Thursday, December 29, 2016

Der Bingle's Best of 2016

Here are some of my choices for the Best of 2016 in Christmas Music.  Some of these I've covered here this season, some I didn't.  They are in no particular order, but represent some of my favorite albums, songs, or artists that I added to my collection this year.

Found Wandering

My personal favorite discovery this year was Found Wandering, through their 2015 release "On a Christmas Night", their earlier album "Christmas in Country Village", and their brand new EP this season "Pass the Peace".  This is as good as Christmas music gets, and now that the season is waning, I need to check out their other albums.

Elizabeth Chan - "Five Golden Rings"

Elizabeth Chan ventured into new territory this year by including her versions of Christmas standards on "Five Golden Rings", her 2016 release.  Her creativity and love for everything Christmas comes through clearly as she gave us an album of standards, original songs, and Spanish and Chinese performances!  She keeps getting better and better, and I'm anxious to see what she brings in 2017.

Jordan Smith - "Tis the Season"

Jordan Smith was the gate-to-gate winner of season 9 of The Voice, and released a full Christmas album this year.  Before the album was in my hands, I wondered about the song selections, especially the exclusion of "Mary Did You Know?", which he had performed on The Voice.  Once I got the CD, though, I realized that song selection may never be an issue for Jordan.  He works magic with every song he sings, and is flawless.  I look forward to another Christmas album in the future from the amazing Mr. Smith.

Carly Jamison

Carly Jamison released "Keeping Christmas" this year as her 6th annual original Christmas single.  I hope there are many, many more to come.  Carly's Christmas songs were one of the best surprises of the season for me.

Pentatonix - "A Pentatonix Christmas"

Pentatonix is as hot as they come - a new Christmas album, an NBC special, probably the best selling Christmas record of this season.  And, in my opinion, their success and praise is well-deserved. This turned into a favorite this year.

Phoebe Gildea and Noah Brenner - "All is Bright"

The debut album by soprano Phoebe Gildea and harper/baritone Noah Brenner was an incredibly arranged and performed album.  Coming to life through a Kickstarter campaign, Phoebe and Noah's album is beautiful, and in its own niche in my Christmas music library.

The Snow Globes - "Snowed In"

What is becoming Kansas City's best annual Christmas tradition, the Snow Globes released "Snowed In" this year, an excellent addition to their catalog, and to your Christmas music library!

Matt Casarino's 200 Days of Christmas

If you don't follow these two gentlemen with encyclopedic knowledge of Christmas music, you should.  Tim Neely gives us a new Christmas Song of the Day throughout the season.  All are excellent, many will be new to even the most dedicated collector.  Matt Casarino ups the game with 200 Christmas songs through 2/3rds of 2016.  Some classics, some new, some obscure, all interesting and meaningful.  I hope Matt is back next year with a new 200 Days.

So, there are some favorites this year, my personal 'best of 2016'.   

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Rest in Peace

Rest in Peace

I've said and written that too many times this year.

I am usually very neutral when a celebrity dies.  I didn't know them.  I may or may not have been a fan of their work.  I felt compassion for their families, and those close to them who were experiencing real loss.  I respected them for their work, their talent, and that they made many people happy through their artistry.  Alan Rickman.  Alan Thicke,  George Michael.  Florence Henderson.  Even Prince and Gene Wilder feel into this category.  I felt sadness at their passing, at the loss of their talent, and at their contributions to the world as artists, philanthropists, and human beings, but true personal mourning?  Not very much.

There were four, though.   There were four that hurt.  I certainly didn't know any of them, but their artistry seemed personal.

Leonard Cohen - for writing the best songs ever.

David Bowie - for having an unending, infinite domain of artistry, and the bravery to explore it all and share with us.

Christina Grimmie - energy, talent, beginning to live her dream.  Killed.  I know many musicians who put themselves at risk by playing sketchy venues and going in to the homes of strangers to perform house concerts.  Christina Grimmie is but a step or two away from the musicians I know.  Her death still hurts, and is tragic for our society and our world.  Still nowhere near the loss that her family and friends must feel.

Carrie Fisher.

I was 13 years old in 1977.  For my birthday  that August I got to see this new movie "Star Wars" in the closest movie theater to my house, 20 miles away.  Carrie Fisher was beautiful, and Princess Leia was strong and brave and good.  I *am* the Star Wars generation.  And I've lost part of it now.

But we remember.  We remember these artists every time we see them or hear their work.  I can relive, re-experience, and remember David, Leonard, Christina, and Carrie any time I want to.  Click, click, click, and there they are.  Sometimes that's good.  But sometimes, it's better when memories come from afar and travel distance and time before they arrive.

Leonard, David, Christina, Carrie.  Rest in Peace.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve

It's Christmas Eve morning.  I've been up for about two hours, enjoying serenity, Christmas lights, coffee, fruitcake, and reading.  Soon our Christmas festivities will commence - afternoon Mass, Christmas with my mother, who is celebrating her 98th Christmas, back home for spiced apple cider and "A Christmas Story" on TV.  Certain things have changed a bit on Christmas Eve night, since the youngest Bingle child is now 15, but the spirit and traditions still remain.  Santa will still visit (if all have been good, which they have), though we may not be up quite as early on Christmas morning as years past.   This year the Christmas morning gathering of our children will include a pharmacist and her husband, a teacher and his newly-official fiance (quite a Christmas present!), a new college graduate with aims to be a behavioral counselor for children through dance, a new college Freshman, and a high school Freshman.  It will be, as always, a joyous occasion!

The sharing season here at Merry & Bright has concluded - I hope you have all enjoyed the albums I've been able to share with you this year,  I still have a couple more posts to write before turning the dial to 'simmer'.  I'll be closing out the season with a "best of" post, perhaps some loose ends to tie up, and to make some acknowledgements to all the fine brothers-and-sisters-in-arms of the Christmas music community.

Until then, have a very Merry Christmas!

