Pretty Little Troubles


BIO

Malcolm Holcombe by Alan Kaufman

Malcolm Holcombe is possessed by a singular sort of solitary genius that, like the novelist William Faulkner, is yet the voice of an entire region – the South--and even of a generation, though somehow transcendent of it, timeless. If true greatness moves from the particular to the universal, his music speaks for all of humanity while remaining entirely his own.

A North Carolina son of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Holcombe belongs to a tradition of bardic singer-songwriters that includes such legends as Townes Van Zandt, Blaze Foley, Gurf Morlix and David Olney. He is an acclaimed contemporary of Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle and has shared the stage with Merle Haggard, Richard Thompson, John Hammond, and Leon Russell. Yet Holcombe stands apart, his soul-stirring lyrics are hill country high poetry, the music pure back roads. His musicianship is uncanny, like no other, as though he had invented the guitar.

In a very real sense he is a latter day Elizabethan poet troubadour of barrooms, ragged towns and coal miner shacks. His intimate, poignantly etched lyrics invite you in, sit you down, speak directly to you. Listening to them, you are befriended.

“joseph marta seven kids/i know them names by heart/ your mother's father worked the mines/ petersburg to charleston/ st petersburg to charleston”

“ol wringer washer's on the porch/ thieves done stole him blind/ one empty bottle rot gut wine/ cotton worked the mines/ ol cotton worked the mines”

Holcombe not only knows these people intimately, but offers you direct witness to their tragedy:

“fifty cents a bloody day/ no child labor laws/ most them lil' babies died/ disease and alcohol/disease and alcohol”
From Good Ol' Days:

Holcombe's guitarwork is always masterfully spontaneous. On stage, edgily rocking his chair, his finger-flying fretwork and strum spin the theater like a roulette wheel, while his granular voice takes us aboard an Americana folk bus that is a ravaged speeding palace of bad luck and hurtles us down the blacktop road of no return where chain gang blues mingle with Celtic madrigals resonant with hardbitten lives.

But also there are is the gentle echoing of the early Irish ballads of yore and you know that what you're hearing is like nothing that you've ever heard:

“a pint er two in belfast/ burns the eyes o' josephine/ an irish girl forever curls/ around your heart o' glass

shattered blowin' into town/ shattered goin' back/the nightshift calls your council/ pittance in your pockets”


“the wretched poor o' poison blood/the government the hospital/ they snitch and laugh and never smile/straight jackets for the crooked mile
From Eyes of Josephine

It's all his own authentic poetry and in a metaphor like “Phenobarbital of night” shimmers the epiphany of a coal country visionary, a lyric phrasing that brings to mind Allen Ginsberg whom I both knew and performed with.

“i walk and stagger to your eyes/ the phenobarbital at night/ we locked you up and shut the door/ your brain is scattered on the floor”

Holcombe's songs contain not only love but fury, careen dangerously to the edge as they portray the hopelessness of the destitute, the broken wards of shattered lives whose desperate gambles turn up craps. Holcombe sings from gut-shot experience. And here, I'll summon one more legendary man of letters that Holcombe brings to mind, a very great one, for I believe that Malcolm Holcombe is as great a songwriting poet as any this country has produced: James Agee of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

Like Agee, Holcombe protests against the unheeded suffering of his kin, giving voice to their voicelessness, daring us to feel what is happening to the vulnerable in our midst. He asks you: 'How can this be?' But also, there is in him a tender spiritual resignation to the foibles of human kind, a forgiving grasp of consequence and a driving hope that moves brightly to the core of our being:

“much has been given, much is required, in the fire of the sun low in the night
all my friends are sick/ dyin' and dead/ my family is another baby born”

We Struggle


Another baby born. The ceaseless cycle of death and birth is his family. He has no time for remorse or nostalgia. Trouble is only trouble but it is Life that leads him. As he sings in Pretty Little Troubles, the title song:

i keep a grin in my pocket/to spin the hard times/we been goin' thru
i believe if you struggle missin' good ol days/ you aint done much o' livin' the blues


And what we come away with is the love and beauty of these masterpieces, an authentic slice of America from a brilliantly original native-born bard of broken hearts and dreams.

