Back to Black–Amy Winehouse 

(Universal)

This ballsy breakthrough album by British siren Amy Winehouse sounds something like a limey update of I Am Shelby Lynne, another recent combination of nervy, strong-voiced female singer and ear-popping retro production. But this is better. The songs have more wit and specificity. And the production isn't just ear-popping, it's stunning -- an audacious but not overly reverent re-creation of classic soul that nails every last detail: hand-claps, organ riffs, crackling, all-the-way-live drums. Sometimes it outright steals, but brilliantly, and only from the best. Crucially, Winehouse is never overshadowed by the sonics. And though Back to Black sometimes comes across as the best Etta James record in decades, it's not so old-timey it can't make room for a Ghostface Killah cameo. ("Rehab," "Tears Dry on Their Own," "You Know I'm No Good") -- CH

Grade: A-

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