Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Artist Interview: Katie Garibaldi "Home Sweet Christmas"

On Friday December 1, Katie Garibaldi's "Home Sweet Christmas" will be released, following her excellent 2016 single "Tomorrow is Christmas Morning" (reviewed here), which gave us an inkling of what was to come from this talented musician.  Katie calls the San Francisco, CA bay area her home, and is a well-established singer/songwriter/guitar player, with four previous albums and an EP in her catalog.  Recently her award winning video for her song "Delightful" has been garnering attention and positive reviews across the music and film industries. I mean, check out the props for "Delightful" on Katie's video page.

"Home Sweet Christmas" has eleven original compositions by Katie, and also her rendition of "Silent Night", featuring her mother on piano(!).  Her music includes beautifully-inspired songs of Christmas ("Happy Married Christmas", "Love on Christmas Day", the single "Tomorrow is Christmas Morning"), the downright fun "The Times I Love the Most (California Christmas)", and several spiritual compositions such as "Jesus Touched My Heart" and "Wonderful Mother Mary". Taken as a whole, the album has a very personal, intimate feel.  Katie's expressive singing and guitar playing, coupled with the soul and spirit of songs, makes it feel as if you're right there in the room with Katie.  Maybe at a house concert.  (Katie - if you're ever coming to Kansas City, let's talk  :-)   )

Katie graciously agreed to chat with us about her album, her musical influences, Christmas in San Francisco, and a few other things.  Just as her album is a musical extension of herself, Katie's interview is very open, expressive, and is bursting with excitement about "Home Sweet Christmas", I hope you'll agree that through the interview, Katie really allows you to get to know her as an artist and a person.

Katie Garibaldi website
"Delightful" official video on Youtube
Katie Garibaldi store  - order "Home Sweet Christmas" here


Merry and Bright! Interview with Katie Garibaldi

Merry and Bright: Hello Katie! Thank you for chatting with us about your new record ‘Home Sweet Christmas”.

Katie Garibaldi: It’s my pleasure! Thanks for your support.

MB: You had released “Tomorrow is Christmas Morning” last year as a single, and as a little taste of what was to come with the album this year. How long has this album been in the works?

KG:  I’ve always wanted to write a Christmas album, ever since I was a kid. I think holiday themed songs are really special, but I never wanted to record a Christmas album just for the sake of selling one—I wanted it to be sincere. When I wrote “Tomorrow is Christmas Morning” last year, I knew that the holiday muse had finally found me, so to speak. I’m really proud of that song because it came from an honest place, being on tour missing my husband and wanting to come back home. I think “Tomorrow” gave me some confidence in myself that I sort of proved to myself that I could write Christmas music with my own voice and perspective. So initially I thought I’d work on a holiday album and do half original songs and half classics. But ever since last Fall after I wrote “Tomorrow,” every time I picked up the guitar I just kept writing Christmas themed or faith based music. So when song after song kept coming to me, it was just a natural progression to decide that I was going to do an all originals Christmas album. I added “Silent Night” as a sort of bonus track for somewhat sentimental reasons since that’s been my favorite Christmas song forever and I’ve always wanted to record it with a string arrangement.

MB: “Home Sweet Christmas” has a very personal feel to it, especially with eleven original songs and only one traditional Christmas carol. Can you tell us about your creative process to turn your ideas and inspirations into songs?

KG:  A lot of the songs are definitely very personal. The creative process was different for each song and kind of all over the map. For some of the songs I sat with my guitar and found the chord structure first, and then the melody and lyrics would follow. But I never once planned to write a Christmas themed song. I just let the inspiration find me and often to my surprise, holiday based stories would be coming out of my mouth as I found my way through the lyrics. I would say to myself, “Well, ok then, looks like we’re writing another Christmas song!” But I found that a lot of times with this album I would come up with melodies and lyrics, sometimes almost for a complete song, without picking up the guitar at all yet. So I would think of it in the car or walking and then quickly record my ideas on my phone. Then it was a bit of a challenge for me to find the right chords on my guitar to match the song, but it was a very creatively lush process and I think that inspired different styles of writing for me that I hadn't explored much in the past, like the love I have for gospel music. That’s exactly how it happened with the song “Jesus Touched My Heart.” I wrote the entire song in my head first before learning the guitar part. It was a lot of fun actually. I let the songs find me without letting the guitar dictate anything prior. So in a way, there was more freedom with writing this album than other albums, and that just happened naturally. As far as turning ideas into songs, each one is different but once I got the initial start of a song rolling, the rest would fall into place. For example, “Holy Spirit in My Heart” started out as a regular song and not a Christmas song. I was inspired after reading the “Joy Comes With the Morning” Psalm 30 from the Bible and the song I was writing was more just in general about every day being a new day and even though today you might be crying, tomorrow there will be joy. So it’s a song of hope. But then the lyrics turned into writing about Christmas day, without actually saying the words “Christmas day.” So it’s a song about having faith and believing in that faith, and then I just followed the songwriting process, which naturally led it down a path of becoming a Christmas themed song.

