Curtis Harding – Face Your Fear (Anti-)

The modern retro-soul scene is a crowded place. Artists such as Leon Bridges, Benjamin Booker, Alabama Shakes, and Michael Kiwanuka have all put out albums in recent times making it hard for similar artists to get their album to stand out. Atlanta’s Curtis Harding is one of those artists and he has just released his second album Face Your Fear.

Harding arrived on the scene in 2015 with a strong debut effort Soul Power. That album wore its influences on its sleeve, all be it in a contemporary way, with the likes of Stax Records and Curtis Mayfield permeating throughout. Fast forward two years to the difficult second album and it seems Harding instead of moving his sound forward on Face Your Fear has retreated back even further to his roots, this despite having renowned producer Danger Mouse on board.

The album begins with one of the singles released to promote the album, Wednesday Morning Atonement. This has a strong D’Angelo feel to it, all be it more bluesy, with Harding showing off his strong falsetto from the get-go. A falsetto which was a strong feature on his debut. This is followed by the title track, Face Your Fear, a similar track to the opener sound-wise, however, it did tend to meander along without doing an awful lot.

Things perk up with the up-tempo soul number On and On, a track which features a dominating horn section and more falsetto from Curt. He then goes down the psychedelic soul route with Go as You Are. This track conjured up similarities to the Temptations 1969 classic Cloud Nine and early 70s Curtis Mayfield in what was definitely one of the album highlights.

The middle of the album kicks off with a playful soul number Till the End. This track drew similarities with 60s Brill Building soul and pop, especially with the backing vocals and horn parts. Then came Need Your Love, another one of the weaker tracks which felt repetitive and uninspired. Thankfully, things get better on Dream Girl, the first track on the record where Harding largely avoids the retro-soul route and sounds vaguely modern thanks to the presence of synths and no doubt Danger Mouse’s input. This R&B-styled track has plenty of grooves and features a strong vocal performance in what was another of the albums stronger tracks.

The back end of the album was also a mixed bag. Welcome to My World was a laid-back acoustic ballad, all be it a bit of a throwaway, while Ghost of You sees the Fender Rhodes dominate in what was another pleasant softer number. The album then came to a close with more flourishes of psychedelic soul in the form of Need My Baby and the Stax-influenced As I Am.

In conclusion, Harding has done a good job here of following up his debut without retreating backwards too much. He hasn’t advanced his sound in any way, which is surprising given Danger Mouse was on board with production duties, but what he has done is experiment more with different styles and textures across the record. Face Your Fear probably won’t get Harding many new fans outside the soul scene, but will no doubt keep his existing fan base happy with what was a solid but not spectacular second album.

Sam Smith