11:11, Rodrigo y Gabriela

Ato Records, Mexico
Rating: 75
by Andrew Casillas

Damn shame, what happened to that Rodrigo y Gabriela. We all know the basic story by now: Mexican boy-girl duo move to Dublin to become travelling musicians, and in turn become the world’s most notable dueling guitarists since Flatt & Scruggs. However, this sort of success doesn’t give them the aura of impenetrable coolness that it should; instead, they’re left to soundtrack your daily trips to Starbucks, and help lead out of whatever Latin American story that NPR was just talking about. And the shame of it all is, that reputation will likely never change, even as they begin to amass quite a formidable catalogue, the latest entry being 11:11.

11:11 is a concept album where every song is an instrumental tribute to one of their musical idols, which ranges from canon guitarists like Carlos Santana and Jimi Hendrix to jazz musicians like Michael Camilo, Latin classicists like Astor Piazzolla, and, um, Dimebag Darrell (which is admittedly pretty bad ass). These aren’t empty tributes either; the duo deftly lifts stylistic elements from their subject on each composition. Notice the “wah-wah” pedal and heavy metal histrionics on the Hendrix-nod “Buster Voodoo,” or the Latin jazz guitar single-string work on the Camilo tribute “Santo Domingo,” which may be the most impressive song on this album. It’s not all flashy guitar picking and metal chords, however, as the shuffling (and Pink Floyd-indebted) title track/closer demonstrates. Casually adding a piano into the mix, this is a song unlike anything they’ve done before, and could herald an interesting direction for the band.

If there are any complaints about this record, it could be that it’s all a bit too much for the casual pop listener. Now, I’m not saying that technical proficiency isn’t something to be admired and applauded; it’s just that these songs don’t leave enough breathing room for the non-guitar enthusiasts to really distinguish one song from another. Nearly every song almost seems to begin from the middle of the composition, lacking a sense of ebb and flow for the subtle differences to present themselves. This isn’t the greatest crime that a band can make on an album, but a bit of restraint may probably be in order for future releases.

Ultimately, this is another solid album for Rodrigo y Gabriela. Two guitars isn’t exactly the most novel idea in this era, but there are very few acts that could do something so ostensibly simple with such dynamic execution as these two. Now, if we could only get these guys some airplay on non-yuppie sources. Hmm, I wonder if the Rose Bowl needs intro music…