Christmas in the Heart is the thirty-fourth studio album and first Christmas album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released on October 13, 2009 by Columbia Records. The album comprises a collection of hymns, carols, and popular Christmas songs. All Dylan’s royalties from the sale of this album benefited the charities Feeding America in the USA, Crisis in the UK, and the World Food Programme.
Dylan said that, although he was born and raised Jewish (he converted to Christianity in the late 1970s before returning to observing Judaism), he never felt left out of Christmas during his childhood in Minnesota. Regarding the popularity of Christmas music, he said, “… it’s so worldwide and everybody can relate to it in their own way.”
The album opened at #1 on Billboard’s Holiday and Billboard’s Folk Album Chart, #10 on Rock Album charts and #23 on overall album charts.
The album was recorded in a Santa Monica studio owned by Jackson Browne.
In an interview published by Street News Service, journalist Bill Flanagan asked Dylan why he had performed the songs in a straightforward style, and Dylan responded:
There wasn’t any other way to play it. These songs are part of my life, just like folk songs. You have to play them straight too.
When Flanagan reported that some critics thought the album was an ironic treatment of Christmas songs, Dylan responded:
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.
Dylan released a music video for the song “Must Be Santa” directed by Nash Edgerton. In the video, Dylan and some other people are having a Christmas house party, until two of the guests start fighting and smashing things around and one of them running away. In the closing scene, we see Dylan and Santa Claus.
A music video was also released for the song “Little Drummer Boy” directed by Jeff Scher.
At Metacritic, the album currently holds a score of 62 out of 100 based on 17 reviews, indicating generally favorable reviews.
While the unexpected move by Dylan to record a Christmas album was received with skepticism at first, the outcome of the project was lauded by critics for bringing a fresh breath of air into these classics.
Slant Magazine’s critic Jesse Cataldo awarded the album 4 stars out of 5 and said:
This enjoyable sense of exploration, which prizes levity in a genre that usually amounts to an artistic wasteland, is invaluable. It also proves how much life is left in the songs, and how much other artists have succeeded at butchering them.
Se7en magazine’s critic agreed, writing:
The arrangement of his band mixes up the style of the songs, resulting in a repertoire of Christmas songs that genuinely sound like modern material, while avoiding ever being cliché.
The critic for Tiny Mix Tapes rated the album 4 stars out of 5, writing:
On Christmas in the Heart…it’s not the heat, but the bitter cold, the kind you feel in northern Minnesnowta[sic]. These are traditional numbers, aged but not antiquated. In keeping with releases like Good as I Been to You and World Gone Wrong, the album features Dylan exorcising the musical spirits of the land. Some will rank it among other gimcrack releases, like Dylan & the Dead. Still others will categorize it as an oddity, like Self Portrait. It’s all and none of these. These songs are Dylan’s latest exploits, but they’re deathly sincere (and jolly), as serious and kitschy as Theme Time Radio Hour. It’s the music that introduces old Disney films, an album as dense and allusive as his other recent outings.
It’s a tragedy that more than 35 million people in this country alone—12 million of those children—often go to bed hungry and wake up each morning unsure of where their next meal is coming from. I join the good people of Feeding America in the hope that our efforts can bring some food security to people in need during this holiday season.
Bob Dylan´s christmas single from 2009
Feeding America received Dylan’s royalties from sales in the USA, while two further charities, the United Nations’ World Food Programme and Crisis in the UK, received royalties from overseas sales.
“That the problem of hunger is ultimately solvable means we must each do what we can to help feed those who are suffering and support efforts to find long-term solutions. I’m honoured to partner with the World Food Programme and Crisis in their fight against hunger and homelessness.”
Bob Dylan (vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica)
Tony Garnier (bass)
Donnie Herron (steel guitar, mandolin, trumpet, violin)
David Hidalgo (accordion, guitar, mandolin, violin)
George Recile (drums, percussion)
Phil Upchurch (guitar)
Patrick Warren (keyboards, celeste)
Amanda Barrett – Bill Cantos – Randy Crenshaw – Abby DeWald – Nicole Eva Emery – Walt Harrah – Robert Joyce
01. Here Comes Santa Claus (Autry/Haldeman) 2.35
02. Do You Hear What I Hear? (Regney/Baker) 3.02
03. Winter Wonderland” Felix Bernard, Richard B. Smith 1:52
04. Hark The Herald Angels Sin (Mendelssohn/Wesley) 2.30
05. I’ll Be Home For Christmas (Ram/Gannon/Kent 2.54
06. The Little Drummer Boy (Davis/Onorati/Simeone) 2.52
07. The Christmas Blues (Cahn/Holt) 2.54
08. O’ Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles) (Traditional) 2.48
00. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (Martin/Blane) 4.06
10. Must Be Santa (Fredericks/Moore) 2.48
11. Silver Bells (Livingston/Evans) 2.35
12. The First Noel (Traditional) 2.30
13. Christmas Island (Moraine) 2.27
14. The Christmas Song (Tormé/Wells) 3.56
15. O Little Town Of Bethlehem (Traditional) 2.17