I've been enthralled with North Carolina singer/songwriter Malcolm Holcombe since I heard his debut album A Hundred Years back in 1999. Subsequent appearances have been infrequent, but memorable. On an otherwise forgettable soundtrack to the forgettable movie The Slaughter Rule, Holcombe simply astonished with his take on "Killin' the Blues," a feral country lament last heard on the recent Robert Plant/Alison Krauss duets album. Quite simply, he's a phenomenal singer. But to put it mildly, he won't appeal to everyone's tastes. If Tom Waits sounds a little too smooth for you, he might. Otherwise, you might want to give his music a pass.
But I love his voice; a big, gruff, soulful mess of a thing, and I love the sound he gets out of his band, who play dobros and mandolins like rock 'n roll instruments. The end result reminds me of what a homeless wino poet from Appalachia might sound like if he put down the bottle long enough to stumble into a recording studio. And yes, for those of you who feel adventurous, that's a strong recommendation.
His new album Gamblin' House is due out in January. It's a killer; English-major poetry set to raw, plaintive Appalachian melodies, with that voice growling and insinuating murder and mayhem. Holcombe can sing an innocuous lyric like "I'm goin' downtown to see the Christmas lights" and make it sound a menacing threat. He's weird, he's wild, and he's great.