In 1992, a relatively unknown Tori Amos released her debut solo offering, Little Earthquakes. I had never heard anything like it, and it just about blew my mind. The piano-driven, stripped down, soul-baring sounds emanating from the former metal chick are a testament to the singer/songwriter’s unrivaled vocals, dark, introspective lyrics, and instrumental versatility. It remains one of my favorites and is constantly in the playlist. Then, as now, Amos hits impossible notes and continues to evoke echoes of Kate Bush in her vocal range.
Flash forward to 2014, where Amos returns to her early style with the debut of Unrepentant Geraldines, recorded at her home studio in Cornwall. With 13 prior releases, a marriage, a child and a worldwide fan base under her belt, Amos has created something quite spectacular with her self-produced 14th album. Reaching the half-century mark this year, the multi-faceted musician focused partly on the perception of female aging and the discernible mores of women’s sexuality throughout history while writing this 14-track collection. The title stems from a play-on-words involving several historical paintings and stories from women throughout the world concerning their repressed sexuality. All 14 songs, with their multi-layered meaning, were written by Amos who also plays piano and Hammond B3, accompanied by guitarist Mac Aladdin, and mixed by Marcel Van Limbeek and Mark Hawley, her husband. 13-year-old Natasha Hawley, the couple’s daughter, follows right in her mother’s footsteps with their angelic vocals melding on “Promise.”
Plunging directly into the first cut with her vintage early 90s flavor on “America,” Amos and her breathy, haunting vocals immediately grab your attention and leave you anticipating the next aural pinnacle.
Another highlight is “Weatherman,” a heart-breaking lover’s lament that elicits Elizabethan images of English moors in all their seasonal shapes and colors – she is gone from the physical realm but every whim of Nature brings her back to him in different forms, whether spring, winter, summer or fall, she appears to him in the form of natural beauty – one more look from her eyes, one more look can you paint her back to life.
Often a proponent of controversial social and political observation, Amos contributes her two-cents’ worth on “Giant’s Rolling Pin,” a tongue-in-cheek commentary of the Edward Snowden/NSA spying scandal.
Some of the other stand-out pieces include “Trouble’s Lament,” a gothic nod to Amos’ southern upbringing, “Selkie,” a heart-wrenching Celtic love ballad, “Maids of Elfen-mere,” a folkloric, dreamy sequence, “Oysters,” which hearkens back to the early sound that endeared Amos to legions of fans, and “Rose Dover,” a coming-of-age composition inspired by and written for her daughter, Natasha – my reality was soon called Make Believe, imagination’s funeral killed by the teenage me. “16 Shades of Blue” addresses the female aging process, with a defiant Amos rebuffing negative grumblings with this very record: There are those who say, I am now too old to play.
Guess what, harsh critics – Amos has never been in better form, and her seemingly timeless grace and talent will continue to keep fans engaged.