malcolm holcombe
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malcolm holcombe


Band Folk Singer/Songwriter


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..haunted country.. - David Fricke

Billboard Magazine - January 2008

January 2008
Gamblin' House
Producer: Ray Kennedy
Genre: FOLK

Few singer/songwriters hurl themselves into their music with the physical abandon that Malcolm Holcombe displays on his latest album. Beyond the gravel voice and high-intensity arrangements featuring his guitar, he moans, grunts, groans and smacks his lips, embellishing the brilliant songs of a mercurial spirit. Half the songs here sound like a train, whistling past your ears as Holcombe sings of slow love songs, flooded gambling emporiums, drunken madmen and, in "Cynthia Margaret," the solace of a long-sought soul mate. "My Old Radio" is a core tune for Americana formats; "You Don't Come to See Me Anymore" could be sung by vocalists from the Nashville he once fled. Rich in idiosyncratic epigrams with echoes ranging from Guy Clark to Bob Dylan, Holcombe (with "Jelly Roll" Johnson's ever-ready harmonica adding emphasis) delivers elusive tales of a life that may not have always been wisely lived, but was always worth writing about. —Wayne Robins

- Wayne Robins

Creative Loafing (Charlotte) - 12.05.07

Music: Hit & Run Reviews

CD Review: Malcolm Holcombe

Published 12.05.07
Creative Loafing

The Deal: Roughing up John Prine, mountain man style.

The Good: Malcolm Holcombe's voice is like a punch in the face. He sounds like the survivor of a fight between Prine and Tom Waits. There are only five cuts on the North Carolina native's latest, Wager, but that's enough. Holcombe is so intense that he packs more into that five-pack than most do in a career. Backed by a skeleton crew of guitar, banjo, fiddle and mandolin, Holcombe's theory of songwriting cuts through the crap. "Try not to put too many lines of bullshit in there," he says of his method. He says what he has to say and gets out pretty quickly. Most of his songs clock in around three minutes. Although they may be short, you're in for a pretty bumpy ride on most. "Going Back To Hell in a Greyhound" is a trip you wouldn't want to share with Holcombe as a seatmate – he'd be in your face the whole trip, spraying you with spittle as he ranted about his lost love, and his lost soul. "Sometimes I'm running and times that I ain't" Holcombe says, "but at the end of the day I feel like a train." Yeah, and when this engineer blows his whistle, buddy, you best get off his tracks.

The Bad: At first listen, you may think Prine covered these tracks years go. Listen harder – that sound you hear is Holcombe breathing down Prine's neck.

The Verdict: Reserve shelf space – you'll be hearing more from this guy for a long time to come.

- Grant Britt

No Depression: Current Issue
Band Of Horses by Kurt B. Reighley 5th Annual No Depression Critics’ Poll Shelby
Lynne by Bill Friskics-Warren Malcolm Holcombe by Peter Cooper ... - 12k - Cached - Similar pages
- Peter Cooper

Wall Street Journal - 02.14.08

A Hardscrabble Life in Music
February 14, 2008; Page D7
Weaverville, N.C.

PDF: Wall Street Journal

The tidy, upscale strip that serves as downtown still looks enough like old Weaverville that the 52-year-old singer-songwriter Malcolm Holcombe can point to his childhood barbershop. The house his grandfather once owned still stands around the corner. But the area in and around nearby Asheville is awash in new construction, and the Sunnyside Café here no longer features live music and now serves a quiche of the day. In his battered ball cap, tatty work shirt and frayed jeans, Mr. Holcombe seems a visitor from the past.

Mr. Holcombe's new album, "Gamblin' House" (Echo Mountain), his fifth that's still in print, largely tamps down his most arresting traits -- his whip-crack growl and almost violent attack on guitar -- and the songs aren't as poignant as his best ones of the past. But the CD's bittersweet, country-folk music with a raging man at its core reminds us there is no one on the contemporary scene like Mr. Holcombe, who somehow can convey raw fury and deep affection at the same time. His career, though, has had more stops than fruitful starts and still isn't equal to his talents.

"I don't know if you'd call what I have a 'career,'" he told me over lunch at the Sunnyside, his voice coarsened by nonstop smoking. "I'm just trying to maintain."

In publicity photos, Mr. Holcombe seems chiseled and iconic, but he's shorter than they suggest, with a hint of sadness around his pale blue eyes: He seems a gentle old soul with a hard shell. Years ago, a son died, and Mr. Holcombe has struggled with drugs and alcohol; a friend, "Gamblin' House" producer Ray Kennedy, figures he's been sober for about five years.

