He has been called the “Prince of Sophisticated Soul.” Buttery smooth, silky and sexy, sophisticated, sultry and sensual - just a few words to describe the indescribably sensational voice of Will Downing. And when this exceptional voice meets a collection of timeless classics, all made famous by female vocalists, the result is an exquisite musical necklace of "Black Pearls".
This Brooklyn born singer/songwriter has always bridged the worlds of R&B and Jazz effortlessly. And beautifully. “I pinch myself everyday because I can't believe that after all this time I'm still making music for a living,” says Downing. “19 albums and 28 years of recording later and I'm still blessed. Truly Blessed!!”
As are his devoted fans, especially with the Shanachie Entertainment release of Black Pearls. When magic voice meets magic songs the result is, well, magic. Even though Will is an accomplished songwriter in his own right, on this new record he reinvents a veritable jewel-box of musical gems, originally rendered by some of the greatest female voices in history. Chaka Khan, Deniece Williams, Randy Crawford, Cherrelle, Jean Carne and Phyllis Hyman ... they are all lovingly celebrated on Black Pearls.
“Phyllis Hyman started this whole project,” acknowledges the Grammy nominated singer. "I was having a conversation with a friend who also worked with Phyllis. We both agreed that "Meet Me On The Moon" was our favorite Phyllis tune. My friend suggested I remake it. I called my keyboardist/arranger Mike Logan to help with the song. After completing it, I thought maybe this is a great opportunity to pay tribute to other female artists that I have always loved."
Meet Me On The Moon is indeed a diamond. Sparkling, shimmering, all romance and enchantment. Downing also covers the 1988 Cherrelle hit “Everything I Miss At Home” with a light, grooving touch.
“I choose songs based on lyrical content and melody,” explains the singer. “I enjoy singing songs that are reality based and that I can identify with and that my audience can relate to as well.”
Another prime example is his rendition of the Angela Winbush #1 Billboard hit Your Smile. “Everyone that hears the beginning of this song does one of two things. They either throw their hands in the air and say ‘That’s my jam’ or they look at me and say "no you didn't!’”
He did. And it is new, fresh and reverent all at the same time.
“I've always found it interesting to give the male interpretation of songs,” states Downing. “Men feel the some way as women and sometimes don't know how to verbalize it or they are afraid to. These songs might be their mouthpiece and even spark thought and conversation.”
My favourite track on "Black Pearls" is Get Here, written by Brenda Russell and made famous by Oleta Adams. Downing inhabits the song simply and comfortably, emoting each lyric as if he had penned it himself. And Street Life serves up a funky dose of Randy Crawford and The Crusaders, featuring the tantalizing tenor sax of Najee.
So many pearls. Each one unique and brilliant. A beautiful concept album executed with love and grace. I wonder which female vocalist might do the same?
-- Vickie Van Dyke