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VISITING ACT ‌ He's A Believer

Oh God, Oteil & The Peacemakers get funky

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Oteil Burbridge (center) and his peacemakers: Too full of the spirit for utterance or chops? Hardly.
  • Oteil Burbridge (center) and his peacemakers: Too full of the spirit for utterance or chops? Hardly.
Oteil & The Peacemakers
w/ The Progression
Fri. Feb. 3
9 p.m.
$12 ($9 adv.)
Pour House
1977 Maybank Hwy.
571-4343
www.charlestonpourhouse.com

"If you want a simple definition of our music in two or three words, you're screwed," laughs Grammy-nominated bassist and bandleader Oteil Burbridge. "Some things you can't categorize. Good Lord, it's like if I asked you to describe Salvador Dali's style in three words. Come on."

Burbridge and his backing band, The Peacemakers, may not be on an official mission from a higher power this season, but they're carrying on like a pack of a spiritually mature improv artists determined to spread the good message. With their newly-released album Believer, the vibes are positive, the grooves are upbeat, and the theme is full of hope and joy.

"This new album of ours has a spiritual concept for sure," says Burbridge, speaking by phone from his home in Birmingham, Ala. "It's just a general theme of my life, really. My last record was the same way. It's just about reflecting how your life is. I'm really proud of the fact that I could invest a lot of spirituality in the lyrics while maintaining jazzy grooves people could latch onto. It's my mission to show you how funky God can be.

"In this culture, we tend to feed ourselves mentally and physically, but not spiritually," he adds. "Not even for churchgoers, many of whom are just going through the motions. I like to ask people how God has affected their lives directly because that's where you get the real story. A lot of people are afraid to reveal what their story is in its entirety. A lot of people are afraid to even reveal it to themselves, much less a bunch of strangers at a concert. That's the challenge for an artist. If you want to be an artist and not just a musician, it's a tough thing, facing your fear and admitting your fear."

Burbridge, a native of the D.C. area who grew up on vintage funk, jazz, and soul music, first gained national attention in the early '90s when he helped Col. Bruce Hampton form the musically unpredictable jam combo Aquarium Rescue Unit. In 1997, he joined the legendary Allman Brothers Band. In recent years, he collaborated with Gov't Mule and Vida Blue, among others.

"I can't play music that's not completely fulfilling in every way," he says. "Everybody has different reasons for playing music. I play music because I have to. It can be like therapy for me for sure ... and it can be therapeutic for others, too. I feel like I'm wasting time if I'm not doing that. Life's too short to just coast, man."

Oteil's talented Peacemakers include a quartet of well-seasoned, virtuosic players from the jam band circuit. Drummer Chris Fryar played with the blues-rock touring group Gravy. Singer Paul Henson is known for his work in the '90s as lead singer of The Aquarium Rescue Unit ("Paul writes all the lyrics that he sings, and I write all the lyrics that I sing," says Burbridge). Classically trained keyboardist Matt Slocum is the newest member of the band. Session guitarist Mark Kimbrell is also a talented veteran of the Southern studio and club scene.

Produced by Burbridge, Chris Tyler, and Penn Robinson, the 11-song Believer bounces with a smooth blend of modern jazz-fusion, soulful funk, and gospel grooves.

"The upbeat sound of the songs reflects the lyrics and the attitude of the band, absolutely," Burbridge assures. "A song may be about a journey through darkness, but the end result is that there is hope because there is God. There is a way to make it through, overcome, survive, and thrive. Even though it's a dark journey, it's still about hope, you know? That's what God is to me. I feel pretty hopeless when I look around at human situations currently — and at how much we have not evolved into total peace. If it wasn't for God, I'd be pretty fatalistic about it.

"We all have spiritual battles and challenges," he continues. "I've been amazed at how overwhelmingly positive the response has been from people ... even people who don't necessarily get it, they may have a good buzz and be getting into the groove or whatever, and you see them singing along to songs that are about Jesus, and you wonder if they're even aware of what they're saying [laughs]. It doesn't matter because they're having a good time."

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