No ATL holiday raps… no Georgia Christmas on My Mind…
The carol canon is awash with a wealth of Christmas in the South selections, but I’m not finding much for the Cracker State. [Errgahyun, i guess there’s that Lallie Bridges’s smelly stepped on fruitcake of a song: “Georgia at Christmas.” Even if she hadn’t xeroxed that song on to the locations of Carolina, Tennessee, Nashville, and Branson, i can’t abide it’s synthesized elevator mushiness.]
Now i did notice an odd tendency of funsters to parodize ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia.’ These parodeuses mention GA okay, so they need honorable mentions here. “Santa Went Down to Georgia” is one of those i-can’t-blieve-my-church-is-so-cool performances from North Point Community Church Alpharetta, Georgia. It may not be Godly, but it’s inspired and it rocks. (A Very Similar bit by Bob Phelan does not mention Georgia and is called “Santa Went down the Chimney.”) Jonathan and Corben goof on “Frosty the Snowman” with the actual lyrics of the Charlie Daniels fiddle-exercise. It’s a couppla millennials amusing each other hoping to do so with you. It takes its time, and does all right.
Now, without further frustration, welcome Diane Durrett, a smoky-voiced, blue-eyed soulstress. For the last 25 years or so she’s been opening for Tina Turner, Little Feat… playing alongside Sting, The Indigo Girls. Talented, got it? The hollerin’ here is mature and earthy, real country (or a tribute to Bonnie Tyler). The lyrics are fine… I’d hoped for some revelational tell-alling about Jimmy Carter, MLK, Coca-Cola and Stone Mountain. It’s just peaches. Do check out Durrett’s Xmas album, tho.
Okay, I found “A Charleston Christmas” by Richard Hippey, but the insistent tambourine backbeat, overpercussive zydeco (including–why?–tubular bells), and generic cookie-cutter lyrics (No Local Flavor: this could be Xmas Anywhere) keeps me from recommending it. (That falsetto last note–excuse me, I need aspirin.)
Still no great South Carolina Christmas music (not even from Stephen Colbert), at least none that sings out the phrase ‘South Carolina!’
So, back to “Christmas in Carolina”: Just DON’T bother with Lallie Bridges who uses the same bosa nova backbeaten song for “Carolina at Christmas” as she does for Georgia, Tennessee, and otherlocales. I can’t abide this peppermint parrotry, sorry… Not when Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road are pickin’ and grinnin’ like they do for their “Christmas in Carolina.” These grandparent-types look like show-biz newbies, playing coffee houses and bluegrass get-togethers. But their downhome breakdowns make me feel the family joy and warm home & hearths i like associating with the holiday. Cheers!
I gotta tell ya. The Carolinas are worse than the Dakotas for differentiating the holiday music scene. Most songs don’t name N or S, but maintain a solidarity that all yall outsiders won’t get.
Check out Austin Rudy’s “Carolina Christmas.” It’s all USA-centric and too little ’bout states rights. Briana Atwell also sings (her original) “Carolina Christmas” available as a charity fund raiser on iTunes. Slurry blues tells it like it came upon a midnight clear. Even more romantically adult is the Marshall Tucker Band’s brassy disco-edged country version “Christmas in Carolina.” It’s slipperier ‘n a Swiss Colony sausage basket. Charlie Daniels & Friends narrates “A Carolina Christmas Carol” on his album Joy to the World: A Bluegrass Christmas. He’s trying to recapture childhood wonder about the no-snow South, but it’s just old folks’ talk (for over 16 minutes). Not A Song. Martin GT Middle School Choral Department finally has an angelic-sounding selection entitled “Carolina Christmas.” That should get you back on track for the season.
My pick of the “Carolina Christmas”es is by Squirrel Nut Zippers. Legend holds a man who drank potent moonshine (Nut Zipper) wound up climbed up a tree and was dubbed ‘Squirrel.’ These nutballs (there have been eighteen different band mates over the decades) wail with their eclectic fusion of Delta blues, gypsy jazz, 1930s-era swing, klezmer, etc (it’s on Wikipedia). Their Xmas album (Christmas Caravan) is a tradition ’round here, but don’t look for them on tour–they are been there done that so over they’re under clover. Their website has been dormant over a year now. Go, 1990s cat, go.
“Sweet Virginia Christmas” is sweetly popped bluegrass country. Dana Spencer seems to be channeling The Judds with purdy harmonies. It’s from Christmas Across America and worth a little listen.
