FOR ABOUT A MONTH, Tomás del Real, a Chilean guitarist and singer songwriter, has been living in the cellar of an old barn that once belonged to the nearby palatial Viljandi Manor in Estonia, and working out tunes on his Spanish acoustic guitar. It has been a cold, snowy, and contemplative winter, and there has nearly not been a day since November without snowfall.
Here he sits, stands, and lies, in a meditative state, feeling out new songs. He has been quite successful in this endeavor, because the songs have come. He has also been waking up his musical partner, Lee Taul, a violinist and singer, perhaps best known for her work with the Estonian ethno group Black Bread Gone Mad, with ideas, sometimes at four in the morning.
Initially the two musicians, who had met several times before at various musical gatherings around Europe, just planned to duet to showcase del Real’s new songs. “Originally, Tomás asked me to take part in a couple of songs as a guest artist,” says Taul. “Soon enough it was clear our collaboration was going really well so we decided to form a new duo: Don’t Chase the Lizard.”
It came together pretty quickly. Within a span of weeks, they not only had perhaps an album’s worth of material, which can take other artists months to assemble, but felt comfortable enough with it to perform it together at the Estonian Traditional Music Center (Pärimusmuusika Ait) in its smaller hall (Väike Saal). This is an intimate performance space, enclosed in red bricks, with good lighting. Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, the room was filled for their debut performance. About 30 people came out on a night when a thaw had made sidewalks almost impassable, to hear the duo play.
Some other musicians were supposed to join them, but positive Covid tests nixed those plans, making just it a guitar, violin, and two vocalists, and a small raised stage.
Del Real is a sensitive, insightful composer and understated performer. His guitar parts are elegantly structured, and not once during the set list did he miss a note, as far as the audience could tell. Taul brought to the performance her own remarkable presence and flash. Listening to her play, one wonders how she manages to find the main nerve, the core of a composition, and then craft the perfect response on her instrument to del Real’s impressive guitar work. Their voices are also delicate and well matched. The bulk of the material is in Spanish, but they do have some English-language songs. For the ears of locals, being able to hear freshly crafted songs in Spanish is a treat. One must also admire the boldness of a wandering guitarist who lives in a renovated old manor house barn, or a violinist who, in the depths of the pandemic, is committed enough to a new project to help build out the songs, develop the harmonies, and put on a concert.
One cannot argue that their debut concert was not a success. Instead, it seemed to be just what people needed on a black February night: Latin flavor, enchanting songs, and alluring vocals.
Don’t Chase the Lizard’s first single, “Buscar la luz” will be released on March 11.