Monday, December 10, 2018

Christmas Album of the Year?

With all the great new-music Christmas blogs out there, it's hard for a new Christmas release to slip by, especially a near great, nay, a great one.  When you suddenly discover one, though, it's akin to being whomped in the face with a herring by the Grand Champion of the Fish-Slapping Dance, or as they say in Finland "Tanssikuningas peitteli kasvot silakalla".  So, imagine my utter shock at discovering "Having a Marfy Xmas!!!" by Mrs. Helen Marf on the tympani and her enclave of musicians.  Amazing doesn't begin to describe this masterpiece of seasonal songs.

Mrs. Helen Marf, legendary tympani player for Quilt Records in the 1960's, was approached by Quilt Records president Clancy Snarrup in 1966 about making a Christmas record, as a followup to her previous tympanic masterpieces released on the Quilt label.  Soon after, and following three strenuous days of recording, "Having a Marfy Xmas!!!" was born.  Where has this album been all these years?  Finally, it is now available for Christmas music lovers everywhere.

It's fudging amazing, I'll tell you, fudging amazing.  It's tympani-led music to soothe the babes and quiet the barnyard beasts.  Or, as the French say:

Cette musique tympanique apaisera tous
les bébés en pleurs et fera taire les
animaux de la ferme.

The album opener, "Deck the Halls" is an exercise in precision and jazzy interpretation.  Drummer Golly Awkward keeps the beat as if he is a human manifestation of a Swiss watch, unerring in exactitude and the demands of Mrs. Helen Marf's arrangement.   Hempal Goozer III plays a cautious Hammond Organ, and Hubert Grackfellow an intensly restrained tubular bells.  Heaven!

"We Wish You a Marfy Christmas" introduces 1) Mrs, Helen Marf's joviality with the play-on-words song title, and 2) Larry Trimpletskzyk-Klamph on bongos, along with Maria Losa shakin' the sleigh bells.  You'll be craving a heaping serving of figgy pudding before the song ends!

Oh my - track 3 - "The First Noel", performed on solo tympani by Mrs. Helen Marf.  Only through the rhythmic explorations of unaccompanied tympani can the new depths of meaning be found in this classic olde Christmas carol, or as the Portuguese say "O solo do tympani acrescenta profundidade e significado à música natalina."  The solo ends far too soon for this Christmas-music lover.

On "Silent Night", guest vibraphonist Tina "The Ghost" Freena joins the cadre, and Hammond organist Hempal Goozer III is featured, but following Mr. Goozer's turn in the spotlight Mrs. Marf returns, driving the classic melody with reckless abandon and wild yet tamed tympani rolls, commanding attention yet paying respectful homage to Franz Gruber, or as the Germans say "eine Hommage an Franz Gruber".

"God Rest Ye, Marfy Gentlemen" - could this be an uncredited arrangement by the great Henry Mancini?  Whaaaat?

The true highlight of the album is "Jingle Bells".  Mrs. Helen Marf unleashed her inner tympanic Kraken in this performance.  You think, yes you do, that she is sticking strictly to the rhythm as written, when Whoa!  there's an eighth note pause and a slight syncopation.  OMG!  There's an extra tympani beat with what is probably a staccato, probably not an ultra-staccato, mallet.  The strokes and rolls drive the song, once again accompanied by Mr. Awkward and Ms. Losa.  Mrs. Helen Marf plays with untold virtuosity and confidence.  And, right at the 3:00 minute mark of the song, it sounds like Mrs. Marf is late on a beat.  But, to me, this is just another example of her sheer brilliance.  It sounds like a late beat, striking not on the quarter or the eighth or the sixteenth, but in that nether region that lies outside the rhythm.  Oh, it's purposeful, my friends.  It COMMANDS your attention, lest it has wandered.  It brings you back for the denoument of "Jingle Bells".  It's a journey to jazz and back, all in a single note, or as the Bulgarians say "Falshivata propusnata belezhka e sŭshtnostta na muzikalnata nirvana".

Now, I'm not one to make musical recommendations, not being an actual musician and all that, but I've listened to my fair share of Christmas music (and probably yours too). And, y'know, if Mrs. Helen Marf decides to get the band back together for one more Christmas album, or even a single, I think she should give Professor Z.Z. d'Bingle a call. Known as the Theremin Jedi of the Plains, Prof. d'Bingle's theremin mastery might give the next Marf tune that little extra push for Grammy to take notice.

Now for the good news - you too can share in the works of Mrs. Helen Marf. An unreleased version of "Bring a Torch, Jeanette" is on Soundcloud - here's the link: Bring a Torch.

And, you too can own your own copy of "Having a Marfy Xmas!!!" You can buy a download on Bandcamp here: Marfy Xmas!!! You can even buy copies for your friends, which I think you should do.

And hey - here's the official promo video for "Having a Marfy Xmas!!!"  Youtube link  You know you have to go watch.

It's reported that Kansas City musician Jason Beers has some connection to this album....

The album is real, the review is for fun. Thanks Franny and Jason...

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Birchwood Pops Orchestra "Silent Night"

Tonight's share comes from a clean-out of my wife's Second Grade classroom that she undertook last year. After having been in the same classroom for well over twenty years, it was time for a purge, and she brought home a few records that had made their way, somehow, into the room.

"Silent Night", by the Birchwood Pops Orchestra on the Pickwick label, was a very pleasant surprise.  It has a 1980 date on the album, but to me it sounds of an earlier time.  It's a very pleasant background Christmas music album, well performed, arranged to be very true to the essence of the classic carols, but still original enough to be interesting and ear catching. 

It's a short album - 9 tracks and about 24 minutes.  I like the song selection, with a few A-listers - "Silent Night", "White Christmas", "The Christmas Songs - but it also includes several still well-known but not as frequently recorded songs, such as "Toyland", "The Coventry Carol", and "The Bells of St. Mary's".

