Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ethel Smith Christmas Music

My share for tonight is a very nice record from Ethel Smith, featuring eight Christmas songs performed on the organ.  This is a 10 inch record I found in a local thrift store.  I love finding the occasional 10-inch record when I'm looking through the bins.  This record came in a sleeve that was in great shape, except for a couple spots of wear.  The record itself wasn't quite as pristine as the cover, but still provides some good seasonal organ music.

Please enjoy Ethel Smith at the organ, with chimes, celeste, and vibraphone accompaniment.

download link

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Q and A with Jillaine!

It is my pleasure and privilege to bring you this special feature today - an interview with Jillaine!  You've read about Jillaine here on these pages before.  Following her her first two album releases, she gave us "Jazzy Christmas to You!" last year (reviewed here).  In 2012 Jillaine released an album of patriotic songs titled "As American As Jazz", as well as two singles, "My World" and "The Moment".  Then, bringing joy to our hearts and ears, she released "Jazzy Christmas To You II" last month, her second collection of Christmas songs in two years.  I hope you enjoy learning more about his fine vocalist in this Q and A with Jillaine!

Q: Your vocal work is mighty impressive. Are you strictly a vocalist, or do you play instruments as well?

A: Thank you! I appreciate the compliment. I am grateful for many wonderful and very talented teachers and coaches over the years. I am grateful for talents God gave me to develop and use. I do play the harp, which can be heard on my single "My World." I played cello before I started harp. At the moment though, I perform and record mostly as a vocalist but I will be working my harp into my vocal performances!

Q: Who are your inspirations and influences as a jazz singer?

A: I really do love Ella Fitzgerald. I love the clarity and brightness in her voice and the way she uniquely uses her vibrato in unexpected ways. I enjoy knowing about her as a dignified, caring professional musician and person. I also appreciate Billie Holiday for pioneering the back beat in vocal jazz. Her tortured life is not only reflected in but poured into her music which is instructive to anyone who listens to her sing.

Q: With two Christmas albums released in two years, it's clear that you love Christmas music. How did this develop? Was Christmas music a big part of your childhood?

A: Actually, I pull out Christmas music by July! With the recordings for these two albums, I have been able to enjoy Christmas music production year round. My family has always included music with Christmas. On Dec. 23 or Christmas Eve, my family carols to our neighbors and people in the community we want to thank for their contributions to making living in our town better. We bring baklava and other family favorites to share. Sometimes my sister brings her soprano sax home and accompanies us. The sparkling quality of the saxophone stops time for a few moments as we carol. When we get home, we get into our nativity costumes to re-enact Luke 2.
When I was four, my sister videotaped me and my younger brother, Erik--the sound engineer who records, mixes, and masters all my music--as we put on a Christmas show. During one segment I'm holding a harp ornament and dancing with no regard to timing to the Beach Boys "Little Saint Nick." So you see, we embrace all sorts of Christmas music!
The day after Thanksgiving is the day we decorate the house. Erik and I have special memories of our favorite Mannheim Steamroller tracks to which we made up specific "dance moves" as we decorated.

Q: What kind of experience do you hope to give the listener of your Christmas albums?

A: I hope to give listeners of my Christmas music vibrant reminders of joyous, meaningful past Christmases as well as a hopeful vision for future ones. I love Christmas and everything it represents. I have a great love for the Savior and even though I sing secular and sacred songs on both albums, I hope to communicate an abiding love and gratitude for God, Jesus Christ, and my family. I think music should be meaningful, connective, personal, and uplifting, even when listening to blues!

Q: Who is one of your favorite traditional Christmas music singers? And who is a favorite contempory performer of holiday tunes?

A: That's a very good question! For traditional Christmas music, believe it or not, I think Elvis Presley is my absolute favorite! I have a lot of memories associated with his Christmas songs. I grew up with the compiled CD of his Christmas music. I cherish the personal emotion he infuses into his songs. When I die, I want to sing a Christmas duet with him on the other side!
For a contemporary performer I think I'd have to say Scott McCreery. His deep voice with all its richness is perfect for Christmas music.

