Music Review: Chamber of Dreams

Tori Amos goes classical and records one of her best, most beautiful and most consistent albums in years.

Night of Hunters tells the story of a woman at a crossroads, set on the day before the end of a relationship. She is visited by a mysterious being named Annabelle (voiced by Tori’s daughter Natashya Hawley) who shows the woman how her relationships have fared in her past lives in order to teach her how to deal with the present. Through the revelation of both universal constants and her own personal nature, the woman creates a new path for herself of emotional security.

If that description gives you pause, it’s not without good reason. Tori Amos is a huge fan of the concept album, especially as of late. Sometimes it works (Scarlet’s Walk); sometimes it doesn’t (The Beekeeper); and sometimes it just gets in the way (American Doll Posse). However, this is one of Tori’s most solid albums from start to finish, and the overall concept of the work fits the style of the music perfectly, which is clear from the very first song.

Recorded for the venerable classical label Deutsche Grammophon, Night of Hunters is a complete departure for Tori in style and sound. The album is completely acoustic and organic, with no electronics in sight and virtually no effects on either her vocal or the instruments accompanying it other than very, very basic reverb. Amos leads an intimate chamber ensemble consisting of no more than ten performers on each song, which includes the Apollon Musagète string quartet and a rotating collection of woodwinds.

The result is the very definition of gorgeous. From the opening notes of “Shattering Sea” coming from the dark, rich tones of Tori’s Bösendorfer, the album gently but immediately grabs the ears and doesn’t let go for 72 minutes. Tori’s voice is in top form, consistently hitting the sweetest spots of her range, and it’s highlighted beautifully by the expertly arranged music. Each song on the album is a variation on a classical piece by a variety of composers from Bach to Satie to Granados to Schubert, but Tori manages to make every melody very much her own.

The most striking thing on the album is actually the voice of Tori’s daughter Natashya. She was only ten when the album was recorded, but her voice contains a stunning level of maturity and expression for her age. Natashya takes the lead on one of the album’s highlights, “Job’s Coffin,” revealing a remarkable level of control and command. Tori and Natashya have a very similar base tone, but Natashya’s voice is earthier and lighter. They play off of each other wonderfully, and it adds more weight to the narrative, making Annabelle seem like she’s a part of the protagonist and not a separate being.

The songs themselves are almost to a one some of the most compelling entries in Tori’s catalogue. Perhaps it’s the organic nature of the ensemble, but in a musical and vocal sense, it brings out the very best in Tori’s abilities and beautifully highlights an album’s worth of some of Tori’s best piano work in years. It’s especially true on the quietly epic “Star Whisperer,” the sprightly “Seven Sisters” and the ethereal “Your Ghost.” Album closer “Carry” is simply one of Tori’s best ballads in her entire discography.

Unfortunately, even the world of classical music can’t shake the often frustratingly opaque nature of Tori’s lyrics. “Battle of Trees” might be the weakest song on the album if only because the lyrics require far too much interpretation to be appreciated. In most cases, the lyrics are accessible enough, but they often drag down an otherwise fantastic song. It’s especially true in the case of “Edge of the Moon,” where repeated words like “marmalade” seem at odds with the music.

It’s a minor concern, however. This is Tori’s best album since 1998’s From the Choirgirl Hotel, which is in contrast probably Tori’s most electronically-based album. Night of Hunters is a perfect blend of the narrative authority of Stravinsky, the lush melodies of Romantic-era composers like Debussy and Mendelssohn, and Tori’s own idiosyncratic but highly evolved style. It’s a dream marriage that produces an album of exquisite beauty and grace.

Rating: 8 out of 10 / A-

JOHNNY M is a frequent FBOTU contributor and is an admitted classical music geek.<a href="; title="imageimage

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