Thursday, January 18, 2007

better than no good


Amy Winehouse - 'Love Is a Losing Game' (Acoustic)

My American readers may not know Amy Winehouse yet, but they will soon. Her first shot at the U.S. market will start in a few months, but Winehouse's sophomore effort, Back to Black, is already the current number one album in the UK, where she's become a notorious tabloid fixture for her profligacy with wine and weed, her fluctuating weight and her willingness to speak her mind.

That stuff is low-key rockstar drama for New York, though; the question is if the girl can sing. The answer is an emphatic yes: the little Cockney-voiced white girl with the piercings and the crazy hair can more than sing; she can SANG and with a deep, rich soul that fairly evokes comparison to Mary J. and Sharon Jones.

As much as Winehouse's voice beguiles, it is her talent as a songwriter that announces her as a talent to be reckoned with. At least four of the tracks she's penned for her new album have the crystal ring of instant vintage: the first single, 'Rehab', which casually namechecks and rhymes Ray (Charles) and Hathaway (comma, Donny); the foul mouthed kiss-off 'Me and Mister Jones'; the cannabis-etiquette primer 'Addicted' and the album-titled, Phil Spector-esque heartbreaker 'Back to Black' will likely be covered a dozen times apiece before the end of the decade.

Winehouse's producers also acquit themselves admirably on Black; Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi's throwback-to-the-future Fauxtown stylings sidle up so cozy against Amy's gutsy crooning that it's difficult to imagine one without the other. It's at least partially due to the addition of Ronson and Remi's contributions that Back to Black is such a step up from Winehouse's first album, the uneven (and, as of late, somewhat disowned) Frank.

I had opportunity to watch two sets of Amy live on Tuesday and I was pretty impressed. Teetering on six inch heels, wrapped in a too-tight minidress with her ratty beehive slowly unravelling, Winehouse put on a lovely pair of shows before a celeb heavy audience (Jay Z, Dr. John, Mos Def, Nona Hendryx and Citizen Cope) attending. Her hellion reputation proved entirely inaccurate in this instant; the venue's staff found her unassuming, upbeat, easy to work with... and very, very nervous. Several heavily poured amaretto sours and an hour of stage time later, most of that nervousness had simmered off and left behind a firebrand less inclined to second guessing and a second set that far outshone the first.

Backed by a hot NYC tour band that she couldn't have spent more than a few hours rehearsing with, Winehouse gave full-throated attack to the whole of her album, showing a passion for the stage that shone through her perfunctory jitters. "I have a message to my label, all the Universal people in the house", she exclaimed near the end of the show. "Put me on tour. I want to tour for the whole year." Here's hoping they take her up on her offer; if she comes to your town, check her out.

The track I've put on offer today affords a view of Winehouse's softer side; this one-take acoustic version of her slow dance ballad 'Love Is a Losing Game' shows Amy in a restrained and introspective light. Her vulnerability and emotional commitment are on full display here; it puts me in the mind of Feist's demo of Mushaboom, all sitting-by-the-hotel-air-conditioner with-a-guitar-and-a-tape-recorder intimate.

It's lovely stuff, though not totally indicative of Winehouse's sound; there's plenty of listenable links below if you'd like to try something a bit more representative.

tell me more about it...

'Back to Black' is due out stateside in March; if you can't wait for your Winehouse fix, you've sadly only got a few options.

iTunes is going to block American buyers and eMusic has never heard of her, so your current mainstream legal downloading opportunities are slim and none.

Amazon is offering the import for the not-so-bargain price of thirty-five bucks; your best bet now is to try eBay, where you should be able to find a copy for roughly twenty bucks postage paid.

Can I take this opportunity to point out that there's no goddamn reason why legally purchasing extant music that you enjoy this should be so difficult and expensive? Record execs and AR folks (who are generally amongst the first who want to exploit the internet for it's wacky "viral" qualities and its "tastemaking" music blogs) need to realize that putting walls around content is the FASTEST way to encourage piracy and to discourage critical excitement about an album when it's finally released locally. I understand that the way you've done business in the past involves hard on-sale dates and rolling out publicity plans, but if the media is available and the medium to transmit it is already in place; all you're doing now is frustrating heads that wanna see this up and running so's they can recommend it to their friends. Doesn't anybody remember what happened to MIA? Or Annie? Serve it up while it's hot and you'll capitalize on global heat; let it sit and you lose the people who already got burnt out on the import months in advance.

Alright, rant's over. I'd use this space to link to a pre-order site, but as I can't seem to find one...
Visit Amy's official and myspace sites, both with very loud autoloading music... in the case of the myspace, three different autoloaded tracks.

