Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Review of Dylan's "Christmas in the Heart"

Man of Constant Examination

“In fact, if Bing Crosby had washed down a carton of Lucky Strikes every day with a bottle of Knob Creek, and then lived to be a million, this is exactly the Christmas album he would record,” so says one reviewer. Agreed. Let’s face it, this is not an album we’re going to listen to on Christmas Eve by the fire. It’s not slick; it’s not nice. But it is authentic. The album is a mix of secular and religious songs, and his voice sounds better on the secular pieces. But our review is less about how Dylan sounds and more about the message he conveys.

His rendition of “Adeste Fidelis” can only be regarded with the compassion we give the man in the pew next to us struggling to conquer the Latin, but who fails to remain in tune. It’s painful to hear, but the act alone, much like Michelangelo’s Adam trying to brush the finger of God, signifies the bittersweet beauty of man’s effort to touch the divine. The attempt redeems the failure. Dylan’s voice reminds us that we are a broken people who can still pray. We have hope. When viewed through this lens, his rendition of “The Little Drummer Boy” takes on a deeper significance than almost any other song on the album. When he says he has no gift to bring, we believe him. He offers the only thing he can: himself.

The last lyric sung on the album is “Amen.” It is an amen infused with reverence, humility and a simple faith. The voice, finally, is perfect. Man touches the divine.

Why is Dylan doing this album and why now? All proceeds from album sales are going to charity, so it’s not about money. He may be nostalgic for something lost. Dylan is 68 years old and it’s quite possible he is taking inventory of his life. Several times this year, he’s been spotted visiting the childhood homes of his contemporaries: Neil Young, John Lennon, and, most recently, Bruce Springsteen. He is a constant seeker, always on the road to Emmaus.

This article originally appeared in the Traces print edition, Volume 11, Number 10, 2009