Our International Audience...

I'm simply amazed at the international audience we have with our blog. Believe it or not, this is just in the last week! We've got every continent except Antarctica with people looking at this. They have internet access down there...no?

Paolo Nutini, These Streets (Atlantic, 2006)

He won't even be twenty until January 9, but Scottish singer Paolo Nutini is already building a reputation for himself on the musical scene thanks to his debut CD These Streets. A native of the Glasgow suburb of Paisley (but, as his name rather obviously indicates, of Italian descent on his father's side), Nutini has a husky voice very well suited for blue-eyed soul. These Streets mixes tempos, with rockers like the opening song "Jenny Don't Be Hasty" (a plea to a girlfriend who's decided he's too young for her), ballads like "Last Request," and fun groove-oriented songs like "New Shoes." Nutini's Scottish accent frequently emerges in the vocals, even when he's trying to channel soul singers like Al Green.

My one complaint with the album is that there's too much focus on the softer material. I would have really preferred more songs like "Jenny Don't Be Hasty" and "New Shoes." Nutini does sometimes come across as the teenager he is in his lyrics, and maybe tries a bit too hard to sound grown up, but it comes across as an honest reflection of his personality, and will not turn off older listeners. Basically, he's a good kid with plenty of talent, and with some luck a bright future in music. These Streets isn't outstanding, but there are enough good songs on this album to justify giving it a listen, and to remember the name Paolo Nutini.

Overall grade: B
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Johnny Clegg, One Life (Marabi, 2006)

The South African singer Johnny Clegg has had a long and storied career, promoting interracialism and multiculturalism at the height of apartheid as the white half of the legendary duo Juluka and as the leader of Johnny Clegg & Savuka. He has continued to perform regularly, for a stretch as part of a reunited Juluka but primarily as a solo artist, since the last Savuka album Heat Dust and Dreams came out in 1993. He has entered the recording studio less frequently lately, though, and his new album One Life is only his third studio album since Heat Dust and Dreams. Happily, the new CD is on the same level as much of his best work.

With apartheid now in South Africa's past, Clegg's lyrics have reached for broader themes. The album opens with "Daughter of Eden," a tribute to the eternal feminine in its many forms, and follows with "Jongosi," a Zulu song about young athletes/warriors taking a stand together. One Life also addresses many issues facing Africa as a whole. "The Revolution Will Eat Its Children," already on my short list of all-time favorite song titles, deals with the cycle of revolutions and takeovers too often resulting in new leaders who wind up needing to be overthrown themselves. The subtile "Anthem For Uncle Bob" suggests that the song is aimed in particular at Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe. In a similar vein, "Boy Soldier" looks at the common habit throughout Africa of impressing teenage boys into service in armies or revolutionary groups. As usual, Clegg alternates between singing in English and Zulu, often on the same song, but he expands his linguistic horizons on One Life by including songs in Afrikaans ("Thamela - Die Son Drink Water") and French ("Faut Pas Baisser Les Bras").

Musically, other than the Latin feel of "Daughter Of Eden," there aren't any big surprises here. Clegg has always combined Western rock and folk with Zulu traditions and township jive, and he also keeps up with current musical trends. While heavy-duty electronics got in the way a bit on his previous album New World Survivor, One World sounds very fresh and not forced. Almost all the music on One Life is upbeat, and the disc as a whole just simmers with energy. My favorite element of Clegg's sound over the years has been the multi-voiced Zulu choruses. The distinctly African modal harmonies have this power to them that very few vocal traditions on the planet can match. Happily, One Life is full of these choruses, to a significantly greater degree than on most of his post-Juluka work. The chorus of "Jongosi" in particular hits with a force reminiscent of Clegg's best work.

One Life finds Johnny Clegg back in his prime, bounding with vibrant energy while remaining thoughtful and thought-provoking with his lyrics. Clegg has been one of the most important figures in the world of music for close to thirty years, and with his new album he remains as vital as ever.

