|Studio album by Tori Amos|
|Released||November 10, 2009|
|Recorded||Cornwall, United Kingdom|
|Genre||Alternative rock, Christmas music, baroque pop, traditional music|
|Tori Amos chronology|
|Singles from Midwinter Graces|
Midwinter Graces is the 11th solo studio album by singer-songwriter Tori Amos. Released on November 10, 2009 (November 16, 2009 in the UK), through Universal Republic Records, it is the first seasonal album by Amos, and is also notable for marking her return to a more classical, stripped-down, baroque sound with various synths, string-instruments, the harpsichord and Amos' own signature Bösendorfer piano at center stage, once more. The album, like previous releases from Amos, is available in a single form CD or a Deluxe edition which includes 3 bonus tracks, a 20-page photo book, and a DVD containing an interview with Amos. The standard edition of the album was not released in the US or Canada.
All songs are Traditional, except where noted.
|1.||"What Child, Nowell"||3:45|
|2.||"Star of Wonder" (John Henry Hopkins, Jr.)||3:50|
|3.||"A Silent Night With You" (Tori Amos)||3:22|
|4.||"Candle: Coventry Carol"||3:18|
|5.||"Holly, Ivy, and Rose"||4:44|
|6.||"Harps of Gold"||3:10|
|7.||"Snow Angel" (Tori Amos)||3:43|
|9.||"Pink and Glitter" (Tori Amos)||4:57|
|11.||"Winter's Carol (from 'The Light Princess')" (Tori Amos)||5:19|
|12.||"Our New Year" (Tori Amos)||4:13|
- Deluxe Edition bonus tracks (US standard tracks)
|13.||"Comfort and Joy" (Tori Amos)||3:56|
|14.||"Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht! (Silent Night, Holy Night)" (Josef Mohr / Franz Xaver Gruber / John Freeman Young)||3:39|
- iTunes Bonus Track
|15.||"Good King Wenceslas"||5:33|
All of the cover songs are reworked, some of them being medleys, and all contain new lyrics from Amos.
Marketing and promotion
Promotion for the album began early. On November 6, 2009, the weekend before its release, Amos offered up an exclusive full-preview/download of the album via E! Online and IMEEM. On November 18, 2009 a video for the song "Pink and Glitter", with Amos performing solo, premiered on yahoo.com, while a video for the song "A Silent Night With You", also performed solo by Amos, premiered on Spinner.com on November 30, 2009. On December 9, 2009 Amos also offered up two more official videos of solo-performances - "Star of Wonder" and "Jeanette, Isabella" - via social-networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. On December 18, 2009, ABC's Nightline did a short piece on Amos, focusing on her musical inspirations and her unique relationship with the piano.
During promotion for the album Amos made a string of public and private appearances. She was usually accompanied by her Bösendorfer and a keyboard, switching to various settings throughout her performances.
Amos started off with a special one-off show at The Jazz Cafe in London on December 2, 2009 in promotion for the album. Entry to the concert required a wristband handed out at the HMV store at 150 Oxford Street starting at 8:00 AM on the day of the performance. An estimated 400 people waited outside in the rain for a chance to see Amos perform. The free show was solo-based, with Amos accompanied only by her piano. On December 8, 2009, Amos held a private invitation-only set in which a hundred or so music insiders and personnel gathered at Spin Magazine's office headquarters as part of their SPINHouse Live series. On December 9, 2009 WNYC, due to popular demand, moved their show to the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space and dedicated its one hour show to a special concert by Amos, followed by an interview. On December 11, 2009 at 3:00pm Amos gave a free live concert via Livestream, followed by an interview, both of which were watched by over 4,000 visitors.
