Ghalia Volt – One Woman Band
Ruf Records RUF 1288
11 songs – 42 minutes
Ghalia Volt has been going through interesting changes since arriving in the U.S. to follow her musical dream after busking on the streets of her native Brussels and establishing herself as a rocker. The longer she’s been here the closer she’s gotten to the root. And it’s hard to envision that she could get any closer that this CD, which finds her delivering her own amped-up take on modern Hill Country blues.
A diehard blues and R&B devotee despite a background in grunge, punk rock and more, she recorded one CD in Europe – Have You Seen My Woman – under her birth name, Ghalia Vauthier, with the band Voodoo Casino before traveling to Chicago, Memphis and Nashville about six years ago.
After soaking up as much of the local music scenes as she could, she finally settled in New Orleans, where she teamed with local favorites Johnny Mastro & the Mamas Boys for “Let the Demons Out,” her debut release on Germany’s Ruf label. Issued in 2017, that disc hit finished the year in the No. 23 spot on the Living Blues radio charts and showing off her powerful, delivering mix of blues and rock accented by her melismic and honeyed multi-octave voice.
Drawn to the Hill Country sound, the Belgian beauty enlisted Cody and Luther Dickinson to record her follow-up, Mississippi Blend, in 2019, a disc that included guest appearances from Watermelon Slim, Lightnin’ Malcolm and Cedric Burnside and clearly demonstrated through the originals she penned for the album that her love for North Mississippi music was no fluke.
This album — which was captured at Royal Sound Studios in Memphis – earns Volt the right to have a seat beside the late Jessie Mae Hemphill as one of the queens of the Hill Country sound. It’s recorded in one-woman band format, like the title infers, and captured in real time without the benefit of multi-tracking. A set of nine originals and two covers, Ghalia accompanies herself on guitar and percussion throughout aided only by guest appearances from guitarist Monster Mike Welch and bassist Dean Zucchero, who sit in on two cuts each.
“Last Minute Packer,” co-written with Zucchero, lopes out of the gate with Volt on slide before laying down a steady beat of triplets on the drums. Recorded at the height of the COVID-19 shutdown, it celebrates the pleasure she receives when forced to bag up her belongings before hitting the road for her next gig. Dean joins the action for the driving “Espiritu Papago,” which chugs like a locomotive as it describes sleeping on the ground and wandering around after her car breaks down.
The haunting “Can’t Escape” drones steadily forward as Ghalia yearns for a way to turn off the thoughts streaming in her head, a message that continues in “Evil Thoughts,” which has a hokum feel and is sweetened immeasurably by Monster Mike’s stellar work on the six-string throughout. The sounds darken once more with “Meet Me in My Dreams,” an unhurried ballad in which Volt aches for the return of a lover who’s dead and gone.
Up next, the stop-time slide pleaser “Reap What You Sew” comes complete with the feel of Lil’ Ed Williams or his uncle, J.B. Hutto, although Volt is far more understated but in complete control. One of the most interesting tunes in the set, the cautionary “Loving Me Is a Full Time Job” opens as a ballad but heats up quickly before Ghalia takes on Tampa Red’s familiar “It Hurts Me Too” as a slow blues.
“It Ain’t Bad” is another pleasant stop-time effort that sings praise of anything and everything that falls beyond trouble before Volt’s prodigious guitar skills are on full display for “Bad Apple,” a detailed description of a young man who’s nothing but trouble. The action closes with both Welch and Zucchero on board for an updated version of the Ike Turner & His Kings of Rhythm/Ralph Bass classic, “Just One More Time.”
You can’t go wrong with this One Woman Band! Ghalia Volt is the whole package as a vocalist, guitarist and tunesmith as well as drummer with a rock-steady, but flowing beat. It’s Hill Country with attitude!