September 13, 2004

Candi Staton "Candi Staton"

Whenever I'm heartbroken, I usually eschew most of my record collection and go straight to the classic sounds of R&B. There's something so right-on about soul music that makes healing from hurting so wonderfully, wonderfully appealing. I guess it has a lot to do with the fact that soul music blends the heartbreak of the blues and the contrition and hope of gospel music, mixing it all together with a strong dose of HOPE. Yeah, the song may be a weeper, but it's a weeper with a message: things'll be okay. Music for empowerment? Yeah, that's my verdict.

In the Seventies, Candi Staton was an award-winning, chart-making soul singer of the HIGHEST order. The sleeve to Candi Staton proudly boasts that she had "12 consecutive Billboard R&B charting hits, 2 Grammy Award-nominated songs and a Gold Record," and this compilation (surprisingly, the first of its kind for Miss Staton) instantly shows why she was so well-regarded thirty years ago, and it instantly corrects a major sin in being the very first collection of her early hits. Today, Staton is known more as a Gospel singer, so it's a bit shocking (in a wonderful way) to discover this side of her career--secular and painfully beautiful soul sides, all sung with a voice that was both husky and sweet and innocent yet cynical.

And what songs she made, too! Lushly-orchestrated Southern soul, with a whole heapin' helpin' of strings and horns and heartbreak and husky yet strong, empowered singing, Miss Staton's early sides were powerful in a way that's never quite been matched, and to be honest, I doubt that anybody will be able to match her power and her strength. I have yet to hear a modern song that's as painfully honest as "Mr. And Mrs. Untrue" or "He Called Me Baby." I have yet to hear a modern song that's quite as loving and sweet as "The Best Thing You've Never Had" and "Love Chain." Her covers of country standards "In the Ghetto" and "Stand By Your Man" prove that she had the power to take a song and make it her own. Southern soul and R&B never sounded this good, and I don't think it's sounded this good since Staton's heyday.

Like so many artists of the Seventies, Staton's obscurity should be considered a criminal offense, and the fact that she's been forgotten should not stand in the way of her talent and skill. Candi Staton is proof positive that Staton was one of the best singers of her era, and it's reassuring to know that she's still making music today. Perhaps Staton will be influenced by Al Green's 'comeback' (their career paths are extremely similar) to secular music and will give us a healthy dose of strong Southern Soul--or maybe she won't. Either way, Candi Staton is an essential addition to your record collection.

--Joseph Kyle

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