You will get no bigger supporter of Bob Dylan‘s vocal talent than from me. In fact, I use it as a litmus test for someone’s rock and roll IQ. His voice—regardless of the era—remains one of music’s finest interpreters, its phrasing a huge influence on vocalists even while challenging the notion of what constitutes a beautiful sounding voice.
So imagine how hard it is for me to admit that the main problem with Christmas In The Heart has nothing to do with the idea of Dylan considering an entire album of holiday material, or even with the decision to keep the arrangements close to tradition. No, the problem with Christmas In The Heart is that it sounds like it’s voiced by an inebriated uncle who just happens to be sitting on a large fortune and, because of risking a huge inheritance loss from offending him, no one has the good sense of telling Uncle Bob to sit these numbers out.
There’s no new interpretations here and there’s no deviation from the original script, even when that script is frayed and yellowed around the edges. So once you’ve settled in for a nice evening of Christmas standards it’s Dylan’s own scraggy voice that will have you searching your home for the feral tomcat that seemingly strayed inside looking for leftovers.
Even when the road is paved with good intentions and Dylan’s band does an admirable job at bringing the music close to a simpler time, nothing can erase the fact that his voice is a continued distraction throughout Christmas In The Heart.
There are a pair of real surprises, namely the Hawaiian-tinged “Christmas Island” and the rollicking polka “Must Be Santa” are certifiably awesome, with the latter being one of the most honest songs that Dylan has performed, when you consider how the genre was probably routinely heard when Zimmy grew up in the upper Midwest.
It’s the type of record laced with enough Eisenhower nostalgia that most Boomers would eat it up. But at the moment Bob opens up his shot pipes, they’ll realize that these aren’t the standards they remember and they’re done in a manner they’ll surely want to forget.
Video: Bob Dylan – “Little Drummer Boy” (not embeddable)
Video: Bob Dylan – “Must Be Santa” (not embeddable)