December: not the most obvious touring month for a musical duo from Atlantic Canada, and not just because of the high chance of delayed flights and slippery roads due to weather.
This time of year, concert-goers are often looking for something to get them into the festive spirit, preferring to wrap themselves up, while the season lasts, in Christmas carols or heart-warming tunes they can use as a soundtrack for tree-trimming.
Ian Foster and Nancy Hynes, who are about a week into a tour for their new album, have got all of the above covered.
"A Week in December" is the name of the record, and it features 12 tracks: a collection of favourite Christmas carols, well-loved holiday tunes and two original songs.
Foster is an award-winning St. John's-based singer/songwriter and producer, known for his rich storytelling through music. Hynes is his longtime partner and musical collaborator, accompanying him onstage and on recordings with harmonies. They've often toured together, but Hynes, until now, has generally been more in the background.
That changed last fall when the pair played 35 shows together in Europe.
"She stepped out of her harmony comfort zone to sing lead on a song I'd written years ago called 'The Dark Sea,' originally sung by Melanie O'Brien on record, and it was a consistent highlight of the night," Foster explains.
The pair had previously spoken about recording a Christmas album together, and it struck Foster that now might be the right time.
If Hynes and Foster ever recorded an album together as a duo, it was going to be a Christmas one, they agree.
"I really like being a harmony singer," Hynes says. "This project was different because of how much I love Christmas music, and thus my input on the record was different than Ian's solo work."
Foster is quick to attest to Hynes' love of holiday tunes.
“I came home last night, after starting on this record in the spring and on the eve of touring Christmas songs every night, and Nancy was listening to a Christmas radio channel. I'm not even sure this love of Christmas is healthy anymore," he jokes.
The pair came up with a list of songs they both liked, then worked on narrowing it down to ones they really loved, keeping in mind that most musicians only ever do one Christmas album. The goal was to really make it their own and representative of everything Christmas means to them personally.
The result is an eclectic track list, including Christmas hymns like "What Child is This" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem," which do justice to Hynes' harmonies; "Auld Lang Syne," and a little bit of Kenny and Dolly. Foster and Hynes' interpretation of "With Bells On" is less frenetic than Dolly Parton's 1984 version with Kenny Rogers, but fans of the original tune will enjoy how they've updated and personalized the song without straying far.
"Old Christmas Day" and the album's title track are Foster's two original compositions on the album, and showcase opposite ends of the more melancholy aspects of the holiday season. Where the former is upbeat and fun and looks to new beginnings in a new year, the latter is more introspective and Blue Rodeo-esque, written from the point of view of someone who gets home only for a week during the holidays, noticing how things and people have changed or stayed the same.
"(It's) about coming home for the holidays, for that week in December, and the complicated emotions that week can stir up," Foster says.
It was inspired by a conversation in Calgary last year with a friend from Newfoundland.
"A Week in December" was released Nov. 23 and Foster and Hynes began their tour right away, though not without a minor winter touring setback. Their first gig, scheduled to happen in New-Wes-Valley Nov. 29, was postponed until Dec. 11 due to high winds and power outages. The duo weren't discouraged, though, jumping into their Toyota Yaris and wowing a Lewisporte audience a couple of days later, before doing a sold-out show in Botwood and hitting up Gander, then taking the ferry to Nova Scotia. They'll do three shows there and then return to this province for concerts at St. Michael's and All Angels Anglican Church in Deer Lake Dec. 10 (in support of the parish), their rescheduled New-Wes-Valley date, and a show at St. Mark's Anglican Church in St. John's (in support of the Single Parent Association of Newfoundland and Labrador).
Ticket information for the "A Week in December" tour is available online at www.ianfoster.ca, as is a download of the album's first single, "Good King Wenceslas."
Twitter: @tara_ bradbury