Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Artist Interview: The Wires

What a great feeling it is to discover new Christmas music!  Even better, when said Christmas music is absolutely killer, AND from local musicians.  That's a holiday tunes trifecta, friends.  Der Bingle hit that jackpot with Winter by the Kansas City strings duo The Wires.

The Wires are Laurel Morgan Parks (violin) and Sascha Groschang (cello).  Laurel and Sascha have been composing and performing together since 2009.  Their music "inspired by imagery found in the natural world, folk styles and modern string techniques" is rich, dynamic, textured, with an extraordinarily full sound.  In addition to performing across our city and region, The Wires are involved in local radio, music education, and many other endeavors in the community.  Good people, The Wires are.

Winter, released in 2020, is a gorgeous, brilliant album of holiday songs arranged and performed by Sascha and Laurel.  They chose eleven familiar holiday songs, although some ("Once in Royal David's City", "Wexford Carol") are deeper cuts than others ("Silent Night", "We Wish You a Merry Christmas").  Rounding out the album is their original composition "Campbell Street".

What a pleasure it is to share this interview with The Wires about Winter, the arts scene in Kansas City, and other seasonal musings.

Listen to Winter on Spotify

The Wires website

Merry & Bright Interview with The Wires

Merry & Bright: Hello Sascha and Laurel! That sounds so much better than “Hello, The Wires”. Thank you for this Q&A about your album Winter.  Winter is your third album, following The Wires in 2012 and Wilder in 2019. Can you tell us the story of how Winter came about?

TW: Sascha and I (Laurel) have always found a lot of musical inspiration in the wintery months. We get inspired by the contrast of cold and snow and ice with the warmth and crackle of a fire. We used to play a lot of Christmas gigs, but found that arrangements for duo could sound very thin. That coupled with our winter time inspiration led us to recording our third album of holiday music.

Laurel Morgan Parks and Sascha Groschang

MB: Your song selection for Winter is fantastic. A few true Christmas song standards (Silent Night, The Christmas Song, We Wish You a Merry Christmas), but many are not quite as familiar to many, such as Coventry Carol, Wexford Carol, and Once in Royal David’s City. How did you decide what songs to record?

TW: We just loved each of those songs individually - some we had grown up listening to, and some were newer favorites. We also wanted some variety to the record. Some of the tunes have a more celtic feel (like Greensleeves), whereas we had more of a jazzy arrangement with The Christmas Song, and a more Americana sound with The Holly and the Ivy. We're drawn to different folk styles in our original composition, and I think we wanted to showcase some of these styles and their differences in our holiday album.

MB: Sascha and Laurel, your arrangements are amazing. What is your process for transforming these songs, some of which are centuries old, into arrangements for cello and violin?

TW: It's actually easier than how we usually compose - which is from scratch. It was kind of a "relief" to have the melodies all ready written. One of us - Sascha usually- would come up with the secondary chords we were going to use and we'd go from there. We always write together, sitting across from each other. When we come up with something we both like we record it as a voice memo on our phones.

MB: “Campbell Street” is an original composition on Winter. What is the story of “Campbell Street”?

TW: Campbell Street is actually the street I (Sascha) live on. I have two small girls, and Campbell street is kind of an homage to the wonder and awe and joy of seeing and playing in snow for the first time each year. It's the magic of watching them experience winter for the first times.

The Wires

MB: Luckily for me, you are Kansas City based musicians, so I have had the pleasure of seeing you perform live, and hope to again many more times in the future. How has the Kansas City music and arts scene changed in the 12 years that you have been performing together?

TW: The biggest thing that has changed has happened due to the pandemic. It's harder to predict things like concert attendance, COVID outbreaks, and our own illnesses - hahaha. But seriously, the music scene in KC keeps expanding and evolving. We have amazing musicians in this town and have had the privilege of working with many of them. We hope to keep collaborating because that's how things in this city keep fresh.

MB: Winter was recorded at Pilgrim Chapel in Kansas City. Why did you choose that location to record?

TW: Well, we love the Pilgrim Chapel - we've been doing an annual Winter Solstice program for the past several years there, and these songs were first arranged for those shows, so it felt like a perfect fit. Plus it just looks like a storybook! It's so charming and cute and so perfect looking in the snow.

MB: What are some of your personal favorite Christmas songs and/or records?

Laurel: My favorite Christmas album would have to be Amy Grant's "Home for Christmas." I also love Sufjan Stevens' holiday albums. 

Sascha: Growing up, I loved the John Denver Muppet Christmas album - but now, I'm with Laurel, I listen to all of the Sufjan Stevens' Christmas tunes - they have such a fun and folky feel. I also have a new favorite, from an album I actually played on last year from a local band, Barnaby Bright called "Bleak Midwinter".  I've been working with Barnaby for a long time, since before they were even Barnaby Bright!  Their winter album is magical and worth a listen.

