"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
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
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
| The Blues Magazine - October 2014
The Blues Magazine
by- Pete Feenstra
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| Northern Sky 10.04.14
4 October 2014
- by Allan Wilkinson
Once again North Carolina's Malcolm Holcombe releases an album's worth of gritty blues-based songs, delivered in his own distinctive style. PITIFUL BLUES, the singer's tenth album to date, sees Holcombe team up once again with co-producer Jared Tyler to create a fitting atmosphere for these original and deeply rooted songs. Holcombe comes over best in a stripped down to basics setting, with just a small band to fill out the sound. Atmospheric in places, the songs do indeed radiate the sound of the Carolina hills, which is precisely what the producer intended.
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| Lonesome Highway - 10.08.14
8 October 2014
- by Stephen Rapid
Those who are acquainted with Holcombe knows his ragged sandpaper worn world weary voice and songs that draw from the depths of pain and gritty hope. To capture the real moment of these songs they were raw recordings done live in a small home studio and the musicians were then added later in the process. The result manages to capture the essence of Holcombe while adding the depth of the additional musicians. This proves to be a worthwhile process and makes for something that may well be easier to assimilate that a purely solo situation might otherwise elicit.
Again these are all original songs, tales of the haunted souls and moments of enlightenment. Songs like Savannah Blues, Words Not Spoken and the title track are deep, hurting blues that are perfectly enunciated by Holcombe’s lived in voice.
Co-produced by Holcombe and long time collaborator Jared Tyler the result is one of the finest of his albums to date and something that those who have previously encountered the man live or recorded will be happy to have. This, his latest instalment of his real expression of pain and real emotions. Music made from the need to express some humanity in a world that is more usually about something more superficial.
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| Blues in Britain October 2014
Blues in Britain
- by Bob Chaffey
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| Mojo Magazine November 2014
Mojo Magazine: CD review
by- Sylvie Simmons
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| Houston Music Review 09.06.14
Malcolm Holcombe - Almost Austin - Pasadena, TX
Written by Samuel Barker
Sep 06, 2014 at 08:00 PM
About once a year, I like to make sure I get a solid dose of Malcolm Holcombe in my life.
Every time I go to see him, I wait to be underwhelmed by his performance. Surely, after seeing someone ten times or more, the amazement will wear off, right?
Well, for yet another performance, I walked out of Almost Austin, this night’s venue and where I’ve seen Holcombe the most, filled with excitement and ready to try to create music that will undoubtedly pale in comparison to what Holcombe creates.
From the opening note of the show’s first song, The Mountains of Home, to the closing notes of Pitiful Blues, Holcombe ran through a set list of songs from his newer releases. While sometimes hearing songs that are new and having a large portion come from a brand new release can lead to a disconnect show, Holcombe uses his storytelling ability and downright intensity to bring all his songs to life.
As I have said in previous reviews, few people can capture the intensity of Malcolm Holcombe. With songs like Twisted Arms, Holcombe draws the picture of every day desperation brought on by watching the world around him being sold off. The pictures painted by the lyrics are never straight ahead, but when you add in the lead stories with the imagery, everything comes alive.
There really is not much to say that I have not already said about Malcolm Holcombe. Just allow this review to be another reminder that you should be planning to see Holcombe in the very near future. He’s currently on the road supporting his new album, Pitiful Blues, so go see the show and become a believer.
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| Alt*Country*NL (Dutch Review) September 2014
Alt*Country*NL (Dutch review)
Opgeslagen in: RECENSIES — John Gjaltema @ 22:36 Het is oog om oog en tand om tand in de liedjes van Malcolm Holcombe op Pitiful Blues (eigen beheer/Rough Trade). Het gaat om personages die altijd pijn hebben in de botten. Mensen van wie niemand de naam kent. Ze krijgen de deur dichtgegooid in het gezicht. Als ze de mensen recht in de ogen kijken, kijken die bij hen langs. Desperate types, daar ligt het hart van de singer-songwriter uit North Carolina. Zelf heeft hij ze ook gekend, de slechte tijden. Daarom is er ook niemand die zo in de huid weet te kruipen van zwervers. Ze staan altijd in de regen. Als ze doodgaan worden ze begraven door een grafdelver die staat te neuriën terwijl hij zijn werk doet. En Malcolm Holcombe huivert en rilt. Hij vertelt nog een verhaal waarbij de woorden in zijn keel smoren. Over een neef die als kind werd mishandeld. De onschuld zag sterven. Words Not Spoken. Het gaat om de blues van binnen en het lawaai in het hoofd, maar over zelfbeklag gaat het dus niet op Pitiful Blues.
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| Autrement Blues (French Review) September 2014
Autrement Blues (French review)
- by Iain Patience
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| Mountain Times September 2014
September 18, 2014
-by Derek Halsey
Malcolm Holcombe will bring his brand of blues and folk back to Boone for a show Sept. 25.
If you have listened to WNCW-FM in the last couple of months, you have heard the title track to Malcolm Holcombe’s new album, “Pitiful Blues.”
The song is real in content and groove and cuts to the bone. Holcombe’s music usually does that for those that give it a chance. If you go to YouTube and search for “Malcolm Holcombe Pitiful Blues Glasgow 2014,” you will see a powerful live version of the cut performed by the singer and guitarist at the Admiral Bar in Scotland last April.
Holcombe will perform at Boone Saloon on Thursday, Sept. 25. The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $7.
Holcombe has seen the good and the bad that life and the music business have to offer, with a lot of the negative side self-inflicted. Ultimately, however, Holcombe fought the bottle, and the bottle did not win. The love of a good woman has kept him afloat and his music flowing.
A Western North Carolina native and resident, Holcombe brought to his latest album a new and sweet anthem about this part of the world, called “Roots.” Backed by Luke Bulla on fiddle, the song talks of Holcombe’s homeland; “There’s one heart in these old mountains, There’s one light that’s gently shining, in the Blue Ridge Smokey sunrise, putting roots down in the hills, Oh the silver moonlight passion, dancing fast and everlasting, ’til the stars a glance may capture, putting roots down in the hills.”
“That song is kind of close to my heart,” Holcombe said. “A lot of folks don’t have a home, and if they do, it’s blown all to hell. So, it’s a lot to be grateful for to call a little spot, a little spit of dirt in this world, home. These old hills are home for me. People tell me that you can go ahead and write your way out of a song, so it usually takes 10 or 15 minutes or so to write them. I might have written ‘Roots’ in 20 minutes. I don’t have an hourglass tick-tocking away, you know. (I came up with the new songs) by the grace of the Good Lord and trying to stay sober. I kind of made them up. There ain’t nothing new under the sun. Mark Twain said, ‘If you only tell the truth, you don’t have to remember what you say.’”
The stark reflection-of-modern-times imagery found in the lyrics of “Pitiful Blues” were culled from a few different influences by Holcombe.
“Well, a little bit came from the Old Testament, and a little bit came from my whining,” Holcombe said. “It’s just like ‘Cadillac problems.’ A lot of folks in America, at least me, have these first-world Cadillac problems. I don’t have any business complaining, to be honest with you. There is too much suffering in this world. I’m just trying to call a spade a spade, just a point of view.”
In this day and age when it seems like the world has gone crazy again, it is artists like Holcombe that are able to put things in perspective at times.
“It’s just a point of view that can hit you in the face like a ball-peen hammer,” Holcombe said. “You’ve got to have a release for something, whether it is hanging on a cave wall or scribbled on a piece of paper. The world has always been crazy. It’s just with communications being in the forefront now, if you can dodge the darn drug commercials, there’s a lot of pain and suffering going on. It’s been going on since Cain and Abel, man, and even before that. Now, we have radio and TV and media coverage, which you can trust or distrust. But it is hard to Photoshop a beheading.
