Nick Lowe should be a national treasure by now, but the punk pathfinder rarely does the obvious thing. He recently said, “I like being a big fish in a small pond. I’m not interested in having a huge audience.” So it comes as a surprise that he’s covering Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” on this festive album. Yet it’s no dash for mass market success. Paved with warm guitars, creakily comfortable keyboards and splashes of brass, it’s a clearly direct descendant of all his work of the last 19 years.
Lowe would never be so vulgar as to soil even a festive tune with a sleigh bell. His take on Wizzard’s long-whiskered classic is more bluesy-ska than snow-encrusted power-pop, and “Silent Night” is given a startling swamp-rock makeover. Elsewhere, there are revivified minor classics: the roaring roots rock of the African American spiritual “Children Go Where I Send Thee” and the Caroleers’ “North Pole Express” are especially potent. The real gems, though, are Lowe’s own compositions, particularly “Christmas at the Airport,” a puckish tale of being stranded at a snowbound airport replete with slyly witty lyrics: “Don’t save me any turkey/ I’ve found a burger in a bin.” Another minor masterpiece from one of the unheralded wise men of pop.