Willie & Lobo,
(Narada, 2003)

This third album released under the Narada label marks 20 years of musical cooperation between Willie Royal and Wolfgang "Lobo" Fink, a duo performing as Willie & Lobo. The American-born globetrotter Royal hooked up with Fink -- a gypsy music aficionado from Bavaria -- in San Miguel de Allende, a 17th-century colonial town in Mexico, in 1983.

Trained as a classical violinist Royal became bored in that artistic straightjacket and started to explore fusion music, experiment with country-rock fiddle, and let himself be influenced by reggae, jazz and salsa. Meanwhile in Europe, the ex-mariner Fink lived out his romantic bend through many years of association with some of the most talented gypsy guitarists, like Manitas de Plata. Later he would tour the continent with his own flamenco formation.

Although the Willie and Lobo partnership has produced an oeuvre inspired by the musical legacies of areas as far apart as Hawaii and Turkey, there are distinct Latin overtones. In fact, the album's title, Manana, already betrays the prevailing influence of the musicians' adopted homeland, Mexico. The atmosphere conjured up by the CD's 11 tracks is definitely one associated with a laidback "manana" attitude.

The music of Willie & Lobo has a very distinct signature. This is at the same time one of its strong points but also a potential weakness: it makes the music instantly recognizable, but does affect the range of variety. The duo's artistic style works very well for the Spanish, Mexican or Brazilian-inspired pieces. Examples of the latter, like the title song "Manana," "Saudade" and "Laura Lorenza," all create a delightful lazy feeling. The flamenco compositions "Fuegando" and "Sacromonte Sunrise," although inarguably having more panache, retain the same sensation.

But the distinctive Latin coloring of the Willie & Lobo sound does not work so well for "Oriental Gypsy." This number was composed following an encounter with a Chinese violin player. The resulting fusion is a bit too cliche for my taste. It appears to have a slightly better effect in "Caravan of Camels," maybe because there is an affinity between Middle Eastern and flamenco music.

In conclusion, with Manana Willie & Lobo have produced a very pleasant collection of compositions that are best appreciated in a hammock overlooking some tropical beach at sunset.

- Rambles
written by Carool Kersten
published 6 December 2003