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Album review: Raheem DeVaughn, "The Love & War Masterpeace"

Raheem DeVaughnD.C.'s Raheem DeVaughn fulfills his potential on his new album. (Dayna Smith For The Washington Post)

By Sarah Godfrey

If Raheem DeVaughn were from another city, he might be compared to another singer, but with his D.C. roots, sparkling falsetto and arsenal of "woos" and "ooohs," he tends to remind people of the late, great Marvin Gaye. It's not a comparison that DeVaughn has discouraged - what soul singer would? - and on his latest LP, "The Love & War Masterpeace," he aims to show that, like Gaye, he can deliver songs for both babymaking and movement-building.

DeVaughn's work in the former category is already impeccable, and the complex, romantic ballads of his first two albums, 2005's "The Love Experience" and 2008's "Love Behind the Melody," continue here. "Bedroom," a supple ode to a woman who personifies "angelic nastiness," is delivered over a Kenny Dope track that switches between fierce drums and sprightly keys. "Garden of Love" is a thicket of contemporary and modern quiet-storm sounds - complete with thunder claps.

(Cameos and protest songs, after the jump.)


Female empowerment jams a la DeVaughn's hit "Woman" are present as well, from fun-loving, esteem-boosting "The Greatness," which features a funny cameo from Wale ("My name's Wale, and I'm a Virgo"), to the more serious "Black and Blue," which tackles domestic violence.

Nailing the political proves trickier; DeVaughn does well, and tries hard - he even brings aboard Princeton scholar Cornel West for not one, not two, but three talky interludes that offer a bit of instant gravitas - but he's still not quite as masterful at delivering a message as he is at massaging libidos.

The single "Bulletproof," featuring Ludacris, was immediately branded a modern-day "Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)" when it was released last year, and, like that classic, it delivers powerful imagery via a beautiful voice. DeVaughn even pulls off a hook that manages to be both serious and catchy ("We load it, cock it, aim and shoot . . . ").

The song's only smudge is its heavy sampling of Curtis Mayfield's "The Other Side of Town." It's a hard truth for singers of the hip-hop generation to absorb, but while it's easy to create a great R&B song from instantly recognizable samples, it's tough to build an iconic R&B song from the bones of another iconic R&B song. Lines such as "Murder your sons, ravage your daughters /Here, overseas, and across those waters" beg for the same inspired original production that the amorous tracks on "The Love & War Masterpeace" receive.

"Revelations 2010," featuring Damian Marley, is similarly bogged down by heavy cribbing from Isaac Hayes's "The Look of Love" and Jay-Z's "Can I Live" . . . which samples "The Look of Love." But the near-eight-minute, all-throats-on-deck, epic protest song "Nobody Wins a War," which taps everyone from Jill Scott to Bilal to Citizen Cope, shows how great a politicized Radio Raheem can be - it's what this year's big "We Are the World" redux should've sounded like. "The Love & War Masterpeace" isn't "What's Going On," but it doesn't have to be - it's a masterpiece, nonetheless.

Recommended tracks: "Bulletproof," "Nobody Wins a War," "Garden of Love"

By David Malitz  |  March 2, 2010; 8:15 AM ET
Categories:  Album reviews  | Tags: Raheem DeVaughn  
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