Thursday, November 23, 2023

What This Christmas Community Means To Me - A Special Guest Column from Rehya Stevens

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  A couple months ago I asked Rehya Stevens if she would be interested in writing a guest blog for Merry & Bright, and she jumped at the opportunity!  I can think of nothing better to post on this Thanksgiving Day than Rehya's beautiful column about her connections with the Christmas blogger/podcaster/online media community.  Read on my friends :-)

And thank you Rehya - you're the best!

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

What This Christmas Community Means To Me

by Rehya Stevens 


I’m a California girl who lived in Los Angeles for 23 years, until moving back to my hometown (in Placer County) in July of 2022. Placer county is often referred to as the midwest of California, where people say what they mean, mean what they say, or say nothing at all. In my experience, Hollywood culture is more, “get in where you fit in, then hustle hard to earn your keep — for you’re only as valuable as your most recent accolade.” Don’t get me wrong, I chiseled my craft in LA (I am forever grateful for the toolkit I now have), and made some lifelong friends who became family through steadfast support and trauma bonds that are pretty hysterical in retrospect. If you live to tell, and can laugh your butt off about it years later, pat each other on the back! You now have a psychological immune system of steel, and an indomitable spirit!

A big part of me recognizes that what has compelled me to write and record so much Christmas music through the years is the desire to create a benevolent musical space where being together is always joy filled, non-competitive and abundant in levity and mutual support. Even still, I never thought back in 2018 when I reached out to Aaron Henton, Martin Johns, Jeff Westover, Todd Killian, Ken Kessler, Art Kilmer, Gerry Davila, Duane Bailey and Jim Devers with news of my first Christmas album ("Celebrate"), that six years later, that we would feel like kindred spirits, toasting a cup of cheer over zoom every Christmas, shooting the breeze, and just “hanging” - with no agenda.

Photo by Katie Kennedy

I love Aaron’s gentle, patient disposition. He’s too wise to get too ruffled. Seems to me he’d rather preserve his energy for planting gentle seedlings by way of example. He’s a ravenous reader, so my guess is, he probably has more leadership skills than most head honchos, but the mess of their wake is best used by allowing nature take care of things, giving way to a more sustainable future. He’d rather be on the creative side of that process. Aaron’s Blog: https://merryandbright.blogspot.com/

Martin is a treasure trove of music history, and his ideals are to me - what the founding fathers fought for - but more progressive for this complex day and age. Talking to him is like talking to your esteemed college professor who always left you with the sense that you were barely scratching the surface when you thought you’d reached the deep end of the ocean. Back to the drawing board you go! Damn. We need more thinkers like Martin on this planet. Martin’s Blog: http://stubbyschristmas.weebly.com/

Jeff lives in the deep end of the intellectual and political ocean, big time! He cares deeply about the state of the world, and is clearly a fine historian. Each conversation we’ve shared has left me yearning to give him my Dad’s phone number. My Dad is a Ukrainian immigrant who spent part of his childhood in a displaced person’s camp in Germany. When he immigrated to the states, he learned to speak English by way of bibles and encyclopedias - the only reading materials allowed in the home of his sponsors. My father has fits of indignation over the teachings of the old testament, and an unquenchable thirst for truth. Jeff’s passion for history and uncovering what’s true reminds me so much of my dad. I imagine together, they could solve the problems of the world if only they could fine tune human nature to be gentler. Yes, that would be their mission statement. Jeff’s Blog/Podcast: https://mymerrychristmas.com

I love Todd’s passion for creativity - whether that’s making furniture, doing graphic design, video editing or podcasting. He’s the kind of guy you’d be lucky to have as a best friend. If we lived close by, I’m sure we would be. I picture puzzling through winter, two-week long monopoly games, and trying to convince him to make ornaments with me that have so much glitter, it speckles the floors and furniture until the following summer, evading your every deep-clean effort. Todd’s Podcast: https://www.christmasclatter.com/

I love Ken’s engaging personality, and his gift of communicating from the heart. He loves Christmas for all the quirky, endearing things it brings out in us. The way his wife tapes a new strip of wrapping paper to cover the bald spot on the gifts - every year, without fail - is one example. He encourages our unique ways of celebrating the holidays - and that also applies to the unique ways we live our lives. Being a career focused singer-songwriter who felt it best to spare a husband and children from the trials and tribulations of my roller coaster lifestyle, I think Ken would say, “Great!! More Christmas for us!!” Rather than, “Oh, that’s so tragic.” Thank you Ken πŸ™Ken’s Radio Station: https://www.soundsofchristmas.com/

I love Gerry’s keen intellect and sense of humor. Not much gets past him - hence, nuance is everything in his arena. He strikes me as a sophisticated thinker, with a wicked sense of humor. That combination of gifts could easily boil up and over a deep pot, but he keeps it on a perfect simmer, for a steady, concentrated flavor. Whatever he’s serving up is going to be delicious! Gerry’s Podcast: https://totallyradchristmas.com/

I love the way Art revels in the beauty of simple moments that bring us closer. I fully relate, because I live for those things! A shared cookie making afternoon, swapping lines from a favorite movie together as you go. Recipe swapping. Movie and popcorn nights with a s’mores station set up by the fire. There is something so re-energizing about the simple side of the holiday season. Everyone come as you are, no pressure. The moment we’re in is the only one that matters. Yes!! More of this please. Art’s Podcast: https://www.cozychristmaspodcast.com/

Duane syncopates the Christmas lights on his house to “Jingle Jangle” every year and sends me the videos. It feels like tradition now, and I look forward to it every December. Seriously, it’s a pretty incredible light show. His neighbors ought to hire him for a pretty penny to dress their houses. I have plenty of other Christmas songs for them too πŸ˜‰Duane’s Podcast: https://christmaspodcasts.com/48-boogie-woogie-christmas-with-duane-e1kk0gb/

Jim Devers recently got married and welcomed a new baby this year - she’s just beautiful! I figure, 6 years from now, he’ll start doing music interviews again. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing pictures from his Christmas mornings - all mayhem and bed hair! Jim’s Blog: https://linkin.bio/santatapesmusic

So, you see… this community is about so much more than music. It’s about community!! Isn’t it funny how life often appears to be about one thing — and it’s about so much more than we can possibly see at the outset of any endeavor? Knowing and being part of this community is enriching because of all the people in it, sharing who we are, sharing our love of Christmas, and seeking connection from that heart space. The spirit of Christmas is a wonderful thing. In essence, it’s about friendship, care and community. That’s what I’ve found here. Thank you Aaron, Martin, Jeff, Todd, Ken, Gerry, Art, Duane and Jim for brightening my world all these years. Your friendship and support has made all the difference on my journey, and you hold such a unique place in my heart by just being YOU! I’m so glad we found each-other through our shared love of this magical season.

Merry Christmas to you & yours!

Love,
Rehya

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Interview with Laurie Cameron: A Merry and Bright Exclusive

In 2011, Scottish singer/songwriter Laurie Cameron released her first single, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)", b/w "One Christmas Fall".  The song and and accompanying video quickly made the rounds through the Christmas music collector community.  I found Laurie's striking interpretation of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" to be completely mesmerizing, and felt that she struck through to the heart of the song and the sadness in the lyrics.  For me, it became the defining version of the song.  From that moment, I became a Laurie Cameron fan, and have followed her musical journey ever since.

In July of 2015, Laurie released her first album The Girl Who Cried for the Boy Who Cried Wolf, with nine original songs and her arrangement of "The Slave's Lament" by Robert Burns.  Laurie's brilliance as a songwriter paired with her heartfelt singing made The Girl Who Cried... a strong, auspicious debut.

November of 2015 brought Laurie's Christmas EP Merry Christmas from Scotland, featuring three songs for the holiday season.  You'll find out more about this EP in the interview.

In January of 2020 Laurie released Something In Us Never Dies, nine Robert Burns works arranged and sung by Laurie.  Robert Burns is one of Scotland's most beloved figures, considered by most to be the greatest Scottish poet in history.  Laurie's love of and devotion to Robert Burns' poems and songs is evident in Something In Us Never Dies.  The album is magnificent, Laurie's vocals are incomparably beautiful, a fitting partner to the words of Mr. Burns.

Laurie Cameron, born in August 1989 in Perth, Scotland, now resides in Crieff, Scotland, only a short distance from her hometown.  In recent years Laurie has continued to make music, and spent several months living in the US.  Now back in her homeland, she hints at a new EP in the works. 

Laurie's voice is enchanting, beguiling, and pure.  Her songwriting is soulful, her interpretations of Robert Burns deeply reverent.  Her musicianship in creating complete, beautiful works is masterful.  And, fortunately for me and for Merry & Bright readers, she is a wonderful, friendly human being who happily agreed to this interview (not knowing how many questions there would be!).

So, thank you Laurie for your time spent crafting these thoughtful responses, and for sharing your talent with us.

To my readers, please enjoy this career-spanning interview with Laurie Cameron.


Merry & Bright Interview with Laurie Cameron


Merry & Bright:
Laurie, thank you for taking time to answer a few questions with Merry & Bright. You are one of my absolute favorite artists, and I am thrilled to learn more about you and your music.

Laurie Cameron: Thank you for the kind words, Aaron! I’m delighted to spend some time with Merry & Bright.

MB: Most of us in the Christmas music collecting community first learned about you with your rendition of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”. Far from a cover, it was a complete re-imagining of the song thematically, from the uptempo song we all know popularized by Darlene Love (and others) to a melancholy, heartbreakingly sad song of loneliness and lost love during the Christmas holiday. Can you tell us how you took this holiday standard and created such a different musical experience?


 LC:
When you listen to the lyrics of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), there’s a deep feeling of someone experiencing loneliness around Christmas time. While I still love the original upbeat classic, I felt like the lyrics would lend itself well to a slower, more melancholic version and after playing around on the piano with my bandmate, Ross, we really liked the sound of a stripped back version with just minimal piano, vocals and an old tambourine!

MB:
Your interpretation made the verse “They’re singing Deck the Halls/But it’s not like Christmas at all” intensely emotional. To me, your version of this song is the new standard, and the way the it is meant to be sung. What kind of reactions did you get when you released it?

LC: That’s lovely, thank you. We had great feedback when we released the song – some commented that they’d never actually realized how sad the lyrics are. That was a great compliment as people were appreciating the song in a new light. I do remember one radio show that weren’t the biggest fans of our miserable version though, after playing the song they said something along the lines of ‘god, if that’s what’s waiting for you, I don’t think I’d want to hurry home for Christmas’, which is quite funny!

MB: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” isn’t readily available anymore on the usual platforms (at least in the US). Is there a chance we will see a re-release at some point?

LC: I would like to re-release it again in the future and perhaps record a live version. I do love a Christmas release so there’s a good chance!

MB: Next in your Christmas catalogue is the EP “Merry Christmas from Scotland”, with three original songs, “Merry Christmas From Scotland (Lulled Wi a Stiff Drink)”, “One Christmas Fall”, and “Holy, Holy, Holy”. Can you tell us a little about the inspiration and creation of this record?