"A Silent Night With You" was the first officially released single for Midwinter Graces. The single was released for digital download in the UK on November 29, 2009. Along with the aforementioned track, the single-release contains acoustic versions of the songs "Pink and Glitter" and "Jeanette, Isabella". To date, it has not been released in the US.
|Drowned in Sound||(6/10)|
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
Independent music magazine, American Songwriter, called the album "Dark, piano-driven [and] spectacularly unique", crediting Amos with offering up something "gothic, inspired and winter-y." Billboard noted, "Amos reaches deep into the world of carols for ancient and less obvious fare that she subsequently recasts on string-laden songs," praising the album, finally, as "a typically provocative-in the best possible way-entry in the yuletide canon." The New York Times noted, "Gorgeously recorded and impeccably produced, [it's an album that] dwells in hymn-like serenity and diaphonous wonder." The London Evening Standard also considered the album a success, stating, "[Amos] fills [this album] with harpsichord and subdued strings as well as her crisp, icicle voice. There's an ancient sound to [many of the] tracks...and again, a deliberate avoidance of anything cheery enough to be played over the Asda tannoy." The Guardian, which gave the album 4/5 stars, noted enthusiastically, "Centre stage is given to her voice and the simple arrangements," adding, "Amos sounds so tranquil she could almost be floating, but the stateliness of the orchestral backing keeps the songs grounded. You'd never know this was recorded [during one] summer, so vividly does it evoke crunching snow and frosty nights." They summized, "Accordingly, it's her most touching album in years." BBC Music exclaimed, "'Midwinter Graces' has an appealing skip in its step... When it slows, it can do so with an understated elegance that Amos has only sporadically summoned during the 00s." The Digital Fix called it "perhaps the most straightforward album, both musically and lyrically that [Amos] has ever produced." England based internet-magazine P. Viktor rated the album 4.5/5, calling it a "brilliant addition to the Tori canon, and a shining example of what a Christmas album should be," stamping it, finally, as "one of her most accomplished albums this decade," while Mother Jones said, "Amos has crafted a collection of covers and originals filled with whimsy and melancholy—the musical equivalent of spiked eggnog."
London newspaper The Independent gave the album two differing reviews. The first review was mixed, giving the album 3/5 stars and criticizing some of the song arrangements and production choices, though it did say, "The pluses outweigh the minuses [on this album], with further highlights coming courtesy of Amos' own 'Winter's Carol' and 'A Silent Night with You' – the former blessed with stately, hypnotic grace, while the latter's undulating melody evokes the warmth of a reverie triggered by seasonal radio fare." The second review of the album, although unstarred, was positive, stating, "[This album] flits back and forth between traditional yuletide tunes and Amos' own compositions, but the former are riddled with her own lyrical addenda, and the latter are heavy with references to carols, invariably twisted to secular – and subtly sexual – ends." "Stylistically," they continued, "with all the tootling flutes, arpeggiating harpsichords and sonorous electric violins, it's reminiscent of folk-rock bands circa the cusp of the 1970s." They also noted, "Even when she is singing a "straight" rendition of a Christmas chestnut, there's always an underlying feeling that every syllable is laden with intrigue and layered with hidden meaning." They concluded, "For a festive album with a difference, it's time to vote Tori [Amos]."
Drowned in Sound observed, "Fans of her earlier work will delight in the more direct, piano-driven melodies and orchestral arrangements that dominate the album, as well as the welcomed return of the long neglected harpsichord on several tracks," A mixed review by The Skinny called the album "moderately successful," awarding it 3/5 stars. Slant Magazine gave the album 3/5 stars, citing Winter's Carol, a song from and preview of Amos' upcoming musical adaptation of George MacDonald's The Light Princess, as the standout track: "The song's strong melody and arrangement are reminiscent of something from Under the Pink, bolstering a pagan yarn about the passing of the seasons." On the album as a whole, Slant concluded, "it's an ironic, pleasantly competent oddity." Consequence of Sound gave it four stars out of five and called it "a pleasant and often gorgeous effort," and Internet magazine, PopMatters, cited the album as "Amos’ best work in years." AllMusic was not impressed, however, giving it two-and-a-half stars out of five and stating, "Thanks to some familiar melodies, it can sometimes seem seasonally appropriate, but it always seems purely Tori, who has somehow managed to deliver an easy listening version of all her signatures in one tidy, not so-Christmasy, package."
