'You're looking at the genuine article tonight," Candi Staton politely boasts before her rich, honey-tinged voice caresses the Elvis Presley hit "Suspicious Minds". The 65-year-old country-soul diva refuses to belt out songs, and has no time for the vocal gymnastics of an X Factor automaton or even for the brassiness of, say, her near contemporary Tina Turner. Staton's exquisite voice is a sweeter, more vulnerable, instrument and her act is a tender, more soothing experience. It's little wonder that the dance act The Source used her comforting timbre for the 1991 chill-out tune "You Got the Love". The dance anthem provides a cosy embrace at the end of the night and evokes a euphoric response here, particularly from a gaggle of suited gentlemen of a certain age.
The diminutive songstress from Hanceville, Alabama is the archetypal soul survivor, "who ain't hurtin' no more, oh no". She has endured four torrid marriages, which were littered with physical abuse, philandering, drugs and alcohol, but she has come out the other side.
The performance kicks off with a subdued band intro, led by Mick Talbot – yes, Mick Talbot from The Style Council, who has hardly aged since his heyday and appears to be wearing the same T-shirt. They plod their way through some sort of soul jam until Staton arrives and follows it up with a rather bland cover of The Bee Gees' "Nights on Broadway", an ode to unrequited love.
However, she ups the tempo considerably with the biting "I Feel the Same", which features the tart lyric "I know you're leaving me, but I'm leaving you, too", from her new, sumptuous country-soul album, Who's Hurting Now?, produced by Lambchop's Mark Nevers, who also oversaw her superb 2006 comeback release His Hands.
And then she starts mining the good stuff, the material from her Muscle Shoals days in the early Seventies. In 2004, Damon Albarn's Honest Jon's label shrewdly released Candi Staton, which included 26 exquisite and downright dirty, country-soul-infused delights recorded by the Muscle Shoals label in Alabama. Here, blissfully, she sings five of them, including the sublimely smutty "I'm Just a Prisoner" and the charming "Old Man's Sweetheart", with the touching observation that "An old man would be so grateful/ You could just let him sit and talk/ While the young man is somewhere busy/ Doing the camel walk."
The highlight, though, is, of course, the exhilarating 1976 ode to freedom, "Young Hearts, Run Free", which Staton makes the centrepiece of her performance, spreading it out for over 15 minutes and introducing a bit of religion, too. "Is it okay if I take you to the church?" this acclaimed gospel singer enquires sweetly.Reuse content