Okay, it might be a bit unfair, but the very first thing to come into my mind when “On Your Level” hit my ears was, “The Commitments are back!” For those youngsters in our audience, that was the 1991 movie about an all-white, all-Irish band who made their name playing Motown soul music. And I’ll admit to having loved that movie, and the music from it, enough to buy both CDs – yes, people used to actually buy CDs! – from the movie. So Motenko struck a favorable chord with me at the first note.And I’ll add that I had not seen the band’s photo yet, so I wasn’t aware of the band’s actual member description yet. In the studio, they also had help from Nnedi Nebula Agbaroji and Raph Odell Shapiro on vocals, Hans Bilger with an electric bass cameo, Eddie Dickerson with the pizzicato solo. They also had live a horn section: Daniel Aaron Fears, William Sterling Steffen, and Noé Mina.
But the band’s sound, while Motown-esque, is all their own. Formed in 2018, they had just started to get things going, building a reputation in Austin, TX, and parts beyond – then 2020 struck, devastating many bands and musicians. COVID-19 shut down music venues worldwide, cutting revenues and chances for exposure that are the lifeblood of new bands. But Motenko, whose day gigs were as hired guns for other bands, had little choice but to use the downtime to let the creative juices flow, and the resulting flood of artistic amniotic fluid gave birth to their first studio effort, the self-titled 5-song EP Motenko. Micah Motenko, bandleader, vocals and keyboards, freely admits the songs were written by him with valuable input from guitarist Cat Clemons III, bassist Josh Flowers, and drummer James Gwyn.
“On Your Level” was first released as a single, and is closing in on 150,000 plays on Spotify. It opens the album, followed by “Waiting All Day,” “Follow Through,” “Silhouette,” “and “The Thief.” But the popularity of the songs follows a different order: “On Your Level, The Thief (23k), Silhouette (15k), Follow Through (5k), Waiting All Day (2k).” “The Thief” is a story of, not theft, but the pull of emotions for different loves. “Silhouette” tell of the fear we all have of disappearing in a relationship. “Follow Through” talks of failing promises, something we can all relate to, and “Waiting All Day” sings of fear of commitment…fear of The Commitments?
Nothing to fear hear, just a solid, hook-laden, variety of sounds for your listening pleasure!
Motenko: James Gwyn (drums), Josh Flowers (upright bass), and Cat Clemons III (guitar).
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