Album review: GHALIA VOLT – One Woman Band

Ghalia Volt - One Woman Band

Ruf Records [Release date 29.01.21]

‘One Woman Band’ is much more than it says on the tin. Ghalia Volt is a force of nature, who lets nothing stand in her way to fulfilling her musical vision.

You’ll either buy into her tour de force or you may be taken back by it. Either way, ‘One Woman Band’ is an aspirational roughhouse album that takes no prisoners, but finds enough room for lyrics that cross the life experience and imagination divide.

There may well come a time after the current pandemic, when we’ll look back and recognise certain significant albums and sessions recorded under lockdown which brought out something extra in an artist.

This is such an album. It may be that Belgium’s Ghalia Volt already had the lyrical acumen and musical ferocity, but the chances are that present day circumstances provided the fuse for her vibrant take on down-home blues.

Where Hound Dog Taylor found his source material and energy from the street corners, Ghalia Volt is a more modern day variant on the same thing. She attacks her music with a focused intensity, born of the machinations of being a one woman band (albeit bassist Dean Zucchero, and guitarist ‘Monster’ Mike Welch both make small cameo appearances).

It’s in the way she combines a fearless garage band approach with a total self belief that everything is possible, that she forges her own style.

Inspired by a train journey across the Southern States and drawing on personal experiences, this stripped down album is full of rough-edged grooves, boogie and blues.

It’s all stamped with her unique personality, frequently channelled through a vocal style that at times borders on exclamatory irony. She finds the perfect foil for her vocals with the hypnotic slide guitar boogie and ethereal sounds of ‘Espiritu Papago’ which frames a desert travelogue, bolstered by Patti Smith style stream of consciousness.

There’s a refreshing mix of a European sense of time and place, North Mississippi drone grooves and of course the deep blues traditions of Memphis’s Royal Sound Studio. And it’s all tempered by her own take on minimalist blues, filtered through her own cinematic lens.

Her exhilarating style is derived from a natural musical intensity, counter-weighted by lyrical introspection, while her restless vocal style never lets her settle in one groove for too long, as she ushers in imagery laden narratives

And if Ghalia Volt’s PR makes the most of her 7 year journey from being a Belgian busker to a high profile Billboard chart artist, on the evidence of this album she isn’t about the rest on her laurels.

‘One Woman Band’ is the ultimate plug in and play gig. She rips the hell out of her amp and enjoys seeing where it takes her.

Ultimately the album title is significant, as it excludes the blues tag, meaning that she’s may brush against the ghost of say Memphis Minnie,  Elmore James, Son House and the like, but she lets the music take her where it wants to go, giving the album its joie de vivre spirit.

Happily she has some engaging songs to match her irreverent approach, with the opening ‘Last Minute Packer’ evoking the hustle and bustle of the lyrical theme, as if we’re caught in a snapshot in the last minute whirl of touring.

‘Can’t Escape’ is heavier, being a flinty, drone driven raw piece full of buzz guitar, dirgy vocals and an awkward tempo change, before she returns to the opening North Mississippi feel.

There a real intensity at the core of her music, which carries the album through several ebbs and flows,

There’s the big sounding ‘Bad Apple’, which feels as if the whole album has flowed naturally to this point. Her up-in-the-mix slide has a slightly cleaner tone and dominates the track. As a result her vocal is mixed back so the full drone effect fills the track with an imposing “can do spirit”.

It’s also a good example of the album’s dichotomous nature, bedded in distorted guitar tones and poppy vocals, which mercifully embrace the various nuances of the song at hand.

‘Just One More Time’ is a nice book-end to the album and feels like a sister track to the equally laid back simplicity of ‘Evil Thoughts’, until an unexpected Link Wray style guitar break.

The key to this album lies in Ghalia’s ability to carry you along in her slipstream, even when we’re in the over familiar lyrical territory of ‘Loving Me Is A Full Time Job’, or the awkward cover of ‘It Hurts Me Too’, on which her vocal inflection is annoying and the slide tone very metallic.

No matter, she impresses enough with her own songs such as the dirgy riff driven ‘Meet Me In My Dreams’, which cleverly combines a hypnotic guitar track with spectral vocals.

But it’s not until near the three quarter mark of the album that she inadvertently delivers the album’s real mission statement, as she belts out the line: “It ain’t good, it ain’t bad, and if it ain’t Bad, that’s pretty good,”

In the context of this bulldozer album that translates into the blues artist’s creed, “close enough for the blues.”  ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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