As pictured on the cover of One Woman Band, songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Ghalia Volt radiates such a commanding presence that it's hard not to imagine the array of musical instruments displayed alongside her coming to life all on their own. In a very real sense, though, that's exactly what the Brussels Belgium-born blues-woman accomplishes on this third album of hers performing virtually all by herself.
Co-producing the record with Lawrence 'Boo' Mitchell within the hallowed confines of Royal Studios in Memphis, Volt allows spontaneity to rule. Having taught herself to play drums in the midst of the 2020 pandemic, she purposefully combines those skills with the experience honed in select live settingslike busking the streets of her hometownas well as two previous studio efforts, all of which she brings to bear on original songs specifically written for this album on a zig-zag, cross-country train trip, including"Just One More Time" and "Espiritu Papago" (with Dean Zucchero on bass).
The only-slightly camouflaged abandon that ripples through the opener titled "Last Minute Packer" is early evidence of Volt's spirit-of-the-moment concept for this record. Yet that impromptu, inspired feel permeates the whole of this deceptively ambitious project, in part because the artist never strays too far at all from elemental blues structures or sentiments. "Can't Escape," for instance, builds upon a straight chain-gang lament as she drums with relentless punctuation, then layers on fuzz effects to (some of) her electric guitars, all the while singing with an unmitigated glee.
In marked contrast, the seductive tone and phrasing of her singing on "Evil Thoughts" prompts the thought that she actually relishes the prospect of having hellhounds on her trail. Combined with the sinuous guitar lines from Monster Mike Welch, that readily-apparent purr in her voice might beg credibility if she did not wield it with such lascivious panache on tunes like "Reap What You Sow." Clearly, this is a woman not easily intimidated in any set of circumstances, further proof rooted in her rudimentary percussion style as it enlivens her genuinely roots-derived approach to composing on "Meet Me In My Dreams."
Volt may not innovate, but nevertheless performs a service to the blues genre that's arguably just as crucial, that is, she's demonstrating how to (re) invigorate the music by contemporizing it. Accordingly, it may be no coincidence that the most markedly memorable instances of such enlivenment come in the form of earthy personal expressions like "Loving Me Is A Full-Time Job." But it's also true she's not averse to forthrightly declaring her loyalty to the traditions of the form (not to mention her expertise with it), by including a bonafide standard like "It Hurts Me Too." Following that cut with the tongue-in-cheek likes of "It Ain't Bad," thereby acknowledging the humor intrinsic to the blues, is nothing less than ratification of, familiarity with, and allegiance to, its timeless appeal.
In that light, Volt's One Woman Bandnot only reaffirms the authenticity of approach in her previous long-player, Mississippi Blend (Ruf Records, 2019), she is honorably extending a longstanding heritage that includes Robert Johnson and Elmore James, the iconic likes of whom subsequently inspired musicians such as The Allman Brothers Band and the North Mississippi Allstars. On a more practical front, what she's achieved here in so inimitable a fashion constitutes an early candidate for 2021 'Best of...' lists.
Last Minute Packer; Espiritu Papago; Can't Escape; Evil Thoughts; Meet Me In My Dreams; Reap What You Sow; Loving Me Is A Full Time Job; It Hurts Me Too; It Ain't Bad; Bad Apple; Just One More Time.
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