LC: I’ve always loved Christmas music and every year I have this desire to write a new Christmas song. This EP is a combination of my old and newer releases from over the years - my most recent, ‘Merry Christmas from Scotland’, the much older ‘One Christmas Fall’ and an instrumental, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’. At the time, I remember thinking about releasing a full album of original Christmas songs, but I decided on a smaller EP – perhaps it will be a stepping stone to a full Christmas album one day.

MB: The title track “Merry Christmas From Scotland (Lulled Wi a Stiff Drink)” seems thematically similar to your “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – Christmas apart from someone special, or formerly special, perhaps, with lingering emotions. The verses “Wherever you are now, whatever you’re drinking/Who lights up your life like glitter-dipped tinsel/I send my love from a frostbitten street” tell a tale of distance and perhaps trying to move on. Can you tell us more about the story and song? (And let me know if I got it right 😊 )

LC: You got it right! I spent a little time living in New York in 2010 and when I wrote this song, I had moved back to Scotland and was thinking a lot about people I’d grown close to there. It’s a song about how the festive season has a way of making you reminisce, the feeling of missing people you were once very close to, but at the same time appreciating where you are now and the beauty around you – and hoping the best for them wherever they are.

MB: Your lyrics for “Merry Christmas from Scotland…” are beautiful and poetic, as they are in “One Christmas Fall”, which has a gorgeous melody, paired with a beautiful wintry, dreamy atmosphere.  I especially love the verse “The road is gone, the snow escalates/And you should stay, you should stay”.  There’s a different story here – can you tell us more about “One Christmas Fall”?  Who is the subject of the song, who came ‘quiet to the door and left behind a trail of broken footsteps’ and told ‘the tales of the winter lands when you were young’?  

LC: Growing up as a kid in Scotland my family all lived close to one another (aunts, uncles, cousins), all just a few streets away. ‘One Christmas Fall’ is a song reminiscing on the many years we had white Christmases and big snowstorms – I remember trudging through the snow late at night on Christmas Eve to visit family. I also have vivid memories of my cousins coming to our door an hour or two before New Year and their shoes would be covered in snow and seeing their footsteps left all the way along the road. I’d sit playing cards and videogames with my cousins and my parents would be chatting and laughing with their siblings in front of the fire while a snowstorm was blowing outside. My childhood gave me a lot of inspiration for this song!

Photo by Joe Lafferty

MB: The EP closes with “Holy, Holy, Holy”, a wordless piece that envelopes the listener with layered expression. There are no sleighbells or the plucky strings of sleigh ride songs, but still it feels ‘Christmassy’ in the sense of the long, dark nights of Christmastime and the Winter solstice, and one’s personal spirituality during this season. What is the story of “Holy, Holy, Holy”?

LC: My brother, who’s a photographer, was using a clip of one of my songs to use in one of his videos. He had slowed the song way down until it wasn’t recognizable anymore, but it had a really cool ethereal sound to it. I thought an instrumental track with that sort of sound would be a nice addition to the Christmas EP, so we took the ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ section of ‘Merry Christmas from Scotland’ and slowed it down to create a whole new track. I loved how it came out – like the sound of being swept away in a snowstorm.

MB: Before I move to your two albums, I’d like to ask another Christmas-related question. Can you tell us a little bit about the Christmas traditions in Scotland? Are there any special celebrations or traditions in your hometown of Perth?

LC: Generally I think Christmas in Scotland is fairly traditional and not too dissimilar to the US (although, I’ve never seen houses on the outside decorated quite as extravagantly as they are in the US!) Some of my favorite family traditions including making homemade mulled wine every December so the whole house smells of cinnamon and orange, and my mum baking her traditional Christmas cake every year. New Year in Scotland is called ‘Hogmanay’ and we often celebrate with ‘first footing’ - the first person to enter your home after midnight is called a ‘first-footer’, an old Scottish tradition whereby a dark-haired male brings with him a coin for wealth, a lump of coal for warmth, a black bun (Scottish fruit cake) and a dram of whisky to give your home good luck for the year ahead.

MB: Your first full album was “The Girl Who Cried for the Boy Who Cried Wolf”, released in 2015. This album featured nine original songs, highlighting your haunting arrangements and rich, poetic lyrics. Can you share a few thoughts about making this music?


LC: I have such fond memories of recording that album. While we had a rough idea of how we wanted it to sound, we ended up improvising a lot in the studio and many of the songs are quite different to how we anticipated (in a good way). Some of the songs are quite atmospheric – it was recorded in a studio converted from an old mill which added to the feel of the album. We experimented a lot in the studio – some of the funnier memories include throwing ping-pong balls onto the strings of an open piano and recording the sounds, which turned out very cool and eerie. It opened our eyes to what was possible – from writing the songs at home on an acoustic guitar, to recording them using instruments like old church-like organs, accordion, cello and violin. Some of the songs are personal or inspired by family members (‘Foreign’, ‘Thomson’, ‘Fare Forward’) and others such as ‘Leave Us, Leave Us’ and ‘The Girl Who Cried for the Boy Who Cried Wolf’ are purely imaginative. The days we spent recording that first album hold a special place in my heart.

MB: There is one more song on “The Girl Who Cried…”, “The Slave’s Lament”, a Robert Burns poem set to your music. This turned out to be a preview of things to come. Why did you choose to include “The Slave’s Lament” on this album?

