By Elysa Gardner, USA TODAY
Rock critics have long harbored a fascination with and affection for artists who die young, particularly those who seemed bent on self-destruction. Had Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain lived longer and more sensibly, it’s a safe bet that all would have at some point been accused of growing dull and complacent, of losing their edge.
None had that privilege, and neither did Amy Winehouse, who joined their “27 Club” last July, when she succumbed to alcohol poisoning at the same age. There will no doubt be those who romanticize Winehouse’s years of substance abuse and reckless behavior, maintaining they were of a piece with the grit and sometimes brutal candor of her work.
But the posthumous collection Lioness: Hidden Treasures (** * out of four), out today, offers a stinging rebuttal to that theory. Winehouse’s longtime producers, Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson, have assembled 12 tracks tracing her career from her first session with Remi nearly a decade ago to her final studio effort, a duet with Tony Bennett recorded last March.
The result is a heartrending portrait of a young artist’s rise and decline — and a better advertisement for clean living than any anti-drug propaganda you’ve likely come across.
Lioness includes two selections originally recorded in May 2002, a reggae-flavored reworking of Our Day Will Come and a breezy take on the bossa nova favorite The Girl From Ipanema. Winehouse’s voice, though still raw, already is one of undeniable character and disarming confidence; you’ve likely never heard a more playful Ipanema than this scat-happy rendition.
Another cover, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, from 2004, finds Winehouse coming into her own. Pressing her salty alto against producer Ronson’s majestic wall of sound, she dramatically evokes soul sirens and girl groups of yore while flirting with the ornamental phrasing typical of latter-day pop and R&B divas.
On 2005’s Tears Dry and 2006’s Wake Up Alone— alternate versions of songs from Back to Black— the singer is in her prime, riding the retro-soul arrangements with poise and gorgeously understated pathos. The pluckier funk of Valerie, also from 2006, proves her prowess with more upbeat fare.
Lioness features only two songs written by Winehouse after that, both recorded in 2008. Between the Cheats is a doo-wop trifle, served with little spirit, and on the laid-back Like Smoke she’s upstaged by co-writer and guest rapper Nas.
The album concludes with the Bennett duet, Body and Soul, and a version of A Song for You sung in 2009. With Bennett, Winehouse tries to channel Dinah Washington; but her tone, thinner and drier than before, has lost some of its rough richness, and she sounds a little lost amid the plush, elegant production.
On Song, Winehouse’s pain and confusion comes to the fore. Her disoriented delivery of the Leon Russell ballad is hard to bear, but producer Remi lets us hear her fumbling. Whether Remi wanted to show us Winehouse’s deterioration or was too close to recognize it, he has given pop fans a teachable moment, and a very sad one.
Article Source: USATODAY.com