Groundbreakers From Two Originals

By Mike Marrone

Although considered a cult artist in some circles, Tori Amos has sold in excess of 15 million albums. That may be because fans of this 43-year-old singer/songwriter are fanatical, but there is clearly something else going on. Amos is one hell of a pianist. Granted a full scholarship to the prestigious Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore when she was just 5 years old, she was asked to leave at 11 because, she has said, she refused to play from sheet music.

Always pushing the envelope, Amos has unveiled five "characters" to be her "voices" in the 23 new songs on American Doll Posse, her ninth studio album, set for release May 1. Listed in the liner notes as Tori, Pip, Clyde, Isabel, and Santa, each has a distinctive delivery and vibe, and each unmistakably conveys an individual slice of this performer. Pip represents "dark energy," for example, while Santa sings about passion.

Isabel, whom Amos describes as "historical," sings Yo George, a 90-second anti-Bush ditty that is the first cut on the CD. Isabel delivers a much more melodic expansion on political themes later with the exquisite Dark Side of the Sun. But that's just a small part of the album's sonic palette. Songs like the ethereal Girl Disappearing and Bouncing Off Clouds, the deceptively playful pop of Secret Spell, and the sinewy Code Red had me hooked from the first listen.

They all display Amos' wonderful sense of melody and exceptional instrumental prowess. The pianist extraordinaire relies mainly on her trusty Bösendorfer and expands her keyboard arsenal with a Fender Rhodes, an acoustic upright, an electric piano, a Wurli, a clavichord, and a Mellotron. She is again backed by the sublime rhythm section of Matt Chamberlain (drums) and Jon Evans (bass), with Mac Aladdin contributing acoustic and electric guitar on most tracks.

IT TOOK 36 YEARS, but we finally have the official release of one of the most sought-after and beloved bootlegs of all time: Neil Young's 1971 concert at Toronto's Massey Hall. Because of the pristine recording of the original masters, the sound quality is simply glorious.

This is what Young planned to release as a follow-up to 1970's groundbreaking After the Gold Rush. Instead, he went to Nashville for some recording sessions and liked the results so much, he started working on the album that would become the country-inflected Harvest, a classic itself.

The Massey Hall concert is Neil Young alone on stage with a guitar, a piano, and his stories. You find out for whom he wrote Old Man and hear him explain that he's going to do mostly new songs because "I've written so many new ones that I can't think of anything else to do with them but sing them." He then proceeds to play what have since become standards.

Make sure to get the special CD/DVD combo pack. The DVD includes a video of the show, a peek at the Neil Young Archives, and more. This second, long-promised release from that trove makes me yearn for more.

Mike Marrone is program director of XM Satellite Radio's The Loft, a channel that focuses on an eclectic mix of singer-songwriters from the 1960s to today.

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