In early 2004 John Russell sent me the debut album of an unknown young talent. She looked certain to have a big future. This from Real Groove, April 2004.
There are no flies on Frank, the debut album by 20-year-old British diva Amy Winehouse (Island). Quite simply, it’s a knockout. It lifts the bar for her precocious compatriot Joss Stone and, with its risk-taking, self-assuredness and contemporary relevance, shows exactly what was missing from Norah Jones’ timid, soporific follow-up. Born in North London in the year Frankie went to Hollywood, Winehouse seems to have been breast-fed Sarah Vaughan and Anita O’Day. Add in a nurturing of urban grit, and her voice sounds like Erykah Badu or Macy Gray after years of paying dues in jazz clubs. With slinky contemporary beats behind her songs – almost all are sassy originals – this is where hip-hop meets swing and bossa nova, where torch is spelt with an E for erotic. The lyrics are Cole Porter having Sex in the City, particularly ‘F**k Me Pumps’ (about slappers on the pull), and the first single ‘Stronger Than Me’ (about the inadequacies of a “sensitive” older lover who takes “longer than frozen turkey”). She whoops, purrs and snaps effortlessly, quotes ‘Lullaby in Birdland’ almost without thinking (this most perfect of melodies isn’t credited), hints at the classic ‘Moody’s Mood’ in one song then tackles the real thing later on. Like Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation this is an almost perfect mix of soul-jazz through a filter of hip-hop. The depths of Frank unfold like layers of a mystery parcel, and Winehouse’s journey to maturity is going to be a ride worth catching.