Noteworthy: reviews of new music
We review discs from Brandi Carlile, Rush, and Tori Amos.
Tori Amos – American Doll Posse (Epic): On her ninth album, "American Doll Posse," Tori Amos inhabits five female "characters," supposedly composites of Greek goddesses, pop-wiccan spirits, and international fashion designers. This is a startlingly adolescent conceit for Amos, a howling piano virtuoso who used to tap into the primal and the timeless without the need for gimmicks. Ten of the songs on "Posse" could make a good, even great album. "Big Wheel" is a big, bluesy romp that veers away from Amos's usual melancholy, while "Code Red" is classic Tori: A stumbling but persistent bassline throbs beneath ear-catching melodic mood swings. The other 10 tracks, however, range from the self-indulgent to the unlistenable. Earth-mother, warrior-princess – if only the Greeks had a female deity who was an editor, too. Grade: B–
– Judy Coleman
Brandi Carlile – The Story (Columbia): Sounding like she could be the daughter of Roy Orbison and Melissa Etheridge, Brandi Carlile burst on the scene with her well-received eponymous debut in 2005. It was "that voice" that grabbed critics and fans by the ears. It could charm with plaintive country purity one minute, and seconds later shake the walls with a gritty rock-star roar. Now, the Seattle-based singer is back with "The Story," produced by starmaker T-Bone Burnett. Like her idol Elton John, the songwriter mines the mythic American West for material and style, posing as a pistol- packing Doc Holliday on her album cover. Though the somewhat downcast, folky songs aren't nearly as memorable as her voice, Burnett's spare, live-in-the-studio production creates a dynamic showcase for an artist with nothing but an upside. Grade: B+
– John Kehe
Rush – Snakes & Arrows (Atlantic): Given that it's taken five years to release an album of new material, the Canadian power trio may want to rethink its name. In the meantime, the band has clocked up more miles on the road than a U-Haul fleet, significantly shaping lyricist Neil Peart's global perspective on current events. "Wide-eyed armies of the faithful/ from the Middle East to the Middle West/ pray, and pass the ammunition," he laments in "The Way the Wind Blows." A few songs on this otherwise strong set aren't as hummable as one would wish, but Peart, a drummer you can set a metronome to, has never sounded more vibrant going toe to toe with dextrous bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee and inventive guitarist Alex Lifeson on the ominous uncoiling spirals of "Spindrift." Also superb: "The Main Monkey Business," an instrumental that hurtles into fifth gear. Perhaps the band's name is an apt one after all. Grade: B
– Stephen Humphries