Thursday, January 18, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: Emmylou Harris "Light of the Stable"

Emmylou Harris' amazing Christmas album "Light of the Stable" is my choice for the second entry in my 'Essentials' series.  It'll be hard for me not to just gush on and on about this beautiful album, always an absolute must-listen for me many times every Christmas season.

"Light of the Stable" was first released as a 10-track album in 1979, and then re-released as an expanded 13-track CD in 2004 (with an intervening remaster of the original record in 1992).  I have the 2004 CD in my collection, and happily so, as it has "The Cherry Tree Carol" as an added song, one of my favorite Christmas carols.

"Light of the Stable" 2004 CD Release

Where to start with "Light of the Stable"?  The 'session' musicians, that include Ricky Skaggs, Rodney Crowell, and Glen D. Hardin?  That Willie Nelson joins as a backup singer?  That Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Neil Young are all backup singers on the title track?  Dolly, Linda, and Neil?  You gotta be kiddin' me!!!

The supporting cast is a start, but it's the beautiful arrangements and Emmylou's amazing, haunting, sexy (there, I said it), angelic voice that makes this album essential for every Christmas music collection.   The songs include standards such as "Little Drummer Boy" and the a capella "The First Noel", and songs by some of the best songwriters in the business - "Angel Eyes" (Rodney Crowell), "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem" (Arthur L. Phipps), and "Man is an Island" (McGarrigle sisters).  

"Light of the Stable" 1979 Album

The (2004) album kicks off with a rousing "Christmas Time's A-Coming", followed by "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Away in a Manger".   After eight more gorgeous songs, Emmylou & friends close the album with "Light of the Stable", penned by Steven and Elizabeth Rhymer.

The music is tinged with the sounds of the country/roots/folk/Americana genre, but really it's simply beautiful Christmas music through and through.  Emmylou Harris is an American musical treasure who, in my opinion, even with all her success, is still underappreciated.  If you add "Light of the Stable" to your collection, you'll soon learn to not only appreciate but love her and her contribution to Christmas music.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: Bing Crosby "Merry Christmas"

Where else would I start my Essentials series than with the original Der Bingle, Le Bing, Mr. Crosby -  Bing Crosby's "Merry Christmas".

The version of "Merry Christmas" that I have is MCA-15024, which according to Tim Neely's Christmas Record Price Guide, dates back to the 1955 Decca release, which itself hails from the 1949 10" set.  This is classic Bing, classic Christmas, with a selection of 12 superb Christmas songs, including "White Christmas", "Jingle Bells" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" with the Andrews Sisters, and other classics.  This album can be the cornerstone of any new Christmas music collection.
I got my copy back in the mid 1980's, one of the first "new" Christmas records I bought as a young adult.

There are many CD collections of Christmas music from Bing Crosby.  Any of the major label collections or official releases from the curators of Bing's music would be fine ways to start a collection, and I could name any of them as "essential".  But really, the only essential is having your own Bing Crosby music for Christmas.

So, why did I choose "Der Bingle" as my blogging non de plume?  Well, the first record I can remember having as a child was "Songs of Christmas" by Bing.  And this goes way back, to when I was 5 or 6 years old.  I loved it then, playing it during and outside of the season, enchanted by "Rudolph" and "Twelve Days of Christmas".  On the back of the album (see image below) the text said that he was known as "El Bingo" in Mexico, "Le Bing" in "France", and "Der Bingel" in Germany.  I thought that "Der Bingel" was funny, and so adopted it, with a spelling change prompted by Internet "research".  And so here I am.  And, the scans included here are from that very album that I grew up with.  Still in the collection, always will be.

So, the first entry in Der Bingle's Essentials is Der Bingel's "Merry Christmas".

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Winding Down the Year

It's New Year's Eve Eve, and it's frigid in Kansas City here on 12/30/17.  Right now, 4:29PM, it's 9 degrees.  In Omaha where my middle daughter lives, it's 4, and is supposed to get to -18 on New Year's Day in the early AM.  And then you can add the wind chill into that.  I do love Winter, really.

