Candi Staton - Life Happens

Candi Staton
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Last year the Greg Camalier-directed Muscle Shoals told the often-neglected story of Rick Hall and the North Alabama music factory that gave birth to golden records for Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, Etta James, the Rolling Stones, Percy Sledge and thousands more. Candi Staton, a church-trained singer born seventy miles southeast of Muscle Shoals, was also profiled. It’s not as if Staton needed the extra jolt of publicity. She’s been doing just fine with her most recent album releases, His Hands, and its follow-up, Who’s Hurting Now. Both discs framed her in the context of her Southern soul roots, digging into the heart of Americana and gospel-drenched soul. The critically acclaimed documentary expanded her territory to garner a larger audience, reconnect with old heroes and to make new acquaintances. 

Last year the Greg Camalier-directed Muscle Shoals told the often-neglected story of Rick Hall and the North Alabama music factory that gave birth to golden records for Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, Etta James, the Rolling Stones, Percy Sledge and thousands more. Candi Staton, a church-trained singer born seventy miles southeast of Muscle Shoals, was also profiled. It’s not as if Staton needed the extra jolt of publicity. She’s been doing just fine with her most recent album releases, His Hands, and its follow-up, Who’s Hurting Now. Both discs framed her in the context of her Southern soul roots, digging into the heart of Americana and gospel-drenched soul. The critically acclaimed documentary expanded her territory to garner a larger audience, reconnect with old heroes and to make new acquaintances. 

She opens up her new LP, Life Happens, with “I Ain’t Easy to Love,” a song that connects her with the next generation of Alabama superstars, from Jason Isbell to John Paul White of the Civil Wars. The powerhouse trio embarks on a gospel jubilee exercise bloated with juicy Hammond B-3 chords and Memphis brass. And that’s just one of the many rewards found inside Staton’s latest record. Rick Hall, who produced her Fame-era hits, including the chart-topping covers of “Stand By Your Man” and “In the Ghetto,” lays down the groundwork for “I Ain’t Easy to Love,” along with some of the album’s finest moments.

Without a doubt, “Never Even Had the Chance” sounds like a milestone record. It’s her “Young Hearts Run Free” for the new millennium. The Rick Hall-produced tune is beautifully arranged and sweetly embellished with proper strings and sophisticated soul. At the center of its attention is Staton’s emotiveness as she dives hard into the lowly moments and shows enough aches to make certain lyrics soar: “So you’ll have to excuse me while I fall apart/But I’ll be the stronger one later on.” The Brad Crisler/Cubmie Clay tune first appeared as a country song, just like “Stand By Your Man” did.Hall’s need to scour the playing fields for authentic compositions for Staton proved most effective in this case, even as he adds stunning enhancements like heartfelt backing vocals and James LeBlanc, Jr.’s Clapton-esque guitar. Compared with the original, Staton’s take is far superior. It takes a certain kind of soul to breathe a unique type of urgency into these lyrics: “It’s hard to feel the pain while you’re in it.” Staton’s seasoned pipes prove just perfect for the main course.

With fifteen tracks aboard Life Happens, including a bonus track,there’s plenty to dance around. There are Steely Dan jamming (“Thirty Minutes to a Relapse”), echoes of Aretha (“You Treat Me Like a Secret”), Staple Singer explorations (“Close to You”), and Nashville soul manufacturing (“Even the Bad Times Are Good”). She even flirts with The Police riffs on “Commitment,” which sounds like “Every Breath You Take” remixed with U2-esque thrills. As if she’s possessed by the wisdom of Betty Wright, she pours out proverbs on “She’s After Your Man” while warning “be careful who you let in your inner circle/remember we’re living in a digital age.”

She also has her hand in the majority of the album’s compositions. As the long and winding road comes to a close, Staton seems to be perplexed with the social ills of today than experienced on previous collections. Evidenced on “Have You Seen the Children?” and “A Better World Coming,” her rants on video gaming, social media and violence reminds listeners of the evangelical treks from her gospel tenure. For some, the weary preachy detour might be considered a faux pas. For others, it’s the few lightweight cuts that hinder the album from rising to certified greatness. But, deep inside the instrument of Candi Staton lays the epitome of a Southern soul singer. She’s able to make the simplest of B-side offerings sound like a feature presentation.Highly recommended.

By J Matthew Cobb

 
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