What is Tori Amos, a reverend's daughter who sings "God, sometimes you just don't come through", going to do with a Christmas album?
Tori Amos can make overplayed-to-exhaustion carols sound new. 'Star of Wonder' begins with a beautiful arrangement of Arabic strings that can nearly distract you from recognising the lyrics of 'We three kings'. Some of her other arrangements are more faithful to the original. 'Candle: Coventry Carol' is arranged in a simple baroque style; Amos' voice over her piano, gradually joined by drums, recorder, and brass. People who like to hear something new from the old, will, and probably won't realise it—who would think 'Harps of Gold' was based on 'Angels we Have Heard on High'? For those who like the old, Amos has recreated them respectfully and also combined them in new ways.
Thankfully, Amos hasn't let her composition talents go to waste, and has added five original songs. 'A Silent Night With You' is a relaxing shamelessly cheesy Christmas-themed love song that fits perfectly between the carol arrangements. The second, 'Snow Angel', is a delicate piece with a beginning that could spontaneously cause tears. 'Pink and Glitter'—first we were in a country church, suddenly we're in a casino stage show. Once the shock passes, it's a satisfyingly sensual big band piece, just crazily out of place. 'Winter's Carol' has the best composition of the album, finally showing Amos' skill at piano and composition. The prismatic light of her piano combines with a dark string section to recreate a country winter so realistically that it creates goosebumps. 'Our New Year' is a sensitive piece about the loss of someone close, which builds into a climax of grief to Amos' lament of "you're not there", leaving us on a bittersweet note.
As her second album released in 2009, after Abnormally Attracted to Sin, Midwinter Graces feels like something that could've been the B-side of another album. There are standout moments but it doesn't feel like enough. It's also constantly serious, when even Amos' political album American Doll Posse had some silly ditties like 'Programmable Soda' to give people a break. It's nice as a Christmas album, but not as a Tori Amos album.
Upside: 'Winter's Carol', which comes from the music Amos is making for Samuel Adamson's adaptation of George McDonald's The Light Princess—something to look forward to.
Downside: 'A Silent Night With You', we expected more from you, Tori.
Best Lyric: From 'Pink and Glitter' – "Black satin, is what I wore / That, and our hearts left on the floor / How was I in that marshmallow snow, to know? / My life would change that night…"
Sounds Like: Boys For Pele. Like nothing played at your church.