Do you have any favorite Kansas City Christmas traditions?

Laurel: I love going to Union Station and Crown Center to see the giant trees and decorations. Gotta go with children though because they see the magic! I also love driving around and looking at Christmas lights and any ostentatious displays. And, of course, I love playing with Sascha - we usually play a lot of concerts in December and I always look forward to those. 

Sascha:  I also love taking my girls to Crown Center and Union Station - they do it up right! I just like making fun crafts with my girls. The season leading up to the holidays is usually one of the busiest for me as a musician, so it's like a breath of fresh air to have a few weeks off to re-center and just relax.

MB: Winter is an extraordinary record of Christmas and Winter songs. You have given us an album that is both spirited and soothing, and full of happiness. Any final thoughts for the readers of Merry & Bright?

TW: Thank you so much!! If you'd like to find out more about our music and current season check out our website at www.thewires.info

MB: Thank you again for your time, and have a very happy and safe holiday season!

Thanks so much for the interview!  Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 29, 2021

Sharing Time: Bob Parks and the Evangelaires

Joy at Christmas by Bob Parks and the Evangelaires kicks off music sharing this season.  On Joy at Christmas, Bob Parks, Steve LeBar, and and Bill Lehman are a vocal trio, accompanied on piano by Harold De Cou and Ray Felten on bass.  They are joined on guitar with a Spanish flair on a few numbers by Paul Storm and Terry Parks.

This is a very pleasant vocal album, nicely arranged and well-performed by Bob & Co.  The album opener and title track Joy at Christmas, an original by Bob Parks, is a fine little Christmas song, clocking in at a brisk 1:34.  There are several standards on the album, including a ragtimey/barbershoppery "Go Tell It On The Mountain", the always-appreciated "Mary's Boy Child", "Silent Night", and a very reverent "O Holy Night".

Overall this is a quite nice album.  Musically it is in a niche all its own in my collection.  The trio is talented, and the arrangements are pleasing.  Bob Parks has a gentle tenor voice that is well suited to the song selections.  

My only dig is the final song "Born to Die".  I understand the spiritual intent of the song, but man, it kinda sucks all the jolly out of your holly.

Download and enjoy Joy at Christmas by Bob Parks and the Evangelaires

Production Note:  The album had a mostly unrepairable skip at the very beginning of Track 1 Joy at Christmas.  I did my best to smooth & blend.  

Friday, November 26, 2021

Interview with Joanna Wilson of 'Tis the Season TV

Joanna Wilson is a Christmas visual media junkie, a renowned expert nonpareil of movies and television programming related completely or tangentially to Christmas (with some Thanksgiving thrown in for good measure).

Joanna has:
  • written Tis the Season TV, a 770 page encyclopedia of Christmas episodes, specials, made-for-TV movies, and the classic films that we see replayed every year.
  • written Merry Musical Christmas (Volume One), discussing the musical highlights of many  Christmas episodes of favorite television programs
  • written The Christmas TV Companion: a Guide to Cult Classics, Strange Specials, and Outrageous Oddities
  • Watched "A Christmas Story" for 24 hours straight (twelve viewings), and described the experience in her book The Triple Dog Dare (which Der Bingle highly recommends)
  • had a dress made of Netflix mailing envelopes from all the Christmas DVDs she rented (Joanna must have her picture up in the Netflix offices)
  • established the Tis the Season TV and Christmas TV History Facebook pages
  • created the Christmas TV History website, which has in-depth discussions of Christmas-themed television episodes
  • and there's more!  Visit the 1701 Press website for a complete list.

Joanna Wilson

Joanna is a great friend to many of us in the Christmas interwebbery world, so she graciously agreed to spend some time and answer a few questions about her work, what's coming next, and Christmas topics in general.  I've gotta say - I love her job!

Merry & Bright Interview with Joanna Wilson

Merry & Bright: Hello Joanna, and Merry Christmas! Thank you for dropping in to Merry & Bright to chat!  Let’s jump right in and talk some Christmas TV. Tis the Season TV is your encyclopedia of Christmas television programs and films. It is giant, extensive, and sits on the endtable next to my chair throughout November and December every year. How did Tis the Season TV come about?

Joanna Wilson: I have a passion for the history of television and film, and I’ve always been a pop culture junkie. However, I also have a Bachelor’s degree in Film Studies, and a Master’s degree in Philosophy. After teaching college for several years, I knew I wanted to move into writing and research and that’s when I stumbled across Christmas entertainment. I quickly could see that there was a long, rich history of Christmas movies, specials and episodes that was largely overlooked by scholars and critics. I jumped right in!

