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Weekend music

Swampy, smart harmonic rock & roll with Black Medicine

Nothing teaches you an innate sense of harmonics quite like singing in a choir.

Case in point, Tucson's Black Medicine — a band whose bluesy, swampy, garage-inspired rock is woven throughout with a thread of subtle harmony, a shot of post-grunge edge and a dose of Southern gospel soul. 

All four members of Black Medicine have a choir background and that underlying sense of harmony and dynamics definitely shows in songs like the call and response-based "Replacement of a Feeling" and "For The End Of Days" or the jangly, reggae kissed "Dreams," all tracks off the group's latest album, 2017's "Monsoon Rain."

Black Medicine began in 2011 when guitarist Clay Desmond met drummer Brenden Mask and began jamming to songs Desmond had written on guitar. 

Mask was introduced to drums by an old roommate who abandoned a set after an unfortunate brush with the law. Of picking up drum sticks for the first time, Mask says "It was not immediately rewarding. At first I sucked, but at the same, I thought 'This is really fucking fun.'" 

After playing in bands on occasion in his native Texas, Mask took a break from music when he first left the state. "I came here about eight years ago and started picking up the drums again, just kind of out of semi-boredom, really," said he said. "We played a couple of open mics at Sky Bar and then he (Randy Lopez) joined on and seemed interested." 

As the two synced more and more musically, it only made sense to bring in more players, and Lopez, a high school friend and former bandmate of Desmond, was a great fit. Lopez is primarily a guitarist, but in Black Medicine, he transitioned to bass duties, retain a guitarist's sense of melody but blending it with deep, resonant low-end pulse.

"It took a while to approach a bass as a bass instead of as a guitar," said Lopez. "There are certain things a bass should do as far as resonance of sound. As a guitarist it took a while to shift into that but in turn I've brought some of that resonance into my guitar playing. You have to hold everything down and have that structure." 

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Last to join the band was vocalist Erin Henderson, a friend of the band who gradually began singing back-up and duet vocals before largely taking over lead singer duties. 

Growing up in Georgia, Henderson was weaned on church music, singing in a choir that had launched a couple of prominent Christian performers. After coming to Tucson, she drifted for a bit, but a trip to a sweat lodge lead to an epiphany amd Henderson realized she needed to keep singing. First came a couple of years in local world, reggae and jazz collective Spirit Familia but was looking for more challenges that would stretch and hone her voice.

"I love being able to belt it out," she said of playing in a rock and roll band." 

In Black Medicine, Henderson's voice adds hints of both soulful grit and honeyed sweetness. While she has taken over lead duties for much of the album, the moments she shines the most are on her intricate harmonies with Desmond on several tracks. Henderson is also a vocalist for local band Half Broke Town, a band she was introduced to by Lopez. 

The contrast between the two bands is striking, but Henderson's vocals remain solid, with liberal doses of Janis Joplin, Jeff Buckley and Nina Simone for good measure. In addition to her vocal muses, Henderson cites a strong Southern rock and soul musical upbringing, having hailed from a part of the country that begat both the Allman Brothers and James Brown. 

The band as a whole has much broader influences, ranging from blues to rock to hip hop to reggae to grunge. 

"Growing up," said Desmond, "I listened to everything from Pinback to Bob Dylan and Neil Young to stuff like Bad Religion, Rage Against The Machine, so a very wide spectrum. Mostly nowadays I listen to rock and roll. I'm listening to a lot of psych rock lately, but I love the Pixies too because they have such a wide spectrum that doesn't even sound the same from song to song. I really like that a lot and keep that in mind in the songwriting for Black Medicine."

Lopez's tastes are equally diverse, including hip hop, r&b and classic guitar hero rock and roll. "Stevie Ray Vaughn is a good influence of mine, the Temptations were a good influence of mine, Bone Thugs & Harmony, Eric Johnson."

"I grew up listening to the Beatles and I think the first songs I remember hearing were Led Zeppelin," said Mask, adding that his drumming icon is John Bonham. "As far as influences, I also grew up on punk rock when I was young and more angry and I remember hearing the White Stripes and going down that rabbit hole. More minimalist. Not like punk where if you can just get mad and scream enough you can have some fun." 

The White Stripes taught Mask to play the blues and from there, he has delved further into primitive and psychedelic music. Among local psych luminaries, Mask notes Tucson band the Myrrors as an inspiration. 

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Other local bands that Black Medicine pays some homage to include Mute Swan, Deschtuco, ex Tucsonans Foxx Bodies, Street Blues Family and the Rifle.

Over the past five years, Black Medicine has played a handful of local shows and a couple of mini-tours, recording at the Flycatcher and for Baby Gas Mask Records. 

On the immediate horizon, the band is particularly looking forward to playing upcoming gigs in support of their newest album, "Monsoon Rain, "including an upcoming benefit for heart disease at Flycatcher on February 2, also featuring the Rifle and Street Blues Family. A future California or East Coast tour may be on the horizon as summer looms. In the meantime, you can catch them this weekend at Saint Charles Tavern south of Downtown Tucson.

Black Medicine plays Saint Charles this Saturday night, January 27 at 9 p.m., sharing the bill with Clayton Joe.

New record From the Exbats, Resonars are back in town,and more..

