Read a detailed and well-written review of The Beekeeper from the February 17, 2005 issue of the Gay & Lesbian Times based in San Diego, CA.
Thanks to Anthony Baldman, the author of the review, for telling me about it. The best place to read it is online at gaylesbiantimes.com. You can also read it below:
Pieces of Tori
BY ANTHONY BALDMAN
It's been over two years since Tori Amos has released an album of new material, but with her latest release The Beekeeper (released on Epic/Sony Feb. 22), Amos delivers intimate fables soaring with elegance and complexity. The 19-track disc, nearly 80 minutes in length, is her ninth album spanning a career which took off in the early '90's with her critically acclaimed multi-platinum release Little Earthquakes (Atlantic 1992). Amos produced the new album herself and recorded it in her U.K. studio Martian Engineering with drummer Matt Chamberlain and bassist Jon Evans, a duo she has been recording and performing with since 1998.
As a companion piece to The Beekeeper, family bloodlines are one of a several issues explored in her new book Tori Amos: Piece by Piece (Broadway Books), which hit the stands on Feb. 8. Amos teamed with acclaimed music journalist Ann Powers to present a fascinating portrayal of her life in and out of the spotlight. The book captures closer glimpses into her personal life as a wife and mother, her art of live performance, the origins of her songwriting process, touring the world and Amos' strict religious upbringing.
Piece by Piece is a must read for fans who want to dive deeper into Amos' mind and the historical events that shaped her to be the gifted musician she is today. This is not a traditional biography of a musician, but rather a reference tool fans can use to guide themselves though the complex mind of Amos and the music she creates.
Each of the eight chapters tackles different aspects of Amos' history and modern day life. Detailed accounts of her childhood experiences bring the reader closer. Interesting personal anecdotes, some referencing unfinished and never-released material Amos has written intrigue the reader even further. In the 25 "song canvass" sections, Amos explains most songs on The Beekeeper and some relevant tracks from older albums.
Amos' grandmother on her father's side, who she called "The Puritanical" and "The Shame Inducer", was a catalyst for much of her self-righteousness and outspokenness. She knew from a very early age she was not going to be the traditional minister's daughter who obeyed authority figures. Amos writes, "At five I knew I was at war with my grandmother."
This divisiveness in Amos' soul has greatly influenced her songwriting, personality and musical maturity over the years. Always obscure, her lyrics are often interpreted differently and rarely completely understood. Songs have become more and more complex over the years and are filled with a multitude of Biblical and historical references. The Beekeeper is no different in that aspect.
On the new album, Amos incorporates a vintage B3 Hammond organ to the mix in addition to her usual Bosendorfer piano. Using the organ was a departure from much of her older material.
"The Beekeeper is musically inspired by the fact that the piano has realized that she has an organ - with my right hand on her organ and my left hand on her piano keys, I have been changed by the relationship between these two beautiful creatures, the Bosendorfer piano and the B3 Hammond organ," Amos said in a Sony press release.
As with all of her albums, Amos creates an overall theme. The Beekeeper's songs all relate to or pollinate one another in some aspect, segmented into six distinct gardens - the rock garden, desert garden, the orchard, roses and thorns, the greenhouse and elixirs and herbs. Amos says in Piece by Piece that the songs are "independent but connected to each other, no different than the structure of hexagonal cells that make up the beehive."
Amos takes a funky live-band sound and melds it to her intimate vocals and precise piano pounding. Some tracks feature Afro-Cuban drums while the London Community Gospel Choir contributes soulful backing vocals to four songs on the album, including "Witness" the most striking departure from Amos' usual musical style.
Amos makes complete use of her Hammond organ on "Witness" adding to its sheer Southern gospel feel. As with many of her songs, Amos mixes things up a bit. During the bridge, four minutes into the six-minute song, she switches from the organ to piano, changing the melody completely, singing desperately, "Is there a way? Is there any way forward?" This is a song about betrayal and Amos attempts to get through this emotion and move on.
Amos' music has always been as non-commercial as you can get, with most radio stations not playing her music at all or opting to play one track if fans are so lucky. Don't expect any chart-topping hits from The Beekeeper, but you may just hear "Cars and Guitars" hit the airwaves in the coming months. It's perfect for a commercial release, with catchy guitar hooks and overall melody, as well as amusing lyrics such as, "you start me up again" and "restring my wires y'know". Piece by Piece explains the character in this song is a mother who is fed up with her daily responsibilities, pondering whether she should just "keep on drivin'" during the chorus' repeating refrain.
There are many traditional Amos sounds combining intricate piano with angelic, breathy vocal harmonies. "Barons of Suburbia" is a fast tempo, chaotic ride with some great vocal improvisation at the very end. Many fans only get to experience this type of performance live in concert, but Amos finally captures it on a studio track. Amos adds to the song's complexity by playing the organ and piano simultaneously throughout.
"Original Sinsuality" is a standout track, the barest and shortest song on the album with just piano and vocals. It haunts you, referencing the fruit of the tree in the Garden of Eden as a taste of knowledge and sensuality rather than sin. It's almost a shame it's only two minutes long. Its starkness really brings you back to Amos' early days.
The soft drumming combined with an upbeat piano against soft guitar on "Martha's Foolish Ginger" also is reminiscent of an older Amos era with a fresh, innocent sound. She sings about two lovers on a boat named for the track's title. In Piece by Piece, Amos explains she had started to write the song years ago, but she had not been able to finish it until recently when she was in San Francisco Bay on the water.