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Rich Hopkins came of age on his abilities as a guitar-slinger and songwriter. His ear-bending way of expression became a rock ’n’ roll definition of the romantic American southwest, these desert blasts filled with spirited tales, soaring hooks and a warm, beating heart. The songs pump blood in that essential way that says there’s nothing else in life for Hopkins but the song. Think of the music as an aural equivalent of rainwater-etched swirls in sandstone—it’s got timeless unstoppable beauty, and its shape sometimes shifts in graceful ways, but it’s always formable, always heavy.
The new album My Way Or The Highway was co-produced with Lars Goransson, recorded primarily in Austin TX and some in Tucson AZ. It boasts a stellar guest list too, including, but not limited to, bassist George Reiff from Joe Walsh’s band, and Alejandro Escovedo’s consistently classy guitarist Jon Sanchez.
You can picture yourself lost in dusty arroyos and acres of dry mesquites on songs like the acoustic instrumental “Lost Highway,” and in the narrative epic “Angel of the Cascade,” which tells of a Mexican escapade with a redemptive denouement. The Lisa Novak-sung pleader “Want You Around” is drop-dead lovely, a hit-in-a-perfect-world that mixes sweet pop and folk with rock ’n’ roll and hints of jangly twang. Semi-tender “Come Hell or High Water” flips a Beatle reference into a treatise on punctured pride, and “If You Want To” is a country-rockish nod to the great southern rock bands of yore, and features Tucson stars like ex-Bob Dylan drummer Winston Watson. “Meant for Mo” finds Tucson hip-hop maestro Cesar Aguirre spitting stinging verses about personal freedoms and the song spectacularly highlights Hopkins’ killer, Neil Young-stranded-in-Sonoran-desert riffs. The musical blend stuns. Then imagine railroad cars marching over high desert plains, through ghost towns and fading truckstops on songs like the hypnotic “Gnashing of Teeth,” and tender teardrop “Walkaway Again.”
In fact, this entire album holds together like some kind of mad, passionate love; pretty perfect in its unpredictable turbulence and sadnesses, and absolutely worth it for the long, dreamy haul, and all those sandstone swirls.