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Where did all the soul go?

To the UK, apparently. Last year it was Amy Winehouse's deep and brassy voice that entered the musical consciousness of Americans, and made us remember that there ever was such a style as soul. Her album, Back to Black, is largely a throwback to 60's Rhythm and Blues sounds, although some songs, such as "You Know I'm No Good," are "enhanced" with modern pop beats.

I first learned about Winehouse while catching the tail end of a late night talk show one night. The now nauseating, if not still catchy, song "Rehab" was being performed by Winehouse and her male backup singers/dancers. I was instantly drawn to the song and the stage performance, and I soon thereafter purchased her album. It seems that in the next few months, the rest of America was hooked as well, and what became her anthem song, "Rehab," (in which she protests going to rehab) also made her the butt of many a joke, for the formerly stoned diva could not personally receive her FIVE Grammy awards because she was, in fact, unable to leave her new rehab facility.

Later last year, Winehouse's first album, Frank, was released in the US. The images inside the CD program are shockingly different from the Winehouse we see in the later album photos, which is clearly a testament to the sadly addictive lifestyle she plummeted into. In one photo on the Frank album, Winehouse looks nearly pristine, like the girl next door, whereas more recent photos portray a more strung-out, emaciated Winehouse, always sporting her signature black, tattered beehive hairdo.

So what happened? Is this the price of being a phenomenal soul artist?

Perhaps we will see in the coming years with the newest UK breakout star, [Aimee] Duffy. So far her public image is a striking contrast to Winehouse's, save for the mod eye makeup and occasional mini-beehive. It is too easy to compare the two soul songstresses, for they both embrace a similar retro style of music which is complimented by sultry voices full of depth and range.

But Duffy's breakout album, Rockferry, is notably different in its content than either of Winehouse's. While her subject matter does largely include spurned lovers like Winehouse's (what artist's songs don't?), there is an element of self-preservation and refinement that is nowhere to be found in Winehouse's songs. But perhaps it is the very raw and unwholesome nature of Winehouse that people find so intriguing. She continues to publicly crash as her public continues to hope for her recovery. Meanwhile, newbies like Duffy will continue to put out albums that leave the listener feeling less grimy, shamed, and hungover, and more inspired, nostalgic, and even uplifted, as track 10 of Rockferry, "Distant Dreamer" connotes.


bryon said…
That article could have been on the onion's av club. nice one! \m/
Fantastic post, Lee! I couldn't agree more about your Amy Winehouse observations, and I look forward to checking out Rockferry!
Lee Davidson said…
RIP, Amy Winehouse.

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