malcolm holcombe

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Jim White: Transnormal Skiperoo (Luaka Bop/Shock) BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2007

Jim White: Transnormal Skiperoo (Luaka Bop/Shock) BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2007

White came into something close to mainstream attention with his droll film Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus, a poke around the backroads and backwoods of the American South and the music and characters that make it so distinctive. It was at times uncomfortable viewing, but also an essential documentary if you want to get a handle on...

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2008: Ryan Bingham: Mescalito (Lost Highway)

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2008: Ryan Bingham: Mescalito (Lost Highway)

We live and we learn -- and I have been living and relearning by repeat plays of this exceptional debut by someone called Ryan Bingham of whom I know nothing. And in a way, I'm grateful he has lived whatever he has in my place. The hard lessons he seems to have learned, I'm happy to just hear from this distance. I hear dark alt.country,...

Various: Song of America (Split Rock/Southbound)

Various: Song of America (Split Rock/Southbound)

This beautifully packaged 3-CD set (with explanatory booklet) is doubtless very useful as a teaching aid in American schools: it is a chronological collection from a Lakota dream song through colonial period and Civil War songs, to Depression Era laments for the parched land and Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? then into the civil rights period...

North Mississippi Allstars: Hernando (Songs of the South)

North Mississippi Allstars: Hernando (Songs of the South)

These Allstars aren't really, but two of them are the sons of the great James Luther Dickinson whose last album was one of the Best of Elsewhere 2007: a swirling implosion of country, psychedelic rock, blues and cornmash liquor. The boys haven't fallen too far from the tree but sometimes bring a swag more gritty psychedelic blues into the...

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2008: James McMurtry: Just Us Kids (Lightning Rod/Elite)

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2008: James McMurtry: Just Us Kids (Lightning Rod/Elite)

The murky photo of a small, barroom audience on the inner sleeve of this brittle and typically dark album by singer-poet McMurtry might have included me. It looks like it was taken in the Continental Club in Austin where I caught him and his band the Heartless Bastards a couple of years ago playing their regular gig. Since his remarkable...

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2008:  Hayes Carll: Trouble in Mind (Lost Highway)

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2008: Hayes Carll: Trouble in Mind (Lost Highway)

You'd think with strip malls, fast food franchises, saturation low-cost reality television and the widespread levelling out of mainstream culture that guys like Carll would have been ironed out of American life But he's one of those crinkles in the texture, an alt.country-cum-trad.country guy who is a little early Steve Earle and Joe Ely,...

Malcolm Holcombe: Gamblin' House (Borders)

Malcolm Holcombe: Gamblin' House (Borders)

Your first response to this gruff-voiced, whisky-stained singer-songwriter may be, "how come I haven't heard of him sooner?"Well, diligent Elsewhere listeners may well have: he appeared on the massive and ambitious Songs of America triple set which appeared here some months back. He sang The Old Woman Taught Wisdom, a song which dates...

Ramblin' Jack Elliott: A Stranger Here (Anti/Shock)

Ramblin' Jack Elliott: A Stranger Here (Anti/Shock)

When the previous album by this one-time fellow traveller with Woody Guthrie and mentor to the young Bob Dylan arrived -- I Stand Alone of two years back  -- I had to admit I thought Elliott had long since passed on. But that album not only confirmed he was alive and well, but also pretty darned sprightly. This one produced by Joe Henry...

The Flatlanders: Hills and Valleys (New West)

The Flatlanders: Hills and Valleys (New West)

The great Flatlanders from West Texas - Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock, each one a name in their own right -- record together so infrequently that every album (they average one a decade about 40 years) is an occasion. Unfortunately it is never quite the special occasion you wish for. This one starts with the exceptional...

Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses: Roadhouse Sun (Lost Highway)

Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses: Roadhouse Sun (Lost Highway)

American singer-songwriter Bingham's voice was so lived in and road-hardened on his debut Mescalito (a Best of Elsewhere 2008 album) that he sounded like a man far beyond his mid-20s. He seemed to have literally lived the rough roadhouse life and whisky bars that others could only suggest they had. You didn't doubt his stories of...

Jim White: No Such Place (Luaka Bop)

Jim White: No Such Place (Luaka Bop)

Tom Waits' influence crops up in unexpected places. After his superbly titled Wrong-Eyed Jesus, the man who goes by the unmemorable nom de disque Jim White comes back for a second album of dark narratives, juke-joint folk-blues a la Tom, and disconcerting atmospheric productions on stories which begin, "Long about an hour before sunrise...

Tom Russell: Blood and Candle Smoke (Proper/Southbound)

Tom Russell: Blood and Candle Smoke (Proper/Southbound)

Tom Russell is a cinematic singer-songwriter whose storytelling is compelling, and whose whisky’n’grit vocals can take you to the heart of Tex-Mex territory. The poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti said he was “Johnny Cash, [poet and novelist] Jim Harrison and [barfly writer] Charles Bukowski rolled into one“. Born and...

Various Artists: Introducing Townes Van Zandt via the Great Unknown (For the Sake of the Song)

Various Artists: Introducing Townes Van Zandt via the Great Unknown (For the Sake of the Song)

The late Van Zandt is hardly the little-known cult artist he once was: there are many tribute albums (Steve Earle most recently) and his estate must coin it in from all the covers alt.country artists do. Most of Van Zandt’s originals were spare, lowkey and acoustic -- so the surprise here is what an embellishing or reconfiguring...

CHRIS WHITLEY INTERVIEWED (1991): The Law man living with the lore

CHRIS WHITLEY INTERVIEWED (1991): The Law man living with the lore

Sometimes you can just get too much too soon - and the wrong kind of attention. Take American singer Chris Whitley, whose debut album Living with the Law has been picking up praise by the bucketload. Sure it’s a great album; Rolling Stone called it “riveting and original” before acclaiming Whitley as “a visionary...

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2010 Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses: Junky Star (Lost Highway)

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2010 Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses: Junky Star (Lost Highway)

The name "Ryan Bingham" has been getting a lot of eartime recently -- it was the name of George Clooney's character in the movie Up in the Air. But more importantly in the real world it belongs to one of the most interesting Americana singer-songwriters of the past deacde -- the man who picked up an Oscar for his song The Weary...

Justin Townes Earle: Harlem River Blues (Bloodshot/Southbound)

Justin Townes Earle: Harlem River Blues (Bloodshot/Southbound)

Over three previous albums this son of Steve (and named for Townes Van Zandt) has cut an increasingly confident path with originals which are nominally country-Americana but refer to alt.rock, bluegrass, honky-tonk, ragtime and Hank Williams-styled truck-stop rock. His shows here have been popular and on this album he slips in the...

John Mellencamp: No Better Than This (Rounder)

John Mellencamp: No Better Than This (Rounder)

The man they call "the poet laureate of the Interstate" (although he always sounds a backroads man to me) ha been on such a roll lately with Freedom's Road and Life Death Love Freedom) that the idea of him recording in mono with T Bone Burnett in Sun Studio, the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio (where Robert Johnson was committed to tape)...

The Thomas Oliver Band: Baby, I'll Play (Rhythmethod)

The Thomas Oliver Band: Baby, I'll Play (Rhythmethod)

As with his fellow Wellingtonian Darren Watson, Thomas Oliver is a finalist in the blues category of the International Song Writing Competition to be judged in April 2011. The song is Goin' Home - which kicks off this rootsy, bluesy and alt.country-tinged album -- and the video of it released a year ago was named among the top 30...

Watermelon Slim and Super Chicken: Okiesippi Blues (NorthernBlues)

Watermelon Slim and Super Chicken: Okiesippi Blues (NorthernBlues)

In Clarksdale, Mississippi I saw a singer/guitarist who called himself Howl N Mudd, which was certainly a man covering his bases. (That story is here.) The juke joint he played in was very popular (be sure to read that piece of graffiti I quote) and recently Elsewhere reviewed a DVD of Watermelon Slim whiuch was filmed there. Slim has a...

Joe Ely: Satisfied at Last (Rack 'Em Records/Southbound)

Joe Ely: Satisfied at Last (Rack 'Em Records/Southbound)

The very good news is that the great Joe Ely -- who has delivered a few patchy albums in the past decade -- doesn't sound at all "satisfied" as the album's title would suggest. In fact from the opener The Highway is My Home to Butch Hancock's Circumstance 40 minutes later this tight'n'tidy 10 song collection has much of the old...

Chris Smither: Leave The Light On (Shock)

Chris Smither: Leave The Light On (Shock)

Smith is a grizzled-sounding roots-country singer whose spare songs glisten with his guitar playing, and whose baritone sounds whiskey-cured and filled with gravitas. He's no chicken (he's 62 and recorded his first album 33 years ago), but that only adds to his authentic, throaty country-blues which owes debts to Mississippi John Hurt, but...

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