Gunning for a Grammy

G. Love teams with blues legend Keb’ Mo’ to craft his slickest album to-date

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G. Love recruited blues legend Keb' Mo' to produce his latest album, 'The Juice.'
Kaelan Barowsky

When G. Love approached his friend and musical colleague Keb’ Mo’ about producing the album that became The Juice, one of his goals was very straight-forward and ambitious.

“The intention here is to win a contemporary blues Grammy,” Love says. “So then, what’s my path to it? So then I said, well, I know Keb’ Mo.’ Keb’ Mo’ wins a Grammy every time with a record of stuff. He knows how to do this.”

Love (real name Garrett Dutton) had good reasons for wanting to try something new in his approach to writing and recording. His previous two albums, Love Saves The Day (2015) and Sugar (2014) found Love and his band, Special Sauce, plugging in, going for a more rocking blend of blues, folk, rock and hip-hop and getting what they thought were great results in the process. But the albums, especially Love Saves The Day, didn’t connect commercially.  

“We felt like, ‘Man, we sound fucking great. That’s what we felt like,” Love says, referring particularly to Love Saves The Day. “We really played it well. And then you put them out and no one really cares. So that was a little tough. And you’re kind of like, ‘Well, what are we going to do?’”

The answers to that question are found on The Juice, and they involved both taking a starkly different approach to how the album was produced and raising the bar on certain aspects of the songwriting. 

The first test from Keb’ Mo’ came before a note was recorded for The Juice.     

 “He said, ‘Hey, G, send me your five most sincere songs that you feel most connected to,’” Love says. “And I [thought], well, that’s kind of a weird thing to ask. I feel like I’m connected to all of my songs and I feel like they’re all sincere.”

But Love complied with the request. The verdict from Keb’ Mo’ was that Love should work with a songwriter for The Juice project.

That response wouldn’t play well with many artists, as it calls into question the strength of their songwriting chops. Love, though, took it in stride, and was soon in a Nashville studio with Keb’ Mo’ and his frequent songwriting collaborator, Grammy-winning writer Gary Nicholson, starting a three-way songwriting collaboration that generated many of the songs on The Juice. One of the biggest changes for Love was to embrace Keb’ Mo’s approach to recording and producing.   

“Keb’s like, ‘I know you like to make, like, dirty sounding, old, kind of lo-fi records. My thing is, why can’t the blues sound like a Beyoncé record?’” Love recalls. “He wants a blues record to sound like a pop record, that’s what his goal is, but still be a real blues record. I think it’s really interesting, and obviously, he’s had success. 

“Most of the records I’ve been putting out in the last 10 years are live, in-studio records, with as little overdubbing as possible, trying to capture performances,” Love adds. “And this record was just the opposite. It was about having the material be so strong that you didn’t have to worry about trying to like capture some kind of magical performance with a whole band. It was more like the song itself would lend itself to everybody who played on it, giving a spirited, inspired performance, and the messages of the lyrics and the song would carry the whole thing.”

Love said he put his heart, his soul — as well as his head — into his songwriting for The Juice, resulting in a group of songs that were both quite personal (“She’s The Rock” is about his wife, “Diggin’ Roots” is about settling in with family and friends) as well as topical, especially with the title track, a call to action for these times.

“That to me is the greatest song I’ve ever been involved in, that message: ‘We got the juice / We got the love / We got the dreams / We won’t give up / We are the change / We’ve had enough / We’ve got the juice / Time’s up,’” Love says, reciting the chorus. “I mean, what else can I ever say as great as that?”

The Juice manages to sound modern and polished, while retaining an earthy quality. Part of that feel is a product of using plenty of guitars, drums and other live instrumentation. The strong presence of acoustic sounds gives The Juice a similar aesthetic to earlier Love albums such as 2011’s Fixin’ To Die.

While the players on The Juice were mostly musicians Keb’ Mo’ has used, Love will tour behind the album with his long-time Special Sauce bandmates.

“For better or worse, I’m not going to have the live show sound exactly like the record,” Love says, noting that in addition to new songs, the show will include plenty of fan favorites and deep cuts from his catalog. “To me, it’s always going to be an interpretation, whether it’s the same players or not who played on the record. I’m excited to see how these songs will kind of shape and grow with (bassist) Jim (Prescott) and (drummer) Jeff (Clemens) behind the wheel.”  

ON THE BILL: G. Love & Special Sauce with Jontavious Willis. 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 29, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th St., Boulder. Tickets are $30, foxtheatre.com