The Huffington Post concluded, "Tori Amos’ beautiful vocals and recordings range between visions of an orphan looking at delicacies through frosty restaurant windows to dark stories from a worldly soul who’s seen too many mirthless seasons pass. In either case, whether she’s turning around standard carols or adding her own titles to the secular Christmas catalog, Amos is so at home in this wintry environment, she may want to consider permanently keeping Spring at bay." Washington Square News gave the album three-and-a-half out of five stars and said that it "won't be your favorite Tori Amos album, but it will help rekindle the warmth of the excessively commercialized (and Barry Manilow-ified) holiday genre."
Midwinter Graces began as a suggestion by Doug Morris, chairman and chief executive officer of Universal Music Group, who, according to Amos, encouraged her to tackle and complete the project at a moment's notice, in March 2009. After a summer of writing original material and rearranging established hymns and carols for the album, Amos, while still on the road for her 2009 world tour, began recording. Portions of the album were recorded in her husband's recording studio, Martian Studios, in Cornwall, England, while other sessions were held in Studio City and Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Toronto. During interviews for the album, Amos spoke at length about making this album for both her father, a Methodist Priest, and for Morris, a liberal man of the Jewish faith.
In early November 2009, Amos gave an interview for Pride Source Magazine, in which she disclosed the primary reasoning behind the album.
"[My father] wanted me to do this," said Amos. "I think the fact that I didn’t write 'She’s a Hussy, Merry Christmas' will make everybody really happy. There’s no mention of Satan or dancing with Satan or anything like that. There’s nothing disrespectful on this record; it’s really beautiful."
"Doug looked at me," continued Amos, "it was March – and he said, 'I'm 70, and I want you to do this. You can do this. You’ve been doing this your whole life.' He inspired me. He’s been able to have these conversations with me since the mid ’80s. He pushed me to start writing Little Earthquakes, so he’s been in my life for so long. (Before July of last year), I hadn’t seen him for 14 years. And even though he’s 70, he’s as sharp as he ever was.
"He challenges me, and he couldn’t accept that I couldn’t achieve it. He said, 'You can do this. If you don’t have something to do, you’ll lose your mind.' So I thought about it, and one thing led to another."
In another interview, Amos explained, "[He] said to me in March when I was visiting him in New York, 'I’ve always wanted to know what you would do with a seasonal album. You’re a minister’s daughter so you grew up with this stuff, but you’re also a feminist.' A lot of this music was written when things were really puritanical and women didn’t have any rights, and so there isn’t a lot of embracing of the feminine except with the Virgin Mary, if that makes any sense. Because he and I were talking about music that goes back, a more pagan style of music where there seems to be a place where goddesses were honoured if you go back into antiquity. And he said, 'I’d really like to see you have a perspective on the carols and write some of your own.'"
"I left him and ended up in Florida and it was 100 degrees and Tash came in running in a bikini saying, 'Are you playing Christmas music, mummy?' And I said, 'Yeah, I think I am.' (Laughs)."
Themes and content
Following the personal struggles with sin, power, faith and "being a wife, mother and woman" Amos explored on Abnormally Attracted to Sin, she found comfort in immersing herself in the old carols and hymns she sung and played during her youth. When asked how she followed an album "about damnation" with an album embracing spirituality Amos replied, "“You think, let’s go to church.”
Amos, who has struggled with and fought her religious upbringing, both through her music and with her own mosaic set of beliefs, approached the prospect of doing a holiday album, or seasonal record, from the perspective of someone who was struggling to gain a deep and enriching spirituality not necessarily tied to a set of dogmatic beliefs: "I felt that as a minister’s daughter I could open up the circle to all those people who might not want to embrace Christianity, but have a spiritual feeling about the time.
"The record contains a lot of story and beauty, and it does transcend some of the shame that gets attached to some of the music even during the season," noted Amos. "There's a side to the record when you listen to it that talks about what is the gold – what really is that? It's valuing whom you have in your life, the relationships you’ve built. It’s not just about success – or it just isn’t all your material possessions anymore – it’s how you live your life, and that’s all included in the music."
