Southern Avenue | Be The Love You Want | (Renew Records/BMG)
4 out of 5 stars
Memphis-based quintet Southern Avenue began as a bluesy outfit that incorporated soul on its 2017 debut. One Grammy nomination later, little has changed on their third release other than its approach has morphed somewhat to a potent soul force that works some blues into its sound.
There are few contemporary acts led by two sisters (Tierinii Jackson handles the gutsy, Chaka Khan styled vocals, drummer Tikyra brings the funk), and having an Israeli guitarist in Ori Naftaly, who has studied his Southern rock history, adds further diversity. Veteran producer/Los Lobos member Steve Berlin ensures the vibe stays rootsy with enough sheen to attract radio play.
As the title implies, Southern Avenue’s motto is one of self-discipline, remaining strong in the face of obstacles, and, like Curtis Mayfield once famously promoted, to keep on pushing. There are socio-political slants in “Let’s Get It Together” (How did this world get turned upside down?) and “Move On” (And you too could be free if you didn’t hate), yet this remains a positive, inspirational set.
That follows sonically as the band basks in the thumping heartbeat of their hometown along with ’70s influences such as Earth, Wind & Fire, The Emotions, and Stevie Wonder. In the ballad “Fences,” Tierinii dives into Ann Peebles territory and brings the gospel on the churchy “Heathen Hearts,” multi-tracking her vocals against stripped-down, throbbing, rhythmic percussion. The uplifting message continues with the propulsive funk of “Move Into the Light” with a gotta keep on movin’ chorus.
Vocalist Jackson, who co-wrote the dozen tracks with guitarist Naftaly, is the focal point, sounding sensual one moment (on the ballads “Love You Nice and Slow” and the Sly Stone-styled “Don’t Hesitate [Call Me])” and powerful the next in the punchy “Pressure.”
Horns added to the majority of the selections bring extra muscle. They infuse additional heft to these soulful slices of sweet and stinging Southern sass. This talented and energetic group clearly has crossover success in its sights.
Listen to Southern Avenue’s Be The Love You Want below.