Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Did You Say You Want More?

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

Like its predecessor, another superb album cover.

Like its predecessor, chock full of Slovene Christmas songs.

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

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


download link

Monday, November 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Noah Brenner: Thanks for inviting us!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PG: (He’s being sarcastic.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

NB: The title is… “All Is Bright”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NB: We hope you enjoy the music!

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

Phoebe Gildea website

Noah Brenner website

"All is Bright" ordering information

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Sharing We Will Go: Christmas in Slovenia

Cue the Dread Zeppelin channeling Elvis...

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

It's been a busy weekend folks.

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

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

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

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

To kick off sharing season is "Christmas in Slovenia"

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

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


Friday, November 25, 2016

A Potpourri of Miscellany

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


Daisy Hicks "Christmas Without You"

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

Daisy Hicks website
Daisy Hicks on Facebook

Empty Houses "Holiday" EP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karma website

Israel - "This Christmas"

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

Israel - "This Christmas" on Soundcloud link

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

Thursday, November 24, 2016

NOLA Players CD Giveaway Contest!

Hello all and Happy Thanksgiving!

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Kansas City's Christmas Treasure: The Snow Globes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Snow Globes website

The Snow Globes on Facebook

Martin Barclay Ensemble on Facebook

Medical Missions Foundation: The Wash Project

Quixotic website

Monday, November 21, 2016

Coming Attractions

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

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

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

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Artist Interview: Thisbe Vos

Jazz singer/songwriter Thisbe Vos is one of the darlings of the Christmas Music blogosphere.  I've written about her 2015 album "A Jazzy Christmas" (here).  Good friend Stubby also reviewed her album over at Stubby's House of Christmas.  This year, Thisbe's song "When Moonlight Hits the Town" made the list at Day 68 over at "200 Days of Christmas" on Facebook.  Her status as "Christmas Music Darling, First Class" is not only well deserved, it appears to have been confirmed by unanimous acclamation!  (at least by Stubby, Matt, and me)

We all love everything about "A Jazzy Christmas".  The amazing thing is, all three of us agree that not only can Thisbe really sing a Christmas tune, her songwriting and arranging are the stuff of jazz standards. "A Jazzy Christmas" is quite simply one of the best Christmas albums, and one of the best jazz albums, in my collection.

Thisbe is also an artist that is connected to her fans.  "A Jazzy Christmas" was crowdfunded in 2014, and through that effort I have been able to stay in touch with Thisbe since her album was released to her backers. Since I think so much of this record, and believe that every Christmas music lover should have their own copy in their collection, I decided to get back in touch with Thisbe this year, and have her share some of her thoughts about "A Jazzy Christmas".  So, without further ado, here is my interview with Thisbe Vos about "A Jazzy Christmas" and also her other extraordinary albums, "Sophistication" and "Under Your Spell".


Merry and Bright: Hello Thisbe! Thank you for the opportunity for this interview. “A Jazzy Christmas” is one of my absolute favorite Christmas albums. I’m excited to share some information about you and the album with my readers.  "A Jazzy Christmas” was broadly released in 2015, but was available to crowdfunding supporters in late 2014. Tell us about the crowdfunding experience and what the campaign meant for you as an artist.

Thisbe Vos: The crowdfunding campaign was a great experience and the support from the fans was really moving. I had crowdfunded another album two years earlier, and I was hesitant to do it again, thinking that people might not want to participate another time. But the support was even better than on the previous album, and we pulled it off in a flash—the whole thing happened in about two weeks. It was very inspiring to see that so many people were so behind the project.

MB: After its official release, “A Jazzy Christmas” soon became an award winning album, bringing home the IMEA 2015 “Holiday Album of the Year” award against some stiff competition. Please share your thoughts about this fine recognition for your album.

TV: The IMEA is a wonderful organization that I can’t say enough about. Those guys are really rooting for independent artists and I feel that they back us up however they can. Being recognized with that award meant a lot to me, and I feel that it also validated the fans and everyone who contributed to making the album possible.

MB: You and your band have achieved a wonderful, flawless, classic jazz sound. Who are your major influences as a jazz musician?

TV: I am personally a great fan of the classic jazz singers—Peggy Lee, Doris Day, Dinah Washington, Nina Simone also, and especially Ella Fitzgerald. Ella is my all-time favorite, and I have secretly stolen many phrasings from her. I also really like that warm, personal, intimate sound that she brings across, as if you up close and personal with her, and it’s almost like she is singing to you as the only person in the room.

