Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Did You Say You Want More?

I hear ya.  Der Bingle always comes through.  After the rousing success of "Christmas in Slovenia", there can be only one thing to do.  I've got a fever, and the only cure, is "Christmas in Slovenia 2".

Like its predecessor, another superb album cover.

Like its predecessor, chock full of Slovene Christmas songs.

It even confirms that it is a companion piece to Christmas in Slovenia.  It's full circle, baby.  Bookends.  The alpha and the omega of Slovene Christmas music.

Or, is it?  Bwa ha ha ha.....  Only the Shadow knows what Christmas music lurks in the heart of Der Bingle.  (yeesh  - this is getting ridiculous)


download link

Monday, November 28, 2016

Album Release and Artist Interview: Phoebe Gildea and Noah Brenner "All is Bright"

Friday, December 2 marks the official release date for the debut Christmas album by soprano Phoebe Gildea and harper and baritone Noah Brenner, "All is Bright".  Thanks to their Kickstarter campaign, mine arrived in the mail today, a few days early, and I'm thrilled to share a few thoughts about the album, as well as an interview with Phoebe and Noah.

I'm listening to the album for the first time as I'm writing this post, and I couldn't be more thrilled.  The quality of the recording is excellent and flawless, and Phoebe and Noah produce a rich, full, vibrant sound.  The 12 songs on the album are mostly familiar Christmas carols, beginning with "I Saw Three Ships", including "What Child Is This?" and "Carol of the Bells", and concluding with "Cantique de Noel".

There are two standouts in the track list: "Gaudete" and "Walking in the Air".  Renowned Christmas music authority Tim Neely included a version of "Gaudete" as a Christmas Song of the Day selection last year.  The song dates to 1582 as the earliest known publication.  Phoebe and Noah's vocal duet rendition is truly marvelous - I've never heard a better version.  The second attention grabber is "Walking in the Air", written by Howard Blake and popularized by Aled Jones as featured in the animated short film "The Snowman".  It's a perfect performance piece for Phoebe and Noah, and is beautifully done.

Noah and Phoebe took time out of their busy schedules for a fantastic interview.  You'll see that these two, in addition to being pretty darned awesome and dedicated musicians, are a couple of friendly, fun-loving folks.  I really enjoyed connecting with them for this little Q&A.  After the interview,  please see the links at the bottom for more information about Noah and Phoebe, as well as a purchase link for the album.  I know that most of you probably don't have an album of Christmas music by a classical soprano and a celtic harper, but believe me, you will want to add this one to your collection.


Merry & Bright: Phoebe and Noah, thank you for spending some time to answer a few questions here at Merry and Bright!

Phoebe Gildea: We’re happy to talk with you.

Noah Brenner: Thanks for inviting us!

MB: First, please tell us a bit about your musical partnership.

PG: Noah and I have been friends for years. We met tango dancing, and we only realized later that we are both musicians. He also happens to be my best friend’s partner, so we see each other all the time. I’ve admired Noah as a musician pretty much since the first time I heard him play, and I was thrilled when we decided to work together on this project. We have very different career paths – I’m much more in the classical tradition with opera and concert repertoire, and Noah is…less definable.

NB: (I play very old things and brand new things, but not much in the middle.)

PG: But at the same time we share a very similar philosophy about music. In working on this project, we really enjoyed exploring the historical context of the music and words. Since we both went to music school, we are familiar with music theory and history. That means we know how to break the rules, and it was important to us to break them intentionally. Now that we’re approaching our live performances, we’re finding that we also have a similar approach to connecting with the audience and making the music accessible.

NB: Beyond music, it’s been great to combine our two skill-sets to get through everything we needed to do before this album could exist. Phoebe is really good with organization, coordination, and advertising. I’ve been doing a lot of the musical arranging, and, since I’ve made several albums previously, I brought that knowledge to the process. Of course we still had some surprises, but there were fewer than last time, and there were two of us to deal with them. So that was nice.

MB: You chose Kickstarter to help fund your Christmas album. What was the crowdfunding experience like for you?

