Great songwriting can transcend gimmickry. But for Portland, Ore., hip-hop trio Lifesavas, great songwriting fleshes out substantive musical qualities while exposing a few weaknesses. The group's second release, Gutterfly, is a concept album that resurrects the funk of '70s blaxploitation; but the narrative tale, chronicling characters with names like Bumpy Johnson and Sleepy Floyd, is weak at best. Songs like "No Surprise" and "A Serpent's Love" are rife with intelligent lyrics, raw deliveries and beats that shine with a cool vibe in the tradition of Blackalicious. But the vague conceptual interludes draw attention away from the album's brightest moments. The Fishbone cameo in "Dead Ones" pulls you right out of the moment, as do appearances from George Clinton, Vernon Reid and the likes. Each song stands on its own merits, but the distractions clip the wings off this otherwise excellent album. 3 stars


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