Thursday, 15 December 2011

Lioness: Hidden Treasures

Lioness: Hidden Treasures

Posthumous releases are always a musical tightrope between pointless cash in and genuine hidden/lost gems from the now departed artist on show. I was sceptical in regards to the ‘new’ Amy Winehouse album before its release mainly due to the fact that there had been so much of a gap between any new releases while Amy was still alive and combined with the rumours of record company pressures (i.e. tracks being turned down etc) it wasn’t expected that there would ever be a real contender to follow up the multi award winning ‘Back To Black’.

‘Lioness: Hidden Treasures’ is now here and although the tracks are from different stages of her career (from the last batch as well as those written during the ‘Frank’ era) they all managed to sit together comfortably as well as flowing easily for the listener from the start to the end.

After the 60’s girl group inspired tracks on ‘Back to Black’ its refreshing to see that her follow up material both continued this trend while at the same time including more of her jazz and reggae inspired chops she was known for (especially live). Out of the newer material on offer the excellent ‘Between the Cheats’ is a track which really stands out as a great asset to her already worthy cannon. Older tracks which made their way onto the track listing include her much loved cover of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ (which includes a fuller arrangement over the vocal/guitar version that is commonly known to fans) this is a personal favourite here and it sounds particularly poignant. A great song, a faithful cover, sung beautifully.

Another highpoint of this collection of songs is the alternate versions of well known Amy tracks such as an earlier version of ‘Tears Dry’ which takes the listener on a completely different journey to the well known version and includes a warm string arrangement that cradles the vocals rather than the Motown sampled single from the album. Both can co-exist within their own space and this makes a genuine treat over the usual ‘take 2 stereo mix’ you usually get sold with this type of albums.

The only point on the album that I feel lets it down a little and smacks a touch of someone 1000 miles away phoning in a part on a leftover track is the Nas Featured ‘Like Smoke’ which is supposed to show Amy’s love of hip hop and that area of her soul but to me sounds too much like the label trying to get another ‘name’ on the album to help push a potential single release.

The other big collaboration here is the already available ‘Body & Soul’ with Tony Bennett which although is a nice mix of generations and is good for posterity neither is firing completely on all cylinders and seems to maybe once again fall into the category of “hey fellas lets get some current artists who will help sell this ‘duets’ album and hopefully bridge the album to a younger generation”. But that may just be my cynical head talking there.

It seems from interviews with Amy Winehouse and friends that she had deep love of soul music and especially Donny Hathaway whom she held in great esteem, the end of the album finishes with a stirring version of the Leon Russell track ‘A Song For You’ that was one of Hathaway’s signature songs throughout his own career and it’s a fitting tribute to him as well as Amy that it was chosen to end this album. Wonderful stuff

Overall a worthy bookend to Amy Winehouse’s criminally short career and one that in all honesty I will be playing a lot over the following months mainly due to the general upbeat and happiness in the music, a stark contrast to the realities of her last days. A double edged sword proving that against all the critics and press she was still in contact fully with the muse and was still capable of true beauty and great art. I look forward to the inevitable box set.


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