First Impressions: Be the Love You Want by Southern Avenue

No doubt due to my many Fringe binges, as well as a layman’s fascination with theoretical physics brought on by many repeat Big Bang Theory viewings, I subscribe to a multitude of theories involving spacetime, parallel universes and the like, with many of those hypotheses making their way into these pages. For instance, Southern Avenue, a five-piece soul/R&B band from the cradle of the blues, Memphis, is the latest proof that gravitational-induced curvatures in spacetime have caused the past, present and future to collide. Be the Love You Want, their third album, conjures the classic sides found on the mammoth Stax/Volt Singles: 1959-1968 box set while simultaneously sounding fresh and new.

I discovered the soul/R&B band in 2017 thanks to Beau + Luci, aka the “flower children with rock ’n’ roll souls,” who mentioned the group while reeling off a list of acts they were grooving to. I checked out their debut not long thereafter and liked what I heard. Their 2019 sophomore set, Keep On, kept me tuned in. Both were solid sets that possessed glimmers of greatness; that I didn’t feature either within these pages has more to do with this blog being a weekend endeavor – there’s simply not enough time for me to spotlight everything that captures my ear.

The band, for background’s sake, was founded by Israeli guitarist/songwriter Ori Naftaly, who arrived in Memphis in 2013 to compete in the International Blues Challenge. He eventually met charismatic singer Tierinii Jackson and, together with her sister, drummer/vocalist Tikyra Jackson, they formed Southern Avenue. They signed with Stax – by then a subsidiary of Concord Music – in 2017, which released their first two albums. They toured a lot, won over new fans and… 

On Be the Love You Want, those glimmers have transformed into full-fledged incandescence, burning bright and shedding much heat. The opening title track lays down an old-school groove that mixes with the new, a pattern that’s maintained throughout. The lyrics celebrate, ruminate and share insights about this thing called life, from topics d’jour to matters of the heart and soul. Ori Naftaly and Tierinii Jackson co-wrote all the songs, with some buttressed by other collaborators, including Cody Dickinson of the Mississippi All-Stars on “Heathen Hearts” and, on the upbeat “Move Into the Light,” Jason Mraz and Michael Goldwasser.

Another highlight is “Fences,” which Diane just mentioned she loves as much today as she did yesterday. It sports a pronounced Stax vibe that’s accented by heartfelt vocals from Jackson and a scintillating guitar solo from Naftaly. The same could be said for “Let’s Get It Together,” which was undoubtedly inspired by the tumultuous times we find ourselves in. It could well have been written in the 1960s or early ‘70s, however, and will likely be applicable to times up ahead. Everything has happened before and will happen again, after all.

Anyway, I suppose it’s safe to say that many folks have faced some down moments over the past 18 months. I certainly have. But albums such as Be the Love You Want are the sustenance that have, in part, kept me going. It will rock your world and roll your soul, guaranteed, and move you from the darkness and into the light – at least through its 12 songs and 38 minutes. (After that, you’re on your own.) Give it a go.

The track list:

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