4 out of 5 stars
Videos by American Songwriter
Sisters are doing it for themselves once sang The Eurythmics. And nowhere is that more obvious than in blues with the emergence of powerful female guitarists in a genre that has typically favored men.
From Ana Popovic and Susan Tedeschi to Samantha Fish, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Joanna Connor, Sue Foley, the sisters in Larkin Poe, and others, women are more likely to deliver searing six-string blues leads now more than at any time in a post-Sister Rosetta Tharpe world. East Texas resident Ally Venable is already an established member of this club.
At just 24, she started early enough in this already crowded musical arena to make this her fifth full-length release.
Along the way, she caught the attention of Kenny Wayne Shepherd, (opening his 2022 tour), along with Joe Bonamassa and even the iconic Buddy Guy. The latter two guest for a song each on Real Gone, bringing high-wattage star power to an already authoritative performance.
Aside from Venable, the most significant player on this dozen-song set is veteran producer Tom Hambridge. He’s noted as a co-writer on every track, takes full production credit, and plays drums in the studio band. His daughters, Rachel and Sarah, add occasional backing vocals.
But Hambridge’s most noticeable contribution is focusing on Venable’s voice. She shifts from rough and tough on the gutsy opening title tune, to sweet, soulful, and sizzling for the R&B infused “Any Fool Should Know” and pissed-off in the appropriately titled hard rock riff-infused swamper, “Kick Your Ass,” singing to a soon to be ex If mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
Venable goes full Bonnie Raitt on the acoustic intro to the rugged “Blues is My Best Friend,” (the sentence finishes with and my worst enemy too), referencing Raitt’s “Love Me Like a Man,” albeit with a slicing electric guitar solo providing musical exclamation points. On the melancholy ballad “Gone So Long,” she infuses jazzy phrasing into her playing while singing with emotion and passion.
If it’s tensile guitar you’ve come for, there’s plenty of that too. Venable charges through the funky “Justified,” double-tracking parts and killing it on a solo Shepherd would be proud to call his own. Her duet with Guy on “Texas Louisiana,” the birthplaces of both participants, is frisky and invigorated. Bonamassa is featured on the slower “Broken and Blue,” one of this set’s most melodic songs. Venable pushes her voice to its expressive limits, demonstrating a range she hasn’t shown in the past. Hambridge brings in horns and backing vocals infusing extra punch to some selections.
The closing rather clichéd “Two Wrongs” veers awfully close to blueprint blues rocking, but Real Gone has already connected as Ally Venable’s finest release. Along with Hambridge’s help and her seemingly non-stop road work, she’s clearly improving with each release. At a young age, she has unlimited potential.
Photo: Courtesy Ruf Records