Review : Bob Dylan - Christmas in the Heart
PitchforkWhen Bob Dylan-- the patron saint of sneering, disaffected poets-- announced he was releasing a collection of classic Christmas songs for charity, smirkers got smirkier: What, after all, is more absurd than a beloved iconoclast embracing the schmaltziest, most achingly commercial genre of all? It sounded insane. And it is insane, sort of.
The goal of Christmas in the Heart (all domestic proceeds go to Feeding America, one of the nation's leading hunger-relief nonprofits) is hardly reinvention. These are mostly traditional renderings, and even Dylan's craggy, get-off-my-lawn snarl-- the inadvertent template for decades of idiosyncratic vocalists-- is topped with a shiny red bow (is that a hint of prim, finger-snapping croon on "Do You Hear What I Hear?"). Still: There's something silly about Christmas music, there's something silly about Bob Dylan singing "Christmas Island" ("How'd ya like to hang a stocking on a great big coconut tree?"), and there's a lot silly about the cheesecake portrait of Bettie Page in a Santa suit and garters that graces the inside CD booklet (a companion piece, perhaps, to the Hallmark card-aspiring sleigh ride on the cover). Ergo: How seriously are we supposed to take Christmas in the Heart? And moreover: How seriously are we supposed to take Bob Dylan in 2009?
It's not hard to presuppose that Dylan-- who has an entire encyclopedia, dozens of nonfiction treatises, and at least a handful of college courses dedicated to parsing his lyrics and intent-- is either deeply irritated or deeply bemused by his anointment, and is responding to over-the-top canonization by doing deliberately oddball stuff (see also: leering at underwear models in a Victoria's Secret commercial). Even the title-- eerily reminiscent of Kenny Rogers' 1998 turd, Christmas From the Heart-- feels tongue-in-cheek. But maybe that's a trap, too-- maybe, like zillions of red-blooded, religiously ambiguous American dudes, Bob Dylan just likes Christmastime and Adriana Lima. And we're stupid for presuming anything more....full text
BlogspotWhen I first heard about Dylan’s Christmas project, I must admit I thought it was a joke. But it proved to be true, and the official worldwide release is October 12th. Samples of all of the tracks on the record were probably by a mistake, available on the Internet September 17th. This preliminary review is based on these samples, not the CD.
First of all, Christmas In the Heart is not a new Bob Dylan CD. It`s a charity project. Dylan and the musicians do not get a single penny according to Dylan’s web site. The record does not include any original Dylan tunes. All the tracks are Dylan’s interpretation of traditional Christmas songs. The fifteen tracks are picked mostly from the American Christmas tradition and include songs like “Here Comes Santa Claus”, “Winter Wonderland”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” among others. Hence, this is not a record for Dylan fans, which I believe tend to hate Christmas carols in general. The record is obviously targeted for the general public. The whole idea is to sell records, generate money and to give poor people free meals during Christmas. This is important facts to keep in mind.
In my opinion, Dylan has loosened up over the last few years: He has finally stopped fighting his own legend. He recent records exposes humor, irony and is more playful than ever. It`s like he is thinking that life isn`t that serious after all. Dylan`s inspiration from traditional blues, jazz and music hall songs from the 1920 to 1950 is obvious and manifested on “Love & Theft” from 2001 and “Modern Times” 2006. It`s also recognizable on his more bluesy 2009 effort “Together through life”....full text
VentvoxGiven Dylan’s adoration of the music of the 40’s and 50’s that has infused his most recent works, it’s surprising that he has waited this long to unleash a Christmas album onto the unsuspecting public. Dylan’s affection and often masterful interpretation of songs that have been handed down from generation to generation has known no previous boundaries so why should one seasonal album be out of the question? One could assume that the disc would feature choice songs and possibly some obscurities because of Dylan’s involvement with his Theme Time Radio Hour program. If nothing else, Dylan’s crack touring band would be able to pull off the material and then the untiring bard would continue to move forward to his next project.
Hilariously enough, when the official announcement was made that “Christmas In The Heart” would be released on October 13th, media cognoscenti snickered derisively and Bobcats clutched their chests. Questions about Dylan’s faith were rampant as was the concern that this album would trigger another born-again transformation. Critics devoured the record claiming it to be the 21st equivalent of Dylan’s “Self-Portrait” album. While others remarked that Dylan’s voice was too far-gone to deliver the goods on a release such as this one. There was so much bad press about this one album that you would have thought that Dylan recorded with the Jonas Brothers or worse, went on tour with the Grateful Dead again.
The nostalgia fueled “Christmas In The Heart” is diligently deferent to its source material and feels like an album that you might find gathering dust in a relative’s attic. “Christmas In The Heart” is both magisterial and tacky capturing the imagery of the season perfectly in its execution. A jaunty version of “Here Comes Santa Claus” opens the album featuring Dylan’s take on the Gene Autry classic. Dylan’s croak is juxtaposed against the vocals of his retro backup singers providing an early glimpse of the surreal but festive disc. “Do You Hear What I Hear” sours on each listen and seems hokey although Dylan does his best to play it straight. With a wink in his eye, Dylan is more pleasing on the secular fare such as “Winter Wonderland” and the zydeco saturated “Must Be Santa” which provides a jarring wake-up towards the end of the album. The interpretation of Sammy Cahn’s “The Christmas Blues” feels like a natural fit for Dylan and offers a glimpse at what might have been. The schmaltzy Hawaiian overkill of “Christmas Island” is redeemed by the simplicity of “The Christmas Song.”...full text
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