Curtis Harding - Face Your Fear (2017)

Curtis Harding
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Curtis Harding - Face Your Fear

I ended 2017 the way that I began the year – raving about an original work of revivalist soul music. Then, it was Southern Avenue’s self-titled album. Now, it’s Face Your Fear, the latest project by soulful wanderer Curtis Harding. I almost made it out of 2017 without hearing Harding. I learned about him when I checked the popmatters.com year end list of the best R&B records – something that has been a late December ritual for me since I came across Lianne LaHavas there in 2012.

Curtis Harding - Face Your Fear

I ended 2017 the way that I began the year – raving about an original work of revivalist soul music. Then, it was Southern Avenue’s self-titled album. Now, it’s Face Your Fear, the latest project by soulful wanderer Curtis Harding. I almost made it out of 2017 without hearing Harding. I learned about him when I checked the popmatters.com year end list of the best R&B records – something that has been a late December ritual for me since I came across Lianne LaHavas there in 2012.

Reading Harding’s bio led me to realize that his back story contains familiar elements along with some that are unique. Harding grew up in Saginaw, but he spent most of his early years traveling with his gospel singer mother. Harding, in fact, would not settle down until the family moved to Atlanta when he was 15. Harding’s travels sometimes led to him being called onstage to perform with his mother, so by the time the family settled in Atlanta, his soulful tenor that easily moves from baritone to the falsetto heard on the funkily sinister title track was pretty refined.

He appeared on some OutKast records, and became a backing vocalist on Cee-Lo Green – most notably on The Lady Killer album. Harding dropped his debut album, Soul Power, in 2014. We actually did first listens on two tracks from Harding’s debut so some Soul Trackers might be familiar with him.

Many of the songs on Face Your Fear tell stories of characters who are running from or to something. That includes the aforementioned “Face Your Fear,” a track that opens with haunting synthesized violins and finds Harding talking to a woman who may either be involuntarily detained or is laying on a psychologist’s couch and must summon the strength to confront and overcome her fears to get on with her life – or to save it.

“Go As You Are” is a psychedelic funk number that feature a reverbed guitar and vocals playing off against an electric bass and bongo drums that give the tune a percussive feel. The track tells the story of a man who leaves his home and goes to a bar in search of something. His lover and the bartender encourage him to go but not to return with the same hang ups. Harding adopts a willowy falsetto on mid-tempo “Ghost of You” to tell the tale of a man who sees his woman slowly slip from his grasp even when she is in his presence. Still, he can’t escape from her memory: “I felt your hands on my shoulder and the brush of your hair/Just when I turned to hold you baby/No one was there.”

I think the diversity and quality of these soul revival projects stands as one of the big stories of R&B in 2017. Southern Avenue’s self-titled album was a combination of Memphis soul and the sanctified church. Sweet Pea Atkinson and Thornetta Davis both released strong projects that represented the northern soul of the Motor City. K. Sloan’s record fused the emotive musical theater vocals with a Motown records vibe. Bashiri Asad channeled the soul crooners of the 1970s and Harding’s Face Your Fear, with its nod to early 1970s funk rounds out a strong year for retro soul. Highly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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