Monday, January 2, 2017

Best of 2016, part 2, and Signing Off for the Season

Here are a few more 'Best of 2016' thoughts before I sign off for the season.

Katey Laurel - "This is Christmas"

My biggest regret this season is not finding time to cover Katey Laurel's 2-CD Christmas album "This is Christmas".  Katey's album was funded over a year ago through a very successful Kickstarter campaign, so successful that it allowed her to produce a double-disc Christmas album this year.  Katey is a Denver, CO singer with a strikingly beautiful voice.  Her album was one of my favorites this year, and bumped may others out of the rotation, as I listened to Katey over and over.  I'm going to come back to Katey's album early in the 2017 season to do it justice, and maybe snag an interview too.  If you missed out on this album in 2016, add it to your 2017 'must have' list.

Katey Laurel website

Hot Breakfast! - "The Holiday Shift"

Hot Breakfast! is Matt Casarino (of "200 Days of Christmas" on Facebook) and Jill Knapp, a Christmas-loving duo that writes and performs some of the best original Christmas rock-and-roll around.  Their music is awesome, their songwriting amazing, and the energy they put into Christmas deserves a standing ovation.  Love their music and what they give the world at Christmas.  Check 'em out.

Hot Breakfast!  website

The Shenanigans - "Decidely Simple Christmas"

This one is going to be tougher on all of you Christmas music fanatics.  The Kansas City Repertory Theatre has produced "Santaland Diaries", based on the stories by David Sedaris, for a few years running now.  Throughout the play, the two performers have several musical interludes, mostly Christmas standards, but also a few rewritten and updated to the spirit of the play.  Meaning, they are PG-13 if not mildly R-rated.  And very, very funny.  The two performers, Claybourne Elder and Shanna Jones, recorded the songs from the show, plus a few more, and had them for sale after the show, using the band name "The Shenanigans".  It's a treat.  If you're one of the lucky ones that receive Der Bingle's Christmas comp every year, you'll probably find an updated "I'm Gettin' Nuttin' for Christmas" on the 2017 edition, featuring the line "I hid a body in a trunk - somebody snitched on me".  Not available commercially - maybe I can convince Claybourne and Shanna to let me share a song next year.

KC Rep Facebook page

And finally, in the spirit of the Best of 2016, one of the best things this season for Der Bingle was being invited to guest DJ on KKFI, a Kansas City public radio station.  The hosts of one of the weekly shows invited me to come in and play some Christmas songs from my collection.  The original date, Dec 18th, was postponed due to ice, so we kicked off New Year's Day 2017 with a half hour of Christmas music.  Being able to share some songs and talk about Christmas music was fun, exciting and a real treat for me.  I'm hoping to be able to return again next season.  Thanks to Kasey, Scotty, and Mikal for inviting me - you're all such good people.

KKFI website
River Trade Radio Facebook page

And so, that about wraps it up for the 2016 season.  I hope you all have enjoyed the interviews, music info, contests, and shared music.  I'll be back again next year, doing many of the same things.  I'm pretty sure that the blog will lean more toward the artist interviews and features about new music and drift away from music sharing.  It's getting tougher all the time to find music that isn't available digitally already, so I imagine that will be de-emphasized, though if I find some real shareable gems I'll make sure to post them here.   I'd love to know what you think about the interviews and contests, and the blog in general, so please comment or send me an e-mail.

Check back in from time to time - I may write some off-season posts.  The Folk Alliance International Conference is in Kansas City again this year, so I may post some articles after that event in February.  And there's Planet Comicon in April(?).  Holy smokes, those will both be here before I know it..

So, signing off for now, and hope to see  you all next season!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Der Bingle's Best of 2016

Here are some of my choices for the Best of 2016 in Christmas Music.  Some of these I've covered here this season, some I didn't.  They are in no particular order, but represent some of my favorite albums, songs, or artists that I added to my collection this year.

Found Wandering

My personal favorite discovery this year was Found Wandering, through their 2015 release "On a Christmas Night", their earlier album "Christmas in Country Village", and their brand new EP this season "Pass the Peace".  This is as good as Christmas music gets, and now that the season is waning, I need to check out their other albums.

Elizabeth Chan - "Five Golden Rings"

Elizabeth Chan ventured into new territory this year by including her versions of Christmas standards on "Five Golden Rings", her 2016 release.  Her creativity and love for everything Christmas comes through clearly as she gave us an album of standards, original songs, and Spanish and Chinese performances!  She keeps getting better and better, and I'm anxious to see what she brings in 2017.

Jordan Smith - "Tis the Season"

Jordan Smith was the gate-to-gate winner of season 9 of The Voice, and released a full Christmas album this year.  Before the album was in my hands, I wondered about the song selections, especially the exclusion of "Mary Did You Know?", which he had performed on The Voice.  Once I got the CD, though, I realized that song selection may never be an issue for Jordan.  He works magic with every song he sings, and is flawless.  I look forward to another Christmas album in the future from the amazing Mr. Smith.

Carly Jamison

Carly Jamison released "Keeping Christmas" this year as her 6th annual original Christmas single.  I hope there are many, many more to come.  Carly's Christmas songs were one of the best surprises of the season for me.

Pentatonix - "A Pentatonix Christmas"

Pentatonix is as hot as they come - a new Christmas album, an NBC special, probably the best selling Christmas record of this season.  And, in my opinion, their success and praise is well-deserved. This turned into a favorite this year.

Phoebe Gildea and Noah Brenner - "All is Bright"

The debut album by soprano Phoebe Gildea and harper/baritone Noah Brenner was an incredibly arranged and performed album.  Coming to life through a Kickstarter campaign, Phoebe and Noah's album is beautiful, and in its own niche in my Christmas music library.

The Snow Globes - "Snowed In"

What is becoming Kansas City's best annual Christmas tradition, the Snow Globes released "Snowed In" this year, an excellent addition to their catalog, and to your Christmas music library!

Matt Casarino's 200 Days of Christmas

If you don't follow these two gentlemen with encyclopedic knowledge of Christmas music, you should.  Tim Neely gives us a new Christmas Song of the Day throughout the season.  All are excellent, many will be new to even the most dedicated collector.  Matt Casarino ups the game with 200 Christmas songs through 2/3rds of 2016.  Some classics, some new, some obscure, all interesting and meaningful.  I hope Matt is back next year with a new 200 Days.

So, there are some favorites this year, my personal 'best of 2016'.   

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Rest in Peace

Rest in Peace

I've said and written that too many times this year.

I am usually very neutral when a celebrity dies.  I didn't know them.  I may or may not have been a fan of their work.  I felt compassion for their families, and those close to them who were experiencing real loss.  I respected them for their work, their talent, and that they made many people happy through their artistry.  Alan Rickman.  Alan Thicke,  George Michael.  Florence Henderson.  Even Prince and Gene Wilder feel into this category.  I felt sadness at their passing, at the loss of their talent, and at their contributions to the world as artists, philanthropists, and human beings, but true personal mourning?  Not very much.

There were four, though.   There were four that hurt.  I certainly didn't know any of them, but their artistry seemed personal.

Leonard Cohen - for writing the best songs ever.

David Bowie - for having an unending, infinite domain of artistry, and the bravery to explore it all and share with us.

Christina Grimmie - energy, talent, beginning to live her dream.  Killed.  I know many musicians who put themselves at risk by playing sketchy venues and going in to the homes of strangers to perform house concerts.  Christina Grimmie is but a step or two away from the musicians I know.  Her death still hurts, and is tragic for our society and our world.  Still nowhere near the loss that her family and friends must feel.

Carrie Fisher.

I was 13 years old in 1977.  For my birthday  that August I got to see this new movie "Star Wars" in the closest movie theater to my house, 20 miles away.  Carrie Fisher was beautiful, and Princess Leia was strong and brave and good.  I *am* the Star Wars generation.  And I've lost part of it now.

