Entertainment behind the scenes
CORRECTED-Bob Dylan’s new Christmas album has the goods, critic says
It turns out that Bob Dylan Christmas album due out on Oct. 13 might be a good reason to hit the eggnog after all.
When news of the album was revealed over the summer, many Dylan fans could hardly believe it. Dylan just isn’t the kind of artist who does Christmas albums, or so everyone thought.
But writing at the Los Angeles Times music blog Pop & Hiss, critic Randy Lewis said on Thursday that after a sneak preview listen to some songs from Dylan’s “Christmas in the Heart,” he judges that the album is “a ton of fun.”
“Rather than simply a tossed-off session for his kids and grandkids, Dylan seems to be offering up an astute exploration of the roots of holiday music — Christmas records in particular — in the same way he has returned in various albums over the years to mine pop music’s foundation in blues, folk, country and gospel,” Lewis wrote.
In tracing the roots of some of the songs on the album, Lewis wrote that Dylan’s version of “Must Be Santa” harkens back to the Texas rock-polka group Brave Combo, and that his treatment of “Here Comes Santa Claus” reaches back to the stylings of Texas-born singing cowboy Gene Autry, whose 1947 version of the song is remarkably similar.
It’s not the first time that Dylan has borrowed from a Texas-born singer named Gene. His “Sugar Baby” song on the 2001 album “Love and Theft” lifts a melody from Gene Austin’s “The Lonesome Road” (follow the links to hear for yourself).
Lewis writes that Dylan’s for-charity Christmas album comes complete with “reindeer-quick accordion” from Los Lobos star David Hidalgo, and Dylan singing the first verse of “O Come All Ye Faithful” in Latin. So it looks like Dylan has shaken up the Christmas standards like a kid shaking a present under the tree.
Meanwhile, “Late Show with David Letterman” bandleader Paul Shaffer on Thursday detailed personal memories of His Bobness in an excerpt from his upcoming book, “We’ll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives,” published on the website of Vanity Fair. Shaffer, who was raised an Orthodox Jew, explained his feeling of disappointment in Dylan when the Jewish “Like a Rolling Stone” singer showed up at a television appearance in the late 1970s wearing a Christian cross. It was during Dylan’s Christian period, but Shaffer writes that he felt “bothered and bewildered.”
Fast forward a number of years, and Dylan and Shaffer were making an appearance together at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Dylan was back in the Jewish fold and refused to play after sundown on Friday, in observation of the Sabbath, Shaffer writes.
There are more memories like that from Shaffer, but in the end, they add up to the oft-repeated characterization of Dylan as a restlessly creative artist, who always does the unexpected — like putting out a Christmas album, and ignoring the “rock icon” mantle.