Americana UK - June 2015

Proper Records 2015

A revitalised and essential retrospective

Over the past 20 years Malcolm Holcombe has steered his career through a sometimes rocky road. His debut album was recorded for Geffen and then shelved by them and he was reportedly a troubled man for several years. Indeed the filmed sessions on the DVD included here has a quote at the beginning from Steve Earle stating, "Malcolm Holcombe is the best songwriter I ever threw out of my recording studio." Happily he's been on the straight and narrow for many years now and his grizzled take on folk blues and country has graced a further nine albums with each one adding to his reputation as one of the finest exponents of the genre.

The RCA Sessions celebrates Holcombe's 20 years of recording being a selection of songs from his previous albums plus a live favourite, "Mouth Harp Man." However, it's not simply a "best of" as Holcombe and his crack band settled into Nashville's RCA Studios delivering brand new recordings of his selection with the sessions being filmed. While the end result would be a useful introduction for anyone not familiar with his music it's an essential buy for fans, even those who might have all of his records to date as the versions here are on fire with Holcombe exuding a rude vitality and the band whipcord tight. Ken Coomer on drums and Dave Roe on double bass are the solid rhythm section with Tammy Rogers adding fiddle and mandolin while Jared Tyler excels on Dobro, electric slide and lap steel. 

They can root around in deep delta blues, Appalachian country tunes and dip into tender laments seemingly without effort and it's a joy to listen to their playing. Holcombe growls and hollers, croons and mumbles, his voice stained with experience and seemingly dredged from the depths of his soul. His performance on "I Feel Like A Train" is astounding, almost shamanistic as he descends into primeval groans sounding like the oldest hobo in the world. On top of this we have Earle's testimony to Holcombe's song writing and listening to the songs here it's evident that he's up there with the likes of Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson and John Prine, using simple words to paint large pictures. Songs like "Doncha Miss That Water" and "Pitiful Blues" might have been collected by Alan Lomax back in the first half of the last century. "Early Morning" and "Who Carried You" are superior examples of narrative folk song writing and "The Empty Jar" shows that Holcombe can wax poetic and pull at the heartstrings with the best of them. All in all pretty much essential listening (and watching if you get the Deluxe DVD/CD release).

By Paul Kerr