When I first heard Malcolm Holcombe’s latest album, To Drink the Rain, I was transported down a long legacy of Country Blues singers calling to mind Chris Smither, Levon Helm and Townes Van Zandt. He has a voice that can’t lie, it’s been drenched and intoxicated by an eventful life that very nearly led him down the same path of Hank Williams! This provides the essence of his songs as well as the testament which can be heard in the dirt road of his voice.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written this week about singers ‘moving out to the sticks’ as we like to say here. In the case of Malcolm Holcombe this connection gets better. I’ve just reviewed Kevin Welch’s latest release and wrote about him breaking from the commercial hub for the hills. Likewise, Holcombe follows suit and finds solace in the North Carolina Hills. Also, their new musical refuge can be found in the form of Music Road Records. A lable that has grabbed my interest in a big way. The Austin label is spearheaded by singer/songwriter Jimmy LaFave, recording engineer Fred Remmert, and investor Kelcy Warren, who agreed to become Malcolm’s new musical home.
Like Welch, Malcolm Holcombe seems to have a lot to rejoice about on this album. Makes you wonder how heavy that burden he was carrying was that bordered on self-destruction. It was enough to make people jump at the news of him making a new album. Bass player and legendary veteran member of Johnny Cash’s last band, Dave Roe, new it was a big deal and cancelled a session at short notice to make it for the recording, one, he stated, that was worth fighting for! After listening to the album, I can only agree. It has that real feel authenticity that is often lacking in music today but is something you can’t conjure up, you have to have lived it! The twelve track one-take performances on this album are testimony to a great singer and what makes great music.
The opening track kicks off the album with a great big grin in the form of One Leg at a Time, a great rag time blues number that breaks it down real simple: put on those britches one leg at a time. This track zips along in a rejoicing way, a nice contrast to what follows with Mountains of Home, a slower country waltz that reminded me of Levon Helm’s Poor Old Dirt Farmer.
The solid delivery throughout this album by Holcombe who sounds like a man in spiritual revelation is backed up by equally strong conviction from Dave Roe on bass, fiddler Luke Bulla, drummer Bobby Kallus, and Jared Tyler’s dobro. They all play their part in accentuating the delivery! On To Drink the Rain this is probably no stronger when Holcombe tells of his struggle to set himself free from his burdens. It also reflects on his strength and conviction to see it through. Glimpses of the land of milk and honey are throughout the album although not in a blatant way but you can’t escape the fact that Holcombe needed a revelationary experience to drag him up from the bottom.
The highlights are many, it’s not an album you want to dissect. It’s about the sum of the whole and to enjoy it to it’s fullest you really want to take the time to listen to it in its entirety. There are accents of change and subtle twists, enough contrast in pace to keep it a great listen in one sitting. Becky’s Blessed gets the sentimental accentuation of a beautiful slow dobro from Jared Tyler whilst Those who Wander picks the pace up but maintains that grace with the help of Luke Bulla’s fiddle and the occasional uplifting sound of Shelby Eicher’s mandolin. The Mighty City has an almost Country Jazz feel on guitar. A very nice track that is perfectly executed, pretty spectacular for a one-take recording! You can sense the connection Jared has with Holcombe. His production efforts on the album are perfect.
Malcolm Holcombe could easily have followed in the footsteps of so many others such as Hank Williams…he didn’t need to fight to get there. Instead, he has proved he’s a fighter and this album is a testament to his courage.
Folks in the UK now have a chance to see him, as Malcolm heads out on his UK / Ireland Tour in March this year:
Wednesday 2 Bristol St. Bonaventure’s 0870 4444 400 / www.crhmusic.com £10, 7.30pm
Thursday 3 London Green Note 0207 7485 9899 / www.greennote.co.uk £10, 7pm
Sunday 6 Plymouth B-Bar 01752 242021 / http://theb-bar.blogspot.com £10, 7pm
Monday 7 Brighton The Latest Music Bar 01273 687171 / http://thelatest.co.uk/musicbar £5, 8pm
Tuesday 8 Leicester The Musician 0116 251 0080 / www.themusicianpub.co.uk £8, 8pm
Wednesday 9 Norwich Norwich Arts Centre 01603 660352 / www.norwichartscentre.co.uk £10, 8pm
Thursday 10 Farncombe Farncombe Cavern @ The Freeholders Surrey 01483 416741 / www.thefarncombecavern.co.uk £9, 8pm
Friday 11 Gateshead Jumpin’ Hot Club @ The Central 0191 4782543 / www.jumpinhot.com £12, 8pm
Saturday 12 Aberdeen Peacock Visual Arts 01224 639539 / www.peacockvisualarts.com £TBC, 8pm
Tuesday 15 Montrose Montrose Folk Club @ The Links Hotel 01674 671000 / www.linkshotelmusic.com £6, 8pm
Wednesday 16 Belfast The Errigle Inn 028 9064 1410 / www.errigle.com £TBC, 8pm
Friday 18 Clonmel Venue TBC Co. Tipperary, Ireland €TBC, TBC
Saturday 19 Naul Séamus Ennis Cultural Centre Co. Dublin, Ireland 00 353 (0)1 802 0898 / www.seamusenniscentre.com €16, 7.30pm
Monday 21 Cork Cypress Avenue 00 353 21 4276165 / www.cyprusavenue.ie €TBC, TBC
Further dates to be announced shortly
Buy the Album: To Drink the Rain
The following video is not from the album but it caught that passion: Far Cry from Here: