Cashbox Magazine (Canada) - April 23, 2015
No Depression - May 4, 2015
Johnny's Garden - 6 April, 2015
Pure M Magazine - 20 April, 2015
Lockeland Springsteen blog - 01.10.15


"Pitiful Blues" CD Reviews:

The Blues Magazine - October, 2014
Northern Sky 10.04.14
Lonesome Highway - 10.08.14
Blues in Britain October 2014
Mojo Magazine November 2014
Houston Music Review 09.06.14
Alt*Country*NL (Dutch Review) September 2014
Autrement Blues (French Review) September 2014

Mountain Times September 2014
R2 Magazine September-October 2014
Whisperin' and Hollerin' September 2014
Blurt Magazine September 2014
Country Update (Australia) September 2014
Hooked on Music (Germany) 08.23.14
Maverick Magazine Sept/Oct 2014
Blues Matter Magazine September 2014
The Alternate Route August 2014
The Digital Fix August 2014
Roots Music Report 08.16.14
Rootstime (Belgium) 08.15.14
Fatea Magazine 08.14.14
The Daily Times 08.13.14
The Herald (Scotland) 08.10.14
Blabber n Smoke 08.06.14
Music News.com 08.02.14
Folk Villager 08.02.14
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette 07.31.14
Wasser-Prawda Magazine
July 2014
For Folk's Sake 08.01.14
Irish Times 08.01.14
Daily Mirror 08.01.14

Country Music People August 2014
Arkansas Times 07.30.14
Americana UK 07.04.14
No Depression 07.03.14
Surrey Mirror 06.23.14
Folk Words 06.17.14


Americana UK 04.01.14
Herald Scotland 04.15.14
The Fine Times Recorder 04.14.14
No Depression 04.14.14
Folk & Tumble 04.11.14
Belfast News Letter 04.10.14
Chronique Musicale 04.08.14
Off Topic 03.24.14


Examiner.com 09.10.13
Centre Daily Times - 06.12.13
Blue Matters - January 2013
Acoustic Magazine
- January 2013


Winston-Salem Journal - 12.13.12
Maverick Magazine - Nov/Dec 2012
Folk and Roots - October 2012
Heaven Magazine - 10.04.12
The Post - 09.21.12
NetRhythms - September 2012
Revolver Lust for Life Magazine - September 2012
Tipperary Star - 09.30.12
Rootstime Magazine - 09.27.12
Twang Nation - 09.26.12
Chic Lifestyle Magazine - 09.23.12
Flyin' Shoes Review - 09.21.12
Evening Chronicle - 09.21.12
For Folk's Sake - 09.18.12
Blurt 09.17.12
Northern Sky Music Magazine - 09.16.12
Blabber 'n' Smoke 09.12.12
Americana UK - 09.10.12
Roots Highway - 09.05.12
Asheville Citizen Times - 08.12.12
Q Magazine - October 2012
Musicosis - 08.25.12
Indy Week - 08.22.12
The Daily Times - 08.23.12
Arkansas Democrat Gazette - 08.02.12
No Depression - 08.05.12
No Depression - 08.12.12
Lonesome Highway - 07.29.12
Bimingham News
- 01.19.12
Creative Loafing - 01.10.12
Mountain Times - 01.05.12
Rock Candy -- 02.27.12
Lonesome Highway - 07.29.12

Archived Reviews
Cashbox Magazine (Canada) - April 23, 2015

Cashbox Magazine (Canada)
April 23, 2015
- by Iain Patience

With Holcombe you can always expect the unexpected. A true original, a singer-songwriter with a flair for the unconventional, searing, raw emotion and lyrics and a voice that could stop a bull-elephant in its tracks. With The RCA Sessions, he again pushes the boundaries, a man with an edge in his fretwork, voice and music at all times.

For my money, there's little not to like on this album, a full 16-track offering giving bang for buck and sterling material to the table. His tortured, gravelly vocals only just manage to push his fine finger-picked fretwork to the side and not content with just another CD, Holcombe here also releases the first DVD performance of his playing, riding musical shotgun with a fine bunch of sidemen including Jared Tyler on Dobro and lap-steel; Dave Roe on Upright Bass; Ken Coomer on Drums; Tammy Rogers, Fiddle & Mandolin, and Jelly Roll Johnson on Harp. Siobhan Maher-Kennedy helps with the vocals, as does the powerhouse Irish singer Maura O'Connell.

