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.”
Written and recorded over the past two tumultuous years, If Words Were Flowers is indeed a vibrant, intoxicating bouquet, one as diverse as it is dazzling. Drawing on vintage soul, R&B, hip-hop, garage rock, and psychedelia, the songs here are raw and gritty, fueled by airtight grooves, punchy horns, and adventurous production from Harding and frequent collaborator Sam Cohen (Kevin Morby, Benjamin Booker). There’s a clear through line on the album from Harding’s 2017 breakout, Face Your Fear, but there’s obvious evolution as well, a boldness that revels in risk-taking and sonic exploration. The result is a pointed, timely album that feels experimental and classic all at once, a moving, generous collection all about love, resilience, and reconciliation from an artist who values the beauty and the power of human connection above all else.
“I want this music to help people understand that they’re not alone,” Harding explains. “We’re all going through the same thing right now on some level, and I hope these songs can bring a little bit of comfort and peace.”
Harding’s been searching for comfort and peace in music as far back as he can remember. Born in Saginaw, Michigan to a mechanical engineer and a gospel singer, Harding spent much of his formative years on the move, bouncing between north and south until his family ultimately landed in Atlanta. He learned to sing and play drums in church with his mother, who introduced him to the likes of Mahalia Jackson and Mavis Staples, but it was his sister’s collection of hip-hop tapes that would push him towards a career in music and inspire him to begin writing and rapping. With the Atlanta scene exploding onto the national stage at the time, Harding picked up work promoting artists on the legendary LaFace label and he soon found himself in the studio and on the road as a backup vocalist with some of the city’s biggest stars.
“That was when I realized I didn’t have to choose between being a rapper and being a singer,” says Harding. “I started teaching myself guitar and working with more live instrumentation and figuring out how to incorporate everything I grew up on into what I was doing.”
Harding recorded his 2014 debut, Soul Power, with little in the way of expectations, but the album managed to generate real heat, particularly in Europe, where Uncut praised it as “a confident take on sleek, horn-powered…soul with a hint of garage muscle” and Mojo dubbed it “something altogether special.” Three years later, Harding broke out Stateside with Face Your Fear, which stretched his sound to exhilarating new heights. Helmed by Cohen and super producer Danger Mouse, the record earned Harding dates with everyone from Jack White to Lenny Kravitz, landed him festival slots at Newport Folk, Lollapalooza, and Austin City Limits, and racked up nearly 60 million streams on Spotify alone. NPR declared the record one of the year’s best R&B releases, calling Harding a “gifted, gospel-bred shouter and deep digger in the Curtis Mayfield/Stevie Wonder crates,” while Complex hailed the music as “vintage, classic soul music” with “psychedelic splashes and a touch of garage rock fuzz,” and New York Magazine raved that “with a scorching voice like his, the funk is eternal.”