Monday, December 4, 2023

New Music Roundup!

Hi folks!  It's once again time for the annual New Music Roundup.  So, giddyap - here we go!


The Gleeman - "I Love Christmastime"

Singer songwriter The Gleeman has announced a Christmas single release, ‘I Love Christmastime’ to keep the focus of the world’s eye on the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the impact it continues to have on the children of the war-torn country. The single is raising awareness for the charity War Child.

Music has historically been known to bring togetherness in times of displacement and conflict. In the past, Christmas songs such as "Christmas 1914" by Mike Harding and Paul McCartney’s ‘Pipes of Peace’, all delivered a Christmas sentiment and poignant message. Music is a constant source of comfort for many, a safe place of escapism in a turbulent world. Christmas for Ukrainians, despite their devastating war-torn environment, is still an essential and important date for them to celebrate, particularly for children. This year for the first time in its history, Ukraine will celebrate Christmas day on the 25th of December.

War Child received the track a few months ago and loved the song, which has been written from the perspective of a child, as The Gleeman crafts lyrics remembering the joys and magic of the Christmases gone-by. A gifted musician and storyteller, The Gleeman with the support of War Child was motivated to release the single to keep the plight of children in Kyiv and Ukraine at the front of people’s minds.


Dustin Douglas & The Electric Gentlemen - "Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You"

Looks like Dustin Douglas & The Electric Gentlemen (DDEG) may just make it on to Santa’s “nice list,” after all. The critically-acclaimed blues-infused rock band presents their rendition of one of their favorite holiday songs “Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You” (Billy Squier, 1981)

“’Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You’ has always been one of my favorite Christmas tunes,” said Frontman/Lead Guitarist/Singer-Songwriter Dustin Douglas. “Something about the bluesy verses and Squier’s unmistakable voice makes me smile. I always knew someday I’d record this track.”

And that he did. However, in true fashion, the group – which is rounded out by Drummer Tommy Smallcomb and Bassist Matt “The Dane” Gabriel – didn’t simply cover the iconic holiday song. They re-invented it. Recorded at Eight Days A Week Studio in Northumberland, PA, DDEG’s version boldly boasts the band’s signature swagger, big guitars, infectious rhythms, and sexy grooves with Douglas’ distinct bluesy, vocal delivery, honoring Squier's original vibe … while making it their own.

Dustin Douglas Music


Mikalyn "Sweet the Snow Falls"

Canadian musician Mikalyn's heartfelt emotional rendition of a beautiful holiday song about the magic of the outdoors in the Winter, written by promising new Canadian songwriter Greg Weinerek.


Chris Daily  Seasonal Sounds

“Seasonal Sounds & Traditional Songs” is a mix of classic R&B and retrorock with indie lo-fi vibes and an ear towards the holiday season. Also featured on the track "When Otis Redding Sang (Merry Christmas Baby) Remix" is soul singer songwriter Erica Michelle.

"Seasonal Sounds" on Bandcamp

The Static Dive "Happy Xmas (War is Over)"

As we enter the holiday season with wars on multiple shores, The Static Dive (musician and writer, Bob Smith) delivers a bossa nova-infused indie-pop interpretation of John Lennon's holiday classic. With its chill vibe, a touch of melancholy, and a unique jazz combo arrangement, the song is a smooth take on an iconic call for peace that is more relevant today than ever before.

Note from Der Bingle:  "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" is a Christmas song that is sacred to me - there are very few versions that I like.  The Static Dive's passes muster - well done!


Mango Island Sound "So Many Christmases Ago"

"So Many Christmases Ago" is family song about memories of Christmas Eve as a child, Christmas morning as a young parent, then Christmas night as a grandparent, and ends with "as long as we hold on to all these memories, we'll always be together Christmas night." It's in a traditional Christmas
style and builds to a subtle, slow calypso beat with steel drum accompaniment.


Corvair "Long Way Around the Sea"  

Portland-based band Corvair is pleased to release their latest Christmas song, a cover of Low’s “The Long Way Around the Sea.” This is the fourth Christmas song the band has released in four years. They are currently working on a Christmas EP for 2024.

Singer and guitarist Brian Naubert says of the decision to cover the song, “Low’s Christmas album, which was released in 1999, is one of my favorite holiday albums of all time. I’ve always been very interested in Christmas music, including making my own, but their record completely redefined for me what the genre could be. It’s so profound, there’s not one saccharine moment.”

Singer Heather Larimer says of the song, “I’ve been making Christmas music since my first band, Eux Autres. And I usually like to try to push the subject matter a bit dark. For instance, the first one I co-wrote (“Another Christmas at Home”) was about a dive bar in Omaha. But this year, it felt right to cover a Low song, one that is written deep inside the original Christmas Story. Even just the phrase ‘take the long way around the sea,’ with all of its sustained open vowels, is very poignant. It cracks your heart open to sing it.”


Amanda Fagan "Snowfall"

Amanda Fagan, San Diego singer/songwriter who last graced the pages of Merry & Bright in 2021, is back with a new single for the 2023 Christmas season.  "Snowfall" is another original song from the talented Amanda.


Deneice Pearson "Santa Claus is Coming"  

Continuing a celebration of 40 years in the industry Brit Award winner, Grammy nominee, and lead singer of iconic pop group, FIVE STAR, Deniece Pearson announces news of her first ever Christmas single, ‘Santa Claus is Coming.’ Out 1st December.

It’s a Caribbean Christmas for Deniece as she presents her original Christmas song ‘Santa Claus is Coming’. Celebrating the true meaning of Christmas and also the fun side of the season, the reggae-flavoured ‘Santa Claus is Coming’ is an uplifting, joyful sing-along with pitch perfect harmonies and an infectious groove – a modern-day Christmas song with all the hallmarks of a keeper.


Ashley Brandenburg "Winter Magic"

Get ready to feel the holiday spirit with Ashley Brandenburg's newest release, "Winter Magic." This festive tune seamlessly combines nostalgic elements with singer/songwriter pop sounds, creating a truly enchanting experience. With its catchy chorus and heartwarming lyrics, "Winter Magic" celebrates the joy and wonder of the season. Ashley's soulful voice and musical talents shine through in this uplifting track, reminding listeners of the magic that can be found in the simplest of moments. So, grab a cup of hot cocoa, cozy up by the fire, and let "Winter Magic" transport you to a world of holiday cheer. Don't forget to share it with your friends and family to spread the joy this season!


