Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Loose Ends 2015 Edition

Every year I end the season with a lot of things left undone.  All unintentional, all a factor of balancing time between work, family, all the other Christmas season activities, of which there are many, and this here little blog.  Each year I get many e-mails notifying me about new Christmas music, more than I can possibly do justice to.  Usually, the earlier I get notice the better, but even then sometimes the music can get lost in the shuffle.  If an artist or publicist sends me a physical CD, I do my best to critically and intently listen and write up s good thorough review.  I think I hit 100% on that mark this year.  It's the digital music and submissions that, sadly, sometimes don't make it to the blog.  So, here in the last official post of the season, I'm going to provide some info and links about some other fine Christmas music from 2015.

First up is "On a Christmas Night" by Found Wandering.  How on Earth did this one get by?  Seriously, how?  Thank Santa for Stubby, who did a great job covering this record with his full review.  This is a great, great record.  Starting with the album art, about the best thing I've ever seen, through all 11 tracks, this is a fantastic Christmas album.  I may return to this record and give it the justice it deserves when we kick off the 2016 season.  But for now, here are links to the record and to the band's site, and the fab album cover.

"On a Christmas Night"
Found Wandering site on Bandcamp

Next up is "Christmas Crackers" by Poke Music, a collection of 26(!) songs, originals and favorites, performed by many talented artists in various styles - crooner, Elvis, Madonna "Santa Baby" style, and more.  It is a most pleasing collection of songs sure to satisfy all the Christmas music lovers out there as well as the casual holiday-time listener.

"Christmas Crackers" on Bandcamp

And now, links, links, links...

"Christmas at the Piano" by Paul Tracy  Bandcamp link
"The Angel Gabriel feat. Dave Worm" by PC Munoz   Bandcamp link
"A Colorful Christmas" by Fetal Records Music  Soundcloud link
"Merry Christmas, with Love" by Lily Lambert  Soundcloud link
"Up All Night" by The Yule Logs   YouTube link
"Christmas Time Again" by SPiN  link
"Hark the Herald Angels Sing" by Claudia Hoyser  YouTube link
"Knights in Santa's Service" by Teflon Beast  Bandcamp link
Two tunes from Loop Line

Late Breaking:  Here are a couple more I found in the inbox:

"Christmas May Have To Be Postponed" - Carly Jamison  website
"Kidnap the Sandy Claws" - Fable Cry - Soundcloud link

Whew - I think that's it.  There is some mighty fine music in this list.  2015 was a down year for commercial releases but a banner year for downloadable, off-label, independent artist music.  Slick and commercial, or filled with heart and spirit, take your pick.

Please visit these sites, listen to the music samples, and support these artists if their music moves you.
Thanks to all who visited Merry and Bright this season - I hope you had a happy and joyous Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter, filled with new and old music for the season.  Have a prosperous 2016, and check back here from time to time!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Der Bingle's Best of 2015

What can be a better post on New Year's Eve than a 'best of 2015' Christmas records list?  Nothing, am I right?  Without further ado, as we bid adieu to 2015, here is my Top Christmas records of 2015:

1.  Greg Page "Here Comes Christmas!" 

You read my review - I absolutely loved this record, as enjoyable for us grown-ups as for the kids.  Full of heart and Christmas wonder.

2.  The Snow Globes "Milk and Cookies" EP.  

The Snow Globes are a local (to me) Kansas City band that forms each November, plays the heck out of Christmas music for two months, then slips away until the next year.  Somehow, I didn't find out about them until this year.  They are soooooo good.  This year, their EP, which is their 4th CD release in 5 years, gets my #2 spot.  Look for a big story about The Snow Globes here next season.  Until then, visit their website and listen to their marvelous Christmas tunes.

3.  Elizabeth Chan "Red and Green"

Honestly, as long as Elizabeth Chan keeps putting out new music year after year, her albums will keep hitting my 'best of' list.  No one embodies the true musical spirit of the holiday as much as Elizabeth.  "Christmas in the City", her 2014 single, is a Christmas classic, and the rest of the world is starting to figure that out.  I'm going to write about why this really is a Christmas classic in a post next season - I have my reasons :-)

4.  Astrocolor "Lit Up"

One of the best original interpretation albums of Christmas music ever.  It's mesmerizing.

5.  Kylie Minogue "Kylie Christmas"

2015 was a definite down year for new "big" commercial Christmas releases, with Real Gone's re-masters taking the spotlight.  But Kylie Minogue's record was a standout.  Full of energy and fun, with a smattering of unexpected guest stars (Iggy Pop, need I say more), it was a very enjoyable record.  I really don't need to ever hear "Santa Baby" or "Baby It's Cold Outside" again, but Kylie's takes on "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and "Christmas Wrapping" were excellent.  Get the bonus edition with the DVD, so you can look at Kylie as she sings :-)

6.  Jillaine and Jacob "Jazzy Duets for Christmas"

Sublime, reserved jazzy Christmas songs from our favorite chanteuse.

7.  India Arie "Christmas with Friends"

And what a group of friends!  Joe Sample.  Trombone Shorty.  Kirk Whalum.  A laid-back album, perfect for a relaxing evening by the fire.

8. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings "It's a Holiday Soul Party"

Lots of press for this, and well deserved.  Joyful, stompin', shakin', party-on-dude Christmas record.

Honorable Mention: Thisbe Vos "A Jazzy Christmas"

Thisbe Vos gets an honorable mention because she topped my list last year after I got her album pre-release as a crowd-funding contributor.  The official commercial release was this year, so I decided to add Thisbe's album to the list again because it is so wonderful.  Folks, it is in my top 10 in my whole collection.  Thisbe's vocals will make your heart melt.  Sigh...

So that's the list for this year.  If I have a panic attack when I realize an omission, I'll make it up with a later post.  Follow the links embedded in the text above to visit these artists' websites.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Final Share of 2015: Medleys Galore!

Good day all, here on the 23rd of December.  Today I have my final share of the season.  This year and last, the vinyl sharing has diminished in numbers, for several reasons.  First is the omnipresent battle against time to do sharing right.  I should start preparing in about July, but that never happens.  Second is the availability of vinyl.  The thrift stores in these parts don't seem to produce the gems that other sharers find, so supply is limited.  Last, and related to the second factor, is that more and more Christmas records from the past are now available as commercially re-released CDs or downloads.  Which is really a good thing - we all love it when a classic record is re-mastered and re-released.  Good for us, good for the artists (or copyright holders), and good for Christmas music.

But, I'll still keep looking and sharing as I can.  Which brings us to today's share, "Christmas Hymns and Carols" by Bob Ralston.  This is an organ/chimes/chorus record, of which there are many, but this is a very good one.  The record consists of 10 medleys of Christmas songs, mostly very familiar tunes, but there are a couple lesser known gems added into the medley mix, such as "Little Stranger in the Manger" and "Ding-a-Ling, Ding-a-Ling".  The arrangements are lively and pleasing.  I've labeled the tracks simply "Track 1", "Track 2", etc, instead of listing out the medley components on each one.

I love the album cover too - nothing like a Christmas morning to get up, put on a shirt, tie and sweater if you're Dad, and a smart dress with Christmas tree brooch if you're Mom, and then running down to the Christmas tree!

Please enjoy the last share of 2015 - Bob Ralston's "Christmas Hymns and Carols".

download link

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas Carillon Classics

Tonight's share (with only one more to go this season) is an album of Christmas carols played on the carillon by master carilloneur John Klein.  A carillon is an instrument composed of many bells that is played with a keyboard, producing a very unique sound, especially when used to play Christmas songs.

There are several Christmas albums around the internet featuring John Klein, the carillon, and Christmas music.  I'm pretty sure that this one has been shared out before - I thought at Ernie's place - but I found this record in good shape for a buck, so thought I'd share it out myself for your listening pleasure this season.

Twenty songs grace this record, many under two minutes, none over three.  All come from the spiritual side of the season.  No Santa Claus or Rudolph, lots of angels, kings, and Bethlehem.

The album was in pretty good shape, although I know there is a skip on one track that I couldn't repair, so my apologies for that.  Still, it's a very enjoyable addition to your Christmas music selections for this season.


download link

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Thursday Share: Favorite Songs of Christmas

As we are quickly winding down the week before Christmas, it's time for another vinyl share.  Tonight's album is "Favorite Songs of Christmas" by The Music City Singers on the Halo Records label.  

According to the back of the album, this is a happy album full of happy songs and recorded by musicians that were happy when the record was cut.  So much happiness.  Whew.

Seriously, there are some notable things about this record.  First of all, none other than Boots Randolph is credited with the 'Sax-Xylophone' (??)   And, members of the Jordanaires (Elvis' backup group) and the Anita Kerr singers appear on the record.  It sounds like a call went out in Nashville one Saturday afternoon to all the available singers hangin' around town.  "Hey!  Whatcha doing today?"  "Nothin' much".  "Let's go cut a Christmas record".  "Okey-doke".  And so here we have "Favorite Songs of Christmas".

The music is pretty good, even though I poke a little fun at the album cover.  Ten songs, nine standards plus the not-so-standard "Christmas Time is the Best Time of the Year".   Good stuff.

If anyone knows what a 'sax-xylophone' is, please comment.  My guess is it's the creation of a rookie copy writer at Halo Records.  My second guess is that Boots did whack on a xylophone when he was taking a break from the sax.  He did play the vibraphone early on, so says the internet.

Please enjoy "Favorite Songs of Christmas"

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Was Radar O'Reilly a Tenor?

I guess we'll never know for sure, as the Corporal extraordinaire is not in the Ottumwa, IA High School Concert Choir from 1970.  But what I do know is that this high school choir makes some very pretty Christmas music.

These high school choir records fascinate me.  I posted a few songs from one a few years back, the Bentley High School Choir, and really didn't know that making these records was a thing.  I guess it is.  Makes sense, if you think about it.  Since the advent of digital music production, it's been easy to record concerts and make CDs.  Before digital, it wasn't as easy to record a school concert and save it on audio media for posterity, but I'm sure the desire was always there to save a historical record.  For schools with the means, or the fundraising efforts, it was certainly possible.  This is evidenced by Bentley and now, Ottumwa.

