Since it was actually snowing (!) the day it came in the mail, I thought it only appropriate to offer a few remarks about the Bob Dylan holiday album, Christmas in the Heart. Actually, consider it a warning.
No, not that itÁ¢€â„¢s bad Á¢€” in fact, I think I may (dare I say?) love it, like a child loves a new toy or Santa loves figgy pudding. But I feel an obligation to warn you that if you donÁ¢€â„¢t like the throaty croak of DylanÁ¢€â„¢s last few albums, this one may leave you scratching your head even more than this yearÁ¢€â„¢s Together Through Life. OK, much more.
Personally, IÁ¢€â„¢m on the record as being a proponent of DylanÁ¢€â„¢s singing; his voice may be unconventional (OK, shot), but what he does with that battered old instrument never ceases to amaze me Á¢€” think Clapton playing the hell out of an ancient, out-of-tune Stratocaster. And his recent material benefits from the weathered feel of his vocals, much more than his old nasally whine adapted to his less-than-well-remembered Á¢€â„¢80s work.
But does BobÁ¢€â„¢s gravelly voice go with Christmas? Yes, there are times when it sounds patently, hilariously ridiculous, but for the most part, to me, it seems heartfelt, nostalgic, mournful, hopeful and funny Á¢€” actually, sometimes all at once. Unlike some other holiday albums from singers with more traditional (read: good) voices, he seems to really be feeling Á¢€Å“The Christmas Blues,Á¢€ not just showing off his pipes.
Granted, there are some things the man should not be attempting Á¢€” the high note at the end of Á¢€Å“Do You Hear What I HearÁ¢€ is probably his most ill-advised since the one from his gospel-era Á¢€Å“I Believe in You,Á¢€ which I can only imagine caused Mahalia JacksonÁ¢€â„¢s eardrums to explode. Actually, a lot of these songs remind me of DylanÁ¢€â„¢s religious period, where his desire to explore that genre apparently trumped the obvious inappropriateness of his voice to do so.
As for his decision to include 1950s-style traditional arrangements and backup singers, it may be a gag Á¢€” but I donÁ¢€â„¢t think so. Taken in concert with his strolls down memory lane on his Sirius radio show, Theme Time Radio Hour, I think itÁ¢€â„¢s a real homage to the music he probably heard wafting from tinny speakers in the windows of five-and-dime stores during his childhood in Hibbing, Minn.
So will I listen to Christmas in the Heart on repeat mode from now until Dec. 25, and even after? Probably not Á¢€” although itÁ¢€â„¢s safe to say that DylanÁ¢€â„¢s polka romp through Á¢€Å“Must Be SantaÁ¢€ will make it onto my holiday playlists for all eternity. And IÁ¢€â„¢ll admit to being a little disappointed that Bob didnÁ¢€â„¢t throw us a bone with at least one original, holiday-themed tune. (You know he must have one in him.) But after a few run-throughs, IÁ¢€â„¢ve determined that listening to this disc makes me, well, happy Á¢€” and isnÁ¢€â„¢t that what the season is all about?
And for those who prefer a more heavenly chorus this time of year, thatÁ¢€â„¢s OK too. There are plenty of copies of Mariah CareyÁ¢€â„¢s Merry Christmas floating around out there for them.
All U.S. royalties from Bob DylanÁ¢€â„¢s Á¢€Å“Christmas in the HeartÁ¢€ go to benefit the charity group Feeding America.