Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

Bob Dylan, "Christmas in the Heart" (Columbia) [NO STARS]

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Though it may seem like the most unlikely endeavor, longtime fans of rock's most famous bard must applaud the notion of Robert Allen Zimmerman making a Christmas album--that is, at least if you appreciate the wickedly sarcastic sense of humor and love of surrealism that have always been a strain in Bob Dylan's work.

This is, after all, the man whose autobiography lauds old-time wrestler Gorgeous George and ukulele-strumming Tiny Tim as two of his biggest inspirations, and who loves to mess with our notion of his status as the Voice of a Generation with the occasional mind-boggling detour like making a Victoria's Secret commercial.

Conceptually, then, "Christmas in the Heart" is a success, simply because it's so unexpected and downright bizarre. You might think that as he enters the sixth decade of his career, with 34 studio albums and countless live recordings to his credit, Dylan couldn't come up with anything to surprise us anymore. Well, he just found something.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the music, the album is a complete failure.

From the faux-Currier and Ives cover art to the annoyingly precious arrangements, and from the beyond-predictable choice of tired holiday chestnuts to the chorus of backing vocalists who sound as if they could be the surviving members of the King Family, Dylan plays things beyond straight, adhering to the syrupy, schlocky pop sounds of the pre-rock era that also provided the worst moments on his recent albums.

Never a conventionally good singer, of late, Dylan's once powerful croak has become more of a raspy wheeze. But his delivery is the real problem.

When the star stumbles through "I'll Be Home for Christmas," he sounds like the family's disinherited black sheep embarrassment, delivering the sentiment as a threat rather than a promise. In "Winter Wonderland," when that treacly chorus coos, "We'll have lots of fun with Mr. Snowman," he sounds like a psychotic as he answers, "Until the other kids all knock him down!" And by the time he starts slaughtering the familiar Latin refrain of "Adeste fideles"--"Venite adoremus Dominum" becomes, no kidding, "Benito adore-a-moose domino!"--you don't know whether to wince or guffaw.

If the proceeds of this album weren't being donated to charities dedicated to easing world hunger, you might think it was all a big put-on. Regardless, fans would be well advised to make a donation of their own and spare themselves this holiday torture.

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54 Comments

Okay, so is Bob Dylan's Christmas album any good? Truthfully I don't know. All I know is that this is NOT a toss off record: not only are all the proceeds going to charity, but what I'm listening to is the sound of a man having a ridiculous amount of fun. I'm smiling and laughing so hard right now. Which I think, in the end, is all he wanted to happen. A very nice present. Thank you, and Merry Christmas Mr. Dylan. :)

When the star stumbles through "I'll Be Home for Christmas," he sounds like the family's disinherited black sheep embarrassment, delivering the sentiment as a threat rather than a promise. In "Winter Wonderland," when that treacly chorus coos, "We'll have lots of fun with Mr. Snowman," he sounds like a psychotic as he answers, "Until the other kids all knock him down!"

----

You sure this is a negative review?

You make his versions of those two songs sound interesting.

Wow...the author of this review is a joke. It seems that he's got a real chip on his shoulder when it comes to Dylan. I really hate when these critics so far up their behind that they don't understand what they're listening/seeing at all. It was an album for charity that was supposed to be a fun project for an old rocker. It is nothing amazing, but then again, it was never supposed to be. You can't deny that his band is tight and the arrangements? The backup singers bring back a sound reminiscent of old time country music, such as the Carter family and other artists of that era. Try playing an instrument and then try to arrange a piece of music for a band. Then you'll see how hard it is.


But don't take anything personaly, and merry Christmas!

I love this album for all the right reasons. Charity is great and Bob Dylan sounds real good to me I give it 5 stars*****:) :) :) :):)
it makes me smile and I bought 2. Thanks Bob and I hope you have a Merry Christmas:)

i dont mind that it is syrupy or schmaltzy or even pure pulp this is dylan telling us he does what he does it is up to us buy it or not

Wow!, Sure seemed to miss the boat here Jim. I was expecting a disaster but love this album from start to finish. It was alot of fun and done for all the right reasons. Anyone who can't enjoy this record is a scrooge! The best Christmas album I have ever heard!