Aaron Henton
(Der Bingle)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Mystery Share

Tonight's share is a mystery share, offered for a very limited time.  The link goes away on Christmas Eve.  Intrigued?  Get it while you can.

mystery share *Time's Up!*  Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas on Strawberry Hill

I have a pretty special share for you today, at least for any Kansas City readers.  This is "Sveta Noc:  Christmas on Strawberry Hill", performed by the St. Cecilia Choir from St. John the Baptist Church in Kansas City, Kansas.

Here in the Kansas City metro area (for the uninformed, there is a Kansas City, Missouri and a Kansas City, Kansas), Strawberry Hill is renowned for its povitica, a traditional Croatian nut bread.  You can find the famous Strawberry Hill povitica all around the KC area.  Well, now we know that in addition to Croatian pastry, Strawberry Hill produces some fine music for Christmas worship.  This album contains 18 songs recorded at the Midnight Mass at St. John the Baptist Church.  Most of them are in traditional Croatian (and you'll find other versions on previous shares this year), while a few are historical English carols.  This is a great record capturing a slice of history from this venerable KCK church.

As I noted in an early post, all of the album shares this year came from records owned by Don Lipovac, the Polka King of Kansas City, that I acquired at the family estate sale.  I feel that these records, now shared on this blog, form a small tribute to Mr. Lipovac and the music he shared with so many through his long, successful career.

Please enjoy "Christmas on Strawberry Hill"

download link  Updated!

Strawberry Hill Povitica website

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Saturday Night Share: Gunter Kallmann Chorus

12 hours of freezing drizzle + 1 inch of snow + 6 degrees outside = two posts today.

I have a new share for you tonight, "The Gunter Kallmann Chorus Sings in German 28 Christmas Songs".  While I admire the precision, I would suggest hiring an album title specialist next time around.

The Gunter Kallmann Chorus, of which seven handsome choraliers are pictured on the back cover, sing their 28 songs in a collection of 8 medley tracks.  Some very recognizable classics (O Christmas Tree, Silent Night, I'll Be Home for Christmas) are woven in with traditional German carols for a great mix of songs.

This is a very nice album.  The recording is very clean and crisp, the chorus quite talented, the instrumental accompaniment (orchestra and bells) very festive.  Enjoy!

download link

Katie Garibaldi single "Tomorrow is Christmas Morning"

Der Bingle is iced in today in Kansas City - several hours of drizzle yesterday followed by rapidly falling temperatures and snow today have made it impossible to get out of the house.  So, today you may see several posts here on the blog.


I made a quick reference to San Francisco singer Katie Garibaldi's single "Tomorrow is Christmas Morning" in the last post, in the list of links to new songs by several artists.  Given a bit more time today, I want to highlight Katie's song just a bit more.

"Tomorrow is Christmas Morning" is a very well-written and performed song about two people being apart on Christmas Eve, and the longing to be together on Christmas morning.  What makes this song successful and gives it a fresh identity among all the "we're apart on Christmas" songs is the focus on Christmas morning.  Katie sweetly brings together the imagery of the Christmas season and the space between the singer and her love with the importance of Christmas Morning.  Not Christmas day, Christmas Eve, Christmas dinner, or the season, but the morning.  That strikes home to me personally, as Christmas morning has always been the time that is the most spirited, and the most sacred.  I love that Katie has given us a song that really captures the magic of that very special time of the season.

"Tomorrow is Christmas Morning" is available at all the usual outlets for digital releases.  Katie has hinted that this is merely a preview for a full-length Christmas album coming in 2017.  That's a Christmas wish that I hope comes true.

Katie Garibaldi website
Katie Garibaldi on Bandcamp  (you can buy "Tomorrow is Christmas Morning" here)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Laurence Juber Trio, Jocelyn and Chris Arndt, and many links......

It's late-season 2016, and I want to do a catch-up post here, to highlight a couple of albums and give links to other music submissions that I won't be able to cover with more than just some brief exposure for your awareness.  I feel it's better to do this now than after Christmas day.  I always wish I could do full coverage and a full critical review of every submission that comes my way, but that's not possible with work, family, and lots of other Christmas-related activities (like an upcoming guest DJ stint on a local radio station!).  So, here are a couple paragraph-length mini-reviews, and some links and blurbs about other Christmas songs.

Laurence Juber Trio "Holidays and Hollynights" 

This album seems to have stayed under the radar just a bit in the Christmas music blogosphere.  It's on Stubby's 2016 release list, and is a sponsor at Sounds of Christmas, but I haven't seen mention of it elsewhere.  Could be I just missed it.  Anyway, Laurence Juber is a galaxy-class acoustic guitarist, having formerly been in Wings (you know, Sir Paul's old band), and has a long and distinguished career, including winning two Grammys.  He and his trio (Domenic Genova on bass, Michael Jochum on drums) released "Holidays and Hollynights" this season, an album with 11 Christmas standards.  It is an amazingly pleasant album, the trio arrangements soothing and familiar, played with a top-tier level of expertise and brilliant musicality.  Though there is a relaxing and soothing quality throughout, this is no elevator-music album.  It's a superbly performed, friendly sounding album full of joyous music.  It would be perfect to accompany a Christmas gathering in your house this season.  Der Bingle highly recommends "Holidays and Hollynights".

Laurence Juber website
Holidays and Hollynights on Amazon

Jocelyn & Chris Arndt "Still: A Holiday Collection"

The opening track to the 6-song EP "Still: A Holiday Collection" is a hard-driving blues tune titled "Christmas Man Blues", featuring kickin' blues guitar, great sax work, and fine rhythm section, and Jocelyn Arndt's powerful vocals.  It's an immediate attention grabber from this Maryland-based duo.  The momentum from "Christmas Man Blues" continues through the EP, with "Mary Mary" as a highlight and a personal favorite.  There are times when I can hear a reminiscence of Linda Perry in Jocelyn's vocals.  

Ok - dang, "Mary Mary" is good (it's playing as I write).  It's on my Christmas comp 2017 list.

Check 'em out - you'll be glad you did.  

Jocelyn & Christ Arndt website
Amazon link

Many links and info.....