MB: So, ballpark estimate, how many of the shows and movies in the book have you actually seen?

JW: I’ve been a TV and film historian for twenty years. I’ve been to archives across the country. I’ve seen almost everything that still exists at this point, although new Christmas programs are released each year and I spend months watching them.

MB: As you’re doing your research on Christmas programming, do you ever need to take a break from holiday shows and, say, binge watch “Schitt’$ Creek”?

JW: Yes—but even “Schitt’$ Creek” has a Christmas episode so then it becomes work again.

MB: You have a new edition in the works, right? What can we expect to see in the 2nd edition, and when are you expecting to publish it?

JW: The expanded and updated 2nd edition of Tis the Season TV is coming out in 2022. It has more than twice as many listings as the first one because Christmas on TV is growing each year, and because I’ve worked hard to expand and improve the older program listings too. The 2nd edition also contains more information on each listing. And, there are many appendices and an expanded index to make my research and the book’s content more accessible and user-friendly.

MB: What are a couple of your favorite TV programs that are less well-known? The Rankin-Bass Christmas shows are all great, but there are some real gems that few people know about.

JW: Whoa! Slow down. Most people don’t even know there are TWENTY Rankin/Bass Christmas and New Year’s programs, so there are hidden gems even inside Rankin/Bass’ catalog. However, your point is made. Stop motion animation fans should not overlook last year’s (2020) “Alien Xmas” on Netflix. Made by the Chiodo Brothers who are masters at animation (they also made the stop motion segments in 2003’s “Elf”), the story about an alien invasion at Christmas is adorable. In terms of imaginative storytelling, I don’t think the holiday episodes of the animated series “The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack” (2009’s “Low Tidings”) and “Chowder” (2008’s “Hey, Hey It’s Knishmas!”) get enough attention or appreciation. These holiday stories are bonkers, yet made for kids!

MB: If you could pick one Christmas TV show to have restored and made available, what would it be? For me, it would be the PBS presentation “Simple Gifts” (which I learned about from you).

JW: I think “Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory” from 1966 should have a restoration and official re-release. It’s such a heart-warming story, and beautifully written. Capote himself narrates the Depression-era tale, and Geraldine Page is fantastic as Cousin Sook. I don’t want it to be forgotten.

MB: Do you feel that ‘they made ‘em better in the old days’, or do you see new, great quality Christmas programming coming out every year?

JW: Both. I know TV creatives made high-quality stories and swingin’ Christmas variety specials in years past, and there are still fantastic new Christmas programs being created each year.

MB: Let’s talk ‘the Hallmark Effect’. Hallmark has created a new genre of Christmas television programming that now includes Lifetime and, to a degree, Netflix and other streaming/cable services. What do you think about the impact Hallmark movies has had on our holiday viewing habits?

JW: Let’s be clear, Hallmark didn’t create the romance TV movie genre, and they didn’t even make the first Christmas romance movie. The Hallmark Channel has perfected a formula for Christmas rom-coms that are so popular that other TV networks and streaming platforms imitate the formula. It has certainly given viewers an appetite for watching new holiday movies each year. This year alone, there are more than 150 new Christmas movies being released. Twenty years ago, in 2001, there were 17.

MB: “A Christmas Story” – you watched this absolute classic for 24 hours straight, simulating the broadcast by watching a recorded version in the Summertime twelve times in a row. What was the most surprising thing you learned about the movie after this marathon viewing?

JW: Being immersed in the 24-hour marathon of “A Christmas Story,” I quickly discerned the difference between binge-watching a series (which we’ve all done) and marathoning a movie over and over. It takes much more mental stamina to endure the same story twelve times in a row than it does to watch a new episode in a series as the whole story progresses when we binge-watch. I also became convinced that “A Christmas Story” is far better written and more complex than I had given it credit for prior to watching the marathon. However, my book “Triple Dog dare” is about far more than the 24-hour marathon of “A Christmas Story.” It’s ultimately about the experience of watching Christmas movies and examining the appeal of holiday entertainment in general.

MB: Kurt Russell has starred as Santa Claus in two “Christmas Chronicles” movies produced for Netflix. In your opinion, where does Kurt rank in the pantheon of TV and movie Santas? Personally, I think he’s one of the best, though no one will ever top Edmund Gwynn.

JW: Yes—Kurt Russell is an impressive Santa Claus. He’s definitely the Santa with the best hair! I admire Russell for steering into the whole discussion of himself as Santa and Elvis Presley, by performing the song “Santa Claus Is Back in Town” within the first movie. Russell of course played Presley in the 1979 TV movie “Elvis” and that song was a hit for Presley in 1957.

MB: I've gotta ask - Fruitcake: Yes or No?

JW: Yes.

MB: Joanna, all of your work – your published books, your website, social media channels, even the Christmas music mixes you put together every year – just overflow with Christmas joy! I think maybe when I retire I’ll apply to be your research assistant ๐Ÿ˜Š Thank you so much for joining me for this interview. Have a very Merry Christmas 2021!

You’re hired!

Joanna and the DVD Dress

All the links...

1701 Press website - Order all the books here!

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  I'm working on new posts for the season, including more new music, more artist interviews, and good stuff to share.  But for today, please enjoy this picture of my home office co-workers, Whitley (right) and Millie.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

New Music: Cliff Beach "Merry Christmas, Happy New Year"

There is nothing Der Bingle likes better than Christmas music that makes me smile.  I love all genres of the holiday tunes, the jazz, the blues, the pop, the punk, a touch of the metal, the rock, the roll - you name it, and I'll like Christmas songs that are well-performed in any style.

But it's the ones that have an infectious happiness, a beat and an energy that tells me the singer had a whale of a good time making the song, those are the ones that push a smile out and get my head a boppin'.  Cliff Beach's "Merry Christmas, Happy New Year" is just such an album.  Christmas standards, soul style with such a funky holly jolly groove that your toes will be tappin'. 

Cliff is an alum of Berklee College of Music, is an award winning songwriter with two Silver Medal Global Music Awards, and is the creator of a new style of music he calls "Nu-funk".  Cliff's attention turned to making a holiday album after performing at a Virtual Holiday Concert with the Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks during the pandemic.  He channeled the good vibes from the concert into creating "Merry Christmas, Happy New Year".

"Merry Christmas, Happy New Year" has 10 Christmas standards, arranged and "funkin' them way up" by Cliff.  "This Christmas", "Run Rudolph Run", and even "The Christmas Song" get the Cliff Beach treatment to great effect.  "Frosty the Snowman" and "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" are two highlights of the soul/funk spirit Cliff puts into the songs.

Cliff Beach

My favorites come in succession on the album, tracks 5, 6, and 7.  "Merry Christmas Baby", a, or maybe the, soul standard made popular by Charles Brown starts this incredible trio of songs.  Next up is "Soulful Christmas", a hit for the great James Brown.  Third in this trinity is the Louis Armstrong classic "Zat You Santa Claus".  These three songs are the heart of the album, and Misters Brown, Brown, and Armstrong would certainly approve of the reverence, spunk, and joy with which Cliff Beach performs them.

"Merry Christmas Happy New Year" is available on Amazon and all the usual streaming and digital outlets.

Cliff Beach website

Play "Merry Christmas Happy New Year" on Spotify

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Artist Interview: Kat Robichaud

Kat Robichaud has burst into the entertainment scene as one of the most exciting, unique, eye-popping performers around.  Her Misfit Cabaret is self-described as “a splendiferous variety show centered around magical music with a rotating cast of eccentric performers. From burlesque to drag to circus to magic, you never know what you're going to see (or what you're getting yourself into)!”  Based on her internet presence, the cabaret lives up to, and probably exceeds, that billing.

Kat gained a national following with a deep run on Season 5 of The Voice in 2013.  Post-Voice, Kat originated the Misfit Cabaret, a visually stunning, uber-glam, hyper-eclectic musical performance art show based on the west coast.

In 2020 Kat ventured into the world of Christmas music and released “A Darling Misfit Christmas”.  Featuring six original songs, plus 4 clean/radio versions, “A Darling Misfit Christmas” is, in retrospect, a danged perfect album from the year where Christmas was turned on its side.

photo by Zoart Photography

With a year gone by since the release of the album, and just coming off of a successful reincarnation of the Misfit Cabaret with a new show “Asylum”, Kat graciously agreed to share some thoughts about “A Darling Misfit Christmas”.

For you lucky people on the west coast, Kat is bringing “A Very Merry Misfit Cabaret” to the Alcazar Theatre in San Francisco for four shows in December 2021.   Click here for ticket info:  A Very Merry Misfit Cabaret 

Merry & Bright Interview with Kat Robichaud

Merry & Bright: Hello Kat! Thank you for joining Merry & Bright for a few questions.  First of all, congratulations on “Misfit Cabaret: Asylum” and your run in the bay area and Seattle. It must have felt great to get back on stage in front of a live audience!

KR: It was amazing. I’ve had a hole in my heart since the pandemic took live music and theater away, and it was filled instantly during our first night back on stage.

MB: From what I’ve seen via your online videos, Misfit Cabaret is one of the most creative and imaginative shows around. Can you tell us about how Misfit Cabaret came to be?

