Ghalia – Mississippi Blend
Ruf Records – 2019
11 tracks; 43 minutes
Belgian singer/guitarist Ghalia is on something of an exploration of the American South. Her previous album Let The Demons Out was recorded in New Orleans and this time round she traveled to Mississippi to record at the Zebra Ranch studio with a team of names familiar to fans of the Mississippi Hill Country sound: Lightnin’ Malcolm and Smokehouse Brown are on guitar, Dean Zucchero is on bass and Cedric Burnside and Cody Dickinson share the drum seat; Watermelon Slim adds harp to five tracks. Ghalia handles all lead vocals and plays rhythm and slide guitar. Ghalia and Dean produced the album with Kevin Houston engineering and mastering. Ghalia wrote six of the songs and collaborated with Smokehouse and Dean on three others. The two covers are an old rock and roll tune and a traditional gospel tune.
The overall style of the music is very definitely Mississippi Hill Country with relentless guitar riffs and drums which at times make the lyrics hard to hear. It is not so much a question of accent but clarity of vocal presentation by Ghalia and the level of the vocals as compared with the music. Opener “Gypsy” is a good example as the twin guitars of Ghalia and Lightnin’ Malcolm hold an intense conversation over the drums and Ghalia tries to convey the lyrics over the top. Fortunately there is a full set of lyrics in the insert booklet, so you can discover that the song is about opting for the life of the road. Watermelon Slim adds keening harp to the slower-paced “Meet You Down The Road” which also has some good slide work by Smokehouse and Ghalia. “Squeeze” is a full-on rocker with Ghalia concentrating on the playful vocals as Malcolm and Smokehouse duel on guitars whereas “First Time I Died” is a dark song (as the title suggests) with only Smokehouse credited on guitar though there are clearly two guitars involved, both playing in heavy blues-rock mode. Slim’s harp picks up the frantic pace of “Lucky Number” and he stays on board for their take on “Wade In The Water” which is played at a slower rhythm with Malcolm on dobro and Slim and Ghalia sharing the vocals.
The jaunty pace of “Drag Me Down” belies another set of rather ‘down’ lyrics though Ghalia seems to be determined not to be brought down. “Shake & Repeat” starts out with a slide riff that recalls Elmore James before developing into an upbeat tune enhanced by Ghalia’s slide work with a tongue-in-cheek vocal coda involving Malcolm and Ghalia. “Release Me” lopes along over Ghalia’s slide riff and she gets more serious on “Why Don’t You Sell Your Children” which has some bitter lyrics about the state of the world today: “In this world where you gotta be number one, own a bible and a gun! Don’t wait on your Mom’s inheritance, just pop her once and enjoy the pre-eminence”. To close the album the band covers “I Thought I Told You Not To Tell Them”, a 1958 tune written by Mark Jackson and performed by Marie Knight but, whereas the original took Little Richard’s style of rocking piano with sax, Ghalia opts for the same rapid pace set by Malcolm and Smokehouse whose solo is pure rock and roll. A short track that explores a different style to the rest of the album.
Those who like the Mississippi Hill Country style or who have followed Ghalia’s progress to date should enjoy this album.