10 tracks / 38:47
Southern Avenue is a street that cuts across Memphis, and it also happens to be then name of a band that does a marvelous job of representing all of the musical sounds of this diverse city. Their eponymous debut album takes a solid guitar-blues base and then captures pieces of many genres, including gospel, rhythm and blues, soul, rock, jazz, and even a touch of country. This is American music at its finest, and to top it off the band is signed to the newly revived Stax record label!
The band’s guitarist, Ori Naftaly, came to the United States from Israel to compete in the 2013 International Blues Competition. He decided to stay, and after touring on his own for a while he joined up with a powerful vocalist from Memphis, Tierinii Jackson, and things just clicked. Southern Avenue was born, and Tikyra Jackon (Tiernii’s sister) pitched in on drums and backing vocals, with Daniel McKee on bass and Jeremy Powell on keyboards. Within a year, the band was touring and playing festivals, was chosen to represent Memphis at the IBC, and got signed to the aforementioned Stax record deal.
Southern Avenue is a fresh and original release, with nine new songs that were written by Ori and Tiernii, and one cool cover. The disc was cut at Inside Sounds in Memphis and Zebra Ranch in Coldwater Mississippi, and Kevin Houston took care of production, recording and mixing. You may be familiar with Houston from his work with the North Mississippi Allstars, Lucero, and Patty Griffin.
The set kicks off with a hard-hitter, “Don’t Give Up,” with a cool acoustic intro that quickly evolves into a blazing country rocker with a little help from the slide guitar of Luther Dickinson (also a member of the Allstars). But the real shining star here is Tierinii, who has parlayed her previous experience of singing in church and cover bands into a true leading lady role. Her voice is nothing but soulful; it is powerful and clear, and her range is certainly enviable.
Next up on the songlist is “What Did I Do,” an upbeat soul tune that features organ from Powell, sweet vocal harmonies from the Jackson sisters, and tight horns from Houston and Suavo Jones (the Bo-Keys). This is followed by the jazzy R&B of ““It’s Gonne Be Alright” and the lone cover tune on Southern Avenue: “Slipped Tripped and Fell In Love.” The latter is a neat tune that was written by George Jackson and recorded by Clarence Carter in 1971. It has since been re-done a few times, including an interesting 1982 take by Foghat. In this case it is a fun and funky piece that is built around Ori’s guitar and Tikyra’s snare drum. The horns of Art Edmaiston and Marc Franklin join in to make this an epic track that is one of the standouts on the disc.
Tierinii lays down a single ballad for this project, and it gives the listener a chance to really hear what this woman can do, showing that there is a lot going on here. On “Love Me Right” there is a lot of texture to her voice, and she demonstrates the ability to go from smooth to jagged in a heartbeat. The overall effect is very emotional and heartfelt. This is a cool contrast to the in-your-face outrage of “Rumble,” which includes the soon to be classic lines: “You can see the crazy on my face / You can smell it running through my veins.” This is obviously not a woman to mess with!
This is a relatively short album, and before 40 minutes are up it is over, ending with “Peace Will Come.” This song has gospel lyrics over a country rock beat, and it features a few more Jacksons on guest vocals: Ava, Laurie, and Bradley. This the last opportunity for Naftaly to lay down a guitar solo, and as always it is tasteful and smooth without creeping into the realm of self-indulgence. This song builds consistently to the end, and as it finishes up it is apparent that this was the perfect choice for closing out the set.
Southern Avenue is a hit, and after just one listen it is obvious why this band was the hometown choice for the International Blues Challenge. The band is worthy of the Stax Records label, and this is one of the best debut albums of the year. It deserves a listen, and be sure to take a peek at their website as they have a heavy touring schedule through the end of summer, including shows all over the states and a few festivals in the Netherlands. If this album is any indication of what their live show is like, it would be a great idea to make the time to seek them out!