Thursday, July 5, 2018

Christmas In The Heart: Mid-Century Oasis

Release Date: October 13, 2009
When Dylan released Christmas in the Heart many wondered if it was serious. Was he cajoling the public by releasing a mostly kitsch collection of Christmas carols? Considering his recent immersion in the American songbook, the answer is a clear No! In actuality, the album signaled the next era of Dylan's career. The majority of the fifteen carols are from the middle of the 20th century, including four traditional songs rooted in Christianity. The sweet nostalgia spirit on these songs evoke an endearing retro warmth of holidays long gone by. 

The festivities open with "Here Comes Santa Claus," a hit for Gene Autry back in 1947. The mood is light hearted and nostalgic. "Do You Hear What I Hear" was written during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker, a plea for peace that became a staple for Christmas seasons to come  -written around the same time as "Blowin' in the Wind." Dylan's performance is dramatic with production value projecting grandeur and majesty.

On "Winter Wonderland" Dylan delights in the subversive subtext of the song, backed by a coed choir. "I'll Be Home For Christmas" was a hit for the Christmas season of 1944, a quintessential World War II song and certainly one Dylan heard on the radio as a youngster. "The Christmas Song" written by Mel Torme and Bob Wells and most famously performed by Nat King Cole also calls back the WWII era. "Have Yourself a Merry Christmas" debuted in 1944, a hit from the film Meet Me in St Louis. "Silver Bells" originated from the 1950 Bob Hope comedy The Lemon Drop Kid. "Little Drummer Boy" is another perennial favorite. Check out the Norman Rockwell/psychedelia video for Dylan's version.

Novelty Christmas songs also get their due. "Christmas Blues" was once performed Dean Martin for all the Christmas lonely hearts. "Christmas Island" pays tribute to Christmas in Hawaii, a 1946 chart topper for the Andrew Sisters. Perhaps "Must Be Santa" is the most obscure track on the album, one with an interesting recording history, a German drinking song that Mitch Miller performed in 1960 and made popular by the Texas Band Brave Combo. Dylan made it into one of his best music videos - and added some of his own lyrics.

The traditional songs on Christmas in the Heart include "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing," "The First Noel," O, Come All Ye Faithful," and O Little Town of Bethlehem" are less compelling than the other tracks, but provide substance. 

Dylan's fascination with the American song book was no passing phase, for the past decade he's worked on keeping the standards alive and introduce them to a new generation mostly unfamiliar with pre-rock and roll culture. 

All proceeds from the Christmas in the Heart were donated to charities dedicated to ending hunger. 

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