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| 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 from it?
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 truth.
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 couch.
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 album?
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.
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| 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” (2011).
“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.”
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| Blue Matters - January 2013
-by Stuart A Hamilton
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| Acoustic Magazine - January 2013
-by Julian Piper
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| 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 voice.
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 North America.
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 words.
“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 said.
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| Maverick Magazine - Nov/Dec 2012
- by Alan Harrison
Click here for the PDF article
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| 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 too.
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| 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
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| 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 the story.
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.
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| 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 Depression.
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.
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| 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 (Self Release)
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 album.
More Info: malcolmholcombe.com
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| 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?
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| 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 Hipsters.”
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 Harris.
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.
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| 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.
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| Tipperary Star - 09.30.12
Renowned Singer Malcolm Holcombe Set To Feature In Clonmel And Carrick
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 30th.
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 truth”.
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 Carolina.
The multiple perspectives of these songs speak of the man who wrote them.
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 own shows.
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.
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| 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 folk/country hybrid.
Holcombe was signed to major-label Geffen Records after his stint in Nashville.
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
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| 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 pissed off.
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.”
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| Revolver Lust for Life Magazine - September 2012
Revolver Lust for Life Magazine
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 adem
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 reinste
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| Blurt Magazine - 09.17.12
Down the River
(Gypsy Eyes Music)
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 formidable impact.
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.
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| 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 river.”
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| 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 out.
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| 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 instinct.
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 album!
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| 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.
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| 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 River.”
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 Carolina.
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 banjo.
“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 it.”
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.”
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| Q Magazine - October
-by Andy Fyfe
Click here for the PDF article
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| 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 Your Mercy’.
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
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| 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 breakout.
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| 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 (email@example.com)
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.”
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| Arkansas Democrat Gazette - 08.02.12
Arkansas Democrat Gazette
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| 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 deafening.
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 personality.
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 studio.
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
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| 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 zippidy-doo-da.”
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 happen…
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 focus.
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 zippidy-do-dah.
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
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| 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.
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| 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 time.
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 cavity.
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 you?”
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.
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| 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 industry.
“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 the Rain.”
"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.”
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| Creative Loafing - 01.10.12
- by Jeff Hahne
January 10, 2012
Click here for the PDF article pg. 1
Click here for the PDF article pg. 2
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| 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 troubadour.
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 heavens.”
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 and rough-hewn.
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 Europe.
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.
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| Toronto Press - November 2011
Click here for the PDF article
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| Toronto Star - 10.27.11
October 27, 2011
- by Greg Quill
• Forget the critics’ superlatives, the misguided allusions to Waits, Van Zandt and Prine, and just check out the numerous live YouTube video performances by North Carolina songwriter/guitaristMalcolm Holcombe, or listen to his recent recording, To Drink the Rain, for evidence of a new and powerful presence in the overpopulated folk-roots/Americana universe. Holcombe’s bringing his killer songs, with their heartbreakingly sad, surreal and often venomous lyrics, and his brave, assertive guitar picking to Toronto for the first time Wednesday night at the Rivoli. (332 Queen St. W. Tickets are $15 at ticketweb.ca, Rotate This and Circus Books & Music. The Rattlesnake Choir open – an inspired match.)
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| Toronto Globe and Mail - 10.30.11
Toronto Globe and Mail
October 30, 2011
-by Brad Wheeler
Malcolm Holcombe on truth, honesty and a peanut butter sandwich
From Monday's Globe and Mail
This week, the rugged country-blues troubadour Malcolm Holcombe performs in Canada for the first time. The North Carolinian, whose latest album To Drink the Rain speaks to wandering, worrying and the sweeter skies of home, spoke to us from the road.
Your song One Man Singin’ has a line about a soul of a singer’s voice being “familiar to the marrow,” with an ability to turn hearts loose from heads and stopping the pain in people’s chest, if just for a second. Does that describe what you do?
I try to give ’em my show as best as I can, and to come across with as much truth and honesty as I can muster up. If you’re going to eat a peanut butter sandwich, just go ahead and put both hands on there and just chow down.
Are you referring to what you put across emotionally, or are we talking showmanship?
I’m not really good at showmanship. A lot of that’s theatre and a lot of that’s fake. I just try and be myself. Dylan said that he’s more Bob Dylan on stage when he’s singing his song. I’ll just go ahead and steal that quote.
You’re known for telling stories though, aren’t you?
I don’t do dog tricks, but I can tell stories and try to form a relationship with the audience. If I can get someone to tap their feet or laugh or take their mind off their troubles, I’m doing okay.
And what do you get out of the deal?
There’s a poison in this world, where people are consumed with themselves. I check my motives, my hands and my thoughts all the time – 24/7. If I can give back a little something, the rest of it’ll shake out down the line, and it ain’t gonna be on this planet.
To get back to showmanship, do you have any thoughts on someone like Tom Waits, who puts on a bit of an act on stage?
He’s got a shtick. But he’s a real thoughtful, soulful writer, and he has a lot of compassion, a lot of intuition and he’s able to spin a tale that comes across the palm of his hand as being as real as rain.
Do you buy into the notion that when artists like yourself, or Townes Van Zandt or Steve Earle, go through hard times, that somehow your art is more authentic?
When I was drunk and trying to write a song on paper, and when I sobered up I couldn’t read what I wrote, that was a drag. Being influenced by chemicals just fogged my vision.
How do you account for your rising career fortunes now, at age 56?
I don’t know. I think if you hang around the barbershop long enough, you get a haircut. I’m sure you’ve heard that one.
Yes, from you. You’ve said that in other interviews.
[Laughs] Yeah, man, I’ve got to learn some new Canadian expressions. I’ve never stepped foot in Canada. At least I don’t remember it.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Malcolm Holcombe plays Toronto’s Rivoli on Nov. 2 and Hamilton’s This Ain’t Hollywood, Nov. 3.
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| Portland Press Herald - 10.27.11
Portland Press Herald
October 27, 2011
-by Ray Routhier
Music: Malcolm Holcombe still ramblin'
By Ray Routhier firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Earle has called singer-guitarist Malcolm Holcombe the “best songwriter I ever threw out of my recording studio.”
That says a lot. First, Earle is one of the most critically acclaimed songwriters of his era, so he knows musical talent when he sees it.
He’s also famous for battling addiction and being hard to work with. So if he had to throw Holcombe out of his studio, you know Holcombe was not exactly a saint.
Holcombe, 56, says his days of drinking and explosive behavior are behind him now. Hes says he's been sober for years, and that his goal is to play music as long as he can and hope it helps him, and others, along the way.
But even when he’s being humble about his success as a musician, his thoughts seem to ramble in ways that are not easy for everyone to follow.
The same can be said for many of his songs.
“I count my blessings that a lot of folks have been really kind to me – whether they’re doing their job, or exploiting me, or smiling or laughing – people come to my shows,” said Holcombe. “From my perspective, I’m just trying to be of service and keep body and soul together, like most people.
“A lot of people wear a black hat on the inside; I like to think mine is just dingy white. At the end of the day, everyone wants to work for a healthier path for all concerned, though it may not always seem that way.”
Holcombe will perform a show at One Longfellow Square in Portland tonight. It’s a suitably intimate venue for a performer whose music is intensely personal.
Holcombe has gained critical raves during his more than 30 years in music, especially for his thoughtful songwriting and soulful Appalachian-based folk sound. He grew up in small town outside of Asheville, N.C. He remembers being influenced by seeing the bluegrass duo of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs on TV in the early 1960s during the national folk revival. But he was also a fan of 1960s pop radio.
He eventually wound up in Nashville, working as a dishwasher and performing when he could. He wowed enough people to get a deal with Geffen Records and make an album, but it was shelved.
Beginning in the 1990s, Holcombe moved back to North Carolina and made a string of albums that gained him a following here and in Europe, especially in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Today, he still lives near Asheville and travels the world performing his songs. Although his music has been categorized by critics as “country blues” or Americana, Holcombe wants to call it just folk. For a very specific reason.
“It’s got fewer syllables, and that’s what we all are – just folk,” he said.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be
contacted at 791-6454 or at:
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| News Leader - 10.06.11
The News Leader
October 6, 2011
-by Bill Kramer
Malcolm Holcombe, who will play Mockingbird on Oct. 14, is an artist whose music has been described by David Fricke of Rolling Stone as "Not quite country, somewhere beyond folk, Holcombe's music is a kind of blues in motion, mapping backwoods corners of the heart."
Apparently, those backwoods corners of the heart have come quite hard-earned by Holcombe, who has had public difficulties with alcohol and drugs, as well as family challenges.
What is clear is that having battled demons of various sorts in his career, he has emerged — however cryptic — as a performer of commanding presence, one whose latest recording "To Drink the Rain" shows he's reached a weathered — though triumphant — place and his fans (and peers) have taken notice.
Singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams, who knows a thing about country and the blues, has said of Holcombe's release, "From the first note I was drawn in. Malcolm Holcombe is an old soul and modern day blues poet. He is a rare find."
The new project is his eighth release and was recorded rather quickly by today's recording standards, most of the tracks in just one pass at the song (another rarity in studio recording) and the result is an immediacy and intimacy of his musical soul. On the other hand, in an email interview with the News Leader, Holcombe's answers are less revealing, with a less-than-expansive nature of talking about his work and a sometimes ambiguous nature.
When asked by email to characterize his own sound, which has been described as a Texas/Nashville kind of country blues, he replied, "It's plain folk music."
When asked about his approach to songwriting, he replied, "It's a crap shoot. If you like corn, grab a hoe." One would suppose that writing his far-from simple "folk music" would require at least the kind of effort and patience that it takes to grow food as well as a random occurrence.
Holcombe is someone who reveals more of himself in his music than he does in his answers about it. A listen to "To Drink the Rain" shows a great depth of thought and feeling. "Where I Don't Belong" examines one's fate and actions, while "One Man Singin'" and the title track "To Drink the Rain" seem as close to autobiographical as he's going to get, though the former is delivered with tender mercy while the second seems like it could have been sung by Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters.
When asked about how his songs evolve from the way they were recorded in the studio to how he performs them live, he replied "My short-term memory offers an unlimited amount of trial and error." One might surmise that perhaps he's saying that the songs do indeed change characteristics in a live setting.
Holcombe does, however, reveal more clear thoughts and gratitude about his longtime friend and producer Jared Tyler. Tyler has stuck with Holcombe through all his trails and tribulations, produced "To Drink the Rain" and has obviously been an encouragement for him beyond a professional level. "I'd take a bullet for him and still owe him money," Holcombe stated in an email.
An indication of the loyalty and respect that those in the music business for Holcombe is also reflected in the fact that when Tyler called Dave Roe, who played in Johnny Cash's last band, to play bass on the CD sessions, he canceled some previous commitments. Afterward, he said: "Malcolm is the only artist that I would fight to be on his recording."
