Sometimes, I decide to write more that one article on an artist, if they’ve released a number of highly regarded or important albums. However, sometimes, my reasons for writing about an artist more than once are that as well as being an important and influential artist, they’re an artist whose music I love. Candi Staton, falls into the three categories I’ve mentioned. I’ve long been a huge fan of Candi’s music, and recently, was delighted when a compilation of all the music Candi recorded for Fame Records was released. Previously, the Honest Jon’s label had released an excellent compilation of her music on Fame Records, but the Kent Soul compilation features forty-six tracks over two discs, including many previously unreleased tracks. This is the perfect introduction to the music of Candi Staton, back when she was The First Lady of Southern Soul.

Back when she was with Rick Hall’s Fame Records label, Candi released three outstanding, critically acclaimed albums, all of which, are among some of my personal favorite albums. Of all the Southern Soul singers whose music I enjoy, Candi is right up their at the top of my list of favorite singers. Previously, I’ve written about Candi’s 1969 debut album I’m A Prisoner and her 1971 album Stand By Your Man. The latter of these two albums saw Candi nominated for a Grammy Award for her version of the Tammy Wynette penned Stand By Your Man.

The last of the three album’s she recorded for Fame Records was Candi Staton, released in 1972. This was the last album that Rick Hall produced for Candi, and featured In the Ghetto, Elvis Presley’s 1969 hit single. When it was released as a single, it reached number twelve in the US R&B Charts, and entered the top fifty of the US Billboard 100. This track saw Candi once again, nominated for a Grammy Award. After the released of Candi Staton, Rick Hall had negotiated a new contract for Candi with United Artists, which started with Candi’s next album 1974’s release Candi. However, her final album, Candi Staon, on Rick Hall’s Fame Records featured some of the best music she’d recorded, and it’s that album I’ll now tell you about.

Candi Staton opens with Do It In the Name of Love, a funky slice of Southern Soul, that opens with bursts of blazing horns, the rhythm section and chiming guitars combining before Candi’s charismatic and passionate vocal enters. She’s accompanied by soulful, backing vocalists, a wailing Hammond organ and the combination of funk laden, braying horns, guitars and rhythm section. Together, they produce a hugely atmospheric backdrop for Candi’s vocal, which is now a combination of power and passion, that brings Bobby Bloom and Neil Goldberg’s lyrics about a nervous lover to life. Together with Rick Hall’s fulsome, emotive arrangement, this is an excellent track to open Candi’s third and final album on Fame Records.

Darling You’re All That I Had sees Candi singing about the love she lost, and how her man has left her, leaving her feeling sad, lonely and used. Again, Rick Hall manages to arrange the track in such a way to match the sadness, emotion and drama of Candi’s vocal. To do this, horns drench the track, when it opens, with the rhythm section, guitars and lush, sweeping strings all part of his arrangement. He uses horns to add both emotion and drama, while the strings help get across the sadness and desperation in Candi’s voice. Adding to an already moving arrangement is a piano, which combines beautifully with the dramatic, bursts of horns and lush strings. When this is combined with Candi’s deeply emotional, sad vocal, it’s a potent and winning combination from The First Lady of Southern Soul.

Pam Sawyer and Gloria Jones cowrote Blackmail, and when you hear the lyrics, they’re written from a woman’s perspective. They’re about how when a man has been rejected by a woman, he’ll stoop the lowest level, threatening to tell her husband about their stolen kiss. Here, Candi gets across how worried, petrified she is, being blackmailed by her rejected beau. The track has a faster tempo, with Candi’s voice laden with emotion, demonstrating the fear and worry someone would experience in such a situation. Likewise, the quicker arrangement is full of swirling strings, punchy horns, with a piano prominent in the arrangement, while the rhythm section and guitars drive the track along. Mean while, backing female vocalists cut in, their voices soaring in unison, just like the blazing horns. This much faster, punchier and driving arrangement is perfect for Candi’s distraught and panicky vocal.

In 1969 Elvis Presley had a hit with In the Ghetto, written by Mac Davis. When you listen to that version of the song, it’s a man singing about the problems and worries a woman bringing up children in poverty is experiencing. Although that version is deeply moving, I’ve always felt the song suits a woman singing it. Now many people have recorded versions of this track, but my favorite version, is Candi’s. She seems to be able to get across the hopelessness and pain the character is experiencing. Combine that with Rick Hall’s arrangement, and you’ve got the definitive version of the song, like Candi sung the definitive version of Stand By Your Man. As the track opens, an atmospheric and emotive, combination of the rhythm section, guitars, swirling, shivery strings and a hugely moving harmonica accompany Candi’s thoughtful, dramatic and melancholy vocal. Backing vocalists accompany Candi throughout the track, adding subtle, considered vocals that compliment Candi. Later in the track, Candi’s voice grows in power and emotion, as she delivers the heartache and hopelessness of the situation. Horns rasp, a guitar cuts in repeatedly, while stings shiver and swirl and that heart-achingly sad harmonica cuts in. By the end of the track, you can’t failed to be moved by Candi’s rendition of Mac Davis’ song and Rick Hall’s beautiful arrangement. I defy anyone to find a better version of this song, ever.

The final song on side one of the original album was Wanted: Lover, which previously, had been released on Fame as a single by James Govan, which incidentally, is one of the tracks on the forthcoming The Fame Studios Story 1961-1973 box set on Kent Soul. Personally, this is a track that I think suits a female voice much more than a male vocal. When the track opens with dramatic, blazing horns, sweet, soulful backing vocalists singing in unison, while the rhythm section and horns provide a sultry sounding arrangement. When Candi’s vocal enters, it’s strong and confident as she sings, neigh pleas about wanting a lover, while waves of the catchy, sultry arrangement unfold dramatically. Candi’s vocal is made all the better by the addition of the growling horns and soulful backing vocalists. Like previous tracks, Rick Hall is a magician, able to arrange the song in such a way that when his arrangement is combined with Candi’s vocal they bring the song to life, and tell the story that lies within the lyrics. It’s the perfect, passion laden track to close side one of the album.