"It’s a big old world out there, man, and there are a lot of good people. There are a lot of caring people with compassion and empathy for one another. That has been what’s shown to me. It’s not all blood and guts and torture and murder and genocide, because there is a lot of goodness in this world. It really restores my faith and hope for better days coming.”
For more about Malcolm Holcombe, visit www.malcolmholcombe.com.
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| R2 Magazine September-October 2014
- By Jeremy Searle
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| Whisperin' and Hollerin' September 2014
Whisperin' and Hollerin'
- by Martin Raybould
I picture Malcolm Holcombe sitting on his back porch in full hobo gear, chewing tobacco and playing a battered acoustic guitar.
His songs have that seasoned quality of someone who has been through more than his fair share of hard times.
The ten new tunes on his tenth album give further notice that he is now wiser and stronger but still betray a strong streak of bitterness. These are the blues based on personal, not borrowed, experiences.
Holcombe's voice has such a grizzled, slurred and throaty quality that it comes as no surprise to learn that he has a history of alcoholism and hell raising. Nevertheless, the tender closing song ,For The Love Of A Child illustrates that he has not succumbed to his demons.
While he may have mellowed a little with age, there's nothing complacent or passive about his world view. The title track finds him on the warpath against an unjust world seeking "an eye for the eye and a tooth for a tooth".
Fighting for wounded pride is also a theme of By The Boots told from the perspective of sickly veteran - "what I am is who I am with a rifle in my hand". These songs bear witness to the fact that this is one old soldier who's not about to go quietly.
Meanwhile, Roots is a fond ode to his Blue Ridge Mountains home in North Carolina while other songs are those of a journeyman musician. He's dead in a box in Georgia (Savannah Blues), sweltering in the Mississippi heat (Sign For A Sally) and playing the bars in downtown Louisville, Kentucky (The Music Plays On).
Any hardness of tone is frequently softened by the poetry of the song writing. Another Despair, for example, identifies with the fine line that separates sin and salvation: "the flesh gets messy with a smile and a nod, on the hooks of a dealer to the Grace of God".
All in all, the truths may be harsh ones but the mood of this fine album is far from pitiful.
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| Blurt Magazine September 2014
- by Lee Zimmerman
Album: Pitiful Blues
Artist: Malcolmbe Holcombe
Release Date: August 05, 2014
BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Malcolm Holcombe made it clear from early on he’s not the kind of guy you want to mess with. He takes no grief and suffers no fools. We don’t know that for a fact of course, but one listen to any of his previous albums and Pitiful Blues in particular makes that impression pretty clear. Judging by his ransacked vocals and hard-scramble sound, it’s obvious that Holcombe’s not about to soft-sell his intents. “Take what you can get/Some politician’s grinnin’/Don’t trust the government/I got a rifle in my hand,” he growls on “By the Boots,” and by God, it’s obvious he’s not joking. From the sweat-stained sentiments of “Savannah Blues” to the rootsy ramble of “Sign for a Sally,” Holcombe wears his convictions on his proverbial sleeve, laying down one gritty discourse after another with a rugged, irascible irony and intensity.
Frayed and well-worn, gruff and gritty to the max, these songs sound like they were plucked from the tangle of the swamp or yet another roadhouse refuge. Not that Holcombe is solely focused on agitated discourse, insolence or indulgence; final track “For the Love of a Child” makes it clear that apart from the tenacious turbulence, a certain amount of tenderness still resides within. More purposeful than pitiful, these ten songs find a weary renegade giving voice to a troubled soul.
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| Country Update (Australia) September 2014
Country Update (Australia)
- by Iain Patience
Based in North Carolina’s Piedmont region of the USA, Holcombe’s guitar-work reflects the quality and driving style of his home-area in the Appalachians with a skilful mix of 1930s style picking and cross-over Americana and Bluegrass influences. A sort of ‘backwoods blues’ in sound and feel, the kind of thing you might expect to find being played on a sleepy southern porch on a sweltering summers’ day. The lyrics are strong and the entire ten-track album is chock-full of powerful and raw emotion, stripped-down sounds that jump from the disc to grab you by the throat. Holcombe is not a man to be ignored. Both the voice and playing demand and warrant attention. From the opening title track to the close of the album, Holcombe’s stirring lyrics and at times dirge-like vocals carry this album out of the shadows into the light and easily earns it a place on any acoustic music lover’s collection. This guy is always interesting, daring to be different and well clear of mainstream, and Pitiful Blues, his tenth outing would be worth having for the wonderful thumping guitar bass runs and jangling treble solos and the drawling vocal delivery evident on the eponymous title track alone.
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| Hooked on Music (Germany) 08.23.14
Hooked on Music (Germany)
23 August 2014
- by Frank Ipach
Begegnete man diesem ausgezehrt scheinenden Mann auf der Straße, machte man sich wohl Sorgen um seinen Gesundheitszustand. Mitgenommen und etwas angeschlagen wirkt Malcolm Holcombes äußeres Erscheinungsbild. Doch seine Musik, seine Geschichten wirken lebhaft, echt und authentisch bis ins Mark, wenngleich sie auch gerne mit zerrissenen Charakteren spielt.
Der Singer-Songwriter aus North Carolina, der mit seinem rauen, kantigen Vortragsstil in Insiderkreisen höchstes Ansehen genießt, beweist auch auf seinem neuen Album "Pitiful Blues" genügend Tiefe und Überzeugungskraft, um das hohe Niveau seiner früheren Platten erneut zu erreichen.
Wir begegnen neuen Geschichten, Schicksalen und Personen, lebensecht und nachvollziehbar. Holcombe, der alte, zersauste Grummler, streichelt und schlägt seine Klampfe versiert wie eh und je, presst seine Short Stories mit raspelnder Stimme hervor, während er sie mit althergebrachten und wohlbekannten musikalischen Mustern aus akustischem Folk, Country und Blues umrahmt. Produzent und Multiinstrumentalist Jared Tyler hilft abermals mit Dobro-Slide, Fiddle und gelegentlicher E-Gitarre, während Bass und Schlagzeug zumeist einen unaufgeregten und entspannten Groove anschlagen. Das angerockt galoppierende Another Despair darf hier wohl als Ausnahme betrachtet werden.
Eine prickelnde Melange, die an andere große Kollegen wie Townes van Zandt, John Prine, Guy Clark, Steve Earle, Kris Kristofferson und Chris Smither erinnert. Diese Art Americana regt an, bewegt und beschert dem aufmerksamen Hörer ein anhaltendes emotionales Wechselbad. Bleibt zu hoffen, dass uns dieser ausgezeichnete Malcolm Holcombe noch ein paar Jahre begleitet und niemand auf die Idee kommt, achtlos an ihm vorüberzugehen.
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| Fatea Magazine 08.14.14
18 August, 2014
- by David Kidman
Album: Pitiful Blues
Label: Self Released
Here's another album of authentic, rugged, stripped-down Americana from a master observer of the human condition with a very distinctive voice and a gruffly uncompromising yet refreshing stance. The rationale for this, North Carolina-based Malcolm's tenth record, was long-time co-producer Jared Tyler's desire to enshrine the spirit of the "musician's demos" that Malcolm invariably made in his own backyard studio and sent to Jared prior to each album being further worked on - and so it turned out, a more intimate affair than previous records, but still with some ancillary musician enhancements from Jared and his four-man support crew. Malcolm's own personality can't help but dominate, and it sure is as compelling, close-up and handsome as ever, especially when recorded as simply as this (one basic mic).