MB: Several songs, including “Star in the East”, “Wonderful Mother Mary”, and “Safe and Warm” are very spiritual. Are these a reflection of your upbringing that you’ve channeled into your music through these songs?

KG: Yes, I think so. My relationship with God has always been very personal to me, like a friendship that no one else would fully understand. My songwriting is very much the same way. It’s me and my guitar and God. And I’ve always felt that the quickest way I can get in touch with God is through my music and singing. It’s fun to celebrate the Christmas holiday with all its festivities like Santa Claus coming to town and I love all that stuff. But for me personally, Christmas at the core is about celebrating the birth of Christ and that’s the faith I grew up in. I actually wrote “Star in the East” when I was a kid, maybe 12 or 13 years old. I put it away but always remembered the song and thought if I ever make a Christmas album, this will belong on there. So I did just that. “Wonderful Mother Mary” and “Safe and Warm” are new songs and I was really happy to find a place for them on this album because maybe I could have written some song about the North Pole or something, but these songs came from a deep place in my heart and turned out to be very personal and honest. So yes, this is a Christmas album, but it’s not just a Christmas album for the sake of being a Christmas album. I kind of just think of it as my newest album that happens to have soulful and holiday based themes. I’ve written songs about faith before, but being so open about spirituality through my music is definitely a new thing for me and seemed appropriate for this album. It feels really good to be able to sing openly about my faith. 

MB: A couple of the songs, “Happy Married Christmas” and “Tomorrow is Christmas Morning” touch on themes that are pretty original, even in the vast canon of Christmas songs – the first Christmas as a married couple and the special mystique of Christmas morning. I personally love songs that find a new niche and are done very well, as these are. Were you striving for an original spin on the holiday season when you wrote these?

KG: Thank you! “Happy Married Christmas” all started with a melody and the lyrics “home is wherever you are.” My guitar took the lead on manifesting the rest of the song. I didn’t intend for it to be a Christmas song, but then I think the next lyrics that came to me after that were “The holidays feel new since we said ‘I do.’” So it just all formed from there. I tend to just let whatever story is meant to find me come and then I’ll have an exciting moment like, “Oh this is what this song is going to be about. Got it. Ok, let’s go!” and then I’ll start putting more conscious thought into it after that. When my husband and I got married five years ago, it was really exciting to spend our first married Christmas together and since then, we’ve been continuing to make our own traditions and get used to the holidays as a union. It’s a really special feeling and when the theme of the story became clear, I was glad to capture that moment with this song. I wrote “Tomorrow is Christmas Morning” last September while I was on tour in Nashville. I was in my hotel room playing guitar and the chord progression came to me first. Once I had the melody, the words started forming. But again, I had no intention of sitting down to write a Christmas song. It just happened. It’s a bit difficult to describe where initial creativity comes from. I guess that goes back to my spirituality because the process is much like just being an open vessel to allow whatever inspiration that's meant for me to come in. But once I had the beginnings of the words and story, I started to create visuals like, “You’ll wake up next to a pretty tree that’s dressed in all our memories and I’ll open my eyes to this hotel room without you next to me.” That all came from a real place since I was in a hotel room missing my husband. But trying to make it home in time for Christmas morning put a different spin on it.

MB: Now, “The Times I Love the Most” is just downright fun. It’s a head-boppin’, toe-tappin’, California sunny smile of a song. (It actually reminds me a lot of my brother-in-law and sister-in-law that live in Half Moon Bay, CA). Can you tell us a little bit about it?

KG: Thanks! Last year I was on tour in December to promote my “Tomorrow is Christmas Morning” single and I drove down the coast from the San Francisco Bay Area to the Central Coast and Los Angeles. As I was driving, I kept humming this melody and then pretty soon the lyrics “Let’s take a drive on down the coast…these are the times I love the most” came to me. I recorded my ideas and then later on when I was back home I applied the guitar to the melody ideas and the song “The Times I Love the Most (California Christmas)” formed. The song is a fun account about everyone heading to the snow and the cold for the holidays, but I’m just fine taking a road trip and spending Christmas on the beach in the sun. It’s all about making your own traditions. So the lyrics were initially inspired by a real experience, and then I added in the love story component to the song as well. I wanted the production of the song to be very “surfy” so we added these wipeout style drums in the bridge section and of course the surf guitar style pedal steel.

