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CD review - 11:11, Rodrigo y Gabriela

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While video-game junkies worship the six-string shredding of false idols, real guitar purists can embrace an unlikely pair of heroes in Rodrigo y Gabriela, an acoustic instrumental duo from Mexico that combines spicy Spanish melodies with the raw power of thrash-metal.

Rodrigo Sanchez is a dazzling finger-picker who can move from blind speed to passionate soul in a flash. Gabriela Quintero propels the music forward with fast, rhythmic techniques such as thrashing of strings and drumming on the body of the guitar that draws comparisons to flamenco.

But few flamenco guitarists can boast a background in heavy music (the duo started out playing in a Mexico City speed-metal band), and Rodrigo and Gabriela refuse to be limited by their Mexican guitar heritage. They’ve combined metal chops with a Spanish classical spirit and percussive bounce to create a totally unique form of acoustic guitar music.

The result is like a slap of cold water to the face on a steaming hot day, and it simply can’t be ignored.

On their latest album, 11:11, Sanchez and Quintero honor the musicians who inspired them, including a wide range of guitarists from classic blues-based rockers Hendrix and Santana, to jazz- and world-fusion pioneers Al di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia, to metal heroes Dimebag Darrell (Pantera) and Alex Skolnick (Testament).

The set opens with the striking, rhythmically complex "Hanuman," dedicated to Carlos Santana. Gabriela's right-hand technique powers the Hendrix tribute “Buster Voodoo” with a funky momentum that culminates in Rodrigo busting out a rare acoustic wah-wah pedal.

The duo adds an electric solo from Skolnick to the metal-infused "Atman," one of the high points on the recording, and blows up the band to a 24-string quartet with acoustic harmonies by Strunz & Farah on “Master Maqui”.

There are other influences on the album besides guitarists. "Santo Domingo" is dedicated to Latin jazz pianist and composer Michel Camilo, but is colored by Rodrigo with a jarring fuzzed-out intro effect. The set quietly murmurs to a close with the title track, dedicated to Pink Floyd and featuring a touch of spare piano by guest musician Edgardo Pineda Sanchez.

This is music both complex and accessible, full of spirit, intensity and passion, arranged with depth and soulfulness. The sound is remarkably full when you consider its mostly just two musicians without vocals, but it’s also refreshingly economical: there’s not a single note out of place or in the way.

In concert, Rodrigo y Gabriela have always encouraged intimacy with audiences by way of giant video projections that zoom in on their blistering fretwork. Their latest record continues to encourage that friendly connection through liner notes that recommend the pair's favorite albums; a bonus DVD that features interviews, living-room rehearsals, and a tour of the studio they built in their new home in Ixtapa; and even a tutorial of "Buster Voodoo" for guitar aficionados.

This is no video game played by manufactured “heroes.” It’s the real thing.

Rodrigo y Gabriela will appear at the Electric Factory, 7th and Willow, on Thursday, Oct. 22. For more information, go to http://www.electricfactory.info/.