Ally Venable may be just 24, but she’s never been shy about strutting her stuff. In fact, from Susan Tedeschi to Sue Foley, women are more likely to deliver searing six-string blues leads now more than ever. And Venable is already an established member of this club. She started early enough in this already crowded musical arena to make Real Gone her fifth full-length release. And is 2022, Guitar World named her one of the top “young guns” in the genre.
The Kilgore, Texas, native charges hard along the road paved for her by ZZ Top and Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan, but she plants her own musical signposts with her crisp, never-rush-a-note lead guitar runs.
Since her debut, No Glass Shoes, in 2016 — she was just 16 at the time — she’s 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 “Two Wrongs” veers too close to blueprint blues, but by that point Real Gone has already connected as Venable’s most accomplished release. Along with her seemingly non-stop road work and Hambridge’s assistance, she continues to shred gender stereotypes and evolve in impressive fashion.
Cover photo courtesy Ruf Records