Album review: ALLY VENABLE – Texas Honey

Ally Venable - Texas Honey

Ruf Records [Release date 22.03.19]

Ruf Records has long established its niche in the contemporary blues market with a roster of up and coming talent that reflects the best of the global blues scene.

From Aynsley Lister, Ian Parker, Erja Lyytinen, Vanja Sky, Oli Brown and Samantha Fish to Joanne Shaw Taylor, Laurence Jones, Ina Forsman, Eliana Cargnelutti and Christina Pejak etc, the label has poured all it’s resources into new artists and taken them to the next level.

Like many of her label predecessors, Ally Venable is touring with the Blues Caravan to help market her music, but unlike some of her predecessors the Texas guitar slinger is already being tipped by her producer Mike Zito as: “the future of the blues and the crossover music of American roots-rock.”

But before anyone gets too carried away, they should read the small print, as she is indeed potentially the future, but still has some work to do.

On the evidence of ‘Texas Honey’, she’s already learnt her basic craft, which is the art of storytelling within a rock/blues song. She also frequently delivers a telling solo as part her own unique style, which is gritty but melodic rocking Texas blues that veers towards the middle ground.

In short ‘Texas Honey’ is an album where you can hear her going through the gears, while heading for the fast lane.

The double East Texas music award winner revels in a power trio setting with the dependable rhythm section of bassist Bobby Wallace and drummer Elija Owings, with Lewis Stephens adding keyboards. But it’s when she digs in with special guest Eric Gales on ‘Come And Take It’ that you can hear both the best of her ability, but also the fact she has a way to go.

The slide-led piece is full of unwitting contrast, from her scratchy voice set against Gales’ warm timbre, to the different guitar tones which reflect the chasm between a lifetime of playing the blues and the new kid on the block.

The guitars impressively lock into a harmony part over a military shuffle which finally levers us into guitar break, as Gales breaks the tension with an almighty shred, and in the distance you can hear Ally on the fade.

Mike Zito’s slide also acts a welcome foil on ‘One Sided Misunderstanding’, as he effectively brings an extra layer to a song on which her upper register vocal on the hook works well alongside neatly interwoven guitars.

She opens with ‘Nowhere To Hide’, with a little echo on her voice to give it more punch, over a slide guitar riff leading to a catchy hook. The track builds into a crunchy solo which announces her fretboard ability at the outset.

‘Broken’ is a good example of her succinct writing ability which draws the listener into both the narrative and lashings of guitar. The opening avalanche of guitars on the title track sounds like Skynyrd meets ZZ Top. She struggles to bring the requisite heft to her vocal, but cleverly adds a pre-hook pregnant pause, before filling the track with brusque guitar work leading back into the hook.

This track alone defines where she is at the moment, an artist teetering on the brink of something new and exciting, but not quite there yet.

‘Blind To Bad Love’ is more of an interesting challenge. Built on a North Mississippi hill country blues style sludgy beat, it demands more of her vocal than she can deliver. Yet it’s well paced enough for her not to oversing, while the brooding bv’s provide a stark contrast to her high register timbre to cleverly evoke the title of the song.

She’s back to her rocking best on ‘White Flag’ which features  a sinuous wiry solo at the heart of the song, while a gentle hypnotic guitar riff ushers in ‘Long Way Home’,  a more relaxed outing that in a live setting could be become a mighty groove.

‘Texas Honey’ is a gentle beguiling album with steely licks and a fragile voice that at times leaves you wondering whether she’s going to deliver, but the fact that she does so – and at times ebulliently – gives the album its sense of triumph.

As the production work kicks in, the lattice of guitar lines wrap themselves round her vocal, as illustrated by the slide work on ‘Running After You’, a song with a sing-along hook.

Her nifty guitar playing on SRV’s ‘Love Struck Baby’ and her undulating solo on WC Handy’s ‘Careless Love’ act as a counterbalance to her light vocals on both.

No matter, it’s the fervour with which she attacks those tracks that give you an insight into her fearlessness, ambition and fiery guitar playing that will carry her a long way. ***½ 

Review by Pete Feenstra

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