MB: The musicians that accompany you on the album are great! And it’s your Mom on piano on “Silent Night”, right? Can you share some thoughts about your band?

KG: Yes! I’ve known the drummer, Todd Richardson and bassist, Kevin Blair for years now and I really fell in love with their playing from the start. They’re not only amazing players, but they’re very thoughtful in creating parts that complement the stories in my songs and they understand what I’m looking for, even when I have a difficult time sometimes trying to articulate what I’m hearing in my head. They just nail it. Kevin reads my mind and hits notes sometimes that inspire me to accentuate my vocals, and Todd is fun to watch at work because he gets really excited about adding in sometimes the smallest elements, like for example, a different snare drum because the vibe fits the lyrics better, which I just love. We recorded our parts together live in the studio in one weekend. I would be remiss not to mention engineer Justin Weis too. He is absolutely incredible and was a big part in constructing the sonic vibes on this album. I’m not immediately comfortable in the studio just because it’s a bit out of the ordinary and a completely different element than songwriting or performing. It’s a whole other world and sometimes takes me time to settle into. But Justin made me feel so comfortable right from the start just by being great at his job and really laid back and fun to work with. He made everything really easy. Sometimes I think as an artist you can overthink things in the studio with all the decisions you have to make but music is supposed to be fun, and this album was literally just fun to make. We had a good time. After we recorded the rhythm tracks, I overdubbed my parts and then brought in the additional musicians, including the lovely Jon Mitguard on pedal steel, the string section, keyboards, and the backup singers (my Christmas choir!). They all did a fantastic job. And yes, my mom is playing the piano on “Silent Night.” From the beginning I knew I wanted to get her on the album because Christmastime reminds me of home and family and I grew up singing Christmas songs while my mom played piano. That’s where it all started for me, so it really means a lot to me that she’s on there.

MB: I always like to know more about the musical influences of the artists creating these great new Christmas records. Who are some of the musicians that have inspired you?

KG: As a kid, my parents played a lot of classic rock and roll and pop records, like the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. I think that’s where I got my love of melody from. When I started getting into current music, I loved pop singers like Mariah Carey and Celine Dion. Then when I learned the guitar around age 11, that was about the same time Jewel made it big with her debut album and she was a really strong influence for me. I think she inspired me a lot to be honest in my songwriting and find my own voice. After that I got really into country music, starting with more contemporary artists like Shania Twain and the Dixie Chicks and then going backwards in time to discover and appreciate the greats like Hank Williams and Patsy Cline. 

MB: What are some of the Bay Area holiday highlights, some of the best Christmas-related things San Francisco has to offer?

KG: They just had the annual holiday tree lighting at Union Square in San Francisco, which is a really pretty area where a lot of people go to do their Christmas shopping. There’s also a tree lighting for a Christmas tree at Pier 39. That’s a big tourist attraction and fun place to visit if you’ve never been. And there’s a really cute thing called The Wishing Tree in San Francisco. You can go visit it and put your wish on a tag and put it in a jar. Then your wish will be added to the lit up tree. The idea is that something magical happens when people collectively wish and express gratitude in one single place. Otherwise off the top of my head, I would say Christmas tree farms are pretty fun to visit in the Bay Area. I did the photoshoot for Home Sweet Christmas at the Black Road Christmas Tree Farm in Los Gatos back in the summertime and it’s gorgeous, and huge! It’s definitely a great place to visit to get into the holiday spirit.

MB: Katie, we live in some difficult and troubling times in our nation. When I listen to “Home Sweet Christmas”, I hear songs of unity and peace, and a love for home and family. Is there a message you’d like to share with your long-time fans as well as those who will experience your music for the first time with this record?

