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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Candi Staton: House Of Love

CANDI STATON: HOUSE OF LOVE (1978)

1) Victim; 2) Honest I Do Love You; 3) Yesterday Evening; 4) I Wonder Will I Ever Get Over It; 5) I'm Gonna Make You Love Me; 6) So Blue; 7) Take My Hand, Precious Lord.

We know very well that not all disco albums suck as a matter of principle — but, strange enough, every now and then one is liable to come across a disco album that is perfectly ordinary and con­ventional, just a collection of very straightforward disco grooves without any experimentation or ultra-hot passion to singe your whiskers, yet somehow it feels surprisingly right: enjoyable, honest, devoid of special irritants. Candi Staton's second disco album, inauspiciously titled House Of Love and featuring the performer in her sexiest posturing ever on the front cover (still looks a bit like your mother, though), is a major improvement on her first one, even if the man behind it, Dave Crawford, retains full control over production and songwriting.

The highlight is ʽVictimʼ, an unexpectedly serious eight-minute disco rant where Candi com­plains how "I became a victim of the very song I sing", and then goes on to namedrop ʽYoung Hearts Run Freeʼ — formally, the song is about not following her own advice on the issue of commitment, but it can, of course, also be figuratively interpreted as a complaint about getting pegged as a one-hit wonder. Musically, the accompanying groove is smooth, polite, based around a fun, non-canonical disco bass riff played by Scott Edwards, and some playful and tasteful key­board and brass overdubs (keyboards in question including vibraphone and clavinet, rather than generic synthesizers), with a lengthy instrumental interlude that is every bit as engaging as the vocal sections — basically, the kind of material that fully justifies the art of the extended disco groove: «intelligent dance music» way before the term was hijacked for something completely and utterly different.

The rest of the tracks are neither quite as catchy nor as inventive in terms of arrangements, but I'd still have almost any of them over your average Olivia Newton-John of the same time. ʽHonest I Do Love Youʼ has a catchy and captivating vocal hook (even if it may get repeated way beyond any rational measure), accentuated by sharp slide guitar licks and even something that sounds like a... sitar? Whatever; plucked strings give the tune a bit of a psychedelic sheen, as opposed to the more conventional bowed strings. ʽI Wonder Will I Ever Get Over Itʼ is a pretty rhythmic ballad; ʽSo Blueʼ skips disco overtones in favor of a more traditional doo-wop approach, but still with plenty of tension; and only the old classic ʽI'm Gonna Make You Love Meʼ, on which Candi actually duets with Crawford, functions here like generic corny disco — let alone the embarrassing moment where Candi has to sing "every minute every hour, I'm gonna SHOWER!", and it takes at least a second or so for the listener to understand that this is not the end of the line (the correct lyric is "I'm gonna shower... you with love and affection!"). (She does look like that front cover photo was taken in the shower, though, so there might as well be something to it).

As a final surprise gesture, the last song is neither disco nor doo-wop, but a traditional gospel number: just Crawford at the piano, and Candi behind him, belting out ʽTake My Hand, Precious Lordʼ like she'd just gotten a huge kick out of Aretha's Amazing Grace, or, better still, a pack of old Mahalia Jackson records. She's not exceptional, but she's real good; allegedly, she just did that bit of gospel as a vocal warm-up, but Crawford decided the results were too good to miss, and thus, perhaps, inadvertently set her up on the road that would eventually lead her to a full-time career in gospel several years later.

The real good news here is that Candi seems to have found a way to «restore» a bit of her perso­nality, and reintroduce some serious soul into the material — without making any particularly wrong moves, such as oversexing it, pulling a Donna Summer when such a thing would quite obviously lead to fake posturing and embarrassment. She succeeds in being herself here, firmly planted on top of all the disco bells and whistles, and the bells and whistles ring and whistle their reverent praise of the artist, rather than overshadow her with shallow entertainment. A very decent effort on the whole, well deserving of a thumbs up; too bad that in the commercial sphere, if it was disco and it wasn't about sex or at least about not needing any education, it had few chances of selling. (ʽVictimʼ did get pretty high on the R&B charts, but that was it).

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