(Philadelphonic Records/Thirty Tigers)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Blues music has been stretched, mutated, and pushed over the decades into a variety of styles. Infused with funk, jazz, soul, and of course rock, the genre has persevered through the talents of both traditionalists and artists that reformat and even reinvent its basic musical precepts into something fresh, unique and often contemporary.
That’s where Garret Dutton, aka G. Love, comes in. The singer/songwriter/guitarist and harmonica player has combined an adoration for blues and hip-hop since his still fresh 1994 debut. Nearly three decades and a dozen releases later, he’s still at it. While others have occasionally dipped into this distinctive amalgamation (his bio dubs it “alternative blues/hip hop), Love is the only one who has consistently dedicated himself to this concept on a national scale. That has introduced some blues lovers, perhaps begrudgingly, to the art of hip-hop and, more consequently, done the opposite for rap fans.
That cross-pollination is clear on Philadelphia Mississippi. From its North-South title to diverse guests like the North Mississippi Allstars, Schoolly D, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Love jumps between old-school hip-hop and the most traditional deep Southern blues he has recorded. Some selections feel a little too loose with the participants jamming together seemingly without much rehearsal or direction. But when everything coalesces as it does on tracks such as the super-funky “Kickin’” and “She’s My Ball” (with bluesman Jontavious Willis), it’s an invigorating listen. The latter gives Love a chance to display some serious, unfiltered blues harmonica, as does the instrumental “Hip Hop Harpin’” where Hart and Love trade harp solos over a funk backbeat. Kingfish dives into searing backwoods guitar licks on “Guitar Man” as the Allstars grind out greasy swamp rocking behind him.
Love even goes pop on the fizzy summertime grin-inducing “Laughing in the Sunshine” that, with Love’s whistling and a touch of Allman Brothers at their most commercial, is the disc’s most radio-ready offering. Fife player Sharde Thomas blows in to lay down pure Mississippi blues on “If My Mind Don’t Change,” with no hip-hop in sight.
On “The Philly Sound,” Love narrates the story of his early influences and some of the Philadelphia rap, soul, jazz, and pop acts that got him interested in that sound, over a bubbling blues vamp. Cool stuff.
In the debit column is some typically R-rated, ad-libbed studio chatter with rapper Trenton Ayers on “Sauce Up!,” which sounds like it was written as it was recorded. It’s fun but never coheres into anything you’d want to hear again and finally just fades out. Ditto for the closing “Shouts Out” where Love and the Allstars dialogue back and forth as they recite the album credits together in a free-form conversation that few will play twice.
It’s a mixed bag but enough of Philadelphia Mississippi works due to Love’s obvious devotion to a genre he practically invented, and some guests that bring authenticity to the table, for this to click more often than it misses.
Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images