KG: That’s very sweet of you to say. To me, Christmas music always puts me in a good mood and it has this interesting way of hushing the clutter in my mind and just placing me in the present to appreciate the moment. So my hope was to create an album that no matter what time of year people listen to it, whether it’s the holiday season or some other month, they’ll be able to enjoy it and feel a sense of coming back home. It kind of seems like another lifetime when I think about being a little kid and singing songs for my family on Christmas. But that’s part of who I am and those moments sort of stuck with me like snapshots in my mind of family, home, faith, and love. I think those things really came forward in these songs. During the holidays people tend to be a little bit kinder and a little bit more giving. People don’t think twice about opening the door for someone or smiling to a stranger. (Well, for the most part, haha!) When we take care of each other in those small but significant ways, we’re reminded that we’re never alone. I think music has the same kind of magic. It speaks a truth to us that we all go through the same things, so we might as well have peace of mind about it enjoy the ride. With all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, maybe it can be easy to lose sight of what really matters. When people hear Home Sweet Christmas, hopefully it reminds them to feel happy and grateful.

MB: You have a wonderful album, Katie. I hope it is very successful for you, and perhaps we’ll hear more Christmas songs from you in years to come. I’d like to thank you again for spending time with us at Merry & Bright. Have a very Merry Christmas Katie!

KG: Thank you so much! I really appreciate your interest and kind words. And I’m hopeful to write more Christmas songs in the future for sure. Merry Christmas and have a wonderful holiday!

The author purchased "Home Sweet Christmas" from the artist for his personal Christmas music collection.  The artist provided a pre-release private stream for early review purposes.

Monday, November 27, 2017

NOT for Spring, Summer, or Fall. Or Autumn.

Tonight's share is "Christmas Music for the Winter Season".  It clearly states "Winter", so perhaps I'm sharing this out a bit soon.  But, you know, when Winter *actually* arrives, it's almost too late, so damn the torpedoes, here it is. 

"Christmas Music for the Winter Season" is a collection of 14 traditional songs recorded in Europe.  Says so right on the label:

Side A contains more spiritual carols - "Silent Night", "The First Noel", "Adeste Fideles" and so on.  Side B is the more secular side, your "White Christmas", your "Jingle Bells".  Well, maybe not "your" "Jingle Bells".  The arrange is very creative, and contains a segment where the orchestra goes off somewhere for a bit of a waltz before returning to your standard jingling and dashing through the snow.

All in all, it's a pretty nice little record.  It shows its age in places, so there is a tad bit of noise, but overall it's very pretty seasonal music and I think you'll like it.

Wait!  Did I say 14 songs?  This record is a futurist trend setter, folks.  Remember the early days of CDs, when bands would have a hidden, extra song on the CD?  Not listed on the label, and sometimes it would be hidden after 7 minutes of silence on the last track.  Well, there are 15 songs here, friends.  15!  Says 14 on the album cover, says 14 on the labels.  But, there's an extra cut of "Jingle Bells", a whole different arrangement, closing out the record.  Those sneaky orchestral Europeans :-)

Oh, and as another highlight, you get both "March of the Toys" and "March of Toys".  Yep.

Lastly, the back cover's orientation was maintained in the image file.  It is oriented at a 90 degree angle from the front. 

This album was lent to me by ol' buddy Tom W. (hence the "W" crayoned in on the cover next to Santa).  Buddy Tom's records will be featured again here a few times this season.

Please enjoy fifteen songs by a European orchestra recorded secretly one midnight in the Black Forest...

download link

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Dig this Start to the Sharing Season!

Last year about this time I found a copy of The Golddiggers "We Need a Little Christmas" at a great little local store (It's a Beautiful Day, for you local folks), so naturally I snapped it up.  This is one of those truly great Christmas albums from the golden age (no pun intended) of Christmas music, and the copy I found was in excellent shape.  The cover has a little wear, but the album itself is in fine condition, and made for a high quality transfer to digital.  I know that this has been shared out elsewhere before, but I thought I'd go ahead and present this as my kickoff to sharing season this year and get off to a rollicking start.  So, without further ado, here are The Golddiggers!

Download link removed.  This album is now available as a CD:

Friday, November 24, 2017

Album Review: "Winter Lullaby" by Bett Butler

"Winter Lullaby: Songs for the Christmas Child" is a 2016 release of Christmas songs from jazz singer/pianist Bett Butler, featuring multi-instrumentalist Joel Dilley and a cast of top-notch musicians.  Ms. Butler delivers five original songs in addition to seven traditional carols, some well known and some fresh new arrangements of lesser-known seasonal songs.

There's a great jazz vibe running through "Winter Lullaby".  It's a relaxed album, smartly influenced by great jazz standards singers, with a warmth flowing from the music.  The sax accompaniment by Rene Saenz is a perfect complementary musical voice with Bett's vocals, especially on the original tune "Are You Alone on Christmas Day". 

The real standouts on the album are the European influenced tracks.  "Pat-a-Pan" and "Un Flambeau (Bring a Torch), Jeanette, Isabella" with their French-infusion, the Spanish touches in "La Vitgen fue Lavandera", and "El Noi de la Mare" in traditional Catalan and English add a touch of the exotic while staying true to the heart of each song.   These songs really make this album a unique and wholly pleasant addition to any Christmas music collection.

The title track and album closer "Winter Lullaby", one of Bett's compositions, is remarkable.  Bett's vocals are simply beautiful, Joel Dilley's soft accompaniment on guitar is perfect, and the lyrics excel.  "Even angels have to sleep sometime" is the repeated message of comfort in this sublime album finale.

Bett Butler
Every time I listen to a new Christmas album, I get a sense of "fit".  Where does this fit in as a listening experience?  "Winter Lullaby" fits as the soundtrack for a serene Winter evening, lights dim, where one can enjoy the stillness and tranquility of the night.

"Winter Lullaby" at Dragon Lady Records
Bett Butler website

A CD was provided by the artist for review.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Artist Interview: Russ Hitt

With his new 2017 release "The Longing for Home: Songs for the Holidays", Nashville musician Russ Hitt complements his 2014 release "The Longest Night: Christmas Songs of Lament & Longing" (reviewed here) with another visionary exploration of Christmas music coupled to an emotional spectrum.  This time, Russ moves from the fragile partnership of darkness and hope that was the thematic foundation of "Longest Night" to a multi-faceted journey through the dimensions of "home" with "The Longing for Home".

With five original songs and five interpretations of classic carols, Russ brings forth feelings of wistful nostalgia, wishing for a home faraway or perhaps simply hoping for a place to call home, and the gentle comforts of one's own home, complete with a crackling fire and the sounds of the wind blowing snow outside in the cold Winter night.

As a musician, Russ has a special talent for expressing emotion in his music.  His work is not highly-produced pop, as is so prevalent in each Christmas season's new releases.  Instead, it is created with intent, as an artisan craftsman hand-makes each individual piece.  For me, Russ' two albums occupy a special and unique place in my personal Christmas music collection.

Russ very graciously gave Merry and Bright a very thoughtful interview about "The Longing for Home", his musical influences, and some hints about what might be yet to come.


Merry and Bright Interview with Russ Hitt

Merry & Bright:  Hello Russ!  Thank you for taking time to share some insights about your music with Merry and Bright.

Russ Hitt:  Absolutely...thank you for the opportunity!

MB:  This year you’re releasing your second album of Christmas music, The Longing for Home: Songs for the Holidays, following your excellent 2014 release The Longest Night: Christmas Songs of Lament & Longing.  Share with us the story of these two albums – where does your artistic drive toward Christmas music come from?

RH: Well as long as I can remember I've always appreciated the different seasons of the year.  As a kid I especially loved the Christmas and holiday season's “feel” with all of the decorations, colors, smells...the whole sensory part of it all.  But there's also another reality to the holidays which isn't idealistic or warm & fuzzy that gets overlooked.  These aren't mutually exclusive for most people so I feel it's important to acknowledge both in my music.

MB:  Both of these albums are very thematically strong, focusing in on defined aspects of the holiday season that are outside of the bright colors and sleigh bells that we normally associate with Christmas music.  The Longest Night focused on the sadness and loneliness that can accompany the season, symbolized by the long, dark nights of Winter, but wrapped in hope.  With The Longing for Home you aim toward our emotions about “home” – nostalgia, the missing comforts when away - that are at their strongest during the Christmas season.  Tell us about your artistic vision for The Longing for Home, and how the album came about.

RH:  The Longest Night felt really out of the box and a very important work to pursue.  It was pretty vulnerable for me to put out there.  And I may come back to more of that in the future because it wasn't something I just did to get out of my system, so to speak.  But for the new project that became The Longing for Home, I wanted to explore the idea of “home,” especially around the holidays, and what it may look and feel like at different points in life through different perpsectives, ages, and circumstances.  It was definitely challenging to cover the range of emotions and feelings I wanted to capture.

MB:  Why do you feel that exploring the full spectrum of our feelings and emotions through Christmas music is important?

RH: I think people bury and suppress a lot of their feelings, especially during the holidays.  With so many illusions of idealism, it can be fraught with opportunity for anxiety, stuffed feelings, and a loss of self which is obviously the exact opposite of what the season's supposed to be about!  I want my music to help us be more honest and hopefully recapture the child-like wonder.  And maybe that can help us offer ourselves some kindess and compassion during the Christmas season...then hopefully extend the same to others.