This is a really enjoyable album, arranged to really showcase the brass instruments.  I think you'll like it.  Oh, and please forgive the "Henton" written in black marker in the over - that was the telltale mark of belonging in my wife's classroom :-) 

Enjoy "Silent Night" by the Birchwood Pops Orchestra

download link

Thursday, December 6, 2018

1940 Christmas Poems

At a local used bookstore this summer, where I had thankfully done some inventory research before going and created a list of books I wanted to see, because man, the bookstore was jam-packed and I needed to jsut turn over the list to the proprietor to have any shot at finding them, I picked up this little gem of a book, titled "1940 Christmas Poems".  It was published locally in Kansas City as a result of a poetry contest co-sponsored by the Kansas City Star newspaper and WDAF, a local radio station in 1940, now also a television station.  I've included the first few pages explaining the origins of the book, and also a few of the poems.

What is striking to me is the artwork on the endpapers.  In the upper left is a military wife, home for Christmas, by the tree with presents abound, missing her husband.  In the lower right, her husband, fighting in the war, praying to be able to someday return to his home.  In the middle, a stark image of warplanes.  It's a very moving illustration.  And, although it's hard to see in the picture, the cover is embossed with the same picture, sans planes.  One could place a paper on the cover and shade with a pencil to reproduce the picture.  Love it.

The book contains a collection of the poems submitted for the contest.  KC readers - I didn't recognize any of the names of the poets.  I wouldn't expect to know anyone from 1940, but I thought perhaps that there would be a recognizable local name, maybe a Kemper, a Rockhill, a Bodine, or another family name from local media, but there are none that I could identify.

Here are the introductory sections and a few sample poems.  If I can safely scan a few more poems I may add them in later.  Enjoy this piece of Christmas history from Kansas City.

I also found a vintage copy of "Miracle on 34th St." at the bookstore that day.  'Twas a good day of book shopping...

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

What's the name of the reindeer leading Santa's sleigh?

No, What is pulling second.
I'm not asking you who's pulling second. 
Who is leading the sleigh.
That's what I'm trying to find out!  Who has the red nose?

Ok - enough of that feeble attempt to add a Christmas spin to the classic Abbott & Costello routine.  Why, you may ask? (He's in Center... no, no, no...)  Well, tonight's share is a Christmas radio broadcast from Bud & Lou, performed on December 12, 1946.  Side A of the album, titled "Christmas Stocking" from the Holiday label, contains the radio broadcast, and side B has, of course, "Who's On First" along with "Costello's Farm".

A few words about "Who's On First".  It's freakin' genius comedy.  You probably knew that already, but the genius really comes out after you've heard many different versions of it.  I have several A&C records, all with some version of "Who's On First", and it's just slightly different each time.  Of course the basics and the structure and flow are the same, but there are little, teeny idiosyncrasies, mainly led by Lou, because you never really know where exactly he's going next, that give each version it's own identity.  And frankly, listening to Bud keep up without ever losing a beat is amazing.  Go hit the internet and listen to several different versions and you'll see what I mean.

Another thing about Who's On First is that no one else can really do it.  I have this album by The Links (actually it's my daughters but she won't take it)(I call them the Will Ferrell Trio)(We thought it was the Kinks - boy were we surprised)(It's signed - it's harder to find The Links records unsigned than signed ones) and it has a version of Who's On First.  It's well-rehearsed, well-paced, performed with energy, delivered clearly, and it's awful.  It doesn't have a trace of Lou's manic energy and the spontaneity of A&C, even after they'd done the bit a million times.  Compare and contrast, my students.

One last thing - I had (he's passed now) a "step"-brother, raised by but never adopted by my father, whose name was Bud Abbott.  Seriously.  Eugene was his given name, but he was known as Bud.  Bud was 40 years older than me, and we never lived in the same home, and having Bud Abbott as a brother confused the heck out of me as a child once I discovered Abbott & Costello.

So, anyhoo - there's a lot of extraneous information packed in here tonight, so I'll stop and let you enjoy "Christmas Stocking" by Abbott & Costello.  Final word - there are a few scratches/skips that I could not repair during the transfer process.  My apologies, but that's part of the vinyl game....

Monday, December 3, 2018

"Peace" by Ruth Acuff

With so many other Christmas music sites that do new music so much better than I do (Stubby's, Christmas Underground, Christmas-a-Go-GoMistletunes to name a few), once the season is in full swing I don't do too many reviews of the new stuff, unless I can add in an artist interview or something that can complement what these other great blogs serve.  Still, every now and then something really special comes along that I want to share with my readers.

"Peace" by Ruth Acuff is one of those very special songs.  Ruth Acuff is a (near) local artist for me, residing in Columbia, MO.  She is a professional harpist and singer/songwriter, and has previously fronted the psychedelic rock band The Royal Furs and the alternative folk rock band Rutherford.  Stepping aside from her rock personas, Ruth has produced a single that is completely beautiful, in voice, instrumental performance, and message.

"Peace" is an inspiration in times that may be troubling.  Every year there are many for whom the holiday season is not one of joy, but of sorrow.  "Peace" reaches out to them with, and also to those who find our nation's and world's politics discouraging, or worse. Ruth admittedly cites political tensions as an inspiration for this song, and her words are moving:

When the world seems a hardened place,
you’re doing everything you can to love the human race. 
Peace will be your saving grace.
When you have no other choice, when your heart cannot rejoice.
Peace, a warmth in your soul.
You, yourself celestial.

Ruth's vocals are sublimely sweet, like a fairy princess in the moonlight, and her harp playing gives the song an otherworldly quality.  Although "Peace" is not overtly a Christmas song, it is perfect for the season where we celebrate with joy Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men.

I hope that Ruth will make her way from Columbia toward the West for a Kansas City performance.  She is a special talent with an extraordinary song for this season.

Ruth Acuff website
Ruth Acuff on Facebook

"Peace" single on Bandcamp and Amazon, also available on your favorite digital music sources

Sunday, December 2, 2018

"Seasons Greetings" from the United States Army Band

My first album share this season is the wonderful "Seasons Greetings" by the United States Army Band.  The album features several different combinations of musicians from the US Army Band, including the US Army Chorus, the Chamber Orchestra, and the Brass and Woodwind Ensembles, all under the direction of Leader and Commander Colonel Eugene W. Allen.  There are fifteen tracks on the album, including a leading track "A Christmas Medley" consisting of four well known carols.

