on 19 December 2011
I just listened to this album for the first time. I'm perhaps not what you might call a regular fan, although I already had Frank, Back to Black and her iTunes festival EP, but I found this collection stunning.
What a fabulous voice, and how nicely this package is done. For me, on of the best albums of the year.
on 13 December 2011
Even though I am an Amy fan I feel I shall have to assume to role of Devil's Advocate. I bought this album in good faith, with the understanding that like so many other posthumous releases it may be a little raw. I think Mitch Winehouse's assertion, that it stood comparison with her two previous releases: Frank and Back To Black while understandable, was inaccurate. For a start Lioness: Hidden Treasures was only partially Amy's work. She was both a prodigy and a perfectionist and I simply do not feel this album would have been up to her exacting musical standards. Our Day Will Come was a genuinely plesant surprise as were the original version of Tears Dry and Wake Up Alone. The rest of it was O.K but I found the overly elaborate arrangement on Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? and A Song For You, actually detracted from her vocal. If Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi had decided to keep it simple and allowed her voice to shine, conceeding that this is a DEMO album I think I would have enjoyed it for what it was. The fact is Amy decided against releasing these songs because SHE wasn't satisfied with them. Amy wrote in a very autobiographical and narrative style, her two previous albums had a linear chronology which was lacking in this release. It feels like what it is, an assortment of the producers favourite demos selected from several years of accumulated material. Not being an executive at Island records I have no idea if Amy had assembled the skeleton of a brand new album or if she simply recorded what she felt like, when she was feeling up to it. To draw a comparison with another artist, Buddy Holly died in an accident at the peak of his powers, leaving a number of impressive demos which were later polished up and released to general acclaim. Amy had been ill for some time which is also sadly noticable on some of the later tracks. Only time will tell what releases will be made in the future by her estate. I somehow doubt she would be happy with them. Taking the rough with the smooth it was nice to hear some better known songs in embyronic form and see the creative process in action. Also some of the proceeds from the album sales go to the Amy Winehouse Foundation, a legacy, which I feel would have been far more likely to meet with her approval.
on 26 December 2011
"Lioness: Hidden Treasures" is the first collection of unreleased music and demos since the untimely death of Amy Winehouse in 2011. Expectations were high, especially after her second album "Back to Black" became the second highest selling album of the century so far. This CD, thankfully, lives up to and exceeds all those expectations.
It kicks off with one of the best songs on the album, a cover of a 60's soul classic "Our Day Will Come". It was recorded whilst Amy was living in the mediterranean, and the reggae/calipso influences come through strong, making the track unique and giving the album a distinct sound from her previous two.
"Between the Cheats" follows this, and was intended for Amy's third album. It is a 50's throwback track with the retro doo-wap sound that Amy loved so much. Her vocal here isn't the strongest on the album, and does sound incomplete, but this is understandable (it was just a demo) and even when Amy's only singing at 70% she still sounds fantastic. A really good, catchy track.
"Tears Dry". The original recording of what became a huge hit of the "Back to Black" album. Here the song is a smooth soul ballad, wheras the released version was an upbeat Motown-influenced track. It works really well in this original version, and is very pretty and also incredibly sad, with Amy's performance subtle but emotionally charged.
"Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" Amy's cover of this 60's classic is poignant and perhaps the best vocal on the album. This track was actually completed in an acoustic version, but here Mark Ronson gives it a 60's soul remix which works well with the rest of the album.
"Like Smoke" features rapper Nas and is a modern jazz tinged song with a rap chorus half way through. It's unusual on the first listen, but it grows on you with repeat listens. The lyrics are very deep and thoughtful, and show why Amy was such a remarkable talent.
"Valerie" (68' Version). The remixed version of Valerie with Mark Ronson was a huge hit for Amy when released, but for the first time the unreleased original track is presented here. It's a slower tempo, but still upbeat and a good listen. Amy would always perform this version in her live concerts, and acording to Mark preferred this over the released track.
