I’m always amazed every year how unexpected seasonal albums suddenly pop up from seemingly nowhere as each turn of the calendar gets closer to December, but even as dismal and unsettling as 2020 has been, a short list of new Christmas albums somehow managed to appear and command my seasonal attention: Tori Amos’ Christmastide EP, It’s Christmas All Over from the Goo Goo Dolls, A Holly Dolly Christmas by Dolly Parton and Carrie Underwood’s My Gift. [Click here to read my thoughts on each]
It’s a new year and that means thrilling new musical projects are on the horizon for 2018. The past year gave us quite a few gems including new releases from Tori Amos, Beck, Eminem, The Killers, U2, Guardians of the Galaxy 2’s Awesome Mix Vol. 2 and the first proper solo effort from Liam Gallagher before 2017 ultimately concluding with holiday gifts from Sia, Tom Chaplin and Gwen Stefani.
As we proceed into 2018, we have several exciting items waiting in the wings such as new albums from Florence + the Machine, Father John Misty, Justin Timberlake, MGMT, The 1975 and a new remake of A Star Is Born, containing new music from Lady Gaga. There’s also U2’s highly anticipated Experience + Innocence Tour, so 2018 sounds as if it will be engrossing.
Cheers to a great new year and happy listening to all.
Prolific singer-songwriter Tori Amos recently surprised fans by releasing “Cloud Riders,” the first taste of her upcoming album, Native Invader. The introspective new single ponders a turbulent relationship and decrees her unbendable desire to survive its storminess.
Amos previously revealed the future-facing theme of the new album by saying:
“The songs on Native Invader are being pushed by the Muses to find different ways of facing unforeseen challenges and in some cases dangerous conflicts. The record looks to Nature and how, through resilience, she heals herself. The songs also wrestle with the question: what is our part in the destruction of our land, as well as ourselves, and in our relationships with each other?”
The lyrics of “Cloud Riders” seem to fulfill Amos’ cryptic promise of Native Invader’s subject matter as she sings:
“Standing on the edge of a cliff/ Didn’t think it would come to this/ A dead calm before the storm/ Not a sound from their engines/ From the other side, saw a shooting star at 4:22 AM.”
And in the line: “Underneath the stars above/I said, ‘No, stop, I am not giving up on us/And I am not going anywhere soon,” Amos sounds more than ready to stand her ground.
Upon initial listening, the lyrics and melody of “Riders” conspicuously harken back to Amos’ Scarlet’s Walk era. In fact, it would easily sound at home on the 2002 set, comfortably nestled between “A Sorta Fairytale” and “Strange.” [Read Full Review]
It’s nearly unfeasible to imagine that more than two decades have passed since Tori Amos released her seminal debut Little Earthquakes in early 1992. Originally considered too cerebral and magniloquent for mainstream, Amos was resolute in her refusal to be pigeonholed as merely a girl with a piano, as she more than eloquently proved two years later with her sophomore follow-up, Under the Pink. Not since the days of Joni Mitchell’s emotive Blue and Carole King’s confessional Tapestry two decades earlier had such an intimately revealing and distinctly female perspective been unleashed upon the unsuspecting masses.
Now Rhino Records has re-released Amos’ first two albums in deluxe, re-mastered, 2-disc sets, both packed with out-of- print B-sides and rare live versions as bonus tracks. Also, both titles have been concurrently released on 180-gram vinyl, which marks the first time Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink have been available on the heavyweight LP format in the U.S.
These landmark recordings contain the amazingly timeless “Silent All These Years,” “Winter,” “God,” and “Cornflake Girl,” all of which have endured as live staples throughout Amos’ career as well as endearing her to a multitude of die-hard Toriphiles. Raging with now famous Tori-isms such as the caustic “So you can make me come/That doesn’t make you Jesus” (from “Precious Things”), as well as the chilling re-telling of Amos’ own rape in the a cappella “Me and a Gun,” these two classic albums have eternally left a resounding and omnipresent impact upon popular music.
What can be waxed poetic about a live performance by Tori Amos that hasn’t already been covered over the last 25 years? Not much, but her stop in Music City on Monday night at the world famous Ryman Auditorium proved the 50-year-old songstress hasn’t lost any of her magic.
Amos’ latest outing in support of Unrepentant Geraldines (her first proper pop full-length release in five years), finds her touring solo with the bare essentials – her pitch-perfect voice, Bösendorfer, and inimitable charisma. Although I personally prefer when she performs with a band, as playing with others forces Amos out of her comfort zone and the results are usually unforgettably rewarding, over the years I’ve learned to appreciate the nuances of an intimate Amos solo performance. Amos heavily mined her vast canon of baroque compositions stripped to their core, and skillfully delivered each one as a revealingly honest pop song confessional.
The attendance of this particular show marked my 11th Amos concert, and I was accompanied by a friend and fellow music enthusiast, who wasn’t very familiar with her repertoire, and I was curious how he’d react to his first venture into the world of Tori Amos. I’d learned long ago not to expect to convert a novice, as Amos’ set lists have always been cherry-picked like a classic iPod had been shaken and/or shuffled. Quickly my curiosities were vanquished as I watched my crony wriggling impatiently like an unruly child trying to sit still in church and he seemed more interested in the pre-show musical selections of Led Zeppelin’s greatest hits. I, on the other hand, was wanting to jump up and down ecstatically as I reveled in hearing some of my all-time favorite Amos compositions, some of which I’d been waiting to hear performed live for several years. My only consolation was sitting in the midst of two-thousand Toriphiles, among them a twenty-something female who was brimming with enthusiasm as she anticipated the heady experience of her first Amos concert. We discussed our favorite songs before the lights went down (“Blood Roses” and “Sugar”) and we both were delighted when both were unexpectedly performed back to back midway through the show.
As is always the case, Amos was highly aware of her surroundings, and this was by far her first appearance at Music City’s mother church of country music. She shared with us how honored she felt to be playing her songs at the beloved venue and confided an anecdote of how her minister father has always wanted her to write songs about carrying out God’s will, at which she replied, “But dad, I do!” The crowd erupted into thunderous applause and ear-splitting cheers as Amos segued into “Cool on Your Island” from her long out-of-print 1988 album, Y Kant Tori Read. The auditorium again became engulfed in a cloud of euphoric surprise as Amos broke into the chorus of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ classic “Islands in the Stream,” followed by a heart-wrenching cover of Parton’s “Jolene.”
The evening’s significant highlights included a technically enhanced version of “Cornflake Girl,” an endearing version of the Beatles’ “Here, There, and Everywhere,” and a thrilling 4-song encore including a haunting version of Depeche Mode’s “In Your Room.” The 2-hour set concluded with the sold-out crowd on its feet and applauding ferociously as the red-haired siren disappeared into the legendary stage’s wings.
Although I’d hardly converted my buddy into an Amos fan, the audience made up of Ears with Feet members of various ages appeared gratified. As for myself, I couldn’t have asked for a more satiating set list.
Summer is upon us and along with it comes a swarm of noteworthy new releases. Therefore, I’ve compiled a short list of how to get the most musical bang (and bonus tracks) for your bucks.
Sarah McLachlan: Shine On
The deluxe version includes the bonus tracks “What’s It Gonna Take” and “Little B,” which are available exclusively on CD with Target’s version, as well as Amazon and iTunes’ digital deluxe editions.
Dolly Parton: Blue Smoke
The queen of country returns with her 42nd studio album and Walmart is offering a limited edition with the four bonus tracks “Get Up Get On Get Out,” “Olive Branch,” “Early Morning Breeze” and “Angels in the Midst.”
Tori Amos: Unrepentant Geraldines
The high priestess of baroque pop returns with her first proper studio album since 2009’s Abnormally Attracted to Sin. Described as a true return to form in the vein of Boys for Pele, Amos’ 14th studio album will be released on 180 gram vinyl LP, as well as a deluxe casebook edition, which includes a DVD of behind the scenes footage and the bonus track “Forest of Glass.” The iTunes version also includes the bonus track “White Telephone to God,” and Amazon’s digital version includes the additional bonus track “Dixie.”
