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3.4 out of 5 stars
Christmas In the Heart
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200 of 233 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2009
I really, really wanted to write this one off. Especially after TTL, which for a long time I thought was a total disaster - and still think is a triple bogey at best. But sure enough, I found myself at 9:03 P.M California time downloading CITH off iTunes within the first three minutes of its release.

My first impression? So warm, so comforting, so nostalgic. And not just in a "it's getting to be late Fall, so let's get in the mood for Christmas" way. No, in a pure Americana kind of way. This is a Rockwell painting come to life, it is not some kind of ironic commentary on the past... it is a memorial to the past. Dylan does this perfectly. It baffles me, but I really think this will turn out to be one of his most memorable records.

Let me venture to say that this is also a vocal masterpiece. Forget those low-quality clips on amazon.com.. when you hear this the way Bob Frost intended it, you will curse yourself for ever cursing it.

And surprisingly, there are no real low points. It is just raw and perfect from "Here Comes Santa Claus" to "Little Town of Bethlehem." It makes you think of a bright, white, hopeful day. Logs on the fire, ancestors passed on, old dusty pictures that were never digitized. This feels like something old that turned up in a cross-country move. A brilliant, sharp, autumn feeling like those old first days of school.

"Amen."
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141 of 164 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2009
I've had this album one day and have listened to it more times than I have his last album Together Through Life, which I thought was okay but found to be a generic modern-day Dylan album (some minor key blues, some rewritten tunes from other artists, some attempted crooning). Christmas in the Heart is not perfect - Bob's "O Little Town of Bethle-Phlegm" voice occasionally struggles to reach the right notes, and he sometimes seems so intent on singing the actual melody, he can't quite invest the proper amount of emotion in the songs - but this album is warm and sincere. It makes me smile. The retro sound makes me remember what Christmas used to feel like when I was a kid, and gives me hope that someday Christmas will feel like that again. My favorite tracks: "Must Be Santa" (Bob's actually having fun!), "Christmas Blues", "Little Drummer Boy" and "Christmas Island". Those who don't get Dylan, especially latter-day Dylan, will hate this album or write if off as a joke, and that's fine with me. Dylan always has been an acquired taste. As for me, I'm loving this album. Thank you, Bob, for this early Christmas gift.
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113 of 138 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 13, 2009
Ah, Bob Dylan. From Myth to has been to legend, all in one career.Now, an early Christmas gift, destined to bring cheer and food to needy folks. First off, Well Done Mr. Dylan.A great great thing to do. Secondly, a popping christmas album!Channeling Bing and Mel,[and the Harry Simeone Chorale} Dylan has actually put together a terrific album of Christmas music. Since folks speculate on everything with him, I dont care to wonder about his spiritual affiliation,simply the music. The best cuts here, for me, are the Little drummer boy, Do you hear what I hear,The Christmas song,and Hark the Herald angels sing. It's a straight album, no winking or cheesiness present.Imagine of Hank Williams Sr and Woody Guthrie made a Christmas album together. This is that album. Hugely,happily recommended
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54 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 2009
When I first heard about Dylan's Christmas project, I must admit I thought it was a joke. First of all, Christmas In the Heart is not a new Bob Dylan CD. It`s a charity project.

Dylan has loosened up over the last few years: He has finally stopped fighting his own legend. He recent records exposes humor, irony and is more playful than ever. It`s like he is thinking that life isn`t that serious after all. Dylan`s inspiration from traditional blues, jazz and music hall songs from the 1920 to 1950 is obvious. It`s manifested on "Love & Theft" from 2001 and is also the inspiration for "Modern Times" and is also recognizable on his more bluesy 2009 effort "Together through life".

Dylan's Christmas album is in an odd way inspired from the same tradition. It gives me a kind of Dylan meets Disney, Sinatra and Andrew Sisters feeling. Dylan has simply made a Christmas record true to a musical heritage from the forties and fifties. His voice gives a new and sometimes unexpected feeling. If Santa has a voice, Dylan is probably the closest we ever get to hear it.
It's strange, but I feel Dylan's genius comes true and all of the songs on the record grow on me.

As a Dylan fan I think "Christmas Blues" and "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" is the highlights of the album. "Must be Santa" is probably the only polka and the most up-tempo song Dylan ever has recorded. It`s great fun and is also expected to be the soundtrack for the video from the album. However the quality of this record is so high, that I am not able to spot one weak song, if you buy the idea and intention with this project.

Many Dylan fans will claim that this is the worst Dylan record ever. I disagree. I think it is a hilariously funny record, based on good musical craftsmanship. Some of the songs express a kind of enjoyable madness. It works in a mysteriously way. I believe "Christmas In the Heart" will find it's natural place in many people's Christmas tradition, also among Dylan fans after the first shock.

