Sunday, January 2, 2022

Wrapping Up 2021

Well, I guess I'll wrap things up for the 2021 season.  It's been a pretty good one, I think.  Some music shared, some artists interviewed, a lot of great new songs.  Since Christmas Day I've re-sorted and re-organized the Christmas CDs, so there is a bit more method to their storage now.  I've tried to get the Christmas books re-shelved and the vinyl generally in its right spot.  At least my Christmas room/home office looks neater now.

Winter finally arrived in Kansas City.  We set records for high temps on several days in December, Christmas Eve being one of those days (66 degrees, I think).  On New Year's Eve it hit 57 here, then on New Year's Day it dropped to 7, with ice, sleet, and snow.  We're in for a cold week.  But I love it.

Christmas celebrations are actually still pending for us.  One of the family units got hit with COVID (all mild, all recovering), so the larger celebration has been postponed until (probably) the weekend of the 7th.  A longer Christmas season is good, though I wish COVID was not the reason.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by this year.  I hope you found the blog worth your while, and different than what you can find elsewhere.  I and all the other bloggers have our lanes, all contributing differently, for a pretty unique and full holiday experience.  

Thanks to all the musicians who sent me their music - keep on creating!

Thanks to Ernie, Brad, Rob, Greg, Joanna, Mitchell, Scott, Hugh, Lee, and all the others who contribute to Christmas merriment every year.

Thanks to Jeni for letting me co-publish your short story.

Extra special thanks to Rehya, for letting me be a part of your new album release this year.

You never know when I'll pop out a new random blog post, so please follow the blog to get a notification.

And so (random off-season posts notwithstanding), I'll see you all in November!

Aaron Henton

Friday, December 31, 2021

Artist Spotlights: Cristina F and Emily Aldridge

As one of my final posts this year I want to spotlight two of the musicians who released new Christmas songs in 2021, and they were two of the best songs this year  I've written about Cristina F and Emily Aldridge and their songs earlier in the blog, but wanted to give each of them another well-deserved shout-out.

Emily and Cristina were both extraordinarily kind and gracious as we connected through their songs this season.  They both found Merry & Bright and contacted me personally with the info about their songs.  And even during the hectic times of the holidays, they both shared the blog posts on their websites and socials, for which I am very grateful.  The best music I find each year comes from hard-working independent musicians like Emily and Cristina.  Please join me in supporting their music!

Cristina F


Cristina F, born and raised in the Bronx, still calls NYC her home.  Inspired by such greats as John Lennon & Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, and Carole King, Cristina has been writing and performing music for many years.  In addition to "I Won't Be Alone on Christmas Day", which she released this year, Cristina previously released her cover of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)".  Available on her Bandcamp site are singles "No Feeling" and "Flowers", her cover of "God Bless the USA", and albums/EPs P/S/ ART Part 1, Greatest Mistake and The EP.  Her back catalog is well worth your time, and I hope you're inclined to support Cristina with a purchase or two.  If you haven't added "I Won't Be Alone on Christmas Day" to your Christmas music collection yet, you should.  It is the catchiest tune that came my way this year, and there were many occasions when I'd realize I had it running through my head.  Such great songwriting!


Cristina was so very gracious as we exchanged communications a few times this holiday season.  She is an independent singer/songwriter, and nothing says this better than one picture in particular on her Instagram feed.  Captioned "When you’re in between singing for kid birthdays and singing for adult weddings", I've never seen a better visual capturing the life of a working musician :-)

One of my wishes for 2022 is another Christmas song from Cristina F!

Cristina F Instagram

Youtube video for "No Feeling" by Cristina F

Emily Aldridge


Emily Aldridge, former Midwesterner now residing in the Pacific Northwest, released "Roaring Fire", one of the absolute finest new songs this season (and one that danged near slipped past Der Bingle - yeesh, I've got to pay more attention).  Emily has a long and eclectic history as a performing musician, self-described as "Guitar-slinging, piano-bashing Emily Aldridge will be writing music until they send her into the deep woods at a ripe old age".  Her solo work includes the album Emily and the Gypsy Fire, a 2014 release featuring 8 original tunes.  Most recently, Em helmed the band Tall Dark Whimsy, the "all-female rock and metal sensation that would soon set Em’s dark tunes spinning into a destiny for ears and years to come."  Earlier,  Em was the frontperson of Sacrifice to Survive, a progressive metal band.  Wow!



In addition to being a singer/songwriter, Emily is a music teacher, a production consultant, offers audition prep services, and serves as a music career coach.  Plus, she is a talented writer and has a great sense of humor, as is evident by perusing her website.  Hit her home page and read the comments about "Roaring Fire" - you'll see what I mean.

Emily's solo work and music with her bands is available on Bandcamp (links are below).  I love a good genre-leaper, and while listening to her work I really enjoyed the jump from the guitar/vocal solitude of "Roaring Fire" to the prog-metal of Sacrifice to Survive.

