MERRY CLAYTON, “Beautiful Scars”
(Motown Gospel/Capitol): 4
The legendary background vocalist (Rolling Stones, Ray Charles) rallies from a 2014 accident that left her wheelchair-bound with this gospel-soul celebration. Reteamed with longtime friend Lou Adler, who co-produced with gospel artist Terry Young, Clayton reaches into her past with a spirit-lifting reprise of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You,” which is elevated by late husband Curtis Army’s saxophone solo from Clayton’s original 1971 recording of the song. With stirring choral support, it serves as a biographical introduction (“I’ve been so many places in my life and time”) before Clayton robustly embraces Sam Cooke’s “Touch the Hem of His Garment.” Other highlights include “Love Is a Mighty River” (contributed by Young and Coldplay’s Chris Martin) and Clayton’s joyful inhabitation of the Diane Warren-composed title track: “These are beautiful scars/ I’m grateful for each one of them/ I’m who I am because of them.”
CRISTINA VANE, “Nowhere Sounds Lovely”
(Blue Tip): 3½
The former Angeleno, who moved to Nashville to immerse herself in its pool of roots musicians, deftly weaves together pre–WWII-style country-blues and old-time folk with rock throughout her satisfying full-length debut. The arrangements and Vane’s silk-and-smoke vocal tones are more polished than her earlier EPs, and an intuitive backing combo and producer Cactus Moser help drive standout tracks such as “Badlands,” “Satisfied Soul” and the Appalachian-style “Prayer for the Blind” without crowding her richly evocative slide guitar and banjo playing or the compelling stories she tells.
DAMON LOCKS — BLACK MONUMENT ENSEMBLE, “Now” (International Anthem): 3
Another musically and intellectually stimulating release from the Chicago multimedia artist and his inventive ensemble. Like their worthy 2019 release “Where Future Unfolds,” this six-track EP creates a sonic mosaic of jazz instrumentation, electronic samples, natural sounds, choral harmonies and spoken word while exploring relevant sociopolitical themes. Its brevity blunts its impact, but while there’s nothing as magnetic as “The Colors That You Bring” (from “Future”), cornetist Ben LaMar Gay, clarinetist Angel Bat Dawid, drummer Dana Hall and Arif Smith’s rubbery percussion lines paint vivid pictures with sound during “Keep Your Mind Free” and 10 1/2-minute jam “The Body Is Electric.” intlanthem.bandcamp.com/album/now
THE STREETWALKIN’ CHEETAHS, “One More Drink” (Dead Beat): 3
If you’re craving a ticket back to the ’90s glory days of testosterone-driven rock, these LA veterans will be happy to punch it for you. Harmony-tattooed opener “Ain’t It Summer” and the new wave nod “We Are the Ones (We’ve Been Waiting For)” take wing with big hooks, while “Bad Vacation” wouldn’t have been out of place in a Brat Pack flick (and wrapping it with a saxophone solo is a nice touch, courtesy of Geoff Yeaton, a welcome band addition). Adolescents guitarist Rikk Agnew and Dramarama frontman John Easdale are among the guesting pals making this a lively toast to escapism.