MB: And how about for Christmas music? Favorite performers? Favorite songs? Was Christmas music a big part of your life growing up?

TV: I grew up in The Netherlands and I did hear them in commercials and in stores, but not so much on the radio. I always liked them from the moment I first heard them though, and a lot of those songs really convey the warm, happy atmosphere that I really love about Christmas. It is that same warm atmosphere that we tried to encapsulate in this album (although with a bit of a swinging twist to it in quite a few of the songs). Bing Crosby of course comes to mind. I also love the song “Santa Baby.” A couple of years ago I actually got to meet one of the writers who wrote that song, which was a very interesting experience.

MB: Many reviews of “A Jazzy Christmas” have a common theme: your songwriting. Four of the songs on “A Jazzy Christmas” were written by you, including one co-written with pianist Gary Matsumoto, and the reviewers enthusiastically wrote that they all sound like Christmas standards. They all fit alongside the greats of the genre and conjure up Christmas imagery of Winter, snow, and the joys of the season. You’ve achieved a timeless quality with these songs (“It Must Be Christmas Time”, “It’s Beginning To Snow”, “When Moonlight Has Hit the Town”, and “Christmas is Everywhere”). What’s your secret Thisbe? Share a little with us about your approach to songwriting, especially these Christmas songs, that make them fit in so well with the classics.

TV: I guess I’ve just listened to a lot of those classic Christmas songs over the years, and I feel a very deep connection with that warm, intimate feeling that Christmas songs are supposed to convey. It was a bit different than writing the jazz songs that I have written before, and I did have to use some imagination as I wrote most of those songs in Southern California in the spring and summer. But I have listened to so many oldies, and so many Christmas songs in my life, that I felt I was able to get into the spirit of things and do something that was original but is still very much about the essence of what those songs are about.

MB: Do any of your four compositions have specific inspirations? Memories or experiences that turned into the music we hear on the album?

TV: Some of them do. For “It Must Be Christmas Time,” I did go back to my childhood days of Christmas in The Netherlands where all the streets are decorated and there are Christmas markets etc. Christmas in Europe can be quite fun. For “It’s Beginning To Snow,” I totally went back to that moment as a kid when it’s evening and it starts softly snowing for the first time that winter, and you’re so excited because you know it’s going to be so much fun in the morning. (There wasn’t a ton of snow when I grew up, so when it did snow, that was quite special.) “When Moonlight Has Hit The Town” was inspired by the feeling I used to get at night when I was walking through the streets of Amsterdam, or my home town of Huizen, and it was cold and quite but there was this huge moon and you could see all the lights on inside the houses and people having dinner, etc. Or it’s freezing outside and nobody is in the streets, but you walk into a restaurant and it’s warm and full of life; people talking and enjoying themselves. There were some very cool, “wintery” types of moments like that that I thought of when writing that song.

MB: Your previously released albums, “Sophistication” and “Under Your Spell” have six and seven Thisbe Vos compositions respectively. And just as on “A Jazzy Christmas”, your own songs blend beautifully with the standards. Having a band with some major chops certainly helps produce this classic sound. Tell us a little about your band.

TV: Thanks for bringing that up—I am ridiculously fortunate that I get to record with some of the best jazz musicians in the world. After moving to Los Angeles I was lucky enough to run into Henry Franklin, a world-class bass player who has literally played with almost everyone you can imagine during his 50-year career. He sort of took me under his wing, and I got to know a lot of great musicians here in the local jazz scene either because he directly introduced me to them, or because I met them through someone that he knew. We record at the studio of Nolan Shaheed, who is himself an incredible trumpet player who has played on all my albums and whom I also perform with live sometimes. I’ve been trying to use the same guys on all of my albums as much as possible and they are all great—it would take up a lot of them to do them all justice individually but I love them all.
MB: As impressive as your original tunes are the arrangements of the traditional songs. Putting a new spin on an old classic Christmas song can be risky, a hit or miss. “Deck the Halls” is an especially wonderfully arranged song with an almost playful variance on the cadence and rhythm. Are the arrangements the result of collaboration with you and your band?

