Virtuous patience is sometimes rewarded. It’s taken almost three years for this debut from North Carolina’s Malcolm Holcombe to be released, so it seems fitting that it took a few trips through the record for everything to click. With the exception of Holcombe’s gruff voice, all whiskey and wood smoke, A Hundred Lies is as subtle as a small town’s sense of humor.
After the fourth listen or so, the music started coming into focus, ultimately settling on the spot where haunted country, acoustic blues and rugged folk all meet. Whispers of Guy Clark, Fred Eaglesmith, Bill Morrissey, and John Prine all quietly echo in Holcombe’s old-soul sound. As for the lyrics, well, some of those small-town mysteries may never be solved. Two of the best songs, “Who Carried You” and “Justice In A Cradle”, are also among the most cryptic: “Life and Agatha Christie in a Trailway/Back from New Orleans/Who dunnit, who carried you?” asks the former with an apropos name-drop, while the latter speaks of stingin’ knives and Swiss chocolate camels.
Buoyed by this decade’s MVP sideman Greg Leisz (Jerry Scheff, who’s played bass with both Elvises, is also an invaluable contributor to Lies), Holcombe saves his most direct composition for last. “Only For You” is a sweet and rustic song of devotion, featuring one of the loveliest melodies I’ve heard this year. A final, beautiful reward.