By DAN AQUILANTE
Will the late Amy Winehouse go down in history as a musical genius — or merely as a drug-addled woman with a bizarre beehive ’do and as many personal troubles as colorful tattoos?
Her posthumous album “Lioness: Hidden Treasures,” released today, is a strong argument that this troubled star will be remembered as one of the greatest singers of her generation, sadly gone before her time. Made up of previously unreleased tracks, alternate versions of a few existing classics and some new, unheard compositions, the album stands as a reminder of Winehouse’s skills as a songwriter, singer and interpreter of classics.
Winehouse, who was just 27 years old when she died on July 23 from accidental alcohol poisoning, only released two full albums since she debuted in 2003 — and had come out with nothing in the past five years. That slim body of work makes the release of this 12-track collection all the more highly anticipated.
ALBUM REVIEW: ‘LIONESS: HIDDEN TREASURES’
PHOTOS: AMY WINEHOUSE
Her well-received first album, “Frank,” showcased a vocal ability somewhere between Nina Simone and Erykah Badu. The promise of “Frank” was fully realized on the 2006 record “Back to Black,” which features her signature song, “Rehab.” It garnered five Grammys and established the Brit neo-soul singer as one of the great talents of the new century.
“I put [Winehouse’s] voice on par with Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald,” says Tony Bennett, speaking to The Post from his European tour. Bennett — whose duet “Body and Soul” with Winehouse is a highlight of the “Lioness” album — says “recording [the song] with Amy at Abbey Road Studios in London was a thrill for me. She was a jazz singer with an uncompromising sense of honesty. That rare quality set her apart.” The Winehouse who Bennett got to know during the recording sessions for this track was, he says, a far cry from the tabloid wild child; he describes her as a “lovely and intelligent person.”
That sentiment is echoed by Nas, the New York rapper who became pals with Winehouse after she name-checked the hip-hop icon on the “Back to Black” song “Me and Mr. Jones.”
“Amy was raw, she was real,” he says. “A joy to be around and, man, there was nothing Hollywood about her.”
Nas fondly recalls the 2009 London birthday party of reggae singer Damian Marley, when she joked with the rapper that they should get married. “That’s how she was,” says Nas, laughing at the memory.
“We’d play like that, even though we didn’t have anything more than a [platonic] friendship. She had a big, loving heart.”
A big heart — and a big influence left in her wake. Winehouse released very little music during the five years following “Back to Black.” But in those years her retro soul style influenced contemporary music, spawning like-minded artists, including this year’s Grammy-nominated sweetheart Adele, as well as Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine and Duffy, all of whom have enjoyed huge chart success.
But while her sound will be long remembered, so will her style.
“She took risks in her life, in her music and in her fashion,” says New York designer Betsey Johnson, who compares Winehouse to self-invented artists like Janis Joplin and Patti Smith. “She bought my clothes, and when she talked about her personal style, she’d credit my designs. She even got married wearing my skintight sailor sheath dress with anchors all over it.”
“In everything she did, she screamed, ‘I am me.’ ”
That kind of confidence stemmed, no doubt, from Winehouse’s wit and intellect. “Amy always had something smart to say, and she had a kind heart,” recalls Salaam Remi, who recorded and produced Winehouse from the very beginning of her career.
In a greedy business, she stood apart: “What I always loved was her passion for music and how she didn’t care about money. She was about taking care of everyone around her. She used to joke that she was a Jewish mother in the making.”
The day in May 2002 when Remi first met Winehouse in Miami (where the singer auditioned for him) is captured on the “Lioness” collection.
“She walked into the studio, took her guitar out of the case and started playing “The Girl From Ipanema”
with this bossa nova tempo,” he says. “I thought, wow, this girl wasn’t a make-believe talent — she was for real.’’
Unfortunately, it was a talent that was often overshadowed by her excesses and her deeply troubled personal life. “Back to Black” can be interpreted as a chronicle of the demons that led to her undoing: refusing her father’s wishes that she get sober in rehab, the infidelity in her love life and her drug-fueled relationship with her now ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil, allegedly the person who introduced her to heroin.
After her death, there was the sad reminder that tragedy sells. “Amy’s fan base really expanded at the news of her demise,” says Z-100 radio personality Elvis Duran, referring to the increase in album sales and song requests on the radio. In the days following her death, Billboard charts reflected that bump in sales, with “Back to Black” re-entering the charts at No. 9, selling 37,000 copies (up 3,140 percent from the previous week). “Frank” re-entered the charts at No. 57, with sales of 8,000 (up 4,100 percent).
“Here [in the US] everyone knew the song ‘Rehab,’ but most are hard-pressed to name another song,” says Duran. “What made headlines and what people really remember was her dangerous way of living and ultimately dying.”
Viewed years from now, the tragedy of her life will certainly hold a morbid fascination for certain fans. They might search her music for clues that could paint her as a poet so passionate that she sacrificed her life. Remi hopes that won’t be the case — but rather, the Winehouse legacy will be that she gave a stepping stone to other artists.
“I’m still reeling from her passing,” he says. “A month before she died we talked, and I told her, ‘You’re going to inspire a kid we don’t even know yet.’ ”
Part of that inspiration will come from the “Lioness” collection. “I spent so much time chasing after Amy, telling her off, that I never realized what a true genius she was,” her father, Mitch Winehouse, tells The Post.
“It wasn’t until I sat down with the rest of the family and listened to this album that I appreciated the breadth of her talent . . . it took my breath away. It’s a fitting tribute to Amy’s musical legacy.”
Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/entertainment/music/lioness_roars_C8gXjK0JHxAvtUU2ZmihXJ#ixzz1fmXIQLEK