San Jose Mercury News
May 12, 1998

Added July 8, 1998

The May 12, 1998 edition of the San Jose Mercury News had a review of "from the choirgirl hotel."

Tori Amos' new album reaches out and touches

Mercury News Staff Writer

IT'S not hard to imagine a horde of young men going to a Tori Amos show and howling their undying love for the singer/pianist, once named one of People magazine's 50 most beautiful people. With exotic red hair that looks hot to the touch and the fullest lips to grace an album cover since a young Mick Jagger, who could resist?

Move through Amos' crowd, though, and it becomes clear that the loudest screams aren't coming from hormonally charged men -- or any men, for that matter -- but little cliques of adolescent girls who have made the song lyrics a framework for their identities.

Since the release of her first solo album, "Little Earthquakes," six years ago, Amos has been writing an ongoing self-help book on the strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities and inequities of being a woman. Four albums later, on the just-released "from the choirgirl hotel," her meandering self-discovery is not overtly focused entirely on personal healing, but on the nurturing of others.

Still, Amos' willingness to be Earth Mother to the masses masks the private pain of her own miscarriage in December of 1996. The event seemingly has left her with maternal instincts and no one to heap them on but the real and fictional women that take residence in "from the choirgirl hotel." The underlying theme of the proceedings seems to be safety in numbers, a huge leap for a woman who has always gone it alone.

Musical maturity

Amos has come far since her first angry songs dealing with the guilt and confinement of a religious upbringing coupled with the tragedy of stripped innocence after being raped. Songs like "Silent All These Years" and "Me and a Gun" wavered between blaming herself and anger that couldn't be reconciled. On her next album, "Under the Pink," she was much more empowered, even daring to ask the God she feared, "Do you need a woman to take care of you?"

By the release of the two-year-old "Boys For Pele," Amos had become angry and defiant. If the artwork of her sitting on a porch with a stern look on her face, mud on her feet and a shotgun in her hand didn't tell the story, song titles like "Professional Widow" and "Putting the Damage On" did.

Aside from soaring vocal octaves and an erotically physical relationship with her piano, Amos' signature to this point has been solitude. Her album covers have been lone images and in concert it was most often just her straddling a piano bench between a baby grand and vibraphone or electronic keyboard. All of that has changed for "from the choirgirl hotel."

Collaborative efforts

Perhaps it's the devoted support of her fans or maybe it's her recent marriage to sound engineer Mark Hawley, but Amos no longer seems uncomfortable in a group. On a series of small club dates (which included a stop at the Fillmore in San Francisco last Tuesday) to prepare for major tours through Europe in North America, Amos played with a three-man backing band for the first time. The result, both live and on "from the choirgirl hotel," is a contrast of lush and spare compositions that give her more space to display her talent.

The added musical accessories have pushed Amos to a new level of performance, ensuring she remains the focus. The big, hollow drum beat of the first single, "Spark," is no match for a line as personal as "she convinced she could hold back a glacier, but she couldn't keep baby alive."

A Tori Amos album wouldn't be complete without one or two ballads full of vulnerability and remorse, and "from the choirgirl hotel" doesn't disappoint. Against the backdrop of more fully orchestrated songs, however, the bare piano coupled with breathy whispers of "by the woods" on "black-dove (january)" takes on new resonance, and her calm dissolution of a relationship in "Northern Lad" induces goose bumps.

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