Ghalia Volt honed her skills busking on the streets of her native Brussels, singing and playing guitar, while a foot tambourine marked the beat. Growing up, she was influenced by garage rock and punk music, then came to blues though Skip James and J.B. Lenoir. Now, on the heels of two acclaimed albums — Let the Demons Out and Mississippi Blend — where she was supported by other musicians, she’s back with a twist. In her new release, One Woman Band, Volt returns to her original format and decisively demonstrates that she won’t be silenced by the limitations of the pandemic.

She’s become a solo act once more, adding a snare, bass drum and hi-hat to her rhythmic tools. Despite the obvious physical limitations of drumming while simultaneously playing guitar and singing, Volt is undaunted and serves up her basic beat without restraint. Her guitar work is a combination of exquisite slide and droning distortion, the latter alluding to her punk influences. And her vocals are sumptuous.
When contemplating this project, she embarked on a one-month train adventure through the U.S., working on her songwriting as images of Americana flashed by her window. Volt wrote all but two of the eleven songs on this album. Recorded live in the studio, the CD retains the immediacy and imperfections inherent in this approach, with the emphasis on authenticity rather than refinement.

In “Last Minute Packer,” one anticipates her train rattling over the tracks in this playful number, propelled by guitar distortion above an urgent, slightly-ahead-of-the-beat rhythm. As we jump onboard, though, it’s her lustrous voice that makes the trip so memorable. Her travels through Arizona inspired Volt to write her favourite song on the album, “Espìritu Papàgo,” about being stranded in the desert and appealing to a native American spirit for rescue. Her slide guitar and vocals are stellar in this atmospheric boogie, underpinned with Dean Zucchero guesting on bass. “Imagine John Lee Hooker on mushrooms, lost in the desert of Arizona on a hot summer day,” she says. “That’s the vibe of that song.”

Bringing to mind Volt’s month on the rails, her driving rhythm, through tempo changes, is forefront in “Can’t Escape.” Guitarist Monster Mike Welch adds his tasteful licks to Volt’s delectable “Evil Thoughts,” an irresistible toe-tapper that’s a showcase for her superb vocals. “Meet Me in My Dreams” has her voice soaring over a primitive, bashing beat and her chunky guitar. Her seductive vocals sizzle atop fuzzed-up blues riffs in “Reap What You Sow.” “Loving Me Is a Full Time Job” begins as a slow, stomping blues, then Volt ramps up the rhythm with ricocheting drums.

Volt’s cover of “It Hurts Me Too” is magic in its simplicity — just her steamy voice and voluptuous slide. She lightens up with the rockin’ “It Ain’t Bad,” then picks up a cigar-box guitar to slide through “Bad Apple.” The CD closes with Ike Turner’s buoyant “Just One More Time,” grounded by Volt’s guitar and percussion, and enhanced with Mike Welsh’s fifties-style guitar phrases and solo.

One Woman Band is an album rooted in blues, yet tinged with later influences. This raw and rowdy experiment lays bare the formidable talent of Ghalia Volt. It’s a gutsy gamble, one that richly rewards. (Sandra B. Tooze)