Album of the Week: Thirty Pounds of Bone – I Cannot Sing You Here But For Songs Of Where
Thirty Pounds of Bone (a.k.a Germany-based native Scot Johny Lamb) released the heartbreaking Method in 2010, an alcohol-fuelled trip through troubled times that couldn’t fail to move even the most casual listener.
The rather more verbosely-titled I Cannot Sing You Here But For Songs Of Where covers similar territory. From the sound of lapping water and rhythmic handclaps, and the first breath of Lamb’s overtly Scots tones, this parks intself in the same spot as Method.
While not as traditional as Alasdair Roberts, Lamb’s sound is squarely based in old fashioned folk and sea shanties. Opener Veesik for the Broch sounds EXACTLY like you think it will. You’ll picture yourself looking out over a bleak, forlorn bay, with maybe only a fishing boat in the distant and a few mean-spirited sea birds for company.
This isn’t just one-man-and-his-guitar stuff though. An impressive guest list includes Hefner’s Darren Hayman plus Armellodie alumni Le Reno Amps and Jen Macro of Something Beginning With L. And sure enough, in amongst the banjo on The Truth of the Matter are subtle tape hiss sounds suggesting that this ain’t just an ordinary lament; and sure enough it bursts into life with a huge chorus and massive guitars. It’s bloody brilliant.
Meursault have managed to successfully combine traditional instruments with a massive stack of effects pedals and some of their older work is a useful reference point for I Cannot Sing You Here. So too is the minimalist wind arrangements of the seminal Creosote and Hopkins Diamond Mine collaboration. Helen’s House might be about the best example of where this works – contemporary yet olde worlde all at the same time.
Lamb spends most of his time in Germany, which is a shame for Scottish live audiences. This kind of stuff would be lapped up by his home crowds. Maybe we need to work on getting him back more often. Or maybe not. Crying through a rendition of Mother This Land Won’t Hold Me might be a bit embarrassing.
How do you feel your sound has moved on since ‘Method’?
I’m not sure really, I think these two records are close relations. This new one is trying to close the suitcase of trouble that ‘Method’ opened. That being said, ‘Method’ was made very quickly, and this new one was made very slowly. I became obsessed by the idea that production and recording were part of the composition. Everything carries meaning in that way, and I had the space to be thorough with that. ‘Method’ was made in a room, but with the new album, if a song was about a place, I went there and recorded it, and played there. If an instrument needed to sound broken, I broke it. There is nothing on this record that is an accident. It’s still shoddy and stuff, I don’t edit things, ever. Everything is a complete take, but if it’s a bit wrong, I spent three years getting the right kind of wrong. But once a record is made, it belongs to others, and that labour doesn’t matter anymore. People either like it or not. I don’t think either, that spending a long time on something necessarily makes it better than something done really fast, it’s just these songs had to be that way. Hopefully its an improvement on ‘Method’ though, I’d hate to think I was getting worse….
How did you end up working with the guests on the album?
Easy, they are all friends and I asked them. They do the things that I’m not able to. Jen has about the cleanest voice ever, it’s quite something and her singing just sits exactly where it’s needed. Gris and Stacey play the fiddles because I can’t, likewise with Laurence and Seamus, who I have done other projects with. I play a lot with Laurence and Seamus and I made a piece for the international Samuel Beckett festival last summer. I can’t get my head around diatonic instruments, and I had written some parts that I couldn’t play, so the Irish box and the more difficult harmonica stuff was those two gentlemen. Chris, Mary and Darren all helped me with the research for this record and it seemed appropriate to have them on it, I contributed a track for a project of Darren’s, and I play in Chris’s band too. But it’s tough doing stuff on your own and playing with others is a nice treat. Oh, and Le Reno Amps are on it too, because they would have complained endlessly if I hadn’t let them (just kidding, they’re two of my favourite musicians). They are all people that I really admire. I’m delighted they agreed to contribute.
Tell us about the songs on the record!
Jesus. Really? That would take a really long time to do properly. They are all about place. Past place, the place of heritage, present place and the in between. I suppose they’re trying to make sense of our relationship to where we’ve been, where we’re from, and where we are. How a place forms the construction of identity, and how we perform that stuff. Folk music seems obsessed with authenticity, whatever that means, but for many of us, in order to say something truthful, the place to start is by acknowledging inauthenticity. Itinerancy does that. You can’t claim a place in the way you could if you’d always been there. You have to work with what’s left. The travel, the leaving and the loss. It matters, you know?
Can we expect to see any shows coming up?
I’m on tour right now. I’ve done some gigs in Germany, now I’m in Switzerland, heading to Zurich when I’ve finished typing this, then on to France. I’ve got a couple of shows with the Diamond Family Archive in Bristol and Exeter in May, and I’ve just started booking a few festivals. I’m open to offers. Always.
I Cannot Sing You Here But For Songs Of Where is out on May 6 through Armellodie.