The work of Atlanta resident Candi Staton, always in favor among gospel enthusiasts, has quietly undergone a mainstream revival in recent years. First came Candi Staton, a collection of her late '60s R&B recordings from Astralwerks' Honest Jons imprint. The two-disc set, which highlighted her uniquely raspy and soulful delivery to great effect, earned universally positive reviews from critics. Earlier this year, the same label issued His Hands, a new Staton album helmed by indie/country producer Mark Nevers, whose résumé includes records by Lambchop and Calexico.
A new collection from Shanachie, The Ultimate Gospel Collection, may be the most accurate portrayal of Staton's career since she quit drugs and alcohol and embraced God in the early '80s. This two-disc set, split between a "Traditional" disc and a "Contemporary" disc, collects songs from as early as 1955, when she sang "Too Late" as a teenage prodigy with the Jewell Gospel Trio. It winds through selections from hit contemporary gospel albums like 1983's Make Me An Instrument ("Nothing Can Separate Me") and 1997's Cover Me (a cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water").
The Ultimate Gospel Collection includes the original 1986 version of "You Got the Love," a rousing proto-house track she recorded with producers the Source. A timeless dance single, it played as Sarah Jessica Parker walked into the sunset at the end of the series finale of "Sex in the City." In the liner notes for The Ultimate Gospel Collection, gospel music historian Bil Carpenter writes that "You Got the Love" sold three million copies worldwide over the years. It's particularly popular in the UK, where remixed versions of the song have reached the pop charts there several times.
Carpenter repeatedly notes that Staton's embrace of contemporary styles, from disco-house to bluesy funk and uptempo R&B, garners a mixed response from churchgoers who frown on gospel music that isn't traditional. The only things that may frighten secular listeners, however, are hardcore Christian sentiments like "When I See the Blood," a lyrical depiction of Jesus Christ's death and rebirth. Alternately, it is powerful songs like these that affirm Staton's artistic relevance in popular music, no matter (or, depending on your view, because of) her religious convictions.