Chipper Remnants of a Life Turned Sour

By JON PARELES, JON CARAMANICA and NATE CHINEN

She didn’t leave much behind. That’s the inescapable fact of Amy Winehouse‘s posthumous collection, “Lioness: Hidden Treasures.”

The album’s 12 songs are the leftovers from a singer and songwriter who was promising on her 2003 debut album, “Frank”; fully herself and even more promising on her 2006 album, “Back to Black”; and then a long, sad story until her death from alcohol poisoning this year. The transformation from the confident, sly, sweet-and-sour-voiced 18-year-old in 2002 to the scratchy, ravaged latter-day star is the album’s back story, even as the music stays chipper.

Like her two previous albums, “Lioness,” made with the same producers (Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson), wraps retro arrangements — 1960s soul, girl groups, old reggae — around a bluntly modern persona. The idea was already full-blown in 2003, when Winehouse recorded the acerbic big-band ballad “Best Friends, Right?,” which finally surfaces here.

Other previously unreleased tracks add to the pathos of Winehouse’s decline. The tabloid-ready one is “Between the Cheats,” recorded in 2008. It’s a defiant vow of loyalty to her husband at the time, Blake Fielder-Civil, recorded a few months before he was imprisoned for assault on a bar owner. The backup is four-chord doo-wop as she sings, “I would die before I’d divorce you/I’d take a thousand thumps for my love.” Her vocal is jazzy, jumpy and improvisational, with the flutter she picked up from Erykah Badu and the flintiness she learned from Dinah Washington. It’s also thin, slurred and sometimes unintelligible.

“Like Smoke,” a 2008 song about being proudly fickle, stretches out two shaky verses and some scat singing that Winehouse left behind with a present-day rap by Nas that alludes to Occupy Wall Street. “A Song for You,” the Leon Russell anthem of a musician’s prideful self-pity, wraps an overelaborate post-facto arrangement around a fitful, scattered vocal from 2009: shards of musicianship, straining to cohere.

By contrast, “Half Time,” a neo-soul track from 2002 that sways like a song from Ms. Badu, is a budding songwriter’s tribute to the healing power of music: “The melody it feeds my soul/the tune tears me apart and it swallows me whole.” For Winehouse, its promise of hope and bliss in music didn’t come true.

“Lioness” ekes out all it can from the archives. It has cover songs recorded in 2002, back when Winehouse was getting started, like “The Girl From Ipanema” with a slightly forced hip-hop beat. It has preliminary versions of songs from “Back to Black,” including a slower, less sardonic take on “Tears Dry” (later “Tears Dry on Their Own”), and a one-take run-through of “Wake Up Alone” that’s nonchalantly bluesy.

A 2011 version of the Gerry Goffin-Carole King song “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” is different from the one Winehouse recorded for the 2004 soundtrack of “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” — trading acoustic rhythm guitar for a booming 1960s soul production — but is built around the same Winehouse vocal track. “Lioness” also includes the duet she recorded with Tony Bennett in March 2011, “Body and Soul,” which was recently released on his album and has been nominated for a Grammy Award. Her phrasing is savvy, her voice tattered.

Had she survived, Winehouse might have had new insights into private turmoil, and a voice with eloquent scars. “Lioness” is just the scraps of what might have been.

Article Source: The New York Times