Dreams bend and then give way to reality on the fretboard of a guitar. The exhaustive array of chord voicings, scales and colour splashed arpeggios can be overwhelming, so it’s no wonder the fretboard is frequently likened to that of a highly accurate road map, explicit in its detailed design. Every string has a special, unique and interlocking relationship with its brothers and sisters, and its close band of friends tag along on either side. Just like out on the road, you need several signposts along the way to travel efficiently and effectively; some visual memorization is required in order to navigate. Traveling down the guitar’s well-worn roads and yet always finding a new route to take is the true sign of an excellent musician. Mariano Rodriguez, from La Plata, Argentina, is such a musician. He sits behind the wheel on Praise The Road.
The strings come alive when Rodriguez places his hand in position and touches the fretboard. His acoustic music, primarily played on his steel-stringed guitar, is beautifully open, as wide as the road, journeying through what has been described as ‘American primitive’ music. Rodriguez’s music has a special, refined purity that comes to life when he plays, traditionally rooted and yet shaped by the contemporary transit of travel. On the road, you never stay in any one place for any length of time; yesterday is a mile away. In music, the same is true.
The acoustic tone is dry, like that of the desert sun. Rodriguez has a passion for the outdoors, and when coupled with his sublime technique (he spent nine years choosing to practice rather than perform), a richly golden road comes to light. Rodriguez’s music speaks of wide panoramas and red-rock canyons, sun-beat deserts and murky swamps. The finger-plucked melodies run like a river, coasting casually downstream. The journey begins with a banjo’s light lilting tone and is accompanied by a slide that glides past country farms and silent stretches of road that would be deserted if it were not for a couple of police cars out on patrol.
Taking a drive is one of life’s simple pleasures. It doesn’t really matter if you have a set destination – you get to experience something new. The same is true when you sit down with your instrument. You spend time alone with her, and as you play the vibrations echo and rumble against your chest in an act of honest intimacy. Rodriguez’s music isn’t simple, but it is joyfully uncluttered – only a couple of experimental parts exist, picked up along the way like dirt on the tires. “Ragalamas” snakes its way through a darker lagoon with an Eastern drone for company. The slide guitar sits beside the tabla, which rocks in the gentle undercurrent. Nothing else is required.
Baying wolves come out to play when the sun goes down on “The Poisonous Chutney Recipe According to Mr. Jones”, which is dark bordering on nightfall due to the guitar’s down-tuning. Alternating basslines provide the darkness, and the hushed brush of the harmonics counteract the colour of the night with the bright shock of white headlights. Bluesy slides and flattened fifths help to give the music that raw, smoky sound of the blues that always sounds best played out in the country.
The ambient guitar melodies are relaxed as the sepia sound of a freight train passes by, evoking another time, another night. This is “Requiem For A Railroad Worker”, a gorgeous track that brings to mind The KLF’s Chill Out album, which progressed from Texas into Louisiana. Praise The Road drives down a South American route, but it strays close to the border with its bluesy flavour. Whether you take Route 66 – something my dad did last year – or drive through the backstreets, you’ll find some beautiful guitar music inside Praise The Road.
While struggling tourists often find themselves lost for words, music obliterates every barrier; it is the ultimate, international language. Journeys help to shape perceptions, lit with truth about the world around us. Rodriguez’s music is an adventure and we have the perfect seat, looking out of the dusty windshield. (James Catchpole)