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.”
“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.