Kevin Scott Hall & Judy Pancoast "Christmastime in Maine"

From the duo of Kevin Scott Hall and Judy Pancoast comes "Christmastime in Maine", capturing the qualities and spirit of the holidays in the Pine Tree State from two born and raised Mainers.  "Christmastime in Maine" is produced by award-winning roots artist Grant Malloy Smith, and is available at all the usual streaming platforms.

Kevin Scott Hall website
Judy Pancoast website

Sunday, December 3, 2023

New Music: Cliff Beach "Christmas Day Funk"

Cliff Beach's 2021 album "Merry Christmas, Happy New Year" was one of the most fun and enjoyable Christmas music albums of the year.  Now, Cliff is back with a new single "Christmas Day Funk".

"Christmas Day Funk" is a great, high energy, funky Christmas tune.  The thing I love most about Cliff's music is that it seems you can hear him smiling as he sings.  There's just a pure, happy, joyful spirit from the soul that comes through.  I dig it.

Check out the video for "Christmas Day Funk", head to Spotify and add it to your holiday playlists, and be sure to follow Cliff Beach Music on Facebook.  All the links are below.

Extra!  Extra!  Want to hear from the man himself?  Good friend Ken Kessler, proprietor of Sounds of Christmas, connected with Cliff for a new Podcast episode.  Head on over to the Sounds of Christmas podcasts and listen to Ken and Cliff talk about "Christmas Day Funk" and what's up for a 'Big 2024'.

"Christmas Day Funk" on Spotify

Cliff Beach Music

Friday, December 1, 2023

Merry and Bright Interview with Tim Neely (part 1)

Tim Neely is well known in the world of Christmas Music collecting.  And, "well known" is an understatement to the hard core Christmas music collector community.  Tim is the author of the indispensable Goldmine Christmas Record Price Guide, published in 1997 and still highly sought after by collectors 26 years later.

Tim is an active member of the online Christmas music collector community, contributing tidbits of recording history to many discussions.  Deeper knowledge about the history of Christmas music recordings may not exist (although Stubby might make it a tight race).  

Each year since 2014 Tim has graced us with a "Christmas Song of the Day" during the month of December, sharing with his readers a song that has some special meaning to him.  We learn all about the song, and why he selected it, which may be a very personal, moving story.  I've been introduced to many new artists and songs from Tim, BarlowGirl, Laura Allen, and Nightbirde being three that come to mind.  You can follow along Tim's CSOTD at his website, Tim Neely Stuff.

Several months ago I asked Tim if he would mind doing an interview with Merry & Bright, to talk about all things Christmas music.  Tim enthusiastically agreed, unaware of just how many questions would be coming his way.  Trooper that he his, Tim sent back extraordinarily thoughtful answers to all my questions.

I am very, very grateful for Tim's time.  He is a music lover, collector, historian, and gentleman with truly fascinating insights into Christmas music, past and present.  So, here on December 1, coinciding with Tim's debut Christmas Song of the Day, I am very proud to present Part 1 of my interview with Tim Neely.  Stay tuned to Merry & Bright for Part 2.


Merry & Bright Interview with Tim Neely part 1

Merry & Bright:  Tim, thank you for spending this time with Merry & Bright.  As such a highly respected member of the Christmas music collector community, I think my readers will really enjoy hearing your thoughts about Christmas music and related topics.

Tim Neely: Thank you for thinking of me and asking me.

MB:  I’d like to start by learning a little more about you.  My personal earliest memory of Christmas music is a Bing Crosby album that my parents had (“Songs of Christmas”, Decca DL 34461,  with Bing and Katherine Crosby wrapping presents on the front cover and Bing advertising for La-Z-Boy on the back).  I played that record year round in my early childhood, and I still have it in my collection today, over 50 years later.  What is one of your earliest memories of Christmas music?

TN: Just one? I must have been a Christmas music fan from my pre-kindergarten years, because I vaguely remember watching three classic Christmas TV specials, if not the year they first aired, then not long thereafter – Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas! With help from my dad, I made a reel-to-reel tape recording of Rudolph off the television one year, but about a third of the way through, the sound became distorted.

I also remember looking forward to the Christmas season at church, because they'd pull out Christmas songs to sing as part of the service, such as "O Come All Ye Faithful," "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," and "Angels We Have Heard on High."

Another early memory is that my parents bought me a songbook of Christmas music when I was quite young, and I used it so much that it eventually fell apart. I did a search for it not too many years ago, and I found that it was called Christmas Carols and was published by Whitman in 1964. (Earlier editions were printed many times dating back to 1938!) It has a great cover, with singers standing around what looks like an old-time organ. It would be neat to have that 1964 songbook again.

Finally, during the Christmas season of 1967, my parents bought an LP at W.T. Grant, which used to be a five-and-dime department store chain. Grants was where we went to visit Santa, probably because it was the closest place to do so from home. Anyway, they bought an album called A Very Merry Christmas. That album was the first "grown-up" record that my dad let me play on his big-people stereo. That is where it all began. I've had other copies of that album in the years since, but I still have that record that my folks bought in 1967, complete with my handwriting on the back cover.

MB:  How did you become a collector of Christmas music?  To paraphrase Malcolm Gladwell, was there a ‘tipping point’ after which your collecting mojo really took off?  Or was it a gradual thing, where one day you suddenly realized you had built up quite a collection?

TN: It was definitely a gradual thing. I consider the start of my record collecting as March 1973, though there had always been records around the house. It wasn't a focus of the collection for many years, but when (especially) 45s of Christmas songs showed up, I got them. I had "The Chipmunk Song" by the Chipmunks early on, as well as Gene Autry's "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and Jimmy Boyd's "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," because an early focus of my 45 collection was songs that hit #1 in Billboard.