This album is not a new Dylan record. It is a very funny and entertaining Christmas album from Mr. Dylan. He has made a classical Christmas album - in some way or another. This is probably the most interesting Christmas record ever released and Dylan has put a lot of effort and energy in doing this right. I love "Christmas in the Heart" and I tend to define it as a Dylan holyday masterpiece. It`s that good!
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2010
Why five stars? Because of the pure joy this album has given me since I first started listening to it a couple of weeks ago. I was in a Barnes and Noble the weekend before Thanksgiving, checking out some sales, surrounded by swirling Christmas shoppers, and then the music started . . . It was "good" Christmas music, by some notable artist or group that hit every note exactly right and sang each song exactly in the spirit traditionally intended. But suddenly the room started spinning and I knew I had to get out. By the time I got home, I told my wife I was through shopping this Christmas (I hadn't even started). I was desperate for an antidote, something to pull me out of the seasonal doldrums. What could there be out there? Then it hit me: what about that Dylan Christmas album that so many people disparaged last year? Surely he would have a different take on things, right? He certainly doesn't disappoint in that regard.

For starters, he sends visual clues before you even play the album. The front is pure, secular Americana. The back is very traditionally religious. And then you open it, and, well . . . if that isn't Betty Page in the most tastefully seductive Christmas outfit I've seen in a long time! So what's on the album musically? Traditional secular songs, traditional religious songs, and some things that are just plain fun.

Then there's the sound. I honestly don't get people complaining about his voice. This is Bob Dylan, after all. Were they really expecting him to suddenly sound like Nat King Cole? (I've tried to imagine how the conversation went at home: "Honey? I bought the new Dylan Christmas album. Guess what? He still sounds like Dylan! Damn!")

He was nearly 70 years old when he recorded this. He's been straining those vocal chords publicly for over 50 years now. Why in the world would you expect anything different? For whatever reason, at this point in his life, he decided to record a Christmas album. Is it possible that this is exactly what the title proclaims--his expression of the varieties of what Christmas means to him, from his heart? Personally, I find some of these to be the most genuinely heartfelt renditions I have ever heard, precisely because they come from Bob Dylan. (One reviewer said that if this was recorded by some nobody named "Bob Smith," we wouldn't care and would agree that this is a "terrible" album. To which I ask, "What's your point?" Objectively speaking, how "good" musically are Johnny Cash's final albums? But those of us who loved his music over the years love those last offerings as well especially because we know he was singing from the heart and soul more than from whatever was left of his voice.)

Maybe I have always been more tolerant of Dylan's voice because of other voices I have loved, especially among the blues artists he admires so much. Listen to Son House, Reverend Gary Davis, Skip James, Robert Pete Williams, etc. Their voices aren't immediately accessible in the usual sense. They don't always hit the right notes, and it's often hard to understand them. But as you do come to understand them, both their music and their words, you discover a depth and an authenticity that far exceeds that of supposedly more accomplished artists. Which is why they, like Dylan, have been so influential on musicians more agreeable to the ears of the general public.

As I write this, 151 people have given this album 5 stars, 110 have given it 1 star. About 100 other people are scattered evenly through the other ratings. Can you imagine anyone other than Bob Dylan so polarizing music fans?

So what's the bottom line? If you like Bob Dylan, the most important thing I want to impress upon you is that you owe it to yourself to give it a sympathetic listen before dismissing it. (Listen carefully for the interesting, often subtle, twists he gives to some of the lyrics.) You may in fact find it to be as horrible as some have delighted in writing. Then again, you may find it a wondrous relief in the midst of another miserable Christmas season. Remember: Dylan has been angering/disappointing/annoying people for almost 50 years. And the odd thing has been that the people he has irritated the most have often been those who proclaim themselves to be his fans. (Notice how many of the 1 star critics attempt to establish their street cred before ripping away. And remember how often his fans have been the bane of his existence.)

The common theme through the years is that whenever he has dared to do something different, something he himself liked for whatever reason, many of his supposed fans, instead of honoring his right as an artist to grow, change, and explore (whether it be going electric, turning religious, exploring country music, or whatever), have felt the right, indeed the need, to pronounce profound and absolute judgment. How many times does this man have to hear someone yell, "Judas!"?

Instead, I say, Merry Christmas, Mr. Dylan, and thank you. God bless us everyone. (Amen.)
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49 of 63 people found the following review helpful
This Christmas album is beyond painful, beyond wretched: it's simply and completely unlistenable. Providing saccharine settings for the gurgling croak and the gravelly wheeze of a lifelong smoker pretty much defines the word "ill-conceived." Since he's one of the greatest songwriters ever, and since he's donating his profits from this album to good causes, I may forgive Dylan someday, but first I'll have to somehow forget hearing Santa Claus dragged over the coals and the Little Drummer Boy strangled and the Herald Angels scream. Do you hear what I hear? Then plug your ears! What could they have been thinking when they recorded this disgraceful dreck?

