JOHNNY REID BACK IN TOWN
From Scotland to Nashville to Sydney.
Long a fan favourite in Nova Scotia, in part for his Scottish roots as well as his platinumselling records, Johnny Reid is back on the East Coast with a different kind of show this week.
On Saturday, he will be at Sydney’s Centre 200 after having performed Monday night in Halifax.
The singer’s 49-date Revival Tour is a rolling soul review complete with 13-piece band and a raft of new tunes powered by a lifelong love of classic R&B.
There’s always been a soul undercurrent running through Reid’s sound, which only became more pronounced once he moved his family to Nashville a few years back.
His 2015 album “What Love Is All About” delved into that muddy Mississippi water where country music and a Memphis groove intermingle, with covers of tunes by famous genreblenders Tony Joe White and Charlie Rich and production by Canadian rock mixmaster Bob Ezrin, who famously put the polish on records by Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel and Kiss.
On his latest release “Revival,” Reid tapped Ezrin again to help bring his songs to life, only this time they were going for a fullbore soul sound with a two-day live-in-the-studio session, with a lineup of Nashville pros who can play both sides of the street.
It’s easy enough to capture a soulful sound, if you’ve got the right players, but the onus is on Reid as the man with the microphone to do some serious digging to find the emotion to put it over the top. There are sincere love songs like “Heart of a Woman” and the good-time party anthem “She Just Wants to Dance,” but Reid goes further by casting his mind back to childhood memories for the heartrending album closers “Cry No More” and “Regret.”
The former is about a woman’s battle with the bottle, while the latter concerns wanting to be a better parent without losing sight of his own father’s sacrifices, taken directly from Reid’s own lifetime experiences.
“I’d written these songs awhile back, but I’d never been brave enough to put them on a record,” he said. “I can explain that: I don’t know that these songs would have fit on another record because they’re so highly personal.
‘“Cry No More’ is about alcohol, and keeping it a secret, and it gets to the point where the woman in the song is singing to the bottle, ‘I don’t want to cry no more/I don’t want to be the one left empty on the floor/I don’t want to fall asleep with you lying next to me.’
“I just wanted to get that song out there and this was the perfect record for it.”
“Regret” was written just after Reid’s paternal grandmother died in 2009, which marked the first time he ever saw his own father cry. After his family moved to Canada in the 1980s, his father never went back, but putting his past behind him came with a cost.
“All of a sudden, my granny passes, and she’s not there anymore, and I could tell he was so full of regret,” Reid recalls. “When I was young, my Dad worked away a lot, especially after so many of the steel mills and other places closed, which resulted in my Dad not really being there a lot of the time. So he had a lot of regret about all the things that he missed. Johnny Reid will be on stage at Centre 200 in Sydney on Saturday.
“And then my first boy was born and I looked at my Dad in a whole different light. I was responsible for this baby and for the first time in my life I understood what he must have felt like being a young father in his late teens when I was born.”
In many ways, it’s the songwriter’s job to find those things in their life that cause the most pain or bring the most joy and share them with an audience that can relate to those feelings too. But with something like “Regret,” Reid didn’t want it to seem like he was airing his family’s dirty laundry in a song and says he “wasn’t brave enough to put it on a record before, I didn’t want to hurt my Dad’s feelings.
“He said, ‘If you think there’s a lot of people out there who feel the same way as me and could get a wee bit of comfort from this song, then I say you should go and record it.’
“So that’s why I put it on ‘Revival.’”
Reid’s current run of shows also gives him a chance to share his love of Canadian pop veterans Glass Tiger with his audience, bringing the band behind “Thin Red Line” and “Don’t Forget Me When I’m Gone” out on tour as his special guest after he produced the new album “31.”
The singer befriended Glass Tiger frontman Alan Frew at a charity event after learning they grew up just a few miles down the road from each other in Lanarkshire, outside Glasgow.
At the same time, Reid confessed the band was one of the first Canadian acts he became a fan of after crossing the Atlantic, and talked about working together on a project that has just now come to fruition.
“We talked about it and I thought I could really bring something to the table for them,” said Reid. “They came down to my place in Nashville, we hung out, and I was really humbled by the fact they put a lot of trust in me. A lot of the songs, I just asked for the lyrics and sat down and picked out the songs that I just loved based on the words. Then we set about to find ways to magnify the lyric with the music and they were totally cool about that.
“It was great to work with really talented guys on that level, I think sometimes they forget who they are, Glass Tiger were it to me when I first came to Canada, “My Town” was the closest thing I’d heard to something from my town.”