Another wish for 2022 - more Christmas songs from Emily Aldridge!


"Forgive" video by Emily Aldridge


Sunday, December 26, 2021

It's Boxing Day!

My favorite line in Doug & Bob McKenzie's "Twelve Days of Christmas" is 'Wrestling Day, no... Boxing Day'.  

Happy Boxing Day everyone!  I hope everyone had a very happy and safe Christmas.  We were able to resume a gathered family for Christmas this year, after Covid visited our house last year and led to a Zoom Christmas.  It was great to have everyone here together again.  

I've got a couple more posts planned - revisiting some of my favorite new songs this season and a general wrap of things.  So, please check back in before the New Year! 

Friday, December 24, 2021

My Christmas Gift To You

Christmas Eve, 2021.  Another season of Merry & Bright winding down.  I have a few more trails to travel here before wrapping up for another year, but for today I have a special gift for all the lovers of interesting vinyl albums out there.  It's my pleasure to bring you (pa rum pa pum pum) The Links!

I found The Links while haunting record stores in Omaha with my middle daughter.  At first we thought Hey! It's The Kinks!, she being a big fan of Ray, Dave & Co.  Then, realizing it was assuredly not The Kinks, I thought maybe it's the Will Ferrell Brothers Band.  But, no relation, apparently.


As best we know, The Links were an Omaha, Nebraska regional club band in the 60s (?) or 70s (?), playing the best of the local hotel bars, all you can eat buffets, and VFW halls in the tri-state area.  I don't know much more about them, except for the sweet sounds of their 8 track album.

You may notice that the back of the album is autographed by all three members of The Links.  Whoo-hoo!  Collectible!  However, according to the dude at the record store, the real trick is finding a Links album that isn't signed.  Their albums weren't sold in stores, instead being exclusively offered at their many, many, many shows.  And of course, if you bought a record at a show, they signed it.  So the real holy grail of Links-dom is an unsigned album.


So, this is not a Christmas album.  The classics "Lucille", "Before the Next Teardrop Falls", and "Sweet Caroline" grace the track list, as does a version of the Abbott & Costello classic "Who's On First" that is, in it's own way, unforgettable.

But, when scouring the crates for essential vinyl for your collection, who could resist an album with "Macarthur Park".  Heck, any album with "Macarthur Park" and all that sweet green icing flowing down is almost a must-buy, but it makes The Links impossible to pass up.

So, my very special Christmas gift to you - The Links!

P.S.  I think there's a skip on here somewhere that I couldn't fix.  Seems fitting....

I will greatly enjoy your comments about The Links.


Enjoy!

Thursday, December 23, 2021

A Christmas Short Story from J.R. Frontera

I am privileged to have met and continue to meet some of the best people in the arts and music community.  They are my personal points of joy and positivity, sharing their work with the world through music, visual arts, and writing.

I have a very special share for you tonight, something new for Merry & Bright!  Kansas City author J.R. Frontera graciously allowed me to publish her new story "Merry Christmas, Junior", as a co-premier, alongside her blog.

J.R. Frontera has published many books in the sci-fi, fantasy, and steampunk-western genres.  "Merry Christmas, Junior" is a prequel story in her Luck Logan series, her entries in steampunk-western.

I've read "Bargain at Bravebank", book one in the Legacy of Lucky Logan series, and it is fantastic.  Steampunk-western was new to me, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  J.R. is a superbly talented writer, and her stories are engaging through and through.

Please click through the links to J.R. Frontera's website and browse what she has to offer.  Love Sci-Fi?  Try her "Starship Ass" series.  (That should get ya intrigued...)

J.R. Frontera's website

J.R. Frontera blog

Link to "Merry Christmas, Junior"

One quick note:  "Merry Christmas, Junior" could be considered to be "R Rated" for language, lewd humor, and sexual situations.  So read at your discretion.  But hey, we could all use a little lewd humor every now and then :-)

Without further ado, I present "Merry Christmas, Junior", by Kansas City writer J.R. Frontera




“God damn, I’m freezin’ my goddamn balls off up here,” Holt Haggerty hissed, his breath puffin’ clouds of vapor up around his head.

‘Lucky’ Logan Delano snorted from where he sat wedged into one corner of the general store’s roof, bundled up in all his best winter clothes just like Holt, but with his mittened hands tucked up into his armpits instead of aimin’ a long rifle down at the long stretch of almost abandoned Main Street down below. “Me too,” he muttered.

“Why we get stuck with this job anyway?” Holt grumbled. He gave up watchin’ the street below and pulled his long rifle back from where it’d been propped up on the roof ledge, instead settin’ it down on its butt, hookin’ one arm around the barrel, and then rubbin’ his hands together vigorously. He tried to blow hot air on ‘em too, but it didn’t do much good.

