North Carolina born, and raised singer-songwriter Malcolm Holcombe has been making wonderful albums since the mid-1990s, and one or two more before that.
Produced by fellow singer-songwriter recording artist Darrell Scott Pretty Little Troubles is a quality piece. Holcombe has held the multi-talented Scott in high regard for a long time, and someone he claims to listen to more than anyone else. Speaking about their relationship in the studio Holcombe told the Knoxville News ‘It’s good to get another angle, another perspective, but I can’t keep my mouth shut. I got some ideas, too. I’ve known Darrell for a long time and he’s a real gifted feller.’
Little changes from album to another, Holcombe’s vocals are as rough edged as ever, and just as we like them. If anything he sounds a little subdued on Pretty Little Troubles, the explosion of his guitar, and wild rambling isn’t as pronounced as on some records. As a result his diction is clearer. With a bunch of guests on the album, Scott and his old friend, tour partner (sideman) Jared Tyler there is a great deal to savour, and more subtly as he weaves through his catalogue of 12 songs. I believe more thought than ever before has gone into the album than ever before, after several listens I believe here we have one of his finest, more cultured (and restrained) offerings ever.
Among his finest efforts I would have to include “Bury, England”, and set to a merry lick “Good Ole Days” (Scott, banjo and the terrific upright bass of Crouch propel the song) and with mention of an Irish girl you have the entertaining “The Eyes O’ Josephine”, on which he calls on the musical prowess of Mike McGoldrick (Uilleann whistles, pipes). Nice it is too. Scott on this one performs some superb acoustic guitar and mandola. Holcombe might be best known for his blues stained country folk, but here he shows a liking to music this side of the pond. It is short lived, on this album at least, since he follows it with music better known to him. “The Sky Stood Still” possesses some wonderful picking as Scott (pedal steel, baritone electric guitar), Marco Giovino (percussion) and Jonathan Yudkin (string arrangement, violin, viola and cello) give the album a terrific life and Holcombe is certainly up for the challenge. In fact I would be tempted to say he pulls out all the stops!
Among the most memorable tracks you have the tortured ballad “South Hampton Street” (featuring Joey Miskulin on accordion, plus dobro from Tyler) and sweet toned “Rocky Ground”; it isn’t the only time Holcombe speaks of hard times and all that goes with it. On this occasion he travels deep into America’s southern states for some more bluesy tones. It is arguably his finest, most vivid piece of songwriting (with Jelly Roll Johnson on harmonica and Tyler on mandolin and, harmony vocals w/ Scott). What a poetic composition (and playing). Up there with them all you also have “Yours No More”, draped in wondrous harmony vocals (Scott, Tyler and Verlon Thompson) Holcombe digs deep, and with him focussing on the part of the immigrant he brings something topic and timeless to the table. What a fine piece of writing.
Going back to “Bury, England” it is good to hear him speak of his time touring in England, bad coffee, how he played some songs with JT, and reminisces of how he heard come from the speakers before their set Guy Clark’s “The Randal Knife” and “L.A Freeway” to steal the show before they struck a note. Nice touch, Malcolm.
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