Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Listened to lately - Southern Avenue, and Ghost Town Blues Band

It’s time to catch up with the 2019 album releases from a couple of Memphis-based bands, which one way or another I never got round to covering last year.

Southern Avenue – Keep On

Voices.  That’s where to focus first of all when you listen to this second album from Southern Avenue.  Because lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson and her drumming sis Tikyra dish up some of the most sublime soul vocals you’re likely to encounter in this day and age.  That’s not all
that Southern Avenue have to offer, but oh mama it’s a helluva trump card.
The vocal quality is probably most obvious on the dreamy soul ballads ‘Savior’ and ‘We’re
Southern Avenue - cool threads gang!
Pic by David McClister
Gonna Make It’, both of which feature the combination of the Jackson sisters’ voices in luscious harmonies.  The former features a delicious vocal-dominated outro, and demonstrates their willingness to shrug off typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-solo etc song structures. amd the latter serving up a delicate, bluesy guitar solo.  The latter is a gospel-tinged closer, sporting an affirmative lyric and a delicate, bluesy guitar solo from Ori Naftaly.
But they can funk it up too.  There’s the tickling riff and sparse rhythm section of ‘Whiskey Love’; the twitchiness of ‘Jive’ with its spiky guitar line, its upbeat sax break that adds seasoning, and Tierinii’s soaring vocal notes; and best of all ‘Switchup’, which sounds like a James Brown track sung by Aretha Franklin.
The do straighter soul well too, as on the opening title track with its sophisticated rhythm, its shifts from ripples of guitar to toots of horns and the swirl of Jeremy Powell’s organ, and a divine Tierinii vocal that peaks with a startling high note.  Or on ‘Too Good For You’, where a skipping rhythm, smooth swells of horns create a sweet soul groove that gets jaunty over repeated “Bye byes”, ahead of a brief and understated piano-guitar interlude.
The other highlight though, is the bump’n’grind of ‘She Gets Me High’, a frank description of how, when things go wrong with her man, the protagonist is more than happy to get some sexual healing from her girlfriend.  The horns double up on a neat guitar line over a steady beat, and after a nifty little bridge a piercing Naftaly solo leads towards a more urgent, er, climax.
Now and then I reckon Naftaly’s guitar and Powell’s keys could be given more prominence, to complement the plentiful vocal pleasures and lend a bit more oomph to a couple of rather slight songs.  But Keep On does more than enough to ensure that Southern Avenue stand out from the herd.  And they can do it live too, where Tierinii Jackson shows off firecracker performance levels.  Little wonder they’ve picked up Blues Music Award nominations for Band Of The Year and Best Soul-Blues Album.

Keep On was released on Concord Records in May 2019.

Ghost Town Blues Band – Shine

I’ve had a soft spot for GTBB since encountering them live in the Rum Boogie Café in Beale Street, while holidaying down the Mississippi.  Their combination of rhythmic blues and horn-infused Stax soul, with occasional injections of cigar box guitar from front man Matt Isbell, was delivered with wit and a sense of fun, and was right up my street.
Listening to their latest album Shine, I get the impression they’ve been broadening their horizons a bit.  They can still serve up a warm Southern vibe, as on the opener ‘Running Out Of Time’, with its light, loping riff complemented by horns, its rootsy slide guitar fills and its easy-going chorus.
GTBB enjoy the Blues Enthused verdict on Shine
Or on the Stax-like blues of 'Shine' itself, with its grooving rhythm guitar and horn riffing, sparky, scampering guitar solo, undertow of organ and “C’mon people” refrain.  But now there are also songs that seem to carry hints of Southern rock.  There are distant echoes of ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ in the laid back ‘Lyin’ To Yourself’, with its tinkling piano and patient, clear-toned guitar soloing from Taylor Orr that acquires more bite when they surge into another gear towards the end.  But in the latter half of the album it’s the Black Crowes who seem to enter the equation, ranging from the mid-paced ‘High Again’ with its appealing melody and tripping rhythm, to the slower highlight ‘Carry Me Home’, with its woozy guitar intro and mournful swells of horns, and ‘Heading Nowhere Fast’, on which an organ break mingles with flickers of guitar, while Isbell’s distinctive, husky voice sings of “Heading nowhere fast but making good time”.
They do have other strings to their bow though, with the upbeat shuffle of ‘Givin’ It All Away’ showcasing an excellent trombone solo from Suavo Jones, some hip-hop rapping giving a modern edge to ‘Dirty’, and the slow and quiet start to the engaging ‘Hey There Lucinda’ featuring weeping slide guitar and organ before the beat picks up.
Shine demonstrates that Ghost Town Blues Band aren’t content to keep peddling the same old, same old.  It may feel a bit sombre at times, but overall it does what it says on the tin.  And my soft spot for them endures.

Shine was released on 4 October 2019.

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