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 itâ€™s bad â€“ 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 donâ€™t like the throaty croak of Dylanâ€™s last few albums, this one may leave you scratching your head even more than this yearâ€™s Together Through Life. OK, much more.
Personally, Iâ€™m on the record as being a proponent of Dylanâ€™s singing; his voice may be unconventional (OK, shot), but what he does with that battered old instrument never ceases to amaze me â€“ 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 â€™80s work.
But does Bobâ€™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 â€“ actually, sometimes all at once. Unlike some other holiday albums from singers with more traditional (read: good) voices, he seems to really be feeling â€œThe Christmas Blues,â€ not just showing off his pipes.
Granted, there are some things the man should not be attempting â€“ the high note at the end of â€œDo You Hear What I Hearâ€ is probably his most ill-advised since the one from his gospel-era â€œI Believe in You,â€ which I can only imagine caused Mahalia Jacksonâ€™s eardrums to explode. Actually, a lot of these songs remind me of Dylanâ€™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 â€“ but I donâ€™t think so. Taken in concert with his strolls down memory lane on his Sirius radio show, Theme Time Radio Hour, I think itâ€™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 â€“ although itâ€™s safe to say that Dylanâ€™s polka romp through â€œMust Be Santaâ€ will make it onto my holiday playlists for all eternity. And Iâ€™ll admit to being a little disappointed that Bob didnâ€™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, Iâ€™ve determined that listening to this disc makes me, well, happy â€“ and isnâ€™t that what the season is all about?
And for those who prefer a more heavenly chorus this time of year, thatâ€™s OK too. There are plenty of copies of Mariah Careyâ€™s Merry Christmas floating around out there for them.
All U.S. royalties from Bob Dylanâ€™s â€œChristmas in the Heartâ€ go to benefit the charity group Feeding America.