Southern soul is back and so is its First Lady - Candi Staton, who racked up 16 grits and gravy R&B/Pop hits between 1969-1974 such as the Grammy-nominated “In the Ghetto” and the swamp boogie of “I’m Just A Prisoner (Of Your Good Lovin’).” After detours into disco during Jimmy Carter’s administration and a twenty-year return to the gospel of her youth, Staton is back on the path that first established her name. She’s also back with the follow-up to her acclaimed 2006 Honest Jons/EMI CD His Hands - her first secular LP in 24 years. Featuring tunes by noted songwriters such as Will Oldham, Mary Gauthier, Dann Penn, and Staton herself - the new project Who’s Hurting Now? is a defiant, brutal musical storybook on the ups and downs of love and life.
The set opens with “Breaking Down Slow,” a smoldering ballad first recorded by Lee Roy Parnell and Bonnie Bramlett in 2001. Co-written by Dann Penn (who co-wrote Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman” and Staton’s 1969 gem “Another Man’s Woman”), this track pops with the earthy nostalgia of Staton’s hallowed, Rick Hall-produced Fame recordings. “That’s my kind of music - gut bucket blues,” Staton giggles. “I loved singing that. It was given to me by Mark Ainley at Honest Jons. I didn’t understand what it meant until I lived with it for a few days. There were other things on my mind but the guy in the song keeps doing things to win this woman over and she resists him. She’s probably been hurt before and is hesitant about another relationship but he keeps pursuing her and she eventually breaks down and gives in to him. I thought it was a song about weakness at first and I didn’t want to sing anything about weakness. I had done enough of that at Fame.”
Clearly, Staton shows no weakness on the sly title track, “Who’s Hurting Now?” that boasts a funky `60s vibe reminiscent of Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings. The song began as collaboration with the British dance duo, Groove Armada, in 2006. “They sent me two instrumental tracks and asked me to write the lyrics,” she recalls. “I hear words when I hear music and the words I heard were `who’s hurting now?’” The duo used Staton’s voice and lyrics but totally transformed the song from an African tribal-styled vamp into a sophisticated club song with a new title, “Paris” for their hit CD Soundboy Rock. “What Andy and Tom did to it was really nice,” Staton says. “But, no one would recognize it was the same song. Since they changed the name and since I liked the demo so much, we decided to do it for this project.”
Honest Jon’s Mark Ainley and producer Mark Nevers searched near and far for both new and vintage songs to add to the album. Friends sent Ainley tapes of obscure soul and country songs while Nevers called upon his Nashville songwriting buddies. Ainley found Bonnie Raitt’s 1973 recording of “I Feel the Same” and presented it to Staton. “I loved that right off,” she says with a chuckle. “That’s my kind of song. It’s just the blues. I listened back at it and I had to pat myself on the back. I did a pretty good on that if I do say so myself.”
Nevers brought up the idea of Staton covering Mary Gauthier’s harrowing social commentary “Mercy Now.” “This might seem repetitious,” Staton laughs. “I really like that song too. With everything that’s going on in the world right now, that song is very relevant. That is a world song. It’s a prayer. This country needs a little mercy now. You can hum along with that and understand what’s going on in the world and that we all need mercy.” This has her thinking on the historic nature of Barack Obama’s becoming the first African-American U.S. President. “It gives me hope,” she says. “I have a lot of hope. I pray to God that he keeps his promises. Political people promise a lot of things but when they get in there they don’t do half of it. I know he can’t do everything but I hope that he’s able to accomplish some great things.”
David Crawford wrote Staton’s biggest American pop hit “Young Hearts Run Free” which reached #1 on the Billboard R&B charts in 1976. Staton refreshes his 1968 composition “I Don’t Know” which was recorded by Baby Washington. “David’s sons have always stayed in touch with me,” Staton says. “So, one day we were talking and I asked if his dad had any songs that hadn’t been recorded. His son came by and brought me a bunch of tapes of songs David recorded but never released. `I Don’t Know’ was in that mix. I remembered it because David had played it for me one time. I said then that I wish I could do it but it was the disco era and ballads were not really selling then. We were looking for hit records and that would have been an album cut. But, he wouldn’t have let me record it anyway because he was keeping it for his own solo LP.”