KR: I had just moved to San Francisco after competing on The Voice. I got asked to perform in another variety show called “Panic and Give Up” and my now business partner, Jordan Nathan, was working the bar.  She approached me to produce a show together.  I had already started incorporating drag and burlesque in my solo shows to fight the doldrums of audiences getting bored between sets, and so this was a natural progression.  It is a marriage of rock and roll and musicals, my two favorite things.

MB: Any plans to take the show on the road for a broader tour in the future? Kansas City has some great venues that would be perfect! (hint hint)

KR: Yes, we absolutely want to keep expanding our audience and reach. We’re slowly getting back into it.  Covid is still a big risk, so we’re trying to be careful and very safe with getting shows back up and running again, and the further away we are from home, the more difficult that is. We’re excited about 2022.

MB: Let’s talk about your album, “A Darling Misfit Christmas”, that you released in 2020. It’s a great, uniquely original Christmas music record, that carved out a new little niche in my collection. Can you tell us how it came about? Did the album come from your Very Merry Misfit Cabaret shows?

KR: Yes. For each new Misfit Cabaret, I write 2 new original songs to coincide with the theme of the evening. We’ve done 3 Very Merries, so I’ve written 6 songs, and that’s what went on the album. I’m not writing any new holiday songs this year, because I wanted to bring back songs from years past, like “The Gremlins Song” and “The Star Wars Holiday Special”. We’ll also do “Cheer Up, It’s Christmas!” and “Christmas Miracle” during the show, and save “Quiet Christmas Night” and “Merry Christmas, My Love” for the VIP encore set. The album itself was recorded (VERY SAFELY) during the pandemic with thanks to a successful Kickstarter.  I’m so grateful I was able to record music during lockdown.  I think I would have gone absolutely insane otherwise.

MB: The album opener, “Cheer Up, It’s Christmas!” hits a perfect note, a message from the more enthusiastic about the Christmas holidays and all the trimmings that come along with it, to those who are less enthusiastic, and are more ready for the day after Christmas, when it’s all finally over. Can you tell us more about “Cheer Up, It’s Christmas!”

KR: Welp……the world has been upside down for…ever, but a lot more so in the past few years. It was kinda like “yeah, things suck, but at least we get to watch Xmas movies and drink eggnog, so it’s not all bad”.  I wrote the song BEFORE the pandemic though, and started worrying that the song came across as callous.  I was going to name the album “Cheer Up, It’s Christmas!” but I was worried people would see it as me ignoring the giant elephant in the room of “yeah, but we’re all stuck inside and it’s not safe to even see our families right now, so maybe pipe down on that Xmas bs”.  I felt like I didn’t have the right to tell people to cheer up.  As it is, I released the album during election week, which was such a dumb thing to do and I just wasn’t thinking.  No one was in the mood for holiday music.  No one.

MB: “Merry Christmas, My Love” hits the heart of the Christmas spirit, but in a wonderfully unique way. Instead of the usual Christmas song tropes, you sing of time machines, hot air balloons, and once-had-now-lost DVDs. Writing a Christmas song that doesn’t rely on the usual holiday imagery is hard, but you nailed it, and with a dose of humor too. Can you tell us about your creative process?

KR: That’s the only song that I didn’t write for Misfit Cabaret.  I wrote that in 2008 when I was really poor and couldn’t afford a present for my husband Guillaume.  It’s a song I continued to enjoy throughout the years and still loved so I put it on the album.  At the time of writing the song, I was obsessed with Doctor Who, so that’s why there’s a time machine.  The hot air balloon part I just thought was cute.  We actually did lose a DVD of “Inglorious Basterds” so while I was playing that song for the first time for Guillaume, I used my foot to slide the DVD out from under the couch.  Guillaume thought it was funny.  We managed to lose it again, though, which is ironic. We don’t usually have an issue holding onto things.

MB: Ok, now let’s get to my personal favorite on the album, “The Star Wars Holiday Special”. Holy reindeer, it is so good. First of all, how many times did you have to watch the special while you were writing the song? It had to be at least twice, which that alone makes you a tough, brave person. More than twice makes you a special person indeed.

KR: I’ve actually never watched the special by itself.  I’ve always watched the Rifftrax version, where the MSTK3 guys make fun of it.  I think that’s the only way it’s watchable.  There’s an aerialist in the Bay Area named Nina Sawant who has a phenomenal Chewbacca aerial silk number, and when she agreed to do the show, I knew I had to write that song for her.  She’s tiny and the Chewbacca head is enormous, and she still manages to do some pretty great tricks.  This year, we’re changing it up a bit, and we have Maia Walker performing silk aerials as Princess Leia.  It’s gonna be great.

