Sunday, 6 September 2009

Rodrigo Y Gabriela - 11:11 Album Review (2009)

If you are new to Mexican classical guitar duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela and the thought of two people playing two guitars for eleven songs over forty-five minutes strikes you as slightly dull, prepare to be enlightened. The guitarists have followed up their hugely successful eponymous album with a new collection of original songs inspired by artists and musicians who have inspired them. A simple idea and one that has been treated with respect and delicacy, never letting the inspiration take over their trademark speed-flamenco style. This makes perfect sense: you are inspired by others and they shape your sound, not create it.

11:11 brings together musicians such as Santana, Hendrix and Pink Floyd as well as the more traditional Paco De Lucia. Given that Rodrigo and Gabriela cite Metallica as a major influence, and their roots in metal, it is a shame that one of the new songs is not directly attributed to Hetfield and crew. Maybe they thought the cover of Orion on the previous album is enough. And this time out, there are two guest spots: Alex Skolnick from Testament plays on the tribute for Dimebag Darrell (the Pantera guitarist murdered while on stage) and the mighty Strunz & Farah also appear.

Definite highlights are the opening Hanuman, a swirling mass of strings, at least three separate melodies and a central piece made to sound like an old record. Rodrigo embodies the spirit of Hendrix for Buster Voodoo, a four minute rock track peppered with mini guitar solos and clear riffs. The 70s style ‘wakka wakka’ piece near the end is pure genius, as is the subtle addition of the main riff ‘borrowed‘ from the Hendrix original.

Atman (the song for Dimebag Darrell) is at times impossibly fast. The song has a distinct ‘eastern’ feel, transforming the usual sound into something darker, brimming with menace. It races through the near six minute running time, at the end joined by the electric squealing of Skolnick to form a trio. This is only time the ‘format’ is broken but it never overstays it’s welcome. Strunz & Farah adds to the hectic arrangement of Master Maqui and features some of the best playing on the album. The central piece is a breathtaking guitar solo. Savitri revisits the dark overtones of Atman, brilliantly using the sample of a creaking door to break the flow and announce a new direction.

As a slower interlude, Logos is beautifully controlled and could be a Metallica intro. The song uses a series of rolling melodies before a sky burst of electric shimmering. This slides straight into the more traditional and faster Santo Domingo. This is business as usual, as is Hora Zero for the most part, doing nothing new given what has come before. That is until the last minute which contains the best sequence on the album. The short Chac Mool transports the listener to the depths of the rainforest, shimmering with odd samples before a simple and elegant guitar melody.

The title track, inspired by Pink Floyd, is probably the most diverse song on the album with a wonderful Gilmore-esque clarity, plenty of slap percussion, handclaps and additional layers. It definitely has a unique lightness. The song closes the album and in an odd move, Rodrigo Y Gabriela choose to end things with a short piano piece. Beguiling to the very end.

11:11 is a glorious example of expert guitar playing. It is that simple. At times, the sound defies belief as the experience becomes a frantic blur of strings and percussion. These moments of breathtaking performance draw you in and are scattered within a familiar combination of melodies and light touches. At times 11:11 gets comfortable and safe, reverting to a traditional Spanish style and revisiting themes and textures heard before. But it can be easily forgiven due to the constant flow of ideas. This is the sound of two musicians very much in control of where they are, where they came from and where they are going.
-- CS (for Altsounds)

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