There is an earnestness to RM Hubbert’s live performances, punctuated only occasionally by the man’s dry sense of humour and defiant mischief. Whilst mid-set banter is sadly (and obviously) missing on ‘Breaks & Bone’, Hubbert, who speaks openly about his struggles with chronic depression, channels his brand of brutal honesty into his third album, a glacial sounding follow up to 2012’s ‘Thirteen Lost & Found’.
Recorded in a total of seven days spread across a period of 12 months, ‘Breaks & Bone’ marks new territory for the artist. Side-stepping any extraneous elements to crafting his songs, and utilising only his guitar and, for the first time, his voice, on a handful of the album’s ten tracks, the album is a beautiful mix of pensive lyricism and Scottish bleakness. Although tough to digest in one sitting - guitar solos have a tendency to merge into each other - there is also a wealth of beauty here. ‘Couch Crofting’ and the amusingly titled ‘Son of Princess, Brother of Rambo’ gently drift along dreamily, yet retain a sense of poignancy in their core. The warmth that seeps into the chords of ‘Go Slowly’ a third of the way in is deftly executed on an album that, on the surface at least, simmers gently around the themes of loss and loneliness.
With little else to focus on bar the strumming of Hubbert’s guitar, it is easy to pick up on the nuances that give the album an aged atmosphere. The creak of his instrument on ‘Tongue Tied and Tone Deaf’, the squeaks between chords featured on ‘Feedback Loops’ and ‘Slights’, which deal with the passing of his mother and father respectively, are, like the themes themselves, amplified a hundred-fold thanks to the scarcity of other sounds. What must be the sound of a creaking floorboard, deliberately left in the recording of ‘Dec 11’ only add to the album’s eloquence and remoteness.
Yet whilst it’s intrinsically filled with open-hearted sadness, the music itself is rarely overly sombre or depressive thanks to Hubbert’s guitar work. ‘Go Slowly’, more an ode to the Spanish guitar than an embellishment of misery, is romantic, intimate even, whilst the upbeat ‘Buckstacy’ unveils a straightforward jauntiness to Hubbert that goes against some of the album’s more cryptic song titles and delivery.
Although still predominantly an instrumental album, there is substance enough on Breaks & Bone both musically and lyrically to reward those with the patience to persevere through the dense nature of the guitarist’s work and carefully unfurl its emotional layers to reveal a world of unhurried peacefulness.