If you're new to Raheem DeVaughn but have caught wind that he calls himself an R&B-hippie-neosoul-rock star, you've got a right to be skeptical. It's hard enough to hold down an advanced degree of R&B cred these days without ratcheting up the pressure by insisting on being a hippie and a rock star, too. And despite the best efforts of Jill Scott and Angie Stone, neo-soul seems to have sputtered out somewhere among the back rooms of Maxwell's '90s-era urban hang suite. But DeVaughn's sophomore disc will hang your skepticism by its ankles and make it squirm. The D.C. singer and contemporary of Erykah Badu and Common is a gifted guy who knows how to work a lyric and never met a melody he couldn't set swiftly into motion. The best evidence comes by way of the radio-ready "Woman," a sweet-natured thumper as relatable as a crooked smile, but it's backed by pop-scraping tracks including the Gnarls Barkley-like "Energy," featuring Outkast's Big Boi, and the daydreamy and fully irresistible "Butterflies." DeVaughan simultaneously sounds like every soul singer who has raised bumps on your arms and none of them at all, which is to say he's an artist no matter what banner he flies. His mission is to move you, not just fill the space around the speakers. And in song after song here, he makes it happen. --Tammy La Gorce
Review by Andy Kellman
"The R&B Hippie Neo-Soul Rock Star" -- wait, isn't that Cody ChesnuTT? Or is that Van Hunt? Erykah Badu? Regardless, that's what Raheem DeVaughn is calling himself, and it's likely a catch phrase intended to gain some more of the attention the singer deserves. Despite reaching the Top Ten of the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, 2005's The Love Experience didn't crack the Top 40 of the Billboard 200, and none of its excellent singles (including "Guess Who Loves You More" and "You") came near the Top 30 of any chart. By word of mouth and persistent rotation on "grown folks"-type R&B video programs, DeVaughn gradually developed enough of a following -- including vocal admirer Alicia Keys -- to make his follow-up a rather anticipated release. DeVaughn's new nickname is just one part of a subtly aggressive attempt at attaining further commercial appeal: Scott Storch, Chucky Thompson, Orthodox & Ransum, Kwamé, and Bryan-Michael Cox are all brought onboard to give Love Behind the Melody more of a mainstream R&B radio sound without making it seem like a blind stab at sales. Even "Customer," with its gently twisting, lullaby-like resemblance to J. Holiday's "Bed," and the anthemic "Woman" (an extension of "You"'s proud pro-woman theme, nominated for a Grammy prior to the album's release), are not likely to dismay those who are opposed to modern pop/R&B. What's more, both songs are convincingly "honor and do for you" in a selfless way, a major aspect that separates DeVaughn from nearly all of his contemporaries on the radio. In fact, as a whole, the album is much more "You're great" than "I'm great." Even the tracks that act more as mood pieces, such as "Desire" ("It feels so damn good to be used") and "Marathon" ("You make all my daydreams come true"), are full of gratitude, and they are destined to be slotted into many modern quiet storm playlists, leaving immediate and lasting impressions. This is a significant improvement over The Love Experience in every respect -- somehow displaying an increase in both modesty and ambition, as well as offering a more refined yet bolder set of material. Whether or not DeVaughn goes gold, you can bank on at least a couple major R&B artists going into the studio throughout the remainder of 2008 wanting to come out with something as hot and imaginative as this.