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The Spokesman-Review (US)
Spokane, Washington, newspaper
Friday, April 4, 2003

Shared journey

Tori Amos to offer a personal landscape of songs during her concert at the Spokane Opera House

Isamu Jordan
Staff writer

No one knew what Tori Amos was up to, not even her husband.

But somehow, a mysterious Native American woman came to her after a concert with a 45-minute oral message about the endeavors of writing her latest album, "Scarlet's Walk."

"She told me the white brother took lands and he is going to keep on taking lands. She said they own the land but they are not the caretakers of this land," Amos said during in a telephone interview from North Dakota. "It didn't scare me. But it made me sit upright and rethink what I was doing."

This is the basis of "Scarlet's Walk," a personal and political journey of Amos' alter ego combined with what she calls "the American soul."

The album is a sonic novel about a woman's cross-country journey to self. Each song is a stop along the way.

Amos will sing chapters from that October release on Tuesday at the Spokane Opera House.

The eccentric alternative rock singer started researching Native American history in 2000, while pregnant with her daughter, Natashya.

Already in the process of building a library in England, where she lives, Amos had been intrigued with such subjects since she was a teenager, she said. But the state of world politics compelled her to dig deeper into the past.

"When I was young I was perplexed by the teaching that was rarely about Native people. What's the impetus of that?" Amos asked. "A couple of years ago it became clear that America as a soul was in trouble. I began reading newspapers about foreign policy and it made me question where it was going and look at the dark side of the shadow of America."

In writing the album Amos assembled a research team using Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan., as a point of authority. But her first bit of research was rooted in the stories told by her Cherokee grandfather.

"Growing up in North Carolina where I spent my summers, it was these stories that became our way of feeling our roots," Amos said in a news release. "My grandfather made these memories come alive by telling me stories of his people. I felt an amazing sense of compassion toward what had happened to them, and I'm convinced that before he died, my grandfather hid a remember-the-stories chip underneath my skin."

"Scarlet's Walk" uses imagery drawn from the symbology of various Native American tribes -- mainly Southwestern tribes, because that information is more readily available, along with the eastern Cherokee and Cheyanne nations, Amos said.

Landscapes where these tribes originated became the template for how the songs were structured along with which instruments and rhythms were used.

Both the album and tour feature longtime Amos collaborators Jon Evans on bass, Matt Chamberlain on drums and percussion and John Phillip Shenale, who has been arranging strings for Amos since her 1994 platinum album, "Under the Pink."

Mark Hawley, Amos' husband and sound engineer, also worked on the album.

"The musicians were very much aware of what we were trying to achieve musically, of where the songs were. They tried to use instruments that were more indigenous of the songs' places," Amos said.

The lyrics slide from cryptic to clear, and from literal to metaphorical, as Amos explains the first verse to the album's Los Angeles-based opening track, "Amber Waves" (both a phrase in "America the Beautiful" and the name of a porn star in the movie "Boogie Nights"): "She had arrived in the city of angels with a dream of being someone. But 'from ballet class to lap dance straight to video,' her soul has been slowly eroded."

Amos has been captivating listeners with a mix of accessible yet complicated art-rock since the early 1990s. She has been nominated for Grammy awards in categories such as Best Rock Female Vocal as well as best Alternative Music since 1994.

While garnering eight Grammy nominations and selling more than 12 million records, Amos has been described as glamorous, supernatural, sophisticated and confessional.

She also been called a hippie, a fairy and a witch. And because of the politically charged lyrical content of her latest album, add anti-American to that list.

But Amos said she doesn't concern herself with how others view her.

"That's emotional blackmail. The government gets people to agree with war by saying peacemakers and poets are unpatriotic," she said.

"There are some people that can tell you what is really happening with the government, but that alienates people. My aim is to get to people at the core level so they are asking their own questions. There are a lot of people that don't feel good about where this country is being taken. Would you put someone you love very much in the hands of our leaders?"

Since the birth of her daughter, Amos said her perspective has shifted and she is ready to give the world to the 2-year-old -- but not without reclaiming the world first.

That is exemplified in the "Scarlet's Walk" closer, "Gold Dust," Amos said.

"Here, Scarlet asks the question to herself, 'Do we only have enough love to nurture our human children? Or do we have an abundance of love so by giving to the little ones we can bring our true mother (as the Native Americans called her) out of the arms that may not be truly protecting her?'" Amos said.

"Scarlet's Walk," she said, is a reminder to herself and her listeners that, "more than ever... what you believe in matters now to you and me."

Tori Amos
When, where: Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at The Spokane Opera House
Tickets: $35, through TicketsWest outlets


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