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Growing up, Curtis Harding’s mother used to tell him, “Give me my flowers while I’m still here.” It was a phrase that stuck with the talented singer and multi-instrumentalist through the years, a reminder to show his love and appreciation for the people he cared about before it was too late.

“That’s what this album is,” Harding reflects. “It’s me giving my flowers to the world, to anybody who needs to hear what these songs have to say right now.”

On his third album, the artist, who grew up in Michigan as the son of a mechanical engineer and a gospel singer, continues to draw on old soul, R&B, hip-hop and psychedelia influences. Elements he had already skilfully played with on his earlier releases. But “If Words Were Flowers” also marks a clear further development, which is not least due to COVID. When the pandemic broke out, Harding used the time to rework the songs he had already finished. Some tracks took on new meaning in light of current events, while others invited Harding to refine them. And you can hear that: On “If Words Were Flowers” Harding fans out his sonic cosmos. In large parts, Harding sounds jazzier, richer and more experimental than ever before, without losing intimacy and sincerity.

In terms of lyrics, the self-described “slop ‘n’ soul” artist works through the big themes of the human existence. It’s about love in chaotic times, search for meaning and reconciliation, vulnerability and authenticity.

“If Words Were Flowers” opens with the captivating title track. “If words were flowers / I’d give them all to you,” Harding sings, supported by a haunting background choir. The influence of gospel music and choral arrangements – Harding came into contact with the music of Mahalia Jackson and Mavis Staples at a young age – runs like a thread through his new album and gives it its emotional power.

The upbeat 60s track “Can’t Hide It” celebrates certainty and commitment, while the tender and elegiac “With You” explores the way society can turn the whole world upside down. The earnest “I Won’t Let You Down” pledges unconditional support; the hip-hop flavored “Hopeful” rallies us to stand strong and keep moving forward together. While the trippy “Explore” dives headfirst into a sea of new experiences.

“If Words Were Flowers” is a pointed, contemporary album that feels experimental and classic at the same time. It’s worth following Curtis Harding further on his musical journey.

Photo: Matt Correia