9 Dead Alive by Rodrigo Y Gabriela

9deadalive

The somewhat obscure title refers to the fact that each of the nine tracks on the album sets out to commemorate deceased heroes and heroines of world history (well, except ‘Torito’ a sweeping epic, that honours animals and nature). That might sound a little obscure but don’t let that put you off – this is a tremendous album.

After a dalliance with a big fat Cuban sound on their last record “Area 52” they are back doing what they do best with two thundering acoustic guitars, percussion (on those self same acoustic guitars) and adventurous arrangements with quicksilver playing. Surely everyone knows Rod & Gab’s story by now as they rode on a blazing torrent of flamenco style guitars busking along the back streets of Dublin to the Vatican to play in front of the Pope Ratzinger? Fortunately for me, they ended up on the stage at the Siam Tent at WOMAD in 2012 where I was lucky enough to catch a thrilling sweat soaked midnight performance.

This record delivers what the duo do best and the fact that it has a concept is neither here nor there. The albums opens with ‘The Soundmaker’ which is dedicated to Antonio De Torres Jurado who was feted as one of the greatest makers of Spanish guitars. Fittingly, it’s a fabulous example of high speed inter-locking playing that leaves you gasping for breathe as Rod & Gab weave intricate patterns around each other over the course of the piece. Without pausing for breathe we are into the aforementioned ‘Torito’ but it’s difficult here to make a link between the galloping guitar and our friends in the animal world. It does make for some inspired improvisation that highlights the ferocious skills of Rod & Gab.

‘Sunday Neurosis’ is inspired by Viktor Frankl a neurologist and holocaust survivor born in Vienna (it meant nothing to me) before the War. It begins with thunderous guitar but drops into some beautiful playing reminiscent of Peter Green and Dave Gilmour at their most delicate. There are some spoken word interludes that don’t seem to add much to the overall feel but it doesn’t detract either. The album builds on some by turns fiery and gentle playing before reaching the centre piece that is ‘Megalopolis’. This atmospheric piece represents Gabriela Mistral a Chilean poet and intellectual who inspired a nation and who’s death, in 1957, was marked by three days of national mourning. Some of her teachings crossed over to Western thought and her best known quote was:

“We are guilty of many errors and many faults, but our worst crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the fountain of life. Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot. Right now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made, and his senses are being developed. To him we cannot answer ‘Tomorrow,’ his name is today.”

We end with tributes to Russia’s literary hero Dostoyevsky (‘The Russian Messenger’) and Eleanor of Aquitaine who lived a long and eventful life providing sons and daughters for King Henry II and at one time was reputed to have fought in the crusades – a formidable woman. You can hear echoes of old English music in ‘La Salle Des Pas Perdus’ but overall it remains hard to see the link between the music and the characters. If you listen and browse Wikipedia you learn while you listen. An unusual approach for sure but adds up to something different.

With or without the history lessons this is a fabulous album and sits comfortably with Rodrigo Y Gabriela’s growing catalogue of albums with the thrilling interplay of fiery acoustic guitars that, at times, sounds like heavy-metal-acoustic! There, did I just invent a new musical genre?

Reviewer: Greg Johnson

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