The virtues so readily apparent on guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Ally Venable's last album, Puppet Show (Connor Ray Music, 2018), remain fully in evidence on her Ruf Records debut. It is telling, however, that for Heart Of Fire, the sultry poses she struck on the cover of the previous LP give way to those focusing on the way the blueswoman wields her instrument.
Strutting her stuff with the guitar on the grinding opener/itle song, the stripped-down trio including Elijah Owings on drums and Bobby Wallace on bass conjures a size of sound that belies its number. Meanwhile, the bandleader's torrid interplay during overdubs of rhythm and lead are hardly less combustible than the sparks that fly from the acoustic strains of "Played The Game." The heavy riffing on "Bad Situation" proceeds without a plod, but the core threesome also maintains a sufficiently light touch to facilitate the quick changes of Bill Withers' "Use Me."
The precocious Texan further certifies her creative potency by composing the bulk of the material here. Measured interaction from Venable, Owings and Wallace follows the pointed structure on "Hard Change." It's perfectly appropriate to hear the musicians dig in as the leader wails for "Do It In Heels." And, given her now well-established niche as a stylist (rather than an innovator), it is only fitting Venable proffers a track titled "Tribute to SRV." The runs of alternately bittersweet and biting notes she extracts from her strings not only constitute homage to an icon, but also a forthright declaration of her allegiance to the timeless traditions of the blues. The practiced fluency she demonstrates there also elevates her own status as a guitar heroine.
Such are the attributes that permeate this seventh Ally Venable album. The expert engineering and mixing from Grammy Award-winning producer Jim Gaineswho's worked with the diverse likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Steve Miller, Santana and Miles Davisalso aids in channeling the passion Venable marshals on these eleven tracks. As on "Sad Situation," the visceral clarity of the audio reflects her depth of feeling(s) including a decidedly no-nonsense attitude.
And on the other high-profile collaborations here, Ally refuses to allow the physical impact of the performance to diminish her own musicianly personality. She fearlessly trades licks with Kenny Wayne Shepherd for "Bring On The Pain" and forges a redoubtable alliance writing and performing with Devon Allman for "Road To Nowhere"(which he also produced). Whether abandoned on the former or subdued during the latter, the end effect is honestly stirring and never strained, as good a summary as any of Heart Of Fire.
Heart Of Fire; Played The Game; Hateful Blues; Road To Nowhere; Bring On The Pain; Hard Change; Do It In Heels; Sad Situation; Use Me; Tribute To SRV; What Do You Want From Me.
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