I was surprised at how good this album is also. The production in particular is astounding. I downloaded (Citibank Presale) but I swore at times I was listening to one of my old Burl Ives records with the Ray Charles singers on Decca and pressed on vinyl that weighs 2 or 3 pounds.

As the other poster pointed out, Dylan does find meanings and brings nuances to these songs that make them interesting and enjoyable despite the fact that we've all heard a million versions a million different times.

Oh, to answer the question you didn't ask, he names 8 presidents.

Idiot review. Its a wonder you even get paid.

This album is the only hope for a merry christmas...let us gather around, ipods to our ears and dance in a merry circle.... this cats on the way out but by thunder he's thrown a yuletide log on the fire ,if anyone is left who even cares?
rs

Unfortunately, this world is still home to people that think their opinions for the minds of the full is more important than a donation for the belly's of the hungry.

Shameful.

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada.

Oh dear-Ole Jim-bob ain't happy. Look you idiot-it's a very light hearted look at Christmas from someone you would never expect to do anything like that-after all Bob is Jewish. A lot of people will geta bit of pleasure out of it and many will eatwhere they might otherwise have starved. Get a life you misogynistic loser!

Well, Mr. DeRogatis does it again. Another cynical (I would say secretly self-hating but that's just a guess) review, which at its grinch-like heart amounts to: 'I don't like Dylan's delivery.' Let's think about this album, Jim. If you were putting out a Christmas album for charity, would you choose relative obscure or underappreciated songs, or would you chose those that might actually sell and entertain the masses? And would you go for some kind of ahead of the curve 'arrangements' or go back to traditional American versions of such songs? News flash: most Christmas songs ARE precious. He's clearly harking back to a certain style of here, rather continuous with his latest albums, which have been very good. I mean, one can only wonder what your be-knighted Wilco (who I like) would make of a Christmas album or what you would take to be a good album. Yes, Dylan's voice is gravel these days, but his phrasing is still a thousand times more interesting than almost anyone else out there. Jeff Tweedy, for example, singing, oh I don't know, "I'll be home for Christmas" or what have you, one could imagine would be quite boring and futile. Again, just to use a reference that you might hold in higher singing and phrasing regard. It's amazing to me that in this world, one can draw a paycheck not only with such poorly phrased writing, but also a writing very thin on actual ideas, or actual close commentary on what is actually on this album -- beyond your own huffing and guffawing prose. You are the journalistic equivalent of what you are complaining of here, I guess ironically enough.

I WAS BROWSING THE NET FOR RATINGS ON DYLANS CHRISTMAS ALBUM ANS WAS QUITE SURPRISED AT THE VERY NEGATIVE REVIEW GIVEN BY MR. DEROGATIS. I WAS ALSO VERY CONFUSED BY THE RESPONSES OF THE READING PUBLIC. WHAT I CONCLUDE IS THAT I DEFINATELYY WANT TO BUY THE ALBUM WHEN IT GETS TO THE UNITED KINGDOM, AND THE CHICAGO SUN TIMES READERS ARE A THINKING, EMOTIVE AND TRUTHFUL PEOPLE.

Very funny!

Loved it. It's Bob proving once again that there is nothing he can't do... Folk, Rock, Country, Blues and Xmas. Every one a winner.
Your reviewer misses the point, of course: this is a Dylan Xmas album. And this is Dylan doing it the way only Dylan can.

I'm just glad I don't have to spend Xmas with Mr. DeRogatis.

Thanks Bob, and a very merry one to you and to all those who will eat on the proceeds this Xmas. I might go out and buy another one.

Mr. Jim D: Apparently you are unaware of The Bob's secret powers that will wreak havoc and malaise on your sorry soul by deeming this precious charity-gifted album: "NO STARS". Santa SHALL deliver coal to your stockings and pave your travels with black ice for all eternity. For you: It's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there. Pray. Hard.

This man Derogatis needs to find other work. Dylan doesn't need stars, he doesn't need critics, nor someone who obviously knows so little about the man himself. This is a Christmas record, not a Bob Dylan record. Ole' Jim here...is giving 0 stars to Christmas. Dylan is giving all the proceeds to charity. Maybe Derogatis should first, write a check, then actually listen to a real Dylan record, then maybe he would realize Bob is 68 years old, and just wants to have fun paying homage to the great Christmas songs of old. Bob presently, as well as in all years past, has delivered all his songs perfectly. The only way they can be presented. He wrote them. They are original. Mr. Derogatis could use a little of that.

Merry Christmas Jim

I love the album. I didn't think I would, but I think his growl sounds great and the album is fun. I don't expect non Dylan fans to buy it. I wouldn't buy an Xmas cd by an artist I didn't like.

Greggo

misogynistic? (Of or characterized by a hatred of women.)

Did you mean misanthropic?

a terrible, inaccurate review.

"to the annoyingly precious arrangements, and from the beyond-predictable choice of tired holiday chestnuts ..."
what?? what were you expecting?? for him to do a groundbreaking musical re-write of winter wonderland??
its a very good album thats great fun to listen to and will be even more so over the hoidays.
lighten up.

this review merely adds to my theory that the job of a 'critic' is one of the most pointless 'professions'.

Being a Chicagoan I've been reading and listening to his radio show for somewhere around 20 years now. He's a good critic, and part of that is allowing yourself to be opinionated--which he certainly is, and he's been railing against the crooner numbers on Dylan albums since Love and Theft. It's a huge blind spot of his. I think he once said (echoing Michael Grey) that Dylan and rock music were meant to kill off this old fashioned style---I suspect Dylan would disagree that his role here on earth is to kill any particular style of music, in fact I suspect he's proud to be shoving such unfashionable styles into the spotlight.


The ironic thing is, Jim D. would cheerfully extoll the virtues of your typical meth head 22 year olds banging on garbage cans and playing kazoos---he'd make damn sure the reader understood it's perfectly valid to make music that way. But background singers??? Lovely subdued jazz guitar from Phil Upchurch??? Bygone styles played with affection and sincerity??? No, that's not allowed!! It must remind Jim of an mean great aunt or something. He really has it in for this style of music, and writes this review with blinders on.

Amazing - this idiot has a job as a music reviewer!!!! There's hope for all us Bad photo too - looks real overweight doesn't he.? Think he lives with his mum?.

A lot of you folks might not believe it, but Bob Dylan is capable of cutting a lousy album. I love the man's work, especially his albums from 1993 (World Gone Wrong) through 2001 (Love and Theft). But let's be real here...Modern Times was good not great, Together Through Life was decent, and Christmas in the Heart is, well, awful.

Thank you Jim DeRogatis for being real.....

It's hard not to listen to this and think of dylan's influence as a singer. Bono wrote, "I like 'Series of Dreams,' 'Most of the Time,' 'Dignity' ... The voice becomes the words. There is no performing, just life — as Yeats says, when the dancer becomes the dance."
That's perhaps far too flattering for this context, but I get a lot of enjoyment in hearing how he phrases and emphasizes these apparently treacly offerings--he's still letting the song carry the load, firm in his conviction that 'there is no performance'. There are plenty of moments here where you can dismiss his sloppy attitude toward clearing his throat and marvel at how pervasive his style of singing is now. Dude, he's the 7th Greatest Singer of All-Time over at RS lol

Joshy Bear... I thought Modern Times was spectacular. Together Through Life.. well, not so great.

I agree with the unfortunately named "joshy-bear", Dylan can make an awful album. Why he should choose to grace the world with a Christmas gift, I can only guess, but judging from the list of songs, I would not want to subject myself to the experience. Luckily it is not 1959 and I am no longer in a small town in the midwest, so I won't have to listen to his rendition of "The Little Drummer Boy" blaring out from every other street corner treelot.