Holcombe was typically cryptic as he explained what he'd learned after making eight recordings: "Be honest with folks you trust and have faith in them with respect ... and don't hog the coffee pot."
He cited his influences as "Townes Van Zandt, David Olney, Tony Arata and a bunch of folk long gone. Thanks and God bless y'all." It's been said that Holcombe emerged from his various struggles with a renewed faith. When inquired of him if this was so, he wrote, "Yes far beyond any shadow of a doubt, but my struggle is peanuts compared to those with and before me."
Mockingbird plays host to some fine artists, of all stripes. But none more enigmatic than Holcombe, who finished his email with, "Looking forward to the Mockingbird and I try to be of service to my fellow brother and sister...."
E-mail Go! music critic Bill Kramer at email@example.com.
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| Nashville Scene - 09.22.11
September 22, 2011
-by Jack Silverman
Malcolm Holcombe w/Dana Cooper
When: Fri., Sept. 23, 6 p.m. 2011
I first saw Holcombe play in 1997, and was absolutely stunned — never before had I been so blown away by one man and an acoustic guitar. But his weakness for booze and other excesses was glaringly evident — both in his demeanor, and in whispered tales of legendary binges, pawned guitars and blown opportunities. He appeared so near the precipice, in fact, that it seemed inconceivable that the he’d be breathing, let alone putting out great records, 14 years later. But here it is 2011, and Holcombe has somehow managed to steer back onto the long, lonesome highway. The suspense of whether he might fall off his stool may be gone, but his unorthodox finger picking, singular songwriting style and unearthly voice are as spellbinding as ever — he’s like a grizzled backwoods mystic who’s wandered down from some dank Blue Ridge cavern. To Drink the Rain is the latest in a string of consistently strong albums since his course correction. Highlights include the country-blues stomper “One Leg at a Time,” the waltzing spiritual “Down in the Woods” and the sweet, lilting folksong “Reckon to the Wind.” And stick around for Dana Cooper, who plays the late show: Of his most recent album, theScene’s Jim Ridley writes, “The Conjurer finds Cooper the ‘mysterious man of mellifluous melody’ breathing new life into raw tunes nearly four decades deep in his catalog, with a sprightly roots-rock snap that wouldn’t be out of place on a Peter Case record.”
— Jack Silverman
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| Yes Weekly - 08.17.11
- by Ryan Snyder
Malcolm Holcombe delivers an unsettlingly beautiful set at the Blind Tiger. (photo by Ryan Snyder)
Few performers are worth going to blows over to enjoy, but then again, not everyone sings and plays and carries on like Malcolm Holcombe, last Friday night’s performer at the Blind Tiger. When the spirit possesses the hardscrabble Appalachian bard, he can possess you, and suddenly the blustering yokel who walks in mid-show at one of his malattended sets is just begging to be told righteously to shut the hell up — or something to that effect. To fully appreciate the animal of Malcolm Holcombe, you have to buckle in and focus; far be it for anyone to interfere with that.
Of course, Holcombe himself looks like someone not so inclined to take any guff, and he definitely doesn’t spare the F-bombs. With a wardrobe fit for a hobo and a just a few strands of scraggly hair wafting from the edges of his dome, he looks like an older, meaner version of Killer Bob from “Twin Peaks.” There’s a distinctly Dada-ist quality to Holcombe’s performances, though. His rapid convulsions and profanity-laced outbursts suggest mental illness — actors might spend their entire lives perfecting the unsettling mania that he emits. But then he drops a beautifully twisted piece of real life on you via lyric and melody and suddenly you’re convinced that there’s a perfectly sane, genuine, possible genius performing before you.
He’s currently touring on songs from his eighth album To Drink the Rain, a collection of songs that are arguably his most clear headed. He still plays the part well on “Sparrows and Sparrows,” but no longer is he the tender hearted drunk that Tom Waits projects sympathetically; on “Where I Don’t Belong,” he accepts his place in the afterlife for worse. Yet, he followed such vexing trips with lamentful, comforting pieces like “Mountain Home” and “A Far Cry From Here” from his first album. Then there are the downright tearjerkers like his story of young, unprepared parents, “For the Mission Baby,” that hit you like a punch in the gut.
He played solo, rather than with the lush accompaniment he received on To Drink the Rain, giving his songs an intensity that matches his own. For every gravelly bellow he lets loose, he’s bending and snapping strings, or beating on the body of his CF Martin guitar, displaying a style born more of the delta than Appalachia, a primitive col lection of root chords that eventually drifts to country, jazz as needed.
His playing is as unconventional as it is uncanny, but he probably has a story that backs that up, and his repertoire of anecdotes is as surreal as they get. “I came to school out here in 1976,” he said. “Can’t remember why.” He’s recovered from those years in the throes of alcohol, and songs like “Becky’s Blessed” suggest he’s learned an appreciation for the sweet and simple things. He suggested to the crowd that everyone, at some point, needs take the time to sit behind the driver of a city bus, simply because they’re the best listeners. He thanked the bartender for his pineapple juice and the soundmen for the wedges in his monitor, all by name. He’s an uncommon kind of troubadour to be certain, and if you ever walk into a bar where he’s playing, just shut the hell up and pay attention.
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| Folk Alley - 08.11.11
Review: Malcomb Holcombe ~ To Drink the Rain
August 11, 2011
By Jim Blum, FolkAlley.com
To Drink the Rain
Despite his gravelly voice and tough exterior Malcolm Holcombe can touch your heart. He may poke you in the ribs to get there, but he will get there. This new album, To Drink the Rain is as spunky as it is thoughtful.
The album opens with a clear direction of Malcolm's intent - to share insight he has discovered, and to make sure you have fun hearing it. "I'm gonna put on my britches one leg at time..." We've heard that message before, but it's embellished here in the album's opener with an engaging backwoods philosophy similar to John Prine. "Behind the Number One" is a more serious message about power and freedom and the questionable distribution process for both. Malcolm seems to be implying a second message behind this song - that it is sad more of us DON'T question our lack of freedoms. Another highlight is the lighter "Reckon to the Wind."
The album's title song may be the most telling about the author: "To Drink the Rain." Holcombe is not hiding the fact that he had struggled with alcohol and anger. He is many years sober now, and much more cordial. Trying to relieve stress and disappointment can indeed be as difficult as trying "to drink the rain," but it's obvious as you listen that Malcolm decided to make the attempt. He also seems to be reaching out to us in case we might be dealing with the same struggle. This one is worth listening to several times.
Repeated listens are not hard either. The musicianship is solid and the band makes each song a romp. Luke Bulla plays fiddle and producer Jared Tyler plays Dobro. Guitarist Andrew Hardin (Tom Russell and Lucinda Williams) contributes the leads. Dave Roe (Johnny Cash) plays bass and said that he would buy his own plane ticket to record with Malcolm. Let's also give a shout out to Music Road Records, spearheaded by Jimmy LaFave and Kelcy Warren. Without these two we might not have this album.
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| Mojo Magazine - August 2011
Click here for the PDF article
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| Acoustic Magazine - July 2011
- by Julian Piper
Click here for the PDF article
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| Allgigs Review - June 2011
- by Peter Innes
Recorded in Austin Texas and songs copyrighted to Gypsy Eyes music (youngsters, that's a tip of the hat to our Man, James Marshall Hendrix, may his glorious arse be forever perched upon scarlet cushions of the finest silk) - you kinda sense there might be something in the air. And my naive heart melts when a fellow dreamer Holcombe, my best buddy that I ain't never met and probably ain't never gonna meet, talks of our shared creed that "supports the fellowships of songwriters worldwide, through the grace of god."
American mountain music is the white immigrants' blues and here, thankfully, it's not something that's stuck away as a memento of the past, on a cobwebbed shelf next to Doc Boggs, something to be revered but not touched - no sir-ee Bob. If we acknowledge current musical movements like nu-country, nu-soul and nu-blues then this, for sure, is the birth of nu-bluegrass as a tradition that's alive, that's been dusted off, that breathes and pulses. Lucinda Williams says - high praise - that Holcombe is "an old soul and a modern-day blues poet".
Recorded in one-take without over-dubs with a crack band of Texas and Nashville hot-shots, this is (something like) his ninth album in five years. Holcombe's thick, well-travelled voice ain't so much weather-beaten as storm-damaged and "One Leg at a Time" kicks off with infectious hard-to-resist 1950s' skip-time guitar picking and fiddle-bowing, lyrically a "walk before you run" parable. A peach of a pining, country lament, "Mountains of Home", clip-clop rhythm and all, has a wonderfully sludgy, imprecisely slurred vocal that's reminiscent of the great Jimmy Reed. "Behind The Number One" is a Dylanesque dirge de-dirged into pacey uplifting modern country music with oomph, that's blessed with articulate musicianship, already a favourite that I'll take time getting to know and savour. There is something intangible about this that just feels so very right, and this fella is, maybe, a one-off, a treasure.
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-by Gerard Matthews
over-used. It's a word that's been cheapened
by movie trailers and slapped on the back cover
of dime novels. But it perfectly describes Malcolm Holcombe's performance
at the White Water Tavern last night.
The audience sat in rapt attention,
jaws hanging slightly open, their brows furrowed,
concentrating on what was going on in
front of them and trying to figure out how they
felt about it. Holcombe's style is challenging,
his guitar-picking manic, his lyrics
beautiful. He wore a patched-up leather jacket,
out jeans and boots. He rocks as he plays, shifting
violently (yet rhythmically) and balancing
his chair alternately on its back and front
legs. He shakes his head back and forth as if
the sounds coming from his old beater
guitar and his own weathered growl are causing
some sort of seizure. Writing in this space in December
of 2009, Robert Bell described a Holcombe's stage presence
Throughout the performance, he plucked the strings
so hard they rang out like a tire iron
dropped on the concrete shop floor. It’s amazing that he doesn’t
constantly break strings, but perhaps this owes to his
considerable chops. It is rare
to see such an incredible singer/songwriter
who is also a stone badass guitar player. Most just strum
their simple chords. Holcombe practically
lyrics, his rugged howl and his intricate guitar
work command attention from the audience. On
many occasions throughout the night
he managed to make even the most dedicated bar-talkers
shut the hell up and listen. The man
comes alive on stage, telling stories that initially
seem anything but germane, until you hear the
next song and realize that every word
is calculated. In the middle of the show,
a friend of mine turned to me and asked, "Who do you think he sounds like?" I
just shrugged my shoulders and didn't say anything. I couldn't come
up with any one. "Exactly," my friend said. Holcombe is like
Country Press 05.10.11
High Country Press
May 10, 2011
-by Jason Gilmer
Malcolm Holcombe Plays 641rpm Saturday
Singer-songwriter Malcolm Holcombe returns to Boone on Saturday to
play an 8:00 p.m. show at 641 rpm.
The first, most obvious, observation
you make when listening to Malcolm Holcombe
is his voice. His guitar playing and
lyrics garner plenty of attention, too,
but it ’s the voice that grabs you.
Tom Waits and Melissa Etheridge having a child,
and that would almost capture Holcombe ’s gruff voice.
“He has a voice with a world-weary warmth that makes every word
sound like poetry,” The Music Critic wrote earlier this year
living in the Asheville area, will be
back in Boone at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 21,
at 641 rpm, which is located
at 691 West King Street in Boone. The cost for
the all-ages show is $7.
recent album, To Drink The Rain, was released
in February, and he’s
mixing his set lists with those songs
and recordings from his other seven releases.
So is Holcombe, whose music is as raw as it is
good, more of a storyteller or singer-songwriter?
“I don’t even think about it one way or the other,” he
said. “If you hang around the barbershop long enough, you’re
going to get a shoe shine or a haircut. ”
has garnered critical appeal, with Rolling Stone’s
David Fricke giving Holcombe’s 1999 release, A Hundred Lies,
four stars. Other pundits have also enjoyed his
stories and tell-it-like-it-is approach.
“Hopefully you can tap your foot to it,” Holcombe said
about his new album. “It’s just another chapter in the
human condition. With all of the impulses and sweat from politics to
keeping bread on the table and your ass out of the gutter, it’s
something we all can hopefully sink our teeth
into. With life in general, it may be a little
bit of music that we can pass along to people
to help us keep off the edge. ”
is touring with his acoustic guitar, but he had
a great cast of musicians play on To Drink The
Rain, including Johnny Cash’s
bass player Dave Roe.
He recently toured Holland and Belgium with longtime
sideman Jerry Tyler, who produced the most recent CD.
“I’ve been over there many, many times. Folks have been
very kind to me, ” Holcombe
Even though the new album was just released, Holcombe is already thinking
of new material.
a question about his songwriting style with this
I put another coat of paint on my barn pretty
regular. I always keep my paint brush wet. ”
The brush is wet, the voice is gravely and Holcombe has songs that
are rivaled by any Americana or folk artist around.
For more information on Holcombe, click to www.malcolmholcombe.com
and for more information on the show, call 828-865-9641 or click to
May 10, 2011
- by Andrew Gilstrap
Malcolm Holcombe: To Drink the Rain
Plenty of singers sound like they’ve
followed a lifelong regimen of whiskey
and cigarettes, but sometimes you wonder
if they aren’t putting on a bit
of an act. Not so with Malcolm Holcombe.
By the time he’s done singing,
growling, and rasping his way through
a song, you can just tell: that voice
isn’t merely lived in; it might
have even been to the edge. His own bio
even goes so far as to mention the belief
among fans that they’d soon be
talking about Holcombe in the past tense.
Luckily, that hasn’t been the case.
Holcombe’s traveled a long road
since his debut record was inexplicably
shelved by Geffen Records, releasing
eight (as of To Drink the Rain)
increasingly accomplished albums.
Whatever demons Holcombe’s fought over the years, though, he
seems to be past them now. Perhaps as a result, To Drink the Rain might
be the most upbeat record of Holcombe’s career. He’s still
intense—even shuffling album opener “One Leg At a Time”,
with its gritty homespun humor, sounds like hard-won wisdom. “Mountains
of Home” is wistful, tender, and emotional. At first blush, Holcombe
still seems like a force of nature, but not the singer who always sounded
like he was on the verge of crushing his acoustic guitar in his hands
as he played. It’s not long, though, before he’s growling
through the protest song “Behind the Number One” (“There’s
a land o’ milk and honey / Full o’ lawsuits left and right
/ Keeps me jumpin’ in the water / Drownin’ demons in the
night”), and the title track is one of Holcombe’s finest
examples of his gutbucket blues style to date. To Drink the Rain, though,
leaves the listener with the impression that it’s a gentle record,
represented more by pastoral moments like “Down in the Woods” (“Way
down in the woods / Touchin’ moss so soft / On the deadwood dyin’ /
In time ’s fertile arms”)
by a full-bodied country-blues feel (aided
in no small part by the work of folks like Luke
Bulla on fiddle, Dave Roe on upright
bass, and Jared Tyler on dobro and acoustic slide),
To Drink the Rain is easily on a par
with Holcombe’s most recent—and arguably
some of his best—work. What’s more, it casts a spotlight
on the more subtle aspects of Holcombe’s songwriting that often
go unnoticed. I live near Holcombe’s stomping grounds, and there
are plenty of tales of him scaring the bejeezus out of genteel arts
festival crowds. As primal as Holcombe can come across on disc, he’s
even more visceral on-stage, so it’s even more impressive that
To Drink the Rain can capture those aspects of Holcombe’s music
that initially seem at odds with one another.
Magazine - May 2011
- by Julian Piper
here for the PDF article
April 3, 2011
- by Andy Snipper
To Drink The Rain
To listen to Malcolm Holcombe you ideally
need to be in a position where you have no other distractions and
where you can give full attention to his harsh
and gravelly voice and songs full of Country/Blues history and soul.
He is soaked and almost drowned in the tradition of storytelling that
has been the staple of Americana for years but he also has a freshness and
his singing, far removed from the mechanically jaded voice of many in
the same genre.
His sidekicks on this, his eighth, album are also the stuff of legend
- bass courtesy of Johnny Cash’ bassman Dave Roe as well as Luke
Bulla on fiddle and Jared Tyler on dobro (he also produced the album)
and the whole album sounds as though it was recorded in single takes
of each song. There are some mistakes but only natural and honest ones
and the spirit of the music overrides any bum notes or missed rhythms.
Holcombe writes and sings of ordinary life and
the simple things that make for heroes, the music equally simple yet
heroic and the playing is often exceptional but completely understated – It
really isn’t an overstatement to suggest that this is the epitome
of Country Blues.
Becky’s Blessed (backporch flowers)’ almost sums up his
approach; a simple yet heartfelt song with sympathetic playing including
some heart wrenching dobro – never overstretching or trying to
make more of itself than the song deserves. ‘Where I Don’t
Belong’ has a rough and forceful vocal and ‘Mighty City’ skitters
and shuffles with lightness of touch and real verve along with lyrics
that border on the surreal – Luke Bulla’s fiddle is sublime.
A truly superb album and full of soul and heart from a man who has
refound his muse and himself.
Chord to Another -
One Chord to Another
March 29, 2011
Review: Malcolm Holcombe – To Drink The
Malcolm Holcombe: To Drink The Rain (Music Road
To Drink The Rain is Malcolm Holcombe’s eight album, but the
first one that I’ve heard. Well better late than never (if we
start to celebrate the cliche), because this is pretty amazing stuff.
Some of the rawest country-blues of the record might slide out of pop
fan’s comfort zone, but this is only an issue with a couple of
the songs. On most parts, To Drink The Rain easily floats into the
core of my heart and songs like Becky’s Blessed (Backporch Flowers)
and One Man Singin’ also finds a place to stay there. Especially
Becky’s Blessed is one of the best songs of the year so far.
This man is definitely a hardcore troubadour and able to write extremely
captivating country, folk & blues songs and the album is full of
down-to-earth & rough beauty. Maybe the album is not stylewise
my closest companion, but Malcolm sounds so convincing all the time
that I just have to throw all the prejudices away and just listen to
one man singing.
11 March, 2011
-by Alan Harrison
Gateshead Central Bar
Friday 11th March 2011
Singer-songwriters Malcolm Holcombe and Richard
Dawson are both best described as ‘acquired tastes’ and
neither will ever trouble the ‘Best dressed men’ edition
of GQ magazine; but it’s the music that matters and both men
held the 70 or 80 fans in Gateshead’s Central Bar spellbound
on a cold March evening.
Local lad Richard is candidly open about his battle with depression
and uses music as his therapy. It’s always difficult and challenging
to watch him perform but if you can see past his tortured expressions
and a guitar held together with gaffer tape and good luck you will
hear a succession of Avant-Garde songs that document his troubled life
and that of his close family and friends.
In the introduction to Granddads’ Deathbed Hallucinations Richard
described the song as not being very cheery even though it was littered
with the old mans humorous observations.
Another noticeable thing about his performance
is Richard’s ability to use words, melodies and even notes sparingly
and only when absolutely necessary. This was especially evident on
the beautifully brittle Black Dog in the Sky.
By comparison Malcolm Holcombe was a barrel of laughs! And there’s
not many times in his life he’ll hear that sentence.
Running old man Steptoe a close race in the Sartorial Stakes Malcolm
Holcombe made himself comfortable by draping his woolly hat and battered
leather coat on a nearby chair before taking his seat in front of the
microphone; opening the set with Going Home.
Unless you were a long time fan it was nearly impossible to make out
what some songs actually were because of Malcolm’s growlingly
intense delivery. At times it even looked as if he was having a fit
as he forced the words out or attempted to get the perfect sound out
of his well travelled Martin guitar.
For me the songs from Holcombe’s latest album TO DRINK THE RAIN
were a lot warmer and accessible than on record; especially Mountains
of Home which was simply outstanding, Becky’s Blessed and the
powerful Comes the Blues.
Although not exactly ‘laugh out loud funny’ the drunkards
lament One Leg at a Time raised a few smiles around the room too.
As the evening wore on Malcolm included a few anecdotes in between
songs but didn’t always finish the sentence or have a tag line
to what could have been a funny story as his mind continually wandered.
My favourite tale was when he muttered something about crossing the
Tyne Bridge and the twinkling lights and reflections on the River Tyne
had made him think of his wife back in Carolina. Holcombe then performed
a simply magnificent version of Your Eyes Will Shine from 2006’s
NOT FORGOTTEN album.
Malcolm Holcombe and his eccentric dress sense, rich rough voice,
fidgety stage presence and even the way he plays his guitar so aggressively
on his lap stands out like a beacon in an industry full of shiny young
things. He is an individual and a one-off and the World is a better
place for having him in it.
March 16, 2011
by- Owen Ryan
Highway gig for Malcolm Holcombe
THE distinctive American burr of Malcolm Holcombe will be one of the
first things the audience notices when he plays the Highway in Crusheen
A native of North Carolina, he has just brought
out a new album and he spoke to The Clare Champion from England last
week, where he has been touring.
The response to his eighth full length album
has been very positive, he says. “Folks have been awful nice.
This record To Drink the Rain came out over here on February 14 on
Music Road Records. Folks over here have been very kind, very receptive
so far on the tour. It’s very humbling and folks have been very
His work has been lauded in the US and writing
in the Arkansas Times, Robert Bell praised his
lack of pretence. “These
days, there are hordes of performers who truck in ‘Americana’ or ‘roots’ or ‘folk’ music.
But Holcombe's art is no phony drawl, pearl-snap affectation. Nor is
it sterile, suffocated by-the-numbers old-timey music, suffocated by
joyless authenticity. It is the real thing. If that sounds like your
cup of tea, you’d best not miss him the next time he comes to
Malcolm says that despite the time he has spent
travelling and all he has been exposed to, his
music is still rooted in his home place. “Being from the South, in the hills of western
North Carolina, it’s very hard to lose that heritage.”