Overall grade: A

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Side Effects (2005)

Side Effects is a comedy that comments on the current state of physician advertising via the so called pharmaceutical reps. While far from a documentary, it does impart a fair amount of information along the way, like that there is one pharmaceutical rep for every four doctors in the country.

The film stars Katherine Heigl, better known as “Izzie” from Gray’s Anatomy. She hangs up her white coat for this Side Effects, and sees how the other half lives. She decides to become a pharmaceutical rep, and the film starts with her recruitment. With the offer of a free company car, she is hooked on this new career path.

As time goes on, she is less sure of her career choice. She questions why they are selling these expensive drugs to the physicians, and presenting sales pitches that leave out essential facts. She also realizes how little she really knows about the products she is pushing. When a romance develops, she is convinced that she must get out of the business. She sets a 6 month countdown, and decides to tell the truth to the doctors in her territory. While this is rather humorous, for the sake of the film, her sales actually increase!

This film is both entertaining, and disturbing at the same time. While the pharmaceutical industry does do a lot of research, and brings drugs to market, it is clear that they are far more motivated by profit, than helping mankind. After all, when they have invested so much money in a drug, they aren’t going to shelve it when the bad results start appearing if they can make billions before anyone else figures this out (eg: Vioxx causing heart attacks). The DVD adds a documentary that delves into these issues a little more.

While Side Effects is entertaining, the overall theme is enraging. What holds this film back from a higher grade is that the low budget nature of the film comes through at several points, with scenes that don’t quite make sense, or strange camera movements that made me feel like I was watching a senior film thesis, and not a Hollywood film. Still, the message is worth wading through this, and I was both entertained and informed- always a good combination, especially when it’s natural and I don’t feel like I’m being preached to.

Overall Grade: B+

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Accepted (2006)

Back in the glory days of Saturday Night Live (translation: it was actually funny!), they had this skit about this fake college. The idea was that your parents paid this outrageous tuition and then they gave you half of it. The entire campus was a bunch of facades, and you only showed up one day a year, Parent’s Day. After four years they gave you your degree.

Accepted is a film that takes the idea of a fake school and updates it for the current generation. Justin Long plays Bartelby, who gets rejected by every school he applies to. With an overbearing father, he is under some severe pressure to get into an institution of higher education. We’re not talking about a specific school, but any school that will take him. He decides to have his friend build a web site for a fictitious school- South Harmon Institute of Technology (yes, those initials do stand for what you think they do). He writes himself a letter of acceptance, and his father is quite pleased.

Faster than we can say matriculate, some of his friends, also with college rejection problems decide to jump on board. Along the way, with their parent’s tuition checks in hand, they decide to legitimize their school. There is humor along the way, whether they are renovating a condemned psych hospital for their campus, or finding a more than washed up shoe salesman, with some seriously radical views, to become their new dean.

While on the surface this is all fun and games, there is a little bit of a deeper commentary about the current state of college education. Those looking for a comedy that is simultaneously silly, but with a social conscience, than take a look at Accepted.

Overall Grade: B
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James Brown, 1933-2006

James Brown, the "Godfather of Soul," passed away on Christmas morning at the age of 73. Born in Depression-era South Carolina, Brown cut his musical teeth singing gospel music. Idolizing Little Richard, Brown then veered into R&B and early rock and roll, getting his first hit in 1956 with "Please, Please, Please." It wasn't until the sixties, though, that Brown created his trademark sound, eschewing standard chord progressions for rhythm-heavy tracks full of syncopated bass and drum lines, lots of horns, and ad-libbed vocals. His style has influenced every black musical development since then, from funk to disco to hip-hop; indeed, it is hard to imagine any facet of contemporary R&B without Brown's indelible stamp on it.

