GA-20 Does Hound Dog Taylor: Try It…You Might Like It
4 out of 5 stars
“When I die they’ll say, ‘he couldn’t play shit, but he sure made it sound good!’,” proudly proclaimed legendary Chicago blues rocker Hound Dog Taylor. It remains the truest and most humorously self-deprecating quote from any bluesman.
While the guys in the Boston-based three-piece GA-20 might be more talented than Taylor as musicians, there is no doubt that statement hit home as they recorded this roaring ten-track set of his tunes during the pandemic.
Hound Dog (born Theodore Roosevelt Taylor) was the reason Alligator Records founder Bruce Iglauer got into the music business. The guitarist’s 1971 debut, appropriately titled Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers, became the first release on his then-fledgling label. Fifty years later, Hound Dog is long gone (passed in 1975) but Alligator has thrived, established as the preeminent indie imprint in the genre. Certainly, their early tagline of “Genuine Houserocking Music” was a direct tribute to Taylor’s often primitive rollicking sound and band name.
It comes as little surprise that this heartfelt homage to the man would appear as a joint venture between Alligator and Colemine, the latter a more recent entry into the organic, somewhat retro, blues and soul field.
Taylor and/or Alligator fans may remember the label’s 1998 multi-artist compilation featuring high profile acts such as George Thorogood, Ronnie Earl, Elvin Bishop, Gov’t Mule, and others tackling his relatively small but influential catalog. The roots/blues-loving guys in GA-20, baptized after a vintage amp, have now gone one better by recording an entire album of Taylor’s songs, all tracked live in the studio in three days.
It’s a natural fit for the trio since, like Taylor’s crew, GA-20 consists of just two guitarists (Matthew Stubbs and Pat Faherty, the latter sings and plays the slide parts) and a drummer (Tim Carman). Without a bassist, that stripped-down lineup keeps the aural attack almost as lean and mean (Stubbs accurately calls it “raw and visceral”) as that of the man who influenced them. These titles, all played on vintage equipment, range from the swamp-infested shuffle “Sadie,” where Faherty’s meaty slide lines create sizzling heat, to the double time propulsive boogie “Give Me Back My Wig,” arguably Taylor’s most popular performance.
The pulsating groove eases for a grinding cover of “It Hurts Me Too,” an Elmore James song Taylor would often play live, and the somewhat more reserved slow blues of “Sitting at Home Alone.” But that’s about the only eight minutes that don’t fill the dance floor with sweat-soaked, rough and tumble, relentless blues. Most have lyrics so secondary that on the disc’s two instrumentals (“Make It Funky” and “Hawaiian Boogie”), no one will miss Faherty’s tough, insistent vocals, especially when he wails with his greasy slide lines. Matthew Stubbs works more of a supporting role, filling the low end with bass plucked on a six-string. But the trio’s combined playing locks in for maximum intensity rocking.
It’s a non-stop party highlighting not just Taylor’s music but GA-20’s powerful approach. Don’t believe the disc’s tentative title though; they should have gone with the more decisive Try It, You Will Like It.