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Brechin All Records CDBAR020

Now this CD is more songs than tunes, something I don't usually bother with. However, I'm making an exception this time because of the quality of the instrumentals - and the singing of course! Guilty of writing many groovy tunes, and of playing them in outrageous clothing, Sandy Brechin will be familiar to any fan of the more frantic side of Edinburgh folk and ceilidh music. Sandy has done for the Scottish accordion what Apple has done for the phone: he's made it cool, and considerably smaller, but it no longer really behaves like an accordion. Despite his haggard good looks, Ewan Wilkinson is a relative newcomer: he and Brechin have been touring for a decade or so and his solo debut was released back in 2006.

Wilkinson's surprisingly English tones remind me strongly of Ged Foley with various line-ups in the 80s and 90s, but his repertoire is very different, mainly love songs, with a couple of big border ballads thrown in. There's a stark contrast between the upbeat instrumentals, funky accordion firing on all cylinders, and the maudlin vocals: in Wilkinson's own words, “The sad songs last for hours.”

Not that all these songs are slow. The opening Wilkinson original The Devil Was A Friend To Me is pacey enough, and both the traditional Tibbie Fowler and Matt McGinn's May Day trot along nicely with guitar and accordion backing. Sandy's reels, marches and hornpipes definitely shift the tempo up a notch, though: if accordions had tyres, you'd expect to hear them squealing on The Road To Errogie and Andy Broon's Reel, both recent compositions by seriously brilliant fiddlers. Mr Brechin corners at a cracking speed, fingers barely maintaining traction on the keyboard, bellows dangling alarmingly over musical precipices as he negotiates the hairpin bends of President Garfield's or Ian Green Of Greentrax. No jigs on this album, incidentally - my guess is they spontaneously combusted. The squeezebox is exceptional on the vocal tracks too. Brechin and Wilkinson together can take a familiar number like The Snows They Melt The Soonest and wrap it in an arrangement that puts a totally new complexion on it. Add the occasional guest such as fiddler Alison Smith or piper Mike Katz, and this recording becomes a very tasty treat indeed. Fresh takes on old songs, thrilling versions of new tunes: there are no shortage of surprises on Hard Times Come And Go.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 107 of The Living Tradition magazine.