I first saw Mr. Holcombe perform in late 2005 at Joe's Pub in New York. Dressed as if he came directly from a hard day at a gas station, he took the stage without an introduction and with the house lights up. The audience tittered in confusion -- until he began to perform. He was a revelation, his singing frighteningly fierce, lyrics startling, his playing brutal and delicate. But he told pointless stories between songs, blunting the impact of the performance, though not enough to dissuade me from thinking it was a remarkable show. (You can find examples of Mr. Holcombe's recent solo concerts on YouTube.)

As we drove through the Blue Ridge Mountains and visited the Asheville studio where he recorded "Gamblin' House," I found his hospitality appealing, and his stories about his parents confirmed his fondness for the past. But his cryptic answers to questions often drifted to silence before they concluded; later, I learned he'd recycled some of his replies from earlier interviews. He's quite likely the most guarded musician I've ever spoken with.

Mr. Kennedy said he's known Mr. Holcombe for 15 years and still finds him a puzzle. "Malcolm has some demons that he wrestles with," he told me. "Or they're in his imagination. His mission is to find balance and serenity. Heuses his art to try to salvage himself.

Mr. Holcombe got his start in 1976, playing folk music in an Asheville bar. He moved on to Florida's Gulf Coast and in 1990 took a chance on Nashville. In Music City he tried to fit in, but "I couldn't do it. I couldn't get it," he said. Drinking and drugging drove him off track, but while "flipping burgers and taking out the trash," as he put it, he pulled himself together enough to record a couple of albums and eke out a meager living. Today, he considers hisardscrabble life a form of research. "You can't write about ice cream if you've never tasted it," he said.

The breakthrough was "I Never Heard You Knockin'," the 2005 album he cut when he returned to Weaverville. Backed only by his guitar, Mr. Holcombe growls, yelps and reaches deep into his being. "My mind plays tricks in the silence/I mumble and stutter and wonder in the night," he sings in the title track, adding, "That big ol' front door had steel side to side/I never had a key." In "Mama Told Me So," his narrator contemplates his mother's inevitable passing. "Who's goin' love me when I'm old?" he asks as the song opens. "You're the only one who's ever loved me true and kind/I cover my ears to the pain of you leaving me behind."

"Your mind whips through the past," he said when I asked how he wrote those remarkable songs. "Thoughts of your early childhood are very comforting. You think about Christmas morning or that birthday party, your mom holding your hand. You were protected and safe. Those early memories settle the dust. You were loved and things were OK."

On "Gamblin' House," he hits the bull's-eye when his passion pushes past the prettified music. "Cynthia Margaret" is a lilting tribute to his wife, and You Don't Come See Me Anymore" is a tender tune that brings an on-edge Roger Miller to mind, as does "Baby Likes a Love Song."

In the opening track, "My Ol' Radio," Mr. Holcombe sings: "That big dog gets hungry, he ain't never satisfied. . . . He's gonna eat himself to death and leave nothing for the rest." I thought it was a song about a pet, but Mr. Kennedy told me that it's Mr. Holcombe's take on national politics -- which the producer didn't know until his wife was hired to do illustrations for the CD package. It's a charming little number undermined by lyrics too vague to be enigmatic.

"Malcolm doesn't have a commercial bone in his body," said Mr. Kennedy, who called him a "streetwise hillbilly." "He's into the art of it. You can't tell him to change the way he is. Once he writes a song, he doesn't like to change a single word."

A singular character in an era that prizes conformity in country and pop, Mr. Holcombe may never find a wider audience. But to dismiss him as a backwoods eccentric is to miss the insight and pain that inform his best writing. His songs suggest he's spent countless hours rummaging through his thoughts. He communicates best when he's in the studio and on stage, where he just about explodes.

"I like playing music," Mr. Holcombe told me. We were sitting in a vest-pocket park across from the Sunnyside, talking about Django Reinhardt and Lester Flatt as the afternoon shadows grew long. I asked him if he had a day job to help with the bills.

"I work around the house," he said, "but as far as an income goes, yeah, it'smusic." Then he suddenly added: "The bottom can drop out any time. I can get a job mixing cement for 10 bucks an hour. That's good money."

Mr. Fusilli is the Journal's rock and pop music critic.

- Jim Fusilli

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The Irish Times - October 2007


MALCOLM HOLCOMBE Not Forgotten Munich Records

Don't ask me how this man from South Carolina has managed to evade my attention to date, but, boy, am I going to make up for lost time. Holcombe has a voice that would give sandpaper a bad name, a face lined with the tracks of his 50-plus years, a guitar style that is by turns brutish and sensitive, and a heap of songs that resonate with honesty and passion. There is no sense of artifice. Every note counts, every line is meant, and his rumbling, crumbling baritone tosses and turns inside songs, squeezing every last spark from their smouldering fire. It's folk, folk-blues and country-blues whittled to a primitive essence via a stripped-down rhythm section coloured by banjo, lap steel, harmonica and Holcombe's own expressive acoustic guitar. Not Forgotten is powerful stuff, evocative and dramatic, but striking so many different moods that the end always comes too soon. JOE BREEN

