Bob Dylan’s “Christmas in the Heart” (2009) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2009-11-29 02:28:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Throughout Christmas in the Heart, Bob Dylan and his band are clearly enjoying themselves, embracing the timelessness of the Christmas music genre.  More specifically, Dylan and company are transporting themselves and their listeners back to a simpler time of deceptively simple songs and sentiments.

Still, not every nostalgia-inducing feature is practiced or purposeful.  For instance, that’s not static you hear on your compact disc or mp3 copy — that’s just Dylan’s voice.

Over the fifteen songs that comprise this new album, Dylan moves fluidly between the religious and the imaginative, from solemn, sacred hymns describing the birth of Jesus Christ to classic tunes about jolly old Saint Nicholas himself, Santa Claus.

Interestingly, this is the first time Dylan has included more than thirteen tracks on a studio release since 1970’s Self Portrait, the runner up being 1992’s Good As I Been To You, clocking in at thirteen tracks.  Granted, these are not the most positive comparisons in his considerable catalog, but fortunately, the comparisons end at the track count.

Christmas in the Heart is a unified collection of songs that are unlike anything Dylan has recorded before, and yet they somehow fit perfectly with the material he has released in the past decade or so.  Ever since the two albums of covers he released in 1992 and 1993, Dylan has seemingly been drawn to the sounds and styles of the past.  2001’s Love and Theft saw a wide variety of styles, and the songs on both Modern Times (2006) and this year’s Together Through Life have progressively relied on mid-20th century styles and arrangements.

In many ways, this is the most logical time for Dylan to contribute to the very American tradition of popular Christmas music.

Bob Dylan's "Christmas in the Heart" (2009)

Bob Dylan's "Christmas in the Heart" (2009)

I will admit that, upon a first listen, I was unimpressed.  Bob Dylan fanatic that I am, the deterioration of his voice initially alienated me and I felt distanced from these classic compositions, most of which I had heard before in at least one or more arrangements.

“The Christmas Blues” is perhaps the most Dylan-esque of the tracks, especially when considering the predominance of recent Dylan tunes with blues structures, the harmonica solo, and the more serious, even downtrodden tone.  In this song, his vocals are stretched and utilized to heartfelt effect.

As I listened a second and third time, the subtlety of these tracks began to set in.  The lead guitar in “Do You Hear What I Hear?” that more than adequately takes the place of the typical “answer” vocal components, the choral background singers with spot-on, traditional harmonies, and the variations in Dylan’s vocals — the rough edges in “Little Drummer Boy” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” the softened edges in “Christmas Island” — all contribute to what is largely a relaxing and entertaining record.

Is there a better description for a Christmas album?

What strikes me about Christmas in the Heart is the proof which it provides for the argument that this time of year is a special season, one which captivates the hearts and souls of men and women and inspires us to be better people.  Certainly, if Bob Dylan put this much effort into not only a holiday album, but also a specifically Christmas-themed release, then there must be something to be said about the power of music influenced by the Christmas spirit.

Dylan, known for turning around and surprising even his most loyal fanbase, has done it again.  It may not be as revolutionary as going electric, or as polarizing as songwriting from an explicitly born-again Christian perspective, but it is at least as dramatic a development in his career.  Rarely has Dylan prepared such well-known cover songs for a studio release, much less songs with such a concrete set of lyrics and straightforward message.

If nothing else, this album will provide some interesting fodder for the ongoing “Is he Christian?/Is he Jewish?” debate that continues to rage on…

For me, Christmas in the Heart is a clear reminder of the universal qualities of the Christmas spirit.  It is an album that further diversifies Dylan’s hand in American popular music, and likewise carries the torch for another generation to hear and appreciate a style that originated almost six decades ago.

All in all, Christmas in the Heart would make for a strong addition to any pop/rock music fan’s Christmas album collection.

“Must Be Santa” (Bob Dylan / Christmas Cover)

Originally posted 2009-11-30 12:00:43. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

For Christmas songs chords & lyrics, CLICK HERE!

By Chris Moore:

It’s official: the Christmas season is upon us yet again!  I, for one, found it difficult to concentrate on the work I brought home this weekend, choosing instead to listen to Christmas music — specifically that on Bob Dylan’s new 2009 holiday album Christmas in the Heart (see my review here!) — and playing some of my favorite seasonal songs on acoustic guitar.  One of my new favorites is a song written by Hal Moore and Bill Fredricks titled “Must Be Santa.”