Jolivi "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" - info on her Facebook page

Jetty Rae "More Than December" 5-song EP - info on Soundcloud
Katie Garibaldi - "Tomorrow is Christmas Morning" - info at Katie's website

piKziL - "Little Drummer Boy" single - listen on Soundcloud
Teflon Beast - "Three Seasonal Songs" EP - FREE on Bandcamp
Loop Line - "Christmas in July (in December)" - on Bandcamp
David Bazan - "Dark Sacred Night" - on Bandcamp

That's enough for tonight - there will probably be another set of links like this later in the season.  Please take some time to check these out - there is some remarkable music out there.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The World Rejoices

Tonight's share is "The World Rejoices", Christmas songs from England, France, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, the Philippines, and the USA performed by the Gregg Smith Singers and the Dorothy Shaw Bell Choir.

Most of the tracks on this album are medleys, like the first track, combining In Dulci Jubilo, Wexford Carol, N'ia gaire que auvit, and Pastores a Belen.  I've simply named the tracks "Band 1", "Band 2", and so on, to retain the spirit of the original album.

This is a very nice collection of songs, interesting, well-arranged, with familiar carols as well as some you may not have heard before.  Seven tracks, 47 minutes of good Christmas music.  Enjoy!

download link

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Carly Jamison Rocks Christmas

Earlier this season I mentioned Carly Jamison's 2015 Christmas single, "Christmas May Have To Be Postponed".  Right on schedule this year, Carly has released her annual single "Keeping Christmas", another original rock 'n' roll Christmas tune that is, well, freakin' awesome.  Check out this lyric sample:

"Because the bells will be ringing, carolers singing, ain’t no cold dark silent night.
We got the fireplaces burning and turntables turning and a mood merry and bright.
As we gather together in our ugly sweaters eating cakes, candies, and pies,
we’re keeping Christmas spirits high, keeping our Christmas spirits high.”

To me, based on listening to thousands of original Christmas songs, the hardest thing for a Christmas songwriter is to channel the traditional icons and imagery of Christmas into a song without sounding trite and cliche.  Please songwriters, don't rhyme "snow in the city" and "lights are pretty" ever again.  So, look at Carly's lyrics again.  Traditional stuff - bells, carolers, 'silent night', fireplaces, cakes.  But there isn't a hint of cliche in this song.  It's sooooo fresh in lyric and sound.  Dang, I love it.  If I had a rating scale it would get the top rating.  Five Fruitcakes.  Five Snowflakes.  Five Sleigh Bells.  All on of a scale of one to five.

But here's the best part, and what I really wanted to write about.  "Keeping Christmas" is Carly's sixth Christmas single.  After hearing "Christmas May Have To Be Postponed" I bought the rest of her Christmas catalog (5 at the time) and then promptly added "Keeping Christmas" when it was released.  I love every single one - they all pass the 'no cliches' test, they all rock your Christmas Bells off, and they are all as original as they come.

Image from Fame Magazing (link)

Carly has this Chrissie Hynde thing going on with her voice - it kind of floats above the music as it blends and drives the songs ahead.  This vocal style, coupled with a great band, gives us some of the best rock and roll Christmas music you can find.  

A final thought: I don't know the story (if there is one) behind 2014's "The Happiest Christmas Tree", but Carly could positively be Carly Ramone on this one.  There's a definite Ramones feel and drive to it.  If this is what Carly was trying to accomplish, she hit it out of the park, and it's a grand slam - great original lyrics, most definitely a Christmas song, and the drive and energy of the Ramones.  Well done!

I urge everyone to head to Carly's website, or iTunes or Amazon or your preferred online music outlet, and check out Carly's Christmas music.  On my list for January - to check out her non-Christmas catalog.  Gotta be good....

Carly Jamison website

Carly's online store  (oooh look - autographed CDs)

"Keeping Christmas" on Amazon

Enzo Stuarti "Comin' Home for Christmas"

Today's share is "Comin' Home for Christmas" by Enzo Stuarti.  Enzo was born Lorenzo Scapone in Rome, performed in America using the stage names Larry Laurence and Larry Stuart, then changed his performer name to Enzo Stuarti at the urging of the great Ed Sullivan, so that his name sounded more Italian.  Per wikipedia, that is.

"Comin' Home for Christmas" is a collection of 10 Christmas songs, all comfortable classics, with "Santo Natale" being the one that some may not recognize.  Enzo is a very capable and talented tenor; this album has a fine traditional Italian pop tenor-crooner sound.  "White Christmas", the album opener, mixes in a verse in Italian very nicely.  It gives the song a welcome bit of variety.

Enzo delivers in the style of Eddie Fisher, Jack Jones, and others in that niche.  Very pleasant, very Christmassy, and although you may have never heard Enzo Stuarti before, he'll sound familiar the moment you queue up the album.  Good stuff, says me,

download link

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Morgan Shaughnessy Vinyl Winners

And the winners are:

Roger from Cincinnati, OH


Tim from Madison Heights, VA

Congratulations!  Your records will be shipped out to you soon.

Just a quick word to readers - I have a number of things that I want to post and share in the two weeks before Christmas, and I may do a couple posts within a single day here and there, so please don't miss anything by only looking at the newest.  Good stuff to come!

Now, back to the peanut brittle that's cooking on the stove....

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Bratov Avsenik Ensemble

Continuing this season's shares from the record collection of Don Lipovac, the Polka King of Kansas City, is The Bratov Avsenik Ensemble, or, more specifically, "ansambel Bratov Avsenik" with the album 'Zvezde na nebu zare'.

Or not.  Shoot.  It's in iTunes.  Oh well.  Pretty good album - too bad I can't share it.  On iTunes it's actually a double-length album - twice as many Slovenian (according to the Google translation) songs.

You know who else is on iTunes?  This guy:

Yep, Kico is on iTunes.  And I really like this record.  So much so, I included his song "Zvoncici" on my annual Christmas comp this year.  Great album cover too.  Can't share, though.  Well, maybe tomorrow...

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Slovenia, Croatia, Oooh I Wanna Take You To....

Bonus points to readers who get the title of the post.  It's like on "Who's Line..." - the blog where the points don't matter.

Time for another share tonight.  Having exhausted my Slovenian Christmas albums, we're moving to their neighbor to the South and East, Croatia!  Here for your listening pleasure is "Croatian Christmas Carols" an album of 12 songs from the Croatian tradition.  Songs include "Radujte Se Narodi", "Veselje Ti Navjescujem", "Sklopi Blage Ocice", and "Narodi Nam Se".

This is a very nice recording, even though I don't speak a word of Croatian.  The singers and musicians are spirited.  There are lots of mandolins.   Oh hey!  "Tiha Noc" (track 8) is "Silent Night" - found one I know!

Like the Slovenian albums, I really love the album cover.  A nativity adapted to the look of a Croatian country village, with local folks coming to pay respects to the newly born baby in the manger.  Love the art and the regionalization of the universal meaning of Christmas.

Someone out there is going to download this and make their grandmother very happy this Christmas.

Please enjoy "Croatian Christmas Carols"  download link

Monday, December 5, 2016

NOLA Players Contest Winners and Morgan Shaughnessy VINYL Giveaway!

And our NOLA Players CD Giveaway Contest winners are....

Bob from Somers, Connecticut
George from Valley Stream, New York

Congratulations Bob and George, and thanks for visiting Merry & Bright!  The CDs will be coming your way soon.


And now, here it is, the contest to win a limited edition green or red vinyl copy of Morgan Shaughnessy's single "Pretty Colored Lights".  This is a beautiful Christmas song pressed on gorgeous green or red vinyl.  Every Christmas music collector should have one of these on your collection.  I mean, just look at these:

So, here's what to do to enter to win:

Go to Morgan's website, to her bio page.  Read all about Morgan, and then send me an e-mail ( with the subject "Morgan's Vinyl Contest" and in the body of the e-mail answer the question "What is Morgan a strong and vocal advocate for?"  The winners will be selected at random from all entries answering the question correctly.

This is a quick and fast contest!  I want to ship these in time for the winners to enjoy this season, so act fast!  The contest starts today, December 5, and ends on Saturday December 10.  Don't delay - enter now!

Good luck to everyone!  There can be only two lucky winners - all others can grab a copy, while supplies last, from Morgan's web store.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Artist Interview: Roland Guerin (The NOLA Players)

This year bassist Roland Guerin joined 17 other New Orleans jazz musicians to form The NOLA Players and record "Christmastime in New Orleans", discussed here previously and also on other fine Christmas music blogs.  And, as you know, we are giving away two copies of this excellent CD, with the winners to be announced Dec 5th.

To say that Roland Guerin has an impressive jazz resume would be an understatement. Let's see - Roland has toured and performed with John Scofield, Gerry Mulligan, George Benson, Allan Toussaint, Ellis Marsalis, and many others, and recorded with the Blind Boys of Alabama on their Grammy award winning album "Down in New Orleans".  Roland as a bandleader has a new album, "Grass Roots", coming in 2017.  Whew - Roland is one busy bass player (need further proof?  Look here).  Fortunately for readers of Merry & Bright, Roland found a few moments to share some insights into the creation and recording of "Christmastime in New Orleans".    I am extraordinarily pleased to bring you the following interview with Roland Guerin, NOLA Players bassist.


Merry & Bright: Hello and Merry Christmas! Thanks for taking a few minutes of time for Q&A about the NOLA Players and the swingin’ new album “Christmastime in New Orleans”.

Roland Guerin: Thank you!

MB: To start, who is the mastermind behind The NOLA Players? How did he (or she) convince this amazing group of musicians to come together to record a Christmas album?

Roland Guerin: Mastermind . ... Monica Fitzgibbons first had the initial idea. She and her husband, Kevin, who run the record company had the musical vision and had long wanted to do a project like this in honor of her Grandmother who was an accomplished jazz pianist- so she was dedicated to a piano/rhythm section central sound, with a nod to New Orleans and then contacted Jim who then contacted Mike Esneault who was the musical director who then had ideas on who to call for the actual band. The details were worked out between the 3 of them and then there we all were with them and they brought in Chris Alder and Dave Farrell and his team to record the album in 3 days at The Seanger.

MB: An 18-piece band is pretty amazing, especially with this caliber of musicians all coming together to play. Did the recruiting of the group happen from within, where you got one player signed up, and he called two buddies, and they called a couple more buddies until the entire ensemble came together?

Roland Guerin: You can surely say that the recruiting of the band happened from within but not entirely in that way. Mike really took time and thought about the music and the band together, Monica and Jim had some guys they wanted and Mike found the perfect blend. Anytime you have the opportunity to put together a team of people you should think about it as a relationship. In any relationship on any level you need to be to speak in a way that you are understood but to also be able to listen to, hear and understand with a level of openness and willingness to participate. Greatness goes far beyond natural talent;-)

MB: The performances on the album are astounding. The playing is tight and refined, yet there is so much energy and swing going on! What were the recording sessions like? What was it like to put together the Bass parts?

Roland Guerin: Well, for one, I didn't put together the bass parts... Mike did;-) But what I was able to do is actually on my inner freedom to interpret the feel and energy from within and apply it to the given notes... which was a lotta fun:-) Especially with all these guys! Fun and freedom are the words for the day. I know that as a bassist my job is support and also to help make whoever I'm playing with sound the best they can through my bass lines and concepts of harmony, rhythm etc... When you have a group of folks together that not only play their parts well but they get what I'm doing... they hear, respond to it and engage in the conversation. Well shoot that's like musical heaven :-)
Of course the opposite is like everyone playing for themselves loudly and not listening at all;-) That's like.....

MB: Is there a difference between recording a Christmas album and a traditional jazz album? Is there, pun slightly intended, a different spirit when Christmas songs are being performed?

Roland Guerin:  Hahahaha! The main difference is that usually if you're recording a Christmas album you know you're gonna play great songs... at least if they are among the classics;-) Just because an album is a jazz album it doesn't automatically mean that the songs are great or even good for that matter! Great songs are great songs and they can generally be played in almost any style imaginable because they are great songs. Mike did a fantastic job of his arrangements and interpretations of these great songs. From the band point of view everyone started out by having a deep love and appreciation for these songs from childhood on so we were definitely able to tap into a mixture of feelings and emotions that brought not only new life but also and strong feeling of joy to the music and to each other.

