State Forty-Two: Utah

Michael Foster Mehl, a Utahn, brings out the pioneer/cowboy spirit with his “Christmas in Utah.” He’s that kind of rugged individualist that has a youtube channel with only a couple of his songs on it–nothing else. So let’s give the guy his privacy. Pretty pop country song though, almost a bit of a yodel there. (Is he tracking harmony with himself? Cool.) And i love those place names placements.
Time to break some rules, then. I can’t stand ’12 Days of Christmas’ parodies. After Allen Sherman and ‘The Great White North’ they were so over! (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Bob Rivers!) The worst of Zoo morning shows, NFL, and NBA team fund-raising jokey witlessness drains to this level of unimaginative fan-pandering. Some day when i’m very unhappy with life, i will share with you the best of the worst of 12 Days.
Despite all that wreath-wearing railing and ranting, I do like Robert Lund. Lund is a parodist (does he list that on his  taxes?) for radio shows in Salt Lake City and around the entire nation. He is nonpareil in the art form of “Parodeus” (that is, to take a modern day pop tune and solemnize a Chistmas subject for the lyrics). (Okay he puts the humor to all manner of subjects.) But, for today, we will explore the converse, the “Caroldy” (a Christmas carol with contemporary application of lyric, natch). In “12 Days of Utah Christmas” Robert Lund, another Ute, explores the complicated life of the Mormon. Though I’m not a fan of stereotyping all of Utah as LDS, i gotta say Lund has done something the members of Temple can chortle at… something rare in our current state of restless intolerance. (Oddly, the only Youtube selection i can find is repetitive and less referential. The cut off his Excellent Album Elves Gone Wild has all the great inside-joke lines.)

Elves Gone Wild

State Forty-One: Nevada

I lived in the Silver State for a bit. Never regretted it, ’cause i was in my twenties. Never again though.
Meet Me in Nevada” by Gary Oleyar comes from that pretty great album Christmas Across America. This musician violinist (currently on tour with Loggins and Messina) treats us to travelogue with sleeze. The bubblegummy retro ragtime flounce its way through the state at Christmas time, but leaves me a bit lost.
The Willard Grant Conspirancy’s alt country “Christmas in Nevada” tells it like it isn’t the holidays. Christmastime is a mark on the calendar while traveling through the blasted alt-countryside. (Nice electric keyboarding–puts me in a Dire Straits kinda mood.)
Hey–guess what’s funny? The sincerity and purity of the Christmas spirit contrasted with the excess and depravity of Las Vegas! Get it? Ho ho, ho? –okay, not that funny.
Some songs are just about that irony: no Jesu Christo, no St. Nicholas, no hall-decking. Just–damn, stuck in The Gambling Capitol of the World at this joyous time: isn’t this ridickio!
Odd Limey Marc Almond complains about needing love and time fleeting and ‘The City of Steel’ in his “Christmas in Vegas.” But I don’t get anything seasonal or Nevadan here. Synth when are we expected to get this music?
Heavy metal guitarist Paul Gilbert bangs annoyingly on a piano and wails about the pointless glam of Vegas during a time of love in “Las Vegas Christmas.” He comes across as having something to say here, almost Elvis Costello-ish. I give it a thumbs mostly up.
Since Vegas is an international play land, you might also consider the Persian version, “Xmas in Las Vegas” by Tara. Apart from a couple of Strip backgrounds, i’m not sure why this is Vegasibly Holly Jolly.
On the other hand, LV XMas is all inappropriately contradictorally comic, so the chuckling choisters just gotta give it the old double down do-it-to-it standup sing-a-wrong.
King of the Fa la la lounge singers would have to be Richard Cheese (& The Lounge Against the Machine). His “Christmas in Las Vegas” deals out all the double entendres you’d expect, and a couple more. His whole album Silent Nightclub is worth the trip.
Rick Poppe and others celeb impersonate the Rat Pack (& der Bingle) doing Nancy Hawthorne’s “Christmas Strip.” It’s four the hard way.
Also talented, but barely Vegas; nearly Christmas, is “A Vegas Lounge Christmas” by the Five Card Studs. I likes me some parody, and this take on ‘My Favorite Things’ (how is that a Xmas song?!) a la “My Favorite Drinks” swings hard. (Don’t stay for the morning show chitchat after the song.)
More modern carols redone: Hope Spin rewarms ‘Christmas in Hollis’ as “Christmas in Las Vegas.” It’s not as clever, and her repetitive dance move makes me a little sea sick.
Rocky Zharp’s “Christmas in Las Vegas” is appropriately full of yearning bluesy harmonica and screechy violins and wheezing vocals. He’s a funny guy more than a musical guy.
You can’t win if you don’t play. And Daniel Po-in-yea does play–or at least bust(le) a rhyme–his way through a strange, addled (tambourine afflicted) soul song: “Merry Christmas to You, Las Vegas.” Jesus saves… so he can gamble on your soul, sinners!
An actual plea to outoftowners (who own Lost Wages) going for it would be Sin City Sinners staging a UK Invasion-style rock anthem to Merry Vegas: “Christmas in Vegas.” It’s awful fun and makes me miss the (naive part of the) ’70s. Starting out as tentatively as a tourist, this earnest euphony rocks the spirit in which Vegas is given… just don’t forget the sarcastic Scrooge sermon, son!

