Friday, December 31, 2021

Artist Spotlights: Cristina F and Emily Aldridge

As one of my final posts this year I want to spotlight two of the musicians who released new Christmas songs in 2021, and they were two of the best songs this year  I've written about Cristina F and Emily Aldridge and their songs earlier in the blog, but wanted to give each of them another well-deserved shout-out.

Emily and Cristina were both extraordinarily kind and gracious as we connected through their songs this season.  They both found Merry & Bright and contacted me personally with the info about their songs.  And even during the hectic times of the holidays, they both shared the blog posts on their websites and socials, for which I am very grateful.  The best music I find each year comes from hard-working independent musicians like Emily and Cristina.  Please join me in supporting their music!

Cristina F


Cristina F, born and raised in the Bronx, still calls NYC her home.  Inspired by such greats as John Lennon & Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, and Carole King, Cristina has been writing and performing music for many years.  In addition to "I Won't Be Alone on Christmas Day", which she released this year, Cristina previously released her cover of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)".  Available on her Bandcamp site are singles "No Feeling" and "Flowers", her cover of "God Bless the USA", and albums/EPs P/S/ ART Part 1, Greatest Mistake and The EP.  Her back catalog is well worth your time, and I hope you're inclined to support Cristina with a purchase or two.  If you haven't added "I Won't Be Alone on Christmas Day" to your Christmas music collection yet, you should.  It is the catchiest tune that came my way this year, and there were many occasions when I'd realize I had it running through my head.  Such great songwriting!


Cristina was so very gracious as we exchanged communications a few times this holiday season.  She is an independent singer/songwriter, and nothing says this better than one picture in particular on her Instagram feed.  Captioned "When you’re in between singing for kid birthdays and singing for adult weddings", I've never seen a better visual capturing the life of a working musician :-)

One of my wishes for 2022 is another Christmas song from Cristina F!

Cristina F Instagram

Youtube video for "No Feeling" by Cristina F

Emily Aldridge


Emily Aldridge, former Midwesterner now residing in the Pacific Northwest, released "Roaring Fire", one of the absolute finest new songs this season (and one that danged near slipped past Der Bingle - yeesh, I've got to pay more attention).  Emily has a long and eclectic history as a performing musician, self-described as "Guitar-slinging, piano-bashing Emily Aldridge will be writing music until they send her into the deep woods at a ripe old age".  Her solo work includes the album Emily and the Gypsy Fire, a 2014 release featuring 8 original tunes.  Most recently, Em helmed the band Tall Dark Whimsy, the "all-female rock and metal sensation that would soon set Em’s dark tunes spinning into a destiny for ears and years to come."  Earlier,  Em was the frontperson of Sacrifice to Survive, a progressive metal band.  Wow!



In addition to being a singer/songwriter, Emily is a music teacher, a production consultant, offers audition prep services, and serves as a music career coach.  Plus, she is a talented writer and has a great sense of humor, as is evident by perusing her website.  Hit her home page and read the comments about "Roaring Fire" - you'll see what I mean.

Emily's solo work and music with her bands is available on Bandcamp (links are below).  I love a good genre-leaper, and while listening to her work I really enjoyed the jump from the guitar/vocal solitude of "Roaring Fire" to the prog-metal of Sacrifice to Survive.

Another wish for 2022 - more Christmas songs from Emily Aldridge!


"Forgive" video by Emily Aldridge


Sunday, December 26, 2021

It's Boxing Day!

My favorite line in Doug & Bob McKenzie's "Twelve Days of Christmas" is 'Wrestling Day, no... Boxing Day'.  

Happy Boxing Day everyone!  I hope everyone had a very happy and safe Christmas.  We were able to resume a gathered family for Christmas this year, after Covid visited our house last year and led to a Zoom Christmas.  It was great to have everyone here together again.  

I've got a couple more posts planned - revisiting some of my favorite new songs this season and a general wrap of things.  So, please check back in before the New Year! 

Friday, December 24, 2021

My Christmas Gift To You

Christmas Eve, 2021.  Another season of Merry & Bright winding down.  I have a few more trails to travel here before wrapping up for another year, but for today I have a special gift for all the lovers of interesting vinyl albums out there.  It's my pleasure to bring you (pa rum pa pum pum) The Links!

I found The Links while haunting record stores in Omaha with my middle daughter.  At first we thought Hey! It's The Kinks!, she being a big fan of Ray, Dave & Co.  Then, realizing it was assuredly not The Kinks, I thought maybe it's the Will Ferrell Brothers Band.  But, no relation, apparently.


As best we know, The Links were an Omaha, Nebraska regional club band in the 60s (?) or 70s (?), playing the best of the local hotel bars, all you can eat buffets, and VFW halls in the tri-state area.  I don't know much more about them, except for the sweet sounds of their 8 track album.

You may notice that the back of the album is autographed by all three members of The Links.  Whoo-hoo!  Collectible!  However, according to the dude at the record store, the real trick is finding a Links album that isn't signed.  Their albums weren't sold in stores, instead being exclusively offered at their many, many, many shows.  And of course, if you bought a record at a show, they signed it.  So the real holy grail of Links-dom is an unsigned album.


So, this is not a Christmas album.  The classics "Lucille", "Before the Next Teardrop Falls", and "Sweet Caroline" grace the track list, as does a version of the Abbott & Costello classic "Who's On First" that is, in it's own way, unforgettable.

But, when scouring the crates for essential vinyl for your collection, who could resist an album with "Macarthur Park".  Heck, any album with "Macarthur Park" and all that sweet green icing flowing down is almost a must-buy, but it makes The Links impossible to pass up.

So, my very special Christmas gift to you - The Links!

P.S.  I think there's a skip on here somewhere that I couldn't fix.  Seems fitting....

I will greatly enjoy your comments about The Links.


Enjoy!

Thursday, December 23, 2021

A Christmas Short Story from J.R. Frontera

I am privileged to have met and continue to meet some of the best people in the arts and music community.  They are my personal points of joy and positivity, sharing their work with the world through music, visual arts, and writing.

I have a very special share for you tonight, something new for Merry & Bright!  Kansas City author J.R. Frontera graciously allowed me to publish her new story "Merry Christmas, Junior", as a co-premier, alongside her blog.

J.R. Frontera has published many books in the sci-fi, fantasy, and steampunk-western genres.  "Merry Christmas, Junior" is a prequel story in her Luck Logan series, her entries in steampunk-western.

I've read "Bargain at Bravebank", book one in the Legacy of Lucky Logan series, and it is fantastic.  Steampunk-western was new to me, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  J.R. is a superbly talented writer, and her stories are engaging through and through.

Please click through the links to J.R. Frontera's website and browse what she has to offer.  Love Sci-Fi?  Try her "Starship Ass" series.  (That should get ya intrigued...)

J.R. Frontera's website

J.R. Frontera blog

Link to "Merry Christmas, Junior"

One quick note:  "Merry Christmas, Junior" could be considered to be "R Rated" for language, lewd humor, and sexual situations.  So read at your discretion.  But hey, we could all use a little lewd humor every now and then :-)

Without further ado, I present "Merry Christmas, Junior", by Kansas City writer J.R. Frontera




“God damn, I’m freezin’ my goddamn balls off up here,” Holt Haggerty hissed, his breath puffin’ clouds of vapor up around his head.

‘Lucky’ Logan Delano snorted from where he sat wedged into one corner of the general store’s roof, bundled up in all his best winter clothes just like Holt, but with his mittened hands tucked up into his armpits instead of aimin’ a long rifle down at the long stretch of almost abandoned Main Street down below. “Me too,” he muttered.

“Why we get stuck with this job anyway?” Holt grumbled. He gave up watchin’ the street below and pulled his long rifle back from where it’d been propped up on the roof ledge, instead settin’ it down on its butt, hookin’ one arm around the barrel, and then rubbin’ his hands together vigorously. He tried to blow hot air on ‘em too, but it didn’t do much good.

Logan quirked an eyebrow at his friend and fellow outlaw. It had to be close to midnight by now, but the sky above was clear and fulla stars that glittered like crystal, and the waxin’ moon was nearly full, givin’ ‘em plenty of light to work by. “Well, it could be ‘cause we’re especially good at ambushin’ folk. Or my special talent for drivin’ a team of horses. Or the fact you’re the best among us with that long gun there.” He tipped his chin in the direction of Holt’s sharpshooter. The kid had always been good at the distance shot, somethin’ Paul Johnson, the intrepid leader of their sizeable band, was always keen to take advantage of.