All this allows Malcolm's special stories and deep thoughts to speak more directly to the listener, of course, and his growling, gargling, snarling delivery tears into one's consciousness in the nicest possible way - this aspect to some extent belying his essential humanity, so don't be put off! In this context, then, it's hard to say much more, as the converts will already be converted and those new to Malcolm's music could do no better than to start here for their best and most undistracted,
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| The Digital Fix August 2014
The Digital Fix
August 2014 issue
- by Max Mazonowicz
Campfire Tales: August 2014
In the male vocal category we've got the sawdust, whisky, tobacco-stained voice of Malcolm Holcombe. Early on he sings “An eye for an eye / A tooth for a tooth” and it sounds like he’s lived life to that mantra, giving up many teeth over the years. Now while that might not sound the best for a vocalist - and on the opening title track the earthiness of his voice does stun you a little - but Pitiful Bluesshowcases the 55 year old's well honed musical and lyrical skills. And, really, that sandpaper rough voice just adds an unprecedented level of gravitas to proceedings. As Holcombe growls his way through ‘Roots’ the violin offers a smooth contrast.
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| Rootstime (Belgium) 08.15.14
15 August, 2014
- by Luc Meert
De man nadert intussen de pensioengerechtigde leeftijd maar we smeken op onze knieën dat hij nog lange moge doorgaan met zijn fantastische, sublieme, rauwe, doodeerlijke Blues. Een laatbloeier kan je stellen, hij was haast veertig toen hij zijn debuutalbum uitbracht maar inmiddels is hij met deze “Pitiful Blues” aan zijn tiende plaat toe. Allen, zonder uitzondering, stuk voor stuk pareltjes, en de nieuwste is niets minder dan een meesterwerk. Voor ons is de man al lang op hetzelfde niveau te situeren als pakweg Townes Van Zandt, het soort artiesten dat je moet bewonderen en koesteren.
Het befaamde Rolling Stone Magazine Magazine beschrijft de muziek van Malcolm Holcombe als “de soort blues die in beweging is en ieder hoekje van je hart raakt”. Het is alweer niet anders met deze release. Holcombe, opgegroeid in de Blue Ridge Mountains van north Carolina staat bekend om zijn door sloten whiskey en pakken sigaretten getekende stem. Voeg daarbij nog de tragische tegenslagen waarmee de artiest in zijn leven geconfronteerd bent en je krijgt het doorleefde stemgeluid waarmee Malcolm typerend verhaalt. Door de jaren heen is onze held geëvolueerd van singer-songwriter naar volmaakt artiest. Uiterlijk blijft hij wel iets hebben van de beginnende straatmuzikant en deze stijl past uiteraard bij zijn gevoelige, breekbare, haast naakt te noemen, songs.
Het titelnummer opent deze prachtplaat en de man heeft je direct bij je nekvel. Zijn stem ergens zwevend tussen Michael de Jong en de hedendaagse Bob Dylan, verhaalt deze maatschappijkritische song; Onrecht aanklagend , ingewikkeld en inventief akoestisch snarenplukkend als ware het illustratief voor het uitzichtloze. Dit is een briljante aftrapper. Ondanks het sombere beeld dat in ’s mans nummers overheerst slaagt hij er moeiteloos in die muzikaal hoopvol te laten klinken.
Je voelt de pijn zo aan je lijf bij sommige van zijn nummers. De manier waarop hij tekstueel illustratief kan tewerk gaan is enkel voor de allergrootsten weggelegd. Een schoolvoorbeeld van magistrale sfeerschepping situeert zich bij “Savannah Blues”. Hij schetst het beeld van een overledene die ten grave wordt gedragen en je krijgt het gevoel alsof je naast zijn graf staat en in de gutsende regen de kist verder de diepte ziet in verdwijnen. Je wordt er haast ongemakkelijk bij. Een zelden gehoorde macabere schoonheid of hoe kan je dit anders omschrijven?
Zoals gezegd grossiert de plaat van dergelijke pareltjes. Het meestampbare “Another Despair” mag dan wat het tempo omhoog jagen, de ingehouden woede aantonend, maar het is vooral “Words Not Spoken” dat ons uitgeteld tegen het canvas slaat. De song vol wanhoop is van een ongekende schoonheid. Eigenlijk is heel het album bijzonder hoogstaand en dat maakt het moeilijk om daar nog eens een extra favoriet te gaan uitlichten, niet dat u daar nood zou aan hebben natuurlijk.
De subtiele, mijmerende vioolstrepen accentueren sporadisch subtiel Malcolm’s dromerige, authentieke, eerlijke songs. Deze absolute aanrader eindigt met “For The Love Of A Child”, een nummer waar geen enkele ouder of grootouder ongevoelig zal bij blijven. Als we al een opmerking zouden hebben dan is het de te korte tijdsduur van de plaat. Het geheel klokt af na amper vierendertig minuten. Maar kan je wel ooit genoeg krijgen van zoveel schoonheid? “Pitiful Blues” is een zekere kandidaat voor ons eindejaarslijstje. Méér zelfs: het album staat te drummen voor een podiumplaats!
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| Roots Music Report 08.16.14
Roots Music Report
Review- 5 stars
August 16, 2014
- by Duane Verth
Label: Gypsy Eyes Music
Genres: Rock, Folk
Styles: Roots Rock, Contemporary Folk
Written by Duane Verh
August 16, 2014 - 12:00am EDT
Malcolm Holcombe’s markedly rough-edged pipes match up well with either the most pungent blues line or recollections of a more warm-hearted nature. The Carolina singer/guitarist here reveals himself to be a considerably versatile tune-crafter as well. Acoustic accompaniment is first-rate. Standouts in a strong set include “Roots”, “Sign For A Sally” and a particularly haunting piece of talkin’ blues, “Savannah Blues”.
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| Blues Matter Magazine September 2014
Blues Matters Magazine
- by Christine Moore
Gypsy Eyes Music
I’ve been lucky enough to see Malcolm Holcombe live and he is a captivating, charismatic performer. His recorded work calls for a little bit more work from the listener. I’m sure he wouldn’t think of himself as a blues artist despite the title of his latest offering. His vocal style is a bit Tom Waits territory, and is certainly an acquired taste. Musically and lyrically he is more akin to Townes Van Zandt. An American folk, country troubadour writing observational songs of world weariness and mostly loss and despair. Don’t get the idea it’s all gloom and doom, Holcombe is a clever songwriter, there are moments of humour and defiance among the tales of aching bones, medicines n’ pills, and old cigerettes n’ beer. He has a terrific band of musicians adding upright bass, Dobro, mandolin and fiddle to the electric guitar and drums that bring this American folklore to life. Malcolm tells me he hopes to be back in the UK in Spring 2015, my advice is go and see him live. If the likes of Van Zandt or Guy Clark are your thing start exploring Holcombe’s recorded work, here is a good a place as any to start.
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| The Alternate Route August 2014
The Alternate Route
- by Danny McCloskey
MALCOLM HOLCOMBE - PITIFUL BLUES
Details Category: NEW RELEASE RACK ROW 1 Written by DannyMaybe it is the force of his playing, like on “Pitiful Blues”, the title track from the most recent release from Malcolm Holcombe. The song opens the album, setting the course for crusade, holding roughhewn rock’n’roll in the grasp like a zealot. The chugging of the sound could be the reason that the songs of Malcolm Holcombe come branded as boxcar gospel truth. When he sings ‘I ain’t got nothin’ but the poor me, pitiful blues’ it is not to generate sympathy. He is relating the state of his being and is a proud native son. Malcolm Holcombe’s throaty vocals give the story line of a chance meeting depth with lines like ‘innocence dies right in front of you’. Malcolm states on his website that ‘true emotions don’t lie’ and that is the motto for the songs gathered on Pitiful Blues.
