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Baltimore Sun (US)
August 25, 1999

Amos' magic shines through

Music: It's been a busy year for the performer, what with producing a double CD and participating in a U.S. tour with Alanis Morissette, which hits Columbia tonight.

By J.D. Considine
Sun Pop Music Critic

It seemed such a simple plan.

After finishing a 120-date tour with her band last year, singer/pianist Tori Amos had planned to spend the spring hunkered down in a recording studio near her home in Cornwall, England, to work on her fifth album. The idea was to release a double CD, but even so, Amos and her crew weren't expecting to do a lot of recording, as one disc would be all live material, while the other mixed B-sides with a couple of new tunes.

Then the songs started coming. And coming. And coming. Before she knew it, Amos had an album's worth of new songs on her hand.

"It really did sneak up on me," she says. "It just demanded to be born."

"It," in this case, is "To Venus and Back," which is now seen as a brand new studio album augmented by a second disc of live recordings.

It's due out Sept. 21, four days before the former Baltimorean completes her "Five-and-a-Half Weeks" tour with singer Alanis Morissette. (The two perform at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia this evening.)

Amos is glad to be out on the road and playing with her band. "We just really enjoy playing," she says over the phone from a tour stop in Tampa, Fla. "We missed playing with each other. We'd recorded together, but recording is different. Recording is about being in the trenches."

It may seem as if Amos is being a bit over-dramatic, but making the eclectic and adventurous "To Venus and Back" really was something of a struggle. Not only did she have to deal with the normal give-and-take of recording with a band -- "Somebody's got to be at the helm, and everybody's got an opinion," she says, laughing -- but she was faced with an immovable deadline, in the form of the Morissette tour.

"We had to hit our date," she says. "The tour wasn't going to change, and I couldn't just say, 'Oh, give me a couple more weeks '

"In doing two albums in that amount of time, I was taking on more than I had any idea I was taking on," she says. "I mean, I knew it was going to be constant [grind], but there were no days off. There were no breaks. There was nothing."

Amos, of course, is no stranger to steady work. Since releasing "Little Earthquakes" in 1991, she has recorded regularly and toured extensively, eventually turning a dedicated cult following into an arena-filling audience.

Her last two albums, "Boys for Pele" and "From the Choirgirl Hotel" were both million-sellers.

But the biggest challenge facing the singer and her crew under such a tight deadline was maintaining what musicians call "fresh ears" -- that is, keeping your objectivity from being worn down by hearing the same song over and over and over again for days at a time.

"You have to keep trying to clear your head," says Amos. "So I'd drive in my little truck over to the beach, and just walk on the cliffs to clear my head."

Assembling the live album only added to the pressure, because Amos and her band had hundreds of hours of tape to go through. "We went through 120 shows," she says.

"There was a ratings system, sort of like the F.A. Cup [the British soccer equivalent of the Superbowl], and each song got a one-through-four rating, with four being the best.

"But that one through four became kazillions of numbers. There'd be ratings like 2.79 -- it got really anal."

Eventually, those 120 shows got boiled down to 14 songs, a selection ranging from such radio hits as "Precious Things" and "Cornflake Girl" to lesser-known numbers like "Space Dog" and "Purple People."

Amos is the first to admit that it's not quite the song list she expected. "The songs I felt were going to be on there just didn't hold what these did," she says. "It became about not songs that should be on the record, but the songs that deserved to be, that seemed to hold a magic carpet quality."

Magic also seems to play a part in her tour with Morissette, which has so far found the two singers complementing each other perfectly. "Even though they're two separate shows, they're a whole," says Amos.

"Our sets are extremely different, our approaches are very different, but there's a real commitment from everybody -- the musicians and the crews -- to just create a bit of magic."

Tour notes

What: Tori Amos and Alanis Morissette

When: Tonight, 7: 30 p.m.

Where: Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia MD

Tickets: $40 pavilion, $25 lawn seating

Call: 410-730-2424 for information, 410-481-6500 for tickets

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