Philly songwriter G. Love returns to his roots with his latest album, Fixin' to Die, a country-blues departure from his recent efforts. Recording it with two of the Avett Brothers — Scott and Seth — it's a sign of a new beginning, minus his longtime bandmates.
Born Garrett Dutton, the one-time Philadelphia busker built a sound around golden era hip-hop and folk-blues, forging a shuffling, groovy, high-spirited sound. He called it "hip-hop blues," and over the last 17 years since their successful self-titled debut, G. Love and Special Sauce vacillated between those styles.
Over the last decade, Dutton has leaned toward hip-hop for the right formula. He and his band explored the gap between rockers and rappers, but they gradually lost vitality and focus. Following their fifth album, 2001's weak, scattershot Electric Mile, Sony dropped the band.
G. Love and Special Sauce migrated to their buddy Jack Johnson's major label imprint, Brushfire Records, for 2004's Hustle. The album signaled the beginning of an addition-and-subtraction process culminating in the Sauce-less state of his latest album (though drummer Jeffrey Clemens does appear).
After bringing in a colorful cast of characters including Beastie Boys collaborators Money Mark and producer Mario Caldato Jr. on The Hustle, Dutton released Lemonade, his 2006 solo debut, with an even longer guest list, including Marc Broussard, Ben Harper, David Hidalgo, and Donavon Frankenreiter. Though longtime bandmates Clemens and bassist Jimi "Jazz" Prescott play on the album, it's clear from backstage scenes in their 2007 tour DVD, A Year and a Night with G. Love and Special Sauce, that the relationship was strained.
For that 2006 tour, keyboardist Marc Boyce came on board and remained on hand for 2008's Superhero Brother, which returned to the band setting. At the beginning of 2009, Prescott announced his departure from the band. He was replaced by Timo Shanko.
Superhero Brother proved a commercial flop, and one could sense desperation in Dutton's preparations for its follow-up. He knew that it was put-up-or-shut-up time for his career. He hooked up with the Avett Brothers to produce and back him for Fixin' to Die, an authentic roots album more in-keeping with the string music the Avetts made their reputation on than anything G. Love's released.
They recorded in Echo Mountains Studio, an old converted church in Asheville, N.C. It was a perfect cipher for the album's gospel-tinged mountain music sound. "Katie Miss" is a sweet, banjo-keyed love ode. "Milk and Sugar" offers an ambling spoken-blues stomp. "Heaven" mines a spare gutbucket blues sound.
If Fixin' to Die's any indication, there may be life after death.