If Atlanta-based soul singer Avery*Sunshine decided to pack her bags and skedaddle out of town, it would be understandable. With a crisp, accessible vocal style, and a recently released sophomore album, The SunRoom, garnering national buzz, Sunshine is poised to expand her fan base. The allure of a larger market with greater access to record labels and other major-league amenities has to be tempting. But Sunshine, a native of Chester, Penn., says she sticks around Atlanta, in part, because she spent a good chunk of her formative years here.
This August marks 21 years that the Spelman graduate and director of the MLK senior choir at Ebenezer Baptist Church has been in Atlanta. "I got married here, had my babies here — got divorced here," Sunshine says. "I've been here longer than I was in Pennsylvania — I'm a 'Philly Peach.'"
Beyond the sentimental connections, her musical roots run deep. Sunshine has a crystal clear sound that blends the vocal acrobatics of the pulpit with the funky phraseology you'd find in a juke joint. She records at 800 East, the Poncey-Highland recording hub frequented by artists such as Anthony David and Chantae Cann, and underground producers such as Khari Simmons and Daz-I-Kue.
She creates most of her songs with longtime collaborator, guitarist Dana "BigDane" Johnson. The pair — who met when Sunshine was a member of the local soul duo Daisy Rew, which Johnson produced tracks for — has performed with everyone from Roy Ayers, Will Downing, and Musiq Soulchild to Michael Bublé, David Foster, Anthony Hamilton, and Jennifer Holliday.
"We had to make a decision whether to stop recording/performing and call it quits or continue as a solo act," Johnson says. "We complement each other, in the studio or performing live. It comes naturally for us."
The SunRoom retains a radio-friendly appeal while taking shape as Sunshine's most soulful and lyrically uplifting material to date. Songs such as "I Do Love You" and "One Foot Ahead" drip with a Southern soul sound that could have been lifted straight from the Stax vault.
Other numbers such as "Time to Shine" and "Meditation #2" invoke a degree of optimism that is usually reserved for gospel music. Of course, Sunshine and Johnson could have crafted more commercially viable tunes this time around, but they followed their creative hearts to a greater reward than dollar signs.
"We had a label exec say to us: '[The SunRoom] isn't that good. Your first album is better,'' Sunshine says. "But [Dana and I] know it's better than the first album. The first record was a trial. I wasn't trying to be an artist. It was my partner Dana who said, 'I think you should try this. I think you have something.' [The SunRoom] is my acceptance speech to being a recording artist. Like, 'OK, I'm supposed to be here.'"