For those of us who eagerly trawl through the internet, the forums and digital music sites in search of new soul music, nothing is as exciting as news of a new album from Will Downing, or as he is known, ‘The Prince of Sophisticated Soul’. No other artist on the soul scene has released albums and singles as consistently good as Will Downing, and on his latest release entitled Chocolate Drops he proves once again that he still is on top of his soul game.
Since the release of the excellent single ‘Never Say No To You’ back in February, Downing has teased us with snippets of new songs on his weekly podcast The Wind Down, and finally the album has arrived. The album opens with a classic Downing-esque mid-tempo groove with ‘This Song Is For You’ which sets the pace for the rest of the album nicely; the background vocal arrangements provides a tasty cushion to surround Downing’s seductive vocals, which is complimented perfectly with the neo-soul vibe on the track. ‘Never Say No To You’, as we’ve written elsewhere, is a wonderful single release that has rightly received much airplay on the soul stations and shows.
‘Til You Come Back To Me’ shifts gear somewhat – the song has a hip-hop soul feel to it, yet rides that mid-temp groove that Downing delivers so well. Again the background vocal arrangement is delightful, and Downing produces an inspired vocal performance. The bass and guitars propel the song forward, producing a groove that instantly forces the listener to either tap their feet or bob their head, or in my case both.
Downing is also well known for his ability to re-craft classics by other artists; in recent years he’s reworked tracks by The Delfonics, Teddy Pendergrass and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles alone, and on Chocolate Drops he re-interprets three classic soul cuts. The first is Atlantic Star’s ‘Let’s Get Closer’, the album’s first true ballad. Whereas the original featured an almost falsetto vocal, Downing approach mirrors that of Luther Vandross on his ballads, making a good song even better. The production is fairly bare, but this provides Downing and his vocalists ample room to do what they do best, and it works spectacularly well. The saxophone solo is a nice addition, giving this version the upper hand over the original.
Perhaps the most interesting cover is that of Whitney Houston’s ‘Saving All My Love’. The song was originally recorded by Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. (that version is worth checking out), but it was Houston who made it her own, but now Downing has given the song a male touch. Downing is at his most seductive on this track, his voice glides over a sultry and subtle production to create a lovely tribute to the late Houston. The final cover is Bobby Taylor’s social commentary classic ‘Does Your Momma Know About Me’ which tells the story of stigmas surrounding interracial relationships; with Downing however, the song becomes a ballad, and is a stunning re-make of such an important song.
The final original tracks are equally great: ‘Run Away Fall In Love’ is a ballad inviting a girl to run away with Downing, a tempting offer no doubt. ‘Deep As The Ocean’ and ‘It’s Real’ are two further mid-tempo grooves which round the album off well, suiting Downing perfectly.
Once again Will Downing has proven that he is the Prince of Sophisticated Soul, creating a modern soul album which is deeply emotional and consistently excellent. His ability to transform classic soul songs is unmatched; indeed, he could teach record executives who crave cover albums a thing or two. This album is perhaps even better than Downing’s last, the exquisite ballad-laced Euphoria from last year. Chocolate Drops is sure to become one of this year’s best soul albums.