Tuesday, December 24, 2013

An Enchanted End to the Sharing Season

Christmas Eve!  The clock is ticking toward our traditional Christmas holiday family festivities.  Dinner at Mom's.  Church.  Home for the evening, watching "A Christmas Story".  Then to bed, awaiting Christmas morning.  We will have a White Christmas here at the Bingle's in Kansas City.  A snowstorm on Saturday night followed by a cold front has left the snow for us to enjoy on Christmas Day.

For you, my readers, I have what I believe to be the most interesting, certainly the most eclectic, share of the season, "Enchanted Carols" from the Saydisc label in the UK.  "Enchanted Carols" features songs performed on Street Piano, Roller Barrel Organ, Orpheus Disc Piano, Handbell Choir, Music Box, a Brass Band, and the Bells of St. Mary Redcliffe in Bristol.  What a collection!



There are traditional favorites such as "Good King Wenceslas", "Jingle Bells", and "O Come All Ye Faithful".  There are also songs that we don't hear as often, like "Down in Yon Forest", "A Virgin Most Pure", and "See Amidst the Winter Snow" (as part of a carol medley).




Just for fun, I included a scan of the inserts in the album cover.  They aren't directly related to the record, but I thought you might enjoy them.

So, with "Enchanted Carols", I conclude another season of sharing Christmas Music with you.  As I've prepared the shares this year, I've found that many more Christmas recordings of the past are now available in digital format.  That's both good and bad.  Good because they have been remastered with excellent sound quality.  Bad because it limits what I can share.  Still, I hope that you have all enjoyed the music this year.

Merry Christmas!

"Enchanted Carols" download link

Monday, December 23, 2013

Truly a Joyous Record

According to the album notes on the back cover, "The Pop Christmas Melodies" is just that - truly a joyous Christmas record.

I was quite amused by the album notes on this record.  While I praised the writer of the album info on the last share from George Wright, I can't heap quite as many kudos for this one.  Although, for sheer amusement, this isn't bad. 

"In America, Christmas is the big holiday..."

"Carols are sung at Christmas season as they are joyous and happy."

"The date, December 25th, was probably picked as it was closest to January 6th (Epiphany)."

Oh well - the writer didn't have Google to help way back when.  So, Rondo Record Corporation album note writer, I wish you many Season's Greetings!



Oh, about the record...  "The Pop Christmas Melodies" featuring the Popular Players' Orchestra, is a record of pretty good Christmas music.  Pretty much standard stuff, arranged and performed quite competently.  I particularly like the inclusion of "Little Jack Frost", as it's the one that isn't in the upper tier of the Christmas music canon, although we all know it well.

I dig the artwork on the cover too.  As my teenagers say, very retro.



The rips here have some noise.  The record was in rough shape, so there is some fuzz here and there that I couldn't remove.  But, it cleaned up enough to be a nice addition to the season.

Please enjoy "The Pop Christmas Melodies"

download link

Sunday, December 22, 2013

What Would Christmas Be...

... without a Christmas Organ record?

Well, fear not, fret little, and rejoice heartily!  Here today I have for you "Merry Christmas" by George Wright playing a selection of Christmas songs on the Wurlitzer Pipe Organ and the New York Paramount Theatre.



The notes on the back of the album cover are quite descriptive, setting the mood, describing the mighty Wurlitzer organ, informing us about the percussion instruments heard in accompaniment, and even providing technical details about the recording.  Kudos to the copy writer for Hi Fidelity Recordings.



This is really good album of Christmas music.  To me, it stands in the upper tier of albums of organ music, primarily because of the song selections.  There are some old standards like "Jingle Bells", "White Christmas", "Deck the Halls" and others.  But there are also some others that won't be commonly found, or, in the case of "Holly", Mr. Wright's own composition, anywhere else.  "The Little Red Monkey" is a piece of Christmas mischief, perhaps even better suited on a Halloween album.  The album closes with "Christmas Fantasy", a lengthy arrangement featuring themes from many Christmas songs expertly arranged and blended, a fitting finale to a really nice record.

For your pre-Christmas Sunday, here is "Merry Christmas" by George Wright.

download link

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Jillaine Returns!

Our friends Stubby and Ken Kessler first let all of us Christmas Music lovers know tht Jillaine's third Christmas album, "Jazzy Christmas To You III" had become available.  Many thanks to them for this exciting announcement.  I just want to do my part to promote Jillaine, our favorite jazz singer and performer-extraordinaire of Christmas music.


Jillaine's third Christmas album in three years arrived in the mail here at the Bingle house a couple days ago - huzzah!  With Christmas looming, I don't know if I'll get  full review written before the big day, but it's safe to say that this record will be as amazing as the first two.  What a singer, what an interpreter of Christmas songs.

Jillaine artist site

Amazon link  (Jillaine says pay no attention to the 'out of stock' message - order it and it will be delivered)

iTunes

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas in Germany

It's getting close to Christmas Day, and I have a few more records to share out for you.  The number of albums is less this year than in seasons past, but I hope you have enjoyed them all.

Tonight's share is "Am Weihnachtsbaum die Lichter brennen".  It's a German Christmas record featuring Erika Koth and Kenneth Spencer.  A German record, made in Germany, with all German album cover text.  If any of you readers speak German and can help us with some context, that would be great. 

 


Beautiful cover, eh?

Even though I don't speak German, I can certainly appreciate good Christmas music.  Some of the songs are well known, such as "Stille Nacht", "O Tannenbaum", and "Still, still, still".   Even old favorite "Adeste fidelis" appears.

