The first impression is that this is all a joke.
Beneath the Currier & Ives-esque cover art of Christmas in the Heart is Bob Dylan heaving ragged vocal wreckage upon 15 well-worn holiday carols. The idea alone is perverse enough. What on earth, for instance, could an iconic songsmith like His Bobness hope to find in covering some of the world's most obvious and familiar music?
But dig into Christmas in the Heart and the things get — depending on your fascination with or simple tolerance of 21st-century Dylan — wilder, weirder or just plain worse.
Dylan's touring band (augmented by two of his pals, Los Lobos multi-instrumentalist David Hidalgo and veteran guitarist Phil Upchurch) is credited as the primary backup, but the arrangements are built around the antiseptic glee of a seven-member singing troupe called The Mixed Voice Singers. What emerges is the sort of airbrushed accompaniment one might associate with, say, a Perry Como record.
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Now, add to that the signature Dylan vocal death rattle and what you have is polished holiday cheer offset by singing that sounds like a fit of emphysema. But Dylan plays it all straight and, seemingly, with full earnestness.
Hearing him croaking through the crooning of I'll Be Home for Christmas and all but gasping his way through the girly chorus of Winter Wonderland is simply too strange for words.
Then again, Christmas in the Heart might be just the ticket for those fed up the holidays' unending and often intrusive chirpiness. Anyone caught up in the sentimentality of the season should beware. Dylan might be donating all the proceeds of Christmas in the Heart to charity, but the music it contains makes for one serious horror movie.