Known for their invigorating and scintillating live performances, compellingly honest song writing and radiantly optimistic anthems, Avery*Sunshine has steadily filled a void for those starved for authentic, no holds barred soul and R&B. The dynamic duo, featuring the honey-toned alto of songbird and pianist Avery*Sunshine and guitarist and vocalist Dana “BigDane” Johnson, have collaborated with everyone from Roy Ayers, Will Downing, and Musiq Soulchild to Michael Bublé, David Foster, Anthony Hamilton, and Jennifer Holliday. They have also opened shows for vocal powerhouses Ledisi and Rachelle Ferrell and blues icon B.B. King. On May 27, 2014, Shanachie Entertainment will release Avery*Sunshine’s label debut, The SunRoom, the Atlanta duo’s first new album since their self released and eponymously titled CD four years ago. As the title suggests, The SunRoom is a collection of original material featuring uplifting sun-kissed tracks, blazing retro-soul numbers and scorching R&B ballads. There is also a spine-tingling gospel number that is a special highlight on the CD. The music is potent and the message is simple. “We want people to know that they were created to SHINE and that the world is not complete without all of our individual contributions,” Avery*Sunshine declares. “We were ALL given gifts to share and Dana and I hope that in sharing ours we give our sisters and brothers permission to UNAPOLOGETICALLY do the same.”
The SunRoom is one of those albums that transports you both musically and emotionally. From organic soulful in-the-pocket grooves, sublime ballads and exuberant up-tempo numbers, the vocals shine throughout, the production is tight and the songwriting is authentic and thought provoking. All of the material on the CD was co-written by Avery*Sunshine and Dana “BigDane” Johnson with the exception for the gospel track “Safe In His Arms.” The musical roots of Avery*Sunshine run deep as collectively their creative core has been inspired by such diverse iconic figures as Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, The Doobie Brothers, Curtis Blow, B.B. King and John Coltrane to Parliament & Funkadelic, The Clark Sisters, Madonna, Miles Davis, Earth, Wind & Fire and James Brown.
The SunRoom opens with the steamy “Won’t You Try” beckoning you to ‘try love’ as Avery*Sunshine testifies “it’s the only way.” Avery*Sunshine’s sweet and sultry vocals soar over the pulsating undercurrent of buttery Rhodes while funky horns punctuate the groove and pay homage to Al Green’s 1970s smash hit “Love and Happiness.” Just as love can go from euphoria to disenchantment, Avery*Sunshine takes us there with “Call My Name,” the album’s first single. This memorable Quiet Storm ballad explores the complexities and challenges of trying to make love last. Avery*Sunshine’s vocals are impeccable as she calls to mind timeless ballads in the realm of Roberta Flack and Angela Bofill. “Three amazing musicians: Rodney East, Maurice Fitzgerald and Andre Henry, happened to be in Atlanta playing with R. KELLY at the Fox Theatre while we were recording and they agreed to come to the studio and play on this record. What a blessing!!!!!” shares Avery*Sunshine.
If you have ever experienced Avery*Sunshine live, then you know that their shows are not merely concerts but more like homecomings or family reunions- even if you attend alone! By the end of the show you will be singing along, hugging your neighbors and smiling uncontrollably. Their ability to find the common denominator in their audiences and to make each person feel as if they are intimately engaged in their own conversation with the band, is one of their many gifts. Bringing people together through music is what Avery*Sunshine is all about. The casual interlude S.Y.W.I.G.T is what you would hear at an Avery*Sunshine show as they invite you into their world. Avery*Sunshine is not only a phenomenal vocalist but she can hang with the best on the keys. Those early years listening to Ray Charles and Jimmy Smith can slip out of her solos at any moment.
The SunRoom also features “One Foot Ahead,” a catchy number that The Godfather of Soul would have dug as Avery*Sunshine gets on the good foot with this head-nodding and dance-inducing number. The song is all about forward momentum. As the lyrics say, “I made up my mind, I’ve been broken too long. Not giving in like I did before. I made up my mind. It’s time for change, I’m moving on if I can only see ONE FOOT AHEAD.”
“Time To Shine” is Avery*Sunshine’s Burt Bacharach meets Pharrell’s “Happy” moment but they call it their “Sesame Street” song. You can’t help but fall in love with the positive vibes permeating from every inch of this track- almost impossible not to shine! The sublime ballad “Nothing To Something” took months to write but Avery*Sunshine says that all changed one day. “Well, I fell in love and I was able to finish the song. Yes. Corny. But true. Lol.” Dana’s son Micah inspired the sassy blues-rock number “I Do Love You.” Avery*Sunshine explains, “We poke fun at how the people you love really can PUSH YOUR BUTTONS and how we, seemingly, love them even more!” Also included on The SunRoom are two affirmative, introspective and prayerful “Meditations” and the beautiful “See You When I Get There,” which is a calling for everyone to follow their own path to do what they are destined to do. The song says, “You go your way and I will go mine and I’ll see you when I get there. You might go left and I might choose to go right but I’ll see you when I get there!” “One of my closest friends T-Lee Hill sent me the song “Sweet Afternoon,” explains Avery*Sunshine, the busy mother of two. “I fell in love with the track immediately and was inspired to write about trying to find time to make love and spend time with your significant other. While working, taking care of family and other obligations, priorities shift and making love can fall completely off the ‘to do’ list. Sometimes you have to steal a ‘sweet afternoon.’” The album closes with the transformational gospel number “Safe in His Arms,” which is performed at every show and takes Avery*Sunshine back to her childhood. It is one of those songs she confides she has always drawn strength from. Avery is never far from her gospel roots. She directs the MLK Sr. Choir at the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA.
“There truly would not be an ‘Avery*Sunshine’ without Dana. Meeting him was life changing. He saw something in me that truthfully, is sometimes still hard for me to see. He’s one of my angels,” says Avery*Sunshine. The duo met while students in college and later worked with one another at St. Paul AME Church in Atlanta, where Avery was the minister of music and Dana was a musician at the Church. Dana, shares, “Working with Avery just feels very natural. We have similar upbringings and musical influences and both share a passion for great music.”
Like many of the great singers, Avery*Sunshine’s musical beginnings commenced in the church where she played piano. A native of Chester, PA and a graduate of Spelman College, she quickly made a name for herself working on Atlanta’s independent music scene. In 2005 she lent her voice to the soundtrack for Paramount Pictures’ The Fighting Temptations, and in 2005 she was also hired as lead keyboardist for Tyler Perry’s stage play Meet the Browns. In 2007, she was sought out by Grammy- and Tony Award-winning vocal powerhouse Jennifer Holliday to be choral director for the theatrical production of Dreamgirls during the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta. Avery*Sunshine has also had the distinction of performing at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, CO and four private events during the 2009 Inauguration of President Barack Obama. At home in a variety of musical contexts, she has also sung background for gospel icon Yolanda Adams.
With the release of The SunRoom, it is obvious that Avery*Sunshine and Dana “BigDane” Johnson are no ordinary stars and that their magnetic field of positivity has a gravitational pull that is destined to resonate with the masses. “Our mission is simple: to inspire and encourage people to pursue whatever their life calling is and to operate at the highest level of themselves through that calling – ultimately to #SHINE.”
Avery Sunshine 02-03-15 was originally published on blackamericaweb.com