(4 / 5)
A new name on the blues-rock scene; Ghalia Vauthier. Belgian singer-songwriter fronting a band from Louisiana on some raunchy, rockin’ blues that sprinkles a heavy helping of spice into the gumbo.
The emerging blues and rock and roll singer-songwriter and guitarist from Brussels splits her time these days between her native country and New Orleans.
For the last six years Ghalia has steadily built a loyal following as a solo artist and as band leader of two home grown acts, “Ghalia & The Naphtalines”, a high energy boogie, rhythm’n’blues band and her (all-original) project “Voodoo Casino”, with whom she recorded her first album in 2016.
In 2013 she gave in to the pull of America to busk and gig around the States, and she sat in with some serious musicians. Chicago, St Louis, Memphis, Nashville, the back-roads of Mississippi and the bayous of Louisiana
“Adopted” by the artists, musicians and music fans of Clarksdale, MS, she has been invited to perform at the town’s three music festivals for three years running. In the Spring of 2016, in New Orleans, Ghalia caught the ear of the internationally acclaimed harmonica band Johnny Mastro & Mama’s Boys.
After fronting that band, there was instant chemistry which was too good to ignore, so she and the boys hot-footed it into a local recording studio to lay down some tracks and see what happened.
German blues label Ruf Records got to hear the demo tracks and whisked out a recording contract for Ghalia to ink. She and the band then went into a top studio in New Orleans to cut this new record, only her second release, but the first with this superb band behind her.
Ghalia and the band have played across Europe and New Orleans, to great acclaim. She is in safe hands with these guys: in their own right they have made 10 records, played more than 4000 shows, 100+ festivals, 30+ European tours and appeared on national radio recordings in the UK (BBC), Belgium and Germany.
A dozen cuts here, eight penned by Ghalia, two co-writes and two covers. She says her lyrics come from her own experiences and the emotional reaction to them. She taps in to the age old blues foundation of “lamentation but encouragement”, plus freedom: “mine, yours, ours”. Men feature prominently in her songs, too. “Can be about love, can be about sex, can be none of the above…”
So she clearly places a great deal of importance on her lyrics and the topics she writes about. A huge shame then, when I listen to a record full of sass, spirit and groove, but find it really tough to decipher the words on a good few of the cuts here, in the way she delivers the material.
She’s got a trademark squeal, a rockabilly vibe, a contrast to her hoarse vocal delivery, but for me, she does that cheeky squeal far too much across the record and it becomes a wee bit irritating.
Johnny Mastro’s harmonica is spot on, Smokehouse Brown’s guitar skills are top end (and remind me of the great Grady Martin), bassman Dean Zucchero and drummer Rob Lee nail the grooves. Johnny, Mr Brown and Dean contribute backing vocals too, and Rob adds percussion to his duties.
The overall sound here nods heavily to Chicago blues and the kind of rocking-the-house, Saturday night bash at any juke joint where the beer, blues and boogie flows, the place is rammed and everyone has a great time. But if you remember any of it in the morning, that’s a bonus!
The record kicks off with a decent tune called “4am Fried Chicken”, which she previously cut with her band Voodoo Casino. Then the title cut. When in New Orleans, it’s a must to make a track based on voodoo. “Hoodoo Evil Man” is a very nice blues track. The slide guitar and harmonica create a cool vibe on the slowie, “Addiction”.
This one’s a co-write with Paul Niehais, “All The Good Things”, before a cover of “I’m Shaking”, a track first cut by the great Little Willie John in 1960 and 1963 as B-sides on the King label. “Waiting” is written by Johnny Mastro and Lisa Mastrogiovanni: where he and Ghalia share the lead vocals. The record closes on a fun note, with “Hiccup Boogie”, written by Ghalia and the band.
Ghalia has an innate and swaggering rockabilly attitude and style, channelling the likes of Wanda Jackson, Brenda Lee, Sparkle Moore, Lorrie Collins and Kim Lenz. That electric spark from her vocal combined with the stomping blues and R&B from this formidable band, works well.
For me; just the diction that needs attention for next time please, and a producer who sets a limit on the squeal ratio! But as this is only her second album, there’s huge potential for future success on the global blues circuit.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’