Some others I recall adding to my collection early on were an early-1960s pressing of "The Christmas Song" by Nat King Cole; the 45 EP with "Blue Christmas" by Elvis Presley on it; and "The Man with All the Toys" by the Beach Boys.

The Christmas part of my collection started to grow in the mid- to late-1980s, to the point where by 1990, I made Christmas mix tapes for my mom's Christmas parties for her friends from work. By that time, I had dozens of holiday albums and hundreds of 45s. By the early 1990s, I began to collect Christmas CDs; I also started to collect various-artists series of albums. I got all eight volumes of A Very Merry Christmas from Grants and most of the Firestone and Goodyear volumes. Finally, I worked on collecting the True Value Hardware Happy Holidays series. By 1997, I had enough Christmas albums that I segregated them from the rest of my collection. So it was definitely a gradual progression.

MB:  Can you estimate the size of your collection?  How many LPs, singles, CDs?  We’ll exclude downloaded digital music from the count.

TN: At one time, I had over 10,000 Christmas records, including 45s and LPs, and I think I still do. I have an entire wall filled with Christmas CDs, including both full-length and singles; I estimate that I have 4,000 CDs.

MB:  I’ve often thought about what will happen to the collections that our colleagues in the community own.  My collection is pretty large, but it pales in comparison to some of the true A-Listers like Rob Martinez, Ernie Haynes, and Tim Sewell.  Where will your collection wind up a few decades down the road?  And what would you like to see happen to the collections from our peers?  I hate the thought of a giant truck backing up to the loading dock at the local thrift store with pallets of Christmas records from a collector.

TN: It's not something I've thought about very much, unfortunately.

MB:  I’ve wondered about the utility and feasibility of an International Christmas Music Museum and Research Center, as a place for these collections to live on in perpetuity.  Maybe someone out there knows of a rich patron to provide the startup funding.

TN: Or perhaps, one can find a major research university with a great already existing music-history department to host such a collection. A large financial donation or endowment would help, which alas is beyond my meager means. But if that school already has some infrastructure, adding a Christmas-music component would simply require storage space and commitment.

MB:  What are your general thoughts about the Christmas music collector community?  What role do you think the blogs, message boards, and sharing of out-of-print vinyl (lovingly transferred to digital) have had on the world of Christmas music?

TN: I love it! Any time you discover other people with the same specific interest, it's a godsend. All the talk by bloggers and enthusiasts has been a positive thing, because I think it shows that reissues of rare Christmas music, especially by niche labels, can be commercially viable.

MB:  Let’s talk about the evolution of music media, a topic not exclusive to Christmas music, but one very important to us as collectors. We’ve seen the distribution of music transition from vinyl to CDs to digital downloads to streaming (I left out 8-tracks and cassettes, but I suppose we can give them a nod as well).  Now vinyl is “in” again, and achieving significant sales, with more and more new and re-releases every year.  What are your thoughts about the evolution of the media, and the resurrection of vinyl?

TN: It makes me glad I got off the acquisition treadmill a few years ago! By the 1990s, every new Christmas album was on CD, and many were still on cassette, but almost none were on vinyl. With all the LP reissues of the past 10 years, I'd be doing the opposite of what many music buyers did in the early 1990s. In other words, I'd be replacing my discs with records, rather than the other way around. But there's no way I could ever afford to do so today.

Along those same lines, I know of a Christmas music collector who has at least 40 (!!) vinyl variations of Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas with different colors of records and styles of covers. At one time, that album was impossible to find! I remember buying the 1988 reissue version at a store that was clearing out its records in 1990, and I had no idea it existed at all. Now, it's reissued so frequently that it's darn near impossible to keep track, or keep up.

MB:  Let’s do a quick focus on digital music – “physical” versions – MP3, WAV, FLAC, etc. – as well as streaming.  I have a huge collection of digital music stored away on hard drives and internet services, but I personally lose track of them, and strongly prefer my CDs and records.  And I am not yet a convert to streaming.  I will stream some music each season, but it’s a very small part of my listening.  How has digital and streaming music affected the way you listen to Christmas music? 

TN: Frankly, not much at all. I mostly find it annoying! Going all the way back to Kimberley Locke's 2005 version of "Up on the Housetop," and possibly earlier, record labels started with digital-only Christmas music. When that song was popular, the only way to find that song was if you were fortunate enough to find one of the promo-only CDs containing it – unless you believed in ITunes, where you could buy the song as a digital download. Two years later, she did an entire Christmas album, but it was only available digitally; hard copies were promo-only.

I downloaded a few one-offs over the years, but only if they were free. One I'm glad I got was "Fa La La" by Jim Brickman featuring Olivia Jade Archbold, because Brickman made a WAV (lossless) version available on his website the year it was sent to radio (2011), and ever since, I don't think it's been on a hard copy.

To this day, I keep a keen eye for those increasingly rare new Christmas compilations in hopes of finding songs I've heard in recent years but despair of ever owning because they aren't on CD or record.

MB:  Over the years, have you seen peaks and valleys in the popularity of Christmas music?  To me, although this may be completely a personal experience bias, it seems like the first Mannheim Steamroller Christmas album kicked off a bit of a resurgence in Christmas music popularity.  And, then when the first “A Very Special Christmas” was released, that seemed to contribute to another boost.  If you have seen peaks, what do you think were the triggers that led to the bumps in popularity?  Certain songs or albums?  Other influences?

TN: I could write an entire essay, or even a book, on this subject. But the short answer is yes, I have seen peaks and valleys in the popularity of Christmas music. I'd argue that Christmas music, combining both the streaming and playlist-based phenomenon and the sales of physical media, has never been more popular than it is today! Admittedly, the CDs are far less numerous today than 15-20 years ago, but they're still out there. And I really miss the store-brand CDs from such places as Starbucks, Kohl's, Hallmark Gold Crown, and True Value Hardware. New records, of course, are much more available today. But it's with radio and streaming where Christmas music is bigger than ever.

I'd say the lowest point in Christmas music in the United States was probably the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. Few artists were recording new Christmas LPs; most new releases hitting the market were novelties (numerous "Christmas Disco" albums, for example). And it was considered "uncool" to make Christmas records by the most popular artists of the day, though the Eagles had a hit with their version of "Please Come Home for Christmas" in 1978. In the UK, things were a bit different because of the national obsession with the Christmas #1 hit, which started in earnest in 1973 and remains a thing to this day.