Recorded at Nashville's legendary RCA Studios, this album features tracks from each of Holcombe's previous ten albums plus a few others, all rerecorded in Nashville - Holcombe often prefers home recordings - especially for this project.

I must lay my cards on the table and say I'm a huge fan of this guy and his music. He sounds like a 60-a-day kind of guy, and at times sounds like he's working his way through those very smokes while simultaneously recording and singing.

An excellent album for anyone who likes gritty voice and lyrics coupled with fine acoustic-driven guitar-work from the cutting, slicing edge of modern country and Americana music.

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No Depression - May 4, 2015

No Depression
May 4, 2015
- by Alan Harrison

Songs so raw and honest they will scare the pants off you

It's fair to say that Malcolm Holcombe is an acquired taste and; as my wife once said, "won't be invited to join the school choir anytime soon," but since I discovered him; he's my 'go to guy' when I need something to cleanse my listening pallet.

In exactly the same way that Bob Dylan can't 'sing' Holcombe can't; but using a version of talking Blues he uses his world weary and battered voice to inhabit songs like the beautiful Mister in Morgantown (alongside Jelly Roll Johnson) and leaving the casual listener an emotional wreck.

These sixteen tracks are a retrospective of his work between 1994 and 2014; but re-recorded in the legendary RCA Studios in Nashville (hence the title!); and if there is a God in Heaven will bring this low key genius's work to a whole new audience.

I actually received the album in the week of the Nepalese earthquake; which somehow made Doncha Miss That Water When It's Gone; somehow even more poignant as it's a very subtle geo-political song disguised as a love song that originally flew in under my radar; don't you make the same mistake.

As a confirmed Malcolm Holcombe fan I absolutely love the two duets that are included; first the jaunty twang of My Ol' Radio with Siobhan Maher-Kennedy but A Far Cry From Here with Irish Folk legend Maura O'Connell combines their contrasting voices to create a rare thing of terrible beauty.

Many words have been used to describe Holcombe's 'style' over the years and the most used tend to be intense and passionate; and I can't think of any better way to describe I Never Hear You Knocking and my favourite Holcombe song Butcher in Town.

While it wasn't necessary to include anything new; as these new recordings will have his fans flocking to the record shops in their dozens; there is a brand new song included and it's a doozy - Mouth Harp Man featuring Jelly Roll Johnson again on said instrument and it's gone straight into my Malcolm Holcombe Top 10.

If you get in early you will be able to buy the Deluxe version which includes a Concert DVD from the studio sessions; giving you the opportunity to see as well as hear why we love the man once described as 'what Boo Radley would look like in his latter years.'

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Pure M Magazine
20 April, 2015
- by Dave Simpson

Country/folk singer Malcolm Holcombe has enjoyed a long and distinguished career spanning an impressive two decades. In celebration of this achievement, the North Carolina native has put together The RCA Sessions; a collection of songs written between 1994 and 2014 for his previous ten albums and EP. Unlike most works such as this, he has re-recorded each track just for this release, making it an extra special undertaking for the seasoned musician.

The cool acoustic riff of "Who Carried You" begins the compilation, preceding relaxed vocals that play out as if they're narrating a folk tale. Its strong country flavour sets the standard for what's to come ahead of the stirring introduction of "Mister in Morgantown". This enthusiastic and animated offering features a mix of guitar, harmonica and light percussion, all of which unfold alongside an expressive harmony.

Festive fiddles get "I Feel Like a Train" going, ahead of a merry melody. Its laid back atmosphere persists into "Doncha Miss That Water", whose stripped down, back to basics approach is realised through cheery vocals and a riff that's a little more complex. "The Empty Jar" adopts a mellow, solemn stance in its wake, while "Butcher in Town" brightens things back up by dancing in on a fun and rousing beat. Fast paced and characterful, its lighthearted, playful demeanour is quite infectious.

Raw, coarse vocals howl out across some absorbing instrumentation during "To Drink the Rain" as it adopts more of an electric, rock flair than its predecessors. It's succeeded by the warm and moving country ballad, "Early Mornin'", which saunters along lazily, taking its time moving forward. "I Never Heard You" continues in a similar manner, generating a sombre ambience. Subtle acoustic guitars and earnest, reflective lyrics are complemented by poignant string work during the chorus.

