Recording information: 1959; 1960.
Although The Fantastic Guitars of Sabicas & Escudero is the name of a flamenco album recorded by the duo in 1959, the 20-track 2011 U.K. CD bearing this title is a different release. The first ten cuts do indeed present the material from the original LP called The Fantastic Guitars of Sabicas & Escudero, but that's just the first half of the disc. The second half contains an album recorded by the pair in 1960, Flamenco Styles on Two Guitars, making this a fine 73-minute compilation combining two of their LPs from the same era onto one CD. There's not much difference between the two, the most notable and obvious one being that the first also features the percussive sounds created by the dancing of Anita Ramos, while the second just presents the two guitarists by themselves. Both Sabicas (real name Agustin Castellón) and Mario Escudero were top flamenco guitarists, and they interweave with excellent technique and tasteful passion on this set. The mood, as to be expected in flamenco music, is somber to the point of melancholy in the melodies in particular, though fueled by a churning fiery emotion especially evident in the urgent and shifting rhythms. The heat is always kept in taut restraint, however, creating a tension that helps the melodramatic material avoid overdoing the sentimentality. The Fantastic Guitars of Sabicas & Escudero does have the edge over the subsequent album, as Ramos' thumps and castanets (presumably those are played by her) do create some extra rhythmic texture and drama. The gap isn't great, however, and though the recording is plain and no-frills, that's as it should be, letting the music stand on its own without unnecessary adornment. It's hard to imagine that flamenco enthusiasts won't be pleased by these recordings, although the liner notes could have used more specific information about the two albums, instead offering general information about the duo, along with a passage about the role of the flamenco guitarist from Donn Pohren's The Art of Flamenco. ~ Richie Unterberger
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