Sunday, August 18, 2019

2018 Christmas Comp Artwork

Last year I (again) commissioned local artist Megan Fitts to create my annual Christmas Comp CD cover.  I had a visual theme in mind, and presented the vision for Megan, upping the ante from previous years.  And boy did Megan deliver!  

I had envisioned a swingin' Christmas party, featuring some of the artists I included on the comp.  Just imagine Bing Crosby hangin' out with Shonen Knife :-)  Megan created a hip Christmas soiree, one that would be legendary.  So, I thought I'd share the artwork with you.  

Top row, l to r:  Rufus Wainwright, Shonen Knife (2), Bing Crosby, one more Shonen Knife,Jim Nabors, Dia Frampton.

Bottom row, l to r: Jools Holland (actually cut from the final CD mix), Ingrid Michaelson, Eric Clapton, Perry Como, Maggie Roche, Devo.

Awesome work by Megan!

Megan's website:
Art of Megan Fitts on Facebook:

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Meeting Sofia Talvik

To the Christmas Music collectors community, Sofia Talvik needs no introduction.  For years, the Swedish folk singer with strong ties to our fair country has released Christmas songs, originals that she gives away to her fans as an annual Christmas gift of music.  Sofia collected these into an album titled "When Winter Comes", released in 2017 (and reviewed here by yours truly and here by our festive friend Stubby).  Sofia's Christmas songs are musically beautiful and emotionally stirring.

In May of this year I had the pleasure of attending a performance by Ms. Talvik.  Sofia and husband/engineer Jonas Westin made a stop during their "Little Chief Camper Van Tour" (mostly my words, though a few of theirs) at the Olathe KS Public Library.  The performance was sponsored by the library, so admission was free for the folk music fans who came out that evening.  Sofia played for around 60 people in an open performance space in the library branch.  I was first to arrive, so was able to reserve myself a great seat in the front row :-)

Sofia played selections from her latest album "Big Sky Country" along with works from throughout her career, and some from future album projects.  She connected with the audience, shared stories from her time on the road and about her songs, and captivated all of us in the enthusiastic crowd.

Seeing and hearing Sofia perform live was completely beautiful.  As a live performer, she brings extra depth and expression to her songs.  Although I love her recorded work, being able to take it all in in an intimate venue was extraordinary.

Before the show Sofia and Jonas were relaxing in the library, so I introduced myself and we chatted just a bit, but I didn't want to be a distraction before the program, so kept the chit-chat short.  After her show I was able to spend a bit of time talking to each of them, learning more about their tour through the US in a small camper (the "Little Chief" I mentioned earlier), and about her life as an independent folk musician.  I feel quite privileged to have been able to connect with Sofia and Jonas, albeit briefly.  I encouraged her to play again in Kansas City whenever their tour takes them through this part of the country, and guaranteed them I could help find a venue (even if it's a house show on my backyard deck).

The evening of music and connection was wonderful.  Sofia and Jonas had planned on camping at a nearby campground that night, until a thunderstorm of the type only found in Kansas in the springtime rolled in, changing their plans to that of a local hotel.  The next day they were Colorado bound, and onward to many other shows, large and small, across the United States.

Sofia and Jonas are great people, and marvelous musicians.  If you ever have the chance to see Sofia perform, don't miss out.  Go see her, a folk musician extraordinaire, as she shares her gifts with the world.

Sofia and me!

Sofia Talvik website

Monday, July 8, 2019

Best Album of 2019: "Wargirl"

I have to start this review with a baseball analogy.  Kansas City baseball legend Buck O'Neil often told the story of hearing a crack of the bat like no other.  The first time he heard it, it was Babe Ruth.  The second time, it was Negro League mega-slugger Josh Gibson, who once reportedly hit a baseball 800 feet.  It took 50 years for Buck to hear that sound again.  The third and last time was off the bat of Kansas City Royal Bo Jackson.  The power generated from the bats of these athletes created an unforgettable, unmistakable sound, very rare but one that embedded into Buck's memory.