- Joe Breen

The Nashville Scene
October 1, 2009
Malcolm Holcombe at The Basement

-By Jewly Hight

Gritty folk bluesman Malcolm Holcombe doesn’t just do things differently—he does them inside out and backwards. Which is, no doubt, one reason why he’s such a compelling singer-songwriter. Plenty tales of artistic triumph revolve around how some aspiring, guitar-toting soul gets to town and toughs it out for years before having their breakthrough. Holcombe’s done some of his best work since he moved back to North Carolina and got sober; that includes 2007’s Gamblin’ House and his new one, For the Mission Baby. He’ll twist the stories and sounds in his songs around, and sideswipe listeners in the process. The title cut of his latest is a case in point: he’s singing about a couple of kids who are too young, poor and restless to keep their baby, and it’s coming off like one of the Carter Family’s sunnier sides. And another thing about his singing: With his wolvish, gravelly delivery, he can make hunger sound like satisfaction—and vice versa.
- Jewly Hight

Country Standard Time
October 2009
- by Rick Cornell

For the Mission Baby (2009)

Western North Carolina's Malcolm Holcombe is a unique performer. He takes to the stage with a chair that he might as well kick away 30 seconds in and with a stare that looks a mile past you even as it's lasering through your core. He's got a 1950 Gibson guitar that can moan the most mournful country blues or hum the most joyous love song. And he's got the long-journey voice to handle both.

But unique only gets you so far without songs. Not to worry: Holcombe's got songs, always has. And the back half of this latest collection - starting with the jaunty, vaguely Celtic title track - represents Holcombe at his most accessible and most disarmingly direct in terms of both music and message. (Holcombe, no doubt, would want to share the credit with Ray Kennedy's uncluttered production.)

On Another One Gone and Doncha Miss That Water - the former blessed with Tim O'Brien's fiddle, the latter with Mary Gauthier's harmonies - Holcombe softens his down-the-road gaze and locks in for a real front-porch conversation eased along by folk-rock at its most rustic. Someone Left Behind offers Holcombe's most quotable chorus in the form of "There's one who does the hurtin'/Two feel the pain/One who takes the train/Another takes the blame," but the record's most memorable creation is Whenever I Pray, a striking bit of mountain-church gospel. And even when a song like Bigtime Blues seems to exist only for Holcombe to pick and growl, the smoldering emotion is undeniable. And you get to bask in the wood smoke it trails.
- Rick Cornell

Pasadena Weekly

MALCOLM HOLCOMBE, For the Mission Baby
(Echo Mountain): (4 out of 5 stars)

North Carolinian Holcombe possesses a rough, sometimes mystifying quality that makes loyalists of listeners and fellow artists riveted by his guttural delivery, insightful lyrics and rhythmic melodies mining the seams between folk, blues, country and soul. This is his most musically engaging work, with guest turns by Mary Gauthier, Tim O’Brien and producer Ray Kennedy. Holcombe still explores dark realms, but this offers some of his most upbeat and accessible songs, notably the rollicking title track and “Someone Left Behind” (“There’s better days ahead in time, Lord/ For someone somewhere left behind”).
- (4 out of 5 stars)

Hero Hill

Friday, August 14, 2009

Reviews:: Malcolm Holcombe For the Mission Baby

There are very few artists that I love enough to check websites/myspace/twitter, hoping for any insight about upcoming releases. Ironically, one of the few people I cyber stalk, is a man that probably could care less about the internet or keeping his fans current. Malcolm Holcombe has been making music for 30+ years with a gravelly voice as worn as the tires on an old rusted out pickup truck.

Honestly, probably nothing about his americana song writing will ever reach out to a wide audience, but I think he's ok with that. Throw in the fact he’s on a label – Echo Mountain – that truly seems to care more about getting great music out to the public than flooding publications with PR hype hoping to rake in big bags of dollars from sales and commercial placements, and it's easy to see why this talent is so under appreciated. We have little pull when it comes to making artists famous, but maybe if we take the time to talk about him, you will take the time to listen and discover a truly fantastic artist.

When we last heard from Malcolm (Gamblin’ House - review), I was blown away by how easily he spun spun tales and still kept your toes tapping. With deft picking an old soul and a broken heart, you felt like Holcombe saddled up to the stool beside you at the local pub and just started talking. Not much about Malcolm has changed with the release of For the Mission Baby. If pressed, I’d guess he mutter something about old dogs and new tricks but thanks to the help of Ray Kennedy’s production, every note on the new record sounds the way Holcombe intended.

