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November 12, 2002

Added November 27, 2002

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A good review of Scarlet's Walk was posted to on or around November 12, 2002. Thanks to James for the info.

Scarlet's Walk
Tori Amos

When the Twin Towers fell, the world watched and grieved. But at the same time, its artists were driven to create. Writers penned essays exploring the nature of loss. Sculptors crafted figures in mourning. Graffiti artists painted patriotic murals. And Tori Amos made an album.

Oft thought of as popular music's own woodland nymph, a conjuring, piano-playing, tongues-speaking sprite only intelligible to her army of blindly devoted fans, Amos has been dealt the music industry's cruelest bum rap – the “novelty” designation. But if she's meant to ever shake that label, Scarlet's Walk, a concept album about one woman's journey across modern America, will do it.

All the usual Amos tools are here including the evocatively named made-up heroine, the narratives that straddle personal and societal, the Chopin-meets-hard rock piano compositions. But there's more, Scarlet's Walk takes Amos beyond just naked personal confession (as on her still-stunning debut Little Earthquakes), female behavior analysis (1994's Under The Pink), and examinations of relationships (1998's From The Choirgirl Hotel). The album is about America – its ghosts, its women, its failings and triumphs. And Amos – a native of Baltimore, MD with Cherokee roots, a born-again minister father, a history in hair bands and love of psychedelic rock and show tunes – is as American an artist as the country has ever produced.

Scarlet (named after Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter) literally walks, drives, and flies across the expanse of the nation, starting in Los Angeles and ending up in New England. (A map in the CD booklet actually tracks the route of each song.) Throughout, we come to know her as a worried sister, an abandoned lover, a grieving friend, and eventually a mother – the many sides of a woman. But she's also a witness to history – much time is spent on the plight of the Native American (“Scarlet's Walk,” “Virginia”), and Scarlet is in New York on September 11 (“I Can't See New York”).

Amos paints each song's picture by matching the music to the words (something modern music often lacks in the absence of songwriters who “do it all”): “Carbon” examines the Native American loss of identity with persistent arpeggios that create a constant sense of spiraling motion. “Crazy” conjures the open road with a graceful, bluesy hand and slow, shuffling drums, like a more refined Ani Difranco composition. “Your Cloud” explores the nature of loss with one unifying metaphor (“If the rain has to separate from itself/ Does it say ‘pick out your cloud?'”), and the delicate phrasing of a Carpenter's ballad. And album closer “Gold Dust” warily celebrates the arrival of a child (Amos herself is a new mother), with a warm melody but stormy strings.

Scarlet's Walk finally makes Tori Amos click for those who couldn't place her before – she is, and always has been, an American storyteller, more in line with folk heroes like Dylan than obscure performance artists like Laurie Anderson. Don't let her be enjoyed by only an adventurous few.

- Kerri Mason

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