Some albums stop you in your tracks. Like the smoky thump from a New Orleans juke-joint as you pass by on the sidewalk, Let The Demons Out is a rock ‘n’ roll siren call that pricks up your ears and puts you under its spell. And with Europe’s fastest-rising young vocalist and Louisiana’s hottest R&B crack-squad running the show, resistance is useless.
If you’ve not yet met Ghalia Vauthier, prepare to fall hard for an artist on the cusp of big things. Rewind to 2013 and Ghalia’s rise began with an apprenticeship busking on the streets of her native Brussels and double-duty in her two early bands, The Naphtalines and Voodoo Casino. “I always thought busking is the best schooling one could have,” she says. “You have only one second to catch people. It’s like a challenge – and I love challenges!”
Ghalia soon set herself the biggest one of all: America. With her passion for rocket-fuelled R&B drawing her to the motherland, the singer trekked the US cultural nerve-centres – from Chicago and Memphis to Nashville and Mississippi – winning fans and raising roofs at every stop. “The first time I went to the USA was like a musical pilgrimage to discover the places all my favourite songs talked about. The second time, things became real. I started singing where my heroes sang. I was strolling where they used to walk, buying booze maybe at their favourite liquor store, driving the same highways, watching sunsets in the same cotton fields. Then, from sitting in with local artists, I began to get my own shows.”
Every state heralded a new adventure, but perhaps most pivotal was Louisiana, where the seeds of Let The Demons Out were sown as Ghalia fell in with local legends Johnny Mastro & Mama’s Boys. The chemistry between these fast friends was undeniable, and it spilled over into New Orleans’ Music Shed Studio, as Ghalia drafted the lineup as her studio band. “The goal was to mix their attitude and experience with my songs and vocals,” she explains, “creating a symbiosis and letting the musical chemistry blossom.”
Working on impulse and trusting in their talent, this makeshift collective tore a page from the playbook of the blues originators, cutting live in the same room. “We think that this organic recording style brings more spontaneity and integrity to the music,” considers Ghalia. “Plus, it’s more fun and way more challenging.”
In an era of manufactured music, Let The Demons Out is as real as it gets. Mama’s Boys provide the engine-room on these twelve tracks, with sparks flying between Mastro’s gale-force harp, Smokehouse Brown’s stinger guitars, the grooving bass of Dean Zucchero and the visceral beats of Rob Lee. Leading the line, meanwhile, is Ghalia’s astonishing vocal, which somersaults from a honeyed purr to a hollered battlecry. “My lyrics come from stories I’ve experienced and the emotional reactions to them,” she says. “In the old days, they said blues is not only about lamentation but encouragement. That’s the way I see it, too. Another subject I find myself writing about is freedom – mine, yours, ours. Of course, there’s the subject of men. Can be about love, can be about sex, can be none of the above.”
These are songs that mark Ghalia out as a writer of dizzying potential. There’s the gunshot opener 4am Fried Chicken and the bone-shaking All The Good Things, with its fat beat and hedonist vocal (“All the good things, babe, they’re bad for you”). There’s the fuzz-faced swagger of Have You Seen My Woman and the unstoppable momentum of Hoodoo Evil Man. Press That Trigger fizzes with a frantic guitar solo, while the hoarse mouth-harp and thunderous beat of the title track recalls the Stones in their dazzling prime.
This multi-faceted band can also shift gears, as evidenced by the snake-charmer slow-burn of Addiction, or Hey Little Baby, which takes its sweet time, as Ghalia breathes a hypnotic vocal melody in your ear. Yet this party goes out with a bang on the closing Hiccup Boogie, with its shades of Canned Heat and a travelogue vocal that holds the listener rapt.
Look elsewhere for your background music. Let The Demons Out is an album that demands your undivided attention, and drags the blues genre into fresh relevance. “We’re not aiming to replicate traditional blues,” says Ghalia, “but rather to push the songwriting and playing to a point at which we discover something new and hopefully fresh, while still maintaining a blues vibe. Basically, we hope to strike a balance between the traditional and progressive. That’s what good art is about anyway…”