Announcing G. Love’s New Album: Philadelphia Mississippi
April 20 ,2022
South of Market Street, south of the Liberty Bell, south of the Walt Whitman Bridge and Pat’s and Geno’s lies an entirely different Philadelphia: Philadelphia, Mississippi. On the surface, these two Phillies couldn’t be any less alike—one, a bustling East Coast metropolis, the other, a small town a thousand miles away in the Deep South—but for G. Love, the connections were undeniable.
“I grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but I’ve spent my entire life steeped in the music of the Delta,” he explains, “so the idea that there was this whole other Philadelphia down there always fascinated me. For the last thirty years, I’ve wanted to make a pilgrimage—not just a musical one, but a spiritual one—to the heart of the blues, and that’s exactly what this album is.”
Produced by North Mississippi All-Stars’ Luther Dickinson, Philadelphia Mississippi brings together both sides of G. Love’s eclectic career, mixing old school Hill Country and Delta Blues with new school hip-hop and funk to forge a sound that’s both wildly innovative and deeply reverent all at once. The songs are loose and spontaneous here, often penned on the fly in improvisatory fits of inspiration, and the performances are similarly freewheeling, bringing together a slew of special guests from blues torchbearers like Alvin Youngblood Hart and Christone “Kingfish” Ingram to rap icons like Schoolly D and Speech from Arrested Development. It would have been easy for G. Love to play it safe coming off his GRAMMY-nominated 2020 release, The Juice, but Philadelphia Mississippi is perhaps his most adventurous, ambitious collection to date, tossing all the rules out the window as it experiments with form and function in an ecstatic celebration of music’s power to connect across genres and generations.
“The goal with this album was to create as much as possible on the spot,” says G. Love. “I asked everybody that came into the studio to bring something with them—a hook, a groove, a verse, whatever—and we’d just go from there. I wanted to capture the essence of collaboration, the energy of inspiration.”
If there’s one word that describes G. Love, it’s energy. Born Garrett Dutton, he grew up equally enthralled with folk, blues, and rap, rapaciously devouring everything from Lead Belly and Run D.M.C. to John Hammond and the Beastie Boys. After migrating to Boston in the early ’90s, he and his band, Special Sauce, broke out with their Gold-selling self-titled debut, which earned widespread critical acclaim in part on the strength of its hit lead single, “Cold Beverage.” Over the next three decades, G. Love would go on to release seven more similarly lauded studio albums with Special Sauce (plus five solo albums on his own), solidifying his status as a genre-bending pioneer with a sound The New York Times described as “a new and urgent hybrid” and NPR called a “musical melting pot.” G. Love’s magnetic stage presence, meanwhile, made him a fixture on festival lineups from Bonnaroo to Lollapalooza, and his relentless appetite for tour and collaboration landed him on the road and in the studio with artists as diverse as Lucinda Williams, Dave Matthews, The Avett Brothers, Jack Johnson, and DJ Logic. In 2020, he teamed up with his old tourmate Keb’ Mo’ for The Juice, which landed him his first GRAMMY nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album and prompted Rolling Stone to declare that he was in the midst of “one of his most prolific periods to date.”
“We were on tour supporting The Juice when the pandemic hit,” G. Love recalls, “which meant we had to pack it up and head home right in the middle. I went into survival mode at first, just figuring out ways to connect with audiences online, but as the year went on, we were able get back out there again with these safe, outdoor Soul-B-Que shows. Sometimes I’d play on my own, sometimes as a duo, sometimes with a new rotating cast of players I put together called The Juice, but every show was totally unique and totally different.”
It was during a run of SoulBQue shows that G. Love reunited with his old friend Chuck Treece, who joined him on drums for a series of performances up and down the East Coast. Together, the pair decided to finally pull the trigger on a long-simmering plan to bring their unique brand of hip-hop blues down to the Delta, to see what would happen when the Philadelphia of the North met the Philadelphia of the South.
“The late great Jim Dickinson produced my second record, and I’ve been friends with his sons Luther and Cody since I was 19,” recalls G. Love. “Jim had always talked about his Zebra Ranch studio in Coldwater, Mississippi, and here I was 30 years later asking Luther if he’d want to produce a new album with me and Chuck down there.”
Dickinson jumped at the opportunity, and with his help, G. Love and Treece wrangled a wide-ranging cast of players to join them for the sessions, teaming up with Hart, Ingram, Hill country legend R.L. Boyce, fifemaster Sharde Thomas, GRAMMY-nominated Southern Avenue drummer/singer Tikyra Jackson, and young gun guitarists Jontavious Willis, Cam Kimbrough (grandson of blues icon Junior Kimbrough), and Trenton Ayers (The Cedric Burnside Project, The Electric Mudd). Where The Juice was a deliberate and carefully composed collection, the songs on Philadelphia Mississippi came together raw and fast in the studio, with G. Love and his collaborators writing lyrics and melodies and riffs on the spot as they fed off the excitement in the room.
“Chuck would lay down a hip-hop beat, and then Jontavious or Kingfish would start playing a blues loop or something on top of it, and then I’d just come up with a verse in the moment,” G. Love recalls. “We’d have no idea what was going to happen before we started playing, but by the end, we’d have a song.”
After wrapping sessions in Mississippi, G. Love brought the album back north to bolster the hip-hop side of things, enlisting Schoolly D, Speech, and the famed Freddie Foxxx to lend their considerable MC skills on top of the existing performances.
“It was such a thrill to bring these iconic pioneers and young emerging talents together in one place,” G. Love reflects. “Celebrating the greats while championing the next generation has always been at the core of what I’m trying to do as an artist.”
Album opener “Love From Philly” sets the stage, pairing a hip-hop tribute to the City of Brotherly Love with blistering electric guitars and wailing harmonica. Like much of the album, the track blurs the lines between rap, rock, and blues, incorporating elements of each in an explosive mix that manages to feel electrifying even in its darkest moments (the intoxicating “Mississippi,” for instance, brings together four different voices to reflect on the state’s painful past and rich cultural legacy, while the scorching “I Ain’t Living,” which features Jackson front and center, knows its worth and refuses to be mistreated). For the most part, though, Philadelphia Mississippi is an infectiously optimistic collection, one that revels in the power of love and commitment (“My Ball”), loyalty and friendship (“Laughing In The Sunshine”), and perseverance and resolve (“Lemonades”). The joy permeating these songs is palpable: it’s difficult not to smile at playful jams like “Sauce Up!” and “Shouts Out,” which thrive on good times and camaraderie, and it’s downright impossible to sit still while rousing tunes like the timeless “Guitar Man” and exhilarating “HipHopHarpin’” spill out of the speakers. But perhaps it’s “The Philly Sound” that best encapsulates G. Love’s ultimate vision for the album, with a bare bones, bottleneck slide guitar underpinning his freestyle memories of falling in love with the music that made him the man he is today.
“It’s a blues song about hip-hop culture,” he explains. “It’s the sound of the North and the South, the old and the new, the past and the future all coming together at once.”
It’s the sound of Philadelphia Mississippi.
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