G. Love & Special Sauce has always been a hit or miss band for me, either they nail it, or the hip-hop/blues sound that they sought to define becomes too aimless and unfocused, the lyrics too simplistic, or too overwrought. Philadelphonic, the 1999 release finds the band breaking new ground and it makes it a fascinating listen. There are flaws, “Numbers” is a prime example, “Relax” barely scrapes out of its lazy wordplay through its fantastic arrangement, and there are plenty of those to go around. Anchored by the fantastic rhythm section of Jimmy “Jazz” Prescott and Jeffery “Houseman” Clemens and boosted by fantastic backing vocals, the songs that shine are full of energy and a wonderful mix of instrumentation. “Love”, the song featured above, finds G. Love’s hip hop blues at its most downright plaintive  with a wonderful guitar melody. “Dreamin’”, the album opener, takes an upbeat message that could have certainly fell flat if not for the wonderful meld of sampled (the guitar from “Clean Up Woman” in this case) to organic instrumentation. “Kick Drum” features an old soulful groove and wonderful harmonies that bolster an otherwise crude song about foreplay while “Rodeo Clowns” would be the worlds introduction to Jack Johnson. Even the turns at rapper are good natured fun, with “Friday Night (Hundred Dollar Bill)” leading the pack, and “No Turning Back” and “Honor and Harmony” rounding out the fantastic arrangement, lackluster lyric section.  Check out some of the album highlights below.

Love- G. Love & Special Sauce

Dreamin’- G. Love & Special Sauce

Kick Drum- G. Love & Special Sauce

Rodeo Clowns- G. Love & Special Sauce

Honor & Harmony- G. Love & Special Sauce 

Philadelphonic was originally released on Sony Music Distribution on August 3rd, 1999. You can find the digital version on iTunes here . 

Tuesday Virtuoso Series Volume 1

This will be a weekly series documenting musicians I feel are virtuoso’s of their craft whether it be singing, guitar, bass, piano, or drums.  This week features; John Butler Trio, Derek Trucks Band, G. Love and Special Sauce, and Jon Cleary.

John Butler Trio- Guitar

John Butler Trio hails from Australia, where they have been making their unique roots style rock for over a decade.  John Butler started out as a musician busking on the streets and soon got notice for his unique playing style.  Featuring some of the longest fingernails you will ever see as well as an electric acoustic guitar, John Butler gets a unique sound out of his instrument and is fantastic to see live, if not better than his studio recordings.  Ocean, one of the tracks featured is probably his most famed instrumental, a climactic build up on guitar that is amazing to the eyes and the ears assisted only at times by his drummer, but most of the piece is purely just him alone with his guitar.  Betterman has the full ensemble that features a great hook and a great groove.  Butler is a good singer as well, which makes his fantastic guitar playing that more special given he can aptly handle both tasks. Both these tracks are taken from the fantastic Live at St. Gallen, a concert recorded in France, and as he says at the beginning of Ocean “It seems all the more fitting when I leave home and play countries that I dont speak the language because I’d really like to converse with you but I’m just stupid so music’s the best way and maybe music without words takes it even further so this is my gift, this is my conversational piece to you.” Well said.  Lastly I included a cover of Across the Universe.  He isn’t the first to do it but he succeeds where others failed, Rufus Wainwright was too bombastic and Fiona Apple too strange, he takes his strengths and doesn’t try to make the song what it isn’t.  A true musician.

Betterman

Ocean

Across the Universe

Derek Trucks Band- Guitar/ Band ensemble

It’s not a stretch to compare the Derek Trucks Band to the Allman Brothers Band, not just because Derek Trucks is the son of Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks, and frequently guests with the Allman Brothers during live shows but also that they’ve taken up the mantle of that warm bluesy jazz meets southern rock sounds.  They aren’t a typical jam band in the format of Phish and the Grateful Dead but they possess a much warmer sound than either and each solo isn’t overdone, rather it supplements the piece with beautiful understatement.  Make no mistake, Derek Trucks is one of the best guitarists on the planet today, if not the best slide guitarist, Trucks plays with his fingers and thumbs giving him a thicker tone and making it even all the more impressive when he rips into solos.  But most importantly he’s a fantastic ensemble player, something that hasn’t really been seen since the Allman Brothers were in their hey day.  Yet DTB doesn’t feature two guitarists, so he carries the duties of rhythm and lead. These tracks come from their fantastic live album Live at Georgia Theatre.