There is an interesting note on the back cover "Not For Sale/Public Service".  So perhaps the album was distributed only to members of our armed forces?  If a reader has some insight, please comment and share.

So, without further ado and with respect for all of our servicepersons past and present, please enjoy this fine album, "Seasons Greetings" from the United States Army Band.

download link

Sharing Season

You may consider the previously shared single a bonus preview of sharing season, and the forthcoming share the official kickoff.  This announcement is a bit of a potential disclaimer for this year's shares.  A stylus change may have contributed to a few ripping idiosyncrasies this year.  I've tried to catch them and re-record where possible, but since it's December, if there are any hiccups, I won't have time to re-record.  If you find any, please comment and I'll try to re-share next season.  Otherwise, caveat emptor (I don't think there is a Latin equivalent of "downloader").  My apologies for any aberrations in the quality this season.


Thursday, November 29, 2018

Single Time: Liz Anderson and the Snowflakes "Christopher the Christmas Seal"

Today's share is another single: "Christopher the Christmas Seal" b/w "Pony in my Stocking" by Liz Anderson and the Snowflakes.

Oops - Fake News.  Sorry.

I had this single all ready to share out to you, figuring that it was another one-and-done musician recording a vanity-ish Christmas record.  Welp - I was wrong.  Quite wrong, actually.   

Liz Anderson is 1) the mother of country music great Lynn Anderson; 2) a very notable songwriter in the country music world (her songs recorded by such greats as Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, Faron Young, and of course her daughter Lynn); and 3) a fairly accomplished singer herself.  I had no idea until I started doing the requisite pre-posting research.

Both of these songs are available on a collection called "The Fairy Grandmother Sings her favorite children's Christmas songs" - get it here on Amazon.  These are both pretty good songs - I was excited to share them (especially following young miss Lawrence from a few days ago).  But, we must follow our rules of sharing, so no go, my friends.  Instead, enjoy the image of the single sleeve and then go visit Amazon to listen to the song samples. 

Live and learn!

Liz Anderson wikipedia page

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Christmas Collectible Book: "A Christmas Day with Longfellow"

Yesterday (Broke Saturday, 11/24/18), I went to one of the local antique malls looking for a vintage aluminum Christmas tree, with low expectations of actually finding one, but it's always fun to go anyway.  I was correct about the tree, but did find a very nice little antique Christmas book, "A Christmas Day with Longfellow", published by Charles E. Graham & Co.  I can't find an exact publication date, but the internet seems to point to the early 1900s and perhaps earlier.  It may have been part of a series by the publisher, as there is an internet listing for "A Christmas Day with Havergal" by the same publisher that has the same tiny "0922 Christmas Wish Series" printed on the back cover.

The cover is worn, as expected of a book that is over 100 years old.  The pages, though yellowed, are in excellent condition, and the printed verse and artwork is quite beautiful.  The book was not priced at the mall - the proprietors called the dealer who quoted a price of $3.  Sold!

The spine of the book is fairly fragile, which diminishes the value (not so important to me), but allowed me to scan the book so I can share it with you here.  Please enjoy the following images of "A Christmas Day with Longfellow".

Front Cover

Page 1

Pages 2-3

Pages 4-5

Pages 6-7

Pages 8-9

Pages 10-11

Page 12

Back Cover

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Single Time: Linda Lawrence "Have a Happy Ho! Ho! Ho!"

I haven't shared out many Christmas singles here at Merry & Bright! in the past, mainly because they are very hard to find.  It's a duel with patience to root through stacks of 45s, most of which seem to be in terrible condition (did people use them to scrub kitchen floors or something?), in order to find a Christmas gem.  There are a good many Peter Pan or similar labels to be found with Christmas songs, but they don't interest me much.  However, in the past year I did stumble on a couple interesting singles of the yuletune variety, so I'll start my sharing season with one of them.

First up is "Have a Happy Ho! Ho! Ho!", backed by "The Christmas Lady" by one Linda Lawrence.  As with many obscure Christmas singles, there is basically no verifiable information about Linda Lawrence on the internet.  A Linda Lawrence was apparently married to Donovan (you know, the folk singer), but I'm guessing it's not the same.  About all I can tell you is:

  • the songs are credited to J. Lawrence, published by Johnny Lawrence Music (dad, maybe?)
  • The label, Serena Records, has a P.O. Box address on the label, in Mobile, AL
  • The record is SR-105-A-X (and the flip side is ...B-X)
  • "Have a Happy Ho! Ho! Ho!" is subtitled "The Happy Polka"
And that's it.

"Have a Happy Ho! Ho! Ho!" is a brief 1:54 (1:51 in my ripped version).  It's claim to fame is that it was included on Andy Cirzan's 2005 "Off in the Christmas Cosmos" comp, as reported by friend CaptOT many moons ago at A Christmas Yuleblog.  

The B side is "The Christmas Lady", coming at 2:30.  Let's just say that there is a lot going on in this song.  It's an aural cornucopia, that's fer sure.  I think that it could be a case study for sound mixing for any prospective audio engineers out there. 

Enjoy "Have a Happy Ho! Ho! Ho!" and "The Christmas Lady", and welcome to the 2018 sharing season!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

CD Review: Rehya Stevens "Celebrate"

Around our household the past couple of years, we've spent more and more time during the (extended) holiday season with our TV on the Hallmark channels, watching the never ending stream of Christmas movies.  Say what you want, but they have a snow-lined niche in Christmas season entertainment, and they know how to execute their formula.  For me, some are better than others, but by golly they are darned happy movies :-)  And I especially liked the one where Captain Kirk showed up and transported the star of the movie into the future.  Ok, it was William Shatner playing the mystical role, but it's more fun to think of him as Captain Kirk.

Why am I talking about Hallmark movies?  Well, because indie musician Rehya Stevens, with a brand new Christmas CD titled "Celebrate" out this year, has had two of her songs placed in multiple Hallmark Christmas movies (songs and movies are listed below).

Listening to "Celebrate," one can see why Rehya's songs were picked.  She has a gorgeously smooth, pure voice, she frequently sings of holiday love, and her music has that perfect Hallmark vibe.

