G. Love takes Aspen stage
ASPEN – When G. Love & Special Sauce first emerged, Love, the singer-guitarist who leads the band, needed to come up with a name for the trio’s style, which blended elements of hip-hop and folk-blues.He coined it rag-mop, a name (possibly taken from a 1950 novelty song by the Ames Brothers) that was not only catchy in itself, but which captured the flavor – slightly dirty, slightly retro – of the music.For his new album, Love has an easier time describing the style: the blues. Yes, there are elements of folk, country and gospel, but boiled down to its essence, the album, “Fixin to Die” (which emphatically takes its name from the Bukka White song of the same name), is the blues in emotion, language, sound and the structure of the songs. “Katie Miss” borrows an age-old melody most often associated with the song “Louis Collins.” The opening song, “Milk and Sugar,” kicks off with no-doubt-about-it blues guitar riffs, but also uses metaphor to thinly disguise the salacious thoughts on the singer’s mind – a trick that likely dates to the birth of the blues. “Get Going” is reminiscent of the twisted blues of “Highway 61 Revisited”-era Bob Dylan, with a touch of Allman Brothers thrown in.”Fixin to Die,” which is set for a Feb. 22 release, “is the kind of record I’ve been meaning to make for a lot of years,” Love said. He explained that, after an early fascination with the Beatles and Bob Dylan, he went into a musical phase that was filled with the bluesman John Hammond and other blues greats.In fact, Love has made records before in the vein of “Fixin to Die.” His first album, made independently, was the solo, acoustic “Street Side Blues.” After G. Love & Special Sauce began to establish itself with their 1994 eponymous debut, Love would occasionally put out underground releases that were far more roots than rag-mop. “In the King’s Court” was super stripped down; Love describes “G. Love Has Gone Country,” which prominently featured pedal steel guitar, as his “Johnny Cash/Bob Dylan country album.”But the various Sony-affiliated labels that Love recorded his first handful of albums with wanted to push the stripped-down Love to the background. “The label would say, ‘Let’s make the big hit record first’ – they always want a record that will sell a lot of copies – ‘and then you can make some blues records,'” Love said. Love said it wasn’t just the label suppressing his inner bluesman. He had a hand in it, too. When he’d come up with a song that felt like it had potential to be a hit, Love would want to dress it up as much as possible; a modestly blues tune with modest production probably wasn’t going to get much attention from radio programmers.”When I was in that songwriting machine, I put a lot of pressure on myself. I was always struggling to get to that commercial success that would lead to the artistic freedom,” the 38-year-old Love said from his home in Boston.Love has had tastes of commercial success. The debut “G. Love & Special Sauce” was a hit; the single “Cold Beverage” cracked into MTV’s rotation. The band, whose original lineup featured Jimi Prescott on stand-up bass and drummer Jeffrey Clemens, became a force on the concert circuit; following Tuesday’s headlining gig at Belly Up, the group (now a quartet of Love, Clemens, bassist Timo Shanko and keyboardist Mark Boyce) heads to Denver to open two shows at the Pepsi Center for Widespread Panic.But it wasn’t so much massive popularity that led to artistic freedom, but changes in the music business. Several years ago, Love signed to Brushfire Records, a label founded by singer Jack Johnson. Being on a small label meant a little more creative elbow room. After two albums for Brushfire that focused on a bigger production, Love was ready for something else.”The last album” – 2008’s “Superhero Brother” – “was hip-hop stewed in some blues and rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “This time I wanted to take it back to the stuff that made me want to step into hip-hop, get into music to begin with.”When Love discovered the blues, he said he “isolated himself in that. There’s so much romance. It’s real and raw. But when I found that other people were doing the blues, I figured I had to do something different.”That something different came from his native environment. Just as the original bluesmen were shaped by the culture of the Mississippi Delta, Love was molded by the city of Philadelphia. Growing up in Philly in the 1980s and early ’90s, Love was surrounded by hip-hop. One day, in his back yard, strumming his guitar, a rhythm came out that crossed the lines between blues and hip-hop.”I made a melting pot of those two cultures, and that became that G. Love sound,” he said.Those looking for that G. Love/rag-mop sound won’t find it on “Fixin to Die.” What they will find, though, is not really reminiscent of those earlier roots album by Love, which he refers to as “bootlegs.” The album, produced by Scott and Seth Avett, of the folk-rock group the Avett Brothers, was made quickly, but carefully.”Those were projects I did back in the day when I could do 200 shows a year, get off the road, spend five days in the studio, and do an album the record label didn’t want me to do in the first place,” Love said of the earlier roots records. “This one is a complete record. The bootlegs were an outlet. They were like a demo – if I ever found those reels again, I’d want to change them.”It might turn out that “Fixin to Die” represents not just a chance to release his inner bluesman for a spell, but becomes the next evolutionary phase in the G. Love continuum. Love said that he wants his next record to be produced by either Jack White, of the White Stripes, or the Black Keys – both known to favor gritty, blues-based firstname.lastname@example.org
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