LC: I grew up reading and listening to the work of Robert Burns through my mum and dad, and ‘The Slave’s Lament’ was one of the first I learned to play. I used to perform it at gigs now and again, the lyrics are melancholic and really beautiful and it felt like a nice addition to the album.

MB: Your next album, “Something In Us Never Dies”, is a masterpiece. Nine songs of Robert Burns’ poems, letters, and songs, musically interpreted and arranged by you. How did you choose from Mr. Burns’ tremendous legacy of work to find the ‘right’ nine songs for this album?


LC: Thank you! I spent many months reading the complete works of Robert Burns over and over, highlighting pieces that I felt spoke to me most. I was drawn to pieces I could relate to – Burns wrote often about being away from Scotland and missing his homeland – when I worked on the album I had just returned from living in Canada for two years, so I found his work talking about home relatable. Other themes in his work I loved were around the idea of life being fleeting and making the most of the time we have.

MB: How challenging was it to find just the right music to fit Mr. Burns’ words?

LC: Typically, Robert Burns songs are set to more traditional, folksy music and while I grew up loving those songs (and still do), I wanted to showcase some of his lesser-heard work in a modern light. Leading up to recording, I was really enjoying playing around with synths and electric keyboards, probably inspired from watching the likes of Stranger Things! It was such a different sound from my earlier folksy music, but I’m so happy with how it all turned out. A modern take on Burns understandably won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I hope it reached the ears of some who ordinarily wouldn’t have come across his work.

MB: Robert Burns is credited with writing, collecting and popularizing the verses of the much loved “Auld Lang Syne”. He also wrote the Winter-themed “Winter: A Dirge” and “Up in the Morning Early”. Have you ever considered recording these to add to your Christmas/Winter song catalog? And if not, would you please? 😊 I for one would LOVE to hear Laurie Cameron perform “Auld Lang Syne” (all five verses please!)

LC: If there’s one thing I’d love to do, it’s record more Burns songs! I adore the full version of Auld Lang Syne and worry I may not be able to give it the justice it deserves, but that’s a song I would love to record.

MB: Just a couple more questions, Laurie. Who are some of the musicians who inspire you? Do you have any particular Christmas music influences?

LC: I have to give a shout out to my fellow Scottish musicians and bands who are a great inspiration – Admiral Fallow, Frightened Rabbit, Kris Drever. I’m a big Christmas music fan, too. I love Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Sister Winter’, Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson’s ‘Winter Song’ – you can’t beat a melancholic Christmas song.


 
MB: What is on the horizon for you, Laurie? Do you have any plans in the works for new music?

LC: I do have plans for a new EP in the near future and I’m excited to get back into recording. I have a bunch of new songs inspired by my time living in California over the last few years. Maybe another original Christmas song next year – I haven’t released one in a while!

MB: Laurie – thank you so much for treating us to these insights about you and your music. It’s a great privilege to learn about the thoughts, creative processes, and inspirations from such a talented musician. I wish you much happiness and success!

LC: Thank you so much, Aaron. It’s been a pleasure and I truly appreciate your support. Wishing you a wonderful festive season ahead!


Laurie's video for "Merry Christmas From Scotland (Lulled With a Stiff Drink)"




Sunday, November 19, 2023

"Aubrey Logan Christmas" and Bonus Q&A

"BLUF" is a new-ish business acronym, meaning Bottom Line Up Front.  It's used to state the conclusive point of an otherwise lengthy communication at the beginning, then add the discussion, facts, information, etc used to come to the conclusion.  So...

BLUF:  Aubrey Logan Christmas is hands-down one of the best new Christmas albums this season.  

From the opening track "Sleigh Ride" through the studio-recorded closer "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" and the bonus live performance of "Blue Christmas" with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Aubrey Logan Christmas commands the spirit of Christmas music.

Labelled the "Queen of Sass", Aubrey Logan is either an immensely talented jazz trombonist who is also an incredible jazz singer, or a generationally talented jazz singer who also has world class chops as a trombonist.  Take your pick.  Aubrey has been a featured performer with Dave Koz and with Postmodern Jukebox, and has released three albums as a solo artist/bandleader.  All of her talents - singer, trombonist, scat singer, arranger, songwriter - burst forth from Aubrey Logan Christmas.  This is one of those records that I'll keep playing, and playing, and playing....



The album opener, "Sleigh Ride", is absolutely full of energy and creativity.  From the opening notes you're in for a thrill ride of a song.  Aubrey's rendition of "Sleigh Ride" makes you feel like you're out in that sleigh, having the time of your life- fast, hold on to your seat parts; slower, whew! we're on a flat, snowy meadow; whoa! hang on again, here we go! Absolutely one of the best unique interpretations I've heard.  And, oh yeah, full of sass.

"This Is How It Ends", an original song written by Aubrey, is a quite funny song about breaking up over the holidays, when it probably should have happened sooner.  Attention Christmas compilation creators - this one will make it on many annual comps.

"Blue Christmas" really highlights Aubrey's range as a singer.  Powerful in all registers, she commands this song.  With just a pinch of sass added for good measure.

"In the Bleak Midwinter" is an incredible vocal performance, sung with complete reverence to the song we know and love.

"O Holy Night" - wow.  Aubrey's arrangement is magnificent.  It's a bit non-traditional in the approach, with Aubrey's singing balanced with instrumental trombone taking the melody throughout the song, and the sung lyrics carefully chosen.  I am firmly in the 'don't mess with O Holy Night' crowd, but I absolutely love what Aubrey has done.

"What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" is a jazz tour de force - play it and be amazed ay Aubrey's scat singing.

