At their best live, Southern Avenue finds enough soul, R&B and pop to please middling blues fans while maintaining enough roots and respect for the genre to satisfy hardcore blues veterans.
The difference between the Memphis-based band’s virtuosity and energy on Be The Love You Want (out August 27) and their live performances is pronounced, and yet, it seems the band took steps to alleviate the issue. The production seems louder, tougher and sharper, with brassy horns and a clearer sound than their previous release Keep On. The songs take on a shorter pop identity, giving less room for guitarist Ori Naftaly and keyboardist Jeremy Powell to flash their amazing abilities.
This may be because the band wanted to feature frontwoman Tierinii Jackson and her drummer sister, Tikyra – a shrewd pop move, no doubt. Tierinii is one of the more engaging, dynamic and talented singers on the national scene, and her sister sings brilliant backup. One track, “Heathen Hearts,” features only their two vocals and a sparse beat, and it shines.
While trimming up the songs and putting Jackson out front feels like an attempt to get more fans, focusing on the Jacksons does limit the full band experience. More traditional songwriting and more soloing from Naftaly and Powell would satisfy old-school fans, displaying all of what Southern Avenue has to offer.
Still, this album is a joy. “Be The Love You Want,” the opening, title track, hits like a wallop, and “Move Into The Light,” (a co-write with Jason Mraz) is better than 95 percent of what’s on the radio. “Let’s Get It Together,” and single “Push Now” manage to capture Tierinii’s considerable stage presence, making the album worth it.
Perhaps it’s unfair to compare Southern Avenue’s latest recording with their knock-off-your-socks live show, but they came close on Keep On. Treat Be The Love You Want as an hors d’oeuvre until you can feast upon their prodigious on-stage talents this summer.
Be The Love You Want is out August 27 via Renew records. Catch Southern Avenue live, nation-wide this summer, and in Crested Butte September 1 and in Boulder via ETown Presents September 2. Visit southernavenuemusic.com for more.