Fans have been clamoring for new Amy Winehouse material since the legend-making Feburary 2008 Grammy Awards. Winehouse appeared via satellite from London in a last minute switch, reportedly due to visa issues stemming from her already well-known troubles with the law. A lot of people were expecting a disaster. What they got was a mesmerizing performance from a smoke-filled East London jazz club. She belted out "Rehab" and "You Know I'm no Good" better than anyone could've imagined.
Winehouse had reportedly been working on a proper follow-up to her breakthrough album "Back to Black" for about 5 years before her sudden death this past July. She apparently only managed to finish two songs. Given that she was not among the most prolific of artists, it'd be easy to assume that "Lioness: Hidden Treasures" is a barrel-scraping hodge-podge of demos and half-baked ideas. That assumption is only half-right. A lot of these songs are strikingly beautiful.
"I'd take a thousand thumps for my love," she laments on "Between the Cheats". It's a heartbreaking ode to fleeting, violent affection, made all the more bitter by the obvious tragedy that followed. A vamped-up version of the Zutons track "Valerie" is inspired and downright dirty, far superior to the single version that was released in 2007.
Several of these tracks have been gussied up for inclusion on the album. Questlove from the Roots contributes a drum track to "Halftime". Rapper Nas hits one of the few sour notes on the record, contributing a verse to "Like Smoke" that does absolutely nothing to improve it. When he says "You know how me and Amy, we're straight playas," he's not trying to be disrespectful, but it sure comes off that way.
The music press has been quick to point out that the majority of these songs were recorded between 2002 and 2004. The truth is that it's been speculated that she didn't enter a recording studio at all during the last two years of her life. The more recent compositions, like the haunting cover of Leon Russel's "A Song For You" (reportedly recorded in her attic in 2009) clearly demonstrate a change in Winehouse's voice. Gone is the self-assured crooner of "Rehab", replaced by an obviously withering star at her most vulnerable.
Just like the 2008 Grammy's that now seem so long ago, a lot of people are expecting another disaster from Amy Winehouse. "Lioness" is not that, but rather a sad lament for an incredibly talented, tortured artist who might have had a lot more to give us if she hadn't been so busy throwing it all away.