Candi Staton releases her 30th album, Unstoppable, aptly titled for a career in R&B, gospel, blues and even disco. She’s had hits in 5 different decades. Here she reunites with producer Mark Nevers who was responsible for two of her best albums, His Hands (2006) and Who’s Hurting Now (2009). Unstoppable occasionally has some similarities to those, but is more eclectic, more danceable, and funkier. Staton is sampling from her different styles rather than homing in on one groove. With her unmistakable phrasing, born out of her Alabama soul and blues roots, she, as much as anyone, as defined Southern Soul and its subset, The Muscle Shoals sound, over these past 50 years. She’s back to remind us that she still has plenty left to say, and she holds little back.
There are few vocalists better at capturing pain and heartbreak but Staton mostly takes the higher road, bent on positivity and high energy. She wrote or co-wrote six of the songs in her typical deeply personal way but focuses on current events more than she ever has. “Stop living in a bubble, thinking everything is gonna be fine,” she sings on the ballad “Revolution of Change” before leading the battle cry in the funky “Stand Up and Be Counted.” In addition, her choice of covers adds to this stance. She raves up for Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power” and Nick Lowe’s oft-covered “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” It even seems that the opening track “Confidence” is a nod to the #MeToo movement with lines like these – “I’m Strong, I’m a Woman on – I’m Unstoppable.”
She claims that “Confidence” was written just for her, however; to give her the fortitude to keep moving forward. “I put that on and I start dancing. That’s how I start my day,” she says. She feels that if others would do the same, we’d have less divisiveness. Given her status as a Hall of Famer in Christian Music and in the Alabama HOF, she has the platform to get her message through.
With her sons, Marcel Williams (bass) and Marcus Williams (drums), holding down the rhythm section, Staton feels free to explore varied styles. Some of the material seems a bit overproduced but generally, the horns and background singers help to create a full sound that adds to her power. It’s not a throwback album but Staton is well versed in soul.
She resurrects a pair of relatively obscure soul classics, Norma Jenkins’ “I Fooled You (Didn’t I?)” and her mentor, Tyrone Davis’ “Can I Change My Mind,” which takes her back to her early roots. Staton is very versatile, handling ballads where she caresses each word to booming powerhouse vocals on the funky tunes. Yet, it’s on the former where she especially shines as evidenced by “I Fooled You (Didn’t I?)” and “Revolution of Change.” The Tyrone Davis closer is perfect though. It’s the essence of what Staton brings to soul music.
Thankfully Staton is still here, having persevered through changing styles, the whims of the music business, and some tough personal struggles. She’s giving back, not only through her music but through her non-profit organization, A Veil of Silence, which works with victims of domestic violence. The venerable Staton remains one of our most important voices. She’s speaking out. Listen up.