According to the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, "For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven." But when fans of classically-created soul music remember the great voices that have been forever silenced in the last 25 years (Teddy Pendergrass, Ray Charles, Luther Vandoss, Barry White, Issac Hayes and Gerald Levert, to name very few), it feels like a very somber time time indeed. Luckily, the ones who remain still carry the torch for the ones who came before and give us hope for the present, which is why the latest from Will Downing, Euphoria, is very aptly named.
Will Downing - Euphoria (2014)
After a quarter of a century in the music biz, Mr. Downing's pipes are still mellow and mellifluous, dripping like melted chocolate into the eight tracks. With a baritone like Will's, there's no need for hyperbolic production, so the after-hours cool-out lounge feel (achieved with players like Mike Logan and Chris "Big Dog" Davis) is both intimate and effective. Some may find it ironic that the very first of 17 CDs to be released on Will's own label (Sophisticated Soul) is full of material previously recorded by other artists, but the contents still feel more like homage than recycling: "Lush Life" with Najee, for example, harkens back to the Cotton Club "golden era" of jazz with modern touches of tender vulnerabilty. Similarly, Hall & Oates' lamenting pop classic, "She's Gone," gets an extra undercurrent of synergy thanks to the trumpet of Wycliffe Gordon.
Downing's expertise is so prolific that he's adept at a couple of styles, but he doesn't just stop there: his take on Lou Rawls' "If I Were A Magician" is more delicate rather than determined, featuring his wife and daughter (Audrey Wheeler-Downing and Aja, respectively) adding their vocal flourishes, and Ray LaMontagne's "You Can Bring Me Flowers" is transformed from its folksy, country-esque vibe to a bitter blues kiss off that injects flashes of uncharacteristic venom into Will's soothing croon: "Her eyes have dried, hands are tied/Nothing I can say. If you feel the need to go/I won't stand in your way. Sit and think drown and drink/sing this sad, sad song. You can bring me flowers/when I'm dead and gone."
Like other CDs that showcase song reinterpretations, some mimic too closely to stand out ("Too High"), some are interestingly ambitious (the Portuguese-rooted "Meu Bem Querer") or change up the arrangements/tempo so drastically that listeners will feel some kinda way, good or bad ("Turn Off The Lights") about the results, but unlike some other singers, Will can flex the pen as well as the pipes to add his own creation that can make up for any missteps (the sweet and shimmery ballad "Heaven In Your Eyes").
Like other soul men before him, Will Downing was told to sound more like this, do less of that and basically switch his style up early in his career to sound more like So and So, yet here he is still pleasing the fans and packing out venues. If the last 20-odd years have proven anything, true musicality prevails, Downing's got the goods and at this stage of the game, personally and professionally, there are definitely reasons for him and his followers to be gratified, satisfied and filled with Euphoria. Highly Recommended.
By Melody Charles