Keltik Electrik,
Hotel Kaledonia
(Greentrax, 2002)

Push back the tables and chairs and clear the floor before you put Hotel Kaledonia on the machine. From track 1, your feet will tap, your heart will pound and your Celtic soul (we all have one) will soar. This is great folk music meets the atomic age. If you like what the Pogues do with the old traditional vocals, Keltik Electrik will convert you to punk traditional instrumental.

You will find many popular traditional airs here, but it may take a good few bars before you identify them. With a pounding beat and some fantastic synthesizer and programmed sounds, this is the Scottish party album to outclass all.

Jack Evans, Finlay McDonald, Chris Stout and Ken McBeth are accomplished musicians with an obvious love of the music, but they are not afraid to experiment even with the most precious traditional tunes. They open with the more familiar "McNeill's March," and the beat does not diminish to the end. "Trans Highland Express" is enhanced by what sounds to me like howling wolves at one point, giving the whole track a haunting quality. This is a new piece penned by Evans.

"Waterloo Country" takes the traditional air "Battle of Waterloo" and transforms it. It is a lovely deep pipe-driven piece that moves up a beat as it progresses and draws in the other instruments. They move south then for a Breton march, "Disko Breizh."

I love the title of track 6. Say it aloud, "Hey You, Get Offa MacLeod." It is in fact a reworking of "Mrs Macleod of Raasay" and it will be somewhat familiar to listeners. That is it will be until about two minutes in when all manner of wondrous sounds creep in. You may miss the music for a while as you try to identify the instruments. "Devil in the Kitchen," as you may guess, is real "mind the dresser" music that will have all but the dead tapping along.

I thought I had CD trouble at the opening of "Julia Meets the Skyeman," but it was just another magical intro. The title comes from the combination of "Julia's Reel" and "Skyeman's Jig."

The only song on the CD is "Sae Will We Yet." It is dedicated to Tony Cuffe, a Scottish musician and founding member of Ossian who died in December 2001. It is much quieter than the other tracks but by track 10 you will be delighted with the rest. It is a beautiful tune.

This is a CD that needs some playing to develop its audience. Anyone passing over it in the rack will be the poorer for it. Get it for that Hogmanay party even if you do not have any Scottish blood -- a dram of Scotch will suffice as an excuse to have that traditional New Year's Eve festivity.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 29 March 2003