NB: It worked well for us. For my last album, I used Indiegogo’s flexible funding scheme. Kickstarter uses an “all or nothing” model, which was more stressful, but also more effective. People who were supporting us knew that they really had to get us to our goal or the project wouldn’t happen. Kickstarter is built more for a single organizer, so we had to work out how the two of us could run it together, since we don’t have a “leader,” but overall it was a great experience. We also got some backers who we didn’t even know (like you!), which didn’t happen for me on Indiegogo.

PG: We knew going in that it would be really stressful (What if we didn’t make our goal?!) -- and it was -- but it was also validating. People gave us money and spread the word about our campaign because they wanted to hear and support our music. Conceptually, I had confidence from the beginning because I trusted my marketing skills and I knew that our project was worthwhile, but there was another layer of emotional satisfaction when it went so well. We made it to 150%! (And that’s not even counting the donations we got outside of Kickstarter.) It’s good to make music knowing that people want to hear it.

MB: As a backer of your Kickstarter campaign myself, I got an early preview of some songs from you, and I’m very excited to receive the finished album! The song list includes several well-known Christmas standards as well as some that are recorded less frequently, such as “Gaudete” and Aled Jones’ wonderfully surreal “Walking in the Air”. How did you select the songs for the album?

PG: We made a list of all the songs we could think of, then we went through and drew smiley faces by our favorites, then we waited for a muse.

NB: There were some that we knew from the beginning that we wanted to do. Those less recorded songs that you mentioned were actually some of the first on our list. I think “Walking in the Air” was the very first. The rest of them came together as inspiration struck. There were some that one or the other of us really liked, but that didn’t work on the other’s instrument. Some of the ones we ended up using surprised us.

PG: Yeah, I did not think “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” was going to make it onto the album. Noah had never even heard it before, and it was pretty low on our list. Then during one rehearsal we were really tired and didn’t want to do detail work on any of the ones that were already in progress, and I opened my childhood Christmas carol book randomly and started humming “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.” All of a sudden Noah was writing these gorgeous arpeggios and I found really cool verses in one of the older books that we had. Now it’s my favorite arrangement on the album.

NB: We mostly chose old pieces, and even the ones that aren’t old sound old. That fits my style pretty well (which I’m sure is a coincidence, since I did most of the arranging).

PG: (He’s being sarcastic.)

NB: (Never!) Probably the most modern one was “Walking in the Air,” and then we go all the way back to “Gaudete,” which is from the sixteenth century. The melody of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is even older than that.

MB: What do you hope your listeners experience when they play your Christmas album for the first time?

PG: I hope that everyone, no matter what their relationship is with Christmas, and whether or not they have any religious associations with this time of year, can find some peace, joy, comfort, and reasons to celebrate. Christmas can be really stressful, and I want people to be able to listen to our music and remember those childhood feelings of excitement, or to find some new reasons for joy.

NB: I hope we take them to some of the worlds that we created. They might not know what stories were in our heads, but maybe they can make their own.

MB: I keep referring to “your Christmas album”, as I haven’t seen an album title yet on your website. Can we get a Merry and Bright exclusive announcement here with the title of the album?

PG: Oh yes, choosing the title was a real challenge. Between making it fit with the music, the cover art, and both of us, we only really decided in the final stages of the ordering process. We had even started graphic design before we were 100% settled on a title. Okay, I’ve made you wait long enough.

NB: The title is… “All Is Bright”

MB: What was your inspiration to make a Christmas album? Has Christmas music been a part of your life since childhood?

PG: Yes. Always. I still love singing Christmas carols with my family.

NB: It has, but in a different way. Since I’m Jewish, it wasn’t part of my tradition in that sense. But as a musician it has been part of my life for a long time. I enjoy a lot of the music, and I especially like caroling because I get to sing a cappella.

MB: Phoebe, on your website you’ve written that you have recently focused your professional life 100% on making music, giving up the proverbial ‘day job’. We here at Merry and Bright wish you complete success! What gave you the confidence and courage to make that decision?

