This is Amy Winehouse’ first posthumous album in what will probably be a whole slew of after-life releases as she often lived in the studio while she recorded many concerts (when she wasn’t too intoxicated to perform) which no doubt will one day be issued.
For now, her label doesn’t have to scrape the bottom of the barrel and in fact Lioness, Hidden Treasures is a very strong album.
Winehouse was the most important figure in the retro girl group sound with Duffy, Lily Allen, Joss Stone, and Adele who has stepped very nicely into the vacuum.
But Winehouse was easily the best singer and writer. Unfortunately, she also made for great copy in the gutter presses as well as the paparazzi with her outlandish life style and mental health struggles that saw her die of alcohol poisoning this last summer.
The lead off song here is a fabulous reggae/R&B remake of Ruby & The Romantics’ 1963 chart-topper Our Day Will Come that is worth the price of the full album alone.
Meanwhile, there is her ‘original’ demo version of Tears Dry before it was given a MoTown makeover, while her take of the Shirelles’ Will You Love Me Tomorrow (2011) reaffirms her stake as the best in the retro popster class.
Winehouse also offers a greatly retooled jazz-pop rendering of The Girl From Ipanema with lots of scat singing while the hazy Wake Up Alone sounds sadly somnambulant on Lioness.
Her duet with the earlier release of Body And Soul with Tony Bennett (her last studio recording) is also an added bonus. But what really comes across on these Hidden Treasures is how good and personal and brutally honest Winehouse was as a writer. I sort of thought she was something of a jazz/pop idiot savant when I first saw Winehouse as she seemed to always dip and shuffle out of step with the music that gave her an odd stage presence. But this would-have-been third album amply proves her special talents.
Kevin Hearn: Cloud Maintenance (Celery Music)
Kevin Hearn is better known as the keyboardist and sometime songwriter with The Barenaked Ladies. His stock rose after he was hired to be Lou Reed’s band leader and keyboard player on a few tours.
Hearn has recorded a half dozen solo albums that lets him explore the more quirky side of his musical muse and Cloud Maintenance isn’t that much of a change-up when it comes to Hearn’s off-kilter sense of pop. Cloud Maintenance is a 10-song pastiche of airy and artsy and some times somewhat more conventional pop music.
Hearn’s solo outings have never been in search of radio play outside of maybe college and alt-pop airwaves but the most conventional sounding song is the seemingly Brian Wilson-inspired song Don’t Shuffle Me Back.
Elsewhere Hearn fondly sings a chardonnay fuelled, fog-bank memory song with the delicate opener Northbound Train while his spare acoustic guitar drives the whimsical Grey Garden that has handsome vocal harmonies.
The lone up-tempo tune here is the retro rocker See You Again that features the drummer from The Nits, while the most interesting song is the playful and idiosyncratic House Of Invention that is about great Canadian aboriginal painter Norval Morriseau that features Garth Hudson of The Band on keyboards.
The closing song is a loopy paean to monsters real and imagined, titled Monsters Anonymous, that features fine Canuck guests such as Hawksley Workman, Jenn Grant and Sahara McDonald.
Overall, this quaint album that is barely over a half hour long with its modest charms is best for committed BNL fans and Kevin Hearn’s cult base.
The Goat Rodeo Sessions: (Sony)
Goat Rodeo is the unlikely collaboration between classical music giant Yo-Yo Ma (17 Grammys!) and roots Americana pickers Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile along with bluegrass hero Stuart Duncan.
Apparently a Goat Rodeo is an emergency worker term for “a scenario that requires about 100 things to go right at once if you intend to walk away from it,” according to the liner notes. And I guess that more or less sums up the highly eclectic and innovative music found on these rarefied sessions.
It turns out Ma doesn’t improvise, while the bluegrass and other pickers do so many arrangements that had to be made for these 11 tracks. The music is fresh and invigorating even if you can’t be sure where it will always turn up and I suppose that is best illustrated in the Celtic cum Appalachian cum semi classical quartet turns found on the track Where’s My Bow.
The four participants obviously had a blast recording these adventurous ensemble string virtuosos and it is great fun just to ride along and hear where things end up.
The Goat Sessions also sold surprisingly well hitting the top 40 in the Great White North.
Lindsey Buckingham: Seeds We Sow (Eagle Records)
After the demise of Fleetwood Mac many moons ago (that made Lindsay Buckingham a very wealthy man from their mega platinum sales), the famed songwriter and guitarist has released highly regarded solo albums. Seeds We Sow is his seventh solo album but the first without major label backing as Buckingham has started his own label, Mint Kit, as distributed by Eagle Records after leaving the Warner Bros. umbrella.
The problem was Buckingham only scored four hits off of those half dozen releases but lo and behold if this new album is also his highest charting (in the top 40) since his 1984 Go Insane LP and hit song of the same title.
This new CD has a stripped down sound where Buckingham plays almost all of the instruments except on the lone rocker That’s The Way Love Goes where Buckingham hires a rhythm team so he can offer up a fiery guitar solo.
There are some other fine moments where you can hear the old Fleetwood Mac of the late ’70s would have had potential hits with the hooky Illumination and the poppier End Of Time.
Buckingham remains a musician’s musician and this is made evident on the sole cover here of The Rolling Stones’ She Smiled Sweetly that he turns into a folk pop song and nearly makes it his own.