Described by Alan Kaufman as "...the voice of an entire region - the South - and even of a generation...", North Carolina's Malcolm Holcombe delivers a frill-free, heartfelt insight to the everyday issues and struggles being faced by the working classes and those otherwise downtrodden. And if his 'Crippled Point Of View' takes influence from what he observes immediately around him, he articulates hurt and frustration for those struggling to subsist in all corners of our threatened planet.
Everything's kept simple. Rugged of voice, uncomplicated melodically, the earthiness pervades. Whilst there is an eleven-strong credits list, Holcombe's studio buddies are used always to enhance his songs to atmospheric effect, from the bluesy bottleneck and jailhouse moan harmonies of 'Yours No More' to a rollicking banjo-driven country blues singalong, with an unobtrusive full band backing, in 'Good Ole Days'. When we meet a Gypsy street musician in ‘South Hampton Street', the keen sense of observation places us centre-stage in the situation, the Tex-Mex concertina adding vibrant colour to his sketch.
Holcombe’s words and naturally-articulated imagery mean that the lyric sheet reads like poetry, and he has an almost-Steinbeckian sense of place, his landscape encompassing fields, streets, bars, a Belfast cell and 'Bury, England'. But he is aware that the struggle is not new. The rough-edged country folk of 'Rocky Ground' is world-weary in describing the enduring, unforgiving nature of the land and how the associated travails get no easier down the generations, a sentiment echoed in 'Damn Weeds' and 'We Struggle'.
Great art has always been triggered and sustained by human suffering, but the ability to entertain in so doing is a mark of genius.
-by Pietro Rubino
Poniamo per assurdo che all’improvviso salti fuori un disco postumo del compianto Williy DeVille, magari caratterizzato da un deciso taglio folk/country: probabilmente suonerebbe in maniera molto simile a questo “Pretty Little Troubles”, ultima fatica di Malcom Holcombe. I due musicisti hanno infatti in comune il graffio e le tinte scure della voce, insieme ad un gusto per la narrazione molto vicino ad alcuni grandi autori americani del secolo scorso (vengono in mente Faulkner, Steinbeck). Ma se l’ululato del compianto DeVille risuonava soprattutto in una frontiera immaginaria posta tra Messico, Texas e Louisiana, Holcombe è piuttosto radicato stilisticamente nel territorio di origine: la North Carolina e le mitiche Blue Ridge Mountains. Ci si imbatte quindi senza forzature di sorta in un universo affascinante di sonorità prettamente acustiche, arricchito dalla peculiare capacità di Holcombe di catturare temi e suggestioni di diversi patrimoni culturali riletti secondo la propria personale visione. Un senso drammatico, un’epica del minimalismo che si avverte su cristalline ballate (“Yours No More”, la preziosa “Rocky Ground”), così come in esercizi ritmicamente più serrati (“Good Ole Days”). Scommetteremmo poi tranquillamente sull’esistenza di un preciso retaggio familiare del cantautore che rimanda al Vecchio Continente, vista la dimestichezza con cui Holcombe si muove su arrangiamenti che sanno molto di Irlanda e Scozia (“Eyes Of Josephine”, “South Hampton St.”). All’interno dell’infinita saga che racconta la continua rinascita del folk, “Pretty Little Troubles” è un episodio di tutto rispetto.
- by Mike Davies
MALCOLM HOLCOMBE – Pretty Little Troubles (Gypsy Eyes Music )
His voice croakier and gummier than ever, sounding as one review put it, like he’s wearing someone else’s teeth, even so Holcombe continues to deliver the goods when it comes to coal dust coated Appalachian blues. Pretty Little Troubles a quick follow-up to last year’s Another Black Hole.
Joined by Dennis Crouch on bass, Jared Tyler on mandolin and dobro, Verlon Thompson on acoustic and Resonator slide with producer Darrell Scott on pretty much everything else save percussion (Kenny Laone/Marco Giovio), as well as contributions by Jelly Roll Johnson on harmonica, Joel Miskulin on accordion, strings-player Jonathan Yudkin (who comes into his own on the stomping ‘The Sky Stood Still’) and Uillean piper Mike McGoldrick, it’s essentially an album about either troubled times or women.
It’s the former that leads off with the bluesy, swampy ‘Crippled Point O’View’ with its clanky junkyard percussion, leading on to ‘Yours No More’, a slide guitar-backed song about America no longer extending its welcome hand to immigrants and refugees, the mood extending to more musically lively banjo picked ‘Good Ole Days’ with its call and response chorus and a reminder that rose coloured reflection often forgets things were not necessarily better back then.
As you might imagine, the pedal steel laced blues ‘Outta Luck’ with its line about how “poison lives in my blood” and talk of hot women, cold cash and drugs doesn’t exactly up the positivism ante. However, the gypsy flavoured ‘South Hampton Street’, a reminiscence of a girl with long black hair and a gypsy concertina busking on the street, has a more upbeat note, though the same cannot be said for another touring memory, ‘Bury, England’, a Dylanesque talking blues with Tyler on dobro about a gig where the venue “smelled like an old folks home inside”, he had “the worst cup o’ coffee” ever and the audience couldn’t give a damn.
The song mentions Guy Clark and there’s a definite echo of him to be heard on ‘Rocky Ground’ while other highlights include the title track’s Waits-like walking blues, the fingerpicked ‘Damn Weeds’, a wry state of the nation comment, and the McGoldrick-featuring Gaelic-hued talking blues ‘The Eyes O’ Josephine’ with its line about having “a pint or two in Belfast” and “an Irish girl forever curls around your heart o’ glass.” Another spin on “the hard times we been going;’ thru”, it’s no huge departure from what he’s been doing for years, but if you liked that, you’ll want a copy of this too. Unless you’re from Bury, of course.
- by Michael Hingston
Singer-songwriter Malcolm Holcombe has a way with words.
This should come as no surprise, of course. The 61-year-old has made his mark with the hard-bitten poetry of his grizzled, folk-country blues. He's like an Appalachian Townes Van Zandt, a troubadour poet from the hills.
But it's still a kick to hear him speak, to drag a few comments out of him during a brief interview from his home in Swannanoa, N.C.
"If you want to raise corn, you've got to get out the hoe," he says when asked about his recent songwriting. "The pencil doesn't levitate in my fingers. I have to pick up the pencil, you know what I mean?"
He has been doing plenty of hoeing and pencil-raising lately, with two albums released in the last two years. His most recent, Pretty Little Troubles, is tried-and-true Holcombe, gentle finger-picking and hard-edged lyrics sung in a voice that sounds like a barn slowly falling in on itself.
One of the album's many highlights is "Outta Luck," where Holcombe name-drops Arkansas' capital.
"Fell off the edge down in Little Rock/Country girls really turn my head," he sings in his weathered wheeze, adding an extra umph that turns "Rock" into "Rock-ah." (He often does that on the last word of a line or verse, as if he's exhaling the final syllable.)
"I've just played there a bunch of times. It's just observations," he says on the inspiration behind the tune.
Pretty Little Troubles, the follow-up to last year's Another Black Hole, is his 15th album and was produced by Darrell Scott.
"Malcolm Holcombe is an artist of deep mystery and high art," Scott says in press materials accompanying the album. "All the goods that I value in songs and artistry are in Malcolm."
Holcombe grew up in Weaverville, N.C. When he was 12 or 13, he learned a few chords on a neighbor's guitar and then got his own, a Silvertone from Sears.
The sounds coming across the airwaves on giant AM stations like Chicago's WLS and Fort Wayne, Ind.'s, WOWO enchanted him: "I'd listen on my transistor radio late at night when you could get the big stations."
The acts he saw on TV programs like Hullabaloo and Where the Action Is were also big influences.
"They were silly shows, but a lot of them had good music in them," he says.
By high school, he was playing in a folk group and by his 20s he was in a band called Redwing. The band spent some time in Florida, but Holcombe soon made it back to North Carolina. He moved to Nashville in 1990 and went to work at a cafe called Douglas Corner where, between flipping burgers and washing dishes, he'd play a few songs on the cafe's stage before grabbing his apron and getting back to the kitchen.
In Nashville, "Holcombe was offering up works that were wholly different," wrote Peter Cooper in a riveting 2007 profile of the songwriter in No Depression. "They carried an Appalachian soul, with the sadness and humanity of something Sara Carter might have sung, but with melodic sophistication and an entirely unusual poetic sense."
There was interest from major label A&M, but he eventually signed with Geffen in 1996, recording an album that was promptly shelved. He wrestled with drink and drugs and eventually moved back to North Carolina where, married for a second time, he found some stability and continued to record, earning praise from fellow travelers like Lucinda Williams and Justin Townes Earle and a reputation for intense live shows.
He's a frequent performer at the White Water Tavern, when tours bring him to these parts, and is fond of the Little Rock bar.
"That's a fun place down there," he says. "I really like those people. Great audiences, and I always look forward to playing the White Water Tavern."