Gonna Move

Leaving Trunk

Feel So Bad

Freddie’s Dead (Curtis Mayfield Cover)

G. Love and Special Sauce-  Rhythm section

Forget the hype of them being the first to mix hip hop and blues, G. Love and Special Sauce deserve their due in their fantastic grooves, Jeffery “Houseman” Clemens, and Jeffery “Jimi Jazz” Prescott create a unique busy rhythm section with their respective New Orleans styled drumming and upright jazz bass playing.  The Things That I Used to Do, the debut track off of their debut album features possibly the best bass and drumming grooving interplay of the 90’s.  Rhyme for the Summertime, also off their debut  features some great hi-hat work and a nice mellow bass groove, and on the fantastic This Ain’t Living they tone it down perfectly, for all those times you’ve heard the words “This is the true hip-hop” well this is what truly is the real hip hop.  Stepping Stone features great dynamic interplay and changing tempos, Lay Down the Law features another perfect mellow rhythmic backdrop and some well placed tuneful whistling.  You Shall See features a very busy rhythm section with some great dynamic tempo changes.  No Turning Back is reminiscent of The Things That I Used to Do in the great drum opening and fantastic upright bass and drums interplay throughout.  Do It For Free opens with a great little bass solo before segueing into another busy yet tasteful rhythmic groove.  On all these tracks, G. Love also proves an apt rhythm guitarist, putting the chord changes into perfect sync with his rhythm section counterparts.

The Things That I Used to Do

Rhyme for the Summertime

This Ain’t Livin’

Stepping Stone

Lay Down the Law

You Shall See

No Turning Back

Do It For Free

Jon Cleary- Piano

Jon Cleary hails from New Orleans and his piano playing is probably the best the area features today (sorry Dr. John).  He has an excellent backing band as well, named the Absolute Monster Gentleman, who when present provide perfect accompaniment, but its an absolute ear dazzling wonder to hear Jon Cleary let loose on the piano.  Whether it be the dramatic piano rolls at the beginning of People Say (a funky Meter’s classic ) the fantastic blues playing in Port Street Blues, or the absolutely mind blowing solo on When U Get Back. He isn’t afraid of mixing styles either, he plays a fantastic Latin style, as evidenced on Oh No No No and, well the solo on When U Get Back. Jon Cleary at times can sound equal parts Michael McDonald and Lyle Lovett when it comes to his singing but its his piano playing that is utterly fantastic.

People Say

Port Street Blues

When U Get Back

Oh No No No

Mixtape Monday 2010 vol. 2

Lives of Crime- Fruit Bats

Remember how Garden State made the little known band The Shins smash hit indie darlings, how exciting it was to be hearing, discovering this new band along with Zach Braff’s character when he put on those huge headphones.  Well the Fruit Bats just might be next with one of there songs (When U Love Somebody) featured on the soundtrack of Youth in Revolt the new Michael Cera vehicle, which is bound to attract the indie masses because it’s Michael Cera.  Fruit Bats are from the same mold as The Shins, refreshingly inventive and retrospective at the same time.

New Kind of Love- Plants and Animals

Few bands have the skill to make a song 6 + minutes entirely listenable.  Plants  and Animals are one of the few, this song comes off like a mellowed Arcade Fire meeting with an ethereal Nick Drake, the arrangement is vast but at the same time endearing and homespun, and an absolute blast with headphones.

The Bed’s Too Big Without You- The Police

The Police weren’t entirely unknown at the time, Roxanne and Can’t Stand Losing You and So Lonely had guaranteed that on their previous debut effort.  Regatta de Blanc showcased their new signature sound and pushed them into stardom and this song is an oft forgotten highlight of the album.

Witness Blues- A.A. Bondy

Bob Dylan affected his audience so well due to his direct approach and wonderful narrative lyrics, A.A. Bondy may just be the closest comparison to the Dylan mystique and he well deserves it.

La Mar – The Beautiful Girls

Achingly introspective and beautifully understated, this song reaches into your emotions and doesn’t let go.  The lo-fi production and simple acoustic arrangement only make this song better.

Anne- John Frusciante

Sans the Red Hot Chili Peppers, John Frusciante is a wholly new animal.  Featuring a Cat Stevens-esque croon, Anne starts out stark with beautiful acoustic accompaniment before expanding into a full blown creative arrangement.  A wonderful talent.

Joe’s Waltz- The Dodos

Many bands have their own sound, but the Dodos go even further, there is no other band that features their musical DNA, inventive in their arrangements and deceptively simple, they make a waltz sound like an entirely new style.

The Danger Zone- Susan Tedeschi

Susan Tedeschi isn’t the only country and blues styled guitar slinging singer but she’s one of the best, with a voice that belongs in a category alongside Bonnie Raitt, Etta James, and Aretha Franklin.

Willow Tree- G. Love and Special Sauce

I dream for the day that Beck and G. Love collaborate for they both have their own genius touch on blending musical styles, for now this is the closest I’ll get. Creative, laid back groove and tight soulful harmony.

Caught by the River- The Doves

The song you wished Coldplay and Oasis had written so you wouldn’t feel so guilty for saying you liked them, vast and beautifully arranged.

