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Tori Amos Dredges Up the Past And Fans Come Back for More

Baring one's heart in music seems to be the trend nowadays. There's Alanis Morrissette, Courtney Love, and P.J. Harvey, who sing about everything from relationships gone awry to the hardships of growing up.

And then there's Tori Amos, who sings about these experiences but takes them to an even higher, almost cryptic, level.

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She has described her new album, "Boys for Pele" (Atlantic), this way: "[It's] about the descent of a woman to find her shadow side, the side she suppressed in relationships with men."

In other words, compared with her past two albums, "Little Earthquakes" and "Under the Pink," it opens a window - a much wider one this time - into Amos's personal life.

Amos's voice is beautiful no matter what she sings about, but her provocative and unconventional topics sometimes get too personal: uncaring boys, sexual imagery, and ruined relationships. At times it's difficult to understand the lyrics because her words run together or the meanings are cloaked in metaphors. Amos's songs convey thoughts about the darker side of life.

Despite all this, or maybe because of it, she has a strong following among young people - both male and female. What make her so appealing as a singer-songwriter are her passionate stage performances and her candor of subject matter (the rejection and hurt of broken relationships and the shunning of her strict religious upbringing). She sings with honesty and sincerity - something her fans embrace with fervor.

On the World Wide Web, fans have named Amos the goddess of music. Kevin Hawkins, a student at the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana, has a home page on the Web that offers half a dozen links to other pages of nothing but Tori. Hawkins says Amos's candor appeals to him.

"Tori takes on the things that people don't like to talk about. If you [were to] ask how Tori's feeling about something, she'd tell you the truth. There aren't many people out there in the world who will do that.

"I don't always understand what she's singing about, but to me that's the beauty of her music. It always evokes a lot of imagery," he says.

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As she walked onstage recently in front of a sold-out crowd in Boston (in fact, all three shows were sold out), she waved shyly. But then the fiery redhead cut loose as she sat on the edge of the piano bench and banged out everything from loud aggressive chords to soft delicate arpeggios on her Borsendorfer piano and the harpsichord.

As she gazed out at the young audience, her voice moved easily from one octave to the next; drifting from a girlish tone to a deeply rich one, sometimes ending in a dry whisper. While most performers have backup bands, Amos is mostly a one-woman show. A piano prodigy and daughter of a minister, Amos performed most of the songs from her new album.

She saved the most disturbing song for the end of the set, "Me and a Gun" (from "Little Earthquakes"). A very intimate song about a rape incident, she sang it without accompaniment, which made it even more haunting.

For an encore, she performed "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in a broken whisper, almost gasping for air. It was perhaps the only song that provided some hope and happiness.

*Tori Amos will perform June 6 and 7 at the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago; June 8 at Riverside Theatre in Milwaukee; June 10 at Northrop Auditorium in Minneapolis, Minn.

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