Christmas In The Heart

Bob Dylan

Columbia, 2009

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


It’s difficult to say anything negative about a Christmas album. Even as I come within sniffing distance of forty, there’s that fear that coming down hard on an album that is supposed to celebrate the holiday season will incur the wrath of Jesus and Santa combined… and I’m not sure which I fear the most.

But in the case of Christmas In The Heart, the first (and hopefully last) Christmas album from Bob Dylan, the criticism comes easy.

As he closes in on a half-century since his debut album came out, Dylan definitely bears the scars of life as a musician. The problem is that they’re all located on his vocal cords. One reviewer (whose name escapes me) said that there was a Tom Waits-like quality to Dylan’s singing on this disc – but if I were Waits, I’d be suing that writer for libel. No, Dylan comes off on this disc sounding like he gargled with sulfuric acid just before stepping up to the microphone. Yes, the end result is that painful.

It’s not that Dylan still can’t sing; it’s that he just can’t reach the higher octaves anymore. Listen – at your own risk, mind you – to “Do You Hear What I Hear,” and the first time he goes for that higher C, the nails-on-sandpaper timbre to his voice literally made my skin crawl. It got to the point that, at the end of the song, I was praying that Dylan wasn’t going to go for that last high note to end the track (so much for the religious side of the season; my prayers weren’t answered.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Now, I’m aware that Dylan plays loose with song structure; I’ve listened to enough of his albums over the years to know that something as simple as 4/4 time structure is merely a “serving suggestion” for Dylan. But when he plays fast and loose with the lyrics of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” complete with the same painful vocals that permeate this disc, you know that somewhere in the Arctic, the fat man in the red suit is quickly adding the former Robert Zimmerman to the “naughty” list.

But, you say to the reviewer masquerading as the Grinch, there must be some bright spot to Christmas In The Heart. Um, not really. I guess I could point out that Dylan’s singing isn’t as painful when he keeps things in the lower areas of the scale, as he does on “Little Drummer Boy” – but he finds ways of screwing even this up as heard on “The First Noel.” Memo to Dylan: next time you step to the microphone to sing, clear your throat, for heaven’s sake!

No matter how you look at it, Christmas In The Heart is a mistake, pure and simple. From the caffeinated polka of “Must Be Santa” to Dylan’s spin on a Christmas tale on “The Christmas Blues,” all the way to his massacring classics like “Adeste Fideles” and “Silver Bells,” whoever gave this disc the green light should be shoved down the chimney and left there to rot.

Why Dylan even needed to record a holiday album this late into his career is a question – the only good thing about this disc is that the proceeds benefit charities, such as Feeding America. Too bad that Dylan made an album that would make even a starving man lose his lunch.

For years, I thought that Ringo Starr’s I Wanna Be Santa Claus was the worst Christmas album ever recorded. Ten years later, there is a new champion (and I use that term loosely). I would rather drive cross-country in a van filled with colicky infants than listen to this turdburger again.

Rating: F

User Rating: D



© 2009 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia, and is used for informational purposes only.