Dec 07, 2009 Web Exclusive
Christmas albums are tricky business. Many artists seem attracted to the Christmas song for some reason, but few albums (compilations or otherwise) are anything more than curiosities. These are impulse purchases, things you think sound interesting but will probably listen to only once before realizing you don't really want to hear The Flaming Lips singing a holiday tune or Twisted Sister rocking around the Christmas tree or Bob Dylan croaking out "Silver Bells" while you enjoy your holiday ham.
Perhaps the most risky of endeavors is what Tori Amos has chosen for her recent holiday release—artistic reinterpretations of classics alongside original tunes. Truth be told, I expected Midwinter Graces to be like almost every other Christmas album I've heard. Curiosity brought me in (as always), but I imagined this would be a once and done deal. However, the album is a very pleasant surprise. Yes, Amos adds her own lyrical interpretations and arrangements to classics such as "What Child, Nowell" and "Silent Night," the latter done here as "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht (Silent Night, Holy Night)." And she peppers in complete originals like "A Silent Night With You" and "Our New Year." But Amos did her homework before embarking on this project (as she discusses in a bonus DVD interview), tracing the roots of the carols she interprets, back in some case to medieval times, and her hard work shows through in the tracks.
Amos, the daughter of a Methodist minister, has bucked religion for much of her recording career, but her voice here is best described as angelic, and the songs are aided by glorious, yet not overwhelming, symphonic accompaniment, often delivered with a gentle touch fitting to the holiday mood. The subject matter remains faithful to the spiritual core of the songs and her reinterpretations never come across as hokey. As for the original music, Amos' own songs are subsumed within the overall musical narrative of the album, the transitions between original and traditional always seamless. The only thing that might be viewed as a misstep is the big band horn-filled "Pink and Glitter," and it is not so much that the rendition is offensive (in fact, the jazzy mood sits well alongside other Christmas classics), but the change in mood three-quarters of the way through the album is a bit jarring. But overall, Midwinter Graces succeeds where so many other holiday classics fail miserably. I never thought I'd say this, but with Midwinter Graces, Amos has made a holiday album that deserves to sit alongside those classics that you'll actualy listen to this winter. (www.toriamos.com)
Author rating: 7/10
Average reader rating: 8/10