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Sounds like … Boyz II Men, 112, Dru Hill, Jodeci, K-Ci & JoJo and other mature, urban-laced vocal groupsAt a glance …sometimes erratic and too youthful for their age and standards, Surrounded is still a worthy volume in Men of Standard's ten-year legacy. Track Listing I Will Power Alright (feat. Heavy D) Everybody (feat. "Baby Dubb") Cover Me Surrounded Last Time I Need You Yours (feat. Tye Tribbett) Latter Rain (feat. Kirk Franklin)
In more ways than one, Men of Standard's fifth album, Surrounded, is a new beginning for the celebrated vocal group. After a successful run on the Muscle Shoals label, the ensemble makes their debut on Sony Urban's rising gospel subsidiary, joining the ranks of Mary Mary, Tye Tribbett, Kim Burrell, and newcomer William Murphy. The album also marks the amicable departure of original member Michael Bacon, who left the quartet to pursue other interests. And it's the first time the group (now a trio) takes the reins of the creative process, co-writing the bulk of the material and calling the shots as executive producers.
This newfound authority is palpable in every aspect of Surrounded, starting with each singer's colorful sartorial choices in the album cover. This makeover, however, extends beyond the superficial. Members Isaac Carree, Lowell Pye and Bryan Pierce enlisted the help of producer Warryn Campbell, the same guy who proved instrumental in catapulting labelmates Mary Mary into gospel superstardom. Fittingly, Campbell helps the threesome contemporize its generally tame sound, which, since Men of Standard's inception, has always fluctuated coquettishly in and out of contemporary gospel into urban AC, traditional gospel, and lite R&B.
But here the vocalists go more youthful, dabbling into dance-ready urban pop ("I Will"), slick R&B ("Power") and even an awkward lapse of synth-reggae ("Alright"). It's certainly a strange start, and Campbell even seems to lose his step a bit when he later reprises "Everybody" from Woody Rock's passable 2001 debut Soul Music. The production is on par, but the group somehow doesn't gel well with it. It's when Campbell allows the crooners to finally sound their age—as in the Stevie Wonder-channeling title track or the impossibly soulful "I Need You"—that Surrounded picks itself up, reminding us why Men of Standard was once the premiere vocal group in gospel music.