A Vancouver, WA school bus driver named Connie Knapp, co-wrote the mid-tempo “Lonely Don’t” with her collaborator David Graham. She’s been writing songs for 30 years but this is her first tune to be recorded. “David would send me ideas and sometimes partial songs and ...then tell me I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted with what he sent and go whatever direction...Well, with `Lonely Don't,’ I immediately loved what were his main ideas in that partial song, and so I just rolled with that idea that I picked up on of Lonely being a living, caring being, of sorts, and doing the things a mate or partner was supposed to be doing but wasn't.” When Staton’s publicist first sent her the demo, Staton immediately connected with the song. “I love that song too,” she says. “That’s my testimony right now. I’m lonely in my personal life right now but it wont be that way always. It’s just a temporary situation as the song says but until I find the right guy who will treat me the way I want to be treated, Lonely will be spending the night.”
Will “Bonnie Prince Billy” Oldham has a cult following in the indie music sphere. Aside from composing the classic “I See A Darkness,” he also penned Staton’s haunting masterpiece of domestic abuse, “His Hands.” He wrote the organ-driven “Get Your Hands Dirty” for Staton. Some of the lyrics threw Staton who grew up on an Alabama farm.
“Its not what I would have chosen but the record company felt very strongly about that song,” Staton explains. “Planting trees? Picking peas? I picked enough peas in Alabama in my young life. Maybe that’s why I didn’t want to say that line but Will allowed me to move a few things around so that I could become comfortable with the lyrics. I think there’s an individual lesson in all of the songs. I’ve had a man who didn’t want to work but I had to take care of him, so it won’t hurt him to get his hands a little dirty.”
Staton wrote the country ballad “Dust on My Pillow” during the time that she recorded His Hands. “That’s the blue pill song,” she cracks. “Viagra. That pill is causing so many marriages to break up because the older guys have a new burst of vitality. They were stuck on the porch with their wife of 30 years. Suddenly, because they are retired and have a little money and their manhood, they are going after these young girls.
The Cox Family, a Louisiana bluegrass outfit, recorded the track “Cry Baby Cry” in 1993 as almost a dirge. However, Nevers and Staton transformed it into a country rock tune. “I love that song,” Staton says. “It’s beautiful. It reminds me of the Staple Singers.” “I Don’t Want for Anything” is mellow and soothing. “That’s more like an inspirational song,” Staton suggests. “When I was singing it, I was singing it to God. I don’t know what the writer had in mind.”
Dan Tyler wrote the closing song “Light in Your Eyes” when his son was going through a depressive period. Tyler and his godfather Tommy were attending Ole Miss football game when they began to discuss his son’s condition. “ I said to Tommy, `It's like he's losing that light in his eyes,’ Tyler recalls. “Tommy said, `Man, that's a great idea for a song and he suggested I write it with my son in mind.” Eventually, LeAnn Rimes enjoyed a #5 country hit with it in 1997.
There’s one more song available on some Internet sites as a bonus track. The funky “You Treat Me Like A Secret” drives hard with organ simulating bass by Mose Davis of the Counts and ferocious drum lines by Staton’s son, Marcus Williams. “Things don’t bother me like they used to,” Staton says of the song about a man with a roving eye. “I used to I have thick skin now I let a lot of things soak in that I should have shook off I don’t do that now if I know u not good for me I don’t deal with u. When I see red flags, I try to move out of the way I used to let you do these things and now I’m over it. When a bad man treats you bad and finds other people to run around with and they don’t add up to you? They wanna come back and it’s too late for them now. They are trying to backtrack with that 80/20 rule.”