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Classique

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Album Review

Will Downing has become an institution. Beginning with his self-titled debut in 1988, he has consistently cut singles and albums that have entered the charts and remained there, no matter how many trends have come and gone or how much the nature of the music business has changed. There's a reason for this: Downing is a classic urban R&B singer. His gorgeous smooth, deeply personal delivery connects emotionally with the listener; his song choices are more often than not excellent; and his arrangements and production teams are extremely sophisticated in that they consistently understate his talent, drawing the listener in gently but intently. The title of his 2009 effort, Classique, produced by Downing and Rex Rideout, may be a bit misleading: it is not a compilation but a brand-spanking new collection of contemporary jazz-inflected R&B — in other words, classic Downing. The album's first single, "Something Special" — with its hand drums, loops, and slippery flute flitting around a well-placed and subtle horn section with Rideout's sexy keyboards and Darrell Crooks' guitar cutting under the mix — is at its core a popping midtempo love song. Elsewhere, his cover of Barry White's "I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little Bit More Baby" reveals just how deep the master's influence is on Downing. He may not have the full depth of White's baritone, but he gets close, and his expressiveness and emotional connection to the song make it shine. The completely old-school Marvin Gaye ballad "Baby I'm for Real" features a duet appearance by Phil Perry. It's convincing and utterly gorgeous. But not only do the covers work here; Downing's originals connect too — and not just the aforementioned single, but "Love Suggestions," "Ride," and "Let's Make It Now" also reveal the depth and breadth of Downing's songwriting. Classique is indeed everything its title claims it is, and perhaps more. This is old-school urban R&B without a hint of nostalgia or pandering gimmickry.

Biography

Born: 29 November 1963 in New York, NY [Brooklyn]

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Throughout a career that dates back to the early '80s, Will Downing has been among the steadiest and most productive artists in R&B. Not cut out to hop aboard commercial production trends for the sake of attaining mainstream success, he has tended to stick resolutely to a sophisticated and modern sound based in soul and jazz. He mixes refined originals with spirited covers, and combines his deep and rich voice with a restrained "song first" approach. Downing doesn't have many major singles by the...
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Classique, Will Downing
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