I recall this story because of the sensation I got when I clicked "play" for the first time on Wargirl's self-titled debut album.  It took all of four seconds of "Poison", the opening track, for me to be absolutely hooked.  My attention and focus immediately shifted from whatever else I was doing to this amazing sound coming from my headphones.  I have rarely been completely astounded by a song or performer - Oscar Peterson's "Get Happy" and Madeleine Peyroux's "Dance Me To the End of Love" are two such times.  Now, add the entire "Wargirl" album to the list.

Wargirl is fronted by Samantha Parks, daughter of James Lafayette Parks of the '70s funk band Bull and the Matadors.  Band founder and guitarist Matt Wignall, bassist Tamara Raye, keyboardist Enya Preston, and percussionists Erick Diego Nieto and Jeff Suri complete the band.  Long Beach, CA is the bands home turf.

"Wargirl" has been in heavy rotation for me since its release.  The first few times listening, I heard different (possible) influences.  I've heard Talking Heads.  I've heard Blondie.  I've even heard the jazz-fusion atmosphere of Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew".  I can hear Ronnie Spector.  I don't know who the band's actual influences are, but I imagine that they are many.  Funk, new wave rock, jazz, latin, R&B are all perfectly blended in this blast of musical energy.

There is not a weak song on the album.  "Poison" opens, followed by the amazing "Sass Girl" and "Mess Around".  "How You Feel", "Streets", "I Know I" are all busting the seams with energy.  This is a superb album from the opening note to the last.

There is just something about the Wargirl sound.  The dual percussion blends with the organ, which blends with the bass, which exists in a state of perfection with Wignall's guitar, all elevating Parks' vocals.  Listening to Wargirl is absolutely like hearing one of the best jazz ensembles in the world (ahem, the Anat Cohen Tentet) when the musicians peak together.  The sound is of a single six-part musical organism, rather than a collection of individuals.  There is genius in the arrangements, production, and performances of "Wargirl".

And man oh man, what this band must be like live.  Being a tad too young and 2000 miles away, I never experienced CBGB at its peak when the Ramones, Television, and the aforementioned Talking Heads and Blondie were emerging.  But I can imagine Wargirl as a CBGB band, packing the house each night. 

"Wargirl" gets my nod as best album of 2019.  There is half the year left, but no one's gonna top this one...

Wargirl website
Wargirl Facebook page
"Wargirl" on Amazon

You can also find Wargirl on Spotify and all your favorite streaming services.

Summertime at Merry & Bright!

Hello and Happy Summer to all of you dear readers!  I wanted to share a quick update from Der Bingle's place.

No Christmas in July this year.  Since I only boarded that train once, and didn't really get any momentum going, I'm not contributing this year.  There are plenty of others, though, as I'm sure most of you know.  Ernie at Ernie (Not Bert) is doing his amazing Christmas in July sharing again this year, giving us scads of Christmas/holiday songs from non-holiday albums.  Over 500 to be shared this year, per Mr. Not Bert.  And you'd better hurry over to Stubby's place for a mammoth (Not Necessarily) The Best of Stubby's collection - 4 CDs worth, plus a bonus CD of songs that almost made the cut.  Go get 'em!

Over here, I'm going to go down a non-Christmas path for a few summer posts.  If all goes as planned, you'll be able to read about Wargirl and their self-titled album, released in May and is (in my opinion) the best album of 2019 (and top 5 of the 20-Teens).  You'll learn about my friend and Kansas City musician Jason Beers, who set out to release 10 (ten!) CDs this year, and is on track to do so.  You'll get to hear about getting to meet the wonderful Sofia Talvik at a springtime show in nearby Olathe, KS.  And hopefully a few other things.  I want to get the writing motor going again, and really want to share my thoughts about these great musicians.  So, (again, if all goes well) there will be a few new posts here in the next few weeks.

Stay tuned, and go visit Ernie and Stubby!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Sopresa! Mrs. Helen Marf Returns!

It takes a lot to be roused from hibernation in the blogosphere, especially in May, when it seems like the Christmas season is so far away.  We're not even at the half-way point, where I wish everyone a hearty "Merry Half-Christmas!" and they give me a look that says "That is one with-it, hip dude".

