August 23, 2004


G. Love -- The Hustle.jpg

An uneven effort that's rewarding at times

G. Love has fashioned a decade-long recording career out of being too cool to be pinned down. He slips in and out of folk, blues, soulful grooves and rhythmic rapping -- sometimes all in the same song -- and does it with such effortlessness that it's almost as if his muse finds him, and not the other way around.

The Hustle (Brushfire/Universal), his sixth album and first release in more than three years, again finds him breezing through his favorite handful of genres, but life is not so carefree, at least lyrically; there's more on his mind than cracking open a cold beverage or name-checking former NBA star Charles Barkley and other beloved Philadelphia 76ers of yore.

Loyal fans may take comfort in the familiar sounds (again courtesy of longtime bass-drums duo Special Sauce), but beneath the surface there's a sense of strain, of an artist and new thirty-something father maturing perhaps a bit unsteadily, both personally and creatively.

"It seems the older I get the more freedom I have," G. Love sings on the title track, but before he allows himself to get too cozy, there's an apparent nod to the haphazard rock n roll lifestyle in the chorus: "Livin' is a hustle/Playin' is a hustle/Everything's a hustle, but love." The following song, "Front Porch," has G. Love contemplating life (albeit sometimes while warbling unintelligibly) and boasting that he's going "where summer never ends . . . ain't no stopping me."

That could be a reference to riding the waves with surfing buddy and fellow singer-songwriter Jack Johnson (who released the G. Love album on his Brushfire Records imprint), and it's worth wondering whether G. Love is contemplating an escape to the beach for good.

That would be a shame, for there are a handful of promising tracks that show he still thrives when melding styles into new ground for him -- there's the killer hook of leadoff track "Astronaut"; the rare (for him) unabashed pop of "Love"; and "Lovin' Me," a heartfelt, hushed-voice lover's confessional. Those stylistic steps forward are nearly negated by a few not-so-inspired tunes, not to mention the nonsensical-if-catchy "Fishin' Song" and "Booty Call." On the latter, G. Love treads sophomoric subject matter a listener would expect more from the likes of rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot ("She liked to get freaky and fool around and have a booty call").

It all makes the record an uneven listen, though rewarding at times. As for whether G. Love's career ambitions are not as muddled as his latest material, the answer figures to come with album No. 7 -- unless he already has taken this musical wave as far as he can, and has truly been worn down by the hustle.

That would be so uncool.

-- By George Henn

Posted by medleyville at August 23, 2004 08:37 PM