G. Love & Special Sauce, 'Superhero Brother' ★★★
In his quest to find his place within hip-hop, Garrett Dutton III - G. Love - has alternated between solo crooning as an MC and playing with Special Sauce, the pals he started his career in music with.
G. uses his signature mix of rapier raps and drawling vocals to tell tales of babies having babies and other nice vibrations.
But while the solo efforts are gently countrified affairs, the Sauce (drummer Jeffrey Clemens, bassist Jimi Prescott) bring out the sass in Dutton. With its stumbling rhythms and honky-tonk piano, "Communication" could be a lost Stones track circa "Exile on Main St." The same goes for the playful "City Livin'," with its jabbering brass and needling guitars.
The Special Sauce cooks best as a combination of hastened hip-hop and dirty funk. So, it makes a muddy mess of "Wiggle Worm" and a soulful stew of "Peace, Love and Happiness," complete with chunks of conga in the tasty mix.
Special Sauce may have been together for 15-plus years and Dutton may be a 36-year-old dad, but their groove is as young as when they started.
The War on Drugs, 'Wagonwheel Blues' ★★★
It's a tricky thing, making music that bears the influence of Bob Dylan as much as "Wagonwheel Blues" does, while still sounding utterly fresh.
The War on Drugs, the Philadelphia band led by singer Adam Granduciel and guitarist Kurt Vile, succeeds so well because it marries mid-'60s Dylan folk-rock wordiness with the gauzy head rush of alt-rock benchmark bands like My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth. On the ringing, harmonica-saturated opener, "Arms Like Boulders," when Granduciel sings the enigmatic but not impenetrable lyrics "Your spine it is weak, from the weight on your shoulders, and from difference of opinion," he accents each line with an unforced familiar drawl that never is reduced to a sneering caricature.
It helps, too, when the gossamer instrumental "Reverse the Charges" provides a shimmering lead into the 10-minute "Show Me the Coast," a song that gathers momentum with an unhurried confidence, arguing that War On Drugs is likely to find whatever it is it's looking for.