There are a couple things you should know about the rip.  First, the performances are pretty much continuous, with breaks that are difficult to discern.  So, I decided to keep the flow intact, and have provided these as two tracks, Side 1 and Side 2.  Second, the rip is a bit rough in spots, so there is a little more noise than usual.  Still, it's quite enjoyable music for the season.

Please enjoy "Am Weihnachtsbaum die Lichter brennen"

download link

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Annual Music Box Share

One thing I've discovered since hitting the thrift shops in search of Christmas records is that there are a lot of music box recordings.  I think this will be the 3rd year in a row I've shared out an album of Christmas Music Box songs.  Hmmm.... I've added a couple of the German Christmas Carousels (like in "Christmas Vacation", only smaller) to my Christmas decorations this year.  Maybe I need to be on the lookout for an honest-to-goodness Christmas Music Box.

This year's share is "Christmas Music Box Favorites" from the Paul Eakins Gay Nineties Village collection, from (when the album was made) Sikeston, Missouri.  The Gay Nineties is, or was, according to the album a "mecca of fun".  I can't speak for the Village itself, but the music on this record is a whole lotta fun.



These music boxes seem to produce more complex tunes than my previous shares.  There is a lot going on here musically - runs, rhythmic counters to the melodies, and quite complex song structures.  There is also the noise that the music boxes produce while playing - some knocks and whirrs - but I think that adds to the nostalgia and authenticity of the experience.

One of these days maybe I'll produce a 'best of' Music Box collection.  But not this year :-)

For tonight, I bring you "Christmas Music Box Favorites".

download link

Saturday, December 14, 2013

From Sopranos to Tenor

Tonight's share is one of those mysterious records about which I can find no information, either about the record or the artist.  Randall Veazey's "Songs of Christmas" was a thrift store find, and everything I know about it is on the album cover.  Google provides very little information about Mr. Veazey.  He may be, or have been, the Minister of Music at Riverchase Baptist Church, but I can't tell for sure.  He may have set three concert appearances in the Christmas season of 1974, and may have been a singer in the Billy Graham Crusade, but that's all unconfirmed.

What I can tell you is that he is a talented tenor, with a strong voice well suited to the collection of Christmas songs he recorded on "Songs of Christmas".  Mr. Veazey chose to record from the spiritual canon of songs for his album, and his voice is a natural fit.  I enjoyed this record very much.



Guess what else?  The record is signed!  If you look at the front cover scan, you'll see the signature in blue ink in the snowbank, with a "Best Wishes" inscription.  Comparing the signature to the album-printed version on the back cover, it looks similar.

So, Mr. Veazey the Mysterious Tenor, you have produced a fine Christmas record (circa 1973?).  It will be enjoyed by the readers of Merry and Bright here in 2013 Anno Domini.

download link

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Baroque Christmas

Hello readers.  You probably thought I'd abandoned the blog.  Here at the height of the season, no new shares in six days.  Well, fear not.  Der Bingle has been working, making candy, and doing some shopping.  And now I'm back with another excellent Christmas record for you.



"A Baroque Christmas" by the Amor Artis Chorale is an excellent record for fans of this style of Christmas music.  Johannes Somary conducts the chorale though seven works by Praetorius, Haydn, Hammerschmidt, and others.  It's a really beautiful recording, quite spiritual and moving.

As always, the front and back cover images included in the share are scanned images (actually four scans each and then stitched together).  The other images of the inner cover and page insert are digital pictures from my camera, as I could not scan them without damaging the cover.  I hope that they are a nice complement to the cover and music. 



Please enjoy "A Baroque Christmas"

download link

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Sopranos Christmas

No, not Tony Soprano and his family sitting around the fireplace singing Christmas carols.  My last share was a record from exquisite soprano Elly Ameling, so I thought I'd follow up with another amazing soprano, Joan Sutherland.



Joan Sutherland is one of the grande dames of opera, Australian born to Scottish parents.  She has an amazing voice and a storied career.  Her Christmas songs occasionally appear on commercial collections, but fortunately for us, this record, "Joy of Christmas" is not available in CD or MP3 form.

The selections include both religious-themed songs, such as "Ave Maria", "O Divine Redeemer", and "O Holy Night", as well as secular carols such as "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and "Deck the Hall".  All in all, this is a very enjoyable collection from Ms. Sutherland.

Enjoy!

download link

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Artist Interview: The Bowmans

The Bowmans, twin sisters Sarah and Claire Bowman, have produced one of the finest Christmas albums of the year, “Make Sure The Snow Falls” (also featuring sister Emily Bowman on violin). And if producing and releasing a new album wasn’t enough, Claire Bowman wrote and illustrated a Christmas book “Mert the Anxious Evergreen”. The Bowmans have toured and performed with artists such as The Avett Brothers and Rasputina, and have developed a strong, dedicated fan base. The first time you listen to “Make Sure The Snow Falls” you will understand why. Sarah and Claire very graciously agreed to answer a few questions for the readers of Merry and Bright. I wish to thank them for their time, and for giving us such personal insights into The Bowmans as multi-talented artists, and to their down-to-the-wire Kickstarter campaign. I am extremely pleased to bring you Q&A with The Bowmans.

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Merry & Bright: Welcome to Merry and Bright! Thank you for taking some time to answer a few questions. Your new CD “Make Sure the Snow Falls” is an album of traditional and original Christmas songs. What led you to record a Christmas record?

Sarah Bowman: I knew you'd ask! This is our first Christmas album, and it was always evident that someday we'd do one. Both of my sisters and I always made music together at Christmas, which remains as the happiest tradition of all. Claire and I always took the songs we knew and made them into something our own by adding movement to the melodies and harmonies. Emily plays the violin on the album. Together again at last!

