Sunday 25 Sep 2016

Back to Black
Monica Righter

My favourite singer is Amy Winehouse. She passed away on 23 July 2011. Her death the likely result of years of drugs, alcohol and hard living combined with a genetic predisposition to heart disease.

Her first album, “Frank,” was a sparse and stripped-down affair. Her second, “Back to Black,” released in 2006, is my favourite.  Unfortunately, the tabloids focused on her reckless lifestyle, distracting the critics, who took her music too lightly: adequate reviews for this album went missing.

“Back to Black” is among the best British soul albums, ever. Her inspiration for the album was the classic 1960s girl-groups, such as the “Supremes” and the “Shangri-Las.” It’s too bad more recording acts didn’t take a cue from Winehouse and find inspiration in 1960s girl groups. Maybe if she had survived, her influence may have widened.

“Back to Black” is refreshingly mature soul album, the best of its kind in many years. The American version includes an exclusive, hidden bonus track, “You Know I’m No Good.” Producers Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi help turn a stay in rehab, by Winehouse, into a gospel-tinged stomp.

As any soul album, worthy of the category, “Back to Black” is full of bass drums, rhythmic piano, chimes and saxophone as well as close harmonies. Winehouse, Ronson and Remi know what people need and want. Again, more musicians and singers need to pay attention what’s going on here.

“Back to black” bucks recent trends in R&B. It’s unabashedly grown-up in style and content. Good grief, here’s a mature, sane album from Amy Winehouse and in the age of Beyoncé. Some excellent background vocals provide weight and depth, letting Winehouse and her musicians do a brilliant job of recreating the big soulful sound, abetted, ably, by producers Ronson and Remi.

The lyrics deal with relationships, from a grown-up perspective, honed, direct and often complicated. In one song, “You know I’m No Good,” Winehouse is unapologetic about her unfaithfulness. She can also be witty, as on the cut, “Me and Mrs. Jones,” which isn’t a remake of the 1972 Billy Paul soul music hit. On this cut, Winehouse berates a boyfriend with the lyric, “You made me miss the Slick Rick gig (Oh, Slick Rick).”

Combining a strong, Jazzy vocal style with lyrical content tales focusing on love and loss, Winehouse shows she was truly a talented songwriter. “Back to black” is a masterstroke of contemporary Jazz-crossover material, delivered with supreme style. Her razor-sharp singing is a major highlight; this album is all about truly brilliant songs, written by Winehouse. She had a good ear for melody. Ronson and Remi help Winehouse move into a different stratosphere and the listener is along for the ride. Thus, Winehouse made “Back to Black” an essential purchase.

In the months leading up to her passing, Winehouse was been a tabloid regular. The tales of anorexia, addiction and drunken television appearances distract from her natural and partially nurtured talent. If she had lived, we hope she would let her music speak for her.

I found this CD to be a joy to hear. Amy got such an amazing and emotional voice. I would recommend it to anybody who is a fan of Jazz, R&B or even Pop. The key tracks on this CD are “Tears Dry on Their Own” and “You Know I’m No Good.” So much talent and such a short life add up to much waste.

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