But, stirred from the slumber we are, and for good reason: an unearthed treasure from tympani virtuoso Mrs. Helen Marf.  Faithful readers will recall my review of "Having a Marfy Christmas!!!", an unexpected gem of a holiday album released in the 2018 Christmas season.   Quilt Records, the lucky-as-heck label for Mrs. Helen Marf's recorded output, has done it again, resurrecting the 1974 tympani-electronica classic "Canzoni di pazzia e morte", which I'm pretty sure means "Death by pizza stuffed cannoli".

"Canzoni di pazzia e morte" is a match made in sonic heaven, as Mrs. Helen Marf is joined by Ford Hassell Clark, Jr, an electronic music experimenter, or should we say experimentor, as his techniques and methods are surely sought-after even to this day as the de facto pinnacles of studio mischief.  Much as Les Paul would drape a cloth over his guitar neck to hide his innovative playing techniques, it's rumored that Mr. Clark, Jr would literally surround himself with drapes in the studio to discourage 'dem music spies'.

The album opens with "La canzone della fatica" revving up with funky synthesizer and quickly joined by Mrs. Helen Marf's driving, relentless tympani.  Intense pauses separate the three movements of "La canzone...", each painting a unique aural picture.  The final movement, clocking in at a brief 23 seconds, hearkens a mental image of a Japanese Tea Garden (if indeed such a thing exists).

"Tarantella No. 5", which I'm pretty sure means "The Fifth Tarantula", evokes images of a hungry yet groovy spider stalking his prey, in this case an annoying chirping little bird.  At around 1:20 the tension sets in, Mrs. Helen Marf's tympani speeds ahead, and the chase is on!  Will our hero the tarantula catch the songbird?  No spoilers here my friends!

"Canto allo rovescia" is an exercise in mono-tone rhythm surrounded by an envelope of synthetic sound.  Mrs. Helen Marf plays a single kettle drum tuned to a single note.  The control and precision of the k-drum are in stark contrast to the swarming electro-sounds surrounding the core.  It's as if Neils Bohr's atomic model were set to music - Hassell Clark's electron field in sonic orbit around Mrs. Helen Marf's percussive nucleus.

Track 9, "Ciabatta infradito", which I'm pretty sure means "Little Red Hot Bread", is a showcase of Mrs. Helen Marf's mastery of the triplet.  "Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!" the tympani seems to say, as if the little bread is just too hot to hold.

A very special track is "In memoria di Jumbo "Puny" O'Dainty", track six.  A melodic tympani rhythm frames and accents clips from a piano recording by Mr. O'Dainty, rescued from an 1959 acetate recording and presented here with help from Clark, Jr.  Mr. O'Dainty was also a Quilt Records recording star, and dear friend of Mrs. Helen Marf.  Her love for "Puny" comes through in spades.  Mrs. Helen Marf has never pounded the tympani better then on this fortissimo ode to friendship.

Now, let's talk about "Misterioso", the enigmatic track 4.  Der Bingle believes he is on to something here.  "Misterioso" is eerie and spectral.  It's four minutes and one second of a ride through an old-timey funhouse, the kind with creepy clowns, shadows, mildew, and flickering 15-watt lightbulbs.  The extensive liner notes for "Canzoni di pazzia e morte" admit that "Misterioso" was played on a loop for "Earthquake McGoon's Brain Rattler", a ride at Dogpatch U.S.A.  Now, although I can't confirm that the Brain Rattler was an old decrepit funhouse, "Misterioso" has the signature sound of an aging theme park haunted house ride.  So here's where it gets interesting...  In 1971 the absolute classic album of the haunted house circuit was released, "Black Mass" by 'Lucifer'.  Released on the UNI label, it contained tracks titled "The Rise of Aida (Voodoo)", "Incubus", "Exorcism", and the title track "Black Mass", among others.  (Reportedly) recorded by Canadian synth-innovator "Mort Garson" (as if that's a real name), "Black Mass" was a one and done explosive cornucopia of weird, spooky electronica that became an underground classic, and a rare collectible album.  Seems oddly coincidental that electronic music maestro Ford Hassell Clark, Jr re-emerged in 1974 to duet with Mrs. Helen Marf only three years after so-called 'Mort Garson' exploded the scene with "Black Mass" and then promptly disappeared.  Quite suspicious, in my book.