Another contributor to a lull in Christmas-music popularity was Billboard's decision in 1963 to segregate Christmas music, both singles and albums, from its main singles and albums charts. Because of that, we don't really know how big the holiday hits from 1963-73 really were, unless one has access to Cash Box, which never disqualified Christmas music from its charts.

You mentioned the Mannheim Steamroller Christmas album. It was released in 1984, and it actually made the main Billboard Top 200 album chart the year it came out, peaking at #110. But it didn't really take off until people started buying compact discs later in the 80s. And yes, A Very Special Christmas (1987) made it cool for American pop-rock artists to make at least the occasional Christmas song again.

MB:  The fairly recent history of Christmas music radio is quite interesting in itself.  I think that for many, many years commercial radio stations would work a few Christmas songs into their playlists during the season, and a very few would make the seasonal switch to all Christmas music in December.  (Side anecdote:  another early memory of mine is a Wichita KS radio station playing “Jingle Bells” by The Singing Dogs every morning during the season.)  A few years ago it seems we had an eruption in the number of stations switching to an all-Christmas format, and also there were races to see who could do it first.  In my market (Kansas City), Christmas radio has normalized, and there are only one or two that switch to all Christmas.  What are your thoughts about the history of Christmas radio, the huge upsurge, and where we are now?

TN: When I was growing up, the local sunup-to-sundown AM station used to play what it called a "Christmas Caravan of Music" starting a couple days before Christmas. It was strictly easy-listening fare; each segment was sponsored by a local business, and all may have been pre-recorded so the station announcers could have time off for the holiday. In the 1970s, the Philadelphia stations would incorporate maybe one Christmas song an hour into the format up until Christmas Eve, when they would play 24 hours of non-stop holiday music on a loop.

The first station I remember adapting an all-Christmas format for longer than a week was in Baltimore, Maryland, in November and December of, I think, 1989. It did so as a stunt, as it was going to change its format on January 1 of the new year. My recollection is that the station's ratings saw a significant improvement during those two months, and a seed was planted.

I think it was Fred Allen who once said, "Imitation is the sincerest form of television," and that's even more true on the radio. The first time I heard a station where I lived go all-holiday during the Christmas season was in 1997.

Not many years later, probably in 2003, I was in Grand Rapids, Michigan, visiting family during Halloween weekend. As I was driving in the area, two adult-contemporary stations switched to Christmas music within a couple hours of each other. People were getting ready for trick-or-treating to the sounds of Santa! They did this for one reason: In any given market, the first station to switch to Christmas music gets the highest ratings from Thanksgiving to December 25, regardless how early the change.

During the years I lived in central Wisconsin, at least one commercial station switched every year except 2012. That year, the usual all-Christmas station had changed formats to contemporary hit radio (top 40) and didn't convert, and no other commercial station took its place. Instead, the only station in the market that played all-Christmas was a non-commercial Christian station, and its usual minuscule ratings improved significantly.

Many people complain about so-called "Christmas creep" and about the onslaught of holiday songs, but those who aren't complaining, and many who are, are listening. Year after year, radio ratings prove it.

In my market of Lynchburg-Roanoke, Va., one commercial station switches to all-holiday gradually, starting usually with the Delilah show in early November and then on weekends before going completely all-Christmas the weekend before Thanksgiving. Three Christian stations also switch to Christmas music, but they wait until after Thanksgiving.

MB:  Now, for a leading question, what do you think of the quality of the playlists of commercial radio stations that switch to Christmas music?  And, how about the playlists of the satellite radio stations?

TN: I don't listen to satellite radio, so I can't comment on that.

As for the usual playlists on commercial radio, I know that, if I were a program director for a Christmas radio station, I would do things differently.

Some songs get played over and over again because, frankly, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without them. But I would play the chestnuts less frequently – perhaps four times a day instead of 10 or 12.

I'd also incorporate more lesser-known songs, both old and new, that still convey the spirit of the holiday. One of the more annoying trends in Christmas radio the past five or so years is to simply add more different versions of the same few dozen famous songs, but by more current artists. How many versions of these songs do we really need to hear?


Tim Neely Interview with Merry & Bright part 2 coming soon!

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Radiola Company Christmas Album

Today's share is of an album that I was thrilled to find last Summer as I was flipping through the Christmas album bin at a local record store, one that I had not been to in several years.  "The First Annual Radiola Company Christmas Album", pressed in 1970, contains two classic radio programs, ones that Radiola claims have never appeared on an album before.

Side A is "The Amos 'n' Andy Christmas Show", which originally aired on December 24, 1950.  "Amos 'n' Andy" premiered as a radio sitcom in 1925 and became hugely popular, airing on radio and television with varying casts and forms until 1960.  The 1950 Christmas program is an example of the radio entertainment from that era.

Side B, though, is why I was so excited to find this record.  Side B is the December 20, 1947 episode of the "Truth or Consequences" radio program.  I've listened to this program multiple times, from other download sources on the internet, but am thrilled to have my own copy of the album.  This Christmas episode of Truth or Consequences is a tear-jerker, as the subject of the program is a wounded soldier spending Christmas in a military hospital.  Listen along as his 'consequences' play out over the course of the program.  This is radio entertainment at its finest, and a Christmas program you will not forget.

Please enjoy "The First Annual Radiola Company Christmas Album"

download link

Thursday, November 23, 2023

What This Christmas Community Means To Me - A Special Guest Column from Rehya Stevens

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  A couple months ago I asked Rehya Stevens if she would be interested in writing a guest blog for Merry & Bright, and she jumped at the opportunity!  I can think of nothing better to post on this Thanksgiving Day than Rehya's beautiful column about her connections with the Christmas blogger/podcaster/online media community.  Read on my friends :-)

And thank you Rehya - you're the best!


