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Rehab is for Quitters 

Amy Winehouse bashes critics with a bottle ... and a lot of talent

They tried to make her go to rehab, she tells us in her hit YouTube clip "Rehab," but she said no, no, no.

It's not Ronnie Spector on a downward spiral in a last ditch effort at regaining stardom, although there's a heavy handed helping of both her and ex hubby Phil in the mix. The protestor in question is Amy Winehouse, a 23-year-old, brassy Jewish girl from London. Thin, waif-like, with a tangle of black hair cascading down to her waist, she looks more like a gypsy folk singer than the hell-raising boozer she's portrayed as in the media.

She's already proven she's got plenty of chutzpah, calling Madonna "ancient" and heckling U-2's Bono at a British awards show. ("I'm tired of listening to his shit," she told Newsweek.) When her former manager tried to get her to go to rehab she sacked him. Her current manager had the presence of mind to encourage her to record the ditty she was singing under her breath as they were walking to the studio to record her sophomore effort.

Back to Black is the result of that session, with the "Rehab" cut the standout. As an apology of sorts to all the hoo-ha surrounding her alleged drinking bouts, "Rehab's lyrics reveal that she knows that knowledge doesn't come in a shot glass. She'd rather be at home with Ray and 'there's nothing you can't teach me that I can't learn from Mr. Hathaway.'" Despite her references to heartbreak country/soul legend Charles and the god-daddy of smooth, golden-throated soul, Donny Hathaway, Winehouse seems to have glommed all her inspirations from a jazzier bunch of a different gender.

You can hear a lot of women fighting their way out in Winehouse's vocals. Ronnie Spector struggles for dominance with Etta James on "Rehab." Macy Gray and Billie Holliday slug it out on "Me and Mr. Jones," berating a friend who couldn't get her tickets to a Slick Rick show. "What kind of fuckery is this," she asks the now ex-friend. On the title cut, Winehouse sounds like the '60s girl group The Shirelles fronted by James Bond Goldfinger theme bellower Shirley Bassey. On the ska vehicle, "Just Friends," Winehouse has Etta and Sarah Vaughn at odds with one another.

As far as categorization goes, it's a puzzler. In-your-face, sassy lounge jazz with a hard rock heartbeat comes close, but like it's creator, it's not any one thing all the time. It's a strange juxtaposition: the lyrics sound like boozy ballads from the '30s and '40s and the music is a mix of jazz, pop, rock and ska. The only common thread here is Winehouse's lovesick problems.

To hear her tell it, it's all due to a man, or maybe a series of them, heartbreakers all. "I'm going to lose my baby," she laments on "Rehab," "so I always keep a bottle handy." In "Wake Up Alone," her man is fierce in her dreams, "seizing my guts/he floods me with dread soaked to his soul/He swims in my eyes by the bed." You don't know whether to take her in your arms and try to comfort her or run screaming from the room and go turn up a bottle yourself.

This is real talent. Let's hope that the much-publicized problems with alcohol are exaggerated. Creating a dangerous persona might be a good marketing ploy at first, but with a talent like this you really don't want to see her crawl into a bottle and disintegrate before your eyes. We'd like for her to hang around for while, at least until she and her audience figure who she is and where she wants to go with what she's got. Whether she goes to rehab or not, Amy Winehouse is worth saving, whatever it takes.

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