In the late Seventies, Bob Dylan shocked his fans when he converted to Christianity and released two albums of gospel-themed rock & roll. Now the singer – who is believed to have returned to Judaism –has another surprise in store: On October 13th, he will release Christmas in the Heart, a collection of holiday standards, including "Winter Wonderland," "Here Comes Santa Claus," "Little Drummer Boy" and "Must Be Santa." Dylan recorded the set earlier this year with his touring band, session players and a group of backup singers. (The artist produced himself under his usual pseudonym, Jack Frost.) "Columbia has been asking for a Christmas album for decades," a source close to Dylan says. "They're perennial sellers, and that's what every label wants."
The release will also be Dylan's first charity record; all of his U.S. royalties will be donated to Feeding America, which supports a network of food banks and soup kitchens. Feeding America was as surprised to hear about the album as Dylan's fans were. Just two months ago, the charity contacted Dylan to see if the musician would lend his name to its cause. Instead, Dylan's manager and two Columbia reps flew to Feed America's Chicago headquarters with the unexpected offer of a charity LP. "This is a dream come true," says Feeding America CEO Vicki Escarra. "Dylan can really get Americans focused on the fact that 35 to 38 million Americans don't have food security today. It's just unconscionable."
In other Dylan news, virtuoso Texas blues guitarist Charlie Sexton – who played with Dylan from 1999 to 2002 – is returning to the band when Dylan hits the road on October 5th in Seattle. Sexton's tenure in the band is considered one of the greatest periods of Dylan's career. "I love Bob and am happy to be reunited with my friend onstage," says Sexton. Adds the Dylan source, "There's all sorts of golden eras, but Charlie was something else. I saw the last show they did together in 2002, and it was fucking incredible."
This story is from the September 17, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone.