© Desmond Murray

Christmas and Tori Amos are a good match. Ritual and mysticism, religion and paganism, darkness and light — these elements have been threaded through her music over the years. Indeed, she released a seasonal album in 2009, Midwinter Graces, and recorded a haunting live version of “The Little Drummer Boy” that has appeared on compilation albums. As the daughter of a Methodist minister, she will be well versed in the Christmas story.

On this four-track EP, the American singer-songwriter channels those elements, adds a flavour of the ancient myths of Cornwall, where she lives, and reflects on a tumultuous year, in some of the most satisfying music she has made in years.

The title track unfolds to a steady, stately beat, Amos’s tremulous voice floating over rolling piano and decorous guitars. Here, the “tide” in “Christmastide” is one that carries ships, in lyrics that hint at the shepherds’ journey and conjure up images of warmth, homecoming and togetherness.

“Circle of Seasons” is steeped in West Country mythology and history, in particular the pilgrimage route that runs from Cornwall to Somerset. One of the great strengths of Amos’s music is her gift for percussive piano-playing, and here her Bösendorfer is engaged in an intense dialogue with longtime collaborator Matt Chamberlain’s drums, roiling and broiling.

On “Holly” she turns to electric piano in a song that drifts within a single phrase from anxiety to optimism, the holly of the title a symbol of hope.

“Better Angels” is simply glorious, a dramatic coalescence of guitar, drums, piano and bass. Science tells us that there is only one sure way out of this pandemic: a vaccine. But here Amos is looking more broadly at a future in which change is possible: “One way out, only one way out of this/Unfreeze those wings that you dreamt in your chrysalis.”

★★★★★

Christmastide’ is released by Decca

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