It’s not enough to say of Tucson’s Brian Lopez that he is a young man of drive, discipline and vision, laudable as those qualities are, and how essential they are to success in almost every endeavor. Couple his estimable attributes with an artists sensibility and you really have something special, something to count on for the long haul. Brian Lopez is an artist, and with his album Ultra he has begun the real work of going inside himself to find out what he has to say to the world. And lo, it is good. Brian grew up in a typical American home. Parents married young, had several children and Brian was raised with more of an athletic upbringing than a musical one. Competition shaped Brian and gave him a “drive to win…to compete and excel”. As a child he was an aficionado of The Beatles. Learning to play their songs on a “crappy Fender Squier” Brian quickly started a band and became “one of the cool kids” because he could play any song requested. He played in several bands not worth naming, put himself through college on a classical performance guitar scholarship and graduated with a BA in Music. And while he could play with the jazz cats and jam with the classical guitar guys, his heart always loved rock n roll. Ultra is the product of Brian Lopez’s rock n roll heart. Yes, there are the Spanish language songs, and as all the best foreign language songs do, these transcend language barriers and move the spirit with the force of their feeling. But there is more, much more to behold on Ultra, and this reveals Lopez to be very much a product of his times, speaking to his times. There is also that underlying element of desert; listening to Ultra there is almost a palpable heat and wind. Leda Atomica, I Pray for Rain, and the stirring Red Blooded Rose (the latter being so well crafted lyrically, so evocative musically and so impassioned in it’s delivery as to make it an early contender for a career defining, trademark kind of song) are the kind of sit-up-and-take-notice songs that mark the emergence of a remarkably insightful songwriter rummaging around in his heart to speak directly and unambiguously of his youthful passions and conflicts alike. Couple these admirable songs to a voice that can transform, in the blink of an eye, from muscular and aggressive to vulnerable and aching, and Brian Lopez’s unusual and manifold gifts come into focus. The temptation looms, so deliciously, to go for it and call him “the Latin Jeff Buckley” but (a) Mr. Lopez doesn’t feel such a comparison is appropriate and (b) there may well be an alternative comparison more apt than the late, lamented Mr. Buckley. On Ultra (his first full-length solo effort), Brian’s infatuation with the sonics and atmospherics of Radiohead’s OK Computer is evident, as is his scrutiny of how Thom Yorke goes about making the personal public without losing either his dignity or his soul. Like Yorke, Lopez is a thoroughly modern young man who has deep roots in a certain traditionalism that enables him to get his points across much in the manner of a folk singer while presenting his findings in an undeniably modern setting. In Brian’s case, though, the music is a heady synthesis of brute force rock n roll (he does after all, lead a highly regarded three-piece band, Mostly Bears, that has won plaudits for their rousing live shows) and Beatles-like classicism (literally, in that his current band configuration for Ultra includes violin, cello, accordion, upright bass and lap steel) centered in rock, country, pop, and traditional folk all at once. (This is assuming that anyone reading this agrees on Rubber Soul being one of the founding documents of country’s mid-’80’s New Traditionalist movement – Rosanne Cash says so, why not you?). Even at this early stage in his career, he’s toured Europe with French chanteuse Marianne Dissard as her guitarist and backup vocalist. He’s played with Calexico, and recently he’s been touring with Howe Gelb and his band Giant Sand, who’ve helped to build the careers of artists such as M. Ward, Neko Case, Granddaddy and Scout Niblett. Ultra is the product of a long and winding music highway Brian Lopez has been traveling for years through some interesting byways of song and style, with more than a little personal growth occurring along the route. In his own words….