Johnny's Garden - January 2016

Review by Theo Volk (Lura) on

posted on January 5, 2016, 10:38 pm 

It is often assumed that A Far Cry From Here in 1994 was Malcolm Holcombe’s first album. However, his first was a 1985 duet album with Sam Milner, titled Trademark. On this album both artists do five songs each.

I discovered  Holcombe only with the release of Gamblin 'House. After hearing the joyful opening track My Ol 'Radio, I was sold immediately. For a long time this CD was one of my faithful companions on my daily train ride from Den Bosch to Amsterdam.

‘Another Black Hole’ is Holcombe's twelfth regular solo album, but, unfortunately,  he is still not known to the average listener. I do not listen to the radio, but I do not think he will be played much in Hilversum. Even if he is an artist extremely suitable for radio play.

His voice is recognisable from among thousands. The same goes for his characteristic acoustic guitar playing. But his songs should appeal to a large audience. The songs are pretty conventional. And most have very strong choruses. Just listen to the title track on the new album, it will stay in your head after just a few listens.

His peers, however, value and admire him, as he already toured with artists like Merle Haggard, Wilco and Shelby Lynne. And heavyweights such as Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Darrell Scott all contributed to his albums.

What can we say about the new album? Obviously, once again the level is as high as we expect from Malcolm. I would like to know more about the backgrounds to the lyrics, but Malcolm prefers the listeners to interpret his songs for themselves. Musically,  the most significant, main new ingredients are Drea Merritt’s backing vocals and Tony Joe White’s electric guitar.

The importance of backing vocals is regularly underestimated. Wrongly so I think. Just imagine Gimme Shelter or Walk on the Wild Side without those backing vocals. Holcombe calls his repertoire folk music, but country is never far away. Paper Mill Man on the new album even goes towards rock and is a pleasant change within the usual song structures.

My favorite is Do not Play Around, a song with tension and great background vocals by Drea Merritt. And with intriguing lines as:

"She was only fourteen in '65,
Ye know a change is comin '
Twenty-six stitches in the back o 'her head,
On a bridge in Selma."

Loyal fans can confidently buy this album. Hopefully it will also appeal to new listeners, because he is one of the best songwriters in his genre.