Tori Amos and “Night of Hunters”

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 25, 2011 — 25 Comments

Throughout the 1990s I was an unabashed Tori Amos fan. The type of fan who went to the midnight release of her 1996 album “Boys for Pele,” collected singles, covers, and b-sides, and considered myself lucky to see her on the “Under the Pink” tour.  However, my passion for all things Tori cooled as the millennium turned, and a string of uneven albums convinced me that I wasn’t missing out on much. I expected that status quo to remain stable, and my interest in Tori Amos’ music to become  primarily an exercise in nostalgia, until I chanced on her newly released album “Night of Hunters.” A conceptual album constructed around famous compositions by classical composers, and featuring a narrative about a relationship couched in mythological terms, “Night of Hunters” is a breathtaking  reminder of just how good Amos can be. It also gives plenty of fuel to the “is she or isn’t she” debate over how overtly Pagan Amos is.

“I was reading “The White Goddess” by Robert Graves, [a book] that really investigates the mythology from ancient Ireland. When I read about the power of the poets in those days, it took me a while to really comprehend that sort of world, because we don’t have a world like that. It’s almost going to an alien world where that exists. It excited me, but to get my head around the prose was tricky. That took quite some time, to deal with “Battle of Trees.” Probably the longest of everything — it was being worked on through this whole process, when I was building all the other works, this was constantly on the drawing board.”

Music critic Ann Powers, who co-wrote a book with Amos that explored her links to archetypal goddess figures, delves into some of the mythic themes utilized in “Night of Hunters.”

“A song cycle based on familiar pieces by composers including Satie, Chopin, Schubert and Bach,Night of Hunters tells a multidimensional tale of a couple torn asunder and a woman’s search to find unity within herself. The story is animated by characters and motifs that any Amos fan will recognize as characteristic: a shapeshifter; ancient poets, battling in a ring of trees; a Star Whisperer; a Fire Muse. […] Night of Hunters is ambitious, but it’s also personal — not in the confessional sense, but musically. Amos shares vocals in four tracks with her 11-year-old daughter Natashya Lorien Hawley (whose precocious throatiness suggests a more spritely Adele), and her niece Kelsey Dobyns also makes an appearance. Leave it to Amos to find a way to challenge the classical tradition of masculine mentorship by working a little matrilineal magic. It’s just her style to reinvent tradition, even as she honors it.”

The links between myth, archetypes, and Amos’ music run deep, or as Wired says, she’s “centuries-old-school.”

“With help from a Fire Muse (voiced by Amos’ niece) and a character named Annabelle (inspired by the Children of Lir from Irish mythology, and voiced amazingly by Amos’ 10-year-old daughter, Tash), the woman is reborn. By the album’s end, she vows to “Carry” (video above) her lost love with her. “I thought that if Annabelle represented the duality of nature and was able to shape-shift from fox to goose, hunter to hunted, and show this woman a different perspective, I could jump in and out of Irish mythology, because I had a pivot point in her,” Amos said.”

I personally think that labels like “Pagan” probably matter little to Tori Amos, and that anyone who walks so deeply into faerie is “with us” in all the ways that truly matter without having to pin it down. As for her reliance on Robert Grave’s most controversial book (at least among Pagans), I think using his poetic mythic history in a poetic mythic album is exactly the context the work should be explored (and one Graves would no doubt approve of). In any event, “Night of Hunters” is a triumph of an album, one that should interest old fans who’ve drifted away, and attract new fans who see the connections between the mundane and the mythic. You can listen to “Night of Hunters” in its entirety at NPR Music, and you might also want to check out an interesting dialog on her new album between a pop and classical music critic.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Anonymous

    You had me at: “When I read about the power of the poets in those days, it took me a while to really comprehend that sort of world, because we don’t have a world like that. “

  • av

    You should go back and listen (again) to her music that you skipped over – there are some wonderful gems in there.

    BTW she is part Cherokee and sometimes has a Native American blessing before her shows.

    • David Kees

      The blessing was recorded for the Scarlet’s Walk CD; I’m not sure I encountered it prior to then, but I didn’t see that many of her shows prior to Scarlet’s either.

  • Tara

    I agree. She lost relevance for me after Scarlet’s Walk, so I was really surprised to LOVE Night of Hunters.

  • http://egregores.wordpress.com Apuleius Platonicus

    OK – now you’ve got my hopes up!

  • Scott

    I haven’t kept up with Tori’s work since *Boys for Pele*, but I checked this album out when NPR was streaming it pre-release, and it immediately confiscated my brain – I probably listened to the whole thing half-a-dozen times before the official release. Fantastic album.

    In a related vein, has WH or anyone else had any significant coverage of Anais Mitchell’s *Hadestown*, which came out last year? It’s an Orpheus/Euridice retelling set in an early-20th-century company town. With Ani DiFranco as Persephone. Go check it out.

    • deerwoman

      I knew she had a song on The Brightness which was a conversation between Hades and Persephone (also the title of the song) on what to do about the Orpheus/Euridice ordeal, but I had no idea she made a whole album dedicated to the theme!

      SleepThief also has a song dedicated to the same myth on the album The Dawnseeker.

  • Scott

    It’s somewhat disappointing though, that Tori keeps referring to “Irish mythology” – all the mythological content in the lyrics (except for name-checking the Morrigan) is Welsh-by-way-of-Graves. The review in the *Guardian* got it right, but the rest of the mainstream media is predictably clueless.

