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March/April 2021

Ally Venable
Heart Of Fire
Ruf Records

Ally Venable

Heart Of Fire is Ally Venable's fourth album to date, impressive when you consider that this young guitar prodigy from Houston is still only 21-years-old. I'd say that she's a star in the making, but based on what she's done so far in her career she's already at that star level. Venable's strength has always been her blues/rock guitar playing, but on this latest album, produced by Jim Gaines, her vocals also stand out as she shows off impressive range and power. You may be listening to this album for the impressive guitar work, but you'll also at times be overwhelmed by the voice.

There's no easing into the album, as the opening title cut starts with effect-laden blues/rock guitar chords leading into a catchy original blues, with Venable showing off both her guitar and vocal chops. The mood changes completely on "Played The Game," with Venable starting it with really nice slide work on dobro before her vocals soar through the octaves as she laments that she "... played the game and lost ..." Cody Dickinson's driving, thumping drum beat is effective here, and the dobro solos quickly become one of the highlights of this album.

One of the more unique songs on this album is the cover of the Bessie Smith classic, "Hateful Blues," which starts out with a one-minute snippet of the original version before Venable modernizes this song that was first recorded nearly 100 years ago. She doesn't try to be Bessie Smith but instead makes it her own, especially tossing in a wonderful slide guitar solo. "Hateful Blues" demonstrates Venable's strength as a performer while also paying tribute to one of the iconic pioneers of the blues.

Devon Allman shows up on "Road To Nowhere," one that he co-wrote with Venable. Allman lays down some very heavy guitar solos while also sharing vocals, but it's Venable's voice that puts the checkmark next to this song title. The next celebrity guest to show up is Kenny Wayne Shepherd, taking the lead guitar solos on a mesmerizing slow blues ballad, "Bring On The Pain."

The tempo and Venable's sass level go way up on the driving blues, "Do It In Heels," as she explicitly defines that she's going to do it her way. This one's got what may be her best blues guitar solo towards the back end of the song. Going in a different direction, both stylistically and in her attitude, is a very strong, funky cover of the Bill Withers classic, "Use Me." The polyrhythmic drumming of Elijah Owings helps to carry this one, and Venable's powerful vocals again make it her own.

It's no secret that Venable was significantly influenced by the guitar playing of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan (the cover of "Love Struck Baby" was one of the highlights of her previous album, Texas Honey). For many, the highlight of this album will be the instrumental "Tribute to SRV," a slow blues which incorporates many of Stevie Ray's recognizable guitar riffs. It goes on for nearly nine minutes but never gets boring or repetitive.

Closing the album is "What Do You Want From Me," which features plenty of funky effects on guitar behind Venable's forceful and soaring vocals, while echo behind the chorus lines make it sound like there are multiple Ally Venables forming a group of background singers. It's a strong ending to another stepping stone to stardom for Venable.

--- Bill Mitchell



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