Curtis Harding’s new album deserves far more media attention than it’s gotten.
His neo-soul debut, “Soul Power,” is multi-faceted, complex and easygoing. It’s as if he’s been a successful solo artist for decades, not a man whose recent gig was as backup for CeeLo Green and, more recently, in Black-Lips side group Night Sun.
Harding’s already done a couple of videos for “Soul Power,” worth noting if only because they’re polar opposites. “Next Time” is black and white and glossy and features St. Laurent model Grace Hartzel walking topless on the beach. You’d think he took a cue from Chris Isaak.
On the other hand, Harding, in the single “Keep on Shining,” plays a somewhat dysfunctional puppet who’ll do anything he has to for love. The puppet visual is odd, but it sticks. “I can finally see the light,” he says.
Harding’s vocals are rich and sincere and is what drives the fresh, upbeat sound of “Soul Power.” The horn section sounds like they’ve been doing this for years– a well-oiled soul machine. Harding rides high on this 70s soul vibe he’s created, mixing it up with 60s doo-wop and R & B stylings. The influence of Amy Winehouse is thankfully still alive.
“Next Time,” takes on a 50s feel with just a few guitar changes and some distortion, and all without dating the sound. “Heaven’s on the Other Side” is fun and light and has a little bit of a disco feel. He can play hardball too, as on “Drive My Car,” but without taking it all too seriously. A bad-ass, undulating guitar hook rules “Cruel World” and ends the album.
Like many good albums, the first few listens might not bring the revelation that it has the mileage to last. But the sometimes gritty, often heartfelt “Soul Power” shows Harding’s versatility, an attribute artists don’t always reach on a debut. “Soul Power” is something special.
Dig it or Ditch it: Definitely Dig it
Listen to the “Soul Power” stream via spin.com. The “Keep On Shining” video (link above) with Harding as lovestruck marionette is worth watching.
Harding’s album, which came out May 6, is available through Burger Records and iTunes. He’s also heading out on a short summer tour:
Wednesday, June 11 – Brooklyn, NY @ Glasslands
Thursday, June 12 – Washington, DC @ DC9
Friday, June 13 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Three Rivers Arts Festival
Saturday, June 14 – Chicago, IL @ Schuba’s
Thursday, July 17 – Nashville, TN @ Exit / In
Saturday, July 19 – Asheville, NC @ Orange Peel