Brown had a number of hit singles, most notably "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag," "I've Got You (I Feel Good)," and the immortally titled "Get Up I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine (Part 1)." His strength, though, was not really as a song craftsman or a recording artist, and in the category of soul artists you can make the argument that Otis Redding and Smokey Robinson were both superior as singers and songwriters. Instead, James Brown's legendary status comes from his reputation as a showman and a bandleader. His concerts were spectacles, driven by Brown's non-stop energy, rapid fire footwork, and over-the-top antics. The 1963 LP Live At The Apollo is regarded by many as the greatest live album in the history of rock. His demands as a bandleader were very simple: to be the best, night in and night out. He wasn't considered the easiest guy to work for, but he got results. Nor was he any less demanding on himself; he easily earned the title "the hardest-working man in show business."

Regrettably, Brown spent much of the latter part of his life dealing with multiple run-ins with the law, but his status in the music world remained untarnished. He continued to tour regularly, and was even booked to play at B.B. King's club near Times Square this coming weekend. The end came quickly, however, in the form of a very severe case of pneumonia. James Brown is an American cultural icon, much like Johnny Cash. He and Cash both transcended their respective musical genres, earning the respect and admiration of people well beyond their target audiences. Likewise, he will be no less lamented or missed than Cash is.

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Eden's Gate (2001)

Eden’s Gate is a novel by author David Hagberg, who is well known for international thrillers. This one fits into the Bill Lane series of novels, which is his lesser known series. Bill Lane is a hero type that works for an undercover agency that is able to cut through the red tape around Washington, and answers directly to the President, something akin to Brad Thor’s hero- Scott Harvath.

The plot centers around a horrible secret. The Nazi’s had a secret lab, which was destroyed at the end of the war. The idea is that their secret is quite powerful, and now some Germans living in Montana of all places decide to go after it. The Montana Germans are really ex-East Germans from the secret police force known as Stasi. With this secret, they can hold the American superpower hostage, extort megabucks from the US, and have their plan for world domination, etc., etc., etc. If this starts to sound like the plot from Dr. Evil in an Austin Power’s movie, then you’re starting to get the idea. The whole thing has been overdone way too many times before, and there’s little new here in the overall plot.

There are some neat parts to the novel. This includes diving into a flooded Nazis bunker, and a skirmish on the high seas aboard a freighter. Hagberg also does an admirable job of keeping the true nature of the Nazis secret known for most of the novel. Truthfully, this was one of the few things that kept me reading on, and kept me from guessing the rest of the novel (and no, I’m not going to tell it to you here).

Still, overall, this plot, which is five years old, still felt quite tired to me. Cussler’s Black Wind, albeit written more recently, is along the same lines of a lost WW II secret, but kept my interest a lot better. Eden’s Gate had several passages that I had to read more than once to even comprehend what was happening, something I almost never have to do which points to some confusing writing. Combine that with a global cast of characters, and settings around the globe, and it appears that there was too much plot to develop in a mere 300 page book. Something simply isn’t working here, and the novel feels a little half baked at times.

While I’ve enjoyed this author before, Eden’s Gate simply isn’t Hagberg at the top of his game. On the other hand though, it is a little prophetic as it was written before 9/11, and the issues developed have certainly been a concern ever since. Oh, in case you’re wondering, Eden refers to the Cuban beach that they plan to retire to after they’ve made more dough than they know what to do with. In case you’re planning a trip to a warm tropical beach, I’d suggest bringing something other than Eden’s Gate to pass the time in the sun and sand.

Overall Grade: B-

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Also reviewed by Hagberg:
Joshua's Hammer
By Dawn's Early Light

Prime (2005)

Going through the DVD archives, this week I screened the film Prime. It stars Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman. It is a romantic comedy that takes an inside look at love overcoming barriers.

The key to any romantic comedy is that there needs to be something that keeps the would be lovers apart. In the case of Prime it is a double whammy as both a significant age difference (she’s 37, he’s 23), and different religions are keeping them apart. Ok, so far, this is really nothing special thus far.