Holcombe's rich catalog offers a truckload of material to choose from for his sets, but does he have a favorite from the new album? The Celtic-tinged "Eyes of Josephine," perhaps, or maybe the evocative "Rocky Ground"?
"I'm just happy to remember most of the words to some of them," he says, adding, as only he can, "We just see what the dog has in his mouth when he comes back out of the woods."
- by Sean Clancy
We volgen Malcolm Holcombe, de man uit North Carolina al een tijdje die met langspeler als Gamblin’ Houses, To Drink The Rain, Down The River en Another Black Hole in het vizier kwam. Zo’n tien jaar geledenvormde Not Forgotten voor mezelf de eerste confrontatie in 2007 met de countryfolkvan Malcolm Holcombe. De troubadour met de rauwe rasp vertelde al eerder op akoestische fingerpicking gezette verhalen die de minder gefortuneerden die zich evenals de singersongwriter aan de zelfkant van de Amerikaanse samenlevingbevinden.
Na zijn debuut, Trademark, een duoproject met Sam Milner in ’84 bracht Holcombe onder eigen naam al een handvol werkstukken uit die door gerenommeerde collega’s als Steve Earle en Lucinda Williams al geprezen werden, op Down The River duiken Earle en Emmylou Harris op als gastvocalisten, naast Darrell Scott. De onvolprezen snarenman zorgt naast muzikale ondersteuning voor de productie en dat tilt het authentieke troubadourwerk naar een hoger niveau zoals het op deakoestische bass van Dennis Crouch huppelende Crippled Point O’ View illustreert. De harmonica van Jelly Roll Johnson, dobro van Jared Tyler en resonerende gitaren van Verlon Thompson zorgen voor fraaie accenten op Pretty Little Troubles.
Als Holcombe’s roestige stem door een zangkoortje ondersteund wordt leidt dat naar het gospelpad in Yours No More en levendige bluegrass in Good Ole Days maar de sombere, uitzichtloze realiteit van het harde genadeloze bestaan van de mijnwerker overheerst. “Fifty cents, a bloody day, no child no labor laws, most them lil’ babies died, disease and alcohol, disease and alcohol”.
Holcombe vertaald zijn eigen ‘pretty little troubles’ in sombere mijmeringen als South Hampton Street, een op de rand van country en folk balancerend Rocky Ground of de op geïnspireerde fingerpicking en jazzy basstructuur grimmig uitgekauwde titelsong. In Bury, England wordt de betreurde Guy Clarke vermeld en na een akoestisch sololuikje worden de Keltische roots geëerd met The Eyes Of O’ Josephine. De Ierse uitbundigheid maakt snel plaats voor sombere bespiegelingen in The Sky Stood Still.
“Still as a stone, kicked up and down, wishin’ children never grow old” vertrouwd Holcombe ons toe in de afsluitende akoestische ballade We Struggle. Een donkere visie die helaas verder reikt dan de Amerikaanse situatie en zich onveranderlijk in oerdegelijk uitgewerkt songwerk manifesteert.
di Gianuario Rivelli (02/06/2017)
La Statua della Libertà che si punta la pistola alla tempia è un'immagine potente, programmatica, disturbante. "Send me your tired and poor/ sick and sufferin'/ send them to me/ send them to me/Ellis Island is yours no more" ne è la didascalia eloquente. Yours No More, lamento gospel gonfio di disillusione, è il manifesto di Pretty Little Troubles, ennesima fatica discografica dello stakanovista Malcolm Holcombe (solo un anno è trascorso dal precedente Another Black Hole). Che la presidenza Trump con le sue linee programmatiche oscurantiste e votate alla chiusura potesse essere fucina di musica "di reazione" era una profezia fin troppo facile (successe alla grande anche nel corso dei due mandati del giovin Bush) e c'era da aspettarsi che il nostro non aspettasse altro per cavalcare le sue tematiche predilette, in questa fase particolarmente incandescenti.
In tal senso va letta la dedica "ai sogni, al sudore e alle lacrime di tutti i profughi e i migranti" che, uscita dall'ugola di carta vetrata del vecchio ragazzo del sud, respinge ogni possibile accusa di retorica. D'altronde uno come lui, con il suo curriculum è al di sopra di ogni sospetto, operaio specializzato di un folk da sempre politico nel suo dare voce a coloro che uno spazio non lo avranno mai e se lo avranno sarà risicato e poco illuminato. E' il Malcolm che conosciamo: fronzoli e lustrini da evitare come la peste, look trasandato, basettoni e fingerpicking, voce cavernosa e disincanto. Un suo disco rimane sempre un viaggio affascinante, anche quando, come in questo caso, la qualità è un gradino sotto il suo livello migliore e nessun brano assurge al rango di indimenticabile. Beninteso, da qui non si butta via niente: non il blues che impreziosisce la splendida title track né l'andamento waitsiano con insolito uso degli archi di The Sky Stood Still, né il classico hillbilly di Good Ole Days, ironica e scatenata.
