Candi Staton: The Ultimate Gospel Collection

The great soul queen discovers god and disco... and puts them together with surprisingly good results.

Candi Staton

The Ultimate Gospel Collection

Label: Shanachie
US Release Date: 2006-08-22
UK Release Date: 2006-09-04

Candi Staton has one of the great soul voices of our time, tougher and more resonant than Mavis Staples, less showily flamboyant than Aretha Franklin, earthier, by far, than Mahalia Jackson. She started, like nearly all female black singers of her time, in church, touring through her teens with the Jewel Gospel Trio. Four children, a troubled marriage and a stint as a church organist intervened, but she was rediscovered in the late 1960s by Rick Hall's Fame Records, which released a string of top 10 R&B hits. Switching to Warner, she even hit number one in the disco era with "Young Hearts Run Free". Still, she had more or less been forgotten when 2004's Candi Staton unearthed her classic Muscle Shoals material from 1969 to 1973 to nearly universal acclaim. She followed with His Hands in 2006, her first album of new secular material in more than 20 years. And now, with The Ultimate Gospel Collection we get a glimpse of what she had been up to in the interim, the long period between her R&B heyday and current revival when Candi Staton found god and gospel music.

This two-disc set collects previously released and new music primarily from the 1980s onward (though there is one Jewel Gospel Trio cut, the wonderful "Too Late", recorded in 1958). It is divided into two sections, with disc one focusing on traditional gospel music and disc two, called "contemporary hits", highlighting Staton's gospel/disco hybrid sometimes known as "gospco".

Even the traditional disc, however, diverges pretty sharply from pure church music, putting slinky soul beats behind its songs of praise. Opener "There's Nothing Left But God", originally from Staton's 2002 Proverbs 31 Woman, oozes sensuality out of every pump-organ'd pore, its rollicking blues beat rocking from side to side. And then there is Staton's voice, climbing steadily, surely, up the stately melody and letting loose with a note-shifting "whoo-ooo-ooo" when she gets there. The subject matter is downbeat -- literally losing everything to find Jesus -- but there is nothing but triumph in the melody. "Grace, They Call It Amazing" a newer cut which features Staton's son Marcus Williams on drum and her daughter Cassandra Hightower singing backup, is similarly uplifting, starting from a talk-sung invocation of god's grace and soaring in the tightly harmonized chorus. Staton's faith is tough and realistic; she's been through too much to indulge in sentiment. So there's a defiant joy in songs like "Shut Up and Start Praising", with its scorching duet with Dottie Peebles, and a touching heartache in "Mama" her song to the mother who died before she turned her life around. Some of the sounds are overly slick, others such as the hora-rhythmed "I Will Praise" are just plain odd. Still, the traditional songs, buoyed by contributions from Joe Ligon, the Richard Smallwood Singers and Dottie Peoples are surprisingly genuine and moving, even when they are a little too glossy.

The second disc, surprisingly, is even better. It sounds dreadful, the combination of gospel and disco, but it works quite well. There's a steady pound of dance drums, whippet lines of funk bass and staccato bursts of strings to propel Staton's vibrant voice in "It's Your Season", and a hooky-girl chorus calling out the moves in "Hallelujah Anyway". The best cut, though, is "Dance Dance Dance", Staton's definitive disco-gospel blend, with its dark-edged piano chords and pounding boom shuuup beat and a quick homage to Sly's "Dance to the Music". Like the Family Stone song, this one communicates a familiar message -- the world is a sad, dangerous place, so why not party? -- but it has an unexpected religious edge. "Get up off of your feet... and dance," she says, but it's for god, not man.

Staton got a lot of flack from the church ladies for her willingness to cross genres, and it's hard to imagine it won her much love from the dance crowd either. Still there is something spiritual, something both physically and emotionally moving about this music. You can imagine it comforting, transforming, motivating and inspiring people, just as all the best religious music is supposed to do. Cuts like "The Blood Rushes", provides an almost bodily release in its triumphant chorally sung refrain. "You need a miracle," chants Staton, her girls reply, "The blood rushes," and it's a little miracle in itself just how good it makes you feel.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.