Candi Staton ‘Unstoppable’ LP/CD/DIG (Beracah/Thirty Tigers) 3/5

Singer-songwriter Candi Staton has legendary status in the UK and rightly so. She started as a southern soul performer who recorded at Muscle Shoals and long-time soul devotees were hip to these sides, while in the mid-1970s her soulful take on disco made the highest echelons of the pop charts with ‘Young Hearts Run Free’, with the production talent of Dave Crawford. Out of favour in the 1980s when glossy drum machines came to the fore, Staton stormed back with another dancefloor take on the emergent house rhythm and resurfaced with the anthem, ‘You Got The Love’. In the early noughties, Candi Staton enjoyed a resurgence of interest via the enterprising Honest Jon’s label that re-issued some of her earlier southern soul sides, then recorded two new albums with her, with the 2006 ‘His Hands’ especially memorable and the best thing Candi Staton has recorded in the second half of her illustrious career. Re-issue label ACE then went the whole hog with the complete recordings on the Fame label, and a new generation was now au fait with her impressive back catalogue.

Fast forward to the present and to this independent release, co-produced by Mark Nevers and keyboardist Marcus Williams. The former seems to have misguided plans for Ms. Staton to be transformed into an early 1980s funkstress and that is confirmed by the opening song, ‘Confidence’, which in truth, is more Chaka Khan than Candi Staton, and features a plethora of synthesizer sounds akin to the early Prince aka ‘Controversy’. Is this really the Candi Staton we know and love? The formula is repeated time and again with, ‘It Ain’t Over’, and the drum happy, ‘People Have The Power’, which is, believe it or not, a song Patti Smith interpreted. Some of the trite lyrics elsewhere seem totally out-of-place with the Rimbaud-esque sophistication of the Smith repertoire.

Sadly, the soulstress that is so beloved is only allowed to come to the fore on the very last number, ‘Can I Change My Mind?’, almost a plea from Candi to return to the style she is most comfortable with, and both a song that could/should have opened up the album and an obvious contender as a single. It is a reprise of the 1968 Tyrone Davis soul opus and, while the original is still the definitive take, this is nonetheless a cut above the rest.

In between the two extremes, to be fair there are some interesting soul-blues numbers with the subtle keyboard-led ‘I Fooled You, Didn’t I?’, an example of what can be done when Staton’s innate soulful voice is respected and wrapped up in cotton wool. A Steely Dan meets southern blues hybrid, ‘Love Is You’, works well with fine background female vocal harmonies apart from some intrusive 1980s synths. Combining the acoustic soul balladry of the Isley Brothers with Fleetwood Mac’s epic ‘Albatross’. ‘Revolution of Change’, hints at another way of caressing that voice in something more suitable, and the pared down instrumentation is definitely a case of less means more. As a whole, the album represents a missed opportunity, a bit like covering Dover sole in a sickly sweet sauce when a touch of lemon is all that is required.

Tim Stenhouse