Ascoltare le dita di Holcombe che pizzicano la chitarra è sempre un gran piacere (Outta Luck), con il supporto puntuale di una band mai invadente (su tutti il polistrumentista Darrell Scott, il bassista Dennis Crouch e Jared Tyler su vari strumenti a corda) che asseconda i suoi immancabili chiaroscuri da perdente al servizio dei perdenti (Rocky Ground e We Struggle). South Hampton Street è puro folk appalachiano con sfiziose suggestioni gitane sottotraccia, mentre il compito di deviare (lievemente) dal tema è affidato a The Eyes o'Josephine- ballata in salsa irlandese con tanto di cornamuse- e a Bury, England, quasi un divertissement solare se Holcombe ci concede l'utilizzo di due vocaboli che appaiono ai suoi antipodi. Pretty Little Troubles ci riconsegna un Malcolm Holcombe non certo al top assoluto, ma sempre duro e puro, tanto sdrucito e schivo quanto autentico. Uno di quei personaggi sempre e comunque necessari.
by- Andy Thorley
REVIEW: MALCOLM HOLCOMBE - PRETTY LITTLE TROUBLES (2017)
These are, whichever way you look at it, odd times. Over here the public continue their swing to the right of politics, and are on June 8th about to vote for a party that wants to stop free school meals for kids and take £100 off the elderly to give it to their fat cat mates, and over in America? Well over in America, with the greatest of respect to them, what the hell they were up to last Autumn only they know.
However, whichever side of the political debate you are on (and I think this half of MV at least has just nailed its colours to the mast above) one thing we can all agree on is that times need to be reflected upon by the songwriters of the time. Not for nothing, after all did Woody Guthrie have a guitar with the legend, “this machine kills fascists scrawled upon it.”
Into that particular breach steps Malcolm Holcombe, with his fifteenth studio album, “Pretty Little Troubles.” An acclaimed contemporary of Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle, Holcombe has shared the stage with Merle Haggard, Richard Thompson, John Hammond and Leon Russell, and there are elements of their work here, without actually sounding like any of them.
Instead, his take on traditional folk, blues and country, combines with a weather-worn voice to create something quite superb.
Never better, actually, than on “Good Old Days”. “50 cents a bloody day, no child labour laws. Most them little babies died, disease and alcohol.” He offers, as if to suggest that harking back to some golden age is pointless – if it ever existed anyway.
A beguiling collection sucks you slowly and cautiously in. The haunting harmonica lick of “Crippled Point Of View” betrays an immense sense of restlessness, while “Yours No More” is as harsh a condemnation of current political climate in his homeland (Holcombe is a North Carolina native) as you will find.
Capable of conveying such emotion with the imagery his lyrics contain, “Outta Luck” has a lovelorn quality, while the dark folk of “South Hampton Street” makes that one a real highlight. “Rocky Ground” with its mournful Lap Steel has echoes of Steve Earle at his most weary and the blues of the title track is classic in every sense of the word.
There are hints of Dylan about the wonderful “Bury, England” and the good people of the Lancashire town might not want to use it as their theme tune, but the poetic nature of what Holcombe does is shown best on work like “Damn Weeds” while the Celtic side, which is never too far away, is right to the fore, throughout the superb “The Eyes O’ Josephine”.
A longer record than many these days at 13 tracks, there are some flourishes with strings and something of a chug about “The Sky Stood Still” and it ends with another of its more varied moments, with “We Struggle” which has something of the widescreen about it.
Now more than ever, the world needs great singer songwriters and on “Pretty Little Troubles” Malcolm Holcombe proves exactly why you need him. A record that might not immediately reveal its charms to you, is nonetheless one that – if you invest the time in it – is one to cherish.
“Pretty Little Troubles” – Malcolm Holcombe
“Pretty Little Troubles”; it’s a lovely example of irony. Malcolm Holcombe’s troubles are never little and they’re rarely pretty. The subjects of his songs may be everyday events, but they have huge significance to the protagonists. It’s fair to say that he’s revered by fellow artists and songwriters for both live and recorded work and this album’s another demonstration of the passion and unshowy skill of his songs. His style is firmly in the country/Americana tradition with hints of other roots showing through occasionally in the lilting Celtic- styled “The Eyes O’ Josephine” where the bass doubles up the guitar riff and the song’s completed with a penny whistle solo and the European-influenced story of an encounter with a female busker playing a concertina, “South Hampton Street”. Both songs evoke the setting perfectly without tipping over into pastiche.
