G Love and Keb’ Mo’
This is the eighth album for Philly born and raised, now Cape Cod resident G. Love (aka Garrett Dutton), a masterful multi-instrumentalist with a diverse set of influences, a knack for reinvention and a penchant for collaboration. You may be familiar with him through his usual moniker, G. Love and Special Sauce, but for this recording he teams with four-time Grammy winner Keb’ Mo’ (who plays, sings, and produced), and a slew of special guests including Robert Randolph, Marcus King and Roosevelt Collier, to create an appealing mashup of blues, jazz, rock, funk and soul with hip-hop grooves and electronic beats. It makes for a terrific party album, but the content is not frivolous.
Striking a balance between the personal and political, The Juice is a thoughtful, infectiously fun collection of songs balanced with an appreciation for the simple joys in life and an obligation to speak out for justice and equality. Don’t worry; there’s no preaching or proselytizing here. It’s all in the context of the song, done with a kind of stream of consciousness rhyming that may have you singing along in the choruses. These are songs of hope and determination.
Love says this about the collaboration with Keb’ Mo’- “I’ve been in the game a long time, but I’ve always considered myself a student. Finishing this album with Keb’ Mo’ felt like a graduation.” The emphasis in that statement may well be “finishing” as the album took some time. Both artists were signed to the same record label at the same time and did considerable touring together. Two decades later, after a couple of late night jam sessions, G. Love pitched Keb’ Mo’ on producing his next album.
They began with a writing session first, teaming with renowned Gary Nicholson for a week in Nashville where they penned a handful of tunes bases on phrases that Love had saved on his phone or rough demos he’d recorded at home on Cape Cod. Many of these became fan favorites in live performance and Love knew he had to take them further. Yet, due to touring and other projects it was a year and half later before the team could finish the project. Keb’ Mo’s meticulous old school style proved opposite to Love’s spontaneous way of working. Keb’ Mo’ had a hand in all of it. ‘he was always impressing on me where to place the emphasis and how to phrase my lyrics and guitar playing in relation to the beat,” said Love.
The album kicks off with the rousing title track with Love, Keb’ Mo’, and guest Marcus King all wielding guitars and King joining Love on the vocal chorus – “We got the juice/We got the love/We got the dreams/We had enough/We are the change/We won’t give up/We got the juice/Times up.” It’s an auspicious start but “SoulBQue” is even more infectious with Roosevelt Collier’s sacred steel bringing it to a sizzling climax in a tune that’s aided greatly by the three background vocalists who carry the spirt of community and friendship. Keb’ Mo’ returns along with vocalists on “Go Crazy,” a funky letting loose of frustration at the ugly news streams. “Shake Your Hair” is a rave-up tongue-in-cheek commentary on technology and modern ills before Love declares “donate, don’t wait, spread love, don’t hate.”
“Fix Your Face” features Keb’ Mo’ on lead guitar and B3 as Love tries to lift the emotions of a woman seemingly recovering from abusive relationship. He ups the ante on “She’s the Rock” paying tribute to all the little ways lovers can lift each other up. “Diggin’ Roots” features guitarist and co-vocalist Ron Artis as tending a garden becomes a metaphor for tending to you home, family, and neighbors. “Shine On Moon” is an acoustic blues duo of Love (guitar, harp, vocal) and Keb’ Mo’ (bass, resonator). It’s a nice change amidst the otherwise mostly raucous fare. “Birmingham” has seven musicians and the background vocalists including searing sacred steel from Robert Randolph as Keb” Mo’ and Love tade vocals, urging us to persevere in the face of the madness. ”Drinkin’ Wine” is a simple blues ditty as a cross between those many old school songs on the subject and some extemporaneous rapping and carefree whistling from Love. They go out reprising “The Juice” in true hip-hop style.
This collaboration succeeds marvelously on several levels. Few have ever melded several styles so well in one recording. Mostly, it will get you smiling and shaking your hair and other things too.
- Jim Hynes