Kaelan Barowsky

Garrett Dutton, better known as G. Love, has been making albums for 28 years. The singer, guitarist, and harmonica player most often records with his band, Special Sauce, comprised of bassist Jim Prescott and drummer Jeffrey Clemens. But he’s done solo albums and collaborated with the likes of the Avett Brothers and Jack Johnson.

So he knows the drill when it comes to recording and releasing albums, and the cycle of press and touring you have to do to promote them. But he’s been sitting on his 2020 album The Juice for over a year, and in conversation, he has mixed emotions about the album finally being out.

“It’s funny,” he says. “It’s a bittersweet kind of thing because it’s been your little secret you’ve had. It’s just been for you. And then it finally comes out. We hope as musicians that these songs are going to connect with the people, so we do as much promo as we can do, and we do as many interviews as we can. But ultimately if people like it, they’re going to keep listening to it. So that’s what we’re hoping for, is that you make a connection.”

It’s not like people haven’t connected with G. Love & Special Sauce’s music before. Since their self-titled 1994 debut, the band has specialized in a loose, undeniably funky mix of soul and rock that most often gets labeled as “alternative hip-hop.” The band also gets called “laid-back” a lot, but that might be more because of G. Love’s easy-rolling vocal delivery than the band’s effortless way with a good groove.

That sound has given them a reliable live audience, beloved singles like “Baby’s Got Sauce” and “Cold Beverage,” and a nearly three-decade career. So, Love isn’t a stranger to putting out music and having people like it. But The Juice is special for him because it was co-written and produced by the Grammy-winning bluesman Keb’ Mo’ and features guest appearances by pedal steel phenom Robert Randolph and guitar maestro Marcus King, among others.

It also took about four years to get done, due to the busy touring schedules of everyone involved.

The album served as a reconnection for G. Love and Keb’ Mo’, who were label-mates back in the early ’90s.

“In 1993, Keb’ and I were signed to the OKeh label under Epic Records,” Love says. “It was a relaunch of a ‘race records’ label from the ’30s that released music by African-American artists, so it was really kind of an honor for Keb’ and I to be a part of that. From there we went on to our separate careers, but we finally reconnected on tour, and Keb’ offered to make a record for me. So I went down to Nashville and we started writing together.”

It took Mo’ and Love about three more years of intermittent work after that initial meeting to finish writing and then recording the songs.

“There were a lot of breaks,” Love says. “And that’s why it was such a long process, but I really think there’s a lot of value in taking your time. For one thing, the cream rises to the top; you can see and feel when you have something strong when you’re given the benefit of time. When you record something, you always think it’s great, right? Most artists are like this because we love what we do. So you think when you first make a song that it’s the greatest thing ever, but after time goes by you might find things that could have been better.”

The songs on the album certainly don’t seem overly labored over, but there’s a tightness and precision to the tunes that suggests the long-term recording process worked. G. Love unleashes a tongue-twisting sung-rapped verse on the title track that lands hard over a sparse soul-gospel groove, dives into straight-up funk on “Go Crazy,” which features a vocal assist from Keb’ Mo’, lays down a playful acoustic pseudo-country love song with “She’s the Rock,” and lest we think he’s abandoned his core sound, wraps things up with the loose-limbed “Drinkin’ Wine,” which sounds like it could have been on his first album way back in ’94.

It’s probably his most exploratory and assured album, and Keb’ Mo’s steady hand behind the board was a big part of that. Love says that as a producer, Mo’ asked for his absolute best performance every time out.

“Keb’ Mo’ is a really meticulous, thoughtful guy,” he says. “His philosophy of making records is to just really put everything you have into the record. Every song, every word, every note, and every melody played or sung has to be carefully thought out and performed perfectly. So there was a lot of work, but it really paid off.”

Now that the album is out, Love says he’s excited to tour behind it, and it helps that, during the lengthy recording process, he was able to play the songs on The Juice live pretty extensively.

“I know that these songs connect with people because I’ve been playing them live for the last three or four years,” he says. “People loved these tunes even before they knew them, so I’m excited to get them out there.”

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