The transatlantic folk/roots community has almost unanimously distanced itself from the alt-right and Malcolm Holcombe’s affirmation of that stance comes in “Yours No More”, a hymn of praise to the immigrants that helped to build America. It’s not in-your-face radicalism, it’s a gentle reminder that we can all use a bit of historical perspective at times. His rough-hewn, two-packs-a-day voice rasps through the rockier numbers, but adds pathos to the more contemplative stories of the numbing grind of everyday existence, such as “Damn Weeds” and the album’s closer “We Struggle”; the problems may be small in the grand scheme of things, but they can seem like insurmountable objects when you get right up close and personal.
There area couple of great turnaround songs on the album as well. The uptempo “Good Old Days” feels like a nostalgic romp until the lyrics turn to exploitation, disease , alcohol and dead babies and “Bury England” paints a stark picture of life as a travelling musician, depicting all the minor frustrations (terrible coffee) which are displaced by hearing great music on the house PA (in memory of Guy Clark) then going on to play a great gig with Jared Tyler. Malcolm Holcombe has the songwriter’s skill of creating a perfect vignette from a seemingly mundane series of events and even the title is an ironic play on the phrase ‘Merry England’.
It’s raw at times, but “Pretty Little Troubles” is packed with lovingly-crafted and passionate songs played in atmospheric and uncluttered settings. It’s a lovely piece of work.
MALCOLM HOLCOMBE “Pretty Little Troubles” (Gypsy Eyes Music)
Zijn vijftiende studioplaat ondertussen toch ook al blijkt andermaal een echte voltreffer voor Malcolm Holcombe. De doorgaans onder lovende kritieken bedolven Amerikaanse songsmid doet het daarop dan ook in uitmuntend gezelschap. Zo tekende collega Darrell Scott bijvoorbeeld voor de productie ervan en gaven naast diezelfde Scott op tal van instrumenten ook Jared Tyler, Verlon Thompson, Marco Giovino, Dennis Crouch, Joey Miskulin, Kenny Malone, Jelly Roll Johnson, Mike McGoldrick en Jonathan Yudkin tijdens de opnames van “Pretty Little Troubles” acte de présence.
Het resultaat is zoals ook hoger reeds aangegeven van een werkelijk ademberovende, volstrekt tijdloze schoonheid. Vintage Holcombe in die zin dat hij ook hier weer meer knauwend dan zingend graag de minder aangename uithoeken van het leven mag frequenteren. Daar, tussen de ongelukkigen, de armeren en andere verworpenen gedijen zijn woorden nu eenmaal het best. Tussen de mijnwerkers en staalarbeiders, de boeren, oorlogsveteranen en aanverwanten, in het zweet huns aanschijns oogst hij zijn “Pretty Little Troubles”. Hun ongemakken liggen aan de basis van veel van zijn poëzie, van heel wat van zijn verhalen.
Inmiddels heeft Holcombe zich wat ons betreft met zijn stilaan bepaald indrukwekkende oeuvre een mooi stekje verdiend naast echte genregroten als een Townes Van Zandt, een Guy Clark, een Blaze Foley, een David Olney en een Ray Wylie Hubbard. Authentieker dan bij hem wordt Americana immers amper gemaakt. Hoe hij uit de scherven van gebroken harten en stukgeslagen dromen het ene na het andere fraaie miniatuurtje in elkaar puzzelt tart werkelijk alle verbeelding. Je vraagt je zo stilaan af, wat het zou opleveren als Holcombe zich aan het schrijven van boeken zou wagen. Het potentieel heeft hij er duidelijk voor.
Many people would argue that Gillian Welch captures all the beauty of Appalachia in her songs and performance. You can hear the clear mountain streams and the fog draped valleys in the simple, haunting melodies she’s known for creating. If that’s the case, then Malcolm Holcombe is the stark reality of last century’s natural resource and the SNAP program. Produced by an insightful Darrell Scott, Pretty Little Troubles lets a coal miner’s poet lyrics make their impact while the instrumental accompaniments keep the songs from turning maudlin.
