Although in the last months of her life, her tabloid exploits overshadowed the reason she was in the public eye in the first place, it’s important to remember that Amy Winehouse had undeniable musical talent to back that celebrity up. Looking at her two studio albums, Frank and Back to Black, there wasn’t merely a uniquely commercial sensibility, or a terrific voice, but a versatility, and a humanity that set her apart from her contemporaries. And the posthumously-release Lioness: Hidden Treasures celebrates all of those qualities: collecting unreleased instrumentals and completing production on them, or in some cases, creating new arrangements, producers Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson create a surprisingly satisfying tribute to the late Amy Winehouse that avoids feeling like a roundup of discarded material or a cheap, redundant cash-in for folks who already own her existing output.
The eleven-song collection opens with Winehouse’s cover of Ruby & The Romantics’ “Our Day Will Come,” and Remi’s ska-tinged arrangement of the r&b standard doesn’t alter the core elements of the original song, even as Winehouse’s unpredictable, syrupy delivery gives it new life. “Between the Cheats,” meanwhile, is more straightforward Winehouse fare from her Back to Black era, balancing anachronistic production with her nakedly honest, bittersweet lyricism. (Mayer Hawthorne should think of adding this tune to his repertoire as a tribute song during concerts, because he’d knock it out.) The “Original Version” of “Tears Dry On Their Own” augments the album version with a chorus of background voices, offering a slightly more epic sound, but Remi preserves the clarity and intensity of Winehouse’s commanding presence at its forefront.
Although it’s a little scat-jazzy for my particular tastes, Winehouse’s rendition of “Girl From Ipanema” is pretty terrific, communicating the dreamy seaside feeling of Getz & Gilberto’s original while Remi works overtime giving it a snappy breakbeat. Truthfully, I’m happier to see more recordings from her Frank days, and songs like “Half Time” and “Best Friends, Right?” demonstrate that her old-school sound was a device, not a trap for her creativity, and that she could easily have churned out current-sounding material as well. The disc’s closer, “A Song For You,” seems to encapsulate all of her different sounds into one track, as Remi takes Leon Russell’s song, places an instrumental behind it that sounds a lot like Isaac hayes’ “Walk On By,” and gives her a suitably epic send-off. Mind you, these eleven songs are still no substitute for new material from Winehouse, but given her otherwise limited output, Lioness: Hidden Treasures offers fans a worthy new volume of music to listen to, and further celebrate her incredible, but sadly brief, career as one of the decade’s most distinctive performers.
CraveOnline Rating: 9 out of 10