Curtis Harding's debut album, 2014's Soul Power, was a strikingly confident work that demonstrated he was one of the smartest and most gifted artists to emerge from the retro-soul scene, a vocalist and songwriter with a respect for the past and a vision of the future. It turns out Harding was just getting started; his second full-length, 2017's Face Your Fear, is an even more ambitious set of material, an exercise in psychedelic soul that feeds from a wide range of sounds and influences while still reflecting the mind and soul of Curtis Harding at every turn. While the production and arrangements on Face Your Fear are clearly informed by classic R&B and funk sounds of the '60s and '70s, along with the trippier edges of psychedelic soul, Harding and his studio collaborators (who include Danger Mouse and Sam Cohen) never seem to be reaching for some sort of Northern soul completists mindset; instead, they use the evocative textures of vintage African-American music as a jumping-off point for Harding's heartfelt, steet-smart tales of love, regret, family, and the pains and joys of everyday life.
O ne problem with harking back to classic sounds is that your slinky skill set risks producing generic music. Once a backup singer for Cee-Lo Green, Curtis Harding is on his second album of vintage soul, and often he's just a little too good at it: a few tracks can pass by in a pleasant period fug. Stay with him, though, and the curveballs become more obvious.
As the title would imply, 'Face Your Fear' is the introspective and darker follow-up to the Atlanta-based singer's previous album, released in 2014. Nowhere on this new project will you find anything as straightforwardly uplifting as 'Soul Power' single 'Keep On Shining'. Even on the superficially cock-sure and undeniably catchy 'Till The End', the singer tells a story layered with doubt and regret.