New collection of songs from Rich Hopkins & Luminarios which should delight his fan base and provide an excellent addition to future live shows.
Tucson, AZ-based Hopkins has been performing as Rich Hopkins & Luminarios for the best part of 30 years. For the last 12-15 of those his wife, Lisa Novak, has been his musical, singing, writing and production partner. In that time Hopkins has issued a lot of albums – many of them live recordings from Germany and Switzerland – on the local San Jacinto and German Blue Rose labels.
The latest studio album, ‘Exiled on Mabel St’, is his first for three years. The band has generated a lot of comparisons with Neil Young and Crazy Horse but the record lays claim to a wider array of styles – desert rock, folk rock, early Byrds jangle, even psychedelia. Overall though the touchstone musically remains ‘Zuma’-era Neil (think ‘Don’t Cry No Tears’ rather than ‘Danger Bird’); vocally he has a hoarseness that recalls Steve Earle or Patterson Hood.
The songs are all Hopkins-Novak co-writes with the two sharing vocal duties in the form of duets and individual leads. Thematically the songs are of love appreciated, love on the wane and faith.
Opener ‘A Message of Hope’ is ostensibly Hopkins musing on the life advice given to him by his “Daddy” but makes more sense if the father in question is his God. The track is dedicated to Pastor David Dahlberg of the Tucson Christian Faith Fellowship based 8 blocks north of Mabel Street. The next two songs – ‘Count On Me’ and ‘Everybody Knows’ – are both reflections on appreciating the love in a mature relationship.
‘Prodigal Son’ revisits the faith theme as the spoken word intro describes a down and out – based on a real person Hopkins encountered in Austin – his fall and eventual return and acceptance at his family home. “Oh God please save his soul” the chorus pleads.
‘I Won’t Care’ and ‘Break Through’ focus on relationships disintegrating. The former an acoustic-driven folk-pop tune picks up a seasonal timeline. ‘Break Through’ starts with a scuzzy-sounding guitar as well as the standard electric and a wistful vocal from Novak describing how “suddenly we aren’t on the same frequency”. It’s the stand-out track on the record. ‘Josephine’ is Hopkins’ thoughts on his late biological mother of whom he recently learned and is as poignant as you’d expect.
The penultimate track has Hopkins asking his love not to listen to him when he’s being verbally abusive but to pay attention when he’s asking for forgiveness and is as unsettling as it sounds.
Closer ‘Bataan Death March’ references the 1942 Japanese Army war crime. The track is an instrumental with a backing track of marching boots which culminates in Hopkins reciting The Lord’s Prayer entwined with the lead guitar solo.
While the tracks themselves, with the exception of one or two standouts, are good and will likely come across well live, the record is a bit one-paced and the extended chorus guitar solo outros could have used some editing.