This is a record of the 1970 Ottumwa High School Concert Choir's Christmas concert.  Their concert was a mix of traditional spiritual songs ("O Come All Ye Faithful"), classical ('Hallelujah Chorus'), and seasonal classics ("Jingle Bells", "Sleigh Ride").  The youngsters in the choir sound great, making this a nice little record in the Christmas music sub-genre of "high school choir".

I was able scan the front and back covers (very understated, by the way, making it really interesting), but couldn't scan the inner gatefold, so it is a digital photo.  My apologies for the lower quality of the inner.

Good stuff here, says Der Bingle.  If you know someone who may have been in the Ottumwa Choir in 1970, point them here to bring back some memories.  If you were in the choir, post a comment!

Please enjoy a Christmas concert from young vocalists hailing from Radar O'Reilly's hometown!

download link

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Heartwarming Story from the Past

In addition to Christmas music, I collect, or in most cases "accumulate" would be more accurate, Christmas items of all types.  Books, ornaments, and vintage Christmas decorations have all found their way into my house, emerging for two months every year, and waiting for my children to joyously squabble over their future holiday inheritance.  Well, maybe not so much on that last item, but the point is that I collect more than just music.  I have an entire set of Cuneo Christmas books, many other collections of Christmas fiction, poems, and non-fiction.  I love reading about Christmas as much as listening to the season's music.

Earlier this year I, like the fool I am, did a random eBay search for something like "Christmas magazine annual", just to see what I would find.  Up popped listings for "Christmas: An American Annual of American Literature and Art".  A little research told me that this was an annual publication from the Augsburg Publishing House, beginning in 1931 and produced annually for over 50 years.  My collector tendencies kicked in and I bought a few editions online.  The publication is an absolutely amazing labor of Christmas love.  Each edition contains beautiful artwork, stories, songs, poems, essays, and, each and every year, a retelling of the Christmas story through the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, enhanced by a new selection of artwork.  I was thrilled to be able to enjoy these journals, many from the 1940s and 1950s.  (Alas, I don't think I'll ever be able to collect the entire run - the earliest editions from the 1930s are either not listed online or very expensive).

Sometimes these old periodicals tell their own unique stories of the holidays.  They are given as gifts, or are used as a scrapbook to hold precious memories.  One such edition arrived to me in it's original paper wrap, telling me its story as a gift from Edna Anderson to Esther Knutsen back in 1968.

Several came to me that had been owned by a Mrs. Selma Hanson.  Mrs. Hanson had written her name in the upper right corner of the masthead page, claiming the edition as her own, but careful not to mar the page,  Several of Mrs. Hanson's now grace my own collection of "Christmas" editions.  One of Mrs. Hanson's included a page from a December 1956 Chicago Daily Drover's Journal newspaper, folded and pressed between the pages.  There were Christmas-related news items and columns, and certainly something that Ms. Hanson held precious.  Maybe the fruitcake recipe submitted by a reader.  Maybe she knew someone who had their Christmas item printed.  Maybe for the "Bible Thought for Today", or maybe for the news that Jackie Robinson had been traded from the Brooklyn Dodgers to the New York Giants.  Though we'll never know the reason, we can take a little trip to the past and imagine why she held this page dear enough to preserve.

One edition, though, tells a very special Christmas story that warms your heart.  It's Christmas through and through.  The 1966 edition of "Christmas" is in excellent condition, graced with a painting of Mother Mary and Baby Jesus, with cherubs looking on, a beautiful piece of artwork.

Inside, on the blank page facing the cover, I found an inscription to Mrs. Hanson, a note from a Thomas Roth, wishing Mrs. Hanson a Merry Christmas, dated for remembrance.  From the looks of the inscription, I took it to be from a young Mr. Roth, maybe 9, 10, 12 years old.

Paging through the book, I discovered an envelope tucked away inside, addressed to Mrs. Hanson.

Inside the envelope was a lovely card.

The card, from Mr. and Mrs. Roth, thanking Mrs. Hanson for her work with Thomas.

The story began to unfold in my imagination.  Mrs. Hanson must have been a teacher, and young Thomas her student, one with whom she had spent extra time, maybe for some extra help when needed, maybe time just to spur on his love of math, or science, or art.  Maybe Mrs. Hanson was Thomas' favorite teacher, and Thomas wanted to do something special for her at Christmas.  He picked out the edition of "Christmas" at a local store, and wrote his personal message to her inside.  Thomas' parents were equally grateful for her work with him, and made sure to enclose their note of gratitude.

Can you imagine Thomas' smile when Mrs. Hanson received this Christmas gift?  Can you imagine Mrs. Hansen's delight when Thomas gave her the book?  A thoughtful present from a bright young boy, making her day just as much as his.

This is the story I find in this book and the mementos that traveled along with it - one of the Christmas spirit and the blessings of the season.  A story of gratitude, a selfless story of wishing to make another happy.  A story of Christmas itself.