His voice is the common ground on Pitiful Blues as the music gives in to musical moods of a young boy’s dream in “For the Love of a Child” with a foot stomp beat under lazy string bending and Malcolm Holcombe spitfires words over a garage rock arrangement that puts a sharper edge in its bent strings on “Another Despair’. Pitiful Blues follows folks into the Blue Ridge and Great Smokey Mountains to lay “Roots” down in the hills and brews tension in “Savannah Blues” with a determined foot to keep time and hard luck fingerpicking popping notes around the despair in the words. “By the Boots” starts as a former soldiers reverie until the paranoia of its lead character ignites, showing only two thoughts in the glare; “don’t trust the government’ and ‘shoot to kill is all I know’. Jared Tyler, producer for Pitiful Blues, would receive the stripped down origins of songs that Malcolm sent out to the musicians who would be on the album. What Jared heard was how good these tunes sounded with one mic, one guitar and a foot keeping rhythm on the floor. He kept the sound as a guide for Pitiful Blues. Malcolm Holcombe’s voice is captured with all of its nuances up front letting his sighs, groans and shudders accent the words. The rawness that was heard on the early days of the album’s songs is evident on “The Music Plays On” with its feel of a late night jam after the paying customers have gone home with still lots of night left on Lower Broadway.
- See more at: http://thealternateroot.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2517:mh-pb&Itemid=299&Itemidindex_php?option=com_content&catid=222:new-releases#sthash.7lwCDjhd.dpuf
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| The Daily Times 08.13.14
The Daily Times
August 13, 2014
- By Steve Wildsmith
Singing, songwriting mountain man Malcolm Holcombe comes back to town
IF YOU GO
WHEN: 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 15
WHERE: Boyd’s Jig and Reel, 101 S. Central St., Knoxville’s Old City
HOW MUCH: $5
Malcolm Holcombe "To Drink The Rain"read moreA Jammin at Hippie Jack's recording of Malcolm Holcombe at the Air Devils Inn, Louisville KY
Posted: Wednesday, August 13, 2014 6:30 pm |Updated: 6:41 pm, Wed Aug 13, 2014.
By Steve Wildsmith |firstname.lastname@example.org | 0 comments
It’s not an easy thing, getting a handle on Malcolm Holcombe’s train of thoughts.
The engine in most people’s heads runs one way down a linear track across open plains; shifts in direction are planned out in advance, and detours are seldom considered.
The locomotive that is Holcombe’s mind is a far different beast. It’s a big old steam-driven behemoth that idles as often as it barrels down the rails at full speed, abruptly changing tracks, and sometimes shifts into reverse without warning. In other words, it’s not easy to keep up, especially when he peppers everyday conversation with his folksy homilies and homespun analogies.
Say this for catching a ride on Holcombe’s train, though — it’s a beautiful ride through landscapes of fog-shrouded Appalachian hills, valleys ringed by old trees and forgotten paths that wander among towns and villages where time seems to run in reverse. His ability to turn a verse is often unparalleled, and his new album “Pitiful Blues” is no exception.
“We’re all storytellers, and I’m just passing along tales and stories, or call it gossip or folklore or whatever,” Holcombe told The Daily Times during a recent interview during a break from toiling in the garden of his Western North Carolina home. “Mark Twain said if you always tell the truth, you don’t ever have to remember what you say. You can talk about eating peanut butter on Mars, but I never ate peanut butter on Mars, so I don’t have a club. I’m just trying to share a taste of peanut butter on this planet.
“It’s a process, a struggle, to expel right from wrong and share some stories that hopefully somebody can identify with. And whether it’s on ‘Bandstand’ or the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ or down at the barbershop or beauty parlor, what goes in one ear doesn’t necessarily come out the other ear the same way. A lot of that has to do with arrogance, ego, keeping up with the Joneses and trying not to red line in any direction.”
There’s a good reason Holcombe’s observations and commentary come across as something very similar to what might fly from the mouth of an old one-eyed mountain hermit who comes to town once a year to stock up on supplies and holler about the things he’s seen up in the hills to anybody who will listen. He was born in Asheville, N.C., and raised in nearby Weaverville, learning to play flat-top guitar and cutting his teeth on folk, bluegrass and traditional Appalachian ballads. He played fairs, dances and shows throughout the area before drifting to Florida in 1976, where he stayed for the next 14 years.
In 1990 he moved to Nashville, where he worked odd jobs and soaked up as much of the business side of the industry as possible before going back to North Carolina. He’s cut several albums over the years, including one for Geffen, “A Hundred Lies,” that earned a four-star review from Rolling Stone. He’s been compared to Bruce Springsteen for the way he paints vivid portraits with his songs, turning them into haunting, brooding, moving affairs. His skill on a guitar, fingertips hardened by years of manual labor and plucking at the strings, only serve to give his howling, hollering vocals, still as tortured and raspy as the weather-beaten boards of a hundred-year-old barn, even more of an impact.
Where those songs come from is something he’s reticent to address. Like most songwriters, he puts together a collection of them and decides it’s time to put out another record. His wife, Cyndi, helps him with the business side of things — the title of “Pitiful Blues” was her idea, he said (“I always need some help from her and other folks too that have a bead on how things ought to be quacking down the waterfall,” he added), and the songs themselves run the gamut, from dark and brooding to light and upbeat, from introspective and tender to the barely contained pain of an animal caught in a trap.
Where they come from, though, he won’t speculate. To do so would complicate the process and profane the sacred, to some extent.
“You can write your way out of a song,” he said. “I don’t like changing things, personally speaking, and writing and rewriting, that’s treading on thin ice for me, man. I just don’t think about it. I’m like Lonesome George — when it comes to the part I know, I play the hell out of it. There’s an old saying — move a muscle, change a thought, so I try to keep moving so I don’t get stove up.”
This weekend, he’ll make a pilgrimage to East Tennessee for a performance at Boyd’s Jig and Reel in Knoxville’s Old City. He’s got dates booked into 2015, meaning he’ll head out on the road for short jaunts here and there and spend the rest of his time at his mountain home, living his life and snatching those songs out of the ether whenever they float on by.
I’m grateful, although not as much as I should be,” he said. “Generally speaking, I get a thrill seeing a blade of green grass; I don’t care if it’s a weed, clover or poison ivy. The four seasons, the wind blowing and the birds singing and my wife yelling at the dogs ... it’s all music. It’s life’s music, and being able to participate in it and have a foot on this planet, it’s something to be savored and shared.”
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| Maverick Magazine September/October 2014
- by Ian Ambrose
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| The Herald (Scotland) 08.10.14
The Herald (Scotland)
10 August 2014
- by Rob Adams
Malcolm Holcombe Pitiful Blues
If only Eric Clapton could offer Malcolm Holcombe the kind of patronage he gave JJ Cale, this 10th in a series of albums that the North Carolina-born Holcombe has wrenched from a life full of hard living over the past 20 years might have arrived with rather more of a fanfare.
The Cale comparison isn't made lightly, but while Holcombe's songs are more defiant and written by a man with a whole pack of hellhounds on his trail, there are at least a couple of refrains here that Clapton could surely revel in. Sign For A Sally's "the Mississippi heat's alive and well" and Another Despair's "swift time pass and the pages tear" are the two lines that stick in the mind from first play, but listen on and the imagery allied to Holcombe's throaty holler and robust guitar picking - enhanced by dobro, guitars, fiddle, bass and drums - paints a detailed, thoroughly compelling picture from someone who's been under the radar far too long.
