MALCOLM HOLCOMBE – Pretty Little Troubles (Gypsy Eyes Music )

Pretty Little TroublesHis voice croakier and gummier than ever, sounding as one review put it, like he’s wearing someone else’s teeth, even so Holcombe continues to deliver the goods when it comes to coal dust coated Appalachian blues. Pretty Little Troubles a quick follow-up to last year’s Another Black Hole.

Joined by Dennis Crouch on bass, Jared Tyler on mandolin and dobro, Verlon Thompson on acoustic and Resonator slide with producer Darrell Scott on pretty much everything else save percussion (Kenny Laone/Marco Giovio), as well as contributions by Jelly Roll Johnson on harmonica, Joel Miskulin on accordion, strings-player Jonathan Yudkin (who comes into his own on the stomping ‘The Sky Stood Still’) and Uillean piper Mike McGoldrick, it’s essentially an album about either troubled times or women.

It’s the former that leads off with the bluesy, swampy ‘Crippled Point O’View’ with its clanky junkyard percussion, leading on to ‘Yours No More’, a slide guitar-backed song about America no longer extending its welcome hand to immigrants and refugees, the mood extending to more musically lively banjo picked ‘Good Ole Days’ with its call and response chorus and a reminder that rose coloured reflection often forgets things were not necessarily better back then.

As you might imagine, the pedal steel laced blues ‘Outta Luck’ with its line about how “poison lives in my blood” and talk of hot women, cold cash and drugs doesn’t exactly up the positivism ante. However, the gypsy flavoured ‘South Hampton Street’, a reminiscence of a girl with long black hair and a gypsy concertina busking on the street, has a more upbeat note, though the same cannot be said for another touring memory, ‘Bury, England’, a Dylanesque talking blues with Tyler on dobro about a gig where the venue “smelled like an old folks home inside”, he had “the worst cup o’ coffee” ever and the audience couldn’t give a damn.

The song mentions Guy Clark and there’s a definite echo of him to be heard on ‘Rocky Ground’ while other highlights include the title track’s Waits-like walking blues, the fingerpicked ‘Damn Weeds’, a wry state of the nation comment, and the McGoldrick-featuring Gaelic-hued talking blues ‘The Eyes O’ Josephine’ with its line about having “a pint or two in Belfast” and “an Irish girl forever curls around your heart o’ glass.” Another spin on “the hard times we been going;’ thru”, it’s no huge departure from what he’s been doing for years, but if you liked that, you’ll want a copy of this too. Unless you’re from Bury, of course.

Mike Davies

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‘Pretty Little Troubles’ – lyric video:

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.”

Those who have paid attention to Holcombe’s music will find more of what they expect here: Holcombe’s rasping vocals and bright, percussive guitar accentuating his insightful lyrics. A few of Holcombe’s longtime musical compatriots show up to help him out, most notably Jared Tyler, who plays guitar, banjo, mandolin, dobro and offers background harmonies and rock solid rhythm section David Roe on bass and Ken Coomer on drums. Swamp pop legend Tony Joe White plays electric guitar on a number of cuts, including the hard rocking ‘Papermill Man’, and the visionary percussionist Futureman, also known as Roy Wooten, inventor of the drumitar, lends percussion on several cuts. Drea Merritt drops by to sing harmonies as well.

Last year, Holcombe released The RCA Sessions, a retrospective of his two decades of recordings. For most of this time, Malcolm has handled his own career from his hometown of Swannanoa, NC, a few miles down the road from Weaverville, where he was born in 1955. Another Black Hole does not indicate a change of direction for Holcombe, only a widening and deepening of the groove he has worked for most of his years playing and singing. Lyrically, the songs mingle Holcombe’s off the cuff wisdom and sharp-eyed commentary on the human condition. Without staking a political or spiritual position, Holcombe’s songs make it clear that he sees his place with those who suffer at the end of the “suits and ties in the cubicles”, as he sings in ‘To Get By’. But because he sees things in human terms and in the terms of survival, Holcombe heads down to “Rice’s Grocery down on Main Street/ We got credit there.”

Ray Kennedy, who has produced several of Malcolm’s albums, including Another Black Hole, says,

“Malcolm Holcombe is fiercely striking every time you encounter him on or off stage. You just get sucked into his extraordinary world of the twisting of words and wisdom that come from a bottomless well. The melodies and fierce rhythms wrap his narrative into an event where you find yourself at his unique musical carnival. Then suddenly he slays you with a sweet love ballad or a sarcastic social commentary.”

