Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
She has been a disco diva and a contemporary gospel testifier but Candi Staton decided to return to her gritty 70s Muscle Shoals roots on her last album, 2009’s His Hands. This time she recruits FAME founder Rick Hall, with whom she notched her early soul hits, for their first collaboration since 1974. It’s a solid and ambitious, if occasionally slick set that follows the arc of a love affair from its early highs (“I Ain’t Easy to Love”) to its sad dissolution with songs “Go Baby Go” and “My Heart’s on Empty.”
Staton’s voice has remained remarkably strong throughout the decades;rich, full and overflowing with a rugged quality she shares with other classic R&B belters such as the late Etta James, Gladys Knight and even Aretha. John Paul White and Jason Isbell swing by to assist on the opening track and bring attention to an album that shouldn’t need their contributions to get some much deserved airplay. Rick Hall boosts the proceedings with everything from horns to backing singers which at times weakens the swampy heart inherent in his legendary studio’s sound. But, when everything clicks as on the sassy, funky “Beware, She’s After Your Man” with its gutsy bottom end and the gospel fervor of the melancholy ballad “Never Even Had a Chance” where the protagonist tries to figure out who was to blame for the romantic split, he and Staton make a dynamic pair.
A few clunkers such as the cautionary and far too preachy “Have You Seen the Children?” could easily have been left on the cutting room floor for this hour long album without anyone missing them. But perhaps encouraged by her appearance in last year’s terrific Muscle Shoals documentary, this is a wonderful return to form. It will hopefully find Candi Staton a new audience who appreciates rootsy southern soul sung with passion, played by talented studio musicians and organically performed without a drum machine or loop in sight.