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Rodrigo y Gabriela - S/T
Label: Rubyworks, 2006
I have scarcely been so pleasantly surprised and left so disconcertedly open-mouthed by an album as I was by this unlikely Mexican pair. With a background in thrash metal, betrayed as much by their passionate, aggressive classical guitar-playing as by their brilliant take (cover is the wrong word) on Metallica's 'Orion' these two defy categorisation. You will hear only guitars, including the percussive effects skilfully created by slamming palms on the same instruments. Played as fluidly as one could dream of and with as much passion as well. It is definitely worth seeking out the special edition, as it comes with a fantastic bonus DVD in which the effervescent pair give a tutorial and we learn some background information about them to boot. As well as creating something inspiring and eminently listen-able this pair of cyborgs, part human, and part guitar have created something truly special. Music - punk in attitude it may be, but it is free, unrestrained music.
Rodrigo Y Gabriella - Rodrigo Y Gabriella
Rodrigo Y Gabriela are a two piece guitar duo originally from Mexico who have their roots firmly based in heavy metal but their fingerpicking and percussive styles based heavily on traditional Latin grooves. They met playing for a band called Tierra Acida in Mexico city and before long decided to leave the band and travel Europe. They left for Dublin with little money and the promise of accommodation at someones house they had met, however they arrived to find a note saying that they couldn't stay there. After blowing all of their money on hotel rooms it was decided that the only way to earn some money was to hit the streets and busk, doing first so in Dublin, then Copenhagen and finally Barcelona where they received a phone call from a fellow busker, Damien Rice, to come back to Ireland and support his forthcoming shows.
This album is a must have for anyone who enjoys fingerpicking, heavy metal, rock, latin, salsa and outright virtuosoism. They describe their style as "Fusion music", and rightly so.
When you listen to the tracks you can understand why it can be described as latin, or often confused with flamenco, as it has the melodious, flowing qualities of these styles. However, when you listen to the underlying structure of the music it is obvious that these two have spent years playing metal riffs as the way the chords progress and the music flows is synonymous with heavy metal. Arguably, the most prominent metal-like feature is that the guitar solos are absolutely identical, to the note, every single time. This is where a jazz musician might improvise or a blues musician might just canter down a scale...
The music itself is absolutely fantastic. Don't let the words "heavy metal" put you off, it's merely the structure and underlying movement.
Rodrigo (Sanchez) is the chap that plays most of the fingerpicking stuff and can move from outright speed picking to floating melodies in the space of a note. His movement on the fretboard is flawless and quite amazing, managing to change the feel of a song with ease. Gabriela (Quintero) on the other hand is quite the opposite! She thrashes at her guitar with her nails whilst drumming the percussion with the palm of her hand and fingertips. Personally, I find that she is the more exciting of the two as she batters out the beat of the song and provides rhythm guitar at the same time. On many an occasion I have tried to emulate her style but have given up for fear of losing a finger.
This album is excellent; every song has its own meaning and story behind it.
It opens on a song called "Tamacun" which is about a famous Mexican eccentric from Ixtapa who teaches children to respect nature - a bit of a Mexican Steve Irwin! The song opens on the pair drumming on their guitars then flows into an undulating Latin melody while Gabriela provides her customary style of rhythm guitar and percussion and ends on an incredible display of guitar drumming!
The second song "Diablo Rojo" was inspired by a rollercoaster in Copenhagen's Tivoli which, incidentally, I have been on and again is a baffling, melodious montage of styles.
"Vikingman" is about a homeless, Danish fellow who inspired the couple to busk in sub-zero temperatures in Copenhagen at Christmas time. This is one of only a couple of tracks that has been altered from just the two musicians and has had the faintest amount of radio static added by their producer John Leckie. John Leckie is most famously known for producing both Radiohead and Muse.
Next is "Satori" which explains how they felt when they were struggling on the streets of Dublin and the song comes to a climax where the couple finally see the end of the struggle. The music itself is a melodious, slow, fluttering piece that builds up to an incredible crescendo.
"Itaxpa" is a little Mexican town and is the only song to feature an extra instrument, by way of a violin. This song is brilliant. Had I have been to Mexico it would remind me of being there... Unfortunately I haven't been so it's the sort of song I think I would like to remember Mexico by... If you catch my drift!
Now onto the first of two covers. The first is "Stairway to Heaven". For many people this is probably the most clichéd, overplayed song on the planet but if you had to listen to it just one more time it would most definitely have to be Rodrigo Y Gabriela's interpretation.
Next is "Orion" by Metallica. Here is where the couple feel they can pay their respects to the music they grew up with and loved. Listening to this interpretation of Orion shouts out where their musical roots lie. Minus the electric guitars and distortion pedals this song is pretty much bang on Orion but with it's own percussion courtesy of Gabriela and a definite Mexican feel!
"Juan Loco" is Mexican for "Mad John" and is entirely about their producer John Leckie. It is similar to the style at the start of the album where there are fiery flowing fingerstyle licks and quick chords with the thump of Gabriela's kick drum playing palm.
The final song of the album "PPA" is a dig at all of the people in the music industry who think they know it all but clearly don't. If you look up "Pinche", which is what the first P stands for, you'll see what the guys think of these people...
2. Diablo Rojo
3. Viking Man
6. Stairway to Heaven
8. Juan Loco
I have been to see Rodrigo Y Gabriella twice now and they have been utterly incredible. When I saw them play the the first show of their 2006 tour they had ordered a load of merchandise, including t-shirts to sell. When they had ordered them they had asked for fair trade cotton from a specific company, regardless of cost, and it was not what they had received. They were not too happy about this at all and decided to have a go at the company by refusing to sell the t-shirts. Brilliant.
I bought my copy for a tenner at Fopp.
Amazon are selling copies at a tenner too!
I can't really recommend this band enough. I can't think of anyone who has complained about the music when I've had it on and everyone I know who has seen them live thought they were out of this world. There is no other band out there who are quite as fresh and inspiraional as these guys. Definitely worth a tenner!
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Diablo Rojo
6 Stairway To Heaven
8 Juan Loco
Disc #2 Tracklisting
1 (DVD) Bonus DVD Features: Interviews, Live Performance, Tutorial And Gallery