Rich Hopkins: Striking the perfect balance on new record.
Rich Hopkins: Striking the perfect balance on new record.

Rich Hopkins & Luminarios

Sculpting one's masterpiece has got to be an awfully self-conscious process, but Tucson-based Valley fave Rich Hopkins strikes the perfect balance on My Lucky Stars, kneading and rubbing contrasts together like a master. It's musically expansive while devastatingly downcast, lyric-wise; the arrangements are tightly wound like a suspension coil, yet the overall delivery is as relaxed and freewheeling as a six-pack-fueled drive across the Sonoran landscape in the late, luminous fall.

The album starts with an archetypal Hopkins desert rocker, "Train of Love," which throws down sleek surf licks into the musical arroyo. (It's not the Neil Young tune of the same title -- but, as Hopkins' guitar style has frequently been compared to Young's in the past, he tips his sombrero later in "N.Y. Blues," querying himself with the line, "Can Neil Young set me free?"). Quickly, the highlights mount: the rollicking, Alejandro Escovedo-styled twanger "Walk Away"; an airy folk-rock tune called "Spoiled Milk" that hums reassuringly with beatific vocal harmony "ooohs"; a majestic, emotional acoustic ballad, "La Luz," featuring a rippling, angelic-sounding harp mingling with Hopkins' Latin guitar picking and a male-female duet sung in Spanish; and another desert rocker, Hopkins' finest in years, "Wildhare-Lordsburg Blues," merging Sand Rubies to 13th Floor Elevators in a brutal, fiery orgy of tremolo-drenched psych. (Worth noting: A hidden bonus track at the end reveals itself to be an alternate version of track No. 8, "Common Man.")

Attend to the sonics as well: they're easily the most expansive -- stereo separation, 3-D depth, crisp highs/thick lows -- Hopkins has achieved on disc since the Sidewinders' Auntie Ramos' Pool Hall. The intimacy of the vocals befits the subjects of the tunes, which frequently concern loss and the psychic dread that accompanies a broken heart. The set's packaging scores highly, too; the disc tray and colorful 16-page lyric booklet are bound into a mini-hardback book design whose impressionistic Robin Emerson painting serves as a visual Luminarios touchstone. By going that extra mile, Hopkins and his roving band display a classy elegance that mirrors the music's introspective vibrancy.


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