Friday, 10 August 2012

“Gimme Shelter” by MERRY CLAYTON (2010 Repertoire CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…I Don't Know Just What You're After…But I Do Know What You Need…"

Talk about an unknown that shouldn't be...

In order to understand the genuine class act you're dealing with here - a potted-history of Merry Clayton's past vocal glories will set the scene. She contributed to Neil Young's "The Old Laughing Lady" and "I've Loved Her So Long" on his self-titled debut album in 1968, sings on Joe Cocker's "Feelin' Alright" from his "With A Little Help From My Friends" debut album from 1969 and is on Allen Toussaint's magical "From A Whisper To A Scream" (1970). Just as impressively Merry sings on "Way Over Yonder", "Where You Lead" and "Smackwater Jack" on Carole King's magisterial "Tapestry" album (1971). Then there are sessions for B.B. King, Jesse Davis, Neil Diamond, Charles Wright, Jimmy Witherspoon, Billy Preston, Lee Michaels, Linda Ronstadt, Leon Russell, Ruth Copeland, Chi Coltrane, David T. Walker, Etta James, Rare Earth, The Who and even Ringo Starr. 

But her most famous outing has to be her duet vocals with Mick Jagger on "Gimme Shelter" - one of the standout album tracks from "Let It Bleed" - the Rolling Stones masterpiece from 1969 (it was the first album produced by Jimmy Miller who suggested Merry for the vocals). She even turns up on Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" in 1974 and "Cornflake Girl" by Tori Amos in 1994…and is prominently featured in the award-winning 2013 movie about backing singers “20 Feet From Stardom”. 

So it's hardly surprising that MERRY CLAYTON singed to Lou Adler's Ode Records in the late Sixties and quickly pushed out two solo albums - "Merry Clayton" from 1971 - and this - "Gimme Shelter" - her debut from 1970. 

1. Country Road
2. Tell All The People
3. Bridge Over Troubled Water
4. I’ve Got Life
5. Gimme Shelter
6. Here Come Those Heartaches Again [Side 2]
7. Forget It I Got It
8. You’ve Been Acting Strange
9. I Ain’t Gonna Worry My Life Away
10. Good Girls 
11. Glad Tidings 

Released on Ode Records SP-77001 in the USA and on A&M Records AMLS 995 in the UK in late 1970 - the original vinyl album featured a world-class session band (Victor Feldman on Vibes, Joe Sample of The Crusaders on keyboards to name but two) and was top-heavy with contemporary cover versions of the time (but in a good way). It doesn't say who's remastered this 2010 Repertoire reissue CD on REP 5176 (Barcode 4009910517628) but the sticker on the card digipak claims that it's been beautifully done - and they'd be right (38:23 minutes). The sound quality is fantastic - lending the Soul-meets-Gospel feel of the songs a huge sonic punch. Very little hiss - you can hear piano, drums, sweet bass and guitar strings rattling - loads of presence - it's a top job done. The 12-page inlay has affectionate and knowledgeable liner notes by noted UK writer CHRIS WELCH.  

Musically this is uplifting Soul with organs, brass, girly backing singers and impassioned lead vocals - a sort of Atlantic Aretha Franklin one moment then United Artists Tina Turner the next. And right from her opening cover of James Taylor's "Country Road" - the album hits you with one classy tune after another. Number 2 is another upbeat reinterpretation - a great variant of The Doors "Tell All The People". But both are aced by a slowed-down and deeply soulful version of Simon and Garfunkel's beautiful anthem "Bridge Over Troubled Waters".  Written by Galt McCormack "I've Got Life" started out in the "Hair" musical and was made famous by Nina Simone on her 1968 "Nuff 'Said" album. Side 1 ends with her own superb guitar-and-brass take on "Gimme Shelter" with its "just a shot away..." lyrics (it was issued as the 1st of 2 singles off the album in the USA on Ode Records ODE-66003 with "Good Girls" as its flipside). 

Side Two opens with pure magic - a cover of the James Cleveland song "Here Comes Those Heartaches Again" done originally by Kim Weston on her 1970 album "Big Brass Four Poster" (on James Brown's People label). It doesn't say who added the strings but the sung suddenly elevates into sublime Jimmy Webb territory - a little like "5:30 Plane" by The Supremes on their 1972 Motown LP "The Supremes Produced And Arranged By Jimmy Webb" (see review for the Hip-O Select Supremes box set "This Is The Story..."). That gorgeous orchestration appears again on the album's lone original "I Ain't Gonna Worry My Life Away" - a blistering Etta James type torch ballad that Merry co-wrote with Billy Preston (lyrics from it title this review). The other superb Preston contribution here is "You've Been Acting Strange" - his own version surfaced on his September 1970 Apple Records album "Encouraging Words" (also reviewed). There's a Jimmy Miller (Rolling Stones Producer) and Gary Wright (of Spooky Tooth) song too called "Forget It, I Got It" which is so slinky and very cool. It was used as the B-side to "Country Road" issued as a 45 in the USA on Ode Records ODE-66007 (the 2nd and last single off the album). Things are brassed-up again with Billy Page's "Good Girls" and rounded off with a crowd-in-the studio version of "Glad Tidings" - a Van Morrison cover from his 1970 "Moondance" album that doesn't quite work for me. Others like it though as an upbeat finisher. Concluding - with so few clunkers and so many great song choices - this an absolute gem of an album from back in the day

Born on Christmas Day near New Orleans in 1948 - her parents were so overjoyed at their special arrival - they named her Merry. And you can't help but think that Mr. and Mrs. Clayton were right on the money. She's even been belatedly recognized for her talent and is prominently featured in the superb 2013 movie about backing singers called "20 Feet From Stardom" (fabulous movie/documentary). Get this gorgeous, uplifting and criminally forgotten goody in your life as soon as you can.  

And I'm sure he'd approve - but if this CD were a car - it'd be recommended like a pair of rubber lips on Mick Jagger's gear stick...

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