"Celebrate" features nine original Christmas songs, a sparkling collection of soothing, seductive, seasonal tunes.  "Happy Holiday" kicks off the album, a jazzy, soulful yet bright song tying a bit of nostalgic Christmas imagery into a song of holiday love.  "Come In From The Cold" follows, and is very melodic and refreshing.  I hesitate to say "smooth jazz", but "Come In From The Cold" is a bit jazzy, a bit smooth, and altogether wonderful.

"Jingle Jangle" is an attention-getter.  More upbeat, it hearkens to "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree", has a great little poppy beat, excellent lyrics, and is a wonderful vehicle for Rehya's vocals.

"Fly Past My Roof" is another ear-perker.  Leading off with a bluesy, kinda nasty (in a good way) horn section before sliding back into a slow-tempo first verse, it then drifts through a little evocative piano accompaniment before conceding to the awesome horn section once again.  It's like a little journey though the dark woods of Christmas blues, and it's terrific.  (If the metaphors don't make sense, please go have a dram of whiskey, then return to the blog - thank you!)

All in all, "Celebrate" is a great soundtrack for a Christmas season evening at home.  Rehya Stevens shows her talent as a complete musician throughout the album.  So, pause that Hallmark Christmas movie (it'll be on again, really) and listen to "Celebrate" with a nice glass of wine.  You'll have a great evening!

Now, as occasionally happens here in the Christmas music blogosphere, good friend Stubby also reviewed "Celebrate" over at his place.  Stubby did an ab fab review and provided a lot of information about Rehya Stevens, her background, and her career.  Rather than repeat all of that over here, I'll point you over to Stubby's for a terrific post about "Celebrate":  Stubby's Review of Celebrate

One more thing before wrapping this up - Rehya's e-mail signature line contains a quite from Fred Rogers: "Deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex".  Anyone quoting Mister Rogers in their e-mail is all right by ol' Der Bingle :-)

Following is a list of the Hallmark movies that have included the songs listed below:

Hallmark Movies:
"The 12 Gifts Of Christmas," "A Prince For Christmas," "All I Want For Christmas," "Dear Secret Santa," "Christmas In Palm Springs," "Christmas Under Wraps," "A Perfect Christmas List"

Featured Songs:
"When You're With Me"

Rehya Stevens website
Rehya Stevens Facebook
Purchase CD of "Celebrate" directly from Rehya: click here
Purchase digital "Celebrate" from Amazon

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Merry and Bright Exclusive!: Casi Joy Interview and "Joy for the Holidays" Album Release

Season 12 of NBC's "The Voice" brought an extra-special treat for fans of the show in Kansas City, my place of residence.  Local singer-songwriter-musician Casi Joy, a native of Smithville, MO, captured the attention of the coaches with a 4-chair turn, the hearts of her hometown, and the ears of music lovers across the country with her yodel-infused cover of "Blue", by Patsy Cline.  Are you kidding me?  Killin' a Patsy Cline song!  On national television, in front of four of the premiere musicians in the business!  That takes some guts, my friends.

Casi Joy had a great run through "The Voice", making it to the live performance shows before having to say goodbye.  Since then, Casi has been a woman on fire, performing a frenetic schedule in Kansas City, Nashville, Iowa, Minnesota, and many other locales across the country.

Earlier this year Casi announced on Facebook that she was planning a Christmas album.  Well, this was astounding news for me, as I was a fan already, and then adding a Christmas record!  What could be better?

Well.... how about an exclusive interview with Casi Joy to talk about her upcoming Christmas album?  I reached out, she responded, and before long we were sitting in a booth at Kozak's Laketown Grill in Smithville, MO, chatting about her upcoming Christmas record, and many other things.  So, I'm pleased to present to you a Merry and Bright! artist interview with Casi Joy.

"Joy for the Holidays" by Casi Joy, featuring 12 classic Christmas songs, including "Santa Claus is Comin' To Town", "Mary Did You Know", "Cool Yule", and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". Available November 21, 2018.  Visit for ordering information.


Merry & Bright: I always like to start out with the story of your inspiration for making a Christmas album.  Can you tell me a little bit about what made you decide to make this record?

Casi Joy:  I’ve actually been getting a lot of requests at my shows because I do so many of the classic country songs, – we even had some pre-orders for it.  They’re like “When you make your Christmas album – here’s the money for it – write my name down”.  So I guess the demand is high enough for it we’d better get on it.  We’ve been talking about doing a Christmas album for years but you have to think of doing it six to eight months in advance, because there’s so much promo that goes on, and it takes so long to record a full album, and I’m doing ten songs [MB: Since the interview, Casi added two songs - there are now 12 on "Joy for the Holidays"], so it’s taken so much time and planning.  We’ve been thinking about it for years, and this year we remembered “Oh! We should start on the Christmas album right now!”

MB: I saw that you reached out to your Facebook fans to get suggestions for what to include on the album.  How has that worked out?  What kind of response have you gotten?

CJ:  Well, we had an overwhelming response for “O Holy Night” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”,  so those were the first songs added to the list.  We had a pretty good response with requests for songs!  And I pretty much followed those requests.

MB:  And you performed “O Holy Night” at the Kaufman Center (in Kansas City)?

CJ: Yeah!

MB:  Tell me a little bit about that.  Was that part of the holiday show? 

CJ:  Yeah, they were doing a holiday show for the members of the Kaufman Center.

MB: Like a special engagement?

CJ: Yeah!  It was a really, really special event to be part of – just to perform on that stage in such a formal setting was really special, especially in my hometown.  And that was my first time getting to perform “O Holy Night”, and I’ve loved that song since I was young.  It’s always been the most epic vocal song, in my opinion.

MB: It is.

CJ: I’ve always wanted to sing it.  So that was my first time having to learn the guitar parts and everything.  But I think for the Christmas album I’m going to play piano on it. 

MB:  Oh ok – that’s neat! Amongst the Christmas music collectors community there’s s rule that if you can’t sing “O Holy Night”, please don’t try, because it is very challenging.

CJ:  Yeah, yeah!  Don’t touch such a sacred song!