“Or…” Holt ventured. “Or it could be that Paul’s still sore about that incident up in Iowa.”

Logan winced and cleared his throat. “Could be.” That was most likely, in truth. Paul didn’t let things go lightly, and they’d lost the gang a whole three thousand dollars that day.

He’d suspected that was Paul’s real reasonin’ behind banishin’ him and Holt to this godforsaken town of Gallapin, on Christmas Eve no less, to wait in the freezin’ cold for the return of the rest of the Johnson Boys, and to lay down cover fire for ‘em if they should happen to arrive with any law hot on their heels. But he hadn’t asked no questions. Paul didn’t like questions.

“But … but they did need that wagon,” Holt commented abruptly, as if tryin’ to convince himself this assignment weren’t really a punishment. His cheeks and nose were bright red from the chill.

“Yeah,” Logan mused. “Sure.” And that was true. The Boys did need a wagon, for after they pulled off the bank job in Arkopolis, the much larger town nearly a day’s ride northeast—the bank job they were currently conductin’ this very evenin’—to stash a chunk of their stolen cash in and hide a good number of the Boys as they made their escape.

Holt and Logan had grabbed the wagon themselves two days ago, and left it just where Paul had instructed them to. Then they’d made their way here … and waited.

In the freezin’ fuckin’ cold.

Sure, Paul and the others had needed that wagon, but someone else shoulda been sent to retrieve it and place it, or at the very least, someone else shoulda been sent to wait here.

Paul don’t ever need no cover fire. He don’t run … he turns and fights. Either he’ll murder all the law on his tail, or they’ll murder him.

Logan blew out a long breath in a plume of cloud, then fumbled in his coat pocket for his watch. He couldn’t get to it with his mitten on. He growled and yanked the mitten off with his teeth, then fished out the watch and popped it open. He’d been correct … it was nearly midnight. His freshly bared skin was already stingin’ in the crisp air. He grumbled and snapped the watch closed again, shoved it back into its pocket, and then hurriedly put his mitten back on.

It usually weren’t so cold in Akansa, even at this time of year. Maybe the Holy Mother herself was tryin’ to punish him, too. Well, if that were the case, she was gonna have to try a lot harder than this.

“You … don’t think he means to cut us off, do ya?” Holt asked finally, quietly.

Logan glanced up to him. The kid was still standin’ there with his arm hooked around the barrel of his rifle, hunched in his woolen coat with his efforts to stay warm. His chin was tucked down into his fur linin’ and his hat pulled down low, but even in the silvery light of the moon, Logan saw true concern etched in the young man’s features.

“No,” he said firmly, shakin’ his head. “No. C’mon, Junior, you know better than that.”

Holt’s face screwed up in displeasure at Logan’s use of that nickname. A whole decade doin’ crime together and he still hated it.

And Logan still loved it. “No, if Paul were sore enough at us to cast us out, we’d be dead already. You know that.”

Holt was quiet for another long minute, then nodded and shifted his gaze out across the stretch of town to the far horizon. “Yeah. Yeah, yer right.”

The kid was startin’ to get fidgety. Logan sighed. He unfolded himself from his cramped sittin’ position and clambered to his feet somewhat clumsily thanks to all his layers of clothin’, then picked up his own rifle. Not a sharpshooter like Holt’s, but still good enough at shootin’ from a distance. “C’mon. I’ve had enough of this. Let’s go get a drink or somethin’.”

Holt’s eyes went wide. “Can … can we do that? Paul said to wait…”

Logan shrugged. “You think he really expects us to camp up here all goddamned night? Like you said, I’m freezin’ my balls off. And I’m his goddamned Second, for Chrissakes. He don’t like it, he can stop sendin’ me out to the middle of nowhere when he knows damn well I should be there right in the thick of it, right beside him.” Logan shook his head again, anger stirrin’ where there had used to be only calm, cold acceptance. He’d been with Paul long enough now, damnit, proven himself countless times … he weren’t no raw recruit no more. He deserved better than this.

Even if he had lost that three thousand dollars.

“Naw, fuck this,” he said. “It’s Christmas, for God’s sake. I’m goin’ for a drink and a gal. Maybe lots of drinks and lots of gals. You comin’?”

Holt couldn’t follow fast enough. He grabbed up his weapon and his small stash of ammunitions and scraps of food and stuffed ‘em all back into his satchel, then hurried after Logan as the elder of the two made for the ladder.

“I’m goin’ for a drink and a gal. Maybe lots of drinks and lots of gals. You comin’?”
(Art by Wilkolence)

#

They celebrated the stroke of midnight in the One Dollar More saloon, which Logan thought was an awful strange name for a saloon, but the inside of it was well-lit and blessedly warm, and full-stocked-up on plenty of liquor and plenty of workin’ women from the Gilded Dove next door.

Logan raised his glass as the big old pendulum clock in the far corner rang out twelve notes. “To us, and havin’ a night off for once, not spendin’ it runnin’ or sleepin’ out in the woods, eh? To warm drink and warm beds and warm…” He tossed a glance to one of the girls currently sashayin’ across the establishment and cleared his throat. “…bodies.” Reluctantly, he pulled his gaze back to Holt, whose cheeks were still flushed red, only from the alcohol and the heat of the blazin’ wood stove this time instead of cold, and lifted his glass higher. “Merry Christmas, Junior.”

The good humor on Holt’s face soured a bit at the name, but he let it go quick this time and clinked his glass against the side of Logan’s.

Logan figured the kid was probably grateful he’d been spared a night sittin’ out in the cold. And Logan had offered to pay tonight, too. For meals and rooms, and all their libations. And entertainment, even … at least within reason. He tossed back his quality whiskey and then grinned at his friend—no, more like a younger brother after all these years and all these jobs—as the other swallowed back his drink as well.

But hell, he was feelin’ generous tonight. Two months of sloggin’ through grunt chores and crap assignments, all ‘cause Paul was still upset about that lost money. He was tired of it. He and Holt deserved a good time after all that. A real, real good time…

He poured ‘em both another full glass from the bottle on the table.

Holt gave an abrupt snort and chuckled as he looked around the sparsely populated saloon. It was Christmas, after all. Most of the locals were home with their families for the night. “This kinda reminds me of our time in New London, ‘member that?”

Logan grunted and gave a nod. “Sure. Hard to forget that place. You spent half your take on one hour with that flexible woman.”

Holt straightened in his chair and leaned forward on his elbows, pullin’ his new glass of whiskey close. “She’s called a contortionist, Logan.”

“You dunno what she’s called. You were so goddamned drunk I can’t believe you managed to find your pecker.”

Now Holt’s neck reddened, and Logan chuckled into his drink as he gulped it down.

“Well, I did,” Holt said glumly. “Least I weren’t the one gettin’ beat up by a lady.”

Logan almost choked on his whiskey. He coughed and set the glass down quick. “That weren’t no lady. She had a beard.”

“Yeah. She was a bearded lady, Logan. That’s the whole point. That’s why she was in that show to begin with.”

“She weren’t no lady,” Logan grumbled.

“She was, and she laid you out flat. Archie and the doc saw, too, ain’t no gettin’ around it.” Now it was Holt’s turn to gloat into his glass.

Logan poured himself another. “Yeah well … she was a … a very … a very large lady. With a very large fist. And she didn’t lay me out flat. Only sent me stumblin’ a bit.”

Holt snorted, grabbin’ the whiskey bottle away from Logan for another refill himself. “That ain’t what I saw.”

“I wouldn’t trust nothin’ you saw that night, Junior. Like I said, you were so drunk you could hardly find your own pecker. Maybe that flexible woman—”

“Contortionist.”

“—weren’t even really who she was supposed to be by the time you got to your room! Probably any woman—hell, maybe even any man—coulda taken her place and you wouldn’ta known the difference!”

“Oh, she was who she was supposed to be, all right.” Holt nodded vigorously, and those sharp blue eyes of his went all misty and distant for a spell.

Logan laughed. Shit. Maybe the kid was really tellin’ the truth about that, after all. “All right. Okay. But I ain’t never goin’ near another of those circuses again, I can tell you that. Paul wants to rustle another one of those, he can go on and do it his own damn self.”

