Malcolm Holcombe – new album

Malcolm Holcombe

In the end, who can explain the secret of endurance? Why does one marriage last and another does not? Why does one song or album catch our ear while others, arguably as good, slip past us? What convinces an artist or musician to continue pursuing the craft in a time of audiences with short attention spans and diminishing financial returns?

On the eve of releasing Another Black Hole, his fourteenth album (including a duet album cut with North Carolina music legend Sam Milner back in the 80s), Malcolm Holcombe is in no mood to ponder such things. “They’re free to like it or change the CD or completely ignore it,” he says over the telephone from New Haven, CT. “It all depends on how bad their conscience is.” Continue reading Malcolm Holcombe – new album

MALCOLM HOLCOMBE – Another Black Hole (Gypsy Eyes Music)

Another Black HoleHaving released The RCA Sessions retrospective re-recordings last year, Holcombe makes a swift return with a 10 song set of brand new material, recorded in Nashville with regular collaborators Jared Tyler (dobro, baritone guitar, banjo, mandolin), Dave Roe (bass), Ken Coomer (drums), swamp legend Tony Joe White (electric guitar), drumitar inventor Future Man and Drea Merritt (harmony). The voice is sounding increasingly gummy these days, the ‘sh’ of the sibilances making you wonder whether he might need a set of dentures, but that just compounds the lived in quality of his singing and songwriting.

‘Sweet Georgia’ kicks things off with banjo and string bass riding a relaxed rolling rhythm that’s rather in contrast lyrics about small town darkness, parental abandonment and cheap thin walls with cobweb corners. That edge also seeps into the swamp blues ‘Another Black Hole’, White’s slide guitar underscoring the air of menace and life in the city’s underbelly. However, while ‘To Get By’ continues the theme of scraping by and making do, musically – and in Holcombe’s phrasing – it comes over like one of Guy Clark’s good time strums. On the other hand, it’s early Kristofferson who comes to mind with ‘Heidelberg Blues’ where wartime images of bombs and ruins are at odds with the fact that the town was never targeted by air raids, though memories of the many souls who “will never know springtime once again” does remind that it was from here that many hundreds of Jews were sent to concentration camps.

With the line about “California wanna be’s feedin’ the famine in my backyard”, the loping, throaty semi-spoken ‘Don’t Play Around’ returns us to America’s urban recession and inequality and things don’t much lighten up on the rest of the album, either. The choppy “Someone Missing” talks of volatile relationships and “the bumpy ride way outta of town”, the strut-rocking blues ‘Papermill Man’ delineates a life of the daily grind for “a dollar a day” as you ask “do you live to eat, do you eat to live” while the “damn Vanderbilts hold the keys to the city” and the spoken, acoustic picked ‘September’ talks of loss and how “the hearts of the dead leave you empty”.

It ends on, if anything, even darker notes. ‘Leavin’ Anna’ (which references Cormac McCarthy, just as ‘Don’t Play Around’ name checked Larry McMurtry) recalls the Great Depression where working men “travelled where the money was good” at the cost of not having “a soul I can call a friend when darkness settles in” before ending on images of floods and drownings. And, finally, comes ‘Way Behind’, a song of loss (“a precious tiny hand holdin’ on and turnin’ cold”), guilt (“the neighbors all remember the fancy funeral homes I never set foot in to comfort anyone”) and the need for mercy and redemption “when shadows follow clouds too heavy with my tears.” Don’t come here looking for “happy go lucky”, as he says on the title track, that ain’t his “set o’ wheels”; but if you want raw hurt and blackened despair then this is your ride along.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: http://www.malcolmholcombe.com/

Another Black Hole – promo video:

MALCOLM HOLCOMBE – The RCA Sessions (Proper/Gypsy Eyes Music)

MALCOLM HOLCOMBE  RCA SessionsGummy, cracked, rasping and often sounding catarrh heavy, the North Carolina folk-country singer’s voice sounds pretty much how he looks, craggy, grizzled, straggle-haired, gap-toothed, wet-lipped and weathered. But it, like the man and his songs, certainly has character. Critically if not commercially acclaimed, his first recordings appeared on a joint album with Steve Milner back in 1985, releasing his solo debut, A Far Cry From Here, in 1994 at the age of 39, since which time he’s released a further nine as well as an EP. To mark its 20th anniversary , this album offers a retrospective of his work between then and now, the 16 selections re-recorded in the RCA Studios in Nashville with a four piece band, featuring something from all of the past releases alongside a brand new number in the shape of live set highlight ‘Mouth Harp Man’, a jogging blues collaboration with legendary Nashville harmonica player Jelly Roll Johnson.

