February 5, 2014

Max Bell is named after Max Rockatansky.

Curtis Harding is named after Curtis Mayfield. Maybe. This is conjecture and I have no evidence to back it up. But once the Michigan-born vocalist/guitarist consents to an interview, I have a feeling this info will come to light. His mother sang gospel and he spent his childhood traveling the country singing alongside his parents.

The little else known about Harding is this: he sang backup for Cee-Lo; he’s a member of Black Lips side-group Night Sun; he and his music are featured in a video for Yves Saint Laurent’s music series (below the jump); and his debut album, Soul Power, drops on April 22nd via Burger Records.

Soul Power’s first single “Keep on Shining” was released last week, and it’s among the best soul tracks levitating.

The song takes off immediately, the unvaried drumbeat are banging and propulsive without feeling redundant. Soft, simple guitar chords are tempered with well-timed horn hits. And the female backup vocals, while used sparingly, are great — you’re not sure if they were written or ad-libbed and they’re all the better for it.

Lyrically, “Keep on Shining” walks the taut line between banal, easily forgettable platitudes and loving, uplifting tribute. It’s the earnestness of Harding’s voice that helps the words lean towards the latter. Lines such as, “It’s the light in your eyes that fills this space,” might sound suspect delivered by anyone else.

As far as contemporary reference points for Harding’s vocals, he’s somewhere between Aloe Blacc and Gary Clark Jr. It isn’t a bad place to be, and Harding knows his range, hitting every note effortlessly.

Despite the clear ’60s soul influence, “Keep on Shining” is neither reinvention nor imitation.This is the minimalism of the garage rock ethos applied to soul music. Harding plans to add to this canon he’s studied his whole life in the only way he knows how. If  a crop of soul enthusiasts playing out of their parents’ basements begin to pop up Bandcamp, one can only hope they’re half as good as Harding.

At the end of the day, naming your first album after a famous Maceo & The Macks song is either tantamount to revivalist reverence or irreverent challenge. When Soul Power drops, we’ll know for sure. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say it’s both.

See below for Harding’s raucous rendition of The Velvet Underground’s (RIP Lou) “Here She Comes Now,” as well as the soulful, lo-fi surf rock of Night Sun’s “No Pressure.”



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