Avery Sunshine knew, before she finished recording, that her new album would be called “Twenty Sixty Four.”
The Atlanta soul/R&B vocal powerhouse vowed she would never marry again, but when her longtime musical partner, guitarist Dana “Big Dane” Johnson proposed, her perspective on everlasting love flip-flopped.
“My prayer after he proposed was, ‘God, if you could just give me ‘til 2064 with this man,’ when I’ll be 89 and he’ll be 91. … I got home and sat down at the keyboard and the (title) tune came right to me. I said, ‘I promise I won’t cuss anymore. I’ll eat my vegetables. I’ll be good!’” Sunshine said with a typically throaty laugh.
Sunshine (born Denise White) and Johnson met while they were students in college — she at Spelman, he at Morehouse. They married in April 2016 and immediately began work on her third album at 800 East Studios in Atlanta, where they have recorded together for more than a decade.
Some of the songs, though, such as “Used Car” and “Everything I’ve Got,” were written several years ago and left to marinate.
“(The songs) all evolve. We let the songs dictate their own signature and then we bring in other energy and let whoever is playing bass or drums play and just be. It really does sometimes morph into something better,” she said.
With both the refreshed older songs and the new material written for “Twenty Sixty Four,” Sunshine knew she wanted to make some changes to her musical approach to the album.
Live strings. More horns. Increased collaboration.
Soul singer Eric Roberson co-wrote a trio of songs; Grammy-winning trumpeter Keyon Harrold adds a punchy undercurrent to the gliding “Come Do Nothing”; and Mr. Talkbox, featured on Bruno Mars’ hit “24K Magic,” inserts his distorted specialty sounds on “Heaven is Right Here.”
“Like children,” Sunshine, a mom of two, said, “every album is like a child. But I will say this, I do feel like this is our best work. I do feel we were able to do some more things on this album that helped make it our best work.”
Since releasing her critically adored second album in 2015, “The SunRoom,” which spawned the hit “Call My Name,” Sunshine’s music has caught the ear of a high-profile fan – Aretha Franklin, who invited her to perform at her birthday party and then a Christmas gathering.
Sunshine sang, as well, for Smokey Robinson at his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum tribute in November 2015.
“There is a photo of Berry Gordy (Jr.) holding my face in his hands. I felt like I was being knighted!” Sunshine said, still with a hint of incredulity in her voice.
And then there is the worldwide touring.
“We’re on a perpetual tour. We’ve been on tour since 2010, and that’s a great problem to have, if you can call it a problem,” Sunshine said.
She and Johnson will dash around Australia and Europe through most of May and hit a few music festivals this summer in the U.S.
This fall, she’ll perform with Lalah Hathaway at the Fox Theatre on Sept. 16 (tickets are on sale now) and in December, return for several shows at City Winery, which she said is, “becoming an Atlanta tradition.”
For the closing moments on “Twenty Sixty Four,” Sunshine chose to revisit the hymn, “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” which features piano from gospel super-producer Kevin Bond.
It’s a fitting coda to a musical collection that spotlights Sunshine’s most lush and meaningful songs to date, as well as a calming summation of an album that she jokes has been “30 years in the making.”
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