There is something edibly scrumptious about the music of Avery*Sunshine. Her lovingly seasoned debut album serves as an inviting introduction to the urban adult contemporary market. With this self-titled LP, Sunshine quickly recovers from an EP that was readily dismissible as just another uninspired neo-soul throwback in a field crowded by Jill Scott wannabes. Interestingly, some of the same songs and ingredients that didn't standout on the EP suddenly-and rather mysteriously-work in the batter of her much more cohesive and thematically consistent recipe for a seven-layer soul cake. A more studied listen to the frothily gorgeous icing of "Like This" or the surprising mint burst of "Ugly Side of Me," among so many engaging tunes, makes this a rich project well worth sinking your teeth into.
A native of Chester, Pennsylvania, one of PA's roughest and most environmentally challenged areas, the ATL based soul artist survived her surroundings through church, leading and directing choirs and making herself a name as the go-to pianist and choral director for everything from productions of Dreamgirls to Tyler Perry plays. The church is still ever-present in the lyrics and themes of Sunshine's largely secular debut. The songwriter uses her pen to equally express her love of God and those most intimate of relationship moments. These two themes are given equal weight throughout Avery*Sunshine. Lyrically, Avery's pen is most concerned with survival in all things, be it personal, romantic, or spiritual. Inspiring songs like "Today," "Blessin' Me" and "Sunshine" try to make light of a world and relationships that seem consistently trying to bring one down. Here, faith and "sun" are her answers for the weary needing inspiration.
Still, Sunshine is not naïve. Her "Need You Now" recognizes the limitations of snatching ever-elusive rays and staying self-encouraged. With this and other relationship grooves, there's an understanding of just how much the human touch-someone willing to bear your weight for a time-makes the difference. She gets that these choices can lead to real moral struggles like the one unfolding on Sunshine's "Just Not Tonight" with subtle and ingenious harmonic references to Harold Melvin and The Blue Note's "Miss You." The bellwether cut is only undermined by its length and a melodic repetition that wears out its welcome around the five-minute mark; only the jarring "Big Mama," a hidden throwaway, fares worse. Still, there is a maturity in Sunshine's material that is little heard on radio R&B but is plentiful here.
As a warm alto in the Angie Stone and India.Arie vein, Sunshine's approach to music is very tender and sensual, possessing an emotional honesty that becomes an addictive caress of her listeners' ears. You're not entirely certain why, but you do find yourself coming back to feel her sonic touch again and again. Though the songs aren't as tightly constructed as they sometimes need to be, there is clearly a moving and nourishing spirit that connects in Sunshine's work, making a listener hungry for more. This heft is best experienced on two thematic polar opposite cuts: "Like This" the breezy new Natalie Cole "La Costa" for this generation and the hard truth "Ugly Side of Me" which could have been released during the age of Erykah Badu's "Otherside of the Game" and Scott's "He Loves Me" and been right at home. Both productions by the project's producer, Dana Johnson, are infused with just enough bubbling live instrumentation that the music borders on a decadent chocolate explosion of orgasmic sound.
Avery*Sunshine's debut has so much soul and so much diversity in voice, and yet there is just enough consistency in overall tone to give her some distinction in a crowded field of female artists. After hearing the grown woman, flat-footed blues of "Need You Now" and bare-knuckled "Just Not Tonight," there is an astonishing innocence present when she sings of her love in "The Most..." and "Like This." Both sides of her versatility are on overdrive on the hella-swinging, "Pinin,'" a cut that personifies everything you want a R&B cut to be and rarely is.
Maybe that is the secret to Avery*Sunshine and why her listeners keep coming back for more: when Sunshine is at her best, she's everything you want R&B to be, in a time when so little in our life and times are. Highly Recommended.
By L. Michael Gipson