Music

Will Downing: After Tonight

Those of you who need a little extra spice for any upcoming romantic interludes would be hard-pressed to find better accompaniment among recent releases.


Will Downing

After Tonight

Label: Concord
US Release Date: 2007-10-30
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Will Downing is one of the last remaining links to R&B’s “quiet storm” era, and as such, is almost a relic. They don’t make ’em like him anymore. While most of today’s soul stars are flirting heavily with hip-hop, imitating Michael Jackson, or veering towards the more “arty” neo-soul sound, Downing’s mellow vocals and easygoing vibe call to mind artists like Luther Vandross, Anita Baker and Whitney Houston. While Downing would have fallen into the gap of sound alike artists during that time period, he stands out as unique these days, especially with Vandross deceased, Baker semi-retired and Whitney… well, we know about Whitney.

Anyhow, Downing has built up a dedicated following over the course of the past two decades, and while his audience (folks who listen to “smooth jazz” or “urban adult contemporary” radio) may be smaller than the average teen idol’s, it’s constant and unwavering, as evidenced by the fact that Downing’s 13th album, After Tonight, became his first to hit #1 on Billboard’s R&B Album chart.

Much like Vandross, Downing flirts with current musical trends but knows enough to not let them dictate his signature sound. He knows enough to not over-sell a song. You’ll never hear him scream or shout, but that doesn’t mean he can’t emotionally invest himself into a song. The man is the definition of smooth, both for the way he can jump from a sensual baritone to an airy falsetto and for the easygoing nature of his songs. This (and any of Will’s albums, quite frankly) can be used as either the soundtrack to a hot ‘n' heavy Saturday night between the sheets or the following Sunday morning, as you sip lemonade out on your front porch.

While Downing has cultivated one of the stronger catalogs in the realm of current R&B, After Tonight is one of his stronger efforts and my favorite since 2002’s excellent Sensual Journey. Downing croons and swoons his way through a gorgeous selection of songs with guest shots from some of contemporary jazz and soul’s finest musicians, including saxophonist Kirk Whalum and legendary vibraphonist Roy Ayers. And although you wouldn’t be able to tell it from listening to the grooves, Will recorded the album during an especially trying period for him.

As Downing began work on this album, he was diagnosed with a rare disease called polymyositis, which causes inflammation of the muscles. Sufferers of this disease often struggle with muscle weakness, and Downing recorded most of this album from either a wheelchair or a hospital bed. After Tonight suffers none from the singer’s ailment, and Downing doesn’t let his affliction alter any of his lyrics, with the exception of a song called “God Is So Amazing” that would have fit neatly on any other album recorded during his career.

From the opening track, After Tonight sucks you in. “Will’s Groove” combines sumptuous vocal arrangements with a funky rhythm and some of the nastiest wah-wah guitar on a soul record in recent memory. It calls to mind the best of Marvin Gaye’s work with Leon Ware, circa “I Want You”. “After Tonight” (presented here in two versions) marries a spring-like groove to some serious romantic bravado. All those folks who might be wondering where “grown & sexy” went with the passing of Vandross and Gerald LeVert need look no further after hearing this song.

Always known as a master interpreter-he’s covered everything from The Average White Band and Michael Jackson to Paul Davis’s lite-radio standard “I Go Crazy”, Downing only tackles one non-original song on this album, and it’s a winner. His take on Bill Withers’ melancholy “You Just Can’t Smile It Away” is stunning. He even takes it to the clubs (well, if clubs still played this kind of music) with “Lovers’ Melody”. Spiced with the vibes playing of Roy Ayers, this cut captures the spirit that sparked disco hits like Ayers’ own “Running Away” back in the day.

Those of you who need a little extra spice for any upcoming romantic interludes would be hard-pressed to find better accompaniment among recent releases than Will Downing’s After Tonight. Carrying the torch for the mature, smooth R&B singer, Downing’s latest effort is one of the better releases of 2007 in any subgenre of soul music.

7

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

The husband and wife duo DEGA center their latest slick synthpop soundscape around the concept of love in all of its stages.

Kalen and Aslyn Nash are an indie pop super-couple if there ever were such a thing. Before becoming as a musical duo themselves, the husband and wife duo put their best feet forward with other projects that saw them acclaim. Kalen previously provided his chops as a singer-songwriter to the Georgia Americana band, Ponderosa. Meanwhile, Aslyn was signed as a solo artist to Capitol while also providing background vocals for Ke$ha. Now, they're blending all of those individual experiences together in their latest project, DEGA.

Keep reading... Show less

On "Restless Mind", Paul Luc establishes himself as an exceptional 21st century bard who knows his way around evoking complex emotions in song.

The folk-rock swing of Paul Luc's upcoming Bad Seed is representative of the whole human condition. Following his previous track release in "Slow Dancing", the Pittsburgh singer-songwriter is sharing another mid-tempo, soulful number. This time, it describes the way too familiar feelings of uncertainty and diversion can, at times, sneak up on all of us.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image