Bob Dylan: Investigating the icon's 'Christmas In The Heart' album

Friday 27th November 2009

Darren Hirst takes an in-depth look at BOB DYLAN's charity album 'Christmas In The Heart'

Continued from page 1

The alternating of the themes of family Christmas/the story behind Christmas continues as next the band chooses to give us "Little Drummer Boy". Again, this is a straightforward and delicate version driven appropriately enough by George Receli's percussion. "The Christmas Blues" is a Charles Brown or even Nat King Cole arrangement with Dylan at the helm. Ironically, another period piece which is sadder than most everything else on offer, it probably suits Dylan's voice best of all the songs here.

The listener might by now feel that they're prepared for anything but the sound of Mr Zimmerman singing the first verse of "O Come All Ye Faithful" in Latin is quite something. Rough and ready. and, well, Latin. As on "Hark The Herald Angels" Dylan gives only the best known verses but this is quite delightful.

The middle section of the album finds the singer at his most playful with first a tender version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" and then a manic, polka-rhythm, accordion-driven wild version of "Must Be Santa" which is being promoted with a video which features Dylan in a Santa hat and silver-blonde wig. If this doesn't make you smile then there's no presents for you this Christmas.

Anything that followed "Must Be Santa" would sound tame and it is a pleasant enough version of "Silver Bells" which is given the task. More spirited and better is the version of "The First Noel" which follows that song. Dylan and vocalists sound totally devoted on this one before coming over all playful again on "Christmas Island" which is all Hawaiian guitars and hula skirts. Next up, "The Christmas Song" celebrates "the happiest season of all" and Dylan sounds like he really has Christmas in the heart. It is hard to despise anyone who sounds like he enjoys Christmas this much.

For the final song, Dylan comes over all devotional again with his rendering of "O Little Town Of Bethlehem". Along with "Must Be Santa", this is my favourite moment of the album. When Dylan speaks of "the hopes and fears of all the years" being met in the coming of Christ, you can tell he sings from experience - experience wrought by both faith and doubt. The album closes by telling us that: "Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in" before a rousing "Amen" on which all the album's vocalists join together.

On the day I finished this review I placed a call to Feeding America, the US charity which is benefiting from the sales of the album. By the 17th of November, sales of the album had raised enough to provide 2,434,221 meals for the needy THIS Christmas. Crisis at Christmas, the UK charity involved, had no figure for me but you get the idea of what this can achieve.

So Bah, humbug! to those who don't want a Jewish guy to sing heartfelt songs about Christmas whilst feeding the poor. This album might just make your home a little warmer this Christmastide. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Darren Hirst
Darren HirstDarren Hirst pastors Ravenscourt Baptist Church and provides a support ministry to professional musicians.

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Reader Comments

Posted by Tom Wheeler in USA @ 14:07 on Feb 25 2010

I'm a little late on this topic, but Dylan's voice is perfect for this album. I'm glad he waited until now for this album. Our family gathered around our monitor to view Must Be Santa, laughing, and Little Drummer Boy, weeping. We didn't like a couple of songs on the CD, but, as a whole, it was better than some of the Christmas syrup from other artists with no historic connection to Jesus (read Christmas: Jesus and Dylan This article also gives a quote from Larry Norman.

Posted by Kenneth Barnes in Oxford @ 11:09 on Dec 20 2009

I'm a big Dylan fan and what he is doing with the proceeds from this album is a brilliant gesture. It isn't exactly "easy listening" (his voice sadly, really is shot), but it is REAL and that is what we have come to expect from Dylan. I often pray that he is a "true believer" and if he claims to be so, I can only take him at his word. Peace, KB

