Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos

Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos

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Little Earthquakes by Tori AmosLittle Earthquakes is the debut solo album of singer/songwriter Tori Amos. It followed the dissolution of her 1980s synth-pop band called “Y Kant Tori Read”, with a batch of a dozen compositions which set the stage for her solo career as well as forge a template for the more introspective music that flourished among female singer/songwriters during the 1990s. The songs are often stripped-down and raw, but consistently genuine throughout. The album shattered many long-held conventions in the popular music industry (especially for debuts) and launched a career for Amos where she would sell 12 million (and counting) albums worldwide and be nominated for 8 Grammy Awards.

The album was recorded in various phases between 1990 and 1991 in locations ranging from the renowned Capitol Records studios in Hollywood to the home studio of Amos’s then boyfriend. At the label’s urging, Amos then relocated to London (where it was thought there would be a more receptive audience for eccentric performers) where she spent the better part of a year performing in small bars and clubs, slowly getting the material exposed. Little Earthquakes was actually released in the UK in January 1992, a month ahead of its US release, to much critical acclaim.

Sonically, the album contains a balance of acoustic and electronic instrumentation and some very innovative use of vocals to build mood-inspiring crescendos throughout. The best example of all these elements is found in the closing title song, “Little Earthquakes”, which fluctuates between the introspective ballad with deep lyrics and the primal expression of vocal emotives over the consistent and haunting reverberation of a kick drum.


Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos
Released: February 25, 1992 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Tori Amos, Eric Rosse, Davitt Sigerson, Ian Stanley
Recorded: Capitol Records, Los Angeles, 1991-1992
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Crucify
Girl
Silent All These Years
Precious Things
Winter
Happy Phantom
China
Leather
Mother
Tear In Your Hand
Me and a Gun
Little Earthquakes
Tori Amos – Lead & Backing Vocals, Acoustic & Electric Piano
Steve Caton – Guitars, Bass
Eric Rosse– Synths, Percussion, Backing Vocals
 
Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos

All songs on Little Earthquakes written and composed by Tori Amos. The first single from the album was “Silent All These Years”, which did not make a huge splash on the airwaves but did connect with many listeners on an intimate level. A delicate song built on a chromatic piano figure with many subtle flourishes and more sudden and diverse voices from Amos, the song’s bridge is an intense release of pent-up fear and uncertainty into a new role of benevolence and confidence.

“Precious Things” and “Tear In Your Hand” 4:38 are more traditionally arranged with Will McGregor playing bass and Carlo Nuccio playing drums on each track, with “Precious Things” using more experimental sounds such as the intro breathy percussive effects. “Girl” is moody and hypnotic with a consistent drum beat and piano riff interwoven with a variety of orchestral and guitar effects and a building vocal ensemble during the bridge.

The opening “Crucify” is about guilt, self-doubt, and a bit of paranoia, using much Christian symbolism throughout. Lyrically, one may compare this to the type of self-examination Roger Waters used on The Wall. Despite the deep subject matter, the song is musically one of the brighter and more pop-oriented on the album, lead by a moody electric piano and accented by a vocal chorus.

The best composition on the album is “Winter”, one of  four singles released from the album. This is a deeply personal song where Amos incorporated her father, a Christian minister. Lyrically it uses the wonder and confusion of winter and transition of seasons in a reflective allegory for growing up –

“…when you gonna make up your mind, when you gonna love you as much as I do / because things are gonna change so fast”

“China” is often cited as one of Amos’ most traditional-oriented songs, a soft lament to lost with more highly allegorical lyrics. But a few of the songs on the album are so raw and and exposed that they are hard to listen to. “Mother” contains just piano and vocal and may be a bit drug out at seven minutes in duration. “Me and a Gun” is the most haunting song on the album It consists of a single,  acapella vocal by Amos which lyrically recounts her thoughts during a violent rape that she suffered through years earlier following a late-night gig. As she explained the experience and the reason for the song:

“How am I alive to tell you this tale when he was ready to slice me up? In the song I say it was ‘Me and a Gun’ but it wasn’t a gun. It was a knife he had. And the idea was to take me to his friends and cut me up, and he kept telling me that, for hours. And if he hadn’t needed more drugs I would have been just one more news report, where you see the parents grieving for their daughter…”

But then there are some lighter moments on to the album (at least musically). “Happy Phantom” is upbeat and jazzy musically, offering an light and entertaining break from the depth and moodiness of the rest of the album while still maintaining a rather dark lyrical motif. “Leather” is another good composition with excellent arrangement and production. The pleasant and melodic melody is complimented by poignant strings and subtle bits of heavy guitar by Steve Caton, along with entertaining sections of rag-time piano by Amos.

Following Little Earthquakes, Amos consistently released highly acclaimed albums throughout the 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium. Her most recent studio release is 2011’s Night of Hunters.

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1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.

