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

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

‘Mister In Morgantown’ live in the studio:

RICHARD THOMPSON – ELECTRIC

Declared by Rolling Stone as one of the Top 20 Guitarists Of All Time and considered one of the UK’s most outstanding songwriters, musician Richard Thompson returns with a brand new, guitar driven record titled ELECTRIC for Proper Records on Monday, February 11th.

After taking the bold step of recording his last album of new songs live, when it came to recording ELECTRIC, Thompson turned to Buddy Miller (Robert Plant’s Band Of Joy, Solomon Burke, Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin) to produce, recording at Miller’s home studio in Nashville, TN. Miller who himself is renowned for his guitar skills recently told Rolling Stone: “I played along on the record, playing rhythm guitar for him, and I got a two-week guitar lesson while he camped out in my house.”  The record was recorded as an electric trio with Thompson, drummer Michael Jerome and bassist Taras Prodaniuk, who both sing background vocals. Jerome and Prodaniuk formed part of the band which recorded and toured the UK Top Twenty album DREAM ATTIC, released in August 2010.

They make up the trio, with Thompson, on his forthcoming UK dates, his first extensive tour in two years.

Guests on ELECTRIC include the legendary Alison Krauss who joins Thompson on “The Snow Goose”, while English singer-songwriter Siobhan Maher Kennedy (formerly with River City People and now resident in Nashville) adds vocals on several tracks as well. Fiddle great Stuart Duncan also plays on the record; one of America’s leading bluegrass musicians he played on recent albums by Robert Plant/Alison Krauss and Elvis Costello and will be familiar in the UK from BBC4’s Transatlantic Sessions.

Richard Thompson himself commented that: “We did it ridiculously quickly. But it sounds great. It turned out surprisingly funky, sort of a new genre – folk-funk. It’s quite snappy, somewhere between Judy Collins and Bootsy Collins.”

ELECTRIC will be released as a Standard CD, Deluxe two–disc set and on 180 gram vinyl.

As a folking treat for you, we have a free stream of Good Things Happen To Bad People from the album below…

TRACK LISTING

1. Stony Ground

2. Salford Sunday

3. Sally B

4. Stuck on the Treadmill

5. My Enemy

6. Good Things Happen To Bad People

7. Where’s Home?

8. Another Small Thing In her Favour

9. Straight and Narrow

10. The Snow Goose

11. Saving The Good Stuff For You

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Recipient of a BBC Lifetime Achievement Award, Mojo’s Les Paul Award and curator of the prestigious Meltdown Festival at the Southbank in 2010, Thompson was most recently honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting by the Americana Music Association.

ELECTRIC was recorded earlier this year, 2012 marking the fortieth anniversary of Richard Thompson’s debut solo album, HENRY THE HUMAN FLY. Thompson has now released some forty albums, played on countless other classic recordings, and written more than 400 songs, some of which have been covered by R.E.M., Robert Plant, Elvis Costello, The Futureheads, Bonnie Raitt, Dinosaur Jr., Linda Ronstadt, Los Lobos, and many more.

Rolling Stone has hailed him as “a perennial dark horse contender for the title of greatest living rock guitarist.” The Independent recently described him as “probably the best guitarist this country has produced, an utterly sui generis talent…”

Thompson says of his fellow trio members: “Michael Jerome has been with me for about 12 years. He’s actually from Texas; he is a great musician, able to respond to anything that’s put in front of him.  Taras Prodaniuk worked a lot with Dwight Yoakam, and more recently with Lucinda Williams. His roots may be in country music, but he’s another extremely gifted and versatile musician.”