Help Yourself- Sad Brad Smith

Featured in Up in Air, this song harkens back to the best of CSNY and Simon and Garfunkel with beautiful harmonies and acoustic guitars going back and forth and yet with an arrangement that’s completely original, just one of those songs where beautiful seems to be the only word that fits perfectly. I don’t care if Up in Air wins any awards for its film merits, but it should for this song.

Please Be Patient With Me- Wilco

As great of a full band Wilco is, they have a magical quality when they tone it down to just guitars and vocals.

For No One- The Beatles

Eleanor Rigby gets a lot of credit for it, but mark my words; in terms of arrangement, production, lyrics and delivery, For No One is simply one of the best songs in the entire Beatles catalogue and is Paul McCartney’s lonely masterpiece and its over far too soon.

Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let it Roll)- George Harrison

Simply put, the best all around song on All Things Must Pass the arrangement is full of mystical and haunting beauty and proves once and for all George’s ability as a songwriter.

Futures- Zero 7

Wonderfully unique in its arrangement and production with a beautiful voice to boot.  One of those melodies that will just keep rolling around in your head, a brooding kind of song.

American Hearts- A.A. Bondy

The most beautifully written piece of Americana this decade, Dylan himself would be green with envy.

Take Me Out of the City- Dawes

Not many bands can tone down their arrangement and let their harmonies dominate to create a song of utter beauty.  Dawes is one of them and it would be hard to find a band who does it better.

Mixtape Vibes

Here is a mixtape for you all

Wild Mountain Nation- Blitzen Trapper

I had never really heard these guys before, but my stepbrother recommended them and i was surprised to find they are actually very good.  Wild Mountain Nation feels like Grateful Dead meets Southern Fried rock and what a combination.

This Is My Country- The Impressions

I don’t think its possible for these guys to make a sad sounding melody, everything they touch is uplifting and the lyrics are always powerful.

Teenagers- Department of Eagles

Department of Eagles came to my attention through the use of skreemr.com, a great source for finding songs online if you don’t torrent,  the production is magnificent and their sound is utterly unique.

Saturday Nite- Blitzen Trapper

Another upbeat track from this band, but the production and arrangement is completely different, just goes to show how much range this band has.  Saturday Nite has flashes of Spoon, Grateful Dead, and the Doors, and some great instrumentation.

Saint John-  Cold War Kids

Another great and upcoming band. Saint John comes across as a White Stripes kind of groove, dirty and catchy and the singer falls in between Jack White and Freddie Mercury.  Some great harmonies here

Relax- G. Love and Special Sauce

Known mostly for their hip hop-blues vibe, I have always thought that G. Love put alot of time into the production of his songs.  Relax is one of the most chill songs I have heard, perfect for those otherworldly times you might be having.

Race You- Elizabeth & the Catapult

Another band found from searching around random music blogs, if you like Fiest or her first band Broken Social Scene this song is for you, very clean production and a very catchy melody.

No One Does It Like You- Department of Eagles

Catchy as all hell, great harmonies, the kind of song for those people who dig Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes but the production is otherworldly, an amalgamtion that is completely original and familiar at the same time.

Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey)- The Impressions

For a studio produced track its got a great live sound to it.  The best of the Impressions sound is on showcase, great harmonies, great groove, great horn lines and as always powerful lyrics.

Loving Me- G. Love & Special Sauce

For all of his professed love for the hip-hop blues, G. Love also is an accomplished acoustic guitarist and when he strips it down his lyrics really shine.

In Ear Park- Department of Eagles

Yes i know, three songs by the same band, but I dare you to find a song as otherworldy and utterly beautiful as this.

Hang Me Up to Dry- Cold War Kids

Catchy hook, great groove, gritty sound, gotta love those Cold War Kids.

Gimme Some Lovin’- G. Love & Special Sauce

Another great acoustic song by Mr. G. Love

Furr- Blitzen Trapper

Greatest song you will hear about a boy being raised by wolves, and falling in love with a girl, only to return to the wild.  The singer has an eerie Elliot Smith meets Nick Drake quality.  Some great production on this track

Front Porch Lounger- G. Love & Special Sauce

There is no one better than G. Love at the laid back groove.  The song isn’t trying to be deep, it’s just there for you to chill out to, great guitar hook.

Feelin Alright- 6680 Lexington

Most people know this song from Joe Cocker’s very popular version.  I dare say this one is better

A Burden- Horse Feathers

Great instrumentation on this track, otherworldly duet between fiddle and guitar.

Black River Killer- Blitzen Trapper

A Johnny Cash delivery with Bob Dylan like lyrics and modern touches here and there throughout, this band has no limits.

Can’t Go Back to Jersey-  G. Love and Special Sauce

Just a fun track and a great one to end on, the story is great and so is the bass and piano interplay and the harmonica line is unforgettable.