by Kathy Iandoli
Amy Winehouse (Lioness: Hidden Treasures listening session)
Quad Recording Studios
Wednesday, November 16
Better than: Thinking Back to Black was Amy’s final opus.
Amy Winehouse’s career was punctuated with demons that detracted from her music, while simultaneously contributing to its brilliant pain factor. News of unfinished recordings circulated the moment the world learned of her untimely death this past July, and portions of these audio relics are made public on Lioness: Hidden Treasures, a collection of rarities and leftover studio sessions pieced together into one concise work.
Visiting Quad Recording Studios conjures up feelings of uneasiness for the hip-hop aficionado; it was the location of Tupac Shakur’s first near-fatal shooting in 1994. Entering Quad to preview what’s perceived to be the final collection of Amy Winehouse songs provides a whole new level of unease; the place feels more like a memorial service than a traditional listening session. Winehouse’s close friend and musical confrere Salaam Remi, who produced the greater whole of the 12-track offering, hosted the unveiling of the posthumous projec. “I am happily, but unfortunately here,” Remi announced solemnly at the opening of the event. The superproducer ushered in each track with an anecdote of how, when and where it was created, referring to the whole process as “therapeutic.”
The album spans Amy’s entire career, with tracks recorded as early as May 2002 (“Our Day Will Come” and “The Girl From Ipanema”) and as recently as March 2011 (“Body & Soul”). It plays like a musical timeline, straying from chronology at various intervals, accented with Amy’s loose experimentation with jazz and doo-wop and earlier versions of hits like “Tears Dry On Their Own” (here called “Tears Dry”). The demo for “Tears” is downtempo, highlighting Amy’s forlorn vocals, a stark contrast to the sped-up, believably triumphant version found on Winehouse’s second album Back To Black.”Valerie” is considerably slowed, with Amy concealing her British accent at the start of the hook (“Valer-ee” as opposed to “Valer-ay”). The original one-take demo of “Wake Up Alone” fades into a cryptic echo at the end as Amy chants “And I wake up alone.”
Perhaps none of Lioness would sound as tragic had we not lost the young songstress, but each note sounds like it’s building up to Winehouse’s inevitable demise. What’s also heartbreaking is hearing the salubrious voice of an 18-year-old Winehouse on the reggae-tinged “Our Day Will Come” shortly before hearing her beautifully scarred sound, almost ten years later, on “Body & Soul” with Tony Bennett. Somewhere in between lies “Between the Cheats”, recorded in 2008 and dedicated to the infidelity of her former husband Blake Fielder-Civil, who many believe is the root of her downfall. The most recent leak “Like Smoke” features Nas, a favorite of Amy’s (and the inspiration behind her classic “Me And Mr. Jones”). Remi felt it necessary to add Nas after Amy passed, providing her dream collaboration in her afterlife, and the pairing of their voices sounds as ideal as Nas’s Lauryn Hill collaboration “If I Ruled the World.” Remi also revealed their plan to have a supergroup with the Roots’ Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, which never came to fruition. However, “Halftime” (recorded in August 2002) has added drums from ?uest, making it a backdoor reality.
The work closes with “A Song For You,” a sobering rendition of the Donny Hathaway (by way of Leon Russell) classic recorded in 2009 at the height of one of Amy’s most addictive periods. Winehouse inadvertently draws a parallel to herself and the late Hathaway at the end by saying, “Donny Hathaway… he couldn’t contain himself.”
Once the album concluded, I asked Remi if he saw any similarities between Winehouse and Hill, two artists he worked with extensively who both struggled with the effects of fame. “Yeah. They both don’t care what you think,” he jokingly replied.
Critical bias: Like most Winehouse fans, I’ve suffered from Stockholm Syndrome since Back To Black. Anything from Amy is amazing to me at this point.
Overheard: Journalist A: “Is there food here?” Journalist B: “Yes, from Bon Chon Chicken.” Journalist C: “Yeah, I’ll sit that one out. How can I possibly hear the album when I’ll be in the bathroom the whole time?”
Random notebook dump: In the song “Like Smoke” Nas says, “You’re colder than penguin pussy”—a joke frequently made by Winehouse. It was his own subtle nod to her eccentric sense of humor.
Our Day Will Come (Reggae Version)
Between The Cheats
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
Like Smoke (featuring Nas)
The Girl From Ipanema
Wake Up Alone
Body & Soul (featuring Tony Bennett)
A Song For You