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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Candi Staton: Who's Hurting Now?


1) Breaking Down Slow; 2) Who's Hurting Now?; 3) I Feel The Same; 4) Mercy Now; 5) I Don't Know; 6) Lonely Don't; 7) Get Your Hands Dirty; 8) Dust On My Pillow; 9) Cry Baby Cry; 10) I Don't Want For Anything; 11) The Light In Your Eyes.

But no, the story does not really end with Nightlites. Like Al Green, Staton spent nearly two de­cades doing nothing but gospel — enabling her to stay away from all the detrimental develop­ments in contemporary R&B — and like Al Green, she eventually re-emerged in the early 2000s: rested, rejuvenated, and behaving like the last two decades simply did not happen. In fact, neither did the later half of the Seventies, and that entire disco period was just a bad dream — as long as we can still remember Dave Crawford with a good word, this attitude suits me just fine, too. Her first new stint with secular music occurred on His Hands, recorded in 2006 for the British indie label Honest Jon's Records (founded with the assistance of Blur's Damon Albarn, no less), but the full-fledged comeback was Who's Hurting Now three years later, made at Abbey Road Studios with a bunch of American musicians, including Tony Crow from Lambchop on key­boards and Candi's own son Marcus Williams on drums.

The material here is mostly, if not all, modern, contributed by various contemporary songwriters who usually provide standard fodder for blues and country bands — so one shouldn't really ex­pect anything groundbreaking from this batch. What matters is not the melodies, but the sound of the whole thing: the record is executed strictly in late Sixties / early Seventies style, with a soul / gospel / funk / blues-rock vibe that defiantly ignores all the sonic advances of the modern century and reinstates faith in live musicianship over computer programming. Not that the musicianship is stunningly great or anything: all these Nashville cats that Candi brought over to London are good, but generally sound as if they were just working by the hour — and yet, even without exu­berance and excitement, it is still a pleasure to hear this sound in 2009.

Candi herself has audibly aged, sounding huskier and duskier than she used to, but there is still plenty of soul and conviction in her voice — well evident already on the opening number, the slow soul waltz ʽBreaking Down Slowʼ that points you in the main direction this music is going to take, that of the Tensely Aching Heart. Funky R&B grooves begin to arrive with the title track (cool weaving textures between two well-synchronized guitars and a well-mechanized brass sec­tion) and ʽI Feel The Sameʼ (funk-blues in the style of the dear departed Albert King), but the focus always resides on the singer, which is both a blessing and a curse: she's good, but not that good, and sometimes I quietly wish that the backing musicians had been given a more open chance to shine — there's hardly a single guitar solo anywhere on the album.

The overall reaction is a little mixed, because the main vibe seems confused: on one hand, the album relies a lot on personal tragedy and depressed nostalgia ("I've only just lost the best years of my life", she sings in a genuinely moving manner on ʽDust On My Pillowʼ), yet, on the other hand, this seems just like the kind of record she'd secretly dreamed of making ever since the early hits — one of those «I finally get to do things my way and my way only» moments of triumph, where the artist is clearly elevated by just the mere understanding that she is no longer being exploited by anyone and no longer has to conform to any particular fashion. These two emotions sometimes cancel out each other, confusedly disallowing for a proper sharpening of the feelings; but ultimately, it still comes together with a few nice personal anthems of contentment — ʽI Don't Want For Anythingʼ and ʽThe Light In Your Eyesʼ mix together her secular and gospel experi­ence in subtle ways that make these numbers, clichéd as they are, relatable; the way she delivers that final piece of advice, "don't ever lose the light in your eyes", is quite endearing.

I give the record a thumbs up for totally irrational reasons — had all these songs been recorded by, say, Bonnie Raitt, I'd probably pass them by completely, but somehow Candi just has this hard-to-explain charisma that makes them all seem deeper than they probably really are. Roughly speaking, she seems to believe in this stuff, and she seems willing to inject her personal expe­rience in it, and so, even in the absence of solid, original hooks, when you have a backing band with such a good sound, and a front singer with such a great heart, well, how would it be possible not to recommend this? And I haven't even thrown in the obligatory «hey, at least it's better than all that Rihanna crap» retort yet...

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