The twist that makes this film is that Meryl Streep plays a therapist, and is trying to help Uma Thurman, a late 30-something who is recently out of a long term relationship that didn’t work out, and wondering if she is past her prime to start again. Enter Streep’s son who almost has a maturity beyond his years, and starts to date Thurman. What makes this intriguing is that for the majority of the movie the therapist gives disparate advice to both her son and her patient, and she doesn’t know the two of them are dating. On the one hand she advises her patient with liberal Manhattan values, while she preaches to her son traditional Jewish values. This dichotomy is what makes Prime worth watching in this reviewer’s opinion.

Prime is well acted, and plays out well. It’s a little more serious than some other romantic comedies, but that gives it some depth, and a sense of reality, while still not taking itself overly seriously. It’s difficult to straddle this line successfully, but Prime does just that.

Overall Grade: B+

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Loreena McKennitt, An Ancient Muse (Quinlan Road, 2006)

Canadian singer Loreena McKennitt began her musical career in the late eighties performing almost exclusively Celtic music, but through the early nineties her sound evolved by incorporating many influences from the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Her career hit a peak in 1997 when her album The Book Of Secrets spawned an unlikely hit single in "The Mummers' Dance," but abruptly derailed when her fiancé died tragically in a boating accident the following year. McKennitt took her time to restore herself both emotionally and creatively, and after nine years she has re-emerged with a new album called An Ancient Muse.

An Ancient Muse picks up sonically right where The Book Of Secrets left off. Celtic fiddles, uillean pipes, and harps dance above ouds, tablas,Turkish clarinets, and hurdy-gurdys. As usual, the combinations of European and Asian musical traditions, and of ancient, Medieval and modern instruments and sounds, fit together perfectly naturally in McKennitt's work. The creative process for most of her albums begins with a voyage of exploration into some aspect of Celtic tradition, and An Ancient Muse finds McKennit traveling from Mongolia, where the nomadic Celts originated, across the Silk Road through the Middle East into Turkey and Greece, where the Celts first crossed into Europe. McKennitt usually augments her own lyrics with an adaptation of a poem at some point on her albums, and does so again here with Sir Walter Scott's "The English Ladye And The Knight." This poem is tragic, because the knight is Scottish, and the lady's brother did not approve the relationship.

One significant difference separates An Ancient Muse from McKennitt's previous efforts, though. Her willingness to combine musical traditions and celebrate their common ground has always had social and political implications, but up to this point McKennitt had let her music do the talking where contemporary politics was concerned. Here though, she lets the shadow of the many conflicts currently plaguing the Middle East guide the lyrics. In particular, the penultimate song "Beneath A Phyrgian Sky" laments the waste of human life, especially in the name of God, and calls on those who believe in love instead of war to stand strong at this moment in history.

Like McKennitt's previous efforts, An Ancient Muse has a couple of standout tracks. The best pieces here are the song "Caravanserai," about humanity's nomadic impulse, and the instrumental "Kecharitomene," whose title comes from an ancient Byzantine convent. The remaining music is still good, but doesn't really distinguish itself from the bulk of the material on her previous three albums The Visit, The Mask And The Mirror, and The Book Of Secrets. Still, McKennitt has made an excellent career out of undertaking fascinating physical, spiritual, and historical journeys and inviting the listener to experience the results. An Ancient Muse is a welcome addition, holding up to her best prior work. It is certainly good to have Loreena McKennitt back.

Overall grade: A-

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Maria Kalaniemi, Bellow Poetry (Alula, 2006)

Anybody who sees Maria Kalaniemi play the accordion for the first time discovers very quickly that she is a true master at her craft. Not only is she technically flawless, but she pulls a broad range of emotions, from the delicate to the very tense, out of her instrument and makes it seem so effortless and natural on stage. Like many players who are exceptionally good at their instrument, though, Kalaniemi hasn't always produced recordings that equal the experience of seeing her live. That simple fact makes latest CD, Bellow Poetry, a particularly ambitious undertaking. For this album, Kalaniemi does away with virtually all accompaniment, save an occasional contribution from her husband Olli Varis on guitar and her own vocals on a couple of tracks. Her own playing is sparse and pensive, punctuated by extended moments of eerie silence and abrupt shifts in dynamics and tempo.

