Recording information: Milkboy The Studio; Phase Recording and Media, White Plains, MD; Studio 202, Washington DC; Tebjr Productions Studios; The Purple Room, Atlanta, GA.
Photographer: Chad Griffith.
Raheem DeVaughn didn't get the radio support with the independently released A Place Called Love Land that he received during his time with the Jive label. The 2013 album nonetheless peaked within the Top Ten of Billboard's R&B chart -- just as the Jive albums did -- a clear indication that DeVaughn needn't rethink his approach. Now with eOne, a larger independent organization, the transition is once again imperceptible to most listeners. Love Sex Passion, another lengthy release, delivers generous portions of romantic ballads and sensual slow jams, a mix of heartfelt sentiments and side-splitting come-ons, and a balance between current and bygone sounds. DeVaughn does not curtail his frankness. In "Strip," for instance, the initial instruction is "First, you take your clothes off." And, as usual, whenever he boasts in metaphors and similes -- "I'll be that pipe that make it burst," "High like a pistol at the range," and so forth -- annotation isn't necessarily required. Two highlights are blatantly nostalgic, among DeVaughn's best performances. They're like two scenes from a fictional biography about a late-'60s/'70s soul singer: the bluesy, slightly ragged "Baby Come Back," co-produced by BJ the Chicago Kid, would be the shoestring-budget 45 that lands him on a major to record "When You Love Somebody," a pained and polished ballad with a horn section and Larry Gold-arranged strings.
In relatively contemporary-sounding songs, seasoned R&B heads are just as likely to catch nods to specific artists, such as Lenny Williams (in "Black Ice Cream," where an unmistakable "Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh" is let loose), Jodeci (in "Pretty Lady" with modern disco-funk featuring Trombone Shorty), and Leon Ware (in "Feather Rock Lovin,'" a sighing seducer). While some of the material sounds reheated, DeVaughn at least uses a top-of-the-line oven instead of a microwave. "Queen" is an apparent rewrite of "Woman," and it's nearly as remarkable as a tribute to women, as necessary in 2015 as its predecessor was in 2008. Speaking of queens, maybe one of the women in DeVaughn's life should be employed as the singer's artwork consultant. ~ Andy Kellman