How far can you get by creating with your friends? This is the question that motivates the members of Medicine Man Revival. A belief in each other’s talents and those of their fellow Dallas musicians inspired them to start their eclectic, electrifying band in 2015, and has been driving them to create genre-fusing music ever since.
“We’re Texas as fuck,” lead singer Keite Young says. “We’re just different kinds of Texas. You got your blues, your rock, your soul, your gospel; it’s all there.”
That seamless mix of multiple sounds (“the soup,” as Young calls it) and the band’s funky, frenetic live shows have intrigued Dallas music fans for years. As a unit, the band had played as SXSW, Fortress Fest and every major venue in Dallas. Meanwhile, Young and his co-band leader, Jason Burt, have collaborated with John Mayer, Leon Bridges and Bobby Sessions, while Burt has produced music with David Ramirez, Paul Cauthen, Sarah Jaffe and a slew of up-and-comers. But alas, Medicine Man Revival has yet to release a full-length album. Until now.
Last week, the band won big at the Dallas Observer Music Awards, with Young taking home the award as Best Singer and Burt receiving the honor as Best Producer, from Grammy-winning producers. Over the weekend, the band sated fans’ frothing appetites with an exciting announcement: Their first record had finally arrived. Entitled WAR, the album expands upon the soulful sonics we have come to expect from Burt, Young and Co. The bits and pieces of big band braggadocio are here, as is plenty of opportunity for Young to show off his range and Burt to flex his skills on keys and guitar. Many of the record’s tracks are songs the band has been playing for years, like “Medicine Man” and “Cold War.” But this is the first time anyone beyond the band and a few friends have heard a studio version.
The album’s most intriguing element is its soul, and not in a musical genre sense. Drawing its name from a Bob Marley quote, WAR is a rallying cry for unity, a literal wailing against hatred; it demands that you get on the fuckin’ dance floor and cut loose, even as it yearns for a better, more connected world with songs like “Dem Don’t Know” and “You Are Safe.” Its central theme is community.
“This is our ‘thank you’ to Dallas,” Young says. “The people have been coming to our shows, showing us love, and singing our songs. Now it’s time to give back. It’s time to show up.”
The story of Medicine Man Revival begins with a couple of guys showing up. Burt and Young met in 2014 and instantly bonded over their love of Dallas and the ambition they had to cultivate more fraternity among its musicians. Then nothing happened. For a year, the two pursued different projects before a chance meeting at Sundown at Granada led to a five-day jam session.
Young and Erykah Badu drummer Frank Moka were hanging out in a jeep one night at Sundown, smoking blunts and talking about music. Moka was telling Young about his interest in starting a band called The Black Panthers.
“This is before the Black Pumas,” Young says. “We were going to be confrontational, and it wasn’t going to last more than a few years.”
Young sees Burt walk by the jeep and invites the shaggy-haired producer to join him and Moka.
“I hadn’t seen this dude in a minute, but we immediately start vibing,” says Young, who often calls his bandmate “J.” “That’s how it’s always been with J; he gets what’s going on in my head.”
Young, Burt and Moka decided to get together the following Friday at Modern Electric, the studio where Burt works. They planned to book the studio for five days, split the cost three ways and see what happens. Moka didn’t show up, but Burt did.
“We just started playing the music we had been dreaming about for a year,” Young says. “These sounds that had been running around our heads were now real.”
Burt and Young spent the next three years recording and mastering the 10 songs that appear on their debut album, released via Spotify. They invited their friends to form a backing band and cultivated a loyal local fan base with fun and energetic live shows.
In person, Burt and Young are a study in contrasts. Burt is a frenzied, frizzy ball of energy, guzzling coffee and running around the studio playing multiple instruments and acting as producer. Young is preternaturally chill. He speaks slowly and deliberately, as if he is measuring the weight of each thought and sentence before releasing it into the universe. Onstage, those roles switch: Burt is often relaxed and focused, calmly switching between keys and guitar during songs like “Work It Out” while Young blithely bounds across the stage in his minimalistic black and white garb.
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The joy of creating is palpable, as is their connection with the audience. By waiting to release an album, the band has been able to identify what songs fans love the most during their live performances. Thus, WAR is both a savvy business move and a show of gratitude.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Young says. “Showing love when you get love; building community through art.”
When asked how he specifically builds community, Young doesn’t have to pause to think about his words. This time, he knows immediately what to say.
“Go to shows,” he says. “Support your friends whenever they’re doing cool shit. You gotta show up.”