Album Review: Raheem DeVaughn & Apollo Brown – Lovesick

[Mello Music Group; 2021]

With his ninth album, Lovesick, R&B singer Raheem DeVaughn teams up with producer Apollo Brown, mining romantic and sexual tropes as on previous releases, his voice as versatile and sultry as ever. While the album doesn’t represent an evolutionary leap for DeVaughn, Brown’s presence, particularly on a handful of tracks, serves to contemporize his vintage sound.

“Excuse me, miss, are you the shy type … / what’s your favorite book / let’s talk intellect / what’s your wait time for the first time we having sex / what’s your belief in God?” DeVaughn sings on the album’s opener, the hook-y “If You’re the One”, his voice bolstered by Brown’s bass-heavy and beat-driven mix. Skyzoo, whose 2016 album The Easy Truth was also produced by Brown, adds an energized guest rap. Becky Cane is featured heavily on “One Time”, DeVaughn joining mid-song, the piece turning into a sexy duet. “I got that horse power,” he sings, “so hop on and ride me / let me give you the business / work your body with this fitness,” building on his Great Lover persona, honed throughout his career.

The irresistible “When a Man” will remind many listeners of Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman”, DeVaughn again presenting as the Indomitable Lover and/or debonair Seducer, his voice highlighted by a funky bass part and dance-y beats courtesy of Brown. The vocal layering – backups and harmonies – is notable, as are some of the subtle but engaging electro-accents. On “If I Made Love to You”, DeVaughn occurs as a reincarnation of Marvin Gaye circa 2021, explicit lyrics in tow: “You can scream until I make your legs go numb like a tranquilizer / I promise to push so deep / … until you squirm like a water hose / as if the whole bed was on fire.”

On “Just Fall in Love”, the enticing melody is bolstered by a blend of fluid accents and grooves, DeVaughn painting himself as a modern-day cross between Cupid and Casanova. With “Honey”, DeVaughn explores his impressive falsetto range, bringing to mind Smokey Robinson; “I wanna eat your cake like it’s my birthday,” he sings, leaving no mystery as to his intentions. “Zaddy” includes a catchy chorus that conjures the pop overtones of The Temptations and/or The Supremes. “I’m gonna make you come,” DeVaughn repeats, again making his priorities abundantly clear, as a wiry bass part and electro-beats high in the mix give the track a modishly club, almost lounge-y vibe. Na’Tee offers a sexy guest feature, including the unforgettable line, “Wet as a puddle … you divin’ it like Cousteau.”

With “Rick James”, DeVaughn captures a retro FM feel – think a tenor Barry White – though Brown’s languid beats and sustained bass notes hint at D’Angelo-esque psychedelia. “You’re a sugar rush / dripping off my chin like a faucet,” DeVaughn sings on “On Top”, adding: “I don’t need no bib for it.” A shuffling beat gives the track an infectious slow-dance feel, synth-y lines wrapping around and framing DeVaughn’s voice. “When I’m in, it feels like I’m baptized,” DeVaughn offers on “Everything Baby”, the album’s closer, his steamy lead vocal complemented by his own well-placed back-up and harmony parts.

With Lovesick, Raheem DeVaughn affirms himself as one of popular music’s more gifted singers, interweaving sexual metaphors and sensuous melodies. Apollo Brown’s influence on this album is more understated than, for example, on 2017’s Anchovies with Planet Asia, or As God Intended, his 2020 collaboration with Che Noir. That said, his treatments have an expansive effect on DeVaughn’s classic approach, integrating sonic elements that are part of the current hip-hop, alt-R&B, and avant-pop playbook.