Thirty Pounds of Bone & Philip Reeder: Still Every Year They Went review – come aboard

3 / 5 stars 3 out of 5 stars.

An evocative album of softly shined shanties and folk songs recorded on a working fishing boat, with added atmosphere supplied by the waves and gulls

In the belly of the boat … Thirty Pounds of Bone (Johny Lamb ) and Philip Reeder.
In the belly of the boat … Thirty Pounds of Bone (Johny Lamb ) and Philip Reeder.

Folk music and field recordings have always been earthy, natural bedfellows; the sounds of real life or the land help to lash those old songs back to a universal present. Producer Philip Reeder and Thirty Pounds of Bone (AKA Shetland-born singer/multi-instrumentalist Johny Lamb) have taken this approach to its extreme on Still Every Year They Went, an album of fishing songs recorded in the belly of a boat while fishermen continued working around them.

Still Every Year They Want artwork
Still Every Year They Want artwork

When they boarded the Girl Emily at Custom House Quay in Falmouth, Cornwall, Reeder and Lamb took a guitar, a shruti box, two Korg synthesisers and a job lot of microphones. From the hauling up of the anchor, the recording challenges they faced were made into a feature of the music. Opening track Farewell Shanty begins with vocals fuzzing away in the watery distance, before whips of strong winds start to communicate with the shruti box’s bellows. In the tale of 19th-century whale-hunting The Whaleman’s Lament, the boat’s hull yawns and creaks like a door in a Christmas ghost story while seagulls wail like oscillators. Farewell to Grogg is even more evocative, beginning with the sound of torrenting waves, like beer swishing in a belly.

Lamb’s vocals are of a pure, softly-shined English indiepop vintage; imagine Graham Coxon’s folkier excursions if they’d been released by Sarah Records. They work beautifully on The Unst Boat Song, sang in the ancient Nora language of the Shetlands and the Orkneys, and on closer The Halfway Song, a new track by the great, underrated Mary Hampton. They can be too gentle on other songs, but their sweetness often nicely tempers the drama. You become an innocent sent into the dark waves as you listen, praying for calm as the water winces and whirls.

This month’s other picks

Stick in the Wheel’s latest excellent mixtape, Against the Loathsome Beyond (From Here), summons the deep chill of winter on tracks such as the startling My Boy Is Heavy. Lady Maisery, Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith’s Arise Awake: A Winter Album (Ear Trumpet) is its flipside: an aural version of cocoa by the fireside; a warm, bright anthology of seasonal songs and storytelling. Ten Years Gone: A Tribute to Jack Rose (Tompkins Square) is a beautiful tribute to the guitarist, a decade after his sudden death, featuring instrumentals by close friends and new artists.