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MOTU — The Water Is High
((Not on label) no#, 2023, CD)

by Peter Thelen, Published 2023-05-03

The Water Is High Cover art

What is MOTU? Very good question, and as good a place as any to start this review. It stands for Music of the Universe, the stage name of composer, musician, and recording artist Dr. Richard Michelson of Long Island, New York. It’s also the name of Michelson’s band, which has been releasing recordings since 2004, 22 albums to date featuring varying lineups over the years. Michelson’s music is immersed in the blues, informed by jazz and rock stylings, as well as socially conscious lyrics, a sound that found its beginnings in the blues-rock boom of the 60s and has continued onward at various levels ever since. In addition to his compositions, Michelson leaves his trademark abilities on the music at hand through his ability to play just about any instrument with strings — all manner of electric and acoustic guitars, slide dobro, mandolin, banjo, bass, pedal steel, and sitar, plus some superb vocals, often in harmony with Dee Michelson (who does a fair amount of solo vocals as well). Joining them are Ed Modzel at the drum kit and Bob Rush on keyboards and harmonica. Because there is a fair amount of studio overdubbing, one might well presume that the live version of MOTU might have an extra person or two handling bass and second guitar duties, and indeed, the website’s live shows section makes reference to “The MOTU Electric 7-piece Band.” The album leads off with a great blues-rock number with Dee singing solo, “I’m Just Here Playin in This Band,” taking the listener right back to the classic style of yesteryear like Lydia Pense and Cold Blood or The Electric Flag (without the horns, of course). Next comes the title track, a more acoustic-based number in the vein of Taj Mahal with Dr. Rich and Dee harmonizing, and some great harp by Rush; the album’s subtitle is Songs of Love, Lies and Freedom, bringing to light the serious lyrical context in some of these tunes, none more true than “The Brotherhood of Man.” With “That Last Summer Romp” the band is back to a fun bluesy-jazz romp with Dee singing lead, and a great jazzy guitar solo that could be right off of Harvey Mandel’s Righteous, followed by another great solo on mandolin. And so it goes, ten outstanding blues-rock numbers in a variety of styles, MOTU makes them all come to life.

Filed under: New releases, 2023 releases

Related artist(s): MOTU / Dr. Richard Michelson

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