MB:  Well you did a great job with it, and I can’t wait to hear the album version.

CJ:  Thank you!  I’m excited!

Der Bingle meets Casi Joy!

MB: Can you tell me a little bit about you and Christmas music?  Has it been a life-long love of yours?

CJ:  Yeah, I mean Christmas has always been my favorite time of year.  I spend so much time with my family, and we go up to Minnesota, and have our Christmases up there with my grandparents and my Mom’s side of the family.  So Christmas music always makes me feel so nostalgic and warm and fuzzy, and makes me think of family, and, you know, delicious food!  And spending so much time with loved ones.  So it’s fun to get to just wrap myself completely up in that feeling for like six months while I’m recording this 😊

MB:  That’s a key to a good Christmas song – that feeling of home and family and nostalgia and those happy memories.

CJ:  Yeah!

MB:  The artists that write original Christmas songs – if they can get that aspect of it, they’ve got a good one.

CJ:  Right, yeah 😊

MB:  What are some of your favorite Christmas songs?  I assume some of these that are on the album.  Favorite songs?  Favorite artists?  Performances?

CJ:  “O Holy Night” is definitely my favorite.  “The Christmas Song”…  I’ve always loved “What Child Is This”.

MB:  When recording Christmas standards, some musicians play it straight and do a very faithful interpretation of the songs, and others really try to put some unique personal flavor into it and make it their own.  Have you done that with any of these songs?  Is there any one that jumps out as ‘this is going to be a signature Casi Joy Christmas song?”

CJ:  Yes - “Silent Night” is a more country vibe of the song. 

MB:  That’s a hard one to really put your own spin on.

CJ:  It is.  I had a hard time recording it.  I actually had to go back - I listened to it the next day and I was like ‘actually, that was not very good and I can do better’, because it was a more challenging song than I thought.  You think ‘Silent Night’, whatever…

MB:  It’s kind of the elephant in the room – ‘how can I tackle that and really do it justice and make it unique?’

CJ:  Yeah, exactly, so that one’s a different one.   “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” I’ve put my own spin on.  Oh “Santa Baby”! Oh!  I really like how that one came out.  I had fun being sassy on that one!

MB:  “Mary, Did You Know” -  What’s your connection with that song?  Why did you pick that one to be on the album? 

CJ:  That one was requested a lot.  I think that’s what put it on my radar.  I don’t know if that’s one I would have chosen initially, but now that I’ve done it – I had a lot of fun with that one in making it my own, because I hadn’t heard it a lot of times.  I guess that just wasn’t a popular one in my world growing up.  So that one came from the requests, and I’m grateful for that one, because I love it.

MB:  So you’re doing most of the work on this album yourself – the vocals, the instrumentation.  Can you tell me a little bit about the journey and making the album?

CJ:  Yeah – it’s a lot of work.  I’m working on some outsourcing on this one, because when I did “Covered in Joy” it was so, so much more work than I anticipated to record and perform and mix and master all by myself, and I had never really mixed female country vocals before, so I had to do a lot of research on that, and there was a learning curve.  So I have learned a lot and I’m using that with this Christmas album, but I’ve got so much other stuff going on that I might bring in my producer that works on my original music, Keith Harris.  I’m going to record my vocals and he’s going to make them shiny, and merry and bright!  😊

MB: Do you have any holiday season concerts planned where you’ll be performing songs from the album?

CJ: Yes.  The Kansas City Plaza Lighting, which is on Thanksgiving.  And then on December 13th, my band and I are going to be the house band on NBC on KC Live!  They’re doing a holiday content special and they’re going to have us playing in between segments.  So we’ll be playing on the TV!  And I’m doing a concert in Nashville for it too, so we’ve got a ton of holiday stuff, and those are all on my website

MB:  And I hope at some point you’ll get to take a breather and enjoy the holiday season.

CJ:  Yeah!  I don’t know when that’s going to be.  We really slammed so much into this year, especially with the album, because this is a project that I have to put six months to eight months of my time into, and you can only sell it -  it’s only relevant for two months.

MB: Yeah.

CJ: So we’re just trying to slam so many shows and so many opportunities to sell the physical copies before it’s the New Year and nobody cares about it anymore.

MB:  Hopefully until next year, it’ll come back around

CJ:  That’s true – there’s always next year!

MB:  OK – a couple questions about “The Voice”.  You had a great run – Blake Shelton was your coach. What’s one of the key things you learned from Blake?

CJ:  From Blake – he told me not to look down, not to angle down so much, when I’m playing on stage. He said that’s because I’m used to being on a stage where there’s people down below, like in the honky tonks in Nashville there’s people on the floor, and so you’re looking down, and so he told me ‘Remember to look up too”.  That was kind of the neat tip that I had never noticed.  I learned a ton from the actual vocal coaches behind the scenes and the hair and makeup crew and the wardrobe department and the choreographers.  I just learned so much from that side -  the business side of everything-  that was really helpful and I still use all of that.

MB:   Watching the program I try to imagine what all has to go into that production, and I can’t.

CJ:  It’s insane.  It’s nuts, yeah.  So much money in there.

MB: I have a unique opportunity to ask this:  You had a four-chair turn.  What is it like?  How in the heck do you actually pick a coach?  And how do you even keep everything together while they’re all fighting over you, and making their pitch.

CJ:  Yeah, yeah!  It was insane.  It’s so much like you see on TV that you’re like ‘wait – is this real and I really have to pick a coach now?’ or is somebody going to come in and be like ‘ok, we already pre-picked and you have to pick Adam’ or whatever.  And I was just like ‘really, this is where I pick?  You want me to talk now? Or what do I do here?  You guys are really fighting over me – this is real!’  It’s really surreal.

MB:  How did you make that decision?   Did you have Blake in mind beforehand? 

CJ:  Yeah!  They ask you before to put your choices in order of preference, so I had already had Blake for my number one, and I had just been told from people in the industry and in Nashville to choose Blake because he would help me after regardless of what happened, so that’s what I did 😊

MB:  Well congratulations on the good run that you had.

CJ:  Thanks!

MB: Kansas City has really embraced you as a hometown star since being on The Voice.  What’s a message for your Kansas City fans?

