They say a man’s “soul” is his spiritual essence. Life’s twists and turns can lift that soul high into the sky or send it crashing to the ground below. Unfortunately, 2023 started with the latter for Will Downing, following the unexpected and soul-crushing loss of daughter Aron Siobhan Downing in January. As a father, he was devastated…heartbroken. As an artist, he sought solace and comfort through his craft…facing the hurt head-on and exploring multiple themes of love to begin the healing. Persevering through the pain Downing is poised to finish the year with his soul rising…literally! The Prince of Sophisticated Soul is ready to share his 7- song masterclass in triumph over tragedy, Soul Rising!
Celebrating an insane 35 years in the “bizness” and 27 Albums to his credit Will Downing will not be stopped! Flexing on his international appeal, the lead single “What Part of My Love” shot to the top of the UK Soul Chart Top 30 and parked there. Those who no longer listen to new releases as the collective work it was intended to be, should make an exception in this case. Although not a “concept” album, the pieces of Soul Rising fit together beautifully as a single statement and should be enjoyed as such. We all know the about the smoothness, but there’s a brand-new kind of…dare I say…”Funkiness”, that I think is here to stay!
You (and your speakers, Headphones) etc….. will feel the difference right off the jump, with the lead-off cut, “Closer to Me”, when that bass and drum starts hitting a little differently. The familiar writing and production tandem of Downing and guitarist Randy Bowland, turn the heat up a bit from their usual formula. With keyboardist Mike Logan Sr. and background vocalist Ms. Monet rounding out the groove, I dare you not to move somethin’!
House of Love, another Downing/Bowland collab, gives me “Maze” vibes, however unintended, but that’s never a bad thing! To the extent over the last 4 decades, these two surviving entities may have directly or indirectly influenced each other, I’ll welcome that musical baby into the fold every time with open arms and ears.
Make no mistake…Will Downing didn’t forget the “smooth” that made the Man the Myth the Legend! Nor did he abandon his world-famous knack for what he affectionately calls “interpretations” of classic hits. He plucked an absolute diamond of a gem from arguably one of the finest early 70’s albums, The Stylistics, Round Two, and their hauntingly enchanting, “You’re As Right As Rain”! If you’ve ever “slow-dragged” with a blue light in the basement, you will be transported to afros, platforms, bell-bottoms and Brut cologne…if you know you know, but I digress. In addition to assists from long-time collaborator Ronnie Foster, Downing recruits the sweet trumpet of solo Artist and one half of 90’s duo Imprompt2, Johnny Britt to seal vibe.
Soul Rising then takes a solemn turn to the heart and very “Soul” of this release. Downing, maybe for his own well-being, had to stare his tragedy down squarely and turn art into therapy. “Till We Meet Again”, serves as a father’s sweet hand-off to God to care for his angel Siobhan, until they’re joined again divinely as father and daughter in heavenly reward. An unimaginable undertaking for a parent attempting to channel pain into art. The song is introduced by the actual last New Year’s Day last voicemail exchanged by Downing and Siobhan, which contain no hint of the drama to unfold just 10 days later. Downing makes the song a true family affair, with daughter Aja and wife Audrey Wheeler Downing lending their supportive voices. A passionately moving albeit gut-wrenching tribute, but well done.
Given that dynamic, it’s understandable that the final three tracks all lean into a theme of “Love”. Starting with the aforementioned smash, “What Part of My Love”, but pivoting back to that new “funk” vibe with “Love You Right”, this time with Hubert Eaves IV joining the revival. An intentional sequence I would think, to lift and restore the spirit of Soul Rising!
I think the final cut, “Love of A Lifetime”, as a message, speaks simultaneously of what we seek in both a personal relationship and the love of a father to a child. Maybe that wasn’t the intent, but given the circumstances, I heard both. Love is love!
Family…,Will Downing dug deep for this one. Even down to the Album cover a original piece of artwork by Frank Morrison. Realize, recognize and appreciate a real man, a real artist and a real father with his Soul Rising!