Will Downing - Soul Symphony (2005)

Will Downing

Okay, I know that I'm not exactly in Will Downing's prime demographic group.  And at times during his recording career, I'll admit that I've felt a little too male to respond to his music.  But there are other times when his music has been so uniformly strong as to win me over.  Fortunately, Soul Symphony, Downing's debut on Verve Records, is one of those occasions.

Okay, I know that I'm not exactly in Will Downing's prime demographic group.  And at times during his recording career, I'll admit that I've felt a little too male to respond to his music.  But there are other times when his music has been so uniformly strong as to win me over.  Fortunately, Soul Symphony, Downing's debut on Verve Records, is one of those occasions.

Like most of Downing's albums of the last decade, Soul Symphony is chock full of smooth ballads, but the material here is his strongest in years - perhaps ever.  Excellent slow songs such as "Crazy In Love," "A Promise" (written by SoulTracks fave John Stoddart), "Heart of Mine" and the jazzy "What's It Gonna Be" are countered nicely by the uptempo "Soul Steppin'," a light dance number that is perhaps the album's best track.  And while the oft-recorded "Superstar" was probably an unnecessary addition, there really isn't a weak cut on the disc.

Lyrically, the album is certainly sensual by design, but Downing shows himself more romantic than sex-obsessed, departing from the current sensibilities that pervade urban adult contemporary music.  So while Brian McKnight rather creepily sings to a groupie that "What We Do Here Stays Here," Downing sings to a woman, "There's someone out there just for you, willing to do the things a real man's supposed to do: Help pay your bills; help with your kids; to ease the pain so you can live."

Soul Symphony will certainly stand among Will Downing's best albums.  It shows an artist who is comfortable with the musical identity he has established for himself over the past decade and who is focused on making strong music within that framework.  It's possible that broadcast radio has already decided that airplay for Soul Symphony will be limited to smooth jazz and some progressive UAC stations, but hopefully word of mouth will carry this fine album to the heights it deserves.  In the meantime, I think I'm going to pour a couple glasses of wine and play Soul Symphony for my wife...

by Chris Rizik

 
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