The Best Of Merry Clayton

Merry Clayton

Providing call and response backing vocals to Ray Charles, that eerie iconic female "rape…murder" and "oooh's" to "Gimme Shelter," singing background for Carol King, Tom Jones, and even on Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" - Merry Clayton is a singer who deserves the 17-song retrospective, The Best Of Merry Clayton.

Featuring songs mostly from her first solo releases - 1969's Gimme Shelter and 1971's Merry Clayton - plus a few random tracks from various collaborations and soundtracks, this is the first real compilation of this woman's impressive output. Five songs from Clayton's debut Gimme Shelter made the grade. There's the cool congas, snapping horns and vocals on a remake of James Taylor's "Country Road."

I also like Clayton's soft and slinky vocal on "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (even with a can't-get-out-of-its-own-gospel-way lackluster instrumental backing), and, of course, her funky take on the album's title track, the Rolling Stones track that she is arguably most known for among rock and rollers. Interestingly, on this version, Clayton cleverly ignores the whole "rape and murder" part altogether.

Bill Withers' "Granma's Hands" from her 1971 Merry Clayton just pops with blues nastiness, and a great chunky piano, bass and snapping snare with organ bubbles up behind Clayton on a superbly funky remake of Neil Young's "Southern Man." Billy Preston's "Sho' Nuff" shakes and shimmies more than it should, with Clayton getting truly sexy and a sizzling sax solo as well.

I love how the lady and her big funky band handle the Baretta theme song "Keep Your Eye In The Sparrow." It's an amazing read on an already funky gem! Then things get nice and quiet on Leon Russell's "A Song For You," which Clayton sings so beautifully. The real treat though is Clayton's cover of "Acid Queen" with the London Symphony Orchestra and London Chamber Choir that ends this collection. If you like Tina Turner's take on this Who gem (and who doesn't?) you need give this one a listen. WOW! It's a big reason why The Best Of Merry Clayton is such a wonderful CD, featuring a great mix of tunes from an incredible singer.

~ Ralph Greco. Jr.

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