Logan quirked an eyebrow at his friend and fellow outlaw. It had to be close to midnight by now, but the sky above was clear and fulla stars that glittered like crystal, and the waxin’ moon was nearly full, givin’ ‘em plenty of light to work by. “Well, it could be ‘cause we’re especially good at ambushin’ folk. Or my special talent for drivin’ a team of horses. Or the fact you’re the best among us with that long gun there.” He tipped his chin in the direction of Holt’s sharpshooter. The kid had always been good at the distance shot, somethin’ Paul Johnson, the intrepid leader of their sizeable band, was always keen to take advantage of.

“Or…” Holt ventured. “Or it could be that Paul’s still sore about that incident up in Iowa.”

Logan winced and cleared his throat. “Could be.” That was most likely, in truth. Paul didn’t let things go lightly, and they’d lost the gang a whole three thousand dollars that day.

He’d suspected that was Paul’s real reasonin’ behind banishin’ him and Holt to this godforsaken town of Gallapin, on Christmas Eve no less, to wait in the freezin’ cold for the return of the rest of the Johnson Boys, and to lay down cover fire for ‘em if they should happen to arrive with any law hot on their heels. But he hadn’t asked no questions. Paul didn’t like questions.

“But … but they did need that wagon,” Holt commented abruptly, as if tryin’ to convince himself this assignment weren’t really a punishment. His cheeks and nose were bright red from the chill.

“Yeah,” Logan mused. “Sure.” And that was true. The Boys did need a wagon, for after they pulled off the bank job in Arkopolis, the much larger town nearly a day’s ride northeast—the bank job they were currently conductin’ this very evenin’—to stash a chunk of their stolen cash in and hide a good number of the Boys as they made their escape.

Holt and Logan had grabbed the wagon themselves two days ago, and left it just where Paul had instructed them to. Then they’d made their way here … and waited.

In the freezin’ fuckin’ cold.

Sure, Paul and the others had needed that wagon, but someone else shoulda been sent to retrieve it and place it, or at the very least, someone else shoulda been sent to wait here.

Paul don’t ever need no cover fire. He don’t run … he turns and fights. Either he’ll murder all the law on his tail, or they’ll murder him.

Logan blew out a long breath in a plume of cloud, then fumbled in his coat pocket for his watch. He couldn’t get to it with his mitten on. He growled and yanked the mitten off with his teeth, then fished out the watch and popped it open. He’d been correct … it was nearly midnight. His freshly bared skin was already stingin’ in the crisp air. He grumbled and snapped the watch closed again, shoved it back into its pocket, and then hurriedly put his mitten back on.

It usually weren’t so cold in Akansa, even at this time of year. Maybe the Holy Mother herself was tryin’ to punish him, too. Well, if that were the case, she was gonna have to try a lot harder than this.

“You … don’t think he means to cut us off, do ya?” Holt asked finally, quietly.

Logan glanced up to him. The kid was still standin’ there with his arm hooked around the barrel of his rifle, hunched in his woolen coat with his efforts to stay warm. His chin was tucked down into his fur linin’ and his hat pulled down low, but even in the silvery light of the moon, Logan saw true concern etched in the young man’s features.

“No,” he said firmly, shakin’ his head. “No. C’mon, Junior, you know better than that.”

Holt’s face screwed up in displeasure at Logan’s use of that nickname. A whole decade doin’ crime together and he still hated it.

And Logan still loved it. “No, if Paul were sore enough at us to cast us out, we’d be dead already. You know that.”

Holt was quiet for another long minute, then nodded and shifted his gaze out across the stretch of town to the far horizon. “Yeah. Yeah, yer right.”

The kid was startin’ to get fidgety. Logan sighed. He unfolded himself from his cramped sittin’ position and clambered to his feet somewhat clumsily thanks to all his layers of clothin’, then picked up his own rifle. Not a sharpshooter like Holt’s, but still good enough at shootin’ from a distance. “C’mon. I’ve had enough of this. Let’s go get a drink or somethin’.”

Holt’s eyes went wide. “Can … can we do that? Paul said to wait…”

Logan shrugged. “You think he really expects us to camp up here all goddamned night? Like you said, I’m freezin’ my balls off. And I’m his goddamned Second, for Chrissakes. He don’t like it, he can stop sendin’ me out to the middle of nowhere when he knows damn well I should be there right in the thick of it, right beside him.” Logan shook his head again, anger stirrin’ where there had used to be only calm, cold acceptance. He’d been with Paul long enough now, damnit, proven himself countless times … he weren’t no raw recruit no more. He deserved better than this.

Even if he had lost that three thousand dollars.

“Naw, fuck this,” he said. “It’s Christmas, for God’s sake. I’m goin’ for a drink and a gal. Maybe lots of drinks and lots of gals. You comin’?”