The Black Keys: Turn Blue
The highly anticipated follow-up to the alluring indie rockers’ El Camino was co-produced by Danger Mouse and has been described as moody and emotional, but highly melodic. The 11-track set includes the title track and “Fever,” which are available now on iTunes.
Coldplay: Ghost Stories
Coldplay returns with their experimental project, which is reported to precede another full-length set to be released in 2015. Target has scored an exclusive of the band’s sixth studio album, which includes the bonus tracks “All Your Friends,” “Ghost Story,” and “O (Part 2/Reprise).”
Mariah Carey: Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse
The emancipated diva returns with her first and fiercest studio album since 2009, which includes the hits “Beautiful,” “The Art of Letting Go,” and her stunning version of George Michael’s “One More Try.”
As we say goodbye to 2013 with all too fresh memories of Miley Cyrus’ embarrassing raunch, the aural overkill of Lorde’s “Royals,” and the over saturated blandness of Katy Perry still lingering about, we can only look ahead with hope that 2014 will redeem this year’s failures.
The beginning of a new year always seems exhilarating as it promises a fresh start and a renewed faith that things can only get better. Looking into the not so distant future we can expect new releases from U2, a return to alternative pop from Tori Amos (after her last three classical infused releases), Cher’s final farewell and last hurrah (Dressed to Kill Tour), and after an extended absence from live performing, cerebral shit stirrer Lady Gaga returns to the touring scene with her upcoming artRAVE: The ARTPOP Ball Tour.
Although too much time was wasted during the past few months on less than triumphant spectacles and dashed expectations, 2013 managed to deliver some great musical moments including David Bowie’s return with The Next Day, Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience, Cher’s first album in 12 years, Closer to the Truth, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2, Christian Burns’ Simple Modern Answers, Panic! at the Disco’s Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! and of course Lady Gaga’s heady party record ARTPOP. The year’s end also saw masterfully crafted seasonal offerings by Kelly Clarkson, Erasure, and Leona Lewis, all of which brought 2013 to a fitting and timely end.
With fingers crossed and musical palettes cleansed, let’s close out 2013 by taking a beat to remember how music makes us feel as it permanently finds its way into the soundtrack of our lives. As we prepare to leap forward into a new year, let’s hope our high expectations of better days to come are fulfilled in 2014.
As one year ebbs and a new one begins, it always seems apt to reflect on the bygone before hurling full speed ahead into the future…
Sadly, the music industry mourned the loss of some legendary and iconic individuals in 2012 including: Whitney Houston, Davy Jones, Earl Scruggs, Dick Clark, Levon Helm, Donna Summer, Robin Gibb, Marvin Hamlisch, and Etta James. It’s always tragic to see such a long list in any given year. Although they are gone, their contributions will be remembered and honored posthumously.
The past year also saw some decidedly notable musical contributions from Tori Amos, Kenny Chesney, Susanna Hoffs, Matthew Perryman Jones, Madonna, Alanis Morissette, and Carrie Underwood, as well as the high octane trilogy delivered with a gutsy 1-2-3 wallop from Green Day.
Now we look ahead to 2013, which promises to deliver some highly anticipated new releases from Panic! at the Disco, David Bowie, Cher, Josh Groban, Darius Rucker, Stereophonics, Brad Paisley, Depeche Mode, Mariah Carey, Lady Antebellum, Justin Timberlake, Beady Eye, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, and Lady Gaga.
As we bid adieu to 2012 and to those we lost along the way, at least we can look ahead to 2013 with a renewed spirit and high expectations of good things to come on the musical horizon.
Performing since age 13, singer-songwriter-pianist Tori Amos’ prolific recording career bleeds into four decades and includes 13 studio albums, 33 official bootlegs, 40 singles, 65 B-sides, 27 music videos, and a five-disc box set. All of which have served to carve out her own unique musical niche as one of music’s most original and influential sonic architects. On her latest endeavor Gold Dust, Amos again returns to the classical music realm with her follow-up to 2011’s song cycle, Night of Hunters.
Each track of this majestic, career spanning collection (from the cryptic “Cloud on My Tongue” to the soul-baring “Maybe California”) was chosen by Amos herself and has been reinterpreted and framed anew within a classical setting. Accompanied by the Metropole Orchestra (conducted by Jules Buckley with new string arrangements by long-time Amos collaborator John Philip Shenale), the inimitable songstress breathes new life into each song as she dusts off the cobwebs of some of her most treasured tunes. Attempting to meld the past with the present, more times than not, Amos successfully improves upon many of the original versions (“Flavor” and “Flying Dutchman”), while simultaneously maintaining their true essence.
Titled after the closing track of Scarlet’s Walk, Gold Dust commemorates the 20-year anniversary of her solo debut breakthrough Little Earthquakes, and collects material from Amos’ earliest hits (“Silent All These Years”) and newer pieces of work (“Star of Wonder”). Offering up musical morsels for Amos fans of every era, Gold Dustserves as a musical memory box as opposed to merely a best of compilation.
Produced by Amos, this lushly orchestrated set is at times equally compelling and dynamic, plus effectively demonstrates Amos’ acumen as a musician, vocalist, and tunesmith (a scarce commodity these days). The album also underscores the classical methodologies often hinted at in her previous works. Gold Dust doesn’t merely look into the past of Amos’ musical legacy; it also displays flickering glimpses of what lies ahead, while reminding us Tori Amos has been anything but silent all these years.
Grammy-nominated piano rocker Tori Amos kicked off the U.S. leg of her 2011 Night of Hunters Tour this week in Atlanta at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. In support of her first classical album Night of Hunters, Amos was accompanied by award-winning string quartet Apollon Musagète. The two-hour set included several songs from her new album, as well as re-worked versions of various songs from her illustrious body of work. Many of Amos’ most beloved favorites, including “Hey Jupiter,” “Spark” and “A Sorta Fairytale,” have been newly arranged specifically to include the string quartet for this tour.
As the curtain went up, the quartet began to play and Amos (dressed in a flowing teal dress and shiny gold stilettos) received thunderous applause as she joined in on piano. The 48-year-old, fire-haired chanteuse appeared as passionate as ever as she delighted and thrilled an entire theatre filled with nearly 3,000 long-time Amos die hards.“That is not my blood on the bedroom floor,” declared Amos as she began the show with “Shattering Sea,” the first track on Night of Hunters.Upon completion of her opening number, Amos remarked with appetence, “It’s good to be home baby” (a heartfelt reference to the tour’s first performance on American soil), before launching into a brilliant rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.”
Amos was in fine form and voice as she demonstrated her staggering vocal and playing skills throughout the spirited concert, which included ample interplay between the singer and string section. The inspiring set included multiple solo performances by Amos, which seemed to satisfy old-school Amos fans, who still long for the intimate ‘girl and her piano’ days when her career was in its infancy. She voraciously visited her impressive musical canon during the night’s set list, whetting the audience’s insatiable appetite and leaving little to be desired, even among the most devoted of fans. Among the numerous highlights was a heavily re-imagined string version of “Cruel” (from 1998’s From the Choirgirl Hotel), which resulted in the night’s first standing ovation, as well as an inspired and emotive version of Joni Mitchell’s Christmas-time classic “River.”
Amos’ electrically charged performance also included brief moments of humor as she broke into an improvised ditty about how her beloved Bösendorfer piano almost didn’t make it to the Atlanta show. Other times, the artist performed with the intensity of a woman possessed, who seemed to be a mere vessel which the songs commanded and bent to their musical will.
The evening finished with a pummeling climax as Amos returned to the stage to deliver an exhilarating four-song encore, which ultimately concluded with a collective sing-along to “Leather” and “Precious Things” (from Amos’ 1992 solo debut Little Earthquakes), which caused the theatre to erupt in a sea of ear-splitting screams. And finally, a bombastic version of “Big Wheel” (earning Amos her second standing ovation of the night) brought the adrenaline-charged musical affair to a close. Amos’ Night of Hunters Tour is a not to be missed experience for Tori-philes and music adherents alike.