Saturday, November 22, 2014

Review: Heart & Friends "Home For The Holidays"

Last December, beloved rock legends Ann and Nancy Wilson returned to hometown Seattle for a Christmas-themed performance at Benaroya Concert Hall, inviting a star-studded A-list of performers to join them.  This year, this magnificent concert is available for all of us to enjoy, as a CD/DVD package.

"Heart & Friends - Home For The Holidays" emphasizes the "Friends", as Ann and Nancy are joined by Shawn Colvin, Sammy Hagar, Richard Marx, and Pat Monahan in a selection of Christmas songs both traditional and modern, including Ann's recitation of a poem that she hopes will bloom into a full song (Ann - we share your hope).  From the opening song "River" through "Remember Christmas", Heart and their friends give us a true musical Christmas feast.



There is a prevailing sense of intimacy, friendship, and holiday spirit throughout the album.  What comes through to me is a a performance that is relaxed and is enjoyed by the performers as much as the audience.   Shawn Colvin sings "Rocking", a beautiful and under-recorded Christmas song.  Richard Marx joins Heart for "All Through the Night".  Sammy Hagar, perhaps having the most fun of all as 'Sammy Claus', takes the lead on two songs, "All We Need is an Island" and the rollicking "Santa's Going South".  And Pat Monahan from Train joins the band and closes the guest set with a tremendous rendition of "Please Come Home for Christmas".

Even though this is a Christmas show, it wouldn't be a Heart concert without "Barracuda", so the band kicks it up and Ann Wilson resurrects that voice of a Siren that we all know and love.  And then, oh mah goodness, Heart is joined by a Seattle gospel choir for "Stairway to Heaven".  There are songs that are darned near un-coverable, and "Stairway" is one of those, but my goodness my goodness, Heart has taken this and made it their own as no one else could do.  With the gospel choir backing Ann's soaring vocals, it gives one chills.  It's the arrangement that they performed at Kennedy Center Honors for Led Zeppelin which brought tears to the eyes of Robert Plant.

The album closes with everyone back on stage, except for Sammy Hagar who was, as Ann joked, "already in Cabo", to perform "Ring Them Bells".  The show, and the evening of friends coming together, ended with a finale that brought everyone back into the spirit of Christmas.

Heart with Ann and Nancy Wilson came together in 1974, and Ann's voice has matured over the years.  The pure, sharp, laser-point power has given way to a sultry-scotchy edge and adds a new dimension to her performance.  The great Les Paul, as he aged and began to develop arthritis in his fingers, was frustrated that he could not play the way he used to, or wanted to.  Les' family basically reminded him that he was a consummate musical innovator, and to stop the frustration and re-imagine how to play around the arthritis, and, as we know, he continued to play into his 90s in New York.  It seems to me that, as Les Paul innovated a new playing method, Ann Wilson has embraced her maturing voice and is using this new instrument to her fullest wonderful potential.

"Heart & Friends - Home for the Holidays" is a beautiful addition to anyone's Christmas music collection, and is as full of warmth as a fresh cup of hot cocoa by the fireplace on a cold December night.

"Heart & Friends - Home for the Holidays" is available through all the usual retail outlets

A download of "Heart & Friends - Home for the Holidays" was provided for review and promotional considerations by the good people at Miles High Productions.

Rough Shop CD Contest Winner!

I have a lot to write about over the next few days - mostly reviews while I'm still prepping for sharing season, but a few other things as well.  So, faithful readers, stay tuned for several posts in the next few days.

But first....



The winner of the Rough Shop CD giveaway is...


Neil from Liverpool, UK! 


Personally, I think "Neil" might actually be a pseudonym for "Ringo" :-)

Congratulations Neil!  I'll be in touch shortly via e-mail to get your mailing address, and then your CD will be on the way.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

CD Giveaway Contest Ending Soon!

The CD giveaway contest where you can win a copy of "Lit Up Like a Christmas Tree" by Rough Shop is ending soon!  Scroll down for details, or click here.  Enter to win - it's a great addition to any Christmas music collection!




Saturday, November 15, 2014

I Eat Fruitcake So You Don't Have To

I really like fruitcake.  Some fruitcake, anyway.  Fruitcake is excessively maligned during the holiday season, and I think many of the principle maligners have never eaten fruitcake, or at least not good fruitcake.  Like the kinds I make every year.