Merry & Bright: The musicality – vocal harmonies, song arrangements, performances on instruments – is complete, precise yet smooth, and just beautiful. Tell us a little about the Bowman sisters’ development as musicians.

Sarah Bowman: We helped each other grow. It was always natural for us to express ourselves this way. Emily used to turn the lights off and we'd sit in the dark and have instrumental conversations. Claire and I used to challenge ourselves by singing 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' a minor second apart from one another- and similar 'games' that I later found out in college were excellent ear training methods. For us it was just our way of goofing around. Dad said the first time he heard us sing in harmony we were in the back seat of the old Volvo. We were just 3 years old.



Merry & Bright: The title song “Make Sure the Snow Falls”, written by Sarah, is not only a seasonal song but also a powerful message of environmental responsibility. What is the inspiration behind this song?

Sarah Bowman: The first line is literal. I live in the Alps. Easter was colder than Christmas last year. I am so connected to the weather, and the seasons. You'll find this in many of my songs- so, like many things, when Christmas doesn't *feel* like Christmas, it makes me want to take action more than ever.

Merry & Bright: So, tell us about the last five minutes of your Kickstarter campaign.

Claire Bowman: Well, we'd been busy touring and recording throughout the campaign, which started to look like a bad decision when the last week rolled around, because we hadn't been able to reach out directly to as many folks as we probably needed. On the morning of the last day, I'd almost given up hope. But then, I though, heck - there's no harm in just emailing every last person I know to see if they want to chip in to help us make this happen. And so I got a pitcher of water, some snacks, and got to work. I didn't get up for hours. The last half hour, our mixing engineer called with questions and I barely said three words to him. He must have thought I was the rudest person on earth. But I wouldn't stop emailing while I told him how to reach Sarah, who had stepped away to get some air. Then I started getting phone calls from folks having trouble figuring out how to increase their pledges or trying to make pledges from their phones, so I was fielding calls while still trying to get emails out. It was chaotic. I wasn't watching the numbers. I was just emailing people and talking on the phone. Then, just as I was trying to walk someone through a transaction on Kickstarter, I noticed the time. Ten seconds left. We were like $1800 away from our $30,000 goal. I politely ended the conversation and laid down on the floor with my hands over my eyes. I was devastated. So much work and so close, but I thought it was impossible that we'd bridge that $1800 gap in ten seconds. Then, Sarah's husband said matter-of-factly, "you reached your goal."

Sarah and I were like, "what?" And he repeated, "You reached your goal. You did it." Like - as if we had no reason to be freaking out. I had to see it to believe it. And it was true! Somebody had their finger on the button or something - one substantial pledge had come through along with 30 other pledges in the last seconds of the campaign. It was unbelievable. I started getting texts and FB messages from all the backers who'd been watching the nail-biting end of the campaign, refreshing their screens to see the numbers change, calling folks to get them to pledge. I had no idea so many people were out there rooting for us. Sarah and I just gripped each other and howled. Within seconds, I'd gone from giving up on the floor to jumping up and down with my sister in celebration. It was incredible! I'll never forget that moment.

Merry & Bright: Who are The Bowmans’ primary influences as musicians?

Sarah Bowman: Mom and Dad's music collection combined? You have Dad on the one side with early polyphonic choral music, medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music... and Mom with Pete Seeger and Joni Mitchell and the protest folk singer-songwriters of the 60s, and Gospel music and the Beatles on the other side. Later in life you have The Avett Brothers, who were like us when we met many moons ago in NY- brothers working hard to make it happen. That's why I'm so happy Scott Avett plays on this record, he is a true inspiration. Lastly, add in everything Jim Henson ever did, and you have The Bowmans.

Merry & Bright: What’s next for The Bowmans?

Sarah Bowman: We have enough songs to record another full length album that is not particularly seasonal, and we want to make a series out of the Christmas project. We just need to finance it, and this summer's Kickstarter campaign was enough excitement for a short while. We would like our fan base to grow before we crowd fund again.



Merry & Bright: By the way, I love your artwork on “Make Sure the Snow Falls”, as well as your previous releases “The Bowmans” and “Live at PowerPlay Studios”. It’s so colorful and energetic. And, your art gives life to your book “Mert: The Anxious Evergreen”, which was also part of your Kickstarter campaign. Tell us about Mert, and how he came to be.

Claire Bowman: My twin sister, acting on a hunch, challenged me to write it as part of our joint Kickstarter campaign (for this book and our forthcoming Christmas album). She was already deep into songwriting for the album. (It took her over two years.)

I spent a lot of my life dreaming of being a children's book author and illustrator. Though challenging, writing Mert's story felt so natural that I think I discovered a call that I “could not hear” previously – yet it seemed like it was there all along. (This call is like the music in the book, except that is a call that resounds on more of a collective level.)

I did not come to writing via a traditional path. I've always had too many interests to figure out what I was supposed to do with my life. I've always loved art/painting/drawing and singing and losing myself in my imaginary world. It turns out that my inability to relinquish my stuffed animals and my tendency to greet and thank inanimate objects is paying off.



Merry & Bright: Artist, musician, writer – you must stay very busy! Thank you for spending time with Merry and Bright! 

Claire Bowman: Thanks so much for taking an interest in The Bowmans and Mert! Happy Holidays!

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“Mert the Anxious Evergreen” on Amazon

The Bowmans website

“Make Sure The Snow Falls” on Amazon

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

CD Review: "Make Sure The Snow Falls" by The Bowmans


The Bowmans, twin sisters Sarah and Claire Bowman, with their new album “Make Sure The Snow Falls”, have given us not only one of the best Christmas releases this year, but, in Der Bingle’s humble opinion, one of the most perfect Christmas musical experiences ever.  Seriously, my friends.  Sarah and Claire, and sister Emily as well, accompanying on violin, have given us a beautiful, original, and completely rapturous record for this season.
 

