Southern Avenue Keep On keeping on

When a band name themselves after a street in Memphis that runs from its eastern limits to the original home of the Stax empire known as Soulsville, you can begin to deduce where the music is coming from and going to. Formed in 2015, Southern Avenue quickly established a reputation with their live shows and their 2017 self-titled debut album was a heady mix of soul, blues, R’n’B with a chunk of funk to round it off. They released the follow-up, Keep On earlier this year and added some extra rock and, by dint of a longer gestation period, they have come up with an even more coherent and original set even if none break the four-minute barrier.

If you haven’t heard of them, the core band is made up of an extremely skilful Israeli (now US resident) guitarist, two sisters one of whom sings like an angel or a devil, dependent upon the song, and one who seriously knows her way around a drum kit. Add in a keyboard wizard and a phenomenal guest bassist, and the scene is set for some fireworks. (The naming of the band set my mind thinking…if I followed a similar route, as it were, the road from outside the mining village where our band was based to our rehearsal hall would have meant we would have been known as North Street East…doesn’t really work!)

Anyway, on to the music and the opening, title song, Keep On shows how they have matured and added complexity to their musical landscape…for here we get perfect examples of the clever and nuanced guitar playing of Ori, the gospel to soul to chanteuse range of Tiernii and the near psychic link between the bass, drums and keys. It all comes over in this irresistible soul song. Whiskey Love brings a bluesier variation with neat guitar phrasing binding the melodies together in a soulful story of drinking to forget lost love… “just young and dumb, in love, I had no clue. Love of my life, he killed my spirit. A shot of brown for a broken heart to heal it.” That, I think, is something we can relate to. The pity for me, inevitably, is the lack of a guitar solo to build on that luscious backing. Switch Up is a slower, similarly structured song that again shows the band’s prowess although the star is again the vocals; especially on the multi-tracked sections with, I guess, sister Tikyra joining in. Switch Up is as funky as a funky thing and the snare work is exceptional and, although the rapid vocal style isn’t my favourite, Tiernii pulls it off. Again, the guitar geek wanted an expansion on the intro melody but to no avail. The Tea I Sip is an enthralling title that is the best of the lot…it has another delicious guitar backing and the vocals are emotion-filled sweetness and even has a memorable chorus with sweeping organ adding depth along with the subtle horns.  It has (hurrah!) a short solo that shows Ori could add even more emotion were space given. Lucky pulls on the soulful heartstrings if that isn’t mixing too many metaphors, as this slow, full band presentation is lifted by the guitar phrases and, at last, a proper solo that uses the full neck and Ori never uses a note when it’s not needed. Jive, unsurprisingly, is a funky rapid-fire ride. Although it is a little generic in its feel it is so well executed that you cannot help but be drawn into the soul of the song. Too Good For You is next up and changes direction again as we get a hint of country twang from the guitar and vocal stylings. It barrels along nicely though: the horns and the sing-a-long chorus drag you in and the central (too short) electric piano and guitar duet lift it even higher. We Are Not So Different has a staccato floor-tom pattern and then a really neat snare/cymbal interplay that entertain as much as the main melodies. It is a mid-paced soulful blues that is of a quality that some established acts should listen to and then think…oh, that’s how it’s done! We’ve Got The Music may be less than two minutes but with Stax legend William Bell duetting, it has a huge impact. The 70s never ended when you hear this and, although not my bag, as they say, the quality is indisputable. She Gets Me High has an intro that grabs you with a weighty drum laying the beat for a great blues guitar phrasing that is echoed by the keys…then the vocals are smoking in every sense of the word and, it is now my favourite despite earlier thoughts. It has all I need: suggestive lyrics (unless that’s just my questionable mind) and a simply exquisite guitar solo. Final track, We’re Gonna Make It is, I do not doubt, prophetic for the future of this band. It’s a slow soulful ballad of the old school variety with simple chord work over rimmed snare and hi-hat. It also has such a thoughtful guitar solo that is steeped in blues and a great example of hammering too…what’s not to love?

This is a very high-quality set of soulful blues that, although not my primary kind, simply has to be listened to when the weightier stuff I normally consume becomes too much. The skill from each of these musicians is formidable and I can only fault them for the lack of solos…but, as always, that’s probably just me! Give this a try, regardless of the hue of blue you normally adhere to, as I think you find something rewarding somewhere on this lovely album.

EIGHTpawprint half inchdoodle paws out of TEN …

Track listing:

  1. Keep On
  2. Savior
  3. Switch Up
  4. The Tea I Sip
  5. Lucky
  6. Jive
  7. Too Good For You
  8. We Are Not So Different
  9. We’ve Got The Music
  10. She Gets Me High
  11. We’re Gonna Make It

Musicians:

Ori Naffaly: guitar Tierinii Jackson: vocals Tikyra Jackson: drums Jeremy Powell: keyboards

Guests:

William Bell: vocals

Gage Markey: bass

Art Edmaiston: horns

Mark Franklin: horns

Produced by Johnny Black at Sam Phillips Recording.

Southern Avenue Keep On keeping on

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