Malcolm Holcombe, on a return visit to Glasgow, showed once again why he is considered by many to be a living connection to the age old Appalachian tradition, the front porch musician picking away and plucking inspiration from the land, the folk around him, the music wiping away, if only for a moment, the cares and worries of the day. Holcombe, from North Carolina, is a primitive of sorts, his music unpolished, his voice rough and ready, his presence, enveloped in oversized jacket and jeans, with sunken cheeks and lank hair, the antithesis of show biz. Yet this is a man who has Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris turning up on his records, records which portray him as a master purveyor of powerful blues country and folk songs while live he can seem like the last in a line that includes Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Dock Boggs and Doc Watson, his visceral performance riveting. There’s a quote from Ray Wylie Hubbard saying, “He scares the living bejesus out of me, as he writes from a place only a true poet knows, and channels ancient mountain tones from dark overgrown hollows where ghosts and spirits moan and plead their cases to the devil.” Well, tonight he did just that.
Curled up on his chair, rocking back and forward at times, his guitar cradled in his lap, Holcombe was a force of nature. He seemed to attack his guitar at times, flailing against the strings, wringing out dramatic chords and flashes of picking, his manic rhythms counterpointed by the excellent Dobro playing of his long standing comrade, Jared Tyler. There were gutbucket rushes and creepy excursions into deep dark territories, songs for the working man such as Papermill Man and backwoods poetry as on Savannah Blues. There was a bruised tenderness on For The Mission Baby and a burning anger on Another Black Hole. In between several of the songs Holcombe proved to be a wellspring of somewhat gnomic advice as he recounted events from his past including a paranoid encounter with a neon bikini clad woman on Malibu beach culminating in the sublime, “If your dog tells you what to do and his lips aren’t moving, don’t do it”. More seriously, he left the audience in no doubt where his political alliances lay, gouging into the Bushes and offering support for immigrants most pointedly on his encore of A Far Cry From Home. On this song, Holcombe pointed out the connections between North Carolina and the Celtic homelands (mentioning Maura O’Connell who recorded the song with him) before reminding the audience that his family were immigrants back in the days and that he would welcome those who flee from the horrors of Baghdad.
He might look like a hobo but there’s a heart of gold here and an acute sense of justice. Holcombe is a treasure.
Jared Tyler, Holcombe’s producer and sidekick offered a fine set of songs before the main man came on stage. A fine picker he has a soulful feel to his songs that at times recalled Curtis Mayfield and Ritchie Havens. He offered up a fine take on a Holcombe song, The Door (from Down The River) while a song dedicated to an old Tulsa friend was quite affecting. Local musician John Alexander opened the evening but unfortunately Blabber’n’Smoke arrived too late to catch him and we apologise for that. Word was he was well worth catching.