Now, before you get too excited, I should begin by making it very clear that tonight I am covering Bob Dylan’s rendition of “Must Be Santa” and NOT the performance “popularized” by Mr. Music and the Cool Kids Chorus.

Please don’t be disappointed…

Seriously, though, if you would like to hear that rocking version, you’ll just have to download it for yourself.  Or the versions by Mitch Miller, Raffi, Point Sebago Resort, Glen Burtnik, Miss Lisa, Miss Molly, The Friel Brothers, The Angel Choir, The Holly Players Orchestra, The Hit Crew, Mary Lambert, Bob McGrath, Kids Sing’n, the Pokemon Christmas Bash band, or Lorne Greene with the Jimmy Joyce Children’s Choir — good luck finding that last one.

If you’re craving a good polka, then don’t miss out on the Brave Combo version (which, ironically, is the closest in style and arrangement to Dylan’s).

And who could forget the Kids Rap’n the Christmas Hits version?

These cover songs range from boring to funny to vomit-inducing and back again.  This brings me to the Bob Dylan version, which is a breath of fresh air when played beside these other covers.  Dylan’s “Must Be Santa” is a frantic, polka-inspired three minutes of Christmas spirit, accordions, and bright choral vocals built up around Dylan’s gruff lead.  Recorded nearly half a century after Mitch Miller first recorded the song in 1961, it is interesting to see how our image of Santa and the general sound and style of Christmas music (i.e. both sets of chord changes as the song progresses a la so many other seasonal favorites) really haven’t changed much in all this time.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Dylan’s album — and his recent work in general — is an homage to a simpler time in American popular music.

That is perhaps why Dylan’s new album, time-ravaged vocals and all, has slipped in so quickly among my favorite Christmas albums of all time.  Although it was recorded earlier this year, there is a sense of nostalgia and even timelessness in each of its tracks.  Somehow, he has managed to record the songs in a style that seems very natural from his current studio band.  Indeed, Dylan has seemingly reached further and further into the past for the styles of his past several albums.  In this sense, 2009 was the ideal year for him to record an album of traditional favorites and holiday songs from earlier in the century.

I don’t think any music will ever usurp the positions that The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album and the Moody Blues’ December currently hold in my heart.  The Barenaked Ladies’ Barenaked for the Holidays, Brian Wilson’s What I Really Want For Christmas, and America’s Harmony are certainly the next runners up.  Some of my attachment to this music is admittedly due to my own personal memories, such as listening to the Beach Boys each year as my family decorated the tree and attending a Moody Blues Christmas concert with two of my dearest friends several years ago.  That being said, there is also a universal element to the music on these records that I can’t imagine any fan of rock music being able to deny.  Somehow, these aforementioned bands have managed to incorporate religious hymns, classic rock Christmas songs, and originals into unified works that I look forward to dusting off each and every year.

For now, I’m wading into the music of season via this new Dylan album.  After all, this is the punchline of a joke I’ve been making for as many years as I’ve loved Bob Dylan — “Imagine if Dylan recorded a Christmas album!”  My friends and I would laugh, but I was always privately jealous that their favorite bands — the Beach Boys, the Moody Blues, etc. — had recorded Christmas albums or at least a Christmas song or two.

Now, I have my secret wish, and I couldn’t be happier!

Yes, Dylan’s voice is rugged, and truth be told, I was a bit hesitant to embrace this album when I gave it one listen upon its release a month ago.  However, it only took a second listen for me to get hooked.

Whatever music you may enjoy listening to at this time of the year, I hope you’re enjoying it, and I hope you’ll come back throughout the week for Jim’s music video tomorrow, a guest session(!) on Friday, and another installment of Weekend Review.

See you next session!

“I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” (Wilco Cover)

Originally posted 2008-11-18 22:26:46. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

It’s no secret that I’ve been going through a Wilco phase recently.  And, by phase, I mean that I wasn’t really familiar with the band until a couple months ago.  I had read about the band a bit in music magazines, and I had read quotes by band frontman Jeff Tweedy, which I generally found interesting.  So, I finally found a copy of their critically acclaimed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album and decided to give it a spin.

And instantly loved it.

Ever since, I’ve been listening to alot of other music, but I’ve gone back to Wilco every time.  In the past two months, I’ve gone on an odyssey to discover as much about them as possible.  This has involved reading Wikipedia posts, skimming music magazines, and browsing through numerous CD store racks and used album bins.  In the process, I’ve found affordable copies of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot‘s predecessor, Summerteeth (which is the origin of the song I just added to the members-only section, which you should definitely check out soon!), and their first album, A.M.