State Forty: Idaho

Gem State? More like Tater State!
Many have heard “It Happened in Sun Valley” (at least from the South Park Christmas album). It is NOT a Christmas song. It is a Winter-time have fun in a ski lodge song. It appears on a dozen or more Christmas compilations from The Glenn Miller Singers to Mel Torme to Jo Stafford. But no, not going to address it here.
Melissa Nielsen sings about how geedee cold it gets in the winter in Idaho with “The Idaho Song.” It’s yet another parody off ‘Frozen,’ if you collect those. I admire her homemade spunk and vocal power despite the amateur tech here. But it’s a ‘Let It Go’ parody and those are so-o-o long.
How ’bout some Country Swing with those Braun Brothers (Gary, Billy, and Muzzie–who has many more albums to his name)? “Christmas In These Idaho Hills” captures the laid back, effortless music picked out by these strong-willed hearty folk (i’ve got in-laws from Nampa–they cool). This album, When the Cowboy Sings, came out nearly thirty years ago, on cassette. To get airplay, these entrepreneurial bards sent copies to radio stations in sacks of taters. Hope you get one in your stocking!

State Thirty-Nine: Wyoming

The Equality State says nothing more to me than solid rock at mountainous altitudes where no one should be expected to survive. Like Santa.
But if you wanna get all hand-holdy and Kumbaya i suggest you listen to “Wyoming Winter Wonderland” by Dan Schafer (from his wonderful Christmas Across America collection). The unconcerned banjo plinkling in the background, the group harmony like it’s an Old Navy ad, the metaphorical weather observations… it’s that late in the party drowsy sensation. Netflix up the “Charlie Brown” somebody!
I’m confused by the inappropriately light-hearted “Free Frosty (From Wyoming)” by Amie Vandevrie. It posits that unless our famous mobile molded snowman leaves cowboy country, he’ll melt. You mean like it’s warmer in New England? And don’t get me started on the “dance version” embedded in this song. I’m not ready to rave over Frosty’s remains.
I’ll settle for a nice quiet fireside reflection on the season with “Wyoming Christmas” by John A McCallum. This Canadian cowboy complained he ran out of songs he liked to play, so he started writing. It was because of that love for music that he named his Youtube channel “Tune Smitten.” A homegrown British Colombian boy he credits the sound of ‘Cheyenne, Wyoming’ as the inspiration for this pretty winter romance: “no time to be alone.” Bonus for lyrics included in the video. It’s like a little gift for me.

State Thirty-Eight: Montana


Big Skies, fly fishing… okay, ever since Jared Diamond’s Collapse all I can see for Montana is poisonous, poorly planned pollution and poverty. Hey it IS kinda like the American Christmas!

John Denver had a 1991 Christmas TV special entitled ‘Montana Christmas Skies‘ but i can find no Xmas songs about MT. Can you? (Just ‘Wild Montana Skies’ about the pushpull of countrycity on a poor boy’s soul. No redemptive births here, son.)

Have you met my favorite musical activist, Krista Detor? Detor is a song writer that has charted around the world and also stirred up humanist thoughts with her raucous poetry. From her album Silver Wood: Winter Songs she gives us “Sheriff Santa From Montana.” This ‘humor’ is a bit of cartoon fun with 21st C darkness. I suggest someone post-haste make a Plympton-style animation to go with this epic tale of kiddie moralism.

State Thirty-Seven: North Dakota

State Thirty-Six: North Dakota
Peace Garden State out!
If ND begins and ends with family for you, please consider the following: “North Dakota Christmas (Remembering Larry Gaudreau)” is a song in which Rosie Gaudreau, looking not-quite-five-years-old, sings (her own song) solemnly about God and Love and Christmas and Grampa Larry (who it seems has recently passed) AND North Dakota (it’s there at the end). Now you can get all snarky and sneer at these middle-class values, but you wish you had a video album/home movie like this for the holidays. Wow. Wait, i got something in my eye.
Less well done is the home movie/music video by Randi Perkins “If Its Christmas, It Must Be Home In Dakota.” This schmaltzena-tor actually hails from, loves, and writes about N. Dakota. (Fun fact: John Denver knew his first producer.) He teaches music in Colorado now. If you’re not familiar with big family get-togethers crammed into front rooms for pictures, food, picking up wrapping, tending to the wee ones… this cherished dance is a an overwarm reminder of what the holidays really mean: people (for good and bad). And don’t miss the footage of… all… that… snow. (But don’t tell Brad Millison this guy used his melody from “Christmas in Kansas City.” Please. No one needs that sort of unpleasantness.)

