Album: The Hustle
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Over the course of their career, nearly every artist has “lost their way” at one point or another. Though this does not always yield “bad” albums, it is almost always a seemingly odd diversion from the sound and style that made that particular artist so enjoyable and unique. As the 1990’s came to a close, it seemed that it was in this space that the chilled-out, multi-genre sound that was G Love & Special Sauce was veering off into a number of different directions. After releasing their brilliant debut, the group seemed to want to do everything at once, and this led to somewhat muddled efforts in the later years of the decade. However, as any truly talented group would, G Love & Special Sauce refocused their aim, and the result was the album that may very well be the finest of their career: 2004's The Hustle. Filled with deep grooves and the playful funk and mood that defines the groups' persona, the album also boasts some of the best lyrics of the bands' career. Bringing a few other musicians into the fold alongside their long-standing trio, The Hustle has something to offer every listener, as there are deep, soulful moments right alongside the playful, late-night jams that fans have come to love from this group. Bringing together the deep grooves and "good times" vibe in brilliant fashion, few songs show true talents of G Love & Special Sauce quite like one finds in the groups 2004 song, "Astronaut."
The mood for both the song and album are immediately put forth, as the fuzz-filled bassline that begins the song brings an almost hard-rock sound that had never been presented through the music of G Love & Special Sauce. This tone runs throughout the entire song, yet bassist Jimmy "Jazz" Prescott is able to make it funkier than almost anything else previously recorded. It is this deep groove that has largely defined the sound of the band over the years, and its presence on "Astronaut" almost forces the listener to bob their head along with the music. The other half of the rhythm section, drummer Jeff "Houseman" Clemens is absolutely on fire, as his brilliantly deploys his signature "aggressively-cool" sound that gives "Astronaut" a fantastic sting. Working the cymbals to their fullest, along with bringing some of the finest fills of his career, one can easily feel the sheer joy that the trio had whilst recording this track. Rounding out the sound on "Astronaut" is the guitar and harmonica from G Love himself. Seamlessly transitioning between rhythm and lead parts, the tone has a similar distortion to the bass, and this completes the superb sound on the song. With notes panning from side to side throughout the verses, the overall sense of movement found on the song is absolutely unparalleled, and it is aspects like this that makes the music of G Love & Special Sauce so wonderfully unique.
Matching the mood and sound of the instruments, G Love (AKA Garrett Dutton III) drops some of his most high-energy and exuberant vocals of his entire career. Bringing his trademark style of singing and rapping together, G Love seems to let all expectations fall to the side, and he works the entire vocal range, singing, rapping, and yelling across the track. This raw and unhindered vocal approach works perfectly for G Love, and the distortion on his vocals are equally intriguing, sounding as if he is singing through a vintage "Green Bullet" microphone. Throughout "Astronaut," G Love works a number of different vocal cadences, and the way in which he makes them all flow so perfectly with one another serves as a testament to how well he honed his skills over the years, as well as his unique arrangement talents. While all of these elements are far beyond his previous work, it is the lyrics on "Astronaut" that ties the song back to the bands' history, as G Love pens another song on his favorite subject: women. Seeming to speak of the frustration of being torn in a relationship, G Love captures a universal emotion when he rhymes, "... some of the days I love you despite all the shit you said..." Though many other artists have approached this idea, it is the blunt, honest way that it is characterized here that makes both G Love and "Astronaut" such a fantastic musical work.
Often times, a great musician only needs a small change to bring out the best they have to offer, and the fact that The Hustle was the first G Love & Special Sauce release on Jack Johnson's Brushfire Records cannot be overlooked. As a longtime friend of the band, he makes a few appearances on the record, and there is an "all bets are off" feel to the entire album. Taking their completely original sound and turning it up to a much louder, almost dirtier level, "Astronaut" kicks off the album in stunning fashion, and it is easy to see this song as the "marker" of the "new" stage in the career of the band. As the song moves into the final sections, one can feel the energy building to a point where it almost overflows, and it is this part of the song that attempts to mimic the vigor and spirit that the trio brings to their live shows. Yet even with this more upfront and powerful approach, it is still impossible to accurately classify the music of G Love & Special Sauce, as there is simply no other band in history that has brought a similar sound. Fusing together blues, jazz, funk, soul, punk, and folk into an extraordinary combination, it is their unending quest to constantly find new sounds that has earned them a dedicated following over the years. Bringing an enthusiasm usually reserved for young, "starting" bands, G Love & Special Sauce reinvented themselves with their phenomenal 2004 song, "Astronaut."