****

Alan Kaufman


Alan Kaufman's books include Drunken Angel and The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry.
Website: https://drupal.pen.org/alan-kaufman


LYRICS

point o' view

chorus
i cant deny these troubled ol times
i cant deny these troubled ol times
i cant deny the truth is somewhere
in my crippled point o' view

my eyes compounded tom edison
i brag against the sun
that mighty mischief waits in the ground
for my crippled point o' view

the bastards back these bolden days
graspin' evrything
i can hold and blow all to hell
in my crippled point o' view

chorus

my tongue is quick to tangle speed
and douse the lights within
and burn my self respect to death
and warm my hands again

the neon strips the night to the bone
my broken dreams on the mend
til mornin' comes and leaves me alone
with my crippled point o' view
my crippled point o' view

chorus

big money fills my pockets with words
puppets poison my mind
my eyes too heavy to hold up my head
my back's too weak to try

chorus

c. 2016 gypsyeyes music, bmi

malcolm holcombe

————————————————————————————

yours no more

you built all our bridges
and mined all our coal
you fought for our freedom
and died in our wars

steel workers in the fact'ries
your back breakin' plows
your sweatin' and your dreamin'
made my home free and proud

chorus
send me your tired and poor
sick and sufferin'
send them to me
send them to me
ellis island is yours no more

been thrown outta england
for misdeeds and blood
you journeyed and dared
by God's grace and love

i once was a beggar
robber and a liar
at the mercy of handouts
and government lawyers

chorus

oh why do you suffer
and homeless you cry
only memories of justice
and tears in your eyes

Lord knows i dont know nuthin'
less ev'ry day
jus' a lil bit older
and a heart in the way

chorus

ellis island is yours
no more                                         

c. 2016 gypsy eyes music, bmi

malcolm holcombe

————————————————————————————

damn good ol' days

joseph marta seven kids
i know them names by heart
your mother's father worked the mines
petersburg to charleston
st petersburg to charleston

bridge
    in the good ol days
    the good ol days
    in the good ol days
    damn good ol days

ol wringer washer's on the porch
thieves done stole him blind
one empty bottle rot gut wine
cotton worked the mines
ol cotton worked the mines

bridge

fifty cents a bloody day
no child labor laws
most them lil' babies died
disease and alcohol
disease and alchol

bridge

instrumental

a picture tells a thousand lies
comp'ny kiss my ass
barefoot on the cabin floor
paint the broken glass
paint the broken glass

bridge

there's ghosts in west virginia
i can feel em in my bones
mem'ries of the hard times
in your eyes never grow old
in your eyes never grow old

bridge
bridge

c. 2016 gypsy eyes music, bmi

malcolm holcombe

————————————————————————————

outta luck

fell off the edge down in little rock
country girls really turn my head
spinnin' outta time outta luck

i never know better next time
poison lives in my blood
my intellectual tongue in hand

bridge
outta luck
outta luck
outta luck
out

i gotta weakness like wounded dog
lickin' my lips and lickin' my balls
off the edge down in little rock
outta luck

cold hands warm heart too smart
call a taxi for a christmas card
sirens stop  the cops throw down

bridge

ya got my number hands down heads up
hot women cold cash and drugs
off the edge down in little rock outta luck

these walls keepa lookin' the same
ev'ry city i'm stuck insane
someday i'ma gonna give up

bridge

fell off the edge down in little rock
country girls really turn my head
spinnin' outta time outta luck

bridge

c. 2016 gypsy eyes music, bmi

malcolm holcombe

————————————————————————————

south hampton street

still and clean her long black hair
i'm foolish for despair
she played the gypsy concertina
sweetly in the air
sweetly in the air

squatted in the corner shade
beside some fancy place
for educated young and well
i saw her face
i saw her face

chorus
one handsome gypsy woman
on south hampton street
and a dog from china with a stupid hat
for tortured souls to please

perhaps a gypsy's lucky day
the grinnin' dog is strong
i pray her husband wont be drunk
when she moves along
when she moves along

her left hand played the mystery
some ol eastern folk song
her right hand seemed to wander lost
but hypnotized my feet
hypnotized my feet

chorus

the music carried 'cross the square
my conscious cried surrender
to pay the gypsy woman fair
food not for a beggar
not for a beggar

i stopped and turned my boastin' stride
feelin' sinful pride
a young child full o' mother's love
made the gypsy's smile
made the gypsy's smile

chorus
chorus

c. 2016 gypsy eyes music, bmni

malcolm holcombe

————————————————————————————

rocky ground

the spring sun sweetly splinters
the last days of the cold
underfoot's still rocky ground
that's justa bout all i know

this bottom land's black and thirsty
for tobacca fields and hands
to hold the plow and pray out loud
for strength to work the land

chorus
my spoiled and painted tainted eyes
the liquid in my throat
boastin' reapin' fertile ghosts
the one's i love the most
the one's i love the most

these hills round here are old
too old for recollectin'
my mother's father's harvest
long gone and laid to rest

the tractor's turn and travel
the ground over again
but early in the mornin'
i know now where they been

chorus

all i know and all i am
dont matter anyhow
watchin' you grow old and lovely
hungry to be found
hungry to be found

chorus
chorus

c. 2016  gypsyeyes music, bmi

malcolm holcombe

————————————————————————————

pretty lil troubles

hound dog chewin' bones
on a ol cheap floor
satisfaction best left alone
long crowded days for the young and foolish
never pay mind to the time

