CANDI STATON: ‘Candi Staton’ (Kent Soul/Ace Records)

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Candi Staton is no stranger to the general British public largely because of two key but very different records in her discography: ‘Young Hearts Run Free,’ her enduringly popular 1976 disco masterpiece, and ‘You Got The Love,’ the ‘90s electronic dance anthem she recorded with The Source. Both were giant hits here but as genuine soul music fans will know, there is much more to Candi Staton than those two iconic records. 

Some of the Alabama singer’s best work was under the aegis of producer Rick Hall, who ran Fame Records, a label synonymous with southern soul music. Hall signed Staton in 1968 and a year later, she scored her first US hit for Fame, ‘I’d Rather Be An Old Man’s Sweetheart (Than A Young Man’s Fool),’ which lit the touchpaper to what would blossom into a stellar career, albeit one characterised by several ups and downs. By the time she released he third album Candi Staton in 1972 – now revived by Ace Records in CD and vinyl formats – the former Jewell Gospel Trio singer had put four singles into the US R&B Top 10, the biggest of which was the soulful makeover she gave to Tammy Wynette’s country music smash, ‘Stand By Your Man.’  

The lead single from Candi Staton (which was Fame’s first album under a new distribution and manufacturing deal with United Artists) was also a cover of a well-known and then-recent pop hit; the Mac Davis-written ‘In The Ghetto,’ a 1969 hit for “The King,” Elvis Presley. As Ian Shirley’s informative liner notes reveal, Staton cut the track during a recording session for her then-husband Clarence Carter after Rick Hall decided the song might be better suited to a female voice. It was a good call: Staton’s soul-infused version, enhanced by atmospheric touches of poignant bluesy harmonica, rose to No. 12 in the US R&B charts. 

Candi Staton also included two more ear-catching singles: the sweetly soulful ‘Lovin’ You, Lovin’ Me’ – one of Staton’s happier, innocent songs – and the funky, horn-laden anthem ‘Do It In The Name Of Love,’ which opened the album. 

Interestingly, the track ‘Blackmail,’ a regretful confessional about infidelity, explores love’s darker side, which has always been Staton’s forte. Many of the songs she cut for Fame had a strong storytelling aspect but often portrayed the singer as a downtrodden victim of betrayal, albeit a feisty one exuding strength, determination, and fortitude. She also assumes that role in ‘The Best Thing You Ever Had’ – a superb George Jackson-written number with heavy cellos and horn fanfares – and the bleak, haunting ballad ‘You Don’t Love Me No More.’   

Despite the high quality of Staton’s vocal performances and her material, Candi Staton had the distinction of being the singer’s first album to miss the US album charts; given that it contained three charting singles, its commercial failure was surprising but may have had something to do with Fame’s new relationship with United Artists. For her next album, 1974’s Candi, Staton relocated to Warner Bros, which began what would eventually become a glorious chapter in her career. But as her swansong for Fame, Candi Staton proved a compelling finale, confirming her status as “The First Lady of Southern Soul.”    

(CW) 4/5

Read our 2014 interview with Candi here: https://www.soulandjazzandfunk.com/interviews/candid-confessional-souls-heartbreak-queen-candi-staton-speaks-to-sjf/

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