"Mouth Harp Man" marches at a steady pace into thoughtful vocals that cut across reverberating harmonicas and colourful guitars. The busy and boisterous instrumentation of "I Call the Shots" arrives afterwards to preface an obstinate and optimistic melody. This is followed by the quick rhythm and speedy verse of "My Ol' Radio", paving the way for a cheerful duet with Siobhan Maher-Kennedy.

"Goin Home" is a contemplative composition next, characterised by bustling musical effects and an affective chorus. "Down the River" strolls slowly out of its wake, emanating a very relaxed and lackadaisical aura. Its successor, "Pitiful Blues", is an entirely different entity, having an almost psychedelic vibe that conjures up images of being out in the searing heat of the desert. "A Far Cry From" decides to head back to softer territory, distinguishing itself as a restrained and heartfelt folk ballad that puts a touching cap on proceedings.

While Malcolm Holcombe's material might not hold much appeal to those not invested in country music, it is an accomplished work within its own genre. Each track seems to tell its own story, with the compilation as whole feeling like something that you'd hear played over a camp fire on a warm summer night.

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Lockeland Springsteen blog - 01.10.15

Lockeland Springsteen blog
January 10, 2015
- by Katie Arata

Features /// Malcolm Holcombe Tonight at the 5 Spot

The first time I met Malcolm Holcombe I was not even a year old, and he was singing me a lullaby. Whether this initial interaction happened at my parent’s home or at a table at a listening room remains an absent detail, but it happened, nonetheless. This was but a snapshot of an entire story that I recently unearthed this week through a conversation with Holcombe. His life is a kind of tale that parallels familial folklore with a darker twinge and a haunting narration sung with a voice beautifully ragged with life’s weathering. And like he must have sung to me many years ago, he manifested a handful of memories told through Southern idioms and a kind growl that made me feel like I truly had known him my whole life, despite us having our first conversation in almost 22 years. I am a pitiful storyteller in comparison to the Appalachian native, but here is the story I have pieced together of Malcolm Holcombe.

I asked the gracious folk singer-songwriter to tell me where it all began, and this is the answer I got: “I grew up in a small town north of Asheville, called Weaverville. And well, I played guitar. I ain’t got nothing special to tell you there, Katie-honey.” He told me how proud he was of me, referenced folk tales, imparted wisdom through an accent that seemed too authentic to be true, but he spoke very little about himself. So let’s skip to 1990. “I got a one-way Greyhound ticket to Nashville, and I didn’t even buy it. I didn’t have enough money to buy it. I had a female philanthropist, I think she felt bad for me…and I was drinking a beer, and they wouldn’t let me take it on the bus. Ya know, thanks for reminding me, that pissed me off,” Holcombe asserted. And so it began. He ended up in the kitchen of Douglas Corner, doing all the tasks every start-out musician can imagine. He was getting by on a simple wage with a little help from some friends and several substances when he “launched his career in show business.”

“My big break in Nashville was when I met your daddy and some of the writers that played…it all began at Douglas Corner with plastic ants and a bear suit. And that bear suit cost $40. Now I want you to print that, that’s a lot of money in the early 90s.” I didn’t understand why his debut onto the scene included those items, so I went to a person I often employ to help translate life’s mysteries: my father,Tony Arata. “When I couldn’t get into the Bluebird to play, I got with Scott Miller, Bernie Nelson, Kirk “Jellyroll” Johnson, and Jimmy Stewart, and we put on these theme nights at Douglas Corner,” my dad explained. Having grown up with a songwriter as a parent, I always knew that there were untold adventures and hushed experiences that would boil to the surface at some point. “We called them ‘Fiascos,’ and that night was a picnic theme. And we got Malcolm up there and made him wear a bear suit.” They would pack the place and offer a writer’s round in a committed theme that rivals our current scene, transforming the listening room into a beach and even into a boxer’s ring, complete with costumes and a roped section in the middle of the room with a singular, center microphone to amplify them all. Apparently they even hired some girls to walk around and hold signs while they played. Classy and committed, or rather “more camp than composition,” as Arata described.

