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Soul Express CD of the Month - July 2009

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US Peak/Concorde CD, 2009
1) Ride 2) More Time (Tic Toc) 3) Something Special 4) Just Think About It 5) I Won't Stop 6) Love Suggestions 7) I'm Gonna Love You a Little More Baby 8) Let's Make It Now 9) Baby I'm for Real - f. Phil Perry 10) Statue of a Fool

A new Will Downing has not been such a great event in recent years as it still was in the early 90s, and especially after his previous set After Tonight - which was recorded while Will was suffering from the rare muscular disease polymyositis - some long-time Downing fans already began to think that he's a fading star. Luckily, this new album proves quite the contrary. As Will mentioned in his interview, he knew that he needed to show anyone who already thought that "I think weíve seen the best of him" that they were wrong: "I had to be especially good on this record, and I think that what Iíve made musically is kind of neck-and-neck with my very best."

This CD really is one of Will's all-time best recordings - some of his fans have even enthused that Classique IS his best ever album. Well, personally I still rate A Dream Fulfilled as Will's all-time best album, but Classique is definitely a strong candidate for his second best CD.

What makes Classique such an enjoyable set is that it's a very soulful album, especially compared to some of Will's more smooth jazz-oriented late 90s albums. This album is not a smooth jazz or adult contemporary set, it is a very soulful album with a classic soul sound, as the title suggests. Needless to say, the backgrounds are coloured by real musicians, including real drums (Michael White, Buddy Williams).

Because of the title, many people speculated beforehand that the album would be another all-covers set, but actually most of the songs are new. Still, as always, Will has also recorded a couple of cover tunes, such as Barry White's I'm Gonna Love You a Little More Baby and The Originals classic Baby I'm for Real (a song co-written by Marvin Gaye). Barry White's original version of I'm Gonna Love You a Little More Baby is pretty much based on the wonderful arrangement, and Will's stripped down version does not have the same appeal in its instrumentation, but there's certainly nothing wrong with this new reading either. Phil Perry shares the lead vocals on the Originals cover, and sounds much more spirited than on his recent solo albums on Shanachie.

There are also two less familiar cover songs on the album. The typically smooth Gary Taylor composition I Won't Stop has earlier been recorded by Gary himself in 1988 and The Manhattans on their Sweet Talk album in 1989. Stylistically, the song sounds more like a typical Whispers ballad. Statue of a Fool is an old country song from the 60s, but best known to soul music devotees from David Ruffin's repertoire of the mid 70s. Will's reading is a softly floating ballad version that lacks the rough edge of Ruffin's (or David Sea's) reading of the song, but fits perfectly the mellow atmosphere of this album.

Of the brand new tunes, the superb horn-coloured Something Special is already climbing up our Quality Time Cream Cuts chart, and you can listen to the YouTube sound clip of the sophisticated mid-tempo tune More Time (Tic-Toc) from the link below. I also greatly enjoyed the opening track Ride, which unfortunately lasts only 2:31 minutes - I would have preferred it to be twice as long!

The best thing, of course, is that Will has now fully recovered from his illness, or as he himself puts it in his June 2009 interview, "Some people can say it and not mean it, but Iím feeling great. Iím 85 to 90 percent better."
- Ismo Tenkanen
Soul Express

Soul Express Video Pick from YouTube

Will Downing: More Time (Tic-Toc)

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