made a Christmas album. Now he can hopefully check that one off his list and go back to what he does best: everything else. There has been quite a bit of discussion and anticipation surrounding Christmas in the Heart
. Few people ever expected to hear a full album of Christmas songs from Dylan, who grew up Jewish and was a born-again Christian for a time, but who has, generally stuck to the more secular. Now we know why - Dylan's voice and talent is not tailor made for holiday music.
Maybe It's a Joke
There are two possible assessments of Christmas in the Heart
, as far as I can tell. One would be that it's a brilliant, tongue-in-cheek collection of Dylan-ized traditional Christmas carols. In this version, his mispronunciation of the Latin in "Adeste Fidelis" is an hilarious statement about singing in the "dead" language. His choice of backing singers with particularly angelic voices to contrast his sandpaper-across-concrete voice is one indication toward this reading of the album. It's hard not to laugh at "Must Be Santa" - arguably one of the best tracks on the record - with its bouncy accordion and call-and-response ridiculous lyrics.
In fact, in support of the Dylan-is-messing-with-us version of this review, the original songs on Christmas in the Heart are pretty good. The aforementioned "Must Be Santa" is downright danceable. "Christmas Island" is unabashedly funny and catchy. It's only a shame there aren't more originals.
Mostly It's Just Bad
The other reading of Christmas in the Heart
is that it's just a really bad record. The arrangements are over-the-top corny and Dylan's voice does not work with holiday music melodies. This is an artist whose career has pulled heavily from traditional song, building on traditional melodies and themes and making them his own. It would seem to go without saying that his proficiency with interpreting tradition would lend itself to traditional holiday standards, but it just doesn't. It almost blatantly pokes fun at the very idea of Christmas music, but not quite.
Judging from Dylan's most recent releases, he still has impeccable taste in arranging and composing music, so the fact that Christmas in the Heart is so remarkably not-good is perplexing at best. It's hard not to wonder if it would even be taken seriously if it didn't have Dylan's name on it.
Regardless, it's an album from Bob Dylan. No doubt there are a thousand ways to listen to it, and no doubt it will find its way onto more than a few speakers. All proceeds go to charity, which has to be applauded. It's hard to advise anyone not to buy an album that was made for charity. Just don't expect Christmas in the Heart to ring out as one of Dylan's greatest artistic achievements. Unless it is a joke, in which case, bravo.