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Wednesday, March 12 • 9:00pm - 9:30pm
Malcolm Holcombe

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Malcolm Holcombe Gamblin’ House – Echo Mountain Records Release date: January 29, 2008 Try as you might to use other adjectives, when you write about Malcolm Holcombe and his work, you always come back to rugged and rustic. His visage appears to be carved of granite, and his voice is a sculpture crafted of tree bark and discarded railroad iron. His words and images cling to you for hours, even days, like wood smoke. All of those things certainly apply to his new Gamblin’ House, produced by Ray Kennedy (Steve Earle, Ray Davies), a gentleman that Malcolm has wanted to work with for a long while. "We were second-story men. We put our ears to the safe and cracked it," offers Malcolm rather cryptically. (A conversation with Malcolm Holcombe is a fascinating festival of crypticisms, old sayings, and anecdotes punctuated with pronouncements.) "We learned the songs downstairs, then went upstairs and played them." Joining Malcolm and Ray in that pursuit was a rhythm section of Kenny Malone and David Roe, along with longtime cohort Ed Snodderly on several stringed instruments including what Malcolm calls "old-time fiddle." As always, there are echoes of John Prine and Guy Clark and the lesser-known kindred spirit Bill Morrissey, but the total package is all Malcolm Holcombe. His is a sound that combines harmonica-blessed folk, acoustic blues, stringband country, and smalltown-bred soul. The small town in question is Weaverville, North Carolina, a burgh of a couple thousand just 10 miles north of Asheville. That's Malcolm's Mom and Dad and two older brothers on the cover of his 2005 release I Never Heard You Knockin', standing in front of the Weaverville homestead. His uncle played guitar, as did his neighbor. "He'd sit on the porch and play electric guitar," Malcolm recalls of that neighbor, adding, "And he had a couple of cute daughters." Perhaps with that added incentive, Malcolm started playing guitar. "I was just another kid with the Mel Bay chord book, and I only got through the first page," he says. With those two thoughts, Malcolm opens a window on scenes from some 35 or 40 years past. But with Malcolm, talking in terms of decades is nothing. There are people who are described as having old souls. Well, the one he's carrying around sometimes feels ancient and scarred. On "Blue Flame," as atmospheric a song as Malcolm has ever recorded, he ponders a force equally ancient, and on "You Don't Come See Me Anymore," he makes loneliness palpable. He sounds troubled and searching on "I'd Rather Have a Home," singing "I chain-smoke and complain, feeling broke inside." However, to get the full effect of that primordial soul, you need to see Malcolm onstage; his legendary performances are intense and all out. "If you're gonna do something, do it," is his explanation. "If you're gonna dig a ditch, dig a ditch. If you're gonna shine a shoe, shine a shoe." In other words, if you're gonna stand in front of a crowd of strangers with just your guitar and your songs, make it worth their time. He does it by presenting those songs with a gospel fervor (call it half howl, half hosanna) and with a penetrating stare, aimed (thank goodness) at nothing and no one, that becomes almost as deeply ingrained as his songs. It's sinewy and unfussy, the man, the music, and the delivery. But to focus on the tortured is to miss at least half of Malcolm Holcombe—the tender. That scarred soul is also one he’s hell bent on healing., and the other part of "I'd Rather Have a Home" goes “I'm praying for a home I can believe in/I'm praying for a home I can call mine." "We all have our demons, and we all have our spirituality, whatever keeps us going," is how Malcolm puts it. "When it comes to the end of the day, it's God, family, and neighbors." And on Gamblin’ House more than any other of his record, Holcombe does seem to be looking at what’s closest to him to keep him going: his family and the idea of home. His wife Cyndi, who's celebrated in the lovely, touching pair "Baby Likes a Love Song" and "Cynthia Margaret" ("steady and strong as the stars in the sky"), was directly involved in selecting the dozen songs for Gamblin' House from the 18 that were recorded. "We sat down with a pencil," says Malcolm. "'We can do this one. Can't do that one. Already did that one.'" The results create the most balanced and hopeful portrait of Malcolm yet. "I don't remember all the words to that 'Old Rugged Cross'"—there’s that word again—he sings on "You Don't Come See Me Anymore." That’s okay. With each recording, including this triumphant new one, Malcolm Holcombe continues to build his own world-wary but determined state of grace.

Wednesday March 12, 2008 9:00pm - 9:30pm
Stephen F's Bar 701 Congress Ave

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