Sunday, August 26, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Truly Essential: "Ella wishes you a swinging Christmas"

Is it Ella or is it Memorex?

Friday, August 17, 2018

Quick Update

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

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Unplanned Christmas in July Hiatus

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

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

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: Elvis

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

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

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

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

So, go getcha some Elvis Christmas :-)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: Substance W "A Boiling Vat of Adhesive Xmas"

So, I expect that my readers will be firmly divided into two camps with today's Essential, "A Boiling Vat of Adhesive Xmas" by Substance W.  One camp will already be well aware of this way-outside-the-norm album of Christmas brilliance.  The other camp will be squarely in "What the heck?" land.

I first learned of Substance W, and this album specifically, over at Capt OT's place A Christmas Yuleblog (by the way Cap, we sure do miss the blog, but we sure do love your emerging presence on the radio with your wonderful holiday programming at WBOI).  With the Captain's urging, I bought a digital download and set about experiencing this, let's say, collection of re-interpreted Christmas standards.

So, let's see, what do you get when you jump into Substance W...

  • 28 tracks
  • 9, count 'em, 9 machine-gun bursts of variations on "O Christmas Tree" with subtitles such as "Slap My Bass Mix" and "Monkey Like Banana Mix"
  • Layers upon layers of sounds - traditional instruments, non-traditional instruments, vocals, sound effects, cartoon sounds...
Summing it all up, it's the most creatively explosive, or is it explosively creative I'm not sure, Christmas album you'll ever hear.

"Switched on Bethlehem" is a favorite of mine on this album.  It builds and builds, changes and changes, and just when you think it is nearing a state of resolution, it unleashes an aural tsunami that includes those sonic whip-sticks employed by the Blue Man Group.  Wow.

"Jingle Jingle Jingle" is performed with a gruff vocal, channeling a bit of Tom Waits, and with a bar-band rock beat, a little bit of piano thrown in, some organ/synth, maybe a steel guitar, and an Ornette Coleman-style break.

"We're a Couple of Misfits" may be inspired by the Misfits - I think Jon Solomon may be able to judge appropriately.  Let's just say 'energetic and upbeat'.

"A Visit from St. Nicholas", a recitation backed by selections from various styles of The Nutcracker Suite is semi-traditional, especially if your childhood traditions included hours and hours of The Flintstones and other Hanna-Barbera cartoons.  

The thing about this album is that Substance W really understands these songs.  They haven't just thrown these together as quick-n-dirty novelty recordings.  They get the song structures, they get the lyrics, they get the traditions.  These odd, strange, songs show absolute reverence to the traditional songs.  Way more reverence than the walk-throughs released every year by the recording "stars" of the day.

So, my raving aside, this may not be for everyone.  If you like Christmas music and want a dozen albums to supplement your local annual Christmas radio, this isn't for you.  If you love Christmas music and are starting to explore the edges, listen to some samples and make a decision.  If you want to jump in and be a Christmas Music Collector, then you gotta have this.  Essential.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: Aimee Mann "One More Drifter in the Snow"

So, is it fair that I should include Aimee Mann's "One More Drifter in the Snow" as an Essential when I've had it in my collection for less than a year?

Yes, indeed it is.

I'd long had my eye on Ms. Mann's 2006 Christmas release, and had downloaded at least one of the songs previously, but it wasn't until a visit to Homer's Music and Gifts in Omaha, NE where I found a used copy of the CD and snatched it up along with several other holiday albums that it became part of my collection.  On the drive back to Kansas City from Omaha after an enjoyable couple of days with my daughter, I put "One More Drifter..." in the CD player and was instantly mesmerized at the beauty of the record (and a bit dismayed with myself for waiting so long to acquire it).

"One More Drifter in the Snow" features ten songs, most of them standards such as "The Christmas Song", "I'll Be Home for Christmas", "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch", and "Winter Wonderland".  (Modern classic "River" is included on a 2008 UK re-release).  There is one original, "Calling on Mary", co-written by Ms. Mann and Paul Bryan.