CJ:  Oh gosh - I can’t even put into words how grateful I am for them.  I mean, to have a whole city rally behind me – I just feel that love every day and I send it back to them.  And I just hope to keep putting Kansas City on the map in a good way, and making my city proud. 

MB: About Kansas City…, I’ve seen just in the past four or five years the local arts and music scene here has just exploded with the Crossroads district especially.  What are your thoughts about what we’re seeing in this town with this burst of creative energy? 

CJ: Yeah!  I think that the whole arts district is just remarkable.  It’s beautiful down there and there’s so much creativity going on.  I think it’s just so cool to be part of such a creative community and at this time when it’s starting to boom.  I’ve had friends come from Nashville, which is such a creative capitol of the world, and they’re like “Gosh the art here is just amazing!” and they couldn’t even believe it, and I’m like “Yeah! That’s my town!”  I’m very proud to be from Kansas City.

MB:  You’ve posted on your website that you’re very supportive of some animal-friendly charities, and you recorded “Howl at the Moon”, which probably makes everybody cry.

CJ: Yeah – my Mom takes a break when I perform that one.  She’s like “and that’s my cue to leave”.

MB: Tell me a little bit about your love of animals.

CJ: I’ve always loved animals.  I’m such a huge animal advocate, fighting for animal rights because they can’t fight for themselves, so that’s why I’m so behind that cause.  I’ve been so lucky to have such special pets, and they’re such a big part of my life.  My dog Danny Boy is all of my Instagram and he’s like more than a child to me.  It’s like – obsessive.  So I’m all about anything I can do to be involved with animal rights and speaking up for rescuing.

MB: I also saw that you had Autism Speaks as a foundation you support.  Is there any personal anecdote around support of that, or just because it’s a good organization?

CJ:  It started just because it’s a good organization.  I have a degree in education and I’ve worked in Special Education rooms, and I’ve seen autism first hand and how special those kids are.  They’re just incredible – some of the things that they say.  They’re just such smart, amazing little kids.  So that was definitely inspiring, to get involved.  I used to substitute teach in my Mom’s classroom – she works in an early childhood room – and they have a lot of children with autism in those classrooms and they would just blow my mind every single day.  That was how I got the connection with Autism Speaks, when one of those student’s mothers asked me to come and sing at an event.  I’m like “Absolutely!”

MB: We’re coming up to the end of the questions.  You are just a bundle of energy when you perform.  Not being punny by intent but there is joy that bursts from your music – where does all this energy come from?

CJ:  I think just surrounding myself with such a positive group.  I think I’ve always just been a very positive person.  I always want to see the good side in everything.  There’s so much to that because if you wake up and you’re like “Oh, I’ve stubbed my toe and Oh! It’s a bad hair day and Oh! I’m ugly and I don’t’ feel good” then your whole day is going to keep being like that.  So I wake up and I’m like “Head kinda hurts but <clap>  I’m gonna do this today”, so I just try to have the glass half full mentality anytime that I can and remind myself of all the positive things that are going on.  That helps a lot.  And not scrolling social media all the time <laugh>

MB:  Bringing it back to your Christmas album – any final words that you want to share about it?

CJ:  It’s going to be coming out November 21st – because oh!  I’m going to be co-hosting KC Live That day to promote the Christmas album and the Plaza lighting since I’m doing that the next day, so I figured ‘what a perfect day to release when I’m on live TV co-hosting a TV show.

MB:  And then it’s on to the next thing, right?

CJ: Yeah, then I’m getting back into the studio to do more original stuff!

Following the interview we continued to chat.  We talked about the endless possibilities for titling her Christmas album - she had not yet settled on "Joy for the Holidays".  She said that she had considered a Christmas song featuring some of her trademark yodeling, but decided against it this time (please, for next time, I'd love to hear that!)  We discussed the challenges of marketing music in today's world, and how to stay current with her broad and varied fanbase, balancing the preferences of the classic country fans who (like ol' Der Bingle) still prefer physical CDs, with the listening habits of the fans of her original works, who live more in the streaming world (think Spotify) where frequent releases of singles is the best way to stay present and in the listeners' playlists.

Interviewing Casi was a true pleasure.  She is the same positive, energetic, super-friendly person that you see during her shows and on broadcasts.  I enjoyed getting to know her and getting a little preview of "Joy for the Holidays".  Many thanks to Casi Joy for spending time with me and sharing her thoughts about "Joy for the Holidays" with the readers of Merry & Bright!

"Joy for the Holidays" releases Wednesday, November 21.  Ordering information is at

Catch Casi Joy at these upcoming events:
November 21, 2018:  Co-host of "KC Live" on KSHB (NBC)
November 22, 2018:  Performing at the Plaza Lighting (Kansas City)
December 1, 2018:  Smithville, MO Christmas Parade
December 4, 2018: Chicken 'n' Pickle Christmas, North Kansas City, MO
Details and complete show schedule on

Casi Joy Website
Casi Joy Facebook
Casi Joy Twitter
Casi Joy Instagram

Curious about Casi's yodeling?  "Blue" on "The Voice"

Thanks to Kozak's Laketown Grill for letting us occupy a booth for an hour or so.

A special thanks to dear friend Angie for serving as my interview editor!

Copyright 2018 - Aaron Henton

Monday, November 12, 2018

CD Review: Engelbert Humperdinck "Warmest Christmas Wishes"

One of the first new Christmas albums to drop this year was from venerable English singer Engelbert Humperdinck. whose new entry into the Christmas music collective "Warmest Christmas Wishes", was released on October 12th.

"Warmest Christmas Wishes" features 14 tracks, some standards ("Please Come Home For Christmas", "I'll Be Home For Christmas", "O Tannenbaum" and others) and some less-familiar songs such as "Driving Home for Christmas", and "Silently Falls the Snow", and two new originals, "Christmas for the Family" and "Around the Christmas Tree".

Since his debut in 1967, Mr. Humperdinck, now a ripe young 82, has led an active career in music, continuing to record and perform consistently, now into his 6th decade as an entertainer.   Mr. Humperdinck has ventured into Christmas music previously, beginning with the 1977 release "Christmas Tyme", followed by "A Merry Christmas with Engelbert Humperdinck" (1980), and "The Magic of Christmas" (1995).