TV: Sometimes they are—for example, Gary Matsumoto (the pianist) came up with the bluesy rendition of Silver Bells. I asked him “What can we do with this?,” and he just started playing that bluesy version almost without even thinking about it. But that version of Deck the Halls in three was my own idea; it was a bit risky like you said. Some people love it, some people hate it. I thought it would be interesting to do something a little different. I like it a lot myself, and I’ve performed it live also that way. It’s cool to surprise people and do something with a familiar song that they don’t quite expect.

MB: What’s next for Thisbe Vos? Do you have any more albums in the works? Any touring plans? I don’t make it to SoCal often, so sure would like to see a Thisbe tour coming my way.

TV: I’m performing locally [Los Angeles area] quite a bit right now—a tour could always happen but I have no definite plans yet as of this moment. That could of course change though. I do plan to make another album—I’ve considering an orchestral album or an intimate vocal, bass and guitar album. It might end up being a combination of the two.

MB: Thisbe, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions and enlighten us about “A Jazzy Christmas”. Seriously, when I got my copy of the CD in 2014, I couldn’t stop playing it (the other 350 or so Christmas CDs in the house lost some playing time), and it provided the background music for Christmas morning in our home. I hope that there’s “Another Jazzy Christmas” coming someday. So – thank you again for sharing some of your time with us at Merry and Bright.

TV: Thanks very much! I really appreciate that. Thanks for all you do in promoting the wonderful genre of Christmas music, and you know, maybe I will make another Christmas album some day....

Thisbe Vos website

Thisbe Vos on Facebook

Thursday, November 17, 2016

CD Review: A Laurie Berkner Christmas

Our good friends at Waldmania sent us a copy of the 2012 release “A Laurie Berkner Christmas” to enjoy and review for all the loyal Merry and Bright readers.  And enjoy it we did!

Laurie Berkner has been making kids-focused albums since her 1997 release “Whaddaya Think of That?” and with her band (“The Laurie Berkner Band”) has released eight additional records since, including “A Laurie Berkner Christmas”. Oh, and there are also videos, books, appearances on Nick Jr, and even writing the music and lyrics for an Off-Broadway musical. Laurie was also key in the design of a preschool music program in New York City. So, it’s needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), Laurie is centered in the world of musical expression geared toward an audience of children.

“A Laurie Berkner Christmas” is no exception. It’s bright, full of energy, lively, and fun! And, like other artists promoted by Waldmania, her music is enjoyable for all, parents included. Laurie’s Christmas album is a completely happy and spirited collection of songs for the holidays. Her music has a definite lean toward the kiddies in sound and performance, but still is an album for all ages.

The album opens with a version of “Jingle Bells” that Laurie enhances and makes her own, setting a tone that makes you smile that carries through the entire album.  Her performances of traditional Christmas songs like “Little Drummer Boy”, “I Saw Three Ships”, “Christmas is Coming”, and “Frosty the Snowman” are familiar for the youngsters, with several including the voices of kiddies helping out.

Two of the standouts among the traditional songs are “Children Go Where I Send Thee” and “Jolly Old St. Nicholas”. “Children…” is re-visioned and re-arranged so that all ten verses are performed, but some are strategically combined to keep the song to 3:13 in length, without losing the counting aspect so popular with children, and also keeping the heart of the song intact. Laurie is joined by Brady Rymer on vocals to turn it into a vibrant duet. “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” is an absolute highlight for me. Laurie slows the tempo a bit, and instead of a fast-paced list of demands for the jolly old elf, the singer is a bit more contemplative and humble, wanting to assure that her siblings' Christmas desires are known to Santa, while hers are whatever Santa sees fit to leave. These are the traditional lyrics, but Laurie’s performance puts a new and extraordinarily caring, pleasing spin to them.

The true gems of the album are Laurie’s original compositions “Santa’s Coming To My House Tonight”, “Candy Cane Jane”, and “Christmas Lights”. “Santa’s Coming To My House” perfectly captures the exuberance and restless excitement of Christmas Eve night, anticipating Santa’s midnight visit. Who among us doesn’t remember trying and trying to get to sleep on Christmas Eve, but the excitement is just too much? “Santa’s Coming To My House Tonight” will bring those memories flooding back. “The Kids” (as credited) provide some pretty awesome backing vocals ("wiggle wiggle wiggle" "ho ho ho") really making the song complete.