MB:  Both of your albums have original songs as well as your arrangements of some standards.  How did you select the classic Christmas songs to include on these albums so that they become part of the spirit and flow of each record?  And, what is your process to interpret and arrange the standards so that they are a thematic fit in the album?

RH:  That's a fantastic question!  I look through a variety of songs and sit with the music...just the lyrics for messages I may have previously overlooked.  If you get still you can often find a hidden gem or poignant phrase in a lesser known verse of a carol that sticks out and speaks to you.  Then I study the chord structure and look for progressions around the original melody that feel right for what I want to convey.  I never want to veer too far from the original melody so it's always recognizable but the chords around the melody can go wherever.

MB:  As a fan of many musical genres, especially (and obviously) Christmas music, I sometimes hear an album that, to me, sounds like it is exactly what the artist envisioned, a perfect representation of what they imagined as they worked through the production.  David Bowie was brilliant in this respect – delivering albums of amazing cohesion and message that welcomed the listener into the music.  I felt this way after listening to The Longest Night for the first time.  And now, The Longing for Home delivers a similar musical experience.  Now that The Longing for Home is ready for release, do you feel that the final product is an album consistent with your vision?

RH:  I'm very humbled and grateful you were able to hear that in my albums.  It means a lot to me.  Thankfully, I really do feel the album stays true to the original vision.  Throughout the process it's important to keep coming back to check in and make sure the integrity of the vision is still there.  But I do feel like every song in this project does its part to contribute to the collective vision.

MB:  “Refugee”, with the crackling of the fire and the sounds of the wind, is one of my favorites from The Longing for Home .  Tell us the story of “Refugee”.

RH:  Yes, I incorporated ambient sounds on both Refugee and also Finding My Way Home to help listeners go somewhere in their imaginations.  For “Refugee” I couldn't help but consider stories and images of the Syrian and Rohingya people (Myanmar) crises. 

Then there's also a “refugee of the heart”, so to speak, where a person may appear to have everything externally but is lost, lonely and isolated inside. 

I would like to add that a portion of this album's proceeds will go to UMCOR (link added by MB) where 100% of all donations go to various natural and humanitarian disasters that have left people without a home here in the United  States and abroad.

MB: That's very generous of you, and I hope it will inspire our readers to give back during this holiday season.  I've included a link to UMCOR following this interview.  So Russ, who are some of your musical influences?

RH:  A few of my better known influences over the years include Sting, Bruce Hornsby, Tom Petty and John Mayer.  I've recently been listening to Bill Evans...a fantastic jazz pianist from back in the 60's and 70's.

MB:  Here’s one of my standard interview questions:  Do you have a favorite Christmas song or album? 

RH:  That's a tough one but if I had to choose it would be The Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack.  I never tire of it.  To me, nothing sounds more like Christmas than that!

MB:  I know that after all the work to create and release a new album you’re probably ready for a breather.  But, is there another Christmas record in store in the future?  Do you have other themes you want to explore with a future Christmas album?

RH:  Yes, I feel confident there is another Christmas record in store.  I'm just not sure whether I want to go deeper with either theme of my first two albums or explore a new area...or maybe a combination of all three.  But I can say I'm already itching to write again as I had an idea just last week that I need to log so I don't forget!

I'm definitely going to need a break as I've been been juggling everything that has to happen to successfully launch a project as well as post-launch for over a year.  I also have to say I'm thankful and grateful for my family as they have been very patient and supportive along the journey.

MB:  To wrap things up, is there a message you’d like to share with our readers about your new album?

RH:  Yes, I think this album is very versatile, almost chameleon-like, in that it can be everything from great dinner party background music to a calming companion in rush hour traffic to helping someone get in touch with their feelings and emotions throughout the holidays.

MB:  Russ, thank you so much for your time.  You’ve given us Christmas music fans two deeply thoughtful albums of wonderful music.  Have a very Merry Christmas, and best wishes to you and your family!

RH:  Thank you so much for featuring my music and the opportunity to go deeper with some great questions!  Merry Christmas to you and yours as well!!

 UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) website
"The Longing for Home" on Bandcamp
Russ Hitt Music website
Russ Hitt on Facebook
Russ Hitt Bandcamp Site

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Sofia Talvik: When Winter Comes

Ah, Sofia Talvik.  What can one say about Sofia Talvik?  Y'know, I could make a great blog post with just pictures of Sofia.


But that would be unfair and an injustice, as Sofia Talvik's talent as a complete musician - singer, songwriter, guitarist -  exceeds even her beauty.

