Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top Albums of 2014

I still have a few posts to make before closing up shop for a while, and here's one:  my choices for the best new Christmas albums of the year.  Here are my Top 5:

Rough Shop - "Lit Up Like a Christmas Tree".  I reviewed this one in depth earlier, and it held it's position as one of the best new albums of the year.  A great addition to your Christmas music collection from the band from St. Louis.

Tom Dyer - "Xmas - 30 Years in the Making".  I didn't get a chance to write about this collection in depth this year, but I will make amends early next season.  But, Tom Dyer's collection of Christmas songs recorded here and there over 30 years is brilliant on the order of Substance W.  "No Lou This Christmas" was recorded in 2013 as a tribute to Lou Reed, "Propane Santa" is one of the best true stories turned into song ever.  Totally enjoyable.

Thisbe Vos - "A Jazzy Christmas".  Thisbe Vos' Christmas record came to us through crowdfunding channels, a little late in the season, but what a record.  Thisbe's album is one of the most beautiful and perfectly realized jazz Christmas records I've ever heard.  From the amazing arrangements through Thisbe's great musicians to Thisbe's perfect vocals, this is one of the best.  Thisbe's record, along with the next entry, were my choices for Christmas morning music while we unwrapped presents.

Elizabeth Chan - "Christmas in the City".  Elizabeth Chan keeps getting better and better.  Her vocal performance on "Christmas in the City" the album shows maturation and growth, and her songwriting just keeps getting closer and closer to the heart of the Christmas season.  "Christmas in the City", the song, is the best holiday city-song I've ever heard.  It's hard to write a good song about Christmas in any city without being trite and cliche, but Elizabeth has not only written a good song about Christmas in New York, she's written a great one.  Good news - Elizabeth is already working on a 2015 project - I can't wait!  "Christmas in the City" was also a part of our Christmas morning this year.

Kat Tingey - "Ring Out Wild Bells".  Kat Tingey's Christmas album took precious time away from the rest of my Christmas music collection this year - I just kept listening and listening, and couldn't take it out of the player!  This is an extraordinary album of originals and standards.  Kat's vocal phrasing is absolutely to die for.  (I've gotta get out and get Kat's other records). This is my pick for best new Christmas album of the year.  And, to add another anecdote, I'm still a physical CD type of guy, and just can't embrace the download-only culture yet.  So, I was trying to order a CD via Kat's website, and there were some technical issues.  Kat and I chatted to resolve the issue, and I dropped a hint to her about loving signed CDs.  You can see the result in the picture :-)  Love this record.

Just a few other notes about records released or re-releases this year.  I liked Idina Menzel's record a lot, but didn't love it.  Idina is fantastic, but the arrangements seemed bland.  I grew to like Pentatonix's album after my wife brought it home from Target.  Pretty slick-sounding, but very nice for the season.  The jazz comp "It's Christmas on Mack Avenue" was a fave, although I found it a bit uneven.  The re-released classics from The Williams Brothers and Frank Devol were great additions to the collection.

Darius Rucker - had no interest, and maybe heard one song on Sirius.  Seth MacFarlane - had absolutely no interest in this one, and heard "Baby It's Cold Outside" too many times (Sara Bareilles - please put out a Christmas album!).  Actually, I heard "Baby It's Cold Outside" way too many times overall, not just Seth and Sara.  It's in desperate need of some re-touching to make it a little more pleasant.

A final note - our friend Stubby was at the top of his game this year, and I would have probably not found Kat Tingey or Thisbe Vos without him.  Many, many thanks to Stubby for all his work prior to and throughout the holiday season.  As a blogger who has trouble getting a couple of posts out per week, I really appreciate all the effort Stubby puts in for our behalf.  You rock (around the Christmas tree!) my friend.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve 2014

I'd like to wish all of you a Very Merry Christmas,  a Happy New Year, and a Joyous Holiday Season!  Thanks you for visiting my little blog, and I hope you have all enjoyed the music this year.

I plan to wind down the year and season with a few more posts, so please keep checking in through the New Year.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Saint Patrick's Cathedral Choir

My final share for this season is "Saint Patrick's Cathedral Choir Sings Christmas Carols", a beautiful recording of spiritual selections from the St. Patrick's Choristers.  St. Patrick's is an iconic New York City cathedral on 5th Avenue, immense and moving in its presence in the city.  The Choristers, as represented in this recording, are a group of thirty boys and twenty men.  Their renditions of these classic Christmas carols should help make your Christmas Eve a joyous occasion.