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| Blabber n Smoke 08.06.14
Blabber 'n' Smoke
6 August 2014
- by Paul Kerr
Malcolm Holcombe. Pitiful Blues.
Posted on August 6, 2014 by Paul Kerr
Another North Carolina resident and another slice of raw country, this time from Malcolm Holcombe who has ditched the star studded line up of his last album (Down The River) and along with producer and Dobro player Jared Tyler delivered a raw set recorded live in his home studio with accompaniment on double bass, fiddle and occasional drums. It’s a warm, organic, stubbly recording, you can hear the scrape of hands on fret boards, feet hitting the floor, all that’s missing is a crackling fire and crickets. What’s not missing is the raw growl and gurn that is Holcombe’s voice. Worn, weary, hoarse, take your pick, he sounds the way Townes Van Zandt was going towards the end, he sounds like the blind character played by Levon Helm in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, he sounds like a Grizzly Bear.
The songs here are uniformly excellent. There’s some toe tappin’ high jinks on Another Despair, Words Of December is a very fine and nimble Appalachian styled number while the opening title song resonates with biblical vengeance. Savannah Blues finds Holcombe as an ancient sounding narrator, bones aching and singing from beyond the grave in a cold and lonely bed following a Yellow Fever outbreak, the music is suitably spooky and atmospheric. The Music Plays On is more up to date celebrating baseball with a nod to another North Carolina musician, Mark Germino. Here Holcombe recalls the likes of John Prine and Guy Clark with the song a fine acoustic country blues with Tyler’s Dobro prominent. The closing For The Love Of A Child is an excellent meditation on regret for past wild times now redeemed with a shared responsibility in the shape of a kid. Here and throughout the album the music is warm as guitar, Dobro, bass and drums fuse into an organic whole which is heart warming and comforting.
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| Music News.com 08.02.14
2 August, 2014
- by Andy Snipper
As the name suggests, this ain’t an album for depressives but there is a joy and real feeling in the dark and moody numbers on this album.
Holcombe hails from North Carolina, actually born in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and his songs and playing seem to echo the hard upbringing and harder life of the farmers and other folks from that beautiful but tough region.
His voice is grizzled and he sounds at least 200 years old – as he intones at the beginning of ‘By The Boots’ , “Don’t take away my guns and bullets, don’t you leave me here to die … surviving’s what I’m trained to do and I’m fighting for my pride”; this is music from a place that most liberals and city dwellers wouldn’t get. But then you listen to the title track and his wheezing vocals seem to make it all clear, this is music from an old place with history and integrity. He brings the mood up sometimes too, like on ‘Sign For A Sally’ where the lyric takes you to a hot love affair carried on across all of Mississippi – “Mississippi Heat’s alive and well, smiling up the alley all black and white with a sign for a sally and a righteous fare thee well”.
This is the music that the likes of Seasick Steve have made popular recently but Malcolm Holcombe has more history and greater depth and darkness than most and the songs really do hit deep and hard – a superb album.
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| Folk Villager 08.02.14
August 2, 2014
Malcolm Holcombe - Pitiful Blues (Album Review)
Posted by Folk Villager on August 2, 2014 at 6:30am View Blog Ten tunes furnishing further insights into the alcohol-fueled underbelly of Planet Holcombe
The aptly titled self-release Pitiful Blues was principally captured at Holcombe’s Dawghouse home studio in Swannanoa, North Carolina. Further contributions were added at a couple of Tulsa studios - Blue Alleluia and Soultree - by his Oklahoma based sideman Jared Tyler. He shares the production credit with Holcomb, and Tyler also engineered and mixed the recordings. The press release intimates that Jared’s intention was to present a ‘stripped bare’ Malcolm Holcombe song collection, similar to the consummate (solo) demos that the musician has created for numerous past albums. Those demos employ “one simple mic. capturing Malcolm, his guitar, and the rhythm of his foot on the floor.” While intention is one thing, fruition is something rather different! Holcombe’s foundation has been augmented here – read window-dressed - variously, by his co-producer’s dobro, mandolin, baritone electric guitar, ebo and vocals, alongside occasional contributions from Arthur Thompson (drums), Matt Hayes (upright bass), Luke Bulla (fiddle) and, on one selection, Patrick "Paddy" Ryan (drums). Based on the initial “when it ain’t broke” principle, the question arises “why tamper with it?”
It would be a stretch to describe Halcombe’s ‘lived in’ singing voice as tutored, rather he chews on his words, swills them around in his mouth for a moment before gruffly ejecting them. In the chorus to the five-verse opening opus (and album title song), the narrator enumerates the ills besetting him and, waxing Biblical, repeats “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” following which we’re “down in the hills” of Holcombe’s beloved Blue Ridge Mountains for the genealogical “Roots.” Travelling through Mississippi, overcome by the heat, the “Sign For A Sally” narrator finds relief in “Stealin' sleep inside a bottle,” before heading east for the climatically cooler“Savannah Blues” and the rain drenched “Another Despair.” In the opening verse of “By The Boots” the narrator attests that he was “Baptised drinkin’ shine, Survivin’s what I’m trained to do, And fightin’ for my pride” while in the chorus Holcombe repeats “Don’t trust the government.”
Ryan holds down the backbeat on “Words Not Spoken,” and “Words Of December” opens with the seasonal “The Christmas tree light burn in the daytime.” The chorus to the penultimate song “The Music Plays On” includes the line “The Louisville Slugger and Geronimo,” (undoubtedly,) a reference to the famed brand of baseball bat and theDominican Republic bred former Major League Baseball outfielder Cesar Geronimo, while, a few lines farther along, there’s mention of Radartown. The closing chorus name-checks “Rex Bob Lowenstein” the title of an early 1990’s song about a mythical disc jockey penned by North Carolina bred songwriter Mark Germino. The song appeared onRadartown, an album on which Germino was accompanied by The Sluggers. Pitiful Blues closes with the memory-filled recollection “For The Love Of A Child.”
http://www.malcolmholcombe.com/ and https://myspace.com/malcolmholcombe
Brought to you from the desk of the Folk Villager.
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| Arkansas Democrat-Gazette 07.31.14
July 31, 2014
- by Jack W. Hill
Songwriter Holcombe sings the Pitiful Blues
JACK W. HILL SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Singer-songwriter Malcolm Holcombe admits to feeling pitiful these days — in fact, he spells it all out on Pitiful Blues, his new CD, to be released Tuesday.
“My wife picked out the name,” Holcombe explains, laughing, from his backyard in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. “The songs mean different things to different people, I guess. If you sling enough bologna at the wall, some of it will stick.”
The new album was co-produced by Jared Tyler, a Tulsa musician on tour with Holcombe as the opening act. It’s a gig he also had in 2013 when Holcombe last stopped in Little Rock.
“Jared helped me produce an earlier album, To Drink the Rain,” Holcombe says. “I’m so fortunate to have him also out on the road with me. He’s one of the best guitar and dobro players around. I reckon he’s been with me for about 15 years, over the course of seven of my 10 albums.
“On the new batch, we recorded some in my backyard, and some at Jared’s place in Tulsa.”
Holcombe’s backyard is in Swannanoa, N.C., a place he finds hard to leave, but he must take his music to supporters around the country. And word-of-mouth praise from fans and critics has resulted in a growing fan base, although Holcombe is not one to brag. Rather, he is thankful for his blessings.
“It just seems to me that if you hang around the barbershop long enough, you’re gonna get a haircut,” he says. “I just hung on ’til I did, you might say. These are hard times and I’m just lucky to be of service, to have a purpose. I’m just trying to hone down desperation.”
