Neo Soul crooner Raheem Devaughn lists his home as "Loveland, United States" on his MySpace page, and there's little evidence on The Love Behind the Melody to suggest he would live anywhere else. With a light, airy voice that caresses the songs without rubbing them the wrong way, De Vaughn slinks his way through smooth, neo-classical jams as if he was born for it. 'Mo Better' updates intimate '70s Philly soul with a string-dripping intro and brushes of keyboard, while 'Women' sprinkles a slightly tougher beat onto the standby ode to the fairer sex. But while some of De Vaughn's contemporaries get low lyrically, he keeps it strictly class, focusing on woman's brains and strength. De Vaughn clearly paid attention to every Soul disciple from Stevie to Luther to Prince, but he's got a silky voice all his own.
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