Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: "The Jethro Tull Christmas Album"

Occupying slot number 3 in Der Bingle's Essentials is "The Jethro Tull Christmas Album", the 2003 (US) release by one of the most innovative and enduring rock bands of our time.  As a collection of new and previously released songs, this album is outstanding, unique, and a must-play every season (and frequently played in the off-season) in my house.

I was a marginal Jethro Tull fan back in '03.  I had my well-played vinyl copy of "Aqualung" from college (who didn't have one of those?) and a second copy of "Thick as a Brick" (the first copy was ruined in the back window of my car due to sun kisses - har), and had heard "Bungle in the Jungle" way too many times on the local Classic Rock radio station (never did get that song), but that was about it.  I liked Tull well and good, but they were as yet not in my top tier.

So, I recall one day seeing an ad for "The Jethro Tull Christmas Album" on Amazon.  It caught my attention immediately.  Like, "Huh??!?  Jethro Tull has a Christmas album?"  Curiosity getting the best of me, I ordered it (on November 3, 2003, to be exact, according to Amazon).  And once it arrived in the mail and I put it in the CD player, from the very opening notes of "Birthday Card at Christmas" I was hooked.  Absolutely loved it.  Through and through the songs were of the classic Jethro Tull sound, and they were of Christmas, the Winter Solstice, and many things seasonal but yet atypical of the usual Christmas song fare.  

The originals - "A Christmas Song", "Another Christmas Song", "Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow", "First Snow on Brooklyn", and especially "Ring Out Solstice Bells" are wonderful, edgy, a bit pagany in spots, and completely signature Tull.

The re-imagined standards - "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", "We Five Kings", and "Greensleeved" are masterworks.  These are the ones that hooked me completely, and soon graced my annual Christmas compilations over the next couple of  years. 

And that leads to an interesting aspect of this essential album.  After including those three standards on annual comps, it was many years before I could find the right spot for any other song from this album, finally placing "Ring Out Solstice Bells" in the 2016 edition.  Jethro Tull doesn't fit next to Bing or Frank or Dean or Johnny or Doris.  But as a collection of amazing seasonal music by a Heavy Metal Grammy-Award winning band (look it up if you don't know the story - worth the read), it's a beautiful collection.  Ian, Martin and the rest made some remarkable Christmas music.

By the way, since buying this album, I've acquired most of the Jethro Tull catalog, seen them live once (with the angelic Lucia Micarelli joining them on violin), and am considering seeing Ian Anderson's 50 Years of Jethro Tull later this summer.  

This is in my personal top 10, and is an absolute essential.  If you have never heard their rousing cut of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", head to Amazon or Spotify or Youtube and listen.  Whew!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Planet Comicon: Signing Off

I thought I'd leave this year's Planet Comicon adventure with a few final words and observations.  As I've said before, the most enjoyable part of attending for me is meeting the authors that exhibit and chatting with them for a bit.  And, if their book strikes me as something in my preferred genre(s), I'll buy it (or at least one of their offerings).  Kristin Helling's Christmas book hit the bulls-eye, and  J.R. Frontera's sci-fi collection was excellent.

Oh - hey - look what I found on the top shelf of a $5 rack of graphic novels:

Cool!  Christmas strikes again at Planet Comicon!

So, that's it for this year.  I found some other nice and cheap graphic novels, plus not quite so cheap GNs in the Star Trek and Riverdale (Archie) universes, signed by the artists.  And, a (cheap again) compendium of "The Elongated Man", one of my fave super-heroes from my formative years (oh so long ago).  Add in seeing panels from two Walking Dead actors and the amazing Alice Cooper, and it was a great couple of days!

Until next year....

We now return to normal Christmas music programming.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Sights from Planet Comicon Pt 2.

The continuing saga of Planet Comicon, through pictures.

Daphne and Velma.

Lots of people carry around large items.

Aquaman, I presume?

Ok - this is some serious Pennywise makeup. Well done!

Wonder Woman and Batgirl.

These guys were cool.

Not sure who they are, but nice costume work.

Again, I don't know the character being portrayed, but kudos for the glovework.

This dude.  It was February, remember.  And I saw him both Friday and Saturday  Made me wonder if he re-applied the body paint both days, or slept in it Friday night.

Spider people?

A trio of cosplayers.

The Joker has been apprehended.  Back to Arkham for him.

Sights from Planet Comicon Pt. 1

Here are a few pictures from Planet Comicon, in case 1) you've never been to a 'Con and want to know what it's like; or 2) you want some gnarly costume ideas; or 3) you enjoy seeing what some of the serious folks do with their costumes.

Me and Darth.  After the picture, I said "Thank you Lord Vader".  He replied "You're welcome". 

My daughter and her hand-knitted Wonder Woman shawl.

 Pursued by a Dalek after taking the picture.  I might have heard it say "Exterminate!"

He's a midnight toker.

Supergirl and friend.

 The real Alice Cooper.  His panel was excellent!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Dispatch from Planet Comicon: Author J.R. Frontera

As I mentioned in the previous post, local author J.R. Frontera was at the Wordwraiths Books table along with Kristin Helling.  Intrigued by some of her books, I made my way back to their table after my initial visit (and purchase of Kristin's Christmas book) to buy a copy of J.R's collection of science fiction stories titled "End of Line".

It's a compact book, with six short sci-fi stories, perfect for taking with you as a read-on-the-go (as long as you're not driving - safety first) or as an accompaniment for a quiet Sunday morning at home with a cup of coffee.  Either way, "End of Line" is a great little bunch of stories.

The opener "Black-market Body" is a strong, dark tale of Transference, a body-swap (or intellect/soul-swap, depending on your point of view) between two persons.  Of all the stories in "End of Line", this one has the most depth and tension.  It stands alone very well, however, as is described in the author's note, it is also the foundation for a novel, establishing key characters and plot points.  Ms. Frontera has very skillfully given us a complete story while in parallel setting up the framework for a long form.  Well done :-)

"P.U.P.P.E.T" is an excellent very short work full of aliens on a distant planet and a robot sent for a very crucial mission.  "In Compensation" is an extra-worldly exercise in surprise.  And the closing story "A Lovely Day for a Parade" is quite funny, a break in the darkness in the preceding stories (recognized as such by the author).  And it has werewolves.  You know, because, werewolves in a parade.

The author's notes at the end of each story provide the reader with insight into the creation of each story, many from writer's exercises and story prompts.  For me, the notes add a lot into the book overall, letting me get a glimpse of the author's mind at work.  Pretty cool.

You can get a copy of the book on Amazon (link is below).  However, if you'd like a free copy, and have an e-reader, you can get it for nothing but a little information and signing up on J.R's e-mail list on her website.  Me, I'm glad I bought a hard copy (signed, inscribed - I'm a sucker for signed books).  If you decide to treat yourself with the free version, please check out her other works while you're there, and if you like "End of Line" as much as I did, then support the author with a purchase of one of her other books.

J.R. Frontera website
Wordwraiths Books website
"End of Line" on Amazon
Author page on Amazon