Anyone that hadn’t already heard of Merry Clayton not only found out that they had heard her but also recognised her as the star of 20 Feet From Stardom. That documentary about backup singers put Clayton front and centre where she belonged – her own version of Gimme Shelter recorded a year after the definitive Rolling Stones original which she contributed to in a dressing gown and curlers if the story is to be believed; woken in the middle of the night to howl rape and murder alongside Mick Jagger. Her version is even better. But life can be cruel. And white Brits appropriating black music had the industry by its balls throughout the late 60s and into the early 70s.
Clayton sang a few more sides for people and put out a couple of killer soul-funk albums that seemed to go nowhere.
And then, even sadder, she made a couple of celebratory appearances on the back of the 2013 film that introduced her to so many and was injured in a very bad car crash.
This, then, is the very definition of a comeback album – its title (and title track) earning our sympathies and reminding us of the power of her soul-drenched, gospel-raised voice. It is her first full album since the mid-1990s.
Gimme Shelter might have been a milestone recording but maybe its been a millstone for Clayton.
Here she returns to her gospel roots, taking the listener on a tour of the church. It sometimes feels a bit dated – Love Is A Mighty River and God’s Love feel like Al Green in the 80s. And Touch The Hem of His Garment is just too overt for this fairweather gospel-goer. But there’s no denying the power of the voice and the conviction in these recordings; the production is mostly great too – and album opener, A Song For You, is not only the smartest selling point but easily the best version of this monumental Leon Russel song, competing only for ear-time with the classic Carpenters and Donny Hathaway iterations.
It’s just nice to have Clayton alive and well and singing – in another version of the story she’d have had the Tina Turner-styled comeback; she’d be as big as Aretha, or you know, would be warmly welcomed back to the stage like Al Green was. These are nice versions of songs the secular world can appreciate; gospel made good for all. And I’m just happy to know this exists. And to hear it too of course.