I’m counting down some personal favorite Christmas albums that are, I promise, actually good and not cynically commercial or creepily schmaltzy. (Check out yesterday’s album here.)
6. Nick Lowe, Quality Street: A Seasonal Celebration for All the Family (2013)
Early rock’n’roll, lounge jazz, and not a sleigh bell in sight. If that sounds like your ideal Christmas album, I have some good news for you. Lowe wrote and produced for Elvis Costello, and you can definitely hear that sonic imprint here, in an ’80s-doing-’50s double-retro kind of way.
And it’s as family-friendly as the title suggests; this is a “backdrop to present-opening” album, in the sense that your parents might like it slightly more than you. In fact, after two train-themed songs in a row, you may find yourself briefly wondering if this is secretly a children’s album. It’s not—”I Was Born in Bethlehem” and “A Dollar Short of Happy” are firmly in the socially-conscious-Christmas-song tradition, specifically the ’30s “Jesus of the down-on-his-luck working man” school, which we rarely hear anymore—it’s just genuinely sweet.
Highlights include the opening track, a rockabilly take on “Children Go Where I Send Thee”; original song “Christmas at the Airport,” which is rueful without being bitter; and the album closer, organ jam “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day.” Apart from those, the smooth, earnest vibe occasionally gets a little… boring. But it’s absolutely playable all the way through and guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser, particularly if that crowd includes people over 45.