Memphis quintet Southern Avenue returns from the studio with their third soul-soaked LP, Be The Love You Want. Following in the footsteps of 2019’s Keep On, the team continues to produce high-quality rhythm and blues that tackle everything from personal positivity to societal commentary with a few sultry love songs thrown in for good measure. The strength of the outfit remains the pairing of individual talents who are humble enough to place the sound of the band above their own personal limelight. The vocal talents of lead singer Tierinii Jackson might dominate the attention of new listeners, but longtime fans will once again appreciate the subtle instrumental nuances that color the band’s deep grooves.
Southern Avenue wastes little time plunging into their opener, “Be The Love You Want.” Rarely do words like groovy and crisp describe the same song, but here the bright attack of rhythm duo Tikyra Jackson (sister of Tierinii) and Evan Sarver manages to find this dynamic. Tierinii’s voice contains a similar duality in that she effortlessly shifts from a dulcet purr to a raw growl within the same phrase. “Control” slips into a more laid-back tone with a heavy emphasis on vocal harmonies and just enough horn contribution to round out the sound without being overbearing as is often the case when bringing in outside horns.
The band keeps things interesting by changing up percussive approaches with snaps, claps, and hand drums, while Ori Naftaly continues to use different guitar tones and rhythms to create different shapes in which Tierinii can flex her vocal muscles. Naftaly stretches out for the occasional solo on “Be The Love You Want,” “Push Now,” and “Pressure,” but he tends to concentrate on creating colorful and sparse guitar lines and cadences in service of the greater song. When Naftaly or keyboardist Jeremy Powell do expound, it is a welcome addition, and some listeners may wish there were a few more segments of this nature. However, the focus on Be The Love You Want are the songs and the rich, soulful sounds.
To that end, Southern Avenue does a very good job with love numbers like “Fences” and “Love You Nice and Slow.” “Heathen Hearts” is a short stripped-down experiment that veers into field song territory. “Pressure” conveys a bit more grit in both the singing and the overall tone of the song, and “Move On”—perhaps the best track of the set—is a funky self-affirming declaration that would feel right at home in many ‘70s-era Stax offerings.
Not to be overlooked through all the lush sonic gloss are the carefully chosen lyrics and messages contained within some of the tunes. As with past albums, the band uses their creations not only as vehicles for musical expression, but also a medium to espouse ideas of self actualization and social consciousness that are common to the soul and gospel influences heard in their music.
Be The Love You Want may not reinvent the wheel in terms of soul-heavy rhythm and blues, but it is an improvement on the band’s past efforts, and contains a lot of good songs. The musicianship is excellent as always and the full-bodied sounds coupled with the members’ genuine and whole-hearted approach will easily get listeners up and moving, singing along, or both.
The Review: 8/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Be The Love You Want
– Move On
The Big Hit
– Move On