The black and blue world of Amy Winehouse | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 25, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 25, 2008

The black and blue world of Amy Winehouse


Born and raised in North London, Amy Winehouse spent her teenage years balancing school and boyfriends with hours locked in her bedroom, ears glued to classic song chord changes. Her voice, however was clearly living a secret life, staying out, getting high, breaking down, going to prison and violating parole by leaving the country with a gun toting maniac gangster. At least it sounds that way.
Amy is not the kind of girl to accept the gift of vocal skills, sit back and replicate what others have done before her. Proceeding as if it was the most natural thing in the world she has taken her love of jazz and soul and added a seriously fresh perspective.
She might sound like a '40s jazz singer, but she's using forefront beats and lyrics -- she's letting her voice go where it's meant to go. Her style is not for the candlelit basement. It's out there living in the real world of Gucci bags, Diesel clothes, high heels, implants, weed after school, cheating airhead honeys and runaway crushes. Forget about torch themes from yesteryear.
Carole King and James Taylor made their presence felt on the family stereo, but Amy was more drawn to her dad's jazzier taste. Under her father's tutelage, she picked up serious exposure to Sarah Vaughn and Dinah Washington (“my dad always claimed he discovered her!”). Moving through Ella to Dinah she felt her way forward though the old greats. Ella was “technically faultless” but Dinah “could do jazz, and then she could knock the hell out of a blues... when she was 12 she was directing the church choir!”
“I think it was the freeness of jazz that appealed to me,” she says. “Not necessarily the avant garde -- Coltrane, where he took that -- but I could really relate to a simple trio. I could just hear it all in there, just drums, bass, a trumpet or piano, that's it for me. Four such simple elements, and brought together they would just fly.”
But at the same time, a broader musical osmosis from the urban sprawl was taking place. Inevitably hip hop leaked into her headphones, Amy was checking for Mos Def for his positive message and by extension making room for Talib Kweli, The Roots, Erykah Badu. Gradually, subconsciously, the smoking grooves, jazz enunciation and feisty attitude were coming together to form Amy's own thing.
“The way it all gets mixed up though, that's just me trying to manifest what's in myself, in song,” says Amy. “Its not a pretence, its just soul -- stuff that has soul. It's like, I listened to Ray Charles for a year, just Ray Charles. He is such an inspiration.”
With word around town about Amy's unique abilities getting louder she found herself a management company and started to work with producers. In London she worked with producer/writers Felix Howard and Jimmy Hogarth. Heading to the States to find collaborators she worked with Salaam Remi and Lauryn Hill /Mary J Blige engineer Commissioner Gordon.
The debut album from Amy has grown naturally out of her teenage passions, innate skills and on-going curiosity. There are beats that lope and grooves that swing. A Wurlitzer organ swings low on a sorrowful lament. Smiling horn samples pull up in to the sunshine. There are interludes where flute and acoustic guitars take over. Then vinyl static from a sampled beat leads into a lazy groove.
The bass lines get jiggy again. And consistently Amy 'knocks the hell' out of the songs, whether sultry, teasing, grieving or soulfully communing.
Crucially Amy's debut collection reveals a singer who can sing for the heart but also find light and shade in the city turbulence. There is mischief amongst Amy's confessions. I Heard Love Is Blind is a mock admission of love-cheating with a look-alike. Close To The Front deals with the three infatuations of Amy's life, starting of with her science teacher. And an update on the old standard Mr Magic finds Amy serenading a somewhat combustible, stress relieving, metaphorical 'lover'.
On a straighter note, the album also catalogues her trials and tribulations in the jungle of love. Stronger Than Me tries to make a man out of a passive paramour. The beautiful blue-black ballad Take The Box was written right after the 'returning belongings moment' in a break up. Meanwhile, the incendiary, chandelier-shaking vocal on the piano and voice piece You Sent Me Flying graphically captures the intensity of new love.
“I just hope that people won't hear my stuff and go, this is that white girl from London,” concludes Amy. “I hope they'll go 'this is a girl who's actually got some soul, and she's young but she's had some experiences, and she's relating to them and I can relate to that.'”

Compiled by Cultural Correspondent

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