Review: G. Love ‘Philadelphia Mississippi’

G. Love Philadelphia Mississippi

By Ellie Rogers

Philadelphia-born Garrett Dutton – or G. Love as you’ll more likely know him – has been honing his eclectic craft for almost thirty years. Fusing the hip hop and funk of his native Philadelphia with various shades of American blues, he’s developed a sound that’s both ultra-modern and steeped in tradition. His 2020 record The Juice earned him his very first GRAMMY nomination in the ‘Best Contemporary Blues Album’ category, and although he lost out to Fantastic Negrito, his new record Philadelphia Mississippi suggests ambitions for finishing the job.

Featuring a collection of 13 loose, spontaneous and joy-filled tracks, Philadelphia Mississippi is due for release on June 24 via Philadelphonic Records/Thirty Tigers.

Alongside G. Love on guitar, vocals and harmonica, it features an all-star cast of special guests including blues luminaries like Alvin Youngblood Hart, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Cam Kimbrough, RL Boyce, Jontavious Willis, and Trenton Ayers as well as rap legends Freddie Foxxx, Speech from Arrested Development and Schoolly D. Performances from cane fife virtuosa Shardé Thomas and GRAMMY-nominated Southern Avenue drummer/singer Tikyra Jackson complete an album that’s absolutely brim-full of talent.

Philadelphia Mississippi was produced by North Mississippi All-Stars’s guitarist/vocalist Luther Dickinson, which gives the sense that G. Love has traveled full circle since his 1995 sophomore Coast to Coast Motel, which was produced by Jim Dickinson, Luther’s father.

As its title suggests, Philadelphia Mississippi Serves as a love letter to both G. Love’s native Philly and the southern state which has supplied him with enough sonic inspiration to fuel a lifelong fascination with blues music. It also represents a shout out to the small town of Philadelphia, Mississippi – a place that has intrigued G.Love since he first discovered its existence while growing up in his identically monikered hometown some 1000 miles to the northeast.

The album opener ‘Love From Philly’ is perhaps the most straight-ahead hip hop track on the record. Originally written for 2020’s Love From Philly benefit livestream, it features Philadelphian rap legend Schoolly D and pro skateboarder/multi-instrumentalist Chuck Treece trading with G. Love, and culminates in a face melting solo from Mississippi’s Trenton Ayers. With its head bob-inducing drum groove, funky wah-wah riff and smattering of bluesy harmonica squawks it sets the collaborative tone of the record perfectly.

The stars of ‘Mississippi’ are hill country protege RL Boyce, visionary guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart and Arrested Development’s Speech. Both hip hop and hill country blues have improvisation at their cores and layers of mesmeric guitars underpin each vocalists’ off-thecuff feelings and emotions relating to the history of Mississippi. Part of the genius of this record is that the old time feel is achieved by featuring current practitioners of hill country blues, rather than vintage samples, and Boyce’s rich Southern tones sound as if they could just as easily have been recorded in a different century.

Elsewhere, the funky hip hop groove of ‘My Ball’ gives way to an acoustic Piedmont blues-style guitar and harmonica breakdown that transports the listener from bustling city streets to a rural front porch jam. ‘Kickin’ is a laid back jam with some great acoustic slide guitar and sweet vocal harmonies, while ‘HipHopHarpin’ gives G.Love the chance to show-off his considerable harmonica chops on an uplifting, mostly instrumental track reminiscent of Area 615’s ‘Stone Fox Chase’ – just with added street cred. No matter the weather, ‘Laughing in the Sunshine’ is a recipe for good vibes with its full summertime groove, light piano flourishes, catchy refrain and abundance of carefree whistling.

‘Guitar Man’ boasts something that just about everybody wants right now: a guest appearance from Christone ‘KingFish’ Ingram, and his electrifying, soulful solo at the track’s close is a real highlight of the album. Call and response style guitars and vocals abound, and the sound of acoustic guitars so old, worn out and badly intonated give the track a warm and unpretentious feel that seems to perfectly reflect its modest lyrical sentiments like, “Playin’ to live, livin’ to play / Puttin’ in work, every day.”

‘I Ain’t Living’ and ‘Lemonades’ – which feature Southern Avenue’s Tikyra Jackson and Cam Kimbrough, Luther Dickinson and Chuck Treece respectively – are both effortless sounding collaborations that capture the magical energy of good friends hanging out and making music together. To G.Love’s credit, he’s made some inspired choices in the collaborations department, and he balances the distribution of big names and up-and-coming artists brilliantly across the whole record.

Another such example comes in the form of Shardé Thomas’s masterful cane fife performance on ‘If My Mind Don’t Change’, which deftly repositions the near-defunct traditional instrument in a contemporary context. Combining street influences with classic blues instrumentation, is, of course, G.Love’s forte.

The closing tracks take the freewheelin’ feel of the album to another level with what appear to be three entirely improvised spoken word tributes to friends, album contributors and heroes of the Philly scene. While ‘Sauce Up!’, ‘The Philly Sound’ and ‘Shouts Out’ are unlikely to make for hit singles, in the context of the album, they make perfect sense and serve as a sonic version of the rolling credits you get at the end of a movie. It’s a nice touch and displays G.Love’s reverence for the pioneers that have inspired his career.

From start to finish, the album is an exuberant celebration of music and friendship that crosses the boundaries of both genre and generation. Whether you’re a traditionalist or a revolutionary, Philadelphia Mississippi deserves a spot in your record collection.

Pre-order Philadelphia Mississippi Here

Listen to G Love feat. Alvin Youngblood Hart and RL Boyce

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