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Soul music has been a constant source of inspiration, joy and hope for those who fought and continue to fight socio-political injustices. 'Soul Men' like Otis Redding, Curtis Mayfield, Sam Cooke, Bill Withers and James Brown to name all but a few, were instrumental during the civil-rights movement across America; using soul as a vehicle to motivate and instigate change.

Now in the throes of a new year - and just from looking back over recent events - we continue to find ourselves in a world littered with injustice. And although this is only a review of Curtis Harding's stirring debut Soul Power and not a sociomusicology doctrine, one must seize the opportunity to say how important music - in this case soul - is as a medium for making people feel emotionally and physically empowered. Generations have been interconnected by its nuances and messages and that tapestry entwines our lives together for better or worse.

Curtis Harding is 'Motown' throwback with a B.B. King-cum-Jimi Hendrix sensibility; his style is Michigan born and Atlanta refined (he sang back up for CeeLo Green and plays alongside Cole Alexander in Night Sun), and his childhood was spent singing gospel on the road with his mother - becoming the cornerstone and inspiration for this record.

"Gospel is inspiring," says Harding, "From hardship and trials, you make something beautiful. It's the history of black people in America, what happened to us during slavery, it's the foundation of blues, R&B, soul, country, rock."

Soul Power is certainly an inspiring album and after being out in America for the best part of a year it finally makes its European appearance. There are 12 tracks on the LP, which have been self-styled by Harding as "slop 'n' soul" songs; so called because an amalgamation of musical styles.M.o<

First off is the tongue in cheek break-up song 'Next Time' which canters with a 'Wild West' rhythm melted in reverb and ends wryly with the line "See you later bitch." 'Castaway' is a slow-burning blues track that has Harding's vocal drenched in reverb making him sound distant, matching his lyrical sentiment: "Relax yourself / detach yourself / and cast it away," and features two emotive guitar solos reminiscent of great blues guitarist B.B. King - Harding bends his strings so high they never seem to want to come down again. Third on the record is lead single 'Keep On Shining', which is a foot stomping feel good Sunday morning soul song, complete with tuba blasts and falsetto backing vocals.

What makes this a great soul LP is the fact Harding has harnessed a contemporary-cum-vintage soul sound and there isn't anything remotely gimmicky about it - not like the shite that usually passes for soul and R&B these days. The edgy songs with varying moods and tempos, the arrangements on the vocals, the musicianship and the snippets of repartee between Harding and the band, all authenticate its soul credentials.

One of the more contemporary songs 'Surf' which sounds more British-indie than Southern-Soul, enters the fray with a big thumping bass accompanied by power chord indie guitars peppered with Harding's sultry tones. You can imagine him strutting with a cigarette in his mouth when he shouts "Get 'em" before delivering an onslaught of blistering guitar riffs.

Tracks like 'Freedom', 'Beautiful People' and 'I Need a Friend' are particularly poignant unforgettable songs. 'Freedom' is sombre and reflective, with Gospel elements and the lyrics imply a gaze to the roots of soul music and slavery in America: "As long as you stay on your road / You will find freedom / Doesn't matter where you go / You will find freedom."

'Beautiful People' on the other hand is a rally for the people; a call to arms if you will - akin to Curtis Mayfield's (The Impressions) incredible 'People Get Ready'. The song cruises off with a bassline that glides like a warm Caribbean breeze and is underpinned by the chink of reverb laden guitar. Harding's vocal on this one sounds stressed, as if he's been shouting his lyrics at a demo: "Hey there beautiful people / All you weary roam / Now draw the line / Seize the time / Build a home."

The final quarter of the album probably most notable for its track 'Heavens On The Other Side' - a peach of a disco song that rounds off the musical experience on the LP nicely. From poignant to funky; hell sometimes it's important to cut loose and dance.

Soul Power is emotionally tangible and downright soulful and in his own way Harding has fittingly paid homage to the words sung by the old guards of soul, who united and continue to unite so many. There's no doubt Harding is a 'Soul man'.

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