Tori Amos – Midwinter Graces; Bob Dylan – Christmas In The Heart (2009)

For many years now, I’ve gone out and purchased one new CD of Christmas music. The idea has always been to get something in a genre that I don’t already own. So in my collection there is: choral music, solo piano, solo guitar, rock, pop, jazz, blues, Rat Pack, reggae, old-timey, and several others I can’t remember at the moment. Yep, Christmas music is a big thing in our house, though despite this big pile of choices, we do listen to the classic Vince Guaraldi Peanuts disc several times through the season.

In 2009, I was pretty sure that the Bob Dylan album would be “it.” But then Tori Amos came out to put her own spin on things. That meant … a beauty and the beast Christmas — she of the faerie velvet sheen voice and propensity for unusual pronunciations, he of the illustrious folk career and “The Croak.”

Tori doesn’t just run through her favorites, but instead produces her own suite of holiday-related songs that are inspired by the season, along with a handful of re-arrangements of traditional selections. It’s really too bad that some people hate music from the holidays. I can kind of see how the schlocky versions of things can turn a person off. They should take a crack at Midwinter Graces.

My favorite visitation from songs of Christmas past is “Star of Wonder.” The percussion and violin lines in the verse give the tune an exotic flair, setting up the deep bells that signal the soaring chorus. Tori is in fine voice on songs like “Snow Angel” and “A Silent Night With You.” These compositions sit firmly in the Tori Amos tradition but the overriding theme is both obvious and natural. But … the killer track here is “Pink And Glitter,” with Tori singing inside of a big band arrangement. When she sings “shower the world” in the chorus, I just get lost.

And yes, getting lost is what many people have wished on Bob Dylan for years. They just can’t take “The Croak.” Why, oh why, did he have to do this to our beloved Christmas songs?! Yep, I’ve heard the lament — I just don’t agree with it. To me, there’s something oddly endearing about hearing The Croak wobble through some of these tunes. It’s almost like listening to a modern field recording. Sure, there’s maybe too much phlegm-shakin’ going on (and part of me is pretty sure that he does this on purpose), but then there are incredibly cool things like the Cajun stomp of “Must Be Santa,” the slinky “The Christmas Blues,” and swing and sway of “Christmas Island.”

If you end up hating on the Dylan, you can always use it to clear the room of unwanted and/or overstaying house guests. Think of it as musical fruitcake.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • Monica C.

    “The Christmas Blues” is a personal favorite. Mr. Bobby Dylan has a way of covering other people’s jems. He sings it like it’s his own work. “Do you hear what I hear” is nice too. I think Dylan could be a wonderful preacher if he wants.

  • The Watchman

    I am a BIG Dylan fan,since the ‘ 70’s,and I have one word to use to describe and review “Christmas in the Heart”— UNLISTENABLE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The Croak is just TOO much !!!!! Abrasive,grating,cringe-inducing,completely non-musical— That “voice” is simply SHOT,period !!! And,if you don’t like this voice,DO NOT spend your hard-earned money to see Mr.Dylan live,because it’s more of the same “voice”—and WORSE !!! Bobby,PLEASE,you have the money,get those vocal cords cleared-out and cleaned !!!