“A Laurie Berkner Christmas” is another tremendous example of children’s Christmas music done very well. Kids will love it, and parents will too. I don’t know much about how the world of children’s music marketing works – I expect that for an artist to be successful you have to be truly multi-media with digital music, videos, live performances, and a gig on national children’s television programming sure does help. But I suspect that it’s a pretty tough niche business. The folks at Waldmania are doing it right, with a group of artists that focus on creating music for kids but without sacrificing their musical integrity, and putting every ounce of their inspiring talent into what they do. The Waldmania group and the artists that they represent have earned my respect and admiration.

So, need a Christmas music CD for that long minivan drive to Grandma’s house this holiday season? “A Laurie Berkner Christmas” may be just right.  It's chock full of happiness, fun, and smiles!

Oh hey!  Look!  Laurie has a new album out too - "Superhero"!  I might have to check that out too :-)

Laurie Berkner website
Laurie Berkner Band on Facebook
"A Laurie Berkner Christmas" on Amazon

Waldmania Facebook page
Waldmania website

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Literary Treat from 1962

A little treat for you from the December 1962 edition of "Better Homes and Gardens"magazine.  "The Very First Christmas Morning" an "original playlet for children to perform" by none other than Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

I had to take these pictures with my iPhone, as BH&G in 1962 was oversized (9x12) and too big for my scanner without damaging the magazine.

How interesting that Kurt Vonnegut contributed a 'playlet'!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Kantorei KC "To Bethlehem" CD Review and Interview

Kantorei KC is a Kansas City based group of 16 very talented singers, performing and producing classical choral music.  Formed in 2009, they have released two CDs, "Sweet Was The Song" and "Music and Sweet Poetry", prior to this year's entry into Christmas music, titled "To Bethlehem".  Released earlier this month, and backed by a Kickstarter campaign, "To Bethlehem" contains 17 songs, from the classic and very familar "Silent Night", "Ave Maria", and "O come. O come Emmanuel" to rarely recorded music from centuries past ("Spiritus Sanctus in te", "Magi videntes stellam") to classical music by contemporary composers, such as "Dormi Jesu" by Kim Andre' Arnesen.

The song selections, the magnificent performances, and the recording and sound engineering of this record all combine to produce the most beautiful choral recording I have in my collection.  The album was recorded at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Kansas City, and the acoustics soar to heights I've never before experienced.  As I noted in the following interview with Musical Director Chris Munce, choral recordings can sound muffled, and efforts to control the sound and reduce any echo result in a bland, lifeless recording.  Not so with "To Bethlehem".  The sound is astonishing.  The singers voices blend and separate and come together and highlight individual parts and do everything that a wonderful choral performance should and I could go on and on about the vibrant resonance and the arrangements and and and.... but I must stop, and you should listen for yourself.    Let me restate, it's by far the best choral recording I have in my collection (of which there are many).

Musical Director Chris Munce graciously accepted my offer to interview him on behalf of Kantorei KC about their remarkable new record.   Following the interview are links to the group's website and online store.  Oh!  And, if you live near the Kansas City area, Kantorei KC will be performing a couple of concerts in December.  Be sure to check their performance calendar.


Merry & Bright: Thank you for taking the time to enlighten the readers here at Merry & Bright about Kantorei KC and your “To Bethlehem” album. To start, can you tell us a brief history of Kantorei KC?

Chris Munce:
Kantorei KC was born in 2009 as a consort of professional choral singers whose original function was to provide full a capella Latin Mass performances for a couple of Catholic Weddings in KC. After the 2nd wedding gig was over, the singers got together and suggested that we do a concert with all of this music we learned! So we did, and it came off very well. Then conversations moved toward coming up with a group name and formally forming an organization. Our first concert under the “Kantorei KC” banner was in 2010. Since then, we have grown to a regularly performing and recording professional ensemble.

MB: How did the “To Bethlehem” project come about?

CM: This is our third CD, and second on the Resonus Classics label. This project really grew out of our last one with Resonus. When we made “Music and Sweet Poetry,” and released in in 2014, we already had plans underway to release another album. We don’t have plans for a fourth one just yet!

MB: “To Bethlehem” includes a diverse mix of well-known traditional Christmas carols, rarely heard and/or recorded Renaissance works, and newer compositions such as “Dormi Jesu”. Tell us about the song selection process.

