Americana UK - June
Songwriting Magazine -23 June 2015
Torquay Herald Express - 22 June 2015
Folking.com - 20 June 2015
NEMM Blog (UK) - June
Oor - May 2015
Wasser-Prawda - May 2015
Country Music People - May 2015
Music-News.com - May 31, 2015
Mountain Express - May 12, 2015
Cashbox Magazine (Canada) - April 23, 2015
No Depression - May 4, 2015
Johnny's Garden - 6 April, 2015
Pure M Magazine - 20 April, 2015
Lockeland Springsteen blog - 01.10.15
"Pitiful Blues" CD Reviews:
The Blues Magazine - October,
Northern Sky 10.04.14
Lonesome Highway - 10.08.14
Blues in Britain October 2014
Mojo Magazine November 2014
Houston Music Review 09.06.14
Alt*Country*NL (Dutch Review) September 2014
Autrement Blues (French Review) September
Mountain Times September 2014
R2 Magazine September-October 2014
Whisperin' and Hollerin' September 2014
Blurt Magazine September
(Australia) September 2014
Hooked on Music (Germany) 08.23.14
Maverick Magazine Sept/Oct
Blues Matter Magazine September
The Alternate Route August
The Digital Fix August
Roots Music Report 08.16.14
Rootstime (Belgium) 08.15.14
Fatea Magazine 08.14.14
The Daily Times 08.13.14
The Herald (Scotland) 08.10.14
Blabber n Smoke 08.06.14
Music News.com 08.02.14
Folk Villager 08.02.14
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette 07.31.14
Wasser-Prawda Magazine July 2014
For Folk's Sake 08.01.14
Irish Times 08.01.14
Daily Mirror 08.01.14
Country Music People August 2014
Arkansas Times 07.30.14
Americana UK 07.04.14
No Depression 07.03.14
Surrey Mirror 06.23.14
Folk Words 06.17.14
Americana UK 04.01.14
Herald Scotland 04.15.14
The Fine Times Recorder 04.14.14
No Depression 04.14.14
Folk & Tumble 04.11.14
Belfast News Letter 04.10.14
Chronique Musicale 04.08.14
Off Topic 03.24.14
Centre Daily Times - 06.12.13
Blue Matters - January
Acoustic Magazine - January 2013
Winston-Salem Journal - 12.13.12
Maverick Magazine - Nov/Dec 2012
Folk and Roots - October 2012
Heaven Magazine - 10.04.12
The Post - 09.21.12
NetRhythms - September 2012
Revolver Lust for Life Magazine - September
Tipperary Star - 09.30.12
Rootstime Magazine - 09.27.12
Twang Nation - 09.26.12
Chic Lifestyle Magazine - 09.23.12
Flyin' Shoes Review - 09.21.12
Evening Chronicle - 09.21.12
For Folk's Sake - 09.18.12
Northern Sky Music Magazine - 09.16.12
Blabber 'n' Smoke 09.12.12
Americana UK - 09.10.12
Roots Highway - 09.05.12
Asheville Citizen Times - 08.12.12
Q Magazine - October 2012
Musicosis - 08.25.12
Indy Week - 08.22.12
The Daily Times - 08.23.12
Arkansas Democrat Gazette - 08.02.12
No Depression - 08.05.12
No Depression - 08.12.12
Lonesome Highway - 07.29.12
Bimingham News - 01.19.12
Creative Loafing - 01.10.12
Mountain Times - 01.05.12
Rock Candy -- 02.27.12
Lonesome Highway - 07.29.12
|Americana UK - June
"THE RCA SESSIONS"
Proper Records 2015
- by Paul Kerr
A revitalised and essential retrospective
Over the past 20 years Malcolm Holcombe has steered his career through a sometimes rocky road. His debut album was recorded for Geffen and then shelved by them and he was reportedly a troubled man for several years. Indeed the filmed sessions on the DVD included here has a quote at the beginning from Steve Earle stating, "Malcolm Holcombe is the best songwriter I ever threw out of my recording studio." Happily he's been on the straight and narrow for many years now and his grizzled take on folk blues and country has graced a further nine albums with each one adding to his reputation as one of the finest exponents of the genre.
The RCA Sessions celebrates Holcombe's 20 years of recording being a selection of songs from his previous albums plus a live favourite, "Mouth Harp Man." However, it's not simply a "best of" as Holcombe and his crack band settled into Nashville's RCA Studios delivering brand new recordings of his selection with the sessions being filmed. While the end result would be a useful introduction for anyone not familiar with his music it's an essential buy for fans, even those who might have all of his records to date as the versions here are on fire with Holcombe exuding a rude vitality and the band whipcord tight. Ken Coomer on drums and Dave Roe on double bass are the solid rhythm section with Tammy Rogers adding fiddle and mandolin while Jared Tyler excels on Dobro, electric slide and lap steel.
They can root around in deep delta blues, Appalachian country tunes and dip into tender laments seemingly without effort and it's a joy to listen to their playing. Holcombe growls and hollers, croons and mumbles, his voice stained with experience and seemingly dredged from the depths of his soul. His performance on "I Feel Like A Train" is astounding, almost shamanistic as he descends into primeval groans sounding like the oldest hobo in the world. On top of this we have Earle's testimony to Holcombe's song writing and listening to the songs here it's evident that he's up there with the likes of Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson and John Prine, using simple words to paint large pictures. Songs like "Doncha Miss That Water" and "Pitiful Blues" might have been collected by Alan Lomax back in the first half of the last century. "Early Morning" and "Who Carried You" are superior examples of narrative folk song writing and "The Empty Jar" shows that Holcombe can wax poetic and pull at the heartstrings with the best of them. All in all pretty much essential listening (and watching if you get the Deluxe DVD/CD release).
By Paul Kerr
23 June 2015
23 June 2015
The RCA Sessions by Malcolm Holcombe (Album+DVD)
- Duncan Haskell
To honour his two decades in the music industry songwriter Malcolm Holcombe has re-recorded a number of his favourite compositions
Malcolm Holcombe has released a career spanning retrospective to celebrate his 20-year musical career. However, unlike similar anthologies he has re-recorded the tracks at Nashville's legendary RCA Studios giving them a raw edge which suits his rootsy tendencies.
As with all of his releases, the first thing that hits you is the sandpaper rough vocal. It's the sound of a thousand cigarettes, a chain smoker spending another night lamenting the rough hand he's been dealt in between each long drag. In the live studio, Holcombe is able to pack even more gravel into songs like Butcher In Town, I Call The Shots and Pitiful Blues.
Holcombe's homespun lyrics are the album's other driving force. Authentic and bordering on esoteric, they offer a unique glimpse into the songwriter's world. On I Feel Like A Train he sings "when I was a young 'un shovelled coal in the stoker / pulled out the clinkers with a claw in my hand" and *Early Mornin' sees him "riding on the back of Old Nellie, Daddy Pa setting tobacca / Leather reins in his big ol' hands, I hear I'm geeing and a hawing".
The RCA Sessions comes with an accompanying DVD showing Holcombe and his band performing the tracks live in the studio and it's a setting which brings out the passion in all of them. Faithful fans and anyone looking to hear a true American voice would be wise to lend this grizzled veteran an ear.
Verdict: Rootsy and authentic Americana.
|Torquay Herald Express - 22 June 2015
Torquay Herald Express
22 June 2015
Malcolm Holcombe, "The RCA Sessions" (Singular Recordings)
- by Kevin Bryan
This impressive CD / DVD package traces the highlights of Malcolm Holcombe's career to date, showcasing recently re-recorded versions of tracks from each of the ten albums that this criminally underrated country balladeer has released during the past two decades. The decision to revisit these splendid creations live in RCA's Nashville Studios gives them a freshness and spontaneity which if anything improves on the much loved originals, with "To Drink The Rain," "Mouth Harp Man" and "Who Carried You" emerging as the best of a ruggedly beautiful bunch.
20 June 2015
20 June 2015
MALCOLM HOLCOMBE -
The RCA Sessions (Proper/Gypsey Eyes Music)
- by Mike Davies
Gummy, 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 name checks 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 toDown 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, Mara 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.
|NEMM Blog (UK) - June
NEMM Blog (UK)
The RCA Sessions by Malcolm Holcombe
- by Greg Johnson
"There's songs about you and songs about me/At the end of the day they all sound the same" is the opening line on the third track, 'I Feel Like a Train', from this stirring retrospective album by Nashville resident, Malcolm Holcombe, and it serves well as a declaration of intent for the rest of the album (although I don't mean that in any way as a criticism).
This album, recorded in the legendary RCA studios in Nashville, is an overview of a career under the radar. The songs are taken from across a two decade career but have been re-recorded by his regular superb band of musicians that is: Jared Tyler (dobro, electric guitar, lap steel, vocals); David Roe Rorick (upright bass), Tammy Rogers (fiddle, mandolin, vocals), Ken Coomer (drums, percussion), Jellyroll Johnson (harmonica), and Siobhan Maher Kennedy (vocals). There's really nothing new here but the songs are well crafted, engaging, superbly played and Holcombe has a crunchy, gritty voice pitched firmly in the territory around Merle Haggard and John Prine with a touch of Tom Waits distinctive croak thrown in. For me that's a pretty attractive package. The album is available as an impressive CD/DVD package at all good record stores.
Although next year it will be twenty years since his debut album this is another new name for me but one which I'll certainly track through his back catalogue. It's a fairly lengthily album and the songs do have a tendency to be a bit samey but overall they are engaging and will hook you in over a couple of Whiskeys during the long summer nights. There's echoes of Michael Chapman in a majestic 'The Empty Jar' that drips with sadness with a mournful violin in the background. Holcombe sings of having dozens of burdens and "each one has its home" in a lazy slurred vocal that just sucks you in. His vocal is sometimes indistinct but this helps to add some mystery to the songs - 'Butcher in Town' is a good example of this method of working.
The album opens with a real beauty titled 'Who Carried You' with a laid back groove and a vocal that calls up the ghost of J.J.Cale and draws in the romance of the road with mentions of New Orleans, a Buick roadster and a group of Cajuns. The dobro, mandolin and violin gives the melody a feel of classic country-folk that runs on into the following track "Mister in Morgantown" that features some classy blues harp from Jellyroll Johnson (a respected Nashville session player in his own right who has credits with scores of artists including George Jones, The Judds, Etta James, Shania Twain and Nancy Griffith).
"Doncha Miss That Water" is a sprightly little tune with serious message that will probably ring some bells over in California where the population is currently suffering a serious drought. The mandolin and fiddle lock together and push Holcombe's cracked vocal smoothly along. 'Mouth Harp Man' follows and is a wonderful performance right from Holcombe's gritty voice through the terrific ensemble playing and into a virtuoso blues harp performance once again from Jellyroll Johnson that tells you all you need to know about how to deliver with this often over looked instrument - a truly great performance. 'I Call the Shots' is a cocky song about double crossing low-life's and the need to run things just right. The guitars flash and Holcombe's cracked voice has a particular menace here as he talks tough to the crooked judge.
'My Ol' Radio' calls up a long past youth with co-vocals from Siobhan Maher Kennedy giving the tune a slightly different edge but the guitars crack and Holcombe still sounds like he's 100 years old. The songs here are all firmly in the country-blues-folk vein but Holcombe and his fine band of musicians give them all a real timeless edge and they sure as hell bring that class to all the songs on this terrific album.
The album ends with three classics - 'Down The River', 'Pitiful Blues' and the truly wonderful 'A Far Cry From Here' (featuring a sterling performance from Maura O'Connell on co-vocals) that typify that approach and listening to them I'm struck with a feeling that they could have been recorded at any time in the last twenty years and they would sound like classic country-blues songs or wonderful contemporary songs and its Holcombe's rumble of a voice and his fine musicians that make this material so distinctive.
This is another great record recorded in those legendary RCA studios and perhaps the ghosts of the greats who went before such as Elvis,The Everly Brothers, Waylon Jennings and Roy Orbison, all of whom recoded there, can still permeate the music.
Reviewer: Greg Johnson
|Oor - May
THE RCA SESSIONS (PROPER/BERMS)
- by Hans Van Der Maas
De stemontwikkeling van Malcolm Holcombe ging hoogstwaarschijnlijk gepaard met een continu alcoholinfuus en een ketting aan tabak. Of de singer-songwriter slikte per ongeluk
een stuk schuurpapier in, dat aan zijn stembanden is blijven plakken. Hoe dan oak, lets maakte zijn stem gruizig en doorleefd. En toch schuilt er oak verregaande weemoed in door.
Het maakt de albums van de Amerikaan - een kruising tussen Tom Waits en John Prine - open, intrigerend en troostrijk. Met zijn bekende onvervaiste passie, authentieke countryinstrumenten en een keur aan (gast) muzikanten lanceert Holcombe met The RCA Sessions alweer zijn veertiende album. Hij noemt zijn rnuziek zelf het Heist folk en ach, wie zijn wij, fijnproevers van 's mans muziek, om dat tegen to spreken? De zestien nummers, ouderwets wear voor je geld, trotseren iedere mogelijke weerstand. De melancholie in bijvoorbeeld The Empty Jar en A Far Cry (met Mauro O'Connell) snijdt je door de ziel en bij het uptempo Butcher In Town heupwieg je blij naar de volumeknop. Holcombe zou wel wat vaker in de schijnwerpers magen staan.
HANS VAN DER MAAS
|Wasser-Prawda - May 2015
The RCA Sessions
-by Ian Patience
With Holcombe you can always expect the unexpected. A true original, a singer-songwriter with a flair for the unconventional, searing, raw emotion and lyrics and a voice that could stop a bull-elephant in its tracks. With The RCA Sessions, he again pushes the boundaries, a man with an edge in his fretwork, voice and music at all times.
For my money, there's little not to like on this album, a full 16-track offering giving bang for buck and sterling material to the table. His tortured, gravelly vocals only just manage to push his fine finger-picked fretwork to the side and not content with just another CD, Holcombe here also releases the first DVD performance of his playing, riding musical shotgun with a fine bunch of sidemen including Jared Tyler on Dobro and lap-steel; Dave Roe on Upright Bass; Ken Coomer on Drums; Tammy Rogers, Fiddle & Mandolin, and Jelly Roll Johnson on Harp. Siobhan Maher-Kennedy helps with the vocals, as does the powerhouse Irish singer Maura O'Connell.
Recorded at Nashville's legendary RCA Studios, this album features tracks from each of Holcombe's previous ten albums plus a few others, all rerecorded in Nashville - Holcombe often prefers home recordings - specially for this project.
I must lay my cards on the table and say I'm a huge fan of this guy and his music. He sounds like a 60-a-day kind of guy, and at times sounds he's working his way through those very smokes while
recording and singing.
An excellent album for anyone who likes gritty voice and lyrics coupled with fine acoustic-driven guitar-work from the cutting, slicing edge of modern country and Americana music. (Gypsy Eyes Music)
|Country Music People - May 2015
Country Music People
The RCA Sessions
- by Michael Hingston
The RCA Sessions is an unusual type of retrospective that commemorates Malcolm Holcombe's twenty-year recording career. I say unusual because. although 15 of the 16 songs were originally on his 11 releases between 1994 and 2014. the RCA Sessions are all new versions (Mouth Harp Man is not on a previous Holcombe album). Producers Ray Kennedy and Brian Brinkerhoff have brought together a select bunch of musicians who have worked with Holcombe over the years and taken them into the legendary RCA Studios in Nashville to re-record all the songs. The result is a wonderful set of Holcombe's distinctive combination of country, blues and folk styles performed as live in the studio. Holcombe's songs switch between engaging narratives (such as Mister in Morgantown), ecology (such as Doncha Miss That Water), poetic mood pieces (such as The Empty Jar) and humour (such as The Butcher In Town).
The Deluxe edition comes with an expertly filmed DVD where you get the extra dimension of watching the recording process plus interviews with the musicians about Holcombe. The performances and interviews arc filmed and assembled so well, the package feels like a documentary with a CD soundtrack, rather than the DVD being an add-on. The superb band on the album is Ken Coomer, Tammy Rogers, Dave Roe and Jared Tyler with guest appearances from harmonica player Jelly Roll Johnson, Irish folk singer Maura O'Connell and accomplished vocalist Siobhan Maher-Kennedy (Ray Kennedy's wife).
At this point, I ought to point out that Malcolm Holcombe is a singer who has a Marmite effect on listeners. You either love his gravelly, slurring voice or hate it (if you like Tom Waits, Sam Baker or Bob Dylan's albums, there is a good chance you will appreciate Malcolm Holcombe). I can see both sides as I used to find his voice a barrier to me appreciating his songs, but I had a damascene conversion a couple of albums ago with his 2012 release Down The River. This was partly to do with acclimatising to his voice. but I also think that the performances from this album onwards are better and more assured than the earlier ones. So revisiting some of these songs is an excellent idea and if you haven't appreciated his music before, seeing him put his heart and soul into the performances on the DVD might just win you over. The marvelous CD and DVD package is a superb introduction to Holcombe's music and an essential addition for the Holcombe aficionado.
|Music-News.com - May 31, 2015
May 31, 2015
- by Andy Snipper
Try as I might, I cannot remember an album from Malcolm Holcombe
that didn't get my heart racing and the hairs on the back of my neck quivering
and I have heard most of his output over twenty years.
He has a voice that is aged and querulous but also strong and loaded with
emotion; in many ways the perfect representation of Americana once you take
away the 'twang' of country and the mock bonhomie of bluegrass. That doesn't
mean that he isn't representative of both camps, just that he has found the
heart of the music and worked it tirelessly for over 20 years. Probably the
best, and most underrated songwriter around as well.
This album celebrates the 10 albums he has released in that 20 year span with
16 tracks culled from all the albums but unlike the average best of he has
chosen to re-record them live in the studio over a few days in September last
year and they sound fresh and lively, more like 16 new songs. He has also added
a live favourite 'Mouth Harp Man' for this release. The album comes as a CD/DVD
As usual he has the hackles up from the opening moments of 'Who Carried You'
with that wheezy voice and the emotions running, wonderful fiddle from Tammy
Rogers and Jared Tyler pitching in with a delightful dobro break - everything
you could wish for from an album contained in the first song!
'Mister In Morgantown' adds Jelly Roll Johnson on harmonica and some fine scat
- almost rap - from the man himself. As you delve into the album it just gets
better and better. More intense, more of a sense of all working together, more
'funk' and some loose and sloppy genius.
'To Drink The Rain' is massive, a slab of heavy Blues with Americana roots and
a personal favourite is 'Mouth Harp Man' which trips along nicely swelling and
ebbing with the mouth harp from Jelly Roll Johnson.
As a best of, it's great but as a restatement of the man's music it brings 20
years into the modern day and it is just brilliant.
|Mountain Express - May 12, 2015
Greatest twists: Malcolm Holcombe re-records 16 songs for new album
May 12, 2015
- by Edwin Arnaudin
KEEP IT SIMPLE: Although WNC folk artist Malcolm Holcombe recounts a 20-year career with The RCA Sessions, his plan going forward is straightforward:
"Smoke cigs and pick," he tells Xpress. And "stay sober."
When most musicians accumulate enough popular songs to warrant a greatest hits album,
they simply gather the studio versions of those tracks,
present them in an order they see fit and toss it out for their listeners to consume.
If fans are lucky, they might get a new recording or a live cut of a favorite composition,
but little else. But Malcolm Holcombe? He isn't most musicians.
The local folk artist and Weaverville native (who plays Isis Restaurant & Music Hall on Saturday, May 16) sidesteps expectations whenever possible,
from looking back on the last 20 years of his career to approaching a Q&A session via email while on tour in Europe.
In the fall of 2014, Holcombe went to RCA Studios in Nashville, Tenn., with past and present collaborators Jared Tyler (Dobro, electric guitar, lap steel, vocals), David Roe Rorick (upright bass, arco), Tammy Rogers (fiddle, mandolin, vocals), Ken Coomer (drums, percussion), Jellyroll Johnson (harmonica) and Siobhan Maher Kennedy (vocals). Their mission? Revisit songs from the 10 LPs and one EP that Holcombe recorded from 1994-2014, this time as live in-studio performances.
Essentially capturing a modern Holcombe concert for all to hear, this unusual handling of a greatest hits collection extends to the track order as well. As if to suggest traditional leanings - or at the very least tease them - The RCA Sessions begins with a six-song chronological arc from "Who Carried You" (1999's A Hundred Lies) to "Butcher in Town" (2012's Down the River). From there Holcombe goes steadily back in time to the title track of 2011's To Drink the Rain, "Early Mornin'" (2005's I Never Heard You Knockin') and "Mouth Harp Man" (a song he wrote and performed for Johnson's 2001 album A Few Close Friends), but establishing a pattern after that defies easy logic.
Over the final run, the order seesaws up to "I Call the Shots" (Down the River), down to "My Ol' Radio" (2007's Gamblin' House) and "Goin' Home" (2006's Not Forgotten), back up again to title tracks from Down the River and 2014's Pitiful Blues before landing at the pre-aughts starting point, "A Far Cry From Here." If there is indeed a science to it all, Holcombe isn't telling.
What's your general attitude toward anthology or greatest hits albums? Are there other musicians who've taken unusual approaches to their catalogs that inspired you in part to go the direction you did with The RCA Sessions?
Ask my wife. . [I'm] grateful to have been asked by Brian Brinkerhoff executive producer and Ray Kennedy . It's my job to be of service.
How long were The RCA Sessions in the works?
About a year or so.
How did you choose the 16 tracks to re-record for this album? Were there ones that were tough to leave off?
We all made choices . and compromised.
What do you have planned for the Isis show, and who will be joining you?
Suit up, show up . Solo . Mike Ferrio opens the show. Smoke cigs and pick.
How would you like the next 20 years to play out?
Magazine (Canada) - April 23, 2015
Cashbox Magazine (Canada)
April 23, 2015
- by Iain Patience
With Holcombe you can always expect the unexpected. A true
original, a singer-songwriter with a flair for the unconventional, searing, raw
emotion and lyrics and a voice that could stop a bull-elephant in its tracks.
