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Tori Amos - Little Earthquakes CD (album) cover

LITTLE EARTHQUAKES

Tori Amos

 

Crossover Prog

3.73 | 93 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Face it, the Progressive Rock genre is and always has been pretty much a boy's club. Not from any ingrained bias that I've ever detected but more due to peer pressure, I suppose. I shall explain. Male musicians don't really mind being labeled as being a rebellious type who isn't interested in playing by the set rules. So for a guy to be called 'progressive-minded' in the field of music is not necessarily a derogatory thing. But women, in every way that counts, are different. They grow up being taught that it's the effervescent cheerleaders and pretty drill team members who rise to the top while the nonconformists and geeks are quickly tagged as being unfriendly, introverted weirdos that will never succeed in life. That's my theory as to why there is such a dearth of females in Progland and I'm sticking with it until further notice. Girls with musical talent are expected to compete with the Katy Perry's and the Pink's of the industry, not try to carve out a unique niche all their own. Is it a double standard? Well, does the Pope wear funny hats? It's a shame, really, because I have no doubt that the prog arena would benefit greatly from more of the feminine aura being injected into it. Seems Ms. Amos has always been an outcast of sorts, starting when she was deemed a piano prodigy at the age of 5 and was already composing instrumental pieces of her own. The 'experts' tried to steer her into the classical realm but she was allergic to the regimen it involved, preferring to boldly cultivate her adventurous and eclectic nature instead. I, for one, have always admired and enjoyed strong female vocalists who sing with authority and confidence so when I discovered that Tori Amos had been inducted into our esteemed branch of the aural sciences it gave me a good reason to check out her art. I'm very glad I did. As is my habit, I start with the earliest album I can get my hands on and work forward so I can hear how the artist in question evolved over time. In her case, it's the ground-breaking 'Little Earthquakes.'

Tori opens with 'Crucify.' Before we go any further allow me to confess that I adore the sound of an acoustic piano and the fact that it's her main instrument gives her a definite advantage in my book. Even mediocre material is enhanced when a finely-tuned Steinway or Baldwin is involved. On this song she plays it aggressively and the strong drum track beneath allows her emotive voice to soar. It serves as a great introduction to her distinctive mannerisms. 'Girl' follows and I can't help but be impressed by her unconventional approach to writing and her willingness to take risks as exemplified here by her manipulation of sampled strings and her odd approach to erecting background vocals. 'Silent All These Years' is next and it's the apex of the record. Amos envelops the tune in a very intimate atmosphere that brings the vocal close to your ear as if she's letting you in on a secret. I find her mien to be reminiscent of Joni Mitchell's and that's a hefty compliment coming from me. I also cotton to her flair for the dramatic as demonstrated in 'Precious Things.' She makes the most of the number's inherent dynamics by exploiting the drums and guitar incidentals tactfully. She's also not afraid to employ her sexiness if it will heighten the tension a notch and it does so here. On 'Winter' her piano, her singing and an orchestral score are all that's needed for this elaborate ballad to achieve its potential. 'Happy Phantom' is an anomaly. She takes such a strikingly different tack on this track that it kinda comes at you from left field. Its sarcastically upbeat motif is quite daring.

A very light Latin rhythm drifts just below the surface created by the beautiful, lush piano and string section during 'China.' The song is truly hypnotic in places. 'Leather' follows, a cut where Tori's piano acumen really shines brightly. In ways the number is comparable in overall feel to several of Paul McCartney's nostalgic ditties and the jazzy ending is uber-cool. Piano and vocal are the only ingredients in 'Mother.' Once again I detect a palpable Joni Mitchell influence in that the tune is not only extremely personal but it seems to flow directly from her heart into my ears without a filter. It's a bit long but it avoids growing tiresome. She brings in a full band for 'Tear in Your Hand' and they drive the song's momentum well. This cut has more of a pop vibe to it than the others but she manages to steer clear of becoming predictable or formulaic. I really dig the accordion/organ effect that fills in the gaps splendidly and gives it a compelling rasp. 'Me and a Gun' is a solo vocal piece she penned about getting raped that comes off a little bit like a traditional Irish air. She was very courageous to be so transparent about the incident but it is, nonetheless, disturbing in its frankness. This fallen world can be such an ugly orb. Tori ends with the title song and it's the most challenging and proggy track on the CD. The melody streams atop rumbling drums and takes the listener through a series of mysterious movements while the tune subtly builds in intensity all the while. She brings it back down for the finale and relaxes the mood as it trails off.

Released on February 25, 1992 Tori Amos' debut came out when the 90s decade was still attempting to find its groove so its timing really couldn't have been better. Despite its decidedly uncommon attitude it came close to breaking into the top 50 of the Billboard chart and she was able to find an audience who understood where she was coming from. It did even better in the more amenable UK where it rose to #14. While she'd had to battle the conservative-minded suits at Atlantic tooth and nail in order to retain her unique slant, 'Little Earthquakes' proved to be just what a noticeable segment of the music audience had been waiting for. If you have yet to sample her wares I recommend that you give this record a spin. You'll find that the Prog universe profits immensely from a lady's touch. 3.9 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |

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