“Sure, ya, I’d love to hear you tell him that to his face.”

Logan grunted again and swigged his third glass, welcomin’ that warm burn all the way down his gullet to his belly. He’d never say such a thing to Paul’s face. Of course he wouldn’t. But it was nice to think about. He surely didn’t wanna have to deal with any more of those real large ladies with their real large fists—or real large beards—again. Or those elephants … those damned elephants…

“To think all that started in a place kinda like this,” Holt mused. He leaned back in his chair and took a good look around the saloon, then chuckled and shook his head. “And all ‘cause Sam had a hankerin’ to dance.”

Logan leaned forward, catchin’ the barkeep’s eye to signal for another bottle. Then he turned back to Holt. “Think the whiskey had more to do with that hankerin’ than the music.”

Holt shrugged. “Didn’t even know that man could dance.”

“Me neither.”

“If he hadn’t insisted on gettin’ up on the bartop, you think they woulda still thrown us out?”

Logan considered the question as the barkeep sent a saloon girl over with his requested bottle. She made eyes at both him and Holt as she set it atop their table and asked if they needed anythin’ else. But they declined for the time bein’. She made sure to trail a hand up Logan’s arm as she departed, and he took in a deep, slow breath of her perfume.

Sometimes it was nice to spend a few hours in a town when you didn’t plan on robbin’ or shootin’ up the place any time soon.

“Well?” Holt prompted.

Logan looked back to his friend to see the younger man pourin’ what was left of their first bottle evenly between their two glasses. He smiled, nodded. “They woulda still thrown us out, yeah. No one wants to see Cook Sam dancin’. Now we all know that for certain.”

“Fer certain,” Holt agreed. He raised his glass, and once more they toasted. And drank.

And then another saloon girl arrived with their food, and they happily dug in.

#

“No, no, no, no,” Logan insisted, jabbin’ his index finger down beside his empty plate and another empty bottle of whiskey. “You’re thinkin’ of that grizzly up in Colorado, and it were me who ran that off that bastard! Sure as hell weren’t Archie, I can tell ya that. And I weren’t wearin’ nothin’ but my union suit and had only a fork, too! But I sent him runnin’, I did, you ask anyone!”

Holt stared at him like he’d gone crazy, but Logan remembered that night clear as day. Well, clear as a cloudy day … or maybe clear as a day all choked with haze from a nearby wildfire … but he’d for sure only been wearin’ his union suit. He was pretty sure the fork had actually been his rifle, but the story weren’t nearly as impressive that way.

They had full bellies now and were deep into their third bottle of whiskey. The One Dollar More saloon was startin’ to rock under Logan’s chair, but they’d also started tradin’ stories, and Logan weren’t about to let the kid get one up on him.

Holt snorted and shook his head. “That ain’t the grizzly I’m thinkin’ of, and that ain’t what happened with the grizzly in Colorado, neither.”

“Sure as shit is too what happened.”

“Even if it was,” the kid was startin’ to slur a little, “yer tryin’ to tell me that’s better’n killin’ a croc from a hun’ren yards out? A croc that was gonna eat the doc? I saved a man’s life, Logan! From a hunnen yards! Nobody else even ever saw that beast comin’ ‘cept me! An’ I told y’all, I told y’all there was somethin’ out there.”

“You always think there’s somethin’ out everywhere, Junior.”

“And I’m right most the time, ain’t I?”

“I wouldn’t say most the time…”

“But I sure was that time.” The kid beamed, mock-aimin’ an invisible sharpshooter rifle across the saloon and squintin’ down the sight, then pullin’ the trigger. “Bam! Right ‘tween the eyes I got him. Saved the doc’s hide. Only hide you saved in Colorado was yer own.”

Logan scoffed, swallowed back another glass of drink. Poured some more. Holt held out his glass too, and Logan topped it off for him, and then that was the last of their third bottle. “Maybe so. But I like my own hide intact, thank you very much. What about that time I kept that stagecoach in Utah from goin’ over that cliff?”

Holt took a thoughtful gulp of his whiskey and then sucked in a breath through his teeth. But gave a nod in consent. “All right. Gottta give ya that one. Saw that one with my own two eyes … unlike that Colorado grizzly.”

Logan lowered his voice. “Or the time I took out nine and a half men with just six bullets.”

Holt gave a snort. “Ya can’t count a half a man, Logan.”

Logan lifted his hands. “Hey, the bullet hit him, didn’t it? May not a’ killed ‘em, but it got him none the less. Nine and a half men, six bullets.”

“You made that up. That and the Colorado grizzly. Nonsense.”

“Nah.” Logan sat forward in his chair again, leanin’ over the table. “What’s nonsense is you beddin’ the whole White Rose whorehouse in one night, that’s what.”

Holt was takin’ another swig of whiskey at just that moment and choked at Logan’s accusation, then sloshed some out on the table as he set the glass down quick and fell into a coughin’ fit. He pounded at his chest in his attempts to recover his air, while Logan only leaned back in his chair and crossed his ankles, smirkin’ at the scowl Holt sent him through waterin’ eyes.

“That is true and you know it,” Holt wheezed between his hackin’. “Don’cha ‘member the Madame—” He gave a few more coughs. “—fawnin’ all over Paul the next mornin’? That was cuz of me!”

But Logan was already shakin’ his head. “Sorry, kid. No way. Now I don’t doubt you spent a helluva pretty penny there in that establishment that evenin’ … but ain’t no man alive got that kinda stamina.”

Holt finally got control of himself and straightened his shoulders indignantly. “We was comin’ off a terrible dry spell! Been months since we’d even seen a lady, and—”

“And you were feelin’ awful proud of yourself for your role in keepin’ our cattle cargo secure, yeah, that’s what you said last time you told the story.” Logan lifted a skeptical eyebrow.

“Cuz it’s true!” Holt insisted.

Logan scoffed, but there was half a smile pullin’ at his lips he couldn’t stop. “What’s true is you had yourself a real good time, sure enough, again at the expense of most your take, and then bribed the Madame to tell us tall tales with the rest of your cut, that’s what.”

Holt’s blue eyes narrowed. “Ain’t so.”

“Is so.”

Holt pushed his glass of whiskey away and put his palms down flat against the table. “All right. All right, fine. I’ll prove it.”

Logan sat up straight in his chair. “Haggerty, no—”

“I’ll have me a go at the Gilded Dove.”

“Not on my dollar you won’t. I told you, I’m only payin’ for one round!”

“On my own dollar then.”

Logan blew out a breath, settin’ his own glass down. “God damn, Junior, this is why you ain’t never got no money.”

Now Holt planted an elbow on the table and jabbed his finger at Logan. “And how many times I gotta tell you, Logan, I got a goddamn name! And it ain’t Junior!”

Logan couldn’t help snickerin’, but then the kid was wavin’ at one of the Doves wanderin’ around the place, and his amusement faded as he muttered a curse. “Damnit, Holt, ain’t you learned nothin’ in all this time about managin’ your cash?”

The kid only grinned at him as the woman started toward their table. “I manage it just fine, thank you. I’ll show ya I ain’t spinnin’ no tales … ain’t like you an’ the rest. I don’ gotta talk myself up none. I speak nothin’ but the truth.”

It was such an outrageous lie in and of itself that a full-bellied guffaw burst out of Logan before he could stop himself. He slapped at the table, lettin’ himself enjoy the moment. It’d been far too long since he had a good and proper laugh. “You’re so fulla shit, Haggerty,” he managed finally around his wheezin’.

“Make a wager of it, then?” Holt dared. He leaned forward, his still-youthful face turnin’ serious, though there was a glint in his eye Logan knew all too well.

He tried to regain control of himself, swipin’ away tears. “That’s a bad bet, Junior. Even if I win, you wouldn’t have any money left to pay me!” He fell into another fit of laughter as Holt’s expression turned decidedly unamused … but then the woman he’d waved to reached their table, and she had a friend not far behind her.

She sauntered around behind Holt and slipped her hands down over his shoulders, then leaned toward his ear to better be heard above the piano music. It might have been Christmas, and the saloon far less populated than usual, but the man poundin’ away at the piano was no less enthusiastic.

“Howdy there, handsome,” she purred. “Haven’t seen you around here before. What brings you to our little town?”

