Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Der Bingle's Essentials: "The Jethro Tull Christmas Album"

Occupying slot number 3 in Der Bingle's Essentials is "The Jethro Tull Christmas Album", the 2003 (US) release by one of the most innovative and enduring rock bands of our time.  As a collection of new and previously released songs, this album is outstanding, unique, and a must-play every season (and frequently played in the off-season) in my house.

I was a marginal Jethro Tull fan back in '03.  I had my well-played vinyl copy of "Aqualung" from college (who didn't have one of those?) and a second copy of "Thick as a Brick" (the first copy was ruined in the back window of my car due to sun kisses - har), and had heard "Bungle in the Jungle" way too many times on the local Classic Rock radio station (never did get that song), but that was about it.  I liked Tull well and good, but they were as yet not in my top tier.


So, I recall one day seeing an ad for "The Jethro Tull Christmas Album" on Amazon.  It caught my attention immediately.  Like, "Huh??!?  Jethro Tull has a Christmas album?"  Curiosity getting the best of me, I ordered it (on November 3, 2003, to be exact, according to Amazon).  And once it arrived in the mail and I put it in the CD player, from the very opening notes of "Birthday Card at Christmas" I was hooked.  Absolutely loved it.  Through and through the songs were of the classic Jethro Tull sound, and they were of Christmas, the Winter Solstice, and many things seasonal but yet atypical of the usual Christmas song fare.  

The originals - "A Christmas Song", "Another Christmas Song", "Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow", "First Snow on Brooklyn", and especially "Ring Out Solstice Bells" are wonderful, edgy, a bit pagany in spots, and completely signature Tull.

The re-imagined standards - "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", "We Five Kings", and "Greensleeved" are masterworks.  These are the ones that hooked me completely, and soon graced my annual Christmas compilations over the next couple of  years. 

And that leads to an interesting aspect of this essential album.  After including those three standards on annual comps, it was many years before I could find the right spot for any other song from this album, finally placing "Ring Out Solstice Bells" in the 2016 edition.  Jethro Tull doesn't fit next to Bing or Frank or Dean or Johnny or Doris.  But as a collection of amazing seasonal music by a Heavy Metal Grammy-Award winning band (look it up if you don't know the story - worth the read), it's a beautiful collection.  Ian, Martin and the rest made some remarkable Christmas music.

By the way, since buying this album, I've acquired most of the Jethro Tull catalog, seen them live once (with the angelic Lucia Micarelli joining them on violin), and am considering seeing Ian Anderson's 50 Years of Jethro Tull later this summer.  

This is in my personal top 10, and is an absolute essential.  If you have never heard their rousing cut of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", head to Amazon or Spotify or Youtube and listen.  Whew!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Planet Comicon: Signing Off

I thought I'd leave this year's Planet Comicon adventure with a few final words and observations.  As I've said before, the most enjoyable part of attending for me is meeting the authors that exhibit and chatting with them for a bit.  And, if their book strikes me as something in my preferred genre(s), I'll buy it (or at least one of their offerings).  Kristin Helling's Christmas book hit the bulls-eye, and  J.R. Frontera's sci-fi collection was excellent.

Oh - hey - look what I found on the top shelf of a $5 rack of graphic novels:


Cool!  Christmas strikes again at Planet Comicon!

So, that's it for this year.  I found some other nice and cheap graphic novels, plus not quite so cheap GNs in the Star Trek and Riverdale (Archie) universes, signed by the artists.  And, a (cheap again) compendium of "The Elongated Man", one of my fave super-heroes from my formative years (oh so long ago).  Add in seeing panels from two Walking Dead actors and the amazing Alice Cooper, and it was a great couple of days!

Until next year....

We now return to normal Christmas music programming.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Sights from Planet Comicon Pt 2.

The continuing saga of Planet Comicon, through pictures.

Daphne and Velma.


Lots of people carry around large items.

Aquaman, I presume?

Ok - this is some serious Pennywise makeup. Well done!

Wonder Woman and Batgirl.

These guys were cool.

Not sure who they are, but nice costume work.

Again, I don't know the character being portrayed, but kudos for the glovework.

This dude.  It was February, remember.  And I saw him both Friday and Saturday  Made me wonder if he re-applied the body paint both days, or slept in it Friday night.

Spider people?

A trio of cosplayers.

The Joker has been apprehended.  Back to Arkham for him.


Sights from Planet Comicon Pt. 1

Here are a few pictures from Planet Comicon, in case 1) you've never been to a 'Con and want to know what it's like; or 2) you want some gnarly costume ideas; or 3) you enjoy seeing what some of the serious folks do with their costumes.

