Midwinter Graces is a 12-song compilation of original and traditional songs of the season, albeit the latter have a twist in that the the lyrics have often been rewritten along with verse melodies while choruses remain truer to the intent of the original. The result is a stunning, eclectic work that speaks to the experiences of the season and not the its religious aspects.
Reworking the Christmas Ideal
Amos is the daughter of a Methodist minister, and often draws on religious themes in her work, but in a definitive non-traditional manner. So it is with Midwinter Graces. Drawing on the knowledge that many of the best known and loved carols were originally not sacred Christian works, Amos has turned the tables, de-Christianizing the lyrics as she did in A Silent Night With You. The sentiments in that song are typical of what one finds on the disc, as Amos turns the traditional carol into a love song that celebrates what two long-married individuals have in their relationship.
What Amos has done is bring holiday music into the 21st century through improvisations and variations on themes. It works thanks to lush but simple arrangements, an emphasis on Amos’ clear voice, and a lack of eccentricity for which she is known.
In addition to A Silent Night with You, songs in the reworked carol vein include What Child, Nowell, Star of Wonder, Jeanette, Isabella, and Emmanuel, the minor-key hymn that is most often heard in churches during the season of Advent. Holly, Ivy and Rose is a hybrid of sorts, drawing on the theme of the original song but sparsely on the melody.
Amos’ Production Work is a Trademark
As with most of Amos’ discs, most of the production work on Midwinter Graces is impeccable. The one drawback here is that her vocals seem to be buried on several of the tracks, including Candle: a Coventry Carol, Star of Wonder, and Holly, Ivy and Rose. The latter two, however, have a distinct Middle Eastern flavor to the arrangements, and in the world of this keyboard troubador evoking such a spirit in those songs may have been foremost in her intentions. Conversely, a song such as Emmanuel exhibits pure Tori–her vocals and her Bosendorfer piano with no other adornment.
Pink and Glitter comes as somewhat of a standout to the rest of the songs, a nod to the commerciality of the season with its big band arrangement. It is also close in musical character to her last studio effort, Abnormally Attracted to Sin, as is the lush Winter’s Carol, which is a song from her next work, a musical entitled The Light Princess.
Joining Amos are long-time bandmates Matt Chamberlain on drums, Jon Evan on bass, and Mac Aladdin on guitars, the last considered by many to be a pseudonym for Amos’ husband Mark Hawley, who is also her producer. The combination makes this not only a deserving holiday disc, but one that can be played all year.