There is a comforting quality to Mr. Humperdinck's new album.  His voice, well-matured with a hint of Neil Diamond timbre, is still well-suited to a pleasant round of Christmas carols.  To me, there is a sincerity in this record that is missing from some releases from the top artists of our day.  The orchestrations are brightly arranged and well-performed, warmly befitting the holiday.

Personally, I enjoyed this record quite a lot.  Although it won't stay in constant rotation throughout the season (well, what does?  except Jethro Tull), it's a very pleasing, soothing, and happy Christmas album.  As I'm writing this, it's snowing outside, and with the instrumental "White Christmas" from the album playing, it's a near-perfect scene.

"Warmest Christmas Wishes" Amazon link
Engelbert Humperdinck website

A digital copy of the album was provided to Merry and Bright! for review.

Copyright 2018 Aaron Henton

Monday, November 5, 2018

Single Alert: Lisa Danae "Beneath the Mistletoe"

Coming soon to a digital music outlet near you! Singer-songwriter Lisa Danae is releasing a new holiday single "Beneath the Mistletoe", available on November 16.  

Written by Lisa's frequent collaborators a girl named jaen and Ali Handal, "Beneath the Mistletoe" is a pop-driven new Christmas song for 2018.  Citing musical inspirations Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera, Lisa Danae combines her classic California girl image with an alluring, strong pop vocal performance that makes "Beneath the Mistletoe" a great addition to this year's new Christmas single releases.  I hear a hint of Dia Frampton's (one of my faves from The Voice) smokiness in Lisa's singing, and just that tiny bit of character makes her voice stand out from the crowd.  

"Beneath the Mistletoe" has a pop ballad tempo, Christmas imagery, and tells of love during the holidays and spending time with the one that matters most (hint: it's not Santa!).   A right pleasant song, especially for the fans of modern radio pop music.  Well done Lisa! 

Watch for "Beneath the Mistletoe" at your preferred digital outlet come November 16th.  In the meantime, visit Lisa Danae's website, and follow her on all the usual social media suspects...

Lisa Danae website
Lisa Danae Facebook
Lisa Danae Twitter
Lisa Danae Instagram

Thursday, November 1, 2018

'Tis the Season, Once Again

Ah, November 1, when we all start to celebrate the season heartily and with much aplomb!   Hmmm... I'd better check on my supply of aplomb - might need to run to the store.  Oh heck - Amazon will deliver me a nice fresh batch of alpomb if my stocks are low...

Lest you think Der Bingle has already been hitting the eggnog, let me assure you, it's just the excitement for another wonderful Christmas season here at Merry & Bright!  We've only one week left to go before the political ads stop, and I'm spending time away from the TV now anyway working on preparations for the blog, my annual Christmas comp, and my annual (third year in a row) guest DJ appearance on local radio (although "local" is now a misnomer, as you can stream the broadcast from anywhere in the world - more details closer to the day).

I've got some exciting things planned this year.  A few shares, some album reviews.  I have two artist interviews lined up that I think you'll enjoy.  And then a whole bunch of 'who knows what' - just whatever pops up and amuses me. 

Stick around!

Christmas Eve 2017

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: Ella Fitzgerald "Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas"

Ah, Ella Fitzgerald.  I'm sure all of you are familiar with Ella Fitzgerald.  If for no other reason (for those of us of a certain age) than her iconic commercials for Memorex in the 1970's.  (Ok, maybe "iconic" is a stretch).  I will admit, though, that those "Is it live or is it Memorex?" commercials are the first memories I have of Ms. Ella.

As my musical loves have grown over the years, I've come to appreciate Ella Fitzgerald as one of the purest and most natural voices ever recorded, not only in the jazz branch of the musical tree of life, but across all vocal music.  Her singing is so effortless, so perfectly pitched, with a style and phrasing that is extraordinary.  Awe inspiring...

"Ella wishes you a swinging Christmas" is a nearly perfect Christmas record containing 12 standards, opening with a rousing "Jingle Bells" and closing with "White Christmas".  Superb musicians accompany Ella, with stellar arrangements.  Her versions of "Sleigh Ride" and "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer" have become quasi-standards in their own right.  "Sleigh Ride" is particularly wonderful because its pace is slower than one might expect, but even at a more relaxed tempo there is an energy throughout the song.  It makes you feel like you're out on a pleasant sleigh ride through the snowy countryside.

My copy of the CD is a Verve release, but contains the original 1960 tracks.  A later Verve release included six additional tracks (I just might need to snag me a copy of it).

Truly Essential: "Ella wishes you a swinging Christmas"

Is it Ella or is it Memorex?

Friday, August 17, 2018

Quick Update

All is well here at Merry & Bright.  The health issue that sidelined me for a bit in July is fully resolved.  Now the only barrier I have in returning to the Essentials is my ongoing urge to binge-watch "Star Trek: The Next Generation" on Netflix.  :-)  Since raising five children curtailed television for about 25 years, I'm now catching up on a lot of things, including ST:TNG.  Have no fear, though, merry readers - I'll get back to sharing some Essential thoughts very soon.  Thanks for your patience!  Live long and prosper :-)

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Unplanned Christmas in July Hiatus

Well, Christmas in July had a half-unplanned hiatus.  The planned half was because of family vacation to North Carolina.  The half-unplanned part was an illness (mine) that caused us to return home three days early and then go directly to the ER.  Recovery is going very well, no hospital stay needed, and I hope to get a few more essentials out this week as I'm at home.  But things got a bit interrupted...

