Nick Lowe ‘Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection For All The Family’ (Proper Records)
Christmas albums. Doncha’ just love ’em? There are the classics which everyone (meaning – EVERYONE, including some as yet undiscovered tribes in the South American rainforests) can name, and there are some howlers. I have to admit that I was a bit dubious when I found out about Bob Dylan’s ‘Christmas In The Heart’ a few years back, but when I heard it, was convinced it must have been a put-on and still find it hard to believe that there are serious Dylan fans who rate it.
It’s good to know that Nick Lowe shared the same sentiments – for a while at least, until he admittedly realised that delivering his own take on a Christmas album (or is it now called a holiday album?) could actually be fun. Having rediscovered some of the joys of the festive season since becoming a father for the first time, he realised it was time to jump – in at the deep end or onto the bandwagon, whatever you want to call it – but he has delivered a characteristically Nick Lowe take on his own seasonal songbook.
Of course, there are moments where the tongue is firmly in cheek; the album title for instance might be something which sounds familiar to many who appreciate their tins of seasonal confectionary. All aside, the album contains a selection (box) of songs which hopefully appear fresh: traditional hymns, originals and some long forgotten gems all done in an attempt to tick off as many different musical styles as possible.
There’s a rockabilly skiffle to the opening ‘Children Go Where I send Thee’ and a Ron Sexsmith original with ‘Hooves On The Roof’ which veers towards lounge jazz. The acoustic guitar bash (with the occasional slide adding some interest ) ‘Rise Up Shepherd’ is as close to what we might call an alt-country take on a Christmas song as you’ll get with it’s repetitive call of the title being a perfect one for Primary school seasonal sing-alongs for any teachers cool enough to pick up on the album.
The oldies get a look-in too as ‘Silent Night’ gets another overhaul, this time with an almost reggae shuffle which doesn’t detract too much from the original melody, but it’s a full on ska revival for the old Slade chestnut (need we say its name?) which closes the album. In between, Lowe adds a couple of originals – the relaxed delivery of ‘I Was Born In Bethlehem’ which he explains as “I was trying to write it as if you’d met Jesus on a plane and he just started chatting away about that night.” It’s a performance which you can just imagine being delivered sat under the tree plucking away serenely at a guitar. Planes seem to be a bit of a theme in Lowe’s writing as he adds ‘Christmas At The Airport’ which is a little more tongue in cheek with its familiar airport terminal voiceovers added to a fifties style effort – you can imagine the visuals coming from Steve Martin’s ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ as the tale of travel hindrances unravels.
With typical self-depreciation, Lowe has played down the appraisal of his album, citing the reserved mentality of the British when compared to the all-embracing American approach to the whole spirit of Christmas and the “corniness and schmaltz” with which they enter into it. “It’s a good record, but then Christmas records don’t exactly set the pulses racing,” he admits, while also acknowledging that the thrill came very much in the making of the album.
In the time honoured tradition, the release of ‘Quality Street’ comes at the end of October, some two months before the big day itself, yet not to worry; it will already feel like Christmas with the supermarket shelves stocked with selection boxes and tinsel. In fact some might say perfect timing.
1. Children Go Where I Send Thee
2. Christmas Can’t Be Far Away
3. Christmas at the Airport
4. Old Toy Trains
5. The North Pole Express
6. Hooves on the Roof
7. I Was Born in Bethlehem
8. Just to Be with You (This Christmas)
9. Rise up Shepherd
10. Silent Night
11. A Dollar Short of Happy
12. I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day
Christmas Gift Wrapped Editions in Nick Lowe Christmas themed wrapping paper are available exclusively via Propermusic