In which the first lady of Southern soul picks up where she left off in 2006, exploring her roots with a voice that remains one of the most instantly recognisable in music today. In that previous album, His Hands, Candi Staton tackled uncomfortable subjects head on, an approach reprised in Who’s Hurting Now? The key difference between the two records, however, is that this album emerges from the pain with its fists clenched and a ready smile.
Before it does Staton again examines weighty issues. None are heavier than world peace, which Mercy Now looks at in its observation that leaders are reaching “towards another mushroom cloud”. Mary Gauthier‘s song deals with big and small, so that Staton sings to friends and relatives as well as her country, concluding with the upward looking message that “I love life and life itself could use a little mercy now”.
It almost goes without saying that the legendary Staton tonsils remain in formidable condition, that familiar combination of raw soul shot through with hard life experience. Her versatility is there for all to see, as she tackles songs written by country, blues and pop luminaries, and even makes songs she initially took a dislike to her own.
Will Oldham, who penned the uncomfortable home truths of domestic violence on His Hands, offers one song for this album – Get Your Hands Dirty, where Staton demands more input from her man. She does precisely the opposite in Dust On My Pillow, a song addressing Viagra and its negative influence in breaking up long-running relationships.
She ends on an upward curve. There’s a sense of contentment running through I Don’t Want For Anything, a song that refuses to push for material gain, while the closing Light In Your Eyes portrays everything good about this album, with an inner strength coming through triumphant.
Mark Nevers resumes his position at the controls for this album and turns out some beautiful arrangements, such as the string harmonies that lace I Don’t Want For Anything or the quietly reverent guitar of Mercy Now. The dusty drum sound and soft bass seem to evoke the outdoor plains of the South, while the odd frisson of brass gives the music an occasional sideways glance towards funk.
Ultimately, though, he quite rightly defers to Staton’s voice, the primary instrument, which completes the healing process started by His Hands. As authentic soul voices go, they don’t come any more bona fide than this one.