The very opening measures of the first song, “Is He Going to Ask Me” set the tone of the album, showing the sisters’ tight harmonies that prevail throughout the record.  Sarah and Claire sing together flawlessly, harmonizing magically on every song.  Sarah is also a multi-instrumentalist, playing cello, piano, fiddle, Wurlitzer, guitar, and bells.  Along with Claire on percussion and Emily on violin, the acoustic musical arrangements are mesmerizing, perfectly blending with the sisters’ vocals.

“Make Sure the Snow Falls” features six original songs, and six arrangements of traditional Christmas tunes.  “Is He Going to Ask Me” is a Christmas love song deepy rooted in both the spirit of the season and a couple’s love, and the anticipation of a quite big moment. 
 

The title song, “Make Sure The Snow Falls”, delivers a powerful seasonal message of stewardship with nature and environmental responsibility.  With this song, Sarah tells of “a new way to be naughty these days”, with long-lasting effects on the world we live in.

“First Verses”, also written by Sarah, takes me back to my childhood days where, as the song says, we knew and sang the first verses of many Christmas songs, in church and in school.   It’s a nostalgic journey back 40-odd years to where my love for Christmas music began.

The traditional songs include “Good King Wenceslas”, What Child Is This”, and “We Three Kings”.  “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” is terrific, with an additional verse delivering Santa a personal wish list from Sarah, Claire, and Emily.  What rhymes with “cello”?  You’ll be pleasantly surprised (no, not “jello”). 
 
 

The album closes with an a capella version of “Silent Night”, which the Bowmans perform absolutely perfectly.  Their harmony gives this reverent song a mystical spirituality, and is one of the best performances of this song I’ve ever heard.

“Make Sure The Snow Falls” has soared to one of my favorite Christmas records.  It’s up there with Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, Elvis, and Percy Faith.  It’s going to be one that I listen to many times each Christmas season.   I just can’t say enough about this amazing record. 

The Bowmans used a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the record and a Christmas book, “Mert, the Anxious Evergreen”, written and illustrated by Claire Bowman.  The story is terrific, and Claire’s artwork is colorful, joyous, and just wonderful!  A painting by Claire also graces the cover of the CD sleeve.  These twin sisters have artistic talent aplenty.  Their Kickstarter campaign had a very dramatic finish.  The funds had not come through yet into the last day of the campaign.  About an hour before it ended, I (as a backer), checked in, and it was getting pretty close.  The minutes were winding down.  As I was watching, the campaign ended, and the sisters were still short by a hundred dollars or less.  What a letdown.  Then, a few seconds later, Kickstarter refreshed, and their goal was attained!  Whew – talk about a close call!  The world of Christmas music is a better place with the funding and release of the CD and book.  And if the message of “Make Sure the Snow Falls” resonates, then the entire world will be a better place for all of us.
 
 

Listen to “Make Sure The Snow Falls” by The Bowmans on Spotify, then rush over to buy it from their website or from Amazon.  Pick up a copy or two of “Mert the Anxious Evergreen” while you’re there.  Give it as a gift to the children in your family.  And, keep a copy for yourself J



Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Elly Ameling Christmas

Tonight's share is from renowned Dutch soprano Elly Ameling.  The album is titled "Christmas with Elly Ameling", and features eight songs performed by Ms. Ameling.  The back cover of the album states:

"Elly Ameling sings a collection of Christmas songs - famous and not so famous - from Germany (Strauss, Reger, Cornelius), Austria (Wolf), Holland (Diespenbrock), and Spain (Nin)."

Now, I don't speak German, Dutch, or Spanish, so Ms. Elling may be singing about Baby Jesus or driving to Belgium to pick up a Trappist Ale for all I know.  But she sounds good.  Her soprano voice soars alongside the reserved accompaniment, allowing the listener to focus on her performance.



There is a lot of information on the web about Elly Ameling, and she has many albums available on iTunes.  But, fortunately for us, not this one.

I am pleased to share "Christmas with Elly Ameling".

download link

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cheesy Content Winner!

And the winner of the Richard Cheese "Cocktails with Santa" CD is....

Ralph from Chandler, AZ!

<applause, applause, applause, whoop, whoop>



Congratulations Ralph!

I'll be in touch with you via e-mail to get your mailing address.

Thanks to all who entered, including one from Jakarta, Indonesia.  How about that - a worldwide contest!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Lorne Greene: Have a Happy Holiday

Just last week I was hit like a lightning bolt with the thought "Why haven't I shared Lorne Greene before?"  Lorne Greene's "Have a Happy Holiday" was one of the four Christmas records we had when I was growing up, along with a Bing Crosby, Firestone Vol. 5, and a country music collection.  I played Lorne Greene and Bing Crosby over and over.

I think there are two reasons why I haven't shared this yet.  First, it has been shared before on other blogs, and I try not to duplicate efforts too often.  So I just never moved it into the ripping queue.



Second, and maybe I knew this before and subsequently forgot, "A Christmas Cantata" on side 2 of the album has a significant scratch.  A scratch that, despite my efforts, prevented me from ripping the whole album.  Still, I wanted to share out my copy of this great record from 1965.  So, I ripped all that I could (everything except "A Christmas Cantata"), cleaned the rips, removed the noise and prepped them to share.  For the Cantata, I went to my archives and found the files I had downloaded a few years back, and included the Cantata from that share.  So, thanks to the festive friend who shared this out previously.  Although I don't recall the source, I want to give credit where credit is due.

