Sounds like Mr. G. Love has been practicing the guitar. Known for laying down hip-hop, jazz-infused grooves on top of porch-style blues, frontman G. Love (aka Garrett Dutton) of G. Love & Special Sauce never showcased his guitar soloing on their prior four albums. But on their latest release, Electric Mile (Epic/Okeh), it sounds like seven years of constant touring and emotional maturing has paid off for G. Love and his band. Dub, blues, hip-hop, jazz, rock, rap, reggae, some ska -- Electric Mile traverses it all with unique collaborations that escape the industry's mule-skinner techniques to keep music in its proper line.
G. Love & Special Sauce has been thinking outside the box for years. They broke onto the scene seven years ago recording their entire self-titled debut live at Studio 4 in Philadelphia, an almost unheard of tactic in today's music industry. G. Love's funky lyrical delivery flowed easily over Jimmy Prescott's upright bass and Jeffrey Clemens' tight snare fills. Their sound was raw and full of groove not typical to the average white man. They got some good press, a bit of hype on MTV, and "Cold Beverage" became a standard on most jukeboxes where good beer is served. But since then, unless you've been an avid fan, G. Love & Special Sauce hasn't created any new stir with their follow-up albums. Until now.
Electric Mile is a fine statement on forging ahead while sticking to one's natural roots. The band is exploring broader and more challenging musical ranges and has proven their growing confidence in such territory by overcoming the fear of the jam, like on "Praise Up" where the band breaks into an impressive improv section complete with a new time signature. And I'm not sure what's fueling G. Love's lyric inspiration -- maybe first-time fatherhood -- but he is emanating lofty themes of unity and freedom alongside pleas for authentic living. The album begins with "Unified," a ska-infested track written by G. Love and Ras of the Long Beach Dub All-Stars, setting into motion the musical odyssey of the next 12 songs.
And they run the gamut. "Poison" is an undeniable tribute to bluesman John Hammond with G. Love's elongated vocals and lamenting harp. "Parasite," perhaps the most hip-hop-laden track, features long-overdue guest rapper Jasper Thomas with jazz phenom John Medeski ripping it up on organ, Wurlitzer and clavinette. And only G. Love would let a hammer dulcimer slip in the back door to ride along on the title track "Electric Mile."
The group gets a bit nostalgic with the country/folk number "Sara's Song," complete with harmonica bridge and lap steel bends. And Billy Conway, the percussionist for Morphine, makes a couple appearances on "Rain Jam" and the reprise for "Free at Last," a dreamier version of the original with Medeski trips and G. Love's soft guitar licks.
Although the guest musicians on Electric Mile help them step it up a notch or two, G. Love & Special Sauce sound more comfortable than ever in their impossible-to-pigeon-hole sound, which is why I think they're on one of their strongest tours yet. Due to make a stop here this Friday, G. Love is sure to get your ass shaking on that make-do dance floor at the Colorado Music Hall.