Tori Amos’s Words Continue to Strike Vital Chords

Tori Amos at the Paramount Theatre back in 2009.
Tori Amos at the Paramount Theatre back in 2009.
Aaron Thackeray
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A few short months after the release of her fifteenth studio album, Native Invader, Tori Amos’s fans are left with little doubt that she is one of the most vital voices in contemporary music. Unsurprisingly, the record is both critically adored and artistically brilliant. Amos simply doesn't release bad music; she never really did.

Native Invader is not the most joyful of her records, inspired by our divided country and the suffering her mother endured after a stroke. But as is typical of Amos, the songs are not without hope. There is so much beauty in the raw emotion that she conveys as she finds some positivity in pain. Live, Amos is never dull. She takes great pleasure in taking old favorites and giving them a fresh twist to keep her, as well as her devoted fans, interested.

She can also do anything. This is the woman who, in 2011 and 2012, put out two albums of classical and/or orchestral music: Night of the Hunters and Gold Dust, respectively. Soon after the release of Gold Dust, we spoke to Amos and she described it as a “fun project.”

“It was one of those moments in time; I was exposed to a lot of classical music in a short amount of time,” she said. “A musicologist was sending me lots and lots of music. I was able to pick and choose after he had edited it down, and I just chose things that really spoke to me, thinking that, because classical music isn’t my life every day, that if I liked it, it might be something that people of the contemporary might like.”

By 2014, and the Unrepentant Geraldines album, Amos had returned to the beautifully quirky, ultra-emotional alt-baroque-pop with which she had made her name. It’s a gorgeous record that pleased fans baying for a return to the Tori Amos they have been relying upon. But in truth, the songs benefit from Amos’s foray into other musical worlds. As far as she’s concerned, the album just turned out the way it was supposed to.

“I think it’s just how it came about,” she said back then. “All the songs had been written while these other projects were happening. In order to collaborate with all these amazing people, there was a place where I would run to, and it’s these songs. A private, sonic space that I would run to.”

That trend has continued with Native Invader, of which she wrote on her website: “The songs on Native Invader are being pushed by the Muses to find different ways of facing unforeseen challenges and in some cases dangerous conflicts. The record looks to Nature and how, through resilience, she heals herself. The songs also wrestle with the question: What is our part in the destruction of our land, as well as ourselves, and in our relationships with each other?

“In life there can be the shock of unexpected fires, floods, earthquakes, or any cataclysmic ravager — both on the inside and outside of our minds,” she continues. “Sonically and visually, I wanted to look at how Nature creates with her opposing forces, becoming the ultimate regenerator through her cycles of death and re-birth. Time and time again she is able to renew. Can we find this renewal for ourselves?”

As is normal for her, the songs on Native Invader laid her emotions out for all to see (and hear) in as poetic a way as possible. The songs can be enjoyed on a superficial level, so great are the melodies and musicianship. But like all poetry, a bit of work and some serious concentration can pay great dividends.

For Amos, she’s happy that she has a songbook that she can pull from at will, and all of the songs can sit comfortably alongside each other.

“I find that when touring, I rarely have an issue with playing songs from different records,” she says. “Some I play more than others, there’s no question. But the idea of playing other records from the past is something I expect to do. I don’t have any issue with it, because I think people come to hear a career. They don’t just come to hear one record.”

She even concedes that her cover of “Raining Blood,” by thrash-metal giants Slayer, from 2001’s Strange Little Girls album could get an airing, adding, “Almost anything is possible.”

That’s true, in so many ways. In 1994, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) was founded, and Amos, who has had her own harrowing experiences of violent sexual assault, has been closely connected with it ever since.

“They do a great job,” Amos said. “They allowed me to deal with different issues. There is still violence against women; I’d love to tell you that the service isn’t needed as much as it was, but it is. That’s the good news and the bad news. The good news is that it’s there. The bad news is that it’s still very much needed. I have a lot of admiration for the people that, day-to-day, are on the front lines.”

That involvement with RAINN must be therapeutic. When speaking to Amos, she seems bubbly. She married English sound engineer Mark Hawley in 1998. They have a seventeen-year-old daughter and split their time between Florida, County Cork in Ireland, and Cornwall in England.

“It’s beautiful,” Amos said. “It’s where a lot of the records are made, though I write on the road. I have to travel and get out of the routine. It’s a great studio there, so it works for us to record there.”

Wherever she writes and records, it’s working. Tori Amos is an important artist and, while it’s tempting to suggest that her words are more touching in 2017 than ever, the truth is, they’ve always been vital.

Tori Amos plays with Scars on 45, 7:30 p.m., Sunday, November 19, Paramount Theatre, 1621 Glenarm Place, 303-623-0106.

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