Suspicious is as suspicious does.  Once you've grooved to "Canzoni di pazzia e morte", give a comparative listen to "Black Mass", here at the internet archive.  Judge for yourself.

"Canzoni di pazzia e morte" is ten tracks of tympanotronic brilliance.  Mrs. Helen Marf, Ford Hassell Clark, Jr, the ghost of Jumbo "Puny" O'Dainty, and guest musician Fletcher Munson were brought together by Executive Producer Clancy Snarrup for Quilt Records, and we all can be glad that he did.  Y'know, they just don't make music like this anymore...

Is your appetite whetted?  Has the Mrs. Marf groovy bug bit ya?  Or are you saying "Der Bingle, gimme more!"?  Say no more squire - here's a video preview for "Canzoni di pazzia e morte":

"Canzoni di pazzia e morte" is being released on May 10, 2019.  You can preview it, and other selections from Mrs. Helen Marf and the Quilt Records catalog at Bandcamp.

"Canzoni di pazzia e morte" direct link

An unconfirmed rumor is that Kansas City musician Jason Beers has some connection to this album...

Jason Beers bandcamp link

A pre-release copy of the album was provided to Merry & Bright! by the artist for review.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

"The First Christmas" Cartoon

In response to reader Patrick's request for more info about "The First Christmas" cartoon, here is some more information.  The cartoon is titled "The First Christmas" and was produced for The Bible Society by "API".  I couldn't find a production date - the animation style seems consistent with the late '60s/early '70s.  In addition to the elements I mentioned earlier, like the birth of John the Baptist, it also includes the story of Simeon (Luke 2:25-35), prior to the holy family's flight into Egypt, and other additions that make it a complete story of the times.  It's really a great little cartoon.

I couldn't find a video of the cartoon itself on the internet, but fortunately the DVD set is still available.  It's a Mill Creek Productions set, available at this Amazon link and other web outlets (sometimes with different packaging). 

Here are a few screen shots from the video - the initial title and a couple of the end credits, plus the DVD cover.  The DVD set is a great treasury of Christmas cartoons, TV shows, and movies.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Christmas Lists

I'm not a huge fan of Christmas lists anymore.  Although I respect their utility for Christmas shoppers, I like to view them more as 'guidelines' than precise lists.  After a couple Christmases long ago where I had a detailed list, and I got exactly what was on the detailed list, which had simply no element of surprise to the gift-opening extravaganza, I started moving away from them.  I do have an Amazon Wish List, used as much as a placeholder for myself than for people shopping for me, but other than that in the past few years I have not given anyone a Christmas list.  One reason is that, especially with my children, I like to see what they come up with on their own instead of just picking something off the the list.  The best presents are those that come from the spur of the moment, the "Hey!  Dad would like that!" times.

So, this year, my five children gave me:
1.  Book "Kansas City Noir", Book "Secrets of the European Micro-States", and a nice dark red casual shirt.
2.  Gift cards to two local restaurants (for me and my wife)
3.  Bottle of amazing local-distilled whiskey (Rieger) and a KC Plaza ornament
4.  Certificate for two tickets to the Evel Knievel Museum in Topeka, KS
5.  "Queer Eye" book and Christmas drink coaster

Only the European Micro-States book was on my Amazon list (and it was buried deep - #1 daughter likes to go as old as possible on my wish-list).  "Queer Eye" book was from #5 child (#3 daughter), who saw it on display and thought it would be good (it is!).  Evel Knievel Museum tickets couldn't have been more unexpected, but it will be a great visit!  All the children are great gift-givers (as is my wife).

My oldest son kicked off our family Christmas with his announcement that he has finished the first draft of a novel, and handed out copies of Chapter One.  The novel is titled "So Cold Down Along the Beach".  Can anyone tell me where the title comes from?

It was a great Christmas with the family.  Looking forward to many more.  And looking forward to that Evel Knievel museum :-)