Bob-dylan-christmas-albumSince 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 it’s bad – 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 don’t like the throaty croak of Dylan’s last few albums, this one may leave you scratching your head even more than this year’s Together Through Life. OK, much more.

Personally, I’m on the record as being a proponent of Dylan’s singing; his voice may be unconventional (OK, shot), but what he does with that battered old instrument never ceases to amaze me – 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 ’80s work.

But does Bob’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 – actually, sometimes all at once. Unlike some other holiday albums from singers with more traditional (read: good) voices, he seems to really be feeling “The Christmas Blues,” not just showing off his pipes.

Granted, there are some things the man should not be attempting – the high note at the end of “Do You Hear What I Hear” is probably his most ill-advised since the one from his gospel-era “I Believe in You,” which I can only imagine caused Mahalia Jackson’s eardrums to explode. Actually, a lot of these songs remind me of Dylan’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 – but I don’t think so. Taken in concert with his strolls down memory lane on his Sirius radio show, Theme Time Radio Hour, I think it’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 – although it’s safe to say that Dylan’s polka romp through “Must Be Santa” will make it onto my holiday playlists for all eternity. And I’ll admit to being a little disappointed that Bob didn’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, I’ve determined that listening to this disc makes me, well, happy – and isn’t that what the season is all about?

And for those who prefer a more heavenly chorus this time of year, that’s OK too. There are plenty of copies of Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas floating around out there for them.

All U.S. royalties from Bob Dylan’s “Christmas in the Heart” go to benefit the charity group Feeding America.

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About the Author

Pete Chianca

Pete Chianca is a humor and music writer and author of Glory Days: Springsteen's Greatest Albums. He lives north of Boston with his wife, two kids and an indeterminate number of dogs and cats. Read more Pete at Pete's Pop Culture, Parenting & Pets Blog.

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