PG: Thank you! I was finally too busy to keep doing both. There was a decisive moment when I thought I would have to turn down a paying opera gig with a great company because I didn’t have time to fit it into my work schedule, and that just didn’t feel right. While I loved many aspects of the office I worked in, and I’m grateful for the skills I learned there, it was never meant to prevent me from taking a music job I really wanted. I examined my life, I made a lot of color-coded lists, and I did the math on my anticipated music income. In the end, though, it came down to a leap of faith. Organizing and planning certainly helped me be confident in the knowledge that I had the means to at least survive. The courage to make a big life change comes in part from years of training myself to deal with performance anxiety. I’ve come to the conclusion that (on stage and in life) “ready” doesn’t mean everything is perfectly in place with no problems, but that you are ready to deal with the uncertainty, give it your all no matter what, and keep trusting yourself and your art.

MB: The lucky folks around the Eugene, Oregon vicinity get the opportunity to hear you two perform songs from your album this season. Do you see Christmastime performances becoming an annual event for you?

NB: Sure! Maybe not quite as much as this year, since we’re doing an album debut tour all over the Pacific Northwest. We put a lot of time into booking gigs to advertise our album, and we probably won’t do that to the same extent every year.

MB: Well, I am truly excited to hear your finished album and add it to my collection. Thank you again for your time. Have a very Merry Christmas!

PG: Thank you for reaching out to us and supporting our album!

NB: We hope you enjoy the music!

PG & NB: (SUNG IN HARMONY) ♪♪♫♫ Merry Christmas! ♫♫♪♪

Phoebe Gildea website

Noah Brenner website

"All is Bright" ordering information

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Sharing We Will Go: Christmas in Slovenia

Cue the Dread Zeppelin channeling Elvis...

Christmas in Slovenia!
Christmas in Slovenia!
Christmas, Christmas in Slo-ven-iaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!  bah da ba ba da da yeah!

It's been a busy weekend folks.

Yep - it's here, the first share of the year.  But first a little backstory.  Late last year, Jo Ann Lipovac, spouse since 1961 of Don Lipovac, The Polka King of Kansas City, passed away, Don having passed a year earlier.  This past Summer, an estate sale was held, including the Lipovac's vast collection of musical instruments, sheet music, and records and CDs.  If you wanted an accordion of your very own, this was the place to get one.  Accordions, mandolins, and other instruments that Don used in his many, many years of performing in the Kansas City area, as well as nationwide.  The Polka King had quite a following.  What caught my attention in the estate sale ad was the "massive record collection".  So, I headed out to the sale.

The collection was indeed massive, at least a thousand records, maybe a couple thousand.  It was a varied collection, though most of it was what you could call Eastern European folk music.  Lots and lots of polka records, as you would imagine, and many more from that part of the world.  I saw a couple interesting things - an album cover autographed and personalized to Don from Frankie Yankovic (no record in it though, or it would be mine now), and a recording of Don himself performing on the Lawrence Welk show.  Oh!  And a CD autographed by Charo!  (It now graces my collection!

I came away with 20 or so Christmas records, and they are serving as this year's shares.  It's not all Eastern European, as you'll see in the coming weeks, but quite a bit is.  Fascinating music, and most of the records were in great condition.

RIP Polka King, and thank you for the great music,

To kick off sharing season is "Christmas in Slovenia"

Love the album art!  That's a common theme you'll see this season - some spectacular album covers.  

If I recall correctly from when I transferred this to digital, this is a recording of a Christmas Eve/Christmas service in Slovenia, as the track names would indicate.  It's a glimpse into the spiritual celebration from years ago.


Friday, November 25, 2016

A Potpourri of Miscellany

It's still early in the season, but I need to do a catch-up post, or perhaps it's an "I'm not gonna fall dreadfully behind" post.  In any case, I've received many notices of new Christmas song releases by a variety of artists, and while I can't do a full review for each one, I do want to call your attention to them.  Please visit their websites and listen to their music, and support them with a purchase if their music moves you.  Much of the information below is from the press material provided by the artist or publicist.


Daisy Hicks "Christmas Without You"

English-born, Australian-raised singer-songwriter Daisy Hicks returns with new jazz-inspired pop songs that evoke nostalgia, love, heartbreak and paint a truly visual journey. Festive single “Christmas Without You” will be followed with “French Café” for release early 2017.  “Christmas Without You” - written by Daisy (daughter of legendary jazz drummer Tony Hicks) was produced by Tim Laws, Pete Craigie and Chris Harvey. Not only is “Christmas Without You” a well-crafted song that will be played for years to come, 10% of the digital sales this year will be donated to BBC’s Children In Need.

