Saturday, June 9, underground Americana legend Malcolm Holcombe will perform for Flying Cat Music at the Empire State Railway Museum (ESRM) with special guest Sara Trunzo opening the show. The ESRM is located at 70 Lower High Street in Phoenicia. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. and music begins at 7:30. Admission is $20 or $17 with reservations. For information or reservations, email email@example.com or call 845-688-9453.
For an artist who has never had an album actually released by a major label (he came close with Geffen Records), Malcolm Holcombe has caused more than his share of waves and raised some influential eyebrows. The Wall Street Journal wrote, “There is no one on the contemporary scene like Mr. Holcombe, who somehow can convey raw fury and deep affection at the same time.” Rolling Stone says of his music, “Not quite country, somewhere beyond folk, Holcombe’s music is a kind of blues in motion, mapping backwoods corners of the heart.” While BBC Music observes, “Listen to a Holcombe song and what you’re getting is personality in spades, a narrative so gritty with the noise of tough living that it rarely dips below the red on the authenticity meter.”
His peers have noticed Malcolm too. Holcombe has opened for Merle Haggard, Wilco, Shelby Lynne, John Hammond, Leon Russell, and Richard Thompson. Emmylou Harris made time to back Malcolm on one of his independent releases and Lucinda Williams has this to say about him, “From the first note I was drawn in. Malcolm Holcombe is an old soul and modern day blues poet. He is a rare find.”
What do Johnny Cash, Neil Young and Tom Waits have in common? Whatever that is, you’ll hear it in Holcombe and, most likely, feel it in your bones as well. Intensity is a virtue not lost on Malcolm Holcombe. His journey through life has not been placid as this review by Jack Silverman from the Nashville View of a 2011 performance suggests:
“I first saw Holcombe play in 1997 and was absolutely stunned – never before had I been so blown away by one man and an acoustic guitar… He appeared so near the precipice, in fact, that it seemed inconceivable that he’d be breathing, let alone putting out great records, fourteen years later. But here it is 2011 and Holcombe has somehow managed to steer back onto the long, lonesome highway . . . his unorthodox finger picking, singular songwriting style and unearthly voice are as spellbinding as ever – he’s like a grizzled backwoods mystic.”
Hailing from the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, Malcolm stayed true to who he is: a weathered, kind, and brilliant soul with no pretense of false grandeur. His songs are primal to his world but, in reaching deep, they often brush the universal. “Malcolm doesn’t have a commercial bone in his body,” says five-time Grammy award winning producer and engineer Ray Kennedy, who’s worked with Malcolm on numerous projects.
Wealth is not Malcolm’s muse. A review in Lone Star Music Magazine offers some insight into what might be instead: “Malcolm Holcombe’s tuneful growl sounds like it’s coming from the depths of a coal mine, or the smoky backroom of a seedy pool hall. It’s the sound of a man used to hard work and low pay, sleepless nights and bleary-eyed dawns that promise more of the same. His songs aren’t overtly political, but by detailing the economic struggles of people on the edge, the 61-year-old troubadour reveals his own proletarian soul.”
To watch Malcolm Holcombe perform is to witness lightning in a jar, with the lid poorly fastened. In a feature they published on Holcombe, Music Muso reflected, “There is an intensity in Malcolm Holcombe’s performances that can put off those used to a more laid back product, but those who have watched him know that Malcolm Holcombe is not just playing for gas money. This is who he is and what he does.” No Depression describes the experience well: “Holcombe inhabits his songs with such passion that he must be exhausted after each show… He writes memorably and has a keen ability to pair the lyrics with exactly the right melody – he’s literate and musical and once seen, never forgotten!”
Perhaps AmericanaMusicShow.com sums up Malcolm Holcombe’s appeal best with these few words “when you start listening to his songs it makes you realize what posers most “folk” singers are these days. His vocals, his music, his lyrics are as solid as the North Carolina mountains he comes from and just as rugged and just as beautiful.”
Opening for Malcolm Holcombe, with a short bonus set, is songsmith Sara Trunzo, who hails from Maine and writes about the quirks and wisdom of rural northerners. We owe to Malcolm the pleasure of being introduced to her fine music and songs.