Holt made a point of abruptly ignorin’ Logan to sit back in his chair and take her hands in his. He guided her around his chair and into his lap. “Pretty little things like you,” he said.

The girl giggled and Logan rolled his eyes, but then the second woman was there and slidin’ herself into his lap, too, and he had to push his chair back a mite to make room for her. She had long dark hair and wore only a white corset and white bloomers. She hooked one arm around his shoulders and with her other hand poured his glass full again from the bottle she’d brought with her.

He raised his brows. Well, he weren’t gonna argue.

“Well now,” she said, “ain’t that sweet. You boys all alone tonight?”

Logan accepted the full glass she handed him and smiled up at her, his free hand strokin’ through her long locks. “Not no more.”

She had a brilliant grin. And she was real good at this. He was already respondin’ to the way her fingers trailed down the back of his neck, the scent of her, the way she nestled herself so expertly against him … and all the whiskey he’d already imbibed wrapped everything in a warm, heady haze of contentment.

This was gonna be one helluva Christmas, all right.

#

Logan woke late the next morning to a rowdy but happy soundin’ ruckus, only a brief surge of adrenaline shootin’ through him before his mind classified it as no-threat, and he remembered that he was warm in a soft bed with woolen blankets and a dark-haired woman still next to him. Hannah, was her name.

He’d paid her for a whole night, just to stay.

Sometimes it was nice to sleep next to another warm body that didn’t snore and stink of horse. ‘Specially when it was cold outside.

He laid there for another few long minutes, relishin’ the comfort of it. Outside his room’s window, down along Main Street, several men whooped and hollered as they galloped up and down the road in front of the saloon.

And Logan smiled as he recognized the voices.

He slipped carefully from beneath the covers, careful not to wake the girl. He pulled on his union suit against the chill and buttoned it up in a hurry, then padded across the floorboards on bare feet to pull aside the curtain.

Sure enough, there was Paul. And Archie and Sam and Doc Green and most the rest, wavin’ their pistols in the air and chargin’ their horses back and forth in a show of grand revelry.

“Merry fuckin’ Christmas, Gallapin!” Paul hollered. “Merry fuckin’ Christmas!”

Logan grunted and shook his head. Well, least they ain’t firin’ those things … like to get themselves arrested after all, just for bein’ a nuisance.

A few townsfolk had paused on the boardwalks to watch the gang’s antics, but bein’ as no one was causin’ any real harm, they mostly seemed to think Paul and his group were just a bunch of energetic young men feelin’ their oats in the crisp cold of a Christmas mornin’.

And they were exactly that, indeed.

Only the townsfolk wouldn’t know just what had Paul in such a merry mood this mornin’.

Logan, however, had a real good idea.

That bank robbery had been a success. A real big success, judgin’ from the ruckus the Boys were makin’.

Logan felt a twinge of jealousy despite himself. He shoulda been there too. Not relegated to the background. Those with more active parts in the risky jobs got a bigger share of the loot … and his role in this one had been minor. No matter how big the take had been this time, he wouldn’t see much of it.

But he shoved down the swell of ire. Buried it back beneath that wall of calm acceptance. Paul wanted him to feel that way. Wanted him to feel slighted and left out. Wanted him to regret losin’ that three grand. And Logan didn’t like bein’ manipulated.

Though he did regret losin’ the money, sure.

But he didn’t regret his choice that day. Paul weren’t gonna make him ashamed of that, at least, no matter how hard he tried.

The Johnson Boys mighta been an awful collection of terrible men, but they were as much family as Logan had ever had. Maybe some of ‘em Logan wouldn’ta minded seein’ gone, and sure, if any of ‘em ever put the gang in danger or at risk he’d do what had to be done, just like he’d done with Bill all those years ago.

But Holt Haggerty were one of the better of ‘em. Didn’t have a double-crossin’ bone in his body. Had been a solid contributor to the gang since he’d first joined up. Had started to feel more like a brother than any of ‘em.

And it had come down to saving Holt or saving the money that day.

Logan didn’t regret his decision. Not even now.

No, the bank robbery bein’ a success was a good thing. Even if Logan hadn’t been there. Even if he wouldn’t get much of the take. Maybe it would finally put Paul in a better mood, and he’d stop sendin’ Logan off with Junior for all the menial tasks.

Logan sighed, let the curtain fall back into place and moved to retrieve his clothes. The fire in the hearth was only embers now, and the cold had crept in enough he could see his breath as he stepped into his trousers and shrugged into his shirt. He pulled another few bills from his wallet and tossed ‘em to the night table just as Hannah stirred, and her long lashes fluttered as she opened her eyes.

He gave her smile and tapped at the pile of money, glad she wouldn’t have to die today. “Merry Christmas. Get yourself somethin’ nice.”

She granted him a sleepy grin and snuggled deeper into the blankets. Havin’ no idea her fate coulda been tied to an outlaw boss’ volatile mood swings. “Thanks, Mister.”

Logan picked up his hat from where he’d hung it on the bed post and plopped it down onto his head, then touched the brim. “Don’t mention it.” He stepped into his boots and finished buttonin’ himself up, retrieved his gun belts, and headed for the door.

He needed to get down there before Paul thought him absent. Needed to gently prod the man to keep the Boys movin’ on, to not cause too much of a disturbance, lest these townsfolk remember their presence here far too well when the law from Arkopolis inevitably made their way in this direction askin’ questions.

He stepped out into the hall and then drew up short, findin’ Holt comin’ outta his room across the hall at the exact same time.

The kid was a good deal more a mess than Logan himself, his shirt still half unbuttoned and the tail of it hangin’ loose, his hat in his hand, his belts looped over one shoulder, and his red hair tousled and wild. But his blue eyes were bright and cheeks flushed, and Logan’s eyes narrowed as he looked the younger man up and down.

Holt straightened under Logan’s scrutiny and pulled his door shut behind him, then gave a nod as he shoved his hat down over his rumpled hair. “Mornin’, Logan.”

Logan raised a brow. “Mornin’, Junior. Have a good night, did ya?”

A sly smile slid over the kid’s face. “Sure did.” He went about tryin’ to sort his shirt, and his smile faded. “Paul’s here.”

“I noticed.”

“We should go out.”

Logan swept out a hand toward the stairs that led down to the saloon’s main level. “Was just on the way down myself.”

“All right then.” Holt stepped toward the stairwell as he finally wrangled his shirt into place and got it full buttoned, and as he did so, Logan took two long steps across the hall to swing open the door of the younger man’s room.

“Hey—” Holt protested.

But Logan stopped in the doorway. A woman’s blond head poked from beneath the twisted covers, her arm danglin’ over the side of the bed. Their fire was still roarin’, makin’ the room cozy warm. And in the resultin’ glow, Logan counted four other women crowded into the little bed.

“Holy shit,” he blurted.

“Do ya mind,” Holt snapped. The kid pushed in front of him and pulled the door shut again. “They’re tryin’ ta sleep. We had a long night.”

Logan only stared at the shut door for a space, then managed to crook his head in Holt’s direction. “Five?”

The kid shrugged, bucklin’ on his belts. “The rest were occupied. Told ya, didn’t I?”

Logan snorted. “You got any money left?”

“Not a cent. But it was worth every penny. Now c’mon, we’d better get goin’.” He jerked his chin toward the stairs.

Logan blinked, then laughed, but pulled himself away from the door at last, feelin’ almost numb with disbelief as he shook his head. No way. No way all the kid’s stories were true. He was just tryin’ to show off after gettin’ called out for his tall tales last night.

Logan clapped Holt on the shoulder as they made their way down the hall, still chucklin’, still not believin’ a word the younger man had claimed the night before. “Well all right then, kid. Merry fuckin’ Christmas.”

Holt grinned, and they went downstairs together. “Merry fuckin’ Christmas.”


Copyright 2021 J.R. Frontera

Luboff!

It's getting close to the end of the season, and I have a few things left for you this year.  Stay tuned these next couple of days.

For tonight it's the great Norman Luboff Choir with The Night Before Christmas.  This is a tremendous Christmas album.  It has five "tracks" - Savory Serenade, Wintertime, Lullaby Time, The Night Before Christmas, and The Morning of Christmas.  This album is best enjoyed as uninterrupted sides, so I've kept it as is, Side 1 and Side 2.


Enjoy Luboff!