MB: This is an album where a track list of well-known, traditional Christmas songs really works, because the arranger, producer, and band are putting such unique and fresh takes on the songs. “Christmas in New Orleans” is an obvious choice for this record, but I was still glad to see it featured, as it’s an underplayed Christmas masterpiece. Can you share some insight about the song selections for the album?

Roland Guerin: In talking with Monica, she and Kevin put together the track selections and from there she and Mike went back and forth on the arrangements over a period of months. She would work with Mike and give feedback going back and forth until it was where they both felt good about being able to make it special- and the two of them worked it all out. According to Monica- Mike being the incredible talent he is, was absolutely perfect for this album- they worked very well together and then Mike in getting the arrangements set in advance- the charts for the tunes and we had the freedom to bring our own identity to those charts he said about making this album... "how could you say no?" Monica mentioned- regarding the song "Christmas in New Orleans"- that during the licensing conversations with the writer of that song- she enjoyed getting to know Richard Sherman (of Mary Poppins/Disney fame)- he apparently had some fun stories about writing that song back in the day in July in Los Angeles and then running it over to Decca Studios the day before Louis Armstrong was doing that session with The Benny Carter Orchestra. I love those stories and we enjoyed this arrangement of it. The tempo for our version was actually Chris Alder's (from Germany!) idea, our producer. In the session he wanted to slow it down and have it match the New Orleans rhythm. We gave it a try and it clicked!

MB: Jason Marsalis is one of The NOLA Players, on vibes and percussion, making his presence known quickly just a few bars into “Silver Bells”, the album’s opening track. The liner notes inform that pianist Mike Esneault was a pupil of Ellis Marsalis. Also I see you have played with Ellis. Can you describe the influence of the Marsalis family on this collection of musicians?

Roland Guerin: hehehe, If you look at the Marsalis Family DVD.... I'm the only non-Marsalis;-) I suppose in looking at any part of life history you take note of the contributions that were made and then it's weighed in reflection to how beneficial it was or is to society. The contributions to music that have been made and shared by this one particular family have been vast to say the least... spearheaded from Ellis on down and it's an ongoing thing....they're not done ;-)
New Orleans has and has had numerous influential families that have made generous and very important musical contributions to the world. Jason's presence and musicianship definitely aided in the awareness of not only what these great families have shared but also the connection that we all have in the sharing of musical moments.

MB: Christmas music can reach emotions that most other genres can’t – nostalgia, comfort, gladness and joy, a sense of home. There have been some hard times in Louisiana this year. Do you hope that “Christmastime in New Orleans” can bring some positivity and hope to all listeners through the uplifting spirit that comes through in the music?

Roland Guerin: Well, I'd say that the world as a whole is going through a bit of an interesting time. To me music is meant to move people. Christmas music is generally written to move people in a positive way. I wouldn't say that Christmas music can move people in ways that other genres can't because I don't put it past someone to have the perfect amount of talent to write a bad Christmas song:-) The time of year doesn't make a song great just like cooking in the best kitchen in world and using the best ingredients won't automatically yield a great meal....
These songs are great and they happen to be Christmas songs that on this album were played with respect, in friendship along with the feeling of family and love. I do hope and strongly believe that those who hear this album will be able feel all of this in the music and be moved in ways that will bring a smile to their heart.

MB: Roland, you have played with the likes of Mark Whitfield, Dr. John, Marcus Roberts, John Scofield, Allen Toussaint and many others. You also have your own solo career. What was different about playing with The NOLA Players for this project and is this a one-shot gig for The NOLA Players? Or can we hope for another (or 2, or 3) albums in the future?

Roland Guerin: Yes, I've been blessed to have played with and learned from a number of great musicians and people. Playing with The NOLA Players is to me an extension of this in its own way. Some of the members may not have the fame and/or name weight of others but what they are able to do on their instruments with their voice speaks for itself. Most of the people that I have had the pleasure to share the stage with have been not only great musicians but great human beings as well. With The NOLA Players I was very pleased that I was able to have a continuation of this;-)

MB: “Christmastime in New Orleans” is a fantastic album. I love snow and wintertime, but listening to it makes me want to take a trip to The Big Easy for a heaping bowl of Christmas Eve gumbo! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few questions.

Roland Guerin: You're very welcome! It was my pleasure! Also, don't just say that... We're now expecting you to come on down and eat!!! Not just gumbo either... there's all sorts of great food to dive into;-) The doors are always open here!

NOLA Players website

Roland Guerin website

The Slovenian Trifecta Finale

Today I'm wrapping up the trio of Slovenian Christmas music albums with "Christmas with the Slovenian Octet".  I don't think this one album is related to the first two, as the second was to the first.

This album differs in that among the 10 tracks are quickly recognizable popular Christmas carols sung in English, such as "Deck the Halls" and "The First Noel".  These are interspersed with carols that are more in the Slovenian tradition, and not as familiar to American listeners.  This is a nice collection of songs to complete your Slovenian Christmas journey.  Please enjoy "Christmas with the Slovenian Octet".

download link

Saturday, December 3, 2016

20 Questions with Morgan Shaughnessy

I have news, good news, and great news today, all about about Atlanta musician Morgan Shaughnessy.  First, the news.  Our friend Stubby has written a terrific post about the release on vinyl of Morgan's Christmas single "Pretty Colored Lights".  His post is here, and as always Stubby has written up a mighty fine story about Morgan, about "Pretty Colored Lights" and the b-side, an instrumental version of "February Moon", and the limited-edition colored vinyl release of the record.  Go to Stubby's and read up.  My personal addition is that "Pretty Colored Lights" has a truly unique, enveloping, almost supernatural musicality to it.  Morgan's layering of the instruments with her vocals is tantalizing. It's fresh, ethereal, and totally Christmassy.

