It can’t be easy…yet, somehow, Will Downing, the Prince of Sophisticated Soul, is still finding new ways to thrill his fans. The March 11th release of Euphoria will be Downing’s 17th studio project. The uplifting title offers a clue to the secret formula as Euphoria is defined as: an overwhelming state of happiness, confidence or well-being. It also perfectly describes the grateful mind-set of a man overcoming industry and health challenges in recent years to celebrate career and birthday milestones in 2013. Downing’s Euphoria is surely a great feeling but wait `til you hear how it sounds!
At this stage in his career, even without over-the-top sales or multiple Grammys, Will Downing has nothing to prove! Who could seriously argue against placing him at the top of the list of Smooth R&B adult male vocalists? After a solid 25 plus years career, the proof is in his product. So why would he tweak an already proven formula? That’s where the overwhelming happiness, confidence and well-being come in. Downing’s Euphoria is his arrival at a point of creative freedom to make his music his way!
The winning formula of Euphoria is not about what gets added but more a matter of addition by subtraction. A slick “less is more” production approach by the team of Will Downing, keyboardists Chris “Big Dog” Davis and Mike Logan, pushes his rich baritone vocals to the forefront and creates a more intimate “soul-lounge” feel, complete with upright bass licks and brushed drum strokes. Within this format, Downing deftly swings from R&B to Blues to Blue-Eyed Soul to Jazz to a Brazilian classic sung in Portuguese – yes, POR-TU-GUESE.
The lead single is a very fresh take on Teddy Pendergrass’ 1979 classic, “Turn Off The Lights”. Incredibly, Downing avoids every temptation to borrow from the original Gamble & Huff arrangement in favor of an almost purely acoustic, more sensual alternative, punctuated by sizzling sax breaks by good friend Gerald Albright. As a result, the listener can put aside knee-jerk comparisons and simply enjoy the brilliant contrasts between two one-of-kind artists. Similarly fresh turns on Stevie Wonder’s “Too High” and Lou Rawls’ “If I Were A Magician” invite the same appreciation while tapping the considerable background vocal talents of Downing’s wife, Audrey Wheeler-Downing, and teenage daughter, Aja.
Downing’s well documented skills as a song interpreter, may soon take a back seat to his underrated growth as a songwriter, as exemplified by his beautiful original composition, “Heaven In Your Eyes.” The song evokes memories of days gone by when grown men were unafraid to express love from the heart. This is a straight old-fashioned love song and Will breaks it all down mid-song in a rare moment of husky spoken dialogue.
Will Downing, displays a fearless artistic range on Euphoria that extends far beyond his native Brooklyn roots and even challenged himself to tackle the theme song from a late `90s Brazilian mini-soap opera, “Meu Bem Querer,” with the original Portuguese lyrics written by Brazilian author, Djavan. While it may help to know that the title translates literally to “My Wishing Well,” a complete translation is somehow not necessary to enjoy the mellow flow of this ballad. Downing even scats alongside an effortless guitar solo by touring band member Randy Bowland.
That still isn’t the full extent of the range of this project. The tracks that round out Euphoria should come with one of those warnings that says “Performed by experts, don’t try this at home,” He goes from a Cotton Club-style version of the Jazz standard “Lush Life” (featuring Najee), to a Blues fueled version of Ray Lamontagne’s “You Can Bring Me Flowers” (featuring the Chops Horns and keyboardist Noel Goring), to a cover of the early 70’s Pop hit “She’s Gone” (featuring trombonist Wycliffe Gordon) with each sounding as comfortable and at home as the next!
The term “Grown Folk’s Music” is over-used for sure, but there’s almost no other way to describe the incredible variety offered on this release or the maturity required to truly appreciate it. The one thing “The Will Downing Formula” no longer requires is “hype” – that has been replaced with well- earned “respect.” Euphoria however, does employ one secret ingredient:”Pure Genius.” The proof is in the product.