State Thirty-Six: South Dakota

The Dakotas are easy to tell apart because one has Mt. Rushmore. I just don’t remember which one.
Gary Hunn’s “Christmas in South Dakota” connects the dots of holiday homelinenss town to town and who out-hospitalizes the other. He’s as sincere as throat cancer… erm, uh, try not to focus on his troubled vocalizations–look at the Marlboro Country backgrounds instead.
While we’re near the rez, let’s talk Manifest Destiny just a bit. Native Americans have learned (or been force fed) Christian customs since whites got here, so their take on Christmas singing is sadly the same: uncomfortable young people lined up to pretend-harmoinze lyrics the elders beam at in appreciation inside of community centers the grownups wouldn’t be caught dead in otherwise. Sing for the Lord, ya goddam ungrateful punks!

Okay, some of the Amerinds take pity on the genocide-curious and sing our trads in their language so we can have some kind of pity/guilt annunciation. Jana Sampson, a North Carolinian with a psych degree, has become a pop/R&B singer of some note. I’m not saying she cashed in on her Lumbee and Tascarora heritage to make an album entitled American Indian Christmas, but I am saying I don’t know how good her Cherokee (“What Child is This?“) or her Apache (“Joy to the World“) accents really are. But The Plains were once the land of Lakota, so you might consider “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” in that language. And consider Jana (now) Mashonee, too. She’s an absolute babe.

The Rockford Mules line up next with “Merry Christmas, South Dakota.” Finally “loud rock music with a dash of Gospel, Southern, and Stoner” (says their Facebook page). These are fine Minnesota boys with one album. But you can tell they’ve toured through the Coyote State (suffering, missing loved ones, barely tolerating the road and weather conditions: as depicted on their ‘tube view). (I can’t think of too many music videos that cure you of ever wanting to strap on a guitar, but this one–boy howdy what a drear existence!) Christmas is often depicted as depressing (not JUST because you’re in SD), which is why we try to cheer you up so much. Don’t worry, have candy!

State Thirty-Five: Nebraska

A lotta folks sing a lotta trads in NB.
Josh Osborne has an original carol “Nebraska” on Christmas Across America. It’s a pretty country tune about rushing through the snow to get home to the love of his life. Croony longheld notes, not quite yodeling. Pop country MOR, but gets the job done.
And keep in mind, we are disqualifying Mulberry Lane’s “Christmas in Nebraska” because it’s a copy of “X in WI” and “X in IA.”
So for today i’m going to go wild via Curt Bright instead. With his brother Randy, Curt plays as the String Beans (available for children’s parties). In his video “Cornhusker Christmas” Curt riffs and japes all the local-entia with wacky stock sfx and basic hi jinx video editing. Try not to giggle ’til Xmas now. (And DO wait for the final line.)

State Thirty-Four: Kansas


The most Kansas friendly Please-Come-Visit-Us rendition would have to be Paul Ritchie’s “Kansas Merry Christmas,” basically commissioned by the mayor to the visiting ASCAP award winner and resort and cruise ship singer. You’re going to need some crackers for the cheese. Ritchie has a hobby of cozying up to his favorite spots with holiday hymns for Kentucky and Michigan as well.

Just as maudlin middle of the road pop is “Christmas in Kansas City” by Brad Millison. It’s so retro 1985 cool i’m flashing back to liking Christopher Cross songs. For an updating with sweet soul see Heartland Men’s Chorus backing Dustin Rapier in one of those poignant Christmas concert moments that makes fat bankers’ wives cry.

The most playful Kansas carol is from Prairie Rose Rangers. “Christmas in Kansas” is boot kickin’ fun and you can get a glimpse of this tune on the ‘tube where they’re all bedecked in enormous plaid. Sadly, it’s only a glimpse.
My favorite Wintertime Singing for the Sunflower State is down-home Kristie Stremel belaboring being snowed in with her “Kansas Snow Song.” She’s clever and talented and generous (I guess: she holds a Favorite Snow Photo Contest in the middle of the video on the ‘tube). The song focuses on a late snowfall when Spring is supposed to be here. But it’s so honest and beautiful I have to put it first.

State Thirty-Three: Oklahoma

Blake Shelton owns this category with “Oklahoma Christmas.” His duet with Reba McIntire serves up canned corn homesickness about that special Sooner State of mind while being stuck in yucky Tennessee. It’s measured and moderate and has some fine guitar riffs. But it’s overplayed (and too Trail of Tears) and i can’t do that to you, i can’t i can’t i can’t.
Now Dana Spencer belts out “Oklahoma Christmas Spirit” “…straight from the heart of the heartland!!” and, while the fiddle helps, i begin to suffer from pudding filling. By the by, her pretty warbling and bountiful belting can be found on my fave Songs Across America–good stuff.
On to the wonderful and weird… Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis have been happily married with kids for years. And singing on the road (Texas mostly) with the Bruce and Kelly Show. They come off as homegrown, straight-shooting, the real deal. “Oklahoma Christmas” seems to document him at the in-laws’ holiday gettogether outtastate and the problems with translation Texans have with Oklahomans. At the end of the live track Kelly admits, “‘Sfunny ’cause it’s true.” And totally appropriate for the holidays.