Curtis Harding – Face Your Fear
Curtis Harding – ‘Face Your Fear’ is out! (Anti- Records)
I’m wild about Curtis Harding’s new album Face Your Fear. The album is soul, but not what you think. It’s punk, but not what you think. It’s psychedelic, but …
Curtis Harding caught my attention when he released his debut album, Soul Power, in 2014. I loved it: strong guitars and soul. It rattled in a most charming way, in the style of classic soul from the seventies, but performed in a garage. The single ‘Keep On Shining’ was a wonderful upbeat soul cracker with bone-dry drums, which made it a hit on several radio stations.
As soon his new album, Face Your Fear, was available, I bought it straight away . Now I’m playing it in loop. Over and over. I’m pretty wild about it. Why? I’m thinking he’s taken it to another level. It’s got soul, it’s got punk, it’s got rock and roll. Furthermore, it’s old and it’s new.
Hard times for soul lovers
These are hard times for soul lovers. Many original soul artists are gone. Old-school soul veterans Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley passed away earlier this year. Some soul veterans experimented at the end of their career with new electronic sounds, like Bobby Womack (‘Bravest Man In The Universe’ or with The Gorillaz ‘On Plastic Beach’ or ‘The Fall’) and Gil Scott Heron (I’m New Here).
Fans of soul like me can rely on younger artists to keep the soul flame alive. We have Michael Kiwanuka, Ben L’Oncle Soul (in France), Leon Bridges, Eli “Paperboy” Reed, … They are all doing a fantastic job, I love them all. But being a contemporary soul artist is challenging: to create soulful music, with the power of the great examples, and at the same time create something new and exciting, music that applies to the world today.
Challenging times for soul artists
Some of the younger generation musicians succeed wonderfully well in experimenting with soul or soul elements. They let the genre breath and expand, ending up with a wonderful new style, sometimes not even soul in the strict sense (I need a definition of “soul” here!…) or let’s say not in the old school style soul. Listen to Valerie June blending soul, country, folk and blues in a singer-song writer tradition. Listen to the eccentric artist Benjamin Clementine who melts elements of soul, classical music, french chanson with expressive poetry. He himself is horrified by being called a soul singer, which is understandable listening to his music, but no question about it: he’s got soul.
What is soul?
Back to Curtis Harding. His definition of soul is this:
“Soul is an experience. It can be in the way you dress, the way you talk, the way you sit down in a chair. It’s a feeling that you can translate to someone with whatever you’re doing.”
Oxygen for the soul
With his second album, Curtis Harding looks for fresh oxygen to put in his soul music being true to himself, continuing the soul time line. And boy, did he succeed.
Face Your Fear opens with the song ‘Wednesday Atonement‘, in which we can hear Curtis Harding’s falsetto voice. The song could have come from a soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield. His new songs are influenced by authentic blues and soul. This album has a rootsy, unpolished groovy sound. The breakbeats come straight from the sixties, the organs are funky and the rhythm guitars sound rusty in a good way.
Curtis Harding is allergic to modern production tricks. This benefits Face Your Fear. Take for example the uptempo funk with the rattling percussion in ‘On & On‘: pumping and streaming, with echoing backing vocals and overdriven brass instruments. Wonderful.
“I want to bring the soul genre to other places without ever denying the basis.”, announced Harding in interviews. Listening to his songs, I understand what he means. ‘Dream Girl’, a hallucinogenic pop song, and then analogue synths and stubborn funk. ‘Welcome To My World’ also has a psychedelic touch: a cheesy acoustic guitar and a experimental rhythm section ready to travel in space. Wow.
‘Go As You Are’ has got this greasy reverberating wahwah-guitars and an almost classic funky bass line. ‘Need My Baby’ sounds old school and new at the same time, as if it’s retro song that is updated.
Harding also shows us he’s an all-round singer and a writer of inspiring lyrics. He shows us he’s an all-round singer and a writer of inspiring lyrics. “Hey mother, I’ve been saving/ Working here all alone/ Trying to build a happy home/ So most people are never given/ A second chance to be a better man maybe”, Harding sings in ‘Wednesday Morning Atonement’. Face Your Fear could be his ticket to the A-class. Message to the music industry: Curtis Harding is a hugely interesting artist who can bring the soul genre out of the dusty cabinet and into the 21st century.
It was a wait of 3 years, but it it was well worth it. Strings and brass, fuzzy guitars, derailed synth lines, a soulful voice with a punky scratch, nicely decorated with weird edges here and there. Nice job.
Already looking forward to his next album. No pressure, Curtis.
Have a listen
Listen here to the full album stream of ‘Face Your Fear‘ by Curtis Harding: