Amy Winehouse: The Collection (4 stars)

Collection of Winehouse’s albums reinforces her talent

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Amy Winehouse: The Collection

Age and perspective reinforce the idea, fashionable among many, that a wealth of talent and success plus tragic and in many cases fatal addiction and burnout elevates an artist to a position that’s something other than simply a tragedy. Premature death doesn’t improve the quality of their music and it’s still possible to contextualise someone’s work while they’re still alive; but at least this comprehensive eight-disc vinyl collection of all Amy Winehouse’s recorded work you could ever need has the luxury of distance from her death. And, by extension, from the distasteful tabloid feeding frenzy which threatened to overshadow her ability while she was still alive.

The collection features both albums released during her lifetime, the posthumous and uncompleted third album Lionness, a live album recorded at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 2007, and a rarities disc mostly comprising BBC Sessions and live recordings from the 2007 iTunes Festival. Her debut album, 2003’s Frank, isn’t quite a classic, but it still rings with both her huge and undoubted ability as a jazz singer, and the sass which would characterise her biggest hits. Her voice is as lustrous and loungy as that of Frank Sinatra, for whom the record is named, but amidst smoky sax ballads like ‘(There is) No Greater Love’, there are musical references to Motown’s moodier days, acid jazz and trip-hop.

Regardless what else has been pieced together from her recordings, of course, 2006’s Back to Black is what her reputation has been founded upon, from the horn-rumbling blend of world-weariness and freedom from care ‘Rehab’, the sadly down on herself ‘You Know I’m No Good’ and ‘Love is a Losing Game’, and the resonantly profane old-time soul of ‘Me and Mr Jones’. It stands up – of course it does – as testament to why she was loved far beyond headline writer circles. There are curios elsewhere on these discs: more than convincing versions of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ and ‘The Girl From Ipanema’; her huge non-album hit ‘Valerie’; an energetic live version of reggae classic ‘Monkey Man’. Yet the sense is that only vinyl completists will be missing what this box has to offer.

Amy Winehouse: The Collection is released by Island on Fri 11 Dec.

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