G. Love marks 20 - and it's special

G. Love, whose roots go back to South Street, released his first album 20 years ago with fellow musicians Special Sauce.
G. Love, whose roots go back to South Street, released his first album 20 years ago with fellow musicians Special Sauce.
Posted: February 18, 2014

Of all musical birthdays worth celebrating (there aren't as many as you've been led to believe), one particularly quirky event has warm local value: the 20th anniversary of G. Love and Special Sauce's first album. South Street busker Garrett "G. Love" Dutton - laid-back singer, guitarist, harmonicist - hooked up with out-of-towners Jeff Clemens (drums) and Jim Prescott (upright bass) for a then-unique trio based as much in hucklebucking folk and blues as it was in hip-hop.

The group's sloppy, tangy tones quickly found their way to Okeh/Epic, and their eponymous album dropped in 1994, influencing the like-minded relaxed-fit Jack Johnson, whose success sadly surpassed theirs but led to a friendship and contract with his record label. (For context: another South Street-born hip-hop band, the Roots, didn't make its major-label debut until 1995).

G. and Special Sauce stopped, started, and, for 2014, reunited on a bristling album, Sugar (due in April), and tour that brought them home Saturday and Sunday at TLA, the scene of the original crime.

That Saturday's packed-to-the-rafters gig started with songs from their debut made sense. Love's loping, unfussy funk is this unit's stock in trade. That rope-a-dope vibe was true of the dozy "Baby's Got Sauce," with its gentle swing breaks (Clemens is a master of the brushes), and the bubbly "Shooting Hoops." But from the show's start, with G. seated stage center, this wasn't about mere nostalgia; it was about getting down and dirty. Prescott let loose with hard, aggressive bass play, and Love's bluesy guitar on songs like "Cold Beverage" had nasty jagged angles à la Keith Richards at his rangiest. Love's vocals too found grizzled corners - a change from his boyish first-blush sound. Then again, G's a 41-year-old man now, a fact that was apparent when his son Aiden joined on drums for the psychedelic-hop of "Can't Go Back to Jersey." Love's voice stayed tough on the trio's new songs from Sugar: the Chic-like title tune, the merrily melodic "Nothing Quite Like Home" with its crust-in-the-eyes cool, and "One Night Romance," in which big-voiced opening act Kristy Lee pushed G. into lover-man mode.

Toward the evening's close, Special Sauce not only unleashed a giddy "I-76," Love made nods to his past (recording at Studio 4 with then-young rap acts like the Roots and the Goats) and talked up his South Street roots, telling the crowd, "After the show, we're going to Lorenzo's."

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