“All we knew was that he was the cook at Douglas. The first time Scott and I got him up to play, he blew everybody away,” said Arata. One evening, a representative from A&M Records was in the audience. Holcombe walked directly from the kitchen with his apron still on, grabbed his guitar and sat on stage, played a few songs that rattled the audience with truisms and heart, concluded and walked back to the kitchen, only after asking if my dad needed coffee without a look back at the representative or audience. Holcombe didn’t act in this manner because he disregarded the industry or his listeners, but it seemed as though he never thought too much about anything outside of the basic humanity of sharing songs. Even when I asked him what his most treasured song was from his personally crafted library of poems and melodies, he said, “Dark Side of the Moon. But I can’t play it.” With a bit of Southern accent that had inevitably slipped into my voice after settling into conversation with him, I kindly said, “well, Malcolm, I don’t think you wrote anything on that album. What of your music do you favor?” “Oh, no I don’t. I got short-term memory. I don’t think about any of that.” He said his greatest challenge in music was “trying to spell,” and all that he is today and all that he has accomplished is by “the grace of the good Lord,” no credit due to himself, the songwriter who is now regarded as a folk idol. But before I touch on his retrospect, let me return to his mercurial story.

“If you hang around a barber shop long enough, you get a pair of scissors in your back,” Holcombe preached. When you listen to him talk and especially when he sings, there is an evident history of complexities and experiences, of stumbles down paths that would shake the modern addict sober. Instead of us talking about these times, he cited the folklore of “Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby” as his description of dependence. Holcombe wailed into the phone with a cadential laugh, “throw me into the briar patch, throw me into the briar patch!” Addiction had overcome him in Nashville, and in 1998 it was time to get another one-way Greyhound ticket back to North Carolina. As he quotes in “Words of December,” a track on his most recent album, “the blood of my past still runs warm and tender,” and it still remains very much a part of the mysterious but now, sober, Holcombe. From these ventures he adopted a motto: “you gotta keep your eyes on the clouds, not on the devil,” an accepted adage only after a few stare-downs with his own demons. Thankfully these hypnotics developed into a legendary discography.

It shouldn’t (and doesn’t) go unnoticed that his 1999 release on Geffen Records, A Hundred Lies, was regarded as one of the most timeless recordings to come out that year, a fact to this day, but it has found a competitor in Holcombe’s 2014 album, Pitiful Blues. Ten releases later it is a ten-track recollection that is but a simple thing to its creator. “I was sittin’ in the backyard, and I got a little microphone back here, just trying to rub two nickels together. I got Jared Tyler (producer), a good friend, who helped put a little record together,” he calmly said. This man on the other end of the phone never once elaborated on this brutally but beautifully piercing album, even when I pried. I only got this poignant and quite Southern remembrance on what it was like to write the songs: “If you want to eat corn, you got to get out the hoe. Period.” And as he laughed, I marveled at this man’s collection of wisdom and grace through grit. The same man who opened for Merle Haggard and sang with Steve Earle had nothing much to say about his music. Perhaps his music alone says it all.

“Katie, you gotta be true to your own heart. It’s a day-to-day struggle we all go through, and music’s just a warm, recognizable thing that holds people together. We are all parts of each other, and I’m just trying to keep my spirituality and some kind of conscious contact with something greater than myself,” Holcombe told me. “And that includes my wife,” he ended.

His reestablished life has embodied itself in an honest work of music that should be regarded as harmonic scripture, studied and sung by the modern audience. His story is contoured by the human experience and ministered through his songs. Malcolm Holcombe is a loyal representation of a folk musician: honest to the bone, scarred but not damaged and continuously faithful to the song and its strength.

Listen to him tell his tale tonight at the 5 Spot (9pm) with Patrick Sweany.

-Katie A.

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The Blues Magazine - October 2014

The Blues Magazine

October 2014

by- Pete Feenstr size="2" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">October 2012
-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.

Performance *******/10

Sound Quality ********/10

Satisfaction ********/10

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Indy Week - 08.22.12

Indy Week
August 22, 2012
- by Chris Parker

Malcolm Holcombe, Jared Tyler
When: Sat., Aug. 25, 8 p.m. 2012
Price: $14-16

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 (stevew@thedailytimes.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

PDF Article

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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


Lonesome Highway
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

Rock Candy
-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

Birmingham News
-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

Creative Loafing
- 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

Mountain Times
-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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