Good Ole Days leads the pack with a banjo and guitar picking tribute to the fact those days were anything but good. That’s what we reminisce about, though. Damn Weeds is a metaphor for thinking it’s ever going to be the case you can just rest and enjoy the good. The Sky Stood Still is a walking blues number, but surprises with a little classical violin instead of the fiddle solo. The title track gives a kind of Tom Waits treatment to the situation with talking vocals and jazz feeling to the background instruments.
Pretty Little Troubles is not a single topic project, however. Holcombe has been a traveling musician for decades and has the good stories to prove it. South Hampton Street had a displaced gypsy feel to it long before I heard the lyric about the gypsy woman on south Hampton Stree. The Eyes O’ Josephine is a lilting, Celtic tune with a classic broken heart theme. Bury, England documents a gig in the industrial part of the UK where the building “smelled like an old folks home inside” and the coffee the venue provided wasn’t fit for a dog. The dual leads from Holcombe’s guitar and Jared Tyler’s dobro make the travelogue the catchiest song on the record.
Pretty Little Troubles is not a CD you put on for guests at a party. It’s Americana noir. But it will serve to remind you how good your station in life really is. For that, it’s uplifting. Add the no-held-punches of the lyrics and the first rate melodies and it’s an album that adds to any folk collection.
- by Shawn Underwood
There’s a rough-hewn but honest ring to the music of North Carolina singer/songwriter Malcolm Holcombe.
Holcombe, who performs Sunday night on “Mountain Stage” at the Clay Center, is no stranger to the rough and tumble — and sometimes tragic — tales contained in his songs.
He spent years bouncing around, playing small bars and clubs. He drank too much, spent the occasional night in jail, hitchhiked and lived a harder life than some.
“I don’t recommend trying for the hardscrabble life,” he said. “You have to drive and aim for the potholes.”
But living hard has suited him and given him a perspective in writing about the poor and disenfranchised that’s closer to the bone.
More than anything else, Holcombe writes about people. It’s what he knows.
“We’re all dots that connect,” he said. “We’re all of one blood, though some of us are a little tainted.”
Holcombe included himself as part of the tainted, and didn’t see himself as having been all that remarkable. He doesn’t remember when he started writing songs, exactly — somewhere in his teens — and his music education was piecemeal.
“It was nothing different than anybody else,” he said. “I had some family that picked a little. I had friends that picked a little. I made it through my first chord book and that was as far as I went with that.”
He listened to his mother’s record collection, which included Tennessee Ernie Ford and Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite.”
“Mother played the French harp [harmonica]. I don’t know how she did it. She had bronchitis,” he said.
But they played together some. He said she told him not to sing through his nose.
Holcombe laughed about it and said, “Our parents tell us all kinds of things, don’t they?”
His taste in music and his interest was influenced by what was around him. His family and friends, sure, but also whatever was on the television.
“I was like everybody else, watching Ed Sullivan on the TV and Flatt and Scruggs,” he said. “The same as everybody else.
Despite some nice notices for his latest record, “Pretty Little Troubles,” produced by acclaimed songwriter Darrell Scott, Holcombe said he hadn’t made up his mind about whether he was any good at writing songs. But he knows what he likes — fewer songs about himself, more songs about the world he inhabits.
Holcombe lives in the South, which isn’t just geography, but is an entire culture of weary, rural people living through difficult times.
West Virginia is part or the South, too.
“My wife’s grandfather and wife came from St. Petersburg, Russia in the 1920s,” Holcombe said. “His name was Joseph. He worked in the coal mines in and outside of Charleston back in the 1920s and ’30s.”
Their story became the song “Good Ol’ Days.”
Holcombe isn’t sure what the months ahead mean for him. He’ll be out on the road in support of the new record, but also keeping his eyes and ears open. New songs sometimes show up when he travels.
“Stirring up the dust in my old truck does more for me than writing my poor, pitiful me drunk heartbreak stories,” he said. “At least, that’s what interests me.”
- by Bill Lynch
Opgeslagen in: RECENSIES — John Gjaltema @ 23:35
Zonder problemen is Malcolm Holcombe nergens. Waar zou hij in godsnaam over moeten zingen? De Amerikaan bestaat van de problemen. Verdient zijn boterham met het zingen over alle sores die hem in deze problematische tijden overkomen. Pretty Little Troubles (Singular Recordings) noemde hij zijn nieuwste album. Eerlijk is hij wel. De zwartgallige blues en country, beide formuleringen zijn van toepassing, helt deze keer door de productie van Darrell Scott net iets meer over naar de countrykant. Op het zich in de kolenmijnen van West Virginia afspelende Good Ole Days is er de banjo van de producer, andere nummers kleurt hij met bouzouki, Weissenborn, steelgitaar mandola, baritongitaren of hij gaat achter de piano zitten of rinkelt wat aan bellen. Daarnaast trekt Joey Miskulin met accordeon door South Hampton Street. Die toevoegingen zorgen ervoor dat dit niet zomaar een nieuw album is waarop Holcombe zijn kleine zorgen uitserveert, omdat hij nu eenmaal niet anders kan. Omdat hij ervan moet leven bijvoorbeeld. Nee, Holcombe overtuigt met deze collectie liedjes die de crème de la crème van Nashville aangreep om hier iets bijzonders neer te zetten. Rocky Ground heeft zowaar wat van Guy Clark. Wat ons bij de opmerking brengt dat ook Verlon Thompson present is op dit album. Op Bury, England haalt Holcombe nog even herinneringen op aan Clark.