CM: As artistic director for this project, I felt it important to make a Christmas CD that has enough familiarity that it “feels like Christmas” to the average listener. At the same time I wanted the album to stretch our ears toward new sounds and ways of “hearing” Christmas. The next step was that I didn’t just want a random collection of Christmas songs. I wanted to actually tell the Christmas story. If you look carefully at the texts of the 17 tracks on the album, they loosely follow a chronological account of the story. Starting with prophecy, moving to the immaculate conception and journey to Bethlehem, (hence the album title!) then moving to the birth, the angels and shepherds, reflections on the miracle and finally, singing the newborn baby to sleep.

MB: The acoustics of the album have an astonishing resonance. Many chorale recordings have a tendency toward too much sound absorption in the recording process, while “To Bethlehem” allows the sound to, in a way, be itself, with remarkable results. I see in the liner notes that the recording was done at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Kansas City. Can you share with us insights about the recording sessions? How were you (and engineer Josh Williams) able to achieve such a beautiful, full sound recording?

CM: St. Peter’s is a perfect acoustic for our group. Our choir is 16 voices, (17 were used on the CD) so we look for a space that is large enough to be highly resonant, but small enough where a smaller choir will not be swallowed. Our producer Adam Binks, and engineer Josh Williams are EXPERTS in microphone placement and mixing the sound collected by those mics. The album, when played back on great speakers or really good headphones will give you a very accurate picture of what it sounded like in the room. I believe we used six or seven mics. I don’t remember exactly, but they were all over the room! Some were close to us to pick up the details of text and inflection, while some were in the back of the room to capture the resonance of the space. Then Adam works his magic to mix the right “dose” from each mic. It is pretty amazing to watch.

MB: The arrangements allow a striking simultaneous blending of harmonies with emphatic moments where the individual voices of your singers stand out. Please brag a little about this amazing group of singers – they deserve major kudos.

CM: Our roster of singers is a very special thing about our group. We have strived since the beginning to be a SINGER FIRST organization. So much so that I am a singer in the group as well as its Artistic Director. The only way this model works is to fill the group with highly trained, intuitive choral musicians. We are largely composed of people who direct choirs at various levels for a living. The result is a group of musicians who are self directing in all of the important ways. This frees me up to sing, but also to serve the role of a facilitator in rehearsal rather than a “director” in the traditional sense. I believe this all contributes to the resonant, highly blended sound Kantorei is able to achieve.

MB: Will Kansas City folks have a chance to hear the music from “To Bethlehem” in a live performance this season?

CM: They already did actually! Our Christmas concert last season served as a PREVIEW concert for the album. However, some favorite tracks will be performed again this season on Dec 17th and 18th at our Christmas concert to help promote the CD. The focus of the concert though will be the rarely performed “Missa Ave Maris Stella” by Josquin de Prez. will give people the details!

MB: As a Kansas City resident, I’m proud of the rapidly emerging arts community in our city, and the support of the city for our fine artists and musicians. “To Bethlehem” had 120 backers for its Kickstarter project, which seems to underscore how our community embraces the arts. Can you share some thoughts about the local support you have received?

CM: One word: grateful! We are a grassroots group in the KC scene for sure. We get very little support in terms of large grants, so we are COMPLETELY dependent on Kickstarter-type crowdsourcing. This is not a complaint at all! It is a wonderful thing that people are willing to chip in here and there to make sure these projects happen. Our backers, however, are from all over! We had supporters in several countries and dozens of states. Our record label is the UK. In a lot of ways we are a KC product export! In the grand scheme of the KC arts scene we are still a very young organization that is not very well known. We think that will start to change thanks to articles like this and thanks to our great group of singers and their dedication to their craft. That civic awareness and support for the arts in KC is what will help Kantorei KC become established for years to come.

MB: I’d like to thank you again for taking the time to answer a few questions about “To Bethlehem”. It is an astounding record for the upcoming Christmas season. Best wishes to you and to all of Kantorei KC!

CM: Thank you so much for your kind words about the album and for letting people know about it! Happy blogging!

Kantorei KC website

Kantorei KC Online Store

Concert Schedule

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

2016 Christmas Comp Album Art

I've been making annual Christmas compilation CDs since, oh, about the turn of the millennium, and had a set of Christmas mixtapes before that.  The CD cover art has always been either 1) nonexistent, 2) an afterthought, or 3) a struggle to do something decent.  The last few years I've been fairly happy with the results, but it's not my forte.

