Malcolm Holcombe – Down The River
A genre defining record
I only discovered Malcolm Holcombe 18 months ago when he played a gig in the upstairs room of the Central Bar in Gateshead. At best there were 30 people in the room but when he finished the set there was a silence that lasted 5 or 6 seconds before those present all rose to their feet and the applause was deafening.
For the uninitiated Malcolm’s voice is soft, raw and emotive and he’s had an interesting life that became the backbone of his previous 8 albums; but nothing prepared me for the great songs that pack DOWN BY THE RIVER.
The album opens with the righteous fury of Butcher in Town; which is a wolf of song wrapped in sheep’s clothing.
Twisted Arms is Malcolm’s take on Society today and the injustice and greed that surrounds us all and he doesn’t hold back either; this is a dangerous song if you are a politician or media personality.
The ‘prettiest’ song here is undoubtedly The Door which has Malcolm looking back on his life as Russ Pahl’s pedal steel playing set’s the hair on the back of your neck on end.
DOWN THE RIVER is one of the few albums that has caught my attention on the very first listening; with Ray Kennedy’s production keeping Holcombe’s grizzly voice to the for at all times; but I also have to applaud the backing musicians who manage to make this sound like a band recording rather than a singer with a bunch of hired hands in an anonymous studio.
Speaking of ‘hired hands;’ I sat up like a meercat when I first heard In Your Mercy. It’s an intricate and clever love song, but just under half way through an angelic voice joins our man on harmonies. Honestly; I thought; this girl has a gilded career ahead of her; but, flipping heck…. it’s only Emmylou Harris duetting with Malcolm Holcombe – who’d have thought that day would come?
A couple of years ago Neil Young huffed and puffed that there weren’t any protest singers any more – Neil; listen to the anger, bile and eloquence that inhabit Whitewash Job and you’ll know that these guys are still out there; you just have to look for them.
The one track that is guaranteed to bring Malcolm to the notice of National radio, magazines and newspapers is Trail o’ Money which combines the best of everything else on the album; and allows Steve Earle to share vocals and a shimmering harmonica solo on a song that I bet he wishes he’d wrote, himself.
DOWN THE RIVER is angry, simple, complex and beautiful all rolled into one and by far Malcolm Holcombe’s finest album to date and I promise you that it will feature in many, many end of year Top 10 Releases of 2012.
Release Date USA 7th August UK 17th September