Tori Amos is as known for her soulful covers as she is her original material, tapping into the essence of another artist’s words with as much -- and sometimes even more -- respect and authority as its creator. PopMatters offers a small sampling of some of her most compelling reinterpretations.
“Boys in the Trees”
“I used to listen to this song over and over, wishing I’d wrote it,” Amos once said of Carly Simon’s poignant reflection on adolescent desire and self-discovery. And Tori indeed assumes a sense of responsibility for this song as though it were own, performing it with great zeal, affection, and care. From the first lyric, all trace of vanity disappears; Ms. Simon would approve.
Amos once told Keyboard magazine that she “would have given her right arm” to have been the one to pen Joni Mitchell’s masterpiece. Lucky for us, she didn’t.
While covering Elton John isn’t a total reach for Amos -- she cut her teeth taking requests in piano bars in the '70s -- her emotional take on the tale of a Vietnam soldier’s homecoming is a marked example of her ability to step inside the edifice of a song and narrate from within. Now something of a rarity, this poignant cover took on new life during Tori’s Strange Little Girls tour, which began just weeks after 9/11.
To say Amos covers Leonard Cohen’s pensive epistle from a cuckolded man to his betrayer (“what can I tell you/my brother, my killer?”) would be inaccurate; she uncovers it. An early blueprint for her 2001 persona-shifting cover album, Tori sings from the perspective of Jane, the woman at the center of the triangle, and manages to create a new vantage point entirely without changing a single lyric.
Though many consider the Fleetwood Mac original untouchable, the potency of Amos’ live rendition rests in its subtle evolution over the past 18 years, one that mirrors the song’s message of reflection, aging, and self-realization. “I’ve built my life around you,” Amos sighs, as she nods wistfully into the dark theater. And when she utters the obvious -- “I’m getting older, too” -- it elicits an uncommon sense of mutual gratitude and trust that bridges the gap between performer and spectator.