With kindness in his heart, producer Jack Frost brings Christmas in the Heart. Fitting the pseudonym of Bob Dylan may be for this Christmas album production, it is also a name that stuck throughout the production credits of his 21st-century efforts. Dylan’s desire to make Christmas tracks not a holiday but an experience for all is admirable. Most artists must dabble in the arena of Christmas tracks. It keeps them relevant on the radio around December for decades to come. That golden line of cracking out a holiday-specific track so great you can retire is the dream for many. Only Slade and a handful of others can handle that. Dylan cannot, but that is because Christmas in the Heart is an odd collection of festive covers and hymns with charity at the heart of it all.
Adapting the classic tracks of Christmas cheer, Dylan’s rapidly changing voice provides some blues crooning to Here Comes Santa Claus. All of Christmas in the Heart will rely on whether a listener wishes to hear the Like a Rolling Stone singer adapt to the spirit of the times. But there are times where Dylan’s voice does not sound like the smooth crooning he aims for. There is a layer of insincerity and creepiness to it. Where that may work for Love and Theft or Rough and Rowdy Ways, it does not exactly inflict the spirited charms of the festive season. Dylan selects a range of tracks to cover and does just that.
Nothing more, and none of the covers he provides are anywhere close to as good or better than the original track. The Voice of a Generation may have a dab hand for protest tracks and contemplative reflection, but Christmas is a struggle for the vocal cords. Winter Wonderland is the most worrying but entertaining of the lot. Spotty moments come through with Hark the Herald Angels Sing, where Dylan sounds off, struggling to get the words out of a classic track. He does not stumble his way through a confusing valley of Christmas tracks, but it is never a cover or tribute worthy of the time it takes to fire through this album. There are few highlights and fewer low points. It is an album that plods along, trying to hit that Christmas classic status.
But Dylan outshines himself. The man has made a Christmas album, and the commotion around that takes precedence over what it may sound like. Not exactly a permanent classic of the discography, but the admirable intentions behind it and the power of the singer at the core of it all certainly warrant a listen. Christmas in the Heart is full of fusty old classics, cracked out by Dylan for the good sake of charity. He was never going to belt out Driving Home for Christmas or Wonderful Christmastime, but there are moments throughout this 15-track album where a listener may wish they were listening to the latter Christmas tracks. Classics these are not, but it is hard to knock the Voice of a Generation for trying.