To Drink the Rain is his eighth album and he
wants listeners to make up their own minds on
kind of a crapshoot man, I’ve been trying to separate the wheat
from the chaff and not pigeonhole any note or song. It’s left
up to whatever gestates in the heart or in the ears of anyone who has
the time and the wherewithal to indulge themselves in some of this
While he says he hasn’t been to Clare before, he has huge admiration
for one of the county’s most famous artists. “Some of my
influences would be Peter Paulin, Mary Dillon, Rolling Stones, the
Beatles, Burl Ives is one of my favourites. I’m very grateful
to Maura O’Connell who covered a couple of songs on her Walls
and Window record. I’ve never met her but she’s just a
gem of Ireland and I’m very humbled that she recorded a couple
of my songs.”
The music industry is renowned for hard living
and Malcolm has had his own problems, although
he is now sober. “I
was like an artful dodger and I ran out of tricks! Then again, we have
choices and I made some poor choices and now I’m trying to sow
in a more fertile field.”
Now, he’s enjoying his music and the touring. “I’m
glad to be working, times are hard so it’s great to be of service.
I’ve got a wonderful tour manager in Shaun Whitehouse so there’s
a lot of teamwork and people have been very kind. There’s a lot
of good people in this world man.”
*Malcolm Holcombe’s show at the Highway in Crusheen will kick
off at 9pm on Sunday. Tickets are available at the door or by calling
Frank on 086 8599957.
- by Grant Alden
“To Drink the Rain
For a time, but not a good time, Malcolm Holcombe was among the wraiths
- Greg Garing, Tom House - whose commitment to song gave heft to Nashville's
underground. Broken by his own weight, he repaired to the cold mountains
of N.C., stapled the bits back together best he could, and went on
This is his eighth release, including the debut Geffen mostly squashed
and not counting some others. It was recorded over three days in Austin
for Jimmy LaFave's label, and Holcombe's collaborator and producer
Jared Tyler has managed as pretty an acoustic setting as such a cracked-pepper
voice could hope for. Tart fiddle, well-picked guitar trailing Mississippi
John Hurt. But it's the words; always has been. "My heart loses
time/where has it gone?" he sings, for love. "We can't kill
everybody/with the bloody hands of freedom," he offers, for commentary.
It is possible to sing along, rear your head back and inflect the joy
of his voice. Joy. Never thought he'd make it; damn glad he did.
Herald - 03.04.11
March 4, 2011
- by Clare Robinson
here for the PDF article
| Backroads -
March 13, 2011
-by Martin Sharman
Gig review: Malcolm Holcombe at Gateshead Central
Let me do a tune about birdshit…”
Never tempted to oversell himself or his songs,
Malcolm Holcombe ambles onstage wearing what
appears to be a tramp’s jacket, reading
glasses dangling from his shirt, unkempt long
and balding hair askew. The discerning viewer
might notice the C F Martin logo on his guitar
and conclude that, contrary to initial appearances,
the man in front of us might just be making a
decent living from this music lark – but
then again so do some buskers…
It’s a rare busker who could compete with
Holcombe’s deep, growling voice, however,
nor would they be playing on a street corner
for long with songs of this quality. From the
tear-jerking tale of young parenthood To The
Mission Baby, to the slow, soulful ballad of
urban desolation From The City Comes The Blues,
emotional strings are duly pulled. The mood brightens
with the light-hearted One Leg At A Time, which
reveals itself as a cautionary life lesson rather
than the sartorial exhortation that it might
at first appear.
A highly physical performer, Holcombe stalks
the stage, wriggling and jerking as the music
takes him, moans and groans emanating. Vigorous
head shakes are matched in intensity by his violent
guitar technique; thuds and twangs generate a
percussive drive which fervently pushes the songs
Hailing from the coolly urban Asheville, North
Carolina, Holcombe’s musicianship could
just as easily have ended up reflecting the town’s
Southern Deco ambience and taken a left turn
around early period R.E.M. It’s a tribute
to his love of the earlier sounds which developed
in the rural tributaries of his home state that
he resisted; this affection shines through in
Holcombe has a particularly surreal collection
of anecdotes, from being given a lift by a drug-addled
driver who lent him twenty dollars and promptly
left him in the middle of nowhere (“What
happened to that twenty bucks? I spent the shit
out of it.”), to unsettling claims of a
brief training in proctology. A propos of nothing,
apparently his mom’s dried, fried apple
pies are delicious; unfortunately there wasn’t
time for a detailed discussion of the recipe.
This is a deceptively clever performance, variously
invoking Waits, Dylan, and, if he were to spend
the next ten years drinking Tennessee whiskey
for breakfast on his front porch, Springsteen.
The playing, whilst initially appearing to consist
of various combinations of root chords, effortlessly
drifts between country, blues and jazz as the
songs demand. By the end, we’ve been educated
in the ways of love, sex, religion and dogs,
via some fine songs of Appalachian wisdom. And
are a little warier of proctologists.
Shoes Review - 03.11.11
Flyin' Shoes Review
March 11, 2011
-by Jela Webb
A chair, a man, a guitar and a microphone set the scene for a night
of intensity rarely experienced in such a setting. Malcolm Holcombe
was touring behind the recent release of his latest CD TO DRINK THE
RAIN and this was his second visit to this venue. Early on he endeared
himself to the audience by saying it was ‘nice to be back in…….’ ‘Brighton’ (as
someone interjected) to which, with a mischievous grin on his face,
he retorted ‘I know that!’
TO DRINK THE RAIN released on the artist-led label Music Road Records,
has garnered much critical acclaim for Holcombe with many reviewers
suggesting that it is his best yet. Each of the twelve tracks was recorded
in one take, giving the CD a sense of immediacy and at the same time
displaying true professionalism from the main protagonist and the musicians
surrounding him. The songs draw inspiration from the solace Holcombe
finds in family, home and nature in his beloved North Carolina. It
was no surprise therefore to witness him commence with Mountains of
Home and segue seamlessly into Behind the Number One.
On stage he cuts a figure who by turns is downright edgy then remarkably
tranquil. He sits on a chair and I use that noun in the loosest sense
because Holcombe rocks from side to side, back and forth sometimes
just balancing on one chair-leg like someone taking you to the edge
of a precipice only to pull back at the last minute. Sometimes he’ll
hold a member of the audience in his gaze, his bluey/grey eyes unblinking
and then break momentarily into the sweetest of smiles. A man of contradictions
for sure, one moment singing a tender love song written for his wife,
Baby Likes A Love Song and the next really attacking the guitar and
snarling through To Drink The Rain.
Comparisons (to name a couple) have been made with Tom Waits and Townes
van Zandt however he is very much his own man. That said, March 7th
was van Zandt’s birthday so you had to be alert to notice that
Holcombe finished the love song written for his wife, with a line from
van Zandt’s Katie Belle Blue – did he know it was the anniversary
of van Zandt’s birth or not? I suspect he did but he didn’t
make any mention – just pleasing enormously with this understated
mark of remembrance.
Maura O’Connell ‘who sings real nice’ has covered
some of Holcombe’s material and as the evening’s performance
drew to a close he said that ‘there are a couple of songs I’d
like to play to you’ giving us, respectively, To The Homeland
and Far Cry From Here.
Intense doesn’t really do justice to the way he performs; yes
it is that but so much more. He gives so much of himself to his art
he draws the audience in so much so that by the end of an 80-minute
set you feel as if you have been on a roller coaster ride of emotions.
He was called back by the applause for an encore and finished with
two – one new and one old One Leg At A Time and a ‘little
song about kids’ Straight and Tall.
Holcombe, since 2004, has been a prolific writer; those who are familiar
with his back story (drink, drugs and depression) now see a man who
has been redeemed by faith and love and importantly is willing to share
the story of his recovery through the medium of song, on stage, without
Amazing, talented, edgy, scary, dangerous, loving, genuine, articulate,
kind, unique. If he is ‘down in your woods’ make sure you
seek him out – I guarantee you an unforgettable experience. Jela
Music Critic - 03.10.11
The Music Critic
by The Music Critic ~ Thursday, 10 March
Malcolm Holcombe: To Drink The Rain - Album of the Month - March 2011
Labels: Americana, Country, Folk
To Drink The Rain is the 8th studio album from
Holcombe but I am sure that he will be as new a name to most as he
is to me. Holcombe lives in the hills of North Carolina, an area
that just seems to have the ability to produce artist that know how
to make passionate and expressive music that is as timeless as it
is magical. Just look at David Childers, Charlie Poole and The Avett
Brothers if you need proof. Lucinda Williams said that Holcombe is
'...an old soul and a modern day blues poet' and that he is. He has
a voice with a world weary warmth that makes every word sound like
poetry on this collection of 12 stunning songs.
One Leg At A Time open the album in fine style with the influence
of the likes of Doc Watson evident in this guitar 'rag'. It is hard
not to warm to this record immediately with a simplicity to it that
extends from the lyrics to the production and some brilliant playing
from the assembled cast of musicians as is evident in the relentless
drive of Bobby Kallus's drums on Behind The Number One which is matched
by Luke Bulla's fiddle and Jared Tyler's dobro. This is a great song
with lyrics that reflects Halcombe's restless nature.
The beautiful ballad Becky's Blessed (Backporch Flowers) is one of
the albums highlights, which brings out the best in Halcombe's throaty
vocal drawl. Halcombe has lived the good life (or bad life depending
on your point of view) and fought his demons but To Drink The Rain
sees him in the most settled period of his life. At peace with himself
and with his God. Often compared to Tom Waits and Bob Dylan, and you
can see why these comparisons stick, he is perhaps more in the mould
of Mississippi John Hurt and Townes Van Zandt but don't be fooled into
thinking you have heard it all before. Oh no, Holcombe has his own
way of doing things that is backed up with 50 years plus of experience
to draw on. If you don't believe me, just listen to the title track
and thank me later.
This is a brilliant album that has been beautifully produced by Jared
Tyler. It just makes me want to see him play live so much.
9 March 2011
- by Andy Vocoustic
Vocoustic Promotions & interesting
music promotions presents: MALCOLM HOLCOMBE + DAVY CATTANACH
Saturday 12th March
Peacock Visual Arts
£ 6 from 8pm
As part of the 'No More Soundcheck' series of unplugged gigs in the
Peacock Visual Art, we are pleased to present Malcolm Holcombe from
the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina.
Malcolm is regarded by the contemporary US and European folk/americana
community as a performer, story-teller and songwriter of international
stature. Few performers hurl themselves into their music with the physical
and emotional abandon similar to Holcombe. He moans, grunts, groans
and smacks his lips embellishing his americana-esque songs. Imagine
the hurt and brusied result of a fight between John Prine and Tom Waits.
