It's not been long since RM Hubbert's last LP but he's had a transformative 12 months. Winning the Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) award elevated his profile (and you'd presume confidence) considerably, so much so that he's now fronting his own records rather than asking fellow musicians to. This turns out to be very welcome indeed resulting in Breaks & Bone – his most coherent and personal record to date.
Much of his signature sound remains: he feat of using the whole acoustic guitar to provide a backbeat, rhythm and melody all at once has lost none of it's wonder. It's a minor miracle that he garners such a rich sound out of a solitary instrument and most of the finest moments here utilise that skill to the utmost. The back half of 'Dec 11' sounds like an almighty rain storm hitting after a serene build up whereas 'Buckstacy' is joyously sunny - full of shrill notes, snippets of melody gradually getting louder and eventually yielding a heart-warming pay off. 'Go Slowly' is also charming, taking it's time to get going with two sudden moments unveiling a harder edge below the song's surface, the guitar getting shaken violently to produce a fleeting cascade of noise.
Having all this intricate instrumentation joined together by his own overarching voice gives the record an even more long-lasting and impressive feel than before. Regular 6music listeners will likely know 'Bolt' in no small part due to its opening line: "He broke your heart / You broke his jaw / At least you should've done..." It'd be easily to overlook lots of other great things going on too; some slight layering up of his voice, the amusing admission that "I wish you'd break my jaw again", the subtle string picking that forms the upbeat bassline.
On 'Tongue tied & Tone Deaf' the vocals have a slightly more distant feel to them, drifting in and out of the backing whereas 'Feedback loops' feel more like an arm around the shoulder. The downbeat closer 'Slights' is a bit of a tear-jerker, interweaving the fragile strings with some reflective words ("I always expected the last conversation / Would have some meaning / Maybe some forgiveness / For half imagined slights; / some acknowledgement of a life lived together") and if you listen really carefully, some emotionally drained exhaling.
Despite the nature of the record it's never a self-indulgent or forlorn listen, jumping from one emotion to the next, all the while held together by some truly excellent musicianship and wry Scottish lyrics. You wouldn't bet against him retaining the award again next year.
7Sean Thomas's Score