“All I can do is be me, whoever that is.” – Bob Dylan
It’s very, very late in the day to make a fuss about Bob Dylan’s voice, though whole flocks of second-rate comedians and online jokesters are still making damp hay about it. At this point, nearly a half-century into the man’s singing career, pointing at that Dylan’s pipes lack the range of Judy Garland and the sweetness of The Beach Boys is not exactly going to set the collective jaws a’dropping. Notions of “authenticity” in pop music are often only reductive, snobbish constructs, but there is a kind of music lover who, in part thanks to the work of Mr Dylan, both as a singer and as a lifelong proponent of oldey timey music, prefers a throat full of frog than a velvet fog.
But still: even full acceptance of Dylan’s characteristic croak and whine can be strained. Personally, I could never take the sneezy nasality of “Lay Lady Lay.” I’d rather he shouted the thing in my ear in a fake German accent than whistle it, as he did, through one nostril. Thankfully, he rarely went there again.
Lately, he has been settling into a kind of growl/grumble that suits perfectly the jumped-up country blues he’s been sitting on for the past few records. The early reediness had given way to something closer to Joe Cocker or Tom Waits. If you occasionally feel like sucking on a Lozenge a few tunes in, that’s a small price to pay.
And then along comes Christmas in the Heart, Dylan’s new, 100% un-ironic collection of yuletide tunes, and all of a sudden, the man’s voice has become a question again....