I've been making fruitcake every Christmas for probably seven or eight years now, a fairly traditional fruitcake with candied fruits, raidins, currants, dates, nuts, and brandy.  Lots of brandy :-)  About 4 years ago I added a Caribbean Black Fruitcake into the holiday baking schedule.  Waaaaay different than traditional, more challenging to make properly, and really tasty.

A couple of years ago during the Great Twinkie Crisis (when Hostess went out of business and Twinkies went on the black market), I was out trying to find Hostess treats while they could still be found.  I bought a Hostess Fruitcake that day.  It looked good in its clear wrap, showing it's fruity goodness.  Looked real good.  Then I took a bite.  One bite.  That was enough.  The rest of the slice, verily, the rest of the cake went in the trash.  It was horrible.  Hostess Fruitcakes may be the reason people hate fruitcakes.

Today at World Market I bought a Forchy Christmas Cake (and a couple others that I'll report on later).  It was boxed, so I couldn't see the actual cake, just the enticing picture on the box.  Was on sale (25% off all fruitcakes), and pretty cheap anyway, so I thought I'd give it a try.



I'm happy to report that the Forchy Christmas Cake is quite good.  It's much lighter than the traditional, rather dense fruitcake.  It has basically a buttery pound cake taste with candied fruit throughout.  It's a sweet treat, and quite tasty.  Goes great with a glass of cold milk.  It is pre-sliced, great if you're so excited to have a serving of Forchy Christmas Cake that you just can't wait for the slicing to conclude.

I give Forchy Christmas Cake 3.5 Red Cherries, on a 5 Cherry scale.




Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Book Review: "Cattle Kate" by Jana Bommersbach

Chapter 10 of "Cattle Kate" by Jana Bommersbach, published by Poisoned Pen Press, is titled "I Wanted a Nice Christmas".  Homesteader Ella Watson relates the story of the Winter of 1886 in Wyoming Territory, one of the harshest that anyone in the W.T, as it's called by Ella, can remember.  The chapter begins with "We didn't get much of a Christmas in '86", and then tells the story of the lonely cold Christmas that year.  Ella's gift to her husband Jim is a shirt, homemade from saved fabric, and a dinner of jerky stew and a pie from "the last of my sugar...and apples I had canned".  Jim's gift to Ella - "a book of poetry printed year ago in England - it even has a royal seal, which looks very important".  Ella and Jim spend Christmas eve on the Wyoming prairie reading "The Raven", by Poe, and singing "Auld Lang Syne", a tradition carried forward from Ella's Scottish father.  How different, and pure, this life seems.

"Cattle Kate" is the story of Ella Watson, who was the only woman ever lynched for cattle rustling.  Author Jana Bommersbach has re-told this true story from the too-wild West, and gives new life to Ella Watson, whose tragic end is truly heartbreaking.  Ellen Watson was born into a Scottish-Irish family in Canada in the late 1800's.  Her father Tom led the family to re-settle as homesteaders near Lebanon, KS, traveling in a covered wagon and, basically, walking from Ontario to Kansas.  In Bommersbach's very talented hands, we hear in Ellen's voice the hardships of life as homesteaders.  Ellen, the oldest Watson child, meets, marries, and ultimately divorces in Kansas, and then sets out alone to Wyoming Territory, where 160 acres of homestead land are there for the hard-working and determined.  She drops an 'n' and is Ella Watson when she arrives in Wyoming, where she stakes a claim, meets and marries her husband Jim, and feuds with the cattlemen over land and water, with ultimately tragic results.



The first part of the book is written in Ella's voice, and paints a beautiful and descriptive picture of life in this era.  The details, like the unforgettable smells of a chicken butchering, bring this story to life.  The tragedies Ella experiences are heart-wrenching, and the ever-escalating battle with the cattlemen bring a sense of anxiety to the reader  You find yourself wanting to warn Ella and tell her to take this conflict more seriously.

