Vocalist Will Downing has a tale of love to tell. It may or may not be based on a true story, but it's one that we've all lived through at one time or another. Downing's version, Lust, Love and Lies (An Audio Novel) - which he fondly calls "an audio soap opera," complete with intermittent vignettes of intimate conversations that help move the story along - includes elements of comedy, tragedy and all the subtle shades in between. The album is set for release on September 14, 2010, on Peak Records, a division of Concord Music Group.
"This record had actually been coming together in my mind for five years," says Downing. "I just didn't know how to go about it at first. Then when I first started writing the songs, it started to make sense as a story. I'd never made a record like this before. I had always sort of erred on the side of caution and safety when making records. This was the first time I said, ‘You know what? Let's just do something completely different.'"
Aided primarily by co-producers Rex Rideout and Chris "Big Dog" Davis (who also plays keyboards throughout the set), guitarist Randy Bowland and bassist Anthony Jackson - along with a number of guest players and vocalists - Downing settles into a groove that's more straightahead R&B than any of his recordings to date.
"I think people sometime don't know how to categorize my music," says Downing. "It's soulful, but it's also slightly jazzy. It's a blend of so many things. But I think this album solidifies what I'm doing and where I'm going. It locks into a groove and says, ‘Okay, this is an R&B record.' It'll be interesting to see how longtime listeners react, and whether any new folks will come on board."
Downing's eclecticism can be traced back to his days as a session vocalist in the early ‘80s for artists like Gerald Albright, Jennifer Holiday, Warp 9 and many others. He remembers studio calls in his native New York that assembled groups of vocalists who had no prior experience together - all of which taught him the importance of discipline and flexibility. "You didn't want to be the one person in the session who made all the other vocalists sound bad," he says. "When you walked into that room, you had to be on top of your game, because these were some of the finest singers in New York."
His self-titled debut album in 1988 was the first in what has amounted to an ambitious body of work - 14 albums in 22 years. "The creative process doesn't just start and stop when you want it too, nor should it," says Downing. "This may sound a little grim, but I always figure that there may not be a tomorrow. Why not go ahead and do what you want to do today? Even if it doesn't get released, record it anyway. Leave a legacy. It's a never-ending process."
While his overall philosophy may sound deadly serious, Downing allows plenty of room for playfulness and irony on Lust, Love and Lies (An Audio Novel). The story opens with the shimmering and atmospheric "Glad I Met You Tonight," a smoky account of a chance encounter loaded with romantic potential. It also introduces the two main characters - Will and Dee - who reappear elsewhere throughout the album, both in the musical tracks and the conversational interludes in between.
Further in, the smoldering "Consensual" is an invitation for some suggestive phone chatter, but with a comical turn in the final moment. "There's all this passion going on," says Downing, "and then I take it in a completely different direction by ending with a line that no one would expect. My wife and my friends listen to that song all the way through, and they say, "If you're fans only knew what your sense of humor was really like, they'd be amazed.'"
On an equally ironic note, "Consensual" is followed immediately by an uplifting gospel tune called "Safe in His Arms," featuring Dave Hollister on lead vocals with Downing on backing vocals. "Gospel is not my forte, and I openly admit it," says Downing. "Dave, on the other hand, is a great gospel singer, so I figured I'd let him take the lead and I would follow, and we'd complement each other along the way."
"Shades" is a sensual ode full of double meaning. Downing sings about the captivating hues of a lover's skin, but also pays tribute to the beauty underneath.
Toward the end (in every sense of the word), Downing delivers a stirring cover of "At This Moment." Although the song was originally a pop hit for Billy Vera in the ‘80s, it was Michael Bublé's more recent version that caught Downing's attention. "It sounded good, but as I listened to it, I started hearing a different version in my head. I thought, ‘Man, I know I could do something different with that song.' So I went down to my studio in the basement and started working on an arrangement that made more sense to me and to the narrative of this album."
There's more to Lust, Love and Lies (An Audio Novel), but as with any good tale - be it a love story or otherwise - it's best not to give away the ending. Suffice it to say that the album tells a timeless story that somehow never gets old, "from being in lust with someone from the moment you see them, to being intrigued by them, to potentially falling in love with them, to whatever comes after that," says Downing. "Let's face it, we've all been there at one time or another."