I think, before I get into it, I should make it clear that Lioness: Hidden Treasures, the new release from the recently deceased Amy Winehouse, is not intended to be viewed as her capitol ‘F’ Final album. What that album, the follow up to the multi-platinum, Mark Ronson-helmed Back To Black, would have been will remain a mystery to the world at large. Instead, we are given the odds and sods collection of demos, duets, and other ephemera that is Lioness itself.
There are occasions where work compiled and cleaned up after an artist’s passing have given us, the fans, something like a sense of closure. For example, Joy Division’s Closer. There’s also Nirvana’s immortal Unplugged in New York, Joe Strummer and the Mescalaro’s joyfull last stab Streetcore, Janis Joplin’s beautiful Pearl, and Tupac Shakur’s The Don Killuminati (but maybe not the half-dozen or so compilations released thereafter).
What differentiates Lioness from these works is that there really isn’t a sense of cohesion to the tracks as they are presented. We go from covers like ‘Our Day Will Come’ and the omnipresent ‘Girl From Ipanema’ to an early take on her hit ‘Tears Will Dry’ to new songs like the doo-woppy ‘Between the Cheats’ and the wry-fest ‘Best Friends, Right?’ without a sense of direction.
As unconnected as the songs are, they are often full of bright spots that manage to shine a light on what made Winehouse the force she was. Her take on ‘Our Day Will Come,’ made famous by Ruby and the Romantics, starts the compilation off on solid footing. Her vocals are clear, confident, and charged with the desperate optimism of a woman in waiting. It’s all there in the title: our day will come. Therefore it hasn’t yet. We are still waiting, sans surrender.
The early version of her now classic ‘Tears Dry’ trades the Back To Black version’s Burt Bacharach bombast for a more slow-souled roll through the regrets Amy has to profess. She sings: All I can ever be to you/is a darkness we once knew and, this time, that darkness fills the room like smoke.
The more recently recorded tracks carry a few missteps mostly due, more than likely, to the singer’s declining wellbeing at the time or their recording. ‘Between The Cheats’ reaches for Winehouse standard status, but falters at the gate. She’s singing what sounds like a scratch vocal, and it lacks the whip-smart enunciation and the spot-on phrasing she was famous for using to highlight the comically tragic ways in which we break each other’s hearts. Cause you kiss a lucky horseshoe/Stick it in my boxing glove is a great line that gets lost in the rush to finish the take.
The recordings present on Lioness cover the entire span of Winehouse’s barely decade-long recording career and make no pretensions about being a glimpse of what was to come. This is a look back at an artist that many expected much more from. We are left with what we have here in these recordings and, while they may not be perfect, we can’t pretend she ever claimed to be.