On his new CD “The Hustle,” G. Love – the singer, guitarist and harmonica-player born Garrett Dutton III – employs a bewildering array of music styles. The album-opening “Astronaut” mixes hip-hop with hard rock; “Sunshine” is pure Delta folk-blues, spotlighting Love’s acoustic guitar and harmonica; “Give It to You” would almost be a straight-up reggae tune if Love had a Jamaican accent, rather than his Philadelphia street inflection. Elsewhere are vivid strains of blues, jazz, funk and, on the soft, swaying “Two Birds,” Brazilian samba, a sound that is entirely new to Love’s repertoire.Love, however, claims not to be on any mission to show off his wide vocabulary. Just the opposite, in fact. Love says he is still honing that sound – the seamless blend of folk blues and hip-hop which he has occasionally called “rag-mop – that he introduced on his eponymous 1994 debut, and its songs “Baby’s Got Sauce” and “Cold Beverage.” The idea, Love says is to establish a distinctive style; everything else is, in a sense, window dressing.”That’s kind of the key to it for me,” said the 32-year-old Love, fresh out of the shower at his home in Center City, Philadelphia. “I’ve always liked artists like John Lee Hooker and Bob Marley who are static and do one thing.”I have one style. But my band” – bassist Jimi “Jazz” Prescott and drummer Jeff “Houseman” Clemens, the duo known as Special Sauce that has been with Love from the beginning – “has a lot of vocabulary. So through the rhythm section, they’ve taken a lot of my songs in different directions.”There is a foundation of truth to this. Love’s guitar and harmonica playing are always fairly firmly rooted in old American styles. His singing is usually a rapid-fire rap that seems as informed by the Beastie Boys as by Taj Mahal or even an earlier generation of folk-blues singers.
“What it comes down to for me is, if you break down the rhythms, there’s a lot of styles,” said Love. “But it all sounds like G. Love to me. I’m not trying to be a dictionary for every musical style.”Looked at from another angle, however, G. Love & Special Sauce have become more expansive with each passing album. The first album and its successor, 1995’s “Coast to Coast Motel,” stuck tight to that blues/hip-hop fusion. (Love’s forays into more traditional country-folk and blues were relegated to a series of independent CDs, including “Gone Country” and “In the King’s Court.”)”Yeah, It’s That Easy,” from 1997, featured a large roster of guests that included Dr. John and a pair of backing female vocalists, and spread into Philly-type soul and funk. “Philadelphonic” made a slight return to the earlier sound. But 2001’s “The Electric Mile” stretched in all directions, beginning with the opening “Unified,” a rap-reggae fusion featuring rapper Ras of the Long Beach Dub All-stars. Adding dynamics to the sound were such guests as keyboardist John Medeski and Morphine percussionist Billy Conway. The album also showed Love’s spiritual side coming to the front on songs like “Praise Up.” The expansion, which continues on “The Hustle,” is just a natural outflow of Love’s diverse interests, musical and otherwise.”I love listening to A Tribe Called Quest as much as Johnny Cash, Yellowman, Lightning Hopkins,” said Love. “I’m such a sponge musically – and in reading books, watching movies. It all comes out one way or another. My music is almost a collage of everything I’ve ever listened to.”On the lyrical side, Love says “The Hustle” is a departure, emphasizing the personal. That focus isn’t obvious; the sound and the sense of fun Love always conveys tend to swallow up bits like the spoken word intro to “Don’t Drop It,” uttered, presumably, by Love’s son.
“I really wanted to make it personal,” said Love. “I’ve had a lot of emotional stuff since my last record. We had a kid, then me and his mom had a terrible breakup. I left Sony (his label from the beginning). I had a lot of emotional stuff and I wanted to make a record that reflected my ups and downs – deal not with broad issues but with personal stuff that let’s people know who I am.”It’s not a lot of bells and whistles. It’s mostly us playing live. There’s not much studio cheating. It’s pretty true.”If “The Hustle” still carries Love’s characteristic exuberance, it is likely because of the company surrounding its creation. The album marks Love’s debut on Brushfire Records, a label founded and owned by Jack Johnson. In the press notes accompanying “The Electric Mile,” Love explained that title by saying “it’s a phrase for us doing what we want to do without too much regard for people’s expectations.” With “The Hustle,” Love seems to be walking the ideal of the electric mile.”It’s great to get a record deal. It’s even better to get a record deal where the company is owned by your friends,” said Love, who has Johnson join him on the album’s “Give It to You.” “I’ve always had artistic freedom. But there’s always pressure to deliver some commercially viable pop record. But with Brushfire, and Jack, they’ve always been fans of my rawest, rootsy, front-porch, low-fidelity stuff. They encouraged me to just go with my vibe, my band. “For a record company to say, ‘hey, go with what you are,’ that’s all the encouragement I need to make a great record. That’s the whole Brushfire thing – they’re doing things with friends and family that they like and not getting caught up in a recipe for success.”
For Love, the association with Brushfire offers promise that past misfortunes are at an end. His first manager put him in a position that left Love in a $250,000 hole, even though he toured constantly. He hasn’t always been satisfied with the outcome of his recording efforts; “Yeah, It’s That Easy,” with its multiple producers and lineups, he has said is a particular disappointment.”I feel like I’m just starting over and I know so much more about the game,” he said. I’ve definitely had a lot of ups and downs. Aside from not having a major drug problem, I’d make a great ‘Behind the Music.'”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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