Sunday, July 16, 2023

"Love Party" - New Summertime Song from Rehya Stevens!

Hello all!  Mid-Summer greetings to you!  I have a special treat for you today, a diversion from the heat and humidity (if that's your part of the country's pervasive weather).  Merry and Bright! favorite Rehya Stevens has a new song hitting the stream-waves (and, we hope, an airwave or two...).   I am super-pleased to be able to share not only all the info about "Love Party", but also an exclusive Q&A with creators Rehya Stevens and Jamie Dunlap.

Long time Merry and Bright! readers know Rehya Stevens - extraordinary singer and songwriter of many a Christmas song, supporter of the Christmas music community, and fabulous human being.  Jamie Dunlap, though, may be new to many readers.  You may have heard of a little TV show called South Park?  Jamie Dunlap is the composer of the music in South Park, beginning his run with the show back in 2000 and spanning more than 160 episodes.  Jamie is a highly sought-after award-winning composer and producer in the television and film business.  In addition to South Park, Jamie has composed music for Pair of Kings, Mighty Med, and Kirby Buckets. And, if you check out his IMDB page, you'll see that he has soundtrack credits in many Christmas movies (A Christmas in Royal Fashion, A Royal Christmas Ball, Christmas Wonderland, just to name a few).  A+ cred, my friends.

Rehya and Jamie collaborated and created "Love Party", released this past June.  "Love Party" is a celebration of life, love, joy, and inclusion.  It's full of energy, it's colorful and exuberant, and is truly a feel-good song for your Summer playlists.

Rehya and Jamie graciously took some time to answer a few questions about "Love Party".  After the Q&A are the links to "Love Party" and additional info.  Enjoy!

"Love Party" Q&A with Rehya Stevens and Jamie Dunlap

Merry & Bright: I’m so happy to learn more about “Love Party” straight from the creative duo behind this amazing song! Let’s get right into this – how did “Love Party” come about?

Rehya: Thanks Aaron! It’s fun to talk about “Love Party” with you. The song isn’t seasonal, but it’s celebratory! Jamie and I were recording a song for the South Park XBox video game “The Stick of Truth,” and shared an in-depth conversation about the social and economic divide in Los Angeles - where we were both living at the time. A few days after that recording session, he sent me the track for “Love Party” with a “Hey, girl! What do you think? Wanna take a crack at this?” I responded immediately with “Yes!! Let’s make this a song about inclusivity!!” I was so inspired by the BIG energy of the track – the melody and lyrics wrote themselves, quite honestly. It all started from our conversational mustard seed, and grew from there!

Rehya Stevens

Jamie: I first met Rehya through a friend and fellow songwriter some years back as I was looking for different singers for a project. I was so impressed by her work ethic and professionalism, I asked her if she wanted to collaborate from the ground up. She's a rare force that is inspiring, motivating, and not afraid to push things a little further. And as I recall Love Party was the first born.. Her timeless lyric applies to the here and now.

Rehya still has that innocence wrapped into a powerhouse with the thought that music CAN still be a strong medicine for anyone, regardless of race, gender, age, political affiliations and so forth.. We were all once kids growing up thinking that in some way, we could save the world.. Hold onto that childish innocence..

MB: Have the two of you collaborated on any musical projects before? Or is this a first?

Rehya: I was fortunate to be on the call list as a vocalist for many of Jamie’s songs for several years. Jamie and his co-writer, David Feldstein were creating a library of music together, and needed a female session singer for their songs. Dave lived less than a mile from me, so I’d pop over to his house and record for a few hours - and by the end of the day, they’d send me the final mix. They were so FAST!! A lot of those songs wound up in Hallmark and Lifetime movies - and in various tv shows. It was fun to see those songs get placed. “Love Party” was the first song that Jamie and I wrote together.

Jamie: While Love Party was in the works, we worked together on some cues and tracks for Stick Of Truth, South Park and Hallmark. The game (SOT) had a section with the goth kids from the show, so it was a cool chance to write something with vocals.. I had this loosely sketched melody and as I recall she nailed it in one or two takes...

Jamie Dunlap

MB: So – “Love Party” the song – wow! So much energy, so much brightness and positivity! Was the creation of the song sort of a self-catalyzing process, like the more you got into it, the more spark and spirit you were able to draw from it?

Rehya: Recording that vocal was really when the physical energy was unleashed for me. We didn’t do much punching in – most of the vocal was first take stuff - Jamie really wanted it to be raw and not too over produced. I MAY have given him grief for that – but he won in the end, rightfully so.

When I’m writing, I’m pretty introspective and deep inside the world that I’m creating. I was picturing a world where everyone is welcome. Where there’s no rancor, no axe to grind. In my mind, the “Love Party” is simply a healing space. Love does that. Knowing that you belong does that. I think we allow all the good energy in when we let go of pain and tune in to the love that surrounds us in the moment. Music does that for me – it changes my mental and emotional state. It’s medicine.

Jamie: Actually I think Rehya's message was clear from the start.. The energy and sensitivity wrapped in her lyric was a no brainer for me regarding which way the track could be produced. It was a process, but well worth the efforts..

MB: The lyrics “Bring the love tonight Red, yellow, black, white Every color of the rainbow” are a powerful message of inclusion. The June 30 release of “Love Party” was just a few days following the Supreme Court decision regarding protected speech, which has significant impact to the LGBTQ+ community. Especially in light of this decision, how do you hope that “Love Party” can be a positive influence on our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, and on our nation at large?

Rehya: I hope that “Love Party” becomes an anthem for the LGBTQ community, and for anyone who is fighting the good fight for freedom. I think it’s ridiculous for anyone to try to control love. Love is wild - and love is love. My grade school gym instructor was gay - I thought he was so fabulous, and such a beautiful human being!! He lit up the entire class for us kids with his unbridled enthusiasm. I looked forward to seeing him every day. There were whispers and judgements in the schoolyard about his sexuality, and it hurt to hear that… he was so kind, and so good to everyone.

When I lived in Hollywood while attending The Musician’s Institute, I got to know the trans community a little bit just from walking back and forth to school everyday. Many of them were living on the streets, having been kicked out of their homes by their parents. One woman would say things to me like, “Hey honey! One of these days, will you sing a song for me? You’re so focused when you walk – I wanna know what’s going on in that mind of yours! I want to hear your music, girl!” Even though she was suffering, there was so much light in her spirit. I wish I could’ve sung “Love Party” to her. I want the LGBTQ community to know that I support them - and I hope the song will help them in even bigger ways in the future. I’m not sure how that would transpire, but I would love to see it happen. Hopefully the song will take on a life of its own as it blooms.

Jamie:  Well, let me put it this way: I believe that each one of us, no matter your beliefs, can make a difference. Even in the smallest amount. But the hard part now is that certain beliefs and rhetorical views have gradually beaten down this belief system over the years, and the outcome has often stripped away the thought process of being unique.. So, it ain't gonna be easy! In essence we are fighting for our survival rights...

Everything that's ever been successful, has started from just a small spark, the ember, starting with one thought - One soul that had the courage to speak out against the non-believers..That energy turns into a positive wave of souls colliding.. History has shown that one collective thought process can manifest the light needed to defeat the darkness that haunts us all in different ways..

MB: The lyric video for “Love Party” is fabulous. The vibrant colors, the performers in the video – it all comes together to strengthen the song’s message of love, joy, and inclusion. Can you tell us about the artists that created the video?

Rehya: Thank you! I produced the lyric video, and it was SO fun!! Seeing everyone having a good time, celebrating their unique spirit in their own skin was beautiful. I played with gritty filters, glowing fonts, and arranged it to include as many perspectives as possible from a diverse array of human beings. I love the little girl DJ’ing, I love the beautiful trans woman waving her flag, I love the kids in the ghetto, the dancers expressing their art – it’s all beautiful to me. Producing the video was like taking the movie that was in my head while writing the song, and delivering it visually. I hope people connect with it and enjoy the diversity - and see how beautiful diversity is.

MB: Thank you so much for taking some time to tell us all about “Love Party”. It’s a tremendous new song for the Summer of 2023. Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share?

Rehya:  I just want to thank you Aaron - for all of your support, your friendship, and your good heart. Thank you for supporting independent artists like myself, and thank you for supporting inclusivity for all.

Jamie:  The world today is in a strange flux. There's much work to be done to reenact tolerance and compassion, especially in the younger generations to come.. So regardless of what we "Think" is really happening, Let's take a moment to remember our mother, Mother Earth. She has a way of reminding us of just how small, yet how big of an effect our actions can have.. ...Mother Music !!!

And also, look up from your devices every now and then.. lol..


Bonus!  For everyone still paying attention :-)  "It Feels Like Christmas" video - written by Jamie Dunlap and David Feldstein, feat. Rehya Stevens on vocals


Friday, December 30, 2022

2022: That's a wrap!

It's time to wind down another Christmas season here at Merry & Bright.  It felt like a good year - some pretty good shares, a great interview with Laurie Berkner, a fun Q&A with Jessy J, some awesome new music to feature, and a lot of new songs to round up and get the word out about.  

Christmas here in Kansas City was a White Christmas.  Although we didn't get fluffy, new Christmas Eve snow, the ground was still covered with the snow from the preceding Thursday, as we went into a major deep freeze following the snow, so there was no melting.  It's tough to melt with a high of -2.  As my son put it, it was a perfect white Christmas - snow on the ground but the road were clear.

Kansas City White Christmas 2022, 7:00AM

Christmas Day in our household brought all five of our children, their spouses/significant others, and the new granddaughter.  For gift exchange, with a couple exceptions, we always open one gift at a time, so that everyone can enjoy what everyone else is opening.  (Having done the crazed giftageddon of simultaneous opening before, I never want to do it again).  So, gift opening took a solid two hours, after which we had over-proofed dinner rolls and ham a bit on the dry side, but dinner was till awesome.  

One of the exceptions to the one-gift-at-a-time process is the opening of the Beverage Santa gifts.  A few years ago Beverage Santa began leaving a beverage for each child under the vintage aluminum tree.  These are distributed and opened all at once.  This year, Beverage Krampus also made a stop and left each child and spouse/SO a wrapped can of Fruitquake Mountain Dew (fruitcake flavored soda).  

One of our many Christmas trees

So, after snacks, gifts, dinner, dessert, and beverages, it was a wonderful and joyous Christmas!

As I wrap things up here, I'll make one final shout out to some of the amazing independent artists that sent me their music this year.  Please seek out these musicians via their internet presences and support them however you can - buy their music, add their songs to your streaming playlists, spread the word about them to your like-minded friends.  So here's to Cristina F, Carol Crittenden, Mackenna Swann, Jason Beers, Lee Langdon, Ren Geisick, Sofia Talvik, Jessy J, and Laurie Berkner.

I'll be back next season, and have a couple ideas brewing already.  Hope to see you all here too!  Have a prosperous 2023!

Aaron Henton (Der Bingle)

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone!  

I didn't get to my usual Christmas Eve post this year, because of changes to our usual Christmas Eve/Day schedule.  The Bingle children are all adults, and we have a new Bingle granddaughter this year, so we are happily adapting to new traditions.  We started with a Christmas Eve brunch at our son's place, came back home to watch some NFL football, went to Christmas Eve Mass, picked up Chinese food on the way home, and hung out with the oldest Bingle child and her husband (I guess she would be nee Bingle, to be all society and whatnot), the youngest Bingle, and the dogs.  Had some Glogg (delicious!), hung out, watched A Christmas Story.

Christmas Day saw me up at 6:30, because I love 7:00AM on Christmas Morning.  Tended to the dogs, tended to some stockings, and settled in with coffee and, later, mimosas with breakfast.  Later this afternoon all of the children will be here for gifts and Christmas dinner.  A wonderful day it will be.

I posted on my Facebook today what has become my favorite line from a Christmas song:  "The secret of Christmas is not what you do at Christmastime, but the Christmas things you do all year through".  I truly believe that, and hope the sentiment reaches each of you in your own way.

Many thanks to all of my Christmas music brethren - you're an amazing community to be a part of.  Thanks Ernie, Greg, Rob, Brad, Martin, Joanna, Jason, Tim, Mitchell and everyone else who contributes to the joy we get from sharing joy through music.

And thanks to everyone who stopped in and read a story, heard some new music, learned about a new artist, and downloaded some old music.  It's much appreciated.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Fox and Goodman: A Double Share

Today I have a double-share for you to wind up sharing season here at Merry & Bright.  I'll be back with at least a couple more posts to wrap up 2022, but this is the grand finale for shares.

