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Rodrigo y Gabriela Area 52 Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

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. Much of their appeal lies in this exceptional playing: the pair can often resemble a couple of demonically possessed Hispanic street urchins caught just after trading their souls to el Diablo at a crossroads somewhere near Guadalajara.

Their three studio albums proper and three live recordings thus far have only partly succeeded in transferring the energy of their stage performances. A tendency towards meandering, progressively-inclined instrumental sojourns can make for difficult listening when unaccompanied by the sight of its creators in frenzied axe action.

On this occasion they’ve chosen to enlist C.U.B.A., a 13-piece band (can you guess where they’re from?) to beef up the two nylon-stringed acoustic guitars that form the core of their sound, as they attempt to rework nine numbers from their back catalogue. Unfortunately, with these new layers of accompaniment, there’s often just too much going on to keep the listener’s attention focused.

The hooks of Ixtapa are engulfed by lengthy instrumental excursions, ritzy brass decoration and overcrowded polyrhythms. Meanwhile, the constant prog-tastic changes in tempo become exhausting and disorientating. You feel like you’ve run a triathlon just listening to it sometimes.

If you’re here to admire the musicianly chops on display then you might be more in your element. Meanwhile, guest appearances from Anoushka Shankar’s sitar improvisation and Palestinian oud virtuosos Le Trio Joubran will doubtless interest World Music connoisseurs. But the casual listener may not be quite so enthralled.

Their sense of adventure seemingly knows no bounds, yet when, after six leisurely minutes of jazz-rock noodling, 11.11 suddenly segues into a passage of Cuban folk singing backed by a lone drummer, the strong whiff of pretension might hang rather too heavy in the air for some tastes.

That said, when their breathless guitar workouts are allowed space to breathe by lighter salsa-style backing, as on Master Maqui or Tamacun and the electrifying turbo-flamenco of Diablo Rojo, they regain that hypnotic quality that entrances so effortlessly live. Ultimately, though, these are tantalising tastes from an otherwise over-egged pudding.

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