Daisy Hicks website
Daisy Hicks on Facebook

Empty Houses "Holiday" EP

Detroit soul-pop trio Empty Houses is thrilled to release a 5-song EP entitled Holiday, which sees them reimagining 5 holiday classics. The EP was released Friday, November 11th via Sargent House and can be purchased via Bandcamp and via iTunes. Holiday features “Santa Baby,” “White Christmas,” “Let It Snow,” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” and “Sleigh Ride,” the latter of which is available for streaming now via Soundcloud!
Kristin Chambers - "Snow Globe" EP

Seattle Singer songwriter Kristin Chambers celebrates the one year anniversary of her Christmas album "Snow Globe". The album features five original holiday songs by Chambers, and her uniquely distinctive take on five holiday classics.

Kristin Chambers website
Frank Shiner - "Please Come Home For Christmas"

A new single this season from Frank Shiner, "Please Come Home for Christmas"

Frank Shiner website
"Please Come Home For Christmas" - see the video on Youtube

Karma - "What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas?"

Memphis-based girl group Karma, recently nominated for 5 Artist Music Guild awards, has released "What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas?" as a new single this season.

See the video for "What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas?" on Youtube

Karma website

Israel - "This Christmas"

A debut artist with his first release, his version of the Donny Hathaway classic "This Christmas".

Israel - "This Christmas" on Soundcloud link

That's all for today - thanks for stopping by!  

Thursday, November 24, 2016

NOLA Players CD Giveaway Contest!

Hello all and Happy Thanksgiving!

Let's celebrate this Thanksgiving holiday by kicking off a CD giveaway contest!  The NOLA Players, an 18-piece ensemble of the best musicians New Orleans has to offer, have released an album titled "Christmastime in New Orleans", featuring 14 swingin', groovin' Christmas music tracks with a sound that'll make you think you're right there on Bourbon Street on Christmas Eve.  Friend of Merry & Bright Stubby wrote up a full review of the album at his place, Stubby's House of Christmas, so I'll let you go there and read up on this album.  Meanwhile, I'll give you the chance to win a copy of your own.

Entering is easy.  First, visit the NOLA Players website.  Heck, I'll make it easier - go to their About page - by clicking this here -->link<-- - and find the name of the location where "Christmastime in New Orleans was recorded.  Read up on the band while you're there - it's good stuff.  When you've found the recording location, send me an e-mail ( with "NOLA Players Contest" in the subject, and the recording location in the body of the e-mail.  That's it!

I have two copies of the CD to give away, courtesy of Aim Higher Recordings and Verve Records.  The winners will be randomly selected from among the entrants correctly providing the information requested.  I will contact the winners via e-mail for shipping address information.  The winners will be identified here on Merry & Bright with first name and city of residence only.  And, your personal information will not be sold, shared, given away freely, posted on the internet, printed and folded into a paper airplane, left on the sidewalk, or disseminated anywhere outside of my gmail account.

The winners will be selected on Monday, December 5th.  So, don't delay!  Visit the NOLA Players website, find the info, and enter to win!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Kansas City's Christmas Treasure: The Snow Globes

Here in Kansas City, we have a true local music Christmas treat. The Snow Globes are Kansas City’s annual Christmas Music treasure. Dormant for much of the year, they emerge every November and shower Kansas City with heart-warming Christmas music for two months before retreating to their off-season abode, whereabouts unknown.

Actually, their whereabouts are not so unknown. The Snow Globes are Lindsey Jones, Barclay Martin, and Rick Willoughby, and when they are not the Snow Globes they stay booked and busy with other musical collectives and interests. Bass player Willoughby, for instance, totes his bass to back another KC-local music phenomenon, Victor and Penny, as part of their band The Loose Change Orchestra. Barclay Martin fronts the Barclay Martin Ensemble (featuring Rick Willoughby). Lindsey Jones performs with the Barclay Martin Ensemble, and has been part of the amazing Kansas City art/music/dance/acrobatic/visual splendor collective Quixotic, which also lists Rick Willoughby as part of their music composition team. These three are some of the best musicians/artists that Kansas City has to offer, and we’re blessed to have them embrace Christmas music every year.

