EAST STROUDSBURG — “When it hurts real bad,” lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson’s smooth, rich voice insists …
“Don’t give up,” the rest of the band Southern Avenue chimes in.
“When you feel there’s no hope,” Jackson continues …
“Don’t give up,” the band mates respond in a soothing, rhythmic mantra.
When the five members of Southern Avenue bring their own blend of blues, gospel and soul music to the Pocono Palace Resort in East Stroudsburg on Aug. 31, the comforting “Don’t Give Up,” is likely to be on the set list.
“Our songs don’t talk about the sun and the moon and the ocean,” said composer/guitarist Ori Naftaly, who wrote the song, which can be found on the band’s self-titled debut album. “There’s a bit more meaning than that. We hope everyone can relate.”
No doubt most people can relate. Some might even wish they could wrap the song around themselves and burrow into it like a blanket.
“The blues is really about being simple and being real,” said Naftaly, who explained he started to appreciate the genre when he was a little kid, listening to his parents’ records.
The blues weren’t really popular in Israel, where he grew up, at last not until after the legendary bluesman B.B. King died in 2015.
“For some reason blues kind of exploded then,” the young musician said. “Weirdly so.”
Realizing he wanted to play the blues himself and learn about them in their birthplace, Naftaly had already moved to the United States by 2013.
“I didn’t want to be an ambassador (of the blues) in Israel,” he said. “I wanted to be a student here.”
Here he met Tierinii Jackson, a Memphis native who had grown up singing gospel in church before moving on to cover bands and theatrical projects.
“When I saw Tierinii perform, I thought, ‘This is why I came to America.’ I met her and we clicked,” Naftaly recalled. “We had such a good vibe, and suddenly I didn’t care so much about my solo thing.”
After the pair decided to collaborate, Naftaly said, “We threw out most of the songs I’d been playing in my solo band, and Tierinii and I wrote a whole new set.”
The sister of Naftaly’s new partner, Tikyra Jackson, joined Southern Avenue as a drummer, and the band is rounded out by bassist Daniel McKee and keyboardist Jeremy Powell.
“We’re all one big family. We spend 300 days a year together. We’re past the point of ‘is this going to work out?’ ” said Naftaly, explaining it’s not just the music that unites the group. Tierinii is his fiancee now and Tikyra is his future sister-in-law.
Musically, the group draws from many influences, including “church and gospel and rhythm and blues,” he said. “I’m the blues.”
The group is delighted to be in Memphis, where its namesake, Southern Avenue, refers to a long thoroughfare that “runs from the easternmost part of the city limits all the way to Soulsville, the original home of Stax Records.”
“We’re not a ‘blues band’,” Naftaly said. “Blues brought rock ‘n roll. Blues brought hip hop. Blues brought a lot of things. We’re using blues as a root to do whatever we want.”
What the group wants is to introduce audiences to its own original music, including such numbers as the wistful “What Did I Do” and the celebratory “It’s Gonna Be Alright” and to pay tribute to its roots by putting its own spin on such classics as Ann Peebles’ “Slipped, Tripped and Fell in Love.”
“We don’t want to redo the old. We put our own stamp on it,” Naftaly said of that last song. “The original was not as cheerful as we did it. We make it a bit fresh, for this era. We play it with more intensity and make it into a party song.”
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT