Tori Amos, "Midwinter Graces"

With past references to "the little g," the incriminating questions of "God" and a penchant to debate spiritual issues, Tori Amos hardly seems the type to make a holiday album. But the Methodist minister's daughter rarely ceases to surprise. Her latest release, "Midwinter Graces," is a typically provocative-in the best possible way-entry in the yuletide canon. Amos reaches deep into the world of carols for ancient and less obvious fare that she subsequently recasts on string-laden songs like "Candle: Coventry Carol," "Jeanette, Isabella," "Holly, Ivy and Rose" (which features her daughter, Natashya) and "Emmanuel." The lush, big band-styled "Pink and Glitter" is the most interesting of Amos' five originals, though on the album-closing "Our New Year," she appears to express hope, but not expectation, for a messianic visitation. -Gary Graff