Their story and history were well-chronicled in an excellent article in the Kansas City Star, written by Tim Finn in 2015. The story is available here – there’s no use in me repeating what Tim wrote, and he did it much better than I, so please check out his article. Instead I want to focus on The Snow Globes’ amazing Christmas music output. They have released four CDs in the past five years, beginning with 2011’s “Can You Hear the Singing?” followed by “Winter Benediction” (2012), “To All Living Things” (2013), and “Milk and Cookies” (2015 - EP). Five years, four CDs, 33 songs.

The greatest thing about The Snow Globes' music is that it is unmistakably Christmassy. There are great blues Christmas songs, but they sound like the blues. Great jazz Christmas songs sounds jazzy, with familiar melodies and solo breaks. Rock and roll Christmas tunes are hard drivin’ and can be amazing residents in the Christmas music canon, but would you immediately think “Christmas” when you first hear them? Unless they start with sleigh bells, maybe not. When you put a Snow Globes album on, there is no doubt that it’s the sound of the holiday. Guitar, bells, banjo, bass, a little percussion, and outstanding vocals by Lindsey and Barclay, either solo or in duet – they have the seasonal sound down to a T.

And, as I’m writing this, I’m listening to their recording of “All I Want For Christmas is You” and it’s AWESOME! They can arrange a song like there’s no tomorrow. Barclay singing lead, Lindsey harmonizing and backing, banjo as the main instrument, maybe some light brush-snare, a slightly slower tempo than we're used to hearing, and they've given the Mariah Carey song a great jolt of life and Christmas spirit, and made it an entirely new experience for the listener.  The new, fresh arrangements of Christmas standards paired with their original compositions, all performed with a brightness and energy befitting the season make The Snow Globes one of my favorites.

The 2016 season is bringing another Snow Globes album. “Snowed In”, to be released in early December. Eleven more songs including standards as well as original compositions (as have all of their other albums). “Snowed In” features mainstays like “Sleigh Ride” and “Winter Wonderland” as well as the seriously under-rated “Cool Yule”. Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.  Fortunately, I won’t have to wait long. The Snow Globes are having a CD release concert on December 1, and are following that with several performances in the Kansas City area through the month of December. Their performance schedule is on their website.

What’s the greatest thing about The Snow Globes? Well, how about this:  they donate a large portion of their CD sales to The Wash Project, directed through Medical Missions Foundations. The Wash Project is focused on a simple premise for the people of Mali: washing hands with soap saves lives. More information and the opportunity to donate can be found here: Wash Project link.

Awesome Christmas music, year after year, by caring, loving people who are doing good in the world. Is there anything more in the spirit of Christmas than that?

The Snow Globes website

The Snow Globes on Facebook

Martin Barclay Ensemble on Facebook

Medical Missions Foundation: The Wash Project

Quixotic website

Monday, November 21, 2016

Coming Attractions

Hello good readers!  I thought I'd write up a quick post tonight with some previews of what I have planned here at Merry & Bright for this season.  I hope you've enjoyed the blog so far.  I always feel very privileged to be able to bring you artist interviews, and I have one or two more of those planned.  There are a few more CD reviews/artist stories coming up, and most likely the random, miscellaneous stuff that I like to add in here just for grins.  But what else?

Music Giveaways!  Yes, I have one CD giveaway contest coming up for sure, and perhaps even a vinyl giveaway contest.  You won't want to miss these, folks.  As in the past, all it takes to enter is a quick trip to the artist's website to find an easy-to-locate piece of information, and send it back to me in e-mail.  I'm tellin' ya - don't miss out on the chance to win some good Christmas music.  Details coming soon.

How about music shares?  I usually start those up after Thanksgiving, and this year is no exception.  It's an interesting lot this year, with a story behind them.  Yes, all the shares have something in common (well, besides being Christmas music, from vinyl, out of print).  So, keep an eye out, or as they say in Merry old Slovenia, "Pazi tukaj za več informacij"!