Amy Winehouse – Lioness: Hidden Treasures
As an 18-year-old, London’s Amy Winehouse could be found in Miami inspiring a veteran producer with her version of the bossa nova standard “The Girl from Ipanema.” Nine years later at 27 she was able to right her then spinning pharmaceutical compass long enough to join Tony Bennett in Abbey Road studios to record a wonderful version of the ’30s jazz standard “Body and Soul.” In between she became one of the major female forces in pop, R&B and jazz selling a gazillion albums and earning accolades from the international music press.
Her nine-year career is deftly synthesized on Lioness: Hidden Treasures, her first posthumous release. Back to Black, her 2006 US breakthrough and the music for which she is best known in America, is represented with the outtakes “Wake Up Alone” and “Tears Dry.” “Wake Up Alone” is a one-take demo with Winehouse accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, yes…she could play the guitar and her sympathetic picking to a song of heartbreak illuminates a side of her only hinted at in the press. “Tears Dry,” written with the legendary R&B partnership of Ashford & Simpson, is a much slower version of the Back to Black version and is more of a production highlight with strings and clavinet. Both of these tracks shed light on how Winehouse evolved a song. They, as well as most of Lioness, are an impressive run for producer Salaam Remi.
Frank Sinatra is actually mentioned in “Half Time,” an outtake from Winehouse’s debut Frank. Here she sings about the parts of music that moved her to sing. It’s hard not to embrace her articulation about music. Her words are almost a distraction to the musical backing track. Both command the listener’s attention. Another Frank-era tune is “Best Friends, Right?” At her early 2003 concerts, this tune would have been the first song her fans would have heard.
The only real misstep on Lioness is “Like Smoke” with rapper Nas, well…rapping on the verses. His contribution is out of place and distracts from an otherwise solid tune. It’s more embarrassing than enhancing.
“The Girl From Ipanema” may be the standout track on the album, if for no other reason than because it’s such a strong take of this classic. Everybody knows it, so many seem to have taken a chance with it and here is a fully articulated version. At such a young age Winehouse clearly had special talent, one that in later years would get fogged in by the clouds of her non-musical activities.
Last March, Winehouse was able to pull herself out of her alcohol-induced haze to sing with Tony Bennett on “Body and Soul.” For all of Bennett’s career highs, and attempts to connect with the younger crowd, he really nails it here as he and Winehouse are a perfect match. Veteran producer Phil Ramone allows for Abbey Road to do what it does best, as this duet is another album highlight. Three songs, “Between the Cheats,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” and “A Song for You” would have been on her third album, had she lived to make it. This last cut hints at the weariness that must have filled her final days.
For those who knew Amy Winehouse through her hit “Rehab” or the rest of Back to Black, Lioness is a beautiful addition to her all too brief body of work. For those who only knew of her from her public spectacle, Lioness is a great overview of a wonderful talent, the likes of which we can only hope to hear again.
Lioness: Hidden Treasures