Everywhere you turn, it seems like an old movie or TV series is getting the remake treatment. This often gets fans of the originals up in arms, and the product can easily become an uninspired retread, where no new life is put into the work. Rodrigo y Gabriela could have fallen into this trap with their newest album Area 52, in which they reinterpret several songs from their previous albums. Fortunately, they’ve managed to come out with an album that separates itself from their early work while, for the most part, maintaining their personal sound.
“Santo Domingo”, the album opener, starts off with the fast plucking and guitar percussion that define Rodrigo y Gabriela. Then the brass comes in, driving the piece along at a breakneck pace. It all comes together. The brightness of the horns matches well with the Santana-influenced guitar playing (the original song was part of an album where each track was dedicated to a particular influence on the band, in this case Santana).
Although this sound works well for much of the album, there are some moments where it feels overblown. For instance, the original cut of “Tamacun” from 2006’s Rodrigo y Gabriela has a power derived from the silence when the guitars stop to breathe. On Area 52, there are so many extra instruments playing little flourishes that the song sounds too busy, and the old magic is lost.
This is also a prime example of when Area 52 feels like a big band jam session. The actual melody is broken up by long stretches of horn, piano and guitar solos. When you expect the tightly crafted pieces for which Rodrigo y Gabriela are known, this can be frustrating.
Despite these problems, most of the tracks are welcome reimaginings of the originals. The beautiful violin solo in “Ixtapa” is gone, but Anoushka Shankar plays an equally impressive sitar solo to replace it. The bright, ever-present brass section actually complements the sitar’s sliding notes, as well as its sweet drone.
When approaching this album, Rodrigo y Gabriel fans should be careful about what they expect. The guitarists are not the focus of this album. They instead frame the album, occasionally dipping back into the spotlight for a brief solo section. If you come in expecting this to be another classical guitar thrash fest, you will be disappointed. That said, the difference should be a draw for fans who want to hear new life pumped into the songs that work. As for newcomers, if you like fast-paced, metal-influenced big bands, this is a great album to pick up.