    • Anonymous

      Well, the fox and goose (Tash’s shapeshifting forms) are both pretty dear to Irish lore and mythology… On the other hand, the only reference I can find for a fire muse is in Shakespeare…

  • http://www.facebook.com/aisling.vandamlabauve Aisling Van Dam LaBauve

    I’m excited to listen to the new stuff. I’ve always loved Tori, but was actually just thinking this morning that she hadn’t released anything in awhile that really spoke to me. I love the way she weaves that feeling of the mystical into her work.

  • Anonymous

    Tori still makes me go all quibbly, glad to hear she’s producing stuff more in caliber with her older stuff.

    side note: has anyone else seen this story? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzlebAQ-uks

    made me cringe.

    • Jay

      In one sense I find it funny, because they’re equating church-going as a form of punishment, which it would certainly be for me if Christian churches were the only option (as it is implied by the “every Sunday” program), and for a whole *year*. Ouch. I wonder, though, if such a program could be translated into a Pagan context. It’s interesting to think how that might work, and besides, Pagans do have more fun! =)

  • http://mullenkamp.wordpress.com Zaratha

    I *just* picked this album up a little while ago, and I am really, really loving it. Even though I sometimes feel like the only old school Tori fan in the world that actually liked From the Choirgirl Hotel and To Venus and Back, I kind of did drop off after that…I didn’t really like another Tori album until Midwinter Graces, and Abnormally Attracted to Sin I was iffy on.

    Old school Tori fans should adore this one though–the first good sign for the people that didn’t like the more electronica-influenced stuff is this release is on a classical label. The entire album is acoustic, doesn’t feel horribly overproduced like most of her aughts catalog, and is just straight up Tori singing with a piano and classical instrumental backing. I do admit I’m getting slightly tired of her kid already, though.

    • Rowen

      Choirgirl Hotel is my favorite. I’ve always found Boys for Pele and me to not be a match. I used to have the subway poster hanging over my bed during college, and my first boyfriend took me to the Venus tour. (sigh. . .I kinda miss then).

  • http://erynn999.livejournal.com/ Erynn

    I want you to know how very hard I am sitting on my hands to refrain from commenting about Robert Graves. *headdesks mightily*

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      Ha!

    • AnonGuest

      That’s okay, I’m like “don’t add lyrics to that song by Satie”

      • Crystal Kendrick

        Uh-oh. Which song? I’m a Satie purist. You can’t play around with perfection.

        • AnonGuest

          Tori’s “Battle of Trees” is a cool title (actually I thought that was the title to a Rush classic, but it’s just “The Trees”) to something kind of dumb

  • Allison Andrews

    I am extremely excited to go and purchase a copy of the album, like you Jason, I had been lulled into a cave of pure boredom after the albums ” Bee Keeper” & “American Doll Posse”, Boys for Pele always being a hard Album to live up to. However you have now given me fresh hope that Tori has been reawakened and emerged with something to rival previous albums……

    I actually took as break as I was writing the above, and have gone a purchased this album and am sitting and listening now. Divine.

    Lyrically haunting yet sweet. I am happy to say, Welcome back Tori !

  • AnonGuest

    YAY! I also was ‘meh’ about some of her more recent albums. Thanks for the heads up! this is a find.
    As to ‘pagan’ I don’t know, don’t care, but I do know she’s has commented before on her interaction with the People. Also, I think I read some while ago “Blueberry Girl” by Gaiman was written for her children.. so they’ve been noticed as awesome before. :)

  • Daniel Kestral

    Tori Amos is one of my all time favorite artists. I have “Little Earthquakes,” “Boys for Pele,” and “From the Choirgirl Hotel.” I have quite a few other albums, too, and thoroughly enjoyed “The Beekeeper.” Songs like “Spark,” and “Crucify,” are some of the most memorable and my favorite songs by her, too. I especially love the religious critiques delivered by Amos in Crucify, especially in terms of the overt and oppressive aspects of Protestant, Catholic, and Puritanical fire and brimstone ideology that says we shouldn’t enjoy life, and must look upon ourselves as vile, sinful beings, which is pure bs. I look forward to hearing her new album!

  • Rowen

    Scarlet’s Walk was the last one I really listened to. A friend of mine gave me a copy of the Beekeeper and I never got into it enough to know if I liked it or not. I’m going to have to give this a shot.

  • http://twitter.com/muzboz Murray Lorden

    Like many seem to be here, I was a massive fan through her first 3 or 4 albums, but cooled off around Scarlet’s Walk. This new album sounds amazing.

    And this is an interesting article looking at the Pagan / Irish mythologies, etc.

    I’ve been flicking through a book on Shamanism lately, which I’m actually finding fascinating, and it looks at exploring “Otherworlds” (Underworlds, Upperworlds), and general oneness amongst all things, the importance of trees to the Celts, and communing with animals, etc.

    It’s interesting to have that little part of my life matching up here with the reminder of how good Tori Amos is, and it’s great to hear her daughter singing, with much skill and conviction, too. Lovely.

    My friend recently finished a long-term project about 11 year olds from around the world, and how it is an interesting time of life, between childhood, and teenagehood, and how people really go through changes of perception and transformation around 12 years old. I watched an interview with Tori talking about her getting kicked out of music school at 11, and how she’s sort of still getting over that.

    And now her daughter is 11 and singing on her album. Interesting stuff! :)

    My friend’s film is great, and you can see more about it here, I recommend it! Makes you feel good! :)

    http://iameleven.com/

  • Garyanderko

    Does anyone know if she’s touring with an orchestra for this album or just solo or a band or ?? THANKS