The Holcombe Family String Band present… Ragtime! Hokum! Western Swing! Gin House Records

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Seems like the old time music bug has hit Leeds as word reaches Blabber’n’Smoke of The Holcombe Family String Band, as fine an outfit as ever scrubbed a washboard. Regular readers will know of our affection for Pokey LaFarge and Woody Pines along with Newcastle’s Rob Heron. Well this outfit are mining a similar musical vein and doing it with some style and panache. This, their debut album, finds the five piece (C.D. Wallum, guitar, tenor banjo and kazoo; Rob Bromley, fiddle; John Scully, trumpet; Felipe Petry, double bass and Francis Watson, washboard, percussion with Benjamin William Pike adding some pedal steel) well versed in depression era music, playing, well, what it says on the tin (although I’d add some viper blues and old time country to the description). That they do it so assuredly is a measure of the fact that they’ve been treading the boards for a couple of years with support slots for the likes of CW Stoneking, Sheesham & Lotus & Son, Curtis Eller’s American Circus, Simone Felice and The Stray Birds under their belt. C.D. Wallum writes all of the songs here and again he’s spot on, capturing the rhymes and rhythms of pre war America to the extent that one is surprised to see that these aren’t retreads of old time hits. Indeed Wallum includes topical issues as on the song The Great Fire of Armley which relates to a conflagration in Leeds in 2014 (and interestingly Rob Heron and his Tea Pad Orchestra did much the same with their song Great Fire of Byker about a fire in Newcastle).

They open with the strutting Hard Times, a song that captures their syncopation perfectly, the instruments sweetly backing Wallum’s laid back vocals on a hard luck love song with some wonderful lyrics such as “When she dances , oh man I mean she really dances, she’s well dressed and fiddle like. Can’t lose, she’s my little goose, well I must have something right.” Times are tight but love endures says the song which has something of Buddy, Can You Spare A dime about it. The Great Fire of Armley continues in the syncopated jazz vein with some space for solos from the band before You Really Done Me Wrong‘s woozy and bluesy Big Easy styled tale of drunkenness.

Aside from the viper jazz the band shift into old time country on the gentle breeze of River, Black River, a song that evokes latter day Byrds as well as old time Carter family while The Captain is a rousing number that one might expect from The Mekons, the pedal steel adding some depth here. However it’s the celebration of old times that resonate most here, the Fats Waller styled Yo’ Hairs Too Long and the cod Hollywood Oriental mystery of Once I Was A Navy Man both excellent while Rag Mama Rag avoids the expected nod to The Band instead coming across like a mix of Tom Waits and CW Stoneking. Overall an excellent album and although it’s lazy writing to just throw out comparisons we’re tempted to say that this lot are on their way to being a UK equivalent to Pokey LaFarge. Songs so jolly they could persuade R Crumb to don a dress and jitterbug. And if you buy the album be sure to wait after the closing song for a wee skillet licking extra song.

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