Ghalia & Mama’s Boys are, to all intents and purposes, the New Orleans band Johnny Mastro & Mama’s Boys acting as the studio band for Belgian singer/guitarist/songwriter Ghalia Vauthier. The resulting CD, Let The Demons Out is released on the 20th October 2017. It’s a 21st-century take on the sort of butt-kicking R&B that pushed me towards my first electric guitar in the early 1970s. And very good it is, too, though the sound here is probably more Chicago than New Orleans. The rest of the line-up consists of Johnny Mastro (a.k.a. Mastrogiovanni) on vocals and harmonica, Smokehouse Brown on guitar and backing vocals, Dean Zucchero on bass and backing vocals, and Rob Lee on drums and percussion. Songs are by Ghalia unless otherwise indicated.
- ‘4AM Fried Chicken’ is probably not about KFC. He said, blushing slightly. Nice medium-paced rocker that wanders in and out of a 12-bar format.
- ‘Let The Demons Out’ is slower, and bears little resemblance to the Edgar Broughton Band, still less the Fugs, though the lyric shares an obsession with the expelling of demons out. Rather good: I’m not surprised they made it the title track.
- ‘Press That Trigger’ is another raunchy lyric with several metaphors to add to Robert Johnson’s lemon squeezing and Bessie Smith’s sugar in the bowl. Though this probably isn’t what Sondheim had in mind when he wrote that line about “got a rocket in your pocket“
- ‘Have You Seen My Woman’ relates the predicament of a free-spirited woman and a possessive man over a suitably repetitive riff.
- ‘Hoodoo Evil Man’ – well, I suppose you can’t record blues in New Orleans without some sort of reference to Louisiana Voodoo.
- ‘Addiction’ takes the pace way down in a slow-burning song about romantic obsession, with tasteful, atmospheric harmonica and slide guitar. My favourite track at the moment.
- ‘All The Good Things’ was written by Ghalia Vauthier and Paul Niehaus. The arrangement reminds me a little of John Lee Hooker, which is never a bad thing. I love the way the vocal is tracked by the harmonica in the playout.
- ‘I’m Shaking’ is a very effective cover of the Rudy Toombs number first recorded by Little Willie John in the early 1960s.
- ‘Waiting’ is a medium-paced 12-bar written by Johnny and Lisa Mastrogiovanni: the vocals are shared here between Johnny and Ghalia, and framed by some tasty slide. Good harmonica break, too.
- ‘See That Man Alone’ retains a blues feel, but over an interesting descending chord sequence.
- In ‘Hey Little Baby’ the minimalist lyric is augmented by heavy drums and fuzzy slide.
- ‘Hiccup Boogie’ is a quirky topic and lyric – words by Ghalia, music by the whole band, though it’s hard not to hear Canned Heat in that underlying riff (and it’s actually spoken most of the way through). What’s more, “I got the hiccup boogie” reminds me irresistibly of Spike Milligan and “I’ve got those rheumatism blues“, while the call-and-response section of the playout almost recalls the swing era. Still, it’s great fun and well-played.
So, is it folk? Well, not really, but then many of the CDs that reach me for these reviews would fail to meet a purist definition of folk. Though it’s certainly in the blues idiom, it isn’t ‘authentic’ (or meant to be): it does, though, suggest the tight ensemble work of many 1960s R&B bands, with carefully-considered harmonica and guitar solos ornamenting the song and the singer, rather than the song being a launching point for extended solos. Not that Ghalia’s powerful and versatile vocal work would be easily overshadowed, and while her accent sometimes makes some words hard to follow, the lyric sheet makes up for that. (And the lyrics fit the idiom very well.) In fact, there’s something slightly English about the harmonica here (think Paul Jones or John Mayall), but Ghalia’s songs are already well beyond the cover versions of early English R&B, and I look forward to hearing how her writing develops in the future.