Monday, May 4, 2009

May 4: Rodrigo Y Gabriela, "Rodrigo Y Gabriela"

Artist: Rodrigo Y Gabriela
Album: Rodrigo Y Gabriela
Year: 2006
Label: Rubyworks

How do you create a record that can be enjoyed by grandparents as much as rowdy teenagers? It's really a simple formula: take a pair of Mexican metalheads, relocate them to Ireland, and ask them to play flamenco-based, acoustic rock. Really, how difficult can that be, right? Though most times, such a quest would end in complete disaster, it has been done once, and the outcome remains nothing short of astounding. The duo in question go by the name Rodrigo Y Gabriela and their self titled 2006 release is easily one of the most mind-blowingly amazing records of the past 20 years.

The short version of the history of the group is much as stated above. The pair met whilst playing together in the Mexican metal band, Tierra Acida. After exhausting their patience with the band, the duo traveled to Ireland where a friend had offered a place to stay. Upon their arrival, the place to stay was gone and the two were broke. They spent time playing on the streets of Dublin, building a bit of a following, until fellow busker, Damien Rice, found them and took them out on tour. Following that tour, Rodrigo Y Gabriela have played with the likes of Buena Vista Social Club and David Gray. Since their reversal of fortune, they've been playing all over the world, and the sheer energy of their live performances have already become legendary. Their success has gotten to the point that, upon the release of Rodrigo Y Gabriela, the album debuted at number one on the Irish music charts. Name the last time an instrumental album topped the "pop" charts in ANY country. Go ahead, I'll wait. Give up? The answer is: NEVER. NO instrumental album has EVER topped the pop charts in ANY country until Rodrigo Y Gabriela did so in 2006. That alone should be enough reason to run out and grab this colossus of a record.

At their core, Rodrigo Y Gabriela are still metalheads. The spirit behind the music is somewhat dark, and far more forceful that one expects from acoustic music. That is not to say that the record is loud or aggressive; it is one of the most beautiful records ever released, and can easily be enjoyed by all music lovers of all ages and genres. On Rodrigo Y Gabriela, the pair combine their metal roots with flamenco, a bit of jazz, and even a tango here and there. However, Rodrigo Y Gabriela is not some "new age" album by any stretch of the imagination. The pair bring all of the fire and energy of the best metal bands, they just do it with gorgeous acoustic playing. It all goes to prove that volume rarely equals intensity or soul. Again, it is the spirit behind each song that makes the record superbly cohesive, and their create a sound like nothing else ever made. While the duo does take time to pay homage to their heroes, with covers of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven" and Metallica's, "Orion," both covers hold their own and, in many ways, improve upon the original. While many people would quickly write off any appearance of a "Stairway" cover, one must truly open the mind and experience the amazingly fresh spin that the pair put on the song. Rodrigo Y Gabriela even present their own "epic" song, in the form of the incredible song, "Ixtapa." Furthermore, these two covers are clearly NOT the strongest on the record, and that in itself stands as a testament to the amazing talent shared between Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero.

The main challenge with recording Rodrigo Y Gabriela is capturing the amazing energy of their live performances. Much like punk and metal bands, without the live element, the true spirit of the music is often lost. However, with the help of producer John Leckie, the music found on Rodrigo Y Gabriela is nothing short of breathtaking. There are no lyrics anywhere on the record, just these two guitar virtuosos playing a myriad of styles, with their metal and Mexican influences bearing heavily on each track. The sound found on Rodrigo Y Gabriela is truly pure, with the soul and spirit of the band and music making the album wonderfully addictive. The gorgeous strumming paired with blisteringly fast picking presents a sound that has been sadly lost behind the "glamor" and manufactured sound of studio over-production. The addition of world renowned violinist, Roby Laktos (he offered his services free of charge after seeing the duo live) provides a stunning contrast, and his brief additions give the album even more depth.

When it comes down to it, Rodrigo Y Gabriela are truly re-writing music history. With a clear knowledge of the roots of many genres, they are perfectly melded on Rodrigo Y Gabriela, and a new sound has truly been birthed. Taking the mood and aggression of heavy metal and combining it with the precision and tenor of acoustic music, Rodrigo Y Gabriela is truly like nothing else that has ever been recorded. The duo are undeniably talented, both with their guitars, as well as their clear ability to compose awe-inspiring songs. While most modern music is stale and annoyingly predictable, it is groups like Rodrigo Y Gabriela that keep hope alive that there is still be exciting, new music yet to be made. If you can catch their live shows, do so at all costs. If not, you are truly doing yourself a disservice with each day that passes that you have not experienced the 2006 release, Rodrigo Y Gabriela.

Standout tracks: "Tamacun," "Diablo Rojo," and "Ixtapa."

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