Boyz II Men brings back R&B vibe

With one less mem­ber, trio has ad­justed to fit

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Music - By Mark Jor­dan

At a re­cent gig at the Ne­braska State Fair, the mem­bers of R&B singing group Boyz II Men, were not ter­ri­bly sur­prised when a con­cert­goer got down on bended knee and pro­posed to his girl­friend.

“That kind of stuff hap­pens all the time,” says group mem­ber Wanya (pro­nounced WON-yay) Mor­ris, not­ing that their hit “On Bended Knee” is a nat­u­ral sound­track for such oc­ca­sions. “We’ve been in meet-and-greets, and while tak­ing a pic­ture some­body will just get down on their knees and pro­pose to their girl­friend right in front of us, say­ing the show was what made him want to do it right now.”

In­deed, since form­ing in 1986, Boyz II Men, who per­form on the Mid-South Fair’s en­ter­tain­ment stage Sun­day night, has prob­a­bly been re­spon­si­ble for more ten­der mo­ments be­tween young lovers than wine cool­ers. Mor­ris, Michael McCary, Shawn Stock­man and Nathan Mor­ris formed Boyz II Men out of a group at the Philadel­phia High School for Creative and Per­form­ing Arts. A back­stage meet­ing with Michael Bivins of the vo­cal groups New Edi­tion and Bell Biv Devoe led to the group’s be­ing signed with Mo­town.

With their first song, “Mo­town­philly,” an homage to their soul in­spi­ra­tions, Boyz II Men con­fi­dently un­veiled their mix­ture of dance­able, New Jack rhythms and old school, un­abashedly emo­tional R&B. Be­tween 1991 and 1997 they logged an im­pres­sive five No. 1 songs on the pop charts, at one point be­com­ing only the third act in his­tory — the other two be­ing Elvis Pres­ley and the Bea­tles — to hold the top spot with two con­sec­u­tive songs.

Beginning in 1997, their chart dom­i­nance was in­ter­rupted by a decade of set­backs that in­cluded Wanya Mor­ris’ vo­cal prob­lems, the de­par­ture of McCary, and a break with Mo­town.

But last year Boyz II Men re­turned with a fury, with Mo­town: A Jour­ney Through Hitsville, an al­bum that finds the now trio sur­vey­ing hits from their orig­i­nal record la­bel’s sto­ried soul cat­a­log.

“It wasn’t ac­tu­ally our idea,” says Mor­ris of the project, which was ini­ti­ated by ex­ec­u­tives at the group’s new la­bel, Decca, like Mo­town now a sub­sidiary of the be­he­moth Uni­ver­sal Mu­sic Group.

Co-pro­duced by the group and “Amer­i­can Idol” judge Randy Jack­son, the al­bum fea­tures Boyz II Men’s takes on ev­ery­thing from Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecol­ogy)” to Ed­win Starr’s “War,” their ren­di­tion of which fea­tures a bril­liant new vo­calese in­tro­duc­tion.

“We tried to main­tain the in­tegrity of the songs by keep­ing the mu­sic very sim­i­lar, maybe adding lit­tle twists here and there to give it a new­ness,” Mor­ris says. “We fig­ured (the record) would do some­thing sim­ply be­cause those songs are proven hits. Then we felt we would just bring our twist to them. Re­ally, we can’t make them bet­ter. The only thing we could do to them is mess them up, so we re­ally just put our hearts and our souls into it and tried to find the spirit in the songs.”

Fans who lost track of the group when they made Throw­back on their own MSM la­bel, may have been shocked to find the orig­i­nal quar­tet stripped down to a trio fol­low­ing the de­par­ture of McCary in 2003 for health rea­sons. Ac­cord­ing to Mor­ris, McCary’s de­par­ture ac­tu­ally rein­vig­o­rated the group by forc­ing them to re- ex­am­ine how they did things.

“We felt like a ta­ble that had lost a leg,” he re­calls. “We had to turn the ta­ble over, take the three legs, and put them in po­si­tions where we could stand again. That’s just what we did. We started mak­ing ad­just­ments in our show. We started mak­ing ad­just­ments in our vo­cal ar­range­ments. We started mak­ing ad­just­ments in our a cap­pella. In our everyday busi­ness deal­ings. It was eas­ier to move faster, but we still felt like some­thing was miss­ing, and it wasn’t un­til three years ago that we felt we had come to a head with the sit­u­a­tion.”

Boyz II Men re­turns to the mu­sic scene with “Mo­town: A Jour­ney Through Hitsville,” an al­bum that finds the group sur­vey­ing hits from the Mo­town record la­bel’s sto­ried soul cat­a­log.

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