Prime Cuts: Beautiful Scars, Oh What a Friend, Love is a Mighty River
Overall Grade: 5/5
When Merry Clayton sings about "beautiful scars" you gotta believe her. She's not a novice with perfect skin who sings about sufferings in the abstract. Rather, she has been elevated to the highest and knows how it feels to be dropped from the top. In her career high, Clayton has sung with the best of the best: from Rolling Stones to Carole King to Joe Cocker to Coldplay. She has won a Grammy and countless other awards. Yet, she has also witnessed some of life's own painful moments, including the death of her own husband and her tragic car accident in 2014. As a result, Clayton lost two of her legs. Moreover, she has to wait 25 years to get to record again. So, when she sings about "beautiful scars," you gotta believe her.
"Beautiful Scars" is the follow-up album to Clayton's 1994 "Miracles." Produced by veteran producer-longtime friend Lou Adler and gospel singer-songwriter Terry Young, the set features covers such as Sam Cooke's "Touch the Hem of His Garment" and Leon Russell's "A Song for You" and new compositions. The new songs include Diane Warren's title track and Coldplay's Chris Martin "Love Is a Mighty River."
Most heartfelt is the opening track the aforementioned "A Song for You" which features a saxophone solo from her late husband and former Ray Charles band musical director, Curtis Amy. Amy's recording lifted from from Clayton's original recording of the song from her 1971 self-titled album. Though many have covered "A Song for You," to hear Clayton's suffering-tested vocals sing a love song to her Savior is sublime.
The other family member joining Clayton in the recording booth is her own granddaughter Kyliyah Merry Amy, who is featured on "Ooh Child Medley." Normally such recordings are cheesy and often the younger member is included not because of his or her vocal prowess but simply because of familial ties. Not so with Kyliyah; she is animated and quite a songstress herself. Coldplay's Chris Martin's "Love is a Mighty River" is very good. It's an invitation hymn for parched and thirsty souls to come to Jesus. The song is carefully nuanced by Clayton's flavorful vocals backed by a heavenly sounding choir.
Diane Warren's title cut "Beautiful Scars" bears all her imprints of her stately pop ballads that she's known for. In light of Clayton's sufferings and for anyone who has had setbacks, the lyrics speaks volumes: "I've been on the battlefield of life/ but faith brought me back and I'm standing here/ These are beautiful scars on my hear..." Keying in on truth that Jesus never leaves us in our hurts is the gorgeous ballad "Oh What a Friend." Listen to Clayton go to church belting out her best for her Lord on the soulful "Room at the Altar" and the funky "God's Love."
There's not a dud in the offering; every song captures a snippet of Clayton's testimony of how the Lord has brought her through some of her own battles. If you want to listen to an artist who knows what she is singing about and who can communicate with heart and soul, Merry Clayton is your answer.