Amy Winehouse | Lioness: Hidden Treasures

Amy Winehousde - Lioness Hidden Treasures

Amy Winehouse | Lioness: Hidden Treasures
by Brent Faulkner

When British soul singer Amy Winehouse passed away in July 2011 at age
27, the world lost a talented musician way too soon. While many
predicted Winehouse’s battle with demons would be her ultimate and
perhaps untimely demise, the world was saddened that such a distinct,
passionate, and soulful voice was gone so soon. Prior to her untimely
death, Winehouse had been working slowly on a third effort, much of
which was unfinished. 2011 compilation Lioness: Hidden Treasures
includes a mix of old, new, and unreleased recordings. Like most
posthumously released compilations, it has its truly great moments and
it also has its less virtuous ones. For the most part, Winehouse shines
and saddens listeners through the unrequited beauty and distinct
classicism of her voice.

“Our Day Will Come” flips a classic doo-wop number and transforms it
into a reggae-soul cut. While “Our Day Will Come” doesn’t dare rival
the bombast of Back to Black opener “Rehab,” it is a solid performance,
showing a younger, less ‘pained’ Winehouse. The nuances are exceptional
throughout, particularly towards the end – a clear testament to
Winehouse’s musicianship. Salaam Remi’s production helps to make “One
Day Will Come” so effective. “Between the Cheats,” a “new” cut, isn’t
too shabby, again nabbing Salaam Remi as producer. A vintage soul sound
is cultivated here, with the cliché ostinato piano in full force.
Winehouse’s vocals are a little less precise and less decipherable here,
lacking the quality she showed on Back to Black. At times, Winehouse
‘commands’ while at other times she playfully tackles the number. That
said, the background vocals are a strong suit and this cut is still
catchy and distinct enough.

“Tears Dry (Original Version)” exhibits the lower register of Winehouse
flawlessly. Winehouse commands here, even more so than “Between the
Cheats,” using her full voice. Even better is a sound cover of “Will
You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” arguably the best cut of the entire
compilation. Here, Mark Ronson’s arrangement is perfect, much like his
excellent production work on Back to Black. Vocally, Winehouse sounds
at her peak, truly commanding the song and delivering musically
contrived nuances and ad libs. Additionally, the vocal production is
perfect. “Like Smoke,” featuring Nas follows to less avail. Nas is the
‘star’ here delivering his rap verses with much more urgency than
Winehouse delivers her vocals. The main problem is that there is more
vocal affections and nuance than melody; Nas’s verses are as clear and
well crafted as always. “Like Smoke” feels more undercooked than some
of the cuts that grace this compilation.

“Valerie (’68 Version)” is another well executed cover, bowing from
Winehouse’s Back to Black sessions. The early Winehouse career cover of
“The Girl From Ipanema” is absolutely stunning, showing off Winehouse’s
consummate musicianship. Winehouse alters the melody of the latin-jazz
classic liberally, but the results yield nothing but soulful magic. A
Winehouse original, “Half Time” originated from Frank and lays well for
the most part. Vocally, Winehouse again contributes some soulful
nuances and ad libs without making “Half Time” the ‘elite’ of Lioness.

“Wake Up Alone (Original Version)” is quite alluring, showing Winehouse
in a one-take setting delivering vocal magic. The reverb surrounding
Winehouse’s vocals towards the end is a great touch. “Best Friends,
Right” was recorded back in 2003 in a live setting. While it is not the
best of the effort, it shows a younger Winehouse and certainly
foreshadows her vocal potential prior to Back to Black. A reprise of
“Body and Soul” with Tony Bennett (it’s featured on his Duets II album)
makes one rethink the Winehouse’s vocal quality. Sure, she channels
Etta James and Billie Holiday, but compared to other performances,
Winehouse sounds more distant, restrained, and less polished here.
Bennett clearly outshines here here, particularly notable on the
harmonized parts. Closing “A Song For You” features one of the strongest
arrangements of the effort (Salaam Remi), but perhaps Winehouse’s
weakest, most vulnerable vocal performances. The pitch suffers here,
particularly towards the end as Winehouse sounds her most ‘pained.’ The
vulnerability exhibited here only saddens the listener and makes them
shake their head in reflection.

Overall, Lioness: Hidden Treasures is a better compilation effort than
most posthumously released efforts tend to be. That said, it is still
‘mixed-bag.’ At times Winehouse shines without vulnerability (“Will You
Still Love Me Tomorrow”), while at other times the listener perceives
the pain of her demons (closer “A Song For You”). Regardless, Lioness
is a must-have for any Winehouse fan and serves as another reminder of
what a dear voice was lost in 2011.

Brent Faulkner
The Urban Music Scene