The Unwashed Phenomenon Decks the Halls

I couldn’t believe it either. Bob Dylan has released a Christmas album. 

The definitive voice of America’s counter-culture, the definitive voice of the anti-establishment had gone the way of the shimmering smooth pop-prince and recorded a Christmas record. Could you imagine anything more of a stretch? And Dylan is no crooner a la Frank Sinatra or Michael Buble. Would the croaking drawl that elongated syllables and fell in unexpected cadences butcher such loved carols as “Little Drummer Boy?

Skeptics, take note: there is no singer in this day and age more suited to sing “Here Comes Santa Claus” than Bob Dylan.

“Christmas in the Heart” is easily one of the best holiday albums recorded in the last decade by a popular artist. Dylan is as much a historian of traditional American folk songs as he is a creator of them. His early years were spent chasing Woody Guthrie, Odetta and John Jacob Niles — learning their songs and attempting to capture the visceral, genuine qualities of their voices. He is an archivist of sorts and deeply rooted in music’s past. Christmas carols are folk songs — songs that tell a story, that are revived year after year and passed from one generation to another. Who better to sing them than the King of Folk?

One of the great successes of “Christmas in the Heart” is that it’s a paired down, no-frills album. The only embellishments to the 15 well-known tracks are a few sleigh bells and backup singers that could easily be the company in “Holiday Inn.” The fact that Dylan’s Christmas album sounds more 1942 than 2009 only makes it more believable as a holiday album. Let’s face it — the American vision of Christmas has been shaped by Irving Berlin, “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947) and Jimmy Stewart. That said, a good Christmas album should evoke the age of Gene Autry, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. Personally, I can think of anything worse than an over-popped, poorly “updated” carol. Actually, when it comes to Christmas songs, there’s a lot of things that are pretty terrible… [click here]

Dylan has compared his musical journey to an Odyssey… “I had set out to find this home I’d left a while back,” he said in an interview for the documentary No Direction Home. “I couldn’t remember where exactly it was, but I was on my way there. I was born very far from where I was supposed to be, so I’m on my way home.” It seems appropriate then that my favorite track off “Christmas in the Heart” is “I’ll be home for Christmas.” Everything about it is just sooo Bob Dylan.

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