Malcolm Holcombe - Pitiful Blues (Album Review)

Fragile and even curmudgeonly songs that will make you feel better about life.

To some degree Malcolm Holcombe, from North Carolina, defies description. He looks like a penniless hobo and sings poetic songs, in a slurred voice, of a life well-lived, but these songs make his contemporaries sound barely literate. Apart from possibly Guy Clark, the nearest singer-songwriter that bares comparison would be Townes Van Zandt, and I don’t use those two names lightly.

The album opens with the title track "Pitiful Blues", and the first time it ended, I let out a satisfied sigh and smiled a smile that told the world this was going to be a classy album. Holcombe and Jared Tyler’s production is warm and clear throughout, but on this track, they especially bring out the idiosyncrasies in Holcombe's voice and intricate acoustic picking alongside some picturesque, sweeping electric guitar breaks.

"Savannah Blues" conjures up Ansel Adams's monotone landscapes every time I hear it. As Holcombe describes his aching bones, the undertakers moon, and a powerful rainstorm so narratively you feel like you are standing next to his graveside as they lower his box into the ground. On "Another Despair", the tempo picks up but the mood doesn’t, as Holcombe stomps his foot angrily to a tight rockabilly beat that Dale Watson would be proud of.

The raw "Words Not Spoken" virtually took my breath away the first time I heard it and continues to have a similar effect three weeks later. It goes to show a minimal approach in Holcombe’s own backyard studio can have a more lasting effect on a song than a thousand overdubs in a hundred-times more sophisticated studio.

On an album that is very nearly faultless, it’s difficult to pick out a favourite track. But, if I still had my radio show, I would play "The Music Plays On" over and over again, until my listeners admitted defeat and bought this album. For what it’s worth, I think this should have been the title track, but what do I know?

Pitiful Blues -- Malcolm Holcombe’s tenth and possibly finest album -- ends with the slow and beautiful "For the Love of a Child", which will touch a nerve with parents and grandparents alike all over the world.

Released August 4th 2014

Views: 682

Tags: Guy Clark,, Nashville, Townes Van Zandt,, singer-songwriter

Comment by Jela Webb on July 3, 2014 at 10:49pm

I can't wait to hear it - Malcolm Holcombe is an incredible artist. 

Comment by Hal Bogerd on July 8, 2014 at 11:41am

And both of you Alan and Jela have  made me jealous with reviews of concerts you've seen: Sam Baker, Graham Parker, etc.

A friend is having a house concert, yes a house concert,  with Malcolm Holcombe 0n November 15th in beautiful Saxapahaw, NC. Let me know if you need directions!

Oh yeah, thanks for the review. I agree with the Clark, Van Zandt and Holcombe thread and would add Jon Dee Graham to this branch of the  singer/songwriter tree.

Comment by Harrisonaphotos on July 8, 2014 at 12:24pm

Hal; it's often said that Americana music is better appreciated in the UK than the USA with many artists touring our small country every year or so. Enjoy the House Concert

Comment by TenLayers on July 8, 2014 at 12:53pm

I've also noticed that many release their CD over there before here as well.  Much like MH with his latest.

Comment by Jela Webb on July 8, 2014 at 1:41pm

Thanks Hal - we are fortunate in that so many favourite American musicians tour the UK regularly. I recently saw 'New American Troubadours' - Robby Hecht, Peter Bradley-Adams and David Berkeley. They were great. Robby Hecht's latest (self-titled) album is my favourite of the year so far! Love it! 

Comment by W E B on July 15, 2014 at 7:42am

Malcolm is as humble and legit as the day is long: Alan, your review of MH's latest offering has me licking my chops, I cant wait to get my mitts on a copy of it. 

Thanks for the review and the cut of the title track!  And thank whoever or whatever it is that you pray to for blessing us all with the likes of Malcolm Holcombe to listen to.... we are indeed fortunate to have him in our presence. 


Comment by Harrisonaphotos on July 15, 2014 at 7:45am

Thanks WEB; I said in a previous review of Malcolm's work that 'the World is a better place for having him in it.'

Comment by W E B on July 15, 2014 at 7:56am

Here Here!

 I am looking forward to seeing him when he comes back up to the Northern regions (Michigan). The last time I saw him I drove 5.5 hrs in my home province of Ontario to get to the venue and I was fortunate enough to have Malcolm join us for a pre- show dinner, and I got him back to the venue just in time for the show. The three guys that I had brought out to see his show that night knew NOTHING of him but trusted my taste and were thrilled that they did.

His conversation at the table was every bit as good as his show that night. He casts one hell of a big shadow for such a diminutive frame.



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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.