Released November 10, 2009
47 min, 54 sec
Tori Amos spent most of the 2000s spiraling down into a degree of irrelevance, with her specific blend of pop music no longer captivating wider audiences the way it used to. Though still, of course, revered as a legendary artist that helped build a platform for female singer-songwriters to branch out and begin a real takeover of popular music, Amos herself had seen her career begin to wind down, even as she continued to do her best to innovate in her music.
Following the release of Abnormally Attracted to Sin, Amos stepped away from pop music, and, in a moment of spontaneity encouraged by Universal Music Group head Doug Morris, began working on a seasonal album instead. Midwinter Graces emerged from a process of writing original music and rearranging a great number of traditional wintertime tunes, anchored in a classical environment, far removed from the usual Christmas radio fare. Amos herself retained those classical influences in her original songs that made the album, beginning a five-year divergence into the classical realm that resulted in the studio album Night of Hunters and the reinterpreted compilation Gold Dust.
The result is a strong seasonal album, rooted in themes of family and tradition, alongside more spiritual themes that Amos has struggled to work with in years past. Amos’s piano is the central instrument here, recalling the minimal instrumentation of Amos’s debut album Little Earthquakes married with Amos’s new string-heavy sound. The album works very well as background music, invoking a feeling of the holidays; it works just as well as a deep-listening album, as Amos curated the tracklist to feel specifically like one of her own, wholly-original studio records. Amos accomplished this by being liberal with her rearranging, adding new lyrics of her own writing to every song in order to make the album flow better as a thematic piece.
At this point in her career, Amos is at a point where she could (and can) do whatever she wants, and Midwinter Graces is one of those demonstrations, recorded entirely on a whim at the behest of a record label head. Many fans expressed displeasure with Amos’s sudden need to make all of her music classical, and Night of Hunters suffered in popular reception as a result, that diversion stemming from this album. Considered separately from the rest of Amos’s career, however, Midwinter Graces is solid, not necessarily needing to stand on the pretense of the holiday season to make sense.