High Times

I think G. Love is high.

"What we do is just, like, American music. In this day and age, everything is one, and we just play music, you know what I mean?"

Hmm. Correction: I know G. Love is high.

"This is what we do, man. We just play this good music, and it's just like the flow to the songs and everything."

Actually, maybe I'm high, 'cause right about now, Electric Mile, the new G. Love & Special Sauce album--what do I call him? G.? Mr. Love? Garrett?--is sounding real, real good. Their fifth record, it's a typically low-slung brew of primordial blues lurch, old-school hip-hop swagger and freewheeling improv-based vim. If you're having trouble conjuring what I'm describing, you no doubt remember "Cold Beverage," the 1994 hit from G.'s self-titled debut album--the one where G. sang in his lovably mush-mouthed drawl about all manner of, well, cold beverages and how much he loved them. Though the song became a frat-boy staple--sort of the wet bar "Rock and Roll Part 1"--its success drew some deserved attention to Garrett Dutton and his little band from Philadelphia, and the improbably terrific little noise they make--a noise that transcends time and space and taste to yield what G. calls their "American music."

I'd pretty much forgotten about that music after "Cold Beverage" ran dry, and MTV and radio and press decided G. was a novelty better suited to the post-alt-rock free-for-all that was that little sliver of the mid-'90s (Squirrel Nut Zippers, anyone?) than to the marketing-led millennial countdown that soon squashed it. But a funny thing happened on G. Love's way to the cutout bin (where, even so, you can today find the three records he made between the first one and the new one): He mounted the kind of crossover coup Weezer accidentally pulled after Pinkerton failed to score with the "Buddy Holly" set, touring ceaselessly and finding a niche on the jam-band circuit, including a crucial stint on the H.O.R.D.E. tour, where bandanna-wearing peaceniks who still appreciated chilled drinks took a liking to G.'s bluesy booze--and where he could, no doubt, get high with a great deal of help from his friends.

"It's just been like a slow build--slow and always steady," G. says on the phone from Cincinnati, where's he playing a show in support of Electric Mile. "It's like more and more people keep finding out about us every day. It's actually pretty hype, because now we have five records out, so people just keep finding out about all the different music we have every day, you know?" He takes what I can only imagine to be a particularly effective drag from what I can only imagine to be a particularly humongous joint. "It's like we're brand-new to some people, and for some people we've been around for a while."

Oh, OK, now it makes perfect sense.

"We just wanna keep growing and changing our style and emphasis," G. continues, "whether that's playing a certain region a lot or putting out different kinds of records or just always trying to maintain the core of who we are and the kind of music that we play." Another drag. "As far as touring, over the last couple of years especially, we've really tried to blanket the U.S. to play all the little towns we haven't got to yet. It takes a long time to hit every city in the U.S., you know?"

Indeed. Dubious theorizing aside, though, Electric Mile does reflect G.'s interest in growth and change and emphasis. "Unified," the album's first single, is a ska-styled romp about, well: "Now come on everyone in this place come together/Wouldn't it be nice if we could all live together forever/Finding our peace in unity?" Still, it's got a killer chorus and some nice, legitimately dubby reverb. John Medeski, of truly growing, truly changing hippie jazzbos Medeski Martin & Wood, props up the lilting "Night of the Living Dead" with his always-fine organ work, and former Morphine drummer Billy Conway adds extra eighth notes to the album-closing "Free at Last (Reprise)." Above all, the album does what G.'s proven himself to be an ad hoc master at: throwing together what appear to be disparate musical elements to create a cohesive and surprisingly enjoyable jambalaya of various roots music. I tell G. I admire the grab-bag aspect of his records. He's not happy.

"I wouldn't say that," he snaps (OK, he notes). "I wouldn't say that at all. It's not a grab bag at all." I tell him I mean that the music resists easy categorization; he won't dismiss that, will he? "Well, that's true, definitely." Phew, close one.

"We've just always done what we've done," he elaborates. "We haven't really tried to be a part of a scene or anything. Clearly, from the get-go, we weren't hard-core hip-hop, and we weren't hard-core blues, or we didn't really fit into one genre. We were just playing our own kind of original music, which flew off of many different influences, you know?"

I do, which is why I start talking about how what I loved about the first record was the way it sounded like something that could've been made 60 years ago but also was so a product of its time, was so indebted to the rock-schooled hip-hop of cats (yes, I actually say "cats") like the Beastie Boys and Rick Rubin and Run-D.M.C. I know he's heard this before, probably dozens of times, but I spice it up a little bit--you know, to avoid a grab-bag redux.

"When I was listening to records and just really loving music," he enthuses, "the shit that I really loved was really great, like John Lee Hooker or Bob Dylan or Bob Marley or whatever--just listening to the masters, you know what I mean?"

Again, I do, which is why I tell him that I think his records actually capture a little bit of that spirit.

"Well, that's kind of like my lessons," he replies. "And then what I learned, I just kind of like do my own thing with it. The old is the influence, and the new is just our own voice, our own expression."

Yeah. I think G. Love is high.

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Mikael Wood