Will Downing - Classique (2009)

Will Downing
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A contemporary jazz and soul performer who's made a two-decade career of effortlessly composing and interpreting smooth and sensual music, Will Downing is one of those consummate artists capable of singing the 2009 tax code and transforming it into a baby-generating smash. So it's practically a no-brainer that his latest collection, Classique, allows him to re-imagine soul hits by other musical titans before him (David Ruffin, Barry White, The Originals) as well as present his own compositions with long-time collaborator, Rex Rideout.

A contemporary jazz and soul performer who's made a two-decade career of effortlessly composing and interpreting smooth and sensual music, Will Downing is one of those consummate artists capable of singing the 2009 tax code and transforming it into a baby-generating smash. So it's practically a no-brainer that his latest collection, Classique, allows him to re-imagine soul hits by other musical titans before him (David Ruffin, Barry White, The Originals) as well as present his own compositions with long-time collaborator, Rex Rideout.

From top to bottom, Classique  embodies what we've come to expect over the years from Mr. Downing: his buttery baritone (miraculously unaffected by his debilitating bout with muscle disorder polymyositis) poured into billowy ballads and mellow mid-tempos that soothe and seduce. It's with his trademark tender touch that he pulls the listener in: "Ride," the intro, is a breathless invitation to paradise, while "I Won't Stop" is a valentine pledging devotion and affection to his beloved. The undulating "More Time (Tic Toc)" is a plea for another chance to re-ignite the flames in the midst of busy lives and obligations, while the smoldering "Just Think About It," wants to pick up where a long-ago love left off. One of the most inspired cuts, the mid tempo "Something Special," shimmers with all of the sweetness  of a newfound attraction, and who could resist a man who's willing to take orders, as he implores in "Love Suggestions" (with song stylist Sherrida): "Whatever's on your menu, I'll serve it up Baby," he coos. Soup's on ladies!

For some reason, it's with the reinterpreted tracks that he starts to stumble a bit: "Baby, I'm For Real" brings back the doo-wop and the sugary sweetness that The Originals brought out of the song, and the David Ruffin hit, "Statue of a Fool," is still as emotive as the original, but Will's version of "I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby" is more sluggish than sexy. If there is any other downfall beyond that, it's that Classique doesn't vary the textures and tones as much as his 2007 effort, After Tonight, which provides the same overall effect as an all-day chocolate binge: the sweetness is a welcomed at first, but starts to become cloying and redundant in the end.

Is it as full-bodied and flavorful as 2007's After Tonight? No, but that doesn't mean fans should overlook  (or outright disregard) Classique: after all, Mr. Downing still demonstrates, in spades,  why he's endured since the 80's as "the Prince of Sophisticated Soul. "  It's just that a winning formula is still a formula, and tweaking the ingredients once in awhile won't lessen the quality or the timelessness of the results.

By Melody Charles

 
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