After her 2006 album, “Back to Black,” established her as a multimillion-selling, five-time Grammy Award-winning pop star, Amy Winehouse struggled with her addictions and legal troubles while her music career languished. When last seen on stage, the U.K. singer could barely finish a song and bailed on a tour. In July, the 27-year-old was found dead in her home, leaving behind a mere two studio albums and countless questions about what might have been.
It didn’t take long for her label to cobble together a collection of outtakes, "Lioness: Hidden Treasures" (Island), a hodgepodge that amplifies Winehouse’s retro leanings and her debt to ‘50s and ‘60s soul, girl-group ballads, jazz crooning and Brill Building pop. These blatant retro flourishes – embellished by the singer’s “Mad Men”-era beehive -- were given a modern twist on “Back to Black” with its semi-autobiographical lyrics and bleak humor. But “Lioness: Hidden Treasures” is a tamer affair, a cash-in thin on new songs that confirms Winehouse was still a long way from finishing up the five-years-in-the-making follow-up to “Back to Black.”
It recycles a couple of tracks (“Tears Dry on their Own,” “Wake up Alone”) from her 2006 breakthrough, and leans heavily on covers, none of them revelatory. The backing tracks reprise the successful formula of producers Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson: crisp snare drums, bubbling bass, staccato horns, tasteful strings, creamy backing vocals.
Easy-listening standard “Our Day Will Come” gets a raga twist and it’s destined to provide a pleasant backdrop for a summer wine-cooler party. The over-exposed classic “Girl from Ipanema” is dolled up with scat vocals. Tony Bennett is a solid rock on “Body and Soul,” masking Winehouse’s less precise diction and phrasing; she sounds like she’s channeling the sound of the greats, but not their ability to inhabit a lyric.
Her slurry delivery on Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” somehow fits, though, especially when she sings, “And when my life is over/Remember when we were together/We were alone and I was singing this song for you.”
If Winehouse were still with us, one wonders if these not-all-there performances are how she’d like to be remembered. Here’s hoping that if these are the best of her leftovers, the exploitation of her legacy stops now.