Without further ado, please enjoy the Saint Patrick's Cathedral Choir for your Christmas season!

download link

Monday, December 22, 2014

Mixtape Evolution Pt. 2

After a year of two of mixtape rookie regret, I decided to re-do my Christmas comps.  Now, I had been making mixtapes of non-Christmas music for several years, so it wasn't inexperience with mixtapes in general, just lack of a good Christmas library.  When time for version 2 came, I had added a few more Christmas CDs to the collection, and I also borrowed a bunch of Christmas records from a buddy.  Lennon.  The Boss.  Beach Boys.  This may have been when "A Very Special Christmas" entered the picture.  The first year I produced "Christmas Music I" and "Christmas Music II", retracking and replacing the old tapes.  These were pretty good, but I still was prone to artist overkill - too much Beach Boys, too much Mannheim Steamroller.  No, not too much Elvis - you can't have too much Elvis :-)

And, along with artist overkill, I included songs that may have been OK at first, but over time I grew to hate.  Did I say "songs"?  I meant "song", as in "Grandma Got Run Over...", well, you know.  Ugh.  I quickly got to the point of never wanting to hear it ever again.  But it was on my awesome mixtape!!  What to do?

Christmas Music I

Well, what I did was endure for a few years.  And make "Christmas Music III" a year or so later, and then "Christmas Music IV".  You can see by the cassette case inserts that I, II, and III used the same early laser printer font, and IV branched out to some other wild and crazy typestyle.

Christmas Music II

These weren't bad, really.  They were enjoyable apart from some minor aggravations (which, after all these years, I still unwittingly introduce from time to time).  I find it amusing that I have the songs listed on the CD inserts but no artists.  Due to space, I'm sure, but some of the songs I have no idea who the artist is.  And I'm not sure I have a cassette player in the house.  I think maybe my son's truck still has one.

Christmas Music III

So, these sufficed until the CD years, when these did serve as the basis for the track sequence on my first two comp CDs, that I still play to this day.  We'll talk about them in a later post.

Christmas Music IV

But, how on Earth will I go from a 90-minute cassette to a 76 minute CD?!?!  I'm losing 14 minutes of music!  More to come...

Icons of the '70s

Nope, not the Bee Gees.  Nor the Starland Vocal Band or the Bay City Rollers.  I'm talking icons of retail - at your door and on daytime television.  It's Avon and the Longines Symphonette, together for you!

Who remembers "Avon Calling!"?  And who remembers seeing TV ads for Longines Symphonette records?  I sure do.  Did anyone else call the Avon representative the "Avon Lady"?

Anyhoo, Avon sponsored a Christmas record by the Symphonette, and here it is for you.  It's really pretty good Christmas music.  A couple nice little medleys.  Some less frequently recorded Christmas songs in "Babes in Toyland" and "Hansel & Gretel".  All in all, a pretty good little record.

Please enjoy "Avon Wishes You A Happy Holiday and a Joyous New Year" as per the front cover.

Good stuff :-)

download link

Christmas at Home Re-rip

There was an issue with track 1 of "Music for Christmas at Home" (thanks to reader Marty for making me aware).  I've re-ripped the track and replaced the link.  So, you may want to download the new zip file for a better quality version of "Sleigh Ride".

Click here to go to the post

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Magical Share

Time is winding down - Christmas will be here soon, so I need to share out the rest of this year's music for you over the next couple of days.  So, today's share is "Christmas Organ and Chimes".  The most attention getting aspect of this record, apart from the utterly cool, embossed album cover, is the artist.  The pipe organ is played by The Magic Fingers of Merlin, accompanied by Jonathan Wilson on the Bethlehem Chimes.

Now, if you google "Magic Fingers of Merlin" (and be a little cautious with your googling here, good folks), you'll find that there are several albums out there - Organ Moods, in Hi-Fi, at Midnight, Tribute to Ken Griffin.  Merlin's Magic Fingers were apparently fairly prolific in the organ music recording business for a few years.

