The Tunes They Are a-Changin'
When news broke that Bob Dylan would release his first-ever Christmas album, music lovers—and critics—went into a tizzy, concerned that it wouldn't be a good fit. And rightfully so, for it seems that the legendary singer-songwriter spiked his eggnog en route to recording Christmas in the Heart (Sony).
Historically, Christmas albums include some of the world's most melodic masterpieces. But in Dylan's hands, the holiday tunes they are a-changin' with ho-ho-horrible takes on "Silver Bells" and "Here Comes Santa Claus." Such choices are too kitschy for a musician whose stellar discography earned him a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation last year for works "marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power."
Dylan's inclusion of faith-based hymns and carols like "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" will certainly stir buzz about the 68-year-old singer's spiritual state. And though this is just one more way the revered rebel keeps fans guessing, the growling grandpa just doesn't sound festive enough for Christmas luster.
If anyone could pen a set of sad strains for the season, Dylan could. Call me a Scrooge, but Christmas in the Heart makes me blue for all the wrong reasons.
Fortunately, these new holiday albums are filled with good cheer:
• Ayiesha Woods's soulful Christmas Like This (Gotee) should do your heart some good. Inserting blatty horns, loose tambourines, and Jelly Roll—like tremolos throughout, the fervid songstress compiles a glorious holiday recording worthy of Motown and beyond.
• Laced with glittering arrangements and creative pizzazz, Downhere's How Many Kings (Centricity) is brimming with enigmatic cheer. The Canadian quartet includes jaunty renditions of less-used Renaissance tunes like "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella" to great effect. But the haunting allure of "Silent Night" is the true standout.
• Backed by a full orchestra, Grammy winner Sandi Patty's Christmas Live (Stylos) guides an enthusiastic crowd through over an hour of stellar seasonal tunes on her fourth holiday album, and her first with a live audience. Having sold millions of yuletide records, the Christmas Queen Bee can croon with the best. But her full impact lies in hair-raising treatments of anthems like "O Holy Night."
• Evenly divided between standards and originals, Bob Bennett's Christmastide (independent) is infused with classic folk flair, especially endearing on the clever "Christmas for Cynics." The always astute singer-songwriter's warm vocals dance in perfect time with each guitar pick and strum, drawing attention to the life-altering lyrics and beautifully highlighting the real reason we celebrate Christmas.
(Note: Bifrost Arts' excellent Salvation Is Created is also deserving of this list, but was reviewed in November's CT.)
Andrew Greer is a writer and musician living in Nashville.
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Andrew Greer also wrote a Christmas Music Wrap-Up 2009 for Christianity Today.
CT has more articles on Advent and Christmas.