What This Christmas Community Means To Me

by Rehya Stevens 

I’m a California girl who lived in Los Angeles for 23 years, until moving back to my hometown (in Placer County) in July of 2022. Placer county is often referred to as the midwest of California, where people say what they mean, mean what they say, or say nothing at all. In my experience, Hollywood culture is more, “get in where you fit in, then hustle hard to earn your keep — for you’re only as valuable as your most recent accolade.” Don’t get me wrong, I chiseled my craft in LA (I am forever grateful for the toolkit I now have), and made some lifelong friends who became family through steadfast support and trauma bonds that are pretty hysterical in retrospect. If you live to tell, and can laugh your butt off about it years later, pat each other on the back! You now have a psychological immune system of steel, and an indomitable spirit!

A big part of me recognizes that what has compelled me to write and record so much Christmas music through the years is the desire to create a benevolent musical space where being together is always joy filled, non-competitive and abundant in levity and mutual support. Even still, I never thought back in 2018 when I reached out to Aaron Henton, Martin Johns, Jeff Westover, Todd Killian, Ken Kessler, Art Kilmer, Gerry Davila, Duane Bailey and Jim Devers with news of my first Christmas album ("Celebrate"), that six years later, that we would feel like kindred spirits, toasting a cup of cheer over zoom every Christmas, shooting the breeze, and just “hanging” - with no agenda.

Photo by Katie Kennedy

I love Aaron’s gentle, patient disposition. He’s too wise to get too ruffled. Seems to me he’d rather preserve his energy for planting gentle seedlings by way of example. He’s a ravenous reader, so my guess is, he probably has more leadership skills than most head honchos, but the mess of their wake is best used by allowing nature take care of things, giving way to a more sustainable future. He’d rather be on the creative side of that process. Aaron’s Blog:

Martin is a treasure trove of music history, and his ideals are to me - what the founding fathers fought for - but more progressive for this complex day and age. Talking to him is like talking to your esteemed college professor who always left you with the sense that you were barely scratching the surface when you thought you’d reached the deep end of the ocean. Back to the drawing board you go! Damn. We need more thinkers like Martin on this planet. Martin’s Blog:

Jeff lives in the deep end of the intellectual and political ocean, big time! He cares deeply about the state of the world, and is clearly a fine historian. Each conversation we’ve shared has left me yearning to give him my Dad’s phone number. My Dad is a Ukrainian immigrant who spent part of his childhood in a displaced person’s camp in Germany. When he immigrated to the states, he learned to speak English by way of bibles and encyclopedias - the only reading materials allowed in the home of his sponsors. My father has fits of indignation over the teachings of the old testament, and an unquenchable thirst for truth. Jeff’s passion for history and uncovering what’s true reminds me so much of my dad. I imagine together, they could solve the problems of the world if only they could fine tune human nature to be gentler. Yes, that would be their mission statement. Jeff’s Blog/Podcast:

I love Todd’s passion for creativity - whether that’s making furniture, doing graphic design, video editing or podcasting. He’s the kind of guy you’d be lucky to have as a best friend. If we lived close by, I’m sure we would be. I picture puzzling through winter, two-week long monopoly games, and trying to convince him to make ornaments with me that have so much glitter, it speckles the floors and furniture until the following summer, evading your every deep-clean effort. Todd’s Podcast:

I love Ken’s engaging personality, and his gift of communicating from the heart. He loves Christmas for all the quirky, endearing things it brings out in us. The way his wife tapes a new strip of wrapping paper to cover the bald spot on the gifts - every year, without fail - is one example. He encourages our unique ways of celebrating the holidays - and that also applies to the unique ways we live our lives. Being a career focused singer-songwriter who felt it best to spare a husband and children from the trials and tribulations of my roller coaster lifestyle, I think Ken would say, “Great!! More Christmas for us!!” Rather than, “Oh, that’s so tragic.” Thank you Ken πŸ™Ken’s Radio Station:

I love Gerry’s keen intellect and sense of humor. Not much gets past him - hence, nuance is everything in his arena. He strikes me as a sophisticated thinker, with a wicked sense of humor. That combination of gifts could easily boil up and over a deep pot, but he keeps it on a perfect simmer, for a steady, concentrated flavor. Whatever he’s serving up is going to be delicious! Gerry’s Podcast:

I love the way Art revels in the beauty of simple moments that bring us closer. I fully relate, because I live for those things! A shared cookie making afternoon, swapping lines from a favorite movie together as you go. Recipe swapping. Movie and popcorn nights with a s’mores station set up by the fire. There is something so re-energizing about the simple side of the holiday season. Everyone come as you are, no pressure. The moment we’re in is the only one that matters. Yes!! More of this please. Art’s Podcast:

Duane syncopates the Christmas lights on his house to “Jingle Jangle” every year and sends me the videos. It feels like tradition now, and I look forward to it every December. Seriously, it’s a pretty incredible light show. His neighbors ought to hire him for a pretty penny to dress their houses. I have plenty of other Christmas songs for them too πŸ˜‰Duane’s Podcast:

Jim Devers recently got married and welcomed a new baby this year - she’s just beautiful! I figure, 6 years from now, he’ll start doing music interviews again. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing pictures from his Christmas mornings - all mayhem and bed hair! Jim’s Blog:

So, you see… this community is about so much more than music. It’s about community!! Isn’t it funny how life often appears to be about one thing — and it’s about so much more than we can possibly see at the outset of any endeavor? Knowing and being part of this community is enriching because of all the people in it, sharing who we are, sharing our love of Christmas, and seeking connection from that heart space. The spirit of Christmas is a wonderful thing. In essence, it’s about friendship, care and community. That’s what I’ve found here. Thank you Aaron, Martin, Jeff, Todd, Ken, Gerry, Art, Duane and Jim for brightening my world all these years. Your friendship and support has made all the difference on my journey, and you hold such a unique place in my heart by just being YOU! I’m so glad we found each-other through our shared love of this magical season.

Merry Christmas to you & yours!



Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Interview with Laurie Cameron: A Merry and Bright Exclusive

In 2011, Scottish singer/songwriter Laurie Cameron released her first single, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)", b/w "One Christmas Fall".  The song and and accompanying video quickly made the rounds through the Christmas music collector community.  I found Laurie's striking interpretation of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" to be completely mesmerizing, and felt that she struck through to the heart of the song and the sadness in the lyrics.  For me, it became the defining version of the song.  From that moment, I became a Laurie Cameron fan, and have followed her musical journey ever since.

In July of 2015, Laurie released her first album The Girl Who Cried for the Boy Who Cried Wolf, with nine original songs and her arrangement of "The Slave's Lament" by Robert Burns.  Laurie's brilliance as a songwriter paired with her heartfelt singing made The Girl Who Cried... a strong, auspicious debut.

November of 2015 brought Laurie's Christmas EP Merry Christmas from Scotland, featuring three songs for the holiday season.  You'll find out more about this EP in the interview.

In January of 2020 Laurie released Something In Us Never Dies, nine Robert Burns works arranged and sung by Laurie.  Robert Burns is one of Scotland's most beloved figures, considered by most to be the greatest Scottish poet in history.  Laurie's love of and devotion to Robert Burns' poems and songs is evident in Something In Us Never Dies.  The album is magnificent, Laurie's vocals are incomparably beautiful, a fitting partner to the words of Mr. Burns.

Laurie Cameron, born in August 1989 in Perth, Scotland, now resides in Crieff, Scotland, only a short distance from her hometown.  In recent years Laurie has continued to make music, and spent several months living in the US.  Now back in her homeland, she hints at a new EP in the works. 

Laurie's voice is enchanting, beguiling, and pure.  Her songwriting is soulful, her interpretations of Robert Burns deeply reverent.  Her musicianship in creating complete, beautiful works is masterful.  And, fortunately for me and for Merry & Bright readers, she is a wonderful, friendly human being who happily agreed to this interview (not knowing how many questions there would be!).

So, thank you Laurie for your time spent crafting these thoughtful responses, and for sharing your talent with us.

To my readers, please enjoy this career-spanning interview with Laurie Cameron.

Merry & Bright Interview with Laurie Cameron

Merry & Bright:
Laurie, thank you for taking time to answer a few questions with Merry & Bright. You are one of my absolute favorite artists, and I am thrilled to learn more about you and your music.

Laurie Cameron: Thank you for the kind words, Aaron! I’m delighted to spend some time with Merry & Bright.

MB: Most of us in the Christmas music collecting community first learned about you with your rendition of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”. Far from a cover, it was a complete re-imagining of the song thematically, from the uptempo song we all know popularized by Darlene Love (and others) to a melancholy, heartbreakingly sad song of loneliness and lost love during the Christmas holiday. Can you tell us how you took this holiday standard and created such a different musical experience?

When you listen to the lyrics of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), there’s a deep feeling of someone experiencing loneliness around Christmas time. While I still love the original upbeat classic, I felt like the lyrics would lend itself well to a slower, more melancholic version and after playing around on the piano with my bandmate, Ross, we really liked the sound of a stripped back version with just minimal piano, vocals and an old tambourine!

Your interpretation made the verse “They’re singing Deck the Halls/But it’s not like Christmas at all” intensely emotional. To me, your version of this song is the new standard, and the way the it is meant to be sung. What kind of reactions did you get when you released it?

LC: That’s lovely, thank you. We had great feedback when we released the song – some commented that they’d never actually realized how sad the lyrics are. That was a great compliment as people were appreciating the song in a new light. I do remember one radio show that weren’t the biggest fans of our miserable version though, after playing the song they said something along the lines of ‘god, if that’s what’s waiting for you, I don’t think I’d want to hurry home for Christmas’, which is quite funny!

MB: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” isn’t readily available anymore on the usual platforms (at least in the US). Is there a chance we will see a re-release at some point?

LC: I would like to re-release it again in the future and perhaps record a live version. I do love a Christmas release so there’s a good chance!

MB: Next in your Christmas catalogue is the EP “Merry Christmas from Scotland”, with three original songs, “Merry Christmas From Scotland (Lulled Wi a Stiff Drink)”, “One Christmas Fall”, and “Holy, Holy, Holy”. Can you tell us a little about the inspiration and creation of this record?

LC: I’ve always loved Christmas music and every year I have this desire to write a new Christmas song. This EP is a combination of my old and newer releases from over the years - my most recent, ‘Merry Christmas from Scotland’, the much older ‘One Christmas Fall’ and an instrumental, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’. At the time, I remember thinking about releasing a full album of original Christmas songs, but I decided on a smaller EP – perhaps it will be a stepping stone to a full Christmas album one day.

MB: The title track “Merry Christmas From Scotland (Lulled Wi a Stiff Drink)” seems thematically similar to your “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – Christmas apart from someone special, or formerly special, perhaps, with lingering emotions. The verses “Wherever you are now, whatever you’re drinking/Who lights up your life like glitter-dipped tinsel/I send my love from a frostbitten street” tell a tale of distance and perhaps trying to move on. Can you tell us more about the story and song? (And let me know if I got it right 😊 )

LC: You got it right! I spent a little time living in New York in 2010 and when I wrote this song, I had moved back to Scotland and was thinking a lot about people I’d grown close to there. It’s a song about how the festive season has a way of making you reminisce, the feeling of missing people you were once very close to, but at the same time appreciating where you are now and the beauty around you – and hoping the best for them wherever they are.

MB: Your lyrics for “Merry Christmas from Scotland…” are beautiful and poetic, as they are in “One Christmas Fall”, which has a gorgeous melody, paired with a beautiful wintry, dreamy atmosphere.  I especially love the verse “The road is gone, the snow escalates/And you should stay, you should stay”.  There’s a different story here – can you tell us more about “One Christmas Fall”?  Who is the subject of the song, who came ‘quiet to the door and left behind a trail of broken footsteps’ and told ‘the tales of the winter lands when you were young’?  

LC: Growing up as a kid in Scotland my family all lived close to one another (aunts, uncles, cousins), all just a few streets away. ‘One Christmas Fall’ is a song reminiscing on the many years we had white Christmases and big snowstorms – I remember trudging through the snow late at night on Christmas Eve to visit family. I also have vivid memories of my cousins coming to our door an hour or two before New Year and their shoes would be covered in snow and seeing their footsteps left all the way along the road. I’d sit playing cards and videogames with my cousins and my parents would be chatting and laughing with their siblings in front of the fire while a snowstorm was blowing outside. My childhood gave me a lot of inspiration for this song!