Holt couldn’t follow fast enough. He grabbed up his weapon and his small stash of ammunitions and scraps of food and stuffed ‘em all back into his satchel, then hurried after Logan as the elder of the two made for the ladder.

“I’m goin’ for a drink and a gal. Maybe lots of drinks and lots of gals. You comin’?”
(Art by Wilkolence)

#

They celebrated the stroke of midnight in the One Dollar More saloon, which Logan thought was an awful strange name for a saloon, but the inside of it was well-lit and blessedly warm, and full-stocked-up on plenty of liquor and plenty of workin’ women from the Gilded Dove next door.

Logan raised his glass as the big old pendulum clock in the far corner rang out twelve notes. “To us, and havin’ a night off for once, not spendin’ it runnin’ or sleepin’ out in the woods, eh? To warm drink and warm beds and warm…” He tossed a glance to one of the girls currently sashayin’ across the establishment and cleared his throat. “…bodies.” Reluctantly, he pulled his gaze back to Holt, whose cheeks were still flushed red, only from the alcohol and the heat of the blazin’ wood stove this time instead of cold, and lifted his glass higher. “Merry Christmas, Junior.”

The good humor on Holt’s face soured a bit at the name, but he let it go quick this time and clinked his glass against the side of Logan’s.

Logan figured the kid was probably grateful he’d been spared a night sittin’ out in the cold. And Logan had offered to pay tonight, too. For meals and rooms, and all their libations. And entertainment, even … at least within reason. He tossed back his quality whiskey and then grinned at his friend—no, more like a younger brother after all these years and all these jobs—as the other swallowed back his drink as well.

But hell, he was feelin’ generous tonight. Two months of sloggin’ through grunt chores and crap assignments, all ‘cause Paul was still upset about that lost money. He was tired of it. He and Holt deserved a good time after all that. A real, real good time…

He poured ‘em both another full glass from the bottle on the table.

Holt gave an abrupt snort and chuckled as he looked around the sparsely populated saloon. It was Christmas, after all. Most of the locals were home with their families for the night. “This kinda reminds me of our time in New London, ‘member that?”

Logan grunted and gave a nod. “Sure. Hard to forget that place. You spent half your take on one hour with that flexible woman.”

Holt straightened in his chair and leaned forward on his elbows, pullin’ his new glass of whiskey close. “She’s called a contortionist, Logan.”

“You dunno what she’s called. You were so goddamned drunk I can’t believe you managed to find your pecker.”

Now Holt’s neck reddened, and Logan chuckled into his drink as he gulped it down.

“Well, I did,” Holt said glumly. “Least I weren’t the one gettin’ beat up by a lady.”

Logan almost choked on his whiskey. He coughed and set the glass down quick. “That weren’t no lady. She had a beard.”

“Yeah. She was a bearded lady, Logan. That’s the whole point. That’s why she was in that show to begin with.”

“She weren’t no lady,” Logan grumbled.

“She was, and she laid you out flat. Archie and the doc saw, too, ain’t no gettin’ around it.” Now it was Holt’s turn to gloat into his glass.

Logan poured himself another. “Yeah well … she was a … a very … a very large lady. With a very large fist. And she didn’t lay me out flat. Only sent me stumblin’ a bit.”

Holt snorted, grabbin’ the whiskey bottle away from Logan for another refill himself. “That ain’t what I saw.”

“I wouldn’t trust nothin’ you saw that night, Junior. Like I said, you were so drunk you could hardly find your own pecker. Maybe that flexible woman—”

“Contortionist.”

“—weren’t even really who she was supposed to be by the time you got to your room! Probably any woman—hell, maybe even any man—coulda taken her place and you wouldn’ta known the difference!”

“Oh, she was who she was supposed to be, all right.” Holt nodded vigorously, and those sharp blue eyes of his went all misty and distant for a spell.

Logan laughed. Shit. Maybe the kid was really tellin’ the truth about that, after all. “All right. Okay. But I ain’t never goin’ near another of those circuses again, I can tell you that. Paul wants to rustle another one of those, he can go on and do it his own damn self.”

“Sure, ya, I’d love to hear you tell him that to his face.”

Logan grunted again and swigged his third glass, welcomin’ that warm burn all the way down his gullet to his belly. He’d never say such a thing to Paul’s face. Of course he wouldn’t. But it was nice to think about. He surely didn’t wanna have to deal with any more of those real large ladies with their real large fists—or real large beards—again. Or those elephants … those damned elephants…

“To think all that started in a place kinda like this,” Holt mused. He leaned back in his chair and took a good look around the saloon, then chuckled and shook his head. “And all ‘cause Sam had a hankerin’ to dance.”

Logan leaned forward, catchin’ the barkeep’s eye to signal for another bottle. Then he turned back to Holt. “Think the whiskey had more to do with that hankerin’ than the music.”

Holt shrugged. “Didn’t even know that man could dance.”

“Me neither.”

