Boyz II Men, "Under the Streetlight" (Sony Masterworks)
The guys who gave us "Motownphilly" in 1991 are making fun of themselves these days in a Geico ad in which they harmonize gross digestive side effects at a pharmacy. "If you're Boyz II Men," you make anything sound good," says the announcer. On a new CD, they also prove they can make already good songs sound very good indeed.
On "Under the Streetlight," the Boyz — Nathan Morris, Shawn Stockman and Wanya Morris — tackle covers of classic tunes by the likes of Carole King, Sam Cooke and Randy Newman.
This is dangerous territory in the wrong hands — perhaps demanding a pharmacy visit of your own when it fails — but "Under the Streetlight" manages to give each song the Boyz' soulful barbershop quartet treatment with respect and admiration for the originals, especially with a superb version of "Why Do Fools Fall in Love."
The trio also gets terrific assists from Brian McKnight on "I'll Come Running Back To You," ''Tears on My Pillow" and "A Sunday Kind of Love." Amber Riley is a welcome, sultry addition to "Anyone Who Knows What Love Is" and Take Six joins the trio on "A Thousand Miles Away."
Boyz II Men mined the tradition of Motown boy groups like the Temptations and the Four Tops and evolved it, helping anchor the sound of New Jack Swing. They've reached back to an earlier time with their finger-snapping harmonies on "Under the Streetlight."
There's even a welcome, new edition — the original song "Ladies Man," which is a slice of multiharmony sunshine. The Boyz may be all grown up but their skills clearly haven't been lost.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits