UPDATE: While we were very much looking forward to celebrating the season with you on Monday, we have received this message from the artist’s agent regarding our upcoming show, ‘Molly Johnson: This Holiday Season’. “We regret to announce that out of an abundance of caution, Molly Johnson: This Holiday Season, originally scheduled on December 20, 2021 has been cancelled.”
We sincerely apologize for this inconvenience. As a result of this cancellation, we are more than happy to provide you with a full refund for this show. The customer service team at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre will begin to process refunds on Monday, Dec 20th and will aim to complete all refunds as soon as possible before the end of the month.
The team at Bravo Niagara! would like to thank you for your understanding and ongoing support of the arts in our community. We wish you a safe and healthy holiday and look forward to seeing you again in 2022.
-The Bravo Niagara! team
She’s had a recording career spanning more than 40 years, so it would be easy to assume Molly Johnson must have released a Christmas album somewhere along the line.
But the Oct. 29 release of her latest record, It’s a Snow Globe World, marks her first foray into a full-length holiday collection. It follows 2020’s EP This Holiday Season, whose four tracks all appear on the new 10-song album.
The Officer of the Order of Canada appears with her band (Niagara-on-the-Lake pianist Robi Botos, drummer Davide Direnzo and bassist Mike Downes) Dec. 20 in a Bravo Niagara! Festival presentation at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines.
On the phone from her Toronto home, Johnson says the idea for the album came from chairman and CEO of Universal Music Canada, Jeff Remedios.
“Jeffrey and I had a conversation about crappy Christmas records,” Johnson laughs, “especially the abundance of them. I went away and thought about that for about a year. Then I began to think about how multicultural, and multi-faith, Canadians are. Muslims, Jews, Christians, they all celebrate joy and light and love this time of year.”
To that end, only three of the 10 tracks on It’s a Snow Globe Christmas mention Christmas. Winter Wonderland is the only recognizable Christmas classic, given a big-band spin in this version. Most of the numbers are original compositions and lesser-known songs, brilliant new additions to add variety and spice to the glut of seasonal songs that hit radio airwaves in late November each year.
The upbeat opening single, Don’t You Know It’s Christmas, features Donna Grantis, formerly of Prince’s late-career band, on guitar, and lush strings reminiscent of the Nelson Riddle Orchestra arranged by Toronto violinist Drew Jurecka.
What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve flirtatiously looks ahead to that big night, while Winter’s Got Spring Up Its Sleeve gazes even further into the future, to a time when the snow melts and the magic of the cold months is in the rear-view mirror.
Christmas in Hopetown is a slow torch song in the manner of Billie Holiday, while I Don’t Like Christmas (When You’re Not Around) is a traditional blues number.
Johnson raves about her band and the guest musicians, including singer Billy Newton-Davis and guitarist Rob Pilch, as well as producer John ‘Beetle’ Bailey.
“They’re the best musicians in Canada,” she says, “and John is the secret sauce of this record. He’s been on every solo record I’ve ever made (Snow Globe is her ninth). He has exceptional ears. I nominated him for a Juno for producer of the year for this record.”
Always striving for musical excellence, Johnson says she puts as many great players as she can on each of her records. She claims her expertise isn’t so much her distinctive vocal styling, but instead her ability to put together a great team, something she learned from her father.
“He was a gym teacher and coach at Ryerson,” she explains. “As a kid, I used to watch him from the bleachers. Basketball, volleyball, hockey, swimming. He did it all. I learned that the way to put together a great team is to get the very best players you can get, and give them enough room as possible to be brilliant.”
The team of Botos, Direnzo and Downes certainly rise to the occasion on the new record, and Johnson indeed provides them enough space to shine. The short Christmas tour that finds her in Niagara Dec. 20 gives her a chance to “spend so much time with those three knuckleheads.”
She continues, “Robi has got the craziest sense of comedy, and his knowledge of different kinds of music is phenomenal. Mike Downes has really become one of Canada’s best bass players. And Davide is just as likely to get up from his drum kit and run around it as he is to do a drum solo.”
For Snow Globe, Direnzo collaborated with Welland’s Mark Lalama to write the sad, mournful Maybe This Year. The trio gels together on the track, with Botos’ work on the piano truly taking the spotlight.
“Not everyone is happy at Christmas,” Johnson laments about the theme of the song. “For some people, it’s a really tough time of year. And I think that’s why I took a year to think about it. I needed the year to think about all those things.”
Completely conceived, written and recorded during the pandemic, it was inevitable the album would reflect the times. That includes the album cover, featuring a brightly-dressed Johnson trapped inside a snow globe.
“We’re all in a bubble,” she laughs, “so Molly put everyone in a snow globe, which is a kind of bubble. But a way happier, prettier one. We shot the photo, and I thought I looked like I was in a snow globe. So I wrote the line ‘there’s a snow globe world that’s spinning around’ and asked them to put me in one for the cover.”
Johnson promises some surprises for the Bravo Niagara! concert, including a few special guests who have never appeared with the local festival. There’s no guarantee, though, that she will be climbing inside a snow globe at Partridge Hall.
Tickets for the Dec. 20 performance are $50 and are available at bravoniagara.org. Bravo Niagara! is partnering with Niagara Airbus to offer a shuttle from Niagara-on-the-Lake to St. Catharines for the show. It departs the NOTL Community Centre at 6:30 p.m. There are limited shuttle seats available at $10 each. Call 289-868-9177 to reserve.