Indispensable Feature Story: Curtis Harding
Atlanta-based Soul singer Curtis Harding had already finished writing his third album when the pandemic hit. Under lockdown, he decided to revisit his songs, retooling some, scrapping others, and writing some brand new tracks. Reflecting the lonely hours in lockdown and the societal tumult in a contentious election year, the result was If Words Were Flowers.
The songs range from intimate to anthemic, ultimately choosing hope over despair. The single, “Hopeful,” is a testament to Harding’s determination to maintain optimism about the future. And he does it with a sound that manages to be both classic and contemporary, incorporating a gospel choir, psychedelic-tinged guitars, full-bodied horns, and tasty percussion to convey his message.
The album’s title was inspired by his mother, Dorothy, who often told him, “Give me flowers while I’m still here.” "That’s what this album is,” Harding has stated. “It’s me giving my flowers to the world, to anybody who needs to hear what these songs have to say right now.” Harding’s mother was a significant catalyst in his career. A gospel singer who toured frequently, she brought her song with her on the road where he would sing with her. Though originally from Saginaw, MI, the family eventually settled in Atlanta where Harding would become immersed in the music scene there.
He soon found himself in the hip-hop group Proseed. He met CeeLo Green and rapped on a couple of tracks from Cee-Lo Green on His Perfect Imperfections, later touring with him as a backup singer in 2002. He also returned to the studio with Green on 2010’s The Lady Killer.
The intervening years found him living in Toronto for a while. There he bought a guitar and focused on writing songs. Returning to Atlanta, he began to meld his variety of influences into his own, signature sound. He formed Night Sun with Black Lips guitarist Cole Alexander. The band had R&B and garage rock as its foundation. From there, Harding continued to add more elements to his arsenal, eventually creating what he calls “slop 'n' soul,” which combines soul with psychedelia, jazz, gospel, and some strings and electronic components as well.
In 2014 he was ready to lay down tracks at Atlanta’s Living Room Studios. The result was his debut album, Soul Power. The Guardian noted, “Genre purists will appreciate the craftsmanship, and Harding is an undeniably versatile vocal talent…” while the Irish Times raved ”Here’s a lad with the kind of superfly soul, rock, blues, gospel and funk flair you rarely see these days…you can hear all these different strands come together and work their way into and across a myriad of colourful sounds and grooves.”
His follow-up, Face Your Fear, was recorded in 2017 at Danger Mouse's 30th Century Studio. The Clash Magazine noted, “this level of vulnerability and self-examination that sets this album apart from both Harding’s previous work and also his contemporaries…Harding has given us a captivatingly concise project brimming with soulful and pensive reflection.”
Now with If Words Were Flowers, Harding has given listeners more genre-blending about both personal issues and larger societal concerns. No Depression marvels, calling the record “ a mini-odyssey… Harding offers a vocal delivery that falls somewhere at the nexus point of Al Green’s croon and a falsetto reminiscent of The Temptations’ Eddie Kendricks, over a soundscape that hearkens back to the past but adds enough modern touches to create something fresh and vibrant.”