Holcombe recorded his debut album A Hundred Lies for Geffen Records in 1996, but it ended up on a shelf for three years. Along the way, Holcombe has opened for Merle Haggard, Wilco, Shelby Lynne, John Hammond, Leon Russell and Richard Thompson, and a host of other musicians he admires and respects. Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle have contributed to Holcombe’s recordings.
As for the unusual stick figure artwork of Pitiful Blues and To Drink the Rain (which might remind some of the folk art of Howard Finster, whose works were chosen for album covers by R.E.M., Pierce Pettis and The Talking Heads), Holcombe says he came up with the drawings.
“I’m cheap,” he says. “I think it probably is the result of my ancestors who lived in a cave in Utah — or Arkansas!”
Holcombe’s new album showcases 10 of his latest songs, including “Another Despair,” “Words Not Spoken” and “For the Love of a Child.” His voice, not a smooth one, sounds lived-in, to put it mildly, and comparisons with Tom Waits, Guy Clark and Bob Dylan are inevitable. Lyrics sometimes are as enigmatic as Dylan’s, also.
Years of rolling down the highway have given inspiration to Holcombe, who distills the wisdom of the road into a couple of simple suggestions: “Use your turn signals and keep it under 100.”
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| Wasser-Prawda Magazine (Germany) July 2014
by- Iain Patience
(See PDF Article Here)
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| For Folk's Sake 08.01.14
For Folk's Sake
1 August, 2014
-by Oli Ferenth
Album | Malcolm Holcombe – Pitiful Blues
by For Folk's Sake • 1 August 2014
Many who have preceded Malcolm Holcombe in roots music, from Hank Williams to Johnny Cash, have faced a fair amount of hardship which had left them at a dark crossroads in their life. Just as many have succumbed to a life of excess, others have survived and grown stronger, and Malcolm Holcombe is in this latter category. As a former alcoholic and hell raiser from North Carolina, Holcombe’s songs bear a piercing and raw honesty that is often fabricated in other contemporary singer-songwriters, with the harsh grit in his voice and brooding demeanour adding to his image as a rugged mountain man, weathered by the ages.
Pitiful Blues – Holcombe’s tenth album – contains a good mixture of balladry, Americana and ground-stomping blues that leaves listeners of all persuasions fully satisfied and hungry for more. His guitar playing, rough and rhythmic yet expertly fingerpicked, is accompanied with slide guitar, fiddle and banjo which add a character and a backdrop to Holcombe’s words.
Holcombe’s signature vocal style is as rough as the mountainous terrain that had surrounded him as a child, and lyrically he is better than ever. In ‘Savannah Blues’, he describes “feeling lost and hurting, and thirsty like before”, and that “nobody sees me when I look them straight in the eye”, adding and incredibly desolate tone to the song and suggesting to the listener that his art imitates life. In other songs, such as ‘For The Love of a Child’, there is a nostalgic and calm in his voice and its overall tone.
It can be safely said that this album is truly one of Holcombe’s best, and if you find this man playing at a venue near you I thoroughly recommend for you to see him with your own eyes.
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| Irish Times - 08.01.14
1 August 2014
- by Joe Breen
Malcolm Holcombe: Pitiful Blues
Fri, Aug 1, 2014, 00:00
Singer / Songwriter
There is something wonderfully untamed about singer-songwriter Malcolm Holcombe. Though the North Carolinian has been around a long time, his songs still carry a rough-hewn sheen that matches the grizzled elegance of his sandpaper voice and fierce finger-picking guitar. Told with gifted storyteller relish, these are small-town tales steeped in a hard world, but Holcombe’s unbridled energy and righteous belief allows him take the fight to his fate. His music lives on the border between folk, blues and country – lyrically and musically he is a more animated relative of Texan tunesmith Guy Clark. Producer (and dobro player) Jared Tyler helps capture Holcombe’s essence by keeping the production distinctly low-fi, allowing fragments of life and learning such as For the Love of a Child and Savannah Blues to flourish. See him perform the riveting title track at balconytv.com/dublin. Download: For the Love of a Child, Pitiful Blues
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| Daily Mirror 08.01.14
1 August, 2014
Review: Malcolm Holcombe- Pitiful Blues
Authentic Americana is a moot concept, but Holcombe's beautifully measured vignettes recorded solo, raw and live in his North Carolina home fit the bill!
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| Country Music People - August 2014
Country Music People
Malcolm Holcombe 'Pitiful Blues' 5 Stars
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| Arkansas Times 07.30.14
July 30, 2014
- by Will Stephenson
Malcolm Holcombe returns to White Water
9 p.m. White Water Tavern.
Malcolm Holcombe looks uncannily like Neil Young and sounds, as a writer for No Depression once put it, "like an Appalachian Keith Richards with strep throat." He has one of those stories, too, those career narratives of talent thwarted by commercial reluctance or fourth-quarter record label misgivings: His first album, "A Hundred Lies," ("Knowin' right, still doin' wrong/As a hundred lies unfold"), was recorded in 1996 and shelved for several years, the eventual release prompting Rolling Stone magazine to say Holcombe "sounds like he could have cut these ten songs forty years ago, for Folkways Records, or just yesterday at your kitchen table," which I think is almost entirely complimentary. He worked a stint as a cook at a Nashville bar, untying his apron to take the stage and sing lines like, "There's belonging in just longing for someone." "I didn't think Malcolm would make it out," Justin Townes Earle has said. "I was afraid that he was going to become another one of those famous-after-death songwriters. Malcolm's whole thing was always unpredictable. He'd disappear for a week, then come back and do something insane." But then here he is, several full-fledged and intelligent albums later, a compulsively watchable performer serving Deep South zen koans and harsh, steel string hammer-ons that make him grimace and convulse. You get the feeling that it hurts him more than it hurts us, and it will hurt us a little.
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| Americana UK 07.04.14
July 4, 2014
-by James McCurry
MALCOLM HOLCOMBE “PITIFUL BLUES”
Malcolm Holcombe is one of those truly unique artists. His songs, regardless of how bleak the subject matter, are filled with hope, contemplation and a refusal to give it regardless of how bad it gets. The songs crafted by experience and he doesn't just perform them, he wears them. He talks of how the poor are walked over, of his own regrets, and of fond memories. And at times he’s political. His voice and distinctive playing pulling it all together.
Regardless of the tone, there’s a real intensity behind Holcombe's performance. He never holds back; each line packing a punch with each note wrought with emotion. The album opens with intensity, with the sharp title track and Holcombe snarling about the “big man” who has lived it up on his money while giving him nothing. He doesn't sound this angry again until By The Boots, when he rallies against the cycle of those caught in a rut ("My medicine is running low and I can’t afford them pills. Doctor’s got me strung out cold and there’s no more dreams to fill") and those who like to keep it that way when he growls "some Politician grinning. Don’t trust the Government".
Despite the darkness here, there are some real bright moments. Sure there’s a great deal of hopelessness within Another Despair and Words Not Spoken, but I dare say Holcombe is almost playful on Song For A Sally. Elsewhere, his guitar playing is a little more intricate and his lines delivered in his smoky barrel-aged croon (like on the brooding Savannah Blues or Words Of December).
I should also mention that his backing throughout are perfect also. Never threatening to cast a shadow or over power Holcombe and his songs. But it's the sincerity of his words and his unwavering intensity that give his songs a relevance, authenticity and timelessness.
To summarise, there aren't many albums this honest and there won’t be many better this year.
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| No Depression 07.03.14
July 3, 2014
-by Alan Harrison
Malcolm Holcombe - Pitiful Blues (Album Review)
Posted by Alan Harrison on July 3, 2014 Fragile and even curmudgeonly songs that will make you feel better about life.
