album review: rm hubbert – telling the trees;

This review originally appeared on The Arts Desk.

In interviews, the Scottish songwriter RM Hubbert has described his new album as being the “mirror image” of his best-known work, the 2013 Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award-winning Thirteen Lost and Found. Like that album, Telling the Trees is a series of collaborations with other artists and musicians – but, this time, rather than hole up in a studio with his friends and collaborators, the musician known as Hubby reached out to people whose work he admired with new acoustic compositions and let them create something new, at a distance, in their own time.

The process might have involved a leap of faith, but the result is a remarkably coherent – if spectacularly diverse – body of work that’s as much a peek into your new best friend’s record collection as it is a shiny disc with one man’s name on the cover. Underpinning it all, of course, is Hubby’s signature guitar, an instrument that provides both melody and rhythm from the way in which its master leans into the strings and taps on its wooden frame. But on these simple foundations, the co-writers and performers as well as long-suffering producer Paul Savage have built towers from spoken word and piano, out of love and longing and synthesisers – all while juxtaposing Helen Marnie’s fit-to-burst electropop with a haunted, stripped-back contribution from fellow SAY Award winner Kathryn Joseph and making it sound like the most natural thing in the world.

The Dog – RM Hubbert with Kathryn Joseph from Chemikal Underground on Vimeo.

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The album opens with a short story performed by author Anneliese Mackintosh, otherworldly and all-consuming, intoned over frantic, plunging arpeggios which speed up as the piece reaches its climax. It’s like a minor-key version of “KAS”, a collaboration with classical musician Aby Vulliamy on viola which appears later on the album and – at least to these ears – similarly captures the giddiness and the glorious terror of new love. Elsewhere, the vocals of Karine Polwart provide a kind of serenity on the gorgeous “Yew Tree”; Sarah J Stanley adds a voice of honey and mesmerising, witchy beats to “Probably Will/Probably Do”; and Eleanor Friedberger brings a serene, transatlantic perspective to “Chelsea Midnight”.

RM Hubbert launches Telling the Trees with special guests at The Art School, Glasgow tonight – then plays Aberdeen on Saturday and Edinburgh on Sunday. Get tickets at Ticketmaster.

BUY: Chemikal Underground | Monorail | Amazon [UK] | iTunes [UK]