She’s performed live reasonably regularly, but documents from the studio are a rare occurrence for Amy Winehouse these days – and her cover of Lesley Gore’s 1963 hit “It’s My Party” marks the first new studio recording release from the singer since 2007, when she delivered some of the bonus tracks that made it onto the Back to Black reissue.
The original is a pleasant, quite pretty song in the early ’60s girl group pop style beloved of Winehouse, but in this version – for a new Quincy Jones tribute record – she bends and twists the phrasing almost beyond recognition, but to my ears it works quite wonderfully. It’s not a boring, phoned-in vocal; it’s ragged, yes, and rough, and imperfect, but its imperfections and jagged edges only enhance the personality and drama of Winehouse’s vocal.
The musical backing is a tasteful, warm, analog ’60s pastiche a la the Ronson/Remi-helmed Back to Black, which is now some four years old. It gives a tantalising insight into what Winehouse’s eagerly-awaited third LP might sound like, but even more tantalising is hearing what her voice sounds like now, after the last four years of hard living.
Reports of this song have been bandied about since 2008, but it seems that work finally came to fruition in recording sessions this summer (2010), so it’s reasonable for us to believe that this is a newly-recorded vocal from the singer, which would put her at 26 this summer. It’s quite a shock to think this is the voice of a 26-year-old; the tone and power is akin to her soulful, forceful Back to Black voice, but in the vibrato it has taken on a much rougher-edged quality (listen to the way she sings the drawn-out “you” in “if it happened to you”) that has come with the years of crack and heroin abuse. Billie Holiday has long been a comparison point for Winehouse both in style and in private pursuits, and it’s not too much of a stretch to make that comparison here.
It’s feasible that Winehouse was, shall we say, under the influence during the recording sessions – there’s a frailty and fragility to this performance, with its liberal manipulation of timing and phrasing, but it shows that the voice is still there, the personality is still there, and the wonderful uniqueness is still there.
I look forward to that elusive third album greatly.