MB: What is the story behind the song? When did you decide that the Star Wars Holiday Special should be immortalized with a Kat Robichaud tune?

KR: Haha.  See above.  Same goes for “The Gremlins Song”.  Our long-time collaborator puppeteer friend, Dave Haaz-Baroque with Shadow Circus Creature Theater wanted to create gremlins for the show, so I said I’d write a song about Gremlins for him to perform to.  That’s what I love about Misfit Cabaret- it gives me very weird parameters to write around.  I would never write songs like this otherwise.  It makes for a very kooky body of work.

MB: Your coverage of the, er, high points(?) of the special was so good. You’ve probably driven some of your fans to seek it out and watch it. Is that a good thing, really?  ๐Ÿ˜€

KR: Of course.  For better or worse, a ton of people got together and poured their heart and soul into “The Star Wars Holiday Special”.  Some things are so bad, they’re good.  I would recommend watching it with the Rifftrax commentary, or at the very least under the influence of something.  Otherwise it’s just very quiet and slow-paced, with 30 solid minutes of wookie sounds and zero dialogue beyond what they watch on tv.  And they watch a lot of tv.

MB: Well, the song is amazing, and the video of the your performance on Youtube is terrific. Thanks for sharing it with the world. Major props to your aerialist, by the way.

KR: Nina Sawant is amazing.  She’s also in our upcoming full length feature film.  Love her to bits.

MB: You have upcoming performances of “A Very Merry Misfit Cabaret” in San Francisco, at the Alcazar Theatre. What can your fans expect from this show?

KR: I’m a Christmas fairy that’s tasked with cheering Brendan up, lest I get demoted to elf.  It’s based on the last Christmas show we did before the end times, but we’re switching a few numbers out so we can have “The Star Wars Holiday Special” and “The Gremlins Song”.  Our cast is phenomenal.  We’re excited to have burlesque star Frankie Fictitious, as well as the amazing drag chanteuse Katya Smirnoff-Skyy.

MB: Kat, do you have any special Christmas traditions that you celebrate each year?

KR: My husband and I watch Die Hard.  I think that’s the only tradition we’ve stuck to over the years.

MB: Do you have a favorite Christmas song?

KR: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, which we do at the end of the Christmas show every year.  I love Judy Garland.

MB: Kat, thank you again for spending some time with Merry & Bright! “A Darling Misfit Christmas” has become one of my favorite Christmas albums because it’s original, edgy, and terrifically Christmas. I wish you a tremendously successful run of “A Very Merry Misfit Cabaret”. Merry Christmas to you and all of the Darling Misfits!

KR: Thank you so much! Happy holidays to you and yours! xo


Kat Robichaud website: https://www.katrobichaud.com/

Kat on Spotify

Support Kat on Patreon

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

New Music: Audrey DuBois Harris "Christmas Without You"

A few times each Christmas season a new song comes along that immediately makes you perk your ears, sit up, and take notice. Then you become deeply immersed in the song, and let it wrap around you musically, moving you into a new little universe of just you and the song. "Christmas Without You", performed by Audrey DuBois Harris, is one of those songs.

First, some of Audrey's cred:
  • Aretha Franklin (!!!!!!!) requested her to perform a series of concert events, including Aretha Franklin Presents: A Two Night Revival, Aretha Presents: GospelFest and Aretha Franklin Presents: The Gospel Legends.
  • Selected by the family of the late Queen of Soul to perform on the global broadcast of Aretha Franklin’s Celebration of Life service.
  • Performed on several occasions as “The President’s Soloist,” singing the National Anthem, as well as at “Christmas at The White House.”
  • Rev. Jesse Jackson invited DuBois Harris to perform at the annual Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee service in remembrance of “Bloody Sunday” on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

"Christmas Without You", Ms. DuBois Harris' new song for this holiday season, is befitting her amazing talent as a singer.  Beginning with piano accompaniment, and adding strings and percussion as the song builds, and featuring a trumpet solo, the song feels like an intimate performance.  To quote Audrey: "Amid all the glamour, glitz and rush of the holiday season, it's important to remember the real joy of the season is being with the ones we love: ‘Christmas Without You’ illustrates this in a beautiful fashion.”

I agree.

Please make "Christmas Without You" a part of your Christmas playlist this season.

"Christmas Without You" - Stream on Spotify

Audrey DuBois Harris website

Friday, November 12, 2021

New Music: Rehya Stevens " 'Tis the Season"

There's good news, and then there's great news.  Rehya Stevens' release of a new Christmas album is as assuredly great news as can be.