And so, here is Ol' Magic Fingers' Christmas album.  It's chock full of standards for your listening pleasure.  Without further ado, here is Christmas Organ and Chimes!

download link

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Fruit Cake with Cherries

Tonight I sampled "Fruit cake with Cherries from Provence", another Forchy seasonal cake product.  Like the Forchy Christmas Cake I reviewed earlier, the Fruit cake comes pre-sliced.  My first slice out of the package suffered some damage at the bottom of the slice, but I blame myself, not realizing that the tray which the cake rests on is also pre-sliced, so you don't need to lift the slice out of the tray, instead pulling the slice and tray portion away together.  Next time I'll know.

Much like the previous Forchy cake, the Fruit cake with Cherries is a sweet yellow cake, denser than your typical cake, but still lighter than some traditional fruitcakes.  There are indeed cherries, although in my representative slice there was only one.

I found this cake to be drier than the Christmas Cake, and the distribution of fruit was a little sparse.  Each bit was lots of cake and a little fruit.  The cake itself is larger than the Christmas Cake, as is each slice on a slice-to-slice comparison.  But, slice size doesn't make up for the lower fruit per square inch metric.

The cake is made in France, therefore the Provencal Cherries don't have to be exported in order to make the Fruit cake with Cherries from Provence.

I'll give this cake 2 1/2 Red Cherries.  This French cake might be made better with some good ol' American Whipped Topping from a pressurized can.  Hmmm... may have to give that a try.

Christmas Mixtape Evolution, Pt. 1

I made my first Christmas mix tape back in, I believe, 1990.  I could be off by a year or two, but I remember what house I was living in at the time and what technology I had at my disposal.  Mainly, a CD player, turntable, and a tape deck to make the tapes.  No such thing (without extraordinary expense) as CD burning at that time.  Timing the music per side, estimating the last song on each side so it wouldn't cut off, manually winding the tape lead to the right point so that the first song wouldn't cut off when I released the "Pause" button...  Ah, the memories.

The first round was a 2-tape set (I think).  I really had precious few Christmas albums at the time.  Bing Crosby's "Merry Christmas".  Mannheim Steamroller.  Maybe Elvis?  Maybe "A Very Special Christmas"?  So, basically, my mix tape(s) were a resequencing onto tape of every Christmas song I had so we could listen in the car.  Everything I had went onto these tapes.  including everything from this:

I got this "Motown Christmas Album" from the old BMG CD Club.  You know, the club where you sign up for 8 CDs for $1, then have to buy 4 more at full price.  Anyway, every song from the Motown Christmas Album went on to the mix tapes, along with Bing and Elvis and Chip Davis.  And they were really just not very good - definitely rookie efforts.  And, I really didn't like the Motown disc at all.  Even the Smokey Robinson cuts on it didn't do much for me.  Nothing against the artists or their performances, but it just wasn't my thing, and I didn't want to hear all of the songs frpm the CD every time I listened to my mix tape.  So, Version 1 of my mix tapes were replaced a year or two later with Version 2.

I don't think Version 1 still exists, unless they are in my basement somewhere.  But Version 2, yes indeed, I still have them for historic archival purposes.  

To be continued...


I'm sharing this album cover of Sandi Patti just because, man, Sandi looks good.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Music for Christmas at Home

Tonight's share is "Music for Christmas at Home" by The Somerset Strings.  This is one of those albums of pleasing Christmas music with a cool album cover.  Looks like there's Grandma, Mom, Dad, two of the young men in the family on Christmas leave from the military, a girlfriend (or maybe sister and her boyfriend), and the two young children.  A fireplace, presents, a Christmas tree, and an angel overlooking all from the treetop.  A great scene.

The music here is pretty good.  The record was a little rough, but I did the best I could to clean up the tracks.  Mostly old favorites here.  Nice notes on the back cover.

And, please notice the album that had to be a big hit for The Somerset Strings, advertised on the back cover: "Music for Washing and Ironing".  Oh, if I could only find that one at a thrift store...

For your listening pleasure, "Music for Christmas at Home"

download link

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas Disco

I know you're out there.  Somewhere out there is a reader saying "Why oh why doesn't Der Bingle share some Christmas Disco?"  Well friends, wait no more.  Here it is - "Christmas Noel", as performed by MirrorImage.  What's the difference between 'performed by' and 'as performed by'?  I don't know.  Perhaps a copy writer paid by the word?  A little extra for the 'as'?   Just semantics, I suppose, as the phrase goes.

Anyway, here are 9 disco-ing versions of Christmas favorites, including "Sleigh Ride", "Jingle Bells", "Jingle Bell Rock".  You can probably guess the other 6 without trying too hard.