A couple good friends of Merry & Bright experienced losses this week, and my heart goes out to them.  Friend Tim lost his beloved ferret Penny after her fight against cancer, and friend Stubby's Mrs. Katz (not her real name) passed away after a long and happy life as part of Stubby's family.  We send Tim and Stubby our thoughts, and hope that they find strength in the memories of their companions.  Take care, my friends.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: Elvis

I mentioned Elvis (we don't need to say "Presley" in the Bingle household) before in the Essentials series post about the classics that should be in every collection, but The King deserves a post of his own.  Why?  Well, my Christmas music room, where I create this blog, is also now and was first "The Elvis Room".  Hanging on the walls are three framed sets of album cover stamps from the 50's. 60's, and 70's CD box sets, two framed sets of Elvis postage stamps, two framed albums ("Moody Blue" and "The Sun Years", a framed collectible gold record of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?", two cheesy rhinestoned collector plates, a set of Elvis baseball-style cards, three Elvis action figures, and an unopened Elvis decanter of McCormick whiskey.  Oh, then there are the CDs, records, movies, and books.  And a collectible Pepsi can and a Graceland water bottle.  Ah, and the Elvis wall clock with swingin' hips.  You get the picture...

Back in the late '80s when my Christmas music collecting was in its infancy, "Elvis' Christmas Album" was one of the first additions as a CD.  I've always thought that his "Blue Christmas" was a cornerstone of Christmas recordings, and it leads off my very first Christmas comp.  Not many years later I bought the re-packaged collection "If Every Day Was Like Christmas", containing a single CD with all the Christmas songs from his two albums, and packaged in a decorative sleeve featuring a fold-out model of Graceland at Christmas.

Since then I've added vinyl albums to the collection, and also a special release of "The Wonderful World of Christmas", bought during a visit to Graceland, that features all of the originally released songs from the album and also a second disc of alternate takes.  Great little historical package for Elvis fans like me.  (There is an extended re-release of the first album too, but it's contents are far less appealing - nothing really special).

There are multitudes of options for you to add Elvis to your Christmas collection.  Pick one, some, or many.  To pick "all" would be quite a collectors challenge.  I prefer his original recordings, and personally have no interest in the "Duets" album.  Although, I have to say, the release from last year featuring the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was actually pretty enjoyable - well done folks!

So, go getcha some Elvis Christmas :-)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: The Chieftains "The Bells of Dublin"

It just isn't Christmas until I've played "The Bells of Dublin", a 1991 album of Irish and traditional  carols and other seasonal selections by The Chieftains, one of the world's most respected bands.

The guests on the album:  Elvis Costello, Kate and Anna McGarrigle (sigh ☺☺  ), Marianne Faithful, Rickie Lee Jones.  And the list goes on - the great Burgess Meredith narrates on a favorite of mine "Don Oiche Ud I mBeithil".

You'll be pleased with the renditions of the classics, including "I Saw Three Ships A Sailing", "The Wexford Carol", and "O Holy Night".  You'll love them performing "The Rebel Jesus" with Jackson Browne.  And you'll be splendidly entertained by the extended 6-track piece "The Wren! The Wren".

This is absolutely one of my favorites - it never gets old, and always sounds fresh and full of energy.  And, the uilleann pipes, me laddy!  Make for a spirited Irish Christmas!

Get "The Bells of Dublin" by the Chieftains, my friends, and you'll enjoy it for years to come.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: "Christmas with Chet Atkins"

Tonight's Essential is "Christmas with Chet Atkins", the 1961 recording by one of county music's most revered musicians.  Mr. Atkins' reputation as a performer, songwriter, producer, and all-around Nashville Dude is solid gold, and his entry in the Christmas music genre is a standout.

"Christmas with Chet Atkins" features fourteen standards, arranged by Mr. Atkins blending his uniquely smooth country guitar sound with solid backing musicians, and featuring the Anita Kerr singers.

This is an album that has that special something that can be hard to describe.  It's lush yet understated.  It has depth in the arrangements, yet sounds beautifully simple.  The engineering is excellent, with Chet's guitar front and center, yet still sharing the sound perfectly with his accompanying musicians.  It's just one of those perfect musical experiences.

Soothing, cheery, and full of the Christmas spirit.  Add "Christmas with Chet Atkins" to your collection (if it's not already there).

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: Goodyear, Firestone, W.T. Grant's (and more) Albums

Hi folks.  We will now resume our Christmas in July celebration after a brief hiatus where we made a quick trip to middle Tennessee to visit family.

For today's Essential I have chosen anything in the series of Christmas compilation albums released as seasonal promotions from Goodyear, Firestone, and W.T. Grant's.  And there are others too - I have some J.C. Penney comps, at least one Zenith-branded collection, an A&P or two, maybe a B.F. Goodrich is in there, etc   But Goodyear, Grant's, and Firestone are the three standard bearers for great quality Christmas compilation albums of their era.

I think that every Christmas music collector (with a turntable) should have a few of these great old albums.  You really can't go wrong if you find these in good condition at your local thrift store or used record store. The music selections are excellent, and they will bring the sounds of the golden age of Christmas music to you every season.

The Goodyear and W.T. Grant's albums are compilations featuring many different artists.  You'll find Bing, Nat, Doris, Barbra, Andy, Andre, Elvis - basically all the greats.  The Firestone albums are a little different in that they focused on one to four artists per album, and the recordings were made specifically for the Firestone series.  These have never been re-released in a remastered digital format, and so your only sources are copies of the vinyl albums or downloads from ye olde internet.

The Firestone series has particular draw for me, as Volume 5, featuring Julie Andrews, was one of the original Christmas albums I had as a child, and I (of course) still have it.  I've collected good copies of all seven Firestone albums.  I've picked up a few various albums from the other sets too, but so far have resisted the urge to be a completist and track them all down.

The Goodyear series was produced from 1961 - 1977 with an additional release in 1989 (which may have been on CD?).  Firestone ran from 1962 - 1968 and W.T. Grant's from 1967 - 1974.

While we're on the topic of vinyl comps, let me also mention the Reader's Digest boxed sets of Christmas music.  They are also collections of songs by many different artists, usually bundled together in 4-record sets.  I've found that you can find these in amazingly excellent condition.  Like the other comps, the music selection and quality is superb.

Usually each Christmas season, these albums are the first things I listen to when the season 'officially' starts.  As 'Essential' would imply, I think that every Christmas music collection needs at least a few of these fine records.

I'd be interested to hear from you all about your favorite retailer-branded sets or albums.  Mr. Soffa - I know you have a boxed set or 2 (hundred).  What ones stand out as the best of the bunch?