Photo by Amy Gawlick

Aubrey is promoting her album, preparing for a December tour, and she still made time to answer a few questions for Merry & Bright.  Please enjoy learning more about Aubrey Logan Christmas from the Queen of Sass herself, then visit her website (or the usual music commerce sites) and get yourself a copy of Aubrey Logan Christmas.

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

Q&A with Aubrey Logan 

Merry & Bright:  Hi Aubrey!  Thanks for taking some time to answer a few questions about your amazing new album Aubrey Logan Christmas.  Let’s start with “Sleigh Ride”.  This is the freshest, most entertaining version of this song I’ve heard in many years.  Can you tell us a little about creating your take on this Christmas standard?

Aubrey Logan: Thank you for having me on! As for Sleigh Ride, it was a fine line for me between making it sound familiar, as we all want because…it’s such a classic…and fresh. The song didn’t need to be tampered with as Leroy Anderson already wrote in interesting chords complete with a modulation. But…we tampered with it! Primarily by making it as fast as we could without it being unplayable. And…we added in some bebop chord changes to the bridge. Hopefully it comes across familiar AND fresh. That was my intention!

MB:  You’re known as the “Queen of Sass”, a label that I imagine you wear proudly.  On Aubrey Logan Christmas, you even managed so sass up the venerated classic “Carol of the Bells”.  How do you apply the Aubrey Logan sass to a selection like this, and still maintain reverence to the familiar song we all know and love?

AL: Similarly to Sleigh Ride, I wanted to keep the integrity of the carol we all have heard over and over again. However, do it with a twist. Carol of the Bells is meant to be sung by a choir. I realized why: it’s because there’s no place to breath in the song! The lyrics run into each other with zero space, so when you inhale, someone else at least is singing so that it sound seamless. Not so when you do it solo! Adding a little comedy into my music has always been kinda my thing. So this lent itself perfectly to that.

Photo by Amy Gawlik

MB:  Your original composition, “This Is How It Ends” is a strikingly funny Christmastime breakup song.  Powerfully bluesy, I might call it an anti-torch song -  not about unrequited love, but about ‘there ain’t no more love here, bud’.  Can you share some thoughts about “This Is How It Ends”?

AL: An anti-torch song! I’m going to steal that one. Thank you! Ha! Well, I sat down to write an original Christmas song because my manager wanted me to. I didn’t have any idea what to write. Out of my head came a melody and chords. That usually happens though. Lyrics take me FOREVER. I had the melody written for such a long time before brainstorming enough to stumble upon the lyrics to This is How It Ends. It just kinda flowed out as I was sitting down one day trying to think of rhymes. As I continued to write the fictional story about the Christmas breakup, I started to imagine that it was like an episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza is recalling some lady breaking up with him over the holidays. “How dare she!” So that’s how the Anti Torch song was born.

MB:  I love the song selections – from the nearly ancient “In the Bleak Midwinter” from the Christina Rossetti poem, to the modern hip-funk James Brown classic “Santa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, to the Christmas canon cornerstone “The Christmas Song”.  What was your approach to choosing the songs for Aubrey Logan Christmas?

AL: The approach was simply this: I arranged Christmas songs that I like and avoided the ones that I don’t! (And we all have those!) For example…you’ll never hear me sing Santa Baby.

MB:  Aubrey, this is one of the best new Christmas albums this year – love it!  Thanks for letting us in on a few secrets about creating this great record!  I hope you bring your show to Kansa City some time soon 😊

AL: I am honored and I cannot wait to get back to KC!


Friday, November 17, 2023

New Music: The Wildwoods "Somewhere in the Snow"

The Wildwoods, a Folk/Americana trio from Lincoln, NE are releasing a new original Christmas single "Somewhere in the Snow".  The Wildwoods, husband and wife Noah (guitar) and Chloe Gose (violin) and Andrew Vaggalis (bass) have been making music together for many years, releasing their debut album Sweet Nostalgia, in 2017.  Since then the award-winning trio have toured extensively in the Midwest and beyond, and have released two additional albums, Across A Midwest Sky (2019) and Foxfield Saint John (2023), plus several singles.


"Somewhere in the Snow" is their first Christmas song release, and it's wonderful.  The trio's vocals blend together magically, and the result is a dreamy, almost mystical feeling winter song. It invokes a modern white Christmas, and is easy to imagine the snow floating down from above, covering the outside while we stay safe and warm inside with the ones we love.  It's a gorgeous song, and I love it more each time I listen.

The Wildwoods

"Somewhere in the Snow" is available on The Wildwoods Bandcamp site, and will be out on all the usual streaming and digital outlets by November 18th.  If your annual Christmas playlist needs a tranquil, peaceful addition, "Somewhere in the Snow" will be perfect.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Coffee Chat with Alicia Stockman

It's a rare pleasure to get to meet the musicians that are featured on Merry and Bright!  They hail from all across the country, and sometimes from the lands beyond our own national borders.  So it was indeed wonderful to meet Alicia Stockman during her weekend stay in Kansas City.  Alicia, featured earlier with her new song "A Recipe for a Merry Christmas Eve", makes her home in Utah, but was in Kansas City for a house concert and an appearance on local community radio station KKFI.  Before her radio gig, we met a a local coffee shop and bakery (Enchante, on Main St), enjoyed some hot beverages, and chatted about Christmas music, holiday traditions, and many other things.  I completely enjoyed meeting Alicia - she is a darling, super nice, and exceptionally talented.

