Sandy Brechin
Out of His Tree
Greentrax 1999

Greentrax (

cd cover The congeniality of traditional Celtic music to modern popular forms is both obvious and obscure, perceptible and paradoxical. While Celtic styles and even instrumentation have contributed so much to modern, mainstream music that their familiarity is unremarkable, the music's often formulaic structure reeks of self-imposed constraint and inherited tradition, the bane of contemporary cool. The instrumental recordings of Scottish accordionist Sandy Brechin embody this tension, with the emphasis on tradition, while those of the combo Bùrach, with which he also plays, tilt the balance toward pop, while posing a separate stylistic paradox.

"Strange Strathspeys"
Brechin's second recording, Out of His Tree, showcases his preternatural feel for the light, skipping, at times impossibly rapid Celtic "lilt" on accordion. Most of the tracks are two or three song medleys stressing thematic similarity of the tunes, the bulk of which are his own compositions. His backing band of electric guitar, bass, and drums provides a lively foundation for Brechin's squeezebox, and leaves it the principle melody instrument. High points include "The Fishing Set," beginning with "The Broken Reel's" stuttery 9/8 beat, giving way to the calmer, happier romp of "The Tickled Trout." "Exhausted" is a tour de force, as well as an endurance contest, "The Canny Repair" leading off with very quick yet smooth keying, backing instruments pounding the beat, "The Dwarf" even faster, Brechin seeming to be keying with drumsticks. Brechin's range also encompasses the slow and pretty, as heard on "East Winds," his accordion sounding like a harmonica, melody only, little chording, with moody backing on lap steel guitar.

Bùrach's third release, Deeper, encompasses many of the same musical tensions found on Brechin's solo work, but adds another aspect, well evoked by the title of the band's second recording, Born Tired. The band's characteristic sound counterposes a laid-back mood, exemplified by Ali Cherry's whispery, reedy, vocal, a wonder of understatement, with the incipient Celtic vehemence of Brechin's accordion and Greg Borland's fiddle. This formula works as well on slow tunes such as "Beautiful Blues," a somber waltz, Cherry's vocal almost mesmeric, both fiddle and accordion weaving dreams around her vocal line, as on quick ones, including "Keep on Shining," in which a furious accordion/fiddle riff and driving beat are reigned in by Cherry's calm voice.

Both of these are tense recordings, disparate musical elements in fragile balance, paradoxes whose resolution is a large part of their appeal. - Jim Foley


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