So, it is with great pleasure that I bring you Lorne Greene's "Have a Happy Holiday".  This is a terrific record.  Lorne's strong baritone voice is perfect for the song selections and readings.  His recital of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" is especially good, and one of the reasons I loved this record in childhood.  Lorne recites the poem with jingly cheer, much animation in his voice, and is accompanied by a Joe Reisman score. 

I'm also very partial to "Christmas is A-Comin'", one of the four songs on the album (except for the ones that are part of the Cantata).  It's a very nice rendition of a classic song, and once again Lorne shows his talent as an interpreter of the whimsical aspects of the piece.

This is one of my favorite a;bums.  Please enjoy "Have a Happy Holiday", courtesy of Der Bingle and the unnamed contributor of "A Christmas Cantata", the final track on the record.

<link removed>

Sorry folks!  This is available now on CD, so have to remove the link.

Friday, November 29, 2013

CD Review: "Let Your Heart Be Light" by Andrea Hamilton


The heart and soul of a musician shine in their Christmas albums, especially, it seems to me, for those who are not in the mainstream.  Such is the case with Andrea Hamilton and her new release “Let Your Heart Be Light”, a beautiful new record this Christmas season.
 
 
Andrea Hamilton has channeled her talents into Christian recordings with her previous albums “Deciding What to Keep”, “Salvation Come”, and “Slow Miracle”.  In 2013, the LA-based Olathe, Kansas native (a local gal!) turned to Christmas music to deliver her message of spirituality and joy.  “Let Your Heart Be Light” is a collection of 12 traditional and original Christmas songs that is certain brighten your holiday season.

Andrea’s arrangements of “O Come All Ye Faithful”, titled simply “O Come”, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, and “Silent Night” are unique and superbly refreshing, without losing the reverence for the season.  “O Come” is upbeat and lively, turned in to a light pop version of the Christmas classic.   “Silent Night” is an especially pleasing performance, tweaking the melody just enough to make it interesting and provocative, and then returning to the song's traditional form.


The original songs are exceptional.  “Christmas Clock”, “Love Came Down”, and “Waiting for Christmas Morn”, written or co-written by Andrea, show her accomplished skills as a songwriter.  “Every Time”, written by Andrea and Kip Fox, is my favorite song on the album.  It captures the meaning of Christmas as few songs do.  The line  “It’s not what I got but what I got for you” perfectly frames the spirit of the holiday, that of giving and bringing joy to the ones we love.

Andrea’s light, ethereal, crisp vocals are beautiful throughout the album, expertly complemented by her piano playing.  Her musicians – Emanuel Cervantes, Corey Witt, James Grey, Daniel Roberts, and Brendan Bennett – blend and accompany perfectly throughout the record.  

Andrea Hamilton is another artist I found via a Kickstarter campaign.  This year has produced some amazing Christmas music through Kickstarter – Elizabeth Chan, The Bowmans, and Andrea Hamilton.  I encourage all of my readers to visit Kickstarter and help fund these artists, even with a modest contribution.  Every donation helps these tremendous musicians, and it’s a great feeling to play a small part in a successful project.


“Let Your Heart Be Light” is available on Spotify.  Give it a listen, and if you like it, support the artist by purchasing her CD.  This and Andrea’s other albums are available on Amazon as well as her website, hopefulpop.com.

Enjoy!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'd like to wish all my readers a very Happy and Peaceful Thanksgiving!

Tomorrow the music sharing season will start.  I hope that you enjoy what I have for you this year.  And, I also have another CD or two to review, in addition to the usual miscellaneous holiday posts.  I'm also hoping to have another artist interview completed and posted for your enjoyment.

All that's to come, but for now, enjoy the holiday!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Cheesy CD Giveaway!

Earlier this year I made a contribution to become a backer for Richard Cheese's Kickstarter project, a new Christmas CD from Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine titled "Cocktails with Santa".  I was a big fan of his previous Christmas release "Silent Nightclub", so I jumped at the chance to back a new Cheese Christmas CD.



The package I chose as a backer included not only an autographed CD from Senor Queso himself (yahoo!), but also 5 other copies of the CD to give away to friends and family.

So, I've decided to give one copy away to a lucky Merry and Bright reader!

Well, a lucky and skilled Merry and Bright reader...

What skills, you may ask?  Well, it should be pretty easy for my internet-savvy readers.  I believe in supporting independent artists, those out of the mainstream and giving it all to earn a living as a musician. Some of the small things I can do to help is give them exposure here in this blog, and also provide links to their websites.  So, in order to be eligible to win your very own copy of "Cocktails with Santa", you will need to visit Richard's website and find a piece of information, and send it to me via e-mail.  The winner will be selected at random from all of the e-mails I receive with the correct information.

Ready?  OK - here's what you need to do.  Visit Richard Cheese's website, www.richardcheese.com, and find his "Latest News" page.  Then, find the list of CDs that are out of print and will no longer be produced once the current stock is sold out.  Then, find the second album on the list.  Once you have the name of the album, send me an e-mail at derbingle42@gmail.com with "I Want Some Cheese" in the subject line, and in the body of the e-mail, write the title of the album from the website.  Also, please include your name and city of residence.  The contest will run through December 1st, then the winner will be selected.  I'll contact the winner via e-mail for a mailing address.

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 the 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 Richard Cheese contacts me and would like the e-mail address, I will provide it to him.  Otherwise, your e-mail is safe with me.
5.  This contest is not endorsed by nor connected in any way to Richard Cheese, LoungeMart, or anyone except the author of this blog.
6.  The CD I am giving away is from my personal collection, and was obtained via the Kickstarter campaign.
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.

Ok - ready - go get Cheesy!