One part of our conversation was a quick Q&A about a few favorite topics, exclusively for this follow-up piece to the original post. [Note:  I've paraphrased Alicia's answers from my handwritten notes]

Der Bingle:  Favorite Christmas Song?

Alicia Stockman: Favorite traditional song is "Sleigh Ride", favorite Christmas album is Dean Martin's A Winter Romance.

DB: Unique or Favorite family Christmas tradition?

AS:  Now (since we live in Utah), our family tradition is to go skiing every Christmas morning and have cocktails on the mountain.  As kids, Santa would leave a scavenger hunt for us to find on Christmas morning, always leading to Nerf guns, so I and my sister would have Nerf fights until our parents couldn't take it any more and got up :-)

DB:  Fruitcake:  Yes or No?

AS:  A firm No.  Every fruitcake I've ever had was either dry and stale or too gooey.  (Note: Der Bingle should send Alicia one of his fruitcakes, which are delectable).

DB:  Musician Who Inspires You?

AS: Patti Griffin (but there are many)

DB:  Favorite Sweet Holiday Treat?

AS:  Pecan Puffs

DB:  How many instruments do you play?

AS:  One well.  A couple others not quite so well.

DB:  Dream Duet Partner?

AS:  The Indigo Girls (so that would be a Dream Trio!)

DB:  Dogs, Cats, or Other?

AS:  Dogs, definitely!  (and then we shared pictures of our dogs)

Following our coffee chat, Alicia headed to KKFI for her guest spot on the Siren Song program, where she played "Recipe for a Merry Christmas Eve" live.  (For a limited time you can listen to her performance here).  Program Note:  Merry & Bright readers will be able to hear Alicia's song on KKFI's River Trade Radio on Sunday December 10th, in the 9AM-10AM CST timeframe, when I have my annual Christmas music show.  You can stream River Trade Radio from your location at KKFI.org.

Please take some time to explore Alicia's music, especially her first full album "These Four Walls", available on Bandcamp and the usual digital music outlets.

I'd like to thank Alicia for a great coffee chat!

"Recipe for a Merry Christmas Eve" on Bandcamp

Alicia Stockman website

Monday, November 13, 2023

Sharing Season Starts: Well, The Cover Art Is Nice

So, I bought this album, our 2023 sharing debut, for a buck at a used record store this past Summer.  Why, you may ask?  Take a look at the cover, and at the track list.  Notice anything a little unusual for a Christmas record?  What the heck?  My interest was piqued, so I forked over the buck, foregoing one fifth of a venti latte to be sipped later.

To quote Jack Benny, Well.  

There is no "When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide".  No stopping and turning and going for a ride.  No blistahs on my fingas.  

It turns out the Peppermint Kandy Kids version of "Helter Skelter" is some other song.  Semi-intelligible, like every other song on the record, because they are all sung by a children's choir.  I might double-quotate "choir", but that might be mean, so I won't.

If you're fond of children's choir recordings, maybe this share will make your day, because every song is by the same bunch of kids.  If you're fond of children's choirs singing a handful of songs you've probably never heard before and probably won't hear again, like "Ho Ho It's Christmas", "Twinkle the Tiniest Reindeer", and "The Reindeer They Left Behind", then by all means download away.  If you're looking for the perfect album to clear the house of the stay-too-long folks at your Christmas party, here it is.  If you have hard drive space that you need to use up, that's another good reason to download this.

An alternative would be to go to your local elementary school's Christmas program and listen to the kids choirs live.  Probably more enjoyable, and there's a good chance you could buy some Christmas cookies at the post-concert bake sale.  (Word of Warning [based on a true story]:  If they start singing Go Where I Send Thee, you're locked in to all eight verses for what seems like an hour).

Now, I seem all curmudgeonly here, so let me wrap up with some positive things.  The artwork is pretty cool - very kids-oriented, but still pretty neat.  Rudolph on the cover folds out, although there's just blue behind it.  And I'm sure the Peppermint Kandy Kids had a good time when they were singing for the record.  They do sing with energy, for sure.  Not quite the energy of the kids on Petula Clark's "Where Did My Snowman Go?", but that energy could power Wyoming for 3 weeks.  And finally, I never say "that music is bad", because someone out there likes it.  It just may not be for me.  And that's the case here - Peppermint Kandy Kids is just not my thing.

So, download and enjoy, or not :-)  I guarantee that the rest of the shares this year will be more enjoyable.

Peppermint Kandy Kids download link

Friday, November 10, 2023

Rehya Stevens - New Christmas Album!

Rehya Stevens, great friend of Merry & Bright and first-ballot M&B Hall of Famer (if I ever get around to creating a Merry & Bright Hall of Fame) is back in 2023 with a new album of Christmas music.  Santa's Taking Over the Town features 10 new songs, all originals, all bubbling over with the Christmas spirit and sound, and all some of the best new Christmas music you will hear this year.

But wait! There's more!  Santa's Taking Over the Town is available as a Deluxe Edition CD, personally signed with love and affection by Rehya, and including Rehya's 2021 Tis the Season album. That's 21 songs by the reigning West Coast Empress of Christmas music!  You can find this and all of Rehya's music at her website.


Rehya Stevens is a truly gifted musician, songwriter, and singer, and her decision to favor us with so many new Christmas songs is truly a blessing.  Since her debut holiday album Celebrate, she has honed her craft, and, surrounded by top-tier musicians and producers, creates shining, glowing, tree-topper-worthy Christmas songs.  Rehya explores many genres - pure pop, bluesy, upbeat rockers, sentimental, and spiritual.

