There was a time when I was pretty consumed with, and you could make an argument that it could be considered "obsessed with" Robert Fripp's Guitar Craft legion – the California Guitar Trio, the League of Crafty Guitarists, and various smaller splinter groups. There was something about the shared skills of the many guitarists balancing complex pieces of intricate music, much of it approaching classical in style at times – it grabbed my imagination, filling my head with thoughts of notes dancing between nimble-fingered guitarists.
Over time, the effect wore off a bit – I still listen to some of the various Guitar Craft outings from time to time, but as I grew older, I found something missing. Maybe a bit of heart, I don't know. As highly technical as the music was, I have to say that it was a bit cold at times. And sometimes that's just the right thing – cold precision can be fascinating and beautiful in the right circumstances. But a lot of the time, I'm looking for more from guitarists and that's where the Crafty Guitarists and I slowly parted ways.
I've found that "more" in the same genre that many others have – jazz – but from time to time, something astonishing comes along that also provides "more" that just sweeps me off my feet. Rodrigo Y Gabriela, a pair of flamenco guitarists, have done just that – they've appeared out of nowhere and given me more when I least suspected it.
I can't pretend to know much about flamenco guitar, but I can say this: their self-titled album is rich with invigorating music that can barely be contained by that genre alone. The pair, having fled both Mexico and a metal band for Europe and acoustic guitars, developed a style that bridges a style deep in tradition with their roots in metal to give listeners something unique: dark, sometimes disturbing flamenco guitar.
Punctuated by the smack of percussive hits on the bodies of their guitars, this is hard, driving music – it feels as if the two were accompanied by drums much of the time, but the entirety of the album is two guitars, save for one song ("Ixtapa," where violinist Roby Lakatos joins the duo.) Elsewhere, the pair show off their taste in covers by taking on Metallica's "Orion" with a rendition that will have you shaking your head in disbelief. And if, you, like me, cringed a little bit seeing Led Zeppelin's overplayed classic "Stairway To Heaven" listed among the songs, have no fear. While the guitar shop in Wayne's World may have had a "No 'Stairway To Heaven'" rule, they would lift it to hear Rodrigo Y Gabriela's take. Where many would simply "Latinize" the original, they use it as a jumping-off point for some creative and fascinating exploration of the sounds of their world. The steps may lead up to heaven, but somehow we wind up deep in the heart of Mexico.
And that's what makes it all work so well – heart. For all their technical prowess, behind it all is a great love of playing all this music and entertaining listeners. Rodrigo Y Gabriela's music is plainly driven by the giddy "what next?" desire that had them jumping out of the metal band they were in and the comfort of their homeland for foreign lands and music they surely weren't certain would take them anywhere. And now, for us listeners, we're left with that same excited desire to know what's next for the two.