Candi Staton – Life Happens (review)

Candi Staton – Life Happens (Beracah Records) review

An R&B legend returns with a killer new album

Candi Staton has been at it for a long time, yet her new record, Life Happens, is easily one of the best of her entire career.  She had a hand in writing most of the tracks on the album, and there’s an honesty that she imparts that can only come from someone who has loved, lost, bounced back, and lived to tell about the whole ordeal.

The disc opens with “I Ain’t Easy to Love” – ironically not one of the songs she penned, but it sure sounds like it’s coming from her heart.  She’s joined by Jason Isbell of Drive By Truckers and John Paul White of the Civil Wars on vocals – an odd pairing, but it works.  The track is a reunion of Staton with Muscle Shoals’ producer Rich Hall, who was responsible for many of her R&B hits from the Seventies.  It has that definitively swamp-coated sound.

Staton still possesses one of the most expressive voices in all of soul music – she can roar like a lion, then plead like a little girl, oftentimes in the same song.  She gets her sassy on with “You Treat Me Like a Secret,” then pledges her commitment in the acoustic-led “Eternity.”  “My Heart’s on Empty” cleverly references “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” over a soulful groove, while  “Commitment” is fueled by a riff akin to John Waite’s “Missing You.” For a lady of 74, she is still capable of impeccable phrasing, and damn, she can still be sexy as hell too.

The real treat is “She’s After Your Man,” which certainly sounds like it came from a life of experience.  Staton gives a spoken intro cautioning about the use of social media before she sings “she wears more makeup than she really needs / she’s showing more cleavage than you need to see” over a funky groove with lots of horns.  And, Candi ad libbing at the end is worth the price of the disc alone.  That’s the thing – some of the best stuff comes while the songs are fading out – you don’t want them to end.

“Have You Seen the Children” is a slow burner with some searing guitar, honking sax, and chilling subject matter – how our world has eroded for our kids.  Staton sounds possessed – this is one that certainly hits close to home for her.

The accompanying booklet features photos from throughout her life, and it’s fitting.  This record feels like a culmination of everything that came before, both good and bad.  Candi Staton isn’t as well-known as many of her R&B contemporaries, but with her latest record, Life Happens, here’s hoping some more light will be shed on this fantastic singer.  —Tony Peters