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Arts & Entertainment
Candi Staton at the Bowery Ballroom
by Mark Thompson & Robert Doyle
August 9, 2006 
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Throughout the summer of 1976, three pop singles dominated the airwaves: Boz Skagg’s “What Can I Say?,” Lou Rawls’s “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” and Candi Staton’s “Young Hearts Run Free” – a trio of tunes which more or less encapsulated the bumpy road of love. During that summer, you could be riding in your car and in the course of ten minutes shift from first love, to disenchantment, to total disillusion.

Celebrated for her gospel-tinged, Southern soul voice, Candi Staton already had a string of hits and a couple gold records by 1976, but it was the disco-fied “Young Hearts” which would, thereafter, become the song most associated with her name. And in a freak of fate, the song’s lyrics heralded her own years-long struggles with a series of abusive relationships.

After a twenty-year absence from New York’s concert venues, Staton returned last night to perform for a crowd of loyal fans at the Bowery Ballroom. And much like a similar comeback concert, during a long-ago August in the distant year of 1984 when Tina Turner’s performance at the Ritz announced that she was back, better than ever, Staton also showed her fans that she’s got the legs to go on, with a voice that’s remarkably rich and nearly unchanged from thirty years before. Her versions of “Stand By Your Man” and “In the Ghetto” were justifiably popular in the Seventies, and to hear her sing them live was to feel again the summer air through the car window while cruising back country roads.

Staton’s new CD “His Hands” has been trumpeted as a return to her soul roots, and yet, the title cut, which she sang last night, is arguably as much gospel as it is soul. Another cut from the new CD, “How Do I Get Over You?”, however, is most decidedly a return to the days when every city in the Northeast and South had a soul radio station where Staton and her peers ruled. Staton sang this cut with a regal dignity that comes from one who well understands the tortuous road to recovery.

As was expected, the loudest applause came upon hearing the opening chords to “Young Hearts” – and as the disco ball circled the room, the crowd danced and sang along. Staton followed her massive hit with “Victim,” another song from her disco queen reign, and in fact, given that the crowd was unwilling to let Staton slip away without an encore, she performed “Victim” twice, one right after the other. And perhaps that choice was telling, given that the lyric “I became a victim/of the very songs I sing” seemed tailormade for Staton’s personal life.

One thing proven by Staton’s return to a New York stage after all this time is that she has lost nothing in her command of her material – and the years have been very kind to her voice. And last night, the press was out in abundance, and Staton dutifully acknowledged them – and if the summer of 1984 and a similar concert at the Ritz are indicators, then Staton’s career might well be starting its third act.