Thirty Pounds of Bone is the work of Johny Lamb, and ICSYHBFSOW (abbreviated for typing convenience) is his third album of folk songs using the moniker. Like Darren Hayman’s The Violence this is definitely a folk album, but one thing that it shares with that album (other than some vocals by Hayman, one of a number of guests on the record) is sounding traditional without ever slipping into genre cliche.
Time and place is an important theme of the album and the songs are divided into five time/place phases on the album. I’ll n kt make any effort here to try and analyse these phases in line with the songs, but there is a real sense of a journey as you move through the album. This is in part due to the style of the songs, opener ‘Veesik for the Broch’ is distinctly rural sounding whilst other songs bring to mind the sea or the town as you move through the album. This may have been influenced by the, many locations that the album was recorded in, and I imagine the writing was done on the road as well.
The pervading mood of the album is melancholy with even the most upbeat moment, the brilliant ‘Streets I Staggered Down’ having an undercurrent of darkness. This is in no way a criticism, and the dark mood brings forward a lot of quiet beauty across the twelve songs. ‘The Maritime Line’ is a case in point, it seems pervaded with sadness but the picked guitars and fiddle playing are so lovely that it can’t help but be an uplifting musical experience.
The instrumentation is impeccable throughout with banjos, dulcimers, accordions and dozens of traditional instruments subtly supported by electronics to deliver the set of songs. I’m particularly enamored with the banjo playing as it is one of my favourite instruments (be it played by Sufjan Stevens, Doug Dillard, Tony Trischka or Eugene Chadbourne) and it is often maligned.
ICSYHBFSOW is unlikely to be to everyone’s tastes, and starting and finishing with two of the more challenging songs on the album it isn’t a record that could be described as “accessible” (opening with the amusingly titled ‘How We Make a Mongrel of the Music of the Archipelago’ may have been an easier “in” for the casual folk fan). It is also an album that develops with every play and demands time from the listener, not something that necessarily sits well with the modern Spotify/iTunes educated audience. However, it is an album that has themes built around time and place and the sequencing of the songs is critical to the overall experience.
I feel very blessed this year so far, with few albums I’ve reviewed falling far below excellence and this is another example. It is the best folk album I’ve heard this year and one of the best albums full stop.
By Dorian Rogers