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!)

rehyastevens.haulix.com

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 casijoy.com for ordering information.


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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!

casijoy.com


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!

http://thevoice.wikia.com/wiki/Casi_Joy


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!

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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 casijoy.com.

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 casijoy.com.

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