Q: If you had to name one, just *one*, favorite Christmas song, what would it be, and why?

A: I love contemplative Christmas songs. If I had to name just one, I'd say "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." I love the harmonies and the melody. I also love the lyrics which span time and emphasize the relevancy of the Savior today.

Q: Can you recommend any independent musicians that the readers here at Merry and Bright need to check out, but may not have heard of?

A: This may be a stretch for an independent artist, but there is a song that was released in 2008 by Jay Graydon that he and his dad, Joe Graydon, recorded before Joe passed away in 2001. It is called "On This Christmas Eve." It is just the one song but it is stellar.

Joe Graydon was a complete vocalist! He was a lawyer. He was an FBI man. He was a manager. He created shows! He had his own variety talk show. He was immensely talented at including all that is good in big band music. My objective in producing music is to remind listeners of the remarkable quality recordings from the 1950s and 1960s in studios that valued live musicianship--musicianship that Joe and Jay have! They gave a great gift to listeners when "On This Christmas Eve" was released.

Q: Announcing "Jazzy Christmas To You III" was great news! What else is coming from Jillaine?

A: I have a jazz standards CD tracked. It will be out sometime next year!

Q: Last question: Will you please come to Kansas City for a gig?

A: I would LOVE to come to Kansas City for a gig! I'll have to make that happen! I am trying to finish my degree in jazz studies with a vocal emphasis. I do perform when I can. I love performing for charities that benefit children and families, having performed for a foundation that raises money for neonatal and pediatric units for seven years now. I often donate CDs to support organizations that work directly with families in distress. So maybe there is a charity I could help in Kansas City!
          Q: Thanks Jillaine! Merry Christmas!

          A: Thank you for allowing me to share! Merriest of Christmases to you!

Link:  Jillaine Records

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Saturday Night Share

Doing a quick post here tonight to share out another record.  This is "The Greatest Songs of Christmas' by the John McCarthy Chorale.   This is a 1973 release on the RCA label, and it's very nice chorale work.   The arrangements are pretty standard, but very well performed and recorded.  Plus, the album I have is clean, so I got a very good transfer from the vinyl to digital.  I think you'll enjoy it.

download link

P.S.  Make sure to come back to Merry and Bright tomorrow for a special post - an unprecedented feature here on M&B.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Royal Kickoff to the Season

Hello everyone!  I hope all my readers had a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday.  And now that we're "officially" into the Christmas season, I have my first Christmas music share of the season for you.

Kicking things off this year is a terrific recording by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians.  My record is a 1973 release of "Jingle Bells" by MCA, although it appears to be a re-release.  At any rate, it's a terrific collection of 12 songs by Mr. Lombardo and his orchestra.  Featured vocalists include Kenny Gardner and the Lombardo Trio, Richard Geary, Tony Craig, and, on "Winter Wonderland", the Andrews Sisters!

The arrangements are superb, making this a very enjoyable and nostalgic record.  A highlight is "Christmas Chopsticks", track 6, which closes out Side 1 of the record.

Please enjoy "Jingle Bells" by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians.

Update:  Sorry folks - This file has been tagged as non-downloadable by the host, so I have to remove the link.  Guy, we hardly knew ye.

<download link removed>

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Good morning and Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!  I'm just about to start my personal annual tradition of morning coffee and reading Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory", a story I love more than any other.

Everyone please have a safe and happy holiday.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Album Review: Two from Ken Elkinson

Ken Elkinson is an artist from Venice, CA via Cedar Grove, New Jersey and the greater New York area.  Ken has released two Christmas albums, "Generations of Yuletide" in 2008 and "Christmas Ambient" in 2012.

"Generations" is an album featuring solo piano interpretations of 16 Christmas songs, blending traditional carols such as "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and "Greensleeves" with contemporary songs, including "The Little Drummer Boy" and "I'll Be Home For Christmas".

"Christmas Ambient" is, as you astute readers have already surmised, a collection of Christmas songs performed in the ambient music genre.  The 16 tracks include traditional favorites ("Deck the Halls", "Away In A Manger", "O Come All Ye Faithful"), beautiful holiday songs that may not get the "A-list" play ("Bring A Torch Jeannette Isabella"), and a few songs new to me, such as "The Truth Sent From Above".

Now, I don't know much about the ambient music genre (perhaps the King of Jingaling will comment here for us).  What I have discovered while listening to "Christmas Ambient" is that the music is, first of all, very pleasant, soothing, and beautiful.  Secondly, the music is masterfully crafted, subtly layering sounds together to create the flowing theme and foundation of each song, then gently adding the melody, ultimately creating a listening experience that you absorb rather than hear.  Ken's work is, to me, the ambient music novice, very pleasant and surprisingly complex.

"Generations of Yuletide", Ken's earlier Christmas release, is a quite enjoyable work.  Ken's talents as both a pianist and arranger/interpreter are evident.  For a quiet evening of Christmas music and a glass of wine with a loved one, "Generations" is perfect.

A couple other things about Ken.  First he is a prolific (and generous) musician.  Visit his website to learn more about his album releases through the years, including "Music for Commuting" a 60 track CD set of soothing music, for those who commute through snarling and crazy traffic.  Information about "Music for Commuting" and all of Ken's other releases is on his web store page.

Second, Ken is hilarious.  His wit is apparent in the liner notes in "Generations".  And, dig these highlights from his "Case History":

8/28/72 - Ken Elkinson is born in Cedar Grove, New Jersey.  His grandmother comments that he has long fingers and predicts that he will play piano.

3/39/97 - Ken debuts Midnight Conversation during a release party jam-packed with crazed fans.  The event is compared to the Beatles arrival at J.F.K.

11/1/00 - [Ken] declares himself the David Hasselhoff of solo piano when Reverly reaches the Top 20 in airplay on over 70 radio stations, including several in Germany.

4/1/04 - Due to Ken's meteoric rise to fame, a bitter east coast/west coast new age war breaks out between himself and John Tesh.

Finally, here's the best part:  a sampler collection of Ken's music.  Ken has allowed me to provide to you a few songs from his two albums.  So, here is a link to a ZIP file containing four tracks from "Generations" and five from "Christmas Ambient".  I hope you like them, and if you do, visit Ken's website or other online retailers and pick up the whole collection.

Update:  Well folks - even though the artist gave me permission to share this sample collection, Mediafire has tagged it as copyright material and is preventing downloads.  So, please visit Ken's website below to check out his music.

Ken Elkinson Collection   (sample no longer downloadable)

More information about Ken Elkinson and his music:

Ken Elkinson Website

Christmas Ambient on Amazon

Generations of Yuletide on Amazon

Music for Commuting

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ready, Set....

It's been a good week or so for Der Bingle's preparation of the Christmas sharity.  Unlike last year, the artwork processing was very smooth.  I think the scanner is new since last year (although I'm not sure about that).  I have a new laptop which runs *much* faster, and the latest versions of audio and image processing software.  So, everything I have for sharing is ripped, cleaned, scanned, stitched, zipped, and uploaded.  Hmmmm....  kind of sounds like what happened to Scarecrow and Tin Woodman once they reached the Emerald City.

Anyway, I'll be kicking off the sharity season after Thanksgiving.  I have some things this year that I think you all will really enjoy.  Some of the records were pretty clean and pristine, and others were a little rough.  So, a few of the audio tracks have some noise that I couldn't get cleaned out.  We'll just call those a true vinyl simulation experience :-)

I also have some more reviews to do, of CDs I've purchased and others submitted to me by the artists.  So I'll be intermixing those posts in with the shares.  And I'll probably share a few other holiday thoughts and posts along the way.

Today, I and the youngest Bingles put up most of the Christmas lights.  We're about 80% done, and will get the rest up next weekend.  The season is here!

One last thing - another holiday bucket list item is checked off for me.  I got to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform "Santa Claus is Coming To Town" live last night, here in Kansas City.  An awesome performance....

