Malcolm Holcombe’s latest release ‘Come Hell or High Water’ seems to reflect a man reaching an age where he looks around the place where he lives, casting back over the years and unconsciously puts into song his feelings about what he sees around him. His songs certainly conjure up a picture of wooded mountains, changing seasons, times and the fortunes of the people living there.
The 13 songs on the album cover a wide range of topics that affect the country around him: poverty, drugs, crime, and the gulf between rich and poor. It occasionally sounds broody and full of hopelessness, but the lyrics show the hard core of the people – all they want is a chance. In ‘I Don’t Wanna Disappear Anymore’ you hear the feelings of people who feel they are invisible to the rest of the world, forgotten about and unseen: “I love to work and keep my head above water/It’s hard to live in the darkness.”
Despite the haunting lyrics, Holcombe manages to paint simple pictures with them, making you imagine the scene in his songs. ‘October Morning’ gives you the line “nite as black as one eyed cat.” You have to think of that single eye reflecting back in the night flickering on and off as it passes.
Lyrically it is hard to find a fault with this album: ‘Legal Tender’ stands out for reflecting on how messed up the world can be. As dark as it is, Holcombe’s lyrics paint it so well it rounds it off quite nicely: “Trailer meth labs round the corner they make all the money/ Pharmaceuticals paint the sky and fill the cemeteries.”
His gruff vocal style may remind listeners of other singers like Tom Waits, but that doesn’t do him justice as he has a sound all his own. Holcombe sings with a sound that has grown and matured with a life led in his mountain home in North Carolina, with tones of the coal dust, whiskey and smell of the pines. With Iris Dement’s accompaniment, which rounds off any rough edges and give the album a sweeter sound – at times bittersweet – along with Greg Brown, the album occupies a wide range with depth and emotion. The music is rich and easy with a casual style which reflect long years of playing and familiarity with his music.