I know what you’re thinking. Yes, that Bob Dylan, and, yes, that holiday — the same holiday that has borne countless other cutesy cover albums over the years. What could possibly be going through his 68-year-old head? True, Dylan is no crooner, especially now. But this is Dylan after all, and we should know better than to judge a book by its cover — heck, Blood on the Tracks has one of the worst album covers of all time.
Christmas in the Heart
While the idea of a Dylan Christmas album might seem cheap and misguided, Christmas In the Heart, contrary to what one might expect, doesn’t sound a bit odd or out of place. In fact, it’s simply delightful: Far from being transformed (even with Dylan at the helm), these classic tracks retain all the warmth of a Yuletide fire. And their familiar breeziness is enough to disarm even the most furrowed brows of Dylan fanatics and naysayers alike.
The album arrives more than two months prior to Christmas in order to raise money for Feeding America, a charity that feeds the impoverished nationwide. Dylan agreed to donate all of his royalties from Heart to the organization, hoping that, by releasing the album a few months early, its proceeds might help the homeless stay fed through the holidays. Quite the guy, that Bob.
Dylan has worn many hats over the course of his storied career, and with Christmas in the Heart he merrily dons Santa’s cap for a collection of traditional Christmas songs. Having crafted an entire career around retooling American traditional music, Dylan is tamer with the American Christmas canon, revisiting classics like “Silver Bells,” “Little Drummer Boy” and “The Christmas Song” in all their tacky glory. Dylan and his band keep the arrangements traditional as well, with the record packing enough musical nostalgia to match even that most nostalgic of holidays.
Appropriately enough, a jangling of bells starts the record with a jolly take on the staple “Here Comes Santa Claus.” A few tracks later comes “Winter Wonderland,” replete with female backup singers, festive arrangements (glockenspiel and the ever-present jingle bells to name a few) and lightly brushed drums. Just a few tracks in, it becomes apparent that the idea to make a Christmas record was indeed a fantastic one: Between the tastefully jazzy guitars, barbershop backup vocals and Dylan’s elder growl, it’s a wonder Dylan didn’t think of this earlier.
Dylan’s voice of late has been particularly gravelly, evident on his recent Together Though Life and especially during his live shows, and it’s no different here. But while Together Through Life found Dylan at least attempting some semblance of his past drawl, Dylan shows his age here with pride, evoking Louis Armstrong more than anyone else. Strangely enough, singing like the Satchmo suits him well, and Dylan’s wintry rasp makes for the perfect soundtrack to break out a wool sweater and sip eggnog to.
Whether or not Dylan’s heart grew three sizes to make this album, there’s no denying Heart’s sweetness. Dylan’s weathered voice lends the songs a poignancy that few can match (save for maybe Tom Waits). And, thanks to his band, the record plays like a kitschier — albeit similarly wistful — A Charlie Brown Christmas. Though it’s clear Dylan’s getting old, he’s certainly aging well. And with Christmas in the Heart, he’s starting to sound a lot like Christmas, too.