10 songs – 47 minutes
Harpman and singer Mat Walklate met Sicilian guitarist/vocalist Paolo Fuschi in Manchester, England, in 2014. Inspired by the early electric Chicago blues of Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson, as well as the Ska scene of the local Afro-Caribbean community in Manchester, they formed a duo that now gigs regularly around the UK. Their new CD, Kicking Up The Dust, is a pretty fair reflection of their live sound. Recorded live in the studio with no overdubs, the album pays homage to that early Chicago sound, with a hint of Ska rhythms added in, whilst retaining a thoroughly modern energy and punch.
There is only one original track amongst the 10 songs on the disc, but this is not necessarily a criticism. Some of the covers are well-known (Little Milton’s “Ain’t No Big Deal On You”, or Muddy’s “Trouble No More”); others are part of the musical fabric (“Goin’ Down Slow”, or “Money”); and some are delightful finds from the vaults, such as Bobo Jenkins’ “Nothin’ But Love”.
What makes this album so enticing, however, is the unique twist Walklate and Fuschi give to each song. Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Black Cat Bone” is re-imagined as a cross between an early Ska track and a bluesified “Summertime”. Likewise, Chris Kenner’s “Sick And Tired” (previously covered by the likes of Fats Domino, Delbert McClinton, Ronnie Earl and the Little Elmore Reed Blues Band, here re-titled “Oh Babe (Sick And Tired)”) is given an upbeat, choppy Ska-lite rhythm rather than its usual shuffle treatment, which helps to bring the furious lyrics into sharp relief. The track neatly segues into Don Drummond’s 1965 Ska classic, “Man In The Street”, with Walklate’s harp impressively recreating the horn melodies of the original. The duo also nails Derrick Morgan’s 1968 “Fat Man”, giving it some modern attitude. Even the oft over-played “Money” is given a full musical work-over, with only the vocal melody remaining from the majority of other cover versions.
Walklate is a top drawer harp player and Fuschi is a rock solid rhythm guitarist with a choppy style that suggests hints of Wilko Johnson, but with a wonderfully old-fashioned overdriven tone à la Willie Johnson. His lead playing is inventive while never letting the rhythm drop. But it is their interactive chemistry that makes the duo so appealing. There is an apparent inevitability to everything they play, whilst still retaining the essential spark of spontaneity. They are clearly listening closely to what the other is playing and reacting to that playing in the moment – for example, the tremendous solo from Fuschi with subtle yet articulate backing from Walklate in the duo’s original, “Don’t You Know Me”.
Walklate and Fuschi have done a very good job at capturing the live energy and sound of recordings from 60 years ago while still benefiting from modern production techniques. Kicking Up The Dust is a really impressive release and highly recommended. Joyous stuff.