands were. Then again, their sound is so impossible to categorize that they fit in just as well at the Festival as they would any place else. Plus, the Festival has as open-minded an audience as you're ever going to find, and we've always appreciated music that's a little bit different. Detectivbyrån rattled off one goofy, off-kilter waltz after another, and won over the audience pretty easily.


The mighty Hedningarna headlined the Saturday night show. Hedningarna were one of the essential bands of the 90's from any genre, whether performing as a mostly instrumental group or with the help of two Finnish women singers. (Their 1994 CD Trä and their 1996 CD Hippjokk would get A+ ratings from me.) They've been mostly silent this decade, but they still embody Scandinavian folk music at its most viscerally primal. The instrumental core quartet, led by founding members Anders Norudde (fiddles, winds, pipes) and Hallbus Totte Mattson (lute and hurdy-gurdy), got to pretty much all the good stuff in their repertoire. Their combination of Medieval instuments (including Norudde's vast assortment of homemade keyed fiddles) with heavy metal distortion and the atmosphere of a rave will startle the uninitiated, but the Festival crowd got exactly what they paid to hear.

Frigg, by themselves

The workshop students take the stage (photo by Mai Kiigemagi)

And that's me in the back (photo by Mai Kiigemagi)

I'd been fantasizing about taking the stage at Nordic Roots for quite some time, and on Sunday afternoon I got the chance. Now, I should acknowledge that Frigg performed by themselves for most of the show and did just fine. They had a very good new CD (already reviewed here) to plug, but got to plenty of their older "hits" as well. And then the stage got awfully crowded. There were at least twenty-five of us up there, including the band. I stood next to Frigg's cittern player, Petri Prauda, mainly so I could see what chords and stuff he was playing. (I was playing my bouzouki, which is very similar to a cittern.). Given the number of amateur players and the speed of the tune, I thought we sounded pretty tight. Mai said she could hear me, and that apparently wasn't a bad thing.


And finally, Hoven Droven

Sunday night brought the last show in the last Festival in an all-Nordic format. The opening act was Hurdy-Gurdy, a duo consisting of Hedningarna's Totte Mattson and Garmarna's Stefan Brisland-Ferner. As odd and archaic as the hurdy-gurdy looks, it's a remarkably flexible instrument. And when put in the hands of two creative musicians with and endless supply of amplifier pedals and other assorted electronic gadgets, the effect is pretty mind-blowing. Between sets, the chairs were pushed off too the side. Everybody who'd seen Hoven Droven at the Festival knew that they dislike playing in front of a seated audience, and that the chairs were going to get moved sooner or later anyway, so the Festival decided to simply take care of it beforehand in as orderly a fashion as possible. As things were being set up onstage, a couple of members of Hoven Droven teamed up with Annbjørg Lien and Mats Edén to form the Cedar Spelmanslag, who played some traditional dance tunes out on the open floor. Hoven Droven were their usual hard-rocking selves, running through the most familiar tunes in their repertoire. The highlight for me came when they got everybody to jump up and down during their march "Skuffen," just like we had done during their extremely memorable 2005 performance that became the live album Jumping at the Cedar.

But alas, all good things must come to an end. The Global Roots Festival, as it will be called next year, will feature bands from around the world. I'm curious to see who they get to come and play. It could easily wind up being better than the Nordic Roots Festival, but one way or another it won't be the same. As it stands, I got to eight of the ten Nordic Roots Festivals, and the fact that I kept going back should say more than enough about what kind of time I've had there over the years. It was a great run.

reviewed by Scott


BREAK UP THE CONCRETE by the Pretenders

The Pretenders are back, and they rock as well as ever. Break Up the Concrete is a stong, subtle, and very good album with lots of heart.

There are lots of types of rock and roll on this album -- from rockabilly to garage rock to slow love songs -- and the Pretenders handle them all with grace. Lead singer Chrissy Hynde is still the linchpin of the band, and her vocals tackle every song with passion and beauty. The lyrics are nicely done, whether it's the tongue-in-cheek stay rebellious message of "Don't Cut Your Hair" ("don't cut it/don't chop it/it's like a bomb/if you got it don't drop it") to the social commentary of the title track to the disturbing "Almost Perfect."

I fear for the success of Break Up the Concrete because there's no one song that stands out as a radio-friendly single or defining track. The whole album holds together very well, and listening to it in one sitting will make you realize how talented this band is. Hynde, like Joan Jett, has proved that being an '80s singer doesn't mean replaying the same songs from then. I can't wait to set aside the time to go through Break Up the Concrete again, and again, and again...

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch



Time to build a city! Citadels is a competitive card game where players attempt to build up their city -- and keep their opponents from doing the same -- by taking on different roles each round and bulding new districts.