Malcolm's brilliance was obvious to a core of fans and some attentive
music journalists, but so were the self--destructive tendencies that
floated around this mercurial man
like wraiths. It was worrying at times that he
would be added to the 'What Might Have Been' pantheon with Hank Williams,
Jaco Pastorius and Charlie Parker. He is now many
years sober, performing worldwide and happily
married to a woman who manages his schedule and keeps his inner garden
clear for the work. He retains his quirky,
fascinating character, and he writes – in spasms of energy and
clarity, producing visions that hover between earthy solidity and rustic
mysticism playing with rhythmic
pounce and sings with psychological fire.
He is cryptic, demanding, polarizing, bold, passionate and free, a
combination badly needed in our time of infinite trivia. He’s
even more interesting for having made a remarkable journey of recovery
Irish Examiner - 03.05.11
The Irish Examiner
March 5, 2011
- by Gerry Quinn
here for the PDF article
Plymouth Herald 03.04.11
The Plymouth Herald
March 4, 2011
- by staff
Escape to the country
FANS of Americana are unlikely to hear anything
closer to the real deal this side of the Atlantic
than Malcolm Holcombe who returns to the B Bar
on Sunday, to deliver songs from this eighth
full-length album, To Drink The Rain.
On his last visit early last year, he captivated the intimate B Bar
crowd with a spell-binding performance of incredible intensity, which
had everyone hanging on his every note and anecdote in reverential
But it's not only punters who are appreciative of this inimitable
acoustic troubadour who seems to incorporate each mile travelled, each
experience gleaned and each cigarette smoked into his songs.
Among many in the business, Lucinda Williams is a fan. "From
the first note I was drawn in," she said. "Malcolm is an
old soul and a modern day poet, he is a rare find."
Hailing from North Carolina via many years in
Nashville – where he was signed to Geffen in the mid '90s – Malcolm
appears as a sort of sonic and visual cross between Neil Young, Tom
Waits and JJ Cale.
"Late night I'd mess around with the radio dial," he says
by way of explaining where he drew his first inspiration, "and
pick up some strong signal playing Beatles or rock 'n' roll or something
to wiggle your toes to. I watched pickers on TV, had a little help
from my uncle who was a Baptist preacher, and practised when I wasn't
out playing ball.
"Basically I was a butcher, hacking, flailing, hissing, howlin'
and messing around. My mom would tell me to stop singing through my
His unique style has served him well as his latest offering, To Drink
the Rain, proves.
Recorded over just three days at Cedar Creed Recording in Austin with
a crack band of hotshots from Texas and Nashville, the 12 tracks are
authentic as live recordings that strike the perfect balance between
gravel and grace.
Opening track One Leg At A Time – about putting your britches
on, "woke up this morning"-style – sets out the stall
of the album with a positive, blues 'n' boogie feel-good vibe, some
superb finger-picking guitar work accompanying that fabulous rugged
Hopefully, Malcolm will find space in his set to include the highlight
track of previous album For The Mission Baby. The sublime, understated
Doncha Miss That Water with its driving beat, uplifting vibe and fabulously
addictive melody was a particular favourite on his last visit.
Lyrically, some of his songs are autobiographical, some gleaned from
a life time on the road.
"I try to speak my mind from what I've experienced personally
and what I've heard from family and friends and on my travels," he
says. "There's a lot of poor people, a lot of suffering and a
load of injustice."
But his vision of the world and its people is inherently optimistic.
"The way I see it," he concludes, "is that we're all
a work in progress. I believe all people have good inside but some
get dirty and mashed.
"And I thank the Lord for the chance to find a better pathway."
The show starts at 7pm and tickets are £10, available from www.wegottickets.com/event/100379
or on the door.
- March 2011
The Irish Times
March 4, 2011
by- Joe Breen
To Drink the Rain Music Road Records ****
Joyful and skittish” might seem at odds with the legacy image of gravel-voiced
veteran singer and tunesmith Malcolm Holcombe. But the 55-year- old’s eighth
solo album opens with One Leg at a Time , a delightful slice of bright-eyed boogie
that attempts to set the tone for what follows. Still, it would be a bit much
to expect Holcombe to keep his darker thoughts at bay for an album. He doesn’t,
but there is good balance to this collection, harnessing the folkier side of
blues to the bluesier side of folk, with the string-band colours of country and
old time playing their part. It helps that the playing is tops, not least the
work of fiddler Luke Bulla. Songs such as the rhythmically intense title track,
the restless Where I Don’t Belong and the Dylanish Reckon to the Wind portray
a man increasingly at ease with his rustic art and himself. See malcolmholcombe.
February 27, 2011
Malcolm Holcombe "To Drink The Rain"
Music City Records, 2011
Quench your thirstHolcombe’s eighth studio
album is his fourth in as many years. From 2007
onwards, Holcombe has found a new burst of creative
energy and his music has simply gotten better
with every new release. What we have on ‘To
Drink the Rain’ is a record that celebrates
Holcombe’s charismatic vocals and guitar
playing as well as the traditional focus on Holcombe
as an old-school troubadour lyricist. The music
is sparser than earlier records, and he clearly
no longer feels the need to layer post-production
tricks such as the keyboards and electric guitars
that he used on 2003’s ‘Another Wisdom’.
To be frank, ‘To Drink the Rain’ is
all the better for it and may be Holcombe’s
best record to date.
One Leg At A Time’ demonstrates Holcombe’s
affinity for the simple things in life; there
is a drunkard’s sense of triumph in the
proclamation "I put on my britches one leg
at a time". In spite of this, Holcombe has
plenty of wisdom and opinion to offer: "There’s
a land of milk and honey / Full of lawsuits left
and right... We can’t kill everybody /
With the bloody hands of freedom". These
might be old complaints, but Holcombe delivers
them with a freshness that shows they still mean
something to him and reminds us they are still
The production on ‘To Drink the Rain’,
has pushed Holcombe’s voice so far forward
in the mix there is no confusing who is the star
of this record - and what a voice it is. Reviewers
generally rush for sandpaper, gravel and whiskey
metaphors. Few opt for terms such as “beautiful” and “melodic”,
but that is precisely what Holcombe manages.
There is genuine tenderness on ‘Becky’s
Blessed’, and on the title track the guitar
playing and bass work lays an aggressive backing
and Holcombe howls "There’s a hole!
/ There’s a hole! / There’s a hole
in the ocean / A hole in the sea / A whole lot
of trouble / To get me free". Throughout
the record, Holcombe’s voice acts as a
compelling counterpart to Luke Bulla’s
fiddle playing – in fact Holcombe’s
voice has a tendency to become increasingly percussive
as songs develop, when it does. Often Bulla’s
fiddle begins to provide a lyrical dimension
to the songs. It is this level of attention to
detail and musical sophistication that elevates ‘To
Drink the Rain’ beyond the usual simple
singer-songwriter formula of other lesser artists.
To Drink The Rain’ may be Holcolmbe’s
most accomplished record to date. The album’s
simple and honest sound shows just how confident
Holcombe is in revealing his unbridled and unrelenting
musical vision to the world.
- February 2011
-by David Kidman
Malcolm Holcombe - To Drink The Rain (Music Road
North Carolina-born Malcolm, who's been described
by none other than Lucinda Williams as a modern-day
blues poet, is a genially compelling performer
who seems to draw his inspiration from the dusty
creeks of the home country, and sings with a
gravelly tone that's like a 100% gentler version
of the Tom Waits gargle. To Drink The Rain is
his eighth full-length album, and continues to
mine the approved vein of confident, rootsy raw
Americana that he instigated around five years
back following a temporary hiatus in faith.
The new album, recorded in a series of authentic
one-take performances, kinda tells the story
of Malcolm's rehabilitation through the process
of moving back to the hills of his birth. It
ain't exactly blues, but nor is it exactly any
other genre, for it melds so many roots elements
persuasively in an unassuming, and at times quite
laid-back, manner that can belie the depth of
feeling within. Malcolm's honest, laid-bare-grizzled-troubadour
music is pretty much addictive, even if sometimes
it seems to struggle to make an impression on
As on Malcolm's previous CD, For The Mission Baby (which I reviewed
just over a year ago), the support crew is first-rate, and sees the
return of Jared Tyler (dobro, slide), Dave Roe (bass) and Andrew Hardin
(guitar), with the addition this time of Luke Bulla (fiddle), Shelby
Eicher (mandolin) and Bobby Kallus (drumkit). Maybe the carefree raggy-boogiesome
opener One Leg At A Time deceives with its apparently throwaway nature,
but the lazy dustbowl feel intensifies with the wistful Mountains Of
Home and the distinctly John-Prine-like gait of Down In The Woods.
And yet, perhaps the most charismatic track of all is the title song,
with its lusty, throaty swamp-Beefheart groove, which contrasts with
the semi-spoken Comes The Blues that follows (I think I caught shades
of Chris Smither in Malcolm's delivery here too). For this latter track
probably best encapsulates the overall spirit of the record, which
is sanguine, if at times a touch melancholy; the predominant element
of Malcolm's vision is his sympathy for humankind and tolerance for
whatever life throws his way during his journey through its byways.
By the time you reach the closing track, the seemingly-autobiographical
One Man Singin', you feel privileged to have been sharing in Malcolm's
Sky Online Music Magazine - 02.28.11
Northern Sky Online Music Magazine
February 28, 2011
- By Allan Wilkinson
Malcolm Holcombe has one of those well-worn voices
that you tend not to question. You instinctively
believe that he has lived the life to the full
extent and that what he says actually goes, without
any doubts. It's Dave Van Ronk meets Guy Clark,
with a touch of Townes Van Zandt thrown in. TO
DRINK THE RAIN is Holcombe's eighth album in
a recording career that started way back in the
mid-1980s with the now out of print TRADEMARK
With a well documented and for the most part
turbulent career behind him, a career dominated
by many years of drinking and depression, together
with the usual mixture of disappointment and
disillusionment with an inconsistent music business,
Holcombe has once again got together with long-time
sideman Jared Tyler to record an album instilled
with a new focus and creative zest. Recorded
over a three-day period in Austin, Texas, with
a core band of first rate musicians including
the aforementioned Tyler on dobro and acoustic
slide, Bobby Kallus on drums, Johnny Cash veteran
Dave Roe on upright bass and Luke Bulla on fiddle,
together with Shelby Eicher and Andrew Hardin
contributing mandolin and acoustic guitar respectively,
the songs are pretty much one-take performances,
which demonstrates perfectly well their sense
The almost poetic marriage between Holcombe's
gruff vocal and Tyler's sweet dobro, makes for
good listening, particularly on the full-on bluegrass
numbers such as Those Who Wander and Behind the
Number One, whilst the opening song One Leg at
a Time has the good-time retro feel of a Leon
Redbone homage, with a lyric that suggests that
through it all, he's still here, alive and kicking.
