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Malcolm Holcombe


Malcolm Holcombe's music has been described as "insurgent country," a colorful if not completely satisfactory handle. His signature vocal growl and aggressive country blues guitar style do evoke the image of the outlaw troubadour, but "insurgent" has a hard ring to it and Holcombe's work is anything but hardened. I Never Heard You Knockin', his newest release, has a tender underbelly wrapped up in its tough skin.

The album is acoustic--just Holcombe and his flat top--the purest expression of this artist's gift imaginable. Nothing else is needed to convey the layers of Carolina grit in his voice and soul, or the intermingled dark and light in his lyrics. Holcombe starts the title track admitting "I spent my life feelin' sorry for myself," but tenderly acknowledges in the chorus "I never heard you knockin' cause you called my name out loud." It's that small cool hit of redemption inside the burning houses that are his songs that makes Holcombe so compelling, both as a writer and performer. The gruffness of his vocals makes the hard moments harder and the gentle ones more poignant. And as explosive a voice as his guitar is, it sometimes plays the sweet foil to his groaning, sighing, and smoldering.

Holcombe has been doing his thing for 25 years, experiencing first-hand the strange and volatile brew that can result from mixing artists and the music business. Still, one likes to imagine that even after all this time, he's written the song "Doin' His Job" about himself: "Gonna keep on prayin' / Mornin', noon and night / Thank you Lord sweet Lord for my job." Insurgent? I don't know about that. A man getting dirt under his nails as he digs deeper down into the roots of country? Definitely. • Judith Edelman

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