by Paul T. Mueller
Rich Hopkins and Luminarios
Rich Hopkins and the Luminarios brought a rich blend of Arizona desert rock and Texas singer-songwriter tunes to their Oct. 17 performance at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck in Houston. For fans of powerful guitars and sweet harmonies, the result was as refreshing as the long-awaited cool front that blew through the area a few days before.
Fronted by Hopkins, a longtime mainstay of the Tucson music scene, the band was celebrating the release of its excellent new CD, Tombstone (Hopkins also has an extensive discography with his previous band, the Sidewinders, later known as the Sand Rubies). The gig was also a celebration for fans of band member Lisa Novak, who grew up in Houston and achieved notable success as a singer and songwriter before her personal and professional relationship with Hopkins (they married several years ago and released a duo album, Loveland, in 2009).
On display was the band’s signature sound – melodic power pop, often in the service of socially aware themes. Musically, it’s based on a multi-guitar attack (Hopkins and Jon Sanchez on electric, Novak on acoustic) that would sound at home on a Byrds or Tom Petty album, further sweetened by excellent harmonies involving the same three musicians, or various combinations thereof. Drummer George Duron and bassist Michael Poulos provided solid rhythm support.
The set list included Tombstone’s title track, an account of the notorious gunfight at the O.K. Corral as seen from the point of view of one of the Clanton brothers. Also featured from the new collection were “Everything,” an exploration of the idea that material goods don’t always bring happiness, and “Don’t Worry,” an easier-said-than-done response to middle-age angst.
The rest of the 14-song program consisted of older material, including several songs from the previous Luminarios album, Buried Treasures. Among them were “Dark Side of the Spoon,” a stark look at addiction, featuring Sanchez’s fine slide guitar; “Alycia Perez,” sung in Spanish, a sympathetic take on the struggle of immigrants seeking a better life in the United States, and “Strutter,” an ode to a bad girl, which turned (like several other songs) into an extended jam featuring excellent back-and-forth between the guitars of Sanchez and Hopkins.
Hometown favorite Novak got the spotlight on several songs, particularly “The Allure,” a bitter song to a former lover that appeared on her Too Shallow to Swim album, and a couple of nice vocal duets with Hopkins – “Heartbreak Police,” from Loveland, a funny but gritty look at infidelity, and “Good Intentions,” which Hopkins described as an attempt at a jaded country song.
The band followed up with an in-store appearance the following day at Houston’s Cactus Music. The hour-long set, which drew an enthusiastic audience, was a slightly pared-down version of the previous night’s show, but the band’s impressive energy ensured that the music sounded just as good or even better in the light of day.