Release Date: Nov. 10
Tori Amos‘ reverence for the seasonal spirit on her first holiday album, Midwinter Graces, may appear to be a hard-left departure from her typical sexually subversive ways, but on closer inspection it makes perfect sense. A classically trained pianist since childhood, Amos grew up singing in church, and her predilection for faeries and hippie-ribbon magic bode well for an album that, as she puts it, isn’t about Santa Claus or spinning dradels.
"I wanted to bring in another side to this which is that before there was Christmas day, cultures were celebrating the rebirth of light in darkness during the winter season," Tori recently said to The Quietus. "That’s been happening for thousands of years. Midwinter has been celebrated for thousands and thousands of years, even before a religion was involved and it was about rebirth of light".
The result of such an effort is an album for the season that you can comfortably play for the whole family without having to explain any sexual overtones to Grandma, something one might’ve expected in Tori’s previous offerings. It’s an ode to the spirit of wintertime, beautifully orchestrated and arranged, and Amos’ voice is perfectly suited to the sound. Reworked classic carols and surprisingly vibrant original holiday compositions blend for a grown-up collection that won’t soon fall by the holiday-sales-gimmick wayside.
Middle eastern rhythms add a warm new spice to "Holly, Ivy, and Rose," not at all diminished by her daughter’s vocal-debut contributions, while rechristened classics such as “What Child, Nowell,” “Candle: Conventry Carol” and “Star Of Wonder” breathe new life – and twists – into old holiday favorites. The covers are molded into medleys and peppered with new lyrics and melodic meanderings that showcase Amos’ remarkable arrangement abilities.
Additionally, the original songs mix seamlessly with the reworked classics, lowlit by gorgeous, lush string arrangements and haunting piano work that outlines the eerie atmosphere. A familiar piano riff in "Winter’s Carol" calls to mind the previous Tori track "Ophelia," but to no fault of its own. The new tracks are some of Tori’s most colorful and inspired in years.
As producer, her attention to detail and focus on clarity is vital to this work. Working with longtime collaborators Matt Chamberlain (drums), Jon Evans (bass), Mac Aladdin (guitar), and John Philip Shenale (string arrangements), Amos defies the bland generics of standard "holiday" albums to create something unique that isn’t fan-specific or even limited to generational tastes.
If you’re comfortable stepping off the pop-fad bandwagon and abandoning the tired status quo for a spell this holiday season, Tori’s latest may be the perfect fix to roast your chestnuts on a quiet winter’s night.
CraveOnline’s Rating: 8.5 out of 10