CD review: Rodrigo y Gabriela – Live in France

Live in France is the latest release from Rodrigo y Gabriela, a globe-trotting, genre-blending guitar duo from Mexico City. I first heard the group perform on David Letterman’s show a few years ago, picked up their 2006 self-titled release, and was hooked.

This new eleven-cut release is culled from five different stops on their recent tour in support of their 2009 studio album, 11:11. For all the excitement and commitment I attributed to myself in the previous paragraph, I actually lost track of these two after their self-titled album, so my ears had plenty of catching up to do when listening to this new album. Rodrigo y Gabriela have a signature sound, and longtime fans will immediately recognize the group on this release even if they too have fallen of the wagon, but they also will recognize the musical growth of these two over the last five years.

Texture and layering has long been a feature of their songs, but these songs add complexity and length while retaining their punchy force and energy. While the two continue to perform on acoustic guitars, the duo has added some occasional electronic effects to their sound. My ears detected a wah pedal and the shimmer of something like a chorus or octave effect.

One of the fun things about Rodrigo y Gabriela is that it’s always easy to get into them, and therefore always easy to introduce friends to them. Whether you’re just checking them out for the first time or you’ve been on board for a few years, Live in France will engage and excite.

If you’ve never heard Rodrigo y Gabriela, scroll down for the video of their Letterman performance I referenced above. In between is Thom Jurek’s All Music review, which appropriately notes the pleasure of being able to hear the band from the live stage as well as the studio:

Given the sheer excitement and fiery acoustic guitar pyrotechnics that Rodrigo y Gabriela generated with their first two studio albums, what transpires on Live in France may not only dazzle, but astonish. Recorded in five cities during their tour supporting 11:11, this 11-song set features nine performances of cuts from that album, and a solo improvisation each. The wah-wah pedal introduced on 11:11 is plentifully present here, used most effectively by Gabriela as a powerful rhythmic element on “Hora Zero” (written for Astor Piazzolla) and as a gnarly lead instrument on “Santo Domingo” by Rodrigo (written for Michel Camilo). “Gabriela Solo” begins with an intro to Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile,” and indeed serves as an intro to the duo’s beautiful performance of the tune dedicated to him, “Buster Voodoo.” Hearing her percussive style, where intense polyrhythms are played on the wood of the instrument as much as on the strings themselves, is a mindblower. When Gabriela kicks the wah-wah pedal on, the entire track hits stun. “Savitri” (inspired by John McLaughlin and Shakti) combines tango, flamenco, and even Indian classical themes in a slightly different arrangement than the studio version. Rodrigo’s fluidity is matched modally by Gabriela’s seamless rhythmic interplay; she accents the ends of his lines with the beginnings of new ones. Here too, the wah-wah pedal makes a necessary appearance — from both guitarists. Rodrigo’s lead lines in the middle eight are as hefty as they are hypnotic. The reading of “Hanuman” (dedicated to Carlos Santana) highlights — even more so than the studio version — the deep commitment of its subject to Afro-Cuban music in his own approach to the guitar; knotty montunos and rumbas are sharply articulated in both the front line and in the rhythmic pulse. If you already have the studio recording and wonder whether purchasing this is necessary, the answer is simply “yes.” The spontaneity, improvisation, and interaction between the audience and Rodrigo y Gabriela make Live in France a musical document that exists on an entirely different level than its studio companion.

From the Late Show with David Letterman, probably in 2006:

Whatever you do, don’t call it “flamenco.”

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