Dylan’s holiday album is a definite success


“The world has enough pop songs,” Bob Dylan once said. However tongue-in-cheek the comment may have been, it’s no secret that Dylan is unimpressed with the state of popular music, if not the concept itself. In the same respect, it’s hard to believe that he feels the world needs another Christmas album, particularly one that’s nothing but covers. “Christmas in the Heart” is no reinvention of the wheel – the standards remain, roughly, what they’ve always been. But (as always) Dylan puts enough of his signature on each of these classics to make “Christmas in the Heart” a solid addition to any fan’s holiday rotation.

Of course, even Dylan’s most ardent supporters must admit this release is not for everyone. Those who like their traditionals heavy on the “traditional” are likely to be put off by the shredded growl that Dylan’s voice has become. While lacking the velvet-smooth tones of Bing Crosby or the dulcet tenor of Elvis Presley, Dylan nonetheless uses his voice to consistently present these songs in an interesting way. The charm of his delivery is the same as it was when “Blowin’ in the Wind” captivated listeners nearly a half century ago: Dylan’s voice is rugged, uneven, and undeniably unique; in short, it’s quintessentially human, and therefore unequivocally affecting.

Dylan sings reverently on songs like “O’ Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles)” and “O’ Little Town of Bethlehem” and his unaesthetic voice only magnifies the songs’ imposing grandeur. The rest of the overtly religious material is delivered with the same solemn sincerity. The exceedingly familiar words and melodies are more than a little moving coming from the same guy who once cynically surmised that it was “easy to see without looking too far that not much is really sacred.”

Dylan nails the lighter fare as well. “Must Be Santa” sounds like the most fun he’s had in years, rollicking through a freewheeling polka about flying reindeer and jolly old St. Nick. “Winter Wonderland” holds up well and Dylan’s evocative spin on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” makes the narrator sound especially broken and alone.

Surely there are enough Christmas albums already, and we would be just fine if another one never gets released. Still, Dylan manages the improbable by rebranding enough of these songs to make “Christmas in the Heart” an interesting listen. Ironically, what the album does best – from the non-traditional presentation to Dylan’s unmistakable intonation – is exactly what most people are not looking for in their holiday music. “Christmas in the Heart” is destined to be a niche release, but in that regard it is a definite success.