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SANDY BRECHIN "Out of his Box" Brechin All Records CDBAR 6001

My initial reaction? Phil Cunningham on stimulants. Maybe that should be "more stimulants" ...

Judging from the sleeve notes, Sandy Brechin leads an interesting life of digestive overload, vertigo, wild women, and the occasional wee drinkie. This is probably what turned him into the beast on the front cover, but two of the side-effects seem to be a brain exploding with great tunes and an uncanny control of his fingers.

Alcohol figures prominently on this album, from the near-empty bottle of Lagavulin on the cover to the half dozen Brechin compositions dedicated to drink and drunkenness. The music is certainly intoxicating, but although Sandy Brechin may be guilty of playing the accordion "while under the influence" he certainly can't be accused of doing it "without due care and attention". Every note is spot on, and there is a degree of control (a word which keeps coming up) in the music which is all too rare in folk accordion players: no racing away with a tune, and nothing so fast that the music gets blurred. Sandy's fingers may be a blur at times, but the notes are always crisp and clear.

When I first heard the title of this album, I was reminded of Sandy Coghill's "Out the Box" recording of fifteen years ago. Surprisingly enough, there are similarities. Both musicians are well used to playing for dancing, to controlling the tempo and phrasing of a tune. Both albums are real solo albums (almost): Coghill recorded with just drums and bass, and Brechin has that plus some plucked strings. Sandy Coghill resisted the temptation to bring in the Wallochmor Band as backing musicians, and Sandy Brechin has avoided using Burach or Seelyhoo. What comes across is the music of one man. That's quite refreshing after the deluge of recent "solo" albums with what seems like the entire cast of "Riverdance" in the background.

This was one of the most keenly awaited Scottish solo albums of the year, along with Martyn Bennett's. Martyn's album is anything but trad, and I was surprised at how close Sandy had stayed to the tradition. Most of the tunes are his own compositions, but they don't sound that untrad. I suppose I'm counting the likes of Phil Cunningham and Donald Shaw as part of the tradition, but Sandy's music sits easily with what has gone before and doesn't turn to jazz or rock or world music to any great extent. Anyone whose "all time favourite waltz" is "Tha Meudail is Maighear's mo Ghraidh" is still comfortable with traditional music. Sandy's playing wouldn't be out of place in the Accordion & Fiddle clubs, he's already an acknowledged ceilidh band leader, and with Seelyhoo he has successfully mounted the concert stage. Fortunately for traditional music, he seems to have no plans for pop stardom.

I like this album a lot, all fifty-odd minutes of it. If you want a quick dip, try "The Bassplayer's Set", "The Jazz Waltz", "A Strathspey and Two Reels", and "The Drinks Set". Greentrax Recordings are apparently handling the distribution, so it should be readily available.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 17 of The Living Tradition magazine.