Tuesday, December 21, 2021

New Music Roundup Part II

One last roundup of some of the great new music this season.  Time is short, and I can't give these artists their deserved level of coverage, so I'm trusting all of you faithful readers to give them a listen and track them down via the google if you like what you hear.  Please support your local and independent musicians!

Emily Aldridge - "Roaring Fire"


Emily Aldridge, singer-songwriter from Portland, Oregon has released a new single this season. It's an acoustic Christmas tune, heavily influenced by Emily's celtic roots.  

Best known as the front woman of prog metal masters Sacrifice to Survive, Emily Aldridge has been brightening stages since 2009 with her high-powered vocals and emotional melodies.

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Emily infuses her dark pieces with big doses of reality as she sings about life’s many struggles and triumphs. Her music is quite the opposite from her bubbly and playful demeanor, yet it serves as a space of sanctuary and healing, in the magic of both writing and listening.



Enjoy "Roaring Fire".


----------------------------------------------------------

Mark McGonigle - "The Welcoming Song"

Mark is a local (to me) Kansas City musician.  Mark released this just today (Dec 21) and says "A Christmas song that cuts between the tropes of religiosity and consumerism, to the meaning of the heart. Mercy comes to the poor and raises them up."

----------------------------------------------------------


Wolf Blitzer - "Elf Union"


A Merry & Bright fave from 2020 returns with "Elf Union"



Visit Wolf Blitzer (the band) on Bandcamp

----------------------------------------------------------

Charlie Castell - "We'll Have a Christmas"


English-born indie pop-rock singer/songwriter, now based in Los Angeles, writes his songs with a deep meaning being it. He fuses the guitar driven styles of artists like Radiohead and Oasis, the acoustics and orchestrations of Damien Rice and Ed Sheeran, with the classical songwriting of Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, and Burt Bacharach.

Charlie Castell website



----------------------------------------------------------

Jennifer Saran - "Christmas in a Bubble"


Written with her creative partner and producer, Grammy and Emmy winner Narada Michael Walden (Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey), “Christmas in a Bubble” is a transporting musical gift for the holiday season that conveys a heartfelt and timely message of unity and grace.


Jennifer Saran website

----------------------------------------------------------

Patricia Vonn - "My Favorite Holiday"


"My Favorite Holiday" - a new album from Patricia Vonn.  The album is Patricia’s ode to the most special time of the year featuring 10 original songs (and 1 cover) with the help of an all-star cast including RubĂ©n Blades, David Grissom, Alex Ruiz, Rosie Flores, Stephen Ferrone on drums (Tom Petty), Carmine Rojas on bass (David Bowie), and more! The album, is out now is produced by Rick Del Castillo.

Patricia Vonne website




----------------------------------------------------------

Katy Weirich - “Joy To The World (Hallelujah)”


Katy Weirich’s “Joy To The World (Hallelujah)” is a cinematic rendition of the holiday classic extending listeners a warm invitation for a passionate worship.





Katy Weirich website

----------------------------------------------------------

Crystal Drake - Snowburst


Snowburst is the soul-pop artist’s decadent interpretation of four iconic holiday classics; Drake stays true to their traditional roots while invigorating them with a modern flare.



Enjoy "O Holy Night" from Snowburst


Crystal Drake website

----------------------------------------------------------

Jillian Lee Antinora - Joys of Christmas


The Joys Of Christmas captures the warmth of the holiday season in 5 uplifting tracks ranging from Christmas-pop, to decadently smooth jazz.





Jillian Lee Antonira website

----------------------------------------------------------

Jett Jenkins - “Silent Night”


Jenkins covers the iconic Christmas carol with a hypnotic arrangement seamlessly blending her quintessential style with a classic calming guitar-driven acoustic sound just in time for bedroom pop lovers this holiday season.


Jett Jenkins website



Christmas Chimes!

Just a few days left until Christmas, and a few shares left for this season.  Tonight, complementing the organ music I've shared out already, is Christmas Chimes: New High Fidelity Recordings on Organ and Church Chimes of the Most Popular Christmas Carols...Featuring Leslie Carter.  Whew!  What a title!  Actually, it's probably just Christmas Chimes, but I have to fill up space in the post somehow.  


Christmas Chimes features 14 tracks, 13 of which are well known carols, with the 14th being "Shepherds Shake Off Your Drowsy Sleep", a song I don't recall encountering over these several years of blogging.  The modern version might be titled "Shepherds Get Your Butts Up and At 'Em", but fortunately it's the traditional version (and fortunately I'm not trying to make a living as a song writer).  Actually, this traditional version isn't too rousing, for sure.  I'd include some trumpet blasts to get them shepherds up, but que sera sera.

Pretty good album.  Colortone label.  "Finest High Fidelity".  Clean rip, pretty good sound.  I think you'll enjoy this one.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Weird Crickets

On this, the Sunday before Christmas, I'm sharing out what is one of the weirdest Christmas record's I've ever heard.  Christmas with the Happy Crickets is downright strange.  

Christmas with the Happy Crickets is obviously a Chipmunks wannabe, with the sped-up vocals over normal instrumentation - you know the drill.  But there are two things that I think make this really strange.  One is song selection.  I assume that the Happy Crickets would be targeted at children, so Mom and Dad would buy the record so their youngsters could enjoy it.  "Jingle Bells" and "Rudolph" are expected choices - kiddies would probably love the Happy Crickets singing these.  But then we get to "Christmas is for the Family", "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day", and "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" - not exactly the top tunes for a kiddie record, especially when the arrangements are pretty standard.  "God Rest Ye..." even has an organ.  Well, whatever....


Then there is the rendition of "The Chipmunk Song", a total trip of a song for a different reason.  This song is sung merely in falsetto, not in sped-up Chipmunky/Crickety voices.  Why?  To distinguish itself from the original?  For weird legal reasons?  Who knows.

So, I present an odyssey of weirdness with Christmas with the Happy Crickets.  Enjoy(?)


Yes, this is really the back cover.  Nothing much to do with the album, but nice information I suppose.  And it is about Christmas, so there's that.



Friday, December 17, 2021

More Organ Music: Virgil Fox

Tonight's share is Christmas Carols on the Organ, performed by Virgil Fox.  Sixteen tracks, mostly our familiar favorites, but also a couple lesser known songs.  "The Snow Lay on the Ground", per the album cover, is "another example of the dance-like rhythm found in the old folk melodies".  "I Know a Rose-Tree Springing", a German carol, allegedly dates back to the time of Martin Luther.  


The album closes with "Christmas", a variation based on "O Come All Ye Faithful", written by Belgian organist Gaston Dethier.  When it comes to organ music arranging, no one writes like Gaston, or wears tights like Gaston, no one is as polite or contrite as Gaston.

And with that, I give you Christmas Carols on the Organ, by Virgil Fox.  Enjoy!




Thursday, December 16, 2021

Found Wandering Christmas Concert 2021

I've written several times before about Found Wandering, the Pennsylvania-based trio of Colin and Sarah Comstock and Jake L'Armand, plus their many extraordinary musician friends.  Found Wandering's entire Christmas Music collection is on my essentials list, and they performed the absolute most killer version of "Silent Night" ever.

They are amazing musicians, and also mighty fine members of the human race.  Every year Found Wandering performs a Christmas concert to support a local charity.  Last year the pandemic forced them to do a streaming concert compiled of footage from their shows over the years, interspersed with stories from Colin, Sarah, Jake and their friends, and also featuring some adorable children :-)

Found Wandering Christmas Concert

This year Found Wandering is back performing live with a nine-piece band, and the concert is available via streaming for those of us living in the four corners of the country.

The concert stream is free to stream, but please remember that they are performing to support a good great cause.  Found Wandering will be collecting a love donation to support Redemption Housing, a Philadephia-based organization that supports our brothers and sisters who are transitioning from incarceration back into the community.   Their stated mission:  "Our mission is to bring God’s healing and restoration to those affected by incarceration and homelessness, holistically serving them as they transition back into the community, while providing a safe space where they can connect with social services, find meaningful employment, and locate long-term housing."

Found Wandering

Found Wandering's concert is Sunday, December 19, 2021 at 7PM Eastern time.  Details and a link to the live stream can be found at https://www.foundwandering.com/christmas.

I encourage you to connect to their Christmas Concert and enjoy some of the best Christmas music you'll hear this season.  And please be generous and consider supporting Redemption Housing as a part of your holiday giving.  I thank you.




"Silent Night" from their Christmas Concert 2018:



Sunday, December 12, 2021

Found Footage: Garth Dohlie's Christmas Party

We here at Merry & Bright will share the following tale with you, our loyal readers, though with some trepidation, which you'll understand as the story unfolds.

Merry & Bright dispatched one of our top correspondents, Prof. Z.Z. d'Bingle, optical theremin master and didgeridoo apprentice, to review the latest album by Quilt Records recording artist Garth Dohlie.  Prof. d'Bingle has not returned nor communicated with us since journeying to Norcatur, KS to, as d'Bingle put it, "experience the life and times of Garth Dohlie".  The only traces we have found of the good professor are an ATM withdrawal of $30 in Duncan Hines, KS, and a shipment of a case of Karo pancake syrup to 'Z. d'Bingle, c/o General Delivery, Squatchfoot, KS".

Well, those are the only traces except for this found footage of the Professor's notes in review of Garth Dohlie's Christmas Party, released this 2021 season from Quilt Records and available at Jason Beers' Bandcamp site.

What follows is a transcription of a voice note received by us from an unknown source.  We confirmed that the note was recorded by the Professor.  We know nothing more toward solving this mystery.

-------------------------------------------

Twelve Days of Christmas - ok, we'll go with it.  Everyone does this, but we'll give it a shot.

Ah, a nice glass of lemonade.  Garth is reworking the lyrics a bit.  Could be refreshing.

Fishin' poles, ears of corn.  Sounds kinda like Walter Brennan - this is pretty good!

Eight what?

That's what I thought - what the heck?

Eleven, er... ummm, ok.  

Well that was interesting.  

Ok - next song "The Black Sheep of the Family".  Will this be Christmassy?

Nice organ work.  Ah, old pal Garth Dohlie doing a little recitation.  Ah, family gathering time for Christmas.  

...

Note to self:  no mutton for Christmas dinner this year...

Ok - Garth's cut at the classic C.H.R.I.S.T.M.A.S.  

Ah, R is for Ol' Red, the beloved family dog.

Hmmm.  S is for Snakes?  Talking snakes?

Yeeeaaaah, I'm not too sure about all this..  deep parody?  Jeez I hope so.

Ok - here we go - O'l Red's Christmas Present.  Ah, how sweet!  A pat on the head is all Ol' Red wants!

Well, that took a turn...

<editors note:  the next 6 1/2 minutes of the voice note were distorted and unintelligible>

The last song. Thank God.  Garth Dohle's Wassail Recipe.

Ok, cider, oranges, spices, whisky.  We're ok so far.

Yikes.

Note to self:  This is urgent - I've got to

<the voice note abruptly ends>

----------------------------------------------

Quilt Records has given us permission to reproduce the liner notes here:

Christmas is a very special holiday for the Dohlie family, and also the Quilt Records family. Naturally, Ol’ Garth would want to commemorate the holiday with his own take on Christmas. His dazzling and heartwarming tales of Christmas past are sure to make the listener nostalgic for their own family traditions and memories of a bygone era. In the busy hustle-and-bustle of 1968, time stands still in Garth Dohlie’s world. We can always count on his serene love of the Dohlie family and way of life.

For this recording, the usual stable of Quilt’s A-team musicians was absent due to many fearing for their lives as many of those that have recorded with Garth in the past have not returned from Norcatur, Kansas. Many people have either gone missing or found drained of blood and partially eaten. We reached out to Mr. Dohlie for suggestions. He brought in the Hackinshaw twins, Lloyd and Boyd, to lend their vocal stylings to a couple of songs. But the real ringer was Miss Trinity Plortsmouth, who played the organ at the Norcatur Methodist Church every Sunday. Featured on a pair of traditional Christmas songs. She also painstakingly wrote and performed all the rest of the music for this album. Sadly, Miss Plortsmouth and the Hackinshaw twins were all discovered, like so many other previous musicians, drifters, and townsfolk of Norcatur before them – drained of blood and partially devoured.

So, sit back, relax, take in a glass or two of Mr. Dohlie’s Christmas wassail (the recipe is contained on a track of this album), and enjoy Garth Dohlie’s Christmas party!

Clancy Snarrup

President of Quilt Records



Kansas City musician Jason Beers is the creative whirlwind behind the Quilt Records catalog.  You can find Garth Dohlie's Christmas Party, the Christmas collection of Mrs. Helen Marf (here and here), and all of Jason's albums at his Bandcamp site.  If you need an infusion of new and different music, make a stop at Jason's place.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Saturday Share: Italian Baroque Christmas

Today's share is a really good one, and different than what usually pops up here for your Christmas listening pleasure.  Italian Baroque Christmas Concerti performed by the Polish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jerzy Maksymiuk is a great album of four classical compositions.  The album was produced by the Musical Heritage Society, so it is a masterfully recorded and engineered album.  


There are four tracks on the album:

Side 1
1.    Concerto grosso in G Minor, Op. 6, No. 8 by Arcangelo Corelli
2.    Concerto grosso in C Major, Op.3, No. 12 by Francesco Onofrio Manfredini

Side 2
1.    Concerto a quattro in G Minor, Op. 8, No. 6 by Giuseppe Torelli
2.    Concerto grosso in F Minor, Op. 1, No. 8 by Pietro Antonio Locatelli

Although I enjoy it, I'm not a student of classical music, so I don't know enough to make critical commentary about the music on this album, except to say that it's quite good.  The notes on the back of the album give a very thorough description of the works and composers.  So, I won't prattle on and will instead just encourage and invite you to download this very fine album and enjoy an evening of Italian Baroque.




Friday, December 10, 2021

New Music: "A New Noel" from Kimberly Hawkey and Morris & Rivers

Gee whiz fellas - this album is aces!

A New Noel stands out as one of the best and most original Christmas albums of 2021.  Morris and Rivers (Lecco Morris and Justin K. Rivers) are a songwriting team from Schenectady, NY.  And gang, the eleven songs on A New Noel are exactly what you would imagine from a songwriting team from Schenectady, NY.  Listening through, I was transported back in time to another era.  From their bio, they "take vintage pop and jazz vibes to new modern heights".  Do they wear straw hats and checkered vests while banging out a new song on the piano and writing out the lyrics in pencil?  Maybe so!  All I know for sure is that they are a mighty talented team with a great sense of melody and completeness of a musical idea.

The vocal star of A New Noel is Kimberly Hawkey.  Kimberly's voice paired with Morris and Rivers' songs is a match made in heaven.  There's a Broadway style there, with jazzy edges, and a pureness of pitch and phrasing.  And she can add a little playfulness in there too, especially in one of my favorites from the album "Slushy Mushy Christmas".  Kimberly has received the prestigious Johnny Mercer Award, has been a Gold Medalist at the American Traditions Vocal Competition, and with her band the Swingaroos (note to self - gotta check out the Swingaroos) she has played in the finest jazz clubs in NYC, including Birdland and the Iridium.

My favorite cuts on album are the aforementioned romp in the snow "Slushy Mushy Christmas"; the title track "A New Noel", a show-stopping number that highlights Kimberly Hawkey's vocal range and strength; "Grandpa's Chair", featuring guest vocalist Adam Pascal (Rent; Aida); and "Shopping Mall Santa", humorous, sassy, and jazzy, with the whole band getting into the spirit.

Kimberly Hawkey

A New Noel is not your standard, sleighbells jinglin' Christmas music experience, but it's fresh, it's original, it's feel-good, and it's one of the finest albums this year.  If there's ever a Christmas-themed version of Schmigadoon!, Morris and Rivers should write the songs :-)

Buy A New Noel on Amazon

Kimberly Hawkey website

Morris and Rivers on Facebook

Morris and Rivers

Listen to A New Noel on Spotify



Thursday, December 9, 2021

Jimmy's Lesser Known Brother, Perhaps?

Tonight's share is "Pipe Organ for Christmas" by Milton Page.  Mr. Page, as per the album back cover, hailed from Texas, learned the ukulele as a young lad, lived with his aunt in Amarillo due to an asthmatic condition, attended the University of Texas, went to New York, played lots of clubs, was in the Army, and was the organist at the Roxy and at Radio City Music Hall.  There's a lot of information on that album cover.  At the time of the album release, Milton was on tour playing the Hammond Organ across the US.  The internet gives me reason to believe that Mr. Page passed away in 1966, according to a paywalled obit in the NY Times.


