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Generally beautiful, sometimes meandering guitar works
on July 20, 2005
Gustavo Santaollala is famous for his rock exploits in 1970s Argentina, his work as a producer of the rock en espanol genre, and for his scores to three Hollywood films. However, he is also a keen performer of a wide array of traditional Latin American stringed instruments, and in the instrumental album RONROCO he explores the possibilities of these simple instruments, accompanied only by the occasional vibraphone or whistle. Gustavo's work here might be best compared to that of guitarists like Robin Guthrie (see his album IMPERIAL), in which the guitarist creates through numerous overdubs an enveloping soundworld. However, Santaolalla shows a great interest in polyrhythmic experiments on many of these tracks, and a consciousness of a folk tradition not found among many modern guitar players.
Like many listeners, I was attracted to this album by hearing the song "Iguazu" in the movie THE INSIDER. "Iguazu" is one of the most moving songs on the album, but it is fairly limited and Santaollala shows a greater range of ideas in other songs here. In the opening "Way Up" he eschews melody for a shower of arpeggios in differerent rhythms. "Coyita" takes a traditional waltz form and applies unusual instrumentation. In "De Ushuaia a la Quiaca", possibly the greatest piece here, his approach seems at first minimalistic but then proves to serve as a backdrop for piercing and vaguely Andean woodwind tones.
Some songs, however, aren't very gripping at all, such as "Gaucho", which seems overly simplistic, and "Zenda", which lacks direction. However, in the end the album may be a worthy purchase for those who like instrumental music and are curious to see how a former rock star responds to Latin American traditions. Try listening to "Iguazu" first, and if it grips you, check out RONROCO.