In 2009, Amy Winehouse, accompanying herself on an acoustic guitar, sat in her attic and made a rough demo of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You.”
The ballad asks for forgiveness from a lover: “I’ve acted out my love in stages with 10,000 people watching, but we’re alone now.” The words proved too much for her. She started strong and broke down in tears.
The recording might have gone unheard. After the star’s death, aged 27, in July, fueled by drink problems, it is now included on her posthumous CD “Lioness: Hidden Treasures.”
Winehouse has followed Michael Jackson with huge sales after death. “Lioness,” like his pre-Christmas “Michael” from 2010, isn’t a coherent album so much as a 45-minute ragbag.
The five-time Grammy winner had left many recordings. Some of the best have been picked by producers Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson, working with Winehouse’s family. There are unreleased tracks and alternate versions, some as old as 2002.
The two new compositions planned for a third album show it was nowhere near completion. “Like Smoke” was just a scat-sung demo, now with a guest vocal from Nas and strings. “Between the Cheats” is bouncy Motown, though it hasn’t the hit appeal of earlier songs like “Valerie” (here heard in a softer version).
This album is not another “Back to Black,” though it gives insight into Winehouse’s progress. The beautifully enunciated early material up to 2004 becomes ragged slurring, occasionally working wonderfully, as on the “Body and Soul” duet with Tony Bennett from this year.
With proceeds benefiting the Amy Winehouse Foundation, and the closeness of her death, it seems churlish to be over- critical. This is an album that nobody wanted. Still, presales in the U.K. alone show that “Lioness” will be a No. 1 hit.
Winehouse, who had high quality-control standards, would have been unlikely to issue her version of “The Girl From Ipanema.” Often, the production is overdone. It would have been great to hear “A Song for You” in its raw form rather than crafted into a radio-friendly track. The cracked vocal is so moving it doesn’t need embellishment.
Winehouse fans may name other songs that could have been included, such as “Procrastination” and “Monkey Man.” Yet listen to what we have, and ponder on what might have been.
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The album is on Island/ Universal priced at $9.99. Download prices vary across services. Information: http://www.amywinehouse.com/.
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.