“Christmas in Virginia” by Lost & Found is even sweeter, quieter, more personal and intimate. It feels like family snowbound with you and maybe one present each.
“Christmas in Virginia” by Clinton Gregory, however, is my guilty pleasure. His dad moved him to Nashville and played the Grand Ole Opry. He noodled on guitar from childhood to backing up Suzy Boguss. He’s known for “Play, Ruby, Play,” and has had all the unfortunate haircuts of the famous country acts. Mostly in his favor, he’s one of the few Independent acts to break into the country charts. (I knew Country Music was all Corporate hocus pocus like in that TV show.)
His album For Country has another contender for Fifty Days: “Christmas in Texas” but it’s nowhere near as heartfelt as this crooning, crowing, cotton-candy carol. Twangy the Halls!
A state of musical heritage! Now we’ve got some choices! Okay mostly bluegrass…
Chuck Picklesimer is so cool. His rambling country elf routine never wears thin. Remember that bit about the cartoon show host who tells you dumb kids what’s really going on grownup style? (It’s abit older than time… not just Kentucky Fried Movie, you know like the overdone crusty old joke a la The Simpsons.) Chuck’s your guy. His “West Virginia Credit Card” will get its own entry later from me. It’s WV enough in tone and tenor, but it’s just not holidaisical enough.
The Weber Brothers whisper out the haunting “Christmas Time in West Virginia.” The percussive jingling and chiming, the high harmonies, it sounds like angels singing over a snow covered valley.
Brrr, we’ve got to spice up the mix; so we’re finally going cross-culturally to the Festival of Lights.
Scott Simons is another struggler. After he got credit for writing the music theme for his weatherman dad on local tv, he ran around the country minstrel-style finally starting TeamMate with his gay-ex. Maybe you saw him piano-ing on XFactor or America’s Got Talent. He champions rights for all, and he’s funny. Check out one of his favorite topics, growing up Jewish in the Very White West Virginia. I love the nostalgic canned audience responses paired with the intimate small-lounge vibe.
Since all the cool stuff goes on in D.C. or Bawlimore, the Christmas songs go there. Not statewide.
“Christmas in Baltimore…Hey, you know it’s gonna be great!” sings Milkshake, a kids’ rock band (nominated for an grammy in that category (did you know that was a thing?). It makes me sing along, but i don’t feel good about myself afterwards. (It’s a lotta D.C. stuff anyway.)
David DeBoy hit big in Charm City with “Crabs for Christmas” nearly three dozen years ago. As to be expected, he milked his media darlinghood into an album–or several. I’s a big fan of his comic Christmas album. DeBoy captures the drawl and the pall of Chesapeakians, all fatalistic and smirking… you know, like that Richard Belzer guy, or that John Waters guy.
“O Little Town of Baltimore” as a play on namesakes is a bit obvious and some death metal dudes (Reigndeer Revolt) (Really? Is that a corporate take on what the kids want, or is it younguns with more talent than creativity?) have chortled out all the lyrics of the 1868 original, with that single word replacement–and a lot of attitude! But DeBoy walks us through his town lyrically, nostalgically, recalling his childhood in a way that doesn’t make ya wanta clap to the rhythm, but remember Christmas the way it ought to be: innocently.
Now, as i canna find a lovely ‘tube for this masterpiece, here are the lyrics (‘sfar as i can discern through the accent):
O Little Town of Baltimore
O little town of Baltimore
How still we see thee lie
On nights like this,
Of Bawlimore things gone by
For in my memory shineth
Traditions all long gone
Like Natty Bo
Their spirits still lives on
We’d all go down
And catch movies at The Grand
Or on the block
We’d give Le Star a hand
Then to The Little Tavern
Where everything was fried
We’d leave that joint
Go down the Point
Yeah–but that was before “Homicide”
If you grew up in Maryland
On your TV you’d see
Miss Nancy Lump,
And Miss Rhea and J.P.
You’d sail with Pete the Pirate
While Captain Fury flew
Stu Kerr was there
With Bozo hair
(And I think he was Mr. Fortune, too
And Professor Cool,
Yeah and the Early Riser)
O, little town of Baltimore
What pleasures you did bring
Like Hochschild Kohn
The Colts end zone
And Haussner’s big ball of string
These sights and sounds are gone now
Dissolved in history
But all of these great memories
Live on inside of me.
Now, one of the most inappropriate Christmas songs ever, “His Favorite Christmas Story” by Capital Lights, begins ‘He meet her up in Delaware in 1937…’. But–despite the shivers it sends up and down my spine (the Christmas miracle is… an ironic death!!), it’s NOT a Delaware song!
I originally settled on “O Little State of Delaware” by Todd Chappelle–a funny travelogue parody, but one of my all time favorite localists is David DeBoy whose ‘O Little Town of Baltimore’ needs to be heard for good ol’ Maryland. No dupies, friends.
Then I stumbled on Jim McGiffin singing “Christmas for Catholics in Delaware,” a basement tape of questionable irony/hostility. It’s so clumsily amusing and earnestly divisive that I can’t stop listening to it. McGiffin looks like Santa and he anchors Celtic Harvest, a Scottish/Irish band that plays private parties and church events with centuries old reels and ballads and all I can say is: are ya honestly Papist yourself, Jimmy, or what? Does the Pope tap his shoes of the fisherman to your little ditty here? What would DJ JC sing?
Washington D.C. gets loads more attention than anything around it, but still has taxation without representation. (Once again, Brit John Oliver exposes our federal faults!)
Most of the caroling around this neck of the woods assassinates characters and has a shelf life of four years. Blah and yawn. But in tracking down a celebration of our Capitol i came across one of those Paul Harvey gems:
Maura Sullivan wrote songs with Jim London for WMZQ based on listener call-ins. It was some fun competitive maestro thing. In 1982 they wanted to get serious and reeled off “Christmas Eve in Washington” in 20 minutes. I wouldn’t call it soft rock (a castigation more than a category), and i wouldn’t call it pop (skews a couple decades past that), in fact i wouldn’t call it if i could find something else. But it fulfills that need people have for catchy chauvanistic radio jingles, mall opening galas, and evening news playouts. For Washingtonians this was an instahit! –and you can continue to buy it via this site (it’s for charity, yo!)
On the sentimental homefront Billy Franks comes out all heartfelt and stuff with “Christmas in Jersey,” Smith and Burrows have a song the story of which is set around Christmastime: “This Ain’t New Jersey.”
But I’m gotsa go weird on youse.
There’s this funny Jewess name a Lauren Mayer. Getta load of this: Yale summa cum laude, cabaret awards from San Francisco, published kids’ musicals… This is why I share, so you’ll know about these fringe artists what survive when only you book ’em for your Elks Lodge Holiday Smoker. Her ovecooked showtune here is half Halloween, half Chanukah, half wish-to-be-played-on Dr. Demento in the ‘Sixties. But she’s in character and having a great time. So give it up for “The Fruitcake That Ate New Jersey.” (No Garden States were harmed in the playing of this ha-ha-holiday song.)
Pennsylvania does not boast much proud local Noel, novelty or otherwise. Double Shot A capella has a heavily Pittsburgh accented Santa song on the ‘tube with a pronunciation gazetteer and a glossary.
(And , sigh, oh yes, the Steelers sing carols badly. But, take it from me, all sports stunts songs are the briefest of curiosities. If you need some hard to understand poorly punned Twelve Days of Christmas, just ask me. I’ll find you better… Oh, okay, and the Flyers.)
Some children’s group sings an original holiday paean to Philadelphia sweetly. Like little angels, although unlike most elementary assemblages that i survived i can understand them. Joyeaux.
And here’s an odd tangent: Jim O’Connor sings “Christmas in Pittsburgh, 1943” as a tribute to his WWII sailor dad. It’s mournfully memorable Irish folk with sailing vocals. Beautiful. Not Christmas. Not really.
But, for me… I gotta go Bobby Rydell. Robert Louis Ridarelli was a wunderkind of the ’60s with hits like “Volare” and “Wild One.” He starred in the stage show “Bye, Bye Birdie” as a teen idol, wink wink. In the show “Grease,” the high school is named for him. “A Philadelphia Christmas” is a cry for help from ’03 signalling his past due date. It says nothing but cliche about Christmas or Philadelphia loudly with much lounge cheese (the personal pronoun ‘I’ is tortured to five or six syllables). At the present he is no longer recording, but he is still touring casinos closing his eyes and leaning back rather than hitting the high notes. Please visit his fan sites and let him know his hits will live forever.
Then listen to this crooning catastrophe and remember the moral of Ozymandius.