Amos takes 'Walk' to Chicago
Tori Amos fans had something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, as the evocative singer-songwriter-pianist played two shows last week at the Chicago Theatre, bookending the holiday. New Epic Records artist Howie Day opened the show with a mellow acoustic guitar set that was augmented by an ingenious display of onstage sampling – Day would tap out a beat on his guitar that would then repeat via an electronic sampler to back the rest of the song. He then would go on to do the same trick with guitar and vocal lines. Amos took the stage with longtime drummer Matt Chamberlain and bassist Jon Evans for backup (no guitar this tour) and a set and lighting design populated with plenty of pinks and purples. After an invisible a cappella opening, the singer made her entrance in flowing gauzy robes and a burst of incense as she launched into "A Sorta Fairytale," the infectious single from her latest album, Scarlet's Walk.
Amos has alternated over the past few years between touring with a band and touring with a solo piano. While the solo piano setting allows her more room to be intimate and improv songs, the band presence this time around gave songs like "Cornflake Girl" and "Crucify," two of her early singles, more depth and power. Amos played for more than two hours, and in mid-set, the band left the stage and allowed her to give solo emotional readings of "Mother," from her first album, "Jackie's Strength" and "Josephine." Amazingly, Amos duplicated only one song from the set list of her Chicago show last year, and didn't play any tracks from her last disc, Strange Little Girls, instead concentrating on material from her latest album, her first breakthrough disc Little Earthquakes and three from To Venus and Back, which she didn't cover at all last year.
She also covered a handful of B-sides, including a rousing, funky run-through of one of her best non-album tracks, "Take to the Sky." At one point, Amos gave a fan a true thrill when she performed an off-the-cuff song about a woman searching for her seat walking up and down the aisle. "Beautiful lady," Amos sang, "We want you to be found/there is a place for everyone in this town." While her shows have grown far beyond the intimate settings of Schubas and the Park West, where her music is at its most powerful, Amos continues to deliver concerts filled with emotion and delicate beauty.
With every album, Hill has moved further and further from her country roots.
On Cry, except for the occasional twang in her voice and the support of songwriters known for their work in the country genre, there's very little to mark her as a "country" artist. Even the cover shows her in an erotically wet, sensual pose. No overalls and straw hats here.
The disc opens with the Beth Nielsen Chapman and Annie Roboff-penned "Free," a radio-ready track that starts with a bassline that The Time might have kicked out, before it slips into a funky call-to-arms chorus. Next up is the title track, "Cry," a rousing end-of-relationship piano and string ballad where Hill begs a leaving lover: "Could you cry just a little/lie just a little/pretend that you're feeling a little more pain."
Roboff helped out on Hill's last album Breathe, as did Billy Burnette, and the two teamed up here to pen Cry's third track, "One," a slowly building, vaguely urban anthem where Hill gets both a little angry and soulful, complaining "you just don't get it, do you?"
Hill croons atop a moving big-drums and strings ballad in the smoky "When the Lights Go Down," and turns up the seductive Spanish guitar for the slow, silky "Beautiful," which suffers from a cheesy spoken verse structure, but otherwise has a warm, lovely chorus ("you make me feel so beautiful/feel like I could fly/cross the clear blue sky/you make me feel so beautiful"). The album closes with its most stirring, tearful moment in the quietly orchestral eulogy "You're Still Here," penned by gifted singer-songwriter Matraca Berg and Annie Mayo and flawlessly performed by Hill. Cry offers a wide range of moods and songwriters, all tied together by Hill's strong, emotional vocals. It's a big-sounding, richly orchestrated album of easy listening contemporary pop.
This country girl has moved to the big city to take over "The Lite FM."