Amy Winehouse is a hugely talented singer-songwriter. As well as having the distinction of being the first ever British female to nail five Grammys on the same night, she has also sold 5 million records worldwide and single handedly popularized her own special blend of jazz, blues and soul; however, in spite of this, her private struggles have been well documented in tabloids worldwide. She’s only twenty four years old but looks a decade older with her exaggerated beehive hair and the kind of tormented expression that is caused by self destruction, drugs and alcohol.
Amy’s lifestyle may have first prompted the critics to liken her to the late, great Billie Holiday (who was a heroin addict) but it is her voice and her ability to channel hurt and despair into lyrics that bring the comparison full circle.
The debut album ‘Frank’(2003) is a jazz inspired album that was well received by the critics. Amy grew up in a rich jazz environment, provided by parents who loved the music themselves in their London, England home. Although her sound culminates in a jazz-soul fusion all her own, careful listeners will still detect the influences of Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington. One compelling track on ‘Frank’is the coquettish, 'I Heard Love is Blind.' Although the lyrics are a bit risqué – Winehouse is known for clever but often coarse word choices – there’s a definite nod to Holiday’s flirty annunciation ('A Fine Romance' comes to mind). Listening to ‘Frank’it’s hard to believe that this is not already vintage in its own right.
The next album ‘Back to Black’ was the biggest selling album in the UK for 2007 and debuted at no 7 in the US Billboard charts. This album has a totally different flavour, much more full-on R & B with boppy backing vocals yet still characteristically dark, both in lyric and tone. The title track is particularly intense and haunting. The unwavering refusal anthem (I don’t wanna go to)'Rehab', heavily played on radio, is especially ironic since she has in fact, been in and out of rehab since its release. Bizarrely, even Keith Richards of all people, (who regards Amy as his favorite current artist) has recently been moved to come forward and warn that Winehouse “won’t be around long” if her behavior doesn’t change.
It’s exciting to wonder what Amy Winehouse will be up to on her next album and especially since artists such as Prince and Damien Marley (Bob Marley’s son) have both expressed interest in either co-writing or performing with her. George Michael has also gone on record as saying that she is the “best female vocalist he has heard in his entire career.” Heady praise indeed. With all this going for her, here’s hoping that Amy will harness her considerable talent and unlike Billie Holiday before her, be able to sideswipe her addictions and focus on the music.