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Oteil Burbridge Summons Water in the Desert

With obligations to the Allman Brothers Band and Dead & Company plus reunion dates with Col. Bruce Hampton & the Aquarium Rescue Unit, guest spots on albums, a variety of collaborative performances and a newborn, it’s not surprising that the next solo album by bassist extraordinaire Oteil Burbridge took awhile.

The recently released Water in the Desert began 10 years ago when Oteil started the writing process. Produced by David Ryan Harris (who also sings on the album), Burbridge is joined by his brother Kofi Burbridge on keyboards, Dave Yoke on guitar, Lil’ John Roberts and Sean O’Rourke on drums, Miguel Atwood Ferguson on strings and Alfreda Gerald and Mark Rivers on vocals.

With the songs incorporating elements of R&B, Jazz, Gospel, Funk, Blues and Rock, the album reflects his listening background and inspirations.

In the press release announcing the album Burbridge said, “They are all songs about love in some way,” he said, “finding out how to love yourself, hoping that another loved one will love you just as you are, believing in someone when they find it hard to believe in themselves, love gone wrong, or finally finding the “perfect fit.” I feel like every problem we have on earth in some way comes back to the lack of love. That’s really what this record is about.”

Burbridge hits the road for a week of dates in support of the “Water in the Desert.” Oteil & Friends includes Melvin Seals, Eric Krasno, John Kadlecik, Jay Lane, Weedie Braimah, and Alfreda Gerald. Seals will not be performing on the Nov. 6 date.

With a barely a moment to catch his breath, he reunites with the members of Dead & Company for that band’s fall tour.

JPG: You started writing the album 10 years ago. Did you consider it as a hobby of sorts, one that you would come back to when you had the chance during breaks from The Allman Brothers Band and Dead & Company?

OB: I usually just write when ideas are coming freely and I have to get them down before they disappear on me. I used to write a lot more in the winter because I was more confined to the house. I also used to write in the early mornings between 3 and 8 a.m. because I’m usually awake then.

I had a little demo studio in the basement of my old house and no children when I wrote the songs on “Water in the Desert.” Since we moved to a new house in Florida, I don’t have a studio in the house anymore and now I also have a 2 1/2 year old, so I don’t get the chance to write as much. Music and composition are so many things to me: they’re pastimes, therapy, games, meditations, lifelong practice, jobs, work, play, forms of prayer, mourning, celebrating and healthy ways of killing time, if I ever actually have time to kill anymore!

JPG: How did you come up with the theme of Water in the Desert, and all of its songs being related to love?

OB: I didn’t really set out to do an album with a theme. It’s just something that I noticed about the record when I was asked about it. I guess that’s where my head was at at the time. It still is philosophically. Look at the political, religious and economic wars being waged right now. And all of the above are simultaneously wars on the environment. It’s really sad. It also has a really negative effect on our individual and collective psyche.

JPG: Elaborate on the way the album plays out – “finding out how to love yourself, hoping that another loved one will love you just as you are, believing in someone when they find it hard to believe in themselves, love gone wrong, or finally finding the “perfect fit.“”

OB: There really is no order to it. It’s very random. The songs are more like different bodies held in orbit by the sun than a narrative with a beginning, middle and end.

JPG: In the album’s press release you say, “I feel like every problem we have on earth in some way comes back to the lack of love. That’s really what this record is about.” Do you see these songs, your upcoming tour and what you contribute as a musician in a spiritual way? In a divided, angry society how do you see such a message getting through to people who need it?

OB: The answer to the first part of your question is yes. It is my spiritual contribution. But it’s also a practical one. It’s not practical to keep killing each other and the environment. The environment will recover but we won’t. What we are doing is not only homicidal and “eco-cidal” but also suicidal. It’s insane.

But I don’t expect the message to be received or accepted by everyone. I can’t reasonably expect everyone to get it. In my opinion we are all fighting against our reptilian brain. It’s the oldest and arguably the strongest part of our brains. In my opinion it is the “Satan”, the “adversary”. It’s in us all just like peace and Love are.

Sages both ancient and modern believe that strengthening the peace and love part while starving the war and hate part can overcome it. I lose the battle every day. I’m not in my car for 5 minutes before my first fail! I get frustrated and mad at my son and he’s only two and a half. That’s how evolved I am! I’m fighting the battle every day. If I can’t accomplish it myself, even in the small things, how can I expect a nation to do it?

So, I guess I must accept both. It’s like a sine wave. It oscillates equally up and down. That is life. If all life is vibration, and science tells us that it is, then it is equally up and down, positive and negative, good and bad, or good and evil. I must accept both. Maybe evil will never be defeated here on earth. Maybe it’s not supposed to be. We would have nothing to do! The Tao says, “What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher? What is a bad man but a good man’s job?”

JPG: Can you talk a bit more about the album title, Water in the Desert, because after listening to the song, I can see it fitting within the album’s central theme but it can also reference numerous things.

OB: It is the central theme of the album. Obviously, it’s a love song first but it’s also about the spiritual power of love in general. That’s what the whole album is about. It’s about what we really need to be healthy. And not just in the physical sense. It’s about being healthy emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. If all we consider important is what we learn from rationalistic materialism and we don’t give equal importance to the subjective side, then we will never get out of the morass we find ourselves in individually and as a society. No one can scientifically prove that genocide or slavery or any form of abuse is wrong but we know that it is. And let’s not forget science has given us all manner of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear waste, Monsanto, oil spills, plastic islands in the oceans, air pollution, ozone depletion, the capability to annihilate every single person on the planet, etc.

And to all those people that say that religion is the cause of most wars I would ask them a question. What would all these religious wars be without science? People throwing rocks at each other? I believe our reptilian brains can make science just as evil and deadly as religion, so both sides can share the blame. If we can seriously consider and address the spiritual deficits in our individual and corporate lives, we can have more compassion in all aspects of our society; political, economic, religious and scientific. If we let love infuse all of these facets of society, it would indeed be like water in the desert.

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