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MAT WALKLATE "Harmonica & Flute" KLATECD002

It sounds like a joke; the harmonica has never really penetrated folk music much beyond those early Dylan tracks, Brendan Power being the most notable of a handful of current exceptions. Unjustly; because, in the capable hands of Mat Walklate and engineer Dean Butler, it comes across almost as a traditional reed instrument akin to the squeezebox, less Larry Adler, more John Kirkpatrick. Walklate's name is deservedly well-known around Manchester. His regular Harmonica Shindigs have done much to restore the street cred of the 'harp'. He's a member of two blues bands and a jazz-flavoured outfit plus a traditional Irish group. Latterly, he and one of his bands have hosted the Tuesday Night Blues Club, devoted to the acoustic blues.

Since neither of Stoke-on-Trent born Walklate's parents is Irish it's unclear why his first CD so substantially comprises traditional Irish music, in addition to which there's a witty self-penned song and a version of "The Verdant Braes Of Skreen" to which Walklate contributes gruff but effective vocals, plus a handful of his own tunes. The odd technical problem manifests itself - occasionally the multi-tracking seems to drift very slightly out of sync and the jump-cut from track 13 to track 14 jars - but, on the other hand, the whole production vibrates with an excitement and vitality which major-label production might have struggled to achieve. Walklate's performances are ably underpinned by Seamus Curley (guitar), Sean Regan (mandola) and Cormac Byrne (bodhran) but these instruments are kept firmly back in the mix. The result is a sound of rare and delicate beauty - it's Irish music, Jim, but not as we know it from the just-play-it-fast-and-the-devil-take-the-hindmost approach so beloved of session-players. As usual, less is more.

A novelty? Well, yes - but so what? A 'vanity' production? I think not. Worth seeking out? Definitely.

Dave Tuxford

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This album was reviewed in Issue 52 of The Living Tradition magazine.