The opener, "Whatever Happened to Christmas" by Jimmy Webb is stunning and sets the tone for the album.  Aimee Mann's vocal style, inflection, and phrasing are unique, as any long-time fan knows.  This unmistakable style and approach to vocal performance is perfect for a soothing, flowing, rich holiday album.

A hallmark of a great Christmas album is when the performances of classics don't sound re-hashed or weirdly altered just for the sake of being different.  Aimee Mann's presentations of these songs are totally hers - joy from her heart and soul, expressed in Christmas music.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: The Classic Christmas Artists

So, this entry in Der Bingle's Essentials is, ironically, probably the least essential post of the series.  After this one I'll return to highlighting specific albums and artists that I believe every serious Christmas collector should have.  But today is the low-hanging fruit, the baseline, the all-time greats that define Christmas Music for so many of us.  Everyone, my friends, needs these artists in their Christmas music collections, and I'm sure that most of you already do.  But for those of you who may just be starting to build your collection, here are some of the artists to get  yourself off to a most merry start!

Bing Crosby (the "Merry Christmas" album covered here, but you can never have too much Bing)
Johnny Mathis
Perry Como
Dean Martin
Nat "King" Cole
Doris Day
Patti Page
Andy Williams
Burl Ives
Frank Sinatra
Tony Bennett
Julie Andrews

So there you go - make sure that you have at least one Christmas record from each of these artists, and you're off to a great start.

What?  You need a few hints on what's a good choice?  

The good folks over at Real Gone Music have taken the guesswork out of the equation for several of these artists, including Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, Andy Williams, Patti Page, and Doris Day.  Their collections of these greats are career spanning Christmas-wise.  Some are multi-disc, others (Doris Day) single.  You can't go wrong with a Real Gone collection.

The Andy Williams red and green albums are a great pair.

For Elvis, you can easily find a single CD with all of his original Christmas songs, or find each of his two albums individually.  (Me personally, I shy away from the weird remixes, "duets", etc)

Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song" album is pretty essential for a collection - I could have featured it individually.

All of these artists have well-curated Christmas collections on single discs.  You can make the choice - single disc of hits, or a more complete multi-disc set.  It's all up to you - enjoy!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Christmas in July!

It's the time of year where many of the Christmas blogs and sites celebrate Christmas in July.  There are some darned fine ones out there, putting a lot of much-appreciated energy into the mid-Summer celebration.  It's a time when we realize how much we miss the Christmas season, and it kick starts our excitement for the upcoming season.

Here are a few of our friends who are hosting Christmas in July festivities:

And our friends at 200 Days of Christmas are in full swing.

I'm sure there are many more.

So while the Christmas in July train is speeding down the tracks at blazing speed, Der Bingle is like the hand car on the adjacent track, pumping the handle up and down to get some momentum going :-)  What I'm going to (try to) do this July is ramp up the Der Bingle's Essentials series and get several entries out this month, starting tomorrow (July 2).  Check back here throughout the month for some more of my thoughts about essential additions for your Christmas music collection.

Stay cool my friends!  Merry Christmas in July!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: Everything by Found Wandering

Found Wandering, that trio/seasonal quintet from yon Pennsylvania way. They make the best Christmas music in the land, says I. Singer Sarah Comstock has the voice of an angel, perfectly sublime, created from the heavens to make Christmas music. Instrumentalists Colin Comstock and Jake L'Armand are supremely talented (and I won't leave out Sarah's talent on the mandolin). Found Wandering describes themselves as "a unique blend of gospel-folk, americana and indie rock", an apt description that is indisputable.They arrange classic Christmas carols and infuse them with new life, and they write and perform originals. Ah - pure Christmas music bliss.

