4 out of 5
Produced by: Dave Sardy
Seeing as how they’ve played with everyone, and even a former president seems to appreciate them, I suppose I should’ve had some awareness of Rodrigo Y Gabriela, a Mexican acoustic guitar two piece given to revisionist retakes on classic metal / rock tracks. And yes, that apparent wide appeal is understandable: the duo strike a particularly pleasantly energetic strum that easily sits alongside any given guitar-based radio hit, a la Santana, or Rob Thomas, or etcetera. You can roll your eyes there, if you hadn’t already when I mentioned the covers.
But just like Bad Plus, another group that jumped the line with a Nirvana cover that had old people pretending they cared about grunge music, Rodrigo Y Gabriela not only have the musical chops to back up their original material, their apparent thrashy influences are legit as well, in that the two did their time in a metal group. Not that that stuff should matter, if the music is good – which it is – but one might say that the seeming ease with which the two rework these tunes to their own purposes shows a comfort with the source material that might not come from a casual fan co-opting things.
In other news, Rodrigo Y Gabriela’s 2019 album, Mettavolution, features 6 new tracks and a Pink Floyd cover, and since I’m not a Floyd fan, I can’t tell you how that works out in terms of accuracy on captures-the-spirit-of, or what have you. For what it’s worth, though (i.e. four stars on this blog), I can tell you that the originals – which are apparently of a faster, more fretful variety than their previous output – are pretty badass, featuring a toe-tappable Flamenco-style strum and picking (the two guitarists – I assume – playing off of one another, sometimes accompanied by the backing beat of their hands drumming on the body of their instruments, or staccato, muted chords), but amped up to a punkish pace. Though 3-4 minutes each, these things veritably fly by, and are differentiated by different moods or musical themes, and – here and there – some flourishes from producer Dave Sardy, who can’t affect things much otherwise (based on my youtube samplings of the group’s other works) but does make sure to contribute his usual ability of making studio recordings sound like polished live material, which certainly works with this style of music.
The cover is a bit inscrutable to me. It’s full length – 20+ minutes – and would seem to be played more by feeling than for kicks, but that – perhaps to a non-Floyd fan – makes it a little less impactful. I certainly recognize the main, dirgey guitar riff that’s the focus of the beginning and end of the song, but I get lost during its middle digression, a moment that I suspect was pretty effective when all psyched up, but here, boiled down to basics, it’s admittedly atmospheric, but creates a giant rift in the middle of the track that makes it seem like two separate songs. By the time it comes back around to that riff, the momentum has been lost. It’s definitely an interesting track, but I’d have to suspect it’s more worthwhile the more into the original you are.
Still, I guess I’ll be sharing some CDs in my collection with NPR folk and some parents and presidents, as the sharp performances and catchy and emotive playing across the majority of Mettavolution has certainly encouraged me to check out what else Rodrigo Y Gabriela have gotten up to over the years.