How great! There is at least one fine collection of tunes remaining from Amy’s career that gives us a glimpse into her various styles. It’s no Back to Black, lacking that album’s musical cohesion, inspiration and chutzpah but it is a worthy set that detracts not at all from Amy’s genius. Lioness: Hidden Treasures offers twelve tracks: four new Amy originals, two new versions of Back to Black tunes and six covers. It’s worth track-by-track tracking.
Lioness kicks off with a swinging reggae version of Our Day Will Come, the Ruby and the Romantics #1 hit from 1963. Exquisite male backing vocals and a bubbling band buoy Amy’s hopeful, almost joyful vocal.
Amy has written several explicit and honest songs about sexual adventures. In this vein, Between the Cheats, a witty title for a witty song, describes a couple who are cheating on each other and know it.
Next Amy covers herself with a whole new arrangement of one of my favourites from Back to Black. Tears Dry on Their Own, the original version here, was a ballad and benefits from a subtle string arrangement. Amy’s voice carries a lot of sultry pain, a satisfying glimpse into her first thoughts about the song.
Amy’s cover of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? (Shirelles 1960 #1) is a desperate plea for a future, for hope which is beginning to fade since Our Day Will Come. Darkness is gathering. The arrangement reminds me of David Foster. I expected Seal to start singing. I have heard Amy’s stripped-down moody version of this tune which I prefer.
Singlehandedly Amy imprinted an obscure song by Liverpool’s Zutons into the mental file called Melodies-that-play-by-themselves-in-our-heads. Valerie, here the ’68 version, has several versions. This one was Amy’s favourite. It swings but with an undercurrent of sadness.
Half Time was written before Frank, Amy’s first album, came out but never made it onto the set. A lovely ballad, Amy is in fine sexy form.
The one-take demo version of Wake Up Alone from Back to Black is just spooky.
Body and Soul (Jack Hylton 1930) is a jazz standard that Amy covers in a duet with Tony Bennett. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios in March 2011, it was Amy’s final studio recording. At times Amy sounds so much like Billie Holiday it’s astonishing. Amy’s pain and experience are palpable in her delivery. Watch them sing the song together.
The set ends with Leon Russell’s A Song for You. Leon can die happy now. The ultimate version of his best song has been recorded. In fact, in one take. Amy was a fan of Donny Hathaway and here she uses much of his phrasing. Again the tear in her voice reminds me of Billie Holiday. The song ends with Amy, in her thick accent, talking about Donny Hathaway, saying “He couldn’t contain himself.”
I like most of the covers here, especially Our Day Will Come and Valerie. Both new arrangements of her songs are terrific as are most of her new songs. I could have done without Like Smoke, or at least without NAS. The album that began bubbly ends sad and alone, addiction and genius meld and separate. While the mood of the set progressively darkens, I find Amy’s voice, phrasing and presence so fascinating and extraordinary that the gloom matters little. It feels like an honest part of her. It will be interesting to hear what else is stored in the Amy vaults. She often did several versions of her songs so similar sets to this may be in the offing. There is live material waiting for airing as well, I’m sure.