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When news broke that Bob Dylan would release his first-ever Christmas album, music lovers—and critics—went into a tizzy, concerned that it wouldn't be a good fit. And rightfully so, for it seems that the legendary singer-songwriter spiked his eggnog en route to recording Christmas in the Heart (Sony).

Historically, Christmas albums include some of the world's most melodic masterpieces. But in Dylan's hands, the holiday tunes they are a-changin' with ho-ho-horrible takes on "Silver Bells" and "Here Comes Santa Claus." Such choices are too kitschy for a musician whose stellar discography earned him a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation last year for works "marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power."

Dylan's inclusion of faith-based hymns and carols like "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" will certainly stir buzz about the 68-year-old singer's spiritual state. And though this is just one more way the revered rebel keeps fans guessing, the growling grandpa just doesn't sound festive enough for Christmas luster.

If anyone could pen a set of sad strains for the season, Dylan could. Call me a Scrooge, but Christmas in the Heart makes me blue for all the wrong reasons.

Fortunately, these new holiday albums are filled with good cheer:

• Ayiesha Woods's soulful Christmas Like This (Gotee) should do your heart some good. Inserting blatty horns, loose tambourines, and Jelly Roll—like tremolos throughout, the fervid songstress compiles a glorious holiday recording worthy of Motown and beyond.

• Laced with glittering arrangements and creative pizzazz, Downhere's How Many Kings (Centricity) is brimming with enigmatic cheer. The Canadian quartet includes jaunty renditions ...

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December 2009

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