The very first moments of Rodrigo y Gabriela's sophomore effort, 11:11, hit the listener cold in the face, and not just because of the amazing guitar playing. Sure, it's there, but it's what anyone who heard the duo's astonishing debut would expect. No, it's the sound of the record: immediate, forceful, crystalline; it's in-your-face compelling and impossible to ignore. 11:11 features 11 new compositions, dedicated to 11 musical artists (not all guitarists, either) who have had an influence on the duo. Recorded in Ixtapa, Mexico, the set was self-produced with the exception of two cuts, which were co-produced with John Leckie. The set was mixed in Wales and London by Colin Richardson, who has worked with metal bands Trivium and Slipknot. The set opens with the striking, rhythmically complex "Hanuman," dedicated to Carlos Santana. While it doesn't work so much on the level of Santana's soaring solos, what it does do is capture the dramatic, rhythmically complex elements of his trademark style and roots him directly inside the entire lineage of great Latin guitarists. Next up is "Buster Voodoo," dedicated to Jimi Hendrix. The late guitarist's original nickname was Buster, and he wrote "Voodoo Chile," hence the title. This track is far afield from the preceding one in that it lifts elements of the Hendrix tune, and moves into a solid meld of heavy metal dynamics and contemporary Latin style -- there's even the use of a wah-wah pedal on a nylon-string guitar to excellent effect. The fuzzed-out intro to "Santo Domingo" is a rather jarring effect for a tune that is dedicated to Latin jazz pianist and composer Michel Camilo, but it's named for the city of his birth and therefore captures in sound the splendor and color of the city. The Afro-Cuban, Spanish, and Mexican rhythmic complexities shown by Gabriela Quintero are perhaps more astonishing than the stellar, even dazzling single-string work by Rodrigo Sanchez.
"Atman," dedicated to the late Dimebag Darrell of Pantera and Damageplan, features a searing guest appearance by Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick and is truly one of the high points on the recording. It is also a terrific reminder that Rodrigo y Gabriela began their musical careers as electric guitarists in heavy metal bands. Other standout tracks include "Master Maqui," with acoustic solos by Strunz & Farah; "Hora Zero," inspired by -- and dedicated to -- Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla; and "Savitri," dedicated to the John McLaughlin-led acoustic trio Shakti. The set whispers to a close -- in sharp contrast to its beginning -- with the title track, dedicated to Pink Floyd and featuring the piano work of Edgardo Pineda Sanchez. Throughout, Rodrigo y Gabriela showcase their metal chops as part and parcel of their Mexican guitar heritage. They've not simply melded the two, but have created an entirely different form of music for the acoustic guitar in the process. It's also important to note that while their technical facility is indeed dazzling, this is not the reason to sit down and dig into this record; it's the music itself. It's infectious and accessible, full of pathos, intensity, passion, and color. It's dazzling because the compositions are so imaginative and tight -- a light year's growth from their debut. This music is arranged with flair, soul, intelligence, and economy; as busy and full as it sounds, there isn't an extra note anywhere here. 11:11 reveals a true musical and sonic expansion without Rodrigo y Gabriela losing sight of their strength as an acoustic duo. Awesome. [There is a Deluxe Edition of the CD that contains a bonus DVD as well. On it are interviews with Rodrigo y Gabriela, a live rehearsal, a documentary, and a tutorial for "Buster Voodoo."]