O Little Town of Bawlmer

Three expats return to their vocal roots to record Christmas songs with a local twist

December 12, 2005|By STEPHEN KIEHL | STEPHEN KIEHL,SUN REPORTER

You've heard Frank Sinatra sing it.

Bing Crosby and Andy Williams, too.

But, hon, you've never heard a "Silent Night" like this. The Charm City Warblers -- a group of three Baltimore natives now working as musicians in Los Angeles -- have recorded a "Silent Night" in the thickest Bawlmerese this side of a John Waters movie.

They've also recorded "The 12 Days of Christmas" Baltimore-style ("12 Preakness ponies, 11 fried tomatoes, 10 Bertha's mussels" and so on).

"Baltimoreans are really proud of that accent and the colloquialisms and the things that identify their city, and I just thought that people would get a kick out of it," said Harry Orlove, who formed the group. "Baltimoreans have a great, self-deprecating sense of humor ... I thought this would make people laugh."

Orlove, 51, grew up in Liberty Heights but left Baltimore in 1979 to seek his fortune in the music business. (He's still looking, he jokes.) He became an accomplished studio musician, playing on theme songs for shows such as Murder, She Wrote and Knight Rider and performing in bands on The Tonight Show and The Jimmy Kimmel Show.

But every July, he would return to Maryland to teach guitar in a summer program at McDaniel College, and the accent would come back. "All I have to do is watch two local news broadcasts and I'm right back into it," he said.

For years, he had wanted to record Christmas songs in Baltimorese. But costs were prohibitive -- hiring musicians, renting studio time, pressing and distributing the records. Recently, though, the advent of digital music and home recording software made the dream a reality. Both songs can be heard on their Web site, charmcitywarblers.com, and downloaded for 99 cents each.

Orlove brought in two other Baltimore-to-L.A. transplants to help out, Dillon O'Brian and Denny Weston Jr. Orlove and O'Brian wrote the songs, while Weston played drums and sang harmony.

The songs nail that flat, nasally Baltimore accent, with its elongated vowels and dropped "th" sounds. "The 12 Days of Christmas" was a particularly inspired choice due to its frequent use of the word "on" -- a distinctive sound in Baltimorese.

Here's the whole 12-day lineup, written by Orlove: "12 Preakness ponies, 11 fried tomatoes, 10 Bertha's mussels, nine raw oysters, eight Ravens runnin', seven O's a-buntin', six Pollock Johnny's, five Natty Boh's, four painted screens, three steamed crabs, two marble stoops and a field trip to Fort McHenry."

"Silent Night" made the cut because it's full of vowel sounds that draw out the best of Baltimorese. For the same reason, the group is considering "O Holy Night" to be included on a full-length Christmas album to come out next year.

O'Brian sings lead vocals on the songs. A Catonsville native and graduate of Mount St. Joseph High School and Towson University, O'Brian has written songs for Shakira, Bonnie Raitt, Amy Grant and Ringo Starr, among others. He also wrote the theme songs for the NBC sitcoms My Name is Earl and The Office.

Even though he's recorded with the likes of Brian Wilson, O'Brian said it wasn't hard to slip back into Bawlmerese for the Christmas songs. "Whenever I call home, we immediately go into talking Baltimore to each other," he said. "I've kept mine polished up."

He added a few well-placed hon's to "Silent Night," such as: "Sleep in heavenly peace, hon. Slee-eep in heavenly peace."

Orlove and O'Brian say the songs are intended as affectionate, not to make fun of their hometown accent. "We really see this as an homage," Orlove said.

But as a kid, Orlove intentionally tried to lose his Baltimore accent. He said he and his friends would catch each other if they fell too far into Bawlmerese. He's not sure why they did it, except that maybe the accent sounded unsophisticated to them.

Now, it's music to his ears.

stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

THE 12 DAYS OF A BALTIMORE CHRISTMAS

12 Preakness Ponies

11 Fried tomatoes

10 Bertha's mussels

9 Raw oysters

8 Ravens running

7 O's a-buntin'

6 Pollock Johnny's

5 Natty Boh's

4 Painted screens

3 Steamed crabs

2 Marble stoops

1 Trip to Fort McHenry

HEAR The Charm City Warblers sing Christmas songs in Bawlmerese at baltimoresun.com/carols.

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