It's understandable to want to avoid listening to Amy Winehouse, if for no other reason than the barrage of hype on the girl alone. In the past week, I've seen her splashed across the pages of five separate magazines, answering the same trivial questions about her hair, her boyfriend, her tattoos and her propensity for gum-chewing.
I am not usually in the habit of reading magazines, which is probably why I'm so shocked that each one neglected to dwell on the 23-year old British soul singer's inspirationally husky throat. With that, Amy Winehouse has got a goddamn voice to shake the T-cells out of your bloodstream, replace them with a revamping toxin of shudder and sway and exit your system, laughing, while you walk in perfect rhythm for the next two weeks. By any estimation, it comes from a place deeper and larger than her lanky frame could possibly contain, and it evokes both Dusty Springfield and Gil Scott-Heron, with one part come-hither and two parts getta-fuck-outta-here.
On her sophomore album, Back to Black, she's backed by a stellar band (aided themselves by the welcome trend of retro-soul recording techniques), sounding thoroughly fresher than the processed sugar fix of most U.K. buzz-girls. The songs are all from Winehouse's own pen, and they read like a series of esoteric MySpace comments: "What kind of fuckery is this? / You made me miss the Slick Rick gig," she sings on the Billy-Paul inspired "Me and Mr. Jones."
Elsewhere, she sings of stolen weed and failed interventions. Winehouse has been celebrating her diva-of-the-month status by canceling shows at the last minute all across the country on her current tour, which bodes ill for the diehards paying $200 for scalped tickets to her scheduled appearance in San Francisco next month. But after hearing the album, capitulating to Winehouse's voice, and feeling like a love-struck teenager in Detroit circa 1968, it's almost worth the risk.
Amy Winehouse may or may not perform on Thursday, April 26, at an insanely sold-out show at Popscene, 330 Ritch St., San Francisco. Back to Black is in stores now.