By Brian Tucker
Released in April, the nine tracks by two acoustic guitarists are powerful and elegant. They make music that envelops emotionally as much as sonically. The somber yet romantic number “Megalopolis” leaves little doubt and the album is a departure from the grandiosity of their last (Area 52) in which the pair recorded with a thirteen piece orchestra.
9 Dead Alive is more stripped down but it doesn’t lose power or energy. Recorded simply with the two musicians in front of a pair of microphones and the tape rolling, the album is unique in that each song is a musical tribute to eight people from different walks of life that have influenced them in some way.
The inventor of the modern Spanish guitar, Antonio de Torres Jurado, is the basis for the opening track “Soundmaker” and Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl gets a unique tribute with “Sunday Neurosis,” a track that works like a storm blowing slowly through town. Augmented with sound clips, the track is hypnotic in a relaxing way until an aircraft lifting off ends it.
The album is all over the map musically from an emotional standpoint, from the fierce energy of “Misty Moses” concerning Harriet Tubman to the bluesy “Torito” that ends with the collision of guitar work. It’s a track that speaks to, and injects, the duo’s past as heavy metal musicians and enthusiasts (the same goes for the prickly “The Russian Messenger”).
The duo met as guitarists while playing in metal band Tierra Acida in Mexico. When things didn’t pan out they split for Europe, busking in Dublin where they would meet Amos Lee. Lee loaned them his recording equipment he had purchased to record a new album. They used it to make thir own album, one dedicated to people they met during that period.
Much of what 9 Dead Alive sounds like is movement, an idea richly found in metal music. Take “Somnuim,” a number that begins with grace and beauty and even within that soundscape it feels frantic. Very soon the track is off and running, combining elegance and tension. The same could be said of “Fram,” coming off as a metal song stripped to its acoustic bones. It’s a coy addition to the album, purposeful or not, that metal heads will pick up on and non-metal listeners won’t.
In the end, it won’t matter. Rodrigo y Gabriela has crafted music that leaps across genres, music that will sound very alive Tuesday night at Greenfield Lake Amphitheatre.