When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. (doors at 6:30)
Where: Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre
Tickets: $42.50, $59.50, and $85.50 (plus service charges) at livenation.com, selectyourtickets.com, 250-220-7777, or the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre box office
Nothing was more difficult for Johnny Reid than to record his new album in the dead of summer.
That he was collaborating with Bob Ezrin, producer of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, with a cameo by ’70s rock god Peter Frampton, certainly helped ease his concerns. But the fish-out-of-water experience of recording an album of Christmas standards while the sun beamed outside was certainly a new trip for the three-time Juno Award winner.
“I’ve got to say, recording a Christmas record in the summertime was weird,” Reid said. “Singing O Come All Ye Faithful while in flip-flops and shorts is odd.”
It was only slightly easier prepping the tour to support the album, A Christmas Gift to You, which begins Wednesday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
In order to get into the proper mindset, Reid rented a hall in which to rehearse material for the upcoming 15-date tour. The native of Lanark, Scotland, who now lives just outside Nashville, had the venue dressed for the season, with a Christmas tree, lights and tinsel, in hopes of getting everyone in the mood.
“I just wanted to get the feeling and make sure what we bring to the stage is exactly what we wanted,” he said.
The songs included on A Christmas Gift to You read like a best-of the season selection. But his connection to the material is deeper than one might expect: Away in a Manger is the first song Reid remembers hearing as child, while O Come All Ye Faithful was a popular standard he sang as a choirboy back in Scotland.
Reid said he felt good heading into planning for the album — that is, until he was met with some slight resistance from his record label.
Reid was told the religious connotations of the material “might make people feel uncomfortable,” which perplexed him.
He thought long and hard about the project. Over time, he came to the realization that the majority of the material was music he sang as a child. That he still considers these moments among his fondest memories growing up is what eventually sealed the deal.
“They were undeniably Christmas songs. And they spoke to me,” he said. “I realized, when I shut my eyes and started thinking about this new record, I really felt deep within myself that I wanted to take myself back to my childhood and the spirit of Christmas.”
To finalize the tracklisting, Reid sat down with Ezrin and went through dozens of songs together (he eventually wrote one original for the project.) The end result — a recording that boasts both a 65-piece string section and 45-voice gospel choir — makes the father of two incredibly proud, especially when he looks back on the decisions he made. “It turned out exactly the way I wanted it to.”
A Christmas Gift to You isn’t his first December-friendly collection. Christmas, which he released in 2009, was also full of the sounds of the season, albeit with an emphasis on revelry.
Where A Christmas Gift to You is more traditional, Christmas focused on the upbeat, “the type of songs you would hear at Nova Scotia kitchen party,” Reid said. “It was very rock ’n’ roll and loose.”
He is looking forward to taking things somewhat easier on his upcoming road trip across Canada. Fire it Up, the celebrated pop recording from last year, was supported with a massive 30-date tour, the biggest of his 16-year career.
It was non-stop high energy for two months straight, with lots of money being spent on the production.
The upcoming dates are smaller in scale, in order to create a homespun, gather-round-the-fire atmosphere befitting of the music being performed.
“We really wanted to bring you that warm kind of feeling,” Reid said. “It’s going to be fun and heartfelt, but it’s not going to be as grand, for sure, as Fire it Up was.”
The demands placed upon Reid won’t be any less of a commitment this time around. At each stop, he has two or three meet-and-greets scheduled (including one set up through the tour’s sponsor, Tim Hortons) so that he can connect directly with fans.
Reid is as accommodating as they come, but when he’s offstage he values his privacy. Back home in Franklin, Tenn., he gets to live life as simply a parent, rather than a superstar singer doing his parental duty.
“I’ve not really tried to break America, so when I take my kids to school I’m Justin’s dad, I’m Tyler’s dad. When they ask what I do for a living, I say I’m in the music business and they leave it at that.”
Reid, who immigrated to Canada with his family when he was 13, doesn’t get bothered much at his summer home in Ontario, either. Canadians are incredibly kind, he said, in ways that continue to surprise him decades after his arrival.
Coming from Scotland, he was dumbfounded by the level of acceptance shown to him and his thick Scottish accent. That is precisely why he felt so strongly about recording a “reverent” Christmas album — religious undercurrent or not.
“Everybody here celebrates differences. Everybody celebrates different cultures and religions and creeds. Where I grew up, you were either Scottish or you were not. It was black and white. That’s one of the great things about Canada. We embrace the differences.”