Side two of the album opens with The Best thing You Ever Had, written by George Jackson. It’s one of the album’s standout tracks, which is apparent even after a few bars of the track. Guitars, drama laden braying horns, swirling strings and rhythm section combine to produce an emotionally charged, faster and fuller arrangement before Candi’s strident vocal bawls that she was the best thing her man ever bad. As she sings, her voice is full of confidence, anger and maybe even relief, at being free. Accompanying her are a trio of female backing vocalists, whose high soaring vocals match Candi’s confident vocal. Although just two and a half emotionally charged minutes long, this track demonstrates Candi’s versatility and talent as a vocalists, as she makes these lyrics come alive brilliantly.

Lovin’ You, Lovin’ Me sees the tempo and style change with lush sweeping strings at the heart of the introduction, before with a swirl they drop out and give way to Candi’s thoughtful, tender vocal as she sings about how glad she’s to have found her lover. As Candi sings, the rhythm section, guitars and piano play slowly and thoughtfully, allowing Candi’s vocal to take centre-stage. Later, with a flourish, the strings rejoin, adding brief bursts of drama, their lushness adding to an already understated arrangement that flows beautifully along. Barbara Wyrick’s lyrics are quite beautiful, and the way Candi delivers them is just perfect. There are no dramatics, just a thoughtful, considered delivery of them, which when combined with the understated arrangement, works beautifully.

After the tenderness of the previous track, Candi ups the tempo, on the dramatic, horn laden I’ll Drop Everything and Come Running. The horns growl and blaze as the track opens, joined by the rhythm section and chiming guitars before Candi’s powerful, emotive voice enters. From there on, the arrangement is a combination of braying horns, soulful backing vocalists and driving rhythm section as Candi tells her lover how she’d drop everything come running to him. Matching her passion, is the arrangement, with the horns perpetually punctuating the track, while backing vocalists cut in, their voices powerful, as they unite. Throughout the track, space is at a premium, while emotion and passion run high, on this fantastic sultry, funky slice of soul.

You Don’t Love Me No More is another emotionally charged track, with Candi realizing her man no longer loves her any more. It’s a slow, dramatic slice of the finest Southern Soul. Emotive, horns slowly drench the introduction, while a piano adds atmosphere and the rhythm section provide the track’s slow, atmospheric heartbeat. When Candi sings, she knows her man don’t love her any more, but tells him he’ll never find anyone as good as her. Meanwhile, chiming, shimmery guitars and a wailing, atmospheric Hammond organ cuts in. These addition makes an already brilliant arrangement even better, resulting in one of the most moving, hugely dramatic tracks on the album, thanks to Candi’s heart wrenchingly moving and sad vocal.

Candi Staton closes with The Thanks I Get For Loving You a track that Candi wrote herself. Chiming guitars, drama laden, swirling strings and a driving rhythm section combine at the start of the track before Candi’s angry vocal enters. She’s sings how she’s through with her man, fed up with his cheating, but warns him confidently, that she’s the best he’ll ever get. Behind her, backing vocalists seem accompany her, almost saying go girl, you tell him. Meanwhile behind her, one of the best arrangement on the album is unfolding. Wailing guitars, drama laden piano and strident strings combine with a rhythm section that provides the track’s pulse. Together this is hugely effective, and provides the perfect backdrop for Candi’s angry yet confident vocal. Quite simply, this is the perfect track to close the album with. Not only is it one penned by Candi Staton, but features an outstanding, emotive vocal, and a hugely sympathetic arrangement from Rick Hall that lifts it to the next level.

As someone who has been a fan of Candi Staton’s music for many years, I always look back at the three albums she recorded for Fame Records as “vintage” Candi Staton. Much as I love her later work, this for me, is the best music she ever recorded. She was working with a hugely talented producer in Rick Hall, who to me, brought out the very best in Candi. Rick Hall had gathered some of the most talented house bands in America back then. This included guitarist Jimmy Johnson, bassist David Hood and drummer Barry Beckett, who just replaced Spooner Oldman. This wasn’t the only advantage Rick Hall had over other studios. He also had some of the best songwriters around, including Dan Penn and later, George Jackson, who replaced him. Together, they all worked with Candi, helping her to produce three critically acclaimed and quite brilliant albums. This lead to Candi been crowned the The First Lady of Southern Soul, a title she richly deserved. Of her three albums for Fame, I like each of them equally, but if forced to name just one, I think Candi Staton would be my choice. These albums were very different to Candi’s later disco tracks like Young Hearts Run Free and her million selling Acid House hit with The Source You Got the Love. Since then, Candi has made something of a comeback, recording two new albums for Honest Jon’s His Hands and Whose Hurting Now. Recently, Candi was touring the UK and now aged seventy-one gave great performances that won her a new generation of fans. Should you wish to hear some of her earlier recordings on Fame, you can either choose from the Candi Staton compilation on Honest Jon’s or Candi Staton Evidence: The Complete Fame Records Masters on Kent Soul. Both are good value, and feature some brilliant music, so my advice would be buy both, and experience the brilliant music of Candi Staton, The First Lady of Southern Soul. Standout Tracks: In the Ghetto, The Best thing You Ever Had, You Don’t Love Me No More and The Thanks I Get For Loving You.


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