More proof of the music industry being on the cutting-edge with its innovative use of internet technology.
As always, there's plenty more to read and explore on the vast blagoshfere over at Hype Machine, where Amy is clearly reaching quick critical mass; those of you more prone to trust certified professionals for your criticism ("don't try this subtle metaphor at home") should stick a nose in on "the new metacritic for singles," Critical Metrics.

Full disclosure dept: Anthony at Hype Machine is a bro and my girlfriend works for CM, but they both run excellent services that I would recommend even if I didn't know them. So there.
Listen to the oh-so-nice Hot Chip remix of 'Rehab'.
It's not quite as great as the album version, but it's a pleasant tonic to the original's gin.
"I admire men who don't take anything seriously, like... Sammy Davis Jr, who treated all that racism like water off a duck's back. He was like, 'Fuck it, I've got music.' That's how I feel."
This being 2007, I imagine you all prefer your new-fangled YouTube to downloads these days.

I'll have you know that in my day, we were lucky to get a "now buffering ... 85%" message on our realplayer. I used to have to walk three miles to get to the nearest hotspot, nowadays you just turn on your router and BAM, there it is.

Kids these days.

Anyways, here's some media featuring a few of Amy's finest moments:
A brief aside here: Ghost's take on 'No Good', from his flotsam and jetsam collection More Fish is America's first recorded exposure to Winehouse.

The Ghostface connection is an interesting and oddly apt one; both artists have a penchant for lifting soul classics wholesale and remaking them in their own image. For Ghost, that means rapping over minimally altered versions of The Delfonics 'La La La Means I Love You', Dr. Buzzard's 'Sunshower' and The Stylistics 'You're a Big Girl Now' on (respectively) 'Holla', 'Ghost Showers' and 'Big Girl'; for Winehouse, it's brazenly lifting Tammy and Marvin's 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' and The Impressions' 'I've Been Trying' for 'Tears Dry on Their Own' and 'He Can Only Hold Her'.

If executed even the slightest bit clumsily, this sort of theft would be embarrassing; amazingly, both Ghost and Winehouse are fully capable of pilfering and in some ways improving (or at least equalling) the original in the retelling. It's a hell of a high wire act and that much more impressive when they pull it off.
This was the first thing I ever heard of Amy's and it completely won me over; I love the fact that even though she's clearly having a hard time staying on her feet, Winehouse still basically blows Church out of the water.
Three interviews with Amy, one circa Frank, one more recent (Nov. 06) long form radio talk with some live performance and one where she carves, minces and kisses meat.

The girl's got a hardworking publicist.
You know you've really made it when...
Ink artist Michael Arthur, Joe's Pub's resident Hirschfeld, sat in on Winehouse's soundcheck; he offers, in addition to some lovely sketches, his wry observations on the launching of a new talent here.


Perhaps the best use of a YTMND ever: Garfield is Dead, in which the execrable Jim Davis shows his true, sadistic colors.
This explains so much.

If that sad revelation is harshing your buzz, come back to a better world with a quick round of Five Card Nancy... er, Three Card Garfield, rather.
I can't stop picking up the yellow stones

Best excuse to destroy your scanner, EVAR.
Do you ghost ride the whip?

Yeah yeah; I know this is totally 2006 and I'm crazy late to the party, but what can I say: it ain't really a New York thing yet and I don't watch Pimp My Ride.

If you're lame like me and are new to this phenomenon, I recommend starting with this best/worst of compilation, moving on to this jawdropping video of Mistah Fab ghost riding the shortbus on 24's and finish up with this Vice City-esque Shot Poppin' Cop Ghost Ride.
Okay, so by now you're probably thinking, what could be more awesomely batshit wreckless than dancing alongside a driverless moving car?
Would you believe sandal skating with three of your friends on the highway while hanging out the passenger side?

Seriously, that's some next level shit right there.

For some reason, the fact that their hazard lights are on just kills me. Like that's going to be their defense: "Well officer, we WERE trying to be careful..."

Also: dude grinding one foot on the pickup at 1:04? Jackie Chan called, he told me to tell you he wouldn't do that.

I salute you, gentlemen.
Best Sepultura cover band you'll see today.
The inimitable children's author Daniel Pinkwater is putting up chapters of his new book, The Neddiad, onto the web once a week. It's a great read, so stop by and give it a perusal, then pick up a paper copy in April.

an open request
I'm currently working on a new project that would require the aid of a classroom of junior high age kids.

If you or any of your friends working in the field of adolescent education would be interested in discussing getting involved with The Tofu Hut for some music listening and reviewing in front of an audience of literally thousands, please contact me at forksclovetofu AT gmail dot com for more information.

I very much look forward to hearing from you!

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