When asked why she chose to have her daughter, Natashya Hawley, sing on the song Holly, Ivy and Rose, Amos took the opportunity to draw attention to her whole family's involvement in the piece:
"It just sort of happened," said Amos. "It started with Kels, Tash’s older cousin. Kels has been singing for years and is in performing arts school in Boston. She has a really big instrument. I thought we had to do something together that works. ‘Candle: Coventry Carol’ in itself is an ancient song, and I thought it would lend itself to that. And then Tash was thinking she wanted to do a bawdy song. And I said no. She wanted to do a bawdy British schoolboy read on a carol. And I said, “no, we’re not doing that, we’re not shocking grandma”. I came up with this idea of ‘Holly, Ivy and Rose’ and she really took to that idea. So in the end both of them are there. And I thought that was important because we all sing together." "There’s a whole family representation going on. And in the artwork, my nephew [Casey Dobyns] is a model in New York, and he plays the angel [on the cover of the album]. So the next generation is represented."
Amos' brother died in a tragic car-accident in 2005 and it is widely believed that the song that closes the album, Our New Year, deals with her own thoughts and feelings behind his tragic demise. However, when asked, Amos chose to keep the meaning of the song private, "I think at this time of year you think of people that might not be in your life anymore or who’ve left the planet. I get really nostalgic at Christmas, and memories of other times with other people who you might not have heard from in a long time can cross your mind." Finally, when asked pointedly if she had anyone in mind when writing the song, Amos responded definitively, "I did. But, we’ll leave it there." "People get nostalgic and you have to acknowledge that there are people that aren’t with you anymore, so there’s a song that does that. But," Amos insisted, "for the most part, for a Tori record, it’s pretty upbeat."
In regards to the album as a whole, Amos summized, "I would say that it embraces the rebirth of light." "But light means knowledge, light means consciousness. Everybody can attain that and have that in their life. Consider the idea that it’s inner God. It’s in every child that’s born; every child carries this ability within them. And I like that sentiment."
In an interview in which she discussed the process behind recording the album, Amos disclosed,"We ended up doing basic tracks at Martian which is my husband’s studio in England, and then we started realising that we needed to record on days off all through the States, and we would record almost every day we got off in America, and then came back to mix it in England at Martian."
Due to Doug Morris' request being on such short notice, Amos found herself writing and recording the album on the road while on her 2009 world tour in support of Abnormally Attracted to Sin. Recording sessions were held in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Toronto and in Cornwall, England at various points during 2009.
Amos enlisted her usual musical bedfellows, Matt Chamberlain on drums, Jon Evans on bass and her husband, Mark Hawley (aka "Mac Aladdin"), on guitars, while prominently placing herself and her Bösendorfer piano, along with the work of John Philip Shenale, who has collaborated with her since her 1994 album Under the Pink, and is responsible for arranging and conducting all of the synths, strings and brass at the forefront of this album. Amos also employed a Big Band, with Lon Price responsible for orchestration.
The prominence of Amos' Bösendorfer and Shenale's conducting and string arrangements juxtaposed with the subtle and even, at times, noticeably limited contributions by her bandmates have been noted by many reviewers and fans alike, who credit the focus on both Amos' and Shenale's instruments for the full and classical sound of the record — a drastic departure from her most recent releases, preceding the musical style of most of Amos' output during the last 13 years and harkening back to a baroque sound and time-period she hadn't explored since 1996's Boys for Pele.
Although this "shift in sound" can and should be accredited to the nature and time-period of the hymns and carols Amos can be found working with and rearranging, many of her original compositions on the album seem to be in continuing with a new trend begun and touched upon on Abnormally Attracted to Sin, where Amos' trademark piano-playing and compositions returned as a more prominent element of the music, along with Shenale's extensive string and synth work. In the end, Midwinter Graces was considered by many to be a return to a more classically-inspired, piano- and string-driven style of production reminiscent of her earlier work during the 1990s.
During a video interview with online magazine, The New Yooxer, Amos herself admitted, "It's a beautiful work. I would like to think it's one of the most beautiful works I've done in that the piano is center. She is the center. Which hasn't been the reality for many years." In another interview with online magazine, Between The Lines, Amos added, "It [also] has a lot of full orchestra, and there’s a big band track and there’s harpsichord and concert bells, tubular bells, timpanis, concert bass drums."