- by John Gialtema
MALCOLM HOLCOMBE: PRETTY LITTLE TROUBLES
Heel zelden krijg je een cd, waarvan je niet goed weet wat je ermee moet. Wel ‘Pretty Little Troubles’ van de uit de Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina komende Malcolm Holcombe, is er zo eentje. Met zijn 61 jaren is Malcolm niet meer van de jongsten en zo klinkt hij ook. Vocaal doet hij mij het meest denken aan Watermelon Slim, die ook een heel apart stemgeluid heeft en in een vakje kan je Malcolm al helemaal niet stoppen. Het lijkt wel een stoelendans. Malcolm switcht dat het een lieve lust is tussen folk, blues, country en Americana. Zelf bespeelt hij de akoestische gitaar en laat hij zich op deze opnames bijstaan op mandoline, dobro, percussie, bas, accordeon en harmonica. Verwacht echter geen opgepoetste songs. Neen, het klinkt allemaal erg rudimentair, wat volgens mij ook aansluit bij Malcolms levenswijze. Wat je de man zeker niet kan verwijten, is dat hij niet rauw, authentiek en eerlijk klinkt. Ik kan me voorstellen dat niet iedereen zal vallen voor ‘Pretty Little Troubles’, maar ik kan wel stellen dat Malcolm bij mij een gevoelige snaar geraakt heeft. Tussen de vele momenteel op de markt gegooide als blues, folk, country en Americana bestempelde albums, is deze van Malcolm Holcombe toch een (h)eerlijk lichtpunt.
Lambert Smits (4)
If you are a fan of honest, raw, authentic sounding folk, blues, country and Americana, then Malcolm Holcombe is your man!
-by Lambert Smits
Another simply wonderful release from one of North Carolina’s genuine originals, a guy who is pretty much without peer these days. Malcolm Holcombe has a voice that is pure gravel and grit, smoky and smoke-fuelled, always edgy, blisteringly demanding and decidedly different. Produced by Americana master-musician and singer-songwriter Darrell Scott, Holcombe is perfectly matched here in the studio by a producer who is at the top of his game in and as part of the Nashville machine.
Holcombe himself seems to have surfaced fully formed, with a song-writing mastery and mystery that few, if any, of his current US contemporaries can match. Rolling Stone magazine in the US has described him as ‘….haunted country, acoustic blues and rugged folk,’ an enviable accolade that aptly illustrates his current importance and place in the US music world.
‘Pretty Little Troubles’ is possibly his finest release so far, following on from the past two highly praised offerings, ‘Gambling House’ and ‘The RCA Sessions.’ This is music delivered with raucous, raw vocals, storytelling lyrics that often surprise and always engage, and fine blues-undercurrents wrapped together with fine fretwork and acoustic picking that is both gripping and grizzled.
Holcombe is a modern musical troubadour who readily touches parts others never get near, and who, without fail, produces the real-deal, rumbling acoustic music with meaning and memorable flair. ‘Pretty Little Troubles’ is a great album, a positive must-have for anyone who loves and values originality and sparkle with a traditional acoustic, country-blues grounding.
- by Iain Patience
Pretty Little Troubles
I love to get a new Malcolm Holcombe for review; he has never let me down in the past and he sure as heck doesn’t this time.
Last year’s release, ‘Another Black Hole’, was one of my albums of the year and here he has teamed up with producer Darrell Scott to make one that is at least as good.
Holcombe’s ‘voice’ is not exactly musical but he carries emotion more poignantly than the finest of opera baritones and his songs resonate with the hardships and desperation of the Blue Ridge Mountains where he was raised but he also paints pictures of the positivity of striving to survive.