Becky's Blessed (Backporch Flowers) provides
the album with one of its standout contributions,
one of two much older songs, the other one being
the album closer One Man Singin', both of which
really ought to have been recorded sooner. Whilst
Holcombe's low growl on such songs as the jazzy
The Mighty City offers a little restraint vocally,
nowhere on the album does Holcombe sound more
convincing than on the title song, which sees
the singer spitting out the lyrics like a chain
saw attacking a tree.
February 24, 2011
- by Charley Dunlap
To Drink The Rain CD
Malcolm Holcombe is no household name and may never be — not
even in most clued-in households. To Drink The Rain may be the album
to get him onto the rest of those hip houses.
His is a familiar story: brilliant artist scooped up young, signed
to a major label, sidelined and dropped, unleashing the all too familiar
demons of destruction — until he returns to his North Carolina
home and gets himself right. Through it all, he kept playing — it's
doubtful he'd know any other way. This is his eighth album.
It is intimate and natural, simply recorded with a just Malcolm, double
bass, minimal drums, fiddle and dobro. Chief among these is dobro player
Jared Tyler, who has been with Holcombe for the last 12 years and serves
admirably as producer of this album. Tyler's edgy, rhythmic dobro playing
provides a huge spark throughout the album, accentuating both the blues
and country sides of the music.
But if Tyler is the spark, Holcombe is the fire. For starters, he
is a terrific guitarist, evidenced on the first track, One Leg at a
Time, an uptempo fingerpicking extravaganza. Throughout the album his
guitaristry (not always fingerpicking) is never flashy, always rhythmic,
and the foundation of the music.
“Tom” and “Waits” are the words most often
used to describe Holcombe's voice, but to me he sounds far more like
the elder Bob Dylan, a likeness that is carried into some of the phraseology
and inflection in his songwriting. His voice is not always gravelly;
in Becky's Blessed his voice is almost sweet and in general a bit more
articulated than Dylan's.
The songs make this all something of a Holy Trinity with his guitar
and his voice. Holcombe, in the time-honoured tradition of country
and blues, uses traditional melodies (including, once again, Dylan,
in Reckon to the Wind) to fine effect, but his songs do not come across
as imitative. Rather, they just fall very expressively into place in
their genre, the genre in this case being Malcolm Holcombe.
- February 2011
-by Tim Peacock
Our Rating: 9 out of 10
Currently based in North Carolina, but having
squared up to Nashville and worked up a decent-sized Lone Star state
following, MALCOLM HOLCOMBE is a name I’ve been recommended with
increasing frequency in recent years.
An Amazon.com search reveals he’s been working pretty much none
stop since around 2005, so ‘To Drink The Rain’ comes in
the wake of several critically-acclaimed albums. However, with no less
than Lucinda Williams referring to him as “a rare find”,
Holcombe’s new record is as good a place to start as any, especially
as he’s brought a team of sympathetic and highly talented Country,
Folk and bluegrass players with him to Austin to fashion a truly compelling
collection of songs.
Let’s get the one reservation I have out of the way first. Holcombe’s
voice will sort the wheat from the chaff very rapidly indeed. Personally,
I’m growing to love it, but his ravaged gravel and moonshine
growl is not for the faint-hearted and his scarred, deep throat of
a vocal requires some acquisition. His website is not exactly overloaded
with details, but looking at pictures of Holcombe, I doubt he’s
much past 45, yet he sings like a cross between Mississippi John Hurt
and late period Johnny Cash. He’s certainly an old soul in his
skin, but if you persevere, I believe you’ll grow to love him,
especially because the lyrical truisms he rasps his way through are
well worth hearing.
The fact he recorded it in Austin hardly hurts the advance notices,
but trail-blazing Texan troubadours like Guy Clark and the inimitable
Townes Van Zandt are getting bandied round as comparisons and it’s
not hard to hear why. Hard-boiled, but poetic songs like ‘Those
Who Wander’ and ‘Where I Don’t Belong’ are
gripping tales of the dispossessed and heartbroken, while the semi-spoken
narration of ‘Comes The Blues’ (“LA, Chicago, San
Antonio...another man has left you behind/ another woman cries for
a sweeter taste of life/ but those days are gone, there’s sadness
in your eyes”) is as blasted and world-weary as they come. It
can’t help but recall a song like Van Zandt’s nihilistic
classic ‘Nothin’’ and sounds as real as landing head-first
on the concrete from three floors up.
Crucially, though, there’s enough light to temper the shade.
The opening ‘One Leg at a Time’ is a jaunty, playful Country-blues
souped up by bluegrass-style fiddling and a ragtime rhythm section. ‘Down
In the Woods’ is a deceptively pretty waltz-time ballad, while – like
Townes – Holcombe can also craft songs of drop-dead melancholy
beauty like ‘Reckon To The Wind’ and ‘Becky’s
Blessed’. Aided and abetted by producer Jared Tyler’s gorgeous
dobro and his band’s sympathetic lightness of touch, the latter
especially is an affecting ode to an unsung friend of the author’s
and as mellow and sincere as they com.
Built primarily around Jared Tyler (dobro,
slide guitar), upright bassist Dave Roe, Luke
Bulla’s fluid, Byron Berline-style fiddling
and Bobby Kallus’ brushed drumming, Holcombe’s
band provide a suitably potent, but restrained
and largely acoustic backdrop. The sound seamlessly
weaves Country with Blues and Folk with Bluegrass,
but versatility is the watchword and while ‘To
Drink The Rain’ is very much a Roots
record, it also has space for the swaggering,
low-riding grooves that form the spine of songs
like the urban alienation tale ‘The Mighty
City’ and the trick-turning survivor’s
blues of the title track. Fittingly, it all
culminates in some style, with ‘One Man
Singin’’ possibly referring to
Holcombe’s time as a knock-taking troubadour
in Nashville (“I heard him singin’ in
a local dive where the sun turns inside out”).
Whether it’s definitively autobiographical
is a matter for debate, but it’s as compelling
as they come either way.
Americana’s highways aren’t so much lost as over-congested
these days, but there’s always room for real class in any genre
and Malcolm Holcombe is quite clearly a highly individual modern-day
troubadour who deserves to be bumped to the front of the queue. Hitch
a ride with him and see the darker side for yourself. It may not always
be pretty, but it will certainly be vivid and memorable.
Review - 02.22.11
22 February, 2011
- by Ninian Dunnett
A true roots eccentric makes hay with artful production.
As Tom Waits’ voice is to Bing Crosby’s,
so Malcolm Holcombe’s is to Tom Waits’:
this is a wondrous far-travelled, beat-up and
leaking old instrument, all sighs and groans,
growls, rasps and mutterings (and that’s
just in-between the singing).
Listen to a Holcombe song and what you’re
getting is personality in spades, a narrative
so gritty with the noise of tough living that
it rarely dips below the red on the authenticity
meter. But the thing that makes To Drink the
Rain worth listening to, in fact, is its artistry.
The North Carolina native has changed labels and producers as restlessly
as he’s moved homes, and this time round his long-serving slide
guitar player Jared Taylor has crafted a production of superb balance,
buttressing and cushioning the singer’s delivery with a subtlety
that belies the single-take recording. The stately upright bass of
Johnny Cash’s latter-day sideman Dave Roe, busy brushes of drummer
Bobby Kallus, the sweet-toned fiddle of Luke Bulla and Taylor’s
graceful picking on the dobro sparkle amongst the rumble and spit like
Holcombe’s sentiments are as grizzled as his vocal chords, steeped
in the lore of hard times and lonely travelling, but there’s
an idiosyncratic poetry bedded in the lyrics: "Way down in the
woods touchin' moss so soft / On the deadwood dyin' in time's fertile
arms…" The appealing musical range takes in the fingerpicking
ragtime of One Leg at a Time (which kicks things off with cheery brio),
while the bustle of Where I Don’t Belong has a compelling story-song
But the title-track is where everything comes together: a pounding,
measured blues, it finds Holcombe channelling Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
to irresistible effect, his howls and hollers driving the thumping
beat to a gospel-tinged climax that makes the most perfect sense of
that ancient curio of a voice.
Folk's Sake -
For Folk's Sake
22 February, 2011
- by Ian Parker
Album: Malcolm Holcombe – To Drink The Rain
For those that don’t know Malcolm Holcombe, he’s an old-fashioned
southern American troubadour – the way you’d draw one up
in a film (actually, he’s probably not far off Bad Blake from
Crazy Heart). His rugged, weathered face is complimented by long hair
and killer sideburns, and he sounds like he looks – singing with
a gruff voice that could plough the tobacco fields of his native North
Carolina. His music is in the American folk tradition of Townes van
Zandt and Levon Helm, a rich seam of country blues that can be traced
back to Johnny Cash and beyond.
To Drink The Rain is the eighth album of his long, winding career
that has seen him record for seven different labels. He seems to have
found a home on Austin’s Music Road Records and this is the most
upbeat album in a back catalogue of troubles and self-destruction. “I
put my britches on one leg at a time,” he exclaims in opener
One Leg At A Time, the sound of a man finally coming to terms with
himself and beginning to enjoy life. Title track To Drink The Rain
is a raucous celebration of a man finally ready to let that lengthy
But even allowing for a few smiles, Holcombe has spent his life singing
the blues, and is not about to stop. And there are many fine examples
here, such as the grating sound of Comes The Blues. Despite being championed
by the likes of Lucinda Williams and Jeff Tweedy, Holcombe has remained
something of a hidden gem. Now in his 50s, it’s still unclear
where Holcombe’s music career might be leading, but for now he’s
produced an album that sounds like a healing experience for an aging
bluesman. And that might just be all he needs.
February 21, 2011
Malcolm Holcombe “To Drink The Rain” (Music Road Records
This album feels so effortless, the skill of
the performer using a musical sleight of hand that lulls the senses
with the beauty of it’s simplicity, this is Holcombe’s
eighth album and has been produced by long-time sideman Jared Tyler – they
know each other well and To Drink The Rain reflects that, recorded
over three days in Austin TX with a seasoned band of cohorts from
Texas and Nashville on-board the album is a live studio recording
capturing the one-take essence of the writing and performance in
The opening track kicks things off with a light hearted and breezy
country blues romp One Leg at a Time which came as a surprise to me
I had expected something a little more austere having read Holcombe’s
back story – his recent salvation from self-destructive forces
was quelled by a return home to North Carolina where he opened the
door to help and regained his faith in God, man and his own artistic
Close your eyes for track two Mountains of Home and for an all too
brief three and a half minutes you’ll be transported to the rustic
back porch of a NC homestead, indeed the whole album has that feel
about it – the authenticity and sincerity of the performances
unfold beautifully over the albums twelve tracks.
Lucinda Williams described Holcombe as ‘an old soul and modern
day blues poet’ I’m struggling to find a more apt descriptive
for him and if your not familiar with the man’s work this is
a fine starting point, existing fans will lap this up.
