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Big Al Downing

One of a Kind – 2003 (Hayden's Ferry)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Big Al Downing

With the same musical conviction that marked Brook Benton's R&B/pop/soul work, Big Al Downing has achieved similar milestones in his five-decade R&B/country career. In the '50s, Downing played piano with rockabilly goddess Wanda Jackson, in the '60s, he had hits of his own on Gene Autry's Challenge Records and as a songwriter for Bobby Blue Bland, Fats Domino and others, and in the late '70s, his country hits earned him Billboard's New Artist of the Year award.

For his first new album since 1994, Downing sticks to what he knows best; country storytelling shot through with smooth R&B and a touch of the blues. Big Al channels Benton on the R&B shuffle of "Talkin' The Talk," swings with country abandon on "I'm Raisin' Hell" and gets all down home barrelhouse on "Boogie Woogie Roll." There are a few treacly missteps here and there and Big Al reaches for a couple of notes that elude him, but the title of the album isn't just hyperbole. Downing is not merely one of a rare handful of Black country artists; he's a classically talented genre hopper with a preference for feeling over fussy perfection.