By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Speaking in tongues
The liner notes are in at least four different languages, but this isn't music for musicologists--at least no more than Enya, who sells by the millions to people who play their phonographs with needles made of crystal and still insist it isn't new age. Enya's a one-trick pony at best, her brand of ethereal Irish folk-pop filtered through computers and gauze until it almost sounds human again; Sebestyen's the real thing--a Hungarian folk singer who doesn't step out of the language too often or feel the need to explain the indecipherable (even her English sounds like a foreign tongue, or a fiddle) outside of the liner notes.
This is music that has lived and died a thousand times, sounding so ancient and distant even when updated for the world-music crowd that likes its exotica pristine and slick. Sebestyen connects the dots between Irish folk melodies and Turkish pop and Hungarian hymns and Greek dances. Her brand of folk music sounds lush even when it's sparse, the sum of the few intricate parts (mandolin, violin, flute, bouzouki, tambura) adding up to a whole that's hypnotic, sorrowful, angelic, and plaintive. That's the joy, though, about music sung in a foreign language: It allows you to fill in the blanks, to interpret and feel the singer's emotions without having to first hear them.
Tori Amos has no internal censor (without a second thought, she'll tell you about her rape and about masturbating in the old man's church) and now no producer. Fact is, most of this sprawling fantasia sprang from her breakup with said producer. So she's left on her own to produce, and produce she does--18 songs about why she doesn't need men and why she's drawn to the ones who "put the damage on" when she does.
For Amos, the preacher's daughter who's a cross between Patty Smyth (reformed lite-metal rocker turned pop classicist) and Patti Smith (thinks God is sexy even if he's a bit of a chauvinist), there's no thought too silly ("Hello Mr. Zebra/Ran into some confusion with a Mrs. Crocodile") or private ("I'm getting very scared") to keep in check. She squeezes the profane from the sacred and calls it holy water every time, but the honesty that made her a novel pop-priestess the first time out has given way to a caricatured self-indulgence at which even Kate Bush would laugh. PJ Harvey would just beat her up.