MALCOLM HOLCOMBE – Come Hell Or High Water (Gypsy Eyes Music)

Come Hell Or High WaterIf you feel that ‘Southern folk golem’ Holcombe’s croaky roll-up rasp suggests he’s been shovelling coal dust of his cereals and makes Tom Waits sound like Perry Como, then you’ll be pleased to hear that on his latest album, Come Hell Or High Water, his third in as many years, is leavened by vocal contributions from Iris DeMent and Greg Brown. If you’re a fan regardless, this is just icing on the cake.

It opens with ‘Left Alone’, a Prine-like strummed song about an old friend, a “veteran Vietnam killing machine” that takes on a wider resonance about soldiers who sink into self-destruction when they return home only to be abandoned by those they served. A similar concern for the nation’s invisible people fuels the simply scuffed deMent duet, I Don’t Wanna Disappear Anymore’ as he sings “I love to work and keep my head above water/It’s hard to live in the darkness”.

That same sense of not belonging informs the mandolin flecked shuffling ‘New Damnation Alley’ and its image of America’s economic divide, of the “billionaire barbarians” cruising their corporate “clipper ships for slaves”. An equally desolate vision shapes the fingerpicked acoustic blues ‘Legal Tender’ with its images of a drug money economy with “trailer meth labs round the corner” and how “pharmaceuticals paint the sky and fill the cemeteries”.

‘It Is What It Is’ takes a tribal blues stop rhythm with Jared Tyler on Dobro as he sings about doing what you gotta do to make it through but still being able to “walk away free and clean”, while ‘Black Bitter Moon’ serves another cautionary note about the coming “rain and the dread” that balances image of community bonds with ones of domestic abuse.

The album’s mood rarely wavers throughout, ‘Torn & Wrinkled’ a rumination on growing old and a feeling of never living up to his father’s legacy, the fingerpicked slide blues ‘October Mornin’’ a spare traditional folk-blues like number about being lost in a spiritual darkness, the cruel cold of winter and living on the skids the core of both ‘The Old North Side’ and ‘In The Winter’.

Again duetting with deMent, when he sings about being his ‘Brother’s Keeper’, you might expect a crack of light, but it would seem that in contemporary America there are no good Samaritans reaching out to the “breadlines of the bones”, compassion lost “beyond the weepin’ screams”. It’ll come as little surprise then that, another Prine echo, the mandolin bedecked ‘Merry Christmas’ is anything but with its family portrait of “rockin’ chair grouchy gums” and how “daddy’s drunk doncha know it”.

On the CD inner sleeve, he includes a section from a painting by Kylie Harris based on Captain Beefheart’s 10 Commandments Of Guitar Playing, one of which is “Don’t wipe the sweat off your instrument. You need that stink on there. Then you have to get that stink onto your music.” This album reeks to high heaven.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Black Bitter Moon’ – official video:

Award-Winning Songsmith Susan Greenbaum Announces This Life

Susan Greenbaum committed the first sin of musicians: She quit her day job. After working as a corporate executive in Fortune 500 companies, she traded her power suits for performing and songwriting. Since then, the Harvard graduate is poised for success, having won several national songwriting awards, including the Smithsonian Songwriters Award, The Philadelphia Songwriters Project and released four albums independently. Now, Greenbaum is releasing This Life, her most insightful and engaging songs to date, distributed by Compass Records Group this January 31st.

Not only were the songwriting trophies a boost to Greenbaum’s career change, she won a national competition to be the opening act for Jewel and enjoyed overwhelming success on the tour, welcoming thousands of new fans. Prior to This Life, her most recent album of all-original songs, Hey, Hey, Hey! was lauded by Billboard for having songs with “hooks that drill into your brain; smart, organic production; and lyrical substance to make the music an interactive experience.”

Her success has not come without sacrifice, as the tragedy of personal loss lends itself to the depth to Greenbaum’s songwriting. The album-opening “This Life” is a reflective letter to her brother who passed away from brain cancer; she wrote the song a week before her wedding. “I was thinking about how he wasn’t going to be at my wedding but maybe he was, maybe he is somewhere safe and healthy and not in pain and able to at least look down on all of us. That’s the whole idea of the song­—a conversation with him.” Greenbaum instills a glimpse of hope and recovery in her music, even in songs inspired by tragedy.

The album is far from somber and includes high-energy singles such as “Big,” a lively recipe for fame and fortune. “It’s very me, it’s funny and cynical and it’s unafraid to really look at things and be blunt and honest and there’s positivity in it and there’s reflection in… It’s like, ‘Chop chop! Let’s get to it, let’s get famous!’” The album includes lighthearted love songs like “Penny on the Sidewalk” and even a novelty bonus track lamenting the consequences of the indecision of squirrels.

Recorded in Nashville at Compass Sound Studios and produced by Garry West and Alison BrownThis Life includes such esteemed musicians as multi-instrumentalist Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Todd Phillips on upright bass, and the banjo of Alison Brown on the tracks “Virginia, the Home of My Heart” and “The Squirrel Song.” Says Greenbaum of the recording process, “Garry and Alison are very right-brained as well as very left-brained, and I am too, so we worked very well together. I had no idea what was going to happen, but it was one of the smartest risks I’ve ever taken!”

Greenbaum draws big, enthusiastic audiences who delight in her lively, diverse and powerful performances. Greenbaum has toured as a solo artist, playing such storied venues as The Bitter End in NYC, The Birchmere, Bethlehem Musikfest, Floyd Fest and Rams Head Tavern. In addition to touring with Jewel, she performed an acoustic set with Dave Matthews Band violinist Boyd Tinsley; sharing bills with Jill Sobule; and opening for Kenny Loggins, Patty Griffin, Dar Williams, Janis Ian, Jim Messina, Todd Snider, Tuck and Patti, Iris DeMent, Lucy Kaplansky, Lloyd Cole and Catie Curtis. Susan also endorses W.L Gore’s Elixir Strings.

Unafraid, brazen and under five feet tall, the dynamic Greenbaum shares an empowering message: “If you have something you know you love to do and you want to do it, you can do it! Follow your dreams!”