Friday, October 16, 2009

bob dylan "christmas in the heart" album review

christmas in october? when i heard that bob dylan would release a "christmas" album (something he'd never done in a 45+ year string of album releases) my first thought was that it was a put on. even when i had it in my hands, was still unsure whether it wasn't some sort of april fools prank in october! but, i'm happy to report that dylan does, in fact, play it straight with christmas (15 songs worth) on the new album. and it really is christmas in october for dylan fans - a second dylan album (following up on "together through life" released last spring) in one year!

while the timing is aggressive - a month before thanksgiving (when most people start to turn their attention to christmas) - the weather has certainly obliged to make it a timely release! we've had an unrelenting taste of winter weather this week - each day colder and nastier than the previous one (the temperature - in the 30's - is 20 degrees below average outside). it had the unintended consequence of getting some wood burning fireplaces started up. it was the perfect atmospheric backdrop to listen to, via ipod, during my training runs!

i will admit that i love christmas music. even though we have roughly a dozen christmas albums (of various genres) i always go back to the beach boys, dean martin, bing crosby, vince guaraldi, and followed in recent years with turns of james taylor. occasionally, to mix it up a little, we toss in elvis and john denver. i could continue that list, but the point here is whether dylan's "christmas in the heart" makes it into that (or your) christmas rotation.

the answer may depend on whether you are a dylan fan.

despite 15 songs, the album is only 42 minutes long. none are original dylan tunes, most covers of 40s and 50s holiday standards. most of the songs are just 2 minutes, with only 4 clocking in at over 3 minutes. the cover art (a two horse open sleigh) harkens back to 19th century currier and ives (and moves up a half century with a surprise bette paige santa pinup on the back cover of the liner notes!). all of dylan's present and future royalties from "christmas in the heart" will be shared equally by three charities that seek to feed the hungry.

my favorite song on the album is "christmas island," the lyle moraine number is probably more at home with jimmy buffet than dylan. but dylan does it proud, and it works. dylan brings in dave hildago from los lobos to play the accordion on "must be santa" - the most "out there" (outlandish?) cover on the album. dylan plays it as a frenetic tex-mex polka - on speed. but, amazingly, the bizarre rapid-fire take worked! dylan was more at home - and comfortable - with "christmas blues." it's probably my second favorite cut from the album. he does a workmanlike job on "i'll be home for christmas" - the raspy voice box actually enhanced the contrasts and made the song another winner. "the little drummer boy" also works for dylan.

but dylan was probably out of his element on the more religious songs - that required a strong voice to pull off. with the exception of "o' come all ye' faithful" where listening to dylan run through the latin passage took me back to catholic school days and made the song enjoyable (again via contrasts), he just doesn't have the sweet angelic voice to pull of "hark the herald angels sing." that number was practically unlistenable!

which gets me back to the dylan fan dichotomy. as a dylan fan i enjoyed "christmas in the heart" and recommend it to fellow dylanites without reservations! however, non-dylan fans may cringe at his croaky voice spread under the mistletoe! katie found it "painful" - and repeated wanted me to turn it off (the sensibilities of a 14 year old). pat, in her charitable way, suggested dylan sounded a little like burl ives - but was totally underwhelmed by dylan's take on christmas!

but since i get the last word (smile) and i'm a dylan fan (smile again) - it gets a thumbs up!

here's the track list:

Here Comes Santa Claus
Do You Hear What I Hear?
Winter Wonderland
Hark The Herald Angels Sing
I'll Be Home For Christmas
Little Drummer Boy
The Christmas Blues
O' Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles)
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Must Be Santa
Silver Bells
The First Noel
Christmas Island
The Christmas Song
O' Little Town Of Bethlehem


Bruce M said...

I'm loving it.

Jeff said...

To become a Christmas staple every year in my Ohio home.