"The Girl From Ipanema". Another cover version, and maybe the best of all on the album. She does a unique take on the jazz standard, making it totally her own. I was amazed to find out she was only 18 when it was recorded. A stand out track.
"Half Time" this song comes from the recording sessions for "Frank" and is a beautiful acoustic led ballad. Amy has rarely sounded better than she does on this track, possibly why it is the favourite track of her father Mitch Winehouse.
"Wake Up Alone Demo". An acoustic version of the "Back to Black" song. Not quite as effective as the completed version, but the song and lyrics are so strong that it's still a fantastic track.
"Best Friends, Right?" from 2003 "Frank" sessions, although it sounds very much like it could have been from the "...Black" album. A really nice, memorable song.
"Body and Soul" duet with Tony Bennet. Not the best of the songs here, but interesting as Amy's final recording session. She sounds great, and the song is a classic, but not quite as memorable as the others on the album.
"A Song For You" cover of Leon Russell track, and the perfect close for the album. Amy makes it sound like she could have written the song herself.
The entire CD is packaged beautifully, with great publicity shots of Amy from her time in the Meditteranean. Also the liner notes by Mark Ronson and SaLaAm ReMi are touching and informative (background info as well as lyrics are provided for each song).
A really nicely put together tribute to a lost talent, which could have easily been a cash-in album, but instead plays as a fantastic altogether album and continues Amy's musical legacy.
(Also, £1 from each sale of the album is donated to the Amy Winehouse Foundation Charity).
I don't think on hearing 'Lioness: Hidden Treasures' in full, one could ever mistake this for anything other than a posthumous release, because in many instances Amy's edgy rawness seems so explicitely smoothed and neutred, which is most unlike Amy's previous releases. To put it another way, had Amy lived, and she had managed to lay down enough tracks for a new album, i am quite sure they would have sounded nothing like this.
There are so many problems, i feel, in terms of the chronology of the songs, the added inappropriate production some of these tracks have been subjected to, in addition to an unnecessarily irritating rap section within one of the songs. Amy's original albums just seemed so wonderfully cohesive and complimentary within the consistency of their mood, by comparison, and even when Amy was in a little more laid back mood, there appeared a real vocal/lyrical sharpness and bite throughout.
However, that's not to say Amy is never effective within her vocal application here, quite the opposite. There are several songs that really do work extremely well for her. 'Our Day Will Come' a cover of a Ruby And The Romantics sixties song is really rather infectious, within its wonderfully bright and laid back sound. 'Half Time' also has a most beautiful and seductive feel, which sounds very reminscent of much of her jazzy sounds from her debut, 'Frank'. 'Tears Dry On Their Own', however, has to be arguably the highlight, where the song in its original ballad form, smoulders rather magnificently. I think this is perhaps up there with the very best things Amy has ever recorded, with wonderful, heartfelt vocals, and beautiful strings.
An alternative take of 'Valerie' is quite nice too, where this version seems to be much leaner and less produced than the single version. Two of the newer songs Amy was working on at the time of her death, are present here, too. 'Between The Sheets' and 'Like Smoke' are both quite promising, although in the form presented here, they don't really manage to catch fire fully. 'Like Smoke' has also been given a rap treatment in places via. the vocals of Nas, which i'm a little unsure of. One wonders if this was genuinely part of the grand scheme of things, had Amy lived. 'Body And Soul', Amy last officially recorded song with Tony Bennett, is included too, and is pretty impressive too.
However, the album's mis steps appear to be rather large. These tend to relate rather significantly to the inappropiate arrangements some of these songs are forced to endure. 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?' seems to be completely spoilt by an overwrought arrangement, and Amy's beautful rendition of 'A Song For You' seems to be be drowned out by a desperately overproduced arrangement including a dreadfully annoying echo. These seem so much to go against the nature of the very tasteful arrangement/production of Amy's previous releases when she was fully involved in them. 'The Girl From Ipanema' seems pretty pointless too, because it isn't one of Amy's most memorable vocal performances. The backing doesn't seem especially complimentary, either.
