Every once in a while an artist comes along who elicits an immediate "Who is this??" reaction. Curtis Harding, seductively smoking a cigarette on the cover of his debut album, is one of them. A man with a Hedi Slimane-shot Saint Laurent Paris music video before he has a proper record release, Harding is the Michigan-born product of Atlanta's swirling, genre-mashing music scene.
At a time when indie-leaning music fans have discovered retro-soul and make records that capture all the sounds and practically none of the feeling of vintage R&B, Curtis Harding is a breath of fresh air: an artist with a real gift for classic soul music stylings but little obvious interest in nostalgia. Harding's solo debut, Soul Power, shows the man is one of the best new R&B singers extant, but even though the sound of these tunes certainly harkens back to vintage soul (mostly of the southern variety), Harding doesn't suggest he's slavishly trying to replicate the past. Instead, this music fuses the sounds of the '60s and early '70s while injecting them with an edgy energy that's solidly contemporary.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Soul music has been a constant source of inspiration, joy and hope for those who fought and continue to fight socio-political injustices. 'Soul Men' like Otis Redding, Curtis Mayfield, Sam Cooke, Bill Withers and James Brown to name all but a few, were instrumental during the civil-rights movement across America; using soul as a vehicle to motivate and instigate change.
A recent Guardian article discussed the “new blues”, citing several artists who are injecting the genre with fresh energy. Atlanta’s Curtis Harding was not among them, but certainly spends times on this debut album tackling new blues (especially the stomping garage-rocker Drive My Car) – and when he’s not doing that, he’s focusing on new soul instead. Castaway is as deep and yearning as classic Stax material, whereas Keep on Shining has the propulsive dancefloor momentum of vintage northern soul.
There seems to be a surfeit of new soul men who draw from the ‘60s and ‘70s rather than post-Babyface R&B, but if the latest arrivals are as talented as Curtis Harding, they’re welcome at the table. On Soul Power, the Michigan-born, Atlanta-based singer and guitarist eschews the roof-raising energy of Charles Bradley and the slow burn eroticism of Lee Fields for a more measured, plainspoken sound – more Al Green and Arthur Alexander than Otis Redding and James Brown. For Harding, funkiness is more a feel than a form – he’s more interested in an undulating hip sway like “Heaven’s On the Other Side” than a frenzied booty shake.