Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I'm Gettin' Nutty For Christmas

Nutty Jingle Bells, that is!

Tonight's share is a tremendous collection of music by the great jazz trumpeter Al Hirt.  "The Sound of Christmas" is a 1965 release, and, according to my references, Al Hirt's only full Christmas music album.

Al's recording of "The Toy Trumpet" with the Boston Pops Orchestra is a classic recording, and has been included on many compilations over the years.  It's one of my favorite recordings, and introduced me to Hirt's work.  This record leads of with a whoopin, janglin', shoutin' in the streets rendition of Jingle Bells titled "Nutty Jingle Bells".  It starts off good, gets better with Al's raspy vocals, and then, man oh man, he blows you away with his trumpet intro.  Holy smokes, this is good stuff.

I love jazz music, and I (obviously) love Christmas music.  This is a perfect combination, with strong songs from beginning to end.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

download link

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

John Zorn: A Dreamer's Christmas

Another quick CD review for this evening:  John Zorn "A Dreamer's Christmas".

Calling John Zorn a musical chameleon is like saying wikipedia has a couple errors.  John Zorn has produced some brilliant pieces of music, e.g. "Spillane".  He's produced some eminently listenable jazz.  He's produced some "music" that would peel the siding off your house if the siding were made from melted vinyl copies of Lou Reed's "Metal Machine Music".  Zorn is like Zappa - he knows exactly the sound he's looking for and can guide his musicians through the construction and execution of his vision.  And now he's applied his considerable talents to a Christmas album.

Dreamers Christmas
"A Dreamer's Christmas" is a beautifully rendered album of Christmas music.  The standards, "Winter Wonderland", "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!", and others, come alive in new interpretations without losing the reverence of the classic tunes.  Zorn's new pieces, including "Santa's Workshop" and "Magical Sleigh Ride", capture the sound and feeling of Christmas, a tall order for new instrumental compositions.

This is one of my favorite Christmas releases of 2011.  If you're a fan of Christmas jazz, I think you'll like it too.

This CD was purchased by the blogger.  No promotional considerations were received.

CD Review: "Pretend It's Christmas"

"Pretend It's Christmas" is a yuletide release by Indiana-based musician Paul Parnell, and it is also his inaugural effort as a recording artist.   In addition to providing the vocals, Paul served as composer and lyricist, and played piano and Hammond B3 organ.  "Pretend It's Christmas" is an admirable effort from a multi-faceted musician.

Paul has a strong voice with a good bari-tenor range.  The opening album namesake track immediately displays Paul's strength as a vocalist, and throughout the album the more spiritual songs are supported by the power and purity of his voice.

Paul's songwriting is founded in the Christian rather than the secular aspect of the holiday, with most of the songs exploring the spiritual side.  However, my two favorite songs were "Christmas Indiana" and "I Found My Christmas Baby", the two most secular and least religious songs on the record.  These were more creative, and relied less on standard phraseology.  Oddly enough, Paul's vocals did not display the power and range on these as well as on the others.  So, while the songwriting was average on the more religious songs, they were more indicative of his vocal talent.

Modern, contemporary Christian music is not a genre to my musical taste.  However, Paul Parnell very competently performs his songs, and he will find his audience.  He is an emerging artist, and will improve his songwriting skills.  Most importantly, especially for a new artist, is that Paul's reverence and passion for this project are evident.  For that, I admire Paul Parnell.

For more information about Paul Parnell and to hear selections from his CD, please visit his website:

This CD was provided to me as a promotional item.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Quick Share for Monday

Der Bingle has been under the weather for a couple days, coming off a quick cross-state trip to St. Louis and back (where my daughter's high school, Staley High, won the state football championship!).   Still, where would we be if Santa let the sniffles get him down?  So, onward with a quick share.

Here is the Midnight String Quartet with "Christmas Rhapsodies for Young Lovers".  With a title like that, I just had to grab and share.

Judging by the picture, I think there's a "Baby, It's Cold Outside" moment coming on...