Photo by Joe Lafferty

MB: The EP closes with “Holy, Holy, Holy”, a wordless piece that envelopes the listener with layered expression. There are no sleighbells or the plucky strings of sleigh ride songs, but still it feels ‘Christmassy’ in the sense of the long, dark nights of Christmastime and the Winter solstice, and one’s personal spirituality during this season. What is the story of “Holy, Holy, Holy”?

LC: My brother, who’s a photographer, was using a clip of one of my songs to use in one of his videos. He had slowed the song way down until it wasn’t recognizable anymore, but it had a really cool ethereal sound to it. I thought an instrumental track with that sort of sound would be a nice addition to the Christmas EP, so we took the ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ section of ‘Merry Christmas from Scotland’ and slowed it down to create a whole new track. I loved how it came out – like the sound of being swept away in a snowstorm.

MB: Before I move to your two albums, I’d like to ask another Christmas-related question. Can you tell us a little bit about the Christmas traditions in Scotland? Are there any special celebrations or traditions in your hometown of Perth?

LC: Generally I think Christmas in Scotland is fairly traditional and not too dissimilar to the US (although, I’ve never seen houses on the outside decorated quite as extravagantly as they are in the US!) Some of my favorite family traditions including making homemade mulled wine every December so the whole house smells of cinnamon and orange, and my mum baking her traditional Christmas cake every year. New Year in Scotland is called ‘Hogmanay’ and we often celebrate with ‘first footing’ - the first person to enter your home after midnight is called a ‘first-footer’, an old Scottish tradition whereby a dark-haired male brings with him a coin for wealth, a lump of coal for warmth, a black bun (Scottish fruit cake) and a dram of whisky to give your home good luck for the year ahead.

MB: Your first full album was “The Girl Who Cried for the Boy Who Cried Wolf”, released in 2015. This album featured nine original songs, highlighting your haunting arrangements and rich, poetic lyrics. Can you share a few thoughts about making this music?

LC: I have such fond memories of recording that album. While we had a rough idea of how we wanted it to sound, we ended up improvising a lot in the studio and many of the songs are quite different to how we anticipated (in a good way). Some of the songs are quite atmospheric – it was recorded in a studio converted from an old mill which added to the feel of the album. We experimented a lot in the studio – some of the funnier memories include throwing ping-pong balls onto the strings of an open piano and recording the sounds, which turned out very cool and eerie. It opened our eyes to what was possible – from writing the songs at home on an acoustic guitar, to recording them using instruments like old church-like organs, accordion, cello and violin. Some of the songs are personal or inspired by family members (‘Foreign’, ‘Thomson’, ‘Fare Forward’) and others such as ‘Leave Us, Leave Us’ and ‘The Girl Who Cried for the Boy Who Cried Wolf’ are purely imaginative. The days we spent recording that first album hold a special place in my heart.

MB: There is one more song on “The Girl Who Cried…”, “The Slave’s Lament”, a Robert Burns poem set to your music. This turned out to be a preview of things to come. Why did you choose to include “The Slave’s Lament” on this album?

LC: I grew up reading and listening to the work of Robert Burns through my mum and dad, and ‘The Slave’s Lament’ was one of the first I learned to play. I used to perform it at gigs now and again, the lyrics are melancholic and really beautiful and it felt like a nice addition to the album.

MB: Your next album, “Something In Us Never Dies”, is a masterpiece. Nine songs of Robert Burns’ poems, letters, and songs, musically interpreted and arranged by you. How did you choose from Mr. Burns’ tremendous legacy of work to find the ‘right’ nine songs for this album?

LC: Thank you! I spent many months reading the complete works of Robert Burns over and over, highlighting pieces that I felt spoke to me most. I was drawn to pieces I could relate to – Burns wrote often about being away from Scotland and missing his homeland – when I worked on the album I had just returned from living in Canada for two years, so I found his work talking about home relatable. Other themes in his work I loved were around the idea of life being fleeting and making the most of the time we have.

MB: How challenging was it to find just the right music to fit Mr. Burns’ words?

LC: Typically, Robert Burns songs are set to more traditional, folksy music and while I grew up loving those songs (and still do), I wanted to showcase some of his lesser-heard work in a modern light. Leading up to recording, I was really enjoying playing around with synths and electric keyboards, probably inspired from watching the likes of Stranger Things! It was such a different sound from my earlier folksy music, but I’m so happy with how it all turned out. A modern take on Burns understandably won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I hope it reached the ears of some who ordinarily wouldn’t have come across his work.

MB: Robert Burns is credited with writing, collecting and popularizing the verses of the much loved “Auld Lang Syne”. He also wrote the Winter-themed “Winter: A Dirge” and “Up in the Morning Early”. Have you ever considered recording these to add to your Christmas/Winter song catalog? And if not, would you please? 😊 I for one would LOVE to hear Laurie Cameron perform “Auld Lang Syne” (all five verses please!)

LC: If there’s one thing I’d love to do, it’s record more Burns songs! I adore the full version of Auld Lang Syne and worry I may not be able to give it the justice it deserves, but that’s a song I would love to record.

MB: Just a couple more questions, Laurie. Who are some of the musicians who inspire you? Do you have any particular Christmas music influences?

LC: I have to give a shout out to my fellow Scottish musicians and bands who are a great inspiration – Admiral Fallow, Frightened Rabbit, Kris Drever. I’m a big Christmas music fan, too. I love Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Sister Winter’, Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson’s ‘Winter Song’ – you can’t beat a melancholic Christmas song.

MB: What is on the horizon for you, Laurie? Do you have any plans in the works for new music?

LC: I do have plans for a new EP in the near future and I’m excited to get back into recording. I have a bunch of new songs inspired by my time living in California over the last few years. Maybe another original Christmas song next year – I haven’t released one in a while!

MB: Laurie – thank you so much for treating us to these insights about you and your music. It’s a great privilege to learn about the thoughts, creative processes, and inspirations from such a talented musician. I wish you much happiness and success!

