Tori Amos: "Midwinter Graces" (Universal Republic)
(rating 8 out of 10)
Whenever an artist releases a Christmas album, it's understandably received with more than a bit of trepidation. Will it be a diluted version of that artist's talent buried under tinsel and sentimentality? Imagine, then, the surprise to find that a holiday album is Tori Amos' best work in years.
For some reason, it took a holiday album for her to transcend the pitfalls that have marked her last few albums _ releasing over-long albums with uneven song quality and splotchy production has been a familiar refrain with critics and fans of her work alike. But "Midwinter Graces" is 12 tracks long, a perfect length, and most of the production is spot-on. Gone is the dreaded AutoTune that botched some of the songs on Amos' last original album, "Abnormally Attracted to Sin." Gone, for the most part, are the overly-layered backing vocals that cluttered the sonic landscapes of many a song on Amos' past four releases.
Refreshingly, she opted to remove most of the Jesus references even from the traditional carols on the album, and the five originals are served well by staying secular (aside from the decidedly pagan "Winter's Carol"). While this is a holiday album that's hard not to love, it is also very much a Tori Amos album. Take, for instance, the album opener "What Child, Nowell." In typical Amos fashion, carols' histories were researched and a song combining "What Child Is This?" and "The First Noel" was born. This song also features Amos' first use of the harpsichord in quite some time, and fans should rejoice over that, whatever their opinion of the chorus's sleigh bells.
The other traditional carols face similar reimagining at Amos's hands. "Star of Wonder" is a Middle Eastern-inflected "We Three Kings," with a soaring chorus. In fact, the only clunker is "Harps of Gold," namely based on "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing." It is definitely a cringe-able offense that Amos chose to have her nine-year-old daughter sing on "Holly, Ivy, and Rose," but that moment is fortunately brief and actually cute. _ Erin Lyndal Martin
Fonte: California Chronicle