Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Amy Winehouse, Back to Black

When asked about how a woman could sell out her dignity, self-respect and any talent she might have in order to make it big as a pop star in the music business, R&B singer Erykah Badu summed it up about as well as it can be done by responding, “Do some ho shit.” 

Enter Amy Winehouse.  Winehouse is a vocalist and songwriter who has been successful in the UK and is now attracting favorable attention in the US with her current release, Back to Black.  Winehouse’s Winehousepromotional campaign appears to be built around presenting her as every frat boy’s dream – a slut who fucks for booze.  Is she really is a slut who fucks for booze or is it all marketing?  Who knows?  Who cares? It’s not remotely as interesting as her promotional hacks seem to think it is.

 Can she sing?  Yes she can, but I think she has a way to go yet before she begins to live up to the extravagant claims that have been made by fanboys and some reviewers.  Winehouse has a fairly strong voice and she can sell the song.  Her range is somewhat limited and her voice can tend to be somewhat thin over parts of her range.  Her biggest musical limitation at present seems to be that she doesn’t have a clear idea of what kind of singer she wants to be.  Virtually every track on Back to Black finds her trying to copy the vocal mannerisms of one singer or another with varying degrees of success.  Listeners can have fun playing “Guess the Influence” – oh, there’s she’s trying to do Ronnie Spector and that’s supposed to be ‘Retha – that sort of thing.  Many reviews have compared Winehouse to Billie Holiday in one way or another.  I can only think that these reviews are written by people who have never spent much time actually listening to Billie Holiday as Winehouse doesn’t come close to Holiday in vocal style, phrasing, richness, or emotional power.  Try Madeleine Peyroux’s “Lonesome Road” from her Careless Love album if you’d like to hear a current vocalist who at least sounds like Holiday. 

Back to Black shines in its production and arrangements.  Most of the tracks do a fine job of capturing the sound and style of  ’60s and ’70s R&B and girl-group pop.  The arrangements are not simply attempts to reproduce the older styles, as the vocals sometimes appear to be, but are new works using the older musical vocabulary.  Fans of those earlier styles should definately check this CD out.

I think Winehouse has real potential is certainly worth a listen.  On Back to Black the arrangements are more fully realized than the singer.  If she loses the I’m-a-pig-for-booze routine and puts her effort into learning her craft she could be something.  Or else she could continue on as she has been and make a zillion dollars until the next bimbo comes along who’s eager to do some ho shit in the pathetic hope that the celebrity gossip crowd will give her a moment of their time.


03/29/2007 - Posted by | CD reviews, music


  1. […] wanted to get a ’60s soul and R&B sound for some of the songs on her much lauded “Back to Black” CD they hired The Dap-Kings to back her up.  It was an astute choice and it worked […]

    Pingback by Review: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, 100 Days, 100 Nights « Tuned In To Music | 01/28/2008 | Reply

  2. […] to female vocalists is a mystery to me.  People went wild over Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” which showcased a singer of great potential but somewhat limited range who has yet to decide […]

    Pingback by Review: Annie Lennox, Songs of Mass Destruction « Tuned In To Music | 02/28/2008 | Reply

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