The good news, according to an American music legend, is that you can go home again!
Witness Candi Staton as heard on her latest album Life Happens (Beracah Records). Her overall influence on popular music is incalculable. The artist who Frank Sinatra referred to as "the only true genius in show business" once bestowed upon Ms. Staton the title of "Female Ray Charles" a few decades ago. "I used to visit Ray's dressing room every night when we were on tour..." Candi recalls with fondness as she holds court in a trendy Manhattan eatery a few blocks from her hotel while on a short promotional tour touting her latest album. "We'd sing and have a few drinks, and one night Ray turned to me and said 'you're just like me...country, soul, gospel...you are rhythm and blues!"
Candi earned the title First Lady of Southern Soul by way of her numerous rhythm and blues hits -"I'm Just a Prisoner," "Stand By Your Man," "In The Ghetto" -- which were waxed at Rick Hall's renowned FAME Studios in the early 1970s with one of popular music's most hallowed rhythm sections- which you can learn more about in the must-see documentary Muscle Shoals (Magnolia Pictures 2013).
When the sounds of Muscle Shoals faded from the charts, Candi emerged as a disco chanteuse with a decidedly soulful veneer as evidenced by such seminal releases as "Honest I Do," "Young Hearts Run Free," "Nights On Broadway," "When You Wake Up Tomorrow," and "Victim," among others. Her extensive repertoire of Gospel recordings following her dance-floor successes including "Love Lifted Me," "Mama," "The First Face I Want to See," "Sin Doesn't Live Here Anymore," are considered essential.
And Candi continues to be a major inspiration to the present generation of rather notable recording artists. Florence & The Machine, Christina Aguilera, Susan Tedeschi, Joss Stone, Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, Laura Izibor, and One Eskimo along with countless DJ and electronica artists including DJ Eren, DJ Truelove, Groove Armada, Larse, the late Frankie Knuckles, Ashley Beedle and David Penn have all covered, sampled, and drawn heavily from Ms. Staton's timeless cannon with impressive levels of artistic and commercial achievements.
In the present tense, Candi Staton has come home again -- sort of -- on the appropriately titled Life Happens. This collection, when heard in its entirety, is fundamentally a "concept album" which details the arc of a courtship, commitment, and the collapse and close of a romance. Based on incidents which correlate to Ms. Staton's relationship anguish in recent times, she reveals matter-of-factly "I named the record Life Happens because these songs are about the things that just happen in life. And I know that a lot of people can relate to what I have experienced."
Of course, the major buzz amongst serious pop music fans is Candi's long-awaited reunion with Mr. Hall for the first time since they created history back at FAME all those years ago. "Rick would call me from time to time, saying that we still had one more hit in us. I didn't know if we could pull it off. Back then I was in my 20s, Rick taught me how to be an artist - but he is a perfectionist and would often make me sing a song 15 -- or 20 times. Rick was always looking for something but I never knew what it was. Could I take that again? Now that I'm older and wiser I understand what Rick did."
The three tracks commandeered by Hall -- "I Ain't Easy to Love" which also features generation spanning vocal duets with John Paul White and Jason Isbell, "Commitment," and "Never Had the Chance" indeed improve on the "old" magic as Ms. Staton's phasing, confidence, and delivery have evolved over the years. Unlike many in the current crop of media generated soul music stars - this diva has earned her stripes the old school way: on the road, and in the studio with living, breathing session cats on the clock! The times have not changed for the better in some ways opines Candi -- especially with regard to music as it is presented on various television talent shows which pit singer versus singer. 'We live in an 'instant' world -- we've lost our music in many ways. It's become a 'competition' to see if we could outdo each other. In my day it came strictly from the heart -- and the people knew it. I got booed in public until I learned how to sing!"
Ms. Staton, who penned most of the lyrics to Life Happens, saves her most stinging libretto for the blues dirge "Have You Seen the Children?" Bemoaning violence in video games and films, and the murder of Trayvon Martin, Candi reflects "the children are raising the parents and the parents are like children because they have to grow up so fast...there are no children left. "
The majority of Life Happens, with the exception of one cut and the three tracks helmed by Hall, was produced by her son Marcus Williams whose extraordinary and diverse musical resume spans Tyler Perry, Isaac Hayes, Patti LaBelle, Natalie Cole, Prince, John Legend, Stevie Wonder and Peabo Bryson, to name a few. Williams assembled a dexterous, contemporary sounding ensemble to compliment Candi in all of her "Americana" glory.
Standout tracks include "A Better World Coming" which serves as a message of hope and faith as it evokes comparison to The Impressions "People Get Ready," and The Staples Singers "I'll Take You There" -and features dynamic in-the-pocket grooves and a scorching lead guitar work by Anthony Lockett. The buoyant blues stomper "Three Minutes to a Relapse," the sizzling funk of "You Treat Me Like a Secret," the James Brown inspired "She's After Your Man" which is a worthy soundtrack to any episode of Real Housewives, and the country tear-jerker "Where Were You?" indeed traverse genres - yet Candi Staton's indelible identity holds strong.
In recent years Candi's classic recordings for FAME have been re-released to universal acclaim in Rolling Stone, Downbeat, Blender, The Guardian UK, and Elle, among other important publications and have charted in England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Japan and several additional countries as well. Her stellar performances at such important live music events and programs including Later...with Jools Holland, Top of the Pops, and the Glastonbury Festival - to cite a few - have been met with the reverence to afforded to a handful of icons including Sir Paul, Bob, Dionne Warwick, Stevie, and Bruce - all of whom are contemporaries of Ms. Staton.
"All of that music flowed into me from the church every Sunday...the rhythms, the sounds of the choir -- even when I was too small to stand up! Where I grew up in Alabama we could hear two types of music on the radio -- Ernst Tubb and Hank Williams at a certain time of day, then at another time of day we heard BB King, Ruth Brown and the blues artists. My musical foundation was a mixture of all that good stuff."
Pure Candi, pure Americana!