I'll give this much to the CD: it's given Amazon reviewers the opportunity to sharpen their wit and lavish the music with the caustic comments it deserves. Allow me to quote a few of them: "He makes Tom Waits sound like Perry Como." "It's enough to make the most devout Christian consider atheism. Giving this two stars. One for each of Bob's tar-filled lungs." "If I were a little kid, I'd run and hide my head under the pillow rather than listen. Actually, I may do that myself." "Perhaps a better name for the album would have been 'Your Crazy Uncle Gets Drunk at the Family Christmas Party and Starts Singing.'" "This collection of Christmas cacophony causes me to cringe. Forced to sit through it again I might very well have to hang myself by the chimney with care." "Knocks William Shatner out of first place for most embarrassing vocal performance ever." "Farcical at best and just plain creepy at worst."

Had enough? I think not. You may still be considering a purchase, so permit me to present a few more carefully chosen words of warning: "Just listening curdles my innards." "Possibly the worst album ever recorded." "Like being sucker punched at a birthday party." "An album of Christmas music that could be used to interrogate detainees at Guantanamo Bay." "Jesus Christ, I feel like climbing up on a cross after one listen." "Everyone involved in performing, producing, and distributing this monstrosity should be jailed for assault." "Sounds like karaoke at a nursing home." "Sounds like a cross between Joe Cocker and a chainsaw." "Sounds as if he's been gargling with old razor blades." "Sounds like he's singing through a tracheotomy." "Sounds like Swamp Thing with a cold." "Dylan ruins Christmas."

Please, please, please: listen to a few of the flabbergasting, nausea-inducing audio clips before you buy. And then don't. Give all the money you would have spent on this abomination to charity and, if you're religious, pray that Bob doesn't make any more albums like this one.
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108 of 142 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2009
I love Christmas. I also love Bob Dylan. This collection of Christmas cacaphony causes me to cringe. Forced to sit through it again I might very well have to hang myself by the Chimney with care.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2009
Hysterically refreshing! If you can quit chuckling long enough -- at the very concept and delivery -- you'll be treated to a Christmas album that is decidedly *not* the sound of angels singing.
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30 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 2009
At first I was going to give this product a 3 star rating (right up the middle; half great, half terrible). The reason being, these are wonderfully orchestrated musical productions done in an old school style as (many have referred to in other reviews) reminiscent of traditional fifties style Christmas albums. The bad, Bob's voice is so raspy that at times the vocals seem out of place with the music.

Upon first listen it was hard for me to imagine ever wanting to play these songs as part of my seasonal Christmas rotation of music. Bob's vocals just seemed too harsh and raspy for this kind of music.

After listening to the CD a few more times it is now hard for me to imagine not playing them as part of my seasonal rotation.

The reasons for my change of "heart"? For one, it is the "heart" felt way Bob delivers these songs. There is sincerity in every note. Almost like Bob knows his voice is hardly up to the challenge of covering Christmas carols in a very traditional fashion, but he wants to do it anyway because he cares about the themes. The other reason is, after hearing them a few times, I really started to like the harsh and raspy vocal. The joy that seems to emanate from Bob overcomes the lack of ability to deliver the vocals in the soft and melodic fashion I have become accustomed too on this type of music. Finally, when my three year old daughter fell asleep singing "Must be Santa, must be Santa, must be Santa, Santa Claus", I knew Bob did alright.

As far as the deluxe packaging goes. I was a little disappointed that the Christmas cards were basically the CD cover combined with a stamp on the back referring to Feeding America. Would it have been too difficult to type "Seasons Greetings" or something inside the cards? These cards can easily be reproduced with a scanner, or you can make your own by just copying an image of the CD art from the Internet, adding a blank section next to it, cutting, and folding; they are the same shape and almost the same size as the CD cover art. Having said that, the additional cost of ~$7 for the five cards with envelopes (less than $1.50 per card) is very cheap by card standards.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind this whole project is for the sole benefit of a very important charity.

All-in-all, Bob got me and my family in the Christmas spirit and it is only October! I don't know whether to thank him or curse him.

Thanks Bob!
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 2009
All this talk about Bob's voice! He's not constantly touring and recording to get your goat. Like Charley Patton making records after his throat was cut, or Ernest Tubb touring with emphysema, Bob continues to do what he does with what he's got because he wants to. Yes, he sounds like a grizzled old man, but so did Mike Seeger and Jimmy Durante. Were they told to stop? Of course not.

If you don't like the standard Christmas repertoire, you won't like this. If you do like it but don't like Bob, you won't like this. If you hate both, you'll loathe this. If you get a kick out of Bob and still love the old-style arrangements, this album will add a dash of rum-pum-pum-pum to your holidays. I, for one, am glad he recorded it. Thanks, Bob!
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