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The Oregonian (US)
September 11, 1998

Tori's magical music tour

Songstress Amos consults her many muses to create "From the Choirgirl Hotel"

By Marty Hughley
of The Oregonian staff

Tori Amos called her latest album From the Choirgirl Hotel, and that's a revealing title, in an odd way - although for this uniquely colorful pop star, odd often is considered characteristic.

In Tori-speak, the choirgirls in question are the songs themselves, or more accurately the spirits that gave rise to them. Amos frequently credits various spirits, energies or mystical beings (and even, in one much-lampooned instance, "Vikings") with sending her the songs she performs. These days, apparently, they're taking the form of choirgirls.

"I have a very busy life because these girls are coming in and out all the time, since I was a little girl," Amos told The New York Times. "I saw the girls being like a singing group because they're very independent, but they hang out together. They have their own solar systems, they have their own family trees, but I did see them having margaritas by the pool. Sometimes they let me sing with them."

It's a fitting image for the kind of apparition/inspiration that would visit Amos, who will visit Oregon this weekend for shows in Portland and Eugene. The daughter of a North Carolina Methodist minister, Amos has a pretty enough voice to have been a choirgirl but spent her childhood as a piano prodigy, playing from the age of 2 and studying at the prestigious Peabody Conservatory starting at age 5. As her legend goes, she was tossed out at age 11 for deviating from the rigors of classical instruction and indulging in improvisation.

Probably those choirgirls starting to pipe up. But they've served her well, leading her to a style that fuses baroque piano with rock sonic dynamics: the dramatic scope of Kate Bush with the frankness of Chrissie Hynde, the sacred with the profane, the frilly with the furious.

And they've brought Amos as devout a following as any in pop music. Her first three solo albums (a 1988 outing with her pop-metal band Y Kant Tori Read is best forgotten) have been million sellers, with Choirgirl Hotel well on its way. Earlier this year, the Washington Post reported on the Internet that "Amos is a goddess second to none with almost 4,000 Web sites."

Independent herself, Amos has continued to show a rebellious streak in her music, flinging barbed lines at her religious upbringing and tussling with the light and dark of a personal, often highly inscrutable spiritual realm.

Claims that Vikings, or whoever, write her songs for her (along with a propensity for less-printable quotes that tangle spirituality and sexuality in ways that could make Prince re under no obligation to use any other name, or anti-name appear normal) have made it easy to present Amos as some sort of kooky New Age fairy queen. But really, she just has an eccentric and colorful way of talking about things many musicians believe, particularly the idea that artists are channelers of art more than they are creators of it.

King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, whose image is as studious as Amos' is flighty, once took the notion of the muse so far as to assert, "Any time you hear a musician talking about self-expression, you know the music is going to stink."

Amos isn't quite so hard core on the idea. "I'll manipulate a song the way I want to 'cause I just like it that way," she told Rolling Stone. "It's like I'm saying to the muse, 'Look, if you don't want my input, go to Jewel.'"

But despite referring to herself as "Attila the Honey" for her control-freak tendencies, Amos has invited more input on her new work than she has before. Instead of recording her piano and vocals first, then arranging the rest of the music around that base, she played along with other musicians in the studio. And instead of the solo-piano format she's been known for on stage, she's touring for the first time with a full band, all the better to realize the more rhythmic and immediate songs from "Choirgirl."

But no one's likely to forget who's central to this endeavor. Wherever the songs come from and whoever helps give them the sonic clothing that lets them walk around in the world, they seem to talk to and through one well-placed, well-appointed source.

Tori Amos clearly is a preferred hotel among muses.

IN PORTLAND: 8 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Rose Garden arena's Theater of the Clouds
WITH: The Devlins
ADMISSION: $22.50-$29.50, Fastixx
IN EUGENE: 7 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Cuthbert Amphitheater
WITH: The Devlins
ADMISSION: $28.50, Fastixx

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