The album opener "Christmas is Near" has the sound of a throwback to the golden age of Christmas music, superbly orchestrated and majestic.  "Don't Be Late" has a whimsical feel, Christmas traditions and waiting for Santa through the eyes of a child.  It brings back to me all those Christmas Eve feelings from when I was 7 years old.

"Santa's Takin' Over the Town" has a definite Chuck Berry vibe going on.  Classic rock and roll beats and licks, awesome piano playing, and a whoopin' hoopin' song about Santa and Rudolph hittin' the town.  (This is a Der Bingle fave...)

"Be My Baby by Christmas Night" is an ode to someone very special to Rehya.  I won't give it away here, but if you visit Rehya's Facebook page you'll find the whole story.

"Early Winter" is a sentimental look at the passing of seasons, our relationships, our memories, and times happy and sad.  It's an absolutely beautiful song.

In "Me, Myself & I", Rehya belts out the blues - whoa!  

The album closes with "Spread a Little Love for Christmas", a tropical-sounding fun little ditty with a happy, party attitude.  It's a dance celebration of a song, full of energy and positivity!

Photo by Katie Kennedy

Rehya Stevens is one of the nicest, kindest, and positive people I know.  She is a genuine, caring person, and has made friends with many of us in the Christmas music collector community.  I think that everyone who has gotten to know Rehya, if not in person than via e-mail, Zoom, podcast recording, etc, will agree that she is a treasure as a human being, one who carries the spirit of Christmas with her always.

Please follow Rehya on her Facebook page - you'll hear lots from her this season, as she shares stories about Santa's Taking Over the Town, Tis the Season, and more!

Oh - and you just might hear a bit from Rehya herself here at Merry & Bright, if you're all on the Nice List.

Rehya Stevens Facebook

Rehya Stevens website


Tuesday, November 7, 2023

New Music: Alicia Stockman "Recipe for a Merry Christmas Eve"

With "Recipe for a Merry Christmas Eve", Alicia Stockman wraps up all the comforts and warmth of the holiday season into a gorgeous song that will have you embracing the goodness of traditions and kindness, leaving behind the distractions and stress of the season.  It is absolutely a recipe for happiness, bringing together in song the traditions that we sometimes believe have been left behind.  "Recipe for a Merry Christmas Eve" is a big, warm hug of a song.

Alicia Stockman is a Utah-based singer songwriter, gifted with a comforting voice that still manages to penetrate to your soul.  "Recipe..." is her first Christmas song, following her 2021 debut album These Four Walls.  


Alicia captures the best of family holiday traditions, from baking holiday treats, to enjoying a cup of mulled wine, to connecting with distant family and sharing the spirit of the season with friends and neighbors.  She shows that these long held traditions belong in our modern Christmases, if we take the time to let them happen.  More heartfelt smiles happen when you are baking up a batch of Christmas cookies than in the checkout lines at your local big-box retailer.  That's what "Recipe..." is all about - finding, nurturing, and sharing those moments.

Mix the magic of the moment 
With a dash of memories 
That’s the recipe for a 
Merry Christmas Eve

Musically, the song is beautiful.  Nick Bullock's guitar work is outstanding, a perfect accompaniment to Alicia's vocals and her acoustic guitar. 

Listen on Spotify

"Recipe for a Merry Christmas Eve" is the first new song to be featured on Merry & Bright! this season, and if it's any indication, we are in store for a great year of new Christmas music.  Please visit Alicia's website and socials, and hop over to Amazon or Bandcamp and add "Recipe for a Merry Christmas Eve" to your own Christmas music collection.



Purchase "Recipe for a Merry Christmas Eve" on Amazon

Alicia Stockman website

Bandcamp:  Alicia Stockman

Facebook: @AliciaStockmanMusic 

Instagram: @AliciaStockmanMusic 

Patreon: www.Patreon.com/AliciaStockmanMusic 

YouTube: @AliciaStockmanMusic


Monday, November 6, 2023

Snow is Falling! New Music and Artist Q&A with Sukey Molloy

The Christmas season is a time for joy, and Christmas music adds to the joy that this time of year brings.  Sukey Molloy's Snow is Falling! Songs for Christmas, Hannukah & Kwanzaa is bursting with the Christmas spirit, so full of joy and energy that you can't help but smile when listening.  Sukey Molloy is an award-winning artist, producing music focused on an audience of children.  But, Sukey's music on Snow is Falling! isn't just for kids - it's here to be enjoyed by everyone, young and old.

I love what Sukey has created with Snow is Falling!  In addition to 12 Christmas songs, including the title track set to the classic melody of "Frere Jacques", there are four Hannukah songs and two Kwanzaa songs.  In the past couple of years, I've searched for good Kwanzaa songs and have come up empty.  So from the moment I saw the tracklist, I was excited about this new record.


And I was not disappointed.  Sukey's takes on classic carols such as "Jingle Bells", "Frosty the Snowman", "I Saw Three Ships", and "Up on the Housetop" are perfect for the youngsters.  They are melodic, well-arranged, and, most importantly, easy to learn and ready for sing-alongs.  

It's the Hannukah and Kwanzaa songs that really make this album one to love.  "I Have a Little Dreidel" and "Happy Joyous Hanuka" help bring this celebration to life.  "Kwanzaa is Here" and "Kwanzaa" celebrate the seven principles in ways that everyone, young and old, can learn from and enjoy.

Sukey Molloy graciously answered a few questions for Merry & Bright!  All I can say to introduce the Q&A is that the world needs a few more Sukeys around πŸ˜€

Following the Q&A, please visit the links to Sukey Molloy's website and to Snow is Falling!