Me and Darth.  After the picture, I said "Thank you Lord Vader".  He replied "You're welcome". 

My daughter and her hand-knitted Wonder Woman shawl.


 Pursued by a Dalek after taking the picture.  I might have heard it say "Exterminate!"

He's a midnight toker.

Supergirl and friend.


 The real Alice Cooper.  His panel was excellent!


Thursday, March 1, 2018

Dispatch from Planet Comicon: Author J.R. Frontera

As I mentioned in the previous post, local author J.R. Frontera was at the Wordwraiths Books table along with Kristin Helling.  Intrigued by some of her books, I made my way back to their table after my initial visit (and purchase of Kristin's Christmas book) to buy a copy of J.R's collection of science fiction stories titled "End of Line".

It's a compact book, with six short sci-fi stories, perfect for taking with you as a read-on-the-go (as long as you're not driving - safety first) or as an accompaniment for a quiet Sunday morning at home with a cup of coffee.  Either way, "End of Line" is a great little bunch of stories.


The opener "Black-market Body" is a strong, dark tale of Transference, a body-swap (or intellect/soul-swap, depending on your point of view) between two persons.  Of all the stories in "End of Line", this one has the most depth and tension.  It stands alone very well, however, as is described in the author's note, it is also the foundation for a novel, establishing key characters and plot points.  Ms. Frontera has very skillfully given us a complete story while in parallel setting up the framework for a long form.  Well done :-)

"P.U.P.P.E.T" is an excellent very short work full of aliens on a distant planet and a robot sent for a very crucial mission.  "In Compensation" is an extra-worldly exercise in surprise.  And the closing story "A Lovely Day for a Parade" is quite funny, a break in the darkness in the preceding stories (recognized as such by the author).  And it has werewolves.  You know, because, werewolves in a parade.

The author's notes at the end of each story provide the reader with insight into the creation of each story, many from writer's exercises and story prompts.  For me, the notes add a lot into the book overall, letting me get a glimpse of the author's mind at work.  Pretty cool.

You can get a copy of the book on Amazon (link is below).  However, if you'd like a free copy, and have an e-reader, you can get it for nothing but a little information and signing up on J.R's e-mail list on her website.  Me, I'm glad I bought a hard copy (signed, inscribed - I'm a sucker for signed books).  If you decide to treat yourself with the free version, please check out her other works while you're there, and if you like "End of Line" as much as I did, then support the author with a purchase of one of her other books.

J.R. Frontera website
Wordwraiths Books website
"End of Line" on Amazon
Author page on Amazon

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Christmas at Planet Comicon

Planet Comicon, Kansas City's annual convention of comics, cosplay, craftery, fantastic art, and science fiction, came earlier than usual this year.  Mid-February welcomed the Con, and fortunately so did acceptable weather, albeit but as expected, a bit on the cold side. 

My annual visit to Planet Comicon turned into a 2-day event this year as I opted to go on the lighter-attended Friday opening day as well as the much-more crowded Saturday.  One of my favorite parts of the Con is visiting the local authors that are exhibiting to promote and sell their works.

So, as I was walking through the cluster of local authors and scanning their wares, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a Christmas book!  "Twas the Night Before Christmas - On the River" by Kristin Helling was nonchalantly displayed on the Wordwraith Books table, sharing space with the other books by Ms. Helling and J.R. Frontera, both manning the table, and Rod Galindo, also an author published by WordWraith Books.


Of course, a Christmas book at Comicon hooked my attention, so I engaged with Kristin about the book.  Turns out, in addition to being an author, Kristin is also the owner of Parkville Coffee, and she wrote "Twas the Night Before Christmas - On the River" as an inspiration from the annual "Christmas on the River" celebration in Parkville, MO.  So, since 1) I love supporting local talent, 2) I obsessively collect Christmas books (yes, in addition to music), and 3) Kristin and J.R. were super nice and engaging in our conversations, I bought a copy.  It's a wonderful little book, capturing the spirit of the celebration in a fantasy poem (encouraged by the most famous Christmas poem of all) of the arrival of The Roaster and his eight sacks of beans.  The book is beautifully illustrated by artist and musician Micah Buzan.

So, what a nice surprise for me during the opening hours of Planet Comicon!

Click the links to learn more about Kristin Helling and Wordwraith Books.  And, stay tuned, as there will be more to come soon about fellow Wordwraith author J.R. Frontera.

Wordwraith Books link
Kristin Helling website
"Twas the Night Before Christmas - On the River" on Amazon
Parkville Coffee website  (Their coffee is excellent!)

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.