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The Soul Express Album of the Month

September 2000

Motown, 2000
1) It's On (Intro) 2) Summer Day 3) When You Need Me featuring Chant‚ Moore 4) Everytime It Rains 5) All the Man You Need 6) Real Soon 7) Share My World 8) Tired Melody 9) Grandma's Hands 10) Thinkin' about You 11) Only a Moment Away 12) Love of My Life
Produced by Kevin Deane, Rex Rideout, Will Downing, Stan Brown, Regis Branson, Kyle Bynoe, James Poyser, Bastiany
A change of labels and a change of style for Will Downing, and personally, I feel it was about time. I've been an admirer of the man's work since day one, but in all honesty, lately I've been thinking that things have gotten to be a bit too formulaic. Nothing profoundly wrong with the man's recent recordings, mind you; they have of course always been impeccably professional and enjoyable. Still, particularly the Gerald Albright collaboration set (Pleasures of the Night, 1998) didn't do all that much for me, although career-wise it was a great move for Will, selling well and introducing him to jazz audiences. In my opinion, however, it was time for something different, and the change appeared in the form of Motown boss Kedar Massenburg, who's best known as the force behind Erykah Badu and D'Angelo.
Massenburg approached Will and presented his idea: "Let's try to find the fine line between what you have to offer and what folks want to hear on the radio today." A fine line it is indeed, and while some of Will's old fans will probably find this set disappointing, I think Will & co have actually succeeded and done a very decent job on the album. One fact worth noticing is that most of the new producers have a background which features both street soulsters and old school R&B artists: for example, Kevin Deane's experience ranges from Terri & Monica to Alyson and Christopher Williams, and Stan Brown's from Dru Hill to the likes of Stephanie Mills and The Temptations. James Poyser's work I already very much enjoyed with Erykah Badu, D'Angelo and Juanita Dailey, and his other credits include Phyllis Hyman and Teddy Pendergrass.
Thus, after the somewhat edgy start with Summer Day, the album settles into a comfortable mix of the old and new, and the familiar Will Downing sound can clearly be heard throughout the set. My ballad favourites include the Chanté Moore duet When You Need Me with its subtle keyboard work by Benjamin Love, the light and airy Only a Moment Away, Real Soon with its cool laconic appeal, and particularly the very soulful, beautiful Everytime It Rains, on which Audrey Wheeler lends a helping hand on background vocals.
Admittedly, the background settings are more ascetic than before, and thus a couple of acoustic James Poyser productions sound rather refreshing. Will delivers a solid string-laden reading of Bill Withers' Grandma's Hands, but my choice for the number one tune of the album would have to be Tired Melody, a wonderful laid-back jazz hop jam that features a trumpet solo by famed jazzman Nicholas Payton. I'd like to hear Will doing more of this kind of stuff.
All in all, I consider All the Man You Need a recommendable set for Mr. Downing's old fans. Those who prefer the more traditional style can find consolation in the fact that Will is already choosing new songs for his second collaboration album with Gerald Albright. (8/10) -PR

Other 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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