Here he opens with a chiller of a number in ‘Crippled Point O’ View’ with Jelly Roll Johnson’s harmonica creating a lonely place. ‘Yours No More’ is a tribute to the immigrants and refugees who have worked so hard to make America the strong state it is today.
When he livens things up as on ‘Good Ole Days’ there is still a sharp and cutting turn of phrase as what sounds like a fun bit of bluegrass looks at the problems of the good old days – seriously sarcastic and brilliant for it.
The title track has a jaunty lift to it but those sardonic vocals tell the story very differently while ‘Bury England’ tells the tale of a gig in …. Bury, England.
Malcolm Holcombe is a unique songwriter, never sorry for himself but often filled with righteous anger at the state of the world and the unfair hardships that he and his people have had to struggle through. The important thing, for me, is that there is no sense of whingeing or moaning and he makes music that is all the stronger for it.
The album is flawless, swimming in integrity and beautifully played. Another masterpiece.
- by Andy Snipper
Malcolm Holcombe “Pretty Little Troubles” (Gypsy Eyes Music, 2017)
For those not familiar with Malcolm Holcombe, he is somewhat of an institution. There aren’t many artists that can say they’ve had a career quite like him and after 20 years and 15 studio recordings, he’s still going as strong as ever and continuing to expand on the vast body of work he has built. The production on the record is crisp and clean and allows room for the impressive guitar skills of Holcombe to shine through along with some subtle and perfectly placed harmonica to compliment the gravelly, whiskey-drenched and rough-around-the-edges vocals we’ve come to expect from him.
That being said, at times and even with the quality of the production on the record, it is difficult to understand the lyrics and can make the songs a tough listen, however, these moments are few and far between and display a level of authenticity often brushed over or touched up on modern recordings if nothing else.
The record kicks off with a classic blues number Crippled Point O’ View and for the next few tracks, we are treated to a brief showcase of sorts, demonstrating the variety of styles which he is able to lend his talents to and the versatility he has to offer. From the tender ballad Yours No More, through the foot-stomping, bluegrass number Good Ole Days and finishing up with the infectious Outta Luck, the variety on offer throughout this record is impressive to say the least and really cements Holcombe as more than just a country-blues singer as opposed to a multi-faceted artist who has honed his craft over the course of many years in the game. However, these aren’t the only highlights of the record and the diversity never slows up, as further down the line there is album namesake and brilliant walking-blues number Pretty Little Troubles and a tale of a trip to a quaint UK town in Bury, England featuring some brilliant anecdotes about “the worst cup o’ coffee” he ever had to drink, amongst other things. Holcombe is at his best on tracks like these when he is playing his own brand of the blues and finding humour in the more troubling times whilst delivering them in such a colloquial manner that you almost feel like you’re right there with him trading stories.
Overall, ‘Pretty Little Troubles’ is a solid record and a great addition to an ever-growing discography from a man that never seems short of an interesting story to tell and I’m sure it won’t be long before we hear from him again.
Summary: Malcolm Holcombe produces another solid collection of anecdotal folk-blues on his 15th studio recording.
- by David Stevenson
Malcolm Holcombe Pretty Little Troubles Singular
There is little doubt that Holcombe has his detractors as well as his admirers. His grit and gravel sandpaper voice is not to everyone’s taste, but those that do fall under his spell seem to be growing and he has certainly been prolific of late with a number of albums to his credit over the last few years. This time out noted artist in his own right Darrell Scott has taken on the production duties. Holcombe’s bluesy tales, his own pretty little troubles, are as often about the world around him and how it is being eroded (Yours No More, Good Ole Days, Damn Weeds) as about his own life and times (Crippled Point O’ View, Outta Luck), some of the songs encompass both.
However these tales of woe are given a musical setting that always make them never less than interesting with a wide range of instruments adding substance and sustenance to the hardworn nature of the music. Many of the instruments are played by Scott himself but with major contributions from Jelly Roll Johnson, Joey Miskulin, Verlon Thompson and Denis Crouch. Mike McGoldrick brings a distinctly Celtic flavour to The Eyes O’ Josephine with Uilleann pipes, which makes that song an immediate standout. Yet in the end it is Holcombe’s voice which is the most prominent feature of the tracks and the success of the album will largely depend on your liking for that particular vocal inflection.
For those that do like this sound, Pretty Little Troubles is a compelling album that employs all the skills of its participants to best advantage which makes it a highpoint of Holcombe recorded output. His pretty little troubles have produced some nuanced and balanced personal and unique representations of the blues that are as effective as many of the more applauded practitioners of that often ignored genre. Malcolm Holcombe continues to do it his own way. Singular indeed.
- by Stephen Rapid