Curtis Harding Credit: Matthew Correia

Soul singer Curtis Harding opens his second album Face Your Fear (Anti) with a wobbly wash of sampled strings that sound as if they were lifted from a 40s pop record before being chopped and looped over a descending, fuzzed-out groove that recalls vintage Bobby Womack. As that song, “Wednesday Morning Atonement,” opens up with a woozy, sorrowful atmosphere and mournful melody, Harding navigates its hooky vocal lines, swooping from his natural rasp into a biting falsetto to convey a range of emotions. The arrangements draw freely on decades of pop music history, and pour those sounds into an old-school soul template; the production balances heaps of strings, synthesizers, and distorted guitars; and the arrangements include elements of rock and pop. But thanks to the gut-punch beauty of his singing, the end result never sounds like a postmodern pastiche. Dangermouse is behind some of the album’s production work, which explains some of its attractive temporal displacement, but Harding’s melodies, which work their charms slowly and slyly, along with his authoritative command of the material, make the hodgepodge of influences behind it feel peripheral despite the definition they provide. On “Dream Girl” he embraces a slinky groove with slithering synth flutters that sound like an early Bee Gees’ gem before shifting to the feel of mid-70s Marvin Gaye. The midtempo burner “Ghost of You” strolls with acoustic guitar strumming, string swells, and chill cascades of Fender Rhodes licks, with Harding’s vocals fitting snugly into the pocket. Every element of his sound has roots in the past, but the way he assembles it all gives it a vitality that transcends its retro veneer.   v