“If he hadn’t insisted on gettin’ up on the bartop, you think they woulda still thrown us out?”

Logan considered the question as the barkeep sent a saloon girl over with his requested bottle. She made eyes at both him and Holt as she set it atop their table and asked if they needed anythin’ else. But they declined for the time bein’. She made sure to trail a hand up Logan’s arm as she departed, and he took in a deep, slow breath of her perfume.

Sometimes it was nice to spend a few hours in a town when you didn’t plan on robbin’ or shootin’ up the place any time soon.

“Well?” Holt prompted.

Logan looked back to his friend to see the younger man pourin’ what was left of their first bottle evenly between their two glasses. He smiled, nodded. “They woulda still thrown us out, yeah. No one wants to see Cook Sam dancin’. Now we all know that for certain.”

“Fer certain,” Holt agreed. He raised his glass, and once more they toasted. And drank.

And then another saloon girl arrived with their food, and they happily dug in.

#

“No, no, no, no,” Logan insisted, jabbin’ his index finger down beside his empty plate and another empty bottle of whiskey. “You’re thinkin’ of that grizzly up in Colorado, and it were me who ran that off that bastard! Sure as hell weren’t Archie, I can tell ya that. And I weren’t wearin’ nothin’ but my union suit and had only a fork, too! But I sent him runnin’, I did, you ask anyone!”

Holt stared at him like he’d gone crazy, but Logan remembered that night clear as day. Well, clear as a cloudy day … or maybe clear as a day all choked with haze from a nearby wildfire … but he’d for sure only been wearin’ his union suit. He was pretty sure the fork had actually been his rifle, but the story weren’t nearly as impressive that way.

They had full bellies now and were deep into their third bottle of whiskey. The One Dollar More saloon was startin’ to rock under Logan’s chair, but they’d also started tradin’ stories, and Logan weren’t about to let the kid get one up on him.

Holt snorted and shook his head. “That ain’t the grizzly I’m thinkin’ of, and that ain’t what happened with the grizzly in Colorado, neither.”

“Sure as shit is too what happened.”

“Even if it was,” the kid was startin’ to slur a little, “yer tryin’ to tell me that’s better’n killin’ a croc from a hun’ren yards out? A croc that was gonna eat the doc? I saved a man’s life, Logan! From a hunnen yards! Nobody else even ever saw that beast comin’ ‘cept me! An’ I told y’all, I told y’all there was somethin’ out there.”

“You always think there’s somethin’ out everywhere, Junior.”

“And I’m right most the time, ain’t I?”

“I wouldn’t say most the time…”

“But I sure was that time.” The kid beamed, mock-aimin’ an invisible sharpshooter rifle across the saloon and squintin’ down the sight, then pullin’ the trigger. “Bam! Right ‘tween the eyes I got him. Saved the doc’s hide. Only hide you saved in Colorado was yer own.”

Logan scoffed, swallowed back another glass of drink. Poured some more. Holt held out his glass too, and Logan topped it off for him, and then that was the last of their third bottle. “Maybe so. But I like my own hide intact, thank you very much. What about that time I kept that stagecoach in Utah from goin’ over that cliff?”

Holt took a thoughtful gulp of his whiskey and then sucked in a breath through his teeth. But gave a nod in consent. “All right. Gottta give ya that one. Saw that one with my own two eyes … unlike that Colorado grizzly.”

Logan lowered his voice. “Or the time I took out nine and a half men with just six bullets.”

Holt gave a snort. “Ya can’t count a half a man, Logan.”

Logan lifted his hands. “Hey, the bullet hit him, didn’t it? May not a’ killed ‘em, but it got him none the less. Nine and a half men, six bullets.”

“You made that up. That and the Colorado grizzly. Nonsense.”

“Nah.” Logan sat forward in his chair again, leanin’ over the table. “What’s nonsense is you beddin’ the whole White Rose whorehouse in one night, that’s what.”

Holt was takin’ another swig of whiskey at just that moment and choked at Logan’s accusation, then sloshed some out on the table as he set the glass down quick and fell into a coughin’ fit. He pounded at his chest in his attempts to recover his air, while Logan only leaned back in his chair and crossed his ankles, smirkin’ at the scowl Holt sent him through waterin’ eyes.

“That is true and you know it,” Holt wheezed between his hackin’. “Don’cha ‘member the Madame—” He gave a few more coughs. “—fawnin’ all over Paul the next mornin’? That was cuz of me!”

But Logan was already shakin’ his head. “Sorry, kid. No way. Now I don’t doubt you spent a helluva pretty penny there in that establishment that evenin’ … but ain’t no man alive got that kinda stamina.”

Holt finally got control of himself and straightened his shoulders indignantly. “We was comin’ off a terrible dry spell! Been months since we’d even seen a lady, and—”

“And you were feelin’ awful proud of yourself for your role in keepin’ our cattle cargo secure, yeah, that’s what you said last time you told the story.” Logan lifted a skeptical eyebrow.

