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Review: Winehouse album stirs sadness -- and joy

By Nekesa Mumbi Moody
AP Music Writer / December 6, 2011
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Amy Winehouse, "Lioness: Hidden Treasures" (Universal Republic)

Although "Lioness: Hidden Treasures" serves as Amy Winehouse's posthumous album and the follow-up to 2007's "Back to Black," the multiplatinum, multi-Grammy winning album that would define her short career, it was not intended as such: While she started on material for a third album, one had not been finished at the time of her death on July 23 from alcohol poisoning. And of the 13 songs on "Lioness," only four were recorded in her post-"Back to Black" era: "Body & Soul," the Tony Bennett duet already included on Bennett's own "Duets II" this year; "Between the Cheats"; the Nas collaboration "Like Smoke"; and "A Song for You."

Listening to those most recent tunes, especially "A Song for You" -- a remake of the Donny Hathaway classic -- you can hear why that true third album never materialized. On the song, Winehouse's once strong, smoky and sultry voice had lost some of its vitality, and while she showed flashes of spark, she stumbles her way through her performances: It's heartbreaking to hear such a marked decline in just a few short years.

Still, it's a gift to hear anything from Winehouse in the wake of her untimely death, and this new compilation features true treasures recorded between 2002, a year before her debut album, "Frank," and this year. Her rendition of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," a remake of the Shirelles' timeless song, is stirring: Recorded in 2004 with the Dap Kings, it showcases Winehouse when she was at or near her peak. At one moment, she sounds vulnerable, singing cautiously and tenderly; then she releases the full power of her voice, leaving the listener in awe. This song alone makes the album a must-get.

There are other treats as well. Remakes of "The Girl From Ipanema" and "Our Day Will Come" show Winehouse's playful side; "Halftime" recalls 1970s-era soul; and a slightly downbeat, less-produced version of the Mark Ronson-produced "Valerie" is even better than the original.

There are also alternate takes of her more popular songs, including a stripped-down "Wake Up Alone," which gives Winehouse's voice and an accompanying guitar more room to shine, and "Tears Dry," which Winehouse originally imagined as a ballad (the up-tempo version, "Tears Dry on Their Own," remains the better version).

Listening to most of the album will leave fans at first mournful over the loss of great talent at such a young age (she was 27 when she died). But the joy of having more Winehouse material to savor, especially since she had such a short catalog, is the emotion that remains.

CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: "Best Friends, Right," written solely by Winehouse and produced by frequent collaborator Salaam Remi, is a great example of why Winehouse was so endearing, with its wry humor: "You don't want me in the flat when you come home at night, but we're best friends -- right?"

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