Family of Light, Rich Hopkins, Lisa Novak, Larry Cooper

Club Congress, Friday, Feb. 1

After years of watching, meeting and writing about bands, I've discovered that no matter the genre, you can break down musicians into two categories: those who play for the love of playing, and those who want to be rich and famous and/or get laid. (For example, talk of moving to and/or living in Los Angeles, Seattle or Portland is a dead giveaway.)

At a show last Friday at Club Congress, it was immediately obvious from the grins on performers' faces that they were all in the former category.

From his time in the mid-'80s with the Sand Rubies/Sidewinders to his ongoing work with his Luminarios, Tucson's Rich Hopkins has made countless musician friends the world over. One of those compadres, Houston's country-folk-rock artist Lisa Novak, toured with Hopkins through Germany this past December and joined him Friday with fellow Houstonite Larry Cooper.

Because he double-booked a show at The Hut, Hopkins opened the night with an abbreviated mash-up set of sorts, rotating lead vocals with Novak and Cooper. Hopkins' distorted and minimal-note solos are so distinct, though, that even Novak's originals ended up sounding like Lucinda Williams covering the Luminarios. Cooper, who often backs Novak with his band LL Cooper, brought, in his words, "some Southeastern Texas twang" to the collaboration with his bellowing vocals.

Family of Light--a new, sometimes-jammy, alt-country side project formed by the Dusty Buskers' Stuart Oliver--followed with a set that revealed a group of talented musicians collectively finding their sea legs. FOL are at their best during tight, mostly acoustic ditties, exploring traditional country roots. On the flip side, more electric songs--with their whale-like backward loops, sudden tempo changes and extended endings--sound like another band altogether, bringing to mind a Southern take on Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans (and hopefully inspiring totally awesome, Hobbit-like mossy album artwork on their debut).

Oliver makes no secret of his admiration of country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons, to the point of covering the Parsons-penned Flying Burrito Brothers' "Sin City," and enlisting female vocalist Laura Kepner-Adney (Silver Thread Trio) to play the role of Parsons' duet partner, Emmylou Harris.

Persevering through technical problems and Kepner-Adney's ailing throat, Family of Light's love of playing music and their true spirit ultimately shone through.


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