One thing that can’t be denied was that Amy Winehouse was a unique talent, and as it turns out, quite influential. Despite Adele’s tremendous talent, it was Amy that paved the way for the renaissance of full-voiced British soul vocalists with a throwback sound. She was truly taken from us too soon, and the world will never know if she would have been able to come up with an album that matched the genius that was Back To Black.
Despite the fact that Lioness: Hidden Treasures is a somewhat crass record company cash grab, coming less than six months after the singer’s death, it might easily be the best posthumous music release to arrive since Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged In New York arrived just over half a year after Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Containing several previously unreleased tracks, a generous selection of covers, and a few alternate versions of songs from Back To Black, it’s a remarkably cohesive listen. In other words, for something that was cobbled together, it certainly doesn’t sound cobbled together.
The tracks here are helmed by Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson-the folks who provided the sonic backdrops for most of Back To Black, and the songs here stick to the retro-girl group flavor of that album mixed with a bit of a neo-soul sound. The covers are almost all sterling-from a pristine take on The Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” to a different version of her spin on The Zutons’ “Valerie” (a sped-up version appeared on Ronson’s Version album a few years ago.) The one semi-misstep occurs with the album-closing cover of Leon Russell’s “A Song For You,” perhaps most famously sung by Donny Hathaway. While not the atrocity that Whitney Houston’s electro-thump version from a couple years ago was, Amy’s rendition is obviously one of the more recent recordings on the album. Much like on the original “Between The Cheats,” Amy’s once-clear vocals have muddied with drug and alcohol abuse, and her vocals are slurred. The pinpoint phrasing that marked some of her earlier work is gone, and while the feeling is still there, these recordings are a bit difficult to listen to.
Elsewhere, Nas (the subject of Back to Black’s “Me & Mrs. Jones”) turns up to rhyme rings around a groove on “Like Smoke,” while the chilled-out “Halftime” might be the closest thing to contemporary soul she’s ever done. While some tracks are better than others, there’s not a weak one to be found on this entire album, which is more than one can say in regards to most albums people release during their lifetimes, much less posthumous compilations of material originally intended for the studio floor.
While Lioness is a solid piece of work, for sure, the feeling you come away with the most when listening to this album is “damn, what could have been?” It’s entirely possible that Amy had tons more genius work in her, and it’s just as possible that the next 10 or 15 years could have been spent flaming out a la Courtney Love. I guess we’ll never know for sure, but this album serves as a sterling reminder of the talent that we lost.