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Tori Amos

Scarlet's Walk (Epic)

Tori Amos has finally managed to synthesize her two musical personas: the quirky-pants, piano-bench-humping cornflake girl singing about frogs named Jethro on her toes, and the older, wiser diva-in-training flirting with a more ethereal electronic sound, backed by a full band. Scarlet's Walk not only displays Amos's musical maturation, but it is also the singer's most ambitious lyrical work to date.

The album, called a "sonic novel," follows a character named Scarlet (a thinly veiled substitute for Amos: "Scarlet is walking in my shoes," she has said. "You could say she's based on me. Or perhaps I am based on her.") who embarks on an epic road trip, Kerouac-style, across the United States, starting on the West Coast. The record gets off to a melancholic start as Scarlet visits a washed-up porn star ("Amber Waves"), who "give[s] it up on DVD and magazine." From there, Scarlet moves down the California coast with a new lover ("A Sorta Fairy Tale"), both of them pretending to be something they're not; Scarlet continues to head east, albeit rather circuitously, with stops in the Badlands, Austin, New Orleans and along the Mexican border. All the while, Amos accentuates the stories with gorgeous yet fairly straightforward, accessible instrumentation, the piano mixed high enough to make it the centerpiece without compromising the rest of the band. (Sorry, no baroque arrangements or harpsichords on this record.)

All told, Amos -- who appears at the Magness Arena on Thursday, December 5 -- has redeemed herself quite nicely after last year's spectacularly disappointing Strange Little Girls, beautifully mapping a chaotic life, a journey with which nearly all of us can relate.

 
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