The second part of the book, the aftermath of Ella's lynching, tells us how she became to be known as "Cattle Kate", a despicable cattle-rustling prostitute, all fabricated by the protective press, in the service of the cattlemen.  We learn the fate of the boys Ella was raising, the witnesses to the lynching, and the six cattle ranchers that were responsible for the crime.  While Ella's story in the first section is a historical novel, what follows is enhanced factual story-telling, and adds to the tragic injustice of the story.  "Cattle Kate", we learn, was far, far removed from the real Ella Watson.

The third and final part of the book describes the author's discovery of the facts of Ella Watson's story, and her extensive research notes.

"Cattle Kate" is a marvelous book.  The upbeat, positive nature of Ella Watson shines through in her voice, which makes her horrific end all the more emotionally burning.  My compliments to the author for being able to take us on this journey.  

On a personal note, my mother will be 95 in December, and grew up in depression-era Kansas.  Many of her experiences on the plains are similar to what Ms. Bommersbach describes, although they came 60 years later.  I'm going to pass the book on to Mom to read - I know she will enjoy it.  "Cattle Kate" is a darned good book, a perfectly executed engaging and ultimately tragic true story.  If you're looking for a Christmas present for a lover of mystery, Western, or historical fiction, "Cattle Kate" would be a great gift selection.

Poisoned Pen Press is an independent publishing company based in Scottsdale, AZ, that publishes new mystery books each month. If you're a mystery book lover, or are ready to give mystery novels a shot, check out their website.

Author Website

A copy of "Cattle Kate" was provided by Poisoned Pen Press for purposes of promotion and review.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

CD Giveaway Contest: Rough Shop "Lit Up Like a Christmas Tree"

Last year's Cheesy Giveaway contest was so much fun I've decided to do it again this year!  Today kicks off the first of at least two, maybe three, maybe more.   So many contests!  Have I gone crazy?!?!  No - just filled with the spirit of Christmas!

What Der Bingle asks of each contest entrant is to show a little Christmas love to the artists who have provided the CDs by visiting their websites and sending me back a little information just to show me that you've been there.  That's it.  Pretty easy, eh?  This is just to show some support for these fine artists, to help them gain some exposure and some new fans, and, if you like what you hear, to encourage you to buy some of their other music.  So, let's get started!

CD Contest #1 is from the St. Louis band Rough Shop.  This year Rough Shop released their second Christmas album, "Lit Up Like a Christmas Tree", following 2009's "Just Because It Was Christmas".  Friends, "Lit Up Like a Christmas Tree" is one the best new Christmas releases you'll find this year.  I was completely blown away by the sound, the song selection, and the spirit, energy, and emotion that went into this record.  Good friend Stubby wrote up a great review of the record that is spot-on, so I just want to add a few more comments in lieu of a full review.



"Gimme That Twine" is inspired by "Gimme That Wine" from the totally awesome jazz vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, and is like diving from the high board into a pool filled with fun.  Man, I love it.  This perfectly showcases Rough Shop's creativity and love for the season.  You'll be hooked from the opening exclamation "It's Twine Time!"

Rough Shop channels the groovy 60s for "Purple Snowflakes", a remake of the rarely covered Marvin Gaye song.  Right on, cats.

"Christmas at the Super 8" is a little bit of songwriting brilliance about a Christmas that didn't exactly go as planned.

"I Wish You a Merry Christmas" could not be better if it were James Taylor and Carly Simon belting out this little ditty of joy and merriment.

Rough Shop is John Wendland, Andy Ploof, Anne Tkach, Jon Parsons, and Spencer Marquart, and they are joined by a whole bunch of special guests for this great collection of music.  And, even better, John Wendland is one of us!  The album's promotional material says that John "has an imposing collection of Christmas music... piles and rows of long out-of-print holiday LPs, 45s, and CD reissues from virtually every musical genre..."  A Christmas music collector, of the rare and obscure, who is in a band that gives us a great Christmas record - what more could we ask for!

This is really one of the best new Christmas albums released this season.  Find out more at:

Rough Shop website
Rough Shop on Facebook
Amazon link to mp3 album

So, time for the contest details.

First, please visit Rough Shop's website, and once you're there, find the liner notes for their 2009 Christmas CD, "Just Because It Was Christmas".  Note the title and songwriter of the 7th song on the album, and send them to me (derbingle42@gmail,com) in an e-mail with "Rough Shop CD Contest" in the subject line.  Also please include your first name and city of residence.

The winner will be selected at random from all correct entries.  I will e-mail the winner to get a mailing address.  E-mails received through Friday, November 21, 2014 will be eligible to win.

Contest rules:
1.  No purchase necessary.  I don't sell anything, so this is easy.
2.  One entry per e-mail address please.  Multiple entries from the same e-mail will be disqualified.
3.  I will identify the winner in this blog by first name and city of residence, like "Bob from Toluca Lake, CA".
4.  I will not disclose the winner's e-mail address, with one exception.  If Rough Shop contacts me and would like the e-mail address, I will provide it.  Otherwise, your e-mail is safe with me.
5.  This contest is not endorsed by nor connected in any way to Rough Shop, their management, or anyone else except the author of this blog.
6.  The CD I am giving away was provided as a promotional item by Rough Shop.
7.  Please do not make unauthorized copies of the CD to give away.  Support the artist with legal music purchases.
8.  All contest rules, decisions, and actions are under the sole discretion of the author of this blog.

Good luck!

Rough Shop provided copies of the CD for purposes of promotion and review.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Kicking off the season with Elizabeth Chan!

November is here, and with the cool temps, going-dormant lawn, and Christmas baking plans starting to stir, comes Der Bingle's annual full leap in to Christmas music!  And it's catching - when I got home this afternoon my 16 year old son was playing NBA 2014 on the PS3 while listening to Christmas music.  He said "It's never too early for Christmas music".  That's my boy :-)

So, kicking off the season here at Merry and Bright is a review of a new album for the 2014 Christmas season by one of our favorites, Elizabeth Chan.  This year, Elizabeth has given us another solid album of all original Christmas songs.  Some are re-imagined versions from last year's "Everyday Holidays" and some are new songs.



The album opens with a softer, more personal sounding version of "Fa La La", Elizabeth's single from 2013.  Titled "Fa La La (Acoustic)", it's a great new version of one of Elizabeth's best songs, sure to please.  Track 3, "Wouldn't Be a Merry Christmas", is also a new interpretation, and is absolutely terrific.  Elizabeth's vocal performance on this song is quite possibly the best on the album.  It's heartfelt, intimate, and exceptional.

A much slower version of "A Christmas Song", with string and piano accompaniment, turns the 2013 song on its side and becomes a song of yearning and melancholy.  As with "Wouldn't Be a Merry Christmas", "A Christmas Song" showcases Elizabeth's maturing vocals.  She brings a new touch of subtlety and precise phrasing to this version.

"Something About the Holidays" is the first new song on the album, and it is simply full of joy for the season.  We know that Elizabeth is all about Christmas 24x7x365, and her holiday spirit comes bursting through.



"Here's To The New Year", another new song, is bouncy and full of a dance beat, perfect for your New Year's Eve party mix.  Perfect?  How about Absolutely Perfect?  Der Bingle, being 50 now, doesn't bust a move too much anymore, but man, this one had my feet tapping to the beat.

"Christmas in the City" is a love song to the greatest city in the world during the greatest season of the year.  New York is my favorite city next to my Kansas City home, and Elizabeth captures the Christmas spirit of this great city during the holiday season perfectly.  Not a lyric seems forced - it's a musical outpouring about the home she loves.  The Rockefeller Center tree gets it's moment of musical stardom, as does the "red and green on the Empire State", and, my favorite lyrical reference, the Snowflake on 57th Street.  As Elizabeth says, "There ain't nowhere I'd rather be".  "Christmas in the City" is of my favorite Christmas songs, hands down.  Listening to it, I can almost smell the aroma of roasted chestnuts from the street vendors outside of Radio City Music Hall.

Elizabeth's growing talent as an artist comes through on this record, especially with the re-recordings of some of her best songs.  It's pretty amazing to hear these songs become completely different musical messages from the artist.  I love what Elizabeth has given us with the "Christmas in the City" album.  More so, I love Elizabeth's passionate commitment to be a Christmas Music Artist.  She's one of a kind.

Elizabeth Chan's website
Elizabeth Chan on Facebook
Amazon link to "Christmas in the City"

This review is based on the author's personal copy of "Christmas in the City", purchased through a retail outlet.