First up, "A Virgil Fox Christmas" 14 Carols for Organ and Chimes.  But, best of all (as the cover art reveals) there are Sing Along Lyrics, and instructions for the at-home carolers anticipating a joyous, rousing evening of caroling by the stereo!  Here in the 21st century, with the downloaded music and the ability to bring up the back cover image on your preferred mobile device, no longer must you be shackled to the room with the phonograph.  You can have Virgil Fox's organ and chimes accompany you throughout your neighborhood, caroling from door to door!

The back of the album has Instructions for Carolers (watch out for the modulations between verses!), and also a directive on which carols You Don't Sing.  Don't be caught singing these four (but, who can resist singing Silent Night?), lest the spirit of Virgil Fox (1912-1980) come a-calling.  Sing those four at your own peril.

Fortunately, the approved sing-along carols are the beloved, familiar songs we all know and love, so most of you won't need the words.

Please enjoy singing along to "A Virgil Fox Christmas"

<download link>

The second share is "1000 Strings at Christmas" by Al Goodman and his Orchestra.  "1000 Strings..." has eleven popular carols, a magnificent retro (well, it wasn't retro back in the day) cover, and a place on the back cover to write your name, if you were giving this album as a Christmas present.  Too bad folks!  I know what Mrs. Der Bingle is getting for Christmas now!  :-)  

The music on this record is quite well done and very enjoyable.  Most Christmas music collectors span many genres of the music, but many (born no later than the first half of the '70s) drift back toward the classic sounds of their youth, at least at some point each season.  These were the sounds of Christmas we grew up with, and Al Goodman's "1000 Strings at Christmas" is a perfect fix for our nostalgia cravings.

Enjoy Al Goodman's "1000 Strings at Christmas"

<download link>

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Living Voices "Holiday Get-together"

Today's share answers the pressing questions "Is 'Get-together' one word, two words, or hyphenated, and is 'together' capitalized?   Now we know...

"Holiday Get-together', a 1974 album by the Living Voices, is another fine entry in the "Living _______" series.  The music is delightful, splendidly produced, and performed with gusto.  Much like the Living Trio from earlier this season, it is what an experienced Christmas music collector would expect.

There are 10 tracks on the record, 8 of them medleys.  The medleys are labeled 'Medley 1', 'Medley 2', etc in the download files. The two solo songs are "Do You Hear What I Hear" and "Out of the East", a less familiar carol.

Not much else to say, except I think you'll enjoy "Holiday Get-together" by the Living Voices.

<download link>

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

20 Questions with Jessy J!

Jessy J, California sax player extraordinaire, released one of the top new Christmas albums this season, California Christmas 2.  The contemporary and Latin jazz musician has emerged as one of the top musicians in SoCal.  Jessy released "Blue" earlier this in 2022, an 8-song album of original compositions, prior to California Christmas 2, with it's 9 traditional songs, reimagined as soulful Cali-jazz tunes.  Jessy is also a member of Ray Chew's house band for Dancing with the Stars.  

This isn't Jessy's first venture into the world of Christmas music.  She released California Christmas in 2016, and was a featured performer on Merry & Bright favorite Rehya Stevens' song Fly Past My Roof on Rehya's album Celebrate.

Jessy has been very busy this season, performing gigs across the county and playing selections from California Christmas 2.  Between shows, Jessy found time for a 20 Questions feature for Merry & Bright, a fun little exercise in rapid-fire Q&A, so you can learn a little bit more about Jessy!

Visit Jessy J's website

California Christmas Vol. 2

20 Questions with Jessy J

1. Favorite Christmas Song
Feliz Navidad

2. Favorite SoCal Christmas Activity
Going to the Beach

3. Best Celebrity Dance Competition
Dancing with the Stars

4. Fruitcake? Yes or No

5. Musician Who Inspires You
John Coltrane

6. Favorite Holiday Sweet Treat

7. Number of Instruments You Play
More than 10

8. Surprising Fact About Yourself
Born in Oregon

9. How often are you confused with Jessie J?
Not that much anymore

10. Your level of Christmas decorating – None, Light, Moderate, OMG It’s Blinding!

11. Artist you would most like to meet

12. Favorite Family Christmas Tradition
Singing Carols

13. Dogs, cats, or other?

14. Career recognition dream – Grammy, Oscar, EGOT?

15. Favorite Christmas Recording Artist
Bing Crosby

16. Favorite food

17. Favorite charitable organization or cause you support
LA Mission  (Editor's note:  Click here to visit and support the LA Mission)

