Sunday, August 26, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: Ella Fitzgerald "Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas"

Ah, Ella Fitzgerald.  I'm sure all of you are familiar with Ella Fitzgerald.  If for no other reason (for those of us of a certain age) than her iconic commercials for Memorex in the 1970's.  (Ok, maybe "iconic" is a stretch).  I will admit, though, that those "Is it live or is it Memorex?" commercials are the first memories I have of Ms. Ella.

As my musical loves have grown over the years, I've come to appreciate Ella Fitzgerald as one of the purest and most natural voices ever recorded, not only in the jazz branch of the musical tree of life, but across all vocal music.  Her singing is so effortless, so perfectly pitched, with a style and phrasing that is extraordinary.  Awe inspiring...

"Ella wishes you a swinging Christmas" is a nearly perfect Christmas record containing 12 standards, opening with a rousing "Jingle Bells" and closing with "White Christmas".  Superb musicians accompany Ella, with stellar arrangements.  Her versions of "Sleigh Ride" and "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer" have become quasi-standards in their own right.  "Sleigh Ride" is particularly wonderful because its pace is slower than one might expect, but even at a more relaxed tempo there is an energy throughout the song.  It makes you feel like you're out on a pleasant sleigh ride through the snowy countryside.

My copy of the CD is a Verve release, but contains the original 1960 tracks.  A later Verve release included six additional tracks (I just might need to snag me a copy of it).

Truly Essential: "Ella wishes you a swinging Christmas"

Is it Ella or is it Memorex?

Friday, August 17, 2018

Quick Update

All is well here at Merry & Bright.  The health issue that sidelined me for a bit in July is fully resolved.  Now the only barrier I have in returning to the Essentials is my ongoing urge to binge-watch "Star Trek: The Next Generation" on Netflix.  :-)  Since raising five children curtailed television for about 25 years, I'm now catching up on a lot of things, including ST:TNG.  Have no fear, though, merry readers - I'll get back to sharing some Essential thoughts very soon.  Thanks for your patience!  Live long and prosper :-)

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Unplanned Christmas in July Hiatus

Well, Christmas in July had a half-unplanned hiatus.  The planned half was because of family vacation to North Carolina.  The half-unplanned part was an illness (mine) that caused us to return home three days early and then go directly to the ER.  Recovery is going very well, no hospital stay needed, and I hope to get a few more essentials out this week as I'm at home.  But things got a bit interrupted...

A couple good friends of Merry & Bright experienced losses this week, and my heart goes out to them.  Friend Tim lost his beloved ferret Penny after her fight against cancer, and friend Stubby's Mrs. Katz (not her real name) passed away after a long and happy life as part of Stubby's family.  We send Tim and Stubby our thoughts, and hope that they find strength in the memories of their companions.  Take care, my friends.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: Elvis

I mentioned Elvis (we don't need to say "Presley" in the Bingle household) before in the Essentials series post about the classics that should be in every collection, but The King deserves a post of his own.  Why?  Well, my Christmas music room, where I create this blog, is also now and was first "The Elvis Room".  Hanging on the walls are three framed sets of album cover stamps from the 50's. 60's, and 70's CD box sets, two framed sets of Elvis postage stamps, two framed albums ("Moody Blue" and "The Sun Years", a framed collectible gold record of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?", two cheesy rhinestoned collector plates, a set of Elvis baseball-style cards, three Elvis action figures, and an unopened Elvis decanter of McCormick whiskey.  Oh, then there are the CDs, records, movies, and books.  And a collectible Pepsi can and a Graceland water bottle.  Ah, and the Elvis wall clock with swingin' hips.  You get the picture...

Back in the late '80s when my Christmas music collecting was in its infancy, "Elvis' Christmas Album" was one of the first additions as a CD.  I've always thought that his "Blue Christmas" was a cornerstone of Christmas recordings, and it leads off my very first Christmas comp.  Not many years later I bought the re-packaged collection "If Every Day Was Like Christmas", containing a single CD with all the Christmas songs from his two albums, and packaged in a decorative sleeve featuring a fold-out model of Graceland at Christmas.

Since then I've added vinyl albums to the collection, and also a special release of "The Wonderful World of Christmas", bought during a visit to Graceland, that features all of the originally released songs from the album and also a second disc of alternate takes.  Great little historical package for Elvis fans like me.  (There is an extended re-release of the first album too, but it's contents are far less appealing - nothing really special).

There are multitudes of options for you to add Elvis to your Christmas collection.  Pick one, some, or many.  To pick "all" would be quite a collectors challenge.  I prefer his original recordings, and personally have no interest in the "Duets" album.  Although, I have to say, the release from last year featuring the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was actually pretty enjoyable - well done folks!

So, go getcha some Elvis Christmas :-)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: The Chieftains "The Bells of Dublin"

It just isn't Christmas until I've played "The Bells of Dublin", a 1991 album of Irish and traditional  carols and other seasonal selections by The Chieftains, one of the world's most respected bands.

The guests on the album:  Elvis Costello, Kate and Anna McGarrigle (sigh ☺☺  ), Marianne Faithful, Rickie Lee Jones.  And the list goes on - the great Burgess Meredith narrates on a favorite of mine "Don Oiche Ud I mBeithil".

You'll be pleased with the renditions of the classics, including "I Saw Three Ships A Sailing", "The Wexford Carol", and "O Holy Night".  You'll love them performing "The Rebel Jesus" with Jackson Browne.  And you'll be splendidly entertained by the extended 6-track piece "The Wren! The Wren".

This is absolutely one of my favorites - it never gets old, and always sounds fresh and full of energy.  And, the uilleann pipes, me laddy!  Make for a spirited Irish Christmas!

Get "The Bells of Dublin" by the Chieftains, my friends, and you'll enjoy it for years to come.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: "Christmas with Chet Atkins"

Tonight's Essential is "Christmas with Chet Atkins", the 1961 recording by one of county music's most revered musicians.  Mr. Atkins' reputation as a performer, songwriter, producer, and all-around Nashville Dude is solid gold, and his entry in the Christmas music genre is a standout.

"Christmas with Chet Atkins" features fourteen standards, arranged by Mr. Atkins blending his uniquely smooth country guitar sound with solid backing musicians, and featuring the Anita Kerr singers.

This is an album that has that special something that can be hard to describe.  It's lush yet understated.  It has depth in the arrangements, yet sounds beautifully simple.  The engineering is excellent, with Chet's guitar front and center, yet still sharing the sound perfectly with his accompanying musicians.  It's just one of those perfect musical experiences.

Soothing, cheery, and full of the Christmas spirit.  Add "Christmas with Chet Atkins" to your collection (if it's not already there).

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: Goodyear, Firestone, W.T. Grant's (and more) Albums

Hi folks.  We will now resume our Christmas in July celebration after a brief hiatus where we made a quick trip to middle Tennessee to visit family.

For today's Essential I have chosen anything in the series of Christmas compilation albums released as seasonal promotions from Goodyear, Firestone, and W.T. Grant's.  And there are others too - I have some J.C. Penney comps, at least one Zenith-branded collection, an A&P or two, maybe a B.F. Goodrich is in there, etc   But Goodyear, Grant's, and Firestone are the three standard bearers for great quality Christmas compilation albums of their era.

I think that every Christmas music collector (with a turntable) should have a few of these great old albums.  You really can't go wrong if you find these in good condition at your local thrift store or used record store. The music selections are excellent, and they will bring the sounds of the golden age of Christmas music to you every season.

The Goodyear and W.T. Grant's albums are compilations featuring many different artists.  You'll find Bing, Nat, Doris, Barbra, Andy, Andre, Elvis - basically all the greats.  The Firestone albums are a little different in that they focused on one to four artists per album, and the recordings were made specifically for the Firestone series.  These have never been re-released in a remastered digital format, and so your only sources are copies of the vinyl albums or downloads from ye olde internet.

The Firestone series has particular draw for me, as Volume 5, featuring Julie Andrews, was one of the original Christmas albums I had as a child, and I (of course) still have it.  I've collected good copies of all seven Firestone albums.  I've picked up a few various albums from the other sets too, but so far have resisted the urge to be a completist and track them all down.

The Goodyear series was produced from 1961 - 1977 with an additional release in 1989 (which may have been on CD?).  Firestone ran from 1962 - 1968 and W.T. Grant's from 1967 - 1974.

While we're on the topic of vinyl comps, let me also mention the Reader's Digest boxed sets of Christmas music.  They are also collections of songs by many different artists, usually bundled together in 4-record sets.  I've found that you can find these in amazingly excellent condition.  Like the other comps, the music selection and quality is superb.

Usually each Christmas season, these albums are the first things I listen to when the season 'officially' starts.  As 'Essential' would imply, I think that every Christmas music collection needs at least a few of these fine records.

I'd be interested to hear from you all about your favorite retailer-branded sets or albums.  Mr. Soffa - I know you have a boxed set or 2 (hundred).  What ones stand out as the best of the bunch?