Stay tuned!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Christmas Mixes from Dinsdale Kringle

Our friend Dinsdale Kringle over at Santas Working Overtime has created some pretty awesome Christmas music mixes on  Here's a link to one of his posts on SWO:

Sister Winter Mix

From the SWO page you'll be linked to, where you can see all of Dinsdale's mixes.

I jumped on to the app store on my iPhone, downloaded the 8tracks radio app, and am now enjoying Dinsdale's "Oh God No, It's Christmas" mix.  Like I said earlier, pretty awesome.  Between this and the Live 365 app to stay connected to Sounds of Christmas, I'll have plenty of Christmas tunes available next week on my quick business trip to Denver.

Check out these great mixes from friend Dinsdale Kringle!

Santas Working Overtime

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Good morning all.  This is just a quick post to point you to an exciting announcement from Jillaine. Please visit her site to see the great news!

Jillaine's Exciting News

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Jillaine: Jazzy Christmas To You!

Merry and Bright readers who stay in touch through the off-season know that I'm a big fan of Jillaine, the immensely talented, beautiful, and young jazz songstress hailing from Utah by way of Iowa. Earlier this year, I contacted Jillaine and asked about purchasing her Christmas CD and having her sign it (Der Bingle loves signed books and CDs). Jillaine responded by sending me her entire CD catalog, signed as promised! I listened to her first two albums and fell in love with her voice and style, and reviewed the records in the blog (here and here).

I saved Jillaine's Christmas CD until the season, so it would be like a little treat for myself. You know – not unwrapping until the season and all. Well, the season arrived, I unwrapped “Jazzy Christmas To You!”, and it is, indeed, a Christmas treat from Jillaine.

Folks, I'm telling you, Jillaine has as distinctive a voice and style as I've heard in a long time. I had been totally blown away the first time I have heard an artist only three times – Oscar Peterson, Madeleine Peyroux, and Sophie Madeleine. Jillaine is number four.

“Jazzy Christmas To You!” is an amazing addition to Jillaine's recordings. Her voice is perfectly suited to Christmas music, and her interpretations of Christmas standards are fresh, unique, and, above all, fun!

“Deck the Halls” opens the album. In my opinion, “Deck the Halls” can be a tough song to make memorable. I've heard many competent but ultimately unexciting versions by artists major and minor. Jillaine breathes life into “Deck the Halls” in a completely original fashion, full of energy, full of holiday spirit. It's a perfect way to kick off the record (and, this song will open Der Bingle's 2012 Christmas Comp for family and friends).

There is only one rule for artists who record “Jingle Bells” - have fun with it. Bing had fun. Barenaked Ladies had a whole lotta fun with their version. Jillaine gives us a version of “Jingle Bells” loaded with fun and energy. It's short, sweet, and spirited.

The best song on the album may be “What Child Is This?”. Jillaine performs this with a soulful, spiritual power that is beyond comparison. Her love for the music, the message, and the meaning of Christmas exudes from this performance. I literally shed a tear the first time I listened to it.

There are 15 songs on the album, all of them strong, all of them beautiful.  Jillaine's musicians, Craig Adler on piano and guitar, James Archibald on bass, and Ryan Flores on drums blend and complement Jillaine's vocals.  Craig's piano work is especially superb, not simply accompanying Jillaine but instead combining and partnering, as great musical performances should.

What could be better?

I'll tell you what – a follow-up album this year! Jillaine has released “Jazzy Christmas To You II”, which I'm expecting to arrive in the mail any day now. No waiting around to open it – nosiree :-)

Hey Jillaine – how about a “Jazzy Christmas To You III” next year? Please?

Jillaine Music website

Jazzy Christmas To You on Amazon

And, once again, thanks to my friend Stubby for introducing me to Jillaine's music.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

New Christmas Release Mini-Reviews

I've acquired a few new release Christmas CDs this year, so I'll post a few thoughts about them.  Mini-reviews, strictly my opinions.  These albums were already on my must-buy list this year, and there are a few others I'm considering.  The great thing about online music services such as Spotify is that you can listen to many of these new releases before you make a buying decision.  So, between my mini-reviews, all the other reviews out there in Christmas music land, and the ability to listen online, you'll have lots of information available to help decide what to add to your own personal Christmas music collection.

Chris Mann - "Home for Christmas"

Chris Mann was a finalist on season 2 of "The Voice" (a show I and my family love to watch).  Chris is an opera singer from Wichita, KS (hey!  I grew up 45 miles south of Wichita), and he quickly became a favorite of ours each week as he made it further toward the finals. 

Chris has released a 6-song EP this Christmas, a Wal-Mart exclusive release.  I set aside my personal pledge to avoid Wal-Mart in order to buy Chris' CD, and it was well worth it.  Chris' performances are splendid, and this CD will get a lot of play in the Bingle house this year.  The highlights are the beautiful "O Holy Night" and "Ave Maria", and Chris' rendition of "The First Noel" is one of the best I've heard.

Stylistically, Chris Mann will be compared to Josh Groban.  There's some legitimacy to that, although Josh Groban is a purer baritone while Chris edges closer to tenor. 

I think you will enjoy Chris Mann and "Home for Christmas".

Colbie Caillat - "Christmas in the Sand"

Colbie Caillat's Christmas release was one of most highly anticipated here in the Christmas interwebs.  I bought the Target exclusive edition, with a couple bonus songs.  Colbie has a terrific, natural singing style, effortlessly hitting the notes and rhythms.  "Christmas in the Sand" is very pleasant and tuneful, but seems to be lacking songs that are truly memorable.  Nothing here really stands out as exceptional, nor is there a bad song on the disc.  To me, it's a middle-of-the-road, pleasant to hear once or twice type of album.

I'll admit to not being much of a country music fan, but I wanted to love this record.  I like it, but don't love it.  Colbie performs well, but I can't hear much passion in the recordings.  And, there are too many duets.  It seems like country singers have a quota for duets on their Christmas releases.  Three of the first six songs as duets were just too many.  Maybe I would have liked the record more if it were just Colbie.  I'll never know.

It's pleasant, and Christmassy, and charming.  Just not too memorable.

Blake Shelton - "Cheers, It's Christmas"

Hmmm, I just said that I'm not much of a country music fan, and here I am reviewing another album by a country music artist, Blake Shelton.  Blake is terrific as a coach on "The Voice", and he's very good at his craft.  And, generally, Blake's brand of country music is not too bad to Der Bingle's ears. 

Blake's "Cheers, It's Christmas" is in may ways similar to Colbie Caillat's.  It's competently done, sticks to the dual genres of Christmas and country, and features several duets.  And again, like Colbie's, it's pleasant to listen to, but not one that I'll spin every day.

One difference though, is a standout song.  Blake, together with "Voice" protege Xenia, perform "Silver Bells" using a unique and outstanding arrangement.  This is truly a memorable performance, and placed as track 12, was a very satisfying surprise toward the end of the record.

Country music fans will probably love this record.  I like it, and love "Silver Bells".

Ceelo Green - "Ceelo's Magic Moment"

We didn't know what to expect from Ceelo Green, another performer tied to "The Voice" (a coach, as is Blake Shelton).  We knew that whatever Ceelo released on a Christmas record would be interesting.

So far, "Ceelo's Magic Moment" is my favorite new release for 2012.  Yes, it's interesting, but in very good ways.  Ceelo has given us a record with a wide variety of Christmas songs, with a few guest stars, such as Christina Aguilera, Rod Stewart, Straight No Chaser, and The Muppets. 

Everything is solid and entertaining, with creative arrangements, going over the top when it makes sense (Baby, It's Cold Outside) and showing respect and reverence when appropriate ("Silent Night").  Ceelo has fun with the Muppets on "All I Need Is Love" and with Straight No Chaser on a great interpretation of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch".

The highlight, though, is a tremendous verson of "Mary, Did You Know?".   Easily the most emotional song on the record, Ceelo treats this song with all the reverence it deserves.  It is a beautifully charged song, performed excellently.

I highly recommend adding Ceelo to your Christmas.

Well, that's all for tonight.  Der Bingle will be back soon with more Christmas-season ramblings...