Richard Cheese website

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Artist Interview: Elizabeth Chan

Today I am proud to bring you an exclusive Merry and Bright interview with Christmas recording artist Elizabeth Chan.  Very few musicians can lay claim to the very specific title "Christmas recording artist", but Elizabeth has focused her creative energies and passions solely on Christmas music.  And for that, we thank her.  Elizabeth's first full-length album "Everyday Holidays" is available from Amazon, iTunes, and other outlets, and her first single "Fa La La" is getting airplay on Christmas music stations around the country.  Without further ado, here is my conversation with Elizabeth Chan.

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Merry and Bright:  Hello Elizabeth.  Welcome to Merry and Bright! 

Elizabeth Chan: Hello! I'm so happy to be here! :) 

MB:   Elizabeth, you’re one of the most Christmassy artists out there.  Where did your passion for Christmas, and especially Christmas music, come from?

EC:   When I was a little girl and throughout my entire life, I loved Christmas. Growing up, my sister and I would listen to Christmas music 24/7 in our house. Listening to Christmas music can instantly transport you to a warm happy place, which is a testament of the power of music. It has been a life dream of mine to write a holiday song that would become a standard that would become part of people's happy holiday memories. Christmas is the only time throughout the year that my family is reunited.
MB:  You’ve written, literally, hundreds of Christmas songs.  Tell us a little bit about your process – where do your ideas for Christmas songs come from?  And how do you develop the ideas into the final, polished songs?

EC:   In life, I always knew I wanted to be a musician. For some reason I had ignored this early on - and had lived a non-musical life, which I was pretty successful at, but spent many days lamenting and daydreaming about songwriting. When days would be really bad I would turn to my friends and family and ask them what they thought if I just dedicated my life to writing a Christmas song. Most people would just chuckle - and I would go into the motions of my regular life.

        By the grace of incredible luck, I had the opportunity to embark on my dream to write a Christmas song and an amazing thing happened. Despite not knowing how to play an instrument, despite having never written a Christmas song... the songs just started to pour out. They flooded out so fast. It's almost like I go into a trance. All it takes is for me to pinpoint a few key chords I like and then to build an idea, it will make me think of a story and I'll start to scribble down phrases. When I'm in this moment, I can sometimes envision how I hear the song in my mind and try best to capture the song to share with others. I become rather transfixed when I'm in this zone. I don't stop until the song stops. This can take minutes, hours or days. I went from having no instruments in my home to having two guitars, two keyboards, a ukulele, a voice harmonizer, 3 recorders and a pro tools setup - all to help me catch the songs I hear in my head. 

        The inspiration for my Christmas music is mostly my family. I really do not see my entire family in one place except for Christmas. Sometimes life isn't the way you planned, and the ones you love the most are the farthest away from you - even if they are not so far away. For me presents are secondary to presence as true Christmas gifts. This is the core motivating message I try to evoke in my songs. How to bring people together with my music is key, because it’s the story of my Christmas life and it’s this idea that I've dedicated my life to. Eventually the way I live my life will probably become a song in itself. More like a symphony! That isn't over yet! :) 

MB:   Who are your main influences as a musician? 

EC:  When I was 6 years old, my parents used to record me singing to Whitney Houston. I have my favorite bands, most of which I only knew because of sitting in the backseat of my parents’ car. I love the Carpenters, Stevie Wonder, The Beach Boys. I was taught to sing by listening to the radio. I still listen to the radio EVERY morning. No matter what. I love the radio. For example, this past record was partially inspired by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis "Can't Hold Us," and Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas." 

        My dad purchased my first keyboard when I was about the same age, but it only had a few octaves of keys. I would play him what I heard on the radio and turn to him and say "this key I need - is here [point off the keyboard], but it’s not here." Before anyone knew it I came home to a big grand piano and had all the keys. When I was about 7 I took a few ear training and solfège classes, but I taught myself to play piano. I didn't know the keys by their standard names (CDEFG) or have any proper piano training. I only knew solfège (Do, Re Mi). So I really struggled with reading. I took a piece of music and would write "Do, Mi, So" on the music paper to learn how to play piano. I remember finally learning a piece of music and playing it at school the way I learned - and then a classmate saying, "That's not how you play it!" After that moment, I kind of decided learning piano wasn't my thing. I loved my piano though. So even though I didn't know what I was playing - I would continue to play. Match the chords in my head that sounded right and would compose my own music, instead of trying to read other music. I'm musically illiterate but I am a prolific songwriter. Apparently I'm in good company, the one artist i hold in my pocket as an example is Paul McCartney. 

        Looking back, it was probably this idea that because I didn't know how to read music that helped me to stay away from music for so long. Sometimes the music is just in you, and for me it is truly my calling. 

        My main musical influence is a need to get these songs out of my head, I write music and sing songs and parts every day. I need a release valve for the inspiration!  
        I had one guitar lesson that changed my life with Mike Doughty. He was gracious enough to teach me how to play guitar and taught me how to tune a guitar to open chords. He told me to just make sounds I like. I took that single lesson and never looked back. Since then I've written over 300+ songs. 


MB:   And who are some of your primary inspirations in the Christmas music genre?

EC:   I look up to Irving Berlin and carry his biography everywhere I go, and leave his biography on my nightstand. His story is one I love reading. Without a doubt, my primary musical inspiration in the Christmas music genre is Stevie Wonder. I listen to all his Christmas records year round. Like everyone I have my favorite songs "Merry Christmas Darling," "Last Christmas," "Happy X'Mas (War is Over)." I cannot name all my favorite songs. I listen to Christmas music all year round and keep up with people who put out new Christmas records every year. I spend a lot of time studying the Christmas music genre that I am somewhat of a historian. I'm also very lucky to live in New York City, where many of the standards we love were penned. I'm still able to see the inspiration that has inspired those before me in my day to day life. 

MB:  You reached out to your friends and fans via Kickstarter to help fund the production of “Everyday Holidays”.  Tell us how you felt the day your funding goal was attained.

EC:   I was truly reluctant to start a Kickstarter campaign. I'm not the kind of person to ask for help, and in a way I'm still learning how to ask for help. I had written songs that I knew I wanted on my EP and was confronted with the fact that I could not afford the recording of the record unless I had help. After letting Steve Lillywhite listen to the initial scratch demos of the songs, he suggested that I start a Kickstarter campaign, that if people heard the songs they would help. I ignored that suggestion for a bit, but then realized that this record would not come out if I didn't have help. When I launched the Kickstarter I really thought it would never get funded, but was just happy to see that people did truly support the making of this record. I knew that even if I didn't fund the Kickstarter I would try to make the record in any way I could. Then someone named Santa Claus backed the Kickstarter and before I knew it, as the clock started to close in on the deadline - my entire record was funded. 
        This whole experience taught me a very important lesson. That if I let this fear of asking for help in my way - I would have never put out "Everyday Holidays" or have been able to continue on my journey. 

MB:   Besides funding, what were some of your challenges in making “Everyday Holidays” a reality?

EC:   The music business is possibly one of the toughest industries to be in. The funding only took care of the recording costs of the record. It didn't include making the design of the album cover, manufacturing, the music video, marketing the record. There are a lot of things that go into getting music out into the world. There is such a deluge of holiday music that comes out every year that it’s very hard to cut through the noise. I would list out all the slammed doors and failures that I had this year - but that would depress people and demotivate other aspiring musicians and artists! :) The bad is part of what makes good - well.. Great ;)
MB:  Well, I think “Everyday Holidays” is fantastic.  Although it’s only been released for a few weeks, is it too soon to ask what we might expect next from Elizabeth Chan?  Do you hope to record and release another Christmas CD?
EC:   God willing, I will continue to make new holiday records every year. I will be as committed to this as life will let me stay committed to my dream of penning a Christmas classic. My first single “Fa La La” has already charted on radio stations across the nation. It is a small step but an important one for me. 
MB:  Here’s a tough question:  What’s the one best thing about Christmas in New York City?

EC:   Not that hard! My family! :) My favorite thing in NYC is the Snowflake on 57th street. My ultimate favorite holiday thing. I saw it the other night, I was so excited.
MB:   Do you have a favorite Christmas song, or a favorite recording of a song by a specific artist?

EC:   This question is MUCH tougher than the last one! How can I choose a favorite Christmas song? It is almost like asking, "What is your favorite Christmas light?" Can you really only admire just one Christmas light? It's the string that makes it beautiful. Lucky for me, I have quite a long string of favorite Christmas records of my own! I do absolutely love "This Christmas" by Donny Hathaway. I listen to the song in the summer and feel really Christmassy. I guess to be fair, I love "A Christmas Song," by Elizabeth Chan ;) Not because I wrote it, but because it is a real reminder and an artifact of someone who has gone for their dream. I'm sad this song will probably never be on the radio. 
MB:   Is there anything else you’d like to share with your fans, both current and future?

EC:   To my fans, thank you for taking the time to listen to my records. The words are autobiographical and sometimes not so easy to share, so I don't take for granted the moment that you choose to listen to my song. I hope that my songs are the kind that you'll turn back to every holiday season and share with your family. I promise to continue sharing my journey through my Christmas songs with you as life will allow. :) 

MB:   Thanks for spending this time here at Merry and Bright!  Have a very Merry Christmas, Elizabeth!
EC:    Merry Christmas and Thank you for having me!!!! :D 
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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

CD Reviews: "Duck the Halls" and "Slower Than Christmas"

Since we're still in the pre-music-sharing season, I thought I'd instead share my take on "Duck the Halls", the Christmas CD from the Robertson family of Louisiana Duckmen fame, and, most recently, of course, Duck Dynasty.

I had never seen Duck Dynasty until this past Summer, and wondered how the heck a show about a family that made duck calls could be any good.  My kids started watching it, and, unlike they other shows they watch about tattoos, tattoo removal, opening up storage bins, and building aquariums, I actually got sucked in to the phenomenon.  I find Duck Dynasty to be very funny and very entertaining.  Why, you ask?  Well, sure, it's not a reality show.  The situations are "suggested" by the producers.  It's half sitcom and half reality, but it's funny.  The Robertsons have a collective great sense of humor, have natural comic timing, and the looks the teen-aged Robertson kids give are precious.  But the main thing it that it's refreshingly clean.  There are no language bleeps.  No swearing.  No more than the brothers calling each other idiots.  And, every episode ends with the family around the dinner table, with Phil Robertson saying a prayer.  It's good, clean, entertaining TV.



Ok, so, how's the CD?  I like it.  I think it's darned entertaining, and it makes me laugh and smile.  The music is surprisingly good, though there are peaks and valleys.  Is it a timeless Christmas classic?  Nah.  It is fun?  Yes, definitely.  It makes me happy, happy, happy.

Missy Robertson is featured on three of the songs, and has a very good voice, pleasantly delivering on "I'll Be Home for Christmas", "Baby, It's Cold Outside", and "Why I Love Christmas".  Sadie Robertson, Willie's daughter, is joined by the other Robertson children on "Away in a Manger" (also featuring the totally awesome Alison Krauss) and "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer", and gives fine, earnest, and sweet performances.

