Try It...You Might Like It: GA-20 Does Hound Dog Taylor
Tribute albums take many forms. Often, they're a way for a less-known artist to capitalize on the work of a more successful one. Sometimes, it feels like they're a way for a more popular musician to big-time an important influence, making for a psychodramatic listening experience that feels like an outtake from In Treatment. And sometimes, as in the case of GA-20's Try It...You Might Like It: GA-20 Does Hound Dog Taylor, it's a way for a band to show their love.
The love is obvious on Try It... The band has meticulously re-created the songs and music of Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers, but brought out more of the HouseRockers, Taylor's band, in the mix. The beauty of the original recordings, and even Beware of the Dog, Taylor's wonderful live album, is a certain muddiness to the sound. Taylor's vocals and slide guitar are always front and center, but the supporting guitar of Brewer Phillips and the sublime and subtle drums of Ted Harvey (the trio didn't have a bass player) could become misplaced in the sonic overlap. The genius is there on the albums; listeners just have to dig a little bit to hear it.
But in celebrating the entire band, GA-20 has made what Phillips and Harvey did for Taylor explicit, with a crisp mix that brings out the rest of the band, and that also provides a little more sonic separation, making it easier to immediately understand who's doing what on each track.
You notice the difference on "Give Me Back My Wig," perhaps one of Taylor's most popular tracks. GA-20 is faithful to the original, but you can better hear Phillips' bass-via-guitar lines, here interpreted by guitarist/producer Matthew Stubbs. The song sounds the same, but the interplay is more accessible.
An album's mix points listeners to certain parts of a song, usually privileging vocals and lead guitar. Similarly, in hockey, viewers tend to follow the puck, the puck being the Canadian equivalent of a front-person and lead guitarist. But in both music and hockey, a lot happens away from the play. GA-20 uses a larger spotlight on the music, making it easier to hear the songs within songs that made Taylor and the HouseRockers so legendary.
Singer/guitarist Pat Faherty does an equally strong job re-creating Taylor's slide work, managing to capture its rawness authentically, without anything sounding rote or Xeroxed. The vocals are also solid, but Taylor's idiosyncratic delivery is impossible to capture. The stories of Taylor's live performances are legendary, often involving his muttering to himself on stage, telling jokes no one else could understand. Faherty has a soulful, blues voice, but Taylor had that, plus a chaos energy to his singing, that's impossible to replicate.
And ultimately, that inability to duplicate Hound Dog's work is what makes this a fitting tribute. You're left appreciating the original works, or Taylor's iconic takes on other's blues songs, like his version of Elmore James' "It Hurts Me Too," which GA-20 takes on here, too, a cover of a cover that, unlike a copy of a copy, doesn't degrade in quality. The album allows GA-20 to affix their own spin to the tunes, the band asserting their own voice in the small gaps between their versions of the songs and the HouseRockers'.