Southern Avenue - Southern Avenue (advance review)

Southern Avenue
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Southern Avenue is a Memphis street that runs east/west from Soulville, the home of Stax Records, to the city’s limits. The five member soul band that took the street as its name and title of its debut album embarked on a journey that began in Israel and wound its way to Soulville and Stax Records. The journey started when Ori Naftaly’s father introduced him to jazz and blues while growing up in Israel. He quickly fell in love with the music and with the guitar, an instrument be began playing at the age of five.

Naftaly formed a blues band and his home country that was highly regarded enough to tour Europe before coming to the United States to tour (and even doing a show in my neck of the woods at the historic Midway Tavern in Mishawaka) and eventually settling in Memphis. This is where the journey takes a twist. Naftaly believed that his award winning band was missing something.

Southern Avenue is a Memphis street that runs east/west from Soulville, the home of Stax Records, to the city’s limits. The five member soul band that took the street as its name and title of its debut album embarked on a journey that began in Israel and wound its way to Soulville and Stax Records. The journey started when Ori Naftaly’s father introduced him to jazz and blues while growing up in Israel. He quickly fell in love with the music and with the guitar, an instrument be began playing at the age of five.

Naftaly formed a blues band and his home country that was highly regarded enough to tour Europe before coming to the United States to tour (and even doing a show in my neck of the woods at the historic Midway Tavern in Mishawaka) and eventually settling in Memphis. This is where the journey takes a twist. Naftaly believed that his award winning band was missing something.

That’s around the time when he heard Memphis based vocalist Tierinii Jackson, who came to the club scene through the route traveled by so many other great singers – church then singing in a series of cover bands. The two quickly realize they had an artistic connection. Tierinni had a sister Tikyra, who played drums. Then bassist Daniel McKee and keyboardist Jeremy Powell joined and Southern Avenue was born.

On Southern Avenue, a record that hits the ground running and never lets and up, it becomes clear what Naftaly was seeking. The 10 track project features mostly new compositions but does include a rousing cover of “Slipped, Tripped and Fell in Your Love,” a southern soul classic made famous by Ann Peebles.

Memphis is a place where so many musical, cultural, spiritual and racial currents intersect. The city is the blues, and R&B, gospel and jazz of Stax, the country, R&B, country and rock of Sun, the Holy Ghost power of the Church of God in Christ and the soul of Hi records. It’s the place where Muddy Waters stopped before heading to Chicago and Chess Records and the city where Maurice White spent his formative years before making his way to the Windy City and that same label. Memphis is a highly segregated city with a history of racial oppression that culminated in the sanitation workers strike and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968. But it’s also the town where an interracial group of singers, songwriters, musicians and record executives worked through, over and around that racism to create the iconic Stax records.

Naftaly likely heard all of those cross currents in the vocals of Tierinii Jackson and he realized that she needed to be a part of the evolution of his sound, because her vocals encapsulate all of those currents. The call and response on “Don’t Give Up” and the blues inspired gospel of “Peace  Will Come” recall a tradition that nourished souls baptized in water in the sanctified church and blood during the civil rights movement. Naftaly’s country rock infused guitar playing and Jackson’s church inspired shouts of ‘don’t give up’ toward the end are all that and more. Both tracks will become welcome and necessary additions to an always increasing social justice canon.

And then for something totally different there’s the country/funk of “Rumble.” One trend that I hope artists continue to embrace in 2017 is an increasingly willingness by black artists not to allow themselves to be boxed into certain categories. Beyoncé’s “Daddy Lesson” is a country song and “Rumble” one-ups that tune by embracing Rockabilly. With Tierinii Jackson adding her strong willed vocals to a rollicking story about a woman who catches her man in her home with another woman.

Classic soul is another genre well known for giving its fans great stories, and Jackson leads Soul Avenue in an original that drips with the history of Stax on the horn infused “Love Me Right.” Marc Franklin from the Bo Keys provides the trumpet on this story that finds Jackson telling her man stop taking her for granted. It is an oft-told tale, but when the elements come together as well as they do on this track and throughout this self-titled album, the story never gets old. All this makes Southern Avenue a memorable debut that immediately brightens up the early days of 2017. Highly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 

 
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