Soul on Ice, and a Twist; Singer Amy Winehouse Is a Mess. Lucky for Us

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Byline: Joshua Alston

Amy Winehouse takes a while to warm up to new people, and until she does, she stammers--badly. "I'm. Really. Sorry," she says, pausing for what seems like a minute between each word. "It'll. Go away. Once I. Relax." This hardly seems like the British singer who's almost as well-known for her sharp tongue and alcohol-fueled antics as she is for her emotive soul music. But in a cozy rehearsal room in New York, Winehouse tries to gain composure by telling jokes and showing off her numerous tattoos: a naked lady, an anchor--she's got, like, 13 total. The nervous energy dissipates when the conversation turns to--naturally--her favorite drinks: "If I've just finished a show, champagne. If I'm depressed, champagne. If I'm really depressed ... anything."

Now that's the Amy from the British tabloids, the brassy soul siren who punches people, the one who says Madonna is an ancient also-ran, the one who heckled U2's Bono during his acceptance speech at a British awards show. Winehouse, 23, is a perfect storm of sex kitten, raw talent and poor impulse control. She's compulsively honest and, unlike celebrities who keep their publicists on speed dial, she embraces her dark side and pours it into guileless, confessional lyrics.

Here is the first line from "Rehab," the barn-burning single from her new album "Back to Black": "They tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no." "They" is her management team, who intervened when she was drinking to dull the pain of a messy breakup. …