From fairy Godmother to hippie love child to sensual dominatrix, Tori Amos has worn many guises in her fanciful flights of self-exploration. If you remember her debut EP, Crucify, and the ensuing album, Little Earthquakes, you know the power this piano-bench-straddling mama can muster. But if you came to Amos' music via such late '90s albums as Boys for Pele or To Venus and Back, you might think the frizzled red-haired singer has little rock'n'roll in her, but plenty of wild ways and a seer's mystical vision. Constants in the Amos arsenal are her clear, throaty voice, streaming piano figures, and delicate melodies, all offset by her equally bizarre and precious lyrics. Scarlet's Walk shows Amos maturing, growing old gracefully, and getting her rocks off.
Billed as a metaphysical journey across America, Scarlet's Walk is never as experimental as her previous records, it yet recalls her entire body of work with its lilting melodies, crystalline vocals, and earth mother lyrics. There is a sameness to the music, as though it was all written with just piano and voice in mind, with the backing musicians a necessary afterthought. Half the songs end with Amos' bare voice extending into the dark, most are mid-tempo and cover similar moods of contemplation and self-absorption/exploration. While she does mention "Amber Waves," "Las Vegas," and other supposedly American themes, Scarlet's Walk is really all Tori, all the time. This is fine if you are enamored of her beautiful vocals (often multi-tracked into an enveloping Tori Choir) and Elizabethan piano enunciations, but if you are an earthbound mortal living in the here now and not the timeless English countryside (Tori's home), this may resemble a love-in between Deepak Chopra, Bjork, and Dr Phil. Amos does strike up the band with frequently grand and glorious melodies, but they are like quicksilver -- brilliant flashes of perfect chords and sun-flecked vocals that disappear as quickly as they flame up.
The sound quality of this disc is broad and expertly drawn. Amos' signature piano is set deep in the mix, with her various voices prominently filling the center, as well as the far background (when the cathedral-worthy Tori Choir overwhelms the music). Gentle drums, subtle guitars, low bass, and brooding strings surround Tori, but never hem her in. The sound is shimmering and delicately detailed, and very rich.
With its gorgeous melodies and cosmic performance Scarlet's Walk may be all any Tori Amos fan could want. For others, the taste may be harder to stomach.
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