If you aren’t already familiar with up-and-coming blues group Southern Avenue, you will be soon. Bleeding with talent and breathing new life into modern soul music, this Memphis-based ensemble has been making waves since their formation in 2015. Seamlessly combining the timeless sounds of blues and soul music with funk, rock, and a tinge of gospel, the group creates a sound that is retro and familiar yet entirely their own.
The band’s origin story is a unique one. Guitarist Ori Naftaly, originally from a small town in Israel, came to Memphis in 2013 to compete with his former band, the Ori Naftaly Band, in the 2013 International Blues Challenge. They placed in the semi-finals and began touring the U.S. and Europe. Naftaly permanently moved to Memphis later that same year. Despite his band’s success, he craved a change. By word of mouth, he found Tierinii Jackson, a Memphis native who grew up singing in church. She introduced Naftaly to her drummer sister, TK Jackson, and soon after, Southern Avenue was born. Jeremy Powell, the group’s keyboardist, had already been a part of Naftaly’s projects and helped out with Southern Avenue. When he was invited to formally join the band, he agreed. Evan Sarver rounds out the group as Southern Avenue’s bassist.
The group first turned heads when they competed in the 2016 International Blues Challenge. While they didn’t win first place, they did reach the finals and their contribution to the festival earned them enough buzz to land a recording contract with Stax Records less than a year later. Since then, they have released two studio albums, toured the U.S. and Europe, and have even earned a nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album at the 62nd Grammy Awards for their sophomore record Keep On.
The eclectic mix of individuals that make up the band is mirrored in the group’s sound. Though there are nods to the traditional blues genre scattered throughout their catalogue of music, there is a freshness to the sound that separates Southern Avenue from the classic blues you may already be a fan of. The steady handle they have on the anatomy of a great song shines through on every track. For those who have never listened, expect soulful lyrics, catchy choruses, and funk-infused beats that scream to be danced to. Even their romantic slow burners, like “Love Me Right” and “Lucky,” are imbued with a healthy dose of groove.
Southern Avenue’s sonic anchor is Tierinii’s magnificent voice, which serves as the common thread that ties together the band’s varied sonic landscapes. She and Naftaly pen most of the songs, apart from songs they cover, such as “Slipped, Tripped, And Fell In Love” on their debut album. In an interview with iEDM, they explained that they write largely about their personal journeys and experiences and while they always attempt to paint an honest picture of life, they also strive to send out positive messages to their audience. This idea is exemplified in tracks like “Peace Will Come,” “We Are Not So Different,” and “We’ve Got the Music,” all of which acknowledge the chaotic current socio-political climate and call for peace, love, and togetherness as an antidote.
Peppered alongside these subtly political tracks are a slew of easygoing jams. Title track “Keep On” from the group’s sophomore record has the catchiness of a Top 40 hit but the heart of an underground soul track. Dreamy “Wildflower” carries the warmth of a summer day in the band’s southern home base. Loud, funky tracks ”Jive” and “Switchup” are essential for any up-tempo blues mix and guaranteed to call sidelined party-goers straight to the dance floor.
Despite the unwanted pause the COVID-19 Pandemic put on the music world globally, Southern Avenue is already bouncing back with two new singles ahead of their upcoming album BE THE LOVE YOU WANT. The first, “Push Now,” is a groovy track about pushing oneself to overcome obstacles and chase big dreams. A teaser for their second single, “Move Into the Light” (out on July 9, 2021), promises big, buoyant brass and a sizzling rhythm perfect for mid-summer.
All in all, the group’s pure musical talent, coupled with their electric chemistry, makes for a listening experience that will conjure the gritty, exuberant, festive mood of Memphis’ famous Beale Street and dare your feet to tap, hips to sway, and head to nod. Despite being somewhat new to the scene, if Southern Avenue continues their current trajectory, this is only the very beginning of what will undoubtedly be a remarkable contribution to the blues genre for years to come.
The group is known for their incredible live performances, so don’t miss your chance to see them bring the house down at this year’s Roots N Blues Festival in Columbia, Missouri on Sunday, September 26, 2021. BE THE LOVE YOU WANT is out August 27, 2021. In the meantime, check out their latest single, “Push Now,” and its accompanying music video, here.