But we remember.  We remember these artists every time we see them or hear their work.  I can relive, re-experience, and remember David, Leonard, Christina, and Carrie any time I want to.  Click, click, click, and there they are.  Sometimes that's good.  But sometimes, it's better when memories come from afar and travel distance and time before they arrive.

Leonard, David, Christina, Carrie.  Rest in Peace.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve

It's Christmas Eve morning.  I've been up for about two hours, enjoying serenity, Christmas lights, coffee, fruitcake, and reading.  Soon our Christmas festivities will commence - afternoon Mass, Christmas with my mother, who is celebrating her 98th Christmas, back home for spiced apple cider and "A Christmas Story" on TV.  Certain things have changed a bit on Christmas Eve night, since the youngest Bingle child is now 15, but the spirit and traditions still remain.  Santa will still visit (if all have been good, which they have), though we may not be up quite as early on Christmas morning as years past.   This year the Christmas morning gathering of our children will include a pharmacist and her husband, a teacher and his newly-official fiance (quite a Christmas present!), a new college graduate with aims to be a behavioral counselor for children through dance, a new college Freshman, and a high school Freshman.  It will be, as always, a joyous occasion!

The sharing season here at Merry & Bright has concluded - I hope you have all enjoyed the albums I've been able to share with you this year,  I still have a couple more posts to write before turning the dial to 'simmer'.  I'll be closing out the season with a "best of" post, perhaps some loose ends to tie up, and to make some acknowledgements to all the fine brothers-and-sisters-in-arms of the Christmas music community.

Until then, have a very Merry Christmas!

Aaron Henton
(Der Bingle)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Mystery Share

Tonight's share is a mystery share, offered for a very limited time.  The link goes away on Christmas Eve.  Intrigued?  Get it while you can.

mystery share *Time's Up!*  Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas on Strawberry Hill

I have a pretty special share for you today, at least for any Kansas City readers.  This is "Sveta Noc:  Christmas on Strawberry Hill", performed by the St. Cecilia Choir from St. John the Baptist Church in Kansas City, Kansas.

Here in the Kansas City metro area (for the uninformed, there is a Kansas City, Missouri and a Kansas City, Kansas), Strawberry Hill is renowned for its povitica, a traditional Croatian nut bread.  You can find the famous Strawberry Hill povitica all around the KC area.  Well, now we know that in addition to Croatian pastry, Strawberry Hill produces some fine music for Christmas worship.  This album contains 18 songs recorded at the Midnight Mass at St. John the Baptist Church.  Most of them are in traditional Croatian (and you'll find other versions on previous shares this year), while a few are historical English carols.  This is a great record capturing a slice of history from this venerable KCK church.

As I noted in an early post, all of the album shares this year came from records owned by Don Lipovac, the Polka King of Kansas City, that I acquired at the family estate sale.  I feel that these records, now shared on this blog, form a small tribute to Mr. Lipovac and the music he shared with so many through his long, successful career.

Please enjoy "Christmas on Strawberry Hill"

download link

Strawberry Hill Povitica website

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Saturday Night Share: Gunter Kallmann Chorus

12 hours of freezing drizzle + 1 inch of snow + 6 degrees outside = two posts today.

I have a new share for you tonight, "The Gunter Kallmann Chorus Sings in German 28 Christmas Songs".  While I admire the precision, I would suggest hiring an album title specialist next time around.

The Gunter Kallmann Chorus, of which seven handsome choraliers are pictured on the back cover, sing their 28 songs in a collection of 8 medley tracks.  Some very recognizable classics (O Christmas Tree, Silent Night, I'll Be Home for Christmas) are woven in with traditional German carols for a great mix of songs.

This is a very nice album.  The recording is very clean and crisp, the chorus quite talented, the instrumental accompaniment (orchestra and bells) very festive.  Enjoy!

download link