CD Review: Tori Amos — Night of Hunters

[ 0 ] September 20, 2011 |

Tori Amos
Night of Hunters
Deutsche Grammophon

By Ellen Eldridge

Those who know of Tori Amos may think she is eternally covered in pixie dust, destined only to a convoluted, yet lovely, web of spun song-children. With Night of Hunters, Amos’ stirs the emotions of long-time fans, and attracts new ones with the concept of the relationship between the hunter and the hunted connecting the songs.

Recurring themes of shattered relationships, and even of being hunted itself, will not resonate as new to fans, but the simple way in which these songs stay related to each other strikes as important. The inspiration comes from fantasy’s ability to relate to real life, and Amos’ power to tell it through her piano and classical accompaniment.

“Shattering Sea” opens with an almost inaudible, low chord on the piano, and symbolizes the violent dissolution of a relationship. The story’s “he” represents nature’s force of wave, and the “she” represents the force of fire; a great choice for the beautiful redhead known for matching her fiery hair with her incandescent vocal range. This imagery exists on the cover artwork as well with a startled-looking Amos bracing herself on the edge of the water.

Amos includes her daughter, the recently-turned 11-year-old Natashya Hawley, on some of the tracks including “Snowblind,” which includes one of the most beautiful vocal harmonies on the album. The song describes the character of Anabelle that Amos creates as a shape-shifting creature first appearing as a fox with the power to show “tori” how to see with “inner eyes.”

“The Battle of Trees” describes the “language of love,” and its change from a weapon wielded against others to a method of attack between lovers, in the simplistically eloquent phrase: “No one had more sharper consonants than you love.” The song revolves around a battle 3,000 in the past that Anabelle allowed “tori” to see with her inner eyes in an attempt to unlock the past between “tori” and “him.” The battle took place in ancient Ireland where “tori” and “he” fought on the side of poets using the Beth-Luis-Nion tree alphabet to fight the invaders.  A quick Internet search will open up a wealth of information from which songwriter Amos must have taken inspiration. Herein lies the magic and allure of Amos; her beautifully mesmerizing songs that she long considered her children act as bewildering journeys through fantasy. With the inclusion of descriptions of the song cycle Night of Hunters becomes a work of literature set in music.

Hawley also sings on “Cactus Practice,” which strikes as a song a mother musician wrote to encourage her daughter to practice without any knowledge of the story that is Night of Hunters. According to Amos, this track represents Anabelle’s appearance as a goose that offers an elixir to bring the truth of each side of the relationship to light. The song’s melodious line, “Every couple has a version of what they call the truth,” hits a nail on the head for just about any fan in a relationship, regardless of whether or not they have become hopelessly lost in Night of Hunters.

Perhaps the most awe-striking of songs on Night of Hunters unleashes itself through a nine-minute-plus, emotionally-driven, ride of self-discovery brought on by Anabelle’s elixir. The questions “Lost star whisperer, where have you gone,” and “Why have you locked up your sky” open “Star Whisperer.” This sixth track of 14 acts as the first time “tori” refers directly to “him.” The sentiment recalls Belly’s song, “Judas My Heart” with its lyric betraying the mask of song, “This is not the moment I fear, I say ‘I’ ‘stead of ‘she’….” The musical break includes almost ten seconds of silence just after the three-minute mark, and begins again with the soft sounds of clarinet and Amos’ voice calling, “Then I heard you scream from the other side of the mountain. I saw a you I didn’t want to see.” This is where Amos returns to her piano to tell stories as she did with Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink. The string and clarinet work aide the interlude dramatically, and pay homage to the fact that Amos released Night of Hunters on a classical label for the first time in her career. The same lines close as opened the song, and characterize the sentiment of only finding the light of answers by walking through the dark – in this case Night.

From “Job’s Coffin,” which again includes Hawley’s vocals, through the remaining songs on Night of Hunters, listeners experience the denouement of the story. The title track, “Night of Hunters” includes vocals by Amos’ niece, Kelsey Dobyns.

Full of muses, allusions to Pagan history, fantasy, and the same themes of love, lost, disillusionment, and understanding, Night of Hunters may just be the most endearing Amos album. Full of her characteristic mystery, but including a theme onto which listeners will more easily grasp. This connected cycle should provide a lifeline for those too often lost in the shattering seas of Amos’ songs, and allow all to connect themselves to a piece of fantasy adrift in the sky.

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