three plays for quarter 40 years ago
pinball racket never stopped
your busted jaws and your black- eyed suzi
the ev'nin' jus' dragged along

chorus

go on an spill your guts and complain
aint nuthin left but a change
dont you worry too much about your pretty lil' troubles
thank God you aint never the same

skinny as a rail
fat dumb and happy
kickin' up the dust inside
aint one red nickle gonna bring you luck
when your broke as hell inside

chorus

i keep a grin in my pocket
to spin the hard times
we been goin' thru
i believe if you struggle missin' good ol days
you aint done much o' livin' the blues

chorus

c. gypsy eyes music, bmi

malcolm holcombe

————————————————————————————

in bury england

that ol building looked like a halfway house
smelled like a old folks home inside
i smoked another cigarette outside
we showed up on time
in bury england

dave he gave me the worst cup o' coffee
i believe i ever had to drink
if i was drunk i'd throw it right up
wouldnt give it to a dog
in bury england

now wouldnt ya know it some folks showed up
that knows somebody somebody you know
they was sputterin' names in some hall o' fame
i pretended to give a damn
in bury england

chorus
we played some songs me and jt
mister w did his job
the grace o' God we tagged along
in bury england

them ol peavy speakers stole the show
before we even played a note
rest his soul i heard guy clark
randal knife and la freeway
in bury england

chorus

well i'm gonna quit when i get the chance
if i ever get back home again
i'm gonna make a plan and settle on down
and i'll always remember
bury england

chorus

c. 2016 gypsy eyes music, bmi

malcolm holcombe

————————————————————————————

damn weeds

a double-wide and a butterfly bush
maters got the blight
neighbors cuss the kids and dogs
ev'ry day and night

a friend in need is a friend in deed
i thankya til yer better paid
growin' up's an all day job
i cant get outta my way

chorus
gossip and your small talk
dont matter in the long run
got my own row to hoe
slammin' doors and doin' chores
damn weeds a'takin' over

the news is always all the same
more guns and diggin' graves
nuthin' changes til i pray
i try to anyways

my faith it seems to come and go
like summer wind it blows
lord knows i gotta believe
all i do anymore

chorus

doctors nurses listen to me
holler and complain
hellbent livin' in the past
and pissin' on today

money goes like paradise
in the hands of politicians
breakin' ev'ry promise made
on beauty and tradition

chorus
chorus

c. 2016 gypsy eyes music, bmi

malcolm holcombe

————————————————————————————

the eyes o' josephine

chorus
a pint er two in belfast
burns the eyes o' josephine
an irish girl forever curls
around your heart o' glass

shattered blowin' into town
shattered goin' back
the nightshift calls your council
a pitence in your pockets

the wretched poor o' poison blood
the government the hospital
they snitch and laugh and never smile
straight jackets for the crooked mile

chorus

i walk and stagger to your eyes
the phenobarbital at night
we locked you up and shut the door
your brain is scattered on the floor

quick to turn the hollow spurns
a gapin' hole o' lonesome
a pint er two in belfast burns
the eyes o' josephine

chorus

when darkness breaks the northern lights
and rapsody is killin' time
a brazen bastard blessed be
burns the eyes of josephine

chorus

c. 2016 gypsyeyes music, bmi

malcolm holcombe

————————————————————————————

the sky stood still

bridge
the sky stood still
but the clouds keep a rollin'
full o' gray red white and blue

too close to the bone too far from my home
nobody feels your love
what's wrong with me what's wrong with you
my faith in us bout all gone

we march and beg cry and we scream
the sizzlin sun's the same
darkness cools the water i drink
and wake up thirsty again

bridge

a sweaty knife midnight to my throat
a pistol ready to hold
i shoulda died many times i know
but the grace of God got told

dont need no resason to spill all the blood
jesus died for me
jus' one more opinion in the pourin' down rain
in this world no shame

bridge

the amen section would not repent
they did not even try
one heart o' stone one heart o' flesh
too many people die

money lies for truth and for fame
a bargain for us all
the richer rich the colder hearted
angry souls still survive

bridge

c. gypsy eyes music, bmi 2016

malcolm holcombe

————————————————————————————

we struggle

battered and born
shattered and torn
run ragged wastin' my time

old and guilty
worried and sleepless
time and time again

bridge
we struggle
we struggle
over time

still as a stone
kicked up and down
wishin' children never grow old

stay where you are
wait til i'm gone
you'll find me someday i know

bridge

much has been given
much is required
in the fire of the sun low in the night

all my friends are sick
dyin' and dead
my family is another baby born

bridge

c. 2016 gypsy eyes music, bmi

malcolm holcombe