18. Best concert ever that you attended
Tom Petty

19. Would you like to say a few words to your fans?
MERRY CHRISTMAS and Happy Holidays!

20. “A California Christmas 3” in the future?
That's a possibility….:)

Monday, December 19, 2022

"Merry Christmas from Blood City, USA" - Christmas Noir by Jason Beers

"Merry Christmas from Blood City, USA" is the latest album  from Kansas City musician Jason Beers.  Much like the "NOW That's What I Call Music!" series-in-perpetuity, it's another year, another Christmas, and another Christmas album from Jason Beers.

From the mind what gave us "Garth Dohlie's Christmas Party", "Music for Seasonal Affective Disorder", "Having a Marfy Christmas" (Mrs. Helen Marf, tympani virtuoso) and "Still Having a Marfy Christmas" (Mrs. Helen Marf again) comes the 4th soundtrack for the Blood City, USA movie series.

Yes Virginia, there is such as thing as Christmas Music Noir, or perhaps Christmas-electronica-noir, because here it is, in all its glory.  And smack me upside the head with a dadgum mistletoe, this music works!  I've heard Jason say about a million times "the bongos really tie this whole thing together." Well, this time it's not bongos (bongoes? bong-gos?) it's sleigh bells.  "Sheila Undercover" is as noir as you can get, and there are sleighbells for rhythm throughout the whole song.  And it's perfect!  It's Mike Hammer skulking down a dark alley wearing a Santa Hat.

"Merry Christmas From Blood City" opens the album with a familiar Christmas melody, accentuated and enhanced with electronic moods.  Party on!

"Slay Ride" - I swear the Spirit of Mort Garson Past invaded the soul of Jason Beers for this one, composed and performed a masterpiece of electronic music, and added sleigh bells.  So many sleigh bells.  But they really tie the whole thing together.

"Billy Stagger and the Sex Elf" - well, this is a family blog...

"Snowball Fight" - the intensity builds.  With sleigh bells.  It's like Quarry lining up his hit while wearing an elf costume.

"Ho Ho Ho" - there's a lotta ways to interpret that title in the context of "Blood City USA".  Remember that time in another song when Santa Lost a Ho, and all he said was 'Ho Ho'.  I digress.  "Ho Ho Ho" is groove-funk, with a sleigh bell/drum break.  Remember the Zeppelin Christmas tour of '71 when Bonham did "Moby Dick" entirely with sleigh bells and a slide whistle?   Oops - digressed again.  "Ho Ho Ho" is danged cool.

The album wraps up with "Blood City Christmas Party".   Listening to this, you can just imagine Nero Wolfe sittin' on his XXXL keister knockin' down a gallon of eggnog.

To all my Christmas mixtape buddies out there, who are always looking for something different:  You want different for your 2023 mix?  Add "Slay Ride" - I dare you.  It has sleigh bells, therefore, it IS a Christmas song.

"Merry Christmas from Blood City USA" Liner Notes 

Here is the 4th soundtrack for the Blood City, USA movie series - action movies following the adventures of Billy Stagger in Blood City. Merry Christmas From Blood City was, admittedly, a cheap money-grab movie for the holidays. There was no theatrical release as it went to straight to video, exclusively in Jumbo Video stores in Canada. Infamous for the X rating it received due to graphic sexual penetration scenes and intense violence during the climax of the movie, Merry Christmas From Blood City, USA was banned in the United States and much of the rest of the world until 2022, 35 years after its release. And yes, this is the movie that launched the internet meme of "Come hither, Sex Elf, and witness the demise of my enemies!!!!" If you can find this movie, I recommend NOT watching it with the family on Christmas Day.

Der Bingle's recommendations from the Jason Beers catalog:
Crumbling Towers
How to Open a Portal to Hell
The Clyle Davenport Efron's Flight Series
The Blood City USA Series
Sasquatch Jazz
actually, I recommend everything....

R.I.P. Wild Larry