Weekly - 02.17.11
North Carolina cult favorite Malcolm Holcombe
emerges with new album, new label and rare SoCal
concert at Coffee Gallery Backstage
North Carolina singer-songwriter Malcolm Holcombe
seethes and spits out those words on the title
track of his newest album, in a ravaged growl
that hints at the psychic hell from which he
clawed his way to health and creative renewal
after years of alcohol addiction.
Long championed by fellow artists and music industry
insiders, he remains something of a cult figure,
referenced in the same breath as late greats
like Townes Van Zandt but not likely to be seen
on the Grammys any time soon. Holcombe’s
battles with booze and business in Nashville
may sound familiar to the point of cliché but
there are welcome twists in his tale, courtesy
of the lifelines tossed his way when setbacks
sent him careening into near-oblivion.
His major-label debut, the outstanding “A
Hundred Lies,” was funded and manufactured
by Geffen, which went to the trouble of circulating
it amongst a host of critics who heralded it
as the work of an important new voice — only
to be mystified by the label’s decision
to shelve the album before the public could find
it. Holcombe subsequently disappeared into his
native North Carolina, another seeming casualty
of corporate politics, until Hip-O stepped up
and gave “Lies” a proper release
Holcombe remained scarce, but music journos and
colleagues like Lucinda Williams continued to
sing his praises. North Carolina’s Echo
Mountain Records released three albums between
2007 and 2009 after he finally found domestic
peace and sobriety.
Longtime guitarist/Dobroist Jared Tyler hung
in through many a stormy phase and wound up producing “To
Drink the Rain,” Holcombe’s new album
for Music Road, an Austin-based label currently
enjoying some buzz courtesy of a roster of acclaimed
singer-songwriters that also includes anchor
Jimmy LaFave, Kevin Welch, Slaid Cleaves and
former Angelenos Stonehoney.
Even more than his previous seven full-length
albums, “Rain” rumbles with the feel
and guitar-riffing cadence of country blues.
As a poet and performer, Holcombe has some major
mojo going on, but this is the sunniest-sounding
recording he’s yet made; play it in sequence
with his previous releases, and you can clearly
discern rays of lyrical light broadening as he
reclaims his life. “We can’t kill
ev’rybody/ We can’t bribe ev’rybody/
Who disagrees with freedom,” he snarls
on “Behind the #1,” but the overarching
emotion conveyed on “One Leg at a Time,” “One
Man Singing’” and elsewhere throughout “Rain” is
far simpler, and more uplifting: gratitude.
and Roots - February 2011
Folk and Roots (UK)
- by David Kidman
Malcolm Holcombe – TO DRINK THE RAIN (Music Road Records MRR
North Carolina-born Malcolm,
who’s been described by none other
than Lucinda Williams as a modern-day blues poet, is a genially compelling
performer who seems to draw his inspiration from the dusty creeks of
the home country, and sings with a gravelly tone that’s like
a 100% gentler version of the Tom Waits gargle. To Drink The Rain is
his eighth full-length album, and continues to mine the approved vein
of confident, rootsy raw Americana that he instigated around five years
back following a temporary hiatus in faith. The new album, recorded
in a series of authentic one-take performances, kinda tells the story
of Malcolm’s rehabilitation through the process of moving back
to the hills of his birth. It ain’t exactly blues, but nor is
it exactly any other genre, for it melds so many roots elements persuasively
in an unassuming, and at times quite laid-back, manner that can belie
the depth of feeling within. Malcolm’s honest, laid-bare-grizzled-troubadour
music is pretty much addictive, even if sometimes it seems to struggle
to make an impression on first acquaintance. As on Malcolm’s
previous CD, For The Mission Baby (which I reviewed just over a year
ago), the support crew is first-rate, and sees the return of Jared
Tyler (dobro, slide), Dave Roe (bass) and Andrew Hardin (guitar), with
the addition this time of Luke Bulla (fiddle), Shelby Eicher (mandolin)
and Bobby Kallus (drumkit). Maybe the carefree raggy-boogiesome opener
One Leg At A Time deceives with its apparently throwaway nature, but
the lazy dustbowl feel intensifies with the wistful Mountains Of Home
and the distinctly John-Prine-like gait of Down In The Woods. And yet,
perhaps the most charismatic track of all is the title song, with its
lusty, throaty swamp-Beefheart groove, which contrasts with the semi-spoken
Comes The Blues that follows (I caught shades of Chris Smither in Malcolm’s
delivery here too). For this latter track probably best encapsulates
the overall spirit of the record, which is sanguine, if at times a
touch melancholy; the predominant element of Malcolm’s vision
is his sympathy for humankind and tolerance for whatever life throws
his way during his journey through its byways. By the time you reach
the closing track, the seemingly-autobiographical One Man Singin’,
you feel privileged to have been sharing in Malcolm ’s life-experiences.
| Backroads -
To Drink the Rain
February 16, 2011
- by Cate Mitchell
Being mentioned in the same breath as
Townes Van Zandt is no mean feat; it suggests
an over-familiarity with hard liquor, hard
luck and hard-won knowledge of the other side
of town. Approaching To Drink the Rain, therefore,
is not without a weight of expectation – tales
of suffering and calloused lives should be
par for the course. Right?
Absolutely. This is an album chock-full
of small -town observations. Ghosts walk close
and there is a darkness that bubbles away just
beneath the surface making for a fascinating
aural journey. “Those Who Wander” contains
echoes of Steve Earle’s outing with the
Del McCoury band. “Becky’s Blessed
(Backporch Flowers)” is a pleasant, lazily
meandering stream of observations, while “One
man singin’” is a hugely compelling
true-to-life tale that somehow succeeds in
skipping along jauntily despite bearing the
weight of the world on its shoulders.
There is something elemental about this
record; it seems, somehow, to tap into the
old, weird America etched onto the wax of Harry
Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music.
The timeless feel of some of Holcombe’s
material would sit well beside the field hollers
and murder ballads on the earlier compilation.
The real air of a live recording is fitting
therefore. Obviously, being a modern record,
it lacks the hiss of reel-to-reel and incidental
noise in the hot southern sun that characterised
Smith’s recordings but, nonetheless,
many of the tracks have the ‘one-take’ energy
and excitement of a band in blistering form.
The featured musicians do a sterling job switching
seamlessly from vicious to pretty but always
put the song first. Prominent dobro and fiddle
really country things up, while judicious use
of mandolin lends a backwoods, bluegrass sensibility
Where Holcombe’s world-weary growl really
comes into its own is on slower numbers. The
Greg Brown-like “Mountains of Home” is
a truly beautiful number. “Comes the
Blues” sits atop an endless freight train
somewhere way out west where the wind cuts
waves through the wheat and the grizzled narrator
takes a long, cold retrospective at the broken
promises of America.
This is an album populated with subtly
catchy choruses that worm their way into the
consciousness. Like John Lee Hooker, Holcombe
avoids obvious rhymes and wrong-foots the listener.
There are unanswered questions aplenty that
will draw the curious back for answers time
and again. Superior stuff.
Daily Time - 02.11.11
The Daily Time
February 11, 2011
Malcolm Holcombe returns with collection of new
songs and tales
By Steve Wildsmith firstname.lastname@example.org
Until you get to know him — really know him — there’s
something unsettling about singer-songwriter Malcolm Holcombe.
Maybe it’s that gritty voice, the one that calls to mind creaking
boards in a backwoods cabin or the wail of a far-off train through
the trees at night. In concert, it’s probably the way he performs,
hunched over and hollering, growling, hissing, beating that old guitar
like a man possessed and making the uninitiated wonder nervously if
he’s had all his shots.
Or maybe it’s the way his brain works — which is to say,
not like yours and mine. He speaks in images and analogies, bursts
of randomness that seem to wander aimlessly like a car winding around
the mountain backroads of his part of the North Carolina mountains.
There is purpose, however, to everything he does and says — in
person and in song; whether the listener can keep up, is up to them.
“It’s just a process of becoming,” Holcombe told
The Daily Times this week. “There ain’t nothing new coming
out of this mouth. I’m just passing along what’s been passed
along to me and separating the wheat from the chaff. I still get swallowed
up by the weeds, and like all of us, I’m trying to participate
and reaching for the sunlight. It’s the grace of the good Lord
and the kindness of others that are out there before me, clearing the
path to where I can be of service, that allow me to just pass along
His latest batch of stories, “To Drink the Rain,” may
be one of his most well-rounded albums to date, and that’s saying
a lot. It’s full and ripe, bursting with sound and color and
a sort of contentment that Holcombe cherishes these days.
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.
For years, he fought an embittered battle against alcohol, eventually
surrendering several years back when he got sober. It talks about his
sobriety openly on his website, and that’s by design, he said.
“Whatever we can share in our lives, whether it’s a PTA
meeting at the local gas station in our neighborhood and with our friends,
if we can share with each other comfortably and in a trusting manner
a piece of our lives, then we do it to help somebody and to help each
other,” he said. “It goes back to a buddy of mine loaning
me his tiller to till up my garden; I gave him some of the vegetables
out of it. It’s a two-way street, and if we help each other get
up and down the road of life with our personal experiences, then so
“It’s just a matter of people’s motives — what
they want to share and how they share it and whether it’s for
the good of all concerned. If there’s something in my experience
on this planet that can be used by others to add to their journey in
a good way, then so be it; whether it’s tapping their foot, clapping
their hands, snapping their fingers or taking a second look within,
then cool. All the better. I just try to work on forgiveness and faith
and strength and being of service to my fellow man.”
One of the ways he does so is with his music. He’s never shied
away from taking a stand on issues he feels are important, and “To
Drink the Rain” is no different. Take the song “Behind
the Number One” — “We can’t kill everybody
with the bloody hands of freedom / filling up a dirty ocean with a
mighty hole bleeding ...” It’s one man’s look, sang
with such clench-toothed ferocity you can almost hear the veins in
Holcombe’s temples throbbing, at the world’s growing problems.
By album’s end, on the song “Comes the Blues,” he
casts his eyes on the more personal observations: “I heard him
singing in a local dive where the sun shines inside out / people come
and go and stay a while / some folks listen, others don’t, but
everyone is there waiting / to hear what they can take to make their
lives a little better ...”
Recorded in Austin, Texas, by his long-time sideman Jared Tyler, the
album was another one of those moments of “becoming” about
which he talks. It marks a new partnership with Music Road Records,
run by singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave, and he thrived on both the Austin
music scene (“People down there are playing hungry, just like
a beehive — some of them are honey bees and some are hornets,
and everybody’s trying to fly around and keep from stinging each
other and work together to make some honey”) and the partnership
with his new label.
“It was fun, man — just wonderful, working with people
who are seasoned and kind and ready to work,” he said. “It’s
a moment where you realize that it’s a we-and-us thing, everyone
February 8, 2011
By Al Maginnes
Malcolm Holcombe: To Drink the Rain (Music Road)
To be human is to be constantly engaged
in “What if?” Malcolm Holcombe
fans have long wondered what if Geffen
had released his classic A Hundred Lies
when he recorded it. In one of those
many examples of big-label idiocy, Geffen
paid for the record,
printed it, then did not distribute it.