LC: Thank you so much, Aaron. It’s been a pleasure and I truly appreciate your support. Wishing you a wonderful festive season ahead!

Laurie's video for "Merry Christmas From Scotland (Lulled With a Stiff Drink)"

Sunday, November 19, 2023

"Aubrey Logan Christmas" and Bonus Q&A

"BLUF" is a new-ish business acronym, meaning Bottom Line Up Front.  It's used to state the conclusive point of an otherwise lengthy communication at the beginning, then add the discussion, facts, information, etc used to come to the conclusion.  So...

BLUF:  Aubrey Logan Christmas is hands-down one of the best new Christmas albums this season.  

From the opening track "Sleigh Ride" through the studio-recorded closer "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" and the bonus live performance of "Blue Christmas" with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Aubrey Logan Christmas commands the spirit of Christmas music.

Labelled the "Queen of Sass", Aubrey Logan is either an immensely talented jazz trombonist who is also an incredible jazz singer, or a generationally talented jazz singer who also has world class chops as a trombonist.  Take your pick.  Aubrey has been a featured performer with Dave Koz and with Postmodern Jukebox, and has released three albums as a solo artist/bandleader.  All of her talents - singer, trombonist, scat singer, arranger, songwriter - burst forth from Aubrey Logan Christmas.  This is one of those records that I'll keep playing, and playing, and playing....

The album opener, "Sleigh Ride", is absolutely full of energy and creativity.  From the opening notes you're in for a thrill ride of a song.  Aubrey's rendition of "Sleigh Ride" makes you feel like you're out in that sleigh, having the time of your life- fast, hold on to your seat parts; slower, whew! we're on a flat, snowy meadow; whoa! hang on again, here we go! Absolutely one of the best unique interpretations I've heard.  And, oh yeah, full of sass.

"This Is How It Ends", an original song written by Aubrey, is a quite funny song about breaking up over the holidays, when it probably should have happened sooner.  Attention Christmas compilation creators - this one will make it on many annual comps.

"Blue Christmas" really highlights Aubrey's range as a singer.  Powerful in all registers, she commands this song.  With just a pinch of sass added for good measure.

"In the Bleak Midwinter" is an incredible vocal performance, sung with complete reverence to the song we know and love.

"O Holy Night" - wow.  Aubrey's arrangement is magnificent.  It's a bit non-traditional in the approach, with Aubrey's singing balanced with instrumental trombone taking the melody throughout the song, and the sung lyrics carefully chosen.  I am firmly in the 'don't mess with O Holy Night' crowd, but I absolutely love what Aubrey has done.

"What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" is a jazz tour de force - play it and be amazed ay Aubrey's scat singing.

Photo by Amy Gawlick

Aubrey is promoting her album, preparing for a December tour, and she still made time to answer a few questions for Merry & Bright.  Please enjoy learning more about Aubrey Logan Christmas from the Queen of Sass herself, then visit her website (or the usual music commerce sites) and get yourself a copy of Aubrey Logan Christmas.


Q&A with Aubrey Logan 

Merry & Bright:  Hi Aubrey!  Thanks for taking some time to answer a few questions about your amazing new album Aubrey Logan Christmas.  Let’s start with “Sleigh Ride”.  This is the freshest, most entertaining version of this song I’ve heard in many years.  Can you tell us a little about creating your take on this Christmas standard?

Aubrey Logan: Thank you for having me on! As for Sleigh Ride, it was a fine line for me between making it sound familiar, as we all want because…it’s such a classic…and fresh. The song didn’t need to be tampered with as Leroy Anderson already wrote in interesting chords complete with a modulation. But…we tampered with it! Primarily by making it as fast as we could without it being unplayable. And…we added in some bebop chord changes to the bridge. Hopefully it comes across familiar AND fresh. That was my intention!

MB:  You’re known as the “Queen of Sass”, a label that I imagine you wear proudly.  On Aubrey Logan Christmas, you even managed so sass up the venerated classic “Carol of the Bells”.  How do you apply the Aubrey Logan sass to a selection like this, and still maintain reverence to the familiar song we all know and love?

AL: Similarly to Sleigh Ride, I wanted to keep the integrity of the carol we all have heard over and over again. However, do it with a twist. Carol of the Bells is meant to be sung by a choir. I realized why: it’s because there’s no place to breath in the song! The lyrics run into each other with zero space, so when you inhale, someone else at least is singing so that it sound seamless. Not so when you do it solo! Adding a little comedy into my music has always been kinda my thing. So this lent itself perfectly to that.

Photo by Amy Gawlik

MB:  Your original composition, “This Is How It Ends” is a strikingly funny Christmastime breakup song.  Powerfully bluesy, I might call it an anti-torch song -  not about unrequited love, but about ‘there ain’t no more love here, bud’.  Can you share some thoughts about “This Is How It Ends”?

AL: An anti-torch song! I’m going to steal that one. Thank you! Ha! Well, I sat down to write an original Christmas song because my manager wanted me to. I didn’t have any idea what to write. Out of my head came a melody and chords. That usually happens though. Lyrics take me FOREVER. I had the melody written for such a long time before brainstorming enough to stumble upon the lyrics to This is How It Ends. It just kinda flowed out as I was sitting down one day trying to think of rhymes. As I continued to write the fictional story about the Christmas breakup, I started to imagine that it was like an episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza is recalling some lady breaking up with him over the holidays. “How dare she!” So that’s how the Anti Torch song was born.

MB:  I love the song selections – from the nearly ancient “In the Bleak Midwinter” from the Christina Rossetti poem, to the modern hip-funk James Brown classic “Santa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, to the Christmas canon cornerstone “The Christmas Song”.  What was your approach to choosing the songs for Aubrey Logan Christmas?

AL: The approach was simply this: I arranged Christmas songs that I like and avoided the ones that I don’t! (And we all have those!) For example…you’ll never hear me sing Santa Baby.

MB:  Aubrey, this is one of the best new Christmas albums this year – love it!  Thanks for letting us in on a few secrets about creating this great record!  I hope you bring your show to Kansa City some time soon 😊

AL: I am honored and I cannot wait to get back to KC!