To some degree Malcolm Holcombe, from North Carolina, defies description as he looks like a penniless hobo and sings poetic songs in a slurred voice of a life well lived; but these songs make his contemporaries sound barely literate. Apart from possibly Guy Clark the nearest singer-songwriter that bares comparison would be Townes Van Zandt; and I don’t choose those two names lightly.
The album opens with the title track ‘Pitiful Blues’ and the first time it ended I let out a satisfied sigh and smiled a smile that told the world this was going to be a classy album. Holcombe and Jared Tyler’ production is warm and clear throughout; but on this track they especially bring out the idiosyncrasies in Malcolm’s voice and intricate acoustic picking alongside some picturesque sweeping electric guitar breaks.
‘Savannah Blues’ conjures up Ansel Adams monotone landscapes every time I hear it; as Holcombe describes his aching bones, the undertakers moon and a powerful rainstorm so narratively you feel like you are standing next to his graveside as they lower his box into the ground.
On ‘Another Despair’ the tempo picks up but the mood doesn’t as Holcombe stomps his foot angrily to a tight Rockabilly beat, that Dale Watson would be proud of.
The raw ‘Words Not Spoken’ virtually took my breath away first time I heard it and continues to have a similar effect three weeks later; and goes to show a minimal approach in Holcombe’s own backyard studio can have a more lasting effect on a song than a thousand overdubs in a hundred times more sophisticated studio.
On an album that is very nearly faultless it’s difficult to pick out a favourite track; but if I still had my radio show I would play ‘The Music Plays On’ over and over again; until my listeners admitted defeat and bought this album. For what it’s worth I think this should have been the title track; but what do I know?
Malcolm Holcombe’s tenth and possibly finest album, 'Pitiful Blues,' ends with the slow and beautiful ‘For the Love of a Child’ which will touch a nerve with parents and grandparents alike all over the world.
Released August 4th 2014
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| Surrey Mirror 06.23.14
- by Kevin Bryan
Malcolm Holcombe,"Pitiful Blues"-Devotees of authentic Americana revere North Carolina born Malcolm Holcombe as one of the finest practitioners of this beguiling genre,and the acoustic balladeer's tenth album,"Pitiful Blues," must surely rank as one of his finest offerings to date. Holcombe's stripped-down and unadorned approach to music-making has prompted comparisons with everyone from J.J.Cale to Tom Waits and he's certainly one of the most spontaneous and compelling singer-songwriters that you could ever wish to hear.Newcomers to his emotionally charged sound would be well advised to lend an ear to the unique delights of "Sign For A Sally," "The Music Plays On" or the haunting "Savannah Blues."
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| Folk Words 06.17.14
- by Tom Frank
Pitiful Blues’ from Malcolm Holcombe - 100% proof(June 17, 2014)
Caustic observation made so by experience, weary understanding achieved through living and a tenacious refusal to accept anything and just roll over. Those are staple ingredients of blues-driven folk. Strong contentions but they need other elements to convey their message and connect. ‘Pitiful Blues’ from Malcolm Holcombe adds them in spades – gutsy, sharp-cut guitar and raw, growling throaty vocals. For years he’s driven his music to our ears and it’s been a hell of a drive.
A native of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, here’s a man that lays down what he feels in the way he wants with little concern about its reception. He hits the guitar with a style that drives hard. He hits his vocals in the same way. And it’s up to the listener to get their head around it. Do that and you’re on your way to immersing yourself in some seriously formidable songs. Don’t hesitate – throw yourself into Holcombe’s world.
From the ominous force of the opener ‘Pitiful Blues’, through the humid intensity of ‘Sign For A Sally’ or ‘Savannah Blues’, to the despondent narrative of‘Another Despair’ and thecontemplative echoes of ‘By The Boots’ these songs are right where fans would expect them to be, and they’re 100% proof.
‘Pitiful Blues’ releases in August 2014 - an album for those of us that like old wooden rockers, barrel-aged bourbon and just kicking back with favourite Friday-night tunes.
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| Americana UK 04.01.14
1 April, 2014
- by John Hawes
Marta RodriguezAt first I thought that Malcom Holcombe didn't 'get' our Dirty Dozen; then I realised he got it better than anyone. There have been a couple of really good DD's recently but this is in a class of its own.
Tell us about yourselves and what you do?
I pick and try to sing a lil’...
Pretty good dish washer--I don’t like automatic dishwashers...smoke too much and been hangin' 'round the barber shop/…a while...think my hair's pretty thin on top...now…fer sure...
But, only thru the Grace of God am I able to try to make up songs and play ‘em for some folks that have been kind enough to show up at some shows for a long time. Flips me out and maybe they have some fun and laugh sometimes...good medicine to laugh.
Nothing really changes unless I do. Life’s an inside job.
How did you get together/start out?
My mother bought me my first guitar when I was 13--a Silvertone acoustic guitar...My cousin, a baby at the time, just learning to walk, sat on it. My first career insult! My father bought me a foreign guitar of sorts. Suzuki...(not the motorcycle) from an opium-den-looking local pawn shop in Asheville, NC. This was around 1968. At the time there were countless street bars, pool halls, and even segregated restrooms below the Vance Monument, which stands in the city center.
My high school boasted a folk group consisting of singers, guitar/banjo and upright bass musicians that were fortunate to perform for dances, fairs and Sadie Hawkins' dances. Any occasion to "cut" class was sought out. I was fortunate to implement my bedroom to practice in, frailing on guitar, struggling with one of the many famous Mel Bay instruction books...showing Mel Bay's fingers correctly forming simple guitar chords. I could only make chords from the first page or 2.
What is your current release/future release?
Pitiful Blues’. Slated for world-wide release August 4th, 2014.
What is the best part of being in a band/singer/song writer?
The futile struggle towards enlightenment, reckoned thru positioning your heart in a frame of service.
What is your most significant moment yet?
The scarcity realizations of servitude.
What are your biggest musical influences?
Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, The Rolling Stones 45's, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Flatt and Scruggs, Jerry Garcia...though I was too drunk to accurately remember how many times I listened to "Old and in the Way" LP, and stumbled thru "The Hobo Song" with an old bar/acoustic trio I used to play with.
What venue/gig do you most want to play?
The next one…
What is your best/favourite song you have written?
The next one…
What is your favourite album of this year?
Billy Joe Shaver. Produced by Ray Kennedy.
What does the next six months have in store for you?
Not a clue...plant a garden I hope...
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Not a clue…
What is the best thing about Americana-UK?
Close-up personal "for the music magazine that has not been destroyed by Monsanto, right wing clowns or drug store tripe.”
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| Herald Scotland 04.15.14
15 April, 2014
- by Rob Adams
Malcolm Holcombe- Admiral Bar, Glasgow
They threw away the mould when they made Malcolm Holcombe. It's a mould that, if anybody wanted to reconstitute it, would need ingredients somewhere between Townes Van Zandt and Michael Marra. Holcombe certainly has the country blues sensibility of the former and the liking for the absurd, as well as something of the vocal rasp and offbeat audience engagement, of the latter, and yet he has deeper connections.
While the North Carolinan's albums are sweetened, to a degree, by adding production niceties including dobro, electric guitar, fiddle and voices such as Emmylou Harris's on the recent Down the River, what you get with Holcombe onstage with just his voice and guitar is something akin to what you would have got with blues ancients of Robert Johnson or Blind Willie McTell's stamp.
