Album review: "Midwinter Graces" by Tori Amos
by Julia Pugachevsky
Published November 10, 2009
The title is self-explanatory, but Tori Amos fans may still panic when they pick up "Midwinter Graces" and realize the shocking truth: This is a seasonal album. The first song, "What Child, Nowell," praises baby Jesus with angelic, harmonizing vocals reminiscent of Sarah Brightman or Hayley Westenra. But although making a holiday album might suggest otherwise, Amos, the critically acclaimed, alternative-rocking redhead, has not been tamed.
Glancing at the song titles — "Star of Wonder," "Harps of Gold," "Winter's Carol" — we ask ourselves: Is this really the same woman who wrote the bitingly sarcastic lyric, "God sometimes you just don't come through/Do you need a woman to look after you?" But on the album cover, Amos looks at us with her iconic coy smile, which can only mean one thing: We have been tricked.
By the time "Star of Wonder," the second track, comes along, we meet the Amos sound we know and love, complete with rapid violins and drums; playful, folksy guitar; and her classic breathy, seductive vocals. On "A Silent Night With You," she reimagines the typical holiday tune, leaping into a minor key to give the song an undercurrent of passion.
Amos extrapolates from the better parts of holiday tunes by combining them with her distinctive style. "Candle: Coventry Carol," for example, is melodically similar to any religious choir song, but Amos refreshes it by replacing the choir with her childlike voice, rolling guitar and soft drumbeat.
It won't be your favorite Tori Amos album, but it will help rekindle the warmth of the excessively commercialized (and Barry Manilow-ified) holiday genre.