Will Downing - Soul Survivor (2017)

Will Downing
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Will Downing - Soul Survivor

There’s something about being a proven and ‘seasoned’ performer. Just as wine usually gets better with age and folks don’t become old by becoming fools (again, that’s usually), artists don’t remain relevant for decades unless they’re getting the job done. With the only constant being change, the irony performers face over the years is maintaining their uniqueness without becoming stale as their styles evolve. Will Downing, one of the enduring musical talents on both jazz and soul’s ‘short list,’ has been adept at this----for two decades and some change. So Downing’s choice to entitle his latest collection Soul Survivor is a valid one.

Will Downing - Soul Survivor

There’s something about being a proven and ‘seasoned’ performer. Just as wine usually gets better with age and folks don’t become old by becoming fools (again, that’s usually), artists don’t remain relevant for decades unless they’re getting the job done. With the only constant being change, the irony performers face over the years is maintaining their uniqueness without becoming stale as their styles evolve. Will Downing, one of the enduring musical talents on both jazz and soul’s ‘short list,’ has been adept at this----for two decades and some change. So Downing’s choice to entitle his latest collection Soul Survivor is a valid one.

As far as his fanbase is concerned, Downing’s baritone is the magic carpet that’s transported them through a myriad of romantic milestones, as evidenced by the admirers waxing rhapsody in the prelude/title track (“Soul Survivor Theme”). They will also find more of what they love about Will in the full-length tracks that follow. “Since You’ve Been Gone” is a moody mid-tempo, listing the ways he’s suffering without his lady and pleading for a swift return. Numbers like “Our Time” and “Tell Me About It,” originally recorded by Michael Franks, encompass the supple sensuality listeners expect, and when joined with other ‘short listers,’ the results can be audio bliss. Avery Sunshine, the newest of the collaborators, is glib and galvanizing on “I’m Feeling the Love,” and Phil Perry’s addition on “Stop to Start” (originally done by Blue Magic) doesn’t make for a duet, per se, but enjoyably posits them as friends too prideful to own their mistakes with the ladies in their lives so they commiserate to one another (as a six-pack sits nearby?) instead.

Maysa’s throaty alto and Downing’s croon make for a heady blend in “Everything I Want In a Lady,” as does his alliance with the incomparable Najee, a flute and Will’s delectable take on Phyllis Hyman’s “Hurry Up This Way Again.” If nothing else, Survivor proves that Will Downing is an artist who wields his instrument skillfully, ‘killing them softly’ with allusions to his desires rather than emphasizing the obvious (even with titles like “When We Make Love”).

Like his past and present ‘short list’ peers, the sound of Will Downing is both vintage and timeless, polished yet passionate. Anyone can declare themselves as anything these days, but this Brooklyn native has the stats, the receipts, the resume, and yes, even the struggles to prove it (remember the 2007 polymyositis scare that threatened his health and those golden pipes?).

Some are doing the bare minimum, and others are chasing the trends, but Will Downing is a performer who created his own mold and pours that raw essence into each new release. And when one has sustained that ingenuity for all to behold, time after time, they’ve evolved beyond  merely ‘singing.’ At that juncture, that artist becomes a goal for others and a standard for Generation Next. And if that isn’t the definition of a Soul Survivor, damn...what is? Highly Recommended.

By Melody Charles

Click Here to listen to Soul Survivor

 
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