If you haven’t read the article on Ghalia Volt in this issue—go ahead, we’ll wait—you might not know just how impressive her story is. Born in Brussels, she discovered and nurtured her love for the blues practically all alone, eventually journeying to America to study it first-hand. She’s already been to Memphis, Chicago, New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta looking for the perfect bluesy groove, but she may have found it with her second album, which is dedicated to the Mississippi Hill Country strain of the art form, mostly found north of Oxford and which she’ll formally be debuting live at Chickie Wah Wah on November 2.
It would be tempting to call this her Fat Possum record, but it wouldn’t exactly be accurate. Although her version of the blues has always been electric and filtered through her rock and punk roots, the approach here is purely organic, with no remixes or outside “modern” influences, just a kinetic propulsion generated by the venerable Cedric Burnside and Cody Dickinson alternating on drums, topped off by Ghalia’s ability to move from an indie rasp to a keening howl in the space of a single phrase (not to mention her proficiency on both slide and dobro).
Unlike a lot of female blues singers, Ghalia doesn’t push too hard at being sassy or sultry, even as she works the genre’s most basic concerns from sex (“Squeeze”), to death (“Meet You Down the Road”), to loneliness (“First Time I Died”). Like her hero J.B. Lenoir, she gets political on “Why Don’t You Sell Your Children?” which starts as a boiling Canned Heat boogie before springing into a raveup whenever the truth gets too real (“Turning black honey / into gold money”).
Meanwhile, Cedric’s grooves stick so close to the martial fife-and-drum bedrock of Hill Country that Volt’s rebellious energy provides a whole new way forward for the music. In fact, Ghalia’s secret weapon may be her love of pure rockabilly: Cody’s double-time pushes her into a kind of frothy, early-Elvis joy on “Squeeze” and Marie Kinghr’s 1958 semi-obscurity “I Thought I Told You Not to Tell Them.” And if you’re still skeptical, there’s a take on “Wade in the Water,” done as a duet with Watermelon Slim, which arrives with enough Old Testament gravitas to make it sound like the blues set Johnny Cash and Hope Sandoval never attempted. Ghalia may have taught herself the blues, but there’s no reason to believe it’ll pin her down.