Sure. There are the inevitable comparisons to Tom Waits, but that's mostly due to Malcolm Holcombe's dark blue minstrelsy, delivered in a burned up voice and from a fate that'd have him be quiet. Certainly, both artists are poets, one quite famous, one not so much. But Holcombe is, if we can remove it from the parlance of down playing for the moment, what Waits will never be thanks to the homogenization of the big label / MTV / big box super store: a regional bard and hero.
Holcombe's very song-making essence is the soil, rock, river, tree, and mountain of Weaverville, North Carolina, a mountain town sitting in the shadow of Asheville, and surely influenced by the insurgent / revolutionary goings on at Black Mountain College, late by Holcombe's boyhood. And not unlike fellow North Carolinian and dark horse brother Tom House, Holcombe has carved out a voice of the place from whence he comes. A musical landscape where all themes lead to home. (In this same way, as his uniqueness is rooted and revealed through traditional structure, Holcombe is brothers in arms with a duo of Texas' best known troubled troubadours, Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt, but his delivery is more akin in respects to that of Vic Chesnutt.)
All of which is a long way to say that Not Forgotten is glorious in its sublime earthiness. It rattles, moans, shivers and soothes. It is stories told in fragments of prose and poetry, accompanied by warm guitar, scratchy-scratchy vocals with stuttering pregnant pauses and line breaks in unusually effective and affecting places. Take the oddly named "Animated Sanctuary," for example, which is all at once tender, off kilter, and lovely. The title song, "Not Forgotten," decries the singer's protagonist as a mother or a father, but humbly and movingly makes mention of itself as "just a little one, not forgotten." Nature reigns supreme in imagery, from the multiple fertile references to gardens, seed, blooming flowers, birds, all breadcrumbs back to love, to brotherhood, and to the all important physical and esoteric home.
Not Forgotten is a prayer for today. And for tomorrow. Grown out of yesterday. • Paige La Grone Babcock
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designer note: I'm a longtime admirer of the black & white photographs and the writing of Bill Emory. (The photo of Malcolm on this page is one of Bill's pictures.) Do yourself a favor and pay a visit to his site, billemory.com. Spend some time in his atmosphere. I mean, don't rush through, but treat yourself to a long slow read and look. Whenever I go over there, something good happens to me.