We're only a week away from the release of G Love’s latest release, Fixin’ to Die (February 22, 2011), and after getting an exclusive listen I’m pleased with the results. We were all given a taste of the album with the release of the title track back in December to find Garrett going back to his roots with a very bluesy sound, heavy harmonica and a rhythm bound to get you clapping. "Fixin' to Die" gave me the first positive impression of this new compilation with the anticipation of the rest of songs I excitedly went to listen. I'm not completely sold on my first dissection, but eager for an extended observation of the album, when I can put it on repeat.
Scott and Seth Avett of The Avett Brothers produced Fixin’ to Die recorded at Echo Mountain Studios, nestled in the eclectic music town of Asheville, North Carolina in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the converted church seems like an appropriate place to record. The Avetts are frequently in Asheville, a city known for the roots and bluegrass, and you definitely feel the folk-rock mountain music influence throughout the entire album. The Avetts even offer up some vocals on "You've Got to Die", layered with G's distinct eccentric delivery it makes a unique pairing that most people wouldn't have thought to combine. Surprisingly they complement each other well introducing a fresh and interesting sound.
The disc begins with "Milk and Sugar", sounding vaguely similar to "Cold Beverage" off his '94 effort, G Love and The Special Sauce, yet it sets the tone for the entire disc as you're launched into a journey scarcely reminiscent of the Philly basketball-loving, hip-hop rhyming G Love. The leading track eases you into the country, bluegrass, folk-fused collection of Fixin' to Die. "The Road" quickly drew me in. This number immediately sends the "G Love" energy that made us love Garrett in the first place, but with a strong Avett hold on some classic sounding harmonies, precipitating hints of 70s classic rock. It sounds as if G might be in some unfamiliar territory when his voice strains in some parts, yet he doesn't let us down, handing over a powerful track… casting the image of his life on tour.
Several sweet-tempered love songs grace the album: "Katie Miss", "Heaven" and a surprising Paul Simon cover, "50 Ways to Lose Your Lover". As a Simon fan and a huge lover of the song, it was a bit disappointing as it lacked the energy that you feel in the original version when it hits the chorus. The up-driving excitement normally found in the refrain ("Get out the back Jack, make a new plan Stan, you don't have to be coy Roy") is blurred in G's version. When released in 1975, that hook with the familiar military drum beat immediately pulled you in, along with the humorous advice from a mistress to an unhappy husband, lending dark amusement to the song. Yet as G's cover begins it was barely recognizable until the vocals came in, which were smooth and easy, with more of a country/bluegrass feel that made me envision wild dancing hippies, rather than a humorous release from a forlorn relationship. A decent rendition and fitting for the album, yet is misses the mark on the intensity of the original.
Lonesome traveling songs are weaved throughout Fixin' to Die, creating somewhat of a theme around life on the road in the album. A more pop'n tune along this theme, "Get Goin", sneaks in the familiar G Love - forcing your body to sway, while sticking to that folk sound. He verges on some hip-hop for a moment, yet instead allows the piano to carry the song in the customary blues fashion. Tucked in the album a standout song, "Pale Blue Eyes", and the only one that left me wondering about the meaning… a possible missed opportunity or regret? "Pale Blue Eyes" was soft, sad, with a despairing fiddle to haunt the lyrics. I'm eager for another listen. Even songs about his grandmother who passed away, his dog who passed away, and the birth of his son add layers to the classic old-school, story-telling blues in which people can relate. In "Ma Mere" he strips down to an uncomplicated song recalling the advice and guidance of a lost family member, while revealing an even dulcet side - sweet, simple and grateful.
Overall, Fixin' to Die is a solid new album from G Love. Looking back upon his musical career it's nice to see G venture away from "Booty Call" songs, and explore his roots with a more mature approach, which we've been seeing here and there throughSuperhero Brother and songs like "Peace, Love, Happiness", yet it was followed with "Who's Got the Weed"; not exactly the most cultivated attitude. Don't get me wrong "Baby Got Sauce" is my jam, but Fixin' to Die is an obvious step in the new direction for Garret Dutton, and I'm voraciously waiting for another chance to give it a spin.