Bellow Poetry
is as challenging to the listener as it must have been for its creator. For one thing it requires undivided attention, which is a hard thing to give in our fast-paced world. Furthermore, it is intended to be listened to as a whole, and not track by track; anybody going in looking for one or two tunes to stick on their iPod has exactly the wrong idea. When I saw Kalaniemi perform these pieces at the Nordic Roots Festival, it was easy to focus on her, and to appreciate the moods and feelings she was creating with her instrument and voice. The recording requires exactly the same kind of focus, and a casual listener will lose much of the subtlety. For example, it took me several listens to the piece "Sade (Rain)" before I even noticed that it was actually raining in the background. So if you wish to get this album, you had better be prepared to tune everything else out for fifty minutes. If you can do that, though, you'll be rewarded with some superb, emotive playing in an intimate, artistic setting.

Overall grade: B+

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On Our One Year Anniversary....

Just about a year ago, I looked around and realized that while there are tons of websites, no one was reviewing the kind of entertainment that me and some friends were really interested in. I approached some of them, and roped them into writing for my vision of an "entertainment blog" that became known as "The Armchair Critic." Our first post was just about one year ago today. I wasn't sure that we'd have enough content as more than half the blogs on the web have had no update for over three months.

Recently, at a party, a gentleman (who is a friend of a friend, but I had never met) came up to me and asked "So, you're Jonas, THE Armchair Critic." This was in fact Steve, who ran a now defunct entertainment site from the late '90's known as "Rant Rave" that didn't weather an unfortunate server crash too well. His question caught me a little off guard as this was the first time that anyone had identified me as having any relation to any website.

While I did conceive this site, and function as the webmaster, as well as providing a fair chunk of the content (specializing in not so recently released DVD's...), this site is only functioning because of the contributions of others. I'd like to thank, on our anniversary, the regular and outstanding contributions on Scott and Mike. Both have put forth A TON of effort to create the content that we all enjoy on a regular basis. In addition, I'd also like to thank our occasional contributors Jim and Rachel, that help provide additional depth and material enriching us all.

We reached over 10,000 page views in under a year, which is impressive as none of us have quit our day jobs to do this endeavor. Taking an unknown site such as this one, and getting it known is always a challenge. Add in the fact that my area of expertise is really computer hardware (at least within computers...), and that my writers had little HTML experience and we had the deck stacked against us. Be that as it may, we persevered, and now are getting over one thousand page views per month lately!

Thanks again to our loyal readership. We're here to stay, and you can count on us to continue to provide you with "the most opinionated reviews from the world of entertainment." Happy holidays to all!


Keeping Up With the Steins (2006)

Keeping Up With the Steins is a tongue-in-cheek look at what goes into a Bar Mitzvah, and outdoing one's neighbor in the process. Its cast includes Daryl Hannah, Doris Roberts and Garry Marshall, notably directed by his son, Scott Marshall.

Despite the serious nature of this religious milestone in a Jewish boy's journey to manhood, this film pokes fun at it in a respectful way. The opening scene showing the way over the top Titanic themed Bar Mitzvah is more than entertaining. This is the Stein's boy's Bar Mitzvah, that throws the gauntlet down that the competitive Fiedler's will try to outdo. Unfortunately, the true meaning of milestone gets lost as the event planner boosts the event to even bigger levels as they plunge full steam ahead to rent out a stadium and hire stars to appear. As we proceed, at an almost out of control rate, the boy gets to develop a relationship with his grandfather, and the whole event gets regrounded before it spirals off into space somewhere.

For anyone hat has ever planned an event, Keeping Up With the Steins is sure to ring true; just don't expect anything too meaningful out of it.

