Isle of Wight songwriter Paul Armfield’s new album, Blood, Fish and Bone is a sensitive, melancholic and downright beautiful album. The talented musician and artist (he designed the linocut cover for the album) has assembled a masterful collaboration of musicians (including Rupert Brown, J.C. Grimshaw and Adam Kirk) to create a timeless and haunting piece of work, as the songwriter himself explains;
Much of the material on the album concerns growth, from conception in the songs “Only One”, through “Dance of the Young Lovers”, “When I’m Old” and to death in “What Would Susan Do” and “What Every Mother Fears” the words represent things that are dear to me – ‘Blood’ is passion and life, ‘Fish’ is the sea and my sense of place, and ‘Bone’ is our mortality.
Recorded live over four days (although each was separated by a series of six month intervals) the album is a soothing yet bittersweet affair. Here all the creaks and tweaks of the recording sessions echo the heartbreak and fragility of the subjects on offer. For a former bookseller (who counts Jacques Brel as an influence) it’s natural that Armfield’s lyrics reflect his interest in poetry and the album is rich in allegory and ambiguity.
Themes of loss (both emotionally and physically), regret and fear permeate Armfield’s work. From the country tinged opening track “The Only One”, full of longing and heartache (the atmosphere expertly wrapped up in the slide guitar of J.C. Grimshaw) to the rousing “These Old Friends of Mine” Armfield’s compelling mix of sadness, and resilience, shaded with a knowingness of the complexities of the human soul is a rare and accomplished effort.
Tragedy pervades the folksy “What Every Mother Fears”; Armfield’s sentiment on the too soon passing of the young is neatly wrapped up in the mourn ‘So why do we measure life in years?’ The song is tenderly complimented by Rachel Gardner’s plaintive flute.
Thread throughout the album, however, is a shrewd and welcome playfulness, particularly in “Sloe Gin” (a dark bluesy refrain on the curse and comfort of liqueur) and “Missing The Last Boat Home” (a heartfelt plea to his island locked loved ones which concludes with a ghostly acoustic reminiscent of the depths of sea and soul).
Particular highlights include “Dance of the Young Lovers”, Armfield’s voice dreamily suggesting the ethereal atmosphere of times and memories past. “Run” provides a buoyant note of optimism and challenge. “Who Do They Think They Are?” on the other hand is undoubtedly the album’s angriest track – a clear criticism on the corruption of power delivered austerely through Armfield’s voice and raw guitar whilst “When I’m Old” provides a compassionate and emphatic lament on the fear of old age and infirmity, the background creaks of the studio and guitars providing a haunting ambience.
Throughout, the sparse but effective blend of double bass, flute, guitar, mandolin and ukulele flawlessly accompanies Armfield’s warm mellow timbre and colours the album perfectly. An intimate, confident and beguiling work, this album is a quiet and considered treat, if you get a chance to see Armfield live then don’t waste it.