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Issue 1084

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Avery*Sunshine: Starlight express

Avery Sunshine @bluesandsoul.com
Avery Sunshine @bluesandsoul.com Avery Sunshine @bluesandsoul.com Avery Sunshine @bluesandsoul.com Avery Sunshine @bluesandsoul.com

One of the most acclaimed and talented artists to have emerged in recent years from Atlanta, Georgiaâs thriving underground soul scene, singer/songwriter/pianist Avery*Sunshine this month releases her eagerly-anticipated sophomore album âThe Sunroomâ through respected UK soul indie Dome Records.

Mostly co-written by Avery herself alongside her long-time musical partner-cum-producer Dana âBigDaneâ Johnson (who impressively co-wrote/co-produced many of the tracks on India.Aireâs 2002 Grammy-winning LP âVoyage To Indiaâ), âThe Sunroomâ once more blends elements of soul, gospel and jazz naturally on a diverse array of authentically-written songs ranging from the swaying, Al Green-inspired âLove (Wonât You Try)â and Motown-influenced, singalong shuffler âI Do Love Youâ to such downtempo ballads as the reconciliatory Quite Storm-flavoured âCall My Nameâ and hypnotically-seductive âSweet Afternoonâ. While in contrast to some of its more rhythmic moments like the joyously-stomping âTime To Shineâ and funkily-loping âSee You When I Get Thereâ, a more back-to-basics/stripped-down feel arrives on the setâs straight-up gospel closer, the acoustic-piano-accompanied âSafe In His Armsâ.

Born Denise Nicole White in Chester, Pennsylvania 38 years ago, Averyâs early gospel roots are currently evident in her long-standing role as choir director at Atlantaâs renowned Ebenezer Baptist Church (where Civil Rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King used to preach), while past credits include working with Eighties soul/Broadway icon Jennifer Holiday as choral director for her 2007 touring production of âDream Girlsâ; singing on the soundtrack to the 2003 romantic comedy film âThe Fighting Temptationsâ; and even being featured vocalist (as Avery Johnson) on The Ananda Projectâs 2007 international dance/club anthem âStalk Youâ. Meanwhile, more recent engagements include singing at several private events during the 2009 Inauguration of President Barack Obama as well as the following year playing a principal role in the history-making âI Dreamâ, the first-ever musical stage-play based on the life of the aforementioned Dr. King.

All of which ultimately led to the 2010 release of Averyâs self-titled debut album. Whose widespread critical acclaim was particularly evident in the UK - where in 2011, in addition to opening for blues legend B.B. King at Londonâs historic Royal Albert Hall, Avery headlined two sold-out shows at the capitalâs Union Chapel as well as appearing on BBC2âs flagship live music show âLater... With Jools Hollandâ on which her well-received performance was publicly acknowledged by fellow guest Ringo Starr, no less.

â¦Cue an ever-upbeat and chatty Avery - whose happy disposition lives up to her surname! - calling up âBlues & Soulâ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis to discuss her aforementioned new second album, while also reflecting on her early, church-oriented musical background.

Averyâs thoughts on how âThe Sunroomâ does at times differ lyrically from her self-titled 2010 debut, and how making it impacted on her as both a person and artist

âWell, Dane and I are always very concerned about what we TALK about. So while on the first album we did speak a lot about romantic love, on this one I did also want to talk about OTHER aspects of life. Which is why for example on the song âSee You When I Get Thereâ I started thinking back to when I was around 17/18 and how, when my brother told me he was gay, I was like âOK, COOL - so letâs have DINNER!â. You know, to me personally it wasnât a big deal and it didnât change who he WAS. Whereas in terms of society in GENERAL, while things are different from how they USED to be, we do still have problems with how it treats people who are different to what we say they SHOULD be. And so on this album that was one of the things I wanted to ADDRESS. You know, whether it be your sexual orientation, the clothes you decide to wear, whatever religion you decide to have or NOT have, I wanted to encourage each of us to live the way we wanna live and love who we wanna LOVE. And then from there it so happened that while we were actually in the process of making this record that theme in itself kinda also began tying in with our OWN situation, in that at the time we were having a lot of external voices telling us âOK, now that youâve had some mild success with the FIRST record these are the kinda songs you oughta be MAKING - they need to be radio-friendly, the hook should be this way, you donât need a bridgeâ¦â. And so because, when you get those kind of notes from people that you respect it can really bother you and have you questioning what youâre supposed to do, between wanting to break outta that AND encourage other people to live their lives in their own way I feel what ultimately happened was I did eventually find MYSELF! In that Iâm now finally in a place where Iâm comfortable in my own skin, Iâm comfortable making the music that I wanna MAKE, Iâm comfortable with my RELATIONSHIP, Iâm comfortable with the SIZE that I am... So yeah, to answer the second part of your question, through doing âThe Sunroomâ I have finally come to realise that you absolutely have to make your own BLUEPRINT! Because nobody else can do that FOR you and the voice on the inside should definitely be louder than the voices on the OUTSIDE, and you wonât be happy until thatâs the CASE! You know, the only way to be truly happy is to do the thing that youâre CREATED to do. And if other people donât like it then hey, let the chips fall when they MAY - it is what it IS!â

Averyâs early background

âWell, I grew up in the inner-city in Chester, Pennsylvania, which is right outside Philadelphia. You know, there was a corner-store and a church on every corner - and I guess Iâd say my parents were working-class. My father made toilet paper and paper towels; my mother was a beautician... And in the home music was ALWAYS present. My parents loved The Spinners, The Four Tops, Nina Simone⦠So I think it was when I was around eight years old that I first told my mom I wanted to play the piano. And though at first she was like âOK, whateverâ, I just wouldnât let UP! Then eventually she saw me sing âSilent Nightâ at a school function, noticed I had some talent - and so they got me a PIANO! And, by the time I was 13, I had my first GIG - playing at a Catholic CHURCH! You know, I think the service was for an-hour-and-15-minutes and for that I was getting paid 175 DOLLARS! And to be honest I think thatâs what first got me hooked on MUSIC! Because I was like âWOW, are you KIDDING me?! Playing piano and singing a little bit - and making 175 BUCKS?!â!!â

How she then went on to a full-time career as a church musician and how that gospel grounding is still evident in her music today

âFrom that first gig at the Catholic church I went on to play at a black Baptist church, a United Methodist church, an African Methodist Episcopal Church⦠And then I also began singing with a choir called The Wilmington/Chester Mass Choir, which is the (award-winning) choir that propelled the artist Daryl Coley onto the gospel map. You know, they had some amazing songs, they had a couple of hits... So yeah, I sang with them through High School and then I moved to Atlanta to go to Spelman College where at 19/20 years old I not only ended up SINGING in the choir but also getting a cheque for DIRECTING it! You know, I just could never get away from gospel MUSIC! Not that I ever really WANTED to, it was just something that was always PRESENT! There was just something so real and genuine about it that I was somehow always able to relate to and still CAN. So as I say, if you listen to my albums then yeah, youâll hear the jazz and youâll hear the soul - but at the core of what I am is always that GOSPEL, that SPIRITUAL thing.â

Avery performs at Islington Assembly Hall, London (June 20) and Old Market, Brighton (21)

The album âThe Sunroomâ is out now through Dome
Words PETE LEWIS

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

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