Midwinter Graces is the first seasonal album of classic carols and original songs from Tori Amos.
For thousands of years, human beings have celebrated the return of the sun at this time at the solstice. Admittedly, the largest numbers of these celebrations occurred in the northern hemisphere, and have continued in the form of Christmas and our New Year’s Eve, as the winter solstice there occurs around December 21st.
Never one to not have a unifying theme in her albums, Tori Amos has said that she wanted Midwinter Graces to as inclusive an album as possible, knowing that winter solstice-time is celebrated by many people in many different social contexts, whether it be religious or secular, and always with a focus on the return of the Light, and family, love, warmth and beauty.
Amos’ music is often associated with emotional blood-letting and sharp criticism of political and religious systems she sees as being repressive and life-denying. You won’t find that on this album. What you will find, however, is music as pure and beautiful as a winter’s night. There are traditional carols given a bit of a new sound through her mastery of the piano and her shimmering voice.
Star of Wonder gives a Persian influence to the well-known carol We Three Kings, updating it slightly to include a message of hope for humanity in times when intolerance seems to be the order of the day. The hauntingly beautiful Candle: Coventry Candle and the exquisite Holly, Ivy and Rose (think The Holly and the Ivy) both have something of a mediaeval sound to them, and both have a family element to them: Candle features guest vocals by Tori’s niece, and Holly features a response vocal by her daughter Natashya.
Emmanuel is Tori’s version of the Advent carol expressing the longing for the coming of the bright Dayspring who will pour on our souls his healing light.
Amos brings in the warmth of family and friends gathered together in the big-band tracks A Silent Night with Youand Pink and Glitter, which is a reminder that the true gift of the season lies in relationship, not presents like ‘a grown up motor toy’. She also acknowledges the bittersweet moments that the darkness of winter brings in the song ‘Our New Year’.
The stark beauty of the world outdoors is not forgotten, as the winterscape features in songs like the gentle Snow Angel and the folkloric Winter’s Carol.
Musically, the sound ranges from lush brass and strings, to a piano as gentle and soft as snowfall, to a harpsichord whose sound I can describe only as “warm”. All in all,Midwinter Graces is a stunningly beautiful album, which has made a welcome change to Boney M’s Christmas carols, and has an inclusive element that seasonal music often lacks.
It is a little strange to be listening to carols in the middle of the year, but the beauty of this album has helped open me up to an idea that transcends any one spiritual path. In the bleak days and cold nights of a Johannesburg winter, a reminder of the return of light and warmth is welcomed, and as my friends and I gather to celebrate Yuletide, I can think of no better musical accompaniment.
Living in the Southern Hemisphere means that this isn’t an album I’ll listen to on one day of the year. Midwinter Graces has become a sonic friend during winter, and I know that it will bring something special when my family and I gather around the manger at Christmas time, too. If you would like to appreciate the cold months in a new way, adding Tori Amos’ Midwinter Graces to your music collection is definitely one way to do it.