Monday, September 19, 2011

Job's Coffin

Song: Job's Coffin
Artist: Tori Amos
Album: Night of Hunters

Given that "Night of Hunters" is Tori Amos' twelfth album in just nineteen years, it's a wonder she hadn't already made it... but would it have been the same?  Amos was commissioned by German classical label Deutsche Grammaphon, to create a 21st Century song-cylce that was centered around classical themes.  Classical music, and more specifically the piano, has been the "thing" that has always separated Amos from the pack of even Alternative-leaning singer-songwriters, fusing her love of piano-based music into off-kilter pop tunes.  Over the last couple years she's developed a more rock and roll sound, so "Hunters" is an absolute return to form in some respects.  Though she's never been this acoustic, or this well... "classical."  But Josh Groban... she ain't.

To try to explain "Hunters" briefly...

The songs revolve around a woman whom is left alone on the eve of the end of a relationship in Ireland. As night comes on, she is confronted by Annabelle, a shape-shifting "childlike figure" who transports the two back three-thousand years to witness a previous incarnation of the woman's relationship.  There is also a peyote-induced trip to expand the woman's mind, a meditation on "the hunter" and "the hunted," and a meeting with the Fire Muse, whom casts a spell with the woman to protect the light of the world from the forces of darkness.

Typical right?

While that concept is so very Tori... what she hasn't done yet is a straight-up acoustic record, nor one this steeped in classical music.  In fact, much of the music is inspired directly from the last 400 years of classical themes.  It's not my typical thing at all (aside from insipid pop-country, classical music may be my least favorite music genre) but as a piece of work, "Hunters" is rather remarkable.  I certainly haven't poured through the lyrics enough to follow that off-its-head story, but the music and atmosphere it creates are immediately powerful.  This could be one of Amos' most impressive pieces of work in her cannon.

Opener "Shattering Sea" gives you everything you need to know up front about the record as Amos pounds her piano, recreating the visual of a crashing sea on her instrument.  "That is not my blood on the kitchen floor," is the opening line to the song, letting you know right up front that this isn't a standard classical record.  Throughout she takes on the works of Schubert, Chopin, Bach, and Mendelssohn among others while continuing the story.

The big surprise for me was the turn by Amos' eleven-year-old daughter Natashya Hawley, who plays Annabelle, and had a deep, interesting voice that mixes with Amos' beautifully.  She is featured on my favorite track off the album, "Job's Coffin," which fits the concept musically... though separates itself to me as a standout.  The first single is oddly the album closer, "Carry," something I don't believe Amos has ever done. (Typically the last track of a Tori Amos album goes for a certain sprawling grandeur that fits, and ties up, that albums concept.)

I've been surprised, while gearing up to write this, how much I've been taken with this record, knowing it's not something I would normally gravitate to.  But Amos sells it, and gives her more pop-leaning fans much Tori-ness to get swept up with.  And despite my dislike of Classical as a genre, I of course initially gravitated to Amos because of her piano-based style.  In a way it's a surprise it's taken this long for her to craft an album like this... but then again I can't imagine it turning out how "Night of Hunters" has if not for her years and breathe of output.  Very cool.


Shattering Sea
Job's Coffin

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