Core by Stone Temple Pilots

Core by Stone Temple Pilots

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Core by Stone Temple PilotsAround 1990, a hard rock band from San Diego, CA called Mighty Joe Young recorded a demo featuring some unorthodox musical styles, such as funk and yodeling and soon began to attract a fan-base in Southern California. After the group was signed to Atlantic Records and began work on their first professional studio album, they received a call from their lawyer who informed them that there was a blues-man who had already claimed the name Mighty Joe Young.  So the group hastily chose the name Stone Temple Pilots, after the STP motor oil stickers that adorned their rehearsal space, and continued on to record what would become their debut album Core.

The “core” of this group is Singer Scott Weland and bassist Robert DeLeo, who first met in 1986 and had performed together in various bands since. DeLeo later recruited his older brother Dean DeLeo as the band’s guitarist with drummer Eric Kretz rounding out the quartet. Although all four contributed to the songs on the album, Robert DeLeo wrote the bulk of the compositions with Weiland applying much lyrical content, forging a distinctly flavored version of grunge metal.

The album was released in September of 1992 but original received mixed to very negative reviews, with some critics blasting the more popular songs as “rip-offs” of more established grunge bands and the lesser know material as “pedestrian”. While there is no denying that the band incorporates several signature elements of contemporary bands Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana, the very fact that so many of the songs on Core have held up over the past two decades is testament to the quality of this material.


Core by Stone Temple Pilots
Released: September 29, 1992 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Brendan O’Brien
Recorded: 1991-1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Dead and Bloated
Sex Type Thing
Wicked Garden
No Memory
Sin
Naked Sunday
Creep
Piece of Pie
Plush
Wet My Bed
Crackerman
Where the River Goes
Scott Weiland – Lead Vocals
Dean DeLeo – Guitars
Robert DeLeo – Bass
Eric Kretz– Drums
 
Core by Stone Temple Pilots

 

A distant rap commences the album and its initial track, “Dead & Bloated”, which breaks into a slow and methodical riff and beat, During live renditions of this track, Weiland often hands a bullhorn to a fan to perform the intro. “Sex Type Thing” was the debut single from the album and the most controversial on the album due to its first person telling of perpetrating a rape (although Weiland contends its purpose was anti-rape). Musically, the song is much more upbeat, with DeLeo crediting “In the Light” by Led Zeppelin as a primary influence on the main riff.

“Wicked Garden” is one of the signature songs on the album, with a series of distinct sections, each lead by pristine vocal motifs fueled by melody. Weiland revealed that the song about people allowing all their innocence and purity to be lost from their lives. Following the calm, picked guitar instrumental by Dean DeLeo called “No Memory”, “Sin” commences with a splash but is overall a weaker attempt at another anthem song like “Wicked Garden”. The only refreshing part is an acoustic section later in the song, but it breaks away too early for a sub-par guitar lead.

Robert DeLeo wrote the calm, melodic, melancholy, acoustic ballad “Creep”, which he says was influenced by Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold”. This radio hit never really deviates too much from its dark temperament, with Weiland doing his best Kurt Cobain vocal impression for the melodramatic lyrics.

What would become one of the band’s biggest all-time hits, “Plush” is built on a unique chord structure which was inspired by Robert DeLeo’s love of ragtime music. Lyrically, the song was loosely based on a newspaper article Weiland had read about a girl who had been found dead in an area outside of San Diego. The song won a Grammy award for “Best Hard Rock Performance” in 1994 and the award-winning video won an MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist that same year.

But aside from “Plush”, much of the later part of the album is sub-par at best. “Piece of Pie” sounds worn out with the same old drum beat driving once again while “Wet My Bed” is an ill-advised, superfluous filler. Although “Crackerman” received a fair amount of radio airplay, it has been accurately critiqued as “a bad Alice in Chains parody”, and the closer “Where the River Goes” is a leftover from the Mighty Joe Young demo which probably should have been left off the album. In the case of these tracks, less would have been more in forging a consistent and rewarding album.

Stone Temple Pilots, built on the success of Core with a couple more residual albums through the mid nineties, before substance abuse brought them back to Earth. Today, several of this album’s songs remain rock radio staples and the band’s position in the pantheon of heavy grunge is secure.

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1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.

Diamonds In the Coal by The Badlees

Diamonds In the Coal
by The Badlees

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Diamonds In the Coal by The Badlees At a time when many in the rock world were in the process of re-imaging from the slick 80’s hair band to the grungy 90s alternative, a young Pennsylvania band called The Badlees was forging their own path with a sound called “roots rock” with their first full length album, Diamonds In the Coal. The band, which had been steadily gaining popularity since the release of their initial EP It Ain’t For You in late 1990, had solidified their lineup with the addition of Paul Smith in 1991. With Smith’s addition, the Badlees had the core quintet in place that would drive them through their most productive years. The result is a well-crafted, entertaining, and thoughtful album with fine and exquisite details.