The critic does a good job of giving a foretaste of the dubious pleasures of the album. Diehard Dylan-can-do-no-wrong fans should lighten up.

CB in Hamburg

I love Bob Dylan, but am not a fanatic Bob-o-Phile. But the concept of this album scares me. I have not yet heard it and am not sure if I will, I really don’t want this to turn into a Bob jumps the shark moment for me.

"for those who understand, no explanation is needed..
for those who don't, none will suffice."--Jerry Lewis on why he does his telethon.

ditto for dylan.

Only complaint is that His Bobness didn't get around to recording the other tunes that were lined up..Xmas versions of his own such as:

Sleigh Lady Sleigh
It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Sledding
Gotta Serve Some Eggnog
Tangled Up In Fruitcake

In Bob We Trust.
(Talkin' Mele Kameke Maka Blues...)

Sorry Ebeneezer DeRogatis, you're dead wrong on this review. Far from a failure, Dylan's Christmas album will be playing during future holiday seasons long after the last ghost visits you someday.

Either you don't understand Christmas or you don't understand Dylan, but I suspect both.

I can practically taste the spiked eggnog, feel the snowflakes landing on my eyelashes and only look forward to the xmas parties I'll be attending where this album is on the playlist.

The fact that the proceeds go to charities to feed the hungry in perpetuity should have earned at least one star from you, dontcha think?

sugartramp

You can disagree with his review and think it's ridiculous, but do you have to make fun of his weight? That's mean. No need to bash someone on their looks.

I completely disagree with his review but bashing his weight is out of the question.

The album was bad, but can't a critic for a large newspaper have a little class? Jim, you take credibility away from yourself by giving a review this harsh because you make it pretty clear you have some sort of chip on your shoulder. Grow up.

ZERO stars? I mean, just for the kitsch factor and the effort, it doesn't deserve ZERO stars. Too bad, I bet if Wilco put out the same album, it would get 5 stars.

I'm all over this album.Just wish it had come out on vinyl.
It's like a big hug from a guy that doesn't give out hugs
easily or to just anybody. Next year maybe he'll knit us all
a pair of socks.

By the way, getting a O Star review from Mr. Derogatory should
be some kind of badge of honor.

I would give zero stars to ALL Bob Dylan albums. What a bunch of phony B.S. I can't believe all the people who were taken in by this non-talent and his crap "music". Suckers!

Let's remember that a review is a personal opinion. The man obviously hates Dylan. "Regardless, fans would be well advised to make a donation of their own and spare themselves this holiday torture."
I wouldn't buy a Christmas album put out by an artist I didn't like, although I would respect the fact that some people would like it...something this reviewer lacks. What Mr. Derogatis doesn't get is that Bob Dylan does have fans, and these fans will most likely enjoy the album. I love Bob's voice now more than ever, and I think this album is an amazingly unique addition to the holiday season.
Thank you Bob!!!!

Bob really treasures these songs and you can tell in his delivery. For many years, he has used White Cristmas as one of his sound check songs cuz he's so familiar with every nook and cranny of it, because he loves it so much.

Once again DeRo gets a review completely wrong. Jim, you should stick to reviewing concerts that you don't even attend. At least yr foolishness is laughable in those situations.

I wanna skip the next month and get right into the day after thanksgiving after hearing this album. I think I'm in the Christmas spirit for the first time in a decade. Thank you Bob!

I just downloaded the album and was listening with a big grin on my face while looking to see what critics have said of the album. Then I stumbled upon this rather inaccurate and quite spiteful review from a very obese man, whose picture on the top right corner screams of lack of social life. All other reviews I have read mention the fact that it was done for charity, to feed the hungry, and the fact of how admirably odd it is. It obviously is not a masterpiece, and it is quite funny to hear Dylan sing these songs that seemed ridiculous when I was a child, yet they sound fun and fresh coming from such a distinct voice. The reviewer seems to have a profound lack of sense of humor, a complete lack of happiness in his life and better yet, seems to be somehow very bitter about his position in life, about Dylan or maybe just the idea of Christmas. It is a very petty review, and another reminder of how some people that have no business giving out opinions are the ones doing it. Merry Upcoming Holidays Everybody! Let's Hope That With All The Pain And Unease Of Our Current National Situation We Can Find Our Lives Filled With Some Joy This Upcoming Season!!

