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G. Love and Special Sauce
Yeah, It's That Easy
OKeh/Epic

Ever since the Hooters blew their major-label wad in one commercialized fell swoop back in 1985, being dubbed Philadelphia's next Great White Hope has been nothing less than the kiss of death (R.I.P. Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers). The fact is, white artists remain a musical underclass in Philadelphia, commanding far less attention from outsiders than the sounds of its inner city, which have ranged from the history-making Philly soul of the '60s to present-day contributions from rough-hewn hip-hoppers the Roots and super-slick R&B chart hogs Boyz II Men.

But if any pale-faced Philly native appears equipped to reverse that trend, it's multifaceted hep cat Garrett Dutton, better known as G. Love. He may be a product of the city's posh Society Hill district, but judging by his recorded output, he'd have been just as happy living on the streets. G. Love is making all the right moves to bridge his hometown scene's racial chasm, and the dizzyingly mottled Yeah, It's That Easy is another significant section in that span of brotherhood.

The twentysomething G. Love is a veritable rap-happy Vegematic, and like any youngster, he's hard at work fashioning his own sense of self, musically and otherwise. Yeah, It's That Easy -- Love's third go-round in the studio with his nimble backup duo, Special Sauce -- sucks up choice bits of Love's most cherished moments in the history of jazz, soul, R&B and acoustic blues, and squeezes out a refreshingly oblivious, rhythmically demanding extract designed to melt color barriers. Call it jigsaw-puzzle folk music for a new, multiculturally acute generation.

Yeah, It's That Easy is front-loaded with stellar sounds. The lead-off "Stepping Stones" dodges effortlessly between authoritative spoken verses, harmony-drenched choruses and a winking, "neh-na-na" bridge that connotes '60s psychedelia. "I-76," a tribute to the much-maligned high-speed death-trap that connects Philadelphia to its western suburbs, is an old school, rap-lite throw-down that achieves the sort of definable sense of place that DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince were never quite able to pull off. "You Shall See" takes Love's recently acquired affection for Piedmont-style blues pickers to its logical premillennial conclusion, while the swaggering title track manages to sermonize about his town's various racial and economic quagmires without talking down to anyone.

There are times when Yeah, It's That Easy comes across a touch watered down in its attempt to cover all the stylistic bases, as on the rambling "Pull the Wool," in which Special Sauce's dodgy syncopation and G.'s lethargic rapping are in danger of nodding off into the droopy-eyed, too-cool abyss. But even the more clumsily executed material is drunk with the rush of discovery. Succeed or not, G. Love is willing to try just about anything. And lucky for us, failure isn't part of his budding ethnomusicological vocabulary. (****)

-- Hobart Rowland

Bobby Brown
Forever
MCA

Time hasn't been good to Bobby Brown. The man who used to make women moist with his well-chiseled chest and flat-top Gumby 'do now has to struggle to get whatever attention he can -- even if that involves getting drunk and pissing in the back seat of a police car. And playing cheerleader for wife Whitney Houston, it seems, has only reduced his profile further.

It's been five years since Brown's last release, and his new CD, Forever, might well have you wishing that he'd stayed quiet longer. Let's face it: Brown was never the most diverse of the contemporary R&B troubadours. But with the producers Babyface and Teddy Riley in his corner, Brown helped usher in a new trend in black music that combined the primal energy of hip-hop with the more refined passion of soul. On Forever, however, the singer is largely on his own, co-writing and co-producing most of the tracks. Somewhere in the process, he lost the spring in his strut. On "Feeling Inside," he makes like a disturbing cross between Jimmy Durante and Ike Turner, leering like a lowbrow philanderer on the prowl and reducing his playboy luster to little more than a pervert's scheming dullness.

Still more of Forever finds Brown wallowing in the sort of semi-sincerity that would make most lounge acts wince. Every other song seems to be dedicated to either his wife (who makes herself known in a room-clearing cameo on the introductory track) or his bevy of offspring. Thankfully, such vapidity is nowhere to be found on the three tracks written and produced by Tim Kelley and Bob Robinson, all of which display a sly slinkiness that recalls Brown's Don't Be Cruel days. But such sweat-drenched memories are the exception rather than the rule.

When Brown came to Houston earlier this year as a part of the dismal New Edition reunion tour, he took time out to perform a new song, purportedly from Forever. It was a spry, winning ditty hung on a sample of the Gap Band's "Outstanding," and its name escapes me. The tune also escaped the final cut of Forever, along with most everything else that makes Brown tick. (** 1/2)

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