These times are not for the faint of heart. The pandemic might have silenced the music scene, shuttered the live circuit, and divided artists from their fans. But with Heart Of Fire, Texas’ favorite young guitarist, Ally Venable, is coming off the ropes swinging. Defying dark times and rolling up the amps, this fourth release from the acclaimed singer-songwriter is a record to rattle your speakers and signpost better times ahead.
The 21 year old six-string slinger from Kilgore, Texas has already made a huge impression on the blues rock world, receiving lots of love from critics, fans, and contemporaries alike. With Heart of Fire, due out on February 26th, via Ruf Records, Venable gives the globe some much needed love in return.
Ally’s two decades have moved as fast as her fingers, her path winding from childhood church choirs to the teenage influence of local heroes like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Miranda Lambert. Thus far, Ally has released four albums; No Glass Shoes (2016) and Puppet Show (2018) earned her international fans, Top 10 charting, and ETX Awards, but it was 2019’s #2 Billboard-charting Texas Honey and house-rocking sets on that year’s Blues Caravan tour that sent her to the next level.
While this type of rocketing fame would paralyze some up-and-comers, Venable not only takes it in stride, but chomps at the bit of becoming better. While preparing for some upcoming shows in Texas and Florida, we were able to talk with Ally a bit about her newest endeavor.
JD Nash for American Blues Scene:
I see on your Facebook page that you have some shows coming up in the near future. Where all will you be playing?
Pretty much all over Florida. The Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton, breweries in Spring Hill and Tampa, Gainsville, and then I have a couple of Texas shows in the Dallas area, San Antonio, places like that.
I’ll bet you’re ready to get back at it.
Yeah, there’s even a festival in there so I’m excited.
You’ve obviously been busy during all this downtime though.
I’m very excited to put this new album out. It’s been a year since I recorded it, so I’m excited to finally put it out.
So you have been kind of sitting back and waiting to cut it loose.
Yes, but I’ve been trying to keep myself busy with everything else going on. Trying to adapt to what’s going on in the world right now. But I am very excited to finally put this album out and for everyone to hear it. People have been waiting for it a long time.
I have been writing a few songs here and there. We haven’t been able to play any shows so it’s been really weird but I’ve been able to connect to my fans on social media which as been really great. I’ve been doing some live streams and everyone has been very supportive.
American Blues Scene is helping put out the virtual record release for Heart of Fire on Saturday the 27th correct?
Yes! And thank you so much for letting me premiere my new album with you guys. I’m really excited for it. We just got done pre-taping that a couple days ago. If people can’t make it to a live show, or there aren’t any live shows in their area because of COVID, they’re able to have that live experience in a different form.
I see you have a couple of very cool guests on the record.
Oh yeah. I’m really honored to have them on there. Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Devon Allman are both heroes of mine. We just released “Bring on the Pain” as a single, and to have Kenny on there just brought it to a whole new level with his guitar playing and what he added to the track. Devon and I recorded ‘Road to Nowhere’ at High/Low Studios in Memphis and he brought in Cody Dickinson from North Mississippi All Stars to play drums. When I brought the song to Devon I had a vision for the song in my head, but it wasn’t quite there. He brought his element to the song and lifted it beyond where I even thought it could reach. He co-wrote that song with me, produced it, played guitar and sang on it, so it’s his baby as well.
Just from talking to you for a short amount of time, may I say you’re so humble about everything. You truly are an old soul aren’t you?
Aw, well thank you. A lot of people tell me that, about being an old soul. I think it’s a good thing to be called an old soul.
Going back a bit, I think Texas Honey was, so far, my favorite album from you.
Thank you. That was the first album I put out on Ruf Records. Mike Zito produced it and we recorded it in Texas. He just said, ‘Ally, you need something that people can call you. You need a song that’s just for you. What about ‘Texas Honey’? I thought that was a good idea so I tried to write a song called “Texas Honey.” That’s how the whole album came to be Texas themed. We had a song called ‘Come and Take It’ that Eric Gales is on. It was just a really good time. Me and my band stayed with Mike at his studio.