Unfortunately, the Disco Dance Step Lesson promised on the album cover was not included with the record.  To make up for the missing insert, here is a link to, which has instructions on all the, uh, hippest(?) disco dance steps known to man and beast.  I invite all readers to learn some groovy moves, record yourself dancing to Disco Noel, upload to YouTube, and provide a link in the comments.  C'mon.  You know you want to do it.  C'mon.....

Please enjoy "Disco Noel"

download link

Saturday, December 13, 2014

One Last Contest: Bruce Bergh CD Giveaway

I have one final CD giveaway for this season.  I have two copies of Bruce Bergh's 2013 Christmas release "Christmas Time of the Year" to send out to two lucky winners.

"Christmas Time of the Year" is an album of 10 original songs by Bruce, including both a live and a studio version of the title track, which has been featured in the Hallmark Channel movie "Snow Bride" and the Lifetime movie "Christmas in the City". The album is quite enjoyable - Mr. Bergh is a talented songwriter and musician.  The songs, including "A Christmas Together", "It's the Jingle of the Bells", and "A Personal Santa", explore a variety of styles, and are filled with the spirit of the Christmas season.  I always have a great respect for musicians who release Christmas albums of their own songs, eschewing the draw of the standards and taking a risk with the unfamiliar for their audience.  Bruce's record is a fine collection.  More information, and how to purchase the CD, can be found on Bruce's Bandcamp site.

Now for the giveaway details.  I am giving away copies of "Christmas Time of the Year" to the first two readers who e-mail me with "Bruce Bergh Giveaway" in the subject line and the name of Bruce's 2014 Valentine's Day release in the e-mail.  The name of the CD can be found on Bruce's website.

Hurry and enter!

Bruce Bergh website

Contest rules:

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 or other personal information.
5.  Bruce Bergh has provided the CDs for the contest as a promotional giveaway.
6.  Please do not make unauthorized copies of the CD to give away.  Support the artist with legal music purchases.
7.  All contest rules, decisions, and actions are under the sole discretion of the author of this blog.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Real Pro at Christmas Organ Music

George H. Pro, that is (nyuk nyuk).  (Apologies right away to Mr. Pro for the terrible pun).

I found the record "Outburst of Joy at Christmas" at a local thrift store this year and, as it was in pretty good shape, paid my dollar and went merrily on my way.  Fast forward to ripping for sharing time, and I looked at it and thought "yet another organ music record" and almost decided to skip it.  Then I looked at the back cover and saw that George H. Pro was a local Kansas City guy.  Well, then I couldn't pass it up - I had to rip and share.  Especially after all the glowing reviews on the back cover, from the University of Kansas Professor Emeritus of Organ (really!), from the Minister of Music at the KC, MO First Baptist Church, and from the Vocal Music Director of KC, KS Public Schools (yes folks, we have a Kansas City, Missouri as well as a Kansas City, Kansas in these parts).

So, I ripped the record and have it here for you tonight.  And let me tell you, on my honor, this is probably the best record of Christmas Organ music I have ever heard.  It is strictly Mr. Pro solo on mostly Christmas standards, but he plays with an energy and power that exceeds all other Christmas organ albums.  Side 1 (tracks 1-8) are good, very enjoyable, and expertly performed.  The tracks on Side 2 seem to really pick it up, though.  The performances of "In Dulci Jubilo", "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring", and "Jesu Bambino" are an excellent trio of traditional spiritual songs.

Then it gets interesting.  "Noel in D Minor" will catch your attention.  Rarely heard (at least by me), this is a great selection for a powerful organist in total command of his instrument.  But then comes "Outburst of Joy".  Let's talk about "Outburst of Joy".  When I was ripping the record, my 16 year old son asked "Is this Christmas music?  Sounds like Halloween.".  And indeed, if there was ever a 'Phantom of the Opera Christmas Opus', here it is in the form of "Outburst of Joy" by Messiaen.  "Outburst of Joy" is a loud, powerful, energetic piece for an organ maestro.  It may not sound like a typical Christmas song, but man is it full of glory!  Mr. Pro should be proud of this record, and of "Outburst of Joy" in particular.  You have to hear it, dear readers.  Please download, listen, and comment.

So, please enjoy "Outburst of Joy at Christmas" by George H, Pro.

download link

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Heart Contest Second Prize Winners!

Tomorrow I'll get another share out, I promise...  The Hectic Season is here.....

But tonight - we have surprise Second Prize Winners in the Heart CD Contest! The fine people at Miles High Productions have provided two additional Christmas CDs for the readers of Merry and Bright.  And so...drumroll....Pa rum pa pah pum....

Jeff from Chattanooga!

wins a copy of Bunny Sigler's "When You're In Love AT Christmas Time", and 

Lyndse from Red Oak, TX!

wins a copy of Margo Rey's EP "This Holiday Night"

Bunny Sigler's album is some smoooooove R&B Christmas tunes from a legendary master of the music biz.  Great vocals and superb arrangements of classic and original Christmas songs are sure to please any Christmas music lover.

"When You're In Love At Christmas Time" on Amazon
Also available at other fine purveyors of Christmas albums.

Margo Rey's EP will leave you wanting more.  Margo has an oustanding jazz voice, luscious even.  The title track, "This Holiday Night" is an original song written by Margo Rey and Barrett Yeretsian.  Completing the EP are Margo's takes on the classics "Toyland" and "Silent Night".  

"This Holiday Night" on Amazon
Also available at other fine purveyors of Christmas albums.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Heart Contest Winner and An NYC Christmas Encounter

Hello all! Two quick things tonight after my return from NYC and a weekend of Christmas to the right, to the left, and all around, everywhere.  First, the winner of the Heart CD/DVD is...

Nick from Zanesville, Ohio!

Congrats Nick!  

Second, look who I met in New York:

That's right - Miss Christmas in the City herself, Elizabeth Chan!  What a great time it was to meet and talk to Elizabeth during the trip.  In addition to being the most dedicated Christmas music artist in the world, she is truly a sweetheart! 

More to come...still catching up from the weekend...

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Sounds of Christmas with the Foggy River Boys

Tonight's share, before scooting off to New York City for some Christmastime immersion that only The Big Apple can provide, is "Sounds of Christmas" by The Foggy River Boys.

The Foggy River Boys you hear on this record are the incarnation that set up shop in Branson, MO in the early 1970's.  They were one of the first entertainers to open a theater on Highway 76, just a few years after The Baldknobbers.  The Foggy River Boys were pioneers of the Ozark music theater experience, which now consumes Highway 76 with miles of countrified tourist attractions.

"Sounds of Christmas" is quite enjoyable.  It's not too twangy, has just a touch of corniness, and features tight harmonies and very pleasant singing.  Think of the sound of a really good barbershop quartet, add a spoonful of Grand Ol' Opry, and then mix in some talented soloists, and you've got it.

The record is mainly familiar standards, performed quite well,  A favorite of mine is "Old Fashioned Christmas", an original song written by lead singer Bob Hubbard.  It is well worth discovery and cover by other artists.

Branson usually isn't really my thing, but this is a well-produced and very enjoyable addition to my (and now your) Christmas music collection.

Enjoy "Sounds of Christmas" by The Foggy River Boys

download link

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Kicking Off the Sharing Season with Evie!

I have a very special share to kick off the season this year.  Earlier this year I found "Come On, Ring Those Bells" by Evie in a thrift store.  The album was in great shape, Evie was a new artist to me, and the record had the look of one I'd be able to share out.  Then, like so many records I find, I discovered that a good deal of the music was already available on CD, so, off-limits for sharing.

Then I listened to the record, and it is just incredible.  Evie's voice is amazing, and one of the most perfectly suited to Christmas music that I have ever heard.  I really wanted to share it with you all, faithful readers, and introduce you to this fantastic artist.

A little web research shows that Evie is Evie Karlsson, born Evie Tornquist, daughter of Norwegian immigrants. Per wikipedia, Evie was born in 1957 and "Come On, Ring Those Bells" was released in 1977, making Evie the most adorable 20 year old ever to grace an album cover.   The internet also tells me that Evie has been enshrined in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, the Christian Music Hall of Fame, and has had three albums nominated for Grammys, including (!!!!) "Come On, Ring Those Bells".  Well, the joke is on Der Bingle - Evie is not some unknown thrift store artist.  Evie is big time.  Just new to me.

But man, I still wanted to share some of her music, in case there are more of you out there that would also be new to Evie's talent.  So, I again hit the internet and found Evie's website and contact info.  I asked for permission to share out two songs, and Evie herself replied and said "Go for it!"  So, I am really pleased to share out two songs from "Come On, Ring Those Bells", the title song as well as the beautiful "Some Children See Him".

If you like what you hear, please visit Evie's website  A new version of "Come On, Ring Those Bells", featuring 14 Christmas-themed songs, including two new releases, is available, plus other CDs by Evie.

So, please enjoy a small sample of Christmas music by Evie, and for more, visit her website and support this fantastic, generous artist.

download link

Der Bingle's Christmas Shopping Guide: "Sons of Sparta"

Have a mystery book lover on your Christmas list?  If you do, "Sons of Sparta" by Jeffery Siger is sure to satisfy.  Set in the semi-anarchy zone of The Mani region of Greece, "Sons of Sparta" features wild and crazy Greeks, murders, age old vendettas, deeply serious family bonds, Ukrainians, and a hot, sexy, and desperate illegal immigrant waitress.  All of this is wrapped into a murder story involving the family of the main character, Detective Yiannis Kouros.  After Yiannis' uncle is murdered right before making a business deal to sell off part of the family's land, a move not popular with the entire family, Detective Kouros and Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis must move quickly to solve the crime.

"Sons of Sparta" has all the elements of a rapid-firing murder mystery - multiple bodies, suspects and motives galore, red herrings, hot trails, cold finishes, and an absolutely splendid ending.  This is author Siger's sixth book in his mystery series featuring Inspector Kaldis.  He paints a vivid picture of Greek living and dying, with history and culture throughout.  The Greek spin on the classic mystery genre is a welcome addition to the mystery canon.  

"Sons of Sparta" is published by Poisoned Pen Press.  Please visit their website for more information about their many other splendid mystery books.

Poisoned Pen Press provided a preview copy of "Sons of Sparta" for promotional and review consideration.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Joyous Music Re-up

By request I've updated the download link for an old favorite, the Reader's Digest Collection "Joyous Music for Christmas Time".

New link

Original post with updated link

Heart and Friends CD Contest

Yes, that's right, dear readers - a giveaway contest of the new "Heart & Friends" CD/DVD, newly released this season.  The good folks at Miles High Productions, being fans and supporters of Merry and Bright, have agreed to provide the prize for this contest.

As always, Der Bingle asks that you visit the website of the artist/sponsor, and send me a little information to show that you visited.  It's that easy!

Miles High Productions is a great supporter of Christmas music, and they have several artists with Christmas releases.  To enter this contest for your chance to win "Heart & Friends", please visit Miles High Productions' website and find the names of two other artists with Christmas albums or songs in the news.  Then, send me an e-mail ( with "Heart Contest" in the subject line and the names of the two artists, plus your 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 Monday, December 8, 2014 will be eligible to win.  Miles High Productions will be sending the contest prize directly to the winner.

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 or other personal information, with one exception.  Miles High Productions will receive the winner's name, e-mail, and mailing address.  Otherwise, all information is safe with me.
5.  Miles High Productions is providing the CD for the contest as a promotional giveaway.
6.  Please do not make unauthorized copies of the CD to give away.  Support the artist with legal music purchases.
7.  All contest rules, decisions, and actions are under the sole discretion of the author of this blog.

Good luck!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Kendal Mint Cake by Quiggins

The Quiggins Kendal Mint Cake is not a traditional fruit cake, and, not a proper baked cake at all.  Instead, it is a cake of deliciously refreshing peppermint candy.  Manufactured by D. Quiggin & Son at Kent Vale Mint Cake Works, the 85 gram cake will produce at least 4 approximately 1 inch square servings.  The cake is quite sweet and perfectly minty, less so than an Altoid, more so than a Life Saver.

The cake is made with only sugar, glucose syrup, fondant, peppermint oil, and salt.  My years of candy making at home tell me that the ingredients are cooked to a soft crack state, enough to hold the candy together as a cake but yet easy to bite and enjoy.  Think of the consistency of a praline, and you've got it, mate.

Purchased online from the English Tea Store's Christmas cake section, it qualifies as a Christmas cake, although it is not at all a fruitcake.  It is a delightful Christmas candy cake, and inexpensive, too.  Nicely executed candy, good for your breath, the Quiggins Kendal Mint Cake is a perfect palate cleansing dessert candy following your onion burger or garlicky pizza pie.  I give it 4 Red Cherries.

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.