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Malcolm Holcombe Pitiful Blues (own label)

If only Eric Clapton could offer Malcolm Holcombe the kind of patronage he gave JJ Cale, this 10th in a series of albums that the North Carolina-born Holcombe has wrenched from a life full of hard living over the past 20 years might have arrived with rather more of a fanfare.

The Cale comparison isn't made lightly, but while Holcombe's songs are more defiant and written by a man with a whole pack of hellhounds on his trail, there are at least a couple of refrains here that Clapton could surely revel in. Sign For A Sally's "the Mississippi heat's alive and well" and Another Despair's "swift time pass and the pages tear" are the two lines that stick in the mind from first play, but listen on and the imagery allied to Holcombe's throaty holler and robust guitar picking - enhanced by dobro, guitars, fiddle, bass and drums - paints a detailed, thoroughly compelling picture from someone who's been under the radar far too long.

Rob Adams

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