"Christmas Cookies", with Phil Robertson and special guest George Straight, is a great little song about Miss Kay's Christmas cookies (yep, you guessed it).  It's a happy, fun, and superbly seasonal song, and one of the best on the album.

Let's get back to "Baby, It's Cold Outside", with Missy and Jase Robertson.  Ha!  This one cracks me up.  Jase's mainly spoken performance is funny, just in his delivery and timing.  I love this version of a song that is really hit or miss.  This take is a definite hit (even though it doesn't get "bone-chillin'" in Louisiana).

The biggest surprise is "Camouflage and Christmas Lights", performed by Reed Roberston, Jase and Missy's son.  When I first listened to this, I checked the liner notes to see who the guest singer was.  Reed has a fine voice, the best on the record.  I'd like to hear more from Reed, in more traditional Christmas carols and songs.

And, of course, there's the title track, complete with duck calls replacing the Fa La La La Las.  And, Uncle Si chimes in on three songs, adding his unique vocal talents to the record.

Classic, no.  Loads of fun, yes indeed.

Now, there is one more Duck Dynasty-related Christmas CD that has not gotten the press and hype that accompanied "Duck the Halls".  Mountain Man, one of the best and funniest neighbors on Duck Dynasty, released a Christmas record called "Slower Than Christmas".  Mountain Man has a well-deserved reputation for not moving at too fast a pace.  Nor, talking too fast.  So, "Slower Than Christmas" is themed around Mountain Man's pace of life.



I listened to some of the tracks from "Slower Than Christmas" on Spotify, as a try-before-you-buy.  I didn't buy.  It's a gimmick of an album, and, for me, the gimmick doesn't work.  I couldn't get into this record.  Mountain Man, love ya on the tube, but the record, not so much.

Just my opinions - your mileage may vary :-)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Free EP from Brad McNett & Jake Reichbart

One of the best aspects of running this little ol' Christmas Music blog is that artists will occasionally contact me about their music.  A few days ago I heard from the duo Brad McNett and Jake Reichbart.  Brad and Jake have a 6-song Christmas EP available on Bandcamp as a free download. 



Brad and Jake deliver an "unplugged" (is "unplugged" just too '90's?) collection of traditional Christmas songs that I think you'll enjoy.  I especially like their acoustic arrangement of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year".

Follow the links below to download their EP "Please Come Home for Christmas", and to find out more about these two fine musicians.

Brad and Jake on Bandcamp

Brad McNett artist website

Jake Reichbart website

Friday, November 8, 2013

CD Review: Elizabeth Chan "Everyday Holidays"


Elizabeth Chan: Everyday Holidays

Let’s get right to it: I really love this record.

Many readers of Merry and Bright, being the internet-savvy, Christmas music loving folk that they are, may already be familiar with Elizabeth Chan.  In 2012 Elizabeth released an EP titled “Naughty & Nice”, with 5 original Christmas songs.  Elizabeth, who lives and breathes Christmas every day of the year, has a goal to write and record a modern classic Christmas song.  To this end, she has written over 300 seasonal songs to date.  In 2013, Elizabeth went to Kickstarter to help fund a full-length CD, and at the end of the funding period 95 backers had committed over $10,000 to support her project.  And now, after all is said and done, we have a full CD from Elizabeth, with 10 original songs, plus a remix cut, for a total of eleven happenin’ holiday tunes. 


Elizabeth’s songs tend toward a blend of Christmas with pop arrangements.  “Fa La La” is the best of the bunch, and it is her first single from the album.  “Fa La La” is a catchy, energetic song with a driving snare drum beat.  You’ll be tapping your feet and nodding your head along as you listen, and you’ll find yourself singing along.

“A Christmas Song” is a wonderful cornucopia of Christmas song tidbits, expertly woven together with an upbeat, jingly arrangement.  A few years ago Rocky and Balls (aka Sophie Madeleine and Hannah-Rei) achieved perfection with their “Christmas Song Song”, creating a kazoo-accompanied homage to what seemed like every popular Christmas song ever.  But while Rocky and Balls created a work of pure whimsy, Elizabeth has married the joy of hearing Christmas songs with the feelings of love for that one special person.  It’s a truly great song that gives us a glimpse into Elizabeth’s passions and soul. 

“Vixen” debuted on “Naughty & Nice” and makes a return on this CD.  It’s a sexy little song about Santa’s favorite girl who may, just may, edge over into the realm of the naughty J  “Vixen” is totally unique and attention-getting, while remaining radio-friendly.  Now if only Christmas radio would play it!

On “Only On Christmas Time”, Elizabeth explores her range as a vocalist, particularly into her lower register, with wonderful results.  It’s a dance-beat celebration of the season, and very enjoyable.

“Tis the Season” is a rockin’, drivin’ force of a song with powerful drumming by John Benthal, shredding guitar by Nik Chinboukas, and sleighbells – what a great mix!

I find this collection of songs to be truly inspirational.  Elizabeth has not relied on covers and interpretations of classic Christmas songs to get our attention.  This is an artist truly following her dream, which is not just performing Christmas songs, but writing, performing, and recording her own Christmas songs.  Folks, this is inspiring artistry at its best.  And she’s good, too, friends, really good. 
And, I have to give a quick shout-out to Elizabeth's musicians who helped make this record:  Tony Lauria, Dylan Wissing, Yan Falmagne, Andy Snitzer, Kent Smith, Pemberton Roach, and Steve Addabbo.
To me, this is what Christmas music is all about.  It comes straight from the heart of an artist.  It’s a direct connection to the passions of a musician.  Elizabeth’s love of Christmas shines through on every song.

Please visit Elizabeth’s website to learn more, and to hear samples of her music.  Then surf on over to Amazon or iTunes and support an inspirational artist.