This is a joke, right?

I finally heard some of these songs and they are horrible. I’m a big Dylan fan and it pains me to hear this and to read such passionate defense of this music. He has done such brilliant work over the past few years that I fear this album could be the beginning of an 80’s like dive into the realm of bad Bob. Hopefully not, but only time will tell.

It always amazes me that whenever this man writes a negative review, you guys come out of the wood work to attack his character.

"Christmas In The Heart" is by no means a good album; it's right up there with Billy Idol's Christmas album on "Things I wish didn't ruin my holidays." Most of you seem to be blinded by nostalgia, which seems weird to me because honestly...do you guys not remember some of the truly awful records put out?

I mean, come on, "Self Portrait," "Dylan," "Saved," this man has put out some truly horrific LPs, and the acclaims of his past do not simply make them disappear.

Mary, Jim doesn't hate Dylan, and by no means does he not understand Dylan's fanbase. What most of you, however, seem to not understand, is that Jim is a professional music critic. Not every thing he says will be nice and pretty and flattering; if it was I'd stop reading his stuff immediately.

Despite what you folks may think, Dylan's not going for some kind of elaborate existential here. The material isn't boring because it's Christmas songs...it's boring because Dylan lost his touch years ago, and is just going through the motions. Seeing him live would attest to that. The Dylan from "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" is dead, and has been for quite some time. Now, I think it's time to stop pretending Robert Allen Zimmerman is his second coming.

Hey Jim, you're a fat, stupid douche who knows nothing about music.

Self Portrait, & Saved are excellent records. Dylan knows what his fans want to hear, that's why he doesn't give it to them. Self Portrait was a country record. Getting away from everything that was coming out at the time. Saved, still holds up today. It's a gospel record. Wonderful to this day. WIth regard to going through the motions. He's 68. If you have not been 68 there is no way you can understand his state of mind. He's aging gracefully, and no longer needs to impress. His last 4-5 records are all brilliant. He's speaking of mortality, love, and what else matters at his age. As far as a "Professional Music Critic". That does not exist. Only in someone's mind. Oh, and comparing anything Dylan does to Billy Idol? You prove me point.

Christmas in the heart, is a Christmas Record...not a Dylan record. It's Bob singing the songs of the season, and for a good cause. Show some respect...

Jim is an exceptional music critic who I read often and whose opinion I value and...who I almost always disagree with. It is INSANE to attack him personally for a negative review, no matter what inferences about his taste you may infer. People need to grow up, take this as one of many possible opinions on this album and move on.

SURPRISE!!
Jim Dero DOES NOT LIKE something!
I am now quite likely to enjoy this Dylan release.
Does ANYONE put on a Christmas or Holiday album with headphones for a critical analysis like a Chamber Music release?
NO!
You put it on while wrapping presents, or when friends come over for a cup of Cheer!
Right, it is NOT the "Belly" Christmas album.
Nor, is it "Andrew Bird interprets Chinese Pipa for Holiday Rituals"
IT'S A HOLIDAY ALBUM!
It's allowed to be SENTIMENTAL!
OH, That's right!
You want an EDGY, DANGEROUS Christmas album.
SURE you do!
Then MAKE ONE!

Dylans' radio show-
BEST syndicated show of ANY genre on the air.
PERIOD!
I just might put this cd in my car for permanent rotation!

I am sorry I think I put my comments on a couple of times by mistake thinking it didn't go the first time. I love tat Jim gets to review all of the comments prior to them being posted to his blog.
Supertramp, maybe he gets his mommy to come downstairs and read them for him?

