So it should be stated right upfront that this album isn't gonna' be for everybody. In fact, for most people, the verdict on Bob Dylan's first-ever collection of Christmas tunes is probably going to come down to which side of a central question you are on.
That would be "The Croak."
"The Croak," for those not already in the know, is the ragged, Tom Waits-like tone and quality Dylan's voice has taken on with all of his albums this decade, dating back to at least Time Out Of Mind. Some people love it, while it makes others cringe.
As for me? I love "The Croak."
So the only real question for me going into this album was, will the harsh, sandpaper-on-cigarettes quality of Dylan's voice that works so well on a song like, say, "Thunder On The Mountain," sound appropriate on something like "Hark The Herald Angels Sing"?
And on that particular song, the answer is no, it really doesn't. The reason has more to do with the arrangement than it does with anything else though.
One of the reasons Dylan's voice works so well with his own recent songs is because when he sings something with the fire and brimstone lyrical imagery of "Thunder On The Mountain," "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'," or even "Aint Talkin'," the apocalyptic world-weariness in his voice is a perfect match to the subject matter. Dylan also is a master of phrasing, so in his own songs every double-phrased or twisted syllable adds just that much more dramatic emphasis to the words.
On "Hark The Herald Angels Sing," as with the other songs on Christmas In The Heart, Dylan however plays it completely straight. The arrangements are as traditional as a holiday card from Hallmark, and likewise there are no twists of phrase in the vocal delivery. So, in the case of "Hark," this only serves to illustrate the fact that he just can't hit the notes.