Album Reviews

Southern Avenue

Southern Avenue

Artist:     Southern Avenue

Album:     Southern Avenue

Label:     Stax

Release Date:     02/24/2017

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These days, Southern Avenue courses through Memphis to Soulsville in two ways. Years ago, it became the road around town that arrives at the illustrious Stax music studio and record label. Now it’s the street of dreams for a quintet that took it as their name. Those dreams  led an immigrant overseas into the company of some supremely talented Memphis locals bent on preserving a tradition—two of them sisters, one a spectacular singer. Tierinii Jackson was fronting a band on Beale when she ran into songwriter and guitarist Ori Naftaly, who’d made the pilgrimage from Israel. They clicked like flint on a wheel, sparking fire in everything they put their minds and flairs to. With Jackson’s sister Tikyra on drums, jazz-inspired bassist Daniel McKee, and veteran Stax keys man Jeremy Powell joining them, Southern Avenue quickly began delivering the spicy, vivacious new sound of Memphis soul. Now they’re on Stax.

One listen to “Don’t Give Up,” which opens the album on a hook of hand-clapping and simple guitar, points straight ahead that the real deal is in the house. When Miss Jackson gets to the meat of the song—well, damn! She’s incredible, gritting her teeth and pouring it out about believing. Playfulness then gives way to brass-fueled intensity and suspicion on “What Did I Do.” “80 Miles from Memphis” turns up the rock ‘n roll and features guest Luther Dickinson answering one of Naftaly’s great little runs with some greasy slide. A fine romp through George Jackson’s oft-covered “Slipped, Tripped, and Fell in Love” is the only break from originality, a dip back to the classics that their own fantastic, dramatic “Love Me Right” then fits quite well next to. “Rumble” does just that towards the end, the whole band and some guests on horns going to town.

It’s quite a sound. So natural and unforced—just like their story. The Jackson sisters were raised in the church. That fact’s laid out plainly and magnificently in “Peace Will Come,” which ends this baptism by fire of a debut album with some divine gospel. Dreams do come true.

—Tom Clarke

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