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Who exactly is Bob Dylan? Nearly 50 years since America's most celebrated rock-and-roll bard first ascended into the national spotlight, the answer is still virtually nonexistent. It's no small stretch to say that a significant portion of Dylan's career has been built on his ability to consistently surprise with his music. Christmas in the Heart is no different: a collection of traditional Christmas songs, conceptually well intentioned but marred by unfocused production and an overall silliness that amounts to the singer-songwriter's most trivial work in years.

Helmed by Dylan himself under the Jack Frost pseudonym he has used for many of his recent works, Christmas in the Heart is certainly one of the more unique Christmas albums, if only because Dylan transforms an assortment of holiday classics into stale, syrupy caricatures of their former selves. His signature croak takes on the form of a raspy wheeze here, creating uncomfortable juxtapositions on old favorites such as "Here Comes Santa Claus" and "Little Drummer Boy."

Other selections fare slightly better--namely, expressive renditions of "Do You Hear What I Hear?" and "Silver Bells"--but the overall album is undone by Dylan's muddled delivery and his backup band's uncharacteristically lazy orchestration. In some cases, the album even veers toward unintentional comedy, a quality especially prominent in Dylan's repeated butchering of key verses such as the Latin chorus to "Adeste Fideles" (If the concept of Dylan singing holiday ballads still difficult to grasp, imagine him crooning through the stately refrain of "Venite adoremus Dominum.")

The album's proceeds will be handled by various global hunger charities, but altruistic purposes aside, Christmas in the Heart is hardly more than a marginal curiosity in the context of its creator's recent string of achievements. Dylan completists may find some extra value here, but those wishing to experience the singer at the apex of his contemporary phase are enthusiastically directed to "Love and Theft" and Modern Times, Dylan's finest outputs of the decade and masterworks in their own right.

Contact David Liu at [email protected]

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