Sunday, April 8, 2012

Yankee Ingenuity

CD Review

Written and performed by Jo Radner; $15, including shipping and handling. To order, email Also available on CD Baby.

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

            I became a fan of Jo Radner at the New England Modern Storytelling Festival in Windsor, Maine in 1997, when I heard her tell a story about outhouses. On that cold (thirty degrees), rainy September Saturday, I also fell in love with the people of Maine. There they stood, bare-footed and wearing shorts, listening in rapt attention to the stories being told. I was reminded of my own Appalachian kinfolk. No amount of rain or cold was going to keep them away from what they loved. Can you blame me for being thrilled when I found Yankee Ingenuity, a CD by Jo Radner about real Mainers, in my post office box?

            I listened to this CD during a four hour drive home from a performance in Roanoke. I listened the entire four hours, savoring each story multiple times. They are that good!

            Wimble Betty, set just after the Revolutionary War in Norway, Maine, is the story of Elizabeth “Betty” Stevens, a headstrong, smart, outrageous woman who was given her nickname after she used a wimble (hand drill) to drain a barrel of rum that was causing the men of the town to carouse a little more than their women folk could tolerate. Betty’s cohorts abandoned her once the angry men found out about the deed, leaving Betty to take the heat on her own. Mainers, it seems, never forget; but a clever peddler who stretches the truth gives Betty the opportunity to redeem herself.  Pitchforks and coconuts are prominently featured in this story.

            The Man Who Proved the Earth Was Flat tells about Joe Holden, the “old astronomer” who in the 1800’s proved (to his own satisfaction, at least) that the earth was flat and stationary, while the sun and moon moved. In his honor, to this very day, folks in East Otisville, Maine ( a town so stubborn it seceded from Cumberland County less than forty years ago), enjoy strawberry ice cream, peanuts, and popcorn at the Joe Holden Picnic ever year on the last Sunday in August.

            Lion Maker is a powerful tale that begins with a parable about three scientists who scoff at a farmer who warns them not to bring a lion back to life. As the farmer climbs a tree to safety, the resurrected lion does what lions are born to do. This segues nicely into the story of Hiram Stevens Maxim, a boy genius who at age eleven developed the first mouse powered mousetrap. Beaten to the punch at the patent office by Thomas Edison, Maxim moves to London, where someone suggests that he develop a device to help Europeans kill one another. His responds by inventing a machine gun that fires more than 660 bullets a minute and, as a result, is knighted by an appreciative Queen Victoria. “If it had been anything but a killing machine,” Maxim attests, “nobody would have paid any attention to it.” When the English use this weapon in Sudan, more than 20,000 Sudanese are killed in a single battle.  Maxim did not live to witness the devastation the gun wrought in World War I.  “What lions are we making now” Radner wonders, “and where are the trees for the rest of us to climb?”  I had to pull off the side of the road after this story, stunned to realize that the “trees” truly are gone.

            Feet First features Henry Edwards, a man who loved Hiram Walker’s Coffee flavored brandy and who had his own unique way of doing things. It takes an ornery pig with a mind of its own to make him see the light.

            In Eccentricity, Radner shares humorous memories of her eccentric uncle, Horace Greeley Adams.  Not until after his death does she discover that his eccentricity came at a terrible price.  Instead of escaping to a place where he could be anonymous, however, he chose to “stay where he (was) known.”  After hearing this story, I had to pull off the road for a second time to pay silent homage to the “characters” I have known.

            Stories like those included on Yankee Ingenuity are the kind of stories that made me want to become a storyteller. Everyone, especially our young people, should hear them. While it may be too late to turn back the clock, stories shared can teach hard lessons in such a way that wisdom may yet prevail.


  1. Your review DEFINITELY has me wanting to buy a copy!!!!!!!

  2. Wonderful review, make me want to listen with you.

  3. Make that 'makes'. Foiled by the quick finger return once again.

  4. Max, my fingers have fumbled more than once.