Smiley, Jane. A year at the races; reflections on horses, humans, love, money, and luck
by Smiley Jane

For people whose knowledge of horses and horse racing comes primarily from reading Marguerite Henry's books as a child and seeing the movie Seabiscuit twice, A Year at the Races is an education. Author Jane Smiley's love for horses goes beyond any standard emotion; her fascination borders on addiction. This attribute combined with her gift for writing makes for an excellent and informative book. Although it sets out to cover a year of the ups and downs of two of her own racehorses, Waterwheel and Wowie, Smiley easily veers off into the history and lore of racing, as well as many horse anecdotes, and also provides an introduction to racing's extensive and unique vocabulary.

"To me, the racetrack is an inherently amazing place, rich in language and personality, sometimes beautiful and sometimes sordid, always unpredictable. Racing is a business, an art, an athletic context, a moral and a spiritual test." (p.8) Smiley defends horse sports and admits she sees horses "as individuals, with memories and intentions and desires, disabilities and talents ..." (p.271). What the reader decides on the issue may be equally individual, but either way, A Year at the Races gives much to consider. Katherine Gillen, Libn., Luke AFB Lib., AZ

I presented Rex Fowler and Neal Shulman in concert when they first formed Aztec Two-Step in the early 1970s. Thus, I can say with authority that this duo sounds as good, if not better, now than they did 30+ years ago. Days of Horses regains the brilliance lost after their first few albums, returning the duo to the top of their form. What keeps the CD consistently interesting is that their songs are distinctly different (they do not cowrite), yet cohesive in style. Their once-sweet sound has been tempered with a bit of grit gained from age and experience. They forsake choirboy harmonies for far more interesting harmonies akin to morning glory vines. Although they both adeptly play guitar, they flesh out the sound on many of the songs with half a dozen accompanists, including Kenny Kosek on mandolin and fiddle. The production ranges for spare acoustic to full, but not overbearing rock. The songs follow the theme of the title song, perceptive reminiscence. In an unusual stroke, the CD literally opens with its title, it is in the first line you hear. Fowler even rhymes horses and Porsches and makes it sound natural, in this historical epic of the automobile, specifically its golden days when he was growing up. "Dad Came Home" engages you in Shulman's personal memoir, which could be the story of many, if not most, Baby Boomers whose lives all began when their dads returned from World War II and married mom. It's a great history of the past 50 years. "Better These Days" is a nice bluesy little tongue-in-cheek number about giving up booze and street drugs for prescription cures for the blues. It features some wicked harmonica from Rob Papparozzi. The CD concludes with the perfect song for our age of Christian-influenced music, Shulman's "I Don't Believe in Jesus (but I certainly do like his songs)" This thoroughly entertaining CD comes highly recommended.