By Ellie Rogers
Boston-based revivalist blues trio, GA-20 are poised to release Crackdown on September 9 via Colmine Records. They first turned heads back in 2019 with the release of their debut LP Lonely Soul, which featured guest appearances from blues harp legend Charlie Musselwhite and North Mississippi Allstars’ Luther Dickinson. Next, they flew the flag for the traditional Chicago sound with 2021’s Try It…You Might Like It: GA-20 Does Hound Dog Taylorin which they paid homage to the polydactyl bluesman with a full album of reverential yet rowdy cover versions.
Now, Pat Faherty (guitar and vocals), Matthew Stubbs (guitar) and Tim Carman (drums) are poised to return with Crackdown – the first LP that captures the three amigos under the full force of their own creative steam, and positions them as a true blues alliance to be reckoned with. This time around, there are no special guests, and only one cover song – a rendition of Lloyd Price’s late ’50s R&B hit, ‘Just Because.’ The rest of the collection consists of nine superb shabby chic, vintage-inspired originals, and for those who’ve been following the trio from the start, Crackdown is sure to be the record you’ve been waiting for.
Cut live at the storied Q Division Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, and produced by Stubbs, Crackdown was recorded using vintage recording techniques, vintage guitars and vintage amps to help give it – yep, you guessed it – an authentic, vintage sound. Far more than being a fleeting aesthetic fancy, it’s a way of life for the GA-20 boys.
Inspired by the likes of Junior Wells, Otis Rush, JB Lenoir, Howlin’ Wolf, and Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Faherty and Stubbs are true connoisseurs of the late ’50s and early ’60s Blues, R&B, and Rock & Roll, and it’s this that originally brought them together. For the guitar nerds out there, the band even takes its name from a slightly obscure Gibson amplifier that was manufactured in the 1950s (the identically monikered ‘GA-20’), so that should give you an idea of the depth and intensity of expertise these guys have in the old-school sonics department. It colors everything you’ll hear on the new record.
Album opener, ‘Fairweather Friend,’ oozes retro cool, and is propelled along by jaunty fuzz-laden guitars and a driving backbeat from Carman. The band’s two guitar dynamic is so expertly divvied up that you’ll barely notice the lack of bassist as one player handles the low end, while the other adds top end flourishes and staccato stabs. The melodic “Oohing” refrains are built for singing along, while the gritty verse vocals have all the busted fidelity of a payphone calling long distance on a stormy night.
‘Dry Run’ offers a change in pace with its nostalgic R&B groove and forlorn tale of rejection. For its tenderness, it’s a stand-out vocal performance from Faherty. The accompanying tremolo guitars step outside the palette of rugged Chicago Blues that characterised the band’s earlier records, and offer a nod towards early surf pioneers like Dick Dale or even The Ventures.
Lead single ‘Easy On The Eyes’ is just as easy on the ears with its leisurely swaggering groove that conjures a dark and sweaty underground joint late at night. The story goes that the song was born out of a drunken jam, following a gig in Atlanta where the band’s focus had been stolen by a particularly eye-catching female fan, who has now been immortalized in song.
Title track ‘Crackdown’ is the only all-instrumental track on the collection and it serves to further the ‘live’ feeling of the record with lots of over-dubbed barroom chatter. It also gives Tim Carman the opportunity to stretch out and showcase his remarkable rhythmic chops. Fittingly, the snare sound on this one has a particularly piercing crack. An improvised, wah-drenched guitar solo from Stubbs is the cherry on this psychedelic cake, as the band seemingly tip their hats toward legendary blues rock power trios of the past like Cream or The Jimi Hendrix Experience – who were, of course, renowned for their virtuosic instrumental interludes.
A Crackdown The highlight comes in the form of the hip shaking, ‘By My Lonesome’. Racing in at just a little over two minutes, the song gives a modern blues-punk spin to a classic Little Richard-style rock n’ roll twist. The fast-paced, high-energy number transports the listener directly to a time where would-be romances were won or lost on a linoleum dance floor – just, perhaps, with added pogoing and punk rock energy. Similarly, ‘Double Gettin’ is a rowdy and fun number, with thumping toms, surfy guitars and a tongue twister refrain from Faherty.
Elsewhere, ‘I Let Someone In’ serves up some extra tasty traditional blues with some particularly fierce vibrato-laden lead guitar playing from Stubbs. Likewise, ‘Gone For Good’ packs plenty of Freddie-meets-BB. King licks over a slow burning traditional blues chord progression, while Faherty pours his heart out in the vocals department.
Crackdown burns to a close right back where it started, with an acoustic reprisal of ‘Fairweather Friend’ which, this time, strikes a tone somewhere between elegy and threat. What were the catchy singalong ‘Oohs,’ have become almost ghostly on this farewell number. It’s a nice bookending touch, and serves to remind the listener that the collection of songs has been constructed to be listened to in one go—which isn’t a big ask, considering its sub-thirty minute length.
From beginning to end, the GA-20 boys share their love of all things vintage on their impressive third LP. Catchy hooks collide with retro aesthetics in a recipe that feels similar to that which catapulted The Black Keys out of garage obscurity and into GRAMMY award-winning levels of stardom in the mid-2000s.
With a broader palette of sonic influences on display than their previous albums, Crackdown has all the life and soul to simultaneously transport the listener back to the sepia-tinted ’50s, while also bringing the bygone era bursting into the 21st century in full technicolour. It’s largely thanks to the band’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the genres, artists and vintage instruments that have inspired them, but – more than anything – the appeal of this record boils down to the trio’s flair for writing and playing tight, propulsive rock n’ roll music . To paraphrase the subtitle from their previous release: try it, you just might like it.
Crackdown pre-order link Here
Listen “I Let Someone In”