“Cuz it’s true!” Holt insisted.

Logan scoffed, but there was half a smile pullin’ at his lips he couldn’t stop. “What’s true is you had yourself a real good time, sure enough, again at the expense of most your take, and then bribed the Madame to tell us tall tales with the rest of your cut, that’s what.”

Holt’s blue eyes narrowed. “Ain’t so.”

“Is so.”

Holt pushed his glass of whiskey away and put his palms down flat against the table. “All right. All right, fine. I’ll prove it.”

Logan sat up straight in his chair. “Haggerty, no—”

“I’ll have me a go at the Gilded Dove.”

“Not on my dollar you won’t. I told you, I’m only payin’ for one round!”

“On my own dollar then.”

Logan blew out a breath, settin’ his own glass down. “God damn, Junior, this is why you ain’t never got no money.”

Now Holt planted an elbow on the table and jabbed his finger at Logan. “And how many times I gotta tell you, Logan, I got a goddamn name! And it ain’t Junior!”

Logan couldn’t help snickerin’, but then the kid was wavin’ at one of the Doves wanderin’ around the place, and his amusement faded as he muttered a curse. “Damnit, Holt, ain’t you learned nothin’ in all this time about managin’ your cash?”

The kid only grinned at him as the woman started toward their table. “I manage it just fine, thank you. I’ll show ya I ain’t spinnin’ no tales … ain’t like you an’ the rest. I don’ gotta talk myself up none. I speak nothin’ but the truth.”

It was such an outrageous lie in and of itself that a full-bellied guffaw burst out of Logan before he could stop himself. He slapped at the table, lettin’ himself enjoy the moment. It’d been far too long since he had a good and proper laugh. “You’re so fulla shit, Haggerty,” he managed finally around his wheezin’.

“Make a wager of it, then?” Holt dared. He leaned forward, his still-youthful face turnin’ serious, though there was a glint in his eye Logan knew all too well.

He tried to regain control of himself, swipin’ away tears. “That’s a bad bet, Junior. Even if I win, you wouldn’t have any money left to pay me!” He fell into another fit of laughter as Holt’s expression turned decidedly unamused … but then the woman he’d waved to reached their table, and she had a friend not far behind her.

She sauntered around behind Holt and slipped her hands down over his shoulders, then leaned toward his ear to better be heard above the piano music. It might have been Christmas, and the saloon far less populated than usual, but the man poundin’ away at the piano was no less enthusiastic.

“Howdy there, handsome,” she purred. “Haven’t seen you around here before. What brings you to our little town?”

Holt made a point of abruptly ignorin’ Logan to sit back in his chair and take her hands in his. He guided her around his chair and into his lap. “Pretty little things like you,” he said.

The girl giggled and Logan rolled his eyes, but then the second woman was there and slidin’ herself into his lap, too, and he had to push his chair back a mite to make room for her. She had long dark hair and wore only a white corset and white bloomers. She hooked one arm around his shoulders and with her other hand poured his glass full again from the bottle she’d brought with her.

He raised his brows. Well, he weren’t gonna argue.

“Well now,” she said, “ain’t that sweet. You boys all alone tonight?”

Logan accepted the full glass she handed him and smiled up at her, his free hand strokin’ through her long locks. “Not no more.”

She had a brilliant grin. And she was real good at this. He was already respondin’ to the way her fingers trailed down the back of his neck, the scent of her, the way she nestled herself so expertly against him … and all the whiskey he’d already imbibed wrapped everything in a warm, heady haze of contentment.

This was gonna be one helluva Christmas, all right.

#

Logan woke late the next morning to a rowdy but happy soundin’ ruckus, only a brief surge of adrenaline shootin’ through him before his mind classified it as no-threat, and he remembered that he was warm in a soft bed with woolen blankets and a dark-haired woman still next to him. Hannah, was her name.

He’d paid her for a whole night, just to stay.

Sometimes it was nice to sleep next to another warm body that didn’t snore and stink of horse. ‘Specially when it was cold outside.

He laid there for another few long minutes, relishin’ the comfort of it. Outside his room’s window, down along Main Street, several men whooped and hollered as they galloped up and down the road in front of the saloon.

And Logan smiled as he recognized the voices.

He slipped carefully from beneath the covers, careful not to wake the girl. He pulled on his union suit against the chill and buttoned it up in a hurry, then padded across the floorboards on bare feet to pull aside the curtain.

Sure enough, there was Paul. And Archie and Sam and Doc Green and most the rest, wavin’ their pistols in the air and chargin’ their horses back and forth in a show of grand revelry.

“Merry fuckin’ Christmas, Gallapin!” Paul hollered. “Merry fuckin’ Christmas!”

Logan grunted and shook his head. Well, least they ain’t firin’ those things … like to get themselves arrested after all, just for bein’ a nuisance.

