In Defense of Dylan at Christmas
Not that it’s needed and hasn’t already been discussed, perhaps ad nauseam, but I’d like to take a moment in consideration of Bob Dylan’s new holiday album Christmas In The Heart. Complete with a Currier and Ives style cover of a horse drawn sleigh in the snow, this is the type of Christmas album that many of us grew up on…only…er, with Bob Dylan singing instead of maybe, Nat King Cole. And while it may never hold a place in the upper echelons of yuletide musical treasuries along side the aforementioned, golden-throated pianoman, Christmas In The Heart is a well thought out and well executed offering from one of contemporary music’s most prolific writers.
Dylan’s voice is now as gravely as a dusty back road in New Hampshire but the album’s timeless (almost Spector-esque, at times) production, complete with flawless white-bread backing vocals and echoing reverb makes for a quaint and pleasant listen. Most importantly, it actually feels like Christmas, a surprisingly rare achievement for holiday records in recent years.
While many have been taken off guard by this relatively quick follow-up to the critically acclaimed Together Though Life, it seems to me this has been a long time coming. For those familiar with Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour, it’s not hard to image his customary, often anecdotal and subtly nuanced segues between the songs on Christmas In The Heart. Dylan’s penchant for classic Americana of all mediums is no secret and has influenced his music back to the early days, perhaps most notably on his highly affected country album Nashville Skyline, which for all it’s criticisms gave us the frequently interpreted gem “Lay Lady Lay.” In fact, Dylan’s career has been peppered with “genre experiments,” if you will, from rock to country, pop, new wave, gospel, blues, instrumental and now holiday music. Each collection has offered us something new and interesting to take away, whether it became a turntable (or iPod) staple or not.
For all his reverence for tradition and history, Dylan has had an equally rebellious and innovatory side when approaching both his material and his business. One of Dylan’s gifts, whether with his own songs or (in this case) revisiting standards, is interpretation and phrasing (like Nat King Cole, only completely different). He brings that same sense of lyrical reading to these songs, which makes them feel fresh and fun in a way they may not if sung by a more mellifluous voice. The addition of recent collaborator David Hidalgo on accordion adds a unique and distinctly Dylan tone to the material and separates it from the arrangements of the Andy Williams Christmas records of which it was reportedly inspired.
So while we still have over a month and a half ’til Christmas rolls around, I am happy to hear an artist such as Dylan taking a chance on something new at this stage in his career. Complacent, he is not. After all he’s done, I think if I were Bob Dylan, I’d give a good ole fashioned Christmas album a whirl as well. I mean, why the hell not? Come December, Christmas In The Heart may actually get a few spins in my house. Mmm…I can almost smell the roasting chestnuts and mulled cider now. You’ll never be surprised by where an artist like Bob Dylan may goes next if you remember to…
Live Well & Listen Closely,
Note: according to bobdylan.com: All of the artist’s U.S. royalties from sales of these recordings will be donated to Feeding America, guaranteeing that more than four million meals will be provided to more than 1.4 million people in need in this country during this year’s holiday season. Bob Dylan is also donating all of his future U.S. royalties from this album to Feeding America in perpetuity.
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