BOB DYLAN: CHRISTMAS IN THE HEART (2009)
1) Here Comes Santa Claus; 2) Do You Hear What I Hear?; 3) Winter Wonderland; 4) Hark The Herald Angels Sing; 5) I'll Be Home For Christmas; 6) Little Drummer Boy; 7) The Chirstmas Blues; 8) O' Come All Ye Faithful; 9) Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas; 10) Must Be Santa; 11) Silver Bells; 12) The First Noel; 13) Christmas Island; 14) The Christmas Song; 15) O' Little Town Of Bethlehem.
In all honesty, I do not think that this album deserves more than one short paragraph of strictly musical commentary. Yes, this is a collection of fifteen Christmas carols, hymns, ballads, and kiddie ditties, recorded with Bob's regular band (still including Dave Hidalgo from the previous sessions, but minus Mike Campbell on guitar) and a small choir. Yes, the arrangements are kept quite close to the traditional form, but, for purposes of extra intimacy and better taste, do not include any orchestration. No, there are no Dylan originals, nor are there any serious attempts at reinventing the «classics»: even the singing, or what's left of it in the current state of Dylan's voice, is done as close to the prescribed vocal melody as possible.
Logically speaking, the target audience for this kind of album should not even exist. People who do celebrate Christmas, and listen to traditional Christmas songs while celebrating it, are not too likely to fall for a million year-old hoarse, cracked, gurgling voice delivering Christmas imagery into their living room (think old Santa Claus in one of his hard years: coat torn, gifts squandered, breath stinking of moonshine). People who could care less for Christmas, let alone Christmas music, will not be particularly pleased with Dylan forcing it upon them, either — at best, they could try and read some irony into the idea, but the fact is, there is no irony. Or if there is, you certainly cannot detect it based on the music as such.
Most reviewers, upon trying to answer the obvious question («why?»), concentrated on one of two answers: (a) «whaddaya know, he really likes Christmas music, and why shouldn't he?» and (b) «this is fuckin' Bob Dylan, he's always done exactly what he wants to do and there is no reason why he should be different now». Actually, I think most of them combined the two answers — Christmas In The Heart shows that old-timey Christmas music is Bob's not-so-guilty pleasure, and he is pleased as heck to use this as an opportunity to prove to the world that he can be just as unpredictable at 70 as he was at 25.
These answers, however, do not quite explain why the man chose Christmas carols, and not, say, a bunch of punk rock or Hebrew folk song covers instead. So a third factor must be considered — namely, the traditionalist / conservative aura that these songs embody. In doing them, Bob even goes as far as to sing the original Latin lyrics of ʽO Come All Ye Faithfulʼ (hearing him struggle through the complex morphology of Latin verbal and nominal forms might alone be worth the price of the record, for that matter). Without any straightforward statements this time, Bob has surreptitiously recorded his most openly Christian album since the 1979-81 trilogy — a fairly naughty gesture, I'd say, in the face of his largely «progressive» audience (not that I'm saying that every Dylan fan is an atheist or agnostic by definition, but I'm sure that «hardcore Christians» never constituted the bulk of his fanbase even in the «Christian period»).
He himself would probably never admit the «naughtiness» of it, especially since, in a way, it all ties in together: since the early 1990s, his chief sources of inspiration and creativity were the folk, country, and blues traditions of the American and the Anglo-Saxon world, and this is just one more corner of the same world. But instead of pouring new (lyrical) wine into old (musical) skins, this time around, he goes all-out archaic, against a young 21st century world that usually craves for innovation and futurism. From that point of view, and in the overall context of Dylan's existence, this is more than a Christmas album — it's one more friendly fuck-you to the world at large, and it probably couldn't have come at a better time, too, than the Big Year of Lady Gaga, to stand for just about everything, good or bad, that Lady Gaga is not.
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