Now, it’s not that Wilco is my new favorite band of all-time, by any means.  But there is a certain excitement that accompanies fresh territory, striking out into a land that is unusual and can present unexpected ideas, sounds, etc.  For instance, I learned all about Uncle Tupelo — a band I had heard OF but had never actually HEARD — because Uncle Tupelo, minus one member, became the first incarnation of Wilco.

But, I guess that’s a story for another time.

Suffice it to say that Uncle Tupelo is credited with founding the “alt-country” genre that I didn’t even know existed until recently.  As Tweedy progressed, he became more and more experimental with his music, particularly after the first couple Wilco albums.  He seems like an interesting musical figure to me, as he embodies that rock songwriter ideal; he has made some great music, and from many reports, he can be a bit of a jerk.  For instance, members of Wilco have been essentially summarily dismissed to make way for new musicians with new sounds to bring to the process.  While this may not make for pleasant interpersonal relationships, it has certainly made for some interesting musical variations and evolution in the band.

When I think of this song and this album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, in particular, I am reminded, to a degree, of some of the classic albums that have initially been criticized or even rejected by record company executives.  In this case, the hype surrounding the making of the album seems to have only aided and increased its eventual popularity.  Essentially, as Wilco recorded this album, but the powers-that-be needed to make some cuts at the label, so they released the band.  There are several conflicting stories, but the end result is that Wilco got to keep the recordings and rights to the then-new material, going on to another division of Warner Bros. to officially produce and release the album.  This caused a bit of a stir in the record industry at the time — particularly the public perception of the label’s treatment of this fairly longstanding act — and even though I wasn’t nearly as interested in music industry news as I am now, I remember something about this at the time.

The track I chose for tonight is the opening song, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.”  For better or worse, my version does not do justice to the studio version, which you should definitely listen to; for that matter, you should definitely listen to the album!  But, when I discovered that Jeff Tweedy does an acoustic version of this song in his acoustic sets, I couldn’t resist.  It’s a great song that sets the tone remarkably well for the album to follow.

I hope you enjoy my version and that you hurry back in the next couple days for Jeff and Jim.

See you next session!



“Must Be Santa” (Cover by Bob Dylan) – Chords, Tabs, & How to Play

Originally posted 2009-11-29 12:00:07. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

To see how it’s played in a music video, CLICK HERE!

“Must Be Santa”
Hal Moore & Bill Fredericks – Covered by Bob Dylan

A
Who’s got a beard that’s long and white?
E
Santa’s got a beard that’s long and white.
A
Who comes around on a special night?
E
Santa comes around on a special night.
A
Special night, beard that’s white.
D           E
Must be Santa,
A            Bm
Must be Santa,
D           E                    A
Must be Santa, Santa Claus.

Who wears boots and a suit of red?
Santa wears boots and a suit of red.
Who wears a long cap on his head?
Santa wears a long cap on his head.
Cap on head, suit that’s red.
Special night, beard that’s white.
Must be Santa,
Must be Santa,
Must be Santa, Santa Claus.

Who’s got a big, red cherry nose?
Santa’s got a big, red cherry nose.
Who laughs this way: “Ho, ho, ho”?
Santa laughs this way: “Ho, ho ho.”
Ho, ho ho; cherry nose.
Cap on head, suit that’s red.
Special night, beard that’s white.
Must be Santa,
Must be Santa,
Must be Santa, Santa Claus.

Bb
Who very soon will come our way?
F
Santa very soon will come our way.
Bb
Eight little reindeer pull his sleigh;
F
Santa’s little reindeer pull his sleigh.
Bb
Reindeer sleigh, come our way.
Ho, ho, ho; cherry nose.
Cap on head, suit that’s red.
Special night, beard that’s white.
Eb         F
Must be Santa,
Bb         Cm
Must be Santa,
Eb          F                   Bb
Must be Santa, Santa Claus.

B
Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen —
F#
Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon.
B
Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen —
F#
Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton.
B
Reindeer sleigh, come our way.
Ho, ho, ho; cherry nose.
Cap on head, suit that’s red.
Special night, beard that’s white.
E           F#
Must be Santa,
B           C#m
Must be Santa,
E           F#                  B
Must be Santa, Santa Claus.

Must be Santa,
Must be Santa,
Must be Santa, Santa Claus.

** These chords and lyrics are interpretations and transcriptions, respectively, and are the sole property of the copyright holder(s). They are posted on this website free of charge for no profit for the purpose of study and commentary, as allowed for under the “fair use” provision of U.S. copyright law, and should only be used for such personal and/or academic work. **