"Pipe Organ for Christmas" is a collection of 16 Christmas standards.  No surprises in the tracks, just your favorites played very well by Mr. Page on the organ.  If you dig organ music, this is a must-download.  If you're not so into organ music, I still say give this a chance.  Pretty decent tunes here.

Please enjoy Milton Page "Pipe Organ for Christmas"




Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Tis the Season: Interview with Rehya Stevens

Rehya Stevens' new album Tis the Season has been garnering rave reviews since its November 12 release.  The acclaim is well-deserved - Tis the Season is one of the best holiday albums of 2021.  

Tis the Season, briefly previewed earlier here on Merry & Bright, is an album of bows and ribbons, candy canes and hot chocolate, Santa and Christmas magic.  With nine original songs by Rehya and three superbly done standards, Tis the Season is everything you could ever want in a joyous, energetic, get-you-in-the-spirit Christmas music album.  Rehya explores a variety of musical styles, all with an inimitable essence of the holiday.  Rehya and her team of musicians and collaborators have delivered, just as surely as a certain gentleman hailing from the North Pole.

All the info about Tis the Season can be found at Rehya's website.

Rehya Stevens Music - get Tis the Season and Celebrate, Rehya's first album of Christmas music.

In addition to being an amazing musician, Rehya Stevens is one of the nicest and most generous people around, and she took time from her busy schedule for a super-insightful and in depth interview with Merry & Bright.  Please enjoy learning more about Tis the Season, creating music in a pandemic, and Rehya's at-home co-worker, among other topics.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Q & A with Rehya Stevens


Merry & Bright: Welcome back to Merry & Bright Rehya! You’re becoming a regular here in our little hangout, and that’s a good thing

Rehya Stevens: Thank you, Aaron, it’s a pleasure! I appreciate your friendship and support of my music all these years!

MB: You have gifted our 2021 holidays with your second Christmas album, ’Tis the Season, and it is wonderful! From the first note through the last, it’s heartwarming, joyful, and just so Christmassy. It’s just what we need this season after the past 20 months we’ve all been through. Can you tell us a little about your journey with this album through 2020 and 2021?

RS: Well, it was quite an effusive album to make during such an uncertain, depressing time. Honestly, making this music was a wonderful escape from the heavy hearted state of affairs we were all reckoning with. During the making of much of this album, I worked with a producer named Tom Keane, whose work I’ve admired since I was a kid. He’s written and produced some of my favorite songs, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with him. Anyway, we would get together and chisel away on tracks for a few hours, then talk about the chaos in the world, chisel away some more, talk about the chaos some more… and for me, it just felt right to be making music that is universal, and immediately relatable, because hardly anyone was relating well in the universe between 2020 and mid 2021. Families were fighting. Communities were torn apart. Friends were estranged. Social media was an on-going battle of words.

All I know is, the more I focused on the making of this record and providing joyful music for people, the better I felt. The better I felt, the more music I made. So what started out as ‘oh, maybe I’ll record a few new Christmas songs…’ turned into a full fledged Christmas album with 8 originals and 3 covers. On an existential level, I’d like to think that the creative process of making this music had some healing effect on the world. I know that had I not had such an uplifting album to work on, my time in quarantine would have been pretty dreary but because of this music, my soul was lit up and dancing through the darkest stretch the world has seen in awhile. It’s amazing that music has the power to lift us that way. I’m so grateful for that gift, and the ability to share it with people.


MB: How do you feel ‘Tis the Season compares with Celebrate? I would never ask you to pick a favorite, because that’s like asking a parent to pick a favorite child. But do you think ‘Tis the Season is an evolution of your Christmas music, or perhaps a partner album that complements Celebrate?

RS: I think ’Tis the Season is both of those things - an extension of - and an evolution of Celebrate. So many changes in my own life - and in the world shaped the making of these two albums.

Jon Kubis and I created Celebrate over a two year period in both Orange County and Boyle Heights (in downtown LA). Our commutes were intense and sometimes after hours in traffic, we’d get to the Boyle Heights studio and wind being up unable to record because the walls were paper thin, and the bleed (not to mention the smells - no kidding) was so bad. On top of that, we had merciless schedules to contend with during the process. Under the circumstances, it’s quite a testament to our friendship and work ethic that we managed to make an album like that with so many moving parts. What’s interesting to me is that even with all we were up against, as a body of work, Celebrate is so soothing and spiritual. I’m very proud of that. Only in retrospect, it’s clear that I was trying to create a space that I wanted to dwell in emotionally, that felt non-competitive and authentic.

The music business has such an exhaustive hierarchical pecking order, no matter where you are on the ladder. I had been longing for more simplicity in my life for a long time, and a sense of unconditional acceptance, belonging and safety. I think that’s the musical space we created. It’s a record that is emotionally and spiritually nurturing.

In juxtaposition, ‘Tis the Season was made during a time of social distancing, utter simplicity as far as daily life was concerned, and complete worldly upheaval. It was easy to focus on this record, because there weren’t any live gigs or sessions happening. All the musicians I needed were in-town and available - without a single scheduling obstacle. There was zero pressure of a deadline, so I was able to work at my own pace, guilt-free. I tend to tinker and try to ‘beat’ my performances ad nauseum - and there was no limit to how much of that I could do - which I loved. I recorded and produced all the vocals for this album at home, and loved it. Tom lives 5 minutes down the road from me, so the commute was a dream - and the whole process was pretty relaxed.

Like most people, I was longing for a friendlier, more compassionate world. I missed being with friends and family, but even more so - I missed sharing common ground and civility with people that I no longer saw eye to eye with. There are a lot of fun-loving songs on the album that remind me of childhood, when politics didn’t matter one bit - when you just played with people you loved to be with, and shared your world openly. There is also a good dose of romance on this album, because there was more space for intimacy during quarantine. On the spiritual side, “Wonderland of Winter” is a song that is lyrically symbolic. For instance, the bridge; “Even though the skies are dark and gray/The cardinal still sings her song/Echoing such beauty in refrain/In a winter wonderland” was born from the perspective that we become like the cardinal ‘singing a song’ when we celebrate in dark times. With this album, instinctively - I think we provided a spirit of levity that the world had lost. ’Tis the Season as a whole is very festive and open hearted. I think of it as a high energy Christmas morning record, while I think of Celebrate as a reflective evening record. But, you’re right - I cannot choose a favorite. I love both albums equally. They both offer something nourishing. Sometimes you need immersive tic, other times you need to play all day long. Both of these things go a long way, depending on what scratches the itch.

MB: I’m going to pick a few of my favorites from ‘Tis the Season and ask you to tell us about them – how the song came to be, any anecdotes about the writing or recording, or just what you’d like your fans to know about it. Let’s start with “The Old Red Sleigh.”

RS: “The Old Red Sleigh” was written while I was on a bike ride in January of 2019, a few months after Celebrate was released. I was pedaling along thinking how nice it was to finally be outside ‘playing’ and not in front of a computer screen or in a rehearsal room - when the melody rattled through my brain. I thought, “Oh, no!!! Am I going back into the studio this week?!” Anyway, I tried to just focus on my ride, but 4 hours later, I was cruising back home to record the song. As soon as I’d figured out the chords, I sent a work tape to Tom, and he agreed to produce it. Tom is so masterful as an arranger. I couldn’t have asked for a finer producer for this song - he knocked it out of the park! His son Mason has a rich baritone, so I hired him to be ‘Santa’ - and sing all of those barbershop style background vocals. The western rhythm section and the 50’s sounding hollow body guitars (played by my friend, Gene Siegel) — are so irresistibly nostalgic to me. The track captures the classic childhood ‘anticipation of Christmas’ buoyancy that I was hoping for. It certainly captures the way I felt at Christmas time as a kid. I wanted to be so good for Santa - and it was so incredibly difficult. My sister and I were always squabbling, or snooping for presents. One year, in the middle of the night, we unwrapped every single one of our gifts, then wrapped them all back up and put them back under the tree. Our wrapping skills were terrible, but not worse than our ‘mock surprise’ faces on Christmas morning. Everyone in the family knew what we’d done. We were so naughty. We just couldn’t wait until Christmas morning, I guess. It was too much - too exciting. We had no self control.