Available today (November 12, 2021) 'Tis the Season is Rehya at her holiday best!  Eleven songs, including eight originals and three standards, one being a wonderful mini-medley "All Through the Night/The Holly and the Ivy", make this album my most anticipated release of the year.

And it lives up to all my hopes.  The Christmas spirit flows through Rehya into her songs - they are so uplifting and Christmassy.  Rehya and her songs make me smile :-)

Here's a sample from the album, "Marry Me for Christmas"

I'll have much more from Rehya and about 'Tis the Season in an upcoming post.  But for now, enjoy the video, and visit Rehya's website (or your preferred digital music outlet) to get yourself a copy of this wonderful album.

Oh, hey - psssst.....  You can get three free tracks when you visit Rehya's website.  

Rehya Stevens website

Rehya on Spotify

All the links....

Apple Music

Thursday, November 11, 2021

New Music: Christmas EP from Amanda Fagan

17 year old high school senior and San Diego native Amanda Fagan is releasing a 5 song EP of Christmas music this season. "Christmas Lights Through Car Windows" features Amanda and her collaborator/producer/keyboardist Grace Thygeson on five original songs.

The title track "Christmas Lights Through Car Windows" highlights Amanda's mature voice and knack for meaningful songwriting, as it gives us a close insight on a uniquely SoCal Christmas.  Espresso in the evenings while driving around the neighborhoods to take in the Christmas decorations, listening to Christmas music along the way are all part of the holidays where snowy Christmases are rare.  There's a great sense of tradition and comfort wrapped up in this song.  Knowing Amanda is 17 as I'm listening, I can't help but hear the song from the point of view of a teenager, but that gives the song extra meaning.  It sounds like Amanda and her family have been doing this for many years, and it's a tradition filled with joy.  Well done.

Amanda Fagan

Amanda's voice has a touch of Dolores O'Riordan in it, especially on "All of My Decembers", a heartbreaker song about young relationships, hopes for the future, and their inevitable twists and turns.

"Bethlehem Road" is a counterpoint to the secular tile track.  It's a more spiritual song, celebrating the true meaning of Christmas.  It's quite heartfelt, and is impressively arranged with brass and percussion backing Amanda's vocals.

"Christmas Pageant" channels childhood memories of Santa and reindeer and those unforgettable pageants we were in as 5 year olds.  Amanda sings of growing up and how Christmas changes, and how she sometimes wishes to go back to the days of the pageants.  I'll tell you Amanda - those good memories of childhood Christmases never go away.

Amanda's singing is quite nice throughout all five songs - clear, tuneful, and pleasant.  On the closing song, "A Lonely New Year's Eve",  Amanda stretches her range a bit, and sounds great!  (More of that for the next album please ๐Ÿ˜€)   Blessed with a natural voice with tone and timbre beyond her years, Amanda stays within bounds and doesn't try to do too much, which fits the spirit of the album very well.  Her songs don't need eye-popping runs, and in fact the more reserved approach brings more meaning and emotion to the songs than would trying to channel Ms. Carey or Ms. Clarkson.  "Christmas Lights Through Car Windows" is a very impressive collection of songs, and I hope to hear more in the future!

Amanda and Grace

"Christmas Lights Through Car Windows" drops on November 12th, 2021.

All the links...

Amanda Fagan on Spotify

Amanda Fagan website: https://herecomesamanda.com/

Amanda Fagan on Instagram

Amanda's YouTube Channel

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

A Controversial "Christmas Carol"

FX's "A Christmas Carol" starring Guy Pearce as Ebenezer Scrooge premiered in 2019 to decidedly mixed opinions.  This adaptation of Charles Dickens' canonical Christmas story, while adhering to the fundamental plotline of the original, took many imaginative liberties and was intensely dark, with frightening imagery and adult themes.  It's not for family viewing if your family has youngsters.  Purists will likely hate it, both for the plot additions and for the disturbing bleakness.

I absolutely loved it.

Now, I've enjoyed most of the many versions of "A Christmas Carol".  I love the Patrick Stewart version, the first one I watched.  Alistair Sim's film is my favorite of the traditional tellings.  Reginald Owen's - also great, and the prettiest spirit of Christmas Past ever.  Muppet Christmas Carol is amazing.  The Albert Finney musical - wonderful!  I'm personally 'meh' about George C. Scott's version, but it's fine, just not a fave.

So, why do I love the FX version?  I'll clue you in, without complete unabashed spoilers.  However, I may give away more than you'd like if you intend to watch it for the first time, so I'll give you some spoiler buffer space.

First, though, a couple non-spoiler aspects.  I thought that the filmmaking, photography, and visual artistry was amazing.  The abject bleakness was beautiful in its presentation.  I was very impressed with the presented craft of filmmaking.

