CD Reviews for 05/19/06 – Candi Staton, Irma Thomas

Compact Capsules for 05/19/06
by Dan Ferguson

Candi Staton
His Hands
Astralwerks/Honest Jons Records ASW-49832

Call it, arguably, the best reissue of 2004, that being the self-titled collection Candi Staton (pronounced “Stay-ton”) which gathered for the first time on CD almost all of Ms. Staton’s prized, early 1970s recordings made at the Muscle Shoals-based FAME recording studio and first release for its in-house label. Realizing he had a talent in Staton whose potential was far greater than his modest operation when it came to distribution, FAME owner Rick Hall began shopping around her first four sides for the label. It was Capitol Records that took the chance and based on Staton’s impressive stats from those early years, it was a smart decision. They included a dozen consecutive Billboard R&B charting hits, two Grammy-nominated songs, and one Gold record with the single “I’d Rather Be An Old Man’s Sweetheart (Than a Young Man’s Fool)”. Featuring a number of tracks which had soul fans licking their lips when they were lucky enough to find original copies at record shows and auctions, after toiling in the years since doing disco and gospel music the CD retrospective collection helped put Staton back on the radar screen. It also played plenty into Staton’s subsequent return to the studio late last Spring to record her first album of secular material in nearly 20 years. That album has just been released and boy is it an ear opener. Titled His Hands, it finds Staton heading to the Beech House Studio in Nashville to team up with a mix of old pals (Barry Beckert who played on most all of those early FAME classics) together with some of the newer breed from the alt country side of the tracks. Not all that far removed from those classic, early ’70s sides, Southern Soul with a most definite country unpinning defines much of His Hands. Produced by Mark Nevers of Lambchop fame who owns Beech House for which the focal point is a Sphere Eclipse 28-channel desk originally built for Doppler Studios in Atlanta, Georgia in 1978, the album mixes some excellent Staton originals along with reworks from such esteemed old school types as Merle Haggard (“You Don’t Have Very Far To Go”), the late Charlie Rich (“You Never Really Wanted Me”), Solomon Burke (“Cry To Me”), and Bobby “Blue” Bland (“When Hearts Grow Cold”) and onto contemporary cats like WiIl Oldham whose potent tale of abuse called “His Hands” doubles as the title track. The masterful Staton leaves her stamp on each and every one. The accompaniment is equally stellar and is headed by the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section keyboard ace Beckett whose credits include chart toppers from artists ranging from Aretha Franklin to Bobby Womack to The Staple Singers. Joining Mr. Beckett are a number of Nevers’ “other side” of Nashville bandmates from the Lambchop collective. Altogether, they help give His Hands its classic soul hue. Add in that voice of Staton who sings as if she’s in bed with every one of the 11 songs and is still every bit at the top of her game as a vocalist and it makes for a blast from the past listening experience that is as throwback as it is fresh. In other words, until His Hands came along, I thought they forgot how to make records as rich and down-home as this longplayer. Go buy this thing, and pronto. (Astralwerks/Honest Jons Records, 104 W. 29th Street, New York, NY 10001, or

Irma Thomas
After the Rain
Rounder Records 11661-2186

When the early roll calls came of New Orleans artists and performers missing following Hurricane Katrina, among the most prominent was Irma Thomas. Renowned as The Soul Queen of New Orleans thanks to a slew of early 1960s classics that included “It’s Raining”, “Ruler Of My Heart”, “Break-A-Way”, and a version of “Time Is On My Side” that predated that of Mick and his Stones cronies, there was many a heavy heart upon seeing Thomas’ name on those initial lists. Fortunately, Thomas was quickly confirmed as being among the living having gotten stuck in Austin, Texas where she had played a gig the weekend Katrina invaded. Like oh so many, she returned to the Crescent City to discover she had lost everything. A strong and resilient woman, what Katrina could not take from Thomas was her heart, soul, and spirit. Nowhere are each of those qualities more on display than on her brand new recording titled After the Rain. Celebrating 20 years of making records for the Cambridge-based Rounder label, After the Rain marks a departure of sorts for Thomas. Gone is the urbane, R&B sheen of her earlier Rounder affairs and in its place a decidedly more stripped-down sound that allows her voice, still a force to reckon with even at 65 years of age, to work its magic around the material. From a cover of early bluesman Blind Willie Johnson’s “Soul of a Man” to a superb working of the public domain number “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” through soul nuggets like the late Arthur Alexander’s “In the Middle of It All” which sets the tone for the record as the leadoff track and Stevie Wonder’s “Shelter in the Rain” to the works of more contemporary songwriter types as Kevin Gordon (“Flowers”) and Eleni Mandell (“Another Lonely Heart”), the song cycle on After the Rain spans some 75 years. It’s a daring mix of songs and being the superb stylist that Thomas happens to be, she delivers the goods with total grace and aplomb. The backing band which features fellow Louisiana musicians Sonny Landreth on guitars, David Torkanowsky on piano and organ, and Stanton Moore on drums add nothing but a comfort food type of soulfulness to the proceedings. Simply stated, Irma Thomas is still the queen. (Rounder Records, One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA 02140, or

(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at [email protected].)