THROUGHOUT most of "Too Hot to Stop It," the Manhattans' most recent album, the quartet sounds pretty much like any contemporary R&B harmony act.
"You're Gonna Love Being Loved by Me," for example, contrasts an upbeat rhythm bed with a lush vocal arrangement showing off the range of the Manhattans' voices. Playing off the rich bottom of Winfred (Blue) Lovett and the sweet high notes of Edward (Sonny) Bivins, "Don't Say No" concocts a fluffy cushion of falsetto for its melody, which blends nicely with guest vocalist B.J. Nelson's supple alto. And the title song perks up the typically suave vocal interplay with some sonically ingenious studio flash. In all, a solid selection of melodies and grooves, professionally delivered.
But the Manhattans don't leave it at that. Their distinct edge over the competition rests in roots that stretch deep into styles past. To an extent, you hear this history in all their work; here, though, it truly stands out on "When We Are Made as One," an a cappella remake of a 1967 hit for the group. This is no retread, both because the original was sung by the late George Smith in a style reminiscent of Jackie Wilson's big ballads, and because of the restraint and affection the Manhattans lend the performance.
That spirit is also evident in their rendition of the other oldie here, "You Send Me." They give it a treatment that is evocative of Sam Cooke while taking the tune in a distinctly individual direction, proving that the Manhattans understand not only tradition's meaning, but also its purpose.