Bob Dylan-spice eggnog

Dylan ushers in the holidays with an album of traditional Christmas songs.

PHOTO COURTESY COLUMBIA RECORDS

PHOTO COURTESY COLUMBIA RECORDS

by Mark Brenden

Bob Dylan ALBUM: âÄúChristmas in the HeartâÄù LABEL: Columbia Bob Dylan has always had a gift for foresight. And, with his new Mr. Bojangles holiday album âÄúChristmas in the Heart,âÄù which emanates a sentimental aura stronger than the scent of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Dylan again unleashes his crystal ball. He is here to tell us to buck up, because here comes winter. âÄúChristmas in the HeartâÄú has Dylan churning out all the classics âÄî âÄúO Come All Ye Faithful,âÄù âÄúHere Comes Santa ClausâÄù and âÄúHark the Herald Angels SingâÄù âÄî in a Midwestern-ized Louie Armstrong-esque crackled bellow. However, to listen to this album to get your Christmas traditionals fix is to neglect the narrative that lurks brazenly beneath. In other words, donâÄôt think âÄúBorn is the King of Israel,âÄù think âÄúBorn is the King of Desolation Row.âÄù Plenty of artists have done Christmas records, so how does DylanâÄôs stack up against them? The arrangements are far less creative than Sufjan StevensâÄô banjo-sacked 2006 endeavor. It doesnâÄôt match the dark Christmas album of 2002, wherein Bright Eyes managed to take the rosiness out of Mrs. ClausâÄô cheeks with their intriguing but dismal take on the Christmas spirit. Finally, it lacks the timeless charm of Nat King ColeâÄôs âÄúChestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.âÄù No, DylanâÄôs, as with everything heâÄôs ever done, is in a league of its own. At times, like in the track âÄúHark the Herald Angels Sing,âÄù Dylan sounds like that old beaten man singing in the pew behind you, making your heart ache for his life, which reminds us that this is as much a Christmas album as it is a character study of the ultimate American troubadour. He is the man, he suffered, he was there âÄî perhaps finally defeated by the country he embodies. Dylan has oftentimes been mislabeled a prophet or a messianic golden boy, but those titles arenâÄôt quite accurate. In the storied sojourn of the 20th century, Dylan is the closest thing thatâÄôs ever come to a frustrated Ecclesiastes, stuck in the questions of life, not the answers. What better to connect him with the most biblical of all holidays? In Martin ScorseseâÄôs piercing bio-documentary âÄúNo Direction Home,âÄù you hear Dylan explaining that he felt he was born a long way from his home, and his life has been a journey seeking home. With that particular odyssey under his belt, DylanâÄôs humming of âÄúIâÄôll Be Home for ChristmasâÄù is sacked with amusing yet gut-turning dramatic irony. But itâÄôs not all-aged, wise Dylan on âÄúChristmas in the Heart.âÄù He sings âÄúLittle Drummer BoyâÄù in an almost sheepish, boyish manner and you are reminded of his younger days âÄî smug-mouthed and juvenile âÄî rambling the carnival sidewalks of Greenwich Village, asking, âÄúWho will listen to my hillbilly ditties?âÄù In a way, Dylan himself is Frosty the Snowman. The way he burst onto the scene and showered us with cryptic advice and forlorn prophesy, and now âÄî by surrendering to his record companyâÄôs incessant nagging to do a Christmas record âÄî we see him melting before our eyes. Hail, King of Desolation Row, and keep working. You ainâÄôt melted yet. 3.5/5 stars