Their three albums - "Christmas in Country Village" (2011), "On a Christmas Night" (2015), and "Pass the Peace" (2016 EP) are beautiful, with twenty-nine songs across the three records. When you hear "Angels We Have Heard on High" from "On a Christmas Night", you'll believe you've heard the best Christmas song ever. But then your song shuffle plays "In the Bleak Midwinter" from "Country Village", and you're awe-stricken at perhaps the best arrangement of all time of this, one of the oldest carols.

Found Wandering is now an annual selection on my yearly Christmas comp. I've featured a song of theirs each of the last two years on my DJ gigs on a local radio station, and I wrote a guest piece about them over at "200 Days of Christmas".

I can continue to gush on and on about Found Wandering, but I want you to visit their website and listen to their music. Click here:
For me, Found Wandering defines "Essential Christmas Music" just as much as ol' Bing himself.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: "The Jethro Tull Christmas Album"

Occupying slot number 3 in Der Bingle's Essentials is "The Jethro Tull Christmas Album", the 2003 (US) release by one of the most innovative and enduring rock bands of our time.  As a collection of new and previously released songs, this album is outstanding, unique, and a must-play every season (and frequently played in the off-season) in my house.

I was a marginal Jethro Tull fan back in '03.  I had my well-played vinyl copy of "Aqualung" from college (who didn't have one of those?) and a second copy of "Thick as a Brick" (the first copy was ruined in the back window of my car due to sun kisses - har), and had heard "Bungle in the Jungle" way too many times on the local Classic Rock radio station (never did get that song), but that was about it.  I liked Tull well and good, but they were as yet not in my top tier.

So, I recall one day seeing an ad for "The Jethro Tull Christmas Album" on Amazon.  It caught my attention immediately.  Like, "Huh??!?  Jethro Tull has a Christmas album?"  Curiosity getting the best of me, I ordered it (on November 3, 2003, to be exact, according to Amazon).  And once it arrived in the mail and I put it in the CD player, from the very opening notes of "Birthday Card at Christmas" I was hooked.  Absolutely loved it.  Through and through the songs were of the classic Jethro Tull sound, and they were of Christmas, the Winter Solstice, and many things seasonal but yet atypical of the usual Christmas song fare.  

The originals - "A Christmas Song", "Another Christmas Song", "Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow", "First Snow on Brooklyn", and especially "Ring Out Solstice Bells" are wonderful, edgy, a bit pagany in spots, and completely signature Tull.

The re-imagined standards - "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", "We Five Kings", and "Greensleeved" are masterworks.  These are the ones that hooked me completely, and soon graced my annual Christmas compilations over the next couple of  years. 

And that leads to an interesting aspect of this essential album.  After including those three standards on annual comps, it was many years before I could find the right spot for any other song from this album, finally placing "Ring Out Solstice Bells" in the 2016 edition.  Jethro Tull doesn't fit next to Bing or Frank or Dean or Johnny or Doris.  But as a collection of amazing seasonal music by a Heavy Metal Grammy-Award winning band (look it up if you don't know the story - worth the read), it's a beautiful collection.  Ian, Martin and the rest made some remarkable Christmas music.

By the way, since buying this album, I've acquired most of the Jethro Tull catalog, seen them live once (with the angelic Lucia Micarelli joining them on violin), and am considering seeing Ian Anderson's 50 Years of Jethro Tull later this summer.  

This is in my personal top 10, and is an absolute essential.  If you have never heard their rousing cut of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", head to Amazon or Spotify or Youtube and listen.  Whew!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Planet Comicon: Signing Off

I thought I'd leave this year's Planet Comicon adventure with a few final words and observations.  As I've said before, the most enjoyable part of attending for me is meeting the authors that exhibit and chatting with them for a bit.  And, if their book strikes me as something in my preferred genre(s), I'll buy it (or at least one of their offerings).  Kristin Helling's Christmas book hit the bulls-eye, and  J.R. Frontera's sci-fi collection was excellent.

Oh - hey - look what I found on the top shelf of a $5 rack of graphic novels:

Cool!  Christmas strikes again at Planet Comicon!

