By Stein Arne Nistad
When I first heard about Dylan’s Christmas project, I must admit I thought it was a joke. When it was released, I was ecstatic. A few years later the album is regarded as the ultimate Christmas album. Not by myself, but by my wife and children. They simply love it! And after all, it is easy to understand:
First of all, Christmas In the Heart is not a Dylan original. The fifteen tracks are picked mostly from the American Christmas tradition and include songs like “Here Comes Santa Claus”, “Winter Wonderland”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” among others. The album gives a kind of Dylan meets Disney, Sinatra and Andrew Sisters feeling. Dylan simply made a Christmas record true to a musical heritage from the forties and fifties – easy to like and easy to love. The choir arrangements remind me of Disney’s “zippi du dua”-song. In fact, I never expected to associate any of Dylan’s work with that kind of music. It`s like going back, but not all the way …
Still it makes a kind of sense. American Christmas songs and records from that period sounded like that. Dylan sings and arranges them in a way that is true to the songs musical origin. Still the album has a modern touch. Dylan is singing nice and is really into it. His rusty voice filled with patina and age makes a very interesting contrast to the in many ways well known arrangements. Compare Dylan’s album to any other “old men’s Christmas effort” like this year’s Rod Stewart Christmas album. Compared to Rod, Dylan’s is simply more into it. Bobs voice adds a new and sometimes unexpected feeling to the songs. He makes the songs his own and brings them to a new level. If Santa or Father Christmas has a voice, Dylan is probably the closest we ever get to hear it.
Obviously Dylan had a good time in the studio. It’s a lot of energy in the band and in Dylan’s performances. The record is packed with instruments spanning from accordion, steel guitars to strings, bells and drums. “Must be Santa” is probably the only polka and the most up-tempo song Dylan ever has recorded. The video is another story. It is hilarious and great fun. The band is backed by the four men and three women strong “Mixed Voice Singer”. They do a fantastic job bringing this record sounding like it was recorded back in the fifties. It is easy to recognize an underlying quality in almost every one of the songs. Dylan’s genius comes true and all of the songs on the record grow on everyone lending an ear.
Releasing a Christmas album was in my opinion the most unexpected, weird and surreal thing Dylan ever has done. Some of the songs are pure joy – based on good musical craftsmanship. Some of the songs express a kind of enjoyable madness. Some are wonderful emotional highlights. Some are statements about eternity – and beyond … As Christmas is a mystery – the record works and “Christmas In the Heart” is important in many families Christmas tradition! “Christmas in the Heart” is an ultimate Dylan holyday masterpiece. It`s not good – it`s fantastic. The best thing is that my joy is shared by my wife and children. My six year old daughter is just hitting the play again button – over, and over again!
Don`t You Dare to celebrate Christmas without «Christmas In the Heart!»