By Howard Cohen
• Amy Winehouse, Lioness: Hidden Treasures (Universal Republic) ★ ★ ★
“Like smoke, I stick around,” Winehouse rasps on a tune of the same name on her first posthumous release since her death in July at age 27.
As a pop culture figure, Winehouse will stick around in people’s imaginations for some time. She was a formidable talent and left a huge impression. Lioness: Hidden Treasures, a collection of odds-‘n’-ends recorded from 2002 through this year’s duet of Body and Soul with Tony Bennett for his standards album, Duets II (and repeated here) doesn’t make a strong case that she would have outdone her classic 2006 breakthrough Back to Black.
Only two “new” songs turn up on Lioness: Like Smoke, for which rapper Nas does the majority of the vocalizing, and Between the Cheats, a great song title and presumably about her tumultuous, drug-fueled relationship with ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil whom she married in Miami four years ago. I say presumably, because her garbled delivery renders its lyric foreign.
The two songs, however, are strong melodically and cling to the brilliant updating of vintage ‘60s girl group pop Winehouse offered on Black. Producers Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson keep the sound intact and expand upon it on tracks like Our Day Will Come, a reggae-spiced spin on the oft-covered 1963 Ruby & the Romantics ballad hit. Winehouse is even better on a lucid reading of the enduring Goffin-King oldie, Will You Love Me Tomorrow. Winehouse takes the tune at a faster clip than the Shirelles did in 1961 and while the poignancy of the lyric is altered, the recording is terrific. A frisky The Girl From Ipanema also comes across as inspired but it’s hard to imagine that had Winehouse lived that she would have included such overly familiar conventional covers on a new studio album.
She sounds like a true jazz chanteuse on the Bennett duet, her final recording session weeks before her death. But its slickness doesn’t fit in with the other tracks on Lioness, its appearance is clearly the result of record label politics. More telling is her 2009 performance of Leon Russell’s A Song for You in which her voice is raw and on the edge of destruction as the production swells around her and engulfs her.
Though not a classic album, as posthumous releases go, Lioness never feels like the crass money-grabs Michael Jackson’s two recent post-death albums ( Michael, Immortal) are. Lioness is eminently listenable, engaging, sad and a suitable accompaniment to her unfortunately small body of work.
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