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Curtis Harding: Face the Power of Soul!

Here we are, July has just ended and it’s still perfect beach weather; perfect weather for a drive up the mountains or to the lakes. Where are we? At home. HAHA. The joy of 2021 just keeps on giving.

As with so many of my friends, I have spent an inordinate amount of time indoors lately. Worse than just spending the time indoors, it’s been mostly spent in a single room. In front of my computer.

That’s not to say it was all bad, just that there was WAAY too much of it.

One good thing to come out of it was that I got to enjoy the new Marvel shows on Disney+. I don’t know about you, but “Wandavision” absolutely blew my mind.

I wasn’t particularly in the mood for “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” when it aired, but it turns out that I really enjoyed the show, despite one or two predictable moments. The chemistry between Anthony Mackie as the titular Falcon and Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes (AKA The Winter Soldier) was great. They had an easy camaraderie that was fun to watch. I’m glad I took the time to watch the show.

So why am I devoting to much space to Marvel TV Shows when this is supposed to be a music Blog? Well, it’s thanks to “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” that I discovered one of my favourite new artists of 2021. During the end credits of the 7th episode of Marvel’s “The Falcon and the Winter”, a gorgeous piece of 60s inspired soul/R&B began to play. It turns out (thanks to the Shazam app on my phone) that the song was On and On by Curtis Harding. And it further turns out that the song is from 2017, not 1967.

Plucked from his 2017 album “Face Your Fear”, On and On combines everything that I love about Motown, Northern Soul, and mid-20th century R&B. The driving bass line, the scratching rhythm guitar and the horn stabs made my day. This is the kind of R&B that I could listen to all day.

The bass, the drum rolls, and the quiet xylophone hiding in the background of the mix combines exquisitely and feels inspired in part by Nothing Can Stop Us by Saint Etienne, but transformed from British Pop classic into true Philly soul, via Curtis Harding‘s native United States.

Touring extensively with his gospel singing mother, Harding became a natural performer, first as his mother’s backup singer, then working and touring with the like of CeeLo Green, Lauren Hill. Outkast, Cypress Hill, and The Roots. That’s a pretty damn impressive circle of friends. Their influence definitely shows in his music as his style combines rap, rock, blues, soul, psychedelia and gospel into a kind of music mish-mash he calls “slop ‘n’ soul”.

After spending a few weeks in Toronto re-assessing his music direction, Harding ended up back in the States, first recording his 2015 debut album “Soul Power” in Atlanta, and then his 2017 follow up “Face Your Fear” in New York City. A handful of non-album singles have followed on since then, most notably (my favourite) I Won’t Let You Down which came out on July 7th, 2021 via Bandcamp.

If you are a fan of that gorgeous soul driven sound of Motown and mid sixties R&B with it’s gorgeous string arrangements and joyful brass, then you really need to check out Curtis Harding. Everything is available to stream on Spotify and everything is available for purchase or to stream on Bandcamp (except, strangely, two 2018 singles).

Being a record fan, I went for the physical option and picked up both his albums on vinyl. I also like the convenience of streaming, so I also splurged and bought the digital editions from Bandcamp (the vinyl editions don’t come with digital download codes).

A bit of a heads up here, though: there has been a lot of talk from fans that there are serious problems with a few pressings of the “Face Your Fear” album, most notably the clear vinyl pressing (it seems the US editions with this product code are the problem 87537-1). The black vinyl edition that I bought from Amazon UK is flawless and sounded fantastic on my system (EU pressing, with product code 7537-1)!

So far, Curtis Harding’s discography includes only two albums and a small handful of non-album singles, but it is nevertheless quite a lot to discuss each track individually, therefore, I have chosen a few of my favourites to highlight.

SOUL POWER” (2014)

A1 – Next Time is the first track on side A of Curtis Harding’s debut album “Soul Power”. It hits all the right notes for me. Just hitting that sweet spot between sexy and funky, it starts with drums and rhythm guitar, but it is the bass (for me) that makes this song so special. Turned up so that it is prominent in the mix, Next Time has a funky, driving bass line that propels the track forward at an easy pace; not too fast and not too slow. Add some silky horns and the song is an instant classic. That’s a phrase that can be applied to a lot of the songs in this discography.

