The Sensational Jimi Shandrix Experience, Electric Landlady (Brechin All Records, 2007)
We received this debut CD from our friend Gavin Marwick, who plays his incomparable fiddle on a few of the tracks and wrote a couple of the tunes specifically for this release. The band's name, the album title and the very strange cover art, somewhere between psychedelic and Weird Al Yankovic, confused the hell out of those of us who are old enough to remember Electric Ladyland, the 1968 masterpiece by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. It didn't help at all that a close friend of mine worked as a recording engineer at Electric Lady Studios in the early 1970s. Needless to say, the CD very nearly landed in the rubbish bin without a listen, and probably would have without the Gavin Marwick connection to redeem it. Well, I am here to tell you to ignore the cover art, the band's name and the album title and give this a listen. It really is worth it!
The Sensational Jimi Shandrix Experience is a project of Scottish accordion player Sandy Brechin, a veteran of ceilidh bands too numerous to list. Although Sandy doesn't explain the title in his otherwise admirable liner notes, I think I have it figured out. Did you ever hear the Richard Thompson song, "Don't Sit on My Jimmy Shands"? It initially appeared on the 1991 release Rumor and Sigh. In the song, RT is warning someone at a wild party not to sit on his precious 78 rpm recordings of Jimmy Shand. Sir James Shand, who left this world in 2000, was a revered Scottish accordion player. His repertory covered many traditional dance tunes, probably including some of the tunes on Electric Landlady.
That's what Electric Landlady is, folks, a very fine collection of traditional Scottish dance tunes, delightfully rendered on accordion and various other instruments. If I had to guess, I'd say that the silly references to Jimi Hendrix (down to and including the appalling photo of Sandy wearing an Afro wig, caterpillar mustache, and chest rug) refers to the subtle use of electric instruments (guitar and bass) in the arrangements. In part, the presence of these rock 'n' roll instruments in a traditional setting seems low-key because the overall effect is of a wall of sound. Every track features at least five or six instruments, typically including accordion, drums (and I mean a full rock drum kit, with an emphasis on the cymbals, hi-hats and snares), electric guitar and bass, and one or more fiddles (the core touring band has five members). A couple of tracks also include piano, primarily used as a rhythm instrument, as it often is on dance tunes.
The CD has 10 tracks; all but the last of these (aptly titled "The Last Waltz") is actually a medley of tunes, a nice mix of jigs, reels and waltzes. I've seldom heard musicians handle the changeovers from one tune to the next as gracefully as these performers do. I've listened to enough Scottish traditional dance music so that I recognized many of the tunes, including those in "Strip the Willow" and the classic American "Virginia Reel." Sandy's detailed liner notes on each tune made it easy for me to figure out where I'd heard them before. About the only complaint I can register about the CD itself (you've already heard my snipes about the cover art) is that it's too freakin' short, just over 50 minutes!
Needless to say, this isn't a CD you are likely to find on the rack in your local music store, unless you live in Edinburgh or Sandy's home village of Kirkliston (is there a CD shop in Kirkliston?). It is available on Amazon.co.uk and musicboxscotland.com. Of course, if you're really lucky, you might catch the boys at a festival or dance, somewhere in the world. I'm sure they'll be carrying a few copies to sell!
[Donna Bird a>]