Friend Ernie in Florida, I'm so glad you got your Air Conditioner fixed :-)

I just wanted to do one final post for the year 2017.  It was a good Christmas here for us Bingles [not our real name ;-) ], and most of us will be together again on New Year's Day, when I will attempt a prime rib roast.  Two years ago, best I've ever eaten.  Last year, messed it up royally.  We also have one more gift exchange, tomorrow night with dear friends from college and since.  It's a 'steal-a-gift' (white elephant, dirty Santa, Yankee Swap, whatever you want to call it) and in our version the gift is indeed something desirable, not a piece-o-crapola from the basement.  Fun times.  The host of the gathering ventured into Christmas Comp-ing for the first time this year, and made a wonderful CD of Christmas music for friends and family.  So, with these events upcoming, the holidays are not over yet, just starting to subside.

I spent this afternoon packing away (most of) my Christmas CDs.  Not really "away" - they are in their 12 tubs right next to my computer desk, where they will stay all year unless I seriously remodel the downstairs room (aka the "Elvis Room" - if you want to know, you must ask).

So, as I wind down, a couple of things to share:

  • I'll be back, I'm sure, with at least a couple dispatches from Planet Comicon, which is in February this year, earlier than ever before.  I am below the, let's say, 60th percentile of nerdery in the population that attends, but I really do enjoy it.  So I'll be posting a few things, supporting the local artists/authors/etc.
  • And, in Christmas music news, I am planning to start a feature here called "Der Bingle's Essentials", highlighting what I think are the absolute best Christmas albums/CDs, and should be part of any Christmas music collection.  Of course, the opinions are strictly my own, your mileage may vary, but I'll be sharing a few thoughts about the ones I think are best.  Some I've had for decades, and some are recent acquisitions.  I hope you enjoy these posts, which will keep the spirit of Christmas flowing at Merry & Bright all year long.
So - with that, I hope your holidays continue to be joyous, and have a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Thanks and Acknowledgements

I'd like to take a few minutes here for some thanks and acknowledgements to the folks that help keep this blog going through their support and kinship in Christmas music.

First, thanks to all the readers who stop by here during the season.  This blog is a hobby, but I try to provide good, informational, and entertaining material for you each season.  I'm especially happy with the artist interviews each year, and grateful for the musicians who agree to spend some time being "interviewed" via e-mail.  I hope you all have enjoyed the interviews, features, and shares this season.

And thanks to:

  • Russ Hitt, Katie Garibaldi, and Cassandra Kubinski for being the interviewed musicians this year
  • Old Sound, Bett Butler, Sophia Talvik, and all the other musicians that sent music my way
  • Kasey Rausch and Scottie Stanton, hosts of River Trade Radio on KKFI 90.1 for letting me come aboard for an hour again this year and play some Christmas tunes on your show.  You really make it easy and fun every time!
  • Christmas music buddy Greg - it's great to hang out with a fellow Christmas music nut a few times each yet
  • Buddy Tom for loaning his records for sharing this year
  • Ernie - for setting a high bar for Christmas music sharity
  • Stubby - take care of yourself, my friend.  So happy to see your late season posts!  Hope you make it back for a full season next year.
  • All the guys/gals at Christmas Underground, Christmas-a-Go-Go, Hip Christmas, and all the other blogs doing such a wonderful job at promoting the best new Christmas music every year
  • Joanna at Christmas TV History - a new friend made this season!
  • Brad - who, for me, was the catalyst that really got this thing started
  • All the folks at MyMerryChristmas
  • Jon Solomon - 25 hours, once again
  • Tim Neely - another great year of your Christmas Song of the Day, which I will of course seek out and find them and get them into a playlist
  • And Matt at 200 Days of Christmas - thanks for letting me be a part of your awesome Facebook group - it's an honor and a pleasure!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Christmas Eve Mass - check.
Christmas Eve dinner and watching "A Christmas Story" - check.
Stocking stusffed - check.
White Christmas - check.  :-)
Guess who was the first one up in our house this morning - yep, none other than Der Bingle.  When the youngest Bingle child is 16, there's not quite the mad rush in the morning anymore.  So it was me, ready for the morning coffee...
(Well, actually it was the oldest Bingle child who was up first, but that was because she had a 6AM shift as a hospital pharmacist...)
All children here, presents opened, merriment and joy by all - check!
Now we're preparing for the 2nd half of the day.

