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Soul Express Album of the Month - January 2006


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WILL DOWNING:
Soul Symphony

US/UK GRP/Verve Music Group 2005
Put Me On – Crazy Love – What’s It Gonna Be – A Promise – Make Time For Love – Soul Steppin’ – Will Still Loves You – Superstar – Heart Of Mine
Produced by Will Downing, Rex Rideout, Chris Davis and Ronnie Garrett

Will Downing is a dependable, quality, genuine artist who cannot disappoint. In the end I even warmed to his 2000 Motown set. Somehow everything this man touches is sheer class, and this latest release does not fail to please either. My only gripe, as with many GRP releases of late, is the fact that there are only 9 tracks. What a stinking show that is. Still, these 9 tracks are all great so here’s to another excellent release from Will Downing.

Will’s style has not changed from the formula that he has doggedly – and rightly – stuck with since 1991’s "A Dream Fulfilled"; jazzy numbers, a few head nodders and seriously soulful ballads. All are winners.

"Put Me On" is an adult radio friendly serving of midtempo magic, although the parlance is rather contemporary the shuffling, tapping beat supplemented by a hand clap beat and rhodes amount to the most sensuous of aural treats. "Crazy Love" is another contemporary beat styled ballad that is produced by Rex Rideout and would not have been out of place on his Motown set. Brian McKnight and long-time co-write Brandon Barnes pen the smooth and laid back "What’s It Gonna Be" and are joined by the excellent guitarist Rohn Lawrence and Chuck Loeb on guitars. This will definitely be to your liking as will John Stoddart’s gentle, relaxing and unassuming "I Promise". Not the most essential song to come from the album, but it is still a lot better than a lot of the drivel out there.

My first real head-turner was the KILLER ballad "Make Time For Love" – not a reading of the Keith Washington classic – which is just beautifully written, orchestrated and sung. Will and Rex have surpassed themselves on this song. The strings and timbales along with the real instrumentation really is in the Ronnie Foster bag and if you loved "Nothing Has Ever Felt Like This" from 1993 then you will appreciate this.

I have really enjoyed a lot of recent releases that devote themselves to the art of "steppin’". "Soul Steppin" along with a carefree gait and floating flute pays homage to this, and isn’t really too bad either. Not in the league of R Kelly’s "Step In The Name Of Love" but very good notwithstanding. I think, though, the real gem is the immaculate, sensitive and beautiful cover version of The Carpenters’ "Superstar". Most attribute or think of the sadly missed Luther Vandross when this song is mentioned – this he because he did a cracking version of it. This song is a tribute to Luther, and they even venerate his name in a separate, special, chorus. Beautiful, genuine and spot-on is the only way I can describe this track. The live musicians, genuine Luther feel and swirling strings gel to create real magic that you seldom find anywhere else.

As such the warm "Heart Of Mine" pales against its magnificence, unfairly I think but who can beat that rendition?! Some may say that Will has got stuck in a rut, is boring or is treading a well-trodden path. Possibly, possibly not. Give me this kind of material any day. For me, the staying power and resolve of such artists is a testament to their talent and I thank my lucky stars that they are still out there keeping the flame burning. – Barry Towler


Soul Express Albums of the Month in 2005
Albums of the Month in 2004
Albums of the Month in 2003
Albums of the Month in 2002
Albums of the Month in 2001
Albums of the Month in 2000
Albums of the Month in 1999
Albums of the Month in 1998
Albums of the Month in 1997

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