A few townsfolk had paused on the boardwalks to watch the gang’s antics, but bein’ as no one was causin’ any real harm, they mostly seemed to think Paul and his group were just a bunch of energetic young men feelin’ their oats in the crisp cold of a Christmas mornin’.

And they were exactly that, indeed.

Only the townsfolk wouldn’t know just what had Paul in such a merry mood this mornin’.

Logan, however, had a real good idea.

That bank robbery had been a success. A real big success, judgin’ from the ruckus the Boys were makin’.

Logan felt a twinge of jealousy despite himself. He shoulda been there too. Not relegated to the background. Those with more active parts in the risky jobs got a bigger share of the loot … and his role in this one had been minor. No matter how big the take had been this time, he wouldn’t see much of it.

But he shoved down the swell of ire. Buried it back beneath that wall of calm acceptance. Paul wanted him to feel that way. Wanted him to feel slighted and left out. Wanted him to regret losin’ that three grand. And Logan didn’t like bein’ manipulated.

Though he did regret losin’ the money, sure.

But he didn’t regret his choice that day. Paul weren’t gonna make him ashamed of that, at least, no matter how hard he tried.

The Johnson Boys mighta been an awful collection of terrible men, but they were as much family as Logan had ever had. Maybe some of ‘em Logan wouldn’ta minded seein’ gone, and sure, if any of ‘em ever put the gang in danger or at risk he’d do what had to be done, just like he’d done with Bill all those years ago.

But Holt Haggerty were one of the better of ‘em. Didn’t have a double-crossin’ bone in his body. Had been a solid contributor to the gang since he’d first joined up. Had started to feel more like a brother than any of ‘em.

And it had come down to saving Holt or saving the money that day.

Logan didn’t regret his decision. Not even now.

No, the bank robbery bein’ a success was a good thing. Even if Logan hadn’t been there. Even if he wouldn’t get much of the take. Maybe it would finally put Paul in a better mood, and he’d stop sendin’ Logan off with Junior for all the menial tasks.

Logan sighed, let the curtain fall back into place and moved to retrieve his clothes. The fire in the hearth was only embers now, and the cold had crept in enough he could see his breath as he stepped into his trousers and shrugged into his shirt. He pulled another few bills from his wallet and tossed ‘em to the night table just as Hannah stirred, and her long lashes fluttered as she opened her eyes.

He gave her smile and tapped at the pile of money, glad she wouldn’t have to die today. “Merry Christmas. Get yourself somethin’ nice.”

She granted him a sleepy grin and snuggled deeper into the blankets. Havin’ no idea her fate coulda been tied to an outlaw boss’ volatile mood swings. “Thanks, Mister.”

Logan picked up his hat from where he’d hung it on the bed post and plopped it down onto his head, then touched the brim. “Don’t mention it.” He stepped into his boots and finished buttonin’ himself up, retrieved his gun belts, and headed for the door.

He needed to get down there before Paul thought him absent. Needed to gently prod the man to keep the Boys movin’ on, to not cause too much of a disturbance, lest these townsfolk remember their presence here far too well when the law from Arkopolis inevitably made their way in this direction askin’ questions.

He stepped out into the hall and then drew up short, findin’ Holt comin’ outta his room across the hall at the exact same time.

The kid was a good deal more a mess than Logan himself, his shirt still half unbuttoned and the tail of it hangin’ loose, his hat in his hand, his belts looped over one shoulder, and his red hair tousled and wild. But his blue eyes were bright and cheeks flushed, and Logan’s eyes narrowed as he looked the younger man up and down.

Holt straightened under Logan’s scrutiny and pulled his door shut behind him, then gave a nod as he shoved his hat down over his rumpled hair. “Mornin’, Logan.”

Logan raised a brow. “Mornin’, Junior. Have a good night, did ya?”

A sly smile slid over the kid’s face. “Sure did.” He went about tryin’ to sort his shirt, and his smile faded. “Paul’s here.”

“I noticed.”

“We should go out.”

Logan swept out a hand toward the stairs that led down to the saloon’s main level. “Was just on the way down myself.”

“All right then.” Holt stepped toward the stairwell as he finally wrangled his shirt into place and got it full buttoned, and as he did so, Logan took two long steps across the hall to swing open the door of the younger man’s room.

“Hey—” Holt protested.

But Logan stopped in the doorway. A woman’s blond head poked from beneath the twisted covers, her arm danglin’ over the side of the bed. Their fire was still roarin’, makin’ the room cozy warm. And in the resultin’ glow, Logan counted four other women crowded into the little bed.

“Holy shit,” he blurted.

“Do ya mind,” Holt snapped. The kid pushed in front of him and pulled the door shut again. “They’re tryin’ ta sleep. We had a long night.”

Logan only stared at the shut door for a space, then managed to crook his head in Holt’s direction. “Five?”

The kid shrugged, bucklin’ on his belts. “The rest were occupied. Told ya, didn’t I?”

Logan snorted. “You got any money left?”

“Not a cent. But it was worth every penny. Now c’mon, we’d better get goin’.” He jerked his chin toward the stairs.

Logan blinked, then laughed, but pulled himself away from the door at last, feelin’ almost numb with disbelief as he shook his head. No way. No way all the kid’s stories were true. He was just tryin’ to show off after gettin’ called out for his tall tales last night.

Logan clapped Holt on the shoulder as they made their way down the hall, still chucklin’, still not believin’ a word the younger man had claimed the night before. “Well all right then, kid. Merry fuckin’ Christmas.”

Holt grinned, and they went downstairs together. “Merry fuckin’ Christmas.”


Copyright 2021 J.R. Frontera

Luboff!

It's getting close to the end of the season, and I have a few things left for you this year.  Stay tuned these next couple of days.

For tonight it's the great Norman Luboff Choir with The Night Before Christmas.  This is a tremendous Christmas album.  It has five "tracks" - Savory Serenade, Wintertime, Lullaby Time, The Night Before Christmas, and The Morning of Christmas.  This album is best enjoyed as uninterrupted sides, so I've kept it as is, Side 1 and Side 2.


Enjoy Luboff!




Tuesday, December 21, 2021

New Music Roundup Part II

One last roundup of some of the great new music this season.  Time is short, and I can't give these artists their deserved level of coverage, so I'm trusting all of you faithful readers to give them a listen and track them down via the google if you like what you hear.  Please support your local and independent musicians!

Emily Aldridge - "Roaring Fire"


Emily Aldridge, singer-songwriter from Portland, Oregon has released a new single this season. It's an acoustic Christmas tune, heavily influenced by Emily's celtic roots.  

Best known as the front woman of prog metal masters Sacrifice to Survive, Emily Aldridge has been brightening stages since 2009 with her high-powered vocals and emotional melodies.

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Emily infuses her dark pieces with big doses of reality as she sings about life’s many struggles and triumphs. Her music is quite the opposite from her bubbly and playful demeanor, yet it serves as a space of sanctuary and healing, in the magic of both writing and listening.



Enjoy "Roaring Fire".


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Mark McGonigle - "The Welcoming Song"

Mark is a local (to me) Kansas City musician.  Mark released this just today (Dec 21) and says "A Christmas song that cuts between the tropes of religiosity and consumerism, to the meaning of the heart. Mercy comes to the poor and raises them up."

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Wolf Blitzer - "Elf Union"


A Merry & Bright fave from 2020 returns with "Elf Union"



Visit Wolf Blitzer (the band) on Bandcamp

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Charlie Castell - "We'll Have a Christmas"


English-born indie pop-rock singer/songwriter, now based in Los Angeles, writes his songs with a deep meaning being it. He fuses the guitar driven styles of artists like Radiohead and Oasis, the acoustics and orchestrations of Damien Rice and Ed Sheeran, with the classical songwriting of Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, and Burt Bacharach.

Charlie Castell website



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Jennifer Saran - "Christmas in a Bubble"


Written with her creative partner and producer, Grammy and Emmy winner Narada Michael Walden (Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey), “Christmas in a Bubble” is a transporting musical gift for the holiday season that conveys a heartfelt and timely message of unity and grace.


Jennifer Saran website

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Patricia Vonn - "My Favorite Holiday"


"My Favorite Holiday" - a new album from Patricia Vonn.  The album is Patricia’s ode to the most special time of the year featuring 10 original songs (and 1 cover) with the help of an all-star cast including RubĂ©n Blades, David Grissom, Alex Ruiz, Rosie Flores, Stephen Ferrone on drums (Tom Petty), Carmine Rojas on bass (David Bowie), and more! The album, is out now is produced by Rick Del Castillo.

Patricia Vonne website




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Katy Weirich - “Joy To The World (Hallelujah)”


Katy Weirich’s “Joy To The World (Hallelujah)” is a cinematic rendition of the holiday classic extending listeners a warm invitation for a passionate worship.





Katy Weirich website

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Crystal Drake - Snowburst


Snowburst is the soul-pop artist’s decadent interpretation of four iconic holiday classics; Drake stays true to their traditional roots while invigorating them with a modern flare.



Enjoy "O Holy Night" from Snowburst


Crystal Drake website

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Jillian Lee Antinora - Joys of Christmas


The Joys Of Christmas captures the warmth of the holiday season in 5 uplifting tracks ranging from Christmas-pop, to decadently smooth jazz.





Jillian Lee Antonira website

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Jett Jenkins - “Silent Night”


Jenkins covers the iconic Christmas carol with a hypnotic arrangement seamlessly blending her quintessential style with a classic calming guitar-driven acoustic sound just in time for bedroom pop lovers this holiday season.


Jett Jenkins website