Tori Amos – Midwinter Graces (2009)

I just listened to Tori Amos’s 2009 “seasonal” album Midwinter Graces for the first time. Not surprisingly, it’s not overly “church-y,” which is consistent with the “reacting against her religious background” aesthetic of some of her earlier songs. What she mainly does is take segments of existing, “traditional” Christmas carols (various combinations of words, tunes, rhythms, chords, etc.) and folds them into “arty” songs that are thus perhaps each around 60% original and reflective of her view of the season as being most usefully seen as not being particularly “Christian” OR “secular.” It reminds me a little of Jane Siberry’s live, 1997 album Child: Music for the Christmas Season.

Amos often somewhat modifies a carol’s familiar words to de-emphasize its religious tone (although she also retains certain Latin words), and in some cases she combines aspects of two carols with her own ideas. Flowers, stars, candles, harps, and angels thus become relatively “generic” (both in her adaptations and in her original “Snow Angel”), and she transforms the idea of a “silent night” into an original love song: “A Silent Night with You.” I found her combination of “Lo, How a Rose” and “The Holly and the Ivy” (“Holly, Ivy and Rose”) to be the most effective.

Almost all of the instrumentation is for orchestra and/or piano (or the occasional synthesizer or harpsichord), sometimes with a modest amount of percussion. Thus, the ninth track (the original “Pink and Glitter”) is fairly jarring when it suddenly introduces a kind of Sarah Vaughan, big-band jazz sound, which then abates for the following adaptation of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and the two, concluding, original Tori Amos songs: “Winter’s Carol” (very Kate Bush-like, and with its words from the 1864 fairy tale “The Light Princess”) and “Our New Year.”

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