Ultimately, because 'Lioness: Hidden Treasures' is derived from different periods in Amy's career, it tends to lack any type of cohesion. Amy, for the most part sings well, and her voice on most tracks never fails to impress, yet because many of these tracks were never meant for release, the songs, in addition to her voice, lacks urgency. This CD really isn't a fitting tribute to Amy's talent, and i find it very hard to believe that there aren't many much more impressive performances somewhere stashed away in the vaults. The positive, however, to be taken from this collection, is it does contain the odd true gem, which any genuine Amy fan wouldn't want to be without.
on 5 December 2011
Considering the impact of 2006's instant classic Back to Black I don't think many would have thought they'd still be waiting for a follow up in 2011. In the years between the two albums Amy became a drug user and by 2008 at age 24 was diagnosed with emphysema as a result of smoking crack cocaine, cannabis & tobacco. Images of Amy on drugs from 2008 onwards were grim. Weight drained with sunken cheeks she looked like a completely different person to the happy curvaceous Frank singer of 2003.
Amid stories of bar fights and substance abuse eventually reports of new music trickled through. In October 2009 Island Records co-president Darcus Beese claimed- `I've heard a couple of song demos that have absolutely floored me', while Amy stated in July 2010 that a new album similar in sound to BtB would be released by 2011. Throughout 2010 Universal had kept several London studios open around the clock incase Amy would want to record. However following her death most reports indicated studio sessions had been sporadic and the bulk of new material left behind consisted of demos. Although Amy's passing was not a surprise it was a shock and ultimately disappointing as we'd never get a third album from this prodigal songstress as intended.
For the release of Lioness: Hidden Treasures Salem Remi, Mark Ronson & co have compiled a career spanning collection of material consisting of Frank/BtB demos, multiple covers and a couple of new tracks. In short this is not the mock up third album of all new material fans were hoping for, although it appears only two new songs were completed so perhaps this is as close as we're going to get. Being a shameless cash grab aimed at the Christmas market, it is as you would expect a mixed offering, but more than anything this collection highlights the diversity of Amy's music both vocally and stylistically.
'Between the Cheats' (2008) a Doo-wop inspired number and one of the tracks most likely to have appeared on a third album is an undisputed highlight. It shuffles along in somber/soulful fashion with an awesome chorus you can't help but sing along to. You get the sense the vocals could have been a guide track as some of the lines seem slightly muffled. That aside BTC ranks alongside anything off BtB. 'Tears Dry' (2005) on paper looks like an needless addition but with a slowed tempo and original arrangement in lieu of the Gaye/Terrell sample it's effectively a completely different song and arguably better than the 'original' version.
Other highlights include new song 'Like Smoke' (2008) which finds Amy swapping verses with her favourite rapper Nas, 'The Girl From Ipanema' (2002) a startling showcase of a 19 year old talent & 1930's Jazz standard 'Body and Soul' recorded in March of this year with another of her musical heros- Tony Bennet (originally appearing on his Duets II album). On the flip side demos of BtB tracks we've all heard a million times such as 'Wake Up Alone' & 'Valerie' are unessesary and feel like they're included to make up the numbers while Mark Ronson's posthumously added production to tracks such as 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow' feels forced and ham-fisted.
The final song is a cover of the Leon Russell classic 'A Song For You' made famous by Donny Hathaway. Recorded by Salem Remi in 2009 at Amy's home while she was reportedly under the influence of heroin. This is not Amy at her best but the performances' failings actually add an extra layer of emotion that elevate this to become one of her most powerful songs, and it's inclusion while somewhat controversial paints the full picture of who she was within the scope of her music by showing her at her best And worst. To conclude If you're a fan this is an essential purchase full of rarities and gems which occasionally rival Frank & BtB.
on 7 December 2011
Whoever put together this FABULOUS compilation was a genius, and THANK YOU so much for the release. Brilliant, wonderful, haunting, soulful - I'm running out of adjectives, but it's pure Amy and what a criminal waste if this priceless material had not come to light. Can't stop playing it . . . blissful.