In ‘Leavin’ Anna’, Holcombe croons “A working man’s a working man/ Makes the flowers grow.” The labourers, the displaced, the papermill worker, the man who spends “nickels and dimes like hundred dollar bills”, these are Malcolm Holcombe’s people and the ones who live in his songs. But he is far less interested in talking about his own songs than in talking about other musicians whose names come up in the course of a conversation.

When country singing legend Don Williams is mentioned, Malcolm says, “I used to listen to that Portrait album all the time”, and asks if Williams played a couple of his more popular songs in a recent concert. He also speaks fondly of Les Paul and, later, of Keith Richards: “He’s rock and roll all day long, ain’t he?”

Recently Warren Haynes, another musician native to western North Carolina, has mentioned Malcolm’s name in interviews. Typically, Holcombe was unaware of this, but filled with praise for Haynes.

“He’s a real gentleman. I’m glad to call him a friend”, he says. “He taught me how to bend a string on a guitar.”

Chances are that Another Black Hole will not be mentioned at Grammy time, but it is a strong addition to an ever-strengthening catalogue of music made by a humble craftsman in western North Carolina. “It is Malcolm’s perception of the world that make his songs hit you like a gunpowder blast. His gruff and tough delivery is a primordial power full of grit, spit and anthropomorphic expression”, says Ray Kennedy. Trends come and go. What is real is the ground beneath our feet, the sky above us, the struggle to earn a living. These are Malcolm Holcombe’s timeless subjects and the spin he puts on them makes our journey here more bearable.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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: www.malcolmholcombe.com

The making of Another Black Hole:

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 an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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 an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

“I have been working with Malcolm Holcombe for going on 15 years. Malcolm exemplifies “being in the moment” in the studio – cutting everything live; himself, his guitar and vocals, with live musicians. During the past few records we have made together, whether in North Carolina, Nashville, or Austin, Malcolm would send the musicians demos of the tunes that he had recorded solo in his backyard studio. Ofttimes, I would comment on how good these recordings sounded on their own – just one simple mic capturing Malcolm, his guitar, and the rhythm of his foot on the floor – purely. Last November, after a few years of hearing the demos, I suggested we try making a record around these live recordings. This experimental process of his backyard studio recordings have resulted in this latest album: Pitiful Blues. In producing this project, I wanted to accentuate Malcolm’s simple, raw process that would make this record stand out from the other albums he’s done, and to convey ‘more’ of Malcolm himself, live in his backyard studio. I have had to rethink much of what I thought I knew about recording with this album. By most recording standards, our procedure might be considered lo-fi. Yet sometimes the simple sound of one microphone, a guitar, and a singer of songs, can speak and sound more true than the sound of more sophisticated studios and recordings. It is indeed my honor to be a part of this album, and most importantly Malcolm’s music. It’s my hope that the listener will be deeply moved by the sound of the Carolina hills radiating out of Malcolm’s stories and songs: ‘pure-D’ Malcolm Holcombe.” Jared Tyler (co-producer)

Malcolm Holcombe ( 2014 (3) - photo by Federico Sponza)Acclaim for Malcolm Holcombe
“..stripped-down Americana at its best… Like all great storytellers he knows how to wring every ounce of emotion from his material” Acoustic magazine

“Listen to a Holcombe song and what you’re getting is personality in spades, a narrative so gritty with the noise of tough living that it rarely dips below the red on the authenticity meter.” BBC Music

Malcolm Holcombe ( 2014 (2) - photo by Federico Sponza)“They threw away the mould when they made Malcolm Holcombe. In short, he doesn’t just sing songs, he lives them.” The Herald

“Comparing Malcolm Holcombe with the likes of John Prine, Chris Smither, JJ Cale, Levon Helm or even Tom Waits is entirely justifiable. As a performing artist and songwriter, Malcolm Holcombe is an authentic country-blues bard.” Irish Examiner

“Malcolm Holcombe…stands out like a beacon in an industry full of shiny young things. He is an individual and a one-off and the World is a better place for having him in it.” No Depression

“If you look in the dictionary under authentic Americana, the first thing you’ll see is Malcolm Holcombe’s name. His inner strength shines through the songs, which have a redemptive power and the feel and emotional punch that money can’t buy. ” R2

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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 web link: www.malcolmholcombe.com