So here you go, all you young lovers out there, some rhapsodic Christmas tunes for you to enjoy.

download link

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Early Christmas Music

Today's share is "Renaissance Christmas Celebration" by the Waverly Consort. According to their website, the Waverly Consort was founded in 1964 by Michael and Kay Jaffe "to explore the fascinating sounds and styles of early musical repertories". To this day the Consort remains an active, renowned group of musicians. They are performing "The Christmas Story" in New York City on Dec. 10th and 11th (hmmm... Der Bingle and Mrs. Bingle will be in New York that weekend....).

For more about the Waverly Consort, here is their website: Waverly Consort

Now, back to today's share:  Here is their 1977 release of renaissance-period Christmas music.  If you like this style of Christmas music, you won't go wrong by downloading and listening.  This is expertly performed music from centuries ago.  I like to work in some music from this period throughout the season, and this is an excellent addition to a well-rounded Christmas music collection.

I've included scans of the liner notes for more information about the performances, and for the amusing notations by the previous owner.  Apparently there was some disagreement over the content of the notes, and so the owner enhanced the liner sheet with more information ("rich americans").  There is also a bit of disdain directed at Columbia records.  Anyway - the liner notes are here for your reading pleasure as you listen to the talents of the Waverly Consort.

download link

Quick update:  Revised the cover art image here in the blog to fix some border issues.  It's not updated in the zip file, so you can right-click-save the image above to get the fixed version.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Let's Get This Season Started!

My first share for this season is a re-mastered version of "The Glory of Christmas", a 3-record set with quite a little sharity story.  I first shared this out last year, and it was one of the more popular shares, gaining some discussion over at FaLaLaLaLa, and one cut even making it on The King of Jingaling's annual ADVENTures in Carols.

Then, Dave over at Christmas Shareo acquired this same set on reel-to-reel tape in pristine condition. Dave transferred the tape to .wav files to share out, and the song quality was superb.  Problem was, 12 songs from the records were missing from his tape set.  Executive decision at the label, I suppose.  So Dave spliced in my MP3 album rips with his and re-shared the set.

So now we come to the 2011 kickoff.  I've 're-mastered' the 12 songs missing from Dave's reels, re-cleaning the records and using some better audio software.  Then, for file-size consideration, I converted Dave's wav files to MP3.  Lastly, I included an image of the box cover art that the King provided, and then scanned the box insert, inner sleeve, and record labels.  So, all of this music and artwork is zipped up and ready to go.

This really is a collection of fine Christmas songs, and I think it's a marked improvement from last year.  Thanks to Dave for his reel-to-reel work, and the King for the box art.

So, please enjoy the remastered "The Glory of Christmas".

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!  Today started with my annual reading of Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory".  I've read it each year on Thanksgiving for several years now, and each year it seems I can find new meaning.  It's a perfect way to kick off the 'official' Christmas season.

Tomorrow I'll kick off my contributions to sharity season.  Ernie started his season today, and I'm looking forward to see what great stuff he has this year.  Make sure to pay him a visit, along with all the usual gang, and stop in here frequently during the season.  Tomorrow it begins!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Some Quick CD Reviews

Here are some quick reviews of new Christmas CDs for 2011.  I've purchased all of these CDs myself.

Tommy Emmanuel - "All I Want for Christmas"

I love this CD.  Tommy Emmanuel is one of my favorite musicians, and one of the two artists I most wanted to release a Christmas CD.  Lo and behold, he recorded this gem of an album this year.  Tommy is quite possibly the best finger-style guitarist in the world.  Want proof?  Check out his Beatles medley on Youtube.  Anyway, back to "All I Want for Christmas".  Tommy performs 12 songs, starting with a light-hearted "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and ending with a reverent and powerful arrangement of "How Great Thou Art".  Included with the standards are two original compositions, "The Magic of Christmas" and "One Christmas Night", and they are indeed beautiful.  Sure, I'm a biased Tommy Emmanuel fan, but I think everyone will enjoy this wonderful record

Carole King - "A Holiday Carole".