Now the good news.  Morgan has answered a series of short questions to let Merry & Bright readers get to know her better as a musician and a person.  It's a fun short-answer Q&A format, following below. Many thanks to Morgan for playing along.  You as a reader will come away knowing a lot more about this fine young artist.

Actually, I think the Q&A is pretty great news, so we'll call it Great News One, and here is Great News Two.  I'll be doing a giveaway of two copies of Morgan's "Pretty Colored Lights" limited edition vinyl!  Free Christmas Music!  Free Vinyl!  You'll have to stay tuned here at Merry & Bright for the details - look for it around Dec 6 or 7.  As always, there will be a teeny, small entry criterion where you'll provide info from Morgan's website.  But that's it - quick and easy.  Stay tuned.

And now, without further delay, here is "20 Questions with Morgan Shaughnessy"

1. City of Residence: Atlanta. I live in Atlanta's version of 8-mile - the line between the hood and the mansions. We have to park with our gas caps facing the curb or some 11 year old kids will funnel it while I'm still awake. True story.

2. Favorite Food: A big salad or an almond coconut sundae

3. Favorite Christmas Song: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, because it's morose and realistic but still maintains that hopefulness that things could still improve next year, which is definitely a facet of the Christmas experience that gets less explored than others.

4. Who Should Play You in the Movie About Your Life: Evan Rachel Wood is the only young actress with the emotional range to play my life. Plus she's awesome.

5. Number of Musical Instruments You Play: 6ish. Drums, Guitar, Bass, Piano, Hand Drums, and Violin plus a few miscellaneous ones.

6. Musical Instrument You Want To Learn To Play: Steel Lap Guitar  [Der Bingle: Would have been extra points for "theremin", but oh well.  Look for "Der Bingle's Theremin Christmas Classics" coming to you Christmas 2025.  Yes, I do have an optical theremin... but I digress...]

7. Musician Who Inspires You: As far as whole careers, I'm very inspired by the wide variety of things that Sara Bareilles has chosen / gotten to do. Also, the music she writes tends to be on the prettier side, but she keeps the stage banter light and profanity-laced - to which I can relate. I just can't bring myself to be all serious on stage. Even if the songs are serious. It's not natural for me. As far as musically, I have to say I'm most inspired by the band Sublime-- mostly because they played whatever they wanted with no regard to genre whatsoever. I have loved them for my whole life!

8. One Thing That Makes You Happy: I enjoy physical affection.

9. Interesting Fact About You: I have dated somebody who was on a reality show, and it was weird.

10. Best Christmas Present Ever: My first love/dog, Bandit

11. First Solo Musical Performance:
At a place called Dark Horse Tavern with a handsy technician that my brother had to threaten.

12. Musician/Band That Everyone Should Listen To: Jason Mraz, it's the musical equivalent of smoking a joint. Everybody would be so chill.

13. Family Christmas Tradition: The people who spend the night get PJs

14. Love Sushi? Yes, veggie sushi, mmmm

15. TV Series to Binge Watch:

16. Favorite Place to Perform Live Music: Huge fields full of people.

17. Why You Wrote and Recorded a Christmas Song: The holidays are a really tricky time in the music industry. To be honest, I recorded it to try to bridge that gap created by releasing my EP during the holidays and make it go down smooth. But also, I have had that song written for years and years because I love the Christmas season, particularly the music, so I was definitely excited to get a chance to actually record and release the song. It's so great to have it actually, finally exist!

18. Cat or Dog? I think cats are mystical felines who walk between worlds, but I hang out with dogs.

19. Why is Music Important: Because it's the only thing that weaves in and out of our lives forever, creating and collecting memories along the way. Parties, weddings, funerals - all of our important moments are sprinkled with touches of music. Since early human existence, we have used music to bring us together, in healing rituals, and in countless other ways. Music is geometry in motion. Music communicates what other things cannot. I don't even have time for all of the spiritual aspects of it, but it's more important to the human soul's evolution than almost anything else that exists.  [Der Bingle:  Wow - nailed it.]

20. Message to Your Fans: You're in charge of your own life, you can decide your own priorities and they don't have to look like anybody else's. Be kind to the beings around you. Preserve the earth. Be free and have fun – it's your life, and we're also at a point in history where we can make a big difference by saying no. Sing, even if you're not "good" at it.

Morgan Shaughnessy website

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Did You Say You Want More?

I hear ya.  Der Bingle always comes through.  After the rousing success of "Christmas in Slovenia", there can be only one thing to do.  I've got a fever, and the only cure, is "Christmas in Slovenia 2".

Like its predecessor, another superb album cover.

Like its predecessor, chock full of Slovene Christmas songs.

It even confirms that it is a companion piece to Christmas in Slovenia.  It's full circle, baby.  Bookends.  The alpha and the omega of Slovene Christmas music.

Or, is it?  Bwa ha ha ha.....  Only the Shadow knows what Christmas music lurks in the heart of Der Bingle.  (yeesh  - this is getting ridiculous)


download link

Monday, November 28, 2016

Album Release and Artist Interview: Phoebe Gildea and Noah Brenner "All is Bright"

Friday, December 2 marks the official release date for the debut Christmas album by soprano Phoebe Gildea and harper and baritone Noah Brenner, "All is Bright".  Thanks to their Kickstarter campaign, mine arrived in the mail today, a few days early, and I'm thrilled to share a few thoughts about the album, as well as an interview with Phoebe and Noah.

I'm listening to the album for the first time as I'm writing this post, and I couldn't be more thrilled.  The quality of the recording is excellent and flawless, and Phoebe and Noah produce a rich, full, vibrant sound.  The 12 songs on the album are mostly familiar Christmas carols, beginning with "I Saw Three Ships", including "What Child Is This?" and "Carol of the Bells", and concluding with "Cantique de Noel".

There are two standouts in the track list: "Gaudete" and "Walking in the Air".  Renowned Christmas music authority Tim Neely included a version of "Gaudete" as a Christmas Song of the Day selection last year.  The song dates to 1582 as the earliest known publication.  Phoebe and Noah's vocal duet rendition is truly marvelous - I've never heard a better version.  The second attention grabber is "Walking in the Air", written by Howard Blake and popularized by Aled Jones as featured in the animated short film "The Snowman".  It's a perfect performance piece for Phoebe and Noah, and is beautifully done.

