It's perhaps no surprise that in reviewing '9 Dead Alive', Ultimate Guitar Archive gives the Mexican duo Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriel Quintero's first release in five years a glowing 9.7 out of 10. This is the kind of record, after all, that will have technicians positively weeping at the pair's virtuosity; UGA probably has all the tabs for erstwhile Flamenco buffs to try this at home, but it's likely that they'll end up with bleeding fingers and a splitting headache.
Rodrigo y Gabriela's back story is an interesting one, taking them from playing heavy metal in their home country to busking on the pavements of Dublin before doing a turn in front of Barack Obama. If that's unorthodox then (for them) '9 Dead Alive' is not, following a groove in which they've managed to carve out a president enticing niche, making them fairly big in Belgium as a result. Each of the tracks is themed around a person from the twentieth century (example - opener 'The Soundmaker' is dedicated/inspired by Antonio De Torres Jurado, the father of the modern acoustic guitar) although any references to them are, as you would imagine, on record consisting entirely of instrumentals, highly oblique.
In the wrong hands, this concept could end up being rendered as lift music, but Sanchez and Quintero are experienced enough to know how to blend the intricate traditional shades of this type of music with a powerfully sensual undercurrent. Only on 'Megalopolis' is the listener handed something which could be regarded as genuinely picturesque and delicate, whilst 'Somnium' by contrast bursts with pent up energy and a riffing mid-section that could, if electrified, almost pass for prog metal.
This sense of urgency is a concession to rock dynamics, one that offers an olive branch to those who pass on complex time signatures and a lack of words, a restlessness that gives compositions like 'Fram a Tapas-bar' unfriendly momentum. The end result of this heft is that the main obstacle to goodness here - a lurch towards sentimentality - is another duo's problem. On 'The Russian Messenger' (inspired by Dostoyevsky) and closer 'La Salle De Las Purdas' (Eleanor of Acquitaine) they reveal their inner Led Zeppelin, creating the sort of arable picking which Jimmy Page would give up his plectrum for. Finally, the realisation that brevity is always the key to formula, and their prudent choice a 40-odd minute running time, counters any suggestion of over familiarity. Bravo!
There will be those that regard '9 Dead Alive' as something of a pointless exercise, limited in scope and mainly of interest for visitors to Ultimate Guitar Archive. To an extent they have a point; this is not an essential record and is unlikely to win the duo the patronage of any other world leaders. It is, however, always good to come across music so exquisitely crafted and cared for, performed by people that can translate their passion into something with genuine beauty running through it. These are old qualities, but this is a record that deserves to be heard by people in our brave new world.
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