So, that's it for this year.  I found some other nice and cheap graphic novels, plus not quite so cheap GNs in the Star Trek and Riverdale (Archie) universes, signed by the artists.  And, a (cheap again) compendium of "The Elongated Man", one of my fave super-heroes from my formative years (oh so long ago).  Add in seeing panels from two Walking Dead actors and the amazing Alice Cooper, and it was a great couple of days!

Until next year....

We now return to normal Christmas music programming.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Sights from Planet Comicon Pt 2.

The continuing saga of Planet Comicon, through pictures.

Daphne and Velma.

Lots of people carry around large items.

Aquaman, I presume?

Ok - this is some serious Pennywise makeup. Well done!

Wonder Woman and Batgirl.

These guys were cool.

Not sure who they are, but nice costume work.

Again, I don't know the character being portrayed, but kudos for the glovework.

This dude.  It was February, remember.  And I saw him both Friday and Saturday  Made me wonder if he re-applied the body paint both days, or slept in it Friday night.

Spider people?

A trio of cosplayers.

The Joker has been apprehended.  Back to Arkham for him.

Sights from Planet Comicon Pt. 1

Here are a few pictures from Planet Comicon, in case 1) you've never been to a 'Con and want to know what it's like; or 2) you want some gnarly costume ideas; or 3) you enjoy seeing what some of the serious folks do with their costumes.

Me and Darth.  After the picture, I said "Thank you Lord Vader".  He replied "You're welcome". 

My daughter and her hand-knitted Wonder Woman shawl.

 Pursued by a Dalek after taking the picture.  I might have heard it say "Exterminate!"

He's a midnight toker.

Supergirl and friend.

 The real Alice Cooper.  His panel was excellent!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Dispatch from Planet Comicon: Author J.R. Frontera

As I mentioned in the previous post, local author J.R. Frontera was at the Wordwraiths Books table along with Kristin Helling.  Intrigued by some of her books, I made my way back to their table after my initial visit (and purchase of Kristin's Christmas book) to buy a copy of J.R's collection of science fiction stories titled "End of Line".

It's a compact book, with six short sci-fi stories, perfect for taking with you as a read-on-the-go (as long as you're not driving - safety first) or as an accompaniment for a quiet Sunday morning at home with a cup of coffee.  Either way, "End of Line" is a great little bunch of stories.

The opener "Black-market Body" is a strong, dark tale of Transference, a body-swap (or intellect/soul-swap, depending on your point of view) between two persons.  Of all the stories in "End of Line", this one has the most depth and tension.  It stands alone very well, however, as is described in the author's note, it is also the foundation for a novel, establishing key characters and plot points.  Ms. Frontera has very skillfully given us a complete story while in parallel setting up the framework for a long form.  Well done :-)

"P.U.P.P.E.T" is an excellent very short work full of aliens on a distant planet and a robot sent for a very crucial mission.  "In Compensation" is an extra-worldly exercise in surprise.  And the closing story "A Lovely Day for a Parade" is quite funny, a break in the darkness in the preceding stories (recognized as such by the author).  And it has werewolves.  You know, because, werewolves in a parade.

The author's notes at the end of each story provide the reader with insight into the creation of each story, many from writer's exercises and story prompts.  For me, the notes add a lot into the book overall, letting me get a glimpse of the author's mind at work.  Pretty cool.

You can get a copy of the book on Amazon (link is below).  However, if you'd like a free copy, and have an e-reader, you can get it for nothing but a little information and signing up on J.R's e-mail list on her website.  Me, I'm glad I bought a hard copy (signed, inscribed - I'm a sucker for signed books).  If you decide to treat yourself with the free version, please check out her other works while you're there, and if you like "End of Line" as much as I did, then support the author with a purchase of one of her other books.