So this year I decided to commission the cover art with a local artist I met at Planet Comicon.  I wrote a post earlier this year about Megan Fitts and her BFA project, a self-published (with Kickstarter help) comic book.  I contacted Megan a couple of months ago about producing the artwork for my annual CD.  We met, chatted about the CD and other Christmas topics, and I asked her to work up some ideas.  The only guidance I gave was "Christmas music", and I wanted to see what she would come up with.

She sent me back, after just a few days, rough sketches of five options.  They were all great - the hardest part was choosing from among the five to have her finish them out.  About this same time I was having playlist angst - my playlist was too long for one CD and still I had more songs I was waiting on - so I decided I would do a 2-disc set this year.  So, I picked the top two designs and let Megan work her artistry.  And so, I'm proud to present a preview of the artwork for Christmas Music 2016, Discs 1 and 2.

Her black and white concept for disc 2 is brilliant.

Please visit Megan's Facebook page and her Tumblr page to view more of her artwork.

Art of Megan Fitts Facebook

Art of Megan Fitts Tumblr

Monday, November 7, 2016

Album Review: Russ Hitt "The Longest Night: Christmas Songs of Lament & Longing"

In the notes accompanying his album "The Longest Night: Christmas Songs of Lament & Longing", Russ Hitt shares:

"This album was born from music I have played at a reflective, contemplative service held for people who find the holidays a struggle or want to acknowledge the same on behalf of others in the world. The struggle can be different—loneliness, grief, exhaustion from doing too much and so on, but for those of us who find ourselves in that place the holidays can seem like a long, dark night."

I believe that many, if not all, of us have at least once found ourselves at emotional valleys during the holiday season, and the reasons are many.  As Russ noted, we can be lonely, stretched too thin, we can be experiencing loss during this time.  Christmastime, while a time of joy, pleasure, spirituality, and excitement, shares the emotional spectrum with the darker side of the season.

Russ Hitt has captured these emotions in his album "The Longest Night: Christmas Songs of Lament & Longing", with eight songs that beautifully pair the reflections of our darker emotions with a sense of hope and tranquility.

The album contains three original compositions - "The Longest Night", "Reminiscing Christmas", and "Some of Us", and five arrangements of traditional songs.  Russ is the sole performer on the album, playing acoustic and electric guitars, bass guitar, hand drums, piano, organ, and many various percussion instruments, as well as vocals on "Some of Us".  Russ also produced, engineered, mixed and mastered the album.

The result is remarkable.  "Coventry Carol" was the first song to load into my music player, and within the first minute I was captivated.  Throughout the album, Russ' arrangements are mesmerizing, and he demonstrates the multi-instrumental performing talent to realize his musical vision.  "We Three Kings", the album opening track, is an atmospheric exploration of the theme of the traditional melody.  "The Longest Night", is a soft largo composition performed on piano, thematically paired with verse from the books of Psalms and Matthew, a song lyric, and a verse from Hafiz:

"I wish I could show you
when you are lonely or
in darkness the
astonishing light
of your own being."

The inclusion of written scripture, verse, lyrics, and words of wisdom complete the artistry of the music.  The selection of the included passages are an indispensable part of this work of art.  The written words and the music taken together will have a myriad of meaning to listeners.

 Through "What Child Is This", "Silent Night", "O Come O Come Emmanuel", and closing with Russ' compositions "Reminiscing Christmas" and "Some of Us" (featuring Russ only vocal performance on the album, the music envelopes and embraces the listener.  This album is not one of joy, revelry, and feasting on turkey.  Nor is it one of deep sadness and despair.  It is the music of reflection and hope during the Christmas season, when the longest night comes.  Indeed, Russ ends the notes with Lamentations 3:29 "Wait for hope to appear".

This album is a very unique addition to my personal collection.  It is an intensely personal and visionary artistic statement of an aspect of Christmas that can easily remain in the shadows or be passed by, much like the peddler in "Pretty Paper".  I commend Russ Hitt for his impassioned delivery of his message,

Russ Hitt website

"The Longest Night: Christmas Songs of Lament & Longing" on Amazon

Russ Hitt on Bandcamp

Russ Hitt provided a digital copy of the album to Merry and Bright for review consideration.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Found Wandering: Christmas Music Perfection

My biggest “oops” of the 2015 season was my failure to cover the excellent album “On a Christmas Night” by Found Wandering. This was a major oversight on my part, as Found Wandering had submitted a digital version of their album to me, and it got lost in the shuffle along the way, only to be discovered way too late in the season to do a meaningful review. So, to make things right, I want to devote this blog post to Found Wandering, their beyond-excellent 2015 release “On a Christmas Night”, and also their previous Christmas album “Christmas in Country Village”. I hope that this post, even though it is a season overdue,  renews attention to these records and exposes a new audience to the music of Found Wandering.

