By Edith Freyer, Daily Arts Writer
Published December 4, 2011
This past July, lovers of poignant heart-and-soul blues received the devastating news that their beloved pop heroine, Amy Winehouse, had died from accidental alcohol poisoning, permanently leaving iTunes libraries and ears void of new music from the troubled songstress.
Lioness: Hidden Treasures
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Fast forward barely five months, and Winehouse’s foundation has released a posthumous album in her honor. Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi, Winehouse’s longtime producers, along with her family, combed through hours of cutting room floor audio and handpicked unreleased recordings and alternate versions of her popular tunes, culminating in Lioness: Hidden Treasures. The album fully spans her career, with tracks ranging from 2002 to 2011. But while Lioness will satisfy anyone’s Winehouse craving, it doesn't provide any groundbreaking material.
On “Our Day Will Come,” a cover of the 1963 original by Ruby and the Romantics and the album’s opener, listeners are immediately greeted with the familiar brass-grazed groove that has become Winehouse’s signature. It’s an uplifting start, as she confidently croons, “No one can tell me / that I’m too young to know / I love you so.”
“Tears Dry,” the original version of one of Winehouse’s biggest hits, “Tears Dry On Their Own,” finds the familiar song in a decidedly darker, more insightful direction. It takes her to the more deeply sweeping, less bouncy side of Motown, and it’s a welcome change.
An alternate recording of Mark Ronson’s “Valerie” arrangement lacks the punchy, percussive drive of his version, but it spotlights Winehouse’s vocal ability to make an otherwise average song worthwhile. In this track, her voice almost sounds gorgeously adrift as it wanders up and down the scales, inevitably evoking a predictable metaphor for the singer’s life.
Winehouse drawls her way through “Halftime,” soaking the chords with her pathos-inducing riffs and slides. This one, along with another of the album’s gems, “Best Friends, Right?,” was penned solely by Winehouse and the two are more subtle than the others.
“Body & Soul,” a recently released track from Tony Bennett’s ,Duets II, is sentimental and sweet, but Winehouse’s voice sounds drastically inferior in comparison to the other, earlier-recorded tracks. It’s almost difficult to listen to because her decay is clearly audible.
In some sense, the closing track, “A Song For You,” really does sound like an ultimate finale. Of course, most listeners will layer this album with an extra dose of sorrow, the bones of which are undoubtedly already in the music. Certainly, that was a pointed decision on the part of Ronson and Remi. It’s only human to listen to the songs with the added emotion of Winehouse’s tragic death.
Ronson and Remi are unmatched in their ability to perfect the contrast between squeaky clean instrumentation and Winehouse’s smoky brogue — really, with almost any other production style (and less skill), her performances would sound sloppy. They should be applauded for their body of collaborations, and the success of their relationship with Winehouse is wholly apparent on this collection.
Lioness: Hidden Treasures is an album that might leave hearts more aching than ever. But on the other hand, it's just enough to fill the beehive-shaped hole in fans’ hearts.