My only disappointment with this CD is that I bought it, not at Target, a day before I found out that Target's edition has three bonus songs.  Drat.  I am tempted to re-buy the Target edition, but que sera sera.  Carole King's Christmas entry is terrific, hence my early-buyer's remorse.  Carole sings these songs with such a gladness that you can't help but smile.  "Sleigh Ride" is a rolicking joy.  I especially like her performances of "Chanukah Prayer", "Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday", and "Christmas in the Air".  These song are refreshing changes from the usual slate of holiday tunes.  The only song that doesn't work for me is "Carol of the Bells".  It sounds a little stiffer than the rest of the album.  Still, it's a minor complaint, and overall this will be a great addition to your holiday music collection.

Michael Buble - "Christmas"

Pretty darned good, I'll tell ya...  This is one of the family's favorites this year, especially the guyed-up version of "Santa Baby".  This record is a lot of fun, and features some great partnering with Shania Twain and the Puppini Sisters.  Great stuff.  If you like the classic crooners, you'll like Michael Buble.

"A Jersey Boys Christmas"

My wife really likes this record.  I do as well, though probably not quite as much.  The vocal performances are a little uneven, and the faux-Frankie Valli falsetto tends to wear on the listener after a while.  But, there are some excellent cuts here.  John Lloyd Young's songs, in particular, stand out from the rest.  His "Santa Medley" is great fun, and his "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is frankly one of the best arrangements and interpretations I've ever heard.  Bobby Fox's "Angels From the Realms of Glory" is another highlight.  the bottom line, is if you're a "Jersey Boys" fan, you'll like this.  If not, you might want to check out the tracks individually and download your favorites.  Ultimately, I'm glad I got it.
Interesting story, my wife and I sat next to John Lloyd Young in a NYC restaurant for about 45 minutes and didn't know it was him.  We didn't find out until he left, and the people he had met there filled us in.

Mannheim Steamroller - "Christmas Symphony"

Ok, I'm a Mannheim Steamroller fan.  I think they helped a mid-80s resurgence of Christmas music popularity, and I like their style.  I'm also a collection-completist (to a certain degree, ahem, the Lowe's special collection of previously released material).  So, I happily bought this new CD, and I enjoy it.  However, there's not really much new here.  Slightly re-arranged and re-recorded MH songs, some performed with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.  So, you know, it's good stuff, I like it, but it's not new and groundbreaking.  If you have a few MH CDs already, you can probably live without this one.  Unless you're a completist like me, then you'll just have to have it :-)

That's it for tonight.  Will try to get a John Zorn review done here in a few days...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

CD Review: "A Winter Gathering"

There are many sub-genres within the Christmas Music canon:  orchestral, kiddie, crooner, rock, pop vocal, pop instrumental, and so on.  Listeners have their favorite styles, and preferred times and places to listen to a particular selection.

With "A Winter Gathering", Shauna Burns has risen to the top of the "Mystical" Christmas music genre, and indeed may be a bona fide pioneer.

"A Winter Gathering" is a nearly flawless, beautiful listening experience.  Ms. Burns performances on vocal and piano define the mood from the opening "Winter Star" through the album's closing piece, an instrumental version of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen".  She is joined by musicians on percussion, Celtic Harp, Cello, and even Penny Whistle and Uilleann Pipes.  Together, the cast of artists complete the vision of a mystical, magical Winter's night.

What is most striking is the song selection and sequencing.  Ms. Burns' songs form a journey through a night, following a star.  In her hands, "White Christmas" becomes not a reminiscence but a hope for the future.  'What a Wonderful World" is a capstone message of joy following "The Gathering".  Perhaps a gathering at a stable some 2000 years ago?  These songs take on new meaning in this setting, different than their traditional secular place in the world of Christmas music.

"Silent Night", one of the most challenging songs for an artist to capture and make their own, is another highlight.  Ms. Burns performance is one of ethereal beauty, and truly striking.  Preceding and paired with "The First Noel", these songs provide a climax to the album, followed by the four-song denouement to bring the record to a close.

I have to give a nod to the production.  Shauna Burns and James Clark, with Sean O'Dwyer, have given us a gem for the Christmas season.  Without the vision and drive of the producers, an artist's work will not reach its potential.  Not the case here - kudos to the producers.

I highly recommend "A Winter Gathering".  Once your Christmas tree is up, turn off the house lights and let the Christmas tree lights softly illuminate the room, queue up this abum, and enjoy it in the quiet solitude of a Christmas evening.  For me, that describes the time and place for this amazing record.

Shauna Burns Music:


"A Winter Gathering" was sent to me as a promotional CD from Red Rock Music/Miles High Productions.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Almost Done

I am almost done recording the shares for this season.  The last album is on the turntable now.  I still have some un-ripped albums, and time permitting I'll get a few more done, but all the main ones I wanted to share out will be done after tonight.  The it's on to cleaning the recordings, scanning the artwork, etc.  A few stories have come up during the processing of the tunes this year, so I'll write those up when the time comes.

Looking forward to starting the season - soon!

Official Disclosure

As readership of Merry and Bright grows, I'm getting the opportunity to review promotional materials submitted to me.  I'm happy to share my opinions of these materials with my readers.  To cover the bases regarding disclosure, here is my statement regarding reviews and materials received:


1.) I swear or affirm all of the following statements are true.

2.) The albums or CDs I have reviewed at this blog prior to November 2011 have been my own purchases, gifts given to me by friends or family, or have been purchased and downloaded online.

3)  Unless otherwise noted, all reviews posted at this blog after November 1, 2011 will be music from my own purchases, gifts by friends or family, or legally downloaded music files.

4)  CDs received as promotional material and reviewed here will be clearly indicated as being unsolicited promotional material. 

5)  No compensation will be accepted for reviews.  Any compensation, gifts, or other material beyond the CDs and related promotional material will not be accepted.  Any submissions containing currency, gifts, or other non-promotional material will be returned to the sender.

6)  Opinions expressed in reviews are my own.  Opinions expressed in comments are the opinions of the commenters only.  Profane, distasteful, or other comments not meeting the standards of the blogger will not be tolerated and will be removed.

Thanks for  your patience (and thanks to Captain OT for providing a disclosure statement model).

And thanks to Joe for catching a critical omission of a "not".

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Prepping the Shares

Been working on getting the shares ready for the season.  Most of the main albums I want to share out are recorded - just a few left.  The recording is what takes the most time - no way to speed up the transfer (well, I suppose I could record at 45rpm and use Audacity to change the speed, but that's cheating and just seems weird).  Have most of the rips run through ClickRepair, and so now I can take a more leisurely approach to scanning the artwork and getting everything processed, zipped, and uploaded.

One standard I've adopted is to name the songs (both file name and tag) the same way they are named on the album.  So, you might see:

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
God Rest You Merry Gentlemen

O Holy Night
Oh Holy Night
Oh, Holy Night

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Hark the Herald Angels Sing

and so on across the different albums.  Kind of interesting to see all the variants.

The exception here is when the album and/or record label is completely wrong, which is the case more often than I would have imagined.  In those cases, if the song is "Jingle Bells", I'll call it "Jingle Bells" even if the label says "Silent Night".

Onward to the season!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Season is Nigh

It's November, the weather is getting cooler, although too slowly for me.   The Christmas Music season has started, and the sharity season is approaching.  I have a nice selection of records recorded to share this season, and now I'm working through the process of cleaning up the recordings, preparing the artwork, zipping it all together and sharing it here for all of you.

I've been listening to some of this year's new CD releases - Tommy Emmanuel, Carole King, Mannheim Steamroller, Michael Buble, Jersey Boys.  There are at least a couple more I'll be picking up.

Last night I found some CDs that I must have bought during Border's store closing, then forgot about - so it was a nice surprise!  Bing and the Andrews Sisters, Hayley Westenra, Andre Rieu.

I've also been spending a goodly amount of time listening to Spotify.  Free music though the magic of the internet.  Here's a great way to listen before you buy.   Have H2 playing right now (excellent, by the way), and have listened to She & Him, Mandy Barnett, and Matt Wilson.  If you haven't discovered Spotify, now is a great time to check it out.

That's all for now.  I'll have a few more posts before getting into the sharing season, to share information and acknowledgements before sharing music.

To buzz the anitcipation, I think you'll all really like the first share I'm planning....well, and all the others too.

Happy November!