MB: How about “Please Come Home”? This one hits hard right out of the gate with a solid bluesy beat – amazing song.

RS: Thank you so much! There was quite a talented crew on this piece. Jon Kubis produced the track, Griff Hamlin played those hard hitting guitars, and I wrote the song with my friend Gene Black (former guitarist for the late Joe Cocker). Anyway, “Please Come Home” is a blues-rock song about reconciliation and redemption. For someone with a lot of stubborn pride, the most excruciating thing can be to admit when I’m wrong. I’m a very passionate person, so it’s not easy to hold back what I’m feeling - whether it’s the good, warm fuzzy stuff, or the bad stuff. I’m not a passive-aggressive person - I’m just up front and honest about all of it, which can be really constructive at times, and incredibly destructive on occasion. I’ve known people who live lives of pride, with big foolish walls - and no room for error is offered to others - and I’ve never wanted to live that way. There wasn’t a specific scenario that this song was written about, but I have certainly felt the painful tug of war between pride and reconciliation. The holidays provide space for self reflection - but it can be so hard to pick up that phone and call that person who deserves an apology from you. It’s a brave act to make that call - without pride, without expectation. You give that person a gift of compassion when you yield to taking the initiative. Even if there isn’t immediate forgiveness, the planting of the seed being intentional - provides healing on some level. Christmas can be so many things. Not all of them feel fruitful or look like a holiday spread from Better Home & Gardens. Every year is different. Some years feel like failure seasons. Some years feel like a total blur. Sometimes, the holidays are messy, because we’ve been messy and careless or experienced painful losses. This song provides a space for confession, extending the olive branch, and hopefully, forgiveness and mercy. I hope it encourages someone to give up their pride, and wear their heart on their sleeve a bit.

MB: OK – one more. Please tell us about “Santa Won’t You Hurry.”

RS: This song features the awesome Amy Keys on background vocals! I was so happy that she was in town and available! She tours with Phil Collins every year, but due to the pandemic, she was in town - and I was so glad to have her sing on this track. I love her voice. It’s like rich, velvety butter. On sax, is my friend George Shelby, who killed the solo on this song! Every time I hear his solo, it makes me smile. Tom produced the track - and gave it a classic 60’s feel. I love the tight rhythm section, those big piano glisses and the modulation at the end- it’s all very big, festive and fun.

From a songwriting perspective, it’s about longing and waiting to be with the one you love at Christmas time. Not even the highest octane holiday celebrations can take the place of being with the one you love during the holiday season. I’ve had a few broken hearts, but the one I channeled for this song was my first heartbreak as a 14 year old freshman in high school. There was this really cute guy - a senior at my school who had been leaving insanely romantic letters in my locker. I had never received that kind of attention before, and it was completely intoxicating. Sometimes, his letters were written in Spanish, so on one occasion, I asked my Spanish teacher to translate one of his letters for me. Oh, man, My face turned so red while he read that letter. It was beyond embarrassing! Anyway, I wasn’t allowed to date yet. I was only permitted to talk to this guy on the phone. So, for 2 months, we talked every single night for hours – and I was head over heels! I begged my Dad to let me go out with him, but there was no budging. On the last day of school before winter break, while packing up my locker - I saw my crush kissing another girl quite passionately in the hallway. I was devastated - frozen in place, but I said nothing. I dragged myself home, and barely came out of my room for 2 weeks. I called him up over the holidays, but he told me that he had moved on. I went to the mall a few times over the holiday break with my older sister, desperately hoping I might run into him. It was an absolutely excruciating first heartbreak.

I’m so glad to have had that experience to pull from for this song - because I wanted it to have a youthful, teenager vibe. The listener might never know there was a broken heart involved, because the song is not sad at all - it’s a blast! It’s got that spirit of, “Hey! It’s Christmas! Anything can happen!” It’s that faithful optimism that flips the vibe and makes it fun. I think people will relate to this song because we all want to be with the ones we love at Christmas. This song isn’t just ‘fun’ Christmas - it’s real Christmas, and it comes from a real experience that most people have had at least once in their lives.

MB: You recorded some standards on ‘Tis the Season, including a beautiful rendition of “All Through the Night.” Are these some of your personal favorites? They blend so well with your original songs.

RS: I’m so happy to hear that! Yes, these standards are a few personal favorites. The first time I heard “Santa Baby,” I think I was 9 years old. I thought, “Who is this awful good girl? Does anyone actually give her ALL of this stuff?!” As a writer, I admire the craftsmanship so much. It’s such a cool song - there’s no other like it. Hats off to the songwriters, Joan Javits and Phil Springer! I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during those writing sessions. Anyway, it was so much fun to arrange the background vocals - and I loved developing the character voice for the lead vocal. She makes me laugh, but I’m sure this song frightens every man to death.

“Santa Claus is Comin to Town” is irresistible to me. There was no question that we needed to do a version of it. Even though the song is naturally chock-full of kid appeal, I wanted to bring out the child-like fun of the song just a little bit more. That’s where the inspiration for the background vocals came from, “So you better be good because Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” and all the “Doot - Doots.” There’s a little ‘Dolly-ism’ at the end as well (Dolly Parton is a huge influence in my life). I couldn’t help myself. I pictured her talking to a gaggle of kids with her hands on her hips saying, “So, you better be reeeeeaaaal nice… ‘Cuz Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town!” And just like that, I picture the kids scrambling to pick up their toys, brush their teeth, get into their jammies and put themselves to bed. Jon Kubis produced the track, and I think it’s just perfect — I’m so glad he was up for it and available. It came out so well!

“All through the Night/The Holly & the Ivy” was recorded in late March of 2020, a week after we were put on stay-at-home orders. All that week, from March 13th on, I woke up with “All Through the Night” running through my head. I had heard the song many times over the years, but the most powerful connection I made with it was during a scene from “The Sopranos” where Meadow is singing the song in the choir. Simultaneously, Chris has hell to pay in a torturous scene out on the dock. It’s so haunting. It had been a few years since I’d seen the show, so it seemed odd that the song and that particular scene were on the front burner in my mind. I thought I should take it seriously, so I decided to record a guitar/vocal version of it. I arranged a piano/vocal that wove in “the Holly & the Ivy” (I’ve always loved the melody), and called my friend Michael NOMAD Ripoll to play guitars. I asked him to put a little Italian flair on it (he happens to be Italian) and man - did he deliver! He sent the guitar parts a few days later, and I must have played it 10 times - in awe of what he’d done. It’s stunning! As the album developed, I wondered where this song would fit — it’s so different from the other tracks in the collection. It wasn’t until I listened to it as the final track, that it made perfect sense. Symbolically, the chaos of the last few years was ‘the night’ ie., Chris out on the doc. The angel singing in the church aka “Meadow” is the more compassionate nature in all of us, if we’re willing to yield to it. In context, the timing and content of this album is like the big festive party after a long war - and “All Through the Night” is like the angels watching over us saying, “Whew! That was rough. Peace, children. All is well. Let this feeling of belonging settle in your hearts, and keep you civilized - all through the night.”


MB: Are you playing any shows through the holidays, so the lucky SoCal folks can hear you sing these live?

RS: I’m performing live, but mostly for private events this year. My hope is that by next year I’ll be able to book a holiday tour or do a series of holiday shows here in California with the guys who played on both Christmas records. Hopefully we’ll be out of the ‘Covid woods’ in 2022. I am hopeful.

MB:
Did you have any ‘co-workers’ at home with you during the pandemic? My canine co-worker buddy Whitley has recently been joined by Miss Millie, a tiny little mini-doxie. They are great company, and I swear that Whitley is learning to speak English. Any co-workers at your place?

RS: Yes! My beloved cat, Sebastian. He is very needy, and sooooo cute! He’s the kind of cat you could love on all day, all night - and it still wouldn’t be enough for him. He really needs a mommy. I’m sure his meow is on some of the vocal tracks. He’s very vocal, and expressive. I don’t mind, except for when he yells at 4 in the morning. Sing on the records all you want Batchie, but don’t wake me up!

MB:
Rehya, you should be very proud of this album. You’ve captured the spirit of Christmas with your music, and it makes me so happy when I listen to it. I’ll close this by repeating back your own words from a message to your fans, “Let’s celebrate and love one another”. Words we need in these times. Thank you Rehya!

RS:
Amen! Thank you, Aaron. Happy holidays to you & yours:)