Quality Street by Nick Lowe (Album)
Mission: record a selection of Christmas songs and make it fly. Impossible? Lowe ditches the sleigh bells and finds out
ick Lowe has taken on many challenges in his musical career and come out on top: as a songwriter, a producer, a band member and a performer in his own right. This must be one of the toughest. He has three options here with his Quality Street selection – write and record his own material, find old standards and traditional songs that have long been forgotten, or reinvent the staples that already grace countless Christmas compilations. He dismisses the use of sleigh bells then opts for all three. Unfortunately he meets with only qualified success.
The self compositions, although born of good ideas lyrically, don’t really pay off in the long run. Christmas At The Airport is a case in point. A holiday homecoming thwarted by an airline snarl-up is a sound pretext for a Christmas song, but the melody is weak and even a heavy-handed overwash of airport Tannoy sound effects cannot disguise the fact. The best of the three self compositions is A Dollar Short Of Happy (co-written with Ry Cooder), a gently humorous jazz-inflected number that Hoagy Carmichael could have had a hand in had he been around.
The long hidden standards and well-loved classics fare a little better. The Trad Arr: Lowe Children Go Where I Send Thee is given a spot on rockabilly treatment while Silent Night moves from its German winterland origins to somewhere closer to Louisiana. Roy Wood’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day has ska leanings with Geraint Watkins adding some prodding Doug Sahm-type organ. All the songs on Quality Street are well arranged, played and of course produced (Nick Lowe abetted by Robert Treherne and Neil Brockbank) but the raw material is never the best. Even the songs written by such respected writers as Ron Sexsmith, Ross Bon or Roger Miller are not their best work by a long way, and Boudleaux Bryant’s Christmas Can’t Be Far Away is light years away from any of the hits that he and his wife Felice wrote for The Everleys.
Nick Lowe has long been regarded as a standard-bearer for cool, understated yet accessible music and quite rightly too. He has shared songs, stage and studio with the likes of Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash, Paul Carrack, John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, the list goes on and on. Only the likes of Michael Buble or Rod Stewart should contemplate a Christmas album (sleigh bells included). It is a time of excess and tawdriness, neither of which describe Nick Lowe. That’s the way we like it.
Verdict: A patchy festive selection, but like the chocolates of the same name, everyone can pick out their favourites