Fade to Black: Amy Winehouse Treaded a Troubled Track
"It's too bad that her trainwreck of a personal life has at least temporarily derailed what started out as a pretty cool musical retro-ride."
That's what we said 3 years ago about Amy Winehouse in our collective assessment of her brilliant 2007 sophomore album Back to Black in S+V's Top 10 CDs of 2007 list. Sad to say that statement pretty much held true from that point right up to the British singer's tragic death on Saturday, June 23 at her home in London, causes still unknown, at age 27. Yes, that fateful rock & roll age of 27 - the same age, as has been noted time and again, that Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain all never got past.
No matter what side of the addiction-as-disease-or-no debate you fall on, the fact is we've lost another amazing, unique voice that unfortunately left behind a slim recorded legacy - but it's a legacy that's worth savoring to the core in whatever form you can get it.
Winehouse's 2003 debut Frank didn't officially cross the pond until after the domestic success of Back to Black, and it's since been buttressed by a disc of B-Sides that includes spot-on demos and live tracks that chronicle her hybrid jazz/R&B scat style in the making. Listen how she literally tries to find her own voice as she works through the demo of "Someone to Watch Over Me."
Speaking of, the Grammy-winning Back to Black deserves all of its accolades. "Rehab" is even more chilling given the aftermath, and "You Know I'm No Good" is more starkly prescient, especially once you've seen the warts-and-all, tells-it-like-it-is B&W video. (Incidentally, last year, "No Good" was covered to a T by the legendary Wanda Jackson, and can be found on a Third Man Records 45 and at iTunes.)
Even though he didn't get to attend her official showcase,S+V's entertainment editor Ken Richardson still saw Amy perform live at SXSW in Austin in March 2007, and I asked him to share his impressions of that day."Back to Black first appeared in the U.K. in late 2006, but it wasn't released in the U.S. until March 13, 2007 - the day before that year's SXSW Music Festival, where she was scheduled to appear," he recalls. "Still, the buzz had already crossed the Atlantic, and the line for her official showcase was so long that I was unable to get into the club. However, before that, a few of us lucky onlookers had been able to see her sing at a day party in a tent, accompanied only by an acoustic guitarist. She showed poise and yet dripped with charisma in that unlikely setting, and her voice was riveting. But what I'll always remember most - especially in light of her subsequent troubled career - is the way she appeared when I spotted her backstage after that performance. Standing next to a handler (who towered above her) and glancing shyly at the cameras that snapped from afar, she looked like the archetypal Little Girl Lost, unsure of her talent, afraid of approaching fame."
So true, so true.
Besides Frank and Black - both of which I absolutely adore on vinyl, BTW - there are two other Winehouse releases worthy of download, only at iTunes. Eight live performances from the 2007 iTunes Festival: London spotlight her undeniable talent, especially "Tears Dry on Their Own" and "Love Is a Losing Game." And all eight of the Back to Black: B-Sides should be snapped up post-haste. "To Know Him Is to Love Him (Live)," is quintessential - it's raw, vulnerable, beautiful, and heartbreaking all at once.
Just like Amy herself was and is, now and forevermore. Rest in peace, dear girl.