Second, a plot point that's not a secret, nor a spoiler.  In this version, Ebenezer Scrooge is not just a cranky old miser mad at the world and himself.  Ebenezer Scrooge is a very, very, bad man.  He is a rotten to the core human being.  He is evil, so much so that as I was watching it, I literally wondered how the writers would ever be able to convincingly depict his redemption.  Waking up on Christmas morning and sending a turkey from the poulter to the Cratchits would be hollow and unbelievable.

Ok, now the spoiler buffer.   Exit now if you don't want to know any more.  Go watch it instead ๐Ÿ˜€










Do you remember the episode of "Friends" where Phoebe watched all of "It's a Wonderful Life" except for the last half hour?  She thought there was nothing wonderful at all about it.  It's possible that many people who were critical of FX's 'Carol' bailed too soon, like Phoebe.  Just a thought.



















So, I'll leave out the precise details, but what makes me love this movie is the moment of Scrooge's redemption.  I literally get chills thinking about it, even as I write this sentence.  Every other movie depicts this, faithful to Dickens, as when Scrooge realizes that he himself is bad or has done bad things, but he can change.  He can change his behavior, and alter the visions of the future that he was shown by the Spirit of Christmas Yet To Come.  The outcomes are good, and persistent, and he makes the lives of others better, but he mainly changes his own life and legacy. It's all about him.  "An American Christmas Carol", with Henry Winkler, was a prime example of this.  To paraphrase, Winkler's Slade said to himself "I won't be remembered like this".  His actions were about self, though impacting others positively.

Guy Pearce's Scrooge's redemption was completely selfless, a dramatic redirection of the moment from every other filmed version.  It was sudden, and absolutely about others, nothing about self.  In fact, in the seconds immediately preceding, Scrooge said to the Spirit, "I know it's too late for me".  It was an incredibly powerful minute of filmmaking.  Then watching the dรฉnouement following the redemptive moment was wholly and completely satisfying.  Well done, writers.

So there you go.  Watch if you dare :-)

Thursday, November 4, 2021

New Music: "I Won't Be Alone on Christmas Day" from Cristina F

New York (Bronx born and raised) singer-songwriter Cristina F leads off our new music features for 2021 with "I Won't Be Alone on Christmas Day", available on November 5.  And what a way to start the season!  

"I Won't Be Alone on Christmas Day" is a great original song from a very talented musician.  An upbeat post-breakup song, Cristina sings of being with family rather than the one with whom prior holidays were spent watching favorite Christmas movies together.  There is a lightness to "I Won't Be Alone on Christmas Day", which really highlights the theme of the love and support of family.  I dig this song a lot.  

"I Won't Be Alone on Christmas Day" officially drops on November 5.  

Cristina F

If you like what you hear, and I think you will, Cristina has two other Christmas songs to enjoy.  "Christmastime Together", a collaboration with Alex Bochel released in 2020, and her take on the modern Christmas classic "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)".  I've become very critical of performances of this song after hearing Laurie Cameron's perfect re-imagining of it as a melancholy song of holiday loneliness, but Cristina F's version gets a big thumbs up. She shows reverence to Darlene Love's iconic version in her performance, along with abundant energy and spirit.  Applause applause!

One more note about Cristina F:  she contacted ol' Der Bingle personally to bring my attention to her new song, and exchanged a few messages to share information about her song, web presence, and her social media.  I have a special appreciation for artists that will reach out and make a personal connection.  Cristina is a very talented singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, and I encourage you all to check out her new song as well as her back catalog.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

2021 Holidays Are Here!

 Hello everyone!  A hearty welcome to the 2021 holiday season!

2020 was a huge blur.  Sometimes it feels like it didn't happen - it's a mental black hole.  Thanksgiving 2020 was just for the people who lived in the house at the time, plus delivered pies :-)  Christmas 2020 was held via Zoom following socially-distanced present dropoffs.  And as I mentioned in my earlier post, our household caught COVID over the 2020 holidays.  All are well now, all vaccinated and looking forward to a more normal Christmas in 2021.

And so it's time for Merry & Bright to return.  I have a few things planned, but there will be a play-it-as-it-goes aspect this year.  I will have a few music shares, but haven't done much crate-digging this year, so the stocks are low.  I have some new music to feature, and a few creator interviews planned.  There may be some vintage Christmas book posts, and I have a couple pure opinion pieces planned.  I have an idea for a possible reader-sourced feature, too. We'll see about that one, and if it comes together.

So, welcome back everyone!  Be on the lookout for the first new music feature here in a couple days.  Please leave comments if you enjoy what you read - I like knowing you're out there :-)

Happy Holiday Season 2021!