Commenting on a specific song from the album, Star of Wonder, Amos explained, "I’ve been curious my whole life about the story of the wise men and Persian mysticism. I always thought, 'I don’t hear anything of their culture in arrangements of ‘We Three Kings.’' So I began to think to myself, 'Alright then, in my story, you’re going to know that you’re coming across the desert, and you’re going to get a sense of these men and their culture.' That’s the thing — growing up as a minister’s daughter, sometimes I would just think a lot of what I was hearing was really where these people were during their own times. So I wanted to bring back some of the roots that I think the stories are talking about. For 'Star of Wonder,' think Led Zeppelin, of course."
In regards to the sound Amos achieved with the song, she confessed, "I love the work that they did with their Arabic string arrangements. So I played for John Philip Shenale, talked him through my vision, and he really got it. I tracked it with the guys first — Matt and Jon — and they got a sense of the rhythm. We laid down the rhythm track first with the Wurlitzer, and that gave it that early Zeppelin sound. Then we brought in everything that you could possibly imagine percussion-wise for Matt to play, from tympanis to concert bass drums, two octaves of concert bells, along with his kit and all the other ethnic percussion. Matt had a huge palette to work with, which was exciting.
"So 'Star of Wonder' has that flavor — you’ll recognize the carol in the chorus. But it has beautiful dancing girls now. In my seasonal world, I think beautiful dancing girls celebrating the rebirth of light — in the Christian story, the poetry for that is the birth of a baby boy. But the rebirth of light that happens every year has been celebrated by our ancestors for thousands of years and I wanted to capture that."
During the interview found on the complimentary DVD included with the special edition of the album, Amos admitted, "The industry doesn't necessarily support - nor does radio support some of these kind of classic compositions being written today, and so you have to transcend what popular culture is in the 21st century, and not be held hostage to that, and then go make a work that might not get played by anybody as far as commercial radio, but that couldn't be my focus or concern. It had to be about making a record that is influenced by my classical music training and, also, with a nod to the great Big Band era."
Amos, in an interview with Keyboard Magazine, continued, "This is not a pop record. This is more a classical work. Even though it’s contemporary music, I approached it more as a kind of classical study." When asked by the journalist what she felt this meant in terms of her piano playing, Amos responded, "I think it’s about structure. I would look at portions of a carol and think, 'Wow, this is the magic. Now I need to design around this.' So if you think about it like an architect — they’re trying to do this in Bologna, Italy. Bologna’s an old, old city and yet they need to add more buildings. It’s been really tricky trying to find the architect that can merge the ancient and the new, and what that design would be. That’s what I had to do, to work as a musical architect. The classical study that I did for so long, when you’re forced to study compositions and the different movements and why they work, helped.
"[Studying classical] gives you tools that you don’t necessarily get to use all the time when you’re in the pop medium. But when you’re dealing with something like this and you’re treading on very thin ice and sacred ground in some ways, to know that variations on a theme is just part of the classical world [is important], and I enjoy working and composing variations around a theme. You just have to make sure that your variations are as good as the old ones, and you have to know when you don’t have it and when you do. I began to see the reactions from the musicians when they were excited."
"[Also], I had to play a lot. I did play the harpsichord on a couple songs, more as a background instrument with the piano. But that meant that my fingering had to be really tight. I would work on what I knew I was going to have to play so that my fingering was confident and so that my fingers would get to know the landscape of this new structure. The piano is very central on this record, more so than in many years."
“Bösendorfer came down and gave the recording piano this gorgeous makeover,” says Tori. “Which was important because you hear the piano a lot on this work, and she shines.” The company-lent piano was recorded at Martian Engineering in Cornwall.
When asked how her working relationship with string, brass and synth arranger and conductor John Philip Shenale was, Amos said, "I really trust Philly — John Philip Shenale — as an arranger. He’s great, and he understands the songs that I’ve written. We spent a lot of time talking, he sent the arrangements in, and we went through it all. By the time we did the string date or the brass date, I knew every part of the arrangement — if something wasn’t quite right, we changed it. Therefore, there shouldn’t be any surprises on the string date.
