Review Of “Candi Staton – Evidence – The Complete Fame Records Masters”

Ace Records released “Candi Staton – Evidence – The Complete Fame Records Masters” in 2011. The CD contains all of the songs that Candi Staton recorded for Fame records at the label’s studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama between 1968 and 1974. Among them are her most illustrious musical performances.
Candi Staton is regarded by many if not most fans and connoisseurs of southern soul music as the genre’s greatest female vocalist of all time. Her gifts included an attractively raspy yet full voice, impeccable intonation and a flawless sense of rhythm. Her phrasing was astonishing in its use of time and space to convey meaning, something that cannot be taught but only marvelled at. Added to this was emotional power coupled with sweet vulnerability. And, despite the ups and downs in her personal life, Candi always delivered the goods no matter what kind of material she had to work with. Was Candi Staton the greatest female soul singer of all time? Her recordings for Fame Records make that case ever so eloquently.
Canzetta Maria Staton was born into a dirt poor family in Hanceville, Alabama in 1940. She grew up singing gospel music. By the time she was 10 years old she was living at the Jewell Christian Academy in Nashville, and became the lead singer for the Jewell Gospel Trio. The group toured the traditional gospel circuit and recorded a number of singles.
Just past the age of 20, and already with four children, Candi decided to take a stab at a secular career. She soon ended up singing with Clarence Carter and his band. Clarence introduced her to Rick Hall who quickly signed her to his Fame Records label. Candi’s first session at Fame’s studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama took place on September 25, 1968.
That first session yielded “I’d Rather Be An Old Man’s Sweetheart” which went on to reach number 9 on the R&B chart. Candi comes out smoking on this mid-tempo burner, a convincing start to her time with Rick Hall. Her second single, “Never In Public”, didn’t chart despite her excellent performance. “I’m Just A Prisoner” was a significant step up in quality with Candi’s raw-voiced delivery laden with emotion. The young singer finished up 1969 with a strong double sider which reached number 5 on the R&B chart. “Sweet Feeling” couples a compelling groove with Candi’s emphatic vocal. The flip side, “Evidence”, is even better. Candi’s no-nonsense statement of betrayal is made eloquent by her stunning phrasing.
A first album soon followed and unveiled a number of excellent tracks including the loping “Someone You Use” and the deep soul ballad, “Another Man’s Woman, Another Woman’s Man”. However, it’s Candi’s take on the often recorded “That’s How Strong My Love Is” that steals the show. Her interpretation of this soul standard is in a class all by itself. Employing a breathtaking dynamic range Candi delivers a performance that is at once tender and passionate. In her hands the meaning of the lyrics is fully realized.
1970 saw the release of Candi’s most successful song while at Fame Records. “Stand By Your Man” made it to number 4 on the R&B chart. Candi transforms the Tammy Wynette country hit into a country soul classic, establishing herself as the first lady of that hybrid southern idiom.
The flip side of “Stand By Your Man” is one of the many fine George Jackson and Raymond Moore compositions recorded by Candi. “How Can I Put Out The Flame” is in my opinion her most profound performance ever. She takes this moving southern soul ballad to almost unimaginable depths of desperation and despair. The pure genius of Candi’s artistic expression is in full bloom.
In 1968 Ella Washington recorded an exceptional country soul version of “He Called Me Baby”. Two years later Candi Staton covered the song beautifully. Her heartfelt interpretation is sublime. Paired with a moving deep soul ballad, “What Would Become Of Me”, the 45 reached number 9 on the R&B chart.
Candi’s second album , “Stand By Your Man”, came out in 1971 and included all three of her singles from 1970, the third being “Mr. and Mrs. Untrue” coupled with “Too Hurt To Cry”. Both songs are good but not at the level of the two preceding records. On the album were three new songs. In my view the best of them is “That Old Time Feeling” with its cool, mid-tempo groove and Candi’s trademark emotive delivery.
Two songs recorded at the time did not see the light of day until the release of “Candi Staton – Evidence – The Complete Fame Records Masters”. My vote goes to “Where Were You” with its catchy rhythm, flugelhorn riff and beautiful background work by what sounds to my ears like Rhodes/Chalmers/Rhodes. Candi is superb as always.
The second disc of the CD begins with two tracks which were recorded at the sessions for the third album, “Candi Staton”, but which had not been released before. For me the better of the two is Candi’s sensitive and heartfelt cover of Ann Peebles’s “Trouble, Heartaches and Sadness”.
Included in the album were cuts from the three singles Candi released in 1972. First came “In The Ghetto”, Candi’s touching cover of Elvis Presley’s 1969 hit. Elvis spoke highly of her superb treatment of the song which reached number 12 on the R&B chart. Next out was the lovely country soul ballad, “Lovin’ You, Lovin’ Me”. The album followed shortly after. Two of the tracks were released as a single after the album came out with Candi’s own composition, “The Thanks I Get For Loving You”, being the stronger of the two sides. Candi’s interplay with what sounds like Rhodes/Chalmer/Rhodes again is deft and convincing above the pleasingly, loping rhythm track.
Five other new tracks made it onto the album. “I’ll Drop Everything And Come Running” is a gorgeous example of a Muscle Shoals soulful romp with Candi, Rhodes/ Chalmers/Rhodes (it just has to be them) and the band all clicking together. However, “Darling You’re All That I Need” is without doubt the star of the show, and from my standpoint the best song on the album. This sublime country soul ballad is beautifully arranged with its pretty trumpet intro and refrain, and lilting rhythm track. Candi’s deeply touching vocal conveys vulnerable sadness and longing.
Two new singles came out in 1973, and the second was to be Candi’s last release for Fame. “I’m Gonna Hold On” was a worthy final outing. Candi takes this lovely George Jackson ballad and brings it to life with deep emotion and feeling.
A recording session at Fame Studios in August, 1973 produced five finished tracks that languished in the tape vaults until the Ace CD was released in 2011. Of the five the two best for me are “Lovin’ The Easy Way” with its swampy southern atmosphere, and “Are You Just Building Me Up”, a fine example of country soul. Candi is at the top of her game on both cuts.
The CD concludes with the debut of three unfinished songs which were recorded in March, 1974. The third and final track, “We Had It All”, is the standout among them. Candi’s interpretation of this country ballad is a deeply moving tale of longing and loss.
Candi moved on to Warner Brothers, a disco career, a lengthy phase in the church as a gospel singer and finally back to secular music, or as Candi now refers to it, life music. Candi’s expressive skills remain as formidable as ever.
“Candi Staton – Evidence – The Complete Fame Records Masters” may well be the best collection of soul songs ever released, and Candi Staton the finest female soul artist of all time. If you could only own one soul CD, this is the one I’d recommend.

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