Welcome to Audiofemme’s monthly record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. Every fourth Monday, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.
Amy Winehouse’s sudden death on July 23, 2011, was an incalculable loss. She’d put a modern spin on the classic soul and girl group sound of the 1960s, a talented songwriter who was also a compelling performer, and her sharp wit and iconic look only added to her appeal.
Sadly, her problems with substance abuse meant she only recorded two full studio albums during her short career, along with a number of non-album tracks. Surprisingly — and unfortunately — there isn’t a vault of unreleased material that can be mined for future release. In a 2015 interview with Billboard, David Joseph, Chairman/CEO of Universal Music UK, said he destroyed Winehouse’s unreleased recordings, explaining, “It was a moral thing. Taking a stem or a vocal is not something that would ever happen on my watch. It now can’t happen on anyone else’s.”
It also means that two “new” Winehouse releases, The Collection and 12×7: The Singles Collection (both Island/Ume) feature no previously unreleased material. But The Collection offers a nice way to cover the Winehouse basics in one fell swoop, featuring the albums Frank, Back to Black, Lioness: Hidden Treasures, Live In London, and the self-explanatory Remixes. Frank, Winehouse’s debut, has tended to get overlooked in the wake of Back to Black’s staggering success, especially as it wasn’t initially released in the US; it’s an album well-worth rediscovering. Lioness is a must-have posthumous collection of rarities, featuring a superb cover of “The Girl From Ipanema,” Winehouse’s last original song, “Between the Cheats,” and her final recording, the Grammy-winning duet “Body and Soul,” with Tony Bennett. Live In London documents a terrific May 2007 show at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire, previously released on DVD/LP as I Told You I Was Trouble: Live in London; this marks its first release on CD. The Singles Collection is a fun all-vinyl set, featuring some great non-album B-sides like “Monkey Man” and “You’re Wondering Now.”
Those who pre-ordered Tancred’s Nightstand album when it was first released in 2018 got a bonus; a cassette with nine acoustic demo versions of the album’s songs. Now the songs are being made more widely available as Nightstand (Acoustic) (Polyvinyl Record Co.).
Nightstand is an album that looks at the intricacies of human relationships. Acoustic strips the songs of their instrumental augmentation, with the result that they now cut straight to the bone. “Queen of New York,” for example, is a buoyant, almost dizzying number about the pleasure and excitement of a one-night stand. But on Acoustic, it’s more bittersweet, the morning after now tinged with sadness. The difference is even more striking on “Song One,” a painful number about unrequited love; on Acoustic, the line “Why must she love someone else?” becomes even more devastating.
“Lyrics are my favorite part of writing, hands down,” Tancred (aka Jess Abbott) said to Playlist Play, and Acoustic keeps them right in the foreground. The titles resonate — “Apple Tree Girl,” “Underwear,” “Strawberry Selfish.” There’s a concise elegance to the writing; a line like “Kiss me like we’ll never get older” needs no further elaboration. There’s also a teasing playfulness: “I’ll feed the hand that bites me.” Overall, Acoustic has a freshness and an intimacy that might well lead to it becoming your preferred version of Nightstand.
Sweetheart of the Sun, originally released in 2011, was the first album featuring the Bangles as a trio, following Michael Steele’s departure from the group. It also happens to be the last album that the group has released to date. Notices were good at the time of its release, but the record faltered on the charts.
Which meant that not enough people got the chance to experience this gorgeous record. The album has a strong Southern California vibe, a sound rooted in the late ’60s and early ’70s music the band members grew up listening to. Further inspiration was drawn from Sheila Weller’s book Girls Like Us, which told the stories of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon. After reading the book, “we started to make this composite woman who represented something important to us and inspirational to us,” guitarist Susanna Hoffs told Rolling Stone.
Thus you get the title track, “Anna Lee (Sweetheart of the Sun),” about a golden girl who carved out a musical path for others to follow: “Now we want to celebrate her/All of us who came in later/Quiet power, simple grace/No man could put you in your place right now.” The cascading harmonies sweep you up from the first track, and never let go until the final, ringing notes of the closing song “Open My Eyes.” There are hooks a-plenty throughout, and the kind of good, solid, jangly guitar rock that’s irresistible. The album’s two covers are delightfully idiosyncratic: “Sweet and Tender Romance” (a lot rougher than that title makes it sound) by the 1960s Scottish sister duo the McKinleys and “Open My Eyes,” originally by Todd Rundgren’s first band the Nazz.
On its initial release, the vinyl edition of Sweetheart came and went and quickly became a high priced collector’s item. So Real Gone Music has stepped up to reissue the album on pink swirl vinyl; get it while you can – and have a safe and healthy 2021!