A2 – The tremolo and the 60s inspired organ on Castaway draw you in, but the song really starts when the drums kick in at the 45 second mark, and create a song that wouldn’t feel out of place on a collection of hits from 1969. It feels so immediately comfortable and familiar. It has a beautiful feel to it that reminds me at times of Percy Sledge‘s When A Man Loves a Woman and other times of Procul Harem‘s Whiter Shade of Pale.

B1 – Side B begins with Beautiful People, another song that deftly defies strict categorization. It begins with a bass and guitar duet that feels more psychedelic rock than R&B, with crisp snare drum and warbling vocal effects that would lend themselves well to a late 60s rock track, and yet there is something undeniably funky about the song that kicks in around 1:45. This is another mellow (but funky) feel good song. This is a song that would sound amazing blasting out of the car radio with the windows down on a sunny day!

B3 – Heaven’s on the Other Side feels like classic mid-seventies Motown to me. It has the brass and it has the strings, skirting the borders and channelling the rhythms and vibes of early disco, it has that feel good factor that makes a good song great. Using the same style of guitar scratching that was so effective in Sister Sledge‘s classic We Are Family, Harding creates a song that manages to convey that same innate joy.

B5 – I Need a Friend is one of my favourite tracks on this album. This one is absolutely pure R&B, with it’s beautiful horn accompaniment and its reverb laden vocals. It feels like classic Marvin Gaye circa What’s Going On.

B6 – Cruel World plays with the same musical theme of The Police‘s Walking on the Moon, but by adding a bit of attitude it gives this funky number a bit of menace. It manages somehow to feel like the blues, but it has a bit of a reggae upswing to the beat that makes it its own animal.

Aside from these tracks, some honourable mentions are Keep on Shining (A3), Freedom (A4), I Don’t Wanna Go Home (A6), The Drive (B2), and Cruel World (B6). That’s most of the album! It should also be noted that even though I focused on the tracks that sound most like straight up R&B, the albums features songs in a few different styles, and somehow they manage to create a cohesive whole.

FACE YOUR FEAR” (2017)

A2 – Face your fear, the title track of album, is quite possibly one of the sexiest numbers on the album. The strings and the bass combine to make a slinky, sexy groove that invites you give in to temptation.

A3 – The track that introduced me to Harding‘s output, On And On was used to great effect on Marvel’s “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”, bringing the show to a close on a distinctly forward looking note. On And On captures the spirit of change and of excitement that a lot of classic soul/R&B of the sixties had. A lot of the R&B music from the sixties has that special quality to it, as though the performers and the writers knew that change was in the air, and they somehow managed to capture that hopefulness and anticipation and bring it across in the music. It is an effervescent quality that could likely never be caught on purpose, but when it shows up there is no mistaking it. No matter the lyrics, these types of songs manage to drive home the feeling infinite potential for the future.

A5 – When it’s time to shake your shoulders, the distinctly R-Rated Till The End is a blast! The lyrics are straight forward horn driven R&B about a man who wants to get his relationship back on track, but it’s the fantastic background vocals that make this song such a standout. If it doesn’t make you smile, you really have no sense of humour. There is a true understanding of human relationships at play in the lyrics. While Harding‘s lead vocals are singing it’s time to “pick up the pieces we made” a completely deadpan voice in the background of the mix, his lover, responds, “I’m tired of you breaking shit”. There is no doubt in the listener’s mind as to who messed up this relationship. You can practically see the finger being wagged in the singer’s direction as that background voice essentially heckles him throughout the whole song, calling him on his bullshit. It makes for highly amusing, unique take on a standard pop trope.