At the start of each round of Citadels, players begin by selecting one (or two, if only two or three people are playing) of eight characters to act as for that turn. Each character has a number, which determines the order in which players get to go. Characters also have different special abilities: The Assassin can name another character to skip their turn that round, the King gets one gold for each yellow building and gets to select their character first, the Magician can swap district cards with an opponent or a deck, etc.

During a player's turn, they can either collect two gold from the bank or draw two district cards and keep one. After that, the player can build a district card. Each district card represents a building or area and has a gold cost (which is also its point value at the end of the game), color (red, yellow, blue, green, or purple), and sometimes a special ability. Players can also use their character's special ability at any time during their turn, and using an ability at the start or end of a turn can prove very important (for example, the Magician may play their last district card then swap hands with an opponent, or the Warlord may build a red district and then collect 1 gold for each red district, plus destroy an opponent's district for one less gold than it cost to build).

The game ends when a player builds their eighth district. The other players get to take their turns for the rest of the round, then the points are added. Every players gets points for the gold cost of their districts. In addition, the first player to build eight districts gets four points, every other player with eight districts gets two points,
and every player with at least one district of each color gets three points.

Citadels has a nice mix of strategy and luck. With all the roles available to everyone, every player knows what an opponent can do and has to plan for what they will do. Guessing which character the Assassin will force to skip their turn can be devastating if used against the right player; however, it can also be wasted if you pick a character selected by a different player -- or one of the discards. LIkewise, it's not always an easy choice to pick between getting the gold to build a district, or getting the cards for the best district to build.

I enjoy Citadels a lot. There's no one strategy that guarantees victory: I've had days when I won three or four games, and others where I couldn't win once. The games are pretty quick -- usually half an hour or less -- and new players will have no trouble learning the rules. Citadels may not be especially deep, but it's a fun game that's good for a few quick games during a get-together.

Overall grade: B

Reviewed by James Lynch


Fleet Foxes (Sup Pop Records, 2008)

I always like to be pleasantly surprised by new music. One of the nicest surprises I've had recently came as a birthday gift, in the form of the self-titled debut CD from the band Fleet Foxes. Led by Robin Pecknold, this Seattle band manages to sound both retro and fresh at the same time. Their ragged, unkempt appearance belies their strong sense of musicality.

The aspect of Fleet Foxes' sound that sticks out the most is their persistent use of reverb on the vocals and instruments. The echoes give the whole album a distinctive ambience. Fleet Foxes also has a full share of solid group harmonies; their approach to the vocals evokes the bands of the sixties, yet it comes off as something new and exotic in the current musical landscape. Pecknold's lyrics might be a bit cryptic and mysterious, but his words mesh very well with the mood the band creates with their music. This is best exemplified by a haunting, unnerving song called "Your Protector" -- "As you lay to die beside me baby on the morning that you came, would you wait for me? The other one would wait for me."

Fleet Foxes pull off the increasingly difficult feat of creating their own sound and style with standard rock instrumentation and no real frills outside of some echo. While "Your Protector" stands out for me, the album doesn't waste a track, and just has this really cool feel to it. I'm really looking forward to hearing more from these guys.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott

"He Doesn't Know Why"


PUCKER UP by Tristan Taormino

Tristan Taormino provides a smart and sexy overview of human sexuality in her book Pucker Up: A Hands-On Guide for Ecstatic Sex. Resisting the extremes of either all abtract philosophy or strict physical details, Taormino gives a pretty comprehensive look at the wide spectrum of what makes people sexual beings.

Pucker Up begins with an anatomy lesson, looking at how the male and female bodies work (individually and together). Next is communication, as a way for partners to enhance their shared experience before, during, and after.

From here, Pucker Up goes from sexuality 101 to chapters focusing on far more specific topics, from the g-spot and sex toys to roleplaying and erotica. Each chapter ends with a common question that Taormino addresses.

Any teacher can tell you it's a tricky balance when trying to entertain and inform, and it's a balance Taormino achieves nicely. Throughout the book she addresses even the most explicit or unusual topics with a light, conversational tone that avoids judgmement and instead keeps things interesting and, often, amusing.

There is plenty of detailed information in Pucker Up. Tristan buttresses her ideas with a wealth of knowledge, giving the reader practical (yet often fairly known) facts through each chapter. There are often lists of bullet points in the chapters (e.g. "Lubes at a Glance," "Standout Adult Directors," "Sensory Deprivation Tricks") plus plenty of footnotes and resources.

Pucker Up may be considered an excellent primer for sex, a kind of Sex Ed 201. This book works well as a beginner's guide to the topics contained within; to people more experienced in these areas a lot of it will be familiar. That said, Pucker Up is an engaging read, and Tristan Taormino is a warm and knowledgable host for this trip into the world of love and lust.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch