PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Will Downing: All the Man That I Need

Mark Anthony Neal

Will Downing

All the Man That I Need

Label: Motown
US Release Date: 2000-07-18

Perhaps no contemporary R&B artist has performed under as much obscurity. With the release of his seventh solo recording (his eighth recording Pleasures of the Night was a collaboration with saxophonist Gerald Albright), Will Downing remains an unknown to general R&B and pop audiences. This relative obscurity is part of the price that Downing has paid for his versatility. Like contemporaries Dianne Reeves and Rachelle Ferrell, whose long-awaited follow-up to her self-titled R&B debut and straight-ahead jazz release, First Instrument, will be due out in September, Downing has been comfortable in both the R&B and smooth jazz worlds. With a casual vocal style which recalls the late and tragically obscured Walter Jackson as well as Caribbean crooner Jon Lucien, Downing is a "working-class" alternative to the more bourgeois flourishes of Luther Vandross.

While Downing's first two releases Will Downing and Come Together as One, included minor hits like his vocal version of "A Love Supreme" and definitive eight-minute plus remake of the Rose Royce classic "Wishing on a Star," Downing's breakthrough recording was A Dream Fulfilled, released in the spring of 1991. With major production by jazz pianist and arranger Onaje Allan Gumbs, A Dream Fulfilled familiarized Downing to smooth jazz audiences with stunning versions of Angela Bofil's "I Try," Paul Young's "I Go Crazy," War's "The World is a Ghetto," and the standard "For All We Know." Downing's further capitalized on the momentum generated by A Dream Fulfilled with his best recording Love's the Place to Be (1993). Largely produced by Rex Rideout and veteran keyboardist and vibraphonist Ronnie Foster, the recording featured a duet with Rachelle Ferrell ("Nothing has Ever Felt Like This"), a rousing interpretation of Thom Bell's "Break Up to Make Up" and Ronnie Foster's "smoky cool" title track. Downing's two subsequent recordings, Moods (1995) and Invitation Only (1997), while featuring solid efforts like Downing's own "Sorry I," the contemporary standard "I Can't Make You Love Me," and "If She Knew," found Downing in an artistic holding pattern. Downing's move to Motown, initiated by the collapse of his label's (Mercury) black music division, which jettisoned Downing and fellow label mates Brian McKnight and Vanessa Williams to Motown under the current leadership of former maverick Kedar Massenberg, did not bode well for the rejuvenation of the kind of creative energies that marked A Dream Fulfilled and Love's the Place to Be.

All the Man You Need finds Downing in familiar places almost to the extent of being a caricature of himself. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Where as label-mate Brian McKnight personifies somnolence, Downing is often just too "smooth" for his own good. The lead single "When You Need Me" features the enigmatic chanteuse Chante Moore and is the perfect fit for the type of "quiet storm" formats where Downing is likely to attract new audiences. Unfortunately, Downing's mature vocals are likely to take a back seat to the greasy, sexy, boy-man dribble of the Jagged Edges and Nexts of the world. "Thinkin' About You," attempts to capitalize on the sound that McKnight has parlayed into a few top ten pop recordings, but without McKnight's track record, Downing is unlikely to make any headway to the crossover audiences that to his credit he has never explicitly sought. The tracks "Only a Moment Away" and "Everytime It Rains" are trademark Downing songs -- smooth vocals, lush production, and romantic themes -- which not surprisingly are also penned by him. The real standouts on All the Man That I Need include the D'Angelo-esque "Tired Melody" which is one of three tracks produced by Soulquarian James Poyser (Common's Like Water for Chocolate). The track also features drummer Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson of the Roots and trumpeter Nicholas Payton. Poyser also produced the recordings best track "Real Soon" which should likely be the next single.

The biggest surprise on the recording is Downing's remake, also produced by Poyser, of the Bill Withers standard "Grandma's Hands." Withers, the vastly underrated singer song-writer, is best known for his collaboration with Grover Washington on "Just the Two of Us," though his best known composition "Lean on Me" was popularized by Club Nouveau more that 10 years after Withers first recorded the track himself. Withers has received new attention largely courtesy of Teddy Riley's sly tribute to his music via Riley's sampling of "Grandma's Hand" on Blackstreet's "No Diggity." While Downing's remake is not likely to make the waves that "No Diggity" did, it is refreshing to see that Downing is still willing to take some risk with his music. All the Man that I Need is not likely to change opinions of Downing's work, one way or the other, but when so many veteran artists seek gimmicks to reach new audiences, Downing seems secure to simply do what he does best...and there is nothing wrong with that.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.