Check back in here through the new year for a couple of wind-down posts, and news about a recurring feature I'm planning to run throughout the year that will keep Merry & Bright from hibernating quite as hard as in years past.

Once again - Merry Christmas!  Happy Hannukah!  Joyous Kwanzaa!  Many festive wishes for you however you choose to spend the holiday season!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Eve in a Season of Change

Here in Kansas City, in the north part of the city where I live, Snow Miser finally visited us early this Christmas Eve morning and left us with about an inch or so of fresh snow, our first snowfall of the year.  It was a welcome site, making for a beautiful Winter's day, and, with temps not expected to top 30 degrees, guaranteeing us a White Christmas for the first time in several years.

So it's with the oft desired wintry backdrop that we enter into a Christmas Eve and Christmas Day of change this year.

We gained a daughter this past Summer, as my son married his long-time sweetheart, on, literally, the hottest day of the year.  The thermometer reached 99 degrees on that July day, but the heat did not damper the celebration.  So we welcome Kristina to her first Christmas as an official, recognized by church and state, part of our family.

We have a bittersweet change this Christmas Eve.  For the past eleven years my mom has lived in Kansas City, and the past several Christmas Eves have been spent with her.  Earlier this year she moved to Tennessee to live with my sister and her husband.  She moved, at age 97, and she recently celebrated her 98th birthday.  She is doing wonderfully, eating well, being more active than in recent years, and enjoying the Tennessee countryside.  While we will miss her this evening, we are very glad that she is happy and healthy as she prepares for her 99th Christmas day tomorrow.

And we have had sad change this year as well.  We lost my dear father-in-law early this year, and while the circumstances were, in some ways, as good as can be possible, it was still a time of great sadness and loss.  Fortunately for our family as we celebrate Christmas, we have many years of great, happy memories that will counter the inevitable sense of missing that everyone will feel.  His wife, four children, their spouses, and twelve grandchildren will celebrate and remember over these next two days.

As I write this, I'm about an hour and a half away from starting the festivities.  Four o'clock mass, followed by, instead of dinner with my Mom, a lighthearted dinner with my lovely wife and children at my son's apartment, where we will, in the apartment complex's "theatre", watch "A Christmas Story" for the hundredth time, east soup, sandwiches, and Chex Mix, have a few holiday beverages, and enjoy the Eve.  Oh, and the children will open their very special presents from their Tennessee-resident Grandma, which will surprise them greatly, I predict.  And then back home for the night, to see if Santa will still visit the children who are here with us at home this holiday.  Even though they are 22, 19, and 16, I suspect he will.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Final Share of the Year: The Bells of Bethlehem

For my final share of the year, I present the three-album set "The Bells of Bethlehem", a Columbia Special Products package featuring "A Christmas Festival of Song from the Holy Land, Europe, and America".

Record 1 in the set is "Christmas in the Holy Land", opening with the Bells of Bethlehem and continuing with a recording of a holy Mass at Christmastime.  Record 2 in the set is "Christmas in Europe", featuring traditional carols from England, Germany, Austria, France, Poland, and Czechoslovakia.  Record 3 moves to America with performances of traditional and American-written carols from such artists as the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Norman Luboff Choir, and the great Mahalia Jackson.

I have kept this share as six distinct sides, without attempting to break down each side into individual tracks.  Sides 1 and 2, the recording of the Mass, are especially more proper as single continuous recordings, so I decided to retain the entire set this way.  For the adventurous and skilled with Audacity, I have a separate link to wav format files, if you would like to break them into single tracks on your own.

Also included in the set is the 6-page booklet that accompanies the records, with information about the collection and about the individual tracks.

Booklet page 2

So, in time for the penultimate evening before Christmas and a day prior to Christmas Eve, here is the three record set of beautiful music "The Bells of Bethlehem".  I hope you find time to enjoy these as the season winds down and we approach Christmas day.

download link

wav file download link