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Rodrigo Y Gabriela
Rodrigo Y Gabriela
ATO Records

Rating: 8.5/10 ?

November 20, 2006
Sometimes good ones slip through the cracks. This was the case for me with a Mexican-born, Irish-based guitar duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela and their latest eponymous release. Luckily enough, I was able to double back and catch my mistake.

With so many albums being released, sometimes as a critic the easy way out is tempting - glancing at an album's artwork or track listing to decide whether or not the album is worth listening to. The cover of one particular promo that I received was a close up of a lizard-like eye and in the eye's reflection could be seen two musicians on stage in front of an audience. You could almost hear the cheese. I flipped the jewel case over and there amongst the nine tracks were two notable covers, Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven" and Metallica's "Orion." Even the budget bin would resist this one, I thought.

Then one night as my brother and I sat in front of the TV surfing channels looking for something decent before going to bed, we by chance flipped to Craig Ferguson, a late night show that generally eludes our nocturnal ritual. The cheeky Brit announced his musical guests for the night as Rodrigo Y Gabriela, and for no particular reason we decided to stay tuned and check it out. From the get-go the two guitar players were amazing, their performance beginning with wild hand taps on the bodies of their acoustic guitars. They eventually wound out of the jammy breakdown into Gabriela's technical rhythmic strumming and Rodrigo's melodic chords and soloing. By the end of the tune the only thing my brother could say was "Damn!" Later, digging through the piles of CDs I realized that I had the lizard-like eye so wrong.

After going back and listening to the album in its concise entirety I began to realize what a sleeper it was. The group deceiving nature is like when potato chip companies have those blind taste tests and the person always picks the no-namer because it tastes better. Similarly in the case of Rodrigo Y Gabriela, the taste is all that matters. Fuck marketing, fuck sexiness, fuck playing the association game.

This self-titled album is a collection of all acoustic guitar tracks, and in a way it gives off the impression of an instructional "How To" guitar manual because of how advanced the members' playing skills are, and how intent they are at showing their listeners that very aspect. The album will make you think of words like "flamenco" or "jazz" or "Latin" and it is, to some degree, all of those. In fact it is more of a general excitement that initially catches your attention. The album is mostly based - besides the two covers - in flurried tempos and bright arrangements. There are constant chord changes and numerous stops and starts, all of it made better because it is precisely layered between two players. Further boosting the energy are percussive elements of boot stomps, muted strums, and acoustic guitar body taps.

Rodrigo Y Gabriela is simple in its focus and instrumentation, but that's what makes it so great. The guitars are expressive and end up delivering far more narrative than may singers are capable of. Hopefully more people will learn from my initial error and take a blind listening test to enjoy this album as I eventually did. After all, the product always speaks (or strums) for itself.

Reviewed by Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other reviews by Josh Zanger



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