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CD reviews of Tori Amos, The Fountains and Dolly Parton

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!B! Tori Amos, "To Venus and Back"
!B! The Fountains, "Ideal Amusement"
!B! Dolly Parton, "The Grass is Blue"Tori Amos, "To Venus and Back" (Atlantic) — Touring with a full band in 1998 — her first time doing so — made a huge impact on Tori Amos. Her new double CD features 11 new studio tracks recorded with the band and 14 songs from last year's road trip.

On the whole, there's something for every Amos fan on the studio disc. The flowing "Bliss" ranks right up there with her finest pop songs. "1,000 Oceans" is a beautiful piano ballad.

As on her last effort, Amos veers down electronic and experimental avenues. "Juarez" flirts with a dated Nine Inch Nails sound, where "Datura" explores new territory.

The studio tracks seem to have been written with live performances in mind; the drum and bass lines, in particular, play important roles. But the balance of styles and strong songwriting shouldn't alienate purists.

A collection of deep cuts and augmented arrangements, the live disc is an accurate snapshot of Amos' expanding direction. - Jeff Maisey, The Virginian-Pilot

The Fountains, "Ideal Amusement"(FT) — Recorded in Athens, Ga., this independent CD exposes the rockin' roots versatility of a talented bunch of guys deserving of some attention. From the first notes of "Amusement," the wailing harmonica, careening acoustic and electric guitars, deep rhythm, thoughtful lyrics and solid vocals make a listener sit up and cock an ear. The songs of brothers Gary and Jeffrey Andrews range in subject from the topical to the personal with enough poetic range to make old stories new. Their voices focus each song over sparse but effective arrangements. The group rocks hard but remembers its dynamics, and there are just enough rough edges to make it all quite real. The Fountains recently appeared at the Main Street Beer Co. and played an excellent, if underappreciated show. I suspect these guys will be back in town before too long, and I know I'll be there. - Ames Arnold

Dolly Parton, "The Grass is Blue" (Sugar Hill) — From the first notes of Dolly's new bluegrass CD, "The Grass is Blue," there's an honesty and intensity that's the mark of a project recorded for all the right reasons. I've never been much of a Parton fan — I still blame her in part for the country crossover blight that hastened the demise of Nashville many years back — but I am flat sold on "Blue."

Backed by the quick and clean acoustic styles of great pickers that include Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush and Stuart Duncan, and the never intrusive voices of Alison Krauss, Patty Loveless and Claire Lynch, Dolly owns this group of traditional tunes and newly interpreted pop-gone-'grass. Her keening mountain vocals are both powerful and warm and, most importantly, believable. She admits that country radio has lost interest in her talents, but counters that this has left her free to record what she wants. With "Blue," Parton makes an exciting and convincing case for this freedom. - A.A.

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