Starting with the stomp a hole in the floor beat of Bigtime Blues, Holcombe gives his fans another trip back in time to the mountains of North Carolina, but he and his band also offer up new textures and a bigger sound. Tim O’Brien’s mandolin, Jared Tyler’s dobro, a nice rhythm section and some terrific backing vocals, For the Mission Baby just seems like a fuller effort. As you embrace the groove they find on A Bigger Plan, the humor and swing of Soul Street Blues or the tenderness he fuses into the gentle picks of Another One Gone (the strings are great) and the Waits-y Straight and Tall, it becomes obvious For the Mission Baby is the record Holcombe was meant to put out.

To be fair, Malcolm is an artist I’d listen to and rave about, even if I wasn’t a blogger, but he’s blown me away with this record. I could listen to the summery title track or the simple strums and keep time beat of Doncha Miss That Water for hours, driving out of the city just to watch the odometer turn, but every song on the record showcases a new depth of sound and emotion. If you are a fan of mountain blues, dark country and americana, I there's no artist I could recommend more.
- Hero Hill


1-a far cry
2-a hundred lies
3-another wisdom
4-i never heard you knockin'
5-not forgotten
7-gamblin' house
8-for the mission baby



Malcolm Holcombe-Bio-july-2009

"I chainsmoke and complain, goin' broke inside," Malcolm Holcombe growls with his signature gritty vocals while sharply picking his guitar; If chain-smoking and complaining are some of the characteristics that embody the kind of talent Malcolm reveals in his raw, heartfelt story telling, well then everyone should applaud chain-smoking complainers.
On the exterior Malcolm is a chain-smoking, coffee-loving, flannel shirt-wearing man with a five-o’clock shadow and a cutting stare, but the minute he walks on a stage, out comes the performer with his jabbered witticisms and off-beat style. He has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand.
Malcolm, born in Appalachia North Carolina, found musical inspiration from a pocket transitor radio, his mom's french harp encompassing all the music shows on the fada tv which sometimes even could pick up 2 channels, 13 and 7. Malcolm was "glued to the tube" watching shows from "Sing Along with Mitch" , "The Flatt and Scruggs Show" to "Where the Action Is" and "The Ed Sullivan show".He learned to play a few chords on a flat-top guitar his mother bought from Sears in the mid-sixties, and the handy Mel-Bay Chord Book. "I couldn't make it past the first page 'er two. Mother said I sang through my nose. I just tried to carry a tune some way or another, just to pass the time."
After the passing of both parents, just a few years apart, Malcolm hit the road with a band called Redwing in search of a different scene. After a stint in Florida he eventually moved on to Nashville, TN, finding a job flipping burgers at Douglas Corner Cafe. Occasionally Malcolm would take a break from the kitchen and get on stage, turning heads and opening the ears of audiences that were so used to Nashville’s formulaic country crooning. Malcolm’s was a rustic, rugged, grass-roots sound distilled from the foothills of Appalachia with a soulful blues feel.
In 1996 Malcolm signed a deal with Geffen Records and was recording his debut. He now had the attention and recognition of Nashville’s closely knit music community. Unfortunately, at the height of his career, Malcolm succumbed to the temptations of drugs and alcohol. He developed a somewhat notorious reputation around Nashville, performing disappearing acts only to return and wreak havoc. This was the start of a dark period for this talented, upcoming artist.
This decline continued as Geffen, unexpectedly, decided to pull his album release. It was a huge blow, but Malcolm carried on, returning to a life of short-lived, low paying jobs. With the failed release, and struggles with substance abuse, Malcolm sank into a deep depression.
After several other unsuccessful industry attempts, Malcolm left Nashville and eventually moved back to North Carolina, sobered up and released two independent albums.
Today Malcolm is still sober and continually touring with his particular flavor of gritty folk music. His last album, released by Echo Mountain Records, expresses a variety of topics from politics in the title song "Gamblin’ House" to the love and inspiration he gets from his wife in the song "Cynthia Margaret." He’s still wildly unpredictable with what he says and he still resembles a crazed person while performing; however, there are subtle differences like the cup of coffee that has replaced the booze.
The critical acclaim Malcolm always deserved, has finally come to him through publications like Rolling Stone, The Wallstreet Journal, and Billboard Magazine. He’s been featured in BBC and NPR interviews, countless local radio shows, newspapers, blogs and foreign press. His last 2008 release, Gamblin' House, was in the top 20 of the Americana Music Association chart for 9 straight weeks. His eighth release, For The Mission Baby, will be released Fall of 2009 by Echo Mountain Records. Once again, Malcolm went with Grammy Award winning producer, Ray Kennedy. The album consists of upbeat vocals, twangy country western melodies, the harmonies of Mary Gauthier, Siobhan Maher and Tim O’Brien and no lack of cryptic dark undertones. Malcolm considers it his best work yet.
"For The Mission Baby" is a brilliant adventure into stimulating stories of "unvarnished life expression full of heart, soul and mystery from a master."† – Ray Kennedy