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.

“How Good It Can Get” (Wallflowers Cover)

Originally posted 2008-04-12 15:44:16. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jim Fusco:

Welcome to your Saturday edition of The Laptop Sessions with me, Jim Fusco!

Today, I join the Wallflowers group with Chris and Jeff (who’ve done quite a few already) and do one of my favorite tunes, “How Good It Can Get”.

This song has one of the best hooks I’ve ever heard, plus it was my “anthem” song during my trip to Italy last year. I remember one night, after an amazing Tuscan dinner, walking through the streets back to the hotel. I was singing this song at the top of my lungs. Clearly less-than-level-headed, I kept also yelling out that I was still on key!

Well, this was recorded long after that night and I was STILL on key! I hope you enjoy today’s Session and make sure to keep checking the blog at LaptopSessions.com for exclusive videos from our first ever LIVE concert tonight!



“Cowgirl in the Sand” (Neil Young & the Byrds Cover)

Originally posted 2008-04-15 14:26:57. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jim Fusco:

Thanks for stopping by for your Tuesday edition of the Laptop Sessions acoustic cover songs music video blog!

Today, I bring you a song written by Neil Young, “Cowgirl in the Sand”. Not only is this song one of his most famous, but it’s also generally well-known among country-rock music fans.

The version I’m doing is derivative of the version the Byrds did on their reunion album from 1975. That album isn’t wonderful by any means, but Gene Clark’s contributions are, of course, superb. He sings a great lead on this song, too.  Gene Clark just had a great timbre to his voice.  He could sing rock’n’roll music and country/western music with the best of them.  Of course, Gene Clark was a great songwriter, too, both with the Byrds and on his own solo recordings.  While searching around here on the music blog, be sure to click on Gene Clark’s category to see the other cover songs I’ve done written by him.  If you’re not a fan now (or haven’t heard of him), I guarantee his original songs will get your attention.

This is one song that I never planned on doing, but came into my head one night, so I just sat down and did it! I think some people were a bit surprised that I busted this one out at our first live show as a trio the other day.  My favorite aspect of the Byrds’ version of “Cowgirl In The Sand” is the harmonies on the chorus.  I really hope that we can get those harmonies right in future performances, as I think that’s the flare the Byrds added to make the version their own.

Considering how the Byrds first started, it’s a bit surprising that they gravitated over to country rock like they did.  They were initially marketed as a folk group, electrifying Bob Dylan songs like “Chimes of Freedom” and “Mr. Tambourine Man”.  But, the band members of the Byrds, especially Chris Hillman, started out loving folk music in a different way- the classic, down-home country style.  Chris Hillman is actually an accomplished mandolin player, and there is no better country guitarist than Roger McGuinn.  Basically, they just threw an electric bass in Hillman’s hands and a 12-string electric Rickenbacker guitar in McGuinn’s hands, and they had a big hit band.  In later albums, the band members of the Byrds would write original songs that had a country flare to them, including Chris Hillman’s “The Girl With No Name”, which I’ve also done a cover song music video of here on the music blog.

You may also notice the “incredible fluctuating hairdo” of myself- I recorded this song before getting a haircut, as you saw in the “Aware” cover video (of an original song) from last week.

I hope to do more Neil Young songs in the future and I hope this cover song video attracts some new viewers and music lovers to the Laptop Sessions live acoustic music video series!


“Three Ways” by the Wallflowers – Chords & How to Play

Originally posted 2010-07-05 17:56:33. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

“Three Ways”
The Wallflowers (Jakob Dylan)

F#                                     B
There’s three ways out of every box:
Fall out the bottom, or you crawl out the top.
F#                                     B                  F#                   B
There’s three ways out of every, every box.
B              Bb                          B
But if you can’t find your way out,
Then you just burn it to the ground,
B                           Bbm – Abm       B – Bbm – Abm                    F#         B
Then you’ll disappear              like smoke                   into the clouds.

There’s three ways off a merry-go-round:
You either jump, or you let it slow down.
There’s three ways off a merry-go, merry-go round.
But if you can’t put your foot down,
Then you just burn it to the ground.
Then you walk away real slow back into the crowd.

Abm                           B
There’s always somebody there for a laugh.
Then you’re the only one that’s left.
B                                 Bbm                        F#
Now that’s what you get left behind in the wreck.

There’s three ways off a burning bridge:
You pray for rain or you learn how to swim.
There’s three ways off of every burning bridge.
But if you can’t find strength and you quit,
Then you can just burn up and sink.
Then you’ll drift away real slow down into the ground.

** 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. **