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Soul Express Album of the Month

November 2003


Emotions (US Verve, 2003)

A Million Ways – King Of Fools – Daydreaming – Falling In Love – Hey There Lonely Girl – Rhythm Of U & Me – Beautiful To Me – Another Sad Story – Riding On A Cloud – Anything

I can sum up this album in but one word: Brilliant. Thing is, I am rather biased, as I love everything this man does, but I think the reasons for this are thus: Will Downing is a man of integrity, possesses jaw-dropping talent and is a master of all that he does and creates musically. I have yet to be seriously disappointed, and those that remember my pasting of his 2000 Motown set will be glad to know that I have, over the years, warmed to it a lot more – though I still believe it is his weakest – but most intrepid - work to date. So, reviewing this man’s albums becomes a well-trodden path as what more accolades can I shower on him and his music. Needless to say that if you love the man then this CD will be nothing but essential for your collection. The usual contributors have all played their part in bringing together this album of smooth grooves, tasty steppers and rich vocals: Rex Ridout, Armsted Christian and Barry J. Eastmond.
As we have come to expect there are a number of interpretation of familiar songs "Daydreaming", "Hey There Lonely Girl", "Anything" and an excellent version of the Regis Branson-penned "King Of Fools" which was a star track from the Japanese Johnson & Branson "Packed & Waitin’" CD from the spring. All these songs are fantastic and have been tastefully re-crafted. The Jolyon Skinner / Joe (Thomas) song "A Million Ways" was an IMMEDIATE killer for me – a devastating and stylish soul song that has all the musical charm of Brian McKnight (i.e. "Stay") before he lost his way, and the brilliance of Will’s performance. The fourth cut is a Christian / Downing / Rideout collaboration and is simply divine. This song, indeed this album, proves that Will has a soulful voice of much capacity and thus makes this a most essential ballad.
The most bouncy track on offer is the slap-bass filled "Rhythm Of U & Me". The opening melody and vocal arrangement reminds me of a funkier reading of his version of "Free" from his debut album. This is a guv’nor song and I will continue to play this for a very, very long time. This is proceeded by the jazziest inclusion which is "Beautiful To Me" – another quality song. "Another Sad Story" is a typical textured highly polished soul track with a faint ghost of jazz in the melody. When I heard "Riding On A Cloud" I was transported back to the mid 1980s. The tantalising mix of real instruments, the acoustic guitar and vocal arrangement all reminded me of the sort of vocal track I may have expected on a Stanley Clarke or Rodney Franklin album. To say I like this is an understatement.
A shot of blues guitar a la Robben Ford opens the cool, spine-tingling echoey soul ballad that is a KILLER cover of Janet Jackson’s "Anything". This could easily have a Gary Taylor influence. And that’s not a new compliment from me to Will then I will eat my hat! There’s also some tasty trumpet courtesy of Nicholas Payton. This song has Ronnie Foster on drums, Paul Jackson, Jr on guitar and Luis Conte on percussion. The result is a fantastic version of what was already a good song – Will has moved all the goalposts and ripped the song, melody and essence apart and offers us what is nothing short of an ice-cold spine tingler to leave us demanding MORE. Which leads me to again ask why does GRP see fit to only provide us punters with 10 songs? I know, as I keep reiterating, that quality is better than quantity but when we have an artist such as Will Downing who can do very little wrong we know that a few more songs would definitely not be asking too much. Come on guys, CDs aren’t cheap you know! Value for money and all that, chaps!

- Barry Towler

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