There’s a whole generation out there who only know Candi Staton as the disco diva responsible for the euphoric “sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in the air” vocal on The Source‘s classic You Got The Love.
There’s a slightly older generation who know her as the voice of Young Hearts Run Free, the disco number that made her name in the late ’70s, but there’s a lot more to Staton than the dancefloor. Now 66, with four marriages and a whole litany of domestic abuse and drug and alcohol problems behind her, His Hands sees her link up with Mark Nevers of Lambchop.
The result is worth comparing to those other veteran female icons who collaborated with younger men in recent times, Loretta Lynn and Nancy Sinatra. There’s an authentic gospel feel to the whole album, and Nevers squeezes every drop of emotion and feeling out of Staton’s wondrous voice. There’s no showy guest stars here – it’s Staton’s show all the way, and she more than rises to the challenge.
Perhaps the most remarkable track here is the title track. Written by Will ‘Bonny Prince Billy‘ Oldham especially for Staton, it’s a soulful number with a quite staggering vocal performance by the lady herself. Although there’s obviously a religious undertone to it, the song is about a battered wife and hearing Staton invest every syllable of the track with such feeling is enough to send shivers down the spine.
The material is split between tracks specially written for Staton, her own material and some covers, such as Merle Haggard’s You Don’t Have Far To Go. She makes the latter her own, shedding the song of its country stylings, adding an uplifting brass section and a heartbreakingly good vocal. As well as young upstarts such as Joss Stone can sing, this is proof positive that when it comes to battered love songs, there’s no substitute for experience.
It’s that voice that lifts some of the more mediocre tracks onto another level – You Never Really Wanted Me adds minimal backing and just lets Staton do her stuff, while In Name Only, despite becoming rather repetitive, is worth hearing just for Staton’s performance as a fed-up wife who’s seeing her marriage crumble.
For those people not into soul or gospel, then they may find the album slightly one-paced. There are a lot of mid-paced ballads, but they’re all designed to show off Staton’s voice to its very best advantage. Special mention must go to the horn section, who light up tracks such as Running Out Of Love and lend a punchy feel to the excellent Cry To Me.
Although Staton is a committed Christian, the religious moments on here are subtle enough to not put off non-believers. Only closing track When Will I is explicitly religious, and she never pushes her beliefs down the listener’s throat. Besides, this is gospel music.
Those looking for dancefloor anthems are advised to look elsewhere, but those people who want authentic, genuine soul will find much to love in His Hands. It’s also a fine reminder of one of the more overlooked voices of her time – if there was any justice, she’d be just as well respected as people like Aretha Franklin. Buy this to find out why.