For local Memphians, driving on Southern Avenue feels like a caffeinated rush hour fast lane connecting Midtown to East Memphis. Lucky for the rest of the world, the sound of Stax Records’ latest local record, Southern Avenue connects the rockin’ Memphis blues to ears, feet, and heartbeats across the globe… and with no streetlights or stop signs.
Although Southern Avenue only recently planted roots, its origins grew from Israeli-born, blues guitarist Ori Naftaly competing in Memphis as an International Blues Challenge contestant in 2013. Soon after it seemed that destiny would present itself upon his meeting Gospel trained vocalist, Tierinii Jackson and her sister, and drummer, Tikyra. Later the band added in keyboardist, Jeremy Powell and the group continues to be a force to be reckoned with touring in both Europe and across the United States representing the blues with a proprietary blend of exclusively Memphis flavors.
At first taste, Southern Avenue’s opening track Don’t Give Up is a glass of thick sweet tea resting on a front porch swing with a breeze gently pushing your foot up and down to beat of a blues riff with a little southern twang before Tierinii’s gospel notes softly flood the listener’s ears with optimistic melody.
Just as life moves forward from the beautiful chaos that surrounds us, Ori’s dexterous blues licks propel us from this light optimism into a new question that Tierinii asks of her lover in the next song, What Did I Do? “Sit your ass down baby and listen to me…” is the opening line of the song and she doesn’t intend to choose her words lightly. It feels like Ori’s riffs make up the flexible backbone to Tierinii’s soul as she pleads with her lover to give her a reason for her heartbreaking into glass pieces.
True to any cinematic love story, the next song has a dramatic montage feel to it as a strong electric tremolo gently ripples through a deep blend of bass rhythm and blues melody. Tierinii Jackson’s voice is like rain falling from a lonely cloud into the mouths of the heartbroken wandering the desert spreading the Southern Avenue gospel, It’s Gonna Be Alright.
In what seems to be an intermission of sorts, Tierinii takes a break from her own heartbreak and dives into a cover of Ann Peeble’s Slipped, Tripped, and Fell in Love. It has a jazzy small room “big band” feel to it with accents of gospel blues that fill in any gap in soul as the verse builds into a catchy chorus.
Love Me Right seems to pay homage to Stax Motown roots with very subtle guitar riffs and a deep focus on the blend of soft jazz horns with Tierinii’s melodic soul ramping up to a split solo starting with a saxophone and sticking the landing on a blues guitar lead back into the chorus.
Perhaps the most iconic title in the track listing, 80 Miles From Memphis, truly epitomizes the life of a traveling blues artist. It’s impossible not to swing and move to this song. I DARE YOU. It’s become a personal favorite travel companion in my playlist because of the way that the whole band effortlessly synchronizes into the back seat of my car driving home. Every time I hear it, I fantasize that it was written acoustically in the back of a Uhaul coming back from a shitty dive bar gig 80 Miles From Memphis.
The common thread here continues to bring heartbreak to the surface as Southern Avenue seems to feel out its place in the mainstream. Wildflower flows through this vein with a complacent vengeance. As Tierinii’s heart slowly bleeds over her lost lover, Ori’s melodic jazz composition seems to lightly safeguard her from the pain that her soul resonates.
The next track is short a departure from the common thread in this album. No Time to Lose has a classic rock vibe to it that flows from a country soul vibe into another small room big band jazz performance with hints of rhythm and blues vocals building up to a huge stadium rock inspired solo.
Hands down, Rumble, is my favorite track from this album. The slow crescendo from the beginning exudes a soulful finesse that must come from beyond Tierinii years of experience. The composition has everything from big band jazz to blues rockabilly riffs and one again, Tierinii’s soulful voice rubs the shoulders of royal professionals like, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and dare I mention the “Queen” Beyoncé herself.
The endcap of this album is a beautiful reprisal that seems to reference the opening track, Don’t Give Up. Peace Will Come conjures images of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings into the restless legs of Southern Avenue fans dancing their heartbreaks away.
Tierinii seems caught at a crossroads between preserving what Memphis has inspired in her and what she sees for the future of the City saying, “I grew up in Memphis, seeing the name Stax everywhere. It was a constant presence, and now it’s up to us to live up that. I feel like this band can be a platform to do a lot of positive things for the city of Memphis. I want to change the world, but Memphis is home.”
The band continues to tour across the United States currently, and is slated to play a few local venues in the coming months. Their album is available at their website, iTunes, Google, Amazon, and Soundcloud. Like them on Facebook, and share their music with your closest friends!
Artist: Southern Avenue
Title: Southern Avenue
Release Date: February 24th, 2017
Running Time: 38:21