Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Southern Avenue - Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, 15 July 2018

Southern Avenue’s self-titled debut album from 2017 may be a good introduction to their bluesy, gospel-tinged soul oeuvre, but this performance demonstrates that onstage they spring to life in vivid Technicolor.
Signed to the modern version of Stax Records, Southern Avenue have the goods to refresh the Sixties soul aesthetic in a similar fashion to Vintage Trouble.  Ori Naftaly’s guitar often adds a new slant to the basic soul template, drummer Tikyra Jackson and touring bassist Gage Markey inject bouts of serious syncopation, and Jeremy Powell throws an adrenaline rush of organ into the mix.
Tierinii Jackson - tiny but towering
And then there’s Tierinii Jackson.  Right from their opening number, the uptempo R’n’B of ’80 Miles From Memphis’, Southern Avenue’s lead singer is an elphin bundle of positive energy and charisma who shows the potential to propel the band to another level.  She’s got vocal power to burn - goodness where it comes from, as she’s tiny. She also hints at some jazzy capabilities now and then, but more to the point she has the kind of church background that enables her to do justice to the gospel inflections of their sound with ease, and also the sensitivity to do justice to the dreamy soul of ‘It’s Gonna Be Alright’ – with added harmonies from sister Tikyra.  Add to that a winning smile, and a readiness to dance like the music demands it, and you have one helluva magnetic performer.
From the debut album, ‘What Did I Do’ is built on a guitar lick that strongly recalls Corner Shop’s ‘Brimful Of Asha’, of all things, and Naftaly serves up some serious twang. ‘Peace Will Come’ is a slice of gospel for the 21stCentury, sounding like a mash-up between ‘Wade In The Water’ and Tommy Castro’s ‘Common Ground’.  They demonstrate good dynamics, starting off slow and steady before funking it up with chunky guitar and keys riffs, while Naftaly shows off his penchant for rockabilly-tinged guitar soloing – not for the first or last time. Ann Peebles’ ‘Slipped, Tripped, Fell In Love’ meanwhile, the only cover on the album, is simply a spot-on blast.
They rouse the audience with a few other nifty cover versions too, like Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’, slowed and sultry in a Stax-like stew, a suitably strutting stab at ‘Come
Southern Avenue strut their soulful stuff
Together’, and a relaxed, loose reading of Etta James’ ‘Blues Is My Business’.
They close the set proper with the anthemic gospel soul of ‘Don’t Give Up’, on which the audience are recruited into a call and response routine for the duration of the song, while Powell gets stuck into an organ wig-out, and Jackson goes into towering mode with her vocals.  Then they put an unexpected cherry on top with a whirl through ‘Superstition’, with Laftaly conjuring up some interesting wah-wah – except, y’know, who cares about details like guitar tones by that stage, with the crowd getting to their feet to dish out a warm ovation?
Southern Avenue still have some growing to do, to be sure.  I had the impression they slotted in some new songs along the way tonight, without identifying any titles, and if so they were all well up to the mark. But they could still do with a few more to help them cut down on the number of covers.  And now and then it felt like they needed to find another gear, to give it all a bit more dig.  These things will come, but in the meantime they won a bundle more fans with this show.

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