Music Monday: A Tori Amos Christmas?

Tori Amos
Midwinter Graces
Universal Republic

A Tori Amos Christmas album? Seriously?

That was my first thought when I opened Midwinter Graces, a new album out this week from the indie queen. The quirky, moody crooner seems like a strange fit for the wholesome, fuzzy holiday season. Plus, Christmas albums are usually crap (a fact MoJo staffers recently lamented at length).

But I should have known better than to to doubt the seditious songstress. Rather than recording syrupy holiday tunes, Amos has crafted a collection of covers and originals filled with whimsy and melancholy—the musical equivalent of spiked eggnog.

Some of her twists are subtle, like a rhythmic reimagining of the “Noel, Noel” refrain in “What Child, Nowell”—her mashup of “What Child Is This?” and “The First Noel”—or the backdrop of a drumbeat on “Emmanuel.” Others are more pointed, like a lyrical personification of the ivy in “Holly, Ivy, and Rose,” or gothic instrumentals in “Star of Wonder.” Either way, there’s a distinct sense that Amos wants to subvert the conventions of Christmas music, even as she pays them homage.

Amos also retains her lyrical trademark of precious poeticism: Black satin is what I wore / That, and our hearts left on the floor, she laments in “Pink and Glitter”; on “Winter’s Carol,” she muses The summer queen has been in darkness.

The only misstep is “Snow Angel,” a leaden, cheesy ballad that reminds the listener what could’ve been had Amos chosen cliché over imagination. It’s a good thing that didn’t happen.