Few artists seemed less likely to offer any insight into the state of the union following September 11 than Tori Amos–Charlie Daniels, I suppose, or maybe Ron Howard. I’d always been bugged by Amos’s seeming conviction that her most obvious ideas (covering Eminem to showcase his misogyny, for instance, or using drum machines) were novel simply because they’d just occurred to her, and I never liked the way she laced Kate Bush’s spaciness into a corset of tinkling conservatory pretension. So when I heard Amos had ventured out among the People to research a concept album about you-know-what, a snide “Of course” and a terrified “Oh, no” competed to be my first reaction. But Scarlet’s Walk (Epic) is a lovely ramble–encountering other perspectives sure does broaden the mind, and getting a little fresh air doesn’t hurt either. Where previously Amos’s avenging-pagan-goddess feminism sounded like the Cliff’s Notes to a bad P.J. Harvey album, here she peeks into the secret lives of porn stars and addresses her former lovers (“I left my life / Tried on your friends / Tried on your opinions”) with wit and empathy. Her right hand still occasionally threatens to ostinato off into irrelevance, but in general the nuanced support of her rhythm section enlivens even the most repetitive bits, and the choruses consistently bring the fuzzy melodies of her verses into unexpected focus. She lives up to her role models too: the ease with which her witchy croak rides an electric-piano vamp through the Rumours-ready “Pancake” suggests that Stevie Nicks has replaced Bush as her fairy godmother of choice, and the expansive orchestral arrangements here are worthy of Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark. I don’t advise spending too much time alone with the lyric sheet, but if you let the words come slipping out of the mix they’re pretty and evocative, helping to create a mood of regret tinged with wonder that might sound foolish if pinned down. The Sunday show, with opener Ben Folds, is sold out; tickets are still available for the performance on Monday. Sunday, August 10, 7 PM, Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress; 312-922-2110 or 312-559-1212. Monday, August 11, 7:30 PM, Skyline Stage, Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand; 312-595-7437 or 312-559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kurt Markus.