With The RCA Sessions, he again pushes the boundaries, a man with an edge in
his fretwork, voice and music at all times.
For my money, there's little not to like on this album, a full 16-track
offering giving bang for buck and sterling material to the table. His tortured,
gravelly vocals only just manage to push his fine finger-picked fretwork to the
side and not content with just another CD, Holcombe here also releases the
first DVD performance of his playing, riding musical shotgun with a fine bunch
of sidemen including Jared Tyler on Dobro and lap-steel; Dave Roe on Upright
Bass; Ken Coomer on Drums; Tammy Rogers, Fiddle & Mandolin, and Jelly Roll
Johnson on Harp. Siobhan Maher-Kennedy helps with the vocals, as does the
powerhouse Irish singer Maura O'Connell.
Recorded at Nashville's legendary RCA Studios, this album features tracks from
each of Holcombe's previous ten albums plus a few others, all rerecorded in
Nashville - Holcombe often prefers home recordings - especially for this
I must lay my cards on the table and say I'm a huge fan of this guy and his
music. He sounds like a 60-a-day kind of guy, and at times sounds like he's
working his way through those very smokes while simultaneously recording and
An excellent album for anyone who likes gritty voice and lyrics coupled with
fine acoustic-driven guitar-work from the cutting, slicing edge of modern
country and Americana music.
|No Depression - May
May 4, 2015
- by Alan Harrison
Songs so raw and honest they will scare the pants off
It's fair to say that Malcolm Holcombe is an acquired taste and; as my wife
once said, "won't be invited to join the school choir anytime
soon," but since I discovered him; he's my 'go to guy' when I need
something to cleanse my listening pallet.
In exactly the same way that Bob Dylan can't 'sing' Holcombe can't; but using a
version of talking Blues he uses his world weary and battered voice to inhabit
songs like the beautiful Mister in Morgantown (alongside Jelly Roll Johnson)
and leaving the casual listener an emotional wreck.
These sixteen tracks are a retrospective of his work between 1994 and 2014; but
re-recorded in the legendary RCA Studios in Nashville (hence the title!); and
if there is a God in Heaven will bring this low key genius's work to a whole
I actually received the album in the week of the Nepalese earthquake; which
somehow made Doncha Miss That Water When It's Gone; somehow even more poignant
as it's a very subtle geo-political song disguised as a love song that
originally flew in under my radar; don't you make the same mistake.
As a confirmed Malcolm Holcombe fan I absolutely love the two duets that are
included; first the jaunty twang of My Ol' Radio with Siobhan Maher-Kennedy but
A Far Cry From Here with Irish Folk legend Maura O'Connell combines their
contrasting voices to create a rare thing of terrible beauty.
Many words have been used to describe Holcombe's 'style' over the years and the
most used tend to be intense and passionate; and I can't think of any better
way to describe I Never Hear You Knocking and my favourite Holcombe song
Butcher in Town.
While it wasn't necessary to include anything new; as these new recordings will
have his fans flocking to the record shops in their dozens; there is a brand
new song included and it's a doozy - Mouth Harp Man featuring Jelly Roll
Johnson again on said instrument and it's gone straight into my Malcolm
Holcombe Top 10.
If you get in early you will be able to buy the Deluxe version which includes a
Concert DVD from the studio sessions; giving you the opportunity to see as well
as hear why we love the man once described as 'what Boo Radley would look like
in his latter years.'
Pure M Magazine
20 April, 2015
- by Dave Simpson
Country/folk singer Malcolm Holcombe has enjoyed a long and distinguished
career spanning an impressive two decades. In celebration of this achievement,
the North Carolina native has put together The RCA Sessions; a collection of
songs written between 1994 and 2014 for his previous ten albums and EP. Unlike
most works such as this, he has re-recorded each track just for this release,
making it an extra special undertaking for the seasoned musician.
The cool acoustic riff of "Who Carried You" begins the compilation, preceding
relaxed vocals that play out as if they're narrating a folk tale. Its strong
country flavour sets the standard for what's to come ahead of the stirring
introduction of "Mister in Morgantown". This enthusiastic and animated offering
features a mix of guitar, harmonica and light percussion, all of which unfold
alongside an expressive harmony.
Festive fiddles get "I Feel Like a Train" going, ahead of a merry melody. Its
laid back atmosphere persists into "Doncha Miss That Water", whose stripped
down, back to basics approach is realised through cheery vocals and a riff
that's a little more complex. "The Empty Jar" adopts a mellow, solemn stance in
its wake, while "Butcher in Town" brightens things back up by dancing in on a
fun and rousing beat. Fast paced and characterful, its lighthearted, playful
demeanour is quite infectious.
Raw, coarse vocals howl out across some absorbing instrumentation during "To
Drink the Rain" as it adopts more of an electric, rock flair than its
predecessors. It's succeeded by the warm and moving country ballad, "Early
Mornin'", which saunters along lazily, taking its time moving forward. "I Never
Heard You" continues in a similar manner, generating a sombre ambience. Subtle
acoustic guitars and earnest, reflective lyrics are complemented by poignant
string work during the chorus.
"Mouth Harp Man" marches at a steady pace into thoughtful vocals that cut
across reverberating harmonicas and colourful guitars. The busy and boisterous
instrumentation of "I Call the Shots" arrives afterwards to preface an
obstinate and optimistic melody. This is followed by the quick rhythm and
speedy verse of "My Ol' Radio", paving the way for a cheerful duet with Siobhan
"Goin Home" is a contemplative composition next, characterised by bustling
musical effects and an affective chorus. "Down the River" strolls slowly out of
its wake, emanating a very relaxed and lackadaisical aura. Its successor,
"Pitiful Blues", is an entirely different entity, having an almost psychedelic
vibe that conjures up images of being out in the searing heat of the desert. "A
Far Cry From" decides to head back to softer territory, distinguishing itself
as a restrained and heartfelt folk ballad that puts a touching cap on
While Malcolm Holcombe's material might not hold much appeal to those not
invested in country music, it is an accomplished work within its own genre.
Each track seems to tell its own story, with the compilation as whole feeling
like something that you'd hear played over a camp fire on a warm summer
|Lockeland Springsteen blog - 01.10.15
Lockeland Springsteen blog
January 10, 2015
- by Katie Arata
Features /// Malcolm Holcombe Tonight at the 5 Spot
BY KATIE ARATA ON JANUARY 10, 2015
The first time I met Malcolm Holcombe I was not even a year old, and he was
singing me a lullaby. Whether this initial interaction happened at my
parent’s home or at a table at a listening room remains an absent detail,
but it happened, nonetheless. This was but a snapshot of an entire story that I
recently unearthed this week through a conversation with Holcombe. His life is
a kind of tale that parallels familial folklore with a darker twinge and a
haunting narration sung with a voice beautifully ragged with life’s
weathering. And like he must have sung to me many years ago, he manifested a
handful of memories told through Southern idioms and a kind growl that made me
feel like I truly had known him my whole life, despite us having our first
conversation in almost 22 years. I am a pitiful storyteller in comparison to
the Appalachian native, but here is the story I have pieced together of Malcolm
I asked the gracious folk singer-songwriter to tell me where it
all began, and this is the answer I got: “I grew up in a small town north
of Asheville, called Weaverville. And well, I played guitar. I ain’t got
nothing special to tell you there, Katie-honey.” He told me how proud he
was of me, referenced folk tales, imparted wisdom through an accent that seemed
too authentic to be true, but he spoke very little about himself. So
let’s skip to 1990. “I got a one-way Greyhound ticket to Nashville,
and I didn’t even buy it. I didn’t have enough money to buy it. I
had a female philanthropist, I think she felt bad for me…and I was
drinking a beer, and they wouldn’t let me take it on the bus. Ya know,
thanks for reminding me, that pissed me off,” Holcombe asserted. And so
it began. He ended up in the kitchen of Douglas Corner, doing all the tasks
every start-out musician can imagine. He was getting by on a simple wage with a
little help from some friends and several substances when he “launched
his career in show business.”
“My big break in Nashville was when I met your daddy and
some of the writers that played…it all began at Douglas Corner with
plastic ants and a bear suit. And that bear suit cost $40. Now I want you to
print that, that’s a lot of money in the early 90s.” I didn’t
understand why his debut onto the scene included those items, so I went to a
person I often employ to help translate life’s mysteries: my father,Tony
Arata. “When I couldn’t get into the Bluebird to play, I got with
Scott Miller, Bernie Nelson, Kirk “Jellyroll” Johnson, and Jimmy
Stewart, and we put on these theme nights at Douglas Corner,” my dad
explained. Having grown up with a songwriter as a parent, I always knew that
there were untold adventures and hushed experiences that would boil to the
surface at some point. “We called them ‘Fiascos,’ and that
night was a picnic theme. And we got Malcolm up there and made him wear a bear
suit.” They would pack the place and offer a writer’s round in a
committed theme that rivals our current scene, transforming the listening room
into a beach and even into a boxer’s ring, complete with costumes and a
roped section in the middle of the room with a singular, center microphone to
amplify them all. Apparently they even hired some girls to walk around and hold
signs while they played. Classy and committed, or rather “more camp than
composition,” as Arata described.
“All we knew was that he was the cook at Douglas. The first
time Scott and I got him up to play, he blew everybody away,” said Arata.
One evening, a representative from A&M Records was in the audience.
Holcombe walked directly from the kitchen with his apron still on, grabbed his
guitar and sat on stage, played a few songs that rattled the audience with
truisms and heart, concluded and walked back to the kitchen, only after asking
if my dad needed coffee without a look back at the representative or audience.
Holcombe didn’t act in this manner because he disregarded the industry or
his listeners, but it seemed as though he never thought too much about anything
outside of the basic humanity of sharing songs. Even when I asked him what his
most treasured song was from his personally crafted library of poems and
melodies, he said, “Dark Side of the Moon. But I can’t play
it.” With a bit of Southern accent that had inevitably slipped into my
voice after settling into conversation with him, I kindly said, “well,
Malcolm, I don’t think you wrote anything on that album. What of your
music do you favor?” “Oh, no I don’t. I got short-term
memory. I don’t think about any of that.” He said his greatest
challenge in music was “trying to spell,” and all that he is today
and all that he has accomplished is by “the grace of the good
Lord,” no credit due to himself, the songwriter who is now regarded as a
folk idol. But before I touch on his retrospect, let me return to his mercurial
“If you hang around a barber shop long enough, you get a
pair of scissors in your back,” Holcombe preached. When you listen to him
talk and especially when he sings, there is an evident history of complexities
and experiences, of stumbles down paths that would shake the modern addict
sober. Instead of us talking about these times, he cited the folklore of
“Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby” as his description of dependence.
Holcombe wailed into the phone with a cadential laugh, “throw me into the
briar patch, throw me into the briar patch!” Addiction had overcome him
in Nashville, and in 1998 it was time to get another one-way Greyhound ticket
back to North Carolina. As he quotes in “Words of December,” a
track on his most recent album, “the blood of my past still runs warm and
tender,” and it still remains very much a part of the mysterious but now,
sober, Holcombe. From these ventures he adopted a motto: “you gotta keep
your eyes on the clouds, not on the devil,” an accepted adage only after
a few stare-downs with his own demons. Thankfully these hypnotics developed
into a legendary discography.
It shouldn’t (and doesn’t) go unnoticed that his 1999
release on Geffen Records, A Hundred Lies, was regarded as one of the most
timeless recordings to come out that year, a fact to this day, but it has found
a competitor in Holcombe’s 2014 album, Pitiful Blues. Ten releases later
it is a ten-track recollection that is but a simple thing to its creator.
“I was sittin’ in the backyard, and I got a little microphone back
here, just trying to rub two nickels together. I got Jared Tyler (producer), a
good friend, who helped put a little record together,” he calmly said.
This man on the other end of the phone never once elaborated on this brutally
but beautifully piercing album, even when I pried. I only got this poignant and
quite Southern remembrance on what it was like to write the songs: “If
you want to eat corn, you got to get out the hoe. Period.” And as he
laughed, I marveled at this man’s collection of wisdom and grace through
grit. The same man who opened for Merle Haggard and sang with Steve Earle had
nothing much to say about his music. Perhaps his music alone says it all.
“Katie, you gotta be true to your own heart. It’s a
day-to-day struggle we all go through, and music’s just a warm,
recognizable thing that holds people together. We are all parts of each other,
and I’m just trying to keep my spirituality and some kind of conscious
contact with something greater than myself,” Holcombe told me. “And
that includes my wife,” he ended.
His reestablished life has embodied itself in an honest work of
music that should be regarded as harmonic scripture, studied and sung by the
modern audience. His story is contoured by the human experience and ministered
through his songs. Malcolm Holcombe is a loyal representation of a folk
musician: honest to the bone, scarred but not damaged and continuously faithful
to the song and its strength.
Listen to him tell his tale tonight at the 5 Spot (9pm) with
|The Blues Magazine - October 2014
by- Pete Feenstra
|Northern Sky 10.04.14
4 October 2014
- by Allan Wilkinson
Once again North Carolina's Malcolm Holcombe releases an
album's worth of gritty blues-based songs, delivered in his own distinctive
style. PITIFUL BLUES, the singer's tenth album to date, sees Holcombe team up
once again with co-producer Jared Tyler to create a fitting atmosphere for
these original and deeply rooted songs. Holcombe comes over best in a stripped
down to basics setting, with just a small band to fill out the sound.
Atmospheric in places, the songs do indeed radiate the sound of the Carolina
hills, which is precisely what the producer intended.
|Lonesome Highway - 10.08.14
8 October 2014
- by Stephen Rapid
Those who are acquainted with Holcombe knows his ragged
sandpaper worn world weary voice and songs that draw from the depths of pain
and gritty hope. To capture the real moment of these songs they were raw
recordings done live in a small home studio and the musicians were then added
later in the process. The result manages to capture the essence of Holcombe
while adding the depth of the additional musicians. This proves to be a
worthwhile process and makes for something that may well be easier to
assimilate that a purely solo situation might otherwise elicit.
Again these are all original songs, tales of the haunted souls and moments of
enlightenment. Songs like Savannah Blues, Words Not Spoken and the title track
are deep, hurting blues that are perfectly enunciated by Holcombe’s lived
Co-produced by Holcombe and long time collaborator Jared Tyler the result is
one of the finest of his albums to date and something that those who have
previously encountered the man live or recorded will be happy to have. This,
his latest instalment of his real expression of pain and real emotions. Music
made from the need to express some humanity in a world that is more usually
about something more superficial.
|Blues in Britain October 2014
Blues in Britain
- by Bob Chaffey
|Mojo Magazine November 2014
Mojo Magazine: CD
by- Sylvie Simmons
|Houston Music Review 09.06.14
Malcolm Holcombe - Almost Austin -
Written by Samuel Barker
Sep 06, 2014 at 08:00 PM
About once a year, I like to make sure I get a solid dose of Malcolm Holcombe
in my life.
Every time I go to see him, I wait to be underwhelmed by his
performance. Surely, after seeing someone ten times or more, the amazement will
wear off, right?
Well, for yet another performance, I walked out of Almost Austin,
this night’s venue and where I’ve seen Holcombe the most, filled
with excitement and ready to try to create music that will undoubtedly pale in
comparison to what Holcombe creates.
From the opening note of the show’s first song, The
Mountains of Home, to the closing notes of Pitiful Blues, Holcombe ran through
a set list of songs from his newer releases. While sometimes hearing songs that
are new and having a large portion come from a brand new release can lead to a
disconnect show, Holcombe uses his storytelling ability and downright intensity
to bring all his songs to life.
As I have said in previous reviews, few people can capture the
intensity of Malcolm Holcombe. With songs like Twisted Arms, Holcombe draws the
picture of every day desperation brought on by watching the world around him
being sold off. The pictures painted by the lyrics are never straight ahead,
but when you add in the lead stories with the imagery, everything comes
There really is not much to say that I have not already said
about Malcolm Holcombe. Just allow this review to be another reminder that you
should be planning to see Holcombe in the very near future. He’s
currently on the road supporting his new album, Pitiful Blues, so go see the
show and become a believer.
|Alt*Country*NL (Dutch Review) September 2014
Alt*Country*NL (Dutch review)
Opgeslagen in: RECENSIES — John Gjaltema @ 22:36 Het is oog om oog en
tand om tand in de liedjes van Malcolm Holcombe op Pitiful Blues (eigen
beheer/Rough Trade). Het gaat om personages die altijd pijn hebben in de
botten. Mensen van wie niemand de naam kent. Ze krijgen de deur dichtgegooid in
het gezicht. Als ze de mensen recht in de ogen kijken, kijken die bij hen
langs. Desperate types, daar ligt het hart van de singer-songwriter uit North
Carolina. Zelf heeft hij ze ook gekend, de slechte tijden. Daarom is er ook
niemand die zo in de huid weet te kruipen van zwervers. Ze staan altijd in de
regen. Als ze doodgaan worden ze begraven door een grafdelver die staat te
neuriën terwijl hij zijn werk doet. En Malcolm Holcombe huivert en rilt.
Hij vertelt nog een verhaal waarbij de woorden in zijn keel smoren. Over een
neef die als kind werd mishandeld. De onschuld zag sterven. Words Not Spoken.
Het gaat om de blues van binnen en het lawaai in het hoofd, maar over
zelfbeklag gaat het dus niet op Pitiful Blues.
|Autrement Blues (French Review) September 2014
Autrement Blues (French
- by Iain Patience
|Mountain Times September 2014
September 18, 2014
-by Derek Halsey
Malcolm Holcombe will bring his brand of blues and folk back to
Boone for a show Sept. 25.
If you have listened to WNCW-FM in the last couple of months, you have heard
the title track to Malcolm Holcombe’s new album, “Pitiful
The song is real in content and groove and cuts to the bone.
Holcombe’s music usually does that for those that give it a chance. If
you go to YouTube and search for “Malcolm Holcombe Pitiful Blues Glasgow
2014,” you will see a powerful live version of the cut performed by the
singer and guitarist at the Admiral Bar in Scotland last April.
Holcombe will perform at Boone Saloon on Thursday, Sept. 25. The
show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $7.
Holcombe has seen the good and the bad that life and the music
business have to offer, with a lot of the negative side self-inflicted.
Ultimately, however, Holcombe fought the bottle, and the bottle did not win.
The love of a good woman has kept him afloat and his music flowing.
A Western North Carolina native and resident, Holcombe brought to
his latest album a new and sweet anthem about this part of the world, called
“Roots.” Backed by Luke Bulla on fiddle, the song talks of
Holcombe’s homeland; “There’s one heart in these old
mountains, There’s one light that’s gently shining, in the Blue
Ridge Smokey sunrise, putting roots down in the hills, Oh the silver moonlight
passion, dancing fast and everlasting, ’til the stars a glance may
capture, putting roots down in the hills.”
“That song is kind of close to my heart,” Holcombe
said. “A lot of folks don’t have a home, and if they do, it’s
blown all to hell. So, it’s a lot to be grateful for to call a little
spot, a little spit of dirt in this world, home. These old hills are home for
me. People tell me that you can go ahead and write your way out of a song, so
it usually takes 10 or 15 minutes or so to write them. I might have written
‘Roots’ in 20 minutes. I don’t have an hourglass tick-tocking
away, you know. (I came up with the new songs) by the grace of the Good Lord
and trying to stay sober. I kind of made them up. There ain’t nothing new
under the sun. Mark Twain said, ‘If you only tell the truth, you
don’t have to remember what you say.’”
The stark reflection-of-modern-times imagery found in the lyrics
of “Pitiful Blues” were culled from a few different influences by
“Well, a little bit came from the Old Testament, and a
little bit came from my whining,” Holcombe said. “It’s just
like ‘Cadillac problems.’ A lot of folks in America, at least me,
have these first-world Cadillac problems. I don’t have any business
complaining, to be honest with you. There is too much suffering in this world.
I’m just trying to call a spade a spade, just a point of view.”
In this day and age when it seems like the world has gone crazy
again, it is artists like Holcombe that are able to put things in perspective
“It’s just a point of view that can hit you in the
face like a ball-peen hammer,” Holcombe said. “You’ve got to
have a release for something, whether it is hanging on a cave wall or scribbled
on a piece of paper. The world has always been crazy. It’s just with
communications being in the forefront now, if you can dodge the darn drug
commercials, there’s a lot of pain and suffering going on. It’s
been going on since Cain and Abel, man, and even before that. Now, we have
radio and TV and media coverage, which you can trust or distrust. But it is
hard to Photoshop a beheading.
"It’s a big old world out there, man, and there are a lot
of good people. There are a lot of caring people with compassion and empathy
for one another. That has been what’s shown to me. It’s not all
blood and guts and torture and murder and genocide, because there is a lot of
goodness in this world. It really restores my faith and hope for better days
For more about Malcolm Holcombe, visit
Magazine September-October 2014
- By Jeremy Searle
|Whisperin' and Hollerin' September 2014
Whisperin' and Hollerin'
- by Martin Raybould
I picture Malcolm Holcombe sitting on his back porch in full hobo
gear, chewing tobacco and playing a battered acoustic guitar.
His songs have that seasoned quality of someone who has been
through more than his fair share of hard times.
The ten new tunes on his tenth album give further notice that he
is now wiser and stronger but still betray a strong streak of bitterness. These
are the blues based on personal, not borrowed, experiences.
Holcombe's voice has such a grizzled, slurred and throaty quality
that it comes as no surprise to learn that he has a history of alcoholism and
hell raising. Nevertheless, the tender closing song ,For The Love Of A Child
illustrates that he has not succumbed to his demons.
While he may have mellowed a little with age, there's nothing
complacent or passive about his world view. The title track finds him on the
warpath against an unjust world seeking "an eye for the eye and a tooth for a
Fighting for wounded pride is also a theme of By The Boots told
from the perspective of sickly veteran - "what I am is who I am with a rifle in
my hand". These songs bear witness to the fact that this is one old soldier
who's not about to go quietly.
Meanwhile, Roots is a fond ode to his Blue Ridge Mountains home in North
Carolina while other songs are those of a journeyman musician. He's dead in a
box in Georgia (Savannah Blues), sweltering in the Mississippi heat (Sign For A
Sally) and playing the bars in downtown Louisville, Kentucky (The Music Plays
Any hardness of tone is frequently softened by the poetry of the
song writing. Another Despair, for example, identifies with the fine line that
separates sin and salvation: "the flesh gets messy with a smile and a nod, on
the hooks of a dealer to the Grace of God".
All in all, the truths may be harsh ones but the mood of
this fine album is far from pitiful.
|Blurt Magazine September 2014
- by Lee Zimmerman
Album: Pitiful Blues
Artist: Malcolmbe Holcombe
Release Date: August 05, 2014
BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Malcolm Holcombe made it clear from early on he’s not the
kind of guy you want to mess with. He takes no grief and suffers no fools. We
don’t know that for a fact of course, but one listen to any of his
previous albums and Pitiful Blues in particular makes that impression pretty
clear. Judging by his ransacked vocals and hard-scramble sound, it’s
obvious that Holcombe’s not about to soft-sell his intents. “Take
what you can get/Some politician’s grinnin’/Don’t trust the
government/I got a rifle in my hand,” he growls on “By the
Boots,” and by God, it’s obvious he’s not joking. From the
sweat-stained sentiments of “Savannah Blues” to the rootsy ramble
of “Sign for a Sally,” Holcombe wears his convictions on his
proverbial sleeve, laying down one gritty discourse after another with a
rugged, irascible irony and intensity.
Frayed and well-worn, gruff and gritty to the max, these songs
sound like they were plucked from the tangle of the swamp or yet another
roadhouse refuge. Not that Holcombe is solely focused on agitated discourse,
insolence or indulgence; final track “For the Love of a Child”
makes it clear that apart from the tenacious turbulence, a certain amount of
tenderness still resides within. More purposeful than pitiful, these ten songs
find a weary renegade giving voice to a troubled soul.
|Country Update (Australia) September 2014
Country Update (Australia)
- by Iain Patience
Based in North Carolina’s Piedmont region of the USA,
Holcombe’s guitar-work reflects the quality and driving style of his
home-area in the Appalachians with a skilful mix of 1930s style picking and
cross-over Americana and Bluegrass influences. A sort of ‘backwoods
blues’ in sound and feel, the kind of thing you might expect to find
being played on a sleepy southern porch on a sweltering summers’ day. The
lyrics are strong and the entire ten-track album is chock-full of powerful and
raw emotion, stripped-down sounds that jump from the disc to grab you by the
throat. Holcombe is not a man to be ignored. Both the voice and playing demand
and warrant attention. From the opening title track to the close of the album,
Holcombe’s stirring lyrics and at times dirge-like vocals carry this
album out of the shadows into the light and easily earns it a place on any
acoustic music lover’s collection. This guy is always interesting, daring
to be different and well clear of mainstream, and Pitiful Blues, his tenth
outing would be worth having for the wonderful thumping guitar bass runs and
jangling treble solos and the drawling vocal delivery evident on the eponymous
title track alone.
|Hooked on Music (Germany) 08.23.14
Hooked on Music (Germany)
23 August 2014
- by Frank Ipach
Begegnete man diesem ausgezehrt scheinenden Mann auf der
Straße, machte man sich wohl Sorgen um seinen Gesundheitszustand.
Mitgenommen und etwas angeschlagen wirkt Malcolm Holcombes äußeres
Erscheinungsbild. Doch seine Musik, seine Geschichten wirken lebhaft, echt und
authentisch bis ins Mark, wenngleich sie auch gerne mit zerrissenen Charakteren
Der Singer-Songwriter aus North Carolina, der mit seinem rauen,
kantigen Vortragsstil in Insiderkreisen höchstes Ansehen genießt,
beweist auch auf seinem neuen Album "Pitiful Blues" genügend Tiefe und
Überzeugungskraft, um das hohe Niveau seiner früheren Platten erneut
Wir begegnen neuen Geschichten, Schicksalen und Personen, lebensecht und
nachvollziehbar. Holcombe, der alte, zersauste Grummler, streichelt und
schlägt seine Klampfe versiert wie eh und je, presst seine Short Stories
mit raspelnder Stimme hervor, während er sie mit althergebrachten und
wohlbekannten musikalischen Mustern aus akustischem Folk, Country und Blues
umrahmt. Produzent und Multiinstrumentalist Jared Tyler hilft abermals mit
Dobro-Slide, Fiddle und gelegentlicher E-Gitarre, während Bass und
Schlagzeug zumeist einen unaufgeregten und entspannten Groove anschlagen. Das
angerockt galoppierende Another Despair darf hier wohl als Ausnahme betrachtet
Eine prickelnde Melange, die an andere große Kollegen wie
Townes van Zandt, John Prine, Guy Clark, Steve Earle, Kris Kristofferson und
Chris Smither erinnert. Diese Art Americana regt an, bewegt und beschert dem
aufmerksamen Hörer ein anhaltendes emotionales Wechselbad. Bleibt zu
hoffen, dass uns dieser ausgezeichnete Malcolm Holcombe noch ein paar Jahre
begleitet und niemand auf die Idee kommt, achtlos an ihm
|Fatea Magazine 08.14.14
18 August, 2014
- by David Kidman
Album: Pitiful Blues
Label: Self Released
Here's another album of authentic, rugged, stripped-down
Americana from a master observer of the human condition with a very distinctive
voice and a gruffly uncompromising yet refreshing stance. The rationale for
this, North Carolina-based Malcolm's tenth record, was long-time co-producer
Jared Tyler's desire to enshrine the spirit of the "musician's demos" that
Malcolm invariably made in his own backyard studio and sent to Jared prior to
each album being further worked on - and so it turned out, a more intimate
affair than previous records, but still with some ancillary musician
enhancements from Jared and his four-man support crew. Malcolm's own
personality can't help but dominate, and it sure is as compelling, close-up and
handsome as ever, especially when recorded as simply as this (one basic
All this allows Malcolm's special stories and deep thoughts
to speak more directly to the listener, of course, and his growling, gargling,
snarling delivery tears into one's consciousness in the nicest possible way -
this aspect to some extent belying his essential humanity, so don't be put off!
In this context, then, it's hard to say much more, as the converts will already
be converted and those new to Malcolm's music could do no better than to start
here for their best and most undistracted,
|The Digital Fix August 2014
The Digital Fix
August 2014 issue
- by Max Mazonowicz
Campfire Tales: August 2014
In the male vocal category we've got the sawdust, whisky, tobacco-stained voice
of Malcolm Holcombe. Early on he sings “An eye for an eye / A tooth for a
tooth” and it sounds like he’s lived life to that mantra, giving up
many teeth over the years. Now while that might not sound the best for a
vocalist - and on the opening title track the earthiness of his voice does stun
you a little - but Pitiful Bluesshowcases the 55 year old's well honed musical
and lyrical skills. And, really, that sandpaper rough voice just adds an
unprecedented level of gravitas to proceedings. As Holcombe growls his way
through ‘Roots’ the violin offers a smooth contrast.
|Rootstime (Belgium) 08.15.14
15 August, 2014
- by Luc Meert
De man nadert intussen de pensioengerechtigde leeftijd maar we smeken op onze
knieën dat hij nog lange moge doorgaan met zijn fantastische, sublieme,
rauwe, doodeerlijke Blues. Een laatbloeier kan je stellen, hij was haast
veertig toen hij zijn debuutalbum uitbracht maar inmiddels is hij met deze
“Pitiful Blues” aan zijn tiende plaat toe. Allen, zonder
uitzondering, stuk voor stuk pareltjes, en de nieuwste is niets minder dan een
meesterwerk. Voor ons is de man al lang op hetzelfde niveau te situeren als
pakweg Townes Van Zandt, het soort artiesten dat je moet bewonderen en
Het befaamde Rolling Stone Magazine Magazine beschrijft de muziek van Malcolm
Holcombe als “de soort blues die in beweging is en ieder hoekje van je
hart raakt”. Het is alweer niet anders met deze release. Holcombe,
opgegroeid in de Blue Ridge Mountains van north Carolina staat bekend om zijn
door sloten whiskey en pakken sigaretten getekende stem. Voeg daarbij nog de
tragische tegenslagen waarmee de artiest in zijn leven geconfronteerd bent en
je krijgt het doorleefde stemgeluid waarmee Malcolm typerend verhaalt. Door de
jaren heen is onze held geëvolueerd van singer-songwriter naar volmaakt
artiest. Uiterlijk blijft hij wel iets hebben van de beginnende straatmuzikant
en deze stijl past uiteraard bij zijn gevoelige, breekbare, haast naakt te
Het titelnummer opent deze prachtplaat en de man heeft je direct bij je nekvel.
Zijn stem ergens zwevend tussen Michael de Jong en de hedendaagse Bob Dylan,
verhaalt deze maatschappijkritische song; Onrecht aanklagend , ingewikkeld en
inventief akoestisch snarenplukkend als ware het illustratief voor het
uitzichtloze. Dit is een briljante aftrapper. Ondanks het sombere beeld dat in
’s mans nummers overheerst slaagt hij er moeiteloos in die muzikaal
hoopvol te laten klinken.
Je voelt de pijn zo aan je lijf bij sommige van zijn nummers. De manier waarop
hij tekstueel illustratief kan tewerk gaan is enkel voor de allergrootsten
weggelegd. Een schoolvoorbeeld van magistrale sfeerschepping situeert zich bij
“Savannah Blues”. Hij schetst het beeld van een overledene die ten
grave wordt gedragen en je krijgt het gevoel alsof je naast zijn graf staat en
in de gutsende regen de kist verder de diepte ziet in verdwijnen. Je wordt er
haast ongemakkelijk bij. Een zelden gehoorde macabere schoonheid of hoe kan je
dit anders omschrijven?
Zoals gezegd grossiert de plaat van dergelijke pareltjes. Het meestampbare
“Another Despair” mag dan wat het tempo omhoog jagen, de ingehouden
woede aantonend, maar het is vooral “Words Not Spoken” dat ons
uitgeteld tegen het canvas slaat. De song vol wanhoop is van een ongekende
schoonheid. Eigenlijk is heel het album bijzonder hoogstaand en dat maakt het
moeilijk om daar nog eens een extra favoriet te gaan uitlichten, niet dat u
daar nood zou aan hebben natuurlijk.
De subtiele, mijmerende vioolstrepen accentueren sporadisch subtiel
Malcolm’s dromerige, authentieke, eerlijke songs. Deze absolute aanrader
eindigt met “For The Love Of A Child”, een nummer waar geen enkele
ouder of grootouder ongevoelig zal bij blijven. Als we al een opmerking zouden
hebben dan is het de te korte tijdsduur van de plaat. Het geheel klokt af na
amper vierendertig minuten. Maar kan je wel ooit genoeg krijgen van zoveel
schoonheid? “Pitiful Blues” is een zekere kandidaat voor ons
eindejaarslijstje. Méér zelfs: het album staat te drummen voor een
|Roots Music Report 08.16.14
Roots Music Report
Review- 5 stars
August 16, 2014
- by Duane Verth
Label: Gypsy Eyes Music
Genres: Rock, Folk
Styles: Roots Rock, Contemporary Folk
Written by Duane Verh
August 16, 2014 - 12:00am EDT
Malcolm Holcombe’s markedly rough-edged pipes match
up well with either the most pungent blues line or recollections of a more
warm-hearted nature. The Carolina singer/guitarist here reveals himself to be a
considerably versatile tune-crafter as well. Acoustic accompaniment is
first-rate. Standouts in a strong set include “Roots”, “Sign
For A Sally” and a particularly haunting piece of talkin’ blues,
|Blues Matter Magazine September 2014
Blues Matters Magazine
- by Christine Moore
Gypsy Eyes Music
I’ve been lucky enough to see Malcolm Holcombe live
and he is a captivating, charismatic performer. His recorded work calls for a
little bit more work from the listener. I’m sure he wouldn’t think
of himself as a blues artist despite the title of his latest offering. His
vocal style is a bit Tom Waits territory, and is certainly an acquired taste.
Musically and lyrically he is more akin to Townes Van Zandt. An American folk,
country troubadour writing observational songs of world weariness and mostly
loss and despair. Don’t get the idea it’s all gloom and doom,
Holcombe is a clever songwriter, there are moments of humour and defiance among
the tales of aching bones, medicines n’ pills, and old cigerettes
n’ beer. He has a terrific band of musicians adding upright bass, Dobro,
mandolin and fiddle to the electric guitar and drums that bring this American
folklore to life. Malcolm tells me he hopes to be back in the UK in Spring
2015, my advice is go and see him live. If the likes of Van Zandt or Guy Clark
are your thing start exploring Holcombe’s recorded work, here is a good a
place as any to start.
|The Alternate Route August 2014
The Alternate Route
- by Danny McCloskey
MALCOLM HOLCOMBE - PITIFUL BLUES
Details Category: NEW RELEASE RACK ROW 1 Written by
DannyMaybe it is the force of his playing, like on “Pitiful Blues”,
the title track from the most recent release from Malcolm Holcombe. The song
opens the album, setting the course for crusade, holding roughhewn
rock’n’roll in the grasp like a zealot. The chugging of the sound
could be the reason that the songs of Malcolm Holcombe come branded as boxcar
gospel truth. When he sings ‘I ain’t got nothin’ but the poor
me, pitiful blues’ it is not to generate sympathy. He is relating the
state of his being and is a proud native son. Malcolm Holcombe’s throaty
vocals give the story line of a chance meeting depth with lines like
‘innocence dies right in front of you’. Malcolm states on his
website that ‘true emotions don’t lie’ and that is the motto
for the songs gathered on Pitiful Blues.
His voice is the common ground on Pitiful Blues as the music gives in to
musical moods of a young boy’s dream in “For the Love of a
Child” with a foot stomp beat under lazy string bending and Malcolm
Holcombe spitfires words over a garage rock arrangement that puts a sharper
edge in its bent strings on “Another Despair’. Pitiful Blues
follows folks into the Blue Ridge and Great Smokey Mountains to lay
“Roots” down in the hills and brews tension in “Savannah
Blues” with a determined foot to keep time and hard luck fingerpicking
popping notes around the despair in the words. “By the Boots”
starts as a former soldiers reverie until the paranoia of its lead character
ignites, showing only two thoughts in the glare; “don’t trust the
government’ and ‘shoot to kill is all I know’. Jared Tyler,
producer for Pitiful Blues, would receive the stripped down origins of songs
that Malcolm sent out to the musicians who would be on the album. What Jared
heard was how good these tunes sounded with one mic, one guitar and a foot
keeping rhythm on the floor. He kept the sound as a guide for Pitiful Blues.
Malcolm Holcombe’s voice is captured with all of its nuances up front
letting his sighs, groans and shudders accent the words. The rawness that was
heard on the early days of the album’s songs is evident on “The
Music Plays On” with its feel of a late night jam after the paying
customers have gone home with still lots of night left on Lower Broadway.
- See more at:
|The Daily Times 08.13.14
The Daily Times
August 13, 2014
- By Steve Wildsmith
Singing, songwriting mountain man Malcolm Holcombe comes back
IF YOU GO
WHEN: 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 15
WHERE: Boyd’s Jig and Reel, 101 S. Central St.,
Knoxville’s Old City
HOW MUCH: $5
Malcolm Holcombe "To Drink The Rain"read moreA Jammin at Hippie
Jack's recording of Malcolm Holcombe at the Air Devils Inn, Louisville KY
Posted: Wednesday, August 13, 2014 6:30 pm |Updated: 6:41 pm, Wed
Aug 13, 2014.
By Steve Wildsmith |email@example.com | 0 comments
It’s not an easy thing, getting a handle on Malcolm
Holcombe’s train of thoughts.
The engine in most people’s heads runs one way down a
linear track across open plains; shifts in direction are planned out in
advance, and detours are seldom considered.
The locomotive that is Holcombe’s mind is a far different
beast. It’s a big old steam-driven behemoth that idles as often as it
barrels down the rails at full speed, abruptly changing tracks, and sometimes
shifts into reverse without warning. In other words, it’s not easy to
keep up, especially when he peppers everyday conversation with his folksy
homilies and homespun analogies.
Say this for catching a ride on Holcombe’s train, though
— it’s a beautiful ride through landscapes of fog-shrouded
Appalachian hills, valleys ringed by old trees and forgotten paths that wander
among towns and villages where time seems to run in reverse. His ability to
turn a verse is often unparalleled, and his new album “Pitiful
Blues” is no exception.
“We’re all storytellers, and I’m just passing
along tales and stories, or call it gossip or folklore or whatever,”
Holcombe told The Daily Times during a recent interview during a break from
toiling in the garden of his Western North Carolina home. “Mark Twain
said if you always tell the truth, you don’t ever have to remember what
you say. You can talk about eating peanut butter on Mars, but I never ate
peanut butter on Mars, so I don’t have a club. I’m just trying to
share a taste of peanut butter on this planet.
“It’s a process, a struggle, to expel right from
wrong and share some stories that hopefully somebody can identify with. And
whether it’s on ‘Bandstand’ or the ‘Ed Sullivan
Show’ or down at the barbershop or beauty parlor, what goes in one ear
doesn’t necessarily come out the other ear the same way. A lot of that
has to do with arrogance, ego, keeping up with the Joneses and trying not to
red line in any direction.”
There’s a good reason Holcombe’s observations and
commentary come across as something very similar to what might fly from the
mouth of an old one-eyed mountain hermit who comes to town once a year to stock
up on supplies and holler about the things he’s seen up in the hills to
anybody who will listen. He was born in Asheville, N.C., and raised in nearby
Weaverville, learning to play flat-top guitar and cutting his teeth on folk,
bluegrass and traditional Appalachian ballads. He played fairs, dances and
shows throughout the area before drifting to Florida in 1976, where he stayed
for the next 14 years.
In 1990 he moved to Nashville, where he worked odd jobs and
soaked up as much of the business side of the industry as possible before going
back to North Carolina. He’s cut several albums over the years, including
one for Geffen, “A Hundred Lies,” that earned a four-star review
from Rolling Stone. He’s been compared to Bruce Springsteen for the way
he paints vivid portraits with his songs, turning them into haunting, brooding,
moving affairs. His skill on a guitar, fingertips hardened by years of manual
labor and plucking at the strings, only serve to give his howling, hollering
vocals, still as tortured and raspy as the weather-beaten boards of a
hundred-year-old barn, even more of an impact.
Where those songs come from is something he’s reticent to
address. Like most songwriters, he puts together a collection of them and
decides it’s time to put out another record. His wife, Cyndi, helps him
with the business side of things — the title of “Pitiful
Blues” was her idea, he said (“I always need some help from her and
other folks too that have a bead on how things ought to be quacking down the
waterfall,” he added), and the songs themselves run the gamut, from dark
and brooding to light and upbeat, from introspective and tender to the barely
contained pain of an animal caught in a trap.
Where they come from, though, he won’t speculate. To do so
would complicate the process and profane the sacred, to some extent.
“You can write your way out of a song,” he said.
“I don’t like changing things, personally speaking, and writing and
rewriting, that’s treading on thin ice for me, man. I just don’t
think about it. I’m like Lonesome George — when it comes to the
part I know, I play the hell out of it. There’s an old saying —
move a muscle, change a thought, so I try to keep moving so I don’t get
This weekend, he’ll make a pilgrimage to East Tennessee for
a performance at Boyd’s Jig and Reel in Knoxville’s Old City.
He’s got dates booked into 2015, meaning he’ll head out on the road
for short jaunts here and there and spend the rest of his time at his mountain
home, living his life and snatching those songs out of the ether whenever they
float on by.
I’m grateful, although not as much as I should be,”
he said. “Generally speaking, I get a thrill seeing a blade of green
grass; I don’t care if it’s a weed, clover or poison ivy. The four
seasons, the wind blowing and the birds singing and my wife yelling at the dogs
... it’s all music. It’s life’s music, and being able to
participate in it and have a foot on this planet, it’s something to be
savored and shared.”
|Maverick Magazine September/October 2014
- by Ian Ambrose
|The Herald (Scotland) 08.10.14
The Herald (Scotland)
10 August 2014
- by Rob Adams
Malcolm Holcombe Pitiful Blues
If only Eric Clapton could offer Malcolm Holcombe the kind of
patronage he gave JJ Cale, this 10th in a series of albums that the North
Carolina-born Holcombe has wrenched from a life full of hard living over the
past 20 years might have arrived with rather more of a fanfare.
The Cale comparison isn't made lightly, but while Holcombe's
songs are more defiant and written by a man with a whole pack of hellhounds on
his trail, there are at least a couple of refrains here that Clapton could
surely revel in. Sign For A Sally's "the Mississippi heat's alive and well" and
Another Despair's "swift time pass and the pages tear" are the two lines that
stick in the mind from first play, but listen on and the imagery allied to
Holcombe's throaty holler and robust guitar picking - enhanced by dobro,
guitars, fiddle, bass and drums - paints a detailed, thoroughly compelling
picture from someone who's been under the radar far too long.
|Blabber n Smoke 08.06.14
Blabber 'n' Smoke
6 August 2014
- by Paul Kerr
Malcolm Holcombe. Pitiful Blues.
Posted on August 6, 2014 by Paul Kerr
Another North Carolina resident and another slice of raw country, this time
from Malcolm Holcombe who has ditched the star studded line up of his last
album (Down The River) and along with producer and Dobro player Jared Tyler
delivered a raw set recorded live in his home studio with accompaniment on
double bass, fiddle and occasional drums. It’s a warm, organic, stubbly
recording, you can hear the scrape of hands on fret boards, feet hitting the
floor, all that’s missing is a crackling fire and crickets. What’s
not missing is the raw growl and gurn that is Holcombe’s voice. Worn,
weary, hoarse, take your pick, he sounds the way Townes Van Zandt was going
towards the end, he sounds like the blind character played by Levon Helm in The
Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, he sounds like a Grizzly Bear.
The songs here are uniformly excellent. There’s some
toe tappin’ high jinks on Another Despair, Words Of December is a very
fine and nimble Appalachian styled number while the opening title song
resonates with biblical vengeance. Savannah Blues finds Holcombe as an ancient
sounding narrator, bones aching and singing from beyond the grave in a cold and
lonely bed following a Yellow Fever outbreak, the music is suitably spooky and
atmospheric. The Music Plays On is more up to date celebrating baseball with a
nod to another North Carolina musician, Mark Germino. Here Holcombe recalls the
likes of John Prine and Guy Clark with the song a fine acoustic country blues
with Tyler’s Dobro prominent. The closing For The Love Of A Child is an
excellent meditation on regret for past wild times now redeemed with a shared
responsibility in the shape of a kid. Here and throughout the album the music
is warm as guitar, Dobro, bass and drums fuse into an organic whole which is
heart warming and comforting.
|Music News.com 08.02.14
2 August, 2014
- by Andy Snipper
As the name suggests, this ain’t an album for depressives but there is a
joy and real feeling in the dark and moody numbers on this album.
Holcombe hails from North Carolina, actually born in the Blue
Ridge Mountains, and his songs and playing seem to echo the hard upbringing and
harder life of the farmers and other folks from that beautiful but tough
His voice is grizzled and he sounds at least 200 years old
– as he intones at the beginning of ‘By The Boots’ ,
“Don’t take away my guns and bullets, don’t you leave me here
to die … surviving’s what I’m trained to do and I’m
fighting for my pride”; this is music from a place that most liberals and
city dwellers wouldn’t get. But then you listen to the title track and
his wheezing vocals seem to make it all clear, this is music from an old place
with history and integrity. He brings the mood up sometimes too, like on
‘Sign For A Sally’ where the lyric takes you to a hot love affair
carried on across all of Mississippi – “Mississippi Heat’s
alive and well, smiling up the alley all black and white with a sign for a
sally and a righteous fare thee well”.
This is the music that the likes of Seasick Steve have made
popular recently but Malcolm Holcombe has more history and greater depth and
darkness than most and the songs really do hit deep and hard – a superb
|Folk Villager 08.02.14
August 2, 2014
Malcolm Holcombe - Pitiful Blues (Album Review)
Posted by Folk Villager on August 2, 2014 at 6:30am View Blog Ten tunes
furnishing further insights into the alcohol-fueled underbelly of Planet
The aptly titled self-release Pitiful Blues was principally
captured at Holcombe’s Dawghouse home studio in Swannanoa, North
Carolina. Further contributions were added at a couple of Tulsa studios - Blue
Alleluia and Soultree - by his Oklahoma based sideman Jared Tyler. He shares
the production credit with Holcomb, and Tyler also engineered and mixed the
recordings. The press release intimates that Jared’s intention was to
present a ‘stripped bare’ Malcolm Holcombe song collection, similar
to the consummate (solo) demos that the musician has created for numerous past
albums. Those demos employ “one simple mic. capturing Malcolm, his
guitar, and the rhythm of his foot on the floor.” While intention is one
thing, fruition is something rather different! Holcombe’s foundation has
been augmented here – read window-dressed - variously, by his
co-producer’s dobro, mandolin, baritone electric guitar, ebo and vocals,
alongside occasional contributions from Arthur Thompson (drums), Matt Hayes
(upright bass), Luke Bulla (fiddle) and, on one selection, Patrick "Paddy" Ryan
(drums). Based on the initial “when it ain’t broke”
principle, the question arises “why tamper with it?”
It would be a stretch to describe Halcombe’s ‘lived
in’ singing voice as tutored, rather he chews on his words, swills them
around in his mouth for a moment before gruffly ejecting them. In the chorus to
the five-verse opening opus (and album title song), the narrator enumerates the
ills besetting him and, waxing Biblical, repeats “an eye for an eye, and
a tooth for a tooth,” following which we’re “down in the
hills” of Holcombe’s beloved Blue Ridge Mountains for the
genealogical “Roots.” Travelling through Mississippi, overcome by
the heat, the “Sign For A Sally” narrator finds relief in
“Stealin' sleep inside a bottle,” before heading east for the
climatically cooler“Savannah Blues” and the rain drenched
“Another Despair.” In the opening verse of “By The
Boots” the narrator attests that he was “Baptised drinkin’
shine, Survivin’s what I’m trained to do, And fightin’ for my
pride” while in the chorus Holcombe repeats “Don’t trust the
Ryan holds down the backbeat on “Words Not Spoken,”
and “Words Of December” opens with the seasonal “The
Christmas tree light burn in the daytime.” The chorus to the penultimate
song “The Music Plays On” includes the line “The Louisville
Slugger and Geronimo,” (undoubtedly,) a reference to the famed brand of
baseball bat and theDominican Republic bred former Major League Baseball
outfielder Cesar Geronimo, while, a few lines farther along, there’s
mention of Radartown. The closing chorus name-checks “Rex Bob
Lowenstein” the title of an early 1990’s song about a mythical disc
jockey penned by North Carolina bred songwriter Mark Germino. The song appeared
onRadartown, an album on which Germino was accompanied by The Sluggers. Pitiful
Blues closes with the memory-filled recollection “For The Love Of A
Brought to you from the desk of the Folk Villager.
|Arkansas Democrat-Gazette 07.31.14
July 31, 2014
- by Jack W. Hill
Songwriter Holcombe sings the Pitiful Blues
JACK W. HILL SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Singer-songwriter Malcolm Holcombe admits to feeling pitiful
these days — in fact, he spells it all out on Pitiful Blues, his new CD,
to be released Tuesday.
“My wife picked out the name,” Holcombe explains,
laughing, from his backyard in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
“The songs mean different things to different people, I guess. If you
sling enough bologna at the wall, some of it will stick.”
The new album was co-produced by Jared Tyler, a Tulsa musician on
tour with Holcombe as the opening act. It’s a gig he also had in 2013
when Holcombe last stopped in Little Rock.
“Jared helped me produce an earlier album, To Drink the
Rain,” Holcombe says. “I’m so fortunate to have him also out
on the road with me. He’s one of the best guitar and dobro players
around. I reckon he’s been with me for about 15 years, over the course of
seven of my 10 albums.
“On the new batch, we recorded some in my backyard, and
some at Jared’s place in Tulsa.”
Holcombe’s backyard is in Swannanoa, N.C., a place he finds
hard to leave, but he must take his music to supporters around the country. And
word-of-mouth praise from fans and critics has resulted in a growing fan base,
although Holcombe is not one to brag. Rather, he is thankful for his
“It just seems to me that if you hang around the barbershop
long enough, you’re gonna get a haircut,” he says. “I just
hung on ’til I did, you might say. These are hard times and I’m
just lucky to be of service, to have a purpose. I’m just trying to hone
Holcombe recorded his debut album A Hundred Lies for Geffen
Records in 1996, but it ended up on a shelf for three years. Along the way,
Holcombe has opened for Merle Haggard, Wilco, Shelby Lynne, John Hammond, Leon
Russell and Richard Thompson, and a host of other musicians he admires and
respects. Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle have contributed to Holcombe’s
As for the unusual stick figure artwork of Pitiful Blues and To
Drink the Rain (which might remind some of the folk art of Howard Finster,
whose works were chosen for album covers by R.E.M., Pierce Pettis and The
Talking Heads), Holcombe says he came up with the drawings.
“I’m cheap,” he says. “I think it
probably is the result of my ancestors who lived in a cave in Utah — or
Holcombe’s new album showcases 10 of his latest songs,
including “Another Despair,” “Words Not Spoken” and
“For the Love of a Child.” His voice, not a smooth one, sounds
lived-in, to put it mildly, and comparisons with Tom Waits, Guy Clark and Bob
Dylan are inevitable. Lyrics sometimes are as enigmatic as Dylan’s,
Years of rolling down the highway have given inspiration to
Holcombe, who distills the wisdom of the road into a couple of simple
suggestions: “Use your turn signals and keep it under 100.”
|Wasser-Prawda Magazine (Germany) July 2014
by- Iain Patience
|For Folk's Sake 08.01.14
For Folk's Sake
1 August, 2014
-by Oli Ferenth
Album | Malcolm Holcombe – Pitiful Blues
by For Folk's Sake • 1 August 2014
Many who have preceded Malcolm Holcombe in roots music, from Hank
Williams to Johnny Cash, have faced a fair amount of hardship which had left
them at a dark crossroads in their life. Just as many have succumbed to a life
of excess, others have survived and grown stronger, and Malcolm Holcombe is in
this latter category. As a former alcoholic and hell raiser from North
Carolina, Holcombe’s songs bear a piercing and raw honesty that is often
fabricated in other contemporary singer-songwriters, with the harsh grit in his
voice and brooding demeanour adding to his image as a rugged mountain man,
weathered by the ages.
Pitiful Blues – Holcombe’s tenth album –
contains a good mixture of balladry, Americana and ground-stomping blues that
leaves listeners of all persuasions fully satisfied and hungry for more. His
guitar playing, rough and rhythmic yet expertly fingerpicked, is accompanied
with slide guitar, fiddle and banjo which add a character and a backdrop to
Holcombe’s signature vocal style is as rough as the
mountainous terrain that had surrounded him as a child, and lyrically he is
better than ever. In ‘Savannah Blues’, he describes “feeling
lost and hurting, and thirsty like before”, and that “nobody sees
me when I look them straight in the eye”, adding and incredibly desolate
tone to the song and suggesting to the listener that his art imitates life. In
other songs, such as ‘For The Love of a Child’, there is a
nostalgic and calm in his voice and its overall tone.
It can be safely said that this album is truly one of
Holcombe’s best, and if you find this man playing at a venue near you I
thoroughly recommend for you to see him with your own eyes.
|Irish Times - 08.01.14
1 August 2014
- by Joe Breen
Malcolm Holcombe: Pitiful Blues
Fri, Aug 1, 2014, 00:00
Singer / Songwriter
There is something wonderfully untamed about singer-songwriter
Malcolm Holcombe. Though the North Carolinian has been around a long time, his
songs still carry a rough-hewn sheen that matches the grizzled elegance of his
sandpaper voice and fierce finger-picking guitar. Told with gifted storyteller
relish, these are small-town tales steeped in a hard world, but
Holcombe’s unbridled energy and righteous belief allows him take the
fight to his fate. His music lives on the border between folk, blues and
country – lyrically and musically he is a more animated relative of Texan
tunesmith Guy Clark. Producer (and dobro player) Jared Tyler helps capture
Holcombe’s essence by keeping the production distinctly low-fi, allowing
fragments of life and learning such as For the Love of a Child and Savannah
Blues to flourish. See him perform the riveting title track at
balconytv.com/dublin. Download: For the Love of a Child, Pitiful
|Daily Mirror 08.01.14
1 August, 2014
Review: Malcolm Holcombe- Pitiful Blues
Authentic Americana is a moot concept, but Holcombe's beautifully measured
vignettes recorded solo, raw and live in his North Carolina home fit the
|Country Music People - August 2014
Country Music People
Malcolm Holcombe 'Pitiful Blues' 5 Stars
|Arkansas Times 07.30.14
July 30, 2014
- by Will Stephenson
Malcolm Holcombe returns to White Water
9 p.m. White Water Tavern.
Malcolm Holcombe looks uncannily like Neil Young and sounds, as a
writer for No Depression once put it, "like an Appalachian Keith Richards with
strep throat." He has one of those stories, too, those career narratives of
talent thwarted by commercial reluctance or fourth-quarter record label
misgivings: His first album, "A Hundred Lies," ("Knowin' right, still doin'
wrong/As a hundred lies unfold"), was recorded in 1996 and shelved for several
years, the eventual release prompting Rolling Stone magazine to say Holcombe
"sounds like he could have cut these ten songs forty years ago, for Folkways
Records, or just yesterday at your kitchen table," which I think is almost
entirely complimentary. He worked a stint as a cook at a Nashville bar, untying
his apron to take the stage and sing lines like, "There's belonging in just
longing for someone." "I didn't think Malcolm would make it out," Justin Townes
Earle has said. "I was afraid that he was going to become another one of those
famous-after-death songwriters. Malcolm's whole thing was always unpredictable.
He'd disappear for a week, then come back and do something insane." But then
here he is, several full-fledged and intelligent albums later, a compulsively
watchable performer serving Deep South zen koans and harsh, steel string
hammer-ons that make him grimace and convulse. You get the feeling that it
hurts him more than it hurts us, and it will hurt us a little.
Back to Top
|Americana UK 07.04.14
July 4, 2014
-by James McCurry
MALCOLM HOLCOMBE “PITIFUL BLUES”
Malcolm Holcombe is one of those truly unique artists. His songs, regardless of
how bleak the subject matter, are filled with hope, contemplation and a refusal
to give it regardless of how bad it gets. The songs crafted by experience and
he doesn't just perform them, he wears them. He talks of how the poor are
walked over, of his own regrets, and of fond memories. And at times he’s
political. His voice and distinctive playing pulling it all together.
Regardless of the tone, there’s a real intensity behind
Holcombe's performance. He never holds back; each line packing a punch with
each note wrought with emotion. The album opens with intensity, with the sharp
title track and Holcombe snarling about the “big man” who has lived
it up on his money while giving him nothing. He doesn't sound this angry again
until By The Boots, when he rallies against the cycle of those caught in a rut
("My medicine is running low and I can’t afford them pills.
Doctor’s got me strung out cold and there’s no more dreams to
fill") and those who like to keep it that way when he growls "some Politician
grinning. Don’t trust the Government".
Despite the darkness here, there are some real bright moments.
Sure there’s a great deal of hopelessness within Another Despair and
Words Not Spoken, but I dare say Holcombe is almost playful on Song For A
Sally. Elsewhere, his guitar playing is a little more intricate and his lines
delivered in his smoky barrel-aged croon (like on the brooding Savannah Blues
or Words Of December).
I should also mention that his backing throughout are perfect
also. Never threatening to cast a shadow or over power Holcombe and his songs.
But it's the sincerity of his words and his unwavering intensity that give his
songs a relevance, authenticity and timelessness.
To summarise, there aren't many albums this honest and there
won’t be many better this year.
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|No Depression 07.03.14
July 3, 2014
-by Alan Harrison
Malcolm Holcombe - Pitiful Blues (Album Review)
Posted by Alan Harrison on July 3, 2014 Fragile and even curmudgeonly songs
that will make you feel better about life.
To some degree Malcolm Holcombe, from North Carolina, defies
description as he looks like a penniless hobo and sings poetic songs in a
slurred voice of a life well lived; but these songs make his contemporaries
sound barely literate. Apart from possibly Guy Clark the nearest
singer-songwriter that bares comparison would be Townes Van Zandt; and I
don’t choose those two names lightly.
The album opens with the title track ‘Pitiful Blues’
and the first time it ended I let out a satisfied sigh and smiled a smile that
told the world this was going to be a classy album. Holcombe and Jared
Tyler’ production is warm and clear throughout; but on this track they
especially bring out the idiosyncrasies in Malcolm’s voice and intricate
acoustic picking alongside some picturesque sweeping electric guitar
‘Savannah Blues’ conjures up Ansel Adams monotone
landscapes every time I hear it; as Holcombe describes his aching bones, the
undertakers moon and a powerful rainstorm so narratively you feel like you are
standing next to his graveside as they lower his box into the ground.
On ‘Another Despair’ the tempo picks up but the mood
doesn’t as Holcombe stomps his foot angrily to a tight Rockabilly beat,
that Dale Watson would be proud of.
The raw ‘Words Not Spoken’ virtually took my breath
away first time I heard it and continues to have a similar effect three weeks
later; and goes to show a minimal approach in Holcombe’s own backyard
studio can have a more lasting effect on a song than a thousand overdubs in a
hundred times more sophisticated studio.
On an album that is very nearly faultless it’s difficult to
pick out a favourite track; but if I still had my radio show I would play
‘The Music Plays On’ over and over again; until my listeners
admitted defeat and bought this album. For what it’s worth I think this
should have been the title track; but what do I know?
Malcolm Holcombe’s tenth and possibly finest album,
'Pitiful Blues,' ends with the slow and beautiful ‘For the Love of a
Child’ which will touch a nerve with parents and grandparents alike all
over the world.
Released August 4th 2014
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|Surrey Mirror 06.23.14
- by Kevin Bryan
Malcolm Holcombe,"Pitiful Blues"-Devotees of authentic Americana revere North
Carolina born Malcolm Holcombe as one of the finest practitioners of this
beguiling genre,and the acoustic balladeer's tenth album,"Pitiful Blues," must
surely rank as one of his finest offerings to date. Holcombe's stripped-down
and unadorned approach to music-making has prompted comparisons with everyone
from J.J.Cale to Tom Waits and he's certainly one of the most spontaneous and
compelling singer-songwriters that you could ever wish to hear.Newcomers to his
emotionally charged sound would be well advised to lend an ear to the unique
delights of "Sign For A Sally," "The Music Plays On" or the haunting "Savannah
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|Folk Words 06.17.14
- by Tom Frank
‘ Pitiful Blues’ from Malcolm Holcombe - 100% proof(June 17,
Caustic observation made so by experience, weary understanding achieved through
living and a tenacious refusal to accept anything and just roll over. Those are
staple ingredients of blues-driven folk. Strong contentions but they need other
elements to convey their message and connect. ‘Pitiful Blues’ from
Malcolm Holcombe adds them in spades – gutsy, sharp-cut guitar and raw,
growling throaty vocals. For years he’s driven his music to our ears and
it’s been a hell of a drive.
A native of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains,
here’s a man that lays down what he feels in the way he wants with little
concern about its reception. He hits the guitar with a style that drives hard.
He hits his vocals in the same way. And it’s up to the listener to get
their head around it. Do that and you’re on your way to immersing
yourself in some seriously formidable songs. Don’t hesitate – throw
yourself into Holcombe’s world.
From the ominous force of the opener ‘Pitiful Blues’,
through the humid intensity of ‘Sign For A Sally’ or
‘Savannah Blues’, to the despondent narrative of‘Another
Despair’ and thecontemplative echoes of ‘By The Boots’ these
songs are right where fans would expect them to be, and they’re 100%
‘Pitiful Blues’ releases in August 2014 - an album
for those of us that like old wooden rockers, barrel-aged bourbon and just
kicking back with favourite Friday-night tunes.
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|Americana UK 04.01.14
1 April, 2014
- by John Hawes
Marta RodriguezAt first I thought that Malcom Holcombe didn't 'get' our Dirty
Dozen; then I realised he got it better than anyone. There have been a couple
of really good DD's recently but this is in a class of its own.
Tell us about yourselves and what you do?
I pick and try to sing a lil’...
Pretty good dish washer--I don’t like automatic
dishwashers...smoke too much and been hangin' 'round the barber shop/…a
while...think my hair's pretty thin on top...now…fer sure...
But, only thru the Grace of God am I able to try to make up songs
and play ‘em for some folks that have been kind enough to show up at some
shows for a long time. Flips me out and maybe they have some fun and laugh
sometimes...good medicine to laugh.
Nothing really changes unless I do. Life’s an inside
How did you get together/start out?
My mother bought me my first guitar when I was 13--a Silvertone acoustic
guitar...My cousin, a baby at the time, just learning to walk, sat on it. My
first career insult! My father bought me a foreign guitar of sorts.
Suzuki...(not the motorcycle) from an opium-den-looking local pawn shop in
Asheville, NC. This was around 1968. At the time there were countless street
bars, pool halls, and even segregated restrooms below the Vance Monument, which
stands in the city center.
My high school boasted a folk group consisting of singers,
guitar/banjo and upright bass musicians that were fortunate to perform for
dances, fairs and Sadie Hawkins' dances. Any occasion to "cut" class was sought
out. I was fortunate to implement my bedroom to practice in, frailing on
guitar, struggling with one of the many famous Mel Bay instruction
books...showing Mel Bay's fingers correctly forming simple guitar chords. I
could only make chords from the first page or 2.
What is your current release/future release?
‘ Pitiful Blues’. Slated for world-wide release August 4th,
What is the best part of being in a band/singer/song
The futile struggle towards enlightenment, reckoned thru positioning your heart
in a frame of service.
What is your most significant moment yet?
The scarcity realizations of servitude.
What are your biggest musical influences?
Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, The Rolling Stones 45's, Tennessee Ernie
Ford, Flatt and Scruggs, Jerry Garcia...though I was too drunk to accurately
remember how many times I listened to "Old and in the Way" LP, and stumbled
thru "The Hobo Song" with an old bar/acoustic trio I used to play with.
What venue/gig do you most want to play?
The next one…
What is your best/favourite song you have written?
The next one…
What is your favourite album of this year?
Billy Joe Shaver. Produced by Ray Kennedy.
What does the next six months have in store for you?
Not a clue...plant a garden I hope...
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Not a clue…
What is the best thing about Americana-UK?
Close-up personal "for the music magazine that has not been destroyed by
Monsanto, right wing clowns or drug store tripe.”
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|Herald Scotland 04.15.14
15 April, 2014
- by Rob Adams
Malcolm Holcombe- Admiral Bar, Glasgow
They threw away the mould when they made Malcolm Holcombe. It's a
mould that, if anybody wanted to reconstitute it, would need ingredients
somewhere between Townes Van Zandt and Michael Marra. Holcombe certainly has
the country blues sensibility of the former and the liking for the absurd, as
well as something of the vocal rasp and offbeat audience engagement, of the
latter, and yet he has deeper connections.
While the North Carolinan's albums are sweetened, to a degree, by
adding production niceties including dobro, electric guitar, fiddle and voices
such as Emmylou Harris's on the recent Down the River, what you get with
Holcombe onstage with just his voice and guitar is something akin to what you
would have got with blues ancients of Robert Johnson or Blind Willie McTell's
His guitar playing is magnificent, paying little heed to
conventional techniques but spitting out an unstoppable, hard-driving,
piston-like momentum with stinging, singing grace notes and converging with his
voice to create that sense of oneness between physical being and musical
instrument that gave those rural blues masters such power and conviction.
Holcombe's songs lean slightly more towards the Appalachian
tradition than the Mississippi Delta, although in Straight and Tall he also
comes close to Tin Pan Alley style.
Whatever their provenance, they're story songs, told in
straight-talking but still poetic images, in a performing style that makes few
concessions to marketing and often forgoes applause as he strings together the
country song charm of Gone By the Old Sunrise with the dark and devastating
Butcher in Town.
In short, he doesn't just sing songs, he lives them.
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|The Fine Times Recorder 04.14.14
The Fine Times Recorder
14 April, 2014
Haunted country from the Blue Ridge
ALL the way from Asheville in the Blue Ridge
Mountains of North Carolina, country, folk and blues singer-songwriter and
guitarist Malcolm Holcombe is on a tour of the UK and ireland to promote his
latest album, Pitiful Blues, due out later this year.
His remarkable voice prompted Rolling Stone to
write that this is where: “Haunted country, acoustic blues and rugged
folk all meet.”
A veteran of Nashville who has little good to
say about the music industry … “a bunch of people trying to buy
their way to fame” … he has won the praise of such artists as Steve
Earle and Lucinda Williams.
Once a legendary drinker and hell raiser,
Malcolm is now many years sober and enjoys a non-specific
The core of his success is his voice, which
can growl like a cement truck in low gear or emerge as a heart-tugging croon,
and his unique style of percussive guitar playing.
Find out more on his website,
www.malcolmholcombe.com, or listen to him live at the B-Bar in Plymouth on
Thursday 17th April, or at Bristol’s Alma Tavern on Easter Monday, 21st
Back to Top
|No Depression 04.14.14
14 April, 2014
- by Jela Webb
Malcolm Holcombe, The Palmeira (Hove, UK - April 22, 2014)
Do you ever feel so scared that you hold your breath
waiting…hoping…for whatever it is that’s scaring you to pass
by without doing you any harm? Well, that’s the kind of feeling I get
watching Malcolm Holcombe play live. However many times I’ve seen him he
still makes my insides churn because I never know just what he’s going to
I want to say that he sits on a chair but he doesn’t really
sit on it, he rocks back and forth, side to side almost never using all four
chair legs to balance on, yet somehow he never topples over. I want to say that
he plays his acoustic guitar, which of course he does, but he attacks it as if
he’s beating the life out of it. I want to say that he sings but his
voice veers from a rasping growl to a languorous vocal and anywhere in between.
One moment he’s like a man possessed, frightening in his intensity and
the next he breaks out into the sweetest of smiles and then HE SNAPS A FEW
WORDS OUT shaking you to your core. He’s a man of many contradictions.
He’s certainly lived life; it has included drink, drugs and hell raising
but he’s been sober for some years and now lives a simple, spiritual life
with wife Cyndi and son Jesse, in North Carolina.
Over the years he’s been a regular visitor to Brighton
(Hove actually, this time) so has built a loyal following. Tonight’s show
was pretty well attended; the pub closed its doors to the public so everyone in
the venue was there to witness Holcombe do what he does best – scare us,
thrill us, mesmerise us, captivate us, restore us, respect us, thank us and
leave us wanting more.
He mined his back catalogue (nine albums) dipping in to his first
major label release 1999’s A HUNDRED LIES (there’s another story
there too!) for a couple of songs which were the title track and Who Carried
You, as well as road testing some songs which will be on the new album PITIFUL
BLUES scheduled for an August 2014 release. I am already looking forward to
Holcombe inhabits his songs with such passion that he must be
exhausted after each show – he spits and dribbles, he shakes his head as
if he’s rattling his brain, he closes his eyes, he stares fixedly and
takes his audience on a roller coaster of a ride. He writes memorably and has a
keen ability to pair the lyrics with exactly the right melody –
he’s literate and musical and once seen, never forgotten!
Holcombe doesn’t say a great deal between songs; he often
plays three or four songs in sequence commanding the room to attention with his
sheer presence. Cheers and applause broke out regularly from the audience and
as he closed the set with a new song For the Love of a Child all that could be
heard afterwards were cries of ‘One more! One more!’
He obliged us with A Far Cry From Here, which was covered by
Grammy nominated Irish born chanteuse Maura O’Connell. Holcombe
hasn’t ever met her and would love to do so. He asked us to give her a
kiss and a hug from him if we ever met her. And with that he wrapped his scarf
around his neck, put on his woolly hat and left us with an indelible memory of
a special night indeed.
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|Folk & Tumble 04.11.14
Folk & Tumble
11 April, 2014
-by Scott Edgar
MALCOLM HOLCOMBE LIVE IN BELFAST
April 11, 2014
Holy smokes and Godless redemption blues.
A small yet enthusiastic crowd of hardcore Holcombe fans have
descended on The Errigle Inn, huddled around the Real Music Club stage eagerly
awaiting the evening’s performance. Their hero is sucking on a cigarette
in the roof-top garden, cradling a pineapple juice and waxing lyrical with
aficionados and admirers before unassumingly sneaking up front, perching at
impossible angles on a battered chair and thumping out timeless rhythms and
Easing into the evening with “Mountains of Home” and
“Down The River”, there’s a hark back to nature, to the old
sounds of Appalachia and while the outlook may take in sweeping valleys and
meandering rivers, the voice is as craggy and weathered as any mountain top.
That’s the real beauty of a Malcolm Holcombe show. That conflict bundled
up in one hunched-over, road weary, survivor. It’s mountainous peaks,
deep river beds, the lonely windswept plains and the warm crackle of a vinyl
record by the fireplace as the sun descends.
“Trail O’Money” marks the first foray into the
more upbeat songs of the evening, coupled with “Sparrows and
Sparrows” described by Holcolmbe himself as a “happy-go-lucky
cut-your-throat tune”. Settled in now, we’re treated to stories
that weave through song and the turbulent history of a man who many doubted
would ever make it this far. There are a few references to the hellraising days
and the “disturbed shit” that went down; tales of punches pulled in
New Orleans and the mutual appreciation of times on the road with Mary Gauthier
who’s a great friend of Holcomb and also of Belfast’s Real Music
It’s impossible to forget that folk and blues music
originated with the old spirituals and gospel tunes of the New World and
there’s been a long tradition of Jesus weaving into lyrics alongside
jukeboxes and Jack Daniels. “Whenever I Pray” and “For The
Mission Baby” tease out the more God-fearing thoughts that lurk somewhere
in that mixed up Americana darkness as Holcombe rants about church bells and
the digital revolution. This is your altar call folks. This is communion.
There’s no hellfire and brimstone just a simple call for a short break
wherein we can “go smoke some cigarettes and touch each other”.
Holcombe is the real deal. In a week nestled between the release of a new
Johnny Cash record and a new HBO series of ‘True Blood’ we find
ourselves in the musical equivalent. Inspirations are worn firmly on sleeves
tonight with name-checking of the aforementioned Gauthier, alongside The
Kingston Trio, The Andrews Sisters and Maura O’Connell. The
latter’s “Far Cry From Here” is one of the sets more tender
moments alongside a brand new track “For The Love Of A Child”.
He’s been through wars with alcohol and with record labels
and yet with a back catalogue stretching back over the decades; there’s
potential for this show to go on all night, putting other artists repertoires
to shame. There’s no need for stomp-boxes or holey dungarees or the
moth-eaten hats of the likes of Seasick Steve here. No bullshit. No fakery.
With Malcolm Holcombe what you hear is what you get.
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|Belfast News Letter 04.10.14
Belfast News Letter
10 April, 2014
-by Joanna Savage
|Chronique Musicale 04.08.14
8 April, 2014
-by Aleandre Ferrere
|Off Topic 03.24.14
24 March, 2014
- by Fabio Baio Baietti
|Examiner.com (Boston, MA) - 09.10.13
Examiner.com (Boston, MA)
- by Jeanne Denizard
September 10, 2013
I recently had the honor of speaking with singer-songwriter
and musician, Malcolm Holcombe, who is appearing at Club Passim with
singer-songwriterDarryl Purpose on Thursday, September 12 at 8 p.m.
Malcolm’s latest CD is called ‘Down the River.’
You’ve been in the music industry a long time. ‘Down the
River’ is your ninth studio album. I understand this all started with a
guitar in North Carolina.
Yes, that’s where I was born and raised in a small town
north of Asheville, Western North Carolina in the Appalachian Mountains.
I’ve been very blessed and very grateful to be able to play a little bit
and make up some tunes over the years.
Tell me about your latest album, ‘Down the River.’
What inspired you to make this album and what do you hope people can take home
I was very displeased with the current administration at that
time, and so I was kind of reaching for a disadvantaged poor man’s point
of view which is much like 98 or 99% of America. Some folks are scared to
express their opinion whether it be in the songwriter vain or whether it be in
your daily walk of life, so I think that the old saying that ignorance is
bliss. I am hoping to try to enlighten myself as well as others, but
that’s very subjective. So this album really was created by the grace of
the good Lord and a lot of friends and family that have helped this old boy and
his family. I am just trying to achieve a little step in the ladder of
Which song would you say sends the strongest message?
The song, ‘Down the River’ is very good. My wife
Cynthia is good at seeing the forest through the trees. She decided that would
be a good album title.
Club Passim is a very reputable room for artist and songwriters.
The northeast has been good to us over the years. This is the first time that I
get to perform at Club Passim. I am looking forward to it and I’m
grateful for all those that are responsible for keeping this old boy off the
My latest album ‘Down the River’ was cut in
Nashville, Tennessee with Ray Kennedy producing. Ray has produced several
records and I’m very grateful for him. I trust him in the music industry
and he really gets it.
Ray’s been working with Steve Earle and I have been very
fortunate to work with Viktor Krause on bass. He is an astounding virtuoso.
Glad to work with some of the finest musicians that play with heart and soul.
Harold Scott is a songwriter within himself, a very pertinent and very soulful
fellow. Russ Pahl is on electric guitar.
Tammy Rogers-King is also playing mandolin and fiddle. She's from
East Tennessee. I've known her for years and she's real champion with that
mandolin and fiddle.
I am very humbled that Emmy Lou Harris can sing on a song. Steve
Earle was very kind to offer a duet on ‘Trail of Money.’ It really
blows me away to have an opportunity to share this music at Club Passim.
We cut the album in about four days last fall and I’m just
kind of being of service in this old world, very grateful to all the fans and
friends that have been so kind and generous and also forgiving. I’ll be
sharing the stage with Darryl Purpose, a contender and a great songwriter, so
I’m looking forward to the show.
Club Passim is a wonderful venue. It’s a non-profit
featuring music all year long with all different kinds of artists, and Passim
School of Music. What are your future plans? Are you working on a new
Yes, I am working on a new record and I hope to have it released
in the near future. Just wait and see what the dog has in his mouth.
|Centre Daily Timesl - 06.12.13
Centre Daily Times
June 12, 2013
-by Jenna Spinelle
By Jenna Spinelle — For the CDT
Guitarist and singer-songwriter Malcolm Holcombe has been around
the world playing music, but he’s still a country boy at heart. Speaking
from his home in rural North Carolina earlier this week, Holcombe paused in the
middle of answering a question to give directions to a lost motorist who made a
few wrong turns and ended up in his driveway.
“It happens all the time up here in the mountains,”
Holcombe said with a laugh. “People get all kinds of turned around and we
need to get them pointed back in the right direction.”
Holcombe will perform June 16 at the Elk Creek Cafe and Aleworks
as part of the venue’s Sunday Supper Sessions series. He will play solo
acoustic and said the set should focus primarily on his two most recent albums,
“Down the River” (2012) and “To Drink the Rain”
“I’ll just be a fella up there picking acoustic
guitar and singing the blues,” Holcombe said. “I’m out there
plodding along playing all over, and I’m grateful to have spent a lot of
time in Pennsylvania.”
Holcombe’s music has been described as the place where
haunted blues, rugged country and rugged folk meet. Listening to “Down
the River,” one can hear vocals reminiscent of Howlin’ Wolf or Tom
Waits paired with melodies and guitar riffs that could have come from Steve
Earle or Neil Young.
He counts all of those musicians as influences and said
he’s also inspired by writers like John Steinbeck and fellow North
Carolina native Thomas Clayton Wolfe, who tell stories of simple people trying
to get by one day at a time.
“Most people have to express themselves in some way or
another and I just happen to do it through music,” Holcombe said.
“Telling stories … that’s what we do as humans and our lives
depend on them.”
|Blue Matters - January 2013
-by Stuart A Hamilton
|Acoustic Magazine - January 2013
-by Julian Piper
|Winston-Salem Journal - 12.13.12
December 13, 2012
-by Judy Marie Willis/Special Correspondent
Malcolm Holcombe, a singer, songwriter and guitarist, has etched the peaks and
valleys of life into his folksy, countrified brand of the blues.
Recognized by the contemporary U.S and European folk/Americana
community as a performer of national stature, the Weaverville native has
mesmerized audiences around the globe with his truthful and affecting
Holcombe is appearing on the Hanesbrand Theatre stage Saturday at
8 p.m. as a part of the 2011-12 New Song Emerging Artists Showcase series which
features some of the most talented emerging performing songwriters from across
His gruff, gravelly vocals are dipped in sadness and drenched in
God’s grace; served up as soulful serenades of righteous indignation and
homespun tall-tales of optimism.
Each song has a story.
Holcombe’s music casts a critical eye on life’s
hardscrabble entanglements and its tender mercies, embedding its heights and
depths into songs that leave no emotional stone unturned.
Holcombe’s rapid-fire finger picking slaps and smacks,
coaxes and caresses, strumming in chords the memories he vocally sculpts into
“I beat on it half of the time,” he said during a
phone interview. When he performs, a hearty grin may fade into a grimace as he
twists, turns and kicks up his heels all in the name of music.
Holcombe’s influences span the musical spectrum.
“I listened to everything from Ray Charles to the British
Invasion and WLS, the radio station in Fort Wayne, Indiana,” he said.
“I was no different than a lot of kids my age who grew up listening to
the radio and playing guitar.”
Holcombe favors folk music, especially when it’s telling a
story and claims that what he’s been doing for umpteenth years
“isn’t rocket science.”
“I play a little bit … making eye contact so I can
make sure the audience is patting their feet and not throwing tomatoes,”
he said. “I want people to have fun. I hope I get a grin or a chuckle or
maybe they’ll just scratch their heads.”
Holcombe’s most recent offering, “Down the
River” reunites him with Ray Kennedy, who produced earlier efforts like
“Gamblin’ House” and “For the Mission Baby” and
features guest musicians Ken Coomer, Viktor Krauss, Russ Pahl, Darrell Scott,
Tammy Rogers-King and Steve Earle, with background vocals by Perry Coleman,
Siobhan Kennedy, Kim Richey and Emmylou Harris, whose voice Holcombe describes
as “honey-dew water.”
In “Down the River,” his 11th CD, Holcombe wades in
vocal waters that baptize his musical congregation with the message that,
“The hard times just make us stronger to get by.”
Throughout his eventful career, Holcombe has crafted songs that
testify to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of love as common
truths that stand the test of time.
“I look forward to performing in Winston-Salem. By the
grace of God, I’ll try to show up and be of service,” Holcombe
|Maverick Magazine - Nov/Dec 2012
- by Alan Harrison
Click here for the PDF
|Folk and Roots - October 2012
Folk and Roots
- by David Kidman
Malcolm Holcombe – Down The River
North Carolina native Malcolm’s ninth album finds him
in suitably fierce, growling, gargling voice on a fresh set of eleven new songs
that angrily and critically explore America’s inequalities. The gruff
scariness of his vocal delivery can be a bit of a barrier, and may take some
getting used to, but it’s worth persevering; rather like in the case of
Tom Waits, whose own trademark throatiness hides a sensitivity and
understanding of humanity and its guiding spirit. Malcolm tackles inevitable
themes such as disenfranchisement (In Your Mercy – a duet with Emmylou
Harris), greed and injustice (Twisted Arms) and war (Butcher In Town), but
makes his own capital out of them through powerful, uncompromising and
sometimes uncomfortable expression of those thoughts. Twisted Arms in
particular snarls with an almost Beefheartian bile, while Trail Of Money (with
its obvious target) benefits from the guest duet vocal of Steve Earle. And yet
there are also occasions when Malcolm’s more reflective than angry, and
the mellower shadings of his voice surface on The Crossing (a touch of Michael
Chapman here too maybe) and the tender, almost Dylan-esque The Door and Gone
Away At Last, while The Empty Jar is every bit as sinister as it is
romantically aware. Given Malcolm’s overall critical stance on the state
of his country, it comes as a bit of a surprise to hear his apparent
near-acceptance of the political and social situation on the disc’s title
song, which (perhaps significantly?) is placed at the very end of the sequence
in order to give us pause for thought. The greatly rootsy feel of the whole set
is enhanced by some splendid musicianship from Malcolm’s supporting cast
(Darrell Scott, Viktor Krauss, Russ Pahl, Tammy Rogers-King and Ken Coomer),
with Kim Richey and Siobhan Kennedy among the backing vocalists. Maybe
there’d been times in the past when I felt a bit of a “yeah but so
what?” rut in the mood of some of Malcolm’s earlier albums, but he
seems to have found a new vigour on this latest set, which must have
contributed towards the success of his mini-tour of the UK only last month
|Heaven Magazine (NL) - 10.04.12
October 4, 2012
-by Pieter Wijnstekers
Malcolm Holcombe: muzikale zwerver
4 oktober 2012
Als Malcolm Holcombe niet zo’n uitzonderlijke liedjesschrijver en artiest
was, betwijfel ik of we ooit van hem zouden hebben gehoord. ‘Nogal
wiedes,’ hoor ik u denken, al verzoek ik u dan toch de zin even opnieuw
te lezen en de nadruk vooral op het woord ‘uitzonderlijke’ te
leggen. Want als Holcombe slechts ‘goed’ was geweest, denk ik dat
hij er niet in zou zijn geslaagd zijn muziek aan de man te brengen. Hij kampt
namelijk met een aantal problemen. Zo ziet hij er uit als een zwerver die je op
straat nog geen dubbeltje zou geven en zingt hij met zo’n gruizige stem
dat je daar aan moet wennen. Maar op ieder album overtuigt Holcombe door de
pure kwaliteit van zijn muziek.
Doorgaans verschillen zijn platen weinig en zijn nieuwe album
Down The River is wederom een mooie mix van bluesy rockers, rootsy schuivers en
folky ballades. Wat dit keer wel verrast, is de kwaliteit van de begeleiders.
Niet de gebruikelijke groep onbekenden, maar klasbakken dit keer, als Darrell
Scott, Victor Krauss en Tammy Rogers. Waarbij ook nog eens vocale ondersteuning
wordt geleverd door Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle en Kim Richey. Ongetwijfeld zal
producer Ray Kennedy hier een doorslaggevende rol in hebben gehad, maar het
feit dat Holcombe zo’n grootheid kon strikken voor de productie –
terwijl hij beslist geen groot label achter zich heeft staan – doet
vermoeden dat al deze muzikanten werden aangetrokken door Holcombe’s
kwaliteiten. Door de superieure begeleiding stijgt Down The River overigens met
gemak boven zijn eerdere albums uit.
Eind van deze maand doet Malcolm Holcombe Nederland aan voor een
aantal concerten: 21 oktober in Paradiso, Amsterdam; 22 oktober in Mr. Frits,
Eindhoven; 23 oktober in Qbus, Leiden; 25 oktober in Transvaria, Den Haag; 26
oktober in Toogenblik, Brussel; 27 oktober in Brocope, Oldeberkoop; 28 oktober
in Amer, Amen.
Down The River verschijnt bij Proper/Rough Trade
|The Post (Bristol, UK) - 09.21.12
The Post (Bristol, UK)
September 21, 2012
- by Keith Clarke
MALCOLM Holcombe shuffled on stage dressed in clothes that wouldn't look out of
place on a seller of The Big Issue.
As he sang with the raw gravelly voice of a man with a 40-a-day
habit, the man from North Carolina rocked rather precariously on the front legs
of his chair, shaking his head from side to side, rolling his eyes and staring
almost menacingly at people in the audience.
A master of the non sequitur, he told surreal, self-deprecating
but often quite funny tales that didn't bear any relation to the songs, or
anything else for that matter, and quite often didn't actually manage to finish
All this might have been off-putting but actually this was a
completely compelling performance by an artist widely regarded as a truly great
songwriter and an exceptional musician.
With a career-defining album just released that is justifiably
going to find a place on many of those end-of-the-year "best Americana albums"
lists, his new songs inevitably dominated this gig.
There were uncompromising songs with echoes of Woody Guthrie and
Bob Dylan that, lyrically and often vocally, positively roared with rage,
frustration and anguish.
Butcher In Town for instance focussed on the seamier side of
small town life while the angry almost Masters of War-like Trail O' Money and
the rocking Twisted Arms hit out at how it is always the poor who are the
victims of the corrupt and the greedy.
Yet there were also plenty of simple, emotional and quietly
beautiful songs like The Door and The Crossing that were spoken rather than
sung and done so with a lot of feeling and passion. Sometimes the beauty of a
melody masked disturbing messages. In Your Mercy for example was about a
widow's loneliness and older song For The Mission Baby told the story of a
pregnant teenager forced to give up her baby. The lovely Down The River opened
with the lines "They make the laws to suit themselves the ones that buy and
sell the rest of us down the river."
His unique performing style may tend to overshadow the quality of
the songs but nevertheless this was a spellbinding gig by a unique artist.
|NetRhythms - September 2012
- by Mike Davies
Malcolm Holcombe - Down The River (Own Label)
Just turned 45 but with a throaty, dry-rasping, gravel-gargling voice that
sound almost twice that age, with numbers like the bottleneck driven Butcher In
Town the North, a brooding I Call The Shots, Twisted Arms, the Dylanish Gone
Away At Last, and Whitewash Job, the Carolina native's sixth album is bluesier
and fiercer than before; appropriately so given many of the songs are born of
his country's rampant injustice and greed and the effects of the New
Not that he's wholly forsaken the more rootsy aspect of his
Americana, happily evident here on In Your Mercy, a disenfranchisement themed
number sung in the voice of an old woman with Emmylou Harris on backing vocals,
the mellower Dylan shades of The Door's wistfully reflective tale of struggling
times, the guitar and banjo backed Prine-like title track's weary lament about
dreams swimming upstream against political and financial corruption and the
similarly-themed Trail Of Money which not only recalls Steve Earle but features
him on harmonica and harmonies.
It's not exactly the most uplifting of listening experiences, but
may well be his best work yet.
|Northern Sky Music Magazine - 09.16.12
Northern Sky Music Magazine
September 16. 2012
-by Allan Wilkinson
Album Review (Short): Malcolm Holcombe - Down The River
By Allan Wilkinson - Posted on 16 September 2012
Just a casual perusal of the musician credits indicates Malcolm
Holcombe's status on the Americana spectrum, with contributions here from the
likes of Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Darrell Scott, who appears on the back
cover shot with his right arm over Holcombe's shoulder and his left over
producer Ray Kennedy's. The gravel-voiced singer-songwriter's ninth album to
date once again features exclusively self-penned songs, ranging from
hard-talking stories to soft-spoken reveries covering the emotional scale from
each end in, from the hard-edgedButcher in Town to the sensitive The Empty Jar.
With Emmylou Harris duetting on In Your Mercy and Steve Earle on Trail O'
Money, our rugged hero is joined also by Kim Richey, Viktor Krauss and Uncle
Tupelo's Ken Coomer for what is essentially a well-rounded and satisfying
More Info: malcolmholcombe.com
|Rootstime Magazine - 09.27.12
September 27, 2012
by- Antoine Légat
Scheepjes verwelken, bloemen vergaan, maar Malcolm Holcombe zal
het bestaan om nooit te veranderen en dat geldt ook voor zijn platen. Waar dat
bij velen een verwijt zou zijn, is dat in het geval van de man uit North
Carolina een compliment. 'Stick to your guns', te begrijpen als 'hou voet bij
stuk', is een spreuk die Malcolm op het lijf geschreven is. Dat heeft hij,
zoals dat gewoonlijk gaat in de leerschool van het leven, met scha en schande
ingeprent gekregen. Na de gebruikelijke muzikale leerjaren trok hij naar
Nashville met de duidelijke bedoeling 'het te gaan maken'. In '94 bracht hij
inderdaad een eerste cd uit, 'A Far Cry From Here' (er was in 1985 al een LP
geweest) Die moest de springplank vormen voor grootsere dingen en inderdaad: in
1996 kon hij 'A Hundred Lies' opnemen voor een groot label, Geffen. Malcolm had
daar, misschien tegen beter weten in, al zijn hoop in gesteld.
Maar zo gaat dat nu eenmaal op deze grauwe planeet: door allerlei ongelukkige
omstandigheden werd de plaat ten slotte niet gereleased. Pas drie jaar later
slaagde hij erin de cd uit te brengen bij, opnieuw, een kleine platenfirma. De
lovende kritieken die nu volgden waren een pleister op een houten been, al
openden die meteen ook onvermoede deuren. Persoonlijke moeilijkheden dreigden
hem intussen definitief van de kaart te vegen, maar hij overwon zijn demonen
(zoals hij zelf stelt: spons erover!) en begon aan de klim opwaarts, gelouterd
en geleerd, en volledig op zijn eigen voorwaarden. Dat zijn stem intussen klonk
alsof hij een heel boek grof schuurpapier had ingeslikt, werd een uitgesproken
troef. Men maakt dan al vlug de vergelijking met Tom Waits, maar Holcombes
schorre strot klinkt toch wel gans anders, 'ruraal', of zoals hij het zelf het
liefst definieert, helemaal 'folk', kort maar goed.
Holcombe bleek de lof waard, hem toegezwaaid door Rolling Stone en andere
invloedrijke muziekpers, maar in de lage landen kwam hij pas om de hoek piepen
met 'Not Forgotten' in 2006, alles bijeen al zijn zevende langspeler. Hij werd
een graag geziene gast in ons land, vooral inToogenblik in Haren, waar
singer-songwriters thuis zijn, waar men zijn recht toe recht aan aanpak (zo is
elke dress code hem vreemd!), zijn uit het lillende leven gegrepen songs en,
niet te vergeten, zijn prima gitaarspel ten volle week te smaken. Als je hem al
met iemand mag vergelijken, dan maar met Townes Van Zandt, maar in een
doorgaans iets fellere versie. Zijn vorige passage in Haren dateert van 25
maart 2011. Samen met producer en superbegeleider Jared Tyler en met de meest
recente cd's 'For The Mission Baby' en 'To Drink The Rain' onder de arm, gaf
hij er een puntgaaf optreden. Binnenkort, op 26 oktober, staat hij daar weer,
naar we menen al voor de vijfde of zelfs zesde keer.
De nieuwste 'Down The River' zet de traditie voort. Geen Tyler ditmaal, wel een
vijfkoppige band met daarbij Russ Pahl (elektrische gitaar, dobro, banjo en
steel), Tammy Rogers (mandoline, fiddle en altviool) en Darell Scott (dobro,
banjo, elektrische gitaar). Ken Coomer (percussie) enViktor Krauss (staande
bas) vormen de ritmesectie. Vijf verschillende zangstemmen zorgen mee voor de
zang op evenveel songs. Daaronder twee wel héél grote kanonnen:
Emmylou Harris en Steve Earle waren al eerder in Holcombes buurt te vinden. Het
gezelschap trapt af met het potige 'Butcher In Town'. Het zou ons niet verbazen
moest dit in één take en zonder enige overdubs of correcties
opgenomen zijn, zo lekker live klinkt dit, terwijl Holcombe via korte kreetjes
en gefluister (gegrom, eigenlijk) de boel nog opjut. 'When the shit hits the
fan!', zeg dat wel. Dat is de man op zijn best: als hij zich kwaad maakt om
sociale onrechtvaardigheid en wantoestanden, als in 'Twisted Arms' en
'Whitewash Job'. Daar kan je gewoon niet naast luisteren.
Fiddle en banjo stuwen 'Gone Away At Last' op, een stevig statement dat toont
hoe Malcombe ook subtiel naar een climax kan bouwen. Enigszins rustiger
momenten als 'The Crossing', 'The Door', 'In Your Mercy' (met Emmylou, een stem
uit de duizend) en 'Trail O' Money' (met Steve, en idem dito) zorgen voor
afwisseling, terwijl 'Down The River', een 'ingehouden hymne', een fraai
sluitstuk vormt. 'The Empty Jar' is zelfs pure, verstilde mijmering. De fan
weet dat al lang, maar Malcolm is een lieve en gevoelige persoonlijkheid en het
ouwe adagium 'ruwe bolster, blanke pit' is op hem dan ook intgeraal van
toepassing. De man wordt er met de jaren, nu de kaap van de zestig niet meer zo
ver af ligt, zeker niet slechter op, dat bewijst deze bonte verzameling van elf
folksongs. Alles bij mekaar is 'Down The River' dan ook een schatkist waaruit
hij bij zijn volgende optreden rijkelijk kan putten. Too bad, dat la Harris en
le Earle daar dan niet bij zullen zijn. Dat hij dan maar Tammy Rogers
meebrengt... Maar wie is dan de Schone, en wie het Beest?
|Twang Nation - 09.26.12
September 26, 2012
-by Baron Lane
Malcolm Holcombe should be huge. Perhaps the lack of acclaim for the North
Carolina native is his boyish looks long faded from his Music City days. Maybe
it’s the baked gravel voice, or the enigmatic themes that wind you in
circles. Maybe it’s the raw, human heart that beats in every word
delivered like emotional shrapnel. maybe Holcomb is too real, too lacking in
veiled irony. This is not the lily-livered , Fedora-wearing, twee folk music
that’s permeated the music culture over the last decade. I can imagine
Malcolm Holcolmb acoustic guitar emblazoned with “This Machine Kills
Holcomb’s ninth album, Down The River, bursts to life with
“Butcher In Town” featuring Darrell Scott’s dobro acreens off
Ken Coomer’s kick drum and Tammy Rogers-King’s jumping mandolin.
“You a’int from here, When the shit hits the fan, There’s
more meat on a pencil, From the butcher in town.” reels the chorus
warning us of “All black and white, From the wars of the souls, Too much
whiskey, Money and gold.” Abuse of power is a theme throughout Down The
River. Whether the personal delusions of a man bilking a woman from her
earnings and blowing it up into a greater vision of grandeur in “I Call
The Shots” or the mass manipulation of world corruption in the frenzied
“Twisted Arms.” The palpable indignation of “Whitewash
Job” recounts recent topics of disasters and federal incompetence
buttressed belied by a jaunty breakdown of Holcombe masterful picking.
Corruption is also represented, on “Trail O’
Money” guest vocalist Steve Earle, who once stated that Holcombe is
..”the best songwriter I ever threw out of my recording studio,”
sounds comfortable with proletariat lines like “My instincts are wounded,
My schools bleed with guns, My children are recklessly, Lost in the sun”
He and Holcolmb join in the rallying chorus “Gangway i’m
comin’ with a trail o’ money, Gangway stay outta my way, Gangway
i’m comin’ with a trail o’ money, No room for the poor to
stay.” No simple election sloganeering here.
Love songs fare little better in this hard soul’s terrain.
“Gone Away At Last” brings along the river bank drums, stippling
banjo and a fiddle dervish into a funnel cloud of a love song Cormac McCarthy
could love.”The search lights beg to dim, In the blood of nightimes
cover, No human sounds within, The lonely thoughts of lovers.” “the
routine hammers solid, in the heads of spit and spoiled, (only) broken from
contentions, Of the jealous snake’s recoil.” This is a long journey
into the heart. “In Your Mercy” is a lament of a widow living in
dire situation which is lightened briefly by the lovely lilt of Emmylou
These are not spoon-fed narratives guiding you gently
through linear slices of life. Soapboxes are splintered for bonfire kindling
and flags are shred and made into rags to dab tears or blot up blood. This is
the human parade in all it’s violent and glory.
|Flyin' Shoes Review - 09.21.12
Flyin' Shoes Review
Malcolm Holcombe: Down The River
September 21, 2012
-by John Davy
Malcolm Holcombe's fan club seems to be growing as quickly as his output, and
the names that show up in that fan club just get bigger and bigger. For this
most recent album his house band includes Darrell Scott on dobro, banjo and
electric guitar, and Viktor Krauss on upright bass - big names both. Amongst
the guests adding vocal support are Kim Richey, Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris,
and I would guess all of them are glad to be associated with Holcombe's
plain-speaking, no-bull honesty. This man sings with a hobo's growl, roughened
by life and with a tone that says he's nobody's mug. As a writer, he tackles
all the social and political issues that you might expect, speaking up for the
downtrodden and laying in to those who would steamroller them. It's not always
easy to follow his train of thought, as his imagery jumps from one thing to
another in his own idiosyncratic take on the way the world works. The main idea
of the title song, for instance, is easy enough - we've all been sold "down the
river", he declares, and goes on to sing wistfully of the simple things that
most folks want -a home, a family, a job. However, pinning down the exact
targets in Whitewash Job isn't so easy. It seems like a scornful attack on Bush
and his cronies in the light of their response to Katrina, but I'm not sure of
every line as he rages in scattergun style. Maybe it doesn't matter too much
because he's magnificent in his rage and we always need voices like his to stir
us up a bit.
In this angry mode he tears notes out of his acoustic guitar as if it's a
lethal weapon, and his band are right up for following his lead, playing with
uncompromising intent and slightly ahead of the beat in a manner that demands
you sit up and pay attention. Perhaps the surprising element is the warm
beauty, like a brotherly arm around the shoulder, that Holcombe brings to other
songs here. I remember this was in evidence on the last album, too, and maybe
there's a lot more of it here. If he was a one-note angry man we might be
impressed, but we might also be repulsed, ultimately. However, when he sings
something as warm, humane and beautiful as The Crossing, then we are seduced
into sharing his vision and he wins us over with soft power. It almost goes
without saying that when Emmylou joins him on the chorus of In Your Mercy, a
beautiful song becomes transcendant as she somehow manages to highlight the
beauty that's there in his voice.
This man's hit a groove where all the elements of his music are working
magnificently. Reports have it that he's one of the most compelling performeres
you're ever likely to see, so, with a short tour of the UK coming up soon,
maybe now's the time to catch him.
|Tipperary Star - 09.30.12
Renowned Singer Malcolm Holcombe Set To Feature In Clonmel And
RENOWNED country-folk-blues singer-songwriter-guitarist
Malcolm Holcombe, who is currently touring the UK and Ireland promoting his new
album Down The River (featuring guests like Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle)
will feature at the Brewery Lane Theatre in Carrick-on-Suir on Friday,
September 28th and at Raheen House Hotel in Clonmel on Sunday, September
Malcolm Holcombe’s new album Down The River, his ninth, is born from that
bed of contradictions we all lie in.
There are songs here such as ‘Twisted Arms’ and
‘Whitewash Job’ that sizzle with anger at a society that seems
intent on losing its way and running over its poor and disenfranchised. These
are coupled with songs from a softer, more generous perspective such as
‘The Crossing’ and ‘In Your Mercy’, written in the
voice of an old woman who sees “All I worked for . . . sold and surely
gone,” but who trusts that “many years will tell the
There is truth embedded in these songs the way quartz is embedded
in the steep driveways and black dirt of Malcolm Holcombe’s western North
The multiple perspectives of these songs speak of the man who
Malcolm Holcombe takes the stage in the same clothes he wore
driving to the gig, and his soft voice, rasped from years of smoking and
singing to be heard in honky tonks, rises to a howl as he frails his guitar
with furious precision.
He stomps, growls, rolls his eyes as he plays, then between songs
cuts the tension with a corny joke.
A veteran of Nashville who has little good to say about the
musicindustry - “a bunch of people trying to buy their way to fame”
- he has won the praise of such artists as Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams as
he works and tours from his home in western North Carolina. A once-legendary
drinker and hell raiser, Malcolm is now many years sober and embraces a gentle
if non-specific spirituality.
Down The River is just the most recent step in a journey that
began in western North Carolina in 1955. The youngest of four children, Malcolm
was fascinated by the guitar early, an interest he fed watching TV in his
parents’ living room.
After high school and a brief stint in college, Malcolm played
for a while with a trio called Redwing, then in a duet with Sam Milner.
Eventually he found his way to Nashville where he established a local
reputation and signed with Geffen Records.
In 1996, in one of those twists of logic only understood in the
music business, Geffen signed Malcolm and paid to record his major label debut
A Hundred Lies. The album was pressed, promotional copies were sent, and the
album, a stunning, low-key masterpiece, was never released. In the wake of that
fiasco, Malcolm made his way back to Asheville, North Carolina. A Hundred Lies
was eventually released on a much smaller label and garnered some attention,
including a four star review in Rolling Stone, and Malcolm began booking his
Down The River is Malcolm’s first independent release in
several years (the album will be distributed by Proper Music) and reunites
Malcolm with Ray Kennedy, who produced earlier efforts like Gamblin’
House and For the Mission Baby.
See: www.malcolmholcombe.com for more information.
|Evening Chronicle - 09.21.12
Evening Chronicle (Newcastle)
What's On: Latest North East roots music news
by Alan Nichol, Evening Chronicle
Sep 21 2012
ALAN Nichol brings you an eclectic mix as he highlights what is coming up on
the roots music scene in the region over the next week.
NORTH Carolina’s backwoods savant, Malcolm Holcombe, is in
town tomorrow night with a new album to showcase.
It is his ninth album and it carries the usual Holcombe clout in
terms of content and delivery.
He knows all about Kipling’s twin imposters – triumph
and failure – but continues to bring his authenticity and candour to each
record he makes.
Back in 1996, after a spell with a band called Redwing in his
home state, he moved to Nashville and established his name there with his
Holcombe was signed to major-label Geffen Records after his stint
He recorded an album – subsequently regarded as a
understated classic – but despite having promotional copies sent out, the
album did not get a formal release. It did eventually appear, some three years
later, under the title A Hundred Lies for the small Hip-O Records and picked up
a four-star review from the influential Rolling Stone magazine.
That period saw Holcombe indulge in some familiar distractions
but any of that wilder behaviour was soon consigned to the past.
Now approaching two decades clean, he said: “It’s a
miracle to be here every day. I’m just glad to be able to drive on my
side of the road.”
Marriage and sobriety appears to have had a truly profound impact
on his life as he has released a spate of roots albums of genuine credibility.
His new record, Down The River, has some big names to help out. Steve Earle,
Emmylou Harris, Darrell Scott, drummer Ken Coomer (from Uncle Tupelo and
Wilco), bassist Viktor Krauss and producer, Ray Kennedy, who was responsible
for his previous efforts Gamblin’ House and For The Mission Baby.
The songs, however, need no embellishment. He delivers some
stinging anger on Twisted Arms and Whitewash Job and Trail Of Money (in which
he duets with Earle) is in similar vein.
It’s not all vitriol, though, as his softer touch comes
through on In Your Mercy or The Crossing.
What Holcombe has is beyond manufacture.
He may stomp, roll his eyes and growl like a bear during his
performances but what you hear is the real undiluted soul of the man. His songs
don’t pull any punches but he has a tender side, too. His is the sound of
the music before the image-makers and money-men got involved.
Catch Malcolm Holcombe at the Cluny 2 tomorrow night.
Read More http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/entertainment-in-newcastle/music/2012/09/21/what-s-on-latest-north-east-roots-music-news-72703-31881436/#ixzz27VgVd29Q
|For Folk's Sake - 09.18.12
For Folk's Sake
18 September 2012
-by Ian Parker
Malcolm Holcombe has never previously sounded like a man in much of a hurry. A
57-year-old of remarkable sideburns, the North Carolina bluesman was in his 40s
when he finally got around to releasing his debut album, and the follow-ups
have eased out at a rate of one every three or four years. Until now. Only a
year after To Drink The Rain, Holcombe is back, and he sounds, well, a little
This is an album born of an anger that gives it intensity and
urgency. Holcombe is clearly fed up with the world around him. His frustrations
rage forth through his trademark rasp, a voice that makes modern day Dylan
sound smooth, and the likes of ‘Butcher In Town’, ‘Twisted
Arm’ and ‘Trail of Money’ take few prisoners as they target
greed and corruption. Such themes are hardly new in human history but they seem
to be ever more prominent – particularly in an America still trying to
get off its knees.
With plenty to be mad about, it can sound like Holcombe is just
thrashing away at his guitar, but listen closely – his ramshackle sound
can hide the real mechanics and it is only on the likes of ‘Gone Away At
Last’ that his impeccable picking is obvious.
When Holcombe first recorded his debut album way back in the
mid-1990s, he did so for Geffen, only for the label to then turn it down. Since
then, Holcombe has bounced around a series of small labels, but Down The River
is his first independent release. The artwork may be low-fi, but little else
is. Calling on a contacts book compiled over two decades in the industry,
Holcombe has put together an impressive castlist.
He shares a troubled history with Steve Earle, who joins him to
duet on ‘Trail of Money’. Ex-Uncle Tupelo/Wilco man Ken Coomer sits
behind the drums. Emmylou Harris sings background vocals on ‘Your
Mercy’ – a greater contrast to Holcombe’s gruff lead is
difficult to imagine.
It’s not just an extended rant. After ‘Trail of
Money’ has served as a lengthy charge list of the guilty, the closing
title track leaves us on a hopeful note. “They make the laws/ to suit
themselves/ the ones that buy and sell the rest/ of us down the river,”
Holcombe sings. “Down the river/ we pray for one another…we hold on
to our dream.”
|Revolver Lust for Life Magazine - September 2012
Revolver Lust for Life
MALCOLM HOLCOMBE “Down The
River” (Gypsy Eyes Music / Rough Trade)
Beter dan met “Down The River” stonden de sterren
voor grofgevooisd singer-songwriter-übertalent Malcolm Holcombe eigenlijk
nog nooit. Voor die weer door Ray Kennedy geproduceerde plaat kon hij immers
een beroep doen op een heus sterrenensemble. De grote Emmylou Harris kwam zo
bijvoorbeeld langs om een mondje mee te zingen in het herfstige “In Your
Mercy”, Steve Earle (zang en mondharmonica) gaf acte de présence
voor het ouderwets lekkere “ Trail O’Money” en Kim Richey en
Siobhan Maher-Kennedy deden hetzelfde voor het hoofdzakelijk over voorzichtig
samen getokkelde gitaar- en banjoklanken neergelegde titelnummer “Down
The River”. Voorts ook van de partij: de je
ondermeer van Uncle Tupelo en Wilco bekende Ken Coomer (drums en percussie),
Viktor Krauss (bas), snarenmeester Russ Pahl (dobro, banjo, elektrische en
steelgitaar), collega-songsmid Darrell Scott (dobro, banjo en elektrische),
Tammy Rogers-King (o.a. mandoline en fiddle) en Perry Coleman (backing vocals).
Genoeg weelde om zelfs aan Holcombe zelf spontaan een glimlach te ontlokken.
“I wanted to shoot for Mars,” aldus de beste man daarover, “
luckily, Ray knew some Martians.” En hun bijdrage zal wellicht ook wel
volstaan om hem eindelijk de aandacht te bezorggen, die hij eigenlijk al zo
lang verdiende. Wat ons betreft mag je hem rustig in één en dezelfde
noemen met groten der aarde als een Guy Clark en een Townes Van Zandt. Zijn
tekstmateriaal is doorgaans immers van hetzelfde torenhoge niveau als dat van
die twee grootmeesters, zijn songs zijn dat ook en bovendien beschikt hij als
bijkomende troefkaart ook nog eens over een heerlijke bromstem en speelt hij
een meer dan voortreffelijk potje akoestische gitaar. Meer kan je als
luisteraar ons inziens amper vragen! Onze luistertips? Gewoon elk van de elf
songs hier! Er zit er immers niet één mindere tussen! Dit is je
|Blurt Magazine - 09.17.12
Down the River
With his gruff, world-weary vocals and homespun sentiment,
Malcolm Holcombe would seem the essence of a somewhat tattered troubadour.
Although he hardly seems old enough to purvey such hard-bitten tales, the
support of such seasoned players as Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Kim Richey,
Darrell Scott, Ken Coomer and Tammy Rogers ensures a certain authenticity.
Still, give Holcombe credit for holding his own; like Tom Waits,
John Prine or the late David Ackles, he inserts himself in these songs,
affirming his credence in the process. These tangled tunes convey a swampy
sound and sober sensibility that manifests itself in the somber narrative "The
Crossing" and the gritty defiance of "Twisted Arms." Scott's banjo pluck on
"Gone Away at Last" affirms that sense of tempered determination and when the
harmonies alight in "Twisted Arms," "In Your Mercy" and the reflective title
track, the net result is all the more affecting. Ten albums on, Holcombe has
honed his approach to the point where he leaves an indelible impression with
each succeeding effort, and Down the River serves to remind both those already
aware and newcomers alike why Holcombe's rugged individualism makes for such a
It's been a slow but steady climb over his 16 year career, but
Holcombe has managed to etch his identity with each new album. There's no doubt
that at this point he's the real deal.
|Blabber 'n' Smoke - 09.11.12
Blabber 'n' Smoke
September 11, 2012
-by Paul Kerr
Malcolm Holcombe. Down The River
Slowly but surely North Carolina bred singer and songwriter Malcolm Holcombehas
carved a reputation over the years as a fine purveyor of rootsy country blues
with his albums and live shows almost universally praised. Despite this he
remains a bit of a hidden gem, known only to the cognoscenti but there’s
a chance this might change with the release of this, his ninth album.
Having been on several labels (including Geffen who refused to release the
album he recorded for them) he’s self released Down The River and
it’s a measure of the respect he’s held in that he’s gathered
a grand set of musicians to assist him. The band include Darrell Scott, Ken
Coomer and Viktor Krauss while vocals are supplied by Kim Richey, Emmylou
Harris and Steve Earle. In addition the album is produced by Steve
Earle’s sometime producer Ray Kennedy. The result is a stellar collection
of songs that feature Holcombe’s amazing growl of a voice and his deft
guitar picking with truckloads of banjo, steel guitar, mandolin, fiddle and
Dobro backing him up. The effect is very similar to that of Earle’s
“come back” album Train A Coming.
In addition to the excellent playing Holcombe writes with a fine sense of anger
at the modern ways of the world railing against injustice but also celebrating
the eternal optimism of the human spirit most pointedly in The Crossing, one of
the more tender songs here. With some fine lilting fiddle this is a beautiful
spiritual lament. The Door continues in this vein as Holcombe reins in his
voice while pedal steel (by Russ Pahl) glides and weaves. Both of these songs
are cloaked in mystery as Holcombe sings of people who seem to be lost and
desolate but who are buttressed by hope and pride. The starkness of The Empty
Jar is the culmination of this; delicate guitar and viola paint a lonely
picture as Holcombe sings “an empty jar but full of eyes/ that see you
here pourin’ perfect comfort /for thirsty silent tears.” The effect
is similar to the grim determination seen in the photography of Dorothea Lange.
The duet with Emmylou Harris In Your Mercy is lighter in its delivery but again
tells of an abandoned soul clinging to pride and memories.
All of these songs are beautiful and had the album stuck with this style it
would be very impressive indeed. However Holcombe adds a topping of righteous
indignation and launches his full bear growl on a clutch of songs that damn
those in control who cause misery and loss. Butcher In Town opens the album
like a boxer jumping out on the bell. Darrell Scott’s Dobro is excellent
here as Holcombe proclaims “I don’t claim a thing/not a two bit
clue/but somebody whispered/war kills the truth” while on Twisted Arms he
almost spits out the words. Whitewash Job nails the politicians with an
undisguised glee with Holcombe sounding not unlike Baby Gramps with his
piratical “har hars” over a fine chugging rhythm. The duet with
Steve Earle, Trail O’ Money is the most direct diatribe as Holcombe
declares “all the noise from the crowd/breakin’ hearts with
deceit/all you war hungry bastards/bloodthirsty with greed.” Despite the
vitriol in the words the song itself is a wonderful recreation of the sound of
Bob Dylan circa 1970 with lonesome harp and a nice country lope. Holcombe sums
up the album and his thoughts on the closing title song, a fine old fashioned
number with female backing vocals and an uplifting beat as he sings “the
hard times makes us stronger to get by/and leave this world behind/down the
|Chic Lifestyle Magazine - 09.23.12
Chic Lifestyle Magazine
September 23, 2012
Malcolm Holcombe looks almost remarkably like Neil Young, and
calling your record “Down the River”, isn’t going to anything
to quell comparisons to one of the greatest living songwriters. Fortunately for
Mr. Holcombe the comparisons aren’t all that far from the truth; Rolling
Stone Magazine has called his music, “haunted country, acoustic blues and
rugged folk”, while Acoustic Magazine described his songs as being
“frightening in their intensity”. BBC Country comments that he is
“renowned for live performances that glow with gospel fervour in a voice
that has been described as ‘half howl, half hosanna’”.
Holcombe is now ten records into a career full of left-turns, and finally
getting a hint of the credit that everyone in the Country scene knew he
deserved years ago.
Malcolm Holcombe was born and raised in the Blue Ridge town
of Weaverville in North Carolina, and thanks to his hard-nosed work ethic and
consistent output is coming to be recognised critically by contemporary US and
European critics as a performer of international repute – that
outlaw-country music legend Steve Earle turned up to lend his support at
Holcombe’s latest album release, speaks volumes about the man’s
growing stature. Malcolm Holcombe will play the intimate Live Room at
Bradford’s Caroline Club this September – don’t miss
|Americana UK - 09.10.12
September 10, 2012
-by Mike Morrison
MALCOLM HOLCOMBE – DOWN THE RIVER
2012 – Gypsy Eyes Music
Always a huge talent but now in the upper echelons of a genre
that links country, folk and blues in varying doses depending on the song, this
superb new album could end up being a career defining recording. This is his
tenth album release in the best part of two decades and whilst none of those
recordings have been bad, several have lacked the quality of perhaps his last
four or five albums, with each of those being an improvement over it’s
predecessor. This recording is produced by multi talented singer, songwriter
Ray Kennedy in Nashville, ironically the home of ‘country pop,’ a
genre that is a million miles from this extraordinary album. The supporting
musicians are more than worthy of mention with Ken Coomer (Uncle Tupelo, Wilco)
on drums, Viktor Krauss on bass, Tammy Rogers-King on mandolin, fiddle and
viola, with Darrell Scott playing dobro, banjo and electric guitar. Emmylou
Harris helps out with some lovely harmony vocals and there is even a duet with
Steve Earle! An incredible bunch of musicians, all of whom are schooled on the
edgier side of country music.
Malcolm’s vocals sound raw, gravelly and as old as the
hills and with a depth of feeling that tells you the man has seen less plain
sailing than most. He imbues every word he sings with a feeling that no matter
how sad or even tragic the story, the listener is left with the feeling that he
has lived many of them. It’s quite frequent when writing about music to
give the impression that the singer has experienced what he/she is singing
about but in the case of Malcolm Holcombe it is as if he is re-experiencing the
drama whilst recounting the tale to the listener. Live, he is one of the most
compelling performers I have ever seen and, probably uniquely, he has a similar
effect on this album. I can visualise him sitting hunched over his guitar,
almost as if there is no one else in the room, at times seeming to balance the
old wooden chair on which he perches on just one of it’s four legs!
Almost gravity defying at times; which fits very well with the intensity of the
tales he recounts to the spellbound audience. I really can’t wait to see
him again! (see end note) His guitar playing is superb, echoing the feeling and
lyrics he applies to each of his beautifully written songs. There is nothing
overtly technical or flashy, just all done on pure instinct, easy to see when
he is playing live but unusually also just as obvious on many of his
recordings. There is just no separation of the man from the instrument or from
the song, all three are blended into a raw power that again, comes purely from
Many of the songs are multi faceted and open to several different
interpretations at once, not so much as contrasts, but within the expansive
boundaries set by Holcombe’s lyrical poeticism. Of the tales on this c.d
some set out the scale of a particular problem as he might see it but then,
where many don’t bother, he concentrates on and broadens the effect on
the poor and downtrodden provoking plenty of thought in the listener!
Album opener Butcher in Town, has a slightly sinister sounding
dobro and mandolin introduction then in comes those gravelly chesty vocals that
in short sharp observations seems to sum up life in steamy poor small town
American south. This is followed by some slow but powerful instrumentation on I
Call the Shots, almost a lovelorn ballad, were it not for those vocals, about
one of life’s losers who realizes his mistakes and hopefully has enough
savvy to put things right, but has he? ‘No compromise’ those two
words from Twisted Arms are probably as perfect a sumnation of Malcolm as you
are likely to hear on a tale that could be a song about politics and attitude
wrapped up in a large amount of metaphor. Strong electric guitars and those
harsh rasping vocals draining every last drop of passion from the song,
accompanied by some excellent country rock instrumentation.
The Door is a gorgeous haunting ballad with lovely steel guitar.
It opens with steel and acoustic guitar with Malcolms vocals as soft as for a
long time on a song that paints a simple if harrowing picture of a struggling
family, particularly the story teller. In Your Mercy includes Emmylou
Harris’ beautiful harmonies and a lovely fiddle wending it’s way
through a song that is another harrowing tale, this time of abandonment that
could as easily be set a in a medical hospital, mental hospital, workhouse,
prison or retirement home. The Steve Earle duet is Trail O’ Money with
Earle probably being one of the few men capable of singing with anywhere near
Malcolms depth of feeling. The song is driven by a nice dobro and harmonica on
a tale of the corruption prevalent in the financial world and the effects on
people lower down the scale. Highly topical!
Album closer Down the River was lyrically quite surprising with
it’s knowing if quite naïve attitude. It’s a beautiful mellow
sounding song with banjo, dobro and fiddle on a final summing up of the corrupt
world of politics and finance and how it always sells us ‘Down the
river.’ It seems to have been treated as an affirmation that as long as
we have the basics, our dreams and beliefs that is enough. If only that were
true, but all the time one person wants more than others, it never will be.
As usual with Malcolm’s albums there is no real balance
between darkness and light. His songs just are what comes out of him and long
may they continue to do so. Not much light and plenty of darkness wrapped up in
a huge amount of realistic allusion equates to, in this case, a brilliant
|Roots Highway - 09.05.12
September 5, 2012
-by Fabio Cerbone
Down the River
[Gipsy Music 2012]
File Under: hillbilly hero
di Fabio Cerbone (05/09/2012)
Immutabile come le stagioni del folk americano, Malcolm Holcombe
non appartiene a questa epoca: songwriter arcigno e scontroso quanto disarmante
e scarmigliato, come d'altronde riflette la sua figura, macina dischi a ritmo
costante. Quasi uno all'anno, dopo la sua lenta rinascita artistica, seguita ad
periodo di tormenti personali e delusioni discografiche. Down the River
potrebbe dunque essere banalmente liquidato come l'ennesimo capitolo di un
carnet ormai segnato da uno stile inconfondibile, tanto quanto quella voce roca
e impastata di pece blues che echeggia la dura terra sudista in cui è
cresciuto l'uomo e il musicista. Se ne comprenderebbero le ragioni, ma si
perderebbero anche sfumature e tensioni che Down the River porta a compimento
in uno dei lavori più spiritati della sua produzione e certamente anche
uno dei più interessanti per la qualità delle collaborazioni.
Lasciatosi alle spalle un'altra etichetta e altri musicisti (il
precedente To Drink the Rain, registrato in Texas con la Music Road di Jimmy
Lafave), Holcombe torna alla pura indipendenza degli esordi, non mancando di
circondarsi della migliore generazione Americana, quella che popola la
Nashville più "alternativa": dalla regia di Ray Kennedy al basso di Victor
Krauss, dalle chitarre, banjo e dobro di Darrell Scott al fiddle di Tammy
Rogers, per riesumare persino i tamburi di Ken Coomer (Uncle Tupelo, Wilco),
l'intero album è segnato da un interplay strumentale di prima scelta, che
esalta e ravviva la tecnica percussiva, furente dello stesso Malcolm Holcombe,
un chitarrista di estrazione country blues dallo stile eccezionale e
personalissimo. Facile allora portare a casa un risultato musicalmente
appagante, con tutti i crismi di una scuola di pensiero che resta dentro la
tradizione dei cosidetti troubadour: basterebbero le presenze di Emmylou Harris
(nell'evocativa In Your Mercy), Kim Richey (la stessa Down the River, lenta
elegia country per questo ingiusto mondo moderno, visto dai bassifondi) e Steve
Earle (una rustica, incalzante Trail of Money) a rafforzare tale sensazione,
non fosse che il loro apporto è e resterà un omaggio per un amico
più "sfortunato", una sorta di stima artistica che più volte si
è palesata anche in passato.
Il resto lo offre tutto Malcolm Holcombe e la sua spiritata idea
di Americana, che parte dalle torbide acque di Butcher in Town e attraversa con
il solito, caratteristico fingerpicking un campionario di ballate rurali (The
Crossing e The Empty Jar sono in fondo una variante già sentita mille
volte, dentro uno stile che resta funzionale alla canzone) e ruvida hillbilly
music, questa volta anche più elettrica del previsto, dalla tensione
latente di I Call the Shots al furibondo crescendo di Twisted Arms, uno dei
momenti più saturi ed emozionati del disco insieme alla dura caricatura
sociale di White Wash Job. Una certezza che a qualcuno apparirà come
monotonia, ma personaggi del tenore di Malcolm Holcombe servono alla causa.
|Asheville Citizen Times - 08.22.12
Asheville Citizen Times
August 22, 2012
-by Jedd Ferris
Holcombe holds Asheville dear in music, life
'I'VE NEVER BEEN ABLE TO AFFORD GAS TO LEAVE,' SAYS MALCOLM HOLCOMBE
Malcolm Holcombe’s tough, blue-collar folk will sound
familiar to many on the Asheville music scene. The 57-year-old native grew up
in Weaverville, and he proudly still calls Asheville home.
“I’ve never been able to afford gas to leave,”
said Holcombe, who plays Friday night at The Grey Eagle Music Hall.
Not entirely true. Holcombe tried Nashville once, but his
renegade spirit didn’t jibe with the Music City establishment. Geffen
inked Holcombe to a deal, paid him to make a record but then rejected it.
That connection helped boost Holcombe’s already growing
career. Before heading home to North Carolina, though, he did make some
talented friends, some of whom appear on his new album, “Down the
The 11-song set features guest appearances by Steve Earle,
Emmylou Harris and former Wilco drummer Ken Coomer. The album also marks a
reunion between Holcombe and producer Ray Kennedy, whose resume includes work
with Waylon Jennings, Shania Twain and John Prine.
Holcombe has been a key part of the Asheville music scene since
the 1970s, a day when performers used to gather at the old Caesar’s
Parlor and later the Brass Tap on Merrimon Avenue — one of the
city’s first real singer-songwriter rooms — and now the site of the
Atlanta Bread Co.
In those days, he was among the younger singer-songwriters in
town. He’s continued to play since and has established a national
reputation. Holcombe’s career has grown steadily through the decades,
assisted by some strong and deserved publicity from such national publications
as Rolling Stone magazine.
Holcombe is among the more traveled of performers based in
Asheville. He started August with shows in Arkansas and Kansas, then headed
back to the Southeast for a string of performances in Tennessee and North
Next month, he’s off to Europe again for shows in Norway,
Sweden, Finland, the U.K., Ireland, Spain and Germany, Netherlands and Belgium
before returning to the States for another stretch of performances.
Holcombe’s live sets are mostly solo, anchored by his
gritty, percussive finger-picking and soulful, raspy vocals. But on the new
disc, Kennedy augmented many of the songwriter’s tunes with a roots-rock
back beat and plenty of extra strings — slide guitar, mandolin and
“He’s all about the music and not the coin,”
Holcombe says of his producer. “I love the way that he listens to the
lyrics and approaches each song individually. He has a no-frills style that
brings out the best in musicians.”
Speaking of coin, Steve Earle fits right in trading verses with
Holcombe on “Trail of Money,” a scathing rebuke of corporate greed.
It makes sense that Earle is one of Holcombe’s heroes. Both men have no
shame when it comes to letting twang turn political.
“I’ve been thankful to be able to work with folks
that are in it for the right reasons,” Holcombe says of Earle.
“He’s a writer to be reckoned with that’s going to be
remembered for generations to come. He’s a serious man, but we had a lot
of fun recording that song. I’m grateful he made time to do
Even if he spends much of the new album venting about injustices,
Holcombe waxes optimistic on the title track, singing, “down the river,
we hold on to our dreams.”
It’s pure heart from an artist who maintains a rough
exterior. “Songs mean different things to different people,” he
said. “I’m just passing along tales and hoping people can take
something from them.”
|Q Magazine - October
-by Andy Fyfe
Click here for the PDF article
|Musicosis - 08.25.12
August 25, 2012
Malcolm Holcombe – Down The River (Self issued &
released on Sept 17)Without looking at images of the man himself, 10 seconds of
that wonderful grizzly and life-heartened voice puts you in mind of a white
beard, lined face and a glint in the eye.
Malcolm Holcombe has 57 years of life’s travails in his
songs and in his voice and playing and the result is incredibly listenable.
His songs tell stories and use the perspectives of his life.
Sometimes hard and uncompromising but sometimes with a kindly edge and soft
smile. Always though, he has the ring of truth to his tales.
Musically it is classic Americana with a full coterie of banjos.
Dobro, violin, steel guitar and upright bass but track after track you are
drawn back to that voice and the lyrics.
Opener ‘Butcher In Town’ is a real foot stomper with
some great Dobro from Darrell Scott while ‘I Call The Shots’ has a
softer sound to cover some harsh words but, for me, the standout is
‘Twisted Arms’ with stunning atmosphere and superb vocals.
Steve Earle provides harmonica and vocals on ‘Trail
O’ Money’ and Emmylou Harris appears on the beautiful ‘In
This album satisfies. The3 music has a sense of enjoyment and
Holcombe has clearly tamed some demons in the making of it. He makes you think
of where you are and how you got there and there is nothing that shouts at you
– his stories become yours and he crafts them in such a way that you can
see them as more than one or two dimensional.
Sound Quality ********/10
|Indy Week - 08.22.12
August 22, 2012
- by Chris Parker
Malcolm Holcombe, Jared Tyler
When: Sat., Aug. 25, 8 p.m. 2012
You might find Malcolm Holcombe where the honky-tonk meets the fertile Delta,
mixing with that rich black dirt. His voice is weathered and distressed like an
old country barn, and the whole enterprise shudders occasionally as though
grinding human gears. This rickety structure's held together by powerful lyrics
of desperation, superstition and faith. The songs on his latest, Down the
River, are animated by a self-sustaining intensity, from the menacing "Gone
Away at Last" (which approaches the Pentecostal fury of 16 Horsepower) to the
jaded, pissed-off political stomp, "Whitewash Job." In recent years, he's
released albums of rapidly escalating quality, bringing him to the brink of
|The Daily Times - 08.23.12
Malcolm Holcombe keeps paddling down the
‘River’ of life and music
The Daily Times
August 23, 2012-
-By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
One thing ’s for certain after you get to know singer-songwriter Malcolm
Holcombe: The good-ol’-boy demeanor he fronts isn’t an act, but
neither does it define him.
A conversation with Holcombe, a resident of Western North
Carolina who cuts songs seemingly out of the hardwood still growing tall and
wild deep in mountain shadows, can be misleading.
He’s quick with the homespun homilies (“I’m
hanging in there like hair on a biscuit!”), and he’ll meander from
one topic to the next with all of the fluidity of steering a car along
Appalachian switchbacks. (During a recent interview with The Daily Times, he
discussed everything from the 210,000 miles on his Jeep Cherokee to the hot
pepper sauce he makes at home.)
But somewhere amid the chuckles and the non-sequiturs and the
off-topic soliloquies, he’ll offer up some insight, some deep truth into
who he is as an artist and how his songs define him. Those moments are
fleeting, but they’re as heartfelt and painfully honest as a man can be
outside the scope of a song.
“I don’t know about anybody else, but I like this old
saying that if you point your finger at somebody else, you’ve got four
pointed back at yourself,” Holcombe said. “I’m very
comfortable looking at myself. Most of the time, it’s either
rationalizing or self-pity or all that BS, and at the end of the day,
you’ve just got to move forward, to move on and learn from your mistakes.
If you hit a pothole, you’ve got to take your knocks and hopefully dodge
it the next time.”
Born in Asheville, N.C., and raised in nearby Weaverville,
Holcombe learned to play the flat-top guitar and joined up with a folk group
called The Hilltoppers. Playing fairs, dances and shows throughout the small
town of Weaverville and thereabouts, he weaned himself on folk, traditional
Appalachian ballads and bluegrass.
In 1976, he drifted to Florida and in 1990 to Nashville, where he
worked odd jobs and soaked up as much of the business side of the industry as
possible before going back to North Carolina. He’s cut several albums
over the years, including one for Geffen, “A Hundred Lies,” that
earned a four-star review from Rolling Stone. He’s been compared to Bruce
Springsteen for the way he paints vivid portraits with his songs, turning them
into haunting, brooding, moving affairs.
In the four years between the release of “Lies” in
1999 and “Another Wisdom” in 2003, Holcombe battled his own demons,
primarily alcohol. He is still vigilant in staying away from the bottle, but
like most artists who peer unflinchingly into the abyss of humanity’s
inclination toward temptation, he knows that on any given day he’s only a
few steps away from tumbling over the edge. The key, he said, is knowing where
that edge is.
“The world is full of vices, part of them of the devil and
part of them our choosing,” he said. “Money and power and greed are
constant battles that people wrestle with, at least I do, and the songs,
they’re me thinking out loud about it all and scribbling little prayers
and stuff. It’s kind of like cave wall paintings: Sometimes the buffalo
eats you, and sometimes you eat the buffalo.”
For “Down the River,” his ninth record, Holcombe has
reunited with producer Ray Kennedy, half of the fabled Twangtrust along with
Steve Earle that produced a number of roots records in the 1990s. For his part,
Kennedy assembled some high-profile guests to sit in with Holcombe on
“River,” including Earle, Emmylou Harris and Darrell Scott. Despite
his experience and reputation, Holcombe admits to a little trepidation at
working alongside such talent.
“It scared the (crap) out of me, but it was
miraculous,” Holcombe said. “These are people I’ve loved and
respected for a long time, and to have them be a part of your life’s work
... I was aghast and very humbled.”
It takes a strong foundation to hold up such a heavy load of
talent, and Holcombe delivers. “Down the River” isn’t as
stripped down as “Lies” — banjo, fiddle and drums fill out
the sound, giving his howling, hollering vocals, still as tortured and raspy as
the weather-beaten boards of a hundred-year-old barn, even more of an impact.
Holcombe turns “River” into a raging torrent of words and imagery,
furious at injustice and aching for the tender moments of such songs as
“The Door” and “The Crossing.”
“It’s just the way it comes out,” Holcombe said
of his latest. “I don’t have a formula, and I don’t co-write,
per se, with other folks. If you’re fortunate enough to have a job,
whatever it may be — cleaning your own toilet, helping a neighbor get a
tree off a power line — you’ve gotta suit up and show up and be of
service and do what you think is right.
“Writing songs, making them up and picking,
that’s what I’ve been doing for a while. By the grace of the good
Lord and a lot of good friends and fans over the years, it’s kept this
ol’ boy a roof over his head and clothes on his back. It’s very
humbling, and I’m grateful to be in this realm.”
|Arkansas Democrat Gazette - 08.02.12
Arkansas Democrat Gazette
|No Depression - 08.05.12
Malcolm Holcombe - Down The River
No Depression CD review
by- Alan Harrison
August 5, 2012
A genre defining record
I only discovered Malcolm Holcombe 18 months ago when he played a
gig in the upstairs room of the Central Bar in Gateshead. At best there were 30
people in the room but when he finished the set there was a silence that lasted
5 or 6 seconds before those present all rose to their feet and the applause was
For the uninitiated Malcolm’s voice is soft, raw and
emotive and he’s had an interesting life that became the backbone of his
previous 8 albums; but nothing prepared me for the great songs that pack DOWN
BY THE RIVER.
The album opens with the righteous fury of Butcher in Town; which
is a wolf of song wrapped in sheep’s clothing.
Twisted Arms is Malcolm’s take on Society today and the
injustice and greed that surrounds us all and he doesn’t hold back
either; this is a dangerous song if you are a politician or media
The ‘prettiest’ song here is undoubtedly The Door
which has Malcolm looking back on his life as Russ Pahl’s pedal steel
playing set’s the hair on the back of your neck on end.
DOWN THE RIVER is one of the few albums that has caught my
attention on the very first listening; with Ray Kennedy’s production
keeping Holcombe’s grizzly voice to the for at all times; but I also have
to applaud the backing musicians who manage to make this sound like a band
recording rather than a singer with a bunch of hired hands in an anonymous
Speaking of ‘hired hands;’ I sat up like a meercat
when I first heard In Your Mercy. It’s an intricate and clever love song,
but just under half way through an angelic voice joins our man on harmonies.
Honestly; I thought; this girl has a gilded career ahead of her; but, flipping
heck…. it’s only Emmylou Harris duetting with Malcolm Holcombe
– who’d have thought that day would come?
A couple of years ago Neil Young huffed and puffed that there
weren’t any protest singers any more – Neil; listen to the anger,
bile and eloquence that inhabit Whitewash Job and you’ll know that these
guys are still out there; you just have to look for them.
The one track that is guaranteed to bring Malcolm to the notice
of National radio, magazines and newspapers is Trail o’ Money which
combines the best of everything else on the album; and allows Steve Earle to
share vocals and a shimmering harmonica solo on a song that I bet he wishes
he’d wrote, himself.
DOWN THE RIVER is angry, simple, complex and beautiful all rolled into one and
by far Malcolm Holcombe’s finest album to date and I promise you that it
will feature in many, many end of year Top 10 Releases of 2012.
Release Date USA 7th August UK 17th September
|No Depression (Cross posted from ninety-nine music
blog) - 08.02.12
Not zippidy-do-da – Malcolm Holcombe on his
new set, ‘Down the River’
No Depression (Cross posted from ninety-nine music blog)
August 2, 2012
-by Michael Clark
Malcolm Holcombe may not be a household name. I suspect he
doesn’t care if he is or he isn’t.
He lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina. He was born
in a different part of those mountains than where he resides today, but not all
that far – as the eagle flies.
All you need to know, though, about Holcombe’s actual
status is this: Darrell Scott and Steve Earle, two of America’s finest
songwriters, musicians and performers, showed up to support Malcolm on his
upcoming independent release, Down the River (August 7, digital; September 3,
physical copy). In addition, one of the greats, Ray Kennedy, sat behind the
board as producer while Malcolm worked his magic on 11 new tunes. On top of
that, Emmylou Harris made a guest appearance on one of the album’s
sweetest gems, In Your Mercy.
Yeah, he may not be a household name. But among the best writers
and performers in the country – in the world, most probably – he
has earned respect.
Every track of Down the River features Malcolm’s unique
guitar style, of which it was said by one writer: “Malcolm plays with his
bare fingers and his percussive attack makes it easy to overlook the precision
with which he plays.” Then there’s that voice, like Guy Clark after
a carton of Camels; so gruff and gravely you can feel every lyrical nuance,
every wry comment contained in his eloquent lyrics – from quiet,
traditional tales to blunt and powerful depictions of the greedy and the weak.
Still, even hardcore Holcombe fans will be surprised at the gentle, poignant
delivery Malcolm provides on the new album’s title track.
I spoke with Malcolm by phone this week, and what follows is
Holcombe talking about his work with the aforementioned legends, his view of
what constitutes home, and an answer to why this album may his most important
– and most political – work to date.
Toward’s the end of the interview, Malcolm quoted Townes
Van Zandt: “There’s only two kinds of music… the blues and
Down the River sure ain’t zippidy-doo-da.
Malcolm will be performing at The Down Home on Saturday August
11, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12.
Mike Clark: Ray Kennedy produced Down The River. You’ve
worked with him before; how did it feel to team with him again?
Malcolm Holcombe: Well he’s just… I’ve known
Ray now going on a long time, and he and I are real like-minded on working
together, on what we’re trying to come across with; and he’s real
old-school and very creative. He’s a nice guy, with a good heart, in my
opinion. He shoots from the hip and he’s got the goods to back it up; the
know-how, the skills, the drive and the love for the music. And I trust him
MC: Trust is very important in music, isn’t it?
MH: Trust is important when it comes to everything!
MC: In a press release, you quoted as having said you were
looking to go to Mars, and Ray fortunately knew a lot of Martians …
MH: I don’t know. I don’t read that stuff …
MC: … so he brought along some pretty good Martians –
Emmylou Harris, Darrell Scott and Steve Earle. I want to ask you a little bit
about working with those three. First, how was it to sing with Emmylou?
MH: Well, she overdubbed her part when I was out of town,
unfortunately. But I was very humble, and very grateful she was willing to sing
on that song,In Your Mercy. She came to mind, as a long shot thought. She came
to my mind that her voice on that song would be a wonderful human, but angelic
contribution. Miss Harris has always had one of my favorite voices, and is one
of my favorite human beings, in the way she put her own trip on every song she
sings, and puts her heart on the line.
MC: Darrell Scott.
MH: I’ve known Darrell for roughly 15 or 20 years.
I’ve always respected his musicianship, and he is an incredibly gifted
singer, musician, writer; so it was, you know… Once again, trust and
confidence, and he just put his own trip on it. He laid down the law and he
didn’t spare no gavel, or the gallows either.
MC: He always seems so intense on the stage, is he that intense
in the studio?
MH: He just kept his mouth shut and took care of business. He has
a very compassionate demeanor, and focused. We had a couple of grins, but
he’s very soft-spoken, eloquent and gentlemanly. And he didn’t
punch me in the nose, so that’s in the plus column. Now that can still
MC: And Steve Earle?
MH: He came in, and he’s just a man who is probably –
in my opinion – one of the most serious and poignant songwriters
that’s ever been born and is still living. As far as musicianship, and
his ability to put his own trip on it, he’s to be reckoned with. We had a
couple of laughs, told a couple of stories… and he didn’t punch me
in the nose either. I was very grateful to have him on that song, the thought
again came across that he would be an asset on it, and that he would boil the
eyeballs of it as I was seeing it… Steve kicked those eyeballs out of my
head. I was looking for someone to throw the gavel down, spring up the gallows,
and stick my neck in the noose.
Between Russ Paul, Ken Victor, Ken Coomer, Victor Krauss, Tammy
Rogers, we laid it down; laid it down. It was a wonderful experience to spin
the chamber. And we got a good record, by the grace of the Good Lord, with a
MC: You got a little more political here than I remember on this
album. Conscious, or just where your head is these days?
MH: Hopefully, the times we live in bleeds into the consciousness
of people, knowing where we are moment by moment. To me, its sticks out like a
sore thumb. There’s people can’t somehow get their minds or
thoughts of… the coin instead of their brothers and sisters, who are just
barely making it.
But Townes Van Zandt once said there was two kinds of music, the
blues and zippidy-doo-da and I tried my best to steer clear of the
MC: One more question, I know you were born in Western North
Carolina, and still live there. What keeps you in these mountains?
MH: Well, you know, it’s like a stoop in Brooklyn or a
field of corn in East Tennessee, or Chimney Rock or Mount Pisgah… or the
look in a mother’s eye. It’s home. We all have different homes,
though some of us bounce all around the world. I’m blessed that I can
still remember the look in my mother’s eyes.
So, if I don’t know what its like to grow up on a stoop in
Brooklyn, and someone else does, I don’t want to be sucking down a
McDonald’s Biggie Coke and be sitting there with my mind rotting, and not
know anything. I’ve got to get my head out of that cup.
People have to make a decision; make a choice. We have more
choices than we’ve ever had, and we have to try to make good choices.
There is still a spirit that drives people to knowledge, and to
being open-minded. We have to be peaceful and open to each other’s
characters, and take time to look in a mother’s eye, or cop’s eye,
or judge’s eye, or see the look on a cat’s eye before he lands on
your neck …
By Michael Clark
To purchase Down the River, from Amazon:
Cross posted from ninety-nine
|Lonesome Highway - 07.29.12
July 29, 2012
-by Stephen Rapid
Malcolm Holcombe- Down the River
Malcolm Holcombe is easily recognizable with a voice that sounds like
sand-blasted gravel and that voice tends to divide opinion. However there is no
doubting his writing talent and the respect that his peers have for him. On his
latest (his ninth) album he is joined by such notable musicians as Ken Coomer,
Russ Pahl, Tammy Rogers and Darrell Scott, with vocalists Kim Richey, Steve
Earle and Emmylou Harris, all of whom acknowledge Holcombe’s skills as a
writer and performer.
There is anger, frustration and understanding in these songs and
the music underscores these fragmented emotions.Twisted Arms has a tough hard
edge and some cutting guitar, while by way of contrast, the next track The Door
has a gentler acoustic edge with steel guitar. That contrast runs through the
album with Holcombe's songs alternatively full of understanding for the lives
of others or howling in rage at the injustice, imbalance and greed that exists
at many levels of society.
Some songs are stripped back to a bed of voice and guitar, with
subtle atmospherics. Holcombe uses his guitar as another means to bring his
country-blues based songs to life. The Empty Jar uses strings behind the voice
and guitar to lend a sense of hope. In Your Mercy, has a beauty and the beast
aspect with Holcombe's gritty voice contrasting with Emmylou Harris' clear
voice - a pairing that works well. Steve Earle plays harmonica and trades
verses on Trail of Money which contains the lines "My instincts are wounded, my
schools bleed with guns, my children are recklessly, lost in the sun" as a
sample of his distaste for the corporate greed that runs through society at
many levels. Those who have heard and seen Malcolm Holcombe will not need
encouragement to seek this out; others should check him out on his site and on
YouTube. Holcombe is a true troubadour, a truth teller and a man with human
frailties that are reflected in his music. Ray Kennedy's production has given
this album a sound and structure that makes it one of Holcombe's best and well
worth exploring its rivers and tributaries.
|Rock Candy - 02.27.12
-by Joe Meazle
In the interest of full disclosure, I hold Malcolm Holcombe
and his music in the highest of regard so reviewing this show with any
objectivity will be difficult at best and most likely completely out of my
reach. I had been looking forward to Holcombe’s return ever since the
powers that be down at the White Water Tavern announced the date of the show.
Over the past week I have been preaching the Gospel of Malcolm with great
fervor like some idealistic missionary to anyone that seemed to have the
slightest interest in music and would give me two minutes of their
I first saw Holcombe at his first appearance at The White Water
Tavern in November of 2009. It was truly a Road to Damascus conversion for me.
I have made it the highest of priorities to get in front of that stage every
time Holcombe has graced it since. I arrived to last night’s show early.
Holcombe was finishing up his sound check. Most there early were devotees that
had seen him prior. Those of us waiting around ended up telling stories of when
each of us had first seen him play as if we were at some tent revival telling
the stories of how and when each of us had been saved.
Matt White reintroduced me to Holcombe before the first set. When
you speak to Holcombe, he seems meek and humble. He speaks softly, asks your
name and leans in close as to be sure to hear it. He seems genuinely grateful
that you have made the effort to come see him. He started his fist set humbly
and graciously, thanking, by name, all the folks at the White Water who had
been taking care of him. He opened with “Mountains of Home,” which
seems to be a sentimental 3/4-time reflection on lifelong memories of family
and where those memories were made. The transformation had happened by the time
he finished that first song. When he launched into “Where I Don’t
Belong,” as if moved by some supernatural force, the meek and gentle man
had been replaced by a drooling, shouting, screaming, and at times barking,
fire-and-brimstone backwoods preacher who beat and tugged at his guitar as if
he was trying to flush Old Scratch himself from within its hollow wooden
About a half-dozen songs into the set, Holcombe was starting one
of his deceptively meandering stories that lead the crowd headlong into the
next song without them even knowing, when one of the patrons produced a beer
pitcher containing a small amount of paper money and placed it at the front of
the stage for folks to provide additional gratuity if so moved. Holcombe
stopped in mid-sentence and very brusquely refused the gesture, saying:
“Get that bucket out from under me.” He then stood up, grabbed the
pitcher and stuck it far out of reach of the crowd, saying: “I’ll
move it my damn self. Y’all paid to get in here, didn’t
So this is where I have to end my feeble attempt at a church
metaphor. You see, I can draw many parallels with Malcolm and the Bible-Belt
Christian experience. But I am not aware of a preacher ever turning down a
collection plate. He finished the first set with “Who Carried You?”
This song seems to have the right proportions of all the right ingredients. It
is just dark enough to not be too sentimental, just enough of a play on words
as to not be too dark.
After a well-deserved smoke break, Holcombe returned to the stage
for another set of 10 or so songs including “Love Me Like a Fool,”
the haunting “Dressed in White,” ”Drink the Rain,”
“To the Homeland” and “A Far Cry from Here.” After a
brief amount of urging, he provided a three-song encore. This included granting
a request for the song “Room Eleven.” The closest thing to a
disappointment I can even mention is that there were not more people there.
Given that it was a Sunday night and an early show, the 30 or so people that
were there was probably a pretty fine showing. Most of the folks there were
clearly devotees. If you will indulge me in one last church comparison, you
should know that if you talk too much, be prepared to get the evil eye from one
of the church ladies.
Sadly I have not allowed myself enough space to adequately
describe Adam Faucett’s opening set. I would be remiss to not at least
acknowledge his efforts. His music is well written and well performed and is
haunting to be sure. When he finished playing his song “I Don't Need You
to Love Me Anymore,” I heard someone in the audience say, “Wow! I
almost started crying.” His use of alternate tunings, slipping into
falsettos and overall eeriness and sadness conjures up thoughts of Skip James.
I consider that to be among the highest of compliments.
|Birmingham News - 01.19.12
-by Mary Colurso
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Plenty of independent
singer-songwriters are struggling during the recession, butMalcolm Holcombe
isn’t the type to complain. Well, not much.
“It’s tough for everyone, unless you’re one of
the 1 percent,” says Holcombe, who plays a blend of folk, blues and
country. “It’s never been a cakewalk.”
The North Carolina native has been making records since 1985, or
thereabouts, and experience has made him wary of the mainstream music
“It’s show business, man,” Holcombe says during
a phone interview. “I disdain all that.”
But Holcombe keeps writing tunes and recording them, earning
praise for his rough-hewn voice and poetic imagery.
His admirers include fellow musicians such as Lucinda Williams,
Tim O’Brien and Mary Gauthier. Holcombe also has fans at music magazines
that range from American Songwriter to Rolling Stone.
Self-promotion is the last thing on his mind, though, when
Holcombe is asked to chat about his latest album, 2011’s “To Drink
"I don’t write songs for money,” he says. “I
write songs because they come to me.”
What keeps him going, aside from the artistic satisfaction?
“The grace of the good Lord,” Holcombe says. “A
lot of prayers and my wife’s potato salad.”
Ask him for the recipe on Jan. 20, if you like, when Holcombe
performs at Moonlight on the Mountain in Hoover. He’s no stranger to the
concert venue, 585 Shades Crest Road, and has a longstanding professional
relationship with owner Keith Harrelson.
“It’s a nice little venue,” Holcombe says.
“I’ll bang on a guitar.”
|Creative Loafing - 01.10.12
- by Jeff Hahne
January 10, 2012
Click here for the PDF article pg. 1
here for the PDF article pg. 2
|Mountain Times - 01.05.12
-by Jerry Sena
January 5, 2012
Malcolm Holcombe has been up and down thousands of roads in
his decades’ long career as a songsmith, singer, guitarist and general
After too many roads and too many newspaper interviews to count,
Holcombe admitted this week, in the same gravelly drawl that colors his songs,
that he doesn’t even bother keeping track anymore.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t
count ’em. I do the best I can to show up and play.”
Yet another highway will bring Holcombe and his unique brand of
mountain, country, folk blues to Boone’s 641 rpm on Friday, Jan. 13.
He’ll perform his songs, including selections from his new Music House
Records release, “To Drink the Rain,” beginning at 8 p.m.
This is Holcombe’s second Boone appearance in as many
years. He played 641 rpm last December, though he said he doesn’t have
any specific recollection of the occasion.
“Just another stop along the road,” he said.
“Just trying to get the job done.”
Even if Holcombe can’t sort out the blur of a thousand
one-night stands, there’s little doubt that he imparts lasting memories
to the audiences he leaves behind. His music is filled with striking stories
that speak of joy and sorrow, struggles and the everyday fears and humble
triumphs of hard luck people.
At once downhome and worldly, Holcombe’s lyrics move
unselfconsciously between romantic love and inevitable death. Some, such as
“Down in the Woods,” an upbeat paean to Holcombe’s beloved
Blue Ridge Mountains, at times more resemble psalms than folk songs, with
plaintive cries to “turn loose o’ my tongue,” and
exultations, such as “thank God for the stars, each one in the
Despite sacred overtones, it’s Holcombe’s love of
earthly things that comes through most clearly.
If Holcombe’s vocal chords sound as if they might have been
slathered in coal pitch and set to a slow burn, it’s a beautiful, awful
voice that soothes just as well as it can rile the spirit. And it never sounds
a false note. That voice has attracted comparisons to those of Bob Dylan and
Tom Waits, but Holcombe’s is carried along by an unaffected integrity
that neither Dylan nor Waits can claim.
Holcombe grew up in the country around Asheville, where legend
has it he cut his musical teeth.
According to one story he tells, his mother bought his first
guitar from Sears. Before he had a chance to play it, though, a younger cousin
toddled over to use it as a seat and crushed it.
His next flat top came from his father and a shady Asheville
pawnshop. When an old Mel Bay guitar instruction book proved unhelpful in
teaching him to play, Holcombe eschewed it and took to playing by ear and
observation. He appears to have channeled those youthful disappointments into
an emphatic style that surprises with its fearless variations between delicate
Though he has brushed against Nashville and the temptations and
corrupting influences of big-moneyed record companies, the experience has left
him glad to be back on his land near Ashville (Swannanoa to be exact), plying
his trade from stop to stop.
In the meantime Holcombe’s reputation has steadily moved
into the company of cult artists like Townes Van Zandt, whose status among
critics and other songwriters far outpaced any name recognition among the
mainstream American public. His 2008 release, “Gamblin’
House,” was listed among the year’s top albums in Billboard’s
annual Critic’s Choice issue. Yet, like many underappreciated American
artists, Holcombe was compelled to seek a broader audience in the U.K. and
Wherever the audience, Holcombe will show up ready for work
– a guy with a guitar and some stories, no different from the help in the
back washing the dishes or slinging the hash.
“Just trying to get the job done,” he likes to say.
“In my opinion, it’s a gift to have the breath of life in your
nostrils and your lungs. Some people are good at finding (their gift) whether
they’re good with their hands, good with their eyes, good with their
minds, or just good at listening.”
Anyone who’s heard Holcombe sing knows what he’s good
at. He’ll be working at 641 rpm in Boone (691 W. King St.) on Friday,
Jan. 13, at 8 p.m. All ages welcome. Cover is $8.