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Will Downing – Black Pearls

July 17, 2016

This is one of my rare longer reviews…for good reason. After completely captivating followers as far back as the ’80s with his wonderful self-titled debut release and then fully ensuring that they would be followers throughout his career with many romance-filled subsequent releases, the iconic and world-renowned Prince of Sophisticated Soul vocalist Will Downing is back with a warm and highly honorable tribute to some of the greatest female R&B voices with his latest called Black Pearls (such a telling title). The album is chock full of the richness that was originally displayed by such artists as Phyllis Hyman, Chaka Khan, Deniece William, Randy Crawford, Cherrelle, and Jean Carne. Downing places his own majestic touch on these originals and, though they may be covers, you can easily feel him claiming them as his own while shouting gratitude to these ladies from the depths of his soul.

The sign of a truly determined and motivated man is when he can be stricken with a debilitating rare disorder, as was Downing in 2007, and come roaring back in full recovery with twice the strength and pick up right where he left off. In fact, while recovering, he willed himself to complete several recordings. The disease is called polymyositis and is a rare muscular and auto-immune disorder that leaves one fatigued and can rob one of his or her mobility, landing Downing in a wheelchair and the victim of severe weight loss. As he says, “Polymyositis changed my life in every way – both mentally and physically. Like many that men I know, I was afraid to go to the doctor. By the time I finally did, I ended up being hospitalized for three months.” He goes on to say “When you’re laying in bed, you have plenty of time to reflect on life. It taught me to slow down and enjoy it. I also learned that nothing is forever. As much as I love music, it’s not my everything. Music played a huge part in my recovery, but it’s not everything. The bond with family and real friends were strengthened. I always say it was the best and worst thing to ever happen to me.”

Displaying the heart of a warrior, Downing, now fully recovered, shows on this latest release, his humility, respect, and gratitude as he belts out these gems made famous by those women he so highly regards What an honorable gesture indeed.

Leading off with the 1988 Cherrelle hit “Everything I Miss At Home,” the crooner sets a satiny and gentle mood for romantics everywhere, clearly showing why he is regarded as The Prince of Sophisticated Soul.

He goes on to stroke such R&B classics as The Emotions’ “Don’t Ask My Neighbors,” Angela Winbush’s “Your Smile,” Brenda Russell’s “Get Here,” the Joe Sample-penned Randy Crawford smash “Street Life,” Deniece Williams’ “Black Butterfly,” Chaka Khan & Rufus’ “Everlasting Love,” and so many others. Each song drips with the Downing trademark sensuality and irresistible charm. A classic as covers go.

Any of Downing’s recordings is a sure bet when you want to set that sensual, deep blue romantic aura, but this one goes even deeper, speaking volumes about his affinity and respect for the female perspective in R&B. Yep, you need to get you some of this. Another Downing pearl. – Ronald Jackson