This review originally appeared on The Quietus http://ow.ly/peu7g
Robert McArthur Hubbert has been an integral figure in the intertwined Glasgow music scene for over 20 years – knocking about in the 90s with teenage pal Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand fame, playing, producing and shaping the city’s musical landscape. But it wasn’t until this past summer, when RM Hubbert’s second solo album Thirteen Lost & Found became the surprise Scottish Album of the Year Award winner, that those beyond the west coast’s inner circle really began to take note.
As the guitarist’s profile was rising thanks to album number two, Chemikal Underground (the Glasgow indie label that has wielded as much influence on the scene as Hubby himself) had next record Breaks & Bone waiting in the wings. It’s perhaps the final installment in RM Hubbert’s current incarnation, the third chapter in a loosely grouped trilogy of works that have carried him through the darkest of days.
His father became ill and passed away shortly afterwards, and then his mother was struck down with a sudden fatal brain haemorrhage. Unsurprisingly, chronic, crippling depression followed, which had in fact been misdiagnosed for decades. Hubby latched on to flamenco guitar, tackling the complex structures with an obsessive hunger driven by the necessity to survive such a succession of horrific life events.
Debut solo effort First & Last was a series of instrumental diary entries, penned in a sense out of duty, the compulsion to carry on through the day, the struggle to pass time and wait for healing. His marriage broke down, he realised his isolation and reached out to old friends, using next record Thirteen Lost & Found (produced by Kapranos) as a tool to reconnect, with each track a collaborative effort.
Breaks & Bone sees Hubby tentatively creep towards the spotlight, his own vocals now adding to some of the storytelling. Instrumental opener ‘Son of Princess, Brother of Rambo’ (so called after canine companion D Bone) builds and bounds into ‘Bolt’, where Hubby finally finds his voice with whispered, cautious confessions sitting nervously over insistent riffs and rhythms. It’s more akin to a traditionally structured pop song, layered with clever, double-edged lyrics and an imposing fuzz-buzz that competes with the chirp of the acoustic melody.
‘Couch Crofting’ follows, its absence of lyrics in no way detracting from the song’s ability to evoke emotion. The production is simple and uncomplicated, with Hubbert’s audible breaths and chair-shifts adding to the intimacy. He battles to keep the black dog at bay through ‘Tongue Tied And Tone Deaf’, sorrowful vocals adding another dimension to the impressive instrumentation, before the uncertain optimism of ‘For Helen’. Similarly ‘Buckstacy’ skips tipsily along with an anaesthetised confidence – introspective caution laced with hope.
Live, Hubby is captivating, his elongated digits a blur against his guitar, the melodic complexity almost inconceivable for one pair of hands and a set of strings. This record is the sound of a man swimming the seas of despair with guitar as his lifejacket, melody his buoy. Where Hubbert goes musically from here he may not even know himself, but with Breaks & Bone he’s managed to pull himself from the quicksand of grief and cement his latest work amongst the top Scottish albums of 2013.