The late Amy Winehouse's posthumous album, Lioness: Hidden Treasures, hits the stores on December 5. The Guide got an exclusive opportunity to listen to the entire album ahead of its release. Here are our first impressions
Right at the end of the last song of Amy Winehouse's final album, we hear her talking about her co-singer, the soul singer Donny Hathaway. Amy speaks about Hathaway and how he was superior to Marvin Gaye. It strikes us then that these 45 minutes were the last we'll ever get to hear of the English singer, who died in tragic circumstances four months ago.
As the last song -- A Song For You, a cover of the Leon Russell classic made famous by Hathaway -- comes to a loose, jam-room-like end, we hear her voice reflecting upon how Hathaway 'couldn't contain himself' and then trailing off into ghostly silence, we realise we are, in fact, privy to the final musings of one of the greatest artistes of the decade.
With its collection of covers, demos and outtakes held together by producer Salaam Remi's warm swing-jazz arrangements, her final album, Lioness: Hidden Treasures, is an emotional and fitting tribute to Winehouse's musical legacy. You won't find anything as upbeat as a Rehab or anything else off Back To Black and Frank in this album. The overall mood is reflective and melancholic.
The album starts off magically with a reggae version of '60s doo-wop song Our Day Will Come, with its lush vocal arrangements. Our Day... is followed by a new composition entitled Between The Cheats, featuring lyrics that are critical, even scathing, but never angry, and an infectious '60s vibe (seemingly destined for usage in a future episode of TV show 'Mad Men).
Covers are aplenty in the album, ranging from the bossa nova (a style of Brazilian music) classic The Girl From Ipanema, to the Frank-and-Nancy Sinatra style duet 'Body and Soul' with legendary jazz/showtune singer Tony Bennett. There's an irresistible, feline quality to the way she scats in The Girl From Ipanema. The lush string arrangements and overall 'big band' sound make this album sound timeless.
Tears Dry On Their Own from her second studio album Back to Black, simply titled Tears Dry here, appears in its original avatar -- a jazzy ballad, slow and introspective in mood and much more soulful than its more gleeful predecessor. This, reportedly, is how Winehouse had always intended the song to be. While fans may take a while to digest this change in arrangements, it stands out as one of the best songs on this record.
It's pretty hard to pick a best song from this album after a single listen, since Winehouse's compositions have always had a tendency to creep up and hit you when you least expect it. However, I'd say it's a tie between the heartbreakingly raw Wake Up Alone, a sparse, one-take demo that features some of her best song-writing ever, and Halftime, where her lovely contralto meets down tempo electric piano arrangements (think of the band Zero 7).
Lioness: Hidden Treasures may not be the best Amy Winehouse album ever, but it's an album no music lover should miss out on. It's a heartbreaking testament to her talent that this is, incredibly, only the third album the late singer will ever release.