Mountain Times - August 17, 2017

- by Derek Halsey

BOONE — Malcolm Holcombe has been western North Carolina’s resident poet of the disparaged, desperate, broke down and hard-working salt-of-the earth people of the mountains for a long time now.

Holcombe knows of what he sings as he has lived many of the human situations that inhabit his unique and idiosyncratic story songs, and his life on the road experiences fuel his innovative and hard-scrabble guitar playing.

Holcombe’s latest album is called “Pretty Little Troubles” and the genius of the project was the addition of Darrell Scott as producer and sideman.

Scott is an amazing musician who has written many hit songs for top artists over the years, with “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” perhaps his best known work. Scott also has a wonderful singing voice of his own and is considered an all-star musician in that he can play virtually any instrument he puts his hand on.
As producer of Holcombe’s “Pretty Little Troubles,” Scott’s ideas are subtle, yet wonderful, surrounding Holcombe’s new set of original songs with steel guitar, accordion, banjo, Celtic instruments and more. Appearing on the album is long-time Guy Clark collaborator Verlon Thompson on guitar and vocals, Dobro player Jared Tyler, Joey Miskulin on accordion, Kenny Malone and Marco Giovino on percussion, Dennis Crouch on bass, Mike McGoldrick on Uillean pipes and whistle and Scott on guitar, bouzouki, Dobro, banjo, bells, piano and pedal steel guitar.

Malcolm Holcombe will be appearing in Boone for an early show on Thursday, Aug. 17. More information can be found on our Night Life Listings on page 22.

Holcombe is from western North Carolina near Asheville and now resides near Black Mountain. He has been playing in Boone and Blowing Rock for more than four decades.

“I always enjoy coming up to Boone,” said Holcombe. “I’ve been coming up there since they built that windmill that never did work somewhere in 1976 or ’77. It was an experimental windmill up there on the hill trying to generate electricity. It didn’t work too good and I think they had some problems with it, but it was the first windmill I had ever seen. I would come up there and play at the college. I remember Sally Spring back then, a singer who had a voice like Rosanne Cash, almost like Billie Holiday. I used to do shows with her up there at Appalachian State back in the 1970s and at Woodlands BBQ.”

Since those days, Holcombe has led an interesting life with some hard living thrown in the mix.

“I feel lucky to be alive all of the time, man,” said Holcombe. “If it wasn’t by the grace of the Good Lord and a lot of good friends, I wouldn’t be standing in the kitchen with some carrots. I might be pushing up carrots. I don’t drink any more so that helps out a lot. One is too many and a thousand ain’t enough. But, I found my driver’s license. I left them in my other pants for 20 years and like to have never got a hold of them.”

Holcombe and Scott recorded the album at Hippy Jack’s studio in Tennessee and Holcombe wrote the new songs in a two week stretch.

“I’ve known Darrell for a long time and I just thought, ‘Boy, I think he could probably produce a pretty good record,’” said Holcombe. “He brought in Verlon Thompson and my old buddy Jared Tyler and got some people that knew what they were doing to try and get this mule to plow.”

Holcombe’s song “Good Ole Days” is about a West Virginia mining family and is powered by Scott’s banjo picking.

The cut is about the supposed ‘good ole days’ when miners weren’t paid much and child labor laws did not exist, when life meant being “barefoot on the cabin floor, window panes of broken glass.”

“Damn Weeds” is another classic tell-it-like-it-is number by Holcombe, which says, “Growing up is an all day job, and I can’t get out of my way, I got my own row to hoe, slamming doors and doing chores, damn weeds are taking over.”

“Eyes of Josephine” has a fantastic Celtic groove to it, and the songs “Outta Luck” and “Rocky Ground” feature sweet and mournful steel guitar on them.

“Darrell can pick like a scalded dog, up one side and down the other, and he can play anything that’s got strings on it,” said Holcombe. “I knew that Darrell could play the pedal steel guitar and I was thinking, ‘Boy, I’d sure love to have some pedal steel on that ‘Rocky Ground,’ and man, he just added some soul to that song. I love the pedal steel guitar. It is pretty tasteful stuff and I am very grateful. I’m very pleased with it. I met both Darrell and Verlon many years ago so it was like going to an old friend’s house and sitting around and picking.”