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My Beautiful Life on Venus (12/24/99) Write to CD Shakedown
Tori AmosTori Amos, To Venus and Back (Atlantic 1999) - On her fifth solo album, Tori Amos continues the breathy, piano-based style that has made her a cult favorite. A double disc, with one album of new studio material and one album of live concert performances, To Venus and Back finds Tori expanding her roots.

As a follow-up to 1998's From the Choirgirl Hotel, Tori intended to put together an odds-and-sods collection of B-sides and rarities. Instead, to her surprise, a bounty of new songs began to flow. Says Tori of her muse, "When she does show herself, she usually only shows me a glimpse, and then she demands that I become a hunter, a hunter of her frequency."

Tori AmosTori continues: "It became quite exciting, because we had no idea we were cutting a new record. It just grabbed me by the throat, really. We ended up working round the clock and putting it together pretty quickly."

The studio album (subtitled "Venus Orbiting") was recorded with Tori's "plugged" band, including drumming Matt Chamberlain, bassist Jon Evans, guitarist Steve Caton, and Tori on piano, synths and vocals.

Tori AmosIt's hard to put a finger on Tori's style, which depends heavily on images and Tori's evocative vocal styles. For example, songs like "Glory of the 80s" and "Riot Poof" continue Tori's sexual exploration. In discussing "Riot Poof," Tori says, "The sun is warming, my man is moistening. 'Riot Poof' isn't about dry. It's wet. I'm puddles, that's my world."

The second disc (subtitled "Venus Live/Still Orbiting") is a selection of songs recorded by Tori during 1998 with her band. The live disc includes such tracks as "Cornflake Girl" and "Little Earthquakes." I'm not as comfortable with the live album, on which Tori's vocals tend to meander (Amos has a voice that you either like or don't).

Am I won over by Tori Amos? Not yet. But To Venus and Back shows her strong points.

Kendall PayneKendall Payne, Jordan's Sister (Capitol 1999) - Malibu native Kendall Payne delivers her debut album in Jordan's Sister. Drawing solidly on a rock sound, the new album has winning moments.

Kendall wrote or co-wrote all 13 of the tracks on Jordan's Sister. Explains Kendall, "I called this album Jordan's Sister because the songs are like a snapshot of a particular time in my life when I felt somewhat insignificant, when I felt like I was nothing more than Jordan's younger sister. She's two years older than me and as with many siblings, there was some rivalry, some frustration and tension. We're much better now, and she's thrilled that I named the album after her."

A little cheescakeFor Jordan's Sister, Kendall worked closely with producer Ron Aniello, who also provides guitars. Other musicians include Stewart Mathis on electric guitar, David Miner on bass, and Matt Laug on drums.

Yet it's the songs that come through. "Supermodels" and "Modern Day Moses" are catchy pop numbers, driven by Kendall's smart lyrics. And then there is "Honest," produced by Glen Ballard (who led Alanis Morissette to massive fame). "Honest" has a similar, angry white girl sound, with a catchy melody.

Listen for newcomer Kendall Payne (who also performed in the 1998 Lilith Music Fair).

Brilliantine, My Life and The Beautiful Game (Deep Reverb 1999) - Ear candy and pleasant pop, in the vein of the best from Jules Shear. Who can argue with that?

Not me. Brilliantine is the brainchild of
Dave Derby, who fronts the Dambuilders, and who has also played bass with Lloyd Cole. Recorded in Derby's home studio during the 1998 World Cup Soccer Tournament, My Life is English pop, with catchy riffs and polished production.

Dave in drag?The new album bears the same title as
Pele's autobiography. Explains Derby, "I had the games on in the background when I was recording. Friends would come over to do their tracks and the games would be on. Occasionally, when things got too crazy in the field, we'd have to stop recording."

The friends who helped record
My Life and The Beautiful Game include Phoebe Summersquash on vocals and percussion, Kevin March and Robbie Adams on drums and percussion, and Dominique Durand and Rainy Orteca on vocals.

Dave DerbyFrom tracks like "Better Life" to "U-Bahn Girl" to "Experimental Lifestyle,"
My Life and The Beautiful Game has an English pop feel, with plenty of loops and smart backing vocals. Enjoy this easy slice of ear candy.

Tonio K., Yugoslavia (Gadfly 1999) - Studio rat Tonio K. (aka Steve Krikorian) dishes up a selection of studio recordings from the 90's on Yugoslavia (subtitled "Love Songs & War Dances"). Ranging from polished Peter Gabriel pop ("16 Tons of Monkeys") to Bob Seger-influenced rock ballads ("Life's Just Hard"), Tonio shows that he has the chops.

YugoslaviaAnd those chops date back to such albums as
Life in The Food Chain (1978) and Amerika (1980). Tonio remains a productive songwriter, penning hits for such artists as Vanessa Williams and Brian McKnight ("Love Is") and Al Green (from the "Michael" soundtrack).

Musicians on the album include
David Raven on drums, Charlie Sexton on guitars, Susan Voelz on violin ("Practically Invisible"), John Keller on guitar and harmonica, and various other friends.

The good old daysThree songs on
Yugoslavia were co-written with friend and guitar player Charlie Sexton: "Nothing Mysterious," "Dangerous Machine," and "Practically Invisible." Also included is "Indians and Aliens," co-written with Peter Case.

Yet the album is also laced with
Graham Parker's sense of irony and the bizarre, on tracks like "Student Interview (with the Third Richest Man in the World)."

Tonio K.The 14 tracks on
Yugoslavia were penned at different times. Explains Tonio (who took his stage name from a Thomas Mann short story), "Most of these songs were written over the last few years and recorded on the spot - some with the hope that a 'commercial' artist would cover them, thereby making my co-writers and I rich, while adding a little class and depth to my own repertoire."

Tonio continues: "'Murder My Heart' for instance, was written with Tina Turner in mind. 'Sure As Gravity' was written with Malcolm Burn for an Emmylou Harris project he was working on. The official demo (which Emmylou never heard for some reason) was recorded in L.A. with Kate Miner singing the lead. That's her singing the harmonies on this version."

Working in a classic
Southside Johnny vein, Tonio K. knows how to make his music (though maybe his choice of art isn't as strong: Tonio found the cover photo in a Pasadena thrift shop in the 80's, and says that he "knew the minute I saw it that I would always use it for an album someday."). A skilled hand, Yugoslavia is an earnest selection.

- Randy Krbechek © 1999

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