Lioness: Hidden Treasures Amy Winehouse (Island/Universal)
Like a photo display at a wake, posthumous recordings confront us with images of vitality that have no living counterpart. The dozen songs on this disc have had a meaning imposed on them that wouldn’t apply if Amy Winehouse hadn’t died in July.
“Our day will come,” she sings in the opening track, and you can’t help thinking that her day was over far too soon, if it really came at all. For all the fame and fortune she gained from her breakout 2006 album Back to Black, there’s no telling what other, even better things we might have had from Winehouse, if her addictions hadn’t addled her wits and dragged her from this world at age 27. But Our Day Will Come, a hit for Ruby and the Romantics in 1963, has always struck me as a mysteriously bleak expression of future hopes. Winehouse’s reggae-flavoured performance merely pushes that quality closer to the surface.
Only half the album consists of previously unreleased originals, some of which were finished by others after her death. As producer Salaam Remi said recently, this is not “a Tupac situation.” Winehouse didn’t have enough new material in hand to fill multiple posthumous albums, or even one.
Best Friends, Right? shows the cheeky, swinging spirit of her 2003 debut album, Frank.
“I can’t wait to get away from you/unsurprisingly you hate me too,” she sings, sounding coy and unconcerned at once. “But we’re best friends, right?” The more recent Half Time is a superb smooth soul number in which light and dark alternate within a single phrase, sometimes a single word.
Between the Cheats, recorded three years ago as a possible track for a third studio album, is hampered by the rigid carapace of its fifties-style arrangement, and Winehouse doesn’t sing the chorus – maybe because she didn’t get around to recording one. Like Smoke, of the same vintage, features Nas rapping about events that occurred after her death.
A pair of demo versions of songs from Back to Black make for interesting comparisons. An acoustic version of Wake Up Alone gives the tune a new intimate sound; a slower first draft of Tears Dry on Their Own uses a chorus quite unlike (though not better than) that of the album version.
The covers include the duet with Tony Bennett ( Body and Soul), which is basically two singers exploring their own real and imagined corners of memory lane. Winehouse’s opening phrases sound like she’s channelling the later, life-battered Billie Holiday. For The Girl from Ipanema, she’s closer to Ella Fitzgerald, and shows her jazz background in the way she swims easily across the beat. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? has an oddly martial arrangement, with snare drum hammering a hard rat-a-tat at the end of each bar. Someone should strip out Winehouse’s great soulful vocal track and remix it to a more apt accompaniment.
The Zutons’s tense rocker Valerie comes out as old-school R&B, with support from tactful bass, horns and electric guitar. The one must-hear cover is the album’s closer: Leon Russell’s A Song for You, with a colossal vocal performance and a recurring tight triplet in the descending bass that converts the song into a literal funeral march.
A spoken word extro, apparently caught on the fly in the studio, has Winehouse paying tribute to Donny Hathaway, another great soul singer who recorded this song and died young. “He couldn’t contain himself,” she says; and after a considered pause, offers an epitaph that could be adapted as her own: “He had something in him, you know?”
OTHER NEW RELEASES
Under Your Shadow Al Tuck (New Scotland Records) 3.5 stars
Al Tuck, born in PEI and a pillar of song in Halifax, has a few home truths to share with you, about your mother, your lovers and your children. “What’s it going to take for you to feel my point of view?” he sings in Slapping the Make on You, a typically understated song about asserting one’s will. Mostly, it doesn’t take much to feel Tuck’s point of view. His lyrics, given in confidence to the microphone, have a casual gravity to them even when he’s not sure about something. He can find joy in routine turmoil ( Every Day Winning, about a child and her single parent), and a new way of romancing that deadly old whore, the sea ( Saltwater Cowboy). Hello, Prince Edward Island may be the best joke ever played on his native province: It’s a rough, Delta-blues salute to the land of Green Gables. Robert Everett-Green
Alban Berg: Lulu Patricia Petibon, soprano Symphony Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu; Michael Boder, conductor; Olivier Py, stage director (Deutsche Grammophon DVD) 3 stars
Not many sopranos could negotiate the leap from Lully to Lulu with as much panache as French soprano (and early-music diva) Patricia Petibon, whose singing is a marvel of curves, feints and cabaret slides. But Petibon’s Lulu, a blank slate upon which men project their fantasies, is curiously unerotic. Nor does she inspire sympathy, which makes this archly aestheticized production a chilly one, although the men in Lulu’s thrall – especially Paul Groves’s Alwa – do touch us. Pierre-André Weitz’s multilevel set, busy with background tableaux vivants miming sex and lurid neon signage, complicates our pleasure in the music. Petibon’s archetypal costumes, from body stocking to bunny pyjamas to Marilyn Monroe glitter, make sense, but one draws the line at Jack the Ripper in a Santa Claus suit. Elissa Poole
Live at the Royal Albert Hall Adele (XL) 3 stars
About the lovelorn ballad I Can’t Make You Love Me, the soulful Bonnie Raitt has spoken of singing it in front of an audience – about sharing a place of pain, about honouring that space. On her new CD/DVD Live at the Royal Albert Hall, a heartfelt Adele covers the song profoundly. It’s kind of what she does, going to that place. The DVD version of this stop-gap package shows her other side: The wisecracking barmaid with quite the mouth on her. The banter is edited out of the CD. Not long after the Hometown Glory concert, the London superstar shut her voice down, cancelled gigs and underwent surgery. The throat is mostly warm, strong and fine here, though unsteady on Rolling in the Deep. On the sweeping weeper Someone Like You, Adele allows her fans to sing the chorus, because she can’t “go there” on every song. And so she shares her space in another way, quite acceptably. Brad Wheeler
El Camino The Black Keys (Nonesuch/Warner) 3.5 stars
Where do the Black Keys go from here? For broke. The now-Nashville-based duo follows up last year’s breakthrough Brothers disc with new songs built for big rooms – muscular, chorus-driven and retro-tinged. Gold on the Ceiling has a Gary Glitter-glam beat, a sing-along refrain and a Taser-stinging guitar solo. And speaking of gold and all that glitters, Little Black Submarines borrows liberally from Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven (with some Cult thrown in too). Nova Baby leanly glides to an arcing melodic chorus, with a line about wasting precious time “because you don’t know what you want.” That’s not a problem with the Black Keys, a rock band seizing the day unashamedly. B.W.