G-love and Special Sauce

Sharps & Flats is a daily music review in Salon Magazine


Natasha Stovall
November 12, 1997 1:00AM (UTC)

In the age of Phish and
the continuing mythology
of the Grateful Dead, the
meaning of "jam" in pop
music has telescoped,
coming to mean a series of
meandering, spacey
instrumentals that weave
themselves together and
unravel in unison.
Philadelphia
guitarist/singer/harmonica
player G-Love takes a
different view. "Yeah, It's That Easy" returns to the
original spirit of jamming by stuffing each song full of
loose musical interplay that feels rich enough in
possibilities to be stretched out to twice or three times
its length.

The songs on "It's That Easy" run the usual three to
five minutes, but they feel much longer. Working with
10-plus musicians -- including longtime collaborators
Special Sauce and the All Fellas Band, as well as New
Orleans icon-cum-saint Dr. John -- G-Love creates a
loose, bouncing improv sound -- too mellow to be rock
and too hyped to be soul, though it has the spirits of
both running in its veins. "It's That Easy" is a summer
kind of record (good for surviving East Coast winters)
that mixes rap, folk-rock and jazz.

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There's always a new element coming out of nowhere
-- an acoustic guitar strum, an a cappella harmony, a
hip-hop scratch, a harmonica solo -- to fill in when the
melody thins out. It's an uncomplicated vibe with an
incredibly complex background. Mostly, G-Love deals
lyrically in the pleasures and disappointments found in
everyday things like romance and basketball and
friendship, but he couches it in sophisticated,
high-octane arrangements that sound beautifully simple
in the way that only intensely intricate things can.

The album's best is "Lay Down the Law," a bittersweet
ode to a junkie friend who's simultaneously the object
of worship and pity. Jazzy-soul guitar is fused with a
laid-back high-hat/snare beat and joined with tenderly
harmonized vocals. The effect simultaneously twists a
knife in the heart and warms the ears from the inside,
evoking the painful nostalgia of lost friendship in the
same masterful way that Sade's "Maureen" and Pete
Rock & C.L. Smooth's "They Reminisce Over You"
did.

Though G-Love tends to favor a good-time atmosphere
in his playing, his lyrics often fall on subjects of
sadness: murder ("Slipped Away"), the fucked-up world
("200 Years") and race relations ("Yeah, It's That
Easy"). On the latter subject, G-Love lays out his
personal political analysis: "You and me used to run ball
in the league/We ran the championship team/The best
they had seen ... Now that we've grown/We've been in
different scenes/And in fact we sold out to the social
contract/Meaning we don't hang." The integration
G-Love experienced as a white youth in Philadelphia
turned into segregation as he grew up, but he was left
with an understanding of the grays between blackness
and whiteness, as well as a deep identification with
black music. To some people, the raps and jams on
"It's That Easy" will sound like minstrelsy. But what it
is really is the sound of memories from that short-lived
period of '70s urban integration, which makes G-Love a
lot more like Tower of Power than like Vanilla Ice.
G-Love probably won't find many people who would
agree that racial harmony is "that easy," but his
hot-buttered jams sure make it sound easier than it
seems.


Natasha Stovall

Natasha Stovall is a regular contributor to Salon.

MORE FROM Natasha Stovall

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