J.R. Frontera website
Wordwraiths Books website
"End of Line" on Amazon
Author page on Amazon

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Christmas at Planet Comicon

Planet Comicon, Kansas City's annual convention of comics, cosplay, craftery, fantastic art, and science fiction, came earlier than usual this year.  Mid-February welcomed the Con, and fortunately so did acceptable weather, albeit but as expected, a bit on the cold side. 

My annual visit to Planet Comicon turned into a 2-day event this year as I opted to go on the lighter-attended Friday opening day as well as the much-more crowded Saturday.  One of my favorite parts of the Con is visiting the local authors that are exhibiting to promote and sell their works.

So, as I was walking through the cluster of local authors and scanning their wares, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a Christmas book!  "Twas the Night Before Christmas - On the River" by Kristin Helling was nonchalantly displayed on the Wordwraith Books table, sharing space with the other books by Ms. Helling and J.R. Frontera, both manning the table, and Rod Galindo, also an author published by WordWraith Books.

Of course, a Christmas book at Comicon hooked my attention, so I engaged with Kristin about the book.  Turns out, in addition to being an author, Kristin is also the owner of Parkville Coffee, and she wrote "Twas the Night Before Christmas - On the River" as an inspiration from the annual "Christmas on the River" celebration in Parkville, MO.  So, since 1) I love supporting local talent, 2) I obsessively collect Christmas books (yes, in addition to music), and 3) Kristin and J.R. were super nice and engaging in our conversations, I bought a copy.  It's a wonderful little book, capturing the spirit of the celebration in a fantasy poem (encouraged by the most famous Christmas poem of all) of the arrival of The Roaster and his eight sacks of beans.  The book is beautifully illustrated by artist and musician Micah Buzan.

So, what a nice surprise for me during the opening hours of Planet Comicon!

Click the links to learn more about Kristin Helling and Wordwraith Books.  And, stay tuned, as there will be more to come soon about fellow Wordwraith author J.R. Frontera.

Wordwraith Books link
Kristin Helling website
"Twas the Night Before Christmas - On the River" on Amazon
Parkville Coffee website  (Their coffee is excellent!)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: Emmylou Harris "Light of the Stable"

Emmylou Harris' amazing Christmas album "Light of the Stable" is my choice for the second entry in my 'Essentials' series.  It'll be hard for me not to just gush on and on about this beautiful album, always an absolute must-listen for me many times every Christmas season.

"Light of the Stable" was first released as a 10-track album in 1979, and then re-released as an expanded 13-track CD in 2004 (with an intervening remaster of the original record in 1992).  I have the 2004 CD in my collection, and happily so, as it has "The Cherry Tree Carol" as an added song, one of my favorite Christmas carols.

"Light of the Stable" 2004 CD Release

Where to start with "Light of the Stable"?  The 'session' musicians, that include Ricky Skaggs, Rodney Crowell, and Glen D. Hardin?  That Willie Nelson joins as a backup singer?  That Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Neil Young are all backup singers on the title track?  Dolly, Linda, and Neil?  You gotta be kiddin' me!!!

The supporting cast is a start, but it's the beautiful arrangements and Emmylou's amazing, haunting, sexy (there, I said it), angelic voice that makes this album essential for every Christmas music collection.   The songs include standards such as "Little Drummer Boy" and the a capella "The First Noel", and songs by some of the best songwriters in the business - "Angel Eyes" (Rodney Crowell), "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem" (Arthur L. Phipps), and "Man is an Island" (McGarrigle sisters).  

"Light of the Stable" 1979 Album

The (2004) album kicks off with a rousing "Christmas Time's A-Coming", followed by "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Away in a Manger".   After eight more gorgeous songs, Emmylou & friends close the album with "Light of the Stable", penned by Steven and Elizabeth Rhymer.

The music is tinged with the sounds of the country/roots/folk/Americana genre, but really it's simply beautiful Christmas music through and through.  Emmylou Harris is an American musical treasure who, in my opinion, even with all her success, is still underappreciated.  If you add "Light of the Stable" to your collection, you'll soon learn to not only appreciate but love her and her contribution to Christmas music.