"The Love Experience"
When it comes to expressing gratitude, Maryland-bred singer-songwriter Raheem DeVaughn has no use for fine print. The last track on "The Love Experience" is devoted to a Grammys-like litany of shout-outs. But by then, the mention of such artists as Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Chuck Brown, Al Green, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Chuck Brown, the Fugees and Dr. Dre won't surprise anyone who has been paying attention. After all, DeVaughn wears his influences with engaging style and brash confidence throughout the entire album, turning his major label debut into something worthy of soul music's major leagues.
Unlike Prince, DeVaughn doesn't play guitar, but he clearly loves the sound of them, colorfully spiraling through his songs. That's one of the reasons "The Love Experience" has a lot more going for it than just the romantic ballads its title suggest. As long as DeVaughn can come up with tunes like the Prince-flavored "Cadillac," it won't be hard to tell him apart from his crooning, neo-soul contemporaries. Another virtue that often stands out is DeVaughn's knack for balancing sweet pop nothings -- none, by the way, is more clever than the chocolate fantasy "Sweet Tooth" -- with pointed lyrics inspired by social issues and personal struggles.
Of course, as the album's first hit single "Guess Who Loves You More" illustrated, DeVaughn's way with a sentimental ode can be potent, too. His gift for imaginatively arranging vocal tracks is enough to make him a welcome presence on the airwaves for years to come.
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Friday at Mirrors.