Friday, December 24, 2010

Bob Dylan 50: Christmas In The Heart

The second quickie release from Bob Dylan in the same calendar year was even more surprising than Together Through Life. Early word that Dylan, of all people, was doing a Christmas album fueled skeptics on its own, but with a title like Christmas In The Heart and a cover right out of Currier & Ives, it had to be a hoax, right?
It wasn’t. Christmas In The Heart really is a full-fledged collection of Bob’s takes on tried-and-true holiday favorites, just like they used to make, full of odes to Santa and sleigh riding, as well as bona fide hymns and carols. Its release was greeted with equal amounts of surprise, derision and fawning, and if you’ve got nothing better to do, you can scour the interwebs for all the pros and cons about the album. But here’s the deal: he obviously knows these songs inside and out, having already devoted two full hours to the genre on his radio show. Each of the tracks brings to mind such classic Christmas LPs by the likes of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. That’s not to say he sounds like those people; it’s the spirit that pervades. (After all, Jesus came from a Jewish family too.)
Of course, any hope for a smooth listen disappears halfway through the second line of “Here Comes Santa Claus” where Our Hero stumbles on a note you’d think he’d be able to hit. Likewise, “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” deserve much better deliveries than Bob seems able to here. He also must have decided that “The Little Drummer Boy” wasn’t supposed to provide actual rhythm, choosing instead to run all over the timing.
Still, these red flags shouldn’t dissuade fans from picking up the album. He’s perfectly suited for “Christmas Island” and “The Christmas Blues”, and “Must Be Santa”, where he rhymes the names of four reindeer with those of eight recent presidents, is an absolute riot. (Better yet, watch the video, which should make even the screwiest Scrooge crack a smile.)
All the songs on Christmas In The Heart are played straightforward, and were probably recorded very quickly with little thought given to whether any should be tried in a key more suited to Bob’s current, extremely limited range. The accordion is kept to a minimum, and the “mixed voices” add a nice counterpoint throughout. Best of all, there’s nothing of the pretension you hear on, for instance, Sting’s yuletide album, which came out the same season. It’s just supposed to be fun. And it is. Besides, all proceeds of sales from are intended to feed the hungry, which is a pretty nice move in these troubled times. So don’t expect much and enjoy it while you can. After all, it’s only once a year.

Bob Dylan Christmas In The Heart (2009)—3

4 comments:

  1. no it's not supposed to be "just" fun; it's also supposed to be beautiful, with some of bob's finest singing and some of his band's finest playing. and it's supposed to touch your heart. and it's supposed to remind you of your childhood; and its supposed to help you see these old songs in new ways; in my opinion that is!

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  2. I downloaded this a few nights ago and surprisingly, I like it. I was critical of the release last year when it came out but caved this year and bought it. I figured if I'm gonna get in the Christmas spirit, who better to listen to than Dylan? 'Must Be Santa' and 'Little Drummer Boy' are worth the 7.99 alone.... Merry Christmas.

    December 24, 2010 10:29 PM

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  3. The worst singing of his career by a country mile (you'd think the ways in which he fails to hit so many easy notes with his rusted, grating muffler of a voice would silence his most ardent apologists, but I guess the Kool-Aid is stronger than anybody ever could have realized), but it remains an interesting little curio, even if I still find it a little embarrassing to listen to a year after its release. It was worth it for "Little Drummer Boy," though (most odd that you red-flagged it), which is the only well sung song on the record and on which Dylan is joined by pitch-perfect accompaniment.

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  4. I love this album....he breaks barriers and sets new standards....this album is wholeheartedly honest.

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