Monday, March 12, 2007

Amy Winehouse - More than worth the trouble

“I told you, I was trouble. You know I’m no good”, mourns English singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse on her terrific new album Back to Black.

Winehouse’s voice is as ferocious as her tumultuous life has been. At age 23, a perennial bad girl whose continuing travails with alcohol have followed her everywhere, Winehouse might be trouble, but her jazz and soul inflected 60s sound is exceptional. Already hailed in the UK with a Brit for Best Solo Female Artist, her sophomore effort Back to Black is scheduled for a March 13 release in the US.

Vocal Diversity
What is remarkable about Winehouse is how mature and diverse her vocal talent is. Her voice morphs so much on songs, it feels like a vocal multiple personality disorder. Back to Black is produced by Mark Ronson (Robbie Williams, Christina Aguilera) and Salaam Remi (Fugees, Toni Braxton, Ini Kamoze) who smartly put the focus on Winehouse’s pipes, allowing it to play out her personality.

On the song quoted above, You know I’m no good, which is slated to be the first stateside single, Winehouse admonishes a lover for believing in her but is quick to admit that its herself she is cheating. On the up-tempo opening track Rehab- reportedly about an incident in which her management suggested she check herself in resulting in Winehouse parting ways with them - she snarls out a refusal: “No, no, no”. On Just Friends, she softens her voice visibly when recalling the good times and steels it when lamenting about how her lover’s two-timing is sucking quality time out of their affair.

Her best work is arguably on the title track where she captures the cloudy desolation of a hasty jilting. “Life is like a pipe. And I’m a tiny penny rolling up the walls inside”. You can hear the fading of hope in the lyrics and hear it in her voice.

Themes of Love and Heartache
In fact, love and heartache are very much on her mind. She mines themes of betrayal and loneliness in Tears dry on their own and Wake up alone, but effortlessly changes gears from foot-tapping R&B to jazz-inflected soul between them. Throughout the CD, you get the feeling Winehouse can take the hard knocks with the best of them. But a sense of doomsday prevails. You’re not sure if she is learning her lessons; that it’s only a matter of time before her next personal disaster. It’s a deliberate play brought about by how she responds audaciously and ambiguously to driving events in her work.

Winehouse ends the CD with an ode to not sharing weed called Addicted. That’s a good word to describe what her songs can do to you.

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