Rodrigo y Gabriela Area 52(ATO) Buy it from Insound
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.
On the other hand, that sitar is hardly the most problematic piece of instrumentation on the album. While never unpleasant (the dated slap bass and drum sound as well as, debatably, the Carlos Santana-aping electric guitar of Hanuman is the closest it gets to that) the often overly-enthusiastic arrangements threaten to smother the qualities that made Rodrigo y Gabriela special in the first place with the quiet brutality of their guitar playing often lost in the extended jam-band style (or, more accurately, the apparent lack of) structures or drowned out by the rather excitable horn section (the album is very brassy, in both senses of the word).
It would be wrong to begrudge a record so determined to bring a blast of sunshine into the cold misery of January, or to chastise Rodrigo y Gabriela for finally making an attempt to stretch themselves but, considering that this album of re-workings follows the three live albums they've already released, perhaps they've just not quite gone far enough?24 January, 2012 - 16:48 — Mark Davison