When I first learned of this release (announced on my favorite Tori site, www.undented.com) I thought it was going to be a compilation of these previously released tracks, and I was more than fine with that.  I thought it would be great to have  remastered versions of “Little Drummer Boy” or even “Purple People” (as 2006’s great A Piano boxed set included the live soundcheck version from To Venus & Back and not the original studio one) and maybe/hopefully a few new songs.   When the actual title was officially announced alongside the track list (comprised of her interpretations of select holiday carols as well as original compositions) I was even happier.  And now after several listens, I am not disappointed by any means.

One wonders how she has achieved this amazing accomplishment, especially after already releasing one of 2009’s finest albums, Abnormally Attracted To Sin, not to mention taking that out on the road. The press release explains that most of “Graces” was written/recorded during the promotion of Sin, then recording continued during the “Sinful Attraction Tour” mostly on days off and it is to Amos’ credit that she has created an equally listenable and intriguing album.

Working with her loyal collaborators Matt Chamberlain (drums), Jon Evans (bass), Mac Aladdin (guitar), and John Philip Shenale (string arrangements), the recording is lush and crystalline courtesy of husband Mark Hawley and Marcel van Limbeek.  What is always amazing about a Tori Amos album is the amount of research and attention to detail that she brings in as the producer.  One doesn’t have to question her musicianship or artistry–she seems more attuned to her muses than ever–but it is her reworking here of classic songs (“What Child, Nowell,” “Candle: Conventry Carol,” “Star Of Wonder”) that is simply breathtaking—Even their titles are rechristened.

The original compositions get off to a fine start with the beautiful “A Silent Night With You,” and its irresistible opening line “the radio plays/my holiday faves/it takes me back to/when our love was new” and suddenly one is transported to their own Christmastime (and whatever configuration this feeling holds for you, of course).  When the stunning and sure-to-be classic “Snow Angel” starts you will be pulled right into its landscape.

It manages to be incredibly delicate, reverent and gorgeous at the same time. “Pink  And Glitter” with its full big band orchestration lovingly celebrates the birth of a daughter and vocally reminds me of the improv section of her “Welcome To Sunny Florida” DVD, and that is not a bad thing at all, as she suggests we “shower the world…in pink.” The bittersweet, lovely “Our New Year” has rather sad lyrics, as it deals with those that are no longer with us during the holidays, yet somehow manages to be hopeful.

The original material is surprisingly hummable after only a brief introduction to it, but it is Amos’ reworking and additions to the aforementioned classics that is the biggest joy of Midwinter Graces.  “Harps of Gold” which beckons “I’ll show you how it’s done/You’ll smile through the pain/Sweetly singing over the plain” is mostly “Angels We Have Heard On High” but with these lovely new Tori lyrics that you’ll be singing in no time.  “Star Of Wonder” is “We Three Kings” completely remade and highly listenable.  The very pretty “Jeanette, Isabella” sounds just like a Tori original here, yet when she sings the reworked “hush, hush” lines, it is both familiar and refreshingly new.

I enjoyed Tori’s niece Kelsey Dobyns’ vocals on “Candle: Conventry Carol,” but was completely blown away by daughter Natshya’s vocal contributions to “Holly, Ivy and Rose.”  Suddenly this clear, pretty, English vocal seems to come out of nowhere and really enhances the song.  No word yet on Tash’s piano skills, but she certainly can sing like her mom.

Midwinter Graces is another great achievement in the Tori Amos canon.  Her takes on these classic carols, mixed with her fantastic new holiday compositions, blend to create a work that will inspire and put one in the mood for the holidays.  I can’t overstate what an accomplishment this is, especially in a market that is overrun with generic “holiday” music.  It would really be something to see this entire album toured live but one is hopeful that these songs will at least work themselves into her set lists, as all her great material eventually does.

Having already given us the gift of Abnormally Attracted To Sin earlier this year, the equally amazing Midwinter Graces rings out the year in triumph and is sure to be revisited during the holidays to come. “Midwinter Graces” is released on November 10th as a CD/DVD in the US (with two additional tracks, “”Comfort and Joy” and “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht (Silent Night, Holy Night)”) and as both a standard and a deluxe version on US iTunes, with an additional track: “Good King Wenceslas,” as a bonus.