Sofia has long been a darling of Christmas music fans around the world.  Oh, Sofia has not limited herself to Christmas music, oh no.  She has an extensive catalog of records, a songstress of the highest caliber. One could classify her as 'folk', and one wouldn't be wrong.  One could say "Americana", and it's there, though you must add Swedish-tinged to it, as Sofia hails from Sweden.  Really, just say "she sings her songs".

Over the years Sofia has graced us many times with Christmas songs, original compositions, many free, as Christmas gifts to her fans.  This year Sofia has collected her songs, re-worked and re-recorded them, added a new original and, for the first time, a standard, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day".  She has arranged these into a true album, a representation of her relationship with Christmas, and the joy and sorrow that can come with the holiday.

The result is beautiful.  The dues she has paid as a traveling, touring, working musician pay off in a truly special musical maturity.  She sings and plays with unprecedented confidence and control, and shares her Christmas music from her heart and soul.  Her voice has a purity, with just a hint of Scandinavian inflection that adds a touch of exoticism, that is stirring.  "When Winter Comes" is undoubtedly one of the top Christmas albums of 2017.

My good friend Stubby has long been a champion of Sofia Talvik and her music.  In fact, I'm pretty sure that it was via Stubby that I first learned of Sofia.  Many of you know that Stubby is putting his House of Christmas on indefinite pause.  As a (possibly) last post, Stubby has written an in-depth review of "When Winter Comes" over at his place, and I can't touch the eloquence and love for her music that comes through in his review.  If this is Stubby's swan song, then there can be no more fitting way to exit the scene for a Christmas blogger we all heartily admire.  So, please visit Stubby's for his review.  Well done, my friend.

So. hopefully I've piqued your curiosity, and Stubby has delivered the whole message:  support Sofia Talvik, buy her music, love it this season and for many seasons to come.

Sofia Talvik website
Sofia Talvik music
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A CD of "When Winter Comes" was provided by the artist to Merry and Bright for review.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Christmas Reading: "The Triple Dog Dare" by Joanna Wilson

Each year when Halloween passes and November 1 comes, several things happen in the Bingle house.  I start playing Christmas music on the record player when the rest of the family is around (instead of listening privately, as I do every year in the months of January-October).  I more diligently begin detailed planning for my annual Christmas compilation CD (yes, I still burn CDs).  I start looking for the necessary fixins for the annual fruitcake baking later in November.  And I start my Christmas reading.

I love Christmas reading as much as anything during the holidays. Novels, stories, poetry, and works of non-fiction all make my reading list in a given year.  There are a few annual traditions I've settled into, such as reading Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory" every year on Thanksgiving morning, accompanied by the peace of the sleeping household and a cup of freshly brewed coffee with a touch of cream.

Most of my reading, though, is new to me, be it a classic Christmas story or a new work.  This year, I chose "The Triple Dog Dare: Watching - & Surviving - the 24-House Marathon of A Christmas Story" by Christmas TV journalist extraordinaire Joanna Wilson to kick off my holiday reading season.

In "The Triple Dog Dare", author Joanna tells her account of watching the modern classic film A Christmas Story for 24 hours straight, simulating the annual broadcast on TBS that has become a part of so many of our Christmas Eves and Days.  Twelve straight viewings.  Twelve showdowns with Scut Farkus.  Twelve times Flick stuck his tongue on the pole.  Twelve "Fa Ra Ra Ra Ra"s at the Chop Suey Palace.  Twelve "Oh Fuuuuuuudge"s (but he didn't say "fudge").  What would happen after the marathon?  Would she love the movie even more?  Would she never want to see it ever again?  Would she still be sane? 

These questions and many more are answered in this delightful and completely engaging book. Joanna explores the reasons why this movie has become so beloved, and why it is uniquely suitable for the 24 hour marathon broadcast year after year, which plays in to the reason so many major advertisers buy commercial time during the event.  She gives us many details about the cast, including connections beyond the film and some "where are they now" info.  We are treated to a cornucopia of tidbits about the film, production, location, and other miscellany.  Perhaps I knew, but had forgotten, that Bob Clark also directed "Black Christmas" the 1974 film.  I did not know until reading this book that Mr. Clark has a cameo in the film.  It's things like this, the details surrounding the film, that make the book such a joy.

But that's not all.  Joanna tells about her staging of the marathon - a re-creation done in February with a VHS tape of the movie recorded from television in 1989.  (We understand that viewing the entire marathon as it's broadcast live would be a serious detriment to enjoying the holiday, and really just not feasible for a Christmas lover).  An unexpected bonus of traveling back in time to television circa 1989 was the neo-vintage commercials that were fortunately not excised from the recording.  Joanna's accounts of these commercials, many for products and services that have ceased to exist, added significant joy to the reading experience.

