CD Reviews


Candi Staton

(Honest Jon's/Astralwerks)

Sex has been a part of soul music's foundation since choir members began heating up Saturday night fish fries with smoother spices. Among soul's key alms was how it sneaked dirty talk into the heart of Middle America's puritanism via radio long before other pop-culture conventions were liberalized. That's one subtext for the music Southern soul belle Candi Staton's made between 1969 and 1973 on Muscle Shoals' Fame label—records that resided in the B-level of the soul canon partly because they've been in biz limbo and previously unissued on CD. Staton later had disco smashes, a short marriage to her R&B mentor/stud Clarence Carter, and a gospel career. But she began as a churchgoing mother of four, whose dozen-plus chart appearances and two Grammy nominations were earned singing and swinging secularly. Thus, this comp oozes holy secretions—epic portions of forgiveness, jealousy, and carnal lust. The Muscle Shoals house band springs a country-soul trap, while staff songwriter George Jackson and Staton's tunes bag their camel-walking prey with roars and tears. Her take of the great "In the Ghetto" aside, soul's political conscience goes totally unrecognized here. But in such an overheated context, even swoons like "That's How Strong My Love Is" and Tammy Wynette's "Stand by Your Man," which struts along on a funky string section, sound sexually political and uncompromised. PIOTR ORLOV




It's a rare rock and roller who can go gracefully into gray hair. To my mind, four have successfully navigated their post-prime era—Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Neil Young, and Patti Smith—and even they're not infallible. Smith's ninth record, issued in her 57th year, isn't perfect. The first three songs are undoubtedly the weakest, and "Stride of the Mind" is just plain wankery. But beginning with the strangely gentle and vaguely raga-influenced "Cartwheels," the album is mature but instinctual post-Patti poetry. The unkempt and unglossed hard-edged clamor of Smith's band, which still includes the venerable Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Daughtery, became urbane long ago; aside from some fairly cool skronkiness on "Radio Baghdad," they don't do too much more than back her amiably. Considering the lyrical faculty of songs like the personal "Trespasses" and the political "Radio Baghdad," Smith doesn't need much more than that. From the former, the lines "And he found the old coat/hung on a post/like a ragged wing/and took as his own/the sewn and unsown/joyfully whistling" indicate a quiet response to "Distant Fingers," from 1976's Radio Ethiopia. In the 12-minute "Radio Baghdad," she speaks in the voice of an Iraqi: "We invented the zero/the perfect number/and we mean nothing to you/our children run through the streets/and you sent your flames/your shooting stars." No, she's not the first to write a rock—or hip-hop—song about Baghdad, but Smith's firsts came long ago. LAURA CASSIDY


Dancehall Nice Again 2004: Reggae y Reggaeton


To the best of my knowledge, the interludes by DJ Lance O of Miami radio station Power 96 were the only things on this compilation recorded in that city. But Power 96 put this collection together, and the feel of its home city is evident—the uncluttered grooves and airy synth hooks that predominate put the sand between your toes, and the reggaeton of the subtitle refers to a popular Puerto Rican dancehall variant that makes up about half the selections here. Sure, cuts by Ivy Queen, Tego Calderóne, Notch, and Chief Elicedes help mark this disc from dozens of competing current dancehall compilations. But for the most part, it's the Jamaican stuff that not only stands out but feels more worldly and hybridized: the tablas and Ethiopian-sounding chants undergirding Mr. Vegas' "Pull Up," the eerily calm synth and stop-time feel of Danny English & Egg Nog's "Party Time," and the shamelessly Autotuned lead vocal of "Get That Money," Ms. Thing's ridiculous women-be-spendin' hit. "It takes a lot to keep a girl hot/Ladies, get that cash and have fun"—the song's so buoyantly robotic that not even Lance O's smarmy intro ("It's a modern-day girls' anthem!"—and The Rules is a feminist classic!) can make me resist it. The real stroke, though, is Sugar Daddy's "Sweet Soca Music," which swipes its musical foundation from the Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (itself built on a chunk of an orchestral version of the Rolling Stones' "The Last Time"), and turns that song's rock preening into pure pop cheek. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

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