Found Wandering is a trio – Sarah Comstock (vocals, mandolin), Colin Comstock (guitar, banjo, ukulele), and Jake L’Armand (violin, guitar, mandolin) hailing from Pennsylvania. There are many words than can be used to describe their sound – roots, Americana, folk, blues, a little soul in there. Lively, harmonious, moving, serene, spiritual, uplifting – all of these also apply to their music.

What an experience it is for a Christmas music lover to queue up “On a Christmas Night” and hear the first few bars of “Angels We Have Heard On High”. If you didn’t know better you’d swear that Sarah Comstock is one of those angels you are hearing. Sarah’s voice is heavenly. It’s a perfect fit for the arrangements, instrumentation, and style. It’s strong yet subtle, confident yet without a hint of diva.

The album progresses through “I Saw Three Ships”, “Sweet Little Baby Boy”, and a rousing version of “Christ was Born on Christmas Morn”. Then we get to “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”, one of the finest recordings I’ve heard of this centuries-old song, with Sarah’s vocals complementing wonderfully controlled instrumental tension and release. “Sing We Noel” follows, one of my personal favorites on the album, with its moderated and varied tempos, and a subdued lyrical melody.

“On a Christmas Night” contains 11 songs, each and every one a joy to hear. What could be better than a front to back excellent album? Well, how about one of the best album covers I’ve ever seen? I absolutely love the cover art. The simple, serene, Christmas countryside at night. It’s beautiful, and it perfectly fits the music of Found Wandering.

So, I loved this album. Loved it so much that I had to go and buy Found Wandering’s previous Christmas release, 2011’s “Christmas in Country Village”. Fourteen songs grace this album, leaning towards the traditional and the spiritual after kicking off with an up-tempo, energetic “Go Tell It On the Mountain”, complete with barnyard backing “musicians” to kick off the song.

A wonderfully understated and serene “O Holy Night” follows. It’s traditional, yet their own. Jake’s violin adds a layer of beauty that one rarely hears in other recordings. This is the ultimate Midnight Mass version, quietly concluding the service and sending you home silently in the gentle snow of the early morn.

The album continues with “What Child Is This”, “The Wexford Carol”, “Carol of the Bells”, a believe-it-or-not uptempo, sprightly version of “In the Bleak Midwinter”, and others, ending with “Amen”, a 39 second conclusion to an amazing record.

Sarah, Colin, and Jake are outstanding musicians. All three show their instrumental talent throughout their albums, complementing and highlighting each other, and blending together as a seasoned band. These two albums are among the best Christmas records that I have, conveying the true feeling and spirit of Christmas through the listening experience. And, they seem to get better every time I play them, as I hear new nuances in their performances. They are among the best Christmas music albums, not only of their release years of 2011 and 2015, but of any year. There are many wonderful Christmas albums by thousands of artists out there in the world of Christmas music. Found Wandering's contributions to the genre are as close to perfect Christmas music as you'll ever find.

"On a Christmas Night" Amazon link

"Christmas in Country Village" Amazon link

Found Wandering website

Found Wandering on Facebook

Found Wandering on Soundcloud

Found Wandering on Bandcamp

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Catching Up with 2015 Part 2

Today I have two more mini-reviews of 2015 releases, as I'm still working to catch up on on some quite fine music submissions from last year.  Only one more to go, then I'll be caught up...

Fable Cry “Kidnap the Sandy Claws”

Fable Cry, a Nashville-based band, released their cut of “Kidnap the Sandy Claws” (originally from “The Nightmare Before Christmas”) in 2015.  It’s a fun romp of a song, well done, energetic, retaining the spirit of the original Danny Elfman tune.  For some, it will be a perfect addition to an annual Christmas comp where the playlist veers toward the unusual and unique.  

