For all the darkness in Malcolm Holcombe’s signature rasp, his newest record is a bright and shiny bluesy country rock gem. Don’t let the title, Another Black Hole, deceive you – this album’s sound is anything but. The guitar chords are warm and so is Holcombe’s vocal performance, from the upbeat opening track “Sweet Georgia” to the blue collar tale “Papermill Man.” The songs on Hole move at a brisk pace, with driving guitar melodies.
Holcombe has a knack for exploring the depths of the working class life, good and bad. He is a storyteller, and his songs have history. “Papermill Man” in particular, captures the gritty banalities of mill work in a vivid, descriptive way: “Smoke blowing up in the air/One room shack/One room school…Sawmill sawdust stuck in your lungs/And your head can’t hear the thunder,” he sings, transporting us to this one-horse town that sucks its people in. Holcombe has always been a classic troubadour, a little rough around the edges, no frills and as authentic as it gets.
“Leavin’ Anna” is one of the best examples of Holcombe’s narrative touch. “We traveled where the money was good…A workin’ man is a workin’ man,” he sings, setting a somewhat depressing tale of paycheck to paycheck life to a guitar tune that will make you feel light-hearted and hopeful. That is the trick at play on Hole: you may be distracted by the buoyant melodies so much so that you forget the often gloomy subject matter. For instance, “To Get By” is another tune about scraping by on a meager supply. His acute attention to detail (grocery lists on a Frigidaire; the local store on Main St. where you’ve still got credit) gives the song a sense of identity and atmosphere that personalizes it. Holcombe is a master at this, and Hole proves why.