Unless you are a die-hard Dylan fan, I do not recommend buying it. But if you have a friend who’s a die-hard who just had to have it (like me, I suppose) then see if he’ll let you wheedle it away for a once-through.
This is not your typical Christmas fare. First, Dylan’s voice has become a raspy caricature of itself. But it is especially jarring when accompanied by the sticky-sweet strains of male and female backup vocalists. As a result, the discordant sounds at times are almost grating.
Like much that Dylan has said or done, there is a measure of ambiguity present. Is this supposed to be a serious Christmas album or is he just funnin’ us? When asked about this he said, “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.”
A couple bright spots on the CD are worth noting. I like the opening number “Here Comes Santa Claus” which I just discovered was co-written by Gene Autrey. But my favorite cut on the album, which is worth the whole thing for me, is “Must Be Santa.” It’s done polka style, which brings numerous personal echoes for me. My wife’s father played an accordion as did her brother, with memories that bring a smile. The Northland here is polka country, Dylan’s original roots, Duluth being home to more accordion players than you can shake a stick at. The Duluth Accordionaires, founded in 1949 by John Copiskey, must have tried to teach everyone and their mothers, sisters and brothers to play because to this day I still run into people here and there who took accordion classes downtown way back when.
My accordion memories don’t end here in the Northland. On our first trip to Ol’ Mexico we came out of a café in Monterrey late one eve only to be greeted by two street musicians, one on guitar, the other on the diatonic accordion featured in what is called “Musica Nortena”…our own favorite style of music South o’ the border. We tipped them, of course.
So when David Hidalgo sets the tone with a jalepeno-hot squeezebox riff on “Must Be Santa”, I’m in the game. Dylan’s having fun, the band is having fun, and you’ll have fun, too, if you get a chance to hear it.
The reviewer in Christianity Today gave it 2 stars (out of five) and Rolling Stone gave it 3. Chris Richards of the Washington Post called it awesome. (Was that tongue in cheek, Chris?) I also saw at least one reviewer give it a zero, so… do beware.
We already own Christmas CDs by Elvis and The Jackson Five, so why not Bob?
EDNOTE: The Dylan quote in paragraph four is ennyman fiction