December 5, 2011
Review: Amy Winehouse – ‘Lioness: Hidden Treasures’
Ah, the posthumous album — always a touchy subject. The raiding of the vaults, the “tributes” and unreleased demos, the collections of post-death advert fodder (Janis Joplin, Nick Drake), the claims that it’s not even the respective artist performing (Michael Jackson) or that the recordings sound worse than fan-made bootlegs (Jerry Garcia).
Unfortunately, while Amy Winehouse’s living image was constructed almost entirely in the tabloids and gossip rags as opposed to the music press — an unfortunate by-product of heavy drug abuse and fiery relationships in the public eye, as well as not getting round to releasing any new music since 2006 — since her passing writers and broadcasters have clamoured to remember the smoke-and-honey voice; the jazz-infused Spector girl group aesthetic; and the tragic waste of talent. Indeed, there’s no denying the girl certainly had a good set of pipes (perhaps a comment too close to the line in view previously mentioned drug issues…).
The hideously titled Lioness: Hidden Treasures suggests gems from the archives of a career with far too little released music for its stature. The reality is something a little more disappointing, yet curious: a slightly restrained document of a career spanning almost a decade. There are throwaway pleasantries such as the lover’s rock reworking of opener ‘Our Day Will Come’ and requisite reading of ‘Girl From Ipanema’, but there are also intriguing glimpses of various directions the Camden singer’s career could have taken. The stone-cold groove laid down by The Roots’ ?uestlove on ‘Half Time’ reveals majesty in Winehouse’s phrasing and suggests suitability for a foray into neo soul, while Nas stops by to pay his respects on ‘Like Smoke’, proving that the Ghostface Killah collaboration ‘You Know I’m No Good’ wasn’t a one-off Winehouse-and-rap fluke.
Early versions of ‘Tears Dry On Their Own’ (listed here as ‘Tears Dry’) and the Mark Ronson collaboration ‘Valerie’ (renamed ‘Valerie [’68 Version]’) provide interesting alternatives to their previously released forms — especially the latter, which sees Winehouse excelling over the raw feel of a gritty demo as opposed to the polished and rapid-paced version that appeared in 2007. Ronson is again at the boards for a cover of The Shirelles ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, a decent snapshot of both the producer and Winehouse in formative periods — the young singer’s trill up the higher pitches on the line “but will my heart be broken” a glorious piece of performance that unfortunately wasn’t part of her vocal arsenal in future years. The fact that this track had already seen an official release in 2004 (albeit on the soundtrack to Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) is evidence of the real lack of recorded material available to compile this collection.
Producer Salaam Remi constructs the majority of tracks here, often embellishing rough demos and song fragments. In the case of ‘A Song For You’, the powerful highlight that closes the album, Remi takes an intimate recording of Winehouse singing the Leon Russell classic in her loft just a couple of years ago, and builds an atmospheric mood reminiscent of The Dramatics ‘In The Rain’. As the track ends, Winehouse is heard discussing her love for depressive soul legend Donny Hathaway (who also recorded ‘A Song for You’), explaining that “he couldn’t contain himself, he had something in him y’know” before tailing off, significantly. The track is arguably the album’s finest moment, and its position at the end is a just acknowledgment of both Winehouse’s talent and considerable emotional damage.
Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON