Alright everyone. It’s Friday night—time to get your groove on. I bit the bullet this week and finally purchased Amy Winehouse’s US debut album “Back to Black.” It’s damn good. Really good. Nothing to lose your mind over, but definitely something to consider.
Here’s the thing. As much as you can accuse Amy Winehouse of being a press whore, you must give her credit for her musical talent. She’s no Ella Fitzgerald, but she sure as shit can sing her butt off AND feel the groove. This is not trivial. She’s not very innovative, but her shear talent for rhythmic singing must be recognized. Y’all, when I listen to Amy Winehouse, I hear Billie Holliday’s ability to sing behind the groove. Oh my god, you hear Winehouse on “Rehab” and you want to reach into the song and grab her molasses-like voice and drag it forward. When she utters “No, no, no,” she’s so behind the beat that she flirts with the next measure. As she manages (somehow) to avoid that next measure, she deserves some musical credit.
Her rich, voluptuous and somewhat angsty voice echoes another time, and her simple, slightly frunky grooves tease you with a taste of the pocket. For those of you not too familiar with music, being in the “pocket” refers to being solidly in a groove. It can carry the connotation of being slightly behind the groove as a pocket should be comfortable. However, when musicians are in the pocket, they never drift away from or lose the beat. Right Trav? They are snugly enveloped in the delicious goodness of the groove. Amy Winehouse knows her way around all sides of the pocket, and that’s why you should admire her. Her voice is nice, but her ability to play around with the beat is something really, really nice.
In the media, she’s been lauded as calling back to the Ronettes, the Drifters, and Ray Charles. Duh. It’s wonderful. Her music feels genuine, and I love twisting my torso to the good-time-grooves. The simple tunes give my teeth something to sink into. She could easily fit into “Dirty Dancing,” “Grease,” or any other movie originating in the 50’s or 60’s. Does the apparent derivation subtract from her talent? I don’t think so. Not too many people can pull this shit off.
The only concern I have is with her lifting sections of songs to pander to the crowd. The background of the opening section of “Tears Dry On Their Own” mimics Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t no mountain high.” Is this musical plagiarism? It might be. Why aren’t people freaking out about this? (mind you, maybe I missed a public outburst on this subject…most of the time, genes and proteins occupy my mind.) I understand the lifting of grooves is more acceptable in R&B than other genres, but seriously? Should I feel bad that I shook my booty towards this groove in lab today? Damn… it’s so good. Is this another case of Vanilla Ice ripping off Queen? If it is, please tell me because I did not spare Vanilla Ice any evil.
In any case, I hope Amy Winehouse battles her demons enough to produce some more music. (Fuck, I just realized she’s younger than me by about two months…ho..ly..shit…) Her voice and grooves echo another time, and I want to hear more of her creativity. Where’s she going next? I can’t wait for new stuff.