Overall Grade: B-

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The Matador (2005)

I recently rented The Matador, and I hope that I can save someone the pain I endured. Forgetting for a moment that I'm really not a Brosnan fan (he was an awful James Bond), the plot here is the real weakness. In the end, it is truly thinner than the matador's cape in the bullfight. Brosnan poorly plays a "business facilitator" (aka: assassin) that criss-crosses the globe to seal the deal. A seemingly chance meeting with an American businessman sets the stage for the rest of the movie. Much of the storyline develops while these two dialogue at the bar, and this is about as exciting as watching two drunks imbibing margaritas- a rather droll experience. The rest of the film does nothing to save itself with 70's style locale titles flashing on the screen, and drawn out scenes of old Mexican movies incorporated in. Definitely pass The Matador by on your Netflix list, and next trip through Blockbuster.

Overall Grade: D

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Joan Osborne, Pretty Little Stranger (Vanguard, 2006)

Joan Osborne has had one of the more noteworthy careers of any recent rock performer. When her debut CD Relish came out in 1995, her brand of soul-tinged folk rock seemed destined to appeal mainly to the WFUV market, and she appeared to be content to do her own thing for whomever bothered to listen. Then, several months after Relish came out, she had a very improbable hit with "One Of Us," a quirky song about God written by Hooters guitarist Eric Bazilian. Suddenly Relish was a monster seller, but the upswing in her fortunes came at a heavy price. She and her record label had very different ideas about what the follow-up should be, and Osborne refused to compromise regardless of the toll it would take on her. Neither side budged, the lawyers were brought in, and after several years in limbo Osborne had to restart her career from scratch. When her second album Righteous Love finally came out in 2000, it was a bit harder-edged than Relish -- evidently a cardinal sin from the perspective of her original label. It didn't come close to matching the sales of Relish, but at least Osborne was in control of her music and the output was solid. Always a better singer than a songwriter, she returned in 2002 with How Sweet It Is, an excellent set of soul covers that merged Osborne's potent voice with some classic material. Artistically at least, Joan Osborne had more than come all the way back.

For her new offering Pretty Little Stranger, Osborne aims for a country feel, even recording a good part of the album in Nashville. Guests include Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, and Rodney Crowell. She deftly mixes her own compositions with the covers on this album. For example, her ominous "Shake The Devil" could easily pass for a folk standard, and fits perfectly between Patty Griffin's "What You Are" and Kris Kristofferson's sad ballad "Please Don't Tell Me How The Story Ends." Other interesting covers include The Grateful Dead's "Brokedown Palace" and an excellent rendition of the country standard "Till I Get It Right," originally done by Tammy Wynette. While the covers tend to be mellow, Osborne adds some variety with her originals, including the rocking title song and the funky "Dead Roses." She also takes a very daring step by including "After Jane," a song very clearly about a relationship with another woman. The highlight of the album though, and the best song Osborne has written to date, is the brilliantly soulful "Who Divided," a very catchy song with excellent potential as a single.

Pretty Little Stranger
has its share of good songs, but Osborne doesn't always sound as completely in her element here as she did on How Sweet It Is. She brings some soul to the ballads, but her voice isn't as perfectly suited for country music as Neko Case's is, for example. Plus, other than "Who Divided," there wasn't enough energy to balance the sad, somber efforts. Given that, a couple of the ballads are very nicely done, and "Who Divided" by itself would have been sufficient to recommend giving this album a listen. Joan Osborne has determinedly stuck to her guns and done things her own way, and has never shied away from trying something a little different and challenging, regardless of the risk to her commercial aspirations. With Pretty Little Stranger, she has added another worthy effort to her increasingly impressive resumé.

Overall grade: B+
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The Threat (2006)

The Threat is the latest novel in David Poyer's series about the modern navy. Poyer is an Annapolis graduate, and served the navy in numerous roles, including at sea on destroyers. With years of service both on active duty, and to allow more time to write, in the reserves, if it involves the navy in some way, Poyer can write about it with the authority that only first hand experience can provide.