Boo

Tim

Jim,

Though, as a professional critic, you're not expected to do more than dramatically offer up your sensationalistic opinions of artist's endeavors, you should at least endeavor to compose your inordinately positive or negative tirades with some adherence to the rules of grammar.

Please correct this portion of your useless review, if nothing more:

"if you appreciate the wickedly sarcastic sense of humor and love of surrealism that have always been a strain in Bob Dylan's work."

I'm thinking either "have/strains" or "has/strain," or--better yet--you go back to the drawing board with the entire "sentence".

Also: when you find the time, please let me know "what else you've got" as it relates to your written and on-air review(s?) of the Arctic Monkeys "Humbug" album. [http://blogs.suntimes.com/derogatis/2009/08/arctic_monkeys_humbug_domino_3.html]

Keep up the work,
joey

Jim:
As a commentary of a record, your review of Christmas in the Heart is a complete failure! I give your effort a zero.
When I first heard that he was coming out with a Christmas album, I figured Bob Dylan was making a cash grab as many artists do around the holiday season or in their twilight years. But that made absolutely no sense, since Mr. Dylan has been on a roll for the past ten or so years with Time out of Mind, Love and Theft, Modern Times and Together Through Life.
In fact, Dylan set a record with Together Through Life, becoming the oldest recording artist ever to make number one on the Billboard 200, breaking a record which he previously owned.
So I thought, 'Well, he couldn't be doing Christmas in the Heart for the loot.' Then news came out that every dime of the royalties from the record was going to feed children throughout the world - starving children, some starving to death. This act of kindness alone warrants at least a couple of stars on your ridiculous judicial scale.
I purchased the record on Tuesday when it came out. I actually bought 5 of them. I love it! My 25 year old son Dylan, after much begging, allowed me to remove the Lil Wayne CD that was blaring in his car and agreed to listen to Christmas in the Heart. Dylan, who is not a Dylan fan, loved it too. When he dropped me off at my house, I only had four copies left. He wanted to keep one. I smiled as I closed the car door.
As I listened to the album, I could imagine a little, eight-year-old Robert Zimmerman on Christmas Eve in Northern Minnesota, excited about Santa Claus coming down the chimney with presents wrapped to put under the tree. I could also hear most of the songs being played throughout the Zimmerman household. I truly believe Bob was recollecting his childhood past as he was recording these songs.
Now, I am not about to give Christmas in the Heart a five-star rating, but it surely doesn't deserve the zero that you gave it. As far as album reviews go...well, I have the Christmas Spirit tingling my soul so won't tell you what I really think about your efforts. In other words I won’t repeat what Supertramp has already said about you

Thanks a lot

Tim

Tim, you know Bob Dylan was raised Jewish, correct?

Pretty sure that man wasn't celebrating Christmas as a child.

Is there anything more lovely than the screams of dying sacred cows? I think not, which is why this trenchant review is my favorite since Ebert's Transformers 2 review.

I only wish I could see the review of Hootie and the Blowfish that got you fired from Rolling Stone- I imagine that was a thing of beauty as well.

Santa Zimmer-Claus answers DeRogatis and all Christmas-haters!~

BF: Some critics don’t seem to know what to make of this record. Bloomberg news said, “Some of the songs sound ironic. Does he really mean have yourself a Merry Little Christmas?” Is there any ironic content in these songs?

BD: No not at all. Critics like that are on the outside looking in. They are definitely not fans or the audience that I play to. They would have no gut level understanding of me and my work, what I can and can’t do – the scope of it all. Even at this point in time they still don’t know what to make of me.

Tim O'flanagan speaks the gospel...that man knows Bob..oh yes he does...

Christmas in the Heart has kicked off this season with LOVE and INSPIRATION...now, no one no how can deny tha truth of that...

The hobo spirit has done it...AGAIN.


Is it too early to start listening to these songs again, tell me that it isn't so

Tim

Bob Dylan does not need critics...only fans.

I love this album! I bought it the second it came out. I can not stop smiling listening to a wonderful man having fun!
Just lovely fun...
Carl Small

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