Holcombe left Nashville, turned his back
on the big
labels, and regrouped in western North
Carolina, where he released several independent
on Asheville-based Echo Mountain Records.
Now, Holcombe has landed with Music Road,
headed by Texas songsmith Jimmy LaFave,
and his first release for the label,
To Drink the
Rain, is the work of a man whose feet
are firmly planted on the path he intends
Ray Kennedy, who produced Holcombe’s last two albums, is not
in the chair this time around, and the result is a less-produced, more
organic sound. Longtime Holcombe cohort Jared Tyler produces and plays
guitar and dobro, and the other players are veterans of earlier Holcombe
records. As a lyricist, Holcombe has always been more impressionist
than narrator, and that does not change on this set. While he is capable
of a soft-voiced homage to his home turf in “Mountains of Home,” he
can also snarl “There’s a land of milk and honey/ Lawsuits
left and right” in “Behind the #1.” In fact, this
blend of home-loving humility and righteous anger at a system gone
wrong gives Holcombe’s songs their edge. The musical backing
and many of the sentiments in these tracks could have come from Harry
Smith’s Anthology of Folk Music, but there are just as many songs
that underscore the difficulty of living in this era of capitalism
and technology. “Leave this land for profit/ abandon to belong,” he
sings in “Those Who Wander.”
The brilliance of Holcombe’s songs, riveting live performances
and a troubled early career have made him something of a legend in
some circles, but his songs are not geared toward legend-making. They
are celebration and testimony as durable and beautiful as the hills
where they were written.
Times - 02.02.11
Holcombe plays tonight at the Grey Eagle Music
Special to the Citizen-Times
by Mike McWilliam
ASHEVILLE — When it comes to music institutions in Western North
Carolina, Malcolm Holcombe's name almost always comes up. Born and
raised in Weaverville and now settled down with his family east of
Asheville, Holcombe has been a music legend for decades.
“To Drink the Rain” is Holcombe's eighth full-length studio
album. Cut over a few days at Cedar Creek Recording in Austin, Texas,
it was produced by longtime Holcombe sideman Jared Tyler. The album's
12 tracks were recorded in one take, except for a few that took a couple
of takes because the group, as Holcombe said, was having “too
Holcombe and Tyler are set to play tonight at The Grey Eagle Music
Hall in Asheville. Although “To Drink the Rain” is not
set for official release until Feb. 15, fans can snatch up a copy at
Question: You cut the tracks on this album in one take. Have you ever
recorded an album like this before?
Answer: Yeah, most of them. Except for some earlier records … but
the last few records I've been pretty fortunate to be able to get a
deal going where we can just sit around and listen to competent musicians
and get very creative and make a record.
Q: What are the benefits in making an album in that manner?
A: It makes it more authentic as opposed to just cookie cutter (expletive).
It's something that I can live with in my own skin as opposed to a
lot of contrived cacophony that spins the nickel around the radio dial.
Q: Any story behind the title “To Drink the Rain?”
A: It's the title cut and songs mean different things to different
people, whether they're good or on their knees praying or just trying
to get through the day and be of service to their fellow human being.
I think it's a process. So the people who have been good to me and
my family through the years, a lot of musicians, a lot of writers,
I think we're all trying to work together to hone down being of service
to each other. That's the bottom line.
Q: This was the first album you recorded at Cedar Creek Recording
in Austin. How did you get hooked up with that studio?
A: I was trying to figure out with my wife how we can go ahead and
be able to afford to make another record. So it took a lot of patience
and creativity and people being of service to one another so (a business
associate) was kind enough to mention (Austin-based Music Road Records
founder) Jimmy LaFave, and Jared Tyler had worked with Jimmy before
on projects, so therefore I asked Jared … and Jared made a couple
of phone calls, and we just made a deal and made a plan and just worked
Q: Was it a good experience making this record?
A: We had a lot of fun. I don't think we gnawed on each other's necks
too terribly bad. We didn't roll around in the dirty alley in the moonlight.
I think we got along pretty good. We had some fun. There was a real
positive solidarity and energy.
Mike McWilliams writes about entertainment for take5. E-mail him at
Coast Music February 2011
Third Coast Music
-by John Conquest
To Drink The Rain
(Music Road Records)
Go to Holcombe’s website and you’ll see that he has no
shortage of material for his press kit, everything from Rolling Stone
(“Not quite country, somewhere beyond folk, Holcombe’s
music is a kind of blues in motion, mapping backwoods corners of the
heart,” David Fricke) to local papers, and, while freely admitting
that I barely skimmed his coverage, my favorite of the comments I did
see was from fellow North Carolinan and FAR DJ Rick Cornell (Dirty
Laundry, WCOM, Carrboro, NC), “Some singers have an old soul,
but Malcolm Holcombe’s has always felt downright primordial.
Across the ages, he has developed a rugged state of grace that’s
all his own.” After bouncing around record labels, Holcombe’s
10th, including a 1985 LP which, for some reason, rarely gets mentioned,
is on the most sympathetic yet. Recorded in single takes at Cedar Creek,
superbly produced by longtime sideman (dobro, acoustic slide and harmony
vocals) Jared Taylor and featuring Dave Roe, of Johnny Cash’s
last band, on bass and Andrew Hardin playing lead acoustic guitar on
two of the 12 tracks, all new or previously unrecorded originals, this
is Holcombe’s most perfect and authentic iteration of his reinvention
of country blues, an album so solid that it’s invidious to separate
individual tracks from the whole. However, those who know of Holcombe’s
self-destructive history are likely to pick out the title track. It’s
not just the honesty, that’s been a constant throughout his career,
but the elegance with which he conveys it. For a man you can barely
understand when you’re talking to him, Holcombe is rivetingly
articulate behind a microphone. JC
January, 24 2011
Malcolm Holcombe 'To Drink The Rain' Music Road
Something of an old hand after several albums.
Holcombe has again brought his craggy well-lived in voice and philosophical
song into the public domain. Those acquainted with Holcombe's previous
work will be again happy have more of it to make their own. That he
has been able to continue making albums, mostly on different labels,
is something to be thankful for, especially when they are as good as
this. Here he is backed by a collection of sympathetic players such
as Dave Roe and is produced by Jared Tyler. The setting is largely
acoustic and natural with subtle playing that allows the fiddle, upright
bass, unobtrusive drums, dobro and acoustic guitar the space to make
an understated but rich musical tapestry. This is obvious on the bluegrass
tinged Behind The Number One or Down In The Woods. Comes The Blues
draws from another well, one that Holcombe's voice and musical direction
accommodates easily, a slow talking blues. He is a songwriter and singer
much praised by the likes of Lucinda Williams and Mary Gauthier both
of whom write their songs from a very personal and also observational
viewpoint and using a blend of roots music to make them believable.
Becky's Blessed is a compassionate portrait of another person humanity.
Those Who Wander is typically understanding of the rover and their
restlessness. Where I Don't Belong continues that theme in a striking
uptempo setting. Reckon To The Wind is more reflective but equally
memorable. The closing song sums up Malcolm Holcombe. One Man Singin'
closes what may be one of his finest albums, one that fans will enjoy
and those who have never discovered Holcombe before will find some
new music that will make an impression that will last.
Radio UK -
Folk Radio UK
14 January, 2011
When I first heard Malcolm Holcombe’s latest
album, To Drink the Rain, I was transported down
a long legacy of Country Blues singers calling
to mind Chris Smither, Levon Helm and Townes
Van Zandt. He has a voice that can’t lie,
it’s been drenched and intoxicated by an
eventful life that very nearly led him down the
same path of Hank Williams! This provides the
essence of his songs as well as the testament
which can be heard in the dirt road of his voice.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written
this week about singers ‘moving out to
the sticks’ as we like to say here. In
the case of Malcolm Holcombe this connection
gets better. I’ve just reviewed Kevin Welch’s
latest release and wrote about him breaking from
the commercial hub for the hills. Likewise, Holcombe
follows suit and finds solace in the North Carolina
Hills. Also, their new musical refuge can be
found in the form of Music Road Records. A lable
that has grabbed my interest in a big way. The
Austin label is spearheaded by singer/songwriter
Jimmy LaFave, recording engineer Fred Remmert,
and investor Kelcy Warren, who agreed to become
Malcolm’s new musical home.
Like Welch, Malcolm Holcombe seems to have a lot to rejoice about
on this album. Makes you wonder how heavy that burden he was carrying
was that bordered on self-destruction. It was enough to make people
jump at the news of him making a new album. Bass player and legendary
veteran member of Johnny Cash’s last band, Dave Roe, new it was
a big deal and cancelled a session at short notice to make it for the
recording, one, he stated, that was worth fighting for! After listening
to the album, I can only agree. It has that real feel authenticity
that is often lacking in music today but is something you can’t
conjure up, you have to have lived it! The twelve track one-take performances
on this album are testimony to a great singer and what makes great
The opening track kicks off the album with a great big grin in the
form of One Leg at a Time, a great rag time blues number that breaks
it down real simple: put on those britches one leg at a time. This
track zips along in a rejoicing way, a nice contrast to what follows
with Mountains of Home, a slower country waltz that reminded me of
Levon Helm’s Poor Old Dirt Farmer.
The solid delivery throughout this album by Holcombe who sounds like
a man in spiritual revelation is backed up by equally strong conviction
from Dave Roe on bass, fiddler Luke Bulla, drummer Bobby Kallus, and
Jared Tyler’s dobro. They all play their part in accentuating
the delivery! On To Drink the Rain this is probably no stronger when
Holcombe tells of his struggle to set himself free from his burdens.
It also reflects on his strength and conviction to see it through.
Glimpses of the land of milk and honey are throughout the album although
not in a blatant way but you can’t escape the fact that Holcombe
needed a revelationary experience to drag him up from the bottom.
The highlights are many, it’s not an album you want to dissect.
It’s about the sum of the whole and to enjoy it to it’s
fullest you really want to take the time to listen to it in its entirety.
There are accents of change and subtle twists, enough contrast in pace
to keep it a great listen in one sitting. Becky’s Blessed gets
the sentimental accentuation of a beautiful slow dobro from Jared Tyler
whilst Those who Wander picks the pace up but maintains that grace
with the help of Luke Bulla’s fiddle and the occasional uplifting
sound of Shelby Eicher’s mandolin. The Mighty City has an almost
Country Jazz feel on guitar. A very nice track that is perfectly executed,
pretty spectacular for a one-take recording! You can sense the connection
Jared has with Holcombe. His production efforts on the album are perfect.
Malcolm Holcombe could easily have followed in the footsteps of so
many others such as Hank Williams…he didn’t need to fight
to get there. Instead, he has proved he’s a fighter and this
album is a testament to his courage.
Folks in the UK now have a chance to see him, as Malcolm heads out
on his UK / Ireland Tour in March this year.