Malcolm Holcombe “Tricks of the Trade”

Need To Know Music, 2021

A trademark growl, razor-sharp lyrics and high-class musicianship combine to great effect.

Malcolm Holcombe is nothing if not prolific. Sixteen albums since the mid-90s and six in the last six years suggests Holcombe is a man with lots to write about and a man in a hurry to share it. Shrugging off serious health issues and the not-insignificant pain in the backside for all working musicians of a piffling little pandemic, Holcombe’s latest offering finds the gruff-voiced troubadour in fine musical fettle.

Holcombe can address that universal staple of human relations and love as well as any but on ‘Misery Loves Company’ he does it with a dark humour befitting his world-weary voice. Addressing as it does that favourite country theme of drinking away the misery of a love lost, it is appropriate that this is delivered with an old-fashioned country twang.

But Holcombe is not easy to pigeonhole. The album meanders its way through a myriad of musical styles as his writing takes on the plight of the poor, the oppressed, the forgotten. Holcombe may have mountain and hill country roots at his heart but these songs have wider influences with blues, gospel, folk and bluegrass all at play on the record.

Your Kin’ takes on the cold-hearted policy of separating children from their families as they cross the Mexican border. ‘Higher Ground’ takes us back to one of the worst hurricanes ever to hit the USA in 1928. 2500 killed in the Florida area, tragic in itself, but that is not the story that Holcombe wants to tell. “White people got caskets, black people mass graves, migrant farmers, burned bodies no names.

On Tennessee Land’ creates stark images of the rural poor ‘Ev’ry dollar ev’ry dime aint enough when ya cry for the hungry bellies just waitin’ in line / aint nothin’ good to say ‘bout a politician’s plan, when a family goes hungry on Tennessee land.

Lyrically, Holcombe is razor-sharp and unafraid to address the inequalities in American society and the hypocrisy at play in the halls of power. The opening track ‘Money Train’ pulls no punches in this regard ‘I don’t care ‘bout the starvin’ naked world, somebody else’ll fix it, I’m busy on a whirl on the money train’.

With a great studio band behind him and the support of high-class guest vocalists such as Mary Gauthier, Holcombe wraps these impeccable lyrics in a musical package of the highest order. It is an album to savour and, as is often the wont of the Americana singer-songwriter, an important and invaluable insight into the underbelly of the USA.


About Peter Churchill 169 Articles
Lover of intelligent singer-songwriters; a little bit country; a little bit folk; a little bit Americana. Devotee of the 'small is beautiful' school of thought when it comes to music venues.
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