Christmas Television History Expert Joanna Wilson
There is no unnecessary play-by-play of the movie.  Many scenes are referenced and used as inertia to explore an angle, a nook, or a cranny about the film, the viewing experience, the social and collective tradition that has developed since the marathon began, or other tangents and fascinating offshoots.  If you, like me, love the movie, you'll find much to love in Joanna's book.  It's a guarantee that you'll relate to some or many of Joanna's observations and experiences, and you will assuredly learn something new about A Christmas Story.  

While I'm at it, let me give a thumbs-up to Joanna's other Christmas-related books, "The Christmas TV Companion", "Tis the Season TV", and "Merry Musical Christmas Vol. 1".  The first two of these have suddenly become enablers for me to spend way too much time in front of the TV, looking up previously unknown (to me) TV episodes, film shorts, cartoons, and so on.  Thanks to Joanna I'm discovering Christmas entertainment that I didn't know existed, and it's wonderful.  Thanks Joanna!

Joanna Wilson, in addition to publishing books about Christmas visual entertainment, also runs the excellent blog Christmas TV History and keeps an active social media presence via Tis the Season TV and Triple Dog Dare on Facebook, as well as on other social media platforms.

1701 Press website
The Triple Dog Dare on 1701 Press
Christmas TV History

Monday, November 6, 2017

2017 Preview and Thisbe Vos Kickstarter

Hello and Happy November everyone!  Welcome back to another season of Christmas nerdery here at ye old Merrie and Bright blogg.  This post is to welcome you all back, to give you a little preview of what's in store this season, to share a quick news tidbit, and most importantly to encourage you to help crowdfund a new record from one of our absolute favorite musicians.

So, welcome back!  (check - done)

For long-time readers of Merry and Bright you'll see similar Christmas goodies in 2017 as in years past.  I'll be doing some reviews of Christmas albums and introducing you to artists that aren't in the mainstream but produce some darned fine music.  I have two artist interviews lined up already, a third pending, and perhaps a couple more will come along in the next month.  And, as always, I have a great set of vintage, out-of-print music to share out for you to enjoy.  I managed to get way ahead of the album-ripping game this year (whew!).  I have all of the records ripped, almost all of the audio processing done, and a good start on the cover scanning and stitching.  And it's only November 6th!

Beyond that, who knows what you'll find here.  You can guarantee it'll be in the holiday spirit, that's for sure.  I hope you like what you read, and if you do, leave a comment! 

Quick news tidbit:  I'm returning to the radio again this year.  Believe it or not, the hosts of River Trade Radio on KKFI in Kansas City invited me back for a special hour of Christmas music from my collection.  And,  the FCC was ok with that  :-)  So on Sunday December 3rd at about 9:15AM Central Time you can hear a little of me and a lot of great Christmas songs.  I'll post more info about that closer the day.

Ok, now for the important message.  You may recall Thisbe Vos from previous posts here.  The first was a review of her amazing Christmas record in 2015, and then her interview with Der Bingle last season.  Now, Thisbe has a new project, and she needs crowdfunding support via Kickstarter to achieve her goal.  Thisbe is making a "Romantic Valentine's Day Jazz Album", with her renditions of jazz standards fitting the occasion, plus several original songs.  Now, Thisbe is not only an amazing jazz singer, she is a truly gifted songwriter.  I've been endlessly impressed with her ability to write a new song and have it sound like a standard.  If you haven't heard Thisbe, visit her at one of the links below and listen to this talented young jazz artist.

On her Kickstarter page, Thisbe details her plans for the albums and describes the costs to make the record, including the breakdown of the funds.  She has quite a chunk of the funds allocated to the musicians that will be recording with her, which makes me want to support her even more.  Earning a steady, decent wage can be challenging for those who dedicate their lives to making music, so I was very glad to see that the Kickstarter will support not only Thisbe, but also her band and collaborators. I pledged to support her new record right away, and I hope you will consider signing on as a supporter. Even if jazz music isn't your thing, maybe you know someone who would love a CD from Thisbe.

So, please take a minute to check out her Kickstarter page.  Der Bingle thanks you.

Thisbe Vos Kickstarter Site
Thisbe Vos website
Thisbe on Facebook

Well, that's it for tonight - I hope you visit Merry and Bright many times this season.  Happy holidays!