When I first heard of Bob Dylan releasing a Christmas album I didn’t know whether it was a joke or not. After seeing the artwork, which resembles a cheap 99 cent Christmas card, I still didn’t know if it was a joke. When it was released a few weeks ago I still didn’t understand if Dylan had decided to play a practical joke on the listening public. Despite the odd flavour that the idea of a Dylan Christmas album leaves in one’s mouth, surprisingly it’s likely one of the best Christmas releases of recent years.
Christmas in the Heart is your straightforward, traditional Christmas album. But with Bob Dylan’s distinctive gravelly voice “singing” those carols you’ve come to love (or hate). Dylan’s band sticks to the classic structure of these traditional songs with little room for improvisation. This is somewhat surprising as Dylan has a tendency to alter his own catalog dramatically when touring, but in interviews for Christmas in the Heart he has explained that playing the carols in their traditional style is the only way to play them, “There wasn’t any other way to play it. These songs are part of my life, just like folk songs. You have to play them straight too.” (See full interview here). And in that this is the closest that Dylan has come to a traditional folk album in years.
It’s all in good fun too. Dylan, as horse as his voice has become, gives it his all, especially on “Do You Hear What I Hear?” where you just wait for his voice to give out on the high notes. “I’ll be Home for Christmas” starts with just Dylan and piano creating visions of sitting by the fire, late at night, drink in hand. The piano is complemented by steel guitar midway through the carol emphasizing the atmosphere of loneliness Dylan creates in his take on this classic. Other highlights include a rollicking, accordion fueled “Must be Santa” and the Hawaiian themed “Christmas Island” with the backing female “aloha-ay” vocals.
All of Dylan’s royalties from the album are going to charity including Feeding America, the United Nations’ World Food Programme and Crisis, the UK’s national charity for homeless people. If you are looking for a new Christmas album to add to you collection or curious to see what a Bob Dylan Christmas tune sounds like, I suggest picking it up. The proceeds benefit some great causes and maybe you can sneak it on at that office Christmas party after everyone’s had a little too much eggnog and rum.
Check out the video for “Must be Santa” on youtube