Fable Cry’s Soundcloud page has several more tracks for you to sample, including an album titled “We’ll Show You Where the Monsters Are”, running a little more (Ok, a lot more) toward a Halloween sound than Christmas.  It’s very engaging and quite creatively arranged and performed.  Check them out!

Fable Cry "Kidnap the Sandy Claws" on SoundCloud

Fable Cry on Facebook

“A Colorful Christmas”, a compilation album from Fetal Records

Friend of Merry and Bright Stubby gave us a thorough review of “A Colorful Christmas” last year, and there’s not much I can add to his excellent article.  So, I’ll just wholeheartedly agree with my blogging buddy, and hope that this post renews the energy and exposure for this excellent collection of songs.  Fetal Records has put together an album that encompasses many genres and styles of Christmas music, from many notable and excellent musicians.  If you’re in the mood for a varied playlist, you can’t go wrong with “A Colorful Christmas”.

The opening track, “Reindeer Romp & Roll” by Jet Watling is an oddly engaging song.  It’s unlike anything else I have in my collection, and it sticks with you long after its coda.  “Peppermint Milkshake” by Run Little Elephant has some 60’s vibe vocals, nasty bari sax, and some beach-noir space-age feel to it (you’ll just have to listen to figure that out).   “Christmas Memories” by Matilda Jane Kraemer, has a very traditional sound and lyrical quality, but I can’t help but detect a bit of mischief amongst the reverence.

“A Colorful Christmas” is a really great collection from the good folks at Fetal Records – lots of musical variety and artistry, excellent songwriting and performances.  Der Bingle urges you to go visit Fetal Records website and have a test-listen.

"A Colorful Christmas" at Fetal Records

Fetal Records Website

Fetal Records provided a digital copy of "A Colorful Christmas" for review consideration.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Welcome to The Season!

Welcome back to Merry and Bright! for another season of Christmas Music!  I've been posting a few pre-season thoughts and mini-reviews, getting back in shape for the next couple of months of holiday blogging.  And, now here we are - November 1, Halloween is over, Thanksgiving coming soon, and Christmas coming down the lane!

For my first official Christmas season post of 2016, I have to return to last year and cover some music submissions that came to me, but that I didn't get to review.  I try my best to give every submission its due, even if it may be a season tardy.  So, here goes, with a couple mini-reviews of 2015 Christmas releases.

Lily Lambert "Merry Christmas, With Love"

Lily Lambert is an Irish-Welsh singer, residing in England.  Last year Lily released "Merry Christmas, With Love", a 6-song EP with her interpretations of Christmas standards.  Lily's music is seasonally soothing, with accompaniment by piano, acoustic guitar, strings, and assorted percussion.  Lily's vocals blend well with the serene arrangements, resulting in a very pleasurable listening experience.  Unique arrangements of "Carol of the Bells" and "Feliz Navidad" highlight the EP, as well as my personal favorite, Lily's version of "When a Child is Born".  The slower tempo of "Feliz Navidad" is a striking contrast to Jose Feliciano's seminal version, and delivers a new message to the listener from the lyrics of the Christmas classic.

Lily Lambert website
"Merry Christmas, With Love" on Amazon

Carly Jamison "Christmas May Have To Be Postponed"

In striking contrast to Ms. Lambert is Carly Jamison, who released the rockin' and rollin' single in 2015 "Christmas May Have To Be Postponed".   Clicking "play" on this upbeat Christmas tale, you're immediately struck with Hammond organ (sounds like a Hammond to my amateur ears, anyway), driving drum beats, and guitar work that would make Joe Bonamassa proud.  After a few measures of old fashioned rock and roll to set the tone, in comes Carly Jamison's sultry, sexy vocals singing the story of ol' Santa Claus, ready for his annual journey, but his reindeer can't be found!

I really love this single, and will be checking out more of Carly's musical catalog.  Sometimes after a few helpings of "Silent Night" and "Mary Did You Know?" one needs to crank it up a notch.  If you find yourself in that situation, Carly Jamison is here to help.  Give a listen to "Christmas May Have To Be Postponed" and I think you'll be making room on your annual Christmas comp for just one more song...   :-)

Carly Jamison "Christmas May Have To Be Postponed" song info
Amazon link
Carly Jamison website
Carly Jamison on Instagram

Stay tuned, jolly readers, for a couple more posts covering some fine music submissions from 2015.  Then we'll be off and running into 2016 proper!