Being a storyteller is sort of like being an iceberg. Only a little teensy bit of you is visible to the casual observer. Most of what goes on in order to enable that teensy bit to be visible happens out of sight. Out of mind.
This is the first “oomph” of what I hope becomes an ongoing effort to help keep my fellow storytellers and our beloved artform a little more visible above the waterline. I’m writing a review!
I have to fight the idea that by reviewing the creative work of my peers I am guilty of hubris. Who made me the expert? On the other hand, I keep remembering the words of a friend who played and wrote for one of the most successful touring bands in Australia in 1970, the year I lived in Sydney. His name is Doug Rowe, and his band was The Flying Circus. Upon the release of their 3rd LP (remember vinyl?), he asked my flatmates and me to give it a listen and tell him — honestly — what we thought. We all tittered and blushed and said we’d be delighted to, but we weren’t pros. What did we know? He said, “You’re the folks who buy the albums, and if you don’t like the music it doesn’t matter what the pros think.”
Emboldened by those words, I proceed with my inaugural review of
1001 Years of 1001 Nights,
tales from Scheherazade retold by
Mary Grace Ketner
A couple of weeks ago I finally got to meet Mary Grace, after months of reading her comments on a storytellers’ listserve we both subscribe to, admiring the way she thinks and her way with the written word. The occasion that brought our paths together was the George West Storyfest, now in its 24th year, held the first weekend in November, south of San Antonio in the town of … George West, Texas. To meet Mary Grace is to like her even more than you thought you might.
But just because you like a person doesn’t mean you’re going to be over the moon about their work. I was happy to do the storytellers’ swap with our CDs. I had seen a video of one of her school performances and knew from those how personable and polished she is. But live performance and recording are two different beasts.
Well, last week I cleared my brain for some focus on stories and listened to both of my Mary Grace Ketner CDs – her brand new one, 1001 Years of 1001 Nights, and her 2009 recording “Ghostly Gals & Spirited Women.”
Oh, how I love it when performers realize the importance of professional recording and editing! Sound quality isn’t something I think about much unless it’s bad. Or exceptionally rich and warm. These recordings are exceptionally rich and warm.* There’s nice art on the CD sleeves, too. I know sleeves leave a smaller footprint than digi-paks do, but I would have enjoyed that extra panel a digi-pak offers for a statement from the artist or some background information about how these programs were chosen.
1001 Years of 1001 Nights runs just over an hour. The common thread is, as you might have guessed, the story of Scheherazade (I have to look at that written out somewhere every time I try to type it). The first track lays the foundation – what compelled a gorgeous young woman to create a new story every night for almost three years. The capstone piece is a very complete, very satisfying telling of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, in which it is not so much stated as it is demonstrated who the real hero(ine) of this story is. “The Peddler of Swaffham” follows Ali Baba, and if you thought that was a story from the British Isles, you’re right. But before it was English, it was Arabian – “The Ruined Man Who Became Rich Through a Dream.” The program concludes with “The Tale of the Hunchback,” which also emigrated … to North America … and morphed into “Old Dry Fry.” Everybody knows Old Dry Fry, and nobody tells it better than Mary Grace, giving free rein to a Texas accent she came by honestly and knows how to use to its best advantage.
Lest anyone think Ketner chose these variants casually, have a listen to the first two and a half minutes of the first story on the CD:
mary grace schez
I’ll bring this review to a close with a quick statement about her first CD, “Ghostly Gals…” It’s like a Whitman Sampler of stories with colorful female characters – folk tales, fairy tales, local legends, scary, wistful, eerie, and one of them, The Condiment Basketball Game, is an outright hoot. Ketner tells the best La Llorona I’ve ever heard, and I count that story among the “regulars” in my own repertoire. Finally, Pretty Maid Ibronka, a Hungarian fairy tale, has all the enchantment of a dream – a dream you want desperately to wake up from.
I’d recommend these stories for grownups all the way down to very intelligent 10-year-olds.
Okay, so here’s how you order them: Go to http://www.mandalamusic.com/jazzartstore/music/cds.index.html#ghostly.gals
And before long you’ll be able to order them from CDBaby, too.
Here’s where you can find out more about Mary Grace: http://talesandlegends.net
*I’m sorry to say this clip probably won’t sound so rich and warm, because I smooshed a nice big .wav file into an .mp3, which is the audio equivalent of turning half and half into skim milk.