If music reviewers had to be certifiably impartial judges in order to air their opinions in these not-so-hallowed nets and webs of intrigue, then I’d have to recuse myself, because I like these guys unabashedly, have for a while as a matter of fact, ever since seeing them live in LA at a free gig in McArthur Park for the homies a few years ago. First of all, you gotta respect any band that’ll go to those lengths to get in front of an audience. Secondly, it’s appropriate considering that both the band and patrons were predominantly Hispanic, even though most of the audience probably never heard of them. That’s the price you pay to be a star in Texas; you may not be a star anywhere else. After all they were Robert Rodriquez’s “own band” Chingon back in the latter days of the “mariachi trilogy” and had a major presence in the final soundtrack and even the film itself. Last time I checked their tour schedule a couple years ago, they still had a significant number of private parties to play. That’s all changing.
What these guys do with nylon strings is what I like to do with my wife when coming home after a couple months in dusty lonely godforsaken countries that I have to visit just to prove to myself that they’re really there. That’s the business of Rick and Mark del Castillo, acclaimed guitarists in the hollow body style. What they do is a bit hard to describe, maybe something like classical Spanish speed-guitar. Put the two of them together and it’s something to behold. This guitar virtuosity is slathered with the icing of Alex Ruiz’s dramatic voice and muy macho personality. They’re the cerebral European jazz musicians, solving equations with fine fret-work; he’s the bad-ass Mexican, in your face and up your spine with chilling renditions of romantic endeavor. Most of the creative interplay of the band occurs right there, with a solid bass and percussion laying down rhythm.
Their new album is called Infinitas Rapsodias and contains a mix of new songs and old standards, and even includes a DVD. For you initiates, the songs themselves hold no great surprises, mostly revisiting themes that have already been explored by Santana, Gypsy Kings, Los Lobos, or Los Lonelies. It’s the musicianship that sells it, good hearty stuff that ranges from rock en Espanol to flamenco to Latin jazz, all with those distinctive guitars and that high-drama vocal, evoking the classic themes of life and love, romance and dance, heart and soul. Still there are mysteries to be revealed internally. The album begins with “Lumbres de Babylon (‘Lights of Babylon’),” classic Del Castillo with those great guitars, dramatic and romantic, “vamos caminando por las carreteras de la Corazon…baila conmigo (‘let’s go walking along the highways of the heart…dance with me’).” “Fuego Egipico (‘Egypian Fire’)” follows up with a more pronounced Arab feel, guitars supplying the drama in a song purely instrumental.
At this point I realize something for maybe the first time. I don’t know if any Spanish-language song genre—be it flamenco, salsa, whatever—has ever paid tribute to what I consider to be its significant Arab roots. Even with flamenco, usually attributed to Spanish gitanos (gypsies), they don’t fit the description of Europe’s other groups of Romani. It does come from Andalusia, though, the Moorish stronghold in Spain. And of course, the Spanish history in the New World starts the same year that Arab history in Spain ends, so the culture was still mixed when it got exported. And it’s still there today, especially in Mexico, in the machismo, in the leather work, in the horsemanship, in the adobe, and in the music, of course. Where do you think those guitars—and horses—came from?
“Mujer Angel” is slower, with some sweet electric guitar, a pleasant break from the usual frenetic pace the boys set, still equally romantic, “Yo por ti muriera…mujer angel (‘I’d die for you…lady angel’),” likewise “Canta de Alma—mira las estrellas, mira al cielo mira la luna que es la luna de mi pasion (‘Song of the Soul—look at the stars, look at the heavens, look at the moon that’s the moon of my passion’).” “Brotherhood” is the only song in English, a duet with female vocals, and it’s a good one, “Oh there goes my brother, oh there goes my sister…whoa there is my mother…amen to the father.”
The rest of the album finds Del Castillo working largely in their comfort zone, with some pleasant change-ups in “Para mi Sobrina,” a mellow instrumental, and “Maria,” sung in Italian. “Perdoname (‘Pardon me’)” has some nice piano and violin, and some painful slow revelations and supplications: “lagrimas cayeron como cae la lluvia … perdoname suplico…no me abandones, perdoname (‘tears fall like rain…forgive me, I beg you…don’t abandon me, forgive me’).” They finish things off with a flourish in high drama, Amor Venme a Buscar, a duet with German opera diva Anna Maria Kaufmann. How’s that for a finish? No, music reviewers don’t have to be impartial and objective. Sometimes we just know what we like, too. That’s Infinitas Rapsodias by Del Castillo. Check it out. They’re on a world tour, also. That’s even better.