Though British songstress Amy Winehouse passed away four years ago now, she still has an unquestionable presence in the music world. Known as much for her debaucheries and dramatic private life as she was for her remarkable voice, Winehouse inspired many with her unique brand of ’50s-inspired neo soul.
Recently, Winehouse has been in the news once again with the release of “Amy” (2015), a documentary detailing her life and death. The film includes clips of live performances, which are placed alongside interviews with Winehouse’s friends and family to create a tender depiction of her story beyond the media spotlight. Though the film was released over the summer, its soundtrack only came out Oct. 30. It includes rare live recordings of some classic Winehouse hits, like “Rehab” (2006) and “What Is It About Men” (2003), as well as demos and alternative versions. Interspersed between the tracks are compositions by Antonio Pinto, who scored the documentary. Thus, the soundtrack — created to highlight Winehouse’s powerful vocals — flows with ease.
After Pinto’s “Opening,” the first song is “Stronger Than Me” — Winehouse’s catchy, albeit heteronormative, plea for her man to be more traditionally masculine. While this version of the track is largely the same as the one from her 2003 album,“Frank,” some additional mastering brings out the edge in Winehouse’s voice, and splats of tuba along with panned guitar and organ accents work to create a compelling arrangement.
The live version of “What Is It About Men” starts out with Winehouse telling the audience at the North Sea Jazz Festival that the song is about her dad, and she eventually breaks into cackling laughter, which is more than a little heartbreaking to listen to now. With an impassioned performance by Winehouse and striking use of electric piano and light jazz drums, the track is typical of a live Amy Winehouse concert, during which the singer veers off into elaborate vocal runs, gripping the listener. The instrumentation does not take a backseat in this performance, however; a hyper-jazzy electric piano solo builds into the bridge, intensifying alongside the vocals.
Another compelling track is the downtempo alternative version of “Some Unholy War,” originally off “Back to Black” (2006). With a weightier, darker feel than the studio version, the song is given a fresh perspective. Slowed down, the chorus of back-up vocals almost has an eerie quality, and Winehouse’s voice is heavier with its both smooth and gritty timbre.
The live version of “Rehab” might be the most attractive track on the album for casual listeners. “Rehab” may have been a huge mainstream success and a bit overplayed back when it was released, but this should not take away from what a great song it is. The live version amps up the energy of the studio recording via the use of lively male backup singers, who sing along with Winehouse as she says “no, no, no” to rehab. The horns and percussion contribute to a truly spectacular performance.
The album closer is a version of Winehouse’s cover of The Zutons’ “Valerie” (2006), performed on BBC Radio. Another great version of a Winehouse classic, the track features some funky guitar playing and a spirited bass line.
To fans of Amy Winehouse, the “Amy” soundtrack will serve as a posthumous celebration to geek out over. Though it is a little upsetting to listen to in light of her tragic death, the previously unheard versions of her songs are the closest things to new releases as possible. As an incredibly versatile performer, Winehouse made her talent known through elaborate reconstructions of already amazing songs. Listeners who are not familiar with Winehouse’s studio work will still find “Amy”a strong album that will surely inspire them to go back and explore her discography.