All “Rehab” jokes aside, the death of Amy Winehouse was a true loss to the music world. Her blend of Motown, soul, and blues stood apart from everything on the radio, and her distinctively raspy vocals allowed for some powerful self-expression. Perhaps the saddest part of her passing is the fact that she had such great potential but left so little behind, releasing two studio albums and appearing on a few scattered collaborations during her short career.
Winehouse’s first posthumous release, Lioness: Hidden Treasures, strives to give her fans a little more to remember her by, presenting 12 tracks of covers, early versions of her hits, and some unreleased material. This is not the album Winehouse would have released had she been able to continue recording, but rather a tribute to her career that showcases her development as a singer, and it is best appreciated as such.
Lioness begins with the reggae-influenced “Our Day Will Come,” whose uplifting beat and excellent vocals successfully establish the tone of the album as a celebration of her work. As the album continues, the songs range from early cuts like the scat-heavy “Girl from Ipanema,” to unfinished tracks that likely would have made it onto her next release, including “Like Smoke,” which features verses from Nas. This variety makes the album an engaging listen throughout, and alternate versions of previously released tracks like “Tears Dry on Their Own” provide the listener with a glimpse into their development. Lioness’ slower version of “Valerie” proves that any way Winehouse performs it, the track refuses to sound anything short of spectacular. More subdued tracks like “Half Time” showcase Winehouse’s ability to impress without belting at her limits, breaking up the moments between the bigger tracks nicely.
The album closer “A Song for You” ends with a few seconds of Winehouse speaking about Donny Hathaway, and it’s almost eerie to hear her natural speaking voice. Maybe that’s because it humanizes a figure so bombarded by scrutiny from the media that it’s easy to forget there was a real person suffering behind it all. Fortunately, the focus on Lioness is not on her scandalous personal life, but on her talent as a musician. Winehouse may have never intended to release this music, but it makes for a fascinating record of what she accomplished during the time she was around and how far she could have gone.