Album Review: Candi Staton — Life Happens

Henry L. Carrigan, Jr. | June 9th, 2014

candi statonIt’s so great to have Candi Staton back. Not that she ever went away, but on her new album, Life Happens, her voice resonates with a force that shouts “I’m here to tell you that bad stuff happens in life all the time, but that I’m happy and satisfied to be where I’m at.” On this album Staton stands up and testifies to the hard times, the difficulties, and the losses we all go through in our lives. Wrapping her strong, soulful voice around these lyrics, Candi Staton weaves her voice into our hearts and souls, grabs our emotions, demands that we keep our eyes open to life around us and hearts ready to break and mend, and compels us to live every moment of our lives fully and with purpose, for knowing what we know now can only make us stronger and create a better world. Whether it’s the album’s opener, “I Ain’t Easy to Love,” or a languorous ballad like “Eternity,” it’s Staton’s moving and soaring voice that seizes us, carrying us to dizzying emotional heights.

“I Ain’t Easy to Love,” a muscular call-and-response soul shout with Staton trading barbs with Jason Isbell and John Paul White, kicks off the album, defining the unstoppable energy that dominates the entire record, even in its slower moments. In “Close to You,” a tune that channels the slow-burning blues of Bonnie Raitt, the smoky funk of Etta James, and the seductive languor of Maria Muldaur, and is driven by Toby Baker’s slinky lead guitar, the singer sensuously whispers the ache of desire for her new lover. “Commitment,” (a hit for LeAnn Rimes in the late 1990s) is a song which echoes Sting, the Pointer Sisters, and the very best of Southern soul from Joe South to Elvis (the “Suspicious Minds” refrain is echoed in the horns on the chorus) follows naturally from “Close to You” as the singer pleads longingly for what she deserves: “a friend and a lover who’ll love me for the rest of my life.”  She pulls no punches as she cries out her yearning: “Commitment/Someone who’ll go the distance/I need someone with staying power, who’ll make me go weak in the knees…I need honor and love in my life from somebody who’s playing for keeps.”

The warm notes of Mose Davis’s Fender Rhodes fall rapturously into Staton’s tender plea for a love that lasts more than just one night on “Eternity,” a poignant and passionate ballad whose emotional power derives from Staton’s gospel phrasings and her hymnic shadow vocals; it’s a heavenly song. On the funky rap “Beware, She’s After Your Man,” Staton delivers some age-old advice to her sisters, while on “You Treat Me Like a Secret”—which starts with a riff off of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious”—the singer calls out her man’s deceptive character and his inability to be real with others about his lover: “Whenever we’re together, you can’t keep your hands off me/you’d think I’m the only one your eyes ever see/Whenever we ‘re in public/Oh, it’s a different story/People observing us would think you hardly know me.” These two songs call out the deceptions and the misery into which relationships can so easily fall.

Every song on the album showcases Staton’s forceful vocals and her still powerful ability to tell stories of love, loss, redemption, despair, and hope wrapped in the sweet and strong soul phrasings that she first brought us more than 40 years ago with songs like “I’m Just a Prisoner.”

4 Stars

Preview or purchase Life Happens

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