REVIEW: Amy Winehouse – Lioness: Hidden Treasures

Amy_Lioness_Booklet_Layout 1

Artist: Amy Winehouse
Album: Lioness: Hidden Treasures
Genre: Soul, r’n’b, jazz, pop
Label : Island

Whatever musical successes and wonder stories 2011 has offered and may yet offer us, there are those who will always remember it as the year in which Amy Winehouse went to a tragically early grave. The wealth of talent and ability lost with Winehouse’s untimely death is staggering. It’s particularly evident on listening to this release, a mixture of original recordings, duets, and unreleased demos from various periods in her career which serve to celebrate and showcase the sublimely gifted singer’s voice and vision. The mood is generally warm and loving, a fitting tribute to her memory and the season that’s in it, with rich, jubilant love songs offering a poignant insight into Winehouse’s mind and experiences. It has, perhaps understandably, forfeited much of the grit that characterized her other releases but in purposefully adopting a cosy tone it serves to focus on her abundance of talent, and not the tabloid infamy that accompanied her later years.

“Our Day Will Come” and “Between the Cheats” are both gorgeously moody affairs, with an old-fashioned and sensual glamour oozing easily throughout. Winehouse’s love for jazz is a vivid influence, as always, with the old-school sound intricately recreated. “Tears Dry” is the original, ballad recording of “Tears Dry On Their Own” from Back to Black. It’s barely recognisable as the same song, stripped bare musically and foregoing the Marvin Gaye sample that formed part of the album’s recording. It benefits from this however – it’s more like a soul number, its easygoing sound tainted with a palpable air of sobriety and vulnerability. It seems to offer a more tender perspective of Winehouse, with the string outlay that backs this version giving it a moving and poignant air.

This is followed by an inventively reworked version of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” She originally recorded this for the soundtrack of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason in 2004 and leaves a unique and indelible mark upon the song. The tempo is scaled back and the opening given a steady jazz refrain, making it firmer and more resolute than you’d expect. It seems more immediate and resounding – indeed, almost climactic in some ways. The vocals are, as always, strong and dedicated and twist the song’s sad undertones into something more romantic and joyous.

Winehouse was a big fan of rapper Nas and he joins her on “Like Smoke,” the album’s fifth track. Oddly, the addition of rapping vocals adds much to the song. The sumptuous recreation of another era is given a more contemporary punch and thus a more attentive and engaging energy. It’s followed by “Valerie (’68 version),” an alternate working of one of her most well-known covers. The bass is particularly strong on this smoky, luscious version of the song. It removes a lot of the spark and flair that informs the version already released, slows the tempo and refines the sound. This move deadens the song somewhat, as it feels a little unfairly restrained, but it does fit in with the mood of the album.

“Half Time” and “Wake Up Alone” offer perhaps the most intimate insights of Winehouse as an artist. These songs are gentler and affecting in their wholesome simplicity. On “Half Time” she bares her heart and soul in an elegant and tender vocal portrait. It meanders lovingly through gorgeous instrumentation and melodies, in a barely-there but sweet and meaningful ode. “Wake Up Alone” is an original recording of the Back to Black track and is, thus, also stripped down. There’s a palpable musical presence in the delicate guitar accompaniments but of all the tracks on this album, it’s the one that offers perhaps the most central role for her vocals. The music carefully complements her as she meditates upon a lover in an open perspective of feeling. The sound is wholesome and at times almost incendiary despite the sensuous and quiet set-up.

The much-heralded duet with Tony Bennett, “Body and Soul,” is a perfect marriage of vocal styles. There’s an eloquence and effortless warmth to the way both sing and they complement each other beautifully. The track comes across as something from another era, with touches of jubilancy at times as it celebrates the sound she captured so well and a talent that defined her. The album ends on a cover of Leon Russell’s “A Song For You.” Considering its placing, this track does actually feel like a swansong of sorts – it’s a rejuvenated rendition, adding swathes of eminent instrumentation to intensify the song. It loses a little something in being dressed up like this, but Winehouse’s presence is intoxicating as always. Further, the song includes a brief audio outtake of her ardently praising Donny Hathaway, in a poignantly fleeting but stirring image of the heart and soul that powered these songs.

It should be noted that this album mightn’t satisfy purists, seeming as it does a touch sensitised by comparison with the biting force behind her other albums. That said, one can’t expect the same vivid influence of Winehouse herself on a release put together by producers from raw material. In the absence of a third album, Lioness is a worthy tribute to her gifts, heralding the vocal talent and musical sensibility that set her apart from her peers. Further, in its generally warm and affectionate sentiments, it provides a loving homage to the star that allows listeners to remember why she was revered in the first place, and set aside the unfortunate notoriety of her death.

SCORE: 8/10
Review written by Grace Duffy

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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