Bob Dylan’s Christmas In the Heart, track by track . . .

One wag reviewing this album said that Dylan’s “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” comes off as more of a threat than a promise.  Dylan does sound a bit like like the irascible old uncle who’s been invited to Christmas dinner but that everyone is hoping won’t show up, because he always creeps people out.

But the performance takes on another dimension if you remember the provenance of the song.  Bing Crosby recorded the hit version of it in 1943, when legions of young American men with thousand-yard stares were hunkering down in foxholes in Italy or on remote Pacific islands, or training for the invasion of Europe that everyone knew would have to be made eventually.

Many of these men knew they wouldn’t be home for Christmas, except in their dreams, and might not be home for Christmas ever again.  It summed up what they were thinking — in the heart — and broke the hearts of their loved ones back in the States.

Today, the song doesn’t have this resonance — it’s just a wistful, sentimental reverie about a family gathering.  Dylan brings it back to what it originally was, a matter of life and death.

Listen to it with the context of 1943 in mind, which the retro arrangement helps you to do — listen to the weariness and edge of hopelessness in Dylan’s voice . . . and it will break your heart, too.

Perhaps it will also remind you that the context of 1943 is not so different from our own right now, and so incline your thoughts to the legions of young American men and women in harm’s way in Afghanistan this year who won’t be home for Christmas, and might not be home for Christmas . . . ever again.

Back to the Christmas In the Heart track list page.