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Jackie Venson Live at Strange Brew hits you in the gut where real blues belong

Patrick O’Heffernan

(Los Angeles) Austin-born and still Texas-based Jackie Venson is a Berklee College of music trained-blues rock guitarist – not a common combination –  who blows the roof off every venue she plays in. Trained in classical piano, Venson has multi-instrumental chops plus a voice that can drip with emotion or belt with blues. She picked up the guitar shortly after graduating from Berklee and made the giant leap from classical music to raw and gritty blues; and the rest is history.  

A new page in that history is the release of her latest album, Jackie Venson Live at Strange Brew.  This is a knockout blues triumph. Put on your headphones and clear your schedule because Jackie Venson Live at Strange Brew will hit you in the gut where real blues belongs.

Venson has always been a standout in the blues world, not only because she has a voice that goes from delicate and seductive to in-your-face-with-the-pain-of-the-blues, but also because her guitar playing achieves a level of precision at the top of the blues hierarchy while never losing the feel and emotion that blues are all about. Combining all of this she has opened some new doors to new audiences, doors that this album will push even wider.

The 10-song collection starts out slow and relaxed with “Show My Light,” a blues ballad that strolls easily, capturing your heart and attention as it dances across jazz and blues chords before painting the air with minor key riffs. She picks up the pace a bit with “Real Love,” with keys  setting the style before she lets loose and moves her operatic voice past the guardrails, and then pulls it back in. Whew.

With “Lost in Time,” we are off and running, starting with a joke to the crowd, finger-picking riffs that perfectly introduce her voice, sailing over the beat but not too high – just right to make the words mean what they say. They she cuts loose almost reggae style, overdubbing the guitar and her voice on the fly then coming back to earth with gut-wrenching pure blues guitar chords. Then she grounds us in a solid old-style blues rock “See What you Want,” making our heads bob and feet stomp. Followed by the traveling blues style, “Back to Earth” delivers with an angelic voice and answered by heavy guitar hits, followed by more of the same – only different in “One Step Forward.”

The guitar takes full control in “Rollin’ On” as Jackie’s fingers move up and down the fretboard in the intro until setting into a down and dirty song punctuated and then driven by a guitar that cries and sighs. If you are a blues fan – especially a blues guitar fan – “Rollin’ On” is addictive – you will not want the guitar solo in the breakdown to ever stop. The only thing better than putting it on repeat on your playlist is having been there to hear it live at Strange Brew.

She doesn’t let up as she moves to “Always Free” – in fact the energy ratchets up, the blues gets more down and the guitar pushes  the limits even harder. Jackie moves us along in the intro and first verse and then all bets are off  in the chorus – the voice sails, the guitar screams – and then it comes down to earth and keeps driving and rocking. And there is no mercy as she queues up “What I need” with hard drums and call and answer guitar and voice that corkscrews to the edge of metal rock and to the edge of jazz and then back down into a pure blues groove.

Venson wraps up the album with a delicately sung and hard-driving “Instinct”  leaving you tapping your foot and humming the chorus – “Let me show you I’m your instinct, Let me show I’m your only one/And together we can have some fun.”  Truer words were never sung.

Patrick O’Heffernan.  Host, Music FridayLive!, Co-Host MúsicaFusionLA

Jackie Venson.

Jackie Venson Live at Strange Brew available on iTunes, Amazon,  CD Baby and can be streamed at Spotify

Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist and radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles, California, with a global following. His two weekly radio programs, MusicFridayLive! and MusicaFusionLA are heard nationwide and in the UK. He focuses on two music specialties: emerging bands in all genres, and the growing LA-based ALM genre (American Latino Music) that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America like cumbia, banda, jarocho and mariachi. He also likes to watch his friend drag race.

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