Southern Avenue guitarist Ori Naftaly came to Memphis from Tel Aviv, Israel to compete in the International Blues Challenge in 2013 with an eponymous band, featuring fellow Israeli musicians. Naftaly’s group made it to the IBC semifinals and ultimately relocated to Memphis permanently. While feeling the need for change and a more collaborative band project, Naftaly met Memphis singer Tierinii Jackson, and the seeds of Southern Avenue were planted. After seeing Jackson sing for the first time, the guitarist says he thought, “This is why I came to America.”
With Tierinii’s sister, Tikyra Jackson, on board as drummer, Naftaly began writing songs with the vocalist, abandoning his solo venture and starting over. The chemistry made Southern Avenue an immediate hit on the Memphis club circuit, and the band began touring the U.S. and Europe. Within a year, Southern Avenue landed a contract with the revived legendary imprint Stax Records, which is now a part of the Concord Music Group and has released recordings by Ben Harper, Melissa Etheridge and Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. The group also found Naftaly back at the International Blues Challenge, where Southern Avenue made it to the finals.
Stax is the perfect match for Southern Avenue because, as Concord’s president John Burk says, the “young group embodies the spirit and sound of Memphis, both past and present.” The band’s self-titled debut for Stax, due for release Feb. 24 and featuring a guest appearance from North Mississippi Allstars’ Luther Dickinson, has some of the retro-Funk and Soul vibe of classic R&B revivalists like Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley, but it’s also full of youthful energy and features more Blues- and Roots-oriented material, offering something a little more eclectic and well-rounded. The album should raise Southern Avenue’s profile exponentially upon its release, so the band’s intimate appearance at the Winter Blues Fest may well turn into one of those “I saw them back when” opportunities for festgoers.
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