G. Love & Special Sauce and Beck both made their major label debuts in 1994 with similar brands of a folk-blues-hip-hop fusion. Beck had more success, but G. Love has shown more perseverance, continually refining the genre while his colleague followed his restless curiosity elsewhere. That persistence has paid off on the fourth G. Love & Special Sauce album, "Philadelphonic," which achieves a flow so smooth that one can't tell where the Bob Dylan influences stop and the Eric B. & Rakim influences start.
Dylan and Rakim are united not only by their pointed social commentary but by the way their rhythms are inseparable from the casual, conversational delivery of their vocals. In similar fashion, G. Love (born Garrett Dutton) eschews the soapbox speechifying of most rappers for the low-key pulse of street corner talk. He reinforces that naturalness by weaving his acoustic guitar, his bandmates' live drums and bass and subtle samples and loops into an organic, supple whole.
"Philadelphonic" is G. Love's best album because it features not just this seductive feel but his best pop hooks as well. Who could resist the way the chorus of "Relax" blossoms into P.M. Dawn-like harmonies? Or the way the romantic sparring of "Do It for Free" releases its tension in its refrain? Or the way the first single, "Rodeo Clowns" (written and co-sung by professional surfer Jack Johnson), builds its tumbling momentum? Best of all is "Dreamin'," which manages to nod toward Sublime's ska, Jimi Hendrix's psychedelia, the Grateful Dead's sing-alongs and Betty Wright's disco all in the same hypnotic melody.
Appearing Friday at the 9:30 club. To hear a free Sound Bite from G. Love & Special Sauce, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8123. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)