By Dustin Griffin – Rating 4.5/5
Curtis Mayfield. Sam Cooke. Al Green. James Brown. And then there’s Leon Bridges, Benjamin Booker, JD McPherson, Jack White and The James Hunter Six. This is the lineage, past and present, to which Curtis Harding belongs. Funk, soul, classic R&B. The music pays tribute to hey-day Stax records, the swinging 60’s and the free love 70’s, in equal measure.
Harding’s last album Soul Music was an amalgam of genres inspired by everything hot in the 60’s, including rock n’ roll and surf music.
Face Your Fear is a more focused record, landing largely in a single category. Eleven tracks of pure, aching, shaking soul music for the new millennium.
Of course, modern soul that is made in the direct vein of those classic Stax releases is in danger of being little more than an exercise in musical plagiarism if the artist doesn’t bring something new to the table. Even if that something new is simply a certain attitude. And Curtis has that handled.
Having worked with the great CeeLo Green means having worked with a plethora of highly skilled songwriters and producers, many of whom, probably all of whom, are acutely aware of the influence classic soul music has had on their lives and therefore their music.
And as much as Face Your Fear sounds like an unreleased Curtis Mayfield record, it can also sound like a stripped down Danger Mouse record (Danger Mouse produced the record), or, yes, a CeeLo Green album. Particularly on songs like the silky smooth ‘Dream Girl’, or the jumpy ‘Need Your Love’.
But the album’s best tracks, opener ‘Wednesday Morning Atonement’, closer ‘As I Am’ and the album highpoint ‘On and On’, sound vintage in the best possible way.
Harding gets ethereal and contemplative on the tracks ‘Welcome to My World’ and ‘Ghost of You’. The latter song, featuring a hook that threatens to remain stuck firmly in your head all week long, is a true road trip necessity. Particularly if you own a convertible.
The saccharine ‘Need My Baby’ and the psychedelic swing of ‘Till The End’ are the album’s low points, but are both great songs, which tells you how good this album is.
This album is so good in fact, that I’ve listened to it more than any other album that’s come out this year, save Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN.
I’m a person who likes new music that sounds like the music I love and am influenced by. As long as that music embodies the spirit of its predecessors without outright stealing from them.
When it comes to hip-hop, that means music that’s made today, but sounds like it was made in the mid 90’s. Like Lute’s West 1996, Pt. 2.
When it comes to classic era soul or R&B, my other musical passion, that means music that sounds like it was made in the late 60’s to early 70’s, like Face Your Fears. One the best albums of 2017.