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The Charlotte Observer (US)
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Friday, September 17, 1999

Death in Mexican desert haunted, inspired Tori Amos

by Lindsey Henry

Voices, spirits and supernatural forces don't spook Tori Amos. She's used to them shaking her awake at night with demands that their song be written, and the songs on her new album "to venus and back" are no exception. The voices of women who met violent deaths in the desert town of Juarez, Mexico, summoned Amos while her "from the choirgirl hotel" tour rolled through Texas. More than 120 women had been found dead around the city since 1993, and Amos said she translated their anguish into the song "Juarez," telling their story from the desert's perspective.

The album, her fifth solo effort with Atlantic Records, will be in stores Tuesday.

"I was inspired by Juarez on the road," she said while on tour with Alanis Morissette in August. "We were by the border and I was dragged out of the bunk. The song was grabbing me by the throat, saying you have to sing the song. It was just clear that the voices were calling me; the desert was obviously the only thing that heard her last breath, and everything started coming after that."

The song's distraught melodies, paired with an industrial, almost techno sound, match the isolation of the desert wasteland.

Amos wrote and produced the new material on "to venus and back," recording it with the band that accompanied her on tour. New songs trace themes of binding father-daughter relationships, loss of loved ones and the dissolution of living in Los Angeles in the 1980s.

Wrenching, layered lyrics, coupled with evocative, occasionally haunting and longing tunes give Amos' ardent fan base more of what they crave. In "1,000 Oceans," Amos sings of crying oceans of tears to sail someone back. The song would fall flat with most anyone singing of longing, but the sadness in her voice makes it real.

The song "comes from a few places" said Amos, who was born in Newton. "It started with a dream I had. An African woman was singing to me singing the melody, humming it to me. I got up and found the piano, got up at 5:45 a.m., recorded the melody and went back to bed."

Inspiration for lyrics came later when her father-in-law died in February. Amos matched the feelings that accompany emotional isolation with her husband's grieving process. Her husband is Mark Hawley, one of her engineers.

"They were so incredibly close that '1,000 Oceans' seemed to be the only thing that could bring him out of his sadness," she said. "He'd come out and sit and say, 'Could you play that one, the ocean song?' It became about feeling close to people you can't reach, seeing this depth of love for this person who was gone."

Initially the album was to be a collection of b-sides. Yet once the muses and spirits stopped in for a visit, Amos and her engineers decided to rework their plans. They paired her 13 new songs with 12 live tracks from the "choirgirl" tour.

"We had like an NBA playoff system going," she said of the live song selection process. "It was a four-point ranking system, starting with the ones that just had this magic about them."

Round after round, Amos and company pitted song against song and finally narrowed the field to 12. Combining new and live music brings two of her universes together, she said.

"There are two worlds for them," she said. "They feed off each other. The live wouldn't exist without the studio. They go in tandem with each other." Live songs include "Bells for Her," "Waitress," "Mr. Zebra," "Sugar," and perennial fan favorite "Cornflake Girl."


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