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Classique

Will Downing

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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: 1963 in Brooklyn, NY

Genre: R&B/Soul

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

Brooklyn vocalist and composer Will Downing has hovered on the cusp of stardom since the late '80s, occasionally making some arresting album cuts but never the major hit or string of records he needed to establish himself. Downing sang in Arthur Baker's "Wally Jump Junior" group, and then employed Baker as his producer when he signed with Island. He did session work in the early and mid-'80s, singing on dates with Daryl Payne, Marc Sadane, Warp 9, and Jennifer Holiday. Downing's 1988 debut, Will...
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Classique, Will Downing
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