Rodrigo y Gabriela have, for a long time, been a very different force in music. They originate in Mexico where they were members of various thrash metal bands, but supposedly frustrated with the Mexican music scene, they moved to Dublin where they were welcomed with open arms as a new breed of guitar duo. Their acoustic guitar music combined the styles of the thrash metal they used to play with their homeland’s traditional guitar style. It is nothing short of tremendous, the styles blend perfectly in the safe hands (and strings) of the couple.
Their new album “Area 52” is a departure from what they have been doing so successfully for six years since their debut though; it is no longer just them and their sublime guitar talents. The album is a collaboration with C.U.B.A, a thirteen piece Cuban orchestra composed of some of Havana’s finest young players. As a big fan of Rod y Gab’s previous work, I was very sceptical of a jump from such a distinctive and personal sound to that of an orchestra with horns parping away in their background. I was however pleasantly surprised, very pleasantly indeed.
Area 52 manages to combine three genres of music together in a collage of such finesse it is incredible. We are treated to a blend of the original thrash/acoustic and a Caribbean vibe which you cannot help but sway along to. Ignoring this extraordinarily catchy and cheerful sound the duo – along with orchestra – creates, it is a relief to hear something fresh and very different from almost everything out there. Admittedly, I’m not exactly an expert on Cuban music; so as far as I know, this could sound exactly like the rest of it, but I’m fairly confident that there is very little else like this going on in the UK or at least not on this scale or with this much talent.
At a relatively short nine tracks, Area 52 isn’t a gargantuan offering, yet each track is over four minutes long and most are pushing seven or eight. Crucially though, they never feel this long. Each track is literally a blast. From the irresistibly explosive grooves of Santa Domingo or Diablo rojo to the more sedate Logos, the listener’s attention is gripped firmly and taken somewhere new and exciting.
Although it isn’t a perfect album (there is a short tribal style vocal solo after 11:11 which doesn’t fit at all) it is damned near. I realise most people out there won’t give a Mexican couple and a Cuban Orchestra the time of day they deserve, but they really should, it is thoroughly worth it.
I particularly admire Rodrigo y Gabriela’s effort to try something new, it would have been very easy for them to produce another album of blistering guitar solos with very little else. To be honest I doubt that it would be a bad album; it would be a talent filled and dramatic piece. But would it have been fantastic? Who knows, all I know is that Area 52 is.