Apparently Amy Winehouse is something of a hellraiser…something she addresses head on with this disc’s cheeky opening track, the propulsive, gospel-tinged “Rehab”, and on the wittily self-deprecating “You Know I’m No Good” (which is featured in two versions, the second featuring a frenetic rap interlude by Ghostface Killah)…but I don't know (or care) anything about that.
What matters to me is that Back to Black is a grand, old school soul album with Winehouse’s smoky, sultry, gruff, whiskey-stained voice delivering heartfelt, soulful, confessional, occasionally profane lyrics with devastating authenticity. The musical backing is tight, bluesy retro-soul with tasty, quite effective, use of horns, strings, and backing vocals.
You listen and you can hear echoes of those who have gone before her…Billie Holiday, Ronnie Spector, Millie Jackson, Nancy Wilson, Dusty Springfield…but Winehouse is no mimic, she is the real deal…a honest-to-Aretha soul singer who delivers her songs with both restraint and aplomb; she knows that the heart of the music is in feeling and getting across the words and not in the showy, pointless runs, stretched-out syllables, and theatrical yelps that too many pop singers lazily substitute for real emotional content in their songs.
Winehouse also knows how to get in there, deliver the soulful goods, and get out without overstaying her welcome…only 2 of the 11 tracks (the rock solid groove of the horn-driven, rap-free version of “You Know I’m No Good” and the majestically-plaintive title song, which kind of sounds like a lost track that Phil Spector might have produced for Darlene Love back in the day) clock in at 4 minutes or more; 4 tracks come in at under 3 minutes.
From the bittersweet blues of “Love is a Losing Game” to the neo-Motown swing of “Tears Dry on Their Own”…from the lilting reggae groove of “Just Friends” to the sweet soulful strut of “He Can Only Hold Her”…Winehouse never makes a misstep. Black to Black is a wondrous collection of tart, uncompromising soul music from beginning to end.
Amy Winehouse's MySpace is here
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More MKW Blogstuff: Bread & Roses