RM Hubbert - Breaks & Bone (4 stars)

RM Hubbert - Breaks & Bone

Guitarist's third album is a work of exceptional beauty from a unique talent

(Chemikal Underground)

On Thirteen Lost & Found, RM Hubbert was assisted by some big names in Scottish music – Emma Pollock, Aidan Moffat and Alex Kapranos among them. Breaks & Bone finds Hubby working alone again, revisiting and pushing forward the stripped-down sound of his debut, the less than presciently titled First & Last. The difference now is that, after winning this year’s SAY Award, Hubby is now a pretty big name in his own right.

Expectations are therefore dauntingly high for his third album, but they’re easily met – and possibly surpassed. There’s a clear pattern to the running order, as instrumentals alternate with almost uncomfortably intimate confessional songs in which Hubby delivers deeply personal lyrics in a disarmingly puppy-soft burr. Combining elements of flamenco and British folk with more adventurous avant and mathy touches, Hubby is a dazzlingly nimble and gifted guitarist – but his compositions are emotionally rooted rather than needlessly ostentatious. ‘Son of Princess, Brother of Rambo’ is a great example, gloriously expressive but bold in its restraint, a collage of fluttering, optimistic flourishes, sudden exclamations and profound near-silence.

Although primarily acoustic, Breaks & Bone also subtly integrates electronics and background sounds – the chorus-of-bees synth bass that unexpectedly enhances ‘Bolt’, or the eerie, distant dead-factory atmosphere of ‘Tongue Tied & Tone Deaf’. The latter also contains one of the album’s most devastating lines: ‘The trick’s not being happy, just content.’ The heartbreaking closing track ‘Slights’ is even more affecting – listeners who get through this song in one piece are clearly silicon-based simulacra and not to be trusted.

As compelling as Hubby’s lyrical songs are, it’s the instrumentals that are the most poignant. His fingers are far more expressive than most human voices, his strings more eloquent than any poet. Equal parts mournful and hopeful, in turmoil and at peace, there’s vast emotional complexity to these contemplative pieces. This is a work of exceptional beauty and cavernous depth from a unique talent.

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