December 24, 2010

Music Review: Bob Dylan - Christmas in the Heart

Last Fall a curious oddity of an album landed on store shelves. A Bob Dylan Christmas album. I swear, this is one festive collection of Yuletide standbys that I never thought I would see. I feel fairly certain I am not the only one who thought so. The releases by country stars, pop stars, and the frequent heavier act (see King Diamond, Twisted Sister, A Very Metal Christmas, and A Taste of Christmas), sure, but Bob Dylan singing traditional classics? No way. That could never happen. Well, it has happened and the refreshingly straight forward approach has breathed some life into an area that is more often than not staler than last year's fruit cake.

Now, I am no Dylan expert. I do not have a wide knowledge of his amazing life, career, or music, but I do recognize a true artist when I see one. I have had the pleasure of experiencing his music live on three occasions and they will always be remembered. The man was the voice of a generation who has continually reinvented himself, fading to near obscurity only to return to the forefront of music. He has experienced success and outstanding creativity over the past decade that may only be bested by his initial rise in the 1960's (or I may just think that being a recent convert). Whatever the case may be, as amazing as his career has been, we are here about something a little different.

Dylan's rasp certainly brings a sense of jolly menace to such tunes as "Silver Bells" and "Here Comes Santa Claus." There is something about that distinctive voice that has an unlikely cheeriness in it just as you can imagine a crazed old sidewalk Santa ringing a bell and getting in the face of passing teenagers, urging them to enjoy the season or else, with a sideways grin, a squinted eye, and just a hint of that menace I mentioned. It is pretty crazy if you take a minute to think about it.

Christmas in the Heart has fast become one of my favorite Christmas albums. Sure, there will always be a place for Bing Crosby and the like. To be honest, I have little in the way of tolerance for Christmas music. More often than not the music just aggravates me. The problem is that I am not so sure it is the music so much as it is that it makes its appearance earlier and earlier each year and you cannot step into a retail store without being bombarded with cheery tunes of the holiday. Nothing can put one in a bad mood faster than those interminable songs.

This is why it always so welcome to find something that adds a new flavor to the holiday tapestry, reset that burnout factor just a little bit. Last year it was Twisted Sister with their fantastic take on "The Twelve Days of Christmas," this year it is the Bob Dylan collection. Yes, I got it last year, but for one reason or another did not give it a lot of time to sink in.

No one can turn a phrase like Dylan can. He makes the best of tradition, making each and every one of these songs his own while not diverging too far from the well trodden path. At the same time he does not take the serious path. There is sly humor in his delivery, a little silly, a little corny, respectful of the past, and seeking to do nothing more than deliver the songs with his inimitable delivery.

When it comes right down to it, no one is really going to be able to convince you to like this. You will or you won't. I love it. It is a Christmas album I am actually able to listen to on repeat and not grow sick of, at least not yet. I love Dylan's raspy, singular voice.

Now, If I were to point to one song as my favorite on this album, it has to be the manic-polka of "Must Be Santa." There is something downright bouncy and insane about this song, the way it builds and builds to a fevered pitch is a blast.

What are you waiting for? Go renew your love Christmas tunes!

Highly Recommended.

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