Candi Staton has been called the “First Lady of Southern Soul” thanks to a string of hits in the 1970s that included R&B versions of "Stand By Your Man" and "In The Ghetto." Later, she topped the disco charts, before turning back to her roots singing gospel music. Staton brings all those stylistic elements and more together in her new album, Life Happens.
The new album finds 74-year-old Staton back in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and reunited with producer Rick Hall for the first time since they made music history at FAME studios back in the 1970s. Hall produced three of the 13 tracks on the disc. Marcus Williams helmed the rest. Williams, whose resume includes work with John Legend, Stevie Wonder & Tyler Perry, is also Staton’s son - which brought a different dynamic to the studio sessions.
“Well, you can kind of tell him what to do. You can’t tell a lot of producers what to do," she said. "I used to call him up and say ‘you know what? I lived with that song last night. I need to do that first verse over. I need to come over right now because I’m in good voice and I need to put it down.’ And he’d say ‘Come on! Let’s do it, let’s just do it.’”
While there are two producers sharing credit on the album, Staton said she took total control of the project.
“For the first time in my whole career, and I’ve been doing this, Lord, since I was five or six years old, I’ve always had people telling me what to do," she said. "What not to sing. What to sing, how to sing it. And this time, I was so free. I was able to write my own stuff, sing it the way I wanted it, do it as many times as I felt I need to. I mean, I was just in charge.”
The songs she wrote for Life Happens tell the story of life’s ups and downs.
“I was going through all kinds of things: getting with the wrong people, getting abused and getting talked to, disrespected and stuff. And I would sit down and start writing about it," she said. "That’s how I came up with "Three Minutes to A Relapse" and "You Treat Me Like a Secret." I had this guy who would always treat me like a secret, he would always go ‘You can drive your car and meet me there.” I’d say ‘You’re dreaming…”
She said the song "Treat Me Like a Secret" is striking a chord with a lot of her audience.
“They’ve been through it, too," she said. "They can relate.”
After much success with disco, soul and gospel, Staton surprised longtime fans in 2006 by changing her sound again. The result was an album called His Hands, which was embraced by fans of rock and roots-based Americana music. Her new CD is the third to have a few tracks with that rootsy sound … not that she likes hearing musicians put into boxes like that.
“Everybody’s in a different category. You know what? I’m a gospel, country, blues type of vocalist. And that’s exactly what Americana is," Staton said. "It’s a bluesy, kinda country, kinda thing. And I’ve been doing it forever. It’s just natural for me.”
"I Ain’t Easy To Love" is one of the tracks on Life Happens that was produced by Rick Hall -- and it updates the Muscle Shoals sound he pioneered in the 1970s. Bluesy, with a full horn section, it finds Staton singing with John Paul White of the Civil Wars and Jason Isbell. It’s a nice compliment to the funkier songs sampled earlier.