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Rich Hopkins & Billy Sedlmayr

BILLY SEDLMAYR, OF COURSE, IS A veteran of several late '70s/early '80s Tucson outfits, including Giant Sandworms. Personal and legal problems occupied him for a long, dry spell, however. Of late he's been doing low-key gigging around Phoenix (he also turned up on the Could You Would Wooden Ball concert disc a few years ago, doing a heartfelt duet with Rainer on the Faces tune "Ooh La La"), and the drought is unequivocably over with the release of this studio set.

Right from the outset the Hopkins-Sedlmayr team hits a gusher: The title track, a Byrds-with-lapsteel yarn about the odds of earning personal redemption ("the distance between a loser and a winner") finds Sedlmayr singing in a voice uncannily like that of early Steve Earle--Americana fans, say hello to a wonderful talent.

From there the duo, joined by an equally talented cast of Phoenix and Tucson players (including the Luminarios), essay a rich, engaging set of folk- and roots-rock. Highlights include the noirish, cello-driven "En Passant," reminiscent of Al Escovedo's numbers with strings; another Earle-styled tune, "Amelia"; and the majestic, Crazy Horse-esque "Careless" and the Latin-flavored folk-blues "Nacodoces," both reprised from the '96 Luminarios album El Paso.

As it's apparently a Hopkins tradition to include at least one choice cover on albums, the Arthur Lee-Love classic "A Message to Pretty" appears, as tragic a confessional of blown chances ever penned, and done here gravely and reverently. With honey-on-pumice-throated Sedlmayr the perfect vocal foil for Hopkins' fiery/jangly guitars, this album is an instantly memorable, emotionally resonant, remarkably honest gem.

Additional note: Both this and Hopkins' latest Luminarios CD, Devolver, were originally issued on Germany's Blue Rose label (www.bluerose-records.com), and are now slated to appear on Phoenix-based label Hayden's Ferry. Here's hoping the arrangement helps raise the domestic profile of the Old Pueblo's favorite sons.

Rich Hopkins and Luminarios, along with Billy Sedlmayr, will play a CD release party for Devolver at 9 p.m. on Friday, January 12 at Plush, at the southwest corner of Fourth Avenue and Sixth Street. Admission is $5. Call 798-1298 for details.

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