Tori Amos latest album Midwinter Graces is a bold step into the Christmas genre, one that is unforgiving and cliched. However, this collection of winter inspired tracks are not quite the norm you’d expect.
Opening with “What Child, Nowell” you are treated to the hark back to early Tori times with pianos, harpsichords and a lot of brass. The use of sleigh bells in the chorus and the lyrics are the only real hints of the festive season. This is because the album deals more with the Winter Solstice and is more concerned with going way back in time to where the original carols came from than celebrating Jesus The result is a warm but complex mirage of different instruments and almost different faiths combining.
“Star of Wonder” has a beautiful arabic feel to it with some excellent string works and making this is an uptempo piano-rock track is inspired and while the verses are funky and quirky its the when it all comes together ala Scarlet’s Walk for the chorus’ it really hits home. “A Silent Night With You” is turn is a warm and fuzzy ballad which Tori does so well and is the first of several original songs. What I like about this track is that is feels very traditional in its songwriting and the waltzing pace of it is quite sweet.
“Candle: Coventry Carol” feels archaic! It’s the brass that does it – and the opening minute really feel quite sinisiter to me, almost like a siren of warning. From there the track completely changes dynamic into a lute led track – almost like a baroque track. It’s quite unlike anything Tori has done before and I’d happily listen to a whole album of this style – almost Loreena McKennitt-esque, especially with Amos using a high register for her voice this track.
“Holly, Ivy and Rose” is beautiful. Marking her vocal debut, daughter Tash appears here with some cute call and responses with her mum. Again, the pianos, strings and percussion really pull the song forward into a new territory of music for Tori to play with and the production throughout is fantastic. “Harps of Gold” is the rocking song of the album and while I find it uplifting and joyous – almost Christian rock (shock-horror), if fans struggled with previous albums efforts 500 Miles, Ireland or Cars and Guitars then you may struggle here.
“Snow Angel” is another original track and is hauntingly delicate. It’s realitively simple in its composition and that makes it no less effective. Tori’s always been able to make stand out beautifully haunting tracks and this is no exception. A personal favourite.
“Jeanette, Isabella” is beautiful in a different type of way. Reminding me of “Jamaica Inn”, its got so much fluidity to it, its like taking a ride down the calmest lake in heaven whilst being given a relaxing massage! The marriage of piano, harpsichord, brass, guitar and soft percussion is sublime.
“Pink and Glitter” really divided me for a while. It’s a massive big bang number, a type of music that I really struggle with. However, this song is really fun to listen to and again has such a fuzzy warm flow to it you can’t help but like it. While its my least favourite of the album, its purely down to the big band and each listen lets me like it more. “Emmanuel” is a slow and delibrate track but one that conveys a lot of emotion and goes with the less-is-more approach.
The next two tracks are simply stunning. “Winters Carol” is taken from Tori’s upcoming musical and is very dramatic and dynamic, switching from rolling pianos to massive bridges and soaring vocals. I particularly love the church bells and the catchy chorus’. It’s five minutes of emotive twists and turns that doesn’t let up until the end – if winter had a rollercoaster, this would be it. “Our New Year” starts off like a ‘usual’ Tori ballad and then ends up giving us some massive climactic codas that leave you feeling actually, like your not listening to a Christmas record at all! The screams of “you’re not here” to dramatic string stabs is not like anything I’ve heard for a while from Amos.
For the bonus edition you have two traditional renditions of “Comfort and Joy” and “Silent Night, Holy Night” (albeit the title in German) with just piano and vocal and they are lovely. There’s also a 30 minute interview on DVD which goes right into what Tori was looking for with this album which is really insightful.
Rarely putting a foot wrong, Tori Amos has put together my favourite Christmas/winter album of all time. Each song is unique and there’s a lot of styles that I’d like to see Tori continue with and expand on. Not really for Christmas music fans celebrating with presents but one for when your on your own with a candle, some cinnamon wine and lights down low so the record can seep in and come to life. Fantastic.