Holiday album a first for English singer Nick Lowe
Nick Lowe wasn't exactly filled with the Christmas spirit when his American record company suggested he make his first holiday album.
He's no Scrooge. But for musicians in his native England, holiday albums aren't the coolest thing to do. A song or two is nice, but an entire album? It has the faint whiff of desperation.
"Over the course of the afternoon of that day I started examining my feelings and said, well, wait a minute," he said. "This could be a great opportunity to do something that, if not standing a chance of being really good, it might at least be able to work on more than one level. So I changed my mind."
The disc, "Quality Street," is a goes-down-easy blend of rockabilly, crooning, acoustic picking and gospel. Among the dozen songs, "Silent Night" is the only well-known carol, and it is given a Tex-Mex flavor. Lowe's own "Christmas at the Airport" is about a snowed-in traveler, and "I Was Born in Bethlehem" came from imagining meeting Jesus Christ over a cocktail and striking up a conversation.
Lowe, 64, is a late-in-life dad and one can see him singing Roger Miller's lullaby "Old Toy Trains" to his own son.
Before the snow flew, he sat down to discuss the project.
Many people choose to do their own versions of centuries-old Christmas carols, but for the most part you did tunes that are new or relatively unfamiliar. Why did you take that approach?
Lowe: We all knew that the hardest part would be gathering material. We wanted to try to avoid the 12 tunes that nearly everybody always does. And if we were going to do very familiar tunes, we wanted to dress them up in a new suit of clothes so they sounded fresh. Essentially we wanted to find tunes that were good songs. There are thousands of good Christmas records to choose from, but they're not necessarily good songs.
No "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer"?
That one wasn't considered. At the same time, in order to give the thing some credibility, I think there had to be at least some original tunes there. I thought I could maybe manage one. In the end, I wrote two and a half, the half being the one I wrote with Ry Cooder. Ron Sexsmith came to the studio and a few days later he sent us a song.
Your version of "Silent Night" sounds rather jaunty.
It is a great tune. It hasn't stuck around all these years for nothing.
Is it intimidating to write a holiday song, more than other songs? Do you want it to be sentimental and traditional, but not TOO sentimental and traditional?
As much as we wanted to do something different and put some effort into it, we also were very aware that you have to sort of buy into the Christmas theme. Christmas is the biggest cliche there is, and you have to sort of join in with it. If it's too arty farty, it's not viewed very well.
Have you ever spent Christmas at the airport?
No, I'm pleased to say I haven't. It's sort of nonsense, anyway, as if they would close an airport down over Christmas. I've been snowed in at airports, but not at Christmastime.
The sound is very traditional but hip. What were you seeking?
I suppose what I was seeking was for somebody to say that it's the kind of record you could play outside of Christmas, just something that doesn't sound like some bad cash-in. We did enjoy doing it. People weren't rolling their eyes and saying, "Oh, blimey, it's a Christmas record, let's get on with it."
What do you like to play at the Lowe household over Christmas?
We are real Christmas record fans at our house. We do start playing them at the end of October, and sometime into January. It's always sort of in the background. There's some rockabilly stuff, Bing (Crosby), Tennessee Ernie Ford one of my favorites. His voice just sort of says Christmas.