Ok, by "record" I actually mean CD, digital album and cassette, but "I've Got The Hots For Charlie Watts," the long-awaited sophomore outing of Bisbee lofi punk duo the Exbats is here at last, and it's a thing of beauty. 

Among other gems, this album contains possibly the best cover ever recorded of Leon Payne's classic '60s country murder ballad "Psycho." Standout tracks also include originals "I'm A Witch," "Kill Yr. Boyfriend," "I Got Fights" and the definitely not safe for work "Mr. Bucky." You can grab a copy of the new release via their label Burger Records or buy a virtual copy at theexbats.bandcamp.com.

Or you could just pick one up in person at their live gig this Friday night. The Exbats play Saint Charles Tavern (along with TWGS) at 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, on the same night, fresh from their recent California tour with The Sloths, Tucson's flagship psych/garage/retro rock godfathers, the Resonars are back in town and as fired up as ever. 

The band plays Club Congress this Friday with Phoenix's Nanami Ozone and the ever-fanastic Lenguas Largas at a show that should not be missed — except maybe to see the Exbats the same night. Decisions, decisions...

The Resonars, Nanami Ozone, and Lenguas Largas play Club Congress Friday night at 8 p.m.

Things are not so cut and dried on Saturday either, alas, as we fall into another "feast" period in Tucson's feast or famine live weekend music scene. In addition to Black Medicine's set at Saint Charles, shows worth catching include Leila Lopez at Crooked Tooth and Weekend Lovers with Birds and Arrows at Che's Lounge.

Lastly, this Tuesday (Tuesday of all nights) is another Sophie's Choice of a what-to-see decision, with Texas Trash and the Trainwrecks returning to 191 Toole, Gaelynn Lea with Karima Walker at Club Congress and June West and La Cerca opening for Native Harrow at La Cocina.

Expect local nights to get even more music filled as more touring bands make their way to Tucson in the weeks leading up to South By Southwest in early March. It's one of the many reasons Tucson in late winter and early spring is a fabulous place to be.

Check your local listings...

Friday, Jan. 26

  • Howe Gelb - 8 p.m. at Exo Bar (Downtown)
  • The Resonars, Nanami Ozone, Lenguas Largas - 8 p.m. at Club Congress (Downtown)
  • Johnny Aint Right - 8 p.m. at House of Bards (Central)
  • Waysted Youth, Awg and The Disconnect, Manhigh - 8 p.m. at The Loudhouse (North)
  • Shrimp Chaperone - 6 p.m. Playground (Downtown)
  • The Exbats and TWGS- 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern (S. of Downtown)

Saturday, Jan. 27

  • Leila Lopez - 6 p.m. at Crooked Tooth Brewing Co. (Downtown)
  • Remi Goode - 7 p.m.at The Dusty Monk Pub (Downtown)
  • Chris Herald's Resurrecting Id, Purple Spectre - 7:30 p.m. at Solar Culture (Downtown)
  • Wrought, Elyzian, Hell Follows - 8 p.m. at House of Bards (Central)
  • Dia de las Luchas w/Shrimp Chaperone -8 p.m. at The Rialto Theatre (Downtown)
  • Kyklo - 8:30 p.m. at Owls Club (Downtown)
  • Black Medicine with Clayton Joe - 9 p.m. at Saint Charles Tavern (S of Downtown)
  • Birds and Arrows with Weekend Lovers - 10 p.m. at Che's Lounge (Downtown)
  • The New Sideshow Roundup, The Gunrunners, Hippie Crippler, Newbell - 10 p.m. at The Loudhouse (North)

Sunday Jan. 28

  • Mariachi Luz de Luna - 11:00 AM at Playground (Downtown)
  • Mik and the Funky Brunch - 12:30 p.m. at La Cocina (Downtown)
  • Bumble Buzz - 3 p.m.at Crooked Tooth Brewing Co. (Downtown)
  • Sundust Road,two door hatchback,Freddy Parish - 5 p.m. at Che's Lounge (Downtown)
  • Last Sunday Revival - 5 p.m. at Tap and Bottle (Downtown)

Tuesday,  Jan. 30

  • Tom Walbank - 6:30 p.m. at Sky Bar (Downtown)
  • Andy Francis - 7 p.m. at Flycatcher (Downtown)
  • Koffin Kats, Texas Trash and the Trainwrecks - 8 p.m. at 191 Toole (Downtown)
  • Native Harrow, June West, La Cerca - 8 p.m. at Club Congress (Downtown)
  • Dos Muñoz - 8:30 p.m. at Sky Bar (Downtown)
  • The Donkey Tonk Band - 10 p.m. at Owls Club (Downtown)
  • Miss Lana Rebel & Kevin Michael Mayfield - 6 p.m. at La Cocina
  • Mike Kanne -7 p.m. at Crooked Tooth Brewing Co. (Downtown)
  • Gaelynn Lea w/ Karima Walker - 7 p.m. at Hotel Congress (Downtown)
  • Michael Valentine - 7 p.m. at Public Brewhouse (Downtown)

Thursday, February 1st

  • Adam Ostrar - 9 p.m. at Saint Charles Tavern (S of Downtown)
  • Eric Schaffer and The Other Troublemakers - 9 p.m. at Sky Bar (Downtown)
  • Mockingbirds - 9 p.m. at The Hut (Downtown)
  • Blake Brady, Cat Child, Corbin Dooley, Thomas B - 10 p.m. at Galactic Center (Downtown)
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