The set kicks off with ‘Who Carried You’, one of two songs from 1999’s ‘A Hundred Lies’, a simple, fiddle backed acoustic American folk tale that namechecks Agatha Christie and sounds vaguely reminiscent of Guy Clark. Since the intention of the album was to represent the diversity of Holcombe’s styles, the second track, ‘Mister In Morgantown’, is a clanking junkyard blues that reminds why he’s been likened to Tom Waits and which again features Johnson on harp before ‘I Feel Like A Train’, off the 2007 Wager EP, shifts to a sprightly waltzing fiddle backed dust country tune. The same feel informs a stripped back version of 2009’s eco-tinged love song ‘Doncha Miss That Water’ before talking acoustic folk blues take hold on the grief-stained, contemplative ‘The Empty Jar’. That’s taken from 2012’s Down The River, as is the far more uptempo, fiddle and Dobro bouncing social injustice-themed ‘Butcher In Town’; then it’s back to 2011 and the title track off To Drink The Rain, given a growling, raw, blues rock treatment with another lurching percussive rhythm.

Striking a contrast once more, ‘Early Mornin’’ heads back to 2005 for a warm, laid back country ballad that again evokes vintage Clark, the same album offering the similarly styled regret-streaked ballad ‘I Never Heard You Knockin’’, Tammy Rogers fiddle underscoring Holcombe’s world weary talked vocal.

‘I Call The Shots’, another abuse of power song from Down The River, is again a gutsy growled number with Waitsian undertones, then comes the first of the album’s two duets, ‘My Ol’ Radio’, the only song from 2007’s Gamblin’ House, a jaunty Dobro and fiddle accompanied country tune on which he’s joined by one of the UK’s great lost country voices, Siobhan Maher-Kennedy of River City People fame, who just happens to be married to Holcombe’s go to producer, Ray Kennedy.

Moving into the final stretch, ‘Goin’ Home’, the sole pick off 2006’s Not Forgotten, is another Clark-like spoken dust country number with a steady strummed guitar backing and almost minor key anthemic feel, then its back to Down The River again for the laid back, slow shuffling title track about the hard-pressed pulling together in the face of those who “make the laws to suit themselves.” The most recent number, ‘Pitiful Blues’, the five minute title track from last year’s release, delivers another gutsy, electric guitar driven, growled vocal turn with a fearsome lyric about the oppressed seeking an eye for an eye as he sings “all I wanna see, all I wanna hear is people dyin’ screamin’ full o’ fear.

Cleansing the palate, the album ends on a calmer, more wistful note, Maura O’Connell joining to duet on ‘A Far Cry From Here’, a song about love and the miles between that previously appeared on both his solo debut and A Hundred Lies. A solid retrospective for the faithful and an enticing introduction to newcomers.

Note: The release comes as a double disc, the second being a DVD recording of the sessions (Holcombe’s first ever DVD release) intercut with interviews with the musicians.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: http://www.malcolmholcombe.com/

‘Mister In Morgantown’ live in the studio:

Malcolm Holcombe’s Pitiful Blues is released on the 4 August

Malcolm Holcombe - 'Pitiful Blues' - cover (300dpi)Born and raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Malcolm Holcombe is recognized as a folk/Americana performer of international stature, and an uncommonly unique guitarist/vocalist about whom Rolling Stone said, “Haunted country, acoustic blues and rugged folk all meet [here].” Previewed during his recent European tour, his keenly awaited tenth album Pitiful Blues will be released on August 4. Continue reading Malcolm Holcombe’s Pitiful Blues is released on the 4 August