Tori Amos

Night of Hunters

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Tori Amos has attempted conceptual recordings as far back as Boys for Pele in 1996. It worked beautifully there, and on Scarlet's Walk, less so on The Beekeeper and American Doll Posse. Night of Hunters was created because of a commission by Deutsche Grammophon, to create a 21st century song cycle that took into account classical works from the last 400 years. She built it around 14 songs from variations on Bach, Debussy, Granados, Alkan, Satie, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Mussorgsky, and Gregorian chant. Its themes reflect the journey of a woman who finds herself in distress as a relationship dies, and must find inner strength to transcend her circumstances. Amos joined her voice and Bosendorfer piano with reeds, winds, and strings, arranged by John Philip Shenale. While her narrative can be frustratingly complex and her lyrics obscure, the work ultimately succeeds because she restrains herself from all excesses and employs her finest vocal and playing skills; the latter are, at this juncture, formidable. Shenale's arrangements take Amos' rhythmic playing into account in his charts; he complements them and never over-orchestrates. On "The Shattering Sea," based on an Alkan's "Madwoman on the Sea-Shore," strings by the Apollon Musagete Quartet pulse just behind her piano, creating drama underscored by reeds and winds. When she pronounces emphatically, "That is not my blood on the on the bedroom floor," the tension becomes unbearable. In "Snowblind" (based on a song by Granados), her character refuses to accept blame for the end of the relationship. Amos creates a mythical guide/Muse as balance: the fine vocals of her 11-year-old daughter Natasha as Anabelle the Fox make their initial appearance. "Battle of Tree," based on Satie's "Gnossienne No. 1," will demand attention from the listener who will be seduced by the interplay between voice, strings, reeds, and winds. "Cactus Practice," despite its ridiculous title, is one of the more beautiful pieces here; it's another vocal duet with Natasha, based on a Chopin nocturne. Likewise, their duet in "Job's Coffin," inspired by Mendelssohn's "Nautical Twilight." "Seven Sisters," the instrumental pairing of her piano and Andreas Ottensamer's clarinet -- inspired by a Bach prelude -- precedes "Carry," the most powerful (and accessible) cut. It's also the closer and is based on a prelude by Debussy. Night of Hunters is not a pop record and therefore claims a different place in her oeuvre. It contains the power and dynamics and splendor of her very best material, but because it is a work of classical crossover, any expectation of pop hooks or singalong choruses will be met with disappointment; consequently, its sophistication, elegance, and poetry will reward anyone who takes the proper time to absorb it.

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