Brother Will Downing wants to “testify” and you just might want to listen closely! There’s a long rich tradition in the Black church of testifying. Long before modern day praise and worship teams arrived on the scene, church service would start with old hymns and elder members standing, giving honor to God and sharing their “testimony”…a point of great adversity in their life, when the power of God and prayer turned everything around against all odds. That “low point”…marking a “test”. God’s test of faith…you love me, you praise me in times of good health and prosperity…can you love me, praise me, believe in me in times of great trial and tribulation. In late 2006, in the very prime of his life, Will Downing faced an almost unimaginable test. A sudden onset of the auto-immune disease Polymyositis threatened everything he held dear…his health…ability to provide for his family…musical gifts…quality of life…life itself. Weak, frail and nearly paralyzed, he didn’t curse God, but instead said a prayer…”Lord you see me through this…and I promise…I will give you all the honor…all the praise…wherever I go”. Will didn’t turn away from God and God didn’t turn away from him. Twelve years later, Will Downing is a walking, singing testimony of the power of faith and prayer and today he delivers on his promise with The Promise.
The need to categorize will lead some to call The Promise “Gospel” or “Praise and Worship” and while not totally inaccurate, it misses the larger intent. This release is Downing’s heartfelt 10-song thank you letter to God himself for bringing him back from the edge of darkness into His marvelous light. Listen closely, and you’ll hear the pain, the gratitude and yes…the “testimony” to all who find themselves losing hope against incredible odds. Foregoing the need for categories, Will Downing used his considerable talents to step boldly outside of his Prince of Sophisticated Soul persona and pour raw unblinking emotion into a musical retrospective that chronicles his journey from hospital bed, wheelchair and return to the stage. This is the Will Downing you’ve never heard in his 30 plus year career…the one the stared down his own mortality and emerged, through faith, on the other side, blessed to continue to do what he does best. Prepare to be inspired!
You get taken straight to church from the opening piano and organ chords of the first track “Take It To The Cross”.
This toe-tappin’, hand-clappin’ kick-off, sets the perfect tone with the message to take your burdens to the Lord.
Just in case that message wasn’t clear enough, this one comes complete with a sermonette breakdown from brother Downing himself, that God is there to do the heavy lifting and won’t put more on you than you can bear.
Up next is “Look In the Mirror”, a thumping horn-driven reminder that while God is omni-present, He allows each of
us to find Him in our own way. There’s an old saying that if you keep doing what you’ve been doing…you’re going to
keep getting what you’ve been getting. You are the total sum of the choices you make in this life. To that end, be the change you want to see in yourself, so that you can look at yourself in the mirror and be pleased.
On “I Hear A Voice”, you’ll get drawn directly into the spiritual impact of the moment when Downing knew his
prayers had been heard and his fight was not his own. That moment when God speaks to your heart and lets you
know He’s with you and will see you through. You start to see and praise every measure of healing and take comfort knowing God is with you. Most certainly this song captures a major turning point in Downing’s “test” and an
affirmation of his faith.
Perhaps the most deeply personal song on this release is “You Blessed My Life” , which can probably only be
described as a Gospel Ballad. It’s a slowed down, stripped down, full-blown love song with Will singing directly to
God in full humble gratitude for his entire life’s journey…the ups and the downs. Downing delivers the song with
an unashamed tearful sincerity that grows even more evident with every measure.
The pulsating heartbeat of “He Will Be There” kicks the tempo back up in fine fashion. Downing returns to his message of hope for the congregation, to call on the Lord in times of strife with the assurance that He will indeed answer the call. The message is driven home and personalized with the phrase “I’ve seen it myself”, to let all know that this is a voice of experience speaking.
I believe Will Downing allowed himself to revisit his darkest medical moments on “What Would I Do”. Embedded within the bright upbeat track, is a haunting lyric, “…can’t imagine what I contemplated…”, which regardless of how you interpret, reveals a depth of hopelessness most of us have never known. For the unfortunate souls that may someday find themselves at rock bottom, this song offers a hope-filled place to turn.
“God Is So Amazing” is a triumph and tribute unto itself. This song originally appeared on the After Tonight release which distinguishes itself amongst the Downing discography as the project that began just before and just after the Polymyositis diagnosis. A close listen to that release will reveal a variety of colors in the strength and tone of Downing’s signature baritone from one song to the next. It was perhaps most evident on the original version of this song, which was recorded in determined fashion from a hospital bed. This re-recording is a sterling testament to the faith of a man who could praise God the same at the height of his illness as he did in full recovery.
“God Will Show You The Way” continues to hammer home the prevailing theme of The Promise,…a message that recognizes the presence, purpose and power of God for guidance. That includes, as he sings, times when you “cry to
God to save your life”. Yet another peek inside the deep and sometimes incredibly dark memories Downing painfully unpacked for artistic inspiration.
“Shout (A Celebration of Life)” is an aptly titled…celebration of life! More accurately, it’s an appreciation of life and
how we must live each day in it to the fullest. It’s a celebration of when you began to see things you once took for granted and begin to savor all the little moments. Downing’s joy is palpable and indeed he should shout in a body
that he once thought would never stand again.
The Promise concludes in classic Will Downing fashion as he shares the microphone in the duet “Changed” with an
R&B Diva of great faith, Regina Belle. (more to come)
The Promise is an incredible triumph and achievement on multiple levels. Musically, you can’t ignore the fact that this
is not Will Downing’s genre and yet it shines with power and sincerity. Spiritually, this is the story of a miracle and a miracle in itself when you consider that the odds were stacked greatly against it ever being made. Inspirationally, it just makes you feel good, loved and cared for whether you’re being lifted from a bad day or rejoicing in the glow of a good day. The songs are full of love and a joy of life that’s infectious. This is Will Downing’s “testimony”.
Let the church say…Amen!