Noah and Phoebe took time out of their busy schedules for a fantastic interview.  You'll see that these two, in addition to being pretty darned awesome and dedicated musicians, are a couple of friendly, fun-loving folks.  I really enjoyed connecting with them for this little Q&A.  After the interview,  please see the links at the bottom for more information about Noah and Phoebe, as well as a purchase link for the album.  I know that most of you probably don't have an album of Christmas music by a classical soprano and a celtic harper, but believe me, you will want to add this one to your collection.


Merry & Bright: Phoebe and Noah, thank you for spending some time to answer a few questions here at Merry and Bright!

Phoebe Gildea: We’re happy to talk with you.

Noah Brenner: Thanks for inviting us!

MB: First, please tell us a bit about your musical partnership.

PG: Noah and I have been friends for years. We met tango dancing, and we only realized later that we are both musicians. He also happens to be my best friend’s partner, so we see each other all the time. I’ve admired Noah as a musician pretty much since the first time I heard him play, and I was thrilled when we decided to work together on this project. We have very different career paths – I’m much more in the classical tradition with opera and concert repertoire, and Noah is…less definable.

NB: (I play very old things and brand new things, but not much in the middle.)

PG: But at the same time we share a very similar philosophy about music. In working on this project, we really enjoyed exploring the historical context of the music and words. Since we both went to music school, we are familiar with music theory and history. That means we know how to break the rules, and it was important to us to break them intentionally. Now that we’re approaching our live performances, we’re finding that we also have a similar approach to connecting with the audience and making the music accessible.

NB: Beyond music, it’s been great to combine our two skill-sets to get through everything we needed to do before this album could exist. Phoebe is really good with organization, coordination, and advertising. I’ve been doing a lot of the musical arranging, and, since I’ve made several albums previously, I brought that knowledge to the process. Of course we still had some surprises, but there were fewer than last time, and there were two of us to deal with them. So that was nice.

MB: You chose Kickstarter to help fund your Christmas album. What was the crowdfunding experience like for you?

NB: It worked well for us. For my last album, I used Indiegogo’s flexible funding scheme. Kickstarter uses an “all or nothing” model, which was more stressful, but also more effective. People who were supporting us knew that they really had to get us to our goal or the project wouldn’t happen. Kickstarter is built more for a single organizer, so we had to work out how the two of us could run it together, since we don’t have a “leader,” but overall it was a great experience. We also got some backers who we didn’t even know (like you!), which didn’t happen for me on Indiegogo.

PG: We knew going in that it would be really stressful (What if we didn’t make our goal?!) -- and it was -- but it was also validating. People gave us money and spread the word about our campaign because they wanted to hear and support our music. Conceptually, I had confidence from the beginning because I trusted my marketing skills and I knew that our project was worthwhile, but there was another layer of emotional satisfaction when it went so well. We made it to 150%! (And that’s not even counting the donations we got outside of Kickstarter.) It’s good to make music knowing that people want to hear it.

MB: As a backer of your Kickstarter campaign myself, I got an early preview of some songs from you, and I’m very excited to receive the finished album! The song list includes several well-known Christmas standards as well as some that are recorded less frequently, such as “Gaudete” and Aled Jones’ wonderfully surreal “Walking in the Air”. How did you select the songs for the album?

PG: We made a list of all the songs we could think of, then we went through and drew smiley faces by our favorites, then we waited for a muse.

NB: There were some that we knew from the beginning that we wanted to do. Those less recorded songs that you mentioned were actually some of the first on our list. I think “Walking in the Air” was the very first. The rest of them came together as inspiration struck. There were some that one or the other of us really liked, but that didn’t work on the other’s instrument. Some of the ones we ended up using surprised us.

PG: Yeah, I did not think “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” was going to make it onto the album. Noah had never even heard it before, and it was pretty low on our list. Then during one rehearsal we were really tired and didn’t want to do detail work on any of the ones that were already in progress, and I opened my childhood Christmas carol book randomly and started humming “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.” All of a sudden Noah was writing these gorgeous arpeggios and I found really cool verses in one of the older books that we had. Now it’s my favorite arrangement on the album.

NB: We mostly chose old pieces, and even the ones that aren’t old sound old. That fits my style pretty well (which I’m sure is a coincidence, since I did most of the arranging).

PG: (He’s being sarcastic.)

NB: (Never!) Probably the most modern one was “Walking in the Air,” and then we go all the way back to “Gaudete,” which is from the sixteenth century. The melody of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is even older than that.

MB: What do you hope your listeners experience when they play your Christmas album for the first time?

PG: I hope that everyone, no matter what their relationship is with Christmas, and whether or not they have any religious associations with this time of year, can find some peace, joy, comfort, and reasons to celebrate. Christmas can be really stressful, and I want people to be able to listen to our music and remember those childhood feelings of excitement, or to find some new reasons for joy.

NB: I hope we take them to some of the worlds that we created. They might not know what stories were in our heads, but maybe they can make their own.

MB: I keep referring to “your Christmas album”, as I haven’t seen an album title yet on your website. Can we get a Merry and Bright exclusive announcement here with the title of the album?

PG: Oh yes, choosing the title was a real challenge. Between making it fit with the music, the cover art, and both of us, we only really decided in the final stages of the ordering process. We had even started graphic design before we were 100% settled on a title. Okay, I’ve made you wait long enough.

NB: The title is… “All Is Bright”

MB: What was your inspiration to make a Christmas album? Has Christmas music been a part of your life since childhood?

PG: Yes. Always. I still love singing Christmas carols with my family.

NB: It has, but in a different way. Since I’m Jewish, it wasn’t part of my tradition in that sense. But as a musician it has been part of my life for a long time. I enjoy a lot of the music, and I especially like caroling because I get to sing a cappella.

MB: Phoebe, on your website you’ve written that you have recently focused your professional life 100% on making music, giving up the proverbial ‘day job’. We here at Merry and Bright wish you complete success! What gave you the confidence and courage to make that decision?

