Column - Dylan sounds like lovable Scrooge on Christmas albumAbout a month ago, a friend told me Bob Dylan was about to release a CD of traditional Christmas songs.
By: Dennis Dalman, Alexandria Echo Press
About a month ago, a friend told me Bob Dylan was about to release a CD of traditional Christmas songs.
I burst out laughing. I didn’t believe it. Then my friend and I, like old fools, started crooning – croakingly – our versions of Dylan singing songs like “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night.”
“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle aw-w-w-l-l-l the w-a-a-a-y . . . “
Shortly after our lunatic song fest, I dashed to my computer and brought up the amazon.com website. Sure enough, there it was: “Christmas in the Heart” by Bob Dylan. The CD cover featured an old-fashioned Currier-and-Ives kind of painting: a man and woman riding in a horse-drawn sleigh. I ordered it immediately. I couldn’t wait to hear this one!
Dylan has always had surprises up his sleeve, always one or two steps ahead of everybody else. But a Christmas album?! What in the world was he thinking?
The great jazz singer Billie Holiday was once asked by some producer to sing an album of Christmas songs. Never one to mince words, she turned to him in a sarcastic huff and told him, using scorched-ear phrases, where he could stick his Christmas tunes.
Earlier today, the Dylan Christmas CD arrived in the mail. The back of the CD shows an indigo-blue, cartoony scene of the three Wise Men following a star. It’s really tacky, like something you’d see on the dusty shelf of a consignment shop. The real stunner is when you open the CD and see, on the left, a painting of a buxom babe dressed in skimpy Santa get-up and sitting there, nearly naked, by two presents, as she flashes a welcoming holiday smile. She looks a lot like famed pinup girl Barbi Benton from an old Playboy magazine.
I quickly perused the list of 15 songs, most of them old standards, the very Christmas songs I’d grown up with and still love so much.
Grabbing the disc, I put it on my player. Then I took a deep breath and pushed “Play.”
And there, sure enough, was Dylan singing “Here Comes Santa Claus.” It took me for a loop. I just didn’t know what to think about it. Not bad! I listened to more of the songs. At times, Dylan croons nicely, almost Bing Crosby-like. But his croon is undermined by his famous scritchy, scratchy, cranky verbal delivery. It’s the sound of aged sandpaper – singing. It’s a great voice for “when you’re lost in the rain in Juarez and it’s Easter time to-o-o,” or “Everybody must get stoned” or “How does it f-e-e-e-l?” But for “O Come All Ye, Faithful?” Not so much.
Dylan, on these songs, sounds like old miser Ebenezer Scrooge the day after he discovered the spirit of Christmas, if you can imagine him singing at the dinner table with the Bob Cratchit family over a roast-goose dinner. Still cranky but kind-hearted, too. A lovable curmudgeon.
Dylan sounds like that sentimental Irish grandpa who loves to get a snootful of whiskey and then start crooning yuletide tunes in front of the fireplace. The whole family’s impressed at first as gramps, sitting there with his lopsided Santa hat, sings his fool head off. Then the hat falls to the floor; the voice wobbles, cracks and sinks. Better cork that whiskey.
I guess I’m glad I bought “Christmas in the Heart.” All proceeds go to a help-the-hungry organization called “Feeding America.” That’s nice. I’ll probably listen to the CD again. Maybe it will grow on me. But, probably not. As Christmas approaches, Dylan will be relegated to the bottom shelf. My CD player is going to be stuffed – as it is every December – with the likes of Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Lena Horne, Andy Williams and Karen Carpenter.