By Martine Ehrenclou
You know a hot band with a sound all their own when you hear it. Southern Avenue, the Memphis based combo, comes by that description rightly with their second album, Keep On, set for release May 10, 2019 via Concord Records.
Southern Avenue turns up the heat on their unique brand of modern soul-blues-R&B with Keep On and delivers 12 tracks of fresh, dynamic and soulful grooves. This tight, talented band is fronted by Memphis-born vocalist, Tierinii Jackson, Israeli guitar phenom, Ori Naftaly, and is rounded out by Tierinii’s drummer sister Tikyra Jackson, and keyboardist Jeremy Powell. The album was produced by Johnny Black and includes guest appearances by Grammy winner, William Bell and bassist Marc Franklin.
There’s a lot to be excited about with Southern Avenue’s Keep On. You can’t single one member out–it’s the band as a unit with its blend of rhythmic and gritty gospel-infused roots-rock that lures you in.
Opening number, “Keep On” starts with a catchy guitar hook and horn fills. It evolves into an anthem of sorts. Tierinii doesn’t just sing it, she is triumphant with her soulful voice and insane vocal range. The rhythm is wound tight with catchy guitar riffs, and even hand clapping and foot-stomping. It’s a big flushed out sound, complete with horns and backing singers to deliver the message about putting out the effort to stay on course. Several of the tunes on the album have powerful messages with encouragement to rise above challenges.
With distinctive originals like “Whiskey Love” that feature Naftaly’s tasty guitar riffs and Tierinii’s scorching vocals, this band has a firm grip on rhythm. They’ve written original songs that have meaningful lyrics, including this one about the tug of war within oneself to escape an abusive relationship. The guitar effects add a nice accent to the upfront lead vocals and bassy-gospel backing vocals. This is one helluva song.
Each of the tracks have a similar sonic theme. You can call it rootsy but there’s more—a contemporary haunting vibe on many of the songs. A lot of thought was put into each track–nothing was slapped together here. The production certainly does this band justice.
You can’t help but be impressed by Southern Avenue. As a young band, they certainly have it going on. There’s more to it than just a badass singer and good musicians. Each musician brings their wide-ranging musical interests to the table, culminating in unique and authentic songs. It’s no wonder they won a Blues Music Award for “Best Emerging Artist Album” for their self titled debut.
“Switchup” is one extremely tight and funky tune with Naftaly’s right-on-time rhythmic guitar work. It takes a band of extreme talent and connection to each other to pull off this kind of cadence. Southern Avenue does it with a modern spin. The bass player, horn section, guitar and drums all lock down rhythm of epic proportions. Not just any singer could handle this kind of syncopation and groove. Brilliant, all of them.
Keep On glides through a blend of funky soul, blues, R&B and even a sliver of rock. Each song is distinctly different but with common threads of contemporary guitar licks, backing singers, horns, and gospel flavors–all grounded by a powerful drummer and bass player. Don’t for a minute think they are old school—far from it. Even with elements of the past, they create an ultra-modern vibe.
The album closes with Stax-soul-gospel tune, “We’re Gonna Make It” with Tierinii at some of her soulful best. It features a bluesy guitar solo by Naftaly and some simply beautiful harmonies that rise to the crescendo.
This is one band I intend to see live. And you should too.
For more information on Keep On by Southern Avenue: