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Curtis Harding “If Words Were Flowers” (2021)

Released on the 5th of November, 2021, Curtis Harding‘s 3rd album “If Words Were Flowers” is jaw dropping. Building on the success of his previous effort, 2017’s “Face Your Fear”, this new outing adds an element of hip-hop to Harding’s classic R&B sound, and the results (for the most part) feel organic and authentic.

Three singles have already been released from the album, the first of which, Hopeful came out in May 2021, followed by I Won’t Let You Down in July. The latest track to have a music video is Can’t Hide It. Together, these three songs paint an accurate portrait of the classic sounding R&B that is Curtis Harding‘s new album.

I loved the gospel tinged chorus in Hopeful but I wasn’t really keen on the verses being rapped instead of sung (Though Harding‘s rap delivery does remind me vaguely of Coolio‘s Gangster’s Paradise, which isn’t a bad thing). The beautiful instrumentation is nevertheless breathtaking, and the song has definitely grown on me, especially the album version, which is longer than the single and consequently shifts the instrumental/vocal ratio to have more of what I liked and less of what I didn’t. Follow up single I Won’t Let You Down sounds like classic late 60s/early 70s R&B and is sure to delight fans of Northern Soul and Motown, but it was the third single, Can’t Hide It, that really blew my mind. The bass, the horns, the guitars, and the echoes on the vocals all combine to create an amazing 70s R&B floor-filler.

I was lucky enough to get the gorgeous peach and cream coloured vinyl, but there are a number of colour variants around. Some of the nicer ones include my peach coloured one (500 copies, sold exclusively by Recordstore UK), something called “blueberry” (500 copies made available at shops and on-line in Europe) and “ash grey” (250 copies, sold exclusively by Concerto Amsterdam). I liked the peach coloured one because it matches the album artwork colour scheme, whereas a few of the other colour variants really left me scratching my head (Bright Green?? WTF?).

If you decide to seek out a copy of the album on vinyl, two colour variants I’d avoid are “strawberry milkshake” (which looks like barf) and “snowy white” which looks more like cigarette ash. I would also avoid paying a premium for copies that claim to come autographed, because the on-line consensus seems to be that these are machine-generated autographs, and not the real deal. That I know of, there are ten colour variants (including black). Harding‘s record label, Anti-, kind of jumped the shark on colour variants IMHO.

As for the pressing itself, I can’t speak for the other colours, but mine is beautiful! Flat and super quiet! The mixing and mastering is top notch. Each instrument really has room to breathe with a beautiful clean sound that opens up a nice clear soundscape, especially on headphones. I am not certain if all copies of the album are pressed from the same stampers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case.

A1 – If Words Were Flowers is a bit of an odd duck. It has a beautiful soul groove, but the vocals, where everyone sings in chorus, seems to be channeling something like The Mike Curb Congregation or The 5th Dimension. It’s unique sound is likely achieved by being the sole track on the album that employs a bass clarinet, courtesy of Stuart Bogie.

A2 – Hopeful takes the choral vocals from the opening track and uses them on the chorus, but allows Curtis Harding to rap his way through some of the verses in a style very reminiscent of early hip hop of the late 70s and early 80s. Swelling strings and a driving bass complete and complement the track. Some beautiful jazz-tinged horns and an amazing fuzzed-out electric guitar solo make it a classic.

A3 – Can’t Hide It is the song that really killed me. It literally made me catch my breath. The album is worth buying even if this is the only song you like, but I guarantee you will love most of the remaining tracks. The buildup from the first two tracks culminates in this glorious track.

A4 – With You (Feat. Sasami) slows things down a little bit here, and adds what sounds like marimba to the mix. It’s a great continuation of the groove, with sweeping cinematic strings.

A5 – Explore reminds me a little bit of “On and On” from 2017’s “Face Your Fear”. I don’t mean to imply that it is musically similar, because it’s not, it just seems to evoke the same kind of head-nodding, freaky headspace. It’s got some great retro space-age sounds and what sounds like a classic organ or electric piano with some very sexy tenor sax.

B1 – Where is the Love has a great 70s vibe and features a rocking (if brief), echo laden lead guitar. The drums and percussion is straight out of the mid 90s but the overall effect is pure classic R&B.

B2 – The One OMG! The opening rumble of the bass is amazing, followed by some freaky psychedelic keyboards. A bit of surf guitar after the chorus adds to the atmosphere. This is a killer deep-cut.

B3 – So Low. UGH. Just no. I have tried desperately to find something I like about this track, but I can’t. The vocoder/auto-tune effect on the vocals makes him sound like he’s singing with his mouth up against a spinning fan. The random twinkling keyboard trills and flute with no apparent melody…. just no. If I wanted an album by T-Pain I’d buy one. The track still *kind-of* flows with the rest of the album because it has a vaguely 60s/70s R&B feel to it, but it also sums up exactly what I don’t like about a lot of modern rap: it’s all beat and no melody that (musically) goes nowhere. I can’t begrudge him for experimenting, but I don’t have to like it.

B4 – Forever More has a nice back-beat, but there’s not too much else going for it. It’s nice enough as background music, but it’s not a track you’ll ever purposefully reach for. It’s essentially filler.

B5 – It’s A Wonder is another song that fits well within the confines of the album, producing a smooth, sexy groove, but it wouldn’t stand on it’s own. Nice bass and strings, as well as some really beautiful instrumental bits, but it’s not essential.

B6 – I Won’t Let You Down, the second track released as a single, is an extremely strong album closer. It’s got a nice little piano riff that works well with the bass and some great vocal work by Curtis Harding and friends. There is a funky, slinky groove to this track. In fact, there is just so much happening in this song that every little section has it’s own special ingredient! The call and response style vocals on the chorus, the vibrato on the guitar, the beautiful use of tenor sax and trumpet, and of course the understated lead vocals are sublime! I immediately fell in love with this song when I heard it back in July, and it is the perfect album closer. It closes the album on a high note that almost begs you to start the album over again.

Despite a couple of less than stellar tracks on side B, “If Words Were Flowers” is a really strong outing from Curtis Harding, and one that I will definitely enjoy for years to come. With the exception of B3, this is an album that brings a lot of joy to the room, and can brighten any day.

You might also want to check out my previous post about Curtis Harding‘s 1st two albums HERE!

Meanwhile, check out “If Words Were Flowers” for yourself in the curated Spotify playlist below, or check out the whole album in the Bandcamp widget.

What do you think? Had you heard of Curtis Harding’s “If Words Were Flowers” LP before? Are you a fan? I’d love to hear from you!

Have I missed anything? Are there any songs I should have included in our playlist? Drop me a line in the comment section below! Remember to subscribe so that you don’t miss our next monthly (ish) post (We’ll never bother you more than once a month). PLUS! subscribers get a discount on any purchase made from us.

We have received no remuneration or compensation for anything we have reviewed in this article and the opinions expressed are genuine at the time of publication. We are not affiliated in any way with any of the products or services that may be mentioned in this article. Any suggestions or links are for your convenience only!

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