The 1994 self-titled debut album from G. Love & Special Sauce was unique enough that it earned the group’s music a label – hip-hop blues – that has stuck ever since. But Love hears his new album, “Love Saves The Day,” and he has a different and simpler term to describe the new music – rock and roll.
“We just keep pushing that sound, and now it’s become more rocking than ever,” Love said in a mid-January phone interview. “So I really do feel this is rock and roll. And it has elements of hip-hop, but it’s rock and roll.”
To Love, he has gone through a process over his past three albums that’s similar to how classic groups like Led Zeppelin, Cream and the Rolling Stones found their sounds.
Those groups immersed themselves in Delta blues, drew on their influences from outside the blues genre and created their own unique styles of blues-based rock and roll.
Now G. Love has followed a similar arc, beginning with his 2011 album, “Fixin’ to Die,” on which he reconnected with his roots.
“I really think it was coming home to the blues,” Love said. “If you look back at the records before ‘Fixin’ To Die,’ we were kind of in a little more poppy (place), not in a bad way, but a little more poppy, focusing more on hip-hop and kind of infectious, hook-driven songs. And we had some success doing that. And then it was like let’s flip it up. So I went back on ‘Fixin’ to Die,’ and delved into back into the blues of Bukka White, Lightin’ Hopkins and even to the rootsy Americana of Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, kind of my roots as to who I was as a young folk-blues singer in high school. That really re-connected me to the blues, but especially I really kind of rediscovered Bukka White, and that took me on a whole journey.”
The next step in that journey was the 2014 album “Sugar.”
This time, Love reunited with his Special Sauce bandmates, drummer Jeffrey “Houseman” Clemens and bassist Jim “Jimi Jazz” Prescott (who had last played together eight years earlier, before Love went on to work with different musicians). The trio plugged in and rocked out on songs that were similar in spirit to the debut album, only louder, faster and harder hitting.
“With ‘Sugar,’ we stumbled upon like the obvious blueprint for what was the hip-hop blues, or what is the hip-hop blues, and that was with the song ‘Come Up Man,’” Love said. “That record was all based around one song, ‘Come Up Man.’ And the ‘Come Up Man’ (song) was basically a Cypress Hill-style beat, with Elmore James-style slide guitar on top of it. And then that was kind of like OK, that’s the sound.”
Love sees “Love Saves The Day” as a logical extension of the “Sugar” album, pushing the rock and blues sides of G. Love & Special Sauce even further to create the heaviest, hardest rocking -- and quite possibly, the best -- of the 11 albums Love has made with (or outside of) Special Sauce.
“‘Love Saves The Day’ was just kind of starting with that ‘Come Up Man’ song again and saying we’re going to take kind of that formula of taking a hip-hop beat, and then playing with slide guitar or playing it with blues so it becomes its own thing,” Love said. “And that’s exactly how we made songs like ‘Love Saves The Day’ and ‘The Dis Song’ and a lot of the songs on the ‘Love Saves The Day’ record. So in a way, it was kind of like the realization of what we first kind of stumbled upon in making ‘Sugar.’”
Of course, Love (real name Garrett Dutton) was no stranger to the blues or any number of other musical styles by the time he made “Fixin’ to Die.”
The Philadelphia native has been mixing and matching, blues, hip-hop, rock and soul in varied combinations and intensities for 20 years now. The first album became a significant hit, selling 500,000 copies and putting G. Love & Special Sauce on the national music map.
Love has not reached those sales levels since, but he has built a loyal audience that’s large enough so he now consistently headlines theaters and the largest clubs, no matter what level of success his latest album is enjoying.
Love said he hadn’t planned to follow up “Sugar” so quickly with “Love Saves The Day.” But his label, Brushfire Records, was ready for a new album to be made early last year.
“The label had come and said ‘Hey, we’ve got the budget this year to do another record. We’d like for you guys to do it, and do you want to make another record?’” Love related. “We kind of hesitated because we had been having a lot of fun with ‘Sugar’ and the fans love it. So we said, ‘Oh well, we’ve got to take this chance to make a record, so it was really kind of, not a scramble, but it was like the pressure was on. Like we found out we were going to make the record in February, and we were in the studio at the end of May, so it was quite like an immediate workload to think about.”
Despite the short window for writing and recording the album, Love and Special Sauce not only made a strong album with its own musical personality, they were able to recruit several guest musicians who added some extra spice to the proceedings.
David Hidalgo of Los Lobos joins in on three songs, adding some searing guitar to the title track, “Dis Song” and “That Girl,” three raucous tunes that open the album. Ozomatli brings some of its urban soul and funk to the horn-spiced “Let’s Have A Good Time.” That group’s horn players, Asdru Sierra (trumpet) and Ulysses Baya (sax), also join Citizen Cope on “Muse,” a folkier tune that still rocks nicely. Lucinda Williams, meanwhile, duets with G. Love on rockabilly-tinged “New York City.”
Love is proud enough of “Love Saves The Day” that he and Special Sauce plan to play the entire new album as the first of a two-set show on the band’s winter tour. The second set will be devoted to songs from across Love’s album catalog, with a set list built largely around requests received online from fans.
“That way we can really come out and make a statement, because we’re excited about the new record, and we want to get people hooked on it,” he said. “We feel like we know that we really made something pretty great and we feel like it’s a huge step for us. I think it’s the kind of thing like hey, let’s go out there and really show where we’re at and what we’re doing right now. And then, yeah, obviously the fans come first and we want to play the songs they want to hear as well. So that’s why I figured let’s really hear from the fans about what they want to hear to kind of let it all hang out in the second set.”