I remember being really nervous about that record because it was my first album for Ruf Records. The first day we were bringing stuff into the studio. It was kind of rainy so I took my shoes off, but my socks were kind of wet. I was running all over the place setting stuff up and coming down from the studio my wet socks slipped on the carpet and I fell down the stairs. Mike said, ‘Just calm down, it’s fine,’ but here I am recording with a huge bruise on my back (laughs). Once I slowed down and chilled out a little bit, it all went great.
What do you think was the biggest difference between working with Mike Zito and working with Jim Gaines who produced Heart of Fire?
I guess just the vibe. I mean they’re both great at trying to get the best out of me. Two different people, two different conversations, two different sets of songs. Also, even though it hasn’t been a long time since I put out ‘Texas Honey’ I think I’ve grown a lot. I mean, I toured so much when ‘Texas Honey’ came out. I was playing every day. I played the Ruf Records Caravan across Europe with two other very talented musicians, plus I did my own shows in the states. Once again, I feel like I grew as a guitar player, not only playing my songs, but playing other people’s songs as well. I think that showed on this album.
My writing, too, I feel has matured in this year and a half. I’ve had more life experiences to draw from for ‘Heart of Fire’ as well.
How many tracks did you write on Heart of Fire?
I wrote all of them except one Bill Withers tune (Use Me), and a Bessie Smith tune (Hateful Blues) that we did our version of. I try to put a Bessie Smith song on everything I record. I just love her and want to pay tribute to her as the queen of jazz of blues. There’s also a tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan where I kind of go off of ‘Lenny’ and there’s a ‘Riviera Paradise’ kind of vibe. The rest of the songs I either wrote or co-wrote. I co-wrote the one song with Devon Allman and two others with Lance Lopez.
Other than Bessie, who are some of your favorite artists to cover?
Stevie Ray Vaughan of course. I’ve done a couple covers of his songs. When I first started playing, I didn’t know a whole lot about guitar, just a few chords here and there, and I was really into country music. When I discovered Stevie, I gravitated toward his voice first. It was so unique and strong. Later I found out he was known for being an amazing guitar player and I wanted to emulate that in some way. So, I started playing a couple of his songs live at my shows. That’s what introduced me to a whole new world called blues music. I learned about Albert King, Buddy Guy, and BB King. So many guitar players. My goal, with my music is to introduce people who may not know about blues music and segue them into that world.
Heart of Fire is something that should be listened to loud.
(laughs) Yes! You can definitely crank up the volume with this album. That’s one of the things I really loved about working with Jim. He’s known for the blues stuff because he worked with Stevie Ray Vaughan but he’s really a rock guy. I mean he’s worked with Journey, and Carlos Santana, he mastered Steve Miller’s ‘Fly Like an Eagle,’ and ‘Book of Dreams.’ He came from that rock world so he brought that out of me when we were recording. There’s a lot of big guitar sounds. I mean I’ll always play those blues. That’s what resonates with me. But the way he mixed the guitar sounds and tone, I really love how my guitar sounds on this record. It’s definitely one that you can listen to loud.
What’s your personal favorite song on the new record?
Different days call for different songs. Some days I’m like, ‘Oh, I really love this song,’ and then the next day will be, ‘Ah, but this song.’ I really love the title track. It’s very positive and I feel the world kind of needs that right now. I also like “Road to Nowhere.” Those are my top two right now. I’m sure those will change as soon as we’re done with this interview (laughs).
What, from you, is going to get people excited to go out and buy this record on Friday?
I just want to thank everyone who has supported me so far. I’m looking forward to everyone being able to hear this album. The songs are true to me and what I’ve gone through. I’m most excited about finally being able to put out new music and play these songs live for everybody as venues begin to open back up. I’m excited. That’s all I can say.
Heart of Fire from Ally Venable drops this Friday, February 26th, via Ruf Records and will be available everywhere. Her virtual Album Release Party can be viewed on Saturday, February 27th on the American Blues Scene Facebook Page.
*Feature image photo credit: Lindsay Steele courtesy of Devious Planet