Graded on a Curve: Curtis Harding,
If Words Were Flowers

One thing the recently delayed and altered Grammy Awards made clear is that rock music is no longer on the radar of today’s pop music tastemakers and many music fans. Other than a few token nods to the genre, the awards show and today’s music charts reveal an almost total absence of what was once the ruling musical sound in popular music.

Thankfully, another genre that also was in its heyday during the ‘60s and ‘70s does seem to be going through a revival. That genre is R&B and its cousin soul music. Silk Sonic and H.E.R., while also mixing other styles with R&B and soul, were prominent at the Grammys. Groups like The Black Keys and The Roots have been exploring related retro genres with much success, and Alabama Shakes and Brittany Howard have also been scoring with their roots stew. Gary Clark Jr. has also brought a guitar blues approach to the party.

These groups and artists are just some of the more popular and well-known, and all mix different styles to create their own contemporary sound. The Black Pumas have quickly joined the elite of this revival, and Michael Kiwanuka has slowly achieved a key place in this scene. Others that have been making soul waves include Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Leon Bridges, and Yola. One more name to add to this welcome revival is Curtis Harding.

Harding released his third album and second for Anti late last year and could easily eclipse everyone mentioned here. Like Leon Bridges, he prefers a more chill vibe, and like Michael Kiwanuka, he puts out recordings that are immaculately and imaginatively produced. Unlike most mentioned here, he draws from many other strands of music, including both cool and more experimental jazz. On this latest release, there are times he seems to be tapping into What’s Going On-era Marvin Gaye and the experimental, but groove-conscious side of ‘50s and ‘60s Ornette Coleman.

There are also plenty of contemporary musical touches on this new album, with rap-inspired vocals on a couple of tracks and even auto-tune vocals. Harding is not an artist who needs autotune. His soulful, yet forceful vocal sound has a natural feel. Harding is also creating music that seeks to heal rather than divide. There is a spirituality to his music that offers a positive and hopeful message.

This new album is a real breakthrough for Harding and the album’s closing cut, “I Won’t Let You Down,” has been receiving airplay on a wide variety of formats. It is recommended to listen to this album the way the soul gods intended: on vinyl. The package features a beautifully designed gatefold jacket and a poly-lined sleeve. This album is an instant classic and so timeless, that mere words can’t describe it.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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