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Following her tragic passing in July, some of the producers and musicians who worked closely with Amy Winehouse, among them Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi, spent time listening over the many recordings that Amy had made, before, during, and after the release of “Frank” and “Back To Black”. It was said by all who worked with Amy that she never sang or played a song the same way twice. It quickly became apparent to Salaam and Mark that they had a collection of songs that deserved to be heard, a collection of songs that were a fitting testament to Amy the artist and, as importantly, Amy their friend.
Amy Winehouse performed, wrote and lived with a seductive and startling blend of confidence and vulnerability. Her early death may not have been a huge surprise to anyone who had an interest in her life, but it shocked her beloved Camden and far beyond because she was one of us. She may have had an exquisite voice redolent of broken hearts and lost weekends, but even when Amy was selling millions of records she could be found shooting pool and downing drinks in north London pubs.
Less than six months after her premature passing, fans now have Lioness: Hidden Treasures to remind them of what they’re missing. This release comprises alternate takes, rarities and unreleased tracks, while regular collaborators like Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi have been involved with compiling the album. The question persists, though: would this material have surfaced if Amy had lived?
Jazz standard Body and Soul, recorded with Tony Bennett, has already been released on the latter’s September 2011 album Duets II, and as a single. It was Amy’s last recording, is beautifully produced and poignantly sung throughout. The same is true for covers of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow and The Girl from Ipanema. The ’68 version of The Zutons cover Valerie is a languid shuffle compared to the energetic single release, and an earlier recording of Tears Dry on Their Own soothes but never catches fire like the version found on Back to Black.
Amy’s tender, torn and devastating voice always impressed on record, but it was her lyrics that really mattered. Like Smoke, an excellent collaboration with Nas, is calm but opens with a typically dramatic Amy line: "I never wanted you to be my man / I just needed comforting." Musically it’s a cousin of Fine Young Cannibals’ The Flame, while its blend of wry rapping and heartfelt nostalgia adds up to the best thing here.
Elsewhere, Between the Cheats, with its sad title, doo-wop melancholy and lines like "I would take a thousand thumps for my love," recalls the darkness in Amy’s life. Just as sorrow crept in to her best songs, cuts like You Know I’m No Good, it’s here in spades. But no one ever expected Walking on Sunshine from a woman who battled through troubled relationships and addictions so publicly.
In the end, the best a posthumous album assembled in this way can offer is a welcome and dignified reminder of an artist’s abilities. Lioness manages this, but also leaves listeners sadly wondering where a less-troubled Amy might have been able to take her incredible talent.
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