*If one were to re-imagine the last 30 years of R&B/Soul music as a sort of “reality show,” full of plot twists, physical challenges, strategic alliances and a cast tasked with using their individual gifts to plot their course for survival…Will Downing might very well be the last man standing!
With an almost unheard of 30 year career and twenty solo recordings as proof, it stands to reason music fans are nowhere near ready to vote Will Downing off the proverbial “island” where he continues to reign as the Prince of Sophisticated Soul.
Downing’s voice is one of the most distinctive, loved and instantly recognizable voices in R&B. His flawless, emotive, buttery-smooth and honey-toned baritone, along with his impeccable phrasing and jazz-fueled agile runs, seamlessly bridge the worlds of R&B and Jazz. Shanachie Entertainment will release Downing’s anticipated 20th studio album, Soul Survivor on September 22, 2017.
As Downing reflects on his career longevity, he is grateful for his journey and not quite done yet.
“I started my music career in the early 80s with, in some ways, more talented artists who had better management and connections and who were willing to do whatever it took to make it. People often asked me why I wouldn’t conform to the music of the time and I would reply that I knew my strengths musically. I stuck to my convictions, while I saw a lot of artists come and go through the years. In an industry that is youth driven I consider myself blessed to still be relevant, still in the race and one of the few Soul Survivors of my era.”
While continuing to deftly navigate a bright future path and glancing over his shoulder at memory lane, Will Downing displays a deep love and appreciation of both on Soul Survivor in clever fashion. Listening to the masterful mix of fresh originals and killer reinventions, Downing treats you to an unmistakable homage to the music of bygone eras that have shaped and cemented his impenetrable position as one of the most significant and versatile voices of his generation.
Soul Survivor weaves together crafty writing/production, memorable duets and elements of R&B/Soul with urban contemporary jazz and house music. Soul Survivor easily excels as a fitting tribute to the incredible journey of soul music and a celebration of Will Downing’s remarkably sustained multi-decade career as a truly gifted recording artist. For Downing, his mission was simple. “My goal every time I’m behind the microphone is to record a timeless piece of music. I want the listener to feel what I’m feeling when I sing it and understand the story of the lyrics.”
Soul Survivor kicks opens with the intro title track, “Soul Survivor Theme” as the band catapults into a jamming “Go-Go” type beat as if Will was just about to take the stage. Underneath the groove, you’ll hear a roll call of the massive Will Downing discography, punctuated with overdubbed commentary from friends and fans expressing their individual favorites and gushing over what the music has meant to them. It serves as a short but powerful reminder of the depth, breadth and impact of Downing’s legacy. Next up is a lesson from the Survival 101 Handbook: Never Stop Evolving! Just when you thought you knew everything to expect from Will Downing, you get gob smacked with a gospel house-music infused dance track! “I Just Wanna Say Thank You,” while surprising, makes total sense on this release for those in the know. Long before Downing’s extended body of Sophisticated Soul solo work, his humble beginnings trace back to days as a vocalist for dance music (Wally Jump Jr. and the Criminal Element, N.V., PILOT, just to name a few). Devout Downing fans may also remember Will’s introduction to the world (his 1st solo record) included an inspirational house-music interpretation of the John Coltrane classic “A Love Supreme.” But this is no doubt a dance of praise, as Downing stated he “wanted to put God, family and the fans first” in appreciation for the faith, love and support that sustained him through the best and worst of times. While Downing has had many career high points to choose from, the low point was most certainly a paralyzing bout with the auto-immune disease Polymyositis, which threatened Downing’s career and possibly his life in 2007. His emergence on the other side made him more grateful than ever for the ability to do these three things: care for himself…provide for his family…perform for his fans!
Returning for her sophomore duet on a Will Downing project is the woman whom Will once jokingly described as a “female version of me!” – Avery*Sunshine.
The dynamic duo displays such natural chemistry on the album’s pulsating head-bopping first single, “I’m Feeling the Love.” The two voices complement each other beautifully. Not only does the long tradition of the soulful duet live on, but perhaps it’s Will’s nod to the good fortune this format has brought to his own success (as he cannot leave the stage to this day without performing the 90’s era Rachelle Ferrell duet, “Nothing Has Ever Felt Like This”). The magic of what Will Downing brings to the music on Soul Survivor is transcendent. He shares, “As a composer and interpreter of songs my goal is to give the listener a visual vocally. I want those who have no voice or the gift of gab as we use to say to be able to put my music on and let me be your mouth piece.” Will Downing teams up with guitarist Randy Bowland who co-writes and co-produces as well as performs on several songs on Soul Survivor. Bowland’s influence is felt from the first sweet strums of the guitar in the intro to the ballad “Our Time.” This is not a throwback, but instead modern day Will Downing doing what he does best…delivering a love song with lyrics and emotion from the heart like a grown man should! All wannabe “survivors” had better take note of a master at work. This is how your music becomes a timeless treasure for years to come. The Motown influence (think Marvin Gaye/Tammy Terrell) on “Since You’ve Been Gone,” is unmistakable and even comes complete with the required sax break (courtesy of WD band member Mike Ham) for authenticity. Despite the comparison, this is not a duet but certainly would have been straight up “Bop” music back in the day! The song sparks memories of what at least seemed like simpler times
The first of the killer interpretations took no chances on being true to form. The Blue Magic classic “Stop To Start” recruits the growling soaring sounds of Phil Perry, a veteran of the 70’s vocal group The Montclairs for a spot-on tribute to quite possibly the most tender and vulnerable era of soulful male lyrics ever. Men sang… almost cried about… deep love and pain in unashamed fashion. The track comes complete with guitar/sitar accents, sweeping string and woodwind arrangements and that awesome dynamic of the co-lead with two contrasting voices driving it home. “Everything I Want In My Lady” kicks off with Bowland’s guitar work again, but this time bringing that “Sade/Incognito” UK Soul feel to the party. While production stateside in the 90’s seemed preoccupied with merging R&B with Rap, it was sounds like this from across the pond that helped keep real Soul/R&B alive on the radio waves.
It’s no coincidence and fitting that Maysa, an absolute Queen of that era and a force that is still going strong, blesses this track with her honey tones peeking out of the chorus. Whether you were a fan of the Stylistics or Phyllis Hyman versions, you’ll appreciate how Will Downing (with help from saxophonist Najee) makes “Hurry Up This Way Again” his own. He keeps it “sweet ‘n’ stanky” like it was meant to be! If Quincy Jones’ Secret Garden and the Isley Brothers’ Summer Breeze ever had a baby, “When We Make Love” would be that love child! Downing starts with a rich Barry White inspired monologue that men envy and women adore. He then commences to deliver a good old fashioned last call “slow drag” record for the romantically challenged…and then drops the mic! The album’s finale is a beautiful rendition of a song “Tell Me All About It,|” penned and originally performed by Michael Franks.
On “Tell Me All About It,” Downing treats this song with his unmatched versatility, retaining a lush dream-like quality that transports you into a magical peaceful oasis. Soul Survivor is Will Downing’s follow-up to 2016’s critically heralded Black Pearls. The CD was Downing’s first album in six years and saw him reinventing chart-topping gems originally performed by some of the greatest female voices to grace R&B.
Soul Survivor should not only entertain, but also educate and inspire a new generation to continue the legacy. If by chance you can still find grown-folks who have not yet recognized and appreciated the fight in this artist to keep an original soul art form alive, or that is not emotionally moved in some way by this outstanding collection…you might want to check their pulse. It’s time to recognize that the man that has seen it all, done it all, come through it all…Will Downing… is the one and only Soul Survivor. Will Downing concludes, “ Every time I step to the microphone I want to give a performance that when people 100 years from now listen to and say ‘That man could sing.’ What a great recording! I create because I’m always hearing something new in my head and heart. I pray the creative spirit never leaves me but if it does, I hope I’ve left enough of my creativity on the planet to inspire others.”
Remember, Shanachie Entertainment will release the Prince of Soul, Will Downing’s 20th studio album, Soul Survivor on September 22, 2017.