Malcolm Holcombe: Gamblin' House (Borders)

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Malcolm Holcombe: Goin' Downtown
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 back to the 1800s -- and Holcombe can sometimes sound like he learned such songs at the time.
He looks to be in his late 30s/early 40s but possesses a remarkably weather-beaten and almost ancient voice, writes hard-edged songs, picks a mean guitar and his music has drawn comparisons with Townes Van Zandt (you hear it rarely) and Tom Waits (certainly).
With a tough acoustic band, his sometimes strangely poetic lyrics ("scratch a dirty beggar's back, preach a burnin' paper sack") have an eerie and compelling quality, there is a powerful folk-blues component at work, and you can also hear echoes of a more rundown Springsteen, a 70-year old backwoods drunk Dylan stuck in Mobile '66 again, . . . and also some genuinely moving haiku-like lyrics (Blue Flame) which indeed do suggest Van Zandt.
Holcombe grew up in a small town in the Blue Mountains of North Carolina and seems to have an intuitive connection to that old time music, but with a contemporary twist such that he can convincingly sing "don't remember all them words to That Old Rugged Cross".
Holcombe -- from the description and references here -- might sound like an amalgam of many others, but one listen to this and you'll hear that he is his own man.

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