If Merry Clayton's name is known at all it is as the female voice on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter," the singer who wails the "Rape, Murder/It's just a shot away!" and threatens to overshadow Mick Jagger. That alone is enough to make a career, but the rest of what Clayton achieved has been lost to time, which is why Legacy's 2013 compilation The Best of Merry Clayton is so necessary: it shines a spotlight on her solo recordings, particularly her two albums for Ode, Gimme Shelter and Merry Clayton which were released in 1970 and 1971, respectively. Almost everything here comes from those two LPs; the exceptions are a version of "The Mighty Quinn" recorded with the Brothers and Sisters, a single of "Suspicious Minds" from 1972, a version of "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" from the 1970 soundtrack to Robert Altman's Brewster McCloud, and one stray track from her 1975 gospel album Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow. Much of this finds Clayton singing robust renditions of rock standards from the '60s and early '70s: she revisits "Gimme Shelter," immerses herself in "Southern Man," turns "Bridge Over Troubled Water" into something deceptively funky, throws herself into "Suspicious Minds," mines deep feeling in Leon Russell's "A Song for You," and gives "Oh No, Not My Baby" a luxuriously slow treatment. Each of these captures Clayton's skills, as do the lesser-known songs here, where producer Lou Adler gives her a slick, funky, professional backing that lets her stretch the limits of her voice. Throughout it all, Clayton's gift is impressive, and if she never quite manages to develop an identity of her own -- which may be part of the reason she never had a hit back in the early '70s -- it's nevertheless a highly enjoyable slice of crossover period R&B, music that's rooted in deep southern soul but has an appealing show biz gloss.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
feat: Brothers and Sisters