"Years ago I worked with a string arranger who wouldn’t let anybody hear his arrangements before recording. This was when I was just a bit naïve, he was well known, and I let somebody at the record company talk me into it. Well, the day we were recording [strings for 1994's Under the Pink], honestly, hand on my heart, I said, 'Oh dear, we must have the wrong song up because there’s no way this could be right.' I thought I was listening to a train wreck, and there were four songs like this. It was the most painful day of my life. At the end of the day, I looked at everybody and I said, 'Okay, we’re going to have one drink and then we’re coming back and I’m erasing the whole f***ing thing.' They said, 'You are not. It’s a 70-piece orchestra.' I said, 'I am too. I’m the producer and the artist. I know the budget. I’m the one that has to be accountable and this could destroy somebody called Tori’s career. That is not going to happen.' I knew that so much money was involved that the record company might try to make me keep it. So I erased it and I learned.
"Therefore, I never work with anybody who can’t show their arrangements before a string date. John Philip Shenale and I have a great relationship, so that’s why that works."."
When asked what songs were her favorites to write and play, Amos , who is renowned for "not choosing favorites", reluctantly selected "Winter's Carol", a climactic song written for Samuel Adamson's upcoming musical-adaption of George MacDonald's fairy-tale, The Light Princess, which Amos is currently in the midst of writing all of the songs and scoring all of the music for, and "Pink and Glitter", an ode to the conception and birth of her daughter. In another interview, Amos admitted, "I think the big band [Pink and Glitter] is my favourite moment because I’ve never done a big band track before on one of my records, I’ve done it for film before but I haven’t done it with my own compositions. I wanted to write something in a style that would work. When all the brass players came up to me and said, 'This tune is perfect for us as a section, and you wrote it in the styles as it should have been written.' I felt that that was my goal, and it was a magical moment." "All of a sudden you’re back in the 1940s in your mind, and you start thinking, 'Oh I want to put on a gown, and look like Veronica Lake!'"
The three "bonus tracks" made available in various editions of the album are all performed solo by Amos, using only her voice and trademark Bösendorfer.
- Tori Amos – Vocals, Bösendorfer (Piano), Harpsichord, Wurlitzer
- John Philip Shenale – Strings, Synths, Samplers; String & Brass conduction and arrangements
- Matt Chamberlain - Drums, Percussion & Bells
- Jon Evans – Bass instrument; Bass
- Mac Aladdin – Guitars
- Kelsey Dobyns – guest vocals, "Candle: Coventry Carol"
- Natashya Hawley – answer vocal, "Holly, Ivy and Rose"
- lute – Bruce Burchmore
- flugelhorn – Tony Kadleck, Bob Millikan & Brian Pareshi
- trombone – Tom Malone, Keith O'Quinn & Dan Levine
- orchestration – Lon Price
- trumpet – Tony Kadleck, Bob Millikan, Brian Pareshi & James De la Garza
- baritone saxophone – Ronnie Cuber
- alto saxophone – Lawrence Feldman
- clarinet – Bob Malach & Lawrence Feldman
- tenor saxophone – Sam Bortka & Bob Malach
- bass clarinet – Sam Bortka
- bass trombone – Dave Taylor
- violin – Bob Peterson, Norm Hughes, Charles Everett, Benedikt Brydern, John Wittenberg, Halm Shtrum, Francine Nadeau Walsh, Calabria McChesney-Foti, Phillip Vaiman, Razdan Kuyumjian, Mark Cargill, Margaret Wooten, Armen Garabedian, Gil Romero & Shari Zippert
- viola – Jimbo Ross, Evan Wilson, Dan Neufeld, Denise Buffum & Harry Shirinian
- cello – Nancy Ross, Armen Ksajikian, Timothy Loo, Giovanna Moraga Clayton & Ernie Ehrhardt
|The Billboard 200 (U.S.)||66|
|Billboard Top Rock Albums||23|
|Billboard Top Holiday Albums||9|
|Billboard Top Alternative Albums||16|
|Dutch Albums Chart||99|
|French Albums Chart||133|
|UK Albums Chart||97|
|Polish Albums Chart||40|
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