Reply by robert billy in vancouver, b.c. , canada @ 09:12 on Dec 25 2009

I keep reading that Dylan's voice is shot. Really ? Do people think he shouldn't be singing anymore ? I'm not sure if you meant to say as much as that but I have grown weary of hearing it (especially during a show) and wonder why he always seems to be judged more ferverently that the rest of the world's performers combined. All the world's performers who continue past their "prime" sound rougher than they did before. Should Jimmy Scott (a.k.a. Little Jimmy Scott) who I believe might have had the sweetest voice ever should have stopped recording because he was less perfect than before ? If he had thought that way he never would have recorded the best versions of "Without A Song" and "Darn That Dream" that the world has heard. I think the 2000 version (from Milestones Profile album) of "Darn That Dream" is infinitely more impressive than one of the versions from his "prime". I saw him in 2007 at Lincoln Center and although he struggled for the odd note I was moved to tears by the beauty expressed that night. Same goes for Bob Dylan and Lee "Scratch" Perry, anyone who expresses their heart as profoundly as they should be rewarded for their dedication to their work. Art is not sport. Try googling and then listening to "Bob Dylan Forgetful Heart Seattle 2009" and tell me again his voice is shot. It wasn't a lame horse on stage that night (Oct. 5, 2009) ! Should Skip James have given up and not come back to perform late in life ? I surely don't believe so, the world would be less rich if he hadn't.
Robert Billy (Vancouver, B.C. Canada)
P.S. I love "Christmas In The Heart"(Allen Funt is dead, get reckless with those Q-Tips Jim Doyle or go back to sleep ) it is evidence Bob Dylan has miles and miles of such. Merry Christmas.

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Posted by Novelene in Chicago @ 18:50 on Dec 14 2009

"Christmas IN the Heart" is where Yahweh, God, Rama, Allah, The Force, etc can be found, and its where everyone goes for ''the holidays,'' sometime through the snow in a horse-driven sleigh, even Betty Paige. Have a Happy!

Posted by Jim Doyle in England @ 16:51 on Dec 13 2009

I keep waiting for Allen Funt to jump out and tell me that this whole thing of positive reviews and Dylan singing Christmas songs has been a huge practical joke. This album is t-e-r-r-i-b-l-e. An overrated singer who never could sing but can now merely screech his way thru the usual suspect Christmas songs. For the first time in my life, I can see the attraction of being deaf.

Posted by Pastor Mike in Omaha @ 18:25 on Dec 12 2009

Thanks for a thoughtful, fair review. For those willing to take Dylan's walk of faith seriously, and therefore listen honestly to the music he's been makign for the past 30 years, this album is not a big surprise, although it is certainly creative, humorous, joyous, and reverent...pure Bob Dylan. Thanks for the info about the number of meals purchased by album proceeds already; I'll share that info at my blog, where I've also written a review of this album.

Posted by Uriah in Michigan @ 12:10 on Nov 30 2009

Lovely review.

Posted by ruthie panama in usa @ 16:39 on Nov 29 2009

What evidence do you have that Dylan was raised in an "Orthodox Jewish" home? The entire interview that you quote from, not to mention his songs, writings and interviews from the last 30 years, suggest quite the opposite: that Dylan was raised in a highly assimilated, almost Christianized home environment. I can assure you that Orthodox Jewish children do not receive Christmas presents, not do they participate in "Nativity pageants" or passion plays.

Dylan is a serious man. He has been a Christian for 30 years. You description of him as a "Jewish guy" is inaccurate as well as racist.

Reply by Pastor Mike in Omaha @ 18:30 on Dec 12 2009

While you may make some valid points, you really ought to lighten up (it IS Christmas after all!). And how you can call Darren a racist after reading the above respectful review of Dylan's work is really remarkable...where's the anger coming from?

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Reply by Darren - author @ 21:28 on Dec 9 2009

Please expand. I'd love to hear your justification for calling someone you've never met a racist. From everything I know Dylan's father was orthodox. We may disagree about this but I don't think that makes me racist on any level that I can think of

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Posted by Dr Jimmy in UK @ 13:34 on Nov 29 2009

Good to see Zimmy reaffirming his Christian faith.

Posted by JE in California @ 23:38 on Nov 28 2009

Right on Darren.

Posted by Fran Curran in Wilmington, DE @ 20:09 on Nov 28 2009

I just bought the I am a big Dylan I would have bought it anyway...but knowing the money is going to feed many hungry mouths...makes me have Christmas in my Heart. To me it's Dylan.... thru and thru. He's always done things the way he wants to do them...and they always seem to come out just right. He's 68 still touring..ya gotta give him credit just for that Merry Christmas -Happy Hanakah...Bob...Love Ya

The opinions expressed in the Reader Comments are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.

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