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Bob Dylan: Christmas in the Heart
by Donny Kutzbach
Christmas in the Heart(Sony)
A Bob Dylan Christmas album? It’s like the most improbable of improbable scenarios, but it is fact. It’s just another layer, another reinvention of one of popular music’s—and really popular culture’s—most important and enduring figures, a performer with six decades of stylistic change under his belt. The truth is, it’s not really as much of a reach as many would expect. Dylan is a disciple of the American songbook, and so many great pages of it happen to be Christmas songs. A few years ago, on his terrific Theme Time Radio Hour aired on satellite radio, disc jockey Dylan crafted a two-hour Christmas and New Year’s program which proved to be the greatest holiday mix tape these ears have ever heard. So, Christmas in the Heart might not such a stretch after all.
Still, I can’t lie: It’s initially surreal to hear the Bard of Hibbing howl and growl his way through chestnuts like “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” Those who grew up on the traditional pop Christmas albums of the 1950s and 1960s will recognize that kind of warmth, from the song selection to the arrangements and right down to the slightly saccharine backup singers. Even a dyed-in-the-wool Dylan adherent like me listened and at times heard a groggy-voiced hobo—fresh from fighting over whiskey and stew—croaking his way through seasonal anthems with the modern day clones of the Ray Conniff Singers warbling behind him. That passes after a play or two, and soon I was sucked into the jubilant polka of “Must Be Santa” or the pedal-steel laden version of “The Christmas Song,” where Dylan’s phrasing really brings it all back home.
Ultimately, Christmas in the Heart is cool yule that retains enough traditional beauty. Better news: It’s available on vinyl, so you can spin it on the turntable in between that scratched-up copy of Christmas With the Chipmunks and the Big N Christmas bought at Neisner’s in 1977. Well, that’s what I’ll be doing, anyway…
—donny kutzbachblog comments powered by Disqus
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