Chronicling a roller coaster relationship in an entire album, let alone one song, can be a challenge. The performer must capture subtle nuances, a range of emotions, and at the same time narrate a believable tale. R&B crooner Will Downing tackles such a project in his latest release Lust, Love & Lies: An Audio Novel, with mostly pleasing results.
Downing’s new album departs from his classic sound in that he not only creates a mood, but spins a tale. Fans of his previous works, such as 2009′s Classique, will find that Downing’s signature smooth vocal style remains intact. Unlike his previous release, Lust, Love & Lies contains all original songs except for his soulful cover of Billy Vera and the Beaters’ “At This Moment.” Each track narrates the entire course of the relationship, with Downing meeting a woman at a club (told through the laid back grooves of “Glad I Met You Tonight” and “Feelin’ Alright”). Interspersed with various tracks are brief snippets of dialog, helping to move the story along.
Fans of Downing’s ballads will also find a lot to like on the CD, such as the sensual “Tell Me” and the seductive “Consensual.” He has become a master of the quiet storm genre, and these songs are the perfect accompaniment for a romantic evening. “Fly Higher” features some lovely guitar work that nicely compliments Downing’s silky voice. “Saturday” encapsulates contentment, the point in the relationship when one wonders if this person is “the one.” “The missing piece to my life/That makes me complete,” Downing almost whispers, beautifully conveying his feelings.
The story takes an interesting turn halfway through the audio soap opera with “Safe in His Arms,” a gospel number featuring Dave Hollister on lead vocals. While somewhat jarring in contrast to the overtly romantic tone of the rest of the album, the song features Downing’s backing vocals intertwining with Hollister’s confident tone.
Without giving too much away, the story takes a turn with “Shades,” a song rife with various meanings. While other tracks are tinged with jazz, this one is more straightforward R&B. The lyrics deal with both physical and inner beauty as well as how both have touched his life. Referring to different colors and flavors, the track also poses the question of whether Downing’s character will commit to his new love, or will he fall into the arms of a past girlfriend. “Do You Know” addresses a romance in crisis, with his deep vocals suggesting Barry White. “Coulda Been/Shoulda Been” continues this vibe, with its bass-heavy, midtempo beat.
This narrative format is nothing new—Maxwell used this motif on his 1996 debut, Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite. While not as musically complex as that work, it still showcases Downing as a classy soul singer who easily fuses smooth jazz and R&B into a pleasant blend. The love story holds some interest, but it’s the sensual grooves and Downing’s multi-range voice that really capture the listener’s attention. Love, Lust & Lies: An Audio Novel should appeal to R&B, contemporary jazz, and quiet storm fans, and should satisfy longtime Downing enthusiasts.
For more information, visit Will Downing’s website.