[3 August 2008]
Garret Dutton (also known as G. Love) is unfortunately known as the guy who introduced us to Jack Johnson. He had a minor MTV hit with the single “Cold Beverage” back in 1994; hit his creative peak with Coast to Coast Motel (1995); and eventually dropped the Sauce to go solo and make Lemonade (2006). For a guy who is much cooler than Jack Johnson, funkier than Ben Harper, and better-looking than Jason Mraz, it is odd to see him stand in the shadows of the giants he helped create.
The lanky, high-top-wearing, Philadelphian is known for his sloppy blues style, his faux-hip-hop lyrics, and lazy harmonica. He collaborated with Jack Johnson on the song “Rodeo Clowns” back when Johnson was just some dude who made surfer videos. The appearance lead to the success of Johnson’s debut Brushfire Fairytales, while G. Love struggled for an identity and another buzz-worthy radio hit.
As Dutton dropped The Sauce to go solo, and into relative obscurity, “Cold Beverage” was revitalized as a beer commercial and Dutton made Lemonade, his closest attempt to recapture the laid-back blues on Coast to Coast, this time with a venerable cast of characters as guests (Marc Broussard, Donavon Frankenreiter, Ben Harper). Songs like “Can’t Go Back to Jersey” and “Still Hangin’ Around” showed G. Love returning to his brotherly roots and Lemonade did a proper job of displaying G. Love’s depth and talent; taking forays into hip-hip, blues, and straight-up folk.
So if Lemonade was one step forward to revitalizing Dutton’s career, Superhero Brother may be two steps back. The album, though peppered with moments of sincerity, is plagued by bouts of feel-good nonsense (“Peace, Love, Happiness”), pandering stoner garbage, (“Who’s Got the Weed”), and hokey ballads complete with sappy lovesick lyrics (“Crumble”). This crap might fly with the Mountain Jam crowd, but if G. Love wants to create a lasting impression on anyone else he needs to drop the sauce, and the bong, quickly.
On Superhero Brothers the inclusion of the Special Sauce mostly gives the songs a glaze of unneeded noise. There’s a bland horn section poorly added to the mix, bongos for the sake of bongos, pretentious lead guitar, gospel-y backing vox, and piano which mimics Dutton’s guitar line a bit too closely. Even on “Peace, Love, Happiness” when G. Love goes to his harmonica (usually a good thing) it dampens the rhythm section like house dressing on a bad Wendy’s salad. “Wiggle Worm” has a decent driving bass line, but here again the rough edges are rounded out with too many accoutrements (a steel drum, really?). “Wiggle Worm” even features a bridge where Dutton calls for “Peace in the Middle East” – yeah, he actually goes there.
The title track, “Superhero Brother”, is a pretty humorous lampoon on the whole tree-hugging musician crowd. Calling out a laundry list of world issues Dutton pleads for us to save “the whales and the pygmy marmosets too”. As the “Superhero Brother”, G. Love is a musician who can single-handedly rescue the universe. I really hope someone gets this song to Sheryl Crow. The track, which sits at the very end of the disc, is the only tune that Dutton tackles completely alone and ironically is probably the best on the album. The album’s other saving grace is “Georgia Brown” where all the pianos, lead guitars, and backing vocals work together to create a funky front-porch vibe.
Long before Wikipedia—when I owned the cassette tape version of G. Love’s self-titled debut—I was unaware of G. Love’s past as Garrett Dutton III, the privately-schooled son of a wealthy lawyer. And I would hate to hold these circumstances against him. But Superhero Brother gives the impression that G. Love is deeply embedded in his comfort zone – probably not a good thing for a white guy trying to recapture the sloppy blues of his glory days.