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Will Downing: Chocolate Drops

Reviewed by Heikki Suosalo

Rating: 8/ 10

Soul Express CD of the Month - January-June 2015

US Sophisticated Soul CD, 2015
Buy this album from our CD Shop

1) This Song Is for You 3:39
2) Never Say No to You 3:48
3) Till U Come Back to Me 3:57
4) Let's Get Closer 5:39
5) Deep as the Ocean 4:43
6) Run Away Fall in Love 4:51
7) It's Real 3:58
8) Saving All My Love 3:42
9) Does Your Momma Know About Me 4:23

  Chocolate Drops is an apt title for Will Downing’s 18th studio album.  Will Downing: “I have a very dark complexion and when women hear me sing they say ‘it’s like dark chocolate, it melts in your mouth’.  They say the music does that to them.  I don’t understand it, I just go with it” (laughing).

  Will’s very first solo album, the self-titled Will Downing was released 27 years ago ( ), but this native of Brooklyn, New York, had made a reputation for himself as a sought-after session singer already in the mid-1980s.  “I’ve done projects prior to my first album, but under different names.  I used to work with a producer named Arthur Baker.  He had his own label, and we would put out all these 12-inch records under assumed name, like we had a record out under the name Wally Jump Jr & the Criminal Element.  I was the lead vocalist for that group.”  Wally aka Wilfred Downing had such releases as Tighten Up (I Just Can’t Stop Dancin’), Private Party, Jump Back and Turn Me Loose between 1986 and ’88, and still in the 90s they released an 11-track Best Of CD.

  “Then we had another group called R.T. & the Rockmen Unlimited, and I was the lead vocalist for that.”  Their single, (I Want to Go to) Chicago, evolved even into a small hit in 1986.  “There was a movie called The Goonies (in 1985), and they put a soundtrack out.  Arthur had a song on the soundtrack, and we made a group called The Goon Squad.  I probably had about six or seven singles out under different names before I put out my first solo record.”  The song on the soundtrack was called Eight Arms to Hold You, and – needless to say – all those tracks above feature fast-tempo, post-disco house music.


  Chocolate Drops is for the most part produced by Will and Chris “Big Dog” Davis.  “We’ve been working together probably on the last five records.”  Customarily, Will uses a live rhythm section, but real drums are used only on five tracks out of nine.  “The radio scene here is very machine-driven and orientated.  If you don’t have something similar that’s already been played on the radio, you’re not going to be played.  It’s just something you have to conform to.  I would have loved to have live drums on the whole album, but at the same time it’s a business and I have to compete with anything else that’s out there.”

  Will uses different methods in cutting a song in the studio.  “I’ve done it every way on this record.  Saving All My Love for You – we cut all that at one time.  On some other songs, like I use to say, we frankensteined it together.  We did the basic track first, then cut the vocals and then put live instruments on top of it.  There’s no pattern to the way I did the record, but it sounds – at least I hope it sounds – like one take.”

  There are two songs that were co-written and produced by Shedrick MitchellRun Away/Fall in Love is a mellow, atmospheric downtempo number, even slightly jazzy, while It’s Real is a tender, late-night love song.  “This is the first time I’m working with Shedrick.  He’s an excellent writer, producer and piano player.  We actually have a mutual friend, who’s been trying to get us together for years.  Unfortunately our mutual friend passed away, and the first time we met was at his funeral.”


  There are three familiar songs from the past, and – as always – Will renders these covers in his distinguished, intimate and sophisticated style.  Atlantic Starr recorded a pretty serenade named Let’s Get Closer in 1982.  “I did that for a strange reason.  One of the guys in my band, Mike Ham, played the saxophone solo on that song.  He just came up to me one day and said ‘I’ve always heard you singing this song’, so we just did it based on that.”

  Saving All My Love for You was originally recorded by Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr. in 1978, but it was immortalized by Whitney Houston seven years later.  “One day we went to a sound-check before a concert and Chris Davis just started playing it while we were warming up, and everybody in the band joined.  It sounded so good that we went in the next week and cut it.”

  Will comes up with a very slow and refined version of Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers ’68 hit, Does Your Momma Know About Me.  “It’s a song that I’ve always loved.  Actually Phil Perry and I have been competing as to who’s going to record it first.  We’ve always talked about it – it’s a great song, a great melody and a great subject matter.  I guess I beat him to it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you heard him doing his version of it on his next album.”


  Will and Chris Davis not only produced but also wrote together the first three songs on the CD.  Till U Come Back is a melancholy, slow song, whereas there’s a livelier mid-tempo groove on Never Say No to You.  “That was the first single, and maybe as a follow-up we’ll go with This Song is for you.  It’s a song that people seem to be gravitating to.  The meaning behind that one is that you find a lot of people here in the world that are lonely.  One thing about social media is that it gives you a false glimpse at everything.  You appear to be more popular than you are.  When you go home, you may be alone, you may be having rough time at work, you may be a single parent.  I wrote that song to say that this song here is for you.”  Besides this gentle mid-pacer, which indeed has hit potential, there’s still Deep as the Ocean, another light mid-tempo song, on which Regina Carter plays a beautiful violin solo.

  Unfortunately there are no overseas concert plans for Will in the near future.  “In the summertime here they have a lot of festivals and you don’t get that much time on stage, you may get 45-60 minutes.  I have 18 records out, so we do the best of the best, what people want to hear, and a lot of times we don’t have time to introduce new music.  We’ve introduced some of the new songs only in one concert.  Basically people want to hear my hits over here like I Try, A Million Ways, Wishing on a Star, I Go Crazy and Send for Me.  When I come overseas, there’ll be a whole other playlist.  Overseas people like A Love Supreme, In My Dreams... some of the older stuff.”

  “Normally on stage I have seven persons: bass, drums, keyboard, guitar, the background singers and myself.  The promoters overseas want me to come over and do a concert, but they don’t want me to bring my band.  They want me to play with a band wherever I’m going, and you have to see the show to understand that it’s not that easy.  It’s a little more complex than ‘okay guys, learn these songs, I’m coming over and we’re going to go over these songs tomorrow’.”


  When asked about personal favourites among own recordings, Will not only goes many years back to the very beginning, but also values his recent output.  “I was really satisfied with the very first record, Will Downing (1988).  It was a little bit of everything – jazz, house, ballads...  Also A Dream Fulfilled (1991) was a huge record, and one of my favourite records; and Euphoria (2014), the record before this one, and now this new one.”

  Will’s biggest musical influences include Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway and Al Jarreau, and he names some credible newcomers, too.  “Jazmine Sullivan has a couple of records out and I love her voice.  There’s a guy named Devon Howard, and he has almost a Michael Jackson kind of sound.  One vocalist that sings with me, a young lady named Carol Riddick, has a solo record out (Love Phases), which I really love.  She’s an incredible vocalist.”

  Chocolate Drops has been on the market for about three months now.  “So far, so good.  The music industry is very strange now.  People aren’t buying anything.  But what the market is, it’s been well received.  As a whole I’m excited about the record.  I’m happy with the performances on there, and I honestly think that this is one of my best.  I always go back and forth between kind of contemporary jazz, with a little hint of traditional jazz, and r&b.  The last album before this one was more jazz than soul.  This is definitely more r&b based record and I’m happy with the way it came out.”  (; interview conducted on June 23, 2015; acknowledgements to Ashley Scott).

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