B3 – Here, with Welcome To My World, we take a freaky little detour into psychedelia. Still funky, this song is so out to left field that I really can’t think of anything to compare it to. The music is gorgeous but it is the addition of the slightly over-the-top, reverb laden spoken word from a female character that makes this song such a bizarre, amusing trip. She sounds so earnest, and yet I can’t make up my mind if she’s for real or if she’s stoned, or if she’s actually an actress in a porn. Musically this is a standout track, and lyrically it’s unique style makes it one of my favourites. I can’t help but smile while it plays.

B4 – Ghost of You may be one of my all time favourite tracks from Curtis Harding. His beautifully controlled falsetto over the gently rolling organ and bass, with the background la-la-las is a true aural treat. The keyboards, quite reminiscent in timbre of The DoorsRiders On The Storm, make the song feel firmly set in the late sixties/early seventies, but the crystal clear production sounds absolutely modern. This is the song that I sing along with every time it come on.

Other highlights on this album include Go As You Are (A4), Need My Baby (B5), and As I Am (B6). It is a hell of a strong album and one that can stay on repeat all day if I let it. I actually liked this album more than his debut, despite listing less songs of note. I think it may be because the album itself is less “all over the place” and more straightforward R&B. I enjoyed the random detours on “Soul Power”, but I really loved the classic soul inspired sounds of “Face Your Fear” better.

NON-ALBUM TRACKS (2018-2021)

Where We Are from 2018 is an absolutely epic track, clocking in at almost 8 minutes. It has a very sixties-inspired organ that I love, which reminds me of the sound of The AnimalsHouse of the Rising Sun, though the songs themselves are nothing alike. At eight minutes, it just doesn’t quit. It gives the whole piece a chance to breathe and a chance to shine. There are some beautiful disco-inspired flourishes from the strings, as well as a great instrumental passage from the woodwinds, which was a nice surprise. There is a 4 minute edit available, but it feels rushed in comparison, and for me the full-length version is the one to listen to.

It’s Not Over, also from 2018, is another feel good piece of Motown inspired R&B, with a chorus that makes you want to sing along. It feels easily accessible and familiar. As with Where We Are, I wish it was more easily available! Currently it seems these two songs are only available on streaming services! This would be a welcome addition to my collection if I could find it on vinyl!

His latest track, I Won’t Let You Down, released exclusively on digital platforms in July of 2021, is another strong offering and has become yet another of my favourites. It has that solid, classic R&B groove that I love and features uplifting lyrics and gorgeous production. I am hoping that it eventually finds its way onto an album (and preferably vinyl!).

His other 2021 offering (from May), Hopeful, is also a strong track, but the vocals are more akin to rapping rather than singing, and so it really isn’t my cup of tea, despite the solid melody and backing track.. I like the Gospel style chorus, beautifully orchestrated strings, and guitar solo (!). I appreciate the positivity of his vocals and so (of course!) I bought it anyway because there is definitely a charm to it and I like to support and encourage artists that I enjoy. If you’re good with rapping style vocals, though, you’ll likely love the track.

And that’s it!

There are so many strong tracks among these two albums and singles that it was really hard for me to choose a selection to create a playlist for you. I literally could have discussed them all. Even the less than spectacular tracks are strong enough to deserve your time. When I rated the albums track-for-track, there were none that I gave less than 4 stars, so in the end, I decided to try and make a playlist that highlights some of my favourite Curtis Harding tracks and runs to roughly an hour.

Do yourself a favour before summer turns to autumn, let some of the seriously cool sounds of Curtis Harding blow through your mind. I haven’t been this excited by a new artist in years! I am so glad that I discovered his music!

What do you think? Had you heard of Curtis Harding 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.

Here are a couple of Bandcamp playlists for those of you without Spotify, or if you wish to buy the album directly from the artists (Vinyl is available):

SOUL POWER (2014):

FACE YOUR FEAR (2017):

I WON’T LET YOU DOWN (2021):

We are not affiliated in any way with any of the products or merchants mentioned in this review. Any suggestions and  links are for your convenience only.

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