Release Date: Jan 24, 2012
Record label: ATO
Genre(s): Latin, Pop/Rock, International
From Re-Foc, their very first release in 2002, post-nuevo flamenco guitar duo Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero thumbed their noses at purist notions of flamenco. Having initially come from heavy metal, they wedded their new music to metal's pyrotechnics and the various folk styles of their native Mexico, creating a new genre in acoustic music. That said, Area 52 is unlike anything they have recorded before.
The Mexican guitar heroes have moved on, in style. On the last couple of occasions I've seen Rodrigo y Gabriela, they were technically brilliant but repetitive, relying too much on rapid-fire riffs and guitar noodling. Their last studio album, 11:11, showed them exploring added instrumentation, and now comes their most unexpected work to date, a classy, varied and upbeat set in which Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero are joined by a 13-piece Cuban orchestra featuring members of Los Van Van, and guests from around the world, including the Indian sitar star Anoushka Shankar and Palestinian oud virtuosos Le Trio Joubran.
Rodrigo y Gabriela has expanded from a duo of fast-paced guitar maestros to a composition of an expansive sound that includes a 13-piece band called C.U.B.A. on their latest studio album Area 52. This latest album pushes the duo into the realm of a salsa club with even faster rhythms and Cuban-influenced beats. Of the nine songs on the record, seven are from 2009’s 11:11 while “Diablo Rojo” and “Juan Loco” were featured on their self-titled 2006 release.
Rodrigo y Gabriela and C.U.B.A.Area 52[ATO; 2012]By Daniel Griffiths; February 2, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetYou’ll all have to bear with me on this one; I don’t think I’ve ever had to write a review as challenging as this. When a band doesn’t have lyrics, and no vocals, a significant portion is gone at least to those of us who’ve grown accustomed to the traits of popular music. At first I thought ‘where are the themes?! I need lyrical themes to open the whole thing up!’ Lyrical themes help set up a mood for the music to follow.
Rerecording your greatest hits with an orchestra seems like the uninspired move of a washed-up band who has a record contract to fulfill. Area 52 is not that, rather a genuine undertaking of self-rearrangement and ethno-musical immersion. For the uninitiated, Rodrigo Y Gabriella is an acoustic guitar duo from Mexico. They take 12 nylon strings as far as they can go: Rodrigo plays explosively fast leads that are equally inspired by heavy metal and Latin forms and Gabriella supersedes the term rhythm guitarist by slapping the body of the instrument while chording to make it equally percussive and harmonious.
The rise of Mexican acoustic duo Rodrigo y Gabriela still feels like a happy anomaly. Who knew you could take over the world with heavy metal-influenced flamenco rock? By 2009's 11:11, the pair were looking to enrich their palette, and this collaboration with a 13-piece Cuban orchestra is a further attempt to push forward their sound. It's a qualified success: these nine tracks are new arrangements of old R y G compositions, and while their propulsive guitar work on "Santo Domingo" is bolstered with thrilling gusts of brass, on "Logos" dynamism gives way to loungey longueurs.
Rodrigo y Gabriela’s latest album has offerings from their last two releases re-interpreted, with the backing of a 13 piece Cuban orchestra. It is a confusing listen, but one that is certainly filled with the performers’ joy and energy. It was recorded as an intermediate step, due to a sense of uncertainty in recording an entirely new album. Once synthesised down, this is left wide open to the notion that this is Rodrigo y Gabriela ‘doing a Buena Vista’, or somewhat more unfairly, ‘a Santana’, or maybe more interestingly, if schmaltzy, ‘a Norman Brown’.
When Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero, a.k.a. Rodrigo y Gabriela, first burst into America’s consciousness back in 2006, they were received with a romanticized infatuation. It wasn’t the virtuosic fretboard acrobatics, which were remarkable and mesmerizing, nor was it the impressive and novel songwriting, a Frankensteinian mélange of flamenco guitar, Mexican and Irish folk music, rock, jazz, and thrash metal.
While the recent almost-fame of Rodrigo y Gabriela seems like something of a pleasant surprise (culminating in their presence being the sole bright spot in the long dark night of the soul that was the latest interminable installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise), it would be fair to say that there has also been a simultaneous sense of stagnation about their work, with their (admittedly still fairly unique, and very effective) heavy metal-meets-spanish classical guitar sound remaining largely unchanged over the past decade. Their latest album Area 52 stretches this contradiction further, seeing the Mexico-formed Ireland-based duo re-record old material (and not for the first time), while trying something new by collaborating with a 13 piece Cuban orchestra. For the most part it seems like a fairly comfortable fit; you certainly can't fault the technical ability on display, nor the energy, as best shown on the sixties-spy-movie-exotic-location-establishing-montage samba of Master Maqui, or the slightly mournful horns that offset the skipping, dueling guitars in Ixtapa; once you get past the track's slightly ill-advised sitar theatrics, courtesy of Anoushka (daughter of Ravi) Shankar.
Review Summary: Fascinating guitar playing duo take several steps backIn a music world where Carlos Santana can team up with the likes of doe-eyed rock stars such as Rob Thomas and get away it, simply under the pretense of it being just a little exotic and therefore cool, then by the same admission should Rodrigo y Gabriela be a more successful act, if for no other reason than to exist as nothing more than a novelty. It stands to reason then that Rodrigo y Gabriela are simply victims of their own folly, woefully under-marketed when a sound such as theirs should at the least, be intriguing enough to warrant further investigation, and should, with no assistance, be exciting enough to see them getting the attention that they rightfully deserve. But just look at that damn album cover; it sort of makes sense that in the past this gallivanting twosome have riddled their albums with covers and tributes to some of their influences (coincidentally some of the biggest names in rock and metal), perhaps as a way to entice a few more followers, because god knows, in looking at that album cover, that they’re simply not doing themselves any favors in trying to market a sound that, outside of their home country, sounds so wonderfully delicious and thrilling.
Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero’s intricate, high-strung pageantries are never anything but exhilarating and extravagant, but this record is just absurd. Their unique busk-bred fusion of metal, jazz and flamenco has thus far sold them 1 million albums worldwide, but now, on this dive into the unknown, they’re backed by a youthful 13-piece Cuban orchestra (C.U.B.A) and bassist Carles Benavent (Miles Davis, Paco de Lucia). Having reworked and rearranged nine songs from their back catalogue at Abdala Studios in Havana’s Miramar District, their primal, formulaic guitar noodling has now been beefed up with a glorious, unrelenting mish-mash of horns, flutes and percussion.
Nine numbers from the pair’s back catalogue are reworked, with mixed results. Johnny Sharp 2012 Rodrigo y Gabriela are one of those rare acts who can leave you open-mouthed in awe when witnessed live. There’s something mesmerising about watching the Dublin-based Mexican duo thrashing seven shades of salsa-flavoured jazz-metal fusion out of their long-suffering acoustic guitars on stage.