While the phenomenal popularity of Guitar Hero suggests the public adores six-string shredders, there are sadly few Jimi Hendrixes among the current crop of real-life rock stars. The 21st-century gods of metal still fly all over the fretboard, but their playing is too often a study in technical flexercise. Real guitar lovers are looking to Rodrigo y Gabriela, an acoustic instrumental duo combining fiery Spanish melodies with the power of thrash.
On their latest album, 11:11, Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero honor the master musicians who inspired them. Guitarists rule the dedications, and the stylistic range is impressive: blues-based old-schoolers Hendrix and Carlos Santana; metalheads Dimebag Darrell (Pantera) and Alex Skolnick (Testament); and jazz- and world-fusion pioneers (Al di Meola, John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucia, and Strunz and Farah). You can hear this wealth of influences in the soulfulness and smooth velocity of Rodrigo's lead lines and in the intense propulsion of Gabriela's Afro-Latin backbeats.
The obvious touchstone for the pair's vision is Friday Night in San Francisco, a legendary album from 1980 by di Meola, McLaughlin, and de Lucia. It cracks wide open the possibilities of acoustic guitar jams. While the big three mine the sophisticated genres of jazz, flamenco, and Spanish classical for their primary reference points, Rodrigo y Gabriela draw from a wider palette that gets down and dirty with hard rock as well as elements of folk, world, jazz, and classical. Notably, the duo's renditions of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" and Metallica's "Orion" are YouTube favorites and highlights of their live shows.
Such a populist approach has served Rodrigo y Gabriela well as they've grown from humble origins in a little-known Mexico City speed-metal band to kicking out unplugged Slayer tunes on the streets of Dublin to relentlessly touring the world behind the 2006 release of their self-titled U.S. debut. That album helped place them onstage at massive festivals, including Coachella and Outside Lands. The key to their success is bringing a rocker's high-energy attitude to songs beautifully rendered on classical guitars. They also foster intimacy with audiences via giant video projections that zoom in on their fleet-fingered fretwork.
Rodrigo y Gabriela's latest record continues to encourage friendly connection with fans. Liner notes recommend the pair's favorite albums. A fine bonus DVD features interviews, living-room rehearsals, and a tour of the studio they built in their new home in Ixtapa. For guitarists, they include a tutorial of "Buster Voodoo," their Hendrix tribute, which grooves deeply thanks to Gabriela's singular right-hand technique. She pushes the tune with a funky momentum that leads to Rodrigo busting out the wah-wah on a blazing solo.
In an effort to further diversify their sound on 11:11, the dynamic duo adds an electric solo from Skolnick to the raga-flavored melody "Atman," which feels cosmic with its heavy- metal overlay. On "Master Maqui," exquisite harmonies from Strunz and Farah blow up the band to a magical 24-string quartet. And there's a touch of spare piano at the end of the title track. It concludes the album on a dreamy note, as if teasing fans that there's a lot more music to come from Rodrigo y Gabriela.