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MALCOLM HOLCOMBE w/Teso McDonald Appearing Sat Nov 25th 2017 at 8pm

$12 in advance
$15 at the door

"Malcolm Holcombe has been western North Carolina’s resident poet of the disparaged, desperate, broke down and hard-working salt-of-the earth people of the mountains for a long time now.

Holcombe knows of what he sings as he has lived many of the human situations that inhabit his unique and idiosyncratic story songs, and his life on the road experiences fuel his innovative and hard-scrabble guitar playing.

Holcombe’s latest album is called “Pretty Little Troubles” and the genius of the project was the addition of Darrell Scott as producer and sideman."

-- Derek Halsey

"I can't believe I'd never heard of Malcolm Holcombe before now. But it seems somewhat fitting: The gravel-voiced, backwoods denizen is by all accounts unassuming and humble, keeping to himself in the hills of Appalachia, producing his own music, and quietly going about the business of writing and singing some of the most striking, insightful songs about America's least-seen people.

Aside from a brief and tumultuous stint in Nashville, Holcombe, who plays in Missoula at this year's River City Roots Festival, has spent his whole life in North Carolina. The writer Alan Kaufman compares Holcombe to William Faulkner, calling him a "singular sort of solitary genius that ... is yet the voice of an entire region—the South." But while I agree that he's a genius, I think that to cast the net so broad as to encompass all of the South is to miss the true nuance of Holcombe's music.

These are songs about working-class America and the distinct sorrows and triumphs therein. Holcombe gives voice to this population through the ages, from the era before labor reform ("fifty cents a bloody day/ no child labor laws/ most them lil babies died/ disease and alcohol," from "Good Ol' Days," an ironically chipper tune) to today, when, despite all of our advances, the problems we face are just as sinister ("big money fills my pockets with words/ puppets poison my mind" from "Crippled Point O' View").

--Melissa Mylchreest

Years ago, following Malcolm Holcombe’s career could be as unnerving and high-wire suspenseful as his riveting live performances. His brilliance was obvious to a core of fans and some attentive music journalists, but so were the self-destructive tendencies that floated around this mercurial man like wraiths. We worried at times that we’d have to add Holcombe to the What Might Have Been pantheon with Hank Williams, Jaco Pastorius and Charlie Parker. We imagined talking about Holcombe in the past tense to the too many who’d never been able to hear his shockingly truthful and affecting voice.

By the grace of God however, there is no past tense in Holcombe’s life and career, just a very vibrant present and a widening sense of tomorrow’s possibilities. He is many years sober, performing worldwide and happily married to a woman who manages his schedule and keeps his inner garden clear for the work. He retains his quirky, fascinating character, and he writes – in spasms of energy and clarity, producing visions that hover between earthy solidity and rustic mysticism. He plays with rhythmic pounce and sings with psychological fire.

Holcombe grew up in western North Carolina, home to some of the planet’s oldest mountains and some of America’s deepest musical traditions. Radio and TV fueled Malcolm’s musical passions as a kid, and music became even more important after he lost both his parents relatively young. He toured with bands and landed in Nashville, where he took up an inconspicuous station at the back of the house – the very back - at Douglas Corner, one of the city’s best singer/songwriter venues. Stories began to circulate about the mysterious dishwasher with the subterranean voice and oracle-like talent. Sadly so did stories of wildly inconsistent behavior – profound sweetness crossed by bouts of stunning abrasiveness. He flirted with an official music career. But his stunning debut album made for Geffen Records was abruptly shelved, producing melodrama that only exacerbated Malcolm’s drinking and depression. A business that once had a place for complicated genius turned its back on him, and he teetered near the edge.

 Moving back to the North Carolina hills proved a powerful tonic. Holcombe let in help where before he’d pushed it away. With deep faith in God and a commitment to his art, Holcombe repaired himself and his career.

And that’s a pretty good nod to the effect of hearing Holcombe sing. If you’ve not seen him in a live setting, this is what you have to do. His presence is spooky and timeless, as one imagines it was like to see Son House or Leadbelly. No emotional stone is left unturned.

He is cryptic, demanding, polarizing, bold, passionate and free, a combination badly needed in our time of infinite trivia. He’s even more interesting for having made a remarkable journey of recovery and discovery.