The album was co-produced by guitarist Bret Alexander and contains all original compositions which were mainly written by Alexander with about half being co-penned by band associate Mike Naydock. The songs are augmented by a structure of electric and acoustic guitars, solid rhythms, judicious use of ethic instruments, layered vocals, and thoughtful lyrics.

There are few things easier than to live badly and die well…”

This quote by Oscar Wilde was placed inner sleeve of Diamonds In the Coal, in an obvious play on the band’s name. Further, each song on the lyrics page contained its own special quote from philosophers and artists ranging from Aristotle to Andy Warhol, some of the extra attention to detail the band put into the atmosphere of the album. Topping it off were the authentic pictures that were used for the cover of early 20th century coal miners that drummer Ron Simasek found at a local Historical Society.

 


Diamonds In the Coal by The Badlees
Released: January 14, 1992 (Rite-Off)
Produced by: Bret Alexander & the Badlees
Recorded: Waterfront Recording, Hoboken, NJ / Susquehanna Sound, Northumberland, PA, 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
Like a Rembrandt
Back Where We Came From
Just One Moment
The Real Thing
Heaven On Earth
Interlude / Badlee Rap
The Next Big Thing
Dirty Neon Times
Spending My Inheritance
Sister Shirley
Mystery Girl
Road to Paradise
Diamonds In the Coal
Pete Palladino – Lead Vocals
Bret Alexander – Guitars, Mandolin, Harmonica, Vocals
Jeff Feltenberger – Guitars, Vocals
Paul Smith – Bass, Vocals
Ron Simasek– Drums & Percussion
 

Diamonds In the Coal by The Badlees

 

Thematically, Diamonds In the Coal is nearly sliced in half by the light intermission of “Interlude/Badlee Rap”, with the rap itself performed by Loose Bruce above some slight guitar and harmonica. Songs previous to this on the album are mainly pop-oriented, with basic structure and strong hooks. This all starts with the opener “Like a Rembrandt”, of which Alexander sets the scene as “a bunch of young kids partying out by an old coal breaker and realizing full well that this may be the greatest summer of their lives”.

“Back Where We Came From” (commonly referred to as “The Na Na Song”) follows with a strong delivery by lead vocalist Pete Palladino. This acoustic-driven tune with electric overtones, was the first single from the album and the first to receive significant airplay. It also shows that the Badlees had perfected a song template that the much more heralded Hootie and the Blowfish would replicate years later. Despite the Bon Jovi-ish hook at the onset, “Heaven On Earth” is still a song with good instrumentation lead by a solid, strummed acoustic while the lighter sound of “The Real Thing” contains serene and solid guitar riffs by Alexander with just a touch of the instrument which would become more predominant in the band, the mandolin. “Just One Moment” is another pop-oriented track with a bouncy and choppy riff, good vocals, and strong back beat by Simasek.

The Badlees

The second “half” of the album contains songs that explore deeper subject matter and richer musical structure. Guitarist Jeff Feltenberger provides good vocal interplay with Palladino during “The Next Big Thing”, while upbeat power-pop anthem “Dirty Neon Times” provides more fantastic vocal harmonies by Feltenberger in a pleasant, acoustic driven song.

Alexander’s “Spending My Inheritance” is a well composed, sort of “people’s anthem” tune with some harmonica intertwined with fiddle by guest performer David Rose. “Sister Shirley” is perhaps the most unique song on the album. It includes a picturesque lyrical narrative by Naydock and some sweet, jazzy guitar by Alexander – a rewarding listen, which shows the band’s musical and compositional range. Feltenberger wrote “Road to Paradise”, in an odd time, with steady acoustic strumming against slightly spastic drums all topped by intricate, three-part vocal patterns.

The closing title song is the true masterpiece of Diamonds In the Coal. Here, the listener is brought into the dark, forgotten patch towns of Pennsylvania’s Anthracite Region. The imagery in this song’s lyric is so vivid that you can almost feel the coal dust flying, while the music sets the perfect scene with a methodic, marching rhythm below and some authentic, ethnic instrumentation up above. This song showed the true promise of the band in 1992 and would be the primer for their breakthrough album River Songs three years later.

Recently, Bret Alexander looked back with great fondness on the creation of this album, saying he had a tremendous amount of fun and creative fulfillment writing the songs and producing Diamonds In the Coal. Although he does lament that he doesn’t feel that the overall “sound” of the album has held up sonically through the years. There is a definite early-nineties, polished-up quality with the drum sound snare-centric, the rhythms contain little variation, and the well-compressed vocals always seeming to hang at eye-level. But still, after 20 years, a deeper listener will definitely appreciate the quality of the songs and recognize the watershed of creative music “springs” that began their flow with Diamonds.

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1992 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1992 albums.