Just a few short years ago, Jackie Venson was paying her newcomer dues in the Austin, TX blues scene. Today, she is getting ready to release her first live album, Jackie Venson Live, complete with an album release party in the house where blues were made – the legendary Antone’s.
Not everyone can cut a live album. That’s not to say they can’t make them, simply that certain music and artists just sound better with the finesse and production that come with a digital studio recording. This is not the case with Jackie Venson. Her songs are made to be played and heard live. Don’t get me wrong, her studio recordings are great too – but her true gift is in the raw power and emotion that she wields with both her voice and her ax. And that is something that really only translates in its purest form at a live show or recording.
Jackie Venson Live was recorded a little coffee house in South Austin called Strange Brew. The music lounge side of this hip, 24-hour coffee and music joint provides such great acoustics that it actually adds its own warm, textured layer of sound to the recording. The live album itself is completely devoid of the common noise disturbances that all-too-often ruin a live recording; there is no obnoxious feedback for the instrumental sound to contend with, and even the audience feedback is sparse, subtle, and surprisingly complimentary. The claps and yells that can be heard are crisp and ungrating – a huge testament to the producer’s ear.
Venson’s smoky, enchanting voice sets a distinct vibe in the album opener, the mood-setting “Show Me the Light”. It’s a beautiful song, but one that also makes you want to press up really, really close to someone and sway. You can almost hear the audience allowing themselves to be immersed in her sultry world. Like a modern day Pied Piper of the blues, her intricate finger picking and spacey, transportive guitar effects are almost otherworldly.
The first track seamlessly moves into the slow-burning “Real Love”, an obvious favorite amongst her live crowd and YouTubers alike. She lets her voice float to ethereal heights over a funky beat before fingers and frets take the reins and lure the listener further into her soulful world. This is something she does so well that you can almost see her adeptly navigating the neck through the recording.
The second track finishes and she starts the third by warning her audience “I thought I’d let you know, it looks like this show’s gonna be a sexy show.” Even without the warning, my ears get the sense everyone there already know this to be true. There is something about the combination of her honest lyrics and the intense, superb mastery of her instrument that make her captivating, both in person and on the record.
The fourth track, “See What You Want”, takes yet another musical turn and tears headfirst into a pulsing, traditional, southern blues sound – with Venson’s unique swagger and soul dripping out of every note. Her voice is pure perfection in this traditional element, as her attitude and fret prowess is as undeniable as her raw talent.
Halfway through the album it is clear why Jackie Venson has been labeled as “Indie Blues”. The word Indie tends to get tacked onto pretty much anything that doesn’t fit nicely into any other single category, and Venson surely doesn’t. She is multi-faceted, technically spectacular, and pure, all-natural Texas-raised soul. Her organic songcraft and the genuine emotion tied to the stories she tells are nothing short of mesmerizing.
This diverse attention to the many genres that make up or infiltrate blues keeps the crowd easily engaged through “One Step Forward” and “Back to Earth”, the fifth and sixth tracks on the live recording. In this reviewer’s humble opinion, “Back to Earth” is one of the most magnificent tracks in Venson’s extensive catalog. It is a galloping, swirling, soul-seducing musical and lyrical journey that I would be happy to take again and again. The trance created by “Back to Earth” doesn’t last long though, as Jackie jumps right into “What I Need”, a gritty ditty laced with bliss-inducing guitar solos. This song, kids, is Rock N Roll in its most pure form.
The album ends with the track “Always Free”, a foot-stompin’ traditional blues track that pays homage to greats like B. B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughn. As with the rest of the album, it is also more than just traditional blues. As has become her M.O., Jackie Venson’s distinct and singular spirit spills out of ever perfectly plucked note. Because while her voice is memorable all on its own, she has mastered the art of making her guitar sing the songs that mere humans are simply incapable of.
For a taste of the best of both worlds, head over to her album release show at Antone’s on September 18th. For the cost of entry you’ll not only get to see Jackie Venson perform live, you’ll also leave with a copy of her excellent live album, Jackie Venson Live.