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Boyz II Men – Under the Streetlight (A Music Review)

Updated: Mar 15, 2020

Boyz II Men – Under the Streetlight

Boyz II Men – Under the Streetlight (Sony Masterworks)

Boyz II Men have embraced the sound of old-school doo-wop music from the very beginning. Their second huge single from their breakout debut album Motownphilly was an a capella cover of an obscure soundtrack single from the 70s – “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” which came from the long-forgotten film Cooley High – and was essentially an attempt to bring street-corner singing to the 90s. Many of their biggest hits – such as “End of the Road” and “On Bended Knee” – have used this singing style as a keystone for their sound.

In 1992, they even covered the Five Satins’ doo wop classic “In the Still of the Night” for the soundtrack of the TV miniseries The Jacksons: An American Dream. The song was released as a single and reached the top five of the Billboard Hot 100. They also covered the classic Grease song “Beauty School Dropout” in the 2015 TV special and record Grease: Live.

Since Boyz II Men have spent much of the new millennium doing covers albums of their favorite music – 70s soul hits (Throwback, Vol. 1 in 2004), Motown classics (Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA in 2007) and more generic – and eclectic – love ballads (Love in 2009), it probably was only a matter of time before they put together an album of classic doo-wop tunes from the 1950s.

Under the Streetlight is that album.

Well, it’s not completely a cover album, the final song “Ladies Man” is a doo-wop-styled cover of an obscure Boyz II Men b-side from their last album Collide (2014), but it is remade to feel completely authentic to the album’s musical style.

It’s a little questionable who Boyz II Men’s audience is with this album. With most of the songs being 60 or more years old, the band’s fans probably won’t be on the lookout for them. Also, so many of these songs are undeniable classics that there are many other versions of them out there, so they won’t necessarily be getting the casual doo-wop fans who’d be more likely to search out the originals.

However, the guys take nine R&B classics and give them a sweet and sexy sheen, and while the production is faithful to the original arrangements, it basically does have a modern sheen so that some of this could possibly catch on radio.

Probably most likely to break out are some of the lesser known tunes. Sam Cooke’s gorgeous “I’ll Come Running Back to You” and Irma Thomas’ smoldering “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is” both deserve to be kept in the public eye. (It turns out “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is” was co-written by a very young Randy Newman! Who knew?)

As for the classics, no one will ever deny that songs like “A Thousand Miles Away,” “Tears on My Pillow” and “Stay” are great, great tunes. The group teamed up with former Teenager Jimmy Merchant on his group’s “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” Also along for the ride are long-time Boyz II Men collaborator Brian McKnight, jazz-a capella group Take 6 and former Glee diva Autumn Riley.

Under the Streetlamp is an old-fashioned labor of love for the group, but it is a sweet and soulful one which is definitely worth checking out.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: November 7, 2017.

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