A first album can be a getting-to-know-you process not only for the budding artist-audience relationship but also for the people who’ve joined forces to create the music.
That’s how it was for Tierinii Jackson, singer for the Memphis, Tennessee-based soul group Southern Avenue. When she teamed up with guitarist Ori Naftaly, “he hired me to write for his band and his project, so half of the songs on the first album, I wrote for him,” she explains.
A lot has changed since Southern Avenue’s self-titled debut dropped in 2017. With Keep On, released in May via Concord Records, “I was more invested because we’ve grown so much as a band and as partners — invested in a different way from the first album,” Jackson says.
Naftaly echoes Jackson’s sentiments.
“We grew up a lot both musically and personally since 2017, and we feel like it shows in the songs,” says Naftaly, who arrived in Memphis six years ago. “We had more time to write, and we all know each other better, and that enabled us to be more free with our musicality.”
In the past, Naftaly has talked about Southern Avenue embracing the “Memphis traditions,” which he describes as “play it like you mean it, be creative and put some horns on it.” With Keep On, the band checks off those boxes. The album’s 12 songs were produced by Johnny Black and tracked very close to home, geographically and spiritually — at Sam Phillips Recording, which since opening in the city more than 50 years ago has been used by Booker T. Jones, The Memphis Horns, Steve Cropper and many others.
“We always recorded and worked in an analog environment,” says Naftaly. “Sam Phillips was the first studio that we ever worked in that is also a museum. That energy was different.”
What remains the same is Southern Avenue’s link to Stax. Aside from recording at a facility previously used by the aforementioned Stax legends, keyboardist Jeremy Powell is a graduate of the Stax Music Academy, and the band cooks with the same musical ingredients that Stax artists did during the 1960s and 1970s.
“We want to make timeless music with a timeless sound,” says Jackson. “We just make music, and because people relate it to Stax, it makes me feel good to know that I’m staying true to who I am.
“I was raised in the church, and I was raised in Memphis, so that’s what music sounded like to me.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Southern Avenue on tour (schedule subject to change):
July 3: Triple Door — Seattle
July 5: Riverbend Live — Winston, Oregon
July 6: Waterfront Blues Festival — Portland, Oregon
July 10: Club Café — Pittsburgh
July 11: Jams on the Sand — Asbury Park, New Jersey
July 12: Briggs Farm Blues Festival — Nescopeck, Pennsylvania
Photo by David McClister