PG: Thank you! I was finally too busy to keep doing both. There was a decisive moment when I thought I would have to turn down a paying opera gig with a great company because I didn’t have time to fit it into my work schedule, and that just didn’t feel right. While I loved many aspects of the office I worked in, and I’m grateful for the skills I learned there, it was never meant to prevent me from taking a music job I really wanted. I examined my life, I made a lot of color-coded lists, and I did the math on my anticipated music income. In the end, though, it came down to a leap of faith. Organizing and planning certainly helped me be confident in the knowledge that I had the means to at least survive. The courage to make a big life change comes in part from years of training myself to deal with performance anxiety. I’ve come to the conclusion that (on stage and in life) “ready” doesn’t mean everything is perfectly in place with no problems, but that you are ready to deal with the uncertainty, give it your all no matter what, and keep trusting yourself and your art.

MB: The lucky folks around the Eugene, Oregon vicinity get the opportunity to hear you two perform songs from your album this season. Do you see Christmastime performances becoming an annual event for you?

NB: Sure! Maybe not quite as much as this year, since we’re doing an album debut tour all over the Pacific Northwest. We put a lot of time into booking gigs to advertise our album, and we probably won’t do that to the same extent every year.

MB: Well, I am truly excited to hear your finished album and add it to my collection. Thank you again for your time. Have a very Merry Christmas!

PG: Thank you for reaching out to us and supporting our album!

NB: We hope you enjoy the music!

PG & NB: (SUNG IN HARMONY) ♪♪♫♫ Merry Christmas! ♫♫♪♪

Phoebe Gildea website

Noah Brenner website

"All is Bright" ordering information

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Sharing We Will Go: Christmas in Slovenia

Cue the Dread Zeppelin channeling Elvis...

Christmas in Slovenia!
Christmas in Slovenia!
Christmas, Christmas in Slo-ven-iaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!  bah da ba ba da da yeah!

It's been a busy weekend folks.

Yep - it's here, the first share of the year.  But first a little backstory.  Late last year, Jo Ann Lipovac, spouse since 1961 of Don Lipovac, The Polka King of Kansas City, passed away, Don having passed a year earlier.  This past Summer, an estate sale was held, including the Lipovac's vast collection of musical instruments, sheet music, and records and CDs.  If you wanted an accordion of your very own, this was the place to get one.  Accordions, mandolins, and other instruments that Don used in his many, many years of performing in the Kansas City area, as well as nationwide.  The Polka King had quite a following.  What caught my attention in the estate sale ad was the "massive record collection".  So, I headed out to the sale.

The collection was indeed massive, at least a thousand records, maybe a couple thousand.  It was a varied collection, though most of it was what you could call Eastern European folk music.  Lots and lots of polka records, as you would imagine, and many more from that part of the world.  I saw a couple interesting things - an album cover autographed and personalized to Don from Frankie Yankovic (no record in it though, or it would be mine now), and a recording of Don himself performing on the Lawrence Welk show.  Oh!  And a CD autographed by Charo!  (It now graces my collection!

I came away with 20 or so Christmas records, and they are serving as this year's shares.  It's not all Eastern European, as you'll see in the coming weeks, but quite a bit is.  Fascinating music, and most of the records were in great condition.

RIP Polka King, and thank you for the great music,

To kick off sharing season is "Christmas in Slovenia"

Love the album art!  That's a common theme you'll see this season - some spectacular album covers.  

If I recall correctly from when I transferred this to digital, this is a recording of a Christmas Eve/Christmas service in Slovenia, as the track names would indicate.  It's a glimpse into the spiritual celebration from years ago.


Friday, November 25, 2016

A Potpourri of Miscellany

It's still early in the season, but I need to do a catch-up post, or perhaps it's an "I'm not gonna fall dreadfully behind" post.  In any case, I've received many notices of new Christmas song releases by a variety of artists, and while I can't do a full review for each one, I do want to call your attention to them.  Please visit their websites and listen to their music, and support them with a purchase if their music moves you.  Much of the information below is from the press material provided by the artist or publicist.


Daisy Hicks "Christmas Without You"

English-born, Australian-raised singer-songwriter Daisy Hicks returns with new jazz-inspired pop songs that evoke nostalgia, love, heartbreak and paint a truly visual journey. Festive single “Christmas Without You” will be followed with “French CafĂ©” for release early 2017.  “Christmas Without You” - written by Daisy (daughter of legendary jazz drummer Tony Hicks) was produced by Tim Laws, Pete Craigie and Chris Harvey. Not only is “Christmas Without You” a well-crafted song that will be played for years to come, 10% of the digital sales this year will be donated to BBC’s Children In Need.

Daisy Hicks website
Daisy Hicks on Facebook

Empty Houses "Holiday" EP

Detroit soul-pop trio Empty Houses is thrilled to release a 5-song EP entitled Holiday, which sees them reimagining 5 holiday classics. The EP was released Friday, November 11th via Sargent House and can be purchased via Bandcamp and via iTunes. Holiday features “Santa Baby,” “White Christmas,” “Let It Snow,” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” and “Sleigh Ride,” the latter of which is available for streaming now via Soundcloud!
Kristin Chambers - "Snow Globe" EP

Seattle Singer songwriter Kristin Chambers celebrates the one year anniversary of her Christmas album "Snow Globe". The album features five original holiday songs by Chambers, and her uniquely distinctive take on five holiday classics.

Kristin Chambers website
Frank Shiner - "Please Come Home For Christmas"

A new single this season from Frank Shiner, "Please Come Home for Christmas"

Frank Shiner website
"Please Come Home For Christmas" - see the video on Youtube

Karma - "What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas?"

Memphis-based girl group Karma, recently nominated for 5 Artist Music Guild awards, has released "What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas?" as a new single this season.

See the video for "What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas?" on Youtube

Karma website

Israel - "This Christmas"

A debut artist with his first release, his version of the Donny Hathaway classic "This Christmas".

Israel - "This Christmas" on Soundcloud link

That's all for today - thanks for stopping by!