Stay tuned for an Up Close and Personal interview with Ori Naftaly in the June issue.
Photo credit: David McClister
On their self-titled 2017 debut album, the boundary-breaking Memphis combo Southern Avenue sparked a one-band musical revolution, embodying an effortlessly organic soul/blues/R&B fusion that reflects the band members’ diverse roots as well as their deep commitment to their chosen style. On their second album Keep On, set for release on May 10, 2019 via Concord Records, the dynamic outfit expands its gritty musical vision to embrace new musical challenges and a more expansive creative vision.
To listen to the first single or pre-order the album click here: found.ee/SA_KeepOn
Southern Avenue combines the talents of a prodigiously talented set of young musicians who bring their individual backgrounds to the table to create music that carries the Southern soul legacy into the 21st century, spanning the band members’ wide-ranging musical interests while showcasing the powerful chemistry and electrifying live show that they’ve honed through extensive stage and studio experience. Since the release of their debut, Southern Avenue has played in over a dozen countries and wowed audiences at such festivals as Bonnaroo, Firefly, Electric Forest and Lockn’.
Guitar phenom Ori Naftaly originally built his reputation in his native Israel before joining forces with deeply expressive Memphis-bred singer Tierinii Jackson and her subtly powerful drummer sister, Tikyra Jackson. The band’s lineup is rounded out by versatile keyboardist Jeremy Powell, an early alumnus of Stax Records’ renowned music academy.
Keep On brilliantly captures Southern Avenue’s combustible chemistry, with the emotion-charged energy of such distinctive originals as “Whiskey Love,” “Savior,” “Too Good for You” and “We Are Not So Different” reflecting the players’ evolving talents as well as the influence of the extensive roadwork that they’ve invested in the band. The musicians recorded the album with producer Johnny Black (Jessie J, Daughtry, Estelle) at Memphis’ legendary Sam Phillips Recording, with guest appearances by seminal Stax Records artist William Bell, noted Memphis musician Gage Markey (who serves as guest bassist on most of the album) and a horn section comprised of Art Edmaiston (JJ Grey & Mofro, Gregg Allman) and Marc Franklin (The Bo-Keys, Gregg Allman).
GRAMMY Award winner Bell, a formative figure in the development of Southern soul, was impressed by the band’s talents. “In terms of new artists with the talent to become the stars of the future, you need to look no further than Southern Avenue,” Bell commented.
The critics have been similarly impressed. “Southern Avenue’s modern sound melds gospel-infused R&B with a rootsy rock feel,” wrote Mix. Relix referred to Southern Avenue as “a deeply soulful Memphis band that’s turning the scene on its head,” while Goldmine called their music “a frothy Memphis soul stew fit to twitch your body to in ways you didn’t think you could,” The Chicago Reader called the band’s debut album “a boiling retro-soul primer,” adding that “Tierinii has a riveting stage presence. They do the Stax legacy proud.” No Depression commented that it’s “easy to imagine Southern Avenue as a house band in their native Memphis or Muscle Shoals in the glory days of the ’60s, sent back to the future to save us from inauthenticity and our collective hurt.”
“Making this album was an interesting journey,” Ori says of Keep On. “Our first album was recorded very fast and released very fast. With this one, we spent a long time planning, and we knew how we wanted it sound. For me, it’s a big progression from the first album.”
“The experience was completely different from making the first one,” adds Tierinii. “We learned a lot about each other and a lot about the band.”
As producer Johnny Black notes, “The thing that stood out most to me about Southern Avenue is their dedication to making this record ‘the hard way.’ Even in their selection of studios; by picking Sam Phillips Recording, the band, in essence, forced themselves to record within the same parameters as some of their heroes. And while that process may have taken extra time, it was well worth the effort.”
The seeds for Southern Avenue’s birth were first planted when Ori Naftaly, who’d grown up in Israel with a deep-rooted passion for American soul, blues and funk, came to Memphis in 2013 to compete in the prestigious International Blues Challenge. Although his talents were embraced by American audiences, Naftaly felt constrained in his own band, feeling the need to embrace a more expansive musical vision. That opportunity arrived when he met Tierinii Jackson, who’d gotten her start singing in church, before performing in a series of cover bands and theatrical projects.
Despite not having a record deal at the time, Southern Avenue quickly found success touring in America and Europe. They won additional attention playing some high-profile festivals and making it to the finals in the International Blues Challenge.
The band’s self-titled debut was released in 2017, hitting #6 on Billboard’s Top Blues Albums Chart, reaching #1 on the iTunes Blues Chart and prominently sitting in the Americana radio Top 30 for nearly six months. The success of the album created demand for the band in both the U.S. and throughout the world performing in high-profile festivals around the globe. Since that time the band has seemingly lived on the road with over 300 shows under their belts. Building their audience one show at a time, they have headlined countless rooms from coast to coast and have toured with artists including Buddy Guy, JJ Grey & Mofro, Umphrey’s McGee, Los Lobos, North Mississippi Allstars and Karl Denson to name a few.
“We love playing live,” says Ori, “It’s that connection with our fans that makes the time away from home worth it. Fans become our family out on the road, and we love experiencing music together with them each and every night.”
Their efforts were further acknowledged by fans and peers in 2018, when their Stax debut was honored with a Blues Music Award for “Best Emerging Artist Album.”
“What makes it Southern Avenue,” said Tierinii, “is that when we come together, the music we make together is music we could never come up with individually. It’s really rewarding to have so many influences in the band, and that we can find the balance between them.”
“I’m proud that we don’t sound like anyone else,” Ori asserts. “We’ve been all over the world, from Australia to Poland to Norway to Spain to Canada to Mexico. Those experiences, and all the highs and lows, it’s all reflected in the music. I’ve waited all my life to be in a band like this, and it’s amazing to me that I get to play with these people every night.”