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October 30, 2002

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Many thanks to Lucy for this review!

By David Archwamety, The Dartmouth

Tori Amos takes an ambitious 'Walk' across America

In her seventh solo album, Tori Amos takes a back seat to the world but a front seat to herself as she plays the role of Scarlet -- the name of a woman trekking across the country, and perhaps also the color of bleeding pains. The lyrics are about what Scarlet observes during her travels; the music is her woeful thoughts.

"Scarlet's Walk" is intriguing for new fans and refreshing for loyal ones. After the lukewarm reception to the hyped "Strange Little Girls" -- a concept album consisting of songs originally sung by men -- Amos was dropped by Atlantic Records. She then signed with Epic, and if "Scarlet's Walk" is any indication, she won't meet the same fate anytime soon. A map in the liner notes follows Scarlet's travels. She gathers stories from the common folk as she first flies from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and then chugs through all 50 states before arriving in D.C. As a result, location is a key element in the music; a few tracks are titled after states, and a line from "Sweet Sangria" seeks out the hustle and bustle of "San Antone."

In the first 3:38, Amos visits and introduces us to "Amber Waves," a decrepit porn star. She's no longer young and beautiful, and has nowhere left to turn; all that remains from her youth is her reluctance. As Scarlet talks to the has-been, Amos' flowing piano gets a slight dose of confusion, and the chorus turns to simple repetition.

When road trips and glimmers of romance mix, Amos finds that she drifts off into "A Sorta Fairytale," the next track and the first single. This song is one of the album's best and arguably Amos' most immediately likeable track since 1998's "Spark." A steady rhythm, a slight melody and definite hooks have broken Amos into radio playlists across the very nation she traverses in "Scarlet's Walk." Unlike many other artists, though, Amos did not have to sell out to get airplay -- she's kept her own sound while merely putting an emphasis on the more radio-friendly elements.

In usual Tori form, the vast majority of her songs are mid- to down-tempo, and none are comfortably quick. One trademark of Amos is that all of her songs are recognizable. Whether it's the better-known "Silent All These Years" or her remake of "Enjoy the Silence," Amos makes any song she sings distinctively hers.

There are recognizable sounds from her earlier work here. The "Scarlet's Walk" tracks "Strange" and "Pancake" have the same grating synthesizer that made us appreciate her songs "Crucify" and "Strange Little Girl."

Amos does throw us the occasional curveball; for instance, the shortest track on the album, "Wednesday," starts off with an upbeat southern-folky feel, slows down until Amos sounds like herself again, and then drifts back to folk.

Emotions run the gamut of sadness: Scarlet finds an angry sorrow in "Don't Make Me Come to Vegas," when a woman refuses to go where a man cheated her. A helpless disconsolation is the theme in "I Can't See New York," a tale about entering "the other side"; there's a cynical sadness in "Mrs. Jesus," whose title is a metaphor for a beggar's wish. There is a peaceful melancholy in "Your Cloud," a story about two lovers who knew they weren't meant for each other, and jaded grief in "Taxi Ride," a monologue by an old man putting up with himself, set to forthright music.

The final track, "Gold Dust," is a simple reflection of life. The "gold dust" is the highlights ("And the day she came / I'm freezing that frame") in the narrator's otherwise mundane existence, and also refers to the bits and pieces of orchestration flittering throughout the song.

The cohesiveness of both "Scarlet's Walk" and its individual songs is remarkable. Amos has succeeded in making a consistently listenable concept album. The disc is over 70 minutes long, but doesn't drag on. One song flows into the next, and each song fits. With the exception of "Wednesday," a decent-sounding song that should have been located in the muddy South instead of Utah and Wyoming, the map adds to the stability of the album.

On "Scarlet's Walk," which she wrote and self-produced in its entirety, Amos returns to doing what she does best -- playing her own original music. Aided by a difficult but workable concept, "Scarlet's Walk" is a definite improvement over "Strange Little Girls."

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