Christmas in the Heart

If “Christmas in the Heart” comes across as a goofy spectacle, parading hymn after carol with a drunken smirk, and having way too much fun doing it- well then it should.  Bob Dylan didn’t intend to release an album of serious Christmas music.  He clearly wanted to put a smile on your face and add some holiday cheer to the party, and that he does.

Although the album itself is not serious, especially with the Betty Page-in-garters-and-Santa Hat inside picture, the traditional songs like ‘Come all ye Faithful’ are performed with solemn grace.  He even sings some of the verses in Latin.

His voice has grown even more gravelly and gargled over the years and, though this can easily cause you to laugh during the refrains of ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ and ‘The First Noel’, it feels comfortable and complete and assures that these tracks will become part of the Christmas catalog for years to come.

That voice especially lends itself to ‘Christmas Blues’, which stands out as one of the best tracks on the album with electric guitar, harmonica, and a downtrodden sentiment.  Another key track is ‘Must Be Santa’: a romping polka featuring a call and response with a chorus, and a rapid rap by Dylan of all the reindeers’ names, and even some US Presidents’.  A music video accompanies the song and shows a holiday party with Dylan in his Santa Hat singing along with the accordion player.  Suddenly, a man is chased around the house, and he starts throwing glasses and eventually dives out the window.  Dylan and Santa Claus himself are left on the porch to deal with the mess, both with stone expressions.

Dylan, real name Bob Zimmerman, though Jewish by birth, became a born again Christian during the late ‘70s, though I don’t believe this had a major influence on the album.  He has always been a lover and player of traditional American folk music and it doesn’t get more traditional than Christmas tunes.  He revamps them with his band, and even adds a snappy, feel-good, Rat Pack cadence to tracks like ‘Silver Bells’.

All of Dylan’s royalties from the album will be donated to charities committed to ending hunger and homelessness.  US royalties are going to Feeding America, and overseas royalties to the United Nations World Food Programme.   Unlike other albums and collaborations meant to raise awareness and contributions for social causes, this one is not morose or teary-eyed, but rather glassy-eyed, mumbling, and almost falling down the stairs.

It’s apparent Bob had great time making this album, more so than most will get by listening, but if you can glean even a fraction of his Yuletide cheer, than this record has served both Bob and Santa’s purposes.

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