These novels are based around Dan Lenson. He has been called a "self doubting protagonist" as he finds himself perpetually in situations that are over his head, and above his rank. Be that as it may, he struggles along, and manages to serve his country despite his nonapproving superiors.

In the previous novel of this series, The Command, Lenson skippers a destroyer that bears the brunt of a nearby nuclear explosion. With his ship glowing in the dark from being contaminated with radiation, he now gets a shoreside assignment. This tour of duty finds him assigned to the White House.

Lenson's first assignment involves antidrug activities. Interestingly, Poyer uses a previous character from his Tiller Galloway diving novels, Nunez ("The Baptist"). Next we find Lenson in the middle of the Bosnian conflict. Finally, Lenson gets assigned to carry "the football," of nuclear launch codes that accompany our President. Frankly, it's a lot of activity for a 305 page novel, but it does keep things from getting dull as the tale proceeds.

While of course this is all fiction, the President is a thinly disguised version of Bill Clinton, womanizing, antimilitary and all that. To make things even worse for Lenson, his marriage is on the rocks, and he suspects his commander-in-chief is involved with his wife.

Along the way, Poyer gives us an inside glimpse into how dysfunctional Washington can be. The self serving politicians, the corrupt lobbyists, and the disgruntled joint chiefs all interweave into The Threat. At times it reads as a cautionary commentary of how too much bureaucracy impedes anything from getting done. It paints our government as an overweight bear that has limited ability to respond to novel and rapidly changing incidents. While we certainly hope this isn't the case, the author has served in the government's upper echelons so it just might be based on something real, or at the very least, plausible.

The Threat reminds me considerably of Poyer's Tomahawk novel, as they both deal with Lenson on a shoreside assignment. It is gritty, with an uncanny ability to get inside the mind of his main character. I can't wait to read, The Admiral, or whatever Poyer writes next.

Overall Grade: A

Reviewed by Jonas

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JPP, Artology (NorthSide, 2006)

The Finnish pelimanni tradition of ensemble fiddling has endured for several centuries. The center for this fiddling style has historically been the village of Kaustinen, from which the Järvelä family of fiddlers come. For over twenty years, the standard-bearer of the pelimanni tradition in Finnish folk music has been JPP. JPP features the fiddle work of Mauno and Arto Järvelä, Matti Mäkelä, and Tommi Pyykönen. Timo Alakotila provides accompaniment on harmonium, and the next generation of Järveläs is now represented in JPP as well by new bassist Antti Järvelä, who also plays with the excellent band Frigg. While they tour and perform regularly, JPP do not venture into the recording studio all that often, with their previous studio album String Tease having come out in 1998. This year though, JPP recorded Artology, a disc of new tunes composed entirely by Arto Järvelä.

Musically, Artology will not surprise anybody already familiar with JPP's work. The band performs polskas, polkas, tangos, and schottisches with their usual air tight precision and a healthy dose of quirky twists. One highlight is "Murhe (Grief)," a tune inspired by a TV documentary about two young boys, one Israeli and one Palestinian, pen pals living 5 km apart who might as well have been on other sides of the planet. They eventually did get to meet and play PlayStation together, and that's why the tune abruptly becomes happy and bouncy near the end. "Yli Äyräiden (Over The Banks)" is a very pretty, ambient waltz in honor of the sea. The band shows a bit of an American influence with their lively tune Sutela, dedicated to an old-time fiddler from Vermont named Pete Sutherland. The album closes with "Stuffologie," a swingy live track from the 2005 Kaustinen Folk festival.

Artology meets the same standard of quality as the previous JPP albums. Fans of the band will know exactly what to expect when they put this CD on, which I suppose can be taken as a weakness of the album as well as a strength. If I were to make any other criticisms of Artology, it's that Timo Alakotila has composed many fine tunes for the band in the past, and I can't help wondering if the disc would have benefited from some counterpoint from him. Otherwise, Artology is a collection of good likable tunes from one of the venerable groups in new Finnish folk music.

Overall Grade: B

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