His guitar playing is magnificent, paying little heed to conventional techniques but spitting out an unstoppable, hard-driving, piston-like momentum with stinging, singing grace notes and converging with his voice to create that sense of oneness between physical being and musical instrument that gave those rural blues masters such power and conviction.
Holcombe's songs lean slightly more towards the Appalachian tradition than the Mississippi Delta, although in Straight and Tall he also comes close to Tin Pan Alley style.
Whatever their provenance, they're story songs, told in straight-talking but still poetic images, in a performing style that makes few concessions to marketing and often forgoes applause as he strings together the country song charm of Gone By the Old Sunrise with the dark and devastating Butcher in Town.
In short, he doesn't just sing songs, he lives them.
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| The Fine Times Recorder 04.14.14
The Fine Times Recorder
14 April, 2014
Haunted country from the Blue Ridge
ALL the way from Asheville in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, country, folk and blues singer-songwriter and guitarist Malcolm Holcombe is on a tour of the UK and ireland to promote his latest album, Pitiful Blues, due out later this year.
His remarkable voice prompted Rolling Stone to write that this is where: “Haunted country, acoustic blues and rugged folk all meet.”
A veteran of Nashville who has little good to say about the music industry … “a bunch of people trying to buy their way to fame” … he has won the praise of such artists as Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams.
Once a legendary drinker and hell raiser, Malcolm is now many years sober and enjoys a non-specific spirituality.
The core of his success is his voice, which can growl like a cement truck in low gear or emerge as a heart-tugging croon, and his unique style of percussive guitar playing.
Find out more on his website, www.malcolmholcombe.com, or listen to him live at the B-Bar in Plymouth on Thursday 17th April, or at Bristol’s Alma Tavern on Easter Monday, 21st April.
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| No Depression 04.14.14
14 April, 2014
- by Jela Webb
Malcolm Holcombe, The Palmeira (Hove, UK - April 22, 2014)
Do you ever feel so scared that you hold your breath waiting…hoping…for whatever it is that’s scaring you to pass by without doing you any harm? Well, that’s the kind of feeling I get watching Malcolm Holcombe play live. However many times I’ve seen him he still makes my insides churn because I never know just what he’s going to do next…
I want to say that he sits on a chair but he doesn’t really sit on it, he rocks back and forth, side to side almost never using all four chair legs to balance on, yet somehow he never topples over. I want to say that he plays his acoustic guitar, which of course he does, but he attacks it as if he’s beating the life out of it. I want to say that he sings but his voice veers from a rasping growl to a languorous vocal and anywhere in between. One moment he’s like a man possessed, frightening in his intensity and the next he breaks out into the sweetest of smiles and then HE SNAPS A FEW WORDS OUT shaking you to your core. He’s a man of many contradictions. He’s certainly lived life; it has included drink, drugs and hell raising but he’s been sober for some years and now lives a simple, spiritual life with wife Cyndi and son Jesse, in North Carolina.
Over the years he’s been a regular visitor to Brighton (Hove actually, this time) so has built a loyal following. Tonight’s show was pretty well attended; the pub closed its doors to the public so everyone in the venue was there to witness Holcombe do what he does best – scare us, thrill us, mesmerise us, captivate us, restore us, respect us, thank us and leave us wanting more.
He mined his back catalogue (nine albums) dipping in to his first major label release 1999’s A HUNDRED LIES (there’s another story there too!) for a couple of songs which were the title track and Who Carried You, as well as road testing some songs which will be on the new album PITIFUL BLUES scheduled for an August 2014 release. I am already looking forward to that!
Holcombe inhabits his songs with such passion that he must be exhausted after each show – he spits and dribbles, he shakes his head as if he’s rattling his brain, he closes his eyes, he stares fixedly and takes his audience on a roller coaster of a ride. He writes memorably and has a keen ability to pair the lyrics with exactly the right melody – he’s literate and musical and once seen, never forgotten!
Holcombe doesn’t say a great deal between songs; he often plays three or four songs in sequence commanding the room to attention with his sheer presence. Cheers and applause broke out regularly from the audience and as he closed the set with a new song For the Love of a Child all that could be heard afterwards were cries of ‘One more! One more!’
He obliged us with A Far Cry From Here, which was covered by Grammy nominated Irish born chanteuse Maura O’Connell. Holcombe hasn’t ever met her and would love to do so. He asked us to give her a kiss and a hug from him if we ever met her. And with that he wrapped his scarf around his neck, put on his woolly hat and left us with an indelible memory of a special night indeed.
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| Folk & Tumble 04.11.14
Folk & Tumble
11 April, 2014
-by Scott Edgar
MALCOLM HOLCOMBE LIVE IN BELFAST
April 11, 2014
Holy smokes and Godless redemption blues.
A small yet enthusiastic crowd of hardcore Holcombe fans have descended on The Errigle Inn, huddled around the Real Music Club stage eagerly awaiting the evening’s performance. Their hero is sucking on a cigarette in the roof-top garden, cradling a pineapple juice and waxing lyrical with aficionados and admirers before unassumingly sneaking up front, perching at impossible angles on a battered chair and thumping out timeless rhythms and poetic verse.
Easing into the evening with “Mountains of Home” and “Down The River”, there’s a hark back to nature, to the old sounds of Appalachia and while the outlook may take in sweeping valleys and meandering rivers, the voice is as craggy and weathered as any mountain top. That’s the real beauty of a Malcolm Holcombe show. That conflict bundled up in one hunched-over, road weary, survivor. It’s mountainous peaks, deep river beds, the lonely windswept plains and the warm crackle of a vinyl record by the fireplace as the sun descends.
“Trail O’Money” marks the first foray into the more upbeat songs of the evening, coupled with “Sparrows and Sparrows” described by Holcolmbe himself as a “happy-go-lucky cut-your-throat tune”. Settled in now, we’re treated to stories that weave through song and the turbulent history of a man who many doubted would ever make it this far. There are a few references to the hellraising days and the “disturbed shit” that went down; tales of punches pulled in New Orleans and the mutual appreciation of times on the road with Mary Gauthier who’s a great friend of Holcomb and also of Belfast’s Real Music Club.
It’s impossible to forget that folk and blues music originated with the old spirituals and gospel tunes of the New World and there’s been a long tradition of Jesus weaving into lyrics alongside jukeboxes and Jack Daniels. “Whenever I Pray” and “For The Mission Baby” tease out the more God-fearing thoughts that lurk somewhere in that mixed up Americana darkness as Holcombe rants about church bells and the digital revolution. This is your altar call folks. This is communion. There’s no hellfire and brimstone just a simple call for a short break wherein we can “go smoke some cigarettes and touch each other”.
Holcombe is the real deal. In a week nestled between the release of a new Johnny Cash record and a new HBO series of ‘True Blood’ we find ourselves in the musical equivalent. Inspirations are worn firmly on sleeves tonight with name-checking of the aforementioned Gauthier, alongside The Kingston Trio, The Andrews Sisters and Maura O’Connell. The latter’s “Far Cry From Here” is one of the sets more tender moments alongside a brand new track “For The Love Of A Child”.
He’s been through wars with alcohol and with record labels and yet with a back catalogue stretching back over the decades; there’s potential for this show to go on all night, putting other artists repertoires to shame. There’s no need for stomp-boxes or holey dungarees or the moth-eaten hats of the likes of Seasick Steve here. No bullshit. No fakery. With Malcolm Holcombe what you hear is what you get.
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| Belfast News Letter 04.10.14
Belfast News Letter
10 April, 2014
-by Joanna Savage
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| Chronique Musicale 04.08.14
8 April, 2014
-by Aleandre Ferrere
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| Off Topic 03.24.14
24 March, 2014
- by Fabio Baio Baietti
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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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