One last tidbit - one of Sukey's award winning albums is titled The Adventures of Little Stubby.  Perhaps a certain Christmas music collector buddy will have a special interest in that one...

Q&A with Sukey Molloy


Merry & Bright:
Snow is Falling! is the first album of holiday music that I’ve seen to include songs for Christmas, Hannukah, and Kwanzaa. What is your hope for this record, and how its songs will be enjoyed by children and their families this holiday season?

Sukey Molloy:  I am interested in helping to create a shared participation and celebration of life whenever possible which is one of the reasons my Snow Is Falling! album celebrates three different winter holidays together. I try in my performing and teaching to bring children and families together from all walks of life and cultures so we can open to one another and experience how much we share in common. What better way to share that message with children than through the holidays!

MB: I am particularly pleased to see the two Kwanzaa songs, “Kwanzaa is Here” and “Kwanzaa”. What is the story of creating these two songs?

SM: Initially I had in mind to write a Kwanzaa song or two myself since I had done so in the music and movement classes I teach, but when I researched Kwanzaa songs that have been released, I found two songs that I loved, and acquired permission to use them. Co-producer Larry Alexander and I set to work creating our own arrangements and are really excited with the special quality of both recordings! I also learned about the origin of the Kwanzaa celebration in the U.S. and how it is observed by children and families from Dec. 26 – Jan. 1. "Kwanzaa Is Here" is written by Christopher John D. Pennington, Sherry Segal and Wendy Wiseman (copyright Rident Royalties Inc.), and "Kwanzaa" is written by Donlad E. Monopoli and Laura E. Monopoli (copyright Kaladon Publishing).


MB: There is so much joy in your singing! What’s your secret to making music for children that can be enjoyed by adults as well?

SM: Well of course it is a challenge, but the centerpiece of my work is always to inspire everyone, young and old, to enjoy, participate, and experience a sense of their own personal listening. This holiday album brought an unexpected challenge since I was not writing the songs myself but bringing my own feeling to each well-known song throughout the process. Larry is the real reason I‘m able to connect with so much joy in the recording studio. He always makes sure I am having fun myself or we stop and take time to reconnect with the real reason we are making music. That is to help children feel good about themselves and the world they live in, and their parents as well! I receive so much happiness from the children and families I share music with every day and it’s important to me that that sense of joy and reassurance is shared by all of us when we’re listening.

MB: Your Christmas song selection is just perfect for kids. They are the first songs so many of us learned when we were children ourselves. How much fun was it to record these traditional songs?

SM:
It was great fun, and challenging! It was really very interesting to learn about the origin of many of these holiday songs. Some of them are traditional, as you say, and some turn out to still be current and not yet in the public domain. While others go back to the 1800’s and even back to the 1500’s, some are more current and first recorded in the 40’s and 50’s by famous artists like Burl Ives, Bing Crosby, Woody Guthrie, and Gene Autry.

MB: The four Hannukah songs are happy, easy for kids to learn, and start to teach what the celebration Hannukah is all about. How did you settle on these four songs for your album?

SM: I have been singing "I Have a Little Dreidel" with children for a number of years, as well as "Oh Chanukkah", and they are of course both very popular and in the public domain. They were a lot of fun to record! I wanted also to look for a few less well- known songs that could bring a new listening experience. In my search I discovered that Woody Guthrie had written and recorded several Hanukkah songs and I chose two of those with permission from Ludlow Music Inc/Woody Guthrie Publications: "Hanuka Dance" and "Happy Joyous Hanuka". They were a joy to arrange and record with a new sense of listening and appreciation.

MB: Sukey, thanks for the Q&A time! You have a wonderful album, and I wish you the happiest of holiday seasons!

SM: Thanks so much Aaron. I would like to wish every child and family a very special and peaceful holiday season with many warm moments of sharing, love, and celebration. Let’s hold each other close and give our hearts to healing and loving and receiving all the many blessings we share.

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



Wednesday, November 1, 2023

The 2023 Season Begins!

Hi all, and Happy November 1!  Welcome back for another season of Merry & Bright!  

It sure feels like Christmas here in my Kansas City home.  We had a bit of snow a few days ago - no accumulation, but about 20 minutes of pretty flakes drifting in the air.  And we set a record low temperature last night/early this morning - 18 degrees.  Personally, I love it :-)  Summer was long and hot, and I'm ready for the cold weather to set in.

I have some pretty cool things lined up this year.  I have two artist interviews in the bag, ready to publish.  I'm working on a third, with a really exciting artist releasing their first Christmas album this year.  And maybe more as the season progresses.  

I'll have a few sharity items to post later in the season.  Thrift stores in this area are quite devoid of vinyl these days - I've found nothing in the local thrifts so far.  The resurgence of vinyl has led to new record stores opening (yay!), and the good stuff is going to them.  The prices are higher - the days of $1 records are over, at least for now.  But, paying a few extra bucks for a great find is well worth it.  And I'll share what I have with you all.

One item I'll share (no details yet) is probably the rarest single I own.  Don't get too excited - I got it for 18 bucks on eBay (no spending hundreds of bucks on a record - not me) - but it's a truly beautiful piece of music.

As usual, I'll cover some of the great new music that comes my way.  Independent artists consistently produce some of the best Christmas music year in and year out, and I'm happy to introduce you to their work.

What else.... there may even be a guest blogger appearance this year, for the first time ever!

The real stuff will begin soon.  I just wanted to welcome you all back for another joyous season of Christmas!