Is there anything that Merry Clayton can't sing? At the Gardenia Room on Friday night, the Jefferson High School graduate dazzled the star-studded crowd with her glorious, gospel-tinged vocals and a repertoire that ran from gritty blues to funky jazz to contemporary R&B; hits to an a cappella rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" that left the veteran session vocalist wiping the tears from her eyes.

Patti LaBelle's got nothing on this woman--except a hairdo. Nor does any other singer on the pop charts--except a strong piece of material, as Clayton proved with an uncanny replication of Whitney Houston's "Saving My Love for You." Clayton's lack of either a hit song or a particularly distinctive vocal quality virtually consigns someone of her obvious technical skills to the recording studio. While it's gotta feel good to get right up in people's faces now and then, Clayton's casual stage presence leaned a little too heavily on a clap-your-hands-and-sing-along ethic . After all, Merry Clayton, the folks paid to hear you sing.

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