Already the air is beginning to fill with sounds seasonal as stores belt out their well worn Christmas soundtracks and even some of the local radio stations have dared to spin the occasional Yuletide ditty. Gone are the days when Christmas music belonged exclusively to the festivity itself, now the jingle jangle of reindeers, sleigh-bells and gathering angels are used to extend the shopping extravaganza way beyond even the month of December.
I must admit that I am a sucker for Christmas carols and there are a few Christmas cracker songs that also rock my sledge, like John and Yoko’s 'Happy Christmas, War Is Over’ and Jona Lewie’s ‘Don’t Stop The Cavalry’ and of course Jackson Browne’s ‘The Rebel Jesus’. ‘Oh Holy Night’, ’ Adeste Fideles’ and ‘The Coventry Carol’ would be my top three carols whose musical light burst through the morass of woolly thinking and mulled-wine-filled days that are part and parcel of this ambiguous festival. As an avid collector of Christmas albums from the Muppets to Mario Lanza I was excited to hear that my venerable musical icon Bob Dylan has this year ,surprise, surprise ,released his very own addition to this musical genre, ‘Christmas In The Heart’.
As I write I am listening to Dylan’s seasonal offering and a very upbeat, Pogueish version of ‘Must Be Santa’. Already I have heard a jaunty Dylanesque rendition of ‘Here Comes Santa Clause’ and a scratchy sky stretching ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’. Now he is singing ‘The First Noel’ as no one else can, punctuating the powerful lyrics of the old hymn in that distinctive drawl “ The first Noel the angel did say / Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay; / In fields as they lay, keeping their sheep, / On a cold winter's night that was so deep. / Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, Born is the King of Israel. “ Such is the potency of that voice that old favourites like ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ and ‘Silver Bells’ lose their familiar banality and are endued with a freshness and immediacy that present those ancient and hallowed themes in an arresting and different way. Anyway Bob could sing the telephone directory and attach a gravitas to it with the awesome quality of his singing that has droned and sometimes hollered over the last five decades. The album is very much a traditional package with a Victorian painting of a lady and driver being pulled through the snow on